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.

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.

Gold, only Gold: Goldfinger at 50

Sean Connery and Gert Frobe

Sean Connery and Gert Frobe

By Nicolás Suszczyk, guest writer

It doesn’t have to be your favorite film. You might be in the minority of those who don’t like it, and, of course, you might not find it as serious as From Russia with Love, Skyfall, Casino Royale or The Living Daylights.

But you can’t deny Goldfinger is the James Bond film which set the standards to “what a James Bond film is” to the eyes of the worldwide public.

The third Bond film has all the ingredients that made us Bond fans: three (main) beautiful girls, an imposing villain with world domination dreams, a dangerous henchman and larger-than-life sets, the thrilling John Barry score and the still-memorable Shirley Bassey song, an icon of the Bond culture.

Over the years Auric Goldfinger evolved into Max Zorin and Elliott Carver; Jill Masterson’s golden body was re-adapted in the 21st century as Strawberry Field’s unwanted oil bath for Quantum of Solace; and Oddjob was the “father” of all the powerful and unbeatable henchmen.

The Aston Martin DB5 was the Bondmobile that the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig eras resurrected and all its accessories inspired Maxwell Smart’s red Sunbeam Alpine. Goldfinger wasn’t just important as a template for the following James Bond films, but for all the 1960s spy series and spoofs like Get Smart and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., with agents and their gadgets, girls and extravagant villains.

Let me share a personal story between the facts many of us know –- I found Goldfinger terribly boring the first time I saw it, when my grandmother rented it and I was 9 or 10. I was carried away by the spectacle of the Pierce Brosnan films and the funny treats of the Roger Moore era after watching -–in that order– The Man with the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die and Moonraker.

By the late 1990s I was mad for GoldenEye and its 1997 videogame version that, as we all knew, featured villains like Jaws, Baron Samedi and Oddjob in the multiplayer modes. I’ve seen Jaws and Baron Samedi and then I wanted to watch Oddjob, hence, I asked my grandmother to rent me Goldfinger. I heard a very good review of it from the father of a schoolmate then who told me “it was great,” but as I started watching it… it was strange. I found Sean Connery’s performance extremely dull, and I barely watched some scenes of it. It’s a hard thing to confess, don’t you think?

But, well, luckily I grew up and by the second time I watched it (it was the last Bond film I bought to complete my VHS collection) I enjoyed it very much.

Even when It hadn’t had the thrilling action scenes of Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is not Enough or the emotionally deep plots of Casino Royale and Licence to Kill, and the idea of James Bond questioning himself for killing somebody –- present in the 1959 Ian Fleming novel and resurfaced in the latest Bond films — was completely wiped out as in the first scene Connery’s Bond electrocutes a thug and leaves an unconscious girl dropped in the floor by claiming the situation was “positively shocking.”

Goldfinger broke new ground. Ted Moore’s cinematography became more colorful, John Barry’s soundtrack had a funnier approach in contrast with the previous film’s percussion sound bites, the action scenes were more spectacular and the humor in the dialogue grew up. The women, that in the first two films followed the hero, became more self-reliant: Pussy Galore was “immune” to Bond’s charms for a long time.

This film also set the starting point for the classic love-hate relationship between Bond and Desmond Llewelyn’s Q, even when this was the second film where Llewelyn appeared as the character. It was director Guy Hamilton who convinced Llewelyn to show disdain toward Bond for the way he mistreats his gadgets, a formula that worked for many years.

Every day closer to the 50th anniversary, Goldfinger is the first 007 film that will come to the mind of every moviegoer. Since Sept. 17, 1964, Sean Connery, Gert Frobe, Honor Blackman, Guy Hamilton and John Barry literally told us how a spy film should be made.

Goldfinger’s 50th anniversary: the golden touch

Sean Connery and Honor Blackman projected onto the iconic "Golden Girl."

Sean Connery, Honor Blackman and the “Golden Girl.”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Goldfinger, the third James Bond film.

Where Dr. No and From Russia With Love were wildly successful, Goldfinger turned 007 into a phenomenon. Where the first two films were escapist, Goldfinger was outlandish — a woman killed with gold paint, a car equipped with an ejector seat, machine guns and other weaponry, a plot to invade Fort Knox and a henchman who killed people by throwing a steel-rimmed hat at them.

Audiences could not get enough. Worldwide, Goldfinger’s box office was 58 percent higher ($124.9 million) than the box office of From Russia With Love ($78.9 million). In the U.S., Goldfinger’s box office more than doubled that of its 007 predecessor ($51.1 million compared with $24.8 million).

Sean Connery had become a star as Bond, his status confirmed by having his name “above the title” in the main credits. In the first two films, it was “Starring Sean Connery” immediately after the name of the movies was shown.

As noted here before, Goldfinger was the tide that lifted all boats of the 1960s spy craze.

In the U.S., The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had struggled in the ratings early in its run, rallied around the time Goldfinger made its American debut. By the fall of 1965, spy shows would be a major attraction on U.S. television.

In theaters, Bond’s success encouraged both wildly escapist films (the Flint and Matt Helm series) and the occasional serious, “anti-Bond” film (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The Ipcress File, the later produced by 007 co-producer Harry Saltzman and having several 007 production crew members aboard.).

Television commercials likewise were inspired by Goldfinger and 007. Harold Sakata, who played henchman Oddjob, starring in a series of spots for cough medicine. Butterfinger candy bars had a spot that utilized the hit John Barry-Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley Goldfinger title song.

The movie has been analyzed in many, many places, including five years ago at this blog. It was a difficult film to script, with Richard Maibaum, and later, Paul Dehn tackling storytelling issues in Ian Fleming’s novel. The final script turned Fleming’s longest novel into a tight film that ran below two hours.

In the 21st century, some Bond fans will say Goldfinger isn’t the best 007 movie. Some even say they’ve seen it so many times they’re really not sure they can watch it again.

Still, whatever one’s opinion, Goldfinger changed everything in the 007 universe. For years, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sought “another” Goldfinger. Richard Maibaum’s first take on Diamonds Are Forever included Goldfinger’s twin brother, an idea that was rejected.

You can make the case that various 007 films are better. Some fans cite From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale and Skyfall among them. But Goldfinger, because of its impact not only on the 007 franchise but on other popular entertainment, may be the most important.

1980: Jack Anderson digs up FBI memos about Goldfinger

Scene from Goldfinger

Filming during Goldfinger

Thirty-four years ago, syndicated newspaper columnist Jack Anderson obtained some FBI memos that showed how, in 1964, the bureau was concerned about how it might be portrayed in Goldfinger.

Here’s an excerpt from a column published in June 1980 in various newspapers. This excerpt is based on how it appeared in The Galveston (Texas) Daily News on June 24, 1980, via NEWSPAPERS.COM.

WASHINGTON — The FBI’s deep concern with the true-blue Americanism of such celebrities as Helen Keller and Humphrey Bogart has been chronicled in past columns.

Now I’ve obtained internal documents that reveal that the late J. Edgar Hoover was also worried about a fictional celebrity — Ian Fleming’s super-British Agent 007, James Bond.

Communist subversion may have been threatening the Republic in the 1960s — as Hoover assured Congress it was every year at budget time — but the FBI could still find time and agents to check into the possible effects of a James Bond movie on the agency’s pristine image.

Anderson quoted one FBI memo as saying, “The type of book written by Fleming is certainly not the type where we would want any mention of the FBI or portrayal of FBI agents, no matter how favorable they might look in the movie.”

Another memo recommended that “in the event the Bureau is contacted for permission to portray an FBI agent in the movie, it should be flatly declined.”

About half of the column was devoted to the FBI memos concerning Bond and Goldfinger. The rest of the column was devoted to several other topics. Anderson retired in 2004 and died in 2005.

Repeat after me, ‘Writing a James Bond movie is hard’

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

John Logan is learning a lesson that the likes of Paul Haggis, Bruce Feistein, Jeffrey Caine and Michael France learned before him. Writing a James Bond movie is hard.

You can be a hero one day (Logan after Skyfall, Feirstein after GoldenEye, Haggis after Casino Royale) and out the door the next (Feirstein for a period during Tomorrow Never Dies until he got asked back, Haggis after Quantum of Solace).

Screenwriting in general is tough. If you’re in demand, you make a lot of money. If you’re not, it can be humbling. Studios make fewer, more expensive movies. With the stakes so high, there are all sorts of people — directors, stars, studio executives — looking over your shoulder. Bond movies take it a step further. You have the Broccoli-Wilson family, which has controlled the franchise for more than a half century. They have definite ideas of what they like and don’t like.

Screenwriters don’t tally up a lot of multiple 007 screen credits. An Oscar winner such as Paul Dehn had only one. Other one-time only scribes include John Hopkins. Roald Dahl and Michael France. Some writers toil without even getting a credit, such as Len Deighton and Donald E. Westlake, hardly slouches as authors.

All of which is a long way of saying it’s remarkable that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been summoned, according to Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, for a sixth turn writing a James Bond movie, taking over for Logan, who, in turn, rewrote their script for Skyfall. The only writer who has more Bond screenwriting credits is Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) with 13. Maibaum had the advantage of a long-standing relationship with producer Albert R. Broccoli.

Maibuam and the Purvis-Wade team have one thing in common. They’ve taken their share of flak over the years. The British film historian Adrian Turner, in a 1998 book about Goldfinger, made it clear he didn’t think much of Maibaum, painting Dehn as the one who brought the Goldfinger script into shape. Purvis and Wade, meanwhile, get criticized on Internet message boards and social media by some fans as hacks. It helps to have a thick skin.

Feirstein, Haggis and Logan were the final writers on three significant 007 hits: GoldenEye (reviving the franchise after a six-year hiatus), Casino Royale (a reboot of the franchise) and Skyfall (the first billion-dollar Bond film). They got invited back but in the cases of Feirstein and Haggis it was hardly easy going. Something similar may be going on with Logan. He was hired to write a two-film story arc, but that plan got scrapped as part of the price to get Skyfall director Sam Mendes back for Bond 24.

The situation undoubtedly is even more complicated and can only really be appreciated by those who’ve gone through the same grind. But the basic lesson still stands. It’s hard to write a James Bond movie.

Some critiques from 007’s first Oscar winner

The James Bond Radio website had an interview with Norman Wanstall, the first James Bond movie Oscar winner. The sound effects editor, who won for Goldfinger, had a number of observations of interest.

Here’s a sampling:

– The current leaders of Eon Productions: “I think the biggest problem is, with all respect to the producers, they’re really not what I would call film producers. They’ve inherited the role. So now, they’ll feel because Skyfall was probably the biggest grosser of all time, they’ll feel, fine. They won’t realize the film itself wasn’t up to it. That’s dangerous. They need to be told.”

– Wanstall’s critique of Skyfall: “At one point, I was rather tempted to leave the cinema, which is of unheard of…After (Bond) had hung on to the bottom of the lift, I thought, forget it, it’s getting ridiculous. I knew there was no way for him to get into the building from the lift, so they faked it.”

–The unanswered letter: “Quantum of Solace, of course, is a complete disaster…I’ve often said to people if it was any film other than a Bond film, it would have been shelved. It was unshowable…After Quantum, I did actually write to the producers…I said I was supervising sound editor on six Bond films…we all love them, I said it’s just a terrible shame that you allowed so many things to go on to ruin it…People will always be loyal. But don’t take advantage of it.” Wanstall says he didn’t get a response.

–Wanstall says he can’t watch a Roger Moore 007 film these days. Meanwhile, Sean Connery is his favorite Bond.

The entire interview is embedded below. It runs almost one hour and 47 minutes.

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