"What would you like me to change into?"
"Anything but a boy."
The above exchange between Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn occurs midway through TO TRAP A SPY, a 1964 MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movie that I watched this afternoon. Wait a minute? A MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movie in 1964? How did that happen?
It not only happened, it happened a total of eight times over the course of several years. And it happened because the theatrically released MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movies weren't really movies at all. They were episodes (usually two-parters) of the hugely popular NBC-TV series that were edited and expanded for release to theaters both in the U.S. and overseas.
TO TRAP A SPY has an interesting, if somewhat convoluted pedigree. The material is essentially the filmed in color, one-hour pilot episode, SOLO, which was shown to NBC-TV executives as a pitch for the series. The suits liked what they saw and the series, now re-christened THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was given the green light. The series premiered on NBC-TV on Tuesday, September 22nd, 1964 at 7:30 CST.
The premiere episode was the footage from SOLO, edited and broadcast in black-and-white under the title "The Vulcan Affair." The adventure finds Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) enlisting the aid of a housewife (Patricia Crowley, who starred on PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES on NBC) to bring down one Andrew Vulcan (Fritz Weaver), a chemical manufacturing magnate in the employ of WASP (the super criminal organization was later re-named T.H.R.U.S.H.). Vulcan plans to kill two members of the cabinet of a newly organized African country (one of the targets is played by Ivan Dixon, of HOGAN'S HEROES fame). Solo and Elaine are captured by the bad guys but manage to break free in time to disrupt the plot.
It's fairly routine television spy stuff but the seeds were planted for what would become an enormously popular series. In this first episode, Solo and Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) work for Mr. Allison, instead of Mr. Waverly (Leo G. Carroll) and Ilya has very little screen time. It's Napoleon's show and Vaughn, oozing smarmy charm, acquits himself well in this initial outing.
When the decision was made to begin releasing U.N.C.L.E. material in theaters, the original color material for SOLO was re-edited and new footage was shot to pad out the running time to 90 minutes. The new footage features Luciana Paluzzi (who was a bad girl in THUNDERBALL) as a bad girl who seduces and then tries to kill Solo. The new footage is used at the beginning of the film and in the middle of the action and the scenes don't really add anything to the narrative other than giving Solo a chance to bed the comely vixen (after all, Solo couldn't have any romance with Crowley, whose character was married with two children).
I don't recall seeing TO TRAP A SPY at the theater but I know that my buddy Steve Cook and I did see some of the other MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movies at the Paramount and State Theaters.
I loved THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. when I was a kid and I still do. This "movie" was a ton of fun to watch and brought back lots of great memories. It's not Bond level material but for a 1960s weekly television series, it was pretty good. Besides, when I watch THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., I'm seeing it through my eight-year-old eyes.
And that vision is perfect.