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rare female film critic | by maryann johanson

last-minute Christmas gifts: ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series’

It’s a week till Christmas Eve. You still need something cool for someone special… or maybe you’re just looking to reward yourself with some holiday cheer. Well, never fear: your Auntie Flick Chick is here to help. Sure, you may pay a little more for express shipping, or you may have to actually haul ass to a store, but I’ve got a few things to recommend that will impress. Like this, for starters:

A copy of this gorgeous baby arrived on my doorstop the other morning, and it was like Christmas came early. Now, I’d never even seen The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — for some reason it never came round on reruns when I was a kid, or since, at least not that I’ve been aware. But of course I knew of the show, and you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it, not if you’re any kind of television fan worth the name. In 1964, the espionage adventures of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were already post-Cold War and snarky and cheeky in a way that was way ahead of its time. So if you dive into the show as a newcomer now, like I immediately did, you see how huge swathes of stuff my generation grew up with, not to mention huge swathes of what’s on TV today, owe enormous debts to U.N.C.L.E. From Star Trek to Scarecrow and Mrs. King, MacGyver to Alias… the roots of it all are right here.
Not that U.N.C.L.E. isn’t hilariously entertaining in its own right — this series is not merely of historical interest. Robert Vaughn is half James Kirk, half James Bond as American agent Solo (and oh, you just know that George Lucas was deeply imprinted by that name as a young geek in the early 1960s). David McCallum is the sensitive, exotic foreigner as the Soviet spy Kuryakin. The production is cheesy in spots — I love how a car chase through the streets of “Miami” is barely disguised Hollywood backlot; they didn’t even bother with a few potted palm trees — but the writing is very clever. I can’t wait to devour the whole thing.

There’s a lot to devour: all 105 original, unedited episodes on 41 DVDs, plus more than 10 hours of bonus material, including new featurettes, interviews, McCallum’s home movies from the set, the unaired pilot, the U.N.C.L.E. feature film One Spy Too Many, the Tom & Jerry cartoon “The Mouse From H.U.N.G.E.R.,” and a lot more. It all arrives in a too-cool “attaché” case.

Seriously, this is one of the neatest DVD sets I’ve ever seen. I’ve raved about the joy of watching TV on DVD before, but I’ve still always been talking about only a season at a time. This is orders of magnitude beyond that: it’s like a time capsule from a distant entertainment era.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series is available exclusively from Time Life (it won’t be in stores until Fall 2008). I’m not gonna lie: it ain’t cheap. It’ll run ya $249.95 plus shipping (and plus tax in a few states). That’s only a little over six bucks a disc, though, or $2.38 per episode, so look at it that way and you’ll feel much better… Plus, the lucky ducky who receives this will love you forever.

Use the link below to order and I get a little kickback that helps support FlickFilosopher.com:

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – Buy It >>

For arrival by December 24 (in the U.S. only), here’s what ya do:

• via 2 Day Shipping: order by Wednesday, December 19th by 11AM EST
• via Overnight Shipping: order by Thursday, December 20th by 11AM EST

(If you don’t need it by Christmas, you can get standard shipping for free.)

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