Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Guns of U.N.C.L.E.

I have recently had a chance to reconnect with a childhood classic through Netflix, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. To be sure this has been an enlighting experience on several levels.

Originally I came into the series in the second season so many things I took for granted. By that point they had gone through many of the 'growing pains' all new series suffer. Starting with season one this time I watched them struggle to get their footing. For example, to most folks the iconic image is Robert Vaughn telling his fountain pen to "Open channel D." I had not realized in the early days he talked to a very unconvincing pack of cigarettes.

From what I understand the producers had always wanted to have a special UNCLE gun, but early on they tended to use whatever was in the prop room. This led to an early goof that was quickly corrected.

In the pilot our hero, Napoleon Solo, shoots down two bad guys with a Luger. Now, the P-08 Luger has been the stereotyplical villain gun since the 1920's. In 1964 World War Two had been over nineteen short years. This promotion photo probably gave the PR department a collective heart attack. I mean look at him. That doesn't say 'hero to the rescue.' He looks like some city slicker that's come to steal your granny's egg money! They took that Luger away from him right then! To date the only other time I've seen him with one was when he pulled it from a shoulder holster and used the butt to hammer through a plastered up wall. When it came time to shoot he had something else.

The U.N.C.L.E. carbine showed up in the pilot, but even it went through several prototypes. To be sure the weapon everyone identifies with the series is the modified P-38, but there were others. One was built up from a Mauser pistol. Illya Kuryakin is seen with one in this photo. This little beastie from the 1930's was quite functional, but it just didn't have the flair of the P-38.

I have heard that in the pilot episode Illya used a U.N.C.L.E. carbine built up from a 1911, but I haven't been able to spot it. This is the weapon I would build up were I to do so, but I wouldn't bother with the scope. I seem to recall most scopes need to be sighted in every time they are fitted to a weapon. I don't know where to get the special pre-sighted U.N.C.L.E. scopes.

Another development is a leather pad that would strap to the small of your back under your jacket to hold all the carbine parts. Even when I watched the show as a kid my reaction was "Yeah - Right!" It would take an entire entry to list the, admittedly percived, problems with this beastie.

As a kid I was amazed at the cool moves and slick gun handling Napoleon and Illya displayed. As an adult I was amazed they didn't have a gun coach on the set. In one situation Napoleon almost gets himself swamped or shot while trying to assemble his carbine for a firefight inside an apartment. In another, I believe it's Illya, is on a hillside with an assembled carbine but shoots it from the hip like a pistol at a couple of bad guys at least fifty yards away.

In another scene Napoleon had his hand over the slide of the carbine while blazing away. I shoot a P-38 regularly and remember thinking the hot brass was going to burn the daylights out of his hand. When I backed it up and reran the scene I realized he was doing that to keep the viewers noticing the slide wasn't moving. I'm interested to see if they get better in later seasons, or if I just thought they did when I watched them when I was younger.

I will close with two bits of information.

First, if you're anything like me, you spent Friday nights watching these shows and wishing you had an U.N.C.L.E. carbine. Well, you just might be in luck!

A gentleman in Amarillo, Texas runs THE UNCLE GUN website. He has very faithful replicas of the U.N.C.L.E. carbines and just about any accessories you can think of. He has a real, firing U.N.C.L.E. carbine in the works. In fact, many of the photos I used here tonight came from his site. (Hi Brad, if you object to this drop me a line and I will take them down).

So pay him a visit but be warned, you can kill hours brousing this site.

Second, there is talk of a new Man From U.N.C.L.E. Movie. This may or may not happen but I have my fingers crossed. I can only hope they will employ folks who actually saw the original series. We don't need another Fifteen years later affair.



    Online version of article that appeared in the book "Bang Bang Shoot Shoot: Guns and Popular Culture"