by Ryan Lewellen

The Archivist

Welcome to the Archive. Following the infamous “Format Wars” (R.I.P. VHS), a multitude of films found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their admittedly niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Disc On Demand and Streaming service devoted to some of the more idiosyncratic pieces of cinema ever made. Being big fans of the label, we here at Cinapse thought it prudent to establish a column devoted to these unusual gems. Thus “The Archivist” was born — a biweekly look at some of the best, boldest and most batshit motion pictures the Shield has to offer. Some of these will be recent additions to the collection, while others will be titles that have been available for awhile. With over 1,500 pictures procurable on Warner Archive (and more being added every month), there’s no possible way we’ll get to all of them. But trust me when we say we’re sure going to try.

I’ve got to tell you, Archivateers, I have been enjoying these movies so much, I am sad to finally be done with them. After eight feature-length films, I still want more, so thankfully I do, in the form of a brand-spanking-new update which hit theaters August 14th. In the latter half of the repurposed ’60s episodes available from The Warner Archives, we are treated to kicked-up camp, raucous fist-fights, and super-groovy swinging, with some really big starring turns and wee cameos from extremely cool actors.


Solo and Kuryakin must stop a wine mogul and a former Nazi scientist from melting Greenland. They have reasons, but I don’t wouldn’t want those to distract you from how funny their plan sounds. Along the way, Solo is caught up in an arranged marriage to some Italian stereotypes, and Kuryakin is being tortured for information by the wine mogul’s pain-fetishist henchwoman.

None other than Jack Palance plays the above-mentioned wine mogul, and his completely creepy performance is played large enough so everyone watching from the moon can hear him. He is a riot, and perfectly complimented by the equally psychotic performance given by Janet Leigh as his Number 1. Six years after Psycho, she got her chance to go a little Norman Bates, and she is as smile inducing as she is freaky. Vaughn and McCallum are typically charming here, but I’m not exaggerating about the Italian stereotype thing, and though it brings its own qualified charm, the concept is ridiculous. Solo is being forced into marriage with a young woman named Pia Monteri, who just so happens to be related to the geriatric leaders of the American mafia. They all show up, one of them fresh out of prison, to lean on Solo until he makes Pia an honest woman.


Unlike the previous installment, where a guy does eventually show up sporting something green upon his dome, this one doesn’t quite deliver on its title. Our heroes meet with a scientist whose experiments in desalinization have accidentally produced gold… literally. His wife, played by Joan Crawford, has poisoned him before he could fully divulge his secret to the U.N.C.L.E. agents. Crawford’s lover, Randolph (Herbert Lom), seems to have used her for that very purpose, and will now be doing away with her. Once he has taken care of business, he embarks on a quest to hunt down the five foxy daughters of the dead couple, with an army of ninjas(?) who really dig glitter-vest-centric matching outfits.

As you have probably noticed, Karate Killers is one of the zanier pieces of work from the series. It boasts some of the funniest moments in the series, a huge cast of talented actors, really weird fights (none of which look much like karate), a rapturous embrace of ’60s popular culture, and a magnetic performance from True Grit’s Kim Darby! This would, of course, be the best in the series (it is certainly the campiest), but like so many from this second half of the feature-length-ers, it suffers from one major flaw. Rather than being a single episode expanded with additional footage, this is one two-part episode stitched together as one, with maybe one extra shot of “nudity” (bare-backs! Gasp!). That isn’t intrinsically problematic, but one can feel the first episode coming to a close with a defined dramatic climax halfway through the 90-minute film. As fallout, the otherwise briskly paced story feels strangely over-long. Despite the many flaws in any Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, they are all undeniably fun to watch.


Here, in what served as the two-part series finale, an U.N.C.L.E. agent (Barry Sullivan) has gone missing, and his disappearance is immediately followed by the equally mysterious vanishing of the world’s greatest scientists and one military leader (Leslie Nielsen!). As it turns out, that former agent has created a kind of world domination cult. Their mission, to forge an era of peace by dispensing a pacifying gas on the global population, is cause for descent among the ranks, forcing Sullivan’s character into questioning his ideals.

This far less campy episode offers some intriguing themes, most of which are largely unexplored, but it is a much more mindful piece than any previous film. Sadly, it suffers from a lack of focus. The movie could easily have concentrated only on the central conflict, but we are forced to spend valuable time with Sullivan’s cheating wife and her lover, who scheme to rule the world for themselves. Unfortunately, they bring little substance or entertainment value with them, and while away the majority of their screen time doing some feline lounging, and making creepy bedroom eyes at each other from opposite ends of the same room.


This is another movie featuring a former U.N.C.L.E. agent gone bad. The Freddy Mercury look-alike, Luther Sebastian (Bradford Dillman), is now the world’s greatest thief. Helicopter Spies also suffers (by far the most) from that midway gear-change malady, and the sudden shift in direction from a heist, to stopping Sebastian from launching a weaponized rocket into space, makes this slick and funny episode play like a drag.

It’s a frustrating experience, but if you can get passed that 90-degree turning the middle, there is even more fun to be had. For whatever reason, all of Sebastian’s henchmen are a kind of new Aryan Brotherhood (or, Siblinghood, what with the ladies and all). They all sport the same blonde haircut, and they are all weirdly touchy-feely about inheriting the earth.

They might also all be related children from the same mother? There is a scene suggesting that totally bizarre idea.

I highly recommend checking these movies out, which totally justify the existence of Guy Ritchie’s brand new homage to the original series.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: I failed to mention the gobsmacking appearance of the now late, Yvonne Craig (Batgirl). I am very sorry to see her go, and you should check out The Spy With My Face, or One Spy Too Many just to see her in all her glory.

Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

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