Our Word Is Our Bond is back and Shawn Gordon takes a look at The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E: The Fifteen Years Later Affair (1983) starring David McCallum and Robert Vaughn. What has this to do with Bond, I hear you cry? It features George Lazenby as an Aston Martin-driving character named J.B… that’s what!
Among the contributions to cinema in the year of Our Lord 1983 were two rival James Bond movies. Only three actors had portrayed Bond on the big screen for Eon Productions by that time, and 1983 saw the two most popular actors back on the big screen playing their most iconic character. Roger Moore starred in the official Eon Production Octopussy, while Sean Connery – after a dozen years away from the role – returned in producer Kevin McClory’s Never Say Never Again. What most people do not realize is that George Lazenby, who played agent 007 once only, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), also made a brief, gimmicky return to the role in the largely forgettable TV movie The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E: The Fifteen Years Later Affair.
Lazenby is largely remembered for only playing James Bond a single time, but that proves to not quite be the case. In The Return Of The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Lazenby briefly reappears as 007 (or at least a thinly disguised version, a character who drives an Aston Martin with a license plate with the initials “J.B.”) The film’s producers have freely acknowledge that it is meant to be James Bond, although sayiing so outright might not have sat too well with the folks at Eon hence the use of initials. Interestingly, Bond author Ian Fleming also helped in the creation of the original U.N.C.L.E series. It’s a gag cameo, so considering this as a sort of entry in the Bond canon (which others have done) is a bit of a gag in itself. Ultimately it’s little more than a trivia footnote, but for the record the film proves that Lazenby did kind of play James Bond twice.
The story picks up after the TV series ended, with it’s two main protagonists, Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) having left U.N.C.L.E, an acronym for United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, for life in the private sector. However, their nemesis, the evil organization THRUSH, has stolen a bomb and are a demanding $350 million pay-off not to use it.
The film is a mediocre TV-movie, best suited to fans of the popular 60s television series (1964-68). Not as campy as the much despised third season of the series, but better described as cheesy, this movie takes things in a very light attempted comedic tone. The jokes are obvious and rarely hit their mark. The production is shoddy, with a low budget of just over $2 million.Things are very much kept at the TV-movie level, and a pretty cheap TV movie at that. The action scenes are poorly done – there are no Bondian stunts or excitement to be found here.
The movie does have a solid supporting cast led by Patrick Macnee, John Steed from another popular 60s spy show, The Avengers (1961-69), replacing the late Leo G. Carrol as the head of U.N.C.L.E. Gayle Hunnicutt is the female lead, while character actors Keenan Wynn, Geoffrey Lewis and Anthony Zerbe co-star. The film was directed by TV journeyman Ray Austin and written by Michael Sloan, who created the popular 80s action show The Equalizer (1985-89).
Although this review is to spotlight the George Lazenby cameo and the James Bond connection, fans of the long running film series probably wont enjoy this movie very much. However, it has a level of curiosity value which may draw die-hard Bond aficionados to it. It is not absolutely terrible, it‘s just not particularly good.
MoM Rating: 4/10