Richard Lutz peruses the TV listings for the best film on the box this week.
Hey! Ilya Kuryaken!
I mean the small but perfectly formed Russian spy who was always a bit cool and detached as he sidekicked Napoleon Solo in The Man from UNCLE series back in the sixties.
The Beatles were beating the hell out of the charts at the time, British was the Thing and Scottish actor David McCallum did have a way with his blond locks, his ubiquitous black turtle neck and his fab cur-raa-zee Russian accent tinged with a soft Glasgow brogue.
His part started as a minor role in the series. But fan mail turned the studio bosses’ heads and he got co-star billing.
McCallum re-appeared in my life when I walked into a pub near Stirling to see Illya Kuryaken promo pix pinned to the barroom walls. Why? I asked over a Tennants lager and bag of haggis crisps. Well, it seems that his auntie owned the joint and wee Davie was evacuated to this town during the war. He was a local hero.
After UNCLE, McCallum earned his keep in B movies and re-emerged as Dr Mallard in NCIS. Hey presto, a survivor. His son, by the way, is a sideman for LA crooner Jackson Browne.
Well, Illya turns up this week on TV in The Spy in The Green Hat (TCM, Tusday, 15.00). It’s a Man from UNCLE potboiler – one of five to hit the big screen all those decades ago. Robert Vaughn is there looking all purse-lipped and uptight as usual. But, get this, Jack Palance is the baddie and Janet Leigh (from Psycho and also The Vikings) is there too as a co-star villain. So is one of Hollywood’s greatest comics, Joan Blondell.
By the way, the new UNCLE film pops up this summer directed by Madonna ex Guy Ritchie. Not too sure about that one…he’s a humourless sort of fake East Ender and will probably sink the brand forever with too much crash bang and not much élan.
Footnote: My hunt for westerns with locations in their titles continues. This week on the flatscreen….Rio Lobo, Drums Along the Mohawk, Dakota Incident, Santa Fe, Arizona Trail, Tough Gun in Tombstone and, also, Bad Men of Tombstone. Surely, a conspiracy here – maybe sending secret attack targets to the Russkies or something.