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.

Christopher Jones dies at 72

Christopher Jones, center, one of Thrush's "test tube" killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Christopher Jones, one of Thrush’s “test tube” killers in a fourth-season Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode

Former actor Christopher Jones has died at 72 from complications of cancer, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY IN THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

The obituary focuses on credits such as Wild in The Streets and Ryan’s Daughter that were part of a “brief but dazzling career.” But given he mostly worked in the 1960s, Jones was drawn into the world of spy entertainment.

On television, he was the title character of The Test Tube Killer Affair, the second episode of the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The story centers on efforts by Thrush, the villainous organization of the show, to develop so-called perfect killers, bred for the task from a young age. Such killers have been conditioned to turn their emotions on and off as necessary.

Jones’s character, Greg Martin, kills a number of people, including three U.N.C.L.E. agents and one of his fellow “test tube killers” who has been judged to be “defective.” Martin is to blow up a dam in Greece to demonstrate the effectiveness of the Thrush project. The episode is a prime example of a much darker tone U.N.C.L.E. had in its final season.

Jones also starred in The Looking Glass War, a 1969 film directed and scripted by Frank Pierson, based on a 1965 John Le Carre novel.

UPDATE: After re-watching The Test Tube Killer, Greg Martin’s death toll was five: U.N.C.L.E. agent Miguel (pre-credits sequence), fellow “test tube” student No. 7 (Act I), an employee of the Athens airport (Act II) and two U.N.C.L.E. agents in a helicopter (Act IV). He also unsuccessfully tries to kill U.N.C.L.E. agents Solo and Kuryakin in Act I and Act III.

Some U.N.C.L.E. movie visual effects to be done in Canada

U.N.C.L.E. logo on a second unit crew T-shirt

U.N.C.L.E. logo on a second unit crew T-shirt

Cinesite, a U.K. visual effects company, is opening a Montreal facility and its first project will be The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, according to A JAN. 20 HOLLYWOOD REPORTER STORY.

An excerpt:

London-based Cinesite will open a VFX facility in Montreal’s historic quarter, with a capacity for 250 artists, it was announced on Monday.

The international expansion for Cinesite, starting in Canada, follows the sale last year of the U.K. VFX house to private equity firm Endless LLP as part of a management buyout

Cinesite will split the U.N.C.L.E. work between London and Montreal, according to the story. The movie’s home base during production was Warner Bros.’s U.K. studio at Leavesden.

The Hollywood Reporter didn’t offer much in additional details about the movie, which was filmed from early September through early December.

The movie, directed by Guy Ritchie, has a reported $75 million budget. That’s considerably less than Skyfall, Man of Steel (which had Henry Cavill, who plays Napoleon Solo in U.N.C.L.E.) or The Lone Ranger (which had Armie Hammer, who plays Illya Kuryakin in U.N.C.L.E.), all of which had budgets of $200 million or more. So it remains to be seen how elaborate the U.N.C.L.E. visual effects will be.

UPDATE: @laneyboggs2001 on Twitter informs us that BLUE BOLT, ANOTHER U.K. VISUAL EFFECTS HOUSE is doing some U.N.C.L.E. (See right margin of link in this paragraph.)

Paul Mantee, busy character actor, dies at 82

Paul Mantee

Paul Mantee

Character actor Paul Mantee, who frequently appeared on spy-oriented television shows, has died at the age of 82, according to AN OBITUARY PUBLISHED BY THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

Mantee’s appearances included Mission: Impossible, I Spy and a two-part Mannix story in the 1973-74 season where Mannix volunteers to help out the U.S. in a delicate mission in South America.

Mantee also got his chance to star in a spy movie, albeit a relatively low budget one, A Man Called Dagger, where he played the title character. Here’s the trailer, with Jackson Beck (the frequent voice of Bluto on Popeye cartoons) doing the announcing:

According to MANTEE’S ENTRY ON IMDB.COM, his acting credits extended to 1998.

William A. Graham, first director on The FBI, dies

An end titles from the first season of The FBI

An end titles from the first season of The FBI

William A. Graham, who directed six of the first 11 episodes of The FBI, including the pilot and first broadcast episode, has died, according to obituaries at the Los Angeles Times, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER and DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE.

The various obituaries referenced other Graham credits including the final Elvis Presley movie, Change of Habit, and episodes of The X-Files.

In 1965, producer Quinn Martin tapped Graham to helm the pilot for The FBI (which was the fourth broadcast episode) and the first episode to be shown on ABC. Graham had a variety of television directing credits, according to his his IMDB.com entry.

Sony considers proposal to sell piece of entertainment unit

sonylogo

Sony Corp.’s board is considering a proposal from a major shareholder to sell as much as 20 percent of its entertainment business, which includes the Sony movie studio, according to various reports, including BLOOMBERG.COM, THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

The Columbia Pictures unit of Sony has released the last three James Bond movies from 2006 through 2012 and is contracted to distribute the next film, Bond 24, whenever it comes out.

The proposal to sell a piece of the entertainment business was made last week by investor Daniel Loeb and his Third Point LLC, which holds a 6.5 percent stake in Sony. An excerpt from the Hollywood Reporter story citing Sony Corp. CEO Kaz Hirai:

“Firstly, I would like to clarify that the Third Point proposal is to sell off 15-20 percent of the entertainment division, not to spin it off as a separate entity,” said Hirai. “ We take this as an important proposal from one of our shareholders, and we will consider it thoroughly. We will discuss this fully at the board level and present our answer.”

The New York Times ran a MAY 19 REPORT about Sony Studios that said it wasn’t as profitable as other studios. The story cited Skyfall as an example. The Wilson-Broccoli family (referred to as the “James Bond rights holders”) got its cut and then Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony split the remainder 75-25, according to the story.

To view a Bloomberg Television video about Sony, CLICK HERE.

11 questions about a Tom Cruise U.N.C.L.E. movie

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Warner Bros. is in early talks about Tom Cruise starring in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to the Deadline: Hollywood and The Hollywood Reporter Web sites. But there’s been no studio confirmation. That’s understandable if they’re in negotiations.

Still, the development raises a number of questions in our mind. So, in honor of the No. 11 badge Napoleon Solo wore at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, here are 11 of them.

1. Would Cruise play Napoleon Solo? No idea. Neither Deadline nor The Hollywood Reporter provided that information in their stories this week. When Cruise started his Mission: Impossible movies in 1996, he didn’t play a character from the original show. He played a new character, Ethan Hunt. The first movie turned Jim Phelps, the character played by Peter Graves in the original television series, into a villain.

2. He wouldn’t do that again, would he? Who knows? With Mission: Impossible, Cruise also doubled as producer. The current project is being headed up by Guy Ritchie, assigned by Warner Bros. after Steven Soderbergh bowed out of a possible U.N.C.L.E. movie in late 2011. Pulling the same trick twice, might seem tacky. Then again, Cruise might play a new character even if they don’t make Solo a villain.

3. If Cruise does play Solo, who plays Illya Kuryakin? That depends on the answer to question 1. It also depends on how big a role Kuryakin (if the character does appear) has in the movie.

4. How are long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans taking this? From our sampling, not that well, Earlier this week, we checked out the hashtag #manfromuncle on Twitter and the more vocal fans were quite annoyed, with at least one freely using swear words.

5. What are some of the fan complaints? A recurring one is that Cruise, 50, is too old. Robert Vaughn was 30 when he began filming the series pilot and celebrated his 31st birthday while the pilot was in production. Vaughn was 50 when The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie aired in April 1983, which featured an aging Solo who returns to action 15 years after leaving the international intelligence agency.

6. Is that reaction surprising? No. Fans had the same complaint when George Clooney, born a year earlier than Cruise, was first mentioned as Soderbergh’s preferred choice for Solo. Same complaint, different actor.

7. What does this week’s news tell you about this possible movie? It indicates that Warner Bros. believes U.N.C.L.E. won’t work without a big name star. Some properties work with a relative unknown. The 1978 version of Superman was a hit with unknown Christopher Reeve in the title role, though Warners hedged its bet by having Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. The 2002 Spider-Man movie had Tobey Maguire in the title role. But Superman and Spider-Man have been continuously published for decades and the public is more aware of them than U.N.C.L.E.

8. Let’s say Cruise does play Solo, Solo stays a hero and Cruise does a good job. Would there be any fan issues then? Not initially, but it does raise the question whether you can build a multi-movie franchise with an actor in his 50s — unless, of course, he’s really playing Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief played by Leo G. Carroll in the original show. But that wouldn’t seem likely.

Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo

Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo


9. Is there a bright side to this week’s news? Yes. For a day or so, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a hot topic on the Internet. On Yahoo, it was the number one topic after the two stories hit and other entertainment Web sites weighed in. The show went off the air in January 1968 and there has been no official U.N.C.L.E. production since the 1983 television movie. Suddenly, U.N.C.L.E. was a hot topic again, at least for a bit.

10. What are the odds of this becoming reality? For now, the odds are against it but only because studios release fewer movies than they did even a decade ago. Until filming begins, nothing is certain.

11. What’s your opinion? We’re trying not to think about it until there’s something to think about. There was a LONG SOAP OPERA when Soderbergh’s project was underway and we posted a lot about it. This time out (this post notwithstanding), we’d prefer to hold back until things are more certain.

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