"Maybe I was a little faster back there in the old days," says Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in "Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.," a patently silly CBS movie at 9 tonight on Channel 9.
The film is filled with spoofy references to the spoofy NBC spy series (1964-68) on which it is based, but in fact, Vaughn wasn't much faster then, and neither was the show. It always was a cheap, seedy-tacky imitation of the James Bond movies, with tongue not so much firmly in cheek as wagging limply in the wind, and one redeeming touch of class: Leo G. Carroll as the head of the fictitious United Network Command for Law and Enforcement.
Leo G. Carroll is dead now and is present in tonight's forced fracas only as a still photograph sitting on someone's desk.
According to the plot of tonight's film, which was written by Michael Sloan and directed by Ray Austin, Napoleon Solo is called back into action when an old nemesis steals a nuclear device called the H-957 and tries to blow up a Mideast oil-producing country with it. Solo seeks out his old pal Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum), who it seems has spent the last 15 years designing high-fashion gowns for the ladies. Ahem. (A hem, get it?)
The new director of U.N.C.L.E. is played by Patrick Macnee, who once starred in a far classier TV espionage spoof, "The Avengers." It would have been cute to have him playing that same character here, but he doesn't seem to be. Or maybe he is; it's hard to tell, harder still to care. Anyway, the action starts at Caesar's Palace, proceeds to "Somewhere in Libya," and ends up somewhere in nowhere.
Bringing back Don Adams as agent Maxwell Smart was a brilliant inspiration compared with the exhumation of Solo and Kuryakin, who never really did amount to anything loftier than the poor man's 20th-century Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Curators of low-level TV lore may be amused by this reunion, even so soon after the CBS film that brought back The Beaver and his brother (now that was auspicious), but when it comes to truly minute minutiae, the show does have one collector's item: a cameo by George Lazenby, who once played, with disastrously ineffectual results, James Bond, in the film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service."
It may seem sad that Lazenby still is trading on that extremely fleeting instant in the spotlight, but then the sight of McCallum dangling by his wrists from shackles beneath the core of a nuclear reactor has a certain waxy pathos, too. "Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E." makes one look forward to future such TV revivals the way one might look forward to another book by a movie star's child that tells everybody what a rotter the movie star was. Redundancy on this level can get positively morbid.