Today “The Man From UNCLE” opens. Hollywood, as the cliché goes, is all out of new ideas. That may not be such a bad thing, as there’s a lot worth recycling, including the enormous body of Cold War-era spy stuff. The latest “Mission Impossible” is supposed to be excellent, with a 93% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. “The Man From UNCLE” comes in considerably lower at 68%.
The film is based on the TV show that ran from 1964 to 1968. Actor Robert Vaughn (pictured above from Reel Art Press’ “Hollywood And The Ivy Look“) plays secret agent Napoleon Solo. Here’s a wiki-kwik summary:
The character was created by Ian Fleming as a small screen version of James Bond. Solo possesses a charm, sophistication, efficiency, and weakness for beautiful women comparable to Bond’s. But Solo is considerably less intense and also less brutal than the English spy, and he possesses a laid-back ease that recalls the young Cary Grant.
The show overlaps with the twilight of the Ivy heyday, and Vaughn’s costuming is interesting as an example of the mixing and matching that was prevalent at the time. The Ivy League Look had an extended period of popularity, but it was merely one of many fashions high and low available at the time. As seen in the image below, Vaughn often wore buttondown collars and simple (perhaps knit) ties:
But there were differences from Ivy when it came to his tailored clothing, which was far more international and in keeping with his character, who is an America but working for an international organization. The excellent website The Suits Of James Bond has a post about Vaughn’s tailoring for the first episode:
In the American tradition, the shoulders are natural with little or no padding and the front has no darts. The lack of front darts makes the jacket look somewhat boxy, but it still fits closely and has waist suppression. The main different between a jacket with darts and a jacket without darts is that the one without darts has less fullness in the chest. Solo’s jacket has a very clean and close-fitting chest, whilst the waist is suppressed through the rear side seams and the darts under the arms.
The suit trousers have a flat front, long rise, tapered legs and no belt loops. The long rise is the most significant part of Solo’s suit that separates it from today’s suits. It is long enough to almost meet the jacket’s front button. Going against American tradition, the trousers have plain hems. The trousers also are hemmed short, making these what some call high-water or flood trousers. It’s a traditional American style to hem the trousers too short, and Solo’s are about two inches above where the trousers would meet the shoes in front.
Solo’s white button-down shirt follows traditional American style just as many parts of the suit do. Likely made of oxford cloth, the shirt has a soft button-down collar, rounded single-button cuffs and a front placket. The narrow tie is black with a pronounced diagonal rib and tied in a small four-in-hand knot. The tie is held against the shirt with small tie clip placed just above the height of the jacket’s button. The tie clip is hidden when the jacket is buttoned.
Solo’s black shoes are an American style of shoe called longwing bluchers. Longwings have a pointed toe cap like a wing-tip, but they have wings extending the full length of the shoe. Bluchers are similar to derbys in that they have open lacing, but on bluchers the vamp and quarters are one piece, and they have tabs sewn to the front for the lacing eyelets.
Here’s Vaughn in a publicity shot:
There’s someone else from the TV show worth mentioning: Leo G. Carroll plays the slouch-tweedy head of the UNCLE organization:
You’ll recognize him from “North By Northwest,” in which he plays the elderly gentleman who has to convince Cary Grant to go along with the plan to catch James Mason. Carroll has that wonderful exchange when asked about the “MacGuffin,” Hitchcock’s famous nickname for the object in a movie that everyone’s after and upon which the plot turns. In this case it’s microfilm, and when Grant asks what’s on it, Carroll shrugs, “Oh, government secrets, perhaps.” It’s a testament to Hitchcock’s brilliance that ultimately the audience doesn’t care what the MacGuffin is, being engrossed in the perils of the protagonists.
In closing, here’s the opening — the opening sequence from the TV show, that is. Whether you spend your time outdoors or in an air-conditioned theater, have a stylish weekend. — CC