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Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and the Politics of Escapism

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By Richard Grigg.

Director Guy Ritchie’s 2015 film The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is of course inspired by the U.S. television series of the same name, a program that was extraordinarily popular for a brief period in the mid 1960s in America and abroad. Taking its cue from James Bond in both his book and film incarnations, the television program nevertheless had some non-Bond wrinkles. Secret agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum respectively, worked not for a particular country or government, but for an international organization known as U.N.C.L.E., the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. The program’s creator along with its developer, Norman Felton and Sam Rolfe, slyly suggested that U.N.C.L.E. might be an actual covert enforcement arm of the United Nations: the name “U.N.C.L.E.” already sent viewers down that path, and the establishing shots in the series’ early episodes prominently featured New York’s U.N. headquarters. The U.N. received hundreds of letters from fans wanting to become U.N.C.L.E. agents, as did the FBI, a phenomenon that reportedly infuriated J. Edgar Hoover (a man who, it must be granted, was easily upset). The alluring suggestion that U.N.C.L.E. really existed was reinforced by the clever fictional acknowledgment that appeared over the show’s closing credits, “We wish to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement without whose help this program would not be possible.”

Transcending their respective countries’ Cold War differences, Solo, an American, and Kuryakin, a Russian, were typically found circling the globe to defeat the evil machinations of an organization known as THRUSH, which, though later made into a tongue-in-cheek acronym in its own right (the Technical Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity), was probably inspired by James Bond’s run-ins with the similar sounding SMERSH, a Soviet intelligence agency that Bond’s creator Ian Fleming knew of from his stint in British intelligence. Like U.N.C.L.E., however, and unlike SMERSH, THRUSH was an independent entity, not an intelligence arm of a particular nation-state. Hence, THRUSH was more akin to Bond’s later enemy SPECTRE, which made it onto the movie screen in films such as Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967), and which provides the title for Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as 007 (2015).

TheManFromUncleHeaderU.N.C.L.E.’s creator Norman Felton wanted to offer television viewers something new: instead of having the Americans as the good guys who battle evil Russians and other opponents, he envisioned persons from all sorts of national backgrounds banding together to fight genuinely transnational evil.[1]

While Fenton’s vision suggests that he had something serious in mind when creating The Man from U.N.C.L.E., at the end of the day the series was a light-hearted exercise in action-adventure escapism. Of course, it has become a well-worn truth, at least in academic circles, that no perception takes place in a vacuum, a place devoid of political assumptions and commitments. This certainly holds for escapist entertainment on both the large screen and the small. Furthermore, one need not embrace postmodern theory, reader response criticism, or any of the other versions of the school of lazy reading, in order to reject the hermeneutic of authorial intent. We need not confine ourselves to what a Norman Felton or a Guy Ritchie had consciously in mind when he set out to bring U.N.C.L.E. to life.

The most obvious choice for understanding the political psychology behind the television version of U.N.C.L.E., especially given Felton’s stated goals mentioned above, is to see it as an escape from the Cold War. The viewer was taken up into this escapist exercise by empathizing with an “innocent” that Felton wanted the viewer to identify with in each episode, an average man or woman who usually helped U.N.C.L.E. agents foil the bad guys. This was a device borrowed from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959) where Cary Grant is the immediately likable innocent (the U.N.C.L.E. television series also poached its spy boss from that film: Leo G. Carroll filled that role in both).

One can hardly blame viewers for wanting to escape from the Cold War and its concurrent phenomena in the period during which U.N.C.L.E. ran, from the fall of 1964 to January of 1968. It was an era that, roughly speaking, encompassed Lyndon Johnson’s escalation of the war in Vietnam and ended with the Tet Offensive. Starting with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and including the murder of Malcom X, the same period began with American teens’ wild embrace of the Beatles as, in part, an escape from the harsh reality of American political life.

One must conclude that The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s manner of escaping the Cold War, namely, by imagining international cooperation among Americans, Russians, and individuals from all other nations, was preferable to a thoroughly escapist diversion which would avoid any reference, whether explicit or implicit, to the Cold War’s existence. It was certainly preferable to anti-communist hysteria.

At the same time, while U.N.C.L.E. has been credited with avoiding the xenophobia, sexism and racism that characterized Ian Fleming’s James Bond (Abbott 2014: 30), the series was, with a few exceptions in individual episodes, largely tone deaf to both the African-American struggle for justice and the women’s movement. This is obviously a singularly important negative result of this particular form of escapist entertainment, even if The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s version of it is relatively enlightened. And this negative is not a mere oversight without significance: akin to the existentialist dictum that “Not to decide is to decide” as well as to the age-old recognition that there can be sins of omission as well as sins of commission, the decision not to deal with such pressing matters is in fact to take a very unfortunate stand on them.

DnEr4ydWhat are we to make, then, of director Guy Ritchie’s big screen reboot of U.N.C.L.E.? Ritchie is best known, especially in the U.S., for his clever rethinking of the character Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson. His approach to U.N.C.L.E. is, first of all, a stylish tribute to 1960s pop culture, replete with some classic tunes of the era, including the superb, soulful Roberta Flack recording of composer Eugene McDaniels’ “Compared to What?” that runs over the opening credits. (“Compared to What?” is probably most often associated with jazzman Les McCann who recorded it in 1969 ). The song reminds us of some of the unhappiest events of the sixties, from Vietnam to the absence of God to “unreal values, [and] crass distortion” (so far, so good where political consciousness is concerned). The film’s original music, composed by Daniel Pemberton, contributes to the sixties action-adventure ambiance. After all, when was the last time that a contemporary film score treated us to jazzy riffs on a Hammond organ (the fourth track on the soundtrack album)? In the film too, Napoleon and Illya, played this time by Henry Cavil and Armie Hammer, are dashing secret agents intent upon quashing evil. But, for good or ill, Ritchie and his screenwriting colleague, Lionel Wigram, decide to give us what is in essence an U.N.C.L.E. prequel, showing us how Solo started out working for the CIA and Kuryakin for the KGB, and how they get together, kick-starting what would later become the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement. They are ably assisted by Gaby Teller, played by Alicia Vikander, who, unbeknownst to Solo and Kuryakin, works for British military intelligence (Vikander captivated many a science fiction fan earlier this year in Alex Garland’s Ex Machina). Gaby also fetchingly models some of the more memorable fashions of the era, as does the film’s main villain, Victoria Vinciguerra, played by Elizabeth Debicki.

The-Man-from-UNCLE-videosöndagBy giving us a prequel in which the organization known as U.N.C.L.E. does not yet exist, Ritchie forfeits some of the most entertaining science fiction elements of the original television series, most importantly the hyper-modern secret headquarters hidden behind a city block of East Side brownstones in Manhattan (which the recent Kingsman: the Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn, happily borrowed, right down to the secret entrance via a ground-level tailor shop to the high-tech headquarters, albeit moving the setting to Saville Row[2]). And by leaving out that headquarters, which was chock full of television monitors, computers, and other high-tech paraphernalia, Ritchie forgoes the chance to explore political issues that have become especially salient in the twenty-first century, including the specter of a “total surveillance society” – perhaps U.N.C.L.E. could turn out to be a source of evil rather than the guarantor of good – and the proper role of an organization such as America’s National Security Agency which Edward Snowden recently and famously maligned by leaking documents about how the NSA collects signals intelligence (without, it must be admitted, any context or any analysis of the NSA’s reported internal safeguards). The science fiction sensibilities of the U.N.C.L.E. television series’ writers even led them to touch upon drone warfare, a topic that has become fodder for political debate in the present.

75On the other hand, the decision to leave the U.N.C.L.E. story in its original sixties setting is a good one, I think, a decision already made by Steven Soderbergh who was briefly on board as the film’s director before quitting the project and leaving the director’s chair open for Ritchie. That decision not only provides an enjoyable journey down memory lane for those of us old enough to remember the undeniably heady atmosphere that was sixties pop culture, but also allows for a very different take on the Cold War than the one proffered by the television series. Most obviously, it allows us to view and to evaluate the sixties from the distance of approximately fifty years. In Ritchie’s hands, that distance turns the infamous Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and Solo’s daring extrication of Aby from East to West Berlin into whimsical action-adventure fare. The Cold War appears squeaky clean here in contrast to the grittier films that came out of the period itself, such as Sidney Furies’ Ipcress File (1965) and Guy Hamilton’s Funeral in Berlin (1966), both derived from Len Deighton novels, and Martin Ritt’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name and a vehicle for Richard Burton’s talents. Of course, the Cold War also produced not only the escapism of the Bond films but even much sillier fare: witness Dean Martin’s four-film stint in the role of Matt Helm (1966-69).

In Ritchie’s film adaptation, Solo and Kuryakin are told that the technology required to build an atomic bomb has fallen into the wrong hands. These hands belong to what is described as an international band of criminals that includes former Nazis among its members. As the film unfolds, the evil that Napoleon and Illya must battle seems to become less a full-fledged criminal organization and more the handiwork of Victoria and her husband. At the same time, Victoria heads up a vast, family-owned shipping company, and we do see a host of henchmen on its payroll that suggests a larger enterprise, most notably one of the aforementioned ex-Nazis (played by Sylvester Groth), a particularly sinister character who honed his skills as a torturer in Hitler’s concentration camps. He is also Abby’s uncle and thus a clue to the whereabouts of her atomic-scientist father who, of course, has been forced by Victoria and the empire which she heads to work for her in pursuit of an atomic bomb; like most plot devices in the film, this one is hardly new (the go-to film example of weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands is undoubtedly the Bond film Thunderball). That the film is a satisfying and stylish espionage outing is a function not so much of the constituent elements of its plot, but of the deft stylistic and comedic touches with which Ritchie weaves those elements together.

Given its entertaining and generally celebratory attitude to the culture of the 1960s, then, one might venture to say that Ritchie’s film is not a means for viewers to escape the Cold War – presumably we don’t need that anymore – but an exercise in escaping from our present woes precisely by harkening back to the Cold War era. Of course, persons alive back then were hardly inclined to celebrate the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. But it was in some ways a simpler time where international politics were concerned. The Soviets and the Americans kept their fingers off of the nuclear button thanks to the sobering but apparently effective doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” or MAD, and the hegemony that America and the Soviet Union exercised around the globe prevented something such as the ethnic cleansing carried out by Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia.

the-man-from-u-n-c-l-e2It is unsurprising that The Man from U.N.C.L.E. captured the number one box office spot when it opened in Russia. After all, there are not a few Russians, among them the country’s strong-willed president, who would like to see Russia recover the superpower status that the Soviet Union enjoyed during the Cold War. Ritchie’s film must have pleased Russian viewers, in addition, in that it often shows the Russian KGB agent Kuryakin besting his CIA counterpart Solo: Kuryakin is physically stronger than Solo and possesses superior skills in piloting a speedboat or an automobile, and he can rub in the fact that the KGB has superior eavesdropping technology, and fancier equipment – a hand-held laser beam – for cutting through the fence surrounding the Vinciguerra Shipping facility. And Kuryakin has some uniquely entertaining martial arts tricks up his sleeve, most notably the KGB “kiss” which renders an opponent unconscious while he is still standing upright.

But a careful reading of the politics of escapism in Ritchie’s film suggests some more interesting possibilities than escaping the present by milking Cold War nostalgia. It is important to note when analyzing escapist spy fiction that James Bond, the gold standard of the genre, fights both maniacal individuals and malicious organizations in Fleming’s books and in the movies. Bond’s individual enemies include such notables as Dr. No, Goldfinger, and Blofeld. His most important corporate enemy is SPECTRE, over which Blofeld presides, which has already been referenced above. Fighting individual evildoers provides for a special kind of dramatic tension: a one-on-one contest puts the hero’s ego on the line in a particularly potent fashion, and it serves up a simple and satisfying catharsis when that evildoer inevitably and violently meets his or her end. Organizational enemies are more amorphous but probably also more realistic than the traditional Bond supervillain, the sort of character so effectively satirized in Mike Myers’ three Austin Powers films (1997-2002) No mad scientist could actually build something like a nuclear submarine or a rocket ship. Those tasks require too much expertise, too many resources, and too much secrecy for any one individual to pull off, no matter the size of his or her wallet. Hence, Ritchie’s decision to have Napoleon and Illya battle the Vinciguerra Shipping Company, like the television program’s decision to make THRUSH the enemy, have more interesting implications.

the-man-from-uncle-01Exactly what sort of enemy might Ritchie’s Vinciguerra Shipping Company bring, at least metaphorically, to mind, given that we shall cast off authorial intent with the same nonchalance with which James Bond dispatches a villain? Mexican drug cartels don’t fit; they seem content to focus on the drug trade, along with the requisite money laundering, rather than setting out to achieve political domination of the world. Nor do the presently most threatening actors for most Americans and other Westerners, namely ISIS, Al Qaeda and their terrorist brethren, fit the bill: their organizational structures are too inchoate to provide a satisfyingly simple target, one that a hero can take down in one fell swoop (although the film industry is certainly cranking out plenty of narratives about taking down individual terrorist leaders, as is television, from Zero Dark Thirty [2012] to TV’s Homeland [currently in its fifth season]). And their vision of world domination via the establishment of a caliphate seems incredibly unlikely and thus not sufficiently frightening to fit the bill here; what scares us about ISIS and its ilk is the unexpected, individual acts of terror of which they are capable, as well as their ability to wreak havoc largely confined to the Middle East. It cannot provide a stand-in, then, for SPECTRE or THRUSH or the Vinciguerra Shipping Company. Perhaps the Mafia in its heyday comes closer: its members had their fingers in numerous toxic pies, actually throwing in their lot with CIA plots to assassinate Cuba’s Fidel Castro. But the Mafia too was far from a unified entity, as any viewer of The Godfather series of films (1972-1990) can clearly attest.

1DE8C234But making the Vinciguerra Shipping Company the primary enemy, one that forces the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to set aside their political differences in a joint effort to defeat its attempts to leverage world events and reap a handsome sum of money in the process, has a more straightforward real-world analogue: the multinational corporation. While THRUSH may be interpreted as a cartoon version of a corporation up to no good, the Vinciguerra Shipping Company is more straightforwardly tied to the notion that multinational corporations require multinational cooperation to keep them in check.

Now, while giant corporations do manufacture a host of nuclear weapons and other tools of mass destruction, they do so at the behest and with the financial backing of nation-states. I do not expect a corporation such as Haliburton (the oil company once presided over by former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney and that made millions of dollars from the U.S.-led war in Iraq) to build a nuclear arsenal all on its own and use it for evil purposes. Transnational corporations such as Haliburton visit other evils upon us: they pollute our planet and may well destroy it via global warming; they pay third-world workers slave wages; they wield extraordinary influence over the policies of nations from the United States to Germany and beyond; their leaders are awarded obscene salaries that radically widen the gap between rich and poor; they forgo the chance to contribute their fair share to the welfare of society by dodging their tax responsibilities. Is it then wholly fanciful to assume that they might ultimately be a larger threat than any enemy nation? I hardly think so. Witness the recent Volkswagen scandal in which that car manufacturer was caught employing the latest technology to fool emissions tests. When the car’s electronic control system senses that it is being tested, its pollutant output is well within legally prescribed limits. But when it is actually on the road, the diesel-powered automobile actually spews out huge amounts of pollutants. If all automobile manufacturers were up to Volkswagen’s shenanigans, they could do more harm via global warming than the single atomic bomb developed by Ritchie’s villainous shipping company.

Nor are these corporate behemoths beyond espionage, and not just the kind in which they try to steal one another’s product secrets. They sometimes engage in the more nefarious sort of espionage that would do SPECTRE, or THRUSH, or the Vinciguerra Shipping Company proud. In his study National Security Intelligence, Loch K. Johnson (2012: 85) points out that, “To help protect their own interests in Chile, the International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) Corporation and other American businesses secretly offered the Nixon Administration $1.5 million to aid the anti-Allende covert actions, out of a concern that the Chilean President might nationalize their holdings in Chile.”

Along the same nefarious lines, in 1954 the CIA mounted a propaganda campaign in order, among other things, “to protect the investments in Guatemala of the United Fruit Company, an American firm with a lucrative banana monopoly in Central America (America’s spy chief, Allen Dulles, and his brother, the Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, had both served on the board of directors of the United Fruit Company)” (Johnson 2012: 85). And things get worse: some multinational corporations have become guns for hire, thoroughly blurring the lines between state power and corporate power, precisely of the military sort. Perhaps the most notorious example in the United States is the Blackwater Corporation, which has gone through several reorganizations and accompanying name changes because of a major scandal. Blackwater contracted with the U.S. government to provide military-style protection for U.S. diplomatic personnel in Iraq and ended up killing a number of Iraqi civilians, a public relations disaster for Blackwater and its grizzled, assault weapon-toting macho men.

No less disturbing is the revelation, one that came out in 2014 as the result of testimony before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, that the U.S. government had contracted with the firm of Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates to the tune of $81 million to carry out some of the CIA’s most aggressive or “enhanced” interrogation processes (which most people, including former Vietnam POW and United States Senator John McCain, simply label “torture”). In the case of the former Blackwater, as with Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates, we have a multinational corporation that hires itself out to the highest bidder to perform immoral activities that involve military equipment and torture techniques that give the corporation an extraordinarily dangerous role to play in a nation-state’s foreign policy, one that cannot help but impact how that policy is actually carried out. It is as if the United States turned some of its most sensitive and potentially unethical operations over to THRUSH, or SPECTRE, or the Vinciguerra Shipping Company, which would clearly give these entities an influence on U.S. policy that inches these entities closer to their goal of guiding world events.

It is also more than a little sobering that, as of this writing when the U.S. presidential election campaigns are gearing up, two of the leading candidates in the Republican Party’s nomination battle have never held elective office and that their only claim to fame is that they have been wealthy CEO’s of large corporations. Both of them, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina, have lived in the lap of luxury at the expense of other, ordinary folks whom they have quite literally shortchanged, Trump through his four bankruptcies and Fiorina through her disastrous tenure as the head of Hewlett Packard which led scores of employees to lose their jobs.

Despite my attempt to shift the object of our collective fears from enemy nations to multinational corporations as best fitting the bill for a real-world THRUSH or Vinciguerra Shipping Company, it is of course important to remember that the United States and Russia still have ICBM’s (intercontinental ballistic missiles) pointed at one another and that spy satellites still pit one nation’s most sophisticated intelligence gathering capabilities against another’s. Furthermore, in the spirit of full disclosure, I do in fact regard Vladimir Putin’s increasingly bellicose Russia and China’s ruling elite as significant threats to the West, threats for which Western militaries should not be unprepared. And, as of this writing, one can almost feel the chill of the Cold War in the air again as Russia and the United States engage in what is tantamount to a proxy war in Syria. Given this, it is appropriate that at the end of the film version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Solo and Illya have each been ordered by their respective bosses to kill the other (which, not surprisingly, they do not in fact do). But none of that undoes my thesis: at the end of the day, transnational organizations may pose a greater threat, or at least a comparably potent one, to an enemy nation. And, if that is the case, then the world needs a way in which to counter a Vinciguerra Shipping Company-style Haliburton. That laudable goal would require something with more cooperative clout than Interpol or even the United Nations. After all, those organizations have existed since the twentieth century, and they have not succeeded in stopping the rapacious behavior of multinational corporations; more precisely, they have not even tried.

To suggest that the world would be better off without the multinational capitalist likes of THRUSH or Haliburton or Vinciguerra Shipping is not to say that it would have been better if capitalism had been replaced with Soviet totalitarianism or any of its Marxist cousins. I presume that the only way in which to forge the kind of international cooperation envisioned in the U.N.C.L.E. universe is to have a world in which individual nations have as their primary concern empowering their citizens to flourish. Given my worldview, this would require those nations to adopt a democratic form of socialism. Unfortunately, while a few of the world’s countries have apparently succeeded in this effort, democratic socialism is unthinkable now in the United States (despite Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders having gained some traction in the present primary campaign) and in most of the rest of the world. This turns us in a decidedly pessimistic direction: it is unlikely that there will ever actually be an U.N.C.L.E., but there may already be a host of THRUSHes; certainly there are some Vinciguerra Shipping Companies out there.

If we are to dig deeper into the psychology of political escapism at work in Ritchie’s film, we must examine a bit more closely the fact that a story’s political point of impact depends not just on its writers’ premises but on the social context in which it is received. The director of James Bond’s first film outing once enthused in an interview about how lucky the timing of that film, Dr. No, turned out to be (Abbott 2014: 30). In this film version of Fleming’s book of the same title, the evil Dr. No is able to meddle with U.S. missile systems from his Caribbean lair. In a matter of weeks after the film’s release, the Cuban Missile Crisis, unfolding next door to Dr. No’s Caribbean hideout, captured the attention of persons around the world and, in many cases, scared the daylights out of them. As is even clearer in retrospect, the Cuban Missile Crisis could easily have precipitated World War III. Dr. No, which had opened to largely negative reviews, reaped the benefits of the sudden public attention to political events that seemed suddenly to give the film special relevance.

While Dr. No is essentially escapist fare – indeed precisely because it is – it may well have affected the psyches of its viewers in at least two different, genuinely significant ways. First, there is the element of denial, of dealing with fear by “whistling past the graveyard.” Better, at least for some psychologically more sensitive folks, to relieve one’s anxieties about nuclear holocaust through an escapist film than to face those anxieties head-on (it is often observed that the two film versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers [1956 and 1978] were subliminal exercises in Communist-invasion hysteria). Alternatively, the dramatic, filmic exploration of an issue such as nuclear holocaust, especially an unrealistic and escapist one, provides us with a sense of control, however illusory, over what we find most uncontrollable and threatening. This brings us to one of Sigmund Freud’s (multiple) interpretations of the phenomenon that he called repetition compulsion: we tend to relive or symbolically repeat traumatic incidents or fears in order to master them. A Dr. No or a Man from U.N.C.L.E. can ably serve this second, cathartic task, all the more so because of their lighthearted touches, including their heroes’ ability to offer witty asides in the midst of horrible dangers.

Of course this contextual dimension, in which a work interacts with its contemporary social environment, can take forms other than an escapist action-adventure treatment of something such as the threat of nuclear destruction. The artist may attempt to face the fear head-on with a serious and unnerving treatment of its possible ramifications, as in Sidney Lumet’s 1964 film Failsafe in which so-called “failsafe” mechanisms on an American nuclear bomber do indeed fail and lead its crew mistakenly to believe that they have been ordered to destroy Moscow. They succeed in their task, and the United States reluctantly responds by allowing New York City to be similarly destroyed. Or one may employ biting satire, as in Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War classic Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). This approach challenges the viewer to reevaluate the delirium of the world’s nuclear superpowers. But escapism still has its place: if the fictional U.N.C.L.E.’s all-too-real adversary is in fact the multinational corporation run amok, then maybe part of the enjoyment to be had from seeing Ritchie’s film heroes quash the Vinciguerra Shipping Company is a cathartic, and perhaps subliminal, sense of control in the face of thoroughly out of control corporate malfeasance.

Man-From-UNCLE-7Despite my best efforts here, many readers may still hold that to derive an anti-corporate parable from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is an instance of an over-reading as ridiculous as a fictional spy’s ability to get in a shooting match with twenty opponents and vanquish them all. Clearly Ritchie’s film, like its television antecedent, is intended first and foremost as light, escapist entertainment. But I have tried to point to specific mechanisms that allow such escapism to do an important job. What is more, as sages from Jesus to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche have realized, a deceptively simple parable may pack an unexpected, all-too-realistic wallop. And, after all, to return to the opening minutes of Ritchie’s film, when Roberta Flack sings about “unreal values, [and] crass distortion” at the beginning of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., she is not talking about an evil visited upon us by an enemy nation.

Richard Grigg is Professor in the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, U.S.A. His primary research area is contemporary radical religious thought, a topic on which he has published eight books and numerous articles.

References

Abbott, Jon (2014), Cool TV of the 1960s, Middletown, DE: McFarland.

Johnson, Loch K. (2012), National Security Intelligence in Defense of the Democracies, Malden, MA: Polity Press.

[1] I employ italics (U.N.C.L.E.) when referring to the title of the television program and the film and avoid them (U.N.C.L.E.) when making reference to the fictional organization.

[2] John Frankenheimer’s 1966 film Seconds also features a tailor shop, one that looks almost exactly like Del Floria’s in the Fall 1964 season of U.N.C.L.E., and that is used in Seconds as a point of entry into the dark organization at the heart of the film (until that organization decides upon the more unsavory location of a slaughter house). However, the film is an adaptation of David Eli’s novel of the same name. That novel cites a 1963 copyright assigned to Eli, but the book did not actually appear in print until August of 1964. Hence the U.N.C.L.E. tailor shop and the one in Eli’s Seconds would have crossed like ships in the night without the one having any chance to influence the other. The novel, however, does not describe the tailor shop in any detail, adding fuel to the suggestion that the film’s tailor shop was indeed patterned, however subliminally, after the U.N.C.L.E. set.

 

 

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