After the phenomenal success of the 1960s James Bond movies, imitations and spoofs were rampant.
Some were one-shot movies, such as James Garner in "A Man Could Get Killed" and David Niven in "Where the Spies Are." (Neither is available on home video.)
Some were multiple-movie series the pair of pictures with James Coburn as Derek Flint, the four films starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm (all of which are on DVD).
And, of course, the classic TV sitcom "Get Smart," which was released last year by Time Life in a complete series DVD box set.
Now comes another classic 007-inspired show, which is also getting a Time Life release "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."
Included are all 105 episodes with bonus features on 39 discs in four season-set boxes, packaged in a silver attache case, along with more extras on a pair of bonus discs.
It's not cheap, of course. "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series" is $249.99, although patient fans will likely see the price dip as time goes on. (You can only get it online, at ManFromUncleDVD.com; it will be in stores next year.)
"U.N.C.L.E," which began a year before "Get Smart," features agents Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), working for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, under their boss, Alexander Waverly (Leo G. Carroll, who had a similar role in Hitchcock's "North by Northwest").
The primary bad guys they battle are from the criminal organization THRUSH.
At its best, the show's humor is subtle, with nods to Bond, along with outrageous gadgets and flamboyant villains. The first couple of seasons are most satisfying at turns, witty, clever and exciting.
The various episodes also offer a bevy of interesting guest stars, ranging from the likely to the unlikely Joan Crawford, Janet Leigh, Vincent Price, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Joan Collins, Carroll O'Connor, Sonny & Cher, 13-year-old Kurt Russell, etc.
The debut season was filmed in black and white, followed by a switch to color for the second season, and these two are by far the best, with some excellent episodes by any standard. (The original color pilot is also included here.)
By the third season, the humor was sliding toward "Batman"-style campiness, although the abbreviated fourth season did look as if the show was getting back on track but then it was canceled.
"U.N.C.L.E." was so big in its first year that episodes were expanded into feature-length films for theatrical release, both in the United States and overseas. I remember seeing a couple of these movies when I was a teenager in Southern California and recognizing them from the TV episodes I had already seen. (I also remember that I didn't care; that I thought it was cool to see Solo and Illya on the big screen.) One of the films, "One Spy Too Many," is a bonus feature.
Among the extras are vintage promos and appearances (Vaughn and McCallum as presenters on the 1965 Emmys), along with a variety of featurettes and new interviews with the stars (and "Lethal Weapon" director Richard Donner).
Say what you will, the folks at Time Life do try to get it right, and this is another example of tons of fun crammed into a box for fans.
The only thing missing is the 1983 TV-movie, "The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.," which was a pretty good reunion flick.Hey, not that I'm complaining.
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