How to Steal the World


1h 26m 1968
How to Steal the World

Brief Synopsis

Secret agent Napoleon Solo fights to stop a top-secret plot to conquer the world.

Film Details

Genre
Action
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
1968
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Color
Color (Metrocolor)

Synopsis

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin have to investigate: Their colleague Robert Kingsley and Dr. Kurt Erikson have vanished. The chemist has discovered a gas making people will-less...

Film Details

Genre
Action
Thriller
Spy
Release Date
1968
Production Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 26m
Color
Color (Metrocolor)

Articles

How to Steal the World


An all-you-can-eat buffet of the campiest chocolate-lobster camp imaginable, How to Steal the World (1968) is actually the last two episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a two-part saga titled "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair," spliced together for theaters overseas when the show, after a four-year run, had been officially canceled. Never seen in American theaters - why would it be? - this chintzy, silly, often hilariously self-serious (or was it?) spy programmer is a refreshing dip into crazy '60s swamp water for those not still devoted to the extremely dated and extremely preposterous TV series. U.N.C.L.E. fans will not be delighted - this rather anti-climactic denouement has little of the farcical tone and dry banter that made the show a momentary hit. But for the rest of us, director Sutton Roley's slapdash, network-hurried nonsense can be an entrancing day-trip to a specific time and place, being the op-art brain pan of the American teenager in the mid-'60s.

The moment someone pulls a secret half-burned note out of a missing scientist's fireplace, covered with cryptic 7s - what does it mean? - you know you're in the pretend world of the developmentally arrested. It's a pure place to be - almost a Jungian kid-impulse equally shared by untold millions of other young cineastes, and what's charming about films like this has nothing to do with professionalism, but everything to do with our stasis, or even regress, as children. Call it a "bad" film if you must, but the same aspects that we could condemn as being wretched and inept - the plotting, the dialogue, the action editing, the concepts - also feel sort of child-like, a still-innocent manifestation of play. In our desire to be sucked into a narrative, we usually overlook the fact that moviemaking is a kind of play itself - an elaborate game of pretend. (Jean-Luc Godard knew this perfectly well.) The faster and sloppier a film is shot and assembled seems to accentuate this vibe.

Of course, U.N.C.L.E.'s show-runners and script team did indulge in self-parody at times, and much of How to Steal the World verges on comic hamminess, though never approaching the flat-out cartoonishness of the Batman TV series, which ran contemporaneously. Vampy Eleanor Parker - yes, that Eleanor Parker, the demure melodrama queen from Detective Story (1951) and Caged (1950) - in a mod newsboy cap and toting a badly-dubbed revolver, is merely the most absurd presence on display. She's an evil rogue agent looking to double cross U.N.C.L.E. adversary THRUSH in a plot to kidnap the world's seven most brilliant scientists and use them, and an autosuggestion drug, to gain control over the world's population. The scent of Ayn Rand is definitely in the air here - the set-up echoes Atlas Shrugged - especially once the film decamps to the futurist cult-headquarters in the desert, where the members/employees all wear commune robes, and Leslie Nielsen, as a megalomaniacal Army general heading the scheme, blustering around ordering executions and fondling a riding crop.

It gets complicated, which isn't good because the exigencies of network episodic production means that the essential mechanics of clear cinematic storytelling is at best a minor concern, when in fact the story seems even worth the effort. Every conceivable shortcut and editing fudge-device known to grade-C grinders and get-it-done TV crews is in the mix, as Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, their silk-suited days as superspies winding to a close, are chased, beaten, helicoptered, stranded and captured in their efforts to save the world, presumably for the 200th time. Indeed, with the show's few cast members (like Leo G. Carroll) doing duty in their cutaway roles, U.N.C.L.E. seems a rather hilariously threadbare organization, with only a few offices and fewer agents, and the prospect that they could manage to obviate a threat to their building, much less the entire globe, seems dubious at best.

But the vibe is alluring all the same - this is a strange, impossible, dangerous micro-world, in which assassinations, crashes and machine-gun battles take place in broad daylight, as if no adult cared or could stop it. Vaughn's Napoleon Solo and McCallum's Illya Kuryakin aren't grown-ups battling evil in a remotely authentic landscape; they're kid avatars, tossed about across a giant playground (essentially, the emptied industrial sections and deserts of Los Angeles), making things up as they go along, imagining pulp melodramatics into existence in the blazing featureless sunshine. If you don't key into this vibe, the allure of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may well be lost on you, as we look back upon this odd cultural phenomena that spawned not only posable action figures but also seven other two-episodes-equals-a-feature movies released worldwide, all between 1964 and 1968. The James Bond series only managed six films in twice the time, but of course those films were actually made with some care and resources. How to Steal the World, on the other hand, is pure malarkey, created like the afternoon whimsy of ten-year-olds playing war on the front lawn.

By Michael Atkinson
How To Steal The World

How to Steal the World

An all-you-can-eat buffet of the campiest chocolate-lobster camp imaginable, How to Steal the World (1968) is actually the last two episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a two-part saga titled "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair," spliced together for theaters overseas when the show, after a four-year run, had been officially canceled. Never seen in American theaters - why would it be? - this chintzy, silly, often hilariously self-serious (or was it?) spy programmer is a refreshing dip into crazy '60s swamp water for those not still devoted to the extremely dated and extremely preposterous TV series. U.N.C.L.E. fans will not be delighted - this rather anti-climactic denouement has little of the farcical tone and dry banter that made the show a momentary hit. But for the rest of us, director Sutton Roley's slapdash, network-hurried nonsense can be an entrancing day-trip to a specific time and place, being the op-art brain pan of the American teenager in the mid-'60s. The moment someone pulls a secret half-burned note out of a missing scientist's fireplace, covered with cryptic 7s - what does it mean? - you know you're in the pretend world of the developmentally arrested. It's a pure place to be - almost a Jungian kid-impulse equally shared by untold millions of other young cineastes, and what's charming about films like this has nothing to do with professionalism, but everything to do with our stasis, or even regress, as children. Call it a "bad" film if you must, but the same aspects that we could condemn as being wretched and inept - the plotting, the dialogue, the action editing, the concepts - also feel sort of child-like, a still-innocent manifestation of play. In our desire to be sucked into a narrative, we usually overlook the fact that moviemaking is a kind of play itself - an elaborate game of pretend. (Jean-Luc Godard knew this perfectly well.) The faster and sloppier a film is shot and assembled seems to accentuate this vibe. Of course, U.N.C.L.E.'s show-runners and script team did indulge in self-parody at times, and much of How to Steal the World verges on comic hamminess, though never approaching the flat-out cartoonishness of the Batman TV series, which ran contemporaneously. Vampy Eleanor Parker - yes, that Eleanor Parker, the demure melodrama queen from Detective Story (1951) and Caged (1950) - in a mod newsboy cap and toting a badly-dubbed revolver, is merely the most absurd presence on display. She's an evil rogue agent looking to double cross U.N.C.L.E. adversary THRUSH in a plot to kidnap the world's seven most brilliant scientists and use them, and an autosuggestion drug, to gain control over the world's population. The scent of Ayn Rand is definitely in the air here - the set-up echoes Atlas Shrugged - especially once the film decamps to the futurist cult-headquarters in the desert, where the members/employees all wear commune robes, and Leslie Nielsen, as a megalomaniacal Army general heading the scheme, blustering around ordering executions and fondling a riding crop. It gets complicated, which isn't good because the exigencies of network episodic production means that the essential mechanics of clear cinematic storytelling is at best a minor concern, when in fact the story seems even worth the effort. Every conceivable shortcut and editing fudge-device known to grade-C grinders and get-it-done TV crews is in the mix, as Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, their silk-suited days as superspies winding to a close, are chased, beaten, helicoptered, stranded and captured in their efforts to save the world, presumably for the 200th time. Indeed, with the show's few cast members (like Leo G. Carroll) doing duty in their cutaway roles, U.N.C.L.E. seems a rather hilariously threadbare organization, with only a few offices and fewer agents, and the prospect that they could manage to obviate a threat to their building, much less the entire globe, seems dubious at best. But the vibe is alluring all the same - this is a strange, impossible, dangerous micro-world, in which assassinations, crashes and machine-gun battles take place in broad daylight, as if no adult cared or could stop it. Vaughn's Napoleon Solo and McCallum's Illya Kuryakin aren't grown-ups battling evil in a remotely authentic landscape; they're kid avatars, tossed about across a giant playground (essentially, the emptied industrial sections and deserts of Los Angeles), making things up as they go along, imagining pulp melodramatics into existence in the blazing featureless sunshine. If you don't key into this vibe, the allure of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. may well be lost on you, as we look back upon this odd cultural phenomena that spawned not only posable action figures but also seven other two-episodes-equals-a-feature movies released worldwide, all between 1964 and 1968. The James Bond series only managed six films in twice the time, but of course those films were actually made with some care and resources. How to Steal the World, on the other hand, is pure malarkey, created like the afternoon whimsy of ten-year-olds playing war on the front lawn. By Michael Atkinson

Ruth Warrick (1915-2005) - Ruth Warrick, (1915-2005)


Ruth Warrick, the actress who will forever be identified as the first Mrs. Kane in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) to film buffs; and Phoebe Wallingford, the meddlesome nosybody on the long-running soap opera All My Children, to modern television audiences, died at her Manhattan home on January 15 of complications from Pneumonia. She was 89.

She was born on June 29, 1915 in St. Joseph, Missouri. After attaining a degree in theatre from the University of Kansas City, she left for New York, where in 1938, she joined the Mercury Theater troupe, headed by a young artist on the rise by the name of Orson Welles. When Welles prepared to film Citizen Kane (1941) he took several players from his Mercury Theater (Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan, Agnes Moorehead) and of course, Ruth Warrick. She made her film debut in Welles' cinematic epic as Emily Norton Kane. Indeed, to many film buffs, Warrick's icy charms are indispensable to the celebrated montage sequence opposite Welles at the breakfast table; particularly when he broaches the subject of her husband's infidelity:

Emily Kane: Charles, people will think...
Charles Kane: What I tell them to think!

Warrick received fine reviews for her performance, and she had good roles in her next two films The Corsican Brothers (1941), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Journey Into Fear (1942), opposite Joseph Cotton. Sadly, Hollywood, not knowing what to do with a well-trained, mature actress like Warrick, began to cast her into routine, forgettable fare: Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944), China Sky (1945), and Swell Guy (1946). Disney's Song of the South (1947), was a box-office hit, and was her best film in a while, but overall, the material she received over the next few years, simply wasn't worthy of her talents.

Things turned around for her in the mid-50s, when Warrick discovered the medium of television. She had regular roles on The Guiding Light (1953-54), As the World Turns (1956-60), Father of the Bride (1960-61), and was unforgettable as the sinister housekeeper, Hannah Cord, in Peyton Place (1965-67). Yet it was her 35-year run in the role of Phoebe Wallingford in All My Children (1970-2005), that Warrick achieved her greatest triumph. As the rich, intrusive matriarch of the fictitious, affluent town known as Pine Valley, Warrick found a role that could be at once gloriously hammy and quietly conniving - qualities that highlighted her renown versatility as an actress. To honor her contribution to television, Warrick received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys last December. She is survived by three children, a grandson, and six great-grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Ruth Warrick (1915-2005) - Ruth Warrick, (1915-2005)

Ruth Warrick, the actress who will forever be identified as the first Mrs. Kane in Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941) to film buffs; and Phoebe Wallingford, the meddlesome nosybody on the long-running soap opera All My Children, to modern television audiences, died at her Manhattan home on January 15 of complications from Pneumonia. She was 89. She was born on June 29, 1915 in St. Joseph, Missouri. After attaining a degree in theatre from the University of Kansas City, she left for New York, where in 1938, she joined the Mercury Theater troupe, headed by a young artist on the rise by the name of Orson Welles. When Welles prepared to film Citizen Kane (1941) he took several players from his Mercury Theater (Joseph Cotten, Everett Sloan, Agnes Moorehead) and of course, Ruth Warrick. She made her film debut in Welles' cinematic epic as Emily Norton Kane. Indeed, to many film buffs, Warrick's icy charms are indispensable to the celebrated montage sequence opposite Welles at the breakfast table; particularly when he broaches the subject of her husband's infidelity: Emily Kane: Charles, people will think... Charles Kane: What I tell them to think! Warrick received fine reviews for her performance, and she had good roles in her next two films The Corsican Brothers (1941), with Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Journey Into Fear (1942), opposite Joseph Cotton. Sadly, Hollywood, not knowing what to do with a well-trained, mature actress like Warrick, began to cast her into routine, forgettable fare: Mr. Winkle Goes to War (1944), China Sky (1945), and Swell Guy (1946). Disney's Song of the South (1947), was a box-office hit, and was her best film in a while, but overall, the material she received over the next few years, simply wasn't worthy of her talents. Things turned around for her in the mid-50s, when Warrick discovered the medium of television. She had regular roles on The Guiding Light (1953-54), As the World Turns (1956-60), Father of the Bride (1960-61), and was unforgettable as the sinister housekeeper, Hannah Cord, in Peyton Place (1965-67). Yet it was her 35-year run in the role of Phoebe Wallingford in All My Children (1970-2005), that Warrick achieved her greatest triumph. As the rich, intrusive matriarch of the fictitious, affluent town known as Pine Valley, Warrick found a role that could be at once gloriously hammy and quietly conniving - qualities that highlighted her renown versatility as an actress. To honor her contribution to television, Warrick received a lifetime achievement award from the Daytime Emmys last December. She is survived by three children, a grandson, and six great-grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

This last U.N.C.L.E. motion picture was made up of both parts of "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair" (1/8 & 15/1968), the series finale to "Man from U.N.C.L.E., The" (1964).