Still, it’s those childhood memories that we hold most fondly, and that eventually shape us as adults. Solo and Kuryakin inspired me, much like Sherlock Holmes and Batman, to investigate all the angles and be prepared to act with confidence when the situation warrants it. More importantly, though, they taught the importance of looking and being, well, cool. And even at its campiest, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was cool.
That’s why I harbored high hopes for The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. When it first aired on CBS as a made-for-TV movie, I wasn’t terribly impressed, as I recall. Then again, in the early eighties, I was jaded about pretty much everything on television. Twenty-five years later, the movie fares a bit better on DVD. It’s not that I believe the film is any less asinine than it was when it originally aired, or that it takes on some significance in retrospect. No, it’s much simpler than that. It illustrates, that despite all the technological advances that propel TV stories in 2009, the formulaic storytelling techniques of television haven’t advanced one whit.
The set-up for The Fifteen Years Later Affair is simple enough—THRUSH has hijacked a nuclear weapon that will detonate over a major U.S. city unless a $350 million ransom is paid to them. There’s one other proviso in their demand—the ransom must be delivered by U.N.C.L.E. agent Napoleon Solo. The problem is, Solo retired from active duty fifteen years earlier. And therein lies the hook. Solo, for unexplained reasons, is retired from the spy business, and now sells computers, theoretically, at least. From what we see, he spends most of his time in Atlantic City casinos, gambling poorly, wearing immaculate tuxedos and rescuing mysterious femme fatales from equally mysterious KGB agents. He’s lost contact with U.N.C.L E., now headed by Sir John Raleigh (Patrick MacNee), after Mr. Waverly’s (Leo G. Carroll) death. Illya Kuryakin is a bit easier to find, since he’s turned his back on espionage in favor of fashion design.
After some plot contrivances that take up half the movie (including a car chase that features George Lazenby—the forgotten Bond—known only as “JB” here—cruising in a rather beat-up Aston Martin DV8), the U.N.C.L.E. duo are eventually reunited, if only briefly. The movie fails in that it loses the interaction between the suave Solo and the introspective Kuryakin. Instead, it sends them on parallel missions to thwart the ransom demand.