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.

Bond 24 director of photography chosen, Hitfix says

tinker poster

Hoyte van Hoytema, who photographed films including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, has been hired to be director of photography on Bond 24, THE HITFIX WEBSITE reported.

An excerpt:

BAFTA-nominated cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema has been turning heads ever since his stunning work in the stylish Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In” crossed the Atlantic six years ago. And lately, he’s just getting all the good gigs, having stepped in for Spike Jonze regular Lance Acord on last year’s “Her” and for Christopher Nolan’s right hand man Wally Pfister on the upcoming “Interstellar.” Well, you can add another big pair of shoes for the talented director of photography to fill. With Roger Deakins exiting the James Bond franchise after 2012’s “Skyfall,” we can confirm that director Sam Mendes has tapped van Hoytema to shoot the still untitled 24th installment of the series.

Van Hoytema succeeds Roger Deakins, who received an Oscar nomination for his work on 2012’s Skyfall. Deakins didn’t win and opted to pass on a 007 return engagement for Bond 24.

The Hitfix story was written by Kristopher Tapley, who originally broke the news that Deakins wasn’t coming back for Bond 24 in a post on Twitter earlier this year.

The subject of who would follow Deakins has been a subject of discussion among Bond fans. You can view the entire Hitfix story by CLICKING HERE.

Bond 24 press conference suggestion: don’t take questions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Bond 24 will start principal photography on Dec. 6, The Daily Mail said at the very end of a Sept. 11 story and the MI6 James Bond website wrote in more detail in a Sept. 13 article. That likely means a formal press conference in the coming months.

Here’s a suggestion for those concerned with Bond 24: just don’t take any questions.

Based on the November 2011 press conference for the start of Skyfall production, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, don’t really like answering a lot of questions. At that event, more than 10 minutes passed (out of less than 28 total) before reporters were even permitted to ask any.

If you did away with the question and answer part of the press conference, it would hopefully mean some clichés would go away. “The money’s all up on the screen,” or “I could tell you but I’d have to kill you,” for example. They don’t add anything.

Also, not taking questions would lessen (though not eliminate) the possibility of misleading things being said.

Director Sam Mendes, in an April PBS interview, said he cast the part of Bill Tanner in Skyfall when, in fact, actor Rory Kinnear already played the part in Quantum of Solace.

He also said Skyfall was the first James Bond film where characters were allowed to age, a statement that didn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Nor was that his first time saying questionable things. Back when he was in talks to direct Skyfall, Mendes denied it while his publicist confirmed it. Not taking questions would help avoid that.

Some fans think it’s ridiculous journalists should even expect an answer to a question (read one of the comments to THIS POST. They just want to watch the video. It’s also not like the media outlets wouldn’t show up if the movie makers didn’t take questions. They’d be there to record the various comments and get video.

For the reporters, would they miss much if not allowed to ask questions? At the 2011 press conference, the MC mocked the scribes for not asking what Skyfall meant sooner. Then, Barbara Broccoli gave the vaguest of answers.

Is it really a loss to not go through that? Most of the real information about the movie (that Skyfall would be the title, that Judi Dench’s M was being killed off, that Naomie Harris’ character was really Moneypenny, for example) came out elsewhere.

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.

Richard Kiel, 007 and spy villain, dies at 74

Richard Kiel as Jaws

Richard Kiel as Jaws

Richard Kiel, who stood more than 7-feet-tall, making him a natural as a villain in 1960s spy series plus two James Bond films, has died at 74, according to an obituary in the LOS ANGELES TIMES. An excerpt:

Richard Kiel, the 7-foot-2 actor best known for portraying the James Bond villain Jaws, never wanted to be typecast as a dimwitted character just because of his enormous stature. While his towering physique may have made him intimidating, he was not dumb, he told the Los Angeles Times during a 1978 interview. “If I wanted to be a trial attorney, I could have been. If I wanted to be a real estate magnate, I could have been that, too,” he said.

Kiel appeared as Jaws in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker. But he had plenty of experience portraying menacing henchmen. He had one uncredited scene in the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as well as another first-season episode, The Hong Kong Shilling Affair. He was the henchman of Dr. Loveless, a scientist dwarf, in three episodes of The Wild Wild West, plus a later appearance as another character. And he appeared in In Spy. Here’s a sample of Kiel’s pre-007 work, the first Loveless episode on The Wild Wild West. Bear in mind it could be yanked from YouTube at any time. Kiel also reprised the Jaws role (sort of) at the 1982 Oscars during a production of For You Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song of 1981. He appeared along with Harold Sakata, who played Oddjob in Goldfinger.

Goldfinger: the first ‘A-movie’ comic book film?

Goldfinger poster

Goldfinger poster

Here’s a thought as Goldfinger celebrates its 50th anniversary. In a way, the third James Bond film may have been the first “A-movie” comic book film.

Before Goldfinger, comic book films existed as serials. Lewis Wilson, father of Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson, played Batman in a 1943 serial, for example. Serials would run for weeks in 15-minute or so installments ahead of the main feature.

Goldfinger, of course, was based on Ian Fleming’s novel, not a comic book. Still, some Fleming novels seem to draw their inspiration from pulp adventure stories (also a source of inspiration for comic books).

In Fleming’s novel, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob was already over the top. With the film, that increased. A gold bar bounced off his chest without causing Oddjob harm. Harold Sakata’s Oddjob crushed a golf ball to show his displeasure with Sean Connery’s Bond. The henchman used his steel-rimmed hat to kill with precision. Oddjob, for a time in the Fort Knox sequence, bats Bond around like a cat playing wth a mouse.

Nor did the comic book style action end there. Bond’s tricked out Aston Martin became the inspiration for “spy cars,” with far more weaponry that a few extras the novel’s Aston had. The deaths of both Oddjob and later Auric Goldfinger could be described as comic book like. It was as if Jack Kirby of Marvel Comics drew the storyboards.

The difference, of course, was this all occurred in a $3 million A-movie where the audience could see the story all in one night.

Goldfinger’s success certainly was felt in the 007 series. In Thunderball, Bond flew a jet pack and in the climatic underwater fight had an oversized air tank that had additional weapons. You Only Live Twice included a helicopter snatching a car with a giant magnet and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters set that cost more than it took to produce Dr. No.

The success of such movies demonstrated audiences had an appetite for such uber-escapist sequences when executied in an entertaining way. You could make the case that Goldfinger blazed a trail that the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones and, yes, movies based directly on comic books, exploited.

The path from Connery’s Bond to, say, Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man may be shorter than it appears.

The most obvious sign: director Christopher Nolan, a self-described 007, adapted Bond bits (the Bond-Q briefing evolved into Bruce Wayne getting new equipment from Lucius Fox) into his three Batman movies. Director Sam Mendes in Skyfall returned the favor, saying Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight influenced the 2012 007 film.

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