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.

Writer Lorenzo Semple Jr. dies

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr. scripted the Batman pilot and 1966 feature movie

Lorenzo Semple Jr., a writer best known for the 1960s Batman television show but who also did spy-related scripts including Never Say Never Again, has died at 91, according to an obituary in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Semple wrote the pilot for the 1966-68 Batman series as well as the quickly made 1966 feature film starring Adam West and Burt Ward. When executive producer William Dozier decided on a less-than-serious take, Semple devised a simple format for other writers to follow.

The opening of Part I would establish a menace. Batman and Robin would be summoned by Police Commissioner Gordon. The dynamic duo proceeded on the case, ending with a cliffhanger ending. Part II opened with a recap, the heroes escaped and eventually brought the villains to justice.

Among Semple’s memorable lines of dialogue: “What a terrible way to go-go,” and “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Semple always was drawn more than once to the spy genre. In the 1950s, he worked on drafts of a script based on Casino Royale, the first 007 novel, but nothing went before the cameras. Decades later, he was the sole credited writer on Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake not produced by Eon Productions but starring Sean Connery. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, writers brought in by de facto producer Connery, did uncredited rewrites.

Between Semple’s Bond work, he scripted films such as 1967’s Fathom with Raquel Welch (featuring a Maurice Binder-designed title sequence), 1974’s The Parallax View with Warren Beatty (a movie about a conspiracy to assassinate political candidates) and 1975’s Three Days of The Condor, a serious spy film with Robert Redford.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s obituary, Semple is quoted about the ups and downs of film production. Here’s a passage involving Never Say Never Again:

Semple met with Sean Connery in Marbella, Spain and sold him on his 70-page treatment for Never Say Never Again, which saw the aging actor return as 007 in the much-litigated Warner Bros. film based on Thunderball. But when some action scenes were cut as a cost-saving measure, the producers pacified an angry Connery by blaming — and then booting — Semple.

“I was quite relieved; I really didn’t want to go on with it,” he said. “I also agree a human sacrifice is required when a project goes wrong; it makes all the survivors feel very good.”

To read the entire obituary, CLICK HERE. There’s one mistake. It says Semple only wrote the first four episodes of Batman. He wrote or co-wrote 10 episodes during the first season, though he penned fewer in the final two seasons.

Happy 100th birthday, Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

One of a number of productions that would have been impossible without Bill Finger

Feb. 8 was the 100th anniversary of the birth of comic book writer Bill Finger, who probably should be credited as the co-creator of Batman. Without him, a number of productions, including 2012’s Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie, wouldn’t have been possible.

Artist Bob Kane had an idea, of a Bat-themed character. But it was Finger who, among other things, changed a plain mask to a cowl, devised the Bruce Wayne true identity, the Batman back story, the Robin back story, and….well, you get the idea. It was Finger who devised much of the Batman mythos.

Without Finger, there wouldn’t have been Batman serials in the 1940s, no Batman television series in the 1960s, no Batman movies in the 1980s, ’90s and 21st century — at least nothing remotely in the form that people know them.

Indirectly, the 007 film crew also owes Finger a debt. Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall, is on record as saying 2008’s The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan, inspired elements of the 2012 007 film. That extends to Thomas Newman’s score, which in places sounds similar to the Batman music Hans Zimmer produced for Nolan.

Thus, without Bill Finger, there’d be no Nolan Batman movies and Skyfall wouldn’t be the same film fans remember today.

Finger, who died in 1974, less than a month before his 60th birthday, still doesn’t get officially credited as creating Batman. (Although there is a campaign to try to change that in time for Batman’s 75th anniversary.) But there’s little doubt Finger’s impact lasts long after his death.

Warner Bros. and its priorities

Ben Affleck in 2003's Daredevile

Ben Affleck in 2003’s Daredevil

It doesn’t appear that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is at the top of priority list for Warner Bros’s publicity department.

The studio put out a press release that Ben Affleck will play Batman opposite Henry Cavill’s Superman in a movie with a July 17, 2015 release date. Affleck played Daredevil in a 2003 20th Century Fox movie based on a Marvel Comics character who made his debut in 1964, the same year The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered.

Cavill played Superman in this year’s Man of Steel movie. Cavill is also the studio’s choice to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that is scheduled to start filming next month. Warner Bros. has yet to make an official announcement about that movie, even though Cavill and Armie Hammer, slated to play Illya Kuryakin, have said that will be their nest project. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum played Solo and Kuryakin in the 1964-68 television series.

"Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?"

“Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?”

Batman and Superman are two of the most lucrative characters controlled by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros. Author Bruce Scivally wrote a book called Billion Dollar Batman tracing the history of that character from the comics through movies directed by Christopher Nolan.

It would appear Warner Bros.’s U.N.C.L.E. project isn’t at the top of its list while the Batman-Superman project for 2015 is. Such is life. Variety has reported the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget was reduced to $75 million after Tom Cruise departed the project, paving the way for Cavill to get the Solo role.

Carmine Infantino, notable comic book artist, dies

Carmine Infantino's cover to Flash No. 123, "The Flash of Two Worlds."

Carmine Infantino’s cover to Flash No. 123, “The Flash of Two Worlds.”

Carmine Infantino, one of DC Comics’ main artists during the Silver Age, died the other day at the age of 87. He helped popularize a concept that the makers of James Bond movies would use when rebooting the franchise in 2006.

Infantino, as noted in AN OBITUARY IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, was assigned to work in a revamp of the Flash in 1956. Instead of bringing back the original Flash character, DC started over with a different character in a new costume.

Infantino, according to various accounts, would draw potential covers and show them to editor Julius Schwartz (1915-2004) — in effect daring the editor to devise a story line to match the drawing. In 1961, five years after the new Flash debuted, Infantino showed Schwartz a drawing of the new and old Flashes racing to save the same person.

That became the basis of a story embracing the concept of alternate universes. Flash No. 123 wasn’t the origin of the idea but it helped popularize it and DC would soon use the notion to bring back old versions of other characters. As we’ve written before,, Eon Productions adapted the idea when it decided to start the series over with 2006’s Casino Royale while retaining the services of popular actress Judi Dench as M. Dame Judi simply played a different M than the one she portrayed before.

Carmine Infantino's cover to Detective Comics No. 327 in 1964, which introduced the "New Look" Batman

Carmine Infantino’s cover to Detective Comics No. 327 in 1964, which introduced the “New Look” Batman


Also, as noted in the New York Times obituary, Infantino was assigned to draw Batman in 1964 when DC, facing falling sales, decided to revamp the character. Infantino’s Batman was more realistic at least compared with versions published up until that time.

Here’s how it was described in the Times’ obituary:

In 1964, Mr. Infantino and the writer John Broome were asked to work similar magic on Batman. In Mr. Infantino’s hands, Batman took on an urbane, Bondian aspect. This “new look” Batman, as he was known to the trade, inspired the ABC television series starring Adam West and originally broadcast from 1966 to 1968. (emphasis added)

Infantino later became a DC Comics executive before leaving the company while continuing to draw for other publishers.

Malachi Throne, remarkable character actor, dies

Malachi Throne's credit on It Takes A Thief

Malachi Throne’s credit on It Takes A Thief

Malachi Throne, a busy character actor who appeared in a number of ’60s spy shows, has died at 84 according to obituaries including THIS ONE on the Web site of the Hollywood Reporter.

What was he in? What *wasn’t* he in? His credits included guest appearances in Mission: Impossible, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild, Wild West, I Spy and The Blue Light, a short-lived World War II spy series starring Robert Goulet. He was also Alexander Mundy’s boss, Noah Bain, in the first two seasons of It Takes A Thief, where a U.S. intelligence agency recruits a thief to steal the secrets of enemy powers.

Also, he was one of the most memorable villains of the 1966-68 Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward. He played False False, a master of disguise. Throne wasn’t credited by name until the end titles of final part of the single two-part story in which he appeared. Until then, the credits merely said, “Special Guest Villain ? as False Face.” He was also in the only two-part episode of the original Star Trek television series.

Throne appeared in many television shows beyond his ’60s spy and super hero credits. To view a long list, CLICK HERE to view his biography on IMDB.com

How British are 007 films?

Skyfall's poster image

BAFTA winner for Outstanding British Film

Of course James Bond films are British. They concern a British icon and are filmed in the U.K. What could be more obvious? That’s like asking if Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley are British.

Well, that might not be the best comparison given that Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd. and Bentley is owned by Volkswagen AG. Still, 007 films have always been considered British.

Still, the answer isn’t as easy as it might appear.

In the early days, the series made by Eon Productions Ltd. was U.K.-based. While producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were born elsewhere, they were operated out of the U.K. and the movies were full of British film talent such as director of photography Ted Moore, (naturalized citizen) production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt. Of course, the U.S.-based studio United Artists financed the movies.

It pretty much remained that way until Diamonds Are Forever. The Inside Diamonds Are Forever documentary directed by John Cork notes that the producers initially intended to Americanize Bond, even hiring an American (John Gavin) for the role. It was going to be based out of Universal Studios.

Things changed. Sean Connery returned as Bond (at the insistence of United Artists) and U.K.’s Pinewood Studios was again the home base. Yet, some key jobs were split between British and American crew members, including stunt arranger, assistant director, art director, set decorator, production manager and visual effects.

Also, as the years passed, Eon for a variety of reasons (financial among them) based some films primarily outside of the U.K. They included Moonraker (the first unit was based out of France, Derek Meddings’s special effects unit still labored at Pinewood), Licence to Kill (Mexico) and Casino Royale (Czech Republic, with some sequences shot at Pinewood).

What’s more, movies not thought of as British, such as Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were based out of the U.K. Each had key British crew members, including: Star Wars with production designer John Barry (not to be confused with the 007 film composer), whose group won the art direction Oscar over Ken Adam & Co. (The Spy Who Loved Me); Superman with Barry again, director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth, and second unit director John Glen; Batman with art director Terry Ackland-Snow, assistant director Derek Cracknell and special visual effects man Derek Meddings. Batman was filming at Pinewood at around the same time Licence to Kill’s crew was working in Mexico.

Still, Superman and Batman (which both debuted during the Great Depression) are American icons and Star Wars, while set in a galaxy far, far away, is too.

At the same time, Skyfall, which came out on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 12, is very British. Much of the story takes place there and many of Shanghai and Macao scenes were really filmed at Pinewood, with the second unit getting exterior shots.

On Feb. 10, Skyfall picked up the Oustanding British Film award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. It was a first and a lot of 007 fans are still taking it all in.

In truth, movies generally are an international business these days, Bond films included. But 007 isn’t likely to lose his identification as being a British product anytime soon, much the way Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley have a British identity regardless of ownership.

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