December 27, 2009
The complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. box set is currently on sale at Amazon for $115.99. The 41-disc set, which was designed to look like an attache case, contains each season housed in its own box and slipcase as well as a number of additional discs with bonus material. The set includes one of the theatrical films (One Spy Too Many) and the pilot episode (Solo). More from Amazon by Donald Liebenson:
For Baby Boomers, owning a season or two of a fondly remembered TV series on DVD is enough to satisfy any nostalgic yearnings. The Man From U.N.C.L.E., though, warrants the full-series treatment. It's a wild '60s flashback to the Espionage era that was ushered in by Ian Fleming's James Bond adventures. According to a series retrospective that's just one of this cleverly packaged set's prodigious extras, Fleming himself was recruited to create a spy series for American television. His contribution was the name "Napoleon Solo," the moniker of a crime boss in Goldfinger. That movie, which would kick Bond and spy mania into overdrive, had not yet opened when viewers were introduced to Robert Vaughn's Solo and David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin, agents of the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. This covert agency operated out of Del Floria's Tailor Shop in New York under the command of true Brit Alexander Waverly (Leo J. Carroll, playing much the same character he portrayed in North by Northwest). The Man from U.N.C.L.E. offered a bit of hope in Cold War America that an American and Russian could work together to stop a common enemy, THRUSH, a ruthless organization bent on world domination. The intriguing conceit of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was to give audiences an empathetic surrogate who would be plucked from their humdrum lives for whirlwind adventures with Solo and Kuryakin. In the pilot episode, Patricia Crowley guest-stars as a housewife who acts as bait to foil the plans of her former college boyfriend, who is plotting the assassination of a world leader. In a series benchmark, "The Never-Never Affair," a pre-Get Smart Barbara Feldon stars as an U.N.C.L.E. translator who unwittingly becomes involved in actual espionage. Seasons one and two are the series' best, with a stellar roster of guest stars ("The Project Strigas Affair" features the first onscreen pairing of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy), stylish direction by directors who would go on to some renown (Michael Ritchie, Richard Donner), smart scripts, and great action (a movie theatre shoot-out in "The Never-Never Affair"). In its third season, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. adopted Batman's campy and absurdist tone with shark-jumping results While this season has its share of groaners (in one episode, Sollo watusis with a gorilla), several "Affairs" stand out. Jack Palance and Janet Leigh as a long cool woman in a white dress are great villains in "The Concrete Overcoat Affair." Harlan Ellison wrote the witty "The Pieces of Fate Affair," in which he takes some sly digs at television and literary critics (a THRUSH operative is a book reviewer). Joan Collins makes like Eliza Doolittle in a dual role as a Bronx stripper and a countess in "The Galatea Affair." The series went back to basics in Season Four, but by then, The Avengers was a bigger hit and the writing was on the wall for this once trendsetting series. This lavish box set affair contains upward of ten hours of bonus features, including the unaired series pilot, a series retrospective, an interview with a reunited Vaughn and McCallum, dossiers on each season's guest stars, one of the U.N.C.L.E. feature films edited and expanded from a two-part episode, segments about the great gadgets and cool music, U.N.C.L.E. designs and blueprints, and season-specific booklets.This definitive box set does full justice to a series that had such an impact on popular culture (as witness the bonus Tom & Jerry cartoon, "The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R."). More than a blast from the past, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is still a potent blend of "cloak and swagger."
December 25, 2009
Before Pierce Brosnan uttered his "Christmas in Turkey" line in 1999's The World is Not Enough, George Lazenby kept 007 in a frantic Christmas rush for survival in 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service. No holiday rest for secret agents! After a heart-pounding ski chase down a mountain at night, Bond is rescued by Diana Rigg- another reason to love this classic! Here in French. Happy Holidays from Spy Vibe.
December 23, 2009
Secret Squirrel found its fun Spy Vibe elements in conventions like lethal gadgets- a spy squirrel with a machine gun cane? Now that's 1960s surreal thinking! Episodes showed up on a recent DVD release of classic 60s cartoons and I enjoyed revisiting this dangerous little rodent. But as I started to look at other spy-related programming for kids during that era, I found that they all offered the same basic package: nitwit comedy cloaked in a throwback to hard boiled crime fiction- the trench coat. As we saw on Spy Vibe earlier this year, it was the peeling off of these drab macs that helped give 1960s spies a fashionable boost over their private eye counterparts. Bond's tux hidden under the tight wetsuit! Yet, the trench coat endured throughout spy fiction and remains a catch-all symbol for sneaky intentions (no connection to "dirty mac" stories here- we're PG13). 1960s London counter-culture centerpiece, Barry Miles, said that there was a major turning point in the early-mid 1960s when the cash-earning baby boomers started to come of age. To paraphrase, he said that before the shift, young people all dressed to look like middle-aged people. But after the shift, everyone started trying to dress like young people. So when Cold War spies became popular entertainment, we saw examples of productions embracing the youth-generated curve of that shift. Great examples were The Avengers with those kinky leathers and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. with Mod outfits and miniskirts. In the comedy productions, especially those made for kids, there was a slightly middle-aged approach that downplayed the sexuality and expressiveness that otherwise was a great part of 1960s liberation. Instead of cartoon characters in wild new fashions, the form was watered down for mass consumption and took on the trappings of the older generation. Replace the stubble and Fedora of the private eye with sunglasses and a gadget and you've easily turned the symbol of the 1930s-1950s "gumshoe" (Philip Marlow, Sam Spade) into the symbol of a "spy-in-disguise." Luckily overcoats were more popular back then- maybe a trench coat spy might have had a chance of blending in with the commuters!
There are two claims to the invention of the trench coat, but Burberry certainly has a firm hold on the garment's history. They originally began producing long coats to protect officers from the elements during the Boer War in 1895. A few modifications and wars later, the jacket began to evolve closer to its modern image during WWI, when it was dubbed the "trench coat" as officers wore them in the first trench battles. I'm sure that there are scholars of pulp fiction, Black Mask magazine, etc who could trace when the jacket became indelibly linked with crime fiction. Early pulps pictured private eyes dressed in the look we all associate with Bogart's portrayals of heroes by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. 1965's Secret Squirrel even borrowed from the Bogart lexicon by giving him a sidekick based on Peter Lorre! The WWI aviator's version of the trench coat showed up in European intrigue films, like Fritz Lang's Spione (1928). The trench coat look swept into fashion, and was acculturated for rush hour workers; men and women throughout the decades standing on metrolpolitan train platforms. As Hugh Hefner's sexual revolution took hold in the 1950s and beyond, he was in many ways rebelling against that grey flannel suit/raincoat lifestyle. Bond and the spies that followed in his wake ran with the young crowd in sexy, thin gear. But for kids and spy comedy? It was keep on the baggy side of life.
Imagine we were producing the major spy comedies targeted for younger viewers during the spy boom. We are like Mr. Briggs or Mr. Phelps of the Impossible Missions Force, flipping through our portfolio of secret agents: Boris Badinov (Bullwinkle), Secret Squirrel, Max Smart and Agent 99 (Get Smart), Cool McCool, Fred Flintstone (Man Called Flintstone), Lancelot Link, MAD's Spy Vs. Spy. They all have the outfit. Even the bungling Inspector Clouseau (Pink Panther) had the right wardrobe to face international intrigue, as did other spoof-film characters played by Doris Day (Glass-Bottomed Boat), Fabian (Dr. Goldfoot), and others. The comedy-spy characters of the 1960s clearly had the same tailor. Just as Bond baddies dressed "Nehru," this batch came from Central Casting with one requirement- wear a trench coat. The costuming and storytelling did not alter much among this group. They didn't have great style. But the characters made us laugh and remain important to 1960s spy culture (and the contemporary spin-off market). In some cases, like the bikini-wow Dr. Goldfoot films, the trench coat reads as a kind of "straight man" symbology in the comedy. What most of these productions lacked in fashion, they made up for in fun gadgets- a theme taken up years later by another trench coat-wearing crime/comedy firgure, Inspector Gadget.
The one major spy character for adults in the 1960s to actually look right in a mac was Michael Caine's Harry Plamer (The Ipcress File). Somehow his working bloke's portrayal brought authenticity to the jacket. It read more as ubiquitous than iconic; character-driven rather than cartoony.
To step into the Swingin' 60s side things, check out Spy Vibe's PEELING OFF THE TRENCH COATS. And because I love getting The Beatles into any discussion if possible, check out The Dirty Macs, a one-off 1968 band that included John Lennon, Keith Richards, Mitch Mitchell, and Eric Clapton!
December 17, 2009
In the wake of the James Bond phenomenon, the world of entertainment and merchandising brought Cold War spies into the fold alongside cowboys and army men. As we saw in the Mattel toy commercials earlier this month, fantasy play took on a taste for intrigue and gadgets- for the stylish world of Espionage! Spy Vibe takes a look back at some of the secret agent programming for kids that was part of the Spy Boom in the mid-1960s.
Secret Squirrel made his debut in Hanna-Barbera's The Wold of Atom Ant and Secret Squirrel in 1965. He was Agent 000 for the International Sneaky Service and took his orders from his chief in England, Double-Q. Secret shared his missions with a fez-wearing sidekick named Morocco Mole (with Peter Lorre accent). Taking cues from the 007 franchise, Secret battled a Goldfinger-like baddie named Yellow Pinkie with a cool spy arsenal -hat and trench coat filled with gadgets and a machine gun cane. The main voice actors were veterans Mel Blanc (Looney Tunes), and Paul Frees (Boris Badenov in the Bullwinkle Show and the voice of John Lennon and George Harrison in The Beatles cartoon!). Secret Squirrel ran both solo and as part of the Atom Ant show for three seasons.
Secret Squirrel Lyrics
What an agent, what a squirrel
He's got the country in a whirl.
What's his name?
He's got tricks, up his sleeve,
Most bad guys, won't believe.
A bullet proof coat, a cannon hat,
A machine gun cane with a rat tat tat tat.
Fights foreign spies
In his disguise,
Takes him many places,
He's a squirrel of many faces,
December 15, 2009
It's always interesting to look back at film and television projects to see who might have won the leading roles had auditions gone differently. LIFE magazine has posted a wonderful collection of photos from the auditions held to fill Sean Connery's tux for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). I seem to remember having a copy of the magazine and seeing some of the images, but a number of unpublished photos have been added to their website. Chosen from 400 hopefuls, five actors were in the running: John Richardson (She, One Million Years B.C.), Anthony Rogers (El Dorado, Camelot), Robert Campbell, Hans de Vries (Shalako), and commercial actor George Lazenby.
As seen in the photos, each candidate went through screen tests to determine their on-screen chemistry to woo women, dispatch baddies, and sip martinis. The story is that Lazenby broke a stuntman's nose during the tests, which gave him a physical edge over the others. But take a look at the still test shots over at LIFE. It seems to me that Lazenby shines with a kind of charisma and rises above the rest. I think he was a fantastic Bond and On Her Majesty's Secret Service remains among my top few 007 faves. Check out the audition pictures. Who would you have chosen as James Bond? If you could go back in time to cast the 1969 film, who would you have suggested for the role?
December 14, 2009
December 9, 2009
The watchful eye of Spy-Fi Channel has spotted a little gem on Hulu that will be of interest to Spy Vibers. Hulu is currently showing the MST3K version of Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966) starring Ray Danton and the ever-lovely Marisa Mell (Danger Diabolik). The film is also available in the MST3K Vol 12 box set. Check it out for a limited time on-line for free.
December 7, 2009
Spy Vibers can pick up this ultra-cool classic right now from Amazon- the complete series- for $27.99. From the organ-fueled lounge music of Barry Gray, to the purple wigs, mini-skirts, Nehru jackets, and Anderson-style high-tech gadgetry, UFO is one of those must-see programs that defines the Spy Vibe mission: 1960s Style Meets Action. Pick up the megaset if you don't have it in your collection. On a completely different aesthetic note, 1960s TV fans may also be interested to know that the complete Wanted Dead or Alive series with Steve McQueen is on sale right now at Amazon for $12.99.
December 3, 2009
The classic Irwin Allen television series tie-in comic book Land of the Giants returns in one complete volume collecting all five issues. Hermes Press Land of the Giants The Complete Series features stunning artwork by Lone Ranger artist and Silver Age great Tom Gill. In addition to the complete reprint of all the comic books, Land of the Giants The Complete Series features essays about the show, behind-the-scenes and never-before published documentary photos, blue-prints, models, design artwork, and more. Now for the first time in over forty years Land of the Giants fans can again read all the comic book adaptations of this classic sci-fi television show, completely re-mastered and looking better than when they were originally issued! Pre-order on Amazon.