Saturday, September 10, 2011

U.N.C.L.E. Week: The Spy In The Green Hat

When Boris Ingster produced the two-part episode “The Concrete Overcoat Affair,” THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. had already begun its BATMAN-inspired slide into camp that would culminate in the unfortunate sight of Napoleon Solo frugging with a gorilla—surely the series’ nadir. The heightened budgets of the U.N.C.L.E. two-parters allowed Ingster, executive producer Norman Felton, and director Joseph Sargent (ONE SPY TOO MANY) to hire name guest stars, such as Jack Palance (THE PROFESSIONALS) and Janet Leigh (HARPER), who otherwise weren’t doing a lot of episodic television at the time. This practice gave “Concrete Overcoat” extra marquee value when MGM cut it together and released it in overseas theaters in 1967 as THE SPY IN THE GREEN HAT.

Palance is at his most unrestrained as Louis Strego, a megalomaniac who recruits a Nazi scientist, Heinrich von Kronen (Ludwig Donath), to reroute the Gulf Stream and transform Greenland into a lush paradise from which THRUSH can rule the world. Even more amazing is Leigh playing Miss Diketon (!), Strego’s insatiable secretary, who conceals a knife high on her thigh under a short skirt. It’s hard to imagine that Leigh’s erotically charged performance, which includes a clear exclamation of lust when she drives a knife into the spine of Strego’s incompetent henchman, passed NBC’s censors unscathed.

Unfortunately, screenwriter Peter Allan Fields included a ludicrous subplot about three elderly Italian gangsters who hunt Solo (Robert Vaughn) and force him into a shotgun wedding with their niece Pia Monteri (Letitia Roman), whom they believe Solo deflowered (strangely, this time he didn’t). Pia’s sexy catfight with Miss Diketon is one of the film’s highlights, so I guess her story isn’t a total bust, but the humor falls flat and really slows down the film’s momentum. Roman contributes a couple of from-the-back nude shots and—I swear—a side nipple flash that couldn’t have appeared in the TV show.

Felton hated Nelson Riddle’s original score, probably because it sounds like a BATMAN reject. Felton also tried to squeeze this film into theaters before the episodes aired on NBC, but the network rejected that plan.


Max Allan Collins said...

A noteworthy aspect of this episode is the presence of many '30s/'40s gangster actors, Jack LaRue, Allen Jenkins, Elisha Cook Jr., etc. Also embarrassing.

I knew Palance could be bad but his performance here is so over-the-top awful that it may infect the way I view him in other, better pictures.

Any concept why this is called THE SPY IN THE GREEN HAT? The Thrush higher-up has a vaguely green lid. Then there's Greenland. What do you think?

I am working my way through these movies and really questioning my positive childhood memories of the series....

Marty McKee said...

Hi, Max,

Yeah, when Will Kuluva shows up as the head of THRUSH, he's wearing a green hat. None of these UNCLE movies had great titles. No spy goes missing in ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING, and I don't know what THE HELICOPTER SPIES means. I like Palance in this movie, because I think he matches the tone of the movie perfectly. He was often terrible, but I like him here, and Janet Leigh is very good too.

Anonymous said...

In The Helicopter Spies, the Thrush assassins who accompany Herbert Lom throughout the film are riding in one-person helicopters, attempting to kill Solo and Kuryakin. This was before the appearance of a similar helicopter in Bond's You Only Live Twice. I think the open in the UNCLE movie was an attempt to capture the "big set piece opening" of the Bond movies as well.