U.N.C.L.E. movie gets PG-13 rating

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, 11 months ahead of its U.S. release has gotten a rating of PG-13 from the Motion Picture Association of America, according to the BOX OFFICE MOJO WEBSITE.

The MPAA cited “action violence, some suggestive content, and partial nudity,” according to a Box Office Mojo compilation of recent movie ratings.

That’s not unexpected. PG-13 is the sweet spot for most action movies. James Bond films, for example, have carried a PG-13 rating since 1989’s Licence to Kill. A rating of R, for restricted, where children under 17 aren’t supposed to be admitted without a parent, cuts down the potential audience for a film at theaters.

Separately, recording of the movie’s score began today. Composer Daniel Pemberton, for the second time in two days, took to Twitter to provide an update.

This week has been where U.N.C.L.E. 1.0 and 2.0 have collided.

On Sept. 21, MeTV telecast The Quadripartite Affair, the third episode of the original 1964-68 series and the first to have significant screen time for the Illya Kuryakin character. The next day was the 50th anniversary of the show.

The past two days have had news about the new U.N.C.L.E. film, with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer, in the roles originally played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

U.N.C.L.E. movie score recording starts Sept. 24

Shoutout to @laneyboggs2001 at Twitter who re-Tweeted the composer as the postings went online.

Daniel Pemberton, composer for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, took to Twitter to announce he’ll begin recording his score tomorrow, Sept. 24.

Pemberton follows in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith (who scored the pilot for the 1964-68 television series and composed its theme music), Morton Stevens, Lalo Schifrin, Gerald Fried and others as U.N.C.L.E. composers. Pemberton didn’t provide a lot of details. For example, he didn’t say if Goldsmith’s theme is incorporated into the score.

Still, after reshoots and test screenings, news — delivered one day after the show’s 50th anniversary — showed how the movie’s post production is proceeding. It’s scheduled to be released in August 2015.

Here are three of the Twitter postings:

The FBI season 9: Erskine’s final cases

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

The FBI, after eight seasons, was still getting decent ratings but they were declining. Executive Producer Quinn Martin decided to shake things up.

A new/old face was brought in as the day-to-day producer. Anthony Spinner, a writer on the series during the first, second and fifth seasons, took the helm.

Spinner had his ups and down at QM Productions. He left his post as associate producer of The Invaders to become the producer during the last season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He returned to QM to produce Dan August, a police drama that only lasted one season. Later he left again to work as story consultant and then producer of Search, another series that only lasted one season.

Whether it was Spinner’s doing or not, his tenure on The FBI’s final season resembles his time on U.N.C.L.E. On both shows, there was a “back to basics” feel. In the case of The FBI, there was a new young sidekick (Shelly Novack as agent Chris Daniels) for Efrem Zimbalist Jr.’s Lewis Erskine. This was similar to the show’s first two seasons when Erskine had a young sidekick, Jim Rhodes (Stephen Brooks).

This meant William Reynolds, sidekick for six seasons, was out although he’d appear in two season 9 episodes. It turned out Reynolds’s Tom Colby had gotten a promotion and was now stationed on the West Coast.

Also, the final season went back to a minute-long version of Bronislau Kaper’s theme for the main titles, again similar to the first two seasons. Since the third season, there had been a very short main titles.

Still, it wasn’t enough to save the show. The FBI had always been an idealized version of the real-life U.S. agency. By the time episodes began airing in the fall of 1973, the Watergate scandal overwhelmed the news, including giving a black eye to the real FBI.

The show still maintained its quality, drawing a combination of old pros (Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen, Susan Oliver, Gary Lockwood) and upcoming actors (Harvey Keitel) as guest stars. Perhaps it was just time. Nevertheless, it could be said that The FBI (the series) never “jumped the shark” the way other long-running series did.

UPDATE (Sept. 24): Season 9 of The FBI is available in the U.S. from Warner Archive. CLICK HERE for ordering information.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. celebrates its 50th anniversary

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

Publicity still from the 1964-68 series.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted 50 years ago today with the telecast of The Vulcan Affair on NBC.

The series had false starts. First Ian Fleming was a participant, then after several months he wasn’t, bowing out to pressure from Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Then there was threatened legal action from Eon Productions stemming from the show’s original title, Solo.

In turn, the series got a new title and the legal problems went away. The makers of Goldfinger did make one change in their film. A gangster named Solo died the most spectacular death among hoodlums invited to Goldfginer’s Kentucky stud farm, a change from earlier drafts and from Fleming’s original novel. (Adrian Turner’s 1998 book on Goldfinger details the changes in the movie’s script.)

Nor did U.N.C.L.E. get off to an easy start. Airing on Tuesday nights, it was up against The Red Skeleton Show on CBS, which nearly led to cancelation before a mid-season switch to Monday nights.

But the audience discovered the series, eventually ensuring a renewal for a second season for 1965-66, which would be its highest-rated campaign.

Executive Producer Norman Felton soldiered on. His developer-producer Sam Rolfe departed after the first season and things weren’t quite the same, certainly not as consistent. Various other producers — David Victor, Boris Ingster and Anthony Spinner among them — put their own stamp on the show with varying degrees of success. Major contributions were made by writers such as Alan Caillou (who arguably shaped the Illya Kuryakin character), Dean Hargrove and Peter Allan Fields.

It remains to be seen whether U.N.C.L.E. can resonate with modern audiences. A movie version won’t be out until next year, and some fans aren’t crazy about the idea. It is back on U.S. television, via MeTV, which is showing it on Sunday nights.

Regardless, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E.

Happy birthday, David McCallum

Happy 81st birthday, Mr. McCallum. We can see you’re busy.

David McCallum roughing it on his birthday

David McCallum roughing it on his birthday

Jonny Quest’s 50th: espionage gets animated

Race Bannon about to rescue Jonny Quest

Race Bannon about to rescue Jonny Quest

A half-century ago, one piece of spy-related entertainment involved a villain planning to use a laser beam to shoot down a U.S. rocket being launched to go to the moon.

A mix of Dr. No and Goldfinger? Sort of. It was the debut of The Adventures of Jonny Quest, later shortened to just Jonny Quest.

The Hanna-Barbera cartoon debuted on Sept. 18, 1964, with The Mystery of the Lizard Men on ABC’s prime-time schedule.

The series chronicled the adventures of Jonny, only son of key American scientist Benton Quest. The importance of Dr. Quest, a widower, was such that U.S. intelligence operative assigned agent Roger “Race” Bannon as bodyguard and tutor.

According to AN ONLINE DOCUMENTARY, the project originated when producer Joseph Barbera saw Dr. No, the first James Bond film. Barbera knew it was a genre he and partner William Hanna had to develop a cartoon for.

The producers initially thought they could revive the radio series Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. A test cartoon was made and, the Quest documentary states, part of it was incorporated into the start of Jonny Quest’s end titles.

Hanna and Barbera soon dropped that idea and opted to develop their own characters. They enlisted cartoonist Doug Wildey, who ended up doing much of the heavy lifting of devising characters. Much of the finished product was Wildey’s. One major exception, according to the documentary, was Jonny’s pet dog, Bandit. Wildey wanted a more exotic pet while Bandit ended up an obvious cartoon dog.

In the opener, ships are being destroyed in the Sargasso Sea by mysterious means. Thus, Benton Quest is called in to investigate with his son and Bannon in tow. Soon after, Jonny, Race and Bandit are soon in peril and stumble upon the conspiracy by an unnamed foreign power headed by an unnamed villain.

The story — written by Wildey, Hanna, Barbera and Alex Lovy — reflected its Bondian influences. The plot’s McGuffin resembles Dr. No. The villain’s main gadget, a laser gun, was part of Goldfinger, which was debuting in the U.K. at the same time (and wouldn’t reach the U.S. until December).

Quest was different than previous H-B productions. Characters (with the exception of Bandit) were drawn realistically, including shadowing.

The series was helped significantly by composer Hoyt Curtin, especially the debut episode. According to the Quest documentary, Curtin wrote the signature theme in such a way that trombone players couldn’t actually be played correctly. It was Curtin’s way of getting back at the musicians who playfully complained that the composer’s music was too easy to play.

The credits on Jonny Quest downplayed the significance of Wildey and Curtin. Wildey wasn’t created as the show’s creator. On some episodes, he was listed as “supervising art director,” in others it was stated the show was “based on ideas created by” Wildey. Curtin was credited for “musical direction.” Meanwhile Hanna and Barbera got a “produced and directed by” credit in larger type for each episode.

Quest wasn’t a big hit. It ran only season in prime time. It would later be rerun on Saturday mornings. In the 1980s and ’90s, there would be Quest cartoon revivals. But it was never the same.

In the 2000s, there was a DVD release of that first season. But there were changes. Some politically incorrect lines were taken out. Also, the end titles from two episodes were used over and over. The writing credits for each episode were in the end titles. As a result, the viewer doesn’t really know who penned the episodes.

In any case, for people of a certain age, Jonny Quest still resonates, especially Curtin’s theme. Quest’s golden anniversary, understandably, will be overlooked because of the 50th anniversary of Goldfinger. Still, for some, will look back at the series with great fondness.

U.N.C.L.E. at 50: an unusual anniversary

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

Robert Vaughn in a first-season main title.

This month marks The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 50th anniversary. But the milestone comes at an unusual time and is full of ups and downs.

The original 1964-68 series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum is getting a bit more visibility in the U.S. because THE METV CHANNEL HAS STARTED TELECASTING the show. Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles area, there’s a SOLD OUT EVENT LATER THIS MONTH featuring actors and crew members of the series.

Of course, there’s a reborn U.N.C.L.E. in the form of a Guy Ritchie-directed film starring Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in the Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin roles. But the only people outside of Warner Bros. who’ve seen it are those who’ve attended test screenings. The movie, which originally had a mid-January release date, now won’t debut for 11 months.

Fans generally welcome the MeTV development, except for those annoyed at their local MeTV outlet for pre-empting the show for other programming.

On the other hand, divides U.N.C.L.E. fans. Some would like to see a movie, if it’s true to the spirit of the show. We already know it’s not true to the last letter of the show. The movie, set in the early 1960s, is an U.N.C.L.E. origin story. In the series, U.N.C.L.E. had been established for years.

Other fans are actively rooting against the movie for a variety of reasons. Examples: the original doesn’t need remaking, the changes already known between film and series are too much and objections to the casting (for a variety of reasons) of Cavill and Hammer. How deep is such feeling? In the absence of scientific polling, hard to say.

The show did help launch spymania on U.S. television. There had been other espionage series, such as Five Fingers, starring David Hedison and Luciana Paluzzi, that ran just one season. Even the notion of a multi-national organization, one of the ways U.N.C.L.E. differentiated itself, had been tried in AN UNSOLD PILOT that aired as the last episode of the Boris Karloff Thriller series in 1962.

The series got off to a slow start, but was helped by a mid-season change in time slot and the surge of movie spymania stemming from 1964’s Goldfinger. By the fall of 1965, other spy series were on the air.

U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t had the visibility of other old television shows, one reason why the show joining MeTV’s Sunday night schedule was welcomed by fans.

The movie is something else. Go to various places on social media and you can see the debates for yourself.

As a result, U.N.C.L.E. on its golden anniversary doesn’t seem to have the sense of celebration as, say, Dr. No’s golden anniversary two years ago.

It’s still an anniversary worth noting. Those attending the Los Angeles area program will have the chance to meet with crew members in their 80s and 90s and will get the opportunity to hear their insight. Still, it’s a different kind of anniversary, for good or ill, depending on your view.

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