It has a fairly straightforward spy story plot. U.N.C.L.E. has discovered that wealthy industrialist Andrew Vulcan is a THRUSH agent. Vulcan intents to assassinate the president of a new independent African nation, THRUSH having decided that having their very own country would be very useful - for one thing their agents could claim diplomatic immunity.
Solo makes use of a device that the series would use again and again - an innocent bystander gets caught up in the world of espionage. In this case it’s Elaine May Donaldson, an ordinary housewife who just happened to have been Vulcan’s girlfriend years earlier when they were both at college. U.N.C.L.E. persuades her to help them foil Vulcan’s scheme.
When it was picked up as a series by NBC it was retitled The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and you might wonder why it was not called The Men from U.N.C.L.E. The answer is obvious when you watch Solo. The focus is entirely on Napoleon Solo. Illya Kuryakin is a minor character, in fact very minor, and was intended to be at best a minor character in the series. Illya was however so immediately and insanely popular that that idea was hurriedly revised and so there ended up being two men from U.N.C.L.E. but it was too late to change the title. It was pure accident that David McCallum lasted long enough for any of this to happen since the network wanted to fire him after the pilot, another example of the reliable stupidity of network executives.
Ian Fleming had been involved in the early planing stages of the series. He had at first intended it to feature two U.N.C.L.E. agents, Napoleon Solo and glamorous girl spy April Dancer (Fleming was always amazingly good at character names). Fleming’s involvement was short-lived but the pilot episode still has a very Ian Fleming feel to it. Napoleon Solo is an American James Bond - suave, cultured, charming, educated, upper class and with a taste for the good things in life. Including women. Especially women. There’s a touch of refined arrogance and there’s supreme self-assurance.
The tone is fairly serious. There’s the occasional witty moment but on the whole it’s played very straight. Even Robert Vaughn plays it pretty straight (well plays it straight by Robert Vaughn standards. anyway).
Will Kuluva is quite adequate as Mr Allison but of course Leo G. Carroll proved to be a better choice for the series. The guest cast, as was the case throughout the run of the series, is very strong with Patricia Crowley playing the innocent rôle to perfection. Fritz Weaver as Vulcan is a good villain but he’s much less colourful than later Man from U.N.C.L.E. bad guys.