Tuesday, September 06, 2011

U.N.C.L.E. Week: To Trap A Spy

MGM tried to squeeze extra revenue out of its MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. television series by editing together two-part episodes and releasing them theatrically. It’s easy to see why overseas audiences would flip for this, but Americans also bought tickets to see an U.N.C.L.E. movie they’d already watched for free.

At least TO TRAP A SPY offered U.N.C.L.E. fans something new: color. The MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. pilot, “The Vulcan Affair,” was filmed in color, but only aired on NBC in black-and-white, the same as every other first-season episode. Perhaps the thrill of seeing Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in bright Metrocolor was enough to lure fans to their neighborhood theater.

Producer Norman Felton, who had the idea for creating U.N.C.L.E. movies almost from the beginning, and director Don Medford (THE ORGANIZATION) also gave the paying fans something extra by shooting racy new scenes not in the TV episode. The most significant addition is sultry guest star Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL), who wasn’t in the pilot. She receives a major subplot in the feature as a WASP assassin named Angela, who helps kill an U.N.C.L.E. agent in the prologue and then plays a sexy game of cat-and-mouse with Solo, which leads to a crackerjack action sequence at her home.

Oh, yes, that’s another change from the TV series. The name of U.N.C.L.E.’s evil rival is now WASP, rather than THRUSH, but for this film only. Actor Will Kuluva also steps in as the head of U.N.C.L.E., Mr. Allison; he was replaced in the series by Leo G. Carroll as Mr. Waverly.

The Bondian plot sends U.N.C.L.E. agent Solo (Robert Vaughn) against wealthy chemical magnate Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver), who U.N.C.L.E. believes is a WASP operative planning to assassinate an African prime minister, Ashumen (William Marshall). Ashumen arrives at Vulcan’s mansion for a party, along with chief aides Soumarin (Ivan Dixon) and Nobuk (Rupert Crosse), but Solo hopes to thwart the assassination attempt with a guest of his own: Elaine May Bender (Pat Crowley), an Ohio housewife who dated Vulcan in college.

Action specialist Medford handles the exciting scenes like a pro, giving the setpieces a production value that may not equal the James Bond movies, but are certainly as thrilling as or more so than many of the low-budget Bond knockoffs filling theaters in the mid-1960s. Opulent sets constructed on the MGM lot and a Lever Brothers soap plant posing as Vulcan’s chemical operation makes TO TRAP A SPY look like more than a TV show, which, of course, it was.

TO TRAP A SPY may disappoint fans of David McCallum, whose Illya Kuryakin is only seen briefly in a couple of scenes. Illya was originally intended to be a supporting character, but when his popularity with fans skyrocketed as more episodes aired, he soon became Solo’s fulltime partner. Jerry Goldsmith composed the groovy score, including the iconic U.N.C.L.E. theme. MGM did well with TO TRAP A SPY and released seven more U.N.C.L.E. movies, though not all of them domestically.


Anonymous said...

yes ,the fact that the movie was in color im sure made the box office draw bigger !!

Benzadmiral said...

I've read that Bruce Geller, the creator of "Mission: Impossible," complimented Sam Rolfe (who wrote and produced the U.N.C.L.E. pilot), telling him it was the best pilot he'd ever seen. Rolfe reportedly returned the favor later regarding the pilot for M: I, which is indeed one of the greats.