1966: Bob Hope’s spy parody

Cover to a home video release of Bob Hope television specials

In 1962, the final Bob Hope-Bing Crosby Road film, The Road to Hong Kong, provided a kind of preview to what would soon be seen in James Bond movies.

Four years later, in October 1966, Hope devoted most of one of his NBC specials to a parody of James Bond films and other spy entertainment titled, “Murder at NBC.”

In it, Hope plays a mad scientist who has developed a “chemical spray” that can shrink objects or people. He’s demanding $1 billion from the United States or else he’ll sell it to a foreign power.

To be honest, the special is more noteworthy for the comedians assembled than it is for the extended skit itself.

Among the performers: Jonathan Winters, Rowan & Martin, Dan Adams (as Maxwell Smart), Bill Dana (as Jose Jimenez), Johnny Carson (as himself), Don Rickles, Red Buttons, Soupy Sales, Bill Cosby (not playing Alexander Scott fro I Spy), Dick Shawn, Jimmy Durante and Milton Berle (in drag, an old Berle bit).

Some of the misfires: Jack Carter as detective “Charley Chin” (using just about all Asian stereotypes) and Wally Cox as the diminutive Mr. Big, a gag previously used in the pilot for Get Smart when a character by that name was played by Michael Dunn). Finally, there are plenty of Mexican stereotypes in the final sequence.

Put another way, it’s roughly on par with the Eon Productions comedy Call Me Bwana, which also starred Hope.

Toward the end of the story, the mad scientist confronts Mr. Big.

“Who are you with?” Hope’s character asks. “Smersh? KAOS? SPECTRE? What’s your network?”

“NBC,” Mr. Big replies.

If you really want to see it (and how it turns out), a video is embedded below. “Murder at NBC”  begins just after the 8:00 mark following an opening monologue by Hope.

Thanks to Craig Henderson for the tip about this.

 

Spider-Man Homecoming goes for the Romita look

John Romita Sr.’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man No. 52 in 1967

The publicity machine is gearing up for Spider-Man: Homecoming. There are stories about how this third movie version of the character came about, how Marvel Studios is collaborating with Sony Pictures, etc.

Less attention is being paid to something more basic. Namely, how, with Marvel actually producing the movie for Sony, the cinematic Spider-Man looks more like Spider-Man in the comics. Specifically, how he looks more like the version drawn by John Romita Sr. starting in 1966.

Romita, now 87, assumed the assignment after Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko quit Marvel that year. Romita essentially got a try out when he drew a two-part Daredevil story featuring Spider-Man as the guest star.

The change didn’t hurt Spider-Man’s popularity. Romita had a long run on the title. At times, other artists such as Gil Kane were brought in, with Romita doing the inks to maintain the basic look.

Romita also helped launch a Spider-Man newspaper comic strip in the 1970s. Eventually, Romita became Marvel’s art director before retiring.

Sony eventually got the film rights to Spider-Man as the result of a 1999 deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.  Prior to Spider-Man: Homecoming, Sony made five Spidey films from 2002 to 2014.

In all five, the costume crew put its own spin on the Spidey suit. For example, the one worn by Andrew Garfield in two of the movies had a spider design more elaborate than the one in the comics. You can view previous the Sony versions in this video:

Now, with Marvel and Sony collaborating (Sony is financing and distributing, Marvel is handling the production), there’s yet another new movie look for the character.

Spider-Man: Homecoming poster

This version, with Tom Holland as the character, made its debut in last year’s Captain America: Civil War.

Spidey in full costume looks almost like a Romita drawing come to life. There were a few changes, including some blue stripes not in the original. The web shooters are visible outside the gloves.

Still, the resemblance to the Romita version is there.

It is perhaps strongest on the poster for the new movie, where the largest image is Spider-Man in costume.

All of this may be overthinking the topic. It’s natural that Marvel Studios would want its Spidey to look different than the five previous Sony films. Still, consider this post a kind of shoutout to one of the stalwarts of the Marvel bullpen.

Our Bond 25 primer

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

We’re almost halfway through 2017. Here are a few things to keep in mind regarding Bond 25 (whenever it comes out).

Ultimately, Eon Productions doesn’t spend its money; it spends *other people’s* money

Eon Productions doesn’t finance James Bond movies. Studios finance the films.

Eon may incur some upfront costs, such as scripts. But once a studio (or studios) approves it, Eon gets paid back.

Back in the day, Albert R. Broccoli and his then-partner Irving Allen financed The Trials of Oscar Wilde. It was a financial disaster. Broccoli never attempted that again. United Artists, later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, later MGM and partner studios, paid the 007 bills.

You can’t distribute a movie until somebody can actually do so

Right now, there is nobody to actually distribute a James Bond movie.

MGM (which controls the 007 franchise with Eon) doesn’t have a worldwide distribution operation following its 2010 bankruptcy.

The last four Bond films have been distributed by Sony Pictures. But, at the moment, Sony has no contract to do another.

The New York Times reported two months ago that Sony and four other studios want to snag the next Bond production deal. But until a deal is actually struck that’s so much pish posh.

Movies with budgets of $200 million or more don’t get into gear with a snap of the fingers

There are 007 fans who believe (probably more as a matter of faith than fact) Eon has a crew and cast ready to go. Right now. This moment. As if a 2018 release for Bond 25 is a certainty, the same way the sun raising in the East is a certainty.

It doesn’t work that way. No matter how strong the faith.

It has been more than three months since Baz Bamigboye reported in the Daily Mail that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been signed to cook up a Bond 25 story.

Even if Purvis and Wade had a first-draft script right now things would only be starting. John Logan had a first-draft script for SPECTRE in March 2014. The movie didn’t begin filming until December 2014. And that only happened after Purvis and Wade were summoned back by Eon to revamp Logan’s script.

If you want to believe Bond 25 is just around the corner, go right ahead. Here at the blog, we’ll watch to see how things develop. If there’s a sudden surge of actual news, the blog will write about it.

Bill Dana dies; he had connections to Get Smart

Three Szathmary brothers: Al, Bill (Dana) and Irving in a photo that ran on the Film Music Society website.

Bill Dana, best known as the character Jose Jimenez, has died at 92, according to an obituary published by The Washington Post.

Dana, born William Szathmary, had connections to Get Smart.

The Bill Dana Show, a 1963-65 sitcom with Dana as Jose Jimenez, included Don Adams as a hotel detective, Bryon Glick.

The character of Glick, essentially, was a warm up for Adams playing Maxwell Smart in Get Smart.

The 1965-70 spy spoof originally was developed for ABC with Tom Poston in mind as Maxwell Smart. ABC took a pass. But NBC, which had Adams under contract, took a flier. The Smart character was tweaked to incorporate Adams comedy bits such as “Would you believe…?”

What’s more Dan’s brother, Irvin Szathmary (1907-83) composed the music for the series, including its distinctive theme.

In 1980, a theatrical movie version of Get Smart, The Nude Bomb, was produced. Bill Dana was one of the writers.

Bill Dana also was a guest star in a third-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He was one of the relatively rare male innocents.

Here’s a clip from The Bill Dana Show in which Adams’ warmup to Maxwell Smart is nearly complete.

In an interview for the Archive of American Television, Dana described the origin of Jose Jimenez.

UPDATE (7 p.m.): Reader Stuart Basinger reminds the blog that Bill Dana appeared as Agent Quigley in a fifth-season Get Smart episode titled Ice Station Siegfried.

A few Bond 25-related questions

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 hasn’t been in the news lately. We have no news to offer, but we do have some questions.

Has Purity gone into production yet? That’s the 20-episode series for Showtime where Daniel Craig is a star and an executive producer.

It’s still listed as being in “pre-production” on the actor’s IMDB.COM PAGE.

If that’s the case (and IMDB.com has occasional accuracy issues) then it’s going to be a while before Craig would be available to play James Bond again.

To film 20 episodes could easily take six months (that’s a little more than a week of filming per episode). And we’re almost to the mid-point of 2017.

UPDATE (June 21): Reader Bond on the Box points to a May 23 Variety story about the Becoming Bond television show about George Lazenby as providing a sign that Purity is in production. It quotes a “a gaffer on Craig’s new Showtime series ‘Purity’” about Craig.

How’s that Bond 25 writing going? In March, Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had been hired to develop a Bond 25 story.

That was never officially verified. However, Bamigboye had a number of scoops about Skyfall and SPECTRE that were proven correct. So that March story caught the attention of a lot of fans.

More than three months have passed. Do they have a first draft? (Color this blog skeptical.) Maybe a treatment? Or are all involved still throwing out ideas to see which ones stick?

How’s that search for a Bond 25 distributor going? In April, The New York Times reported five studios were trying to cut a deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to distribute Bond 25.

The five: Sony Pictures (which has released the last four 007 films),  Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox and upstart Annapurna. The latter is a movie production company that’s about to release its first film, Detroit, a drama about the 1967 race riots in that city, in August.

Since then? No word.

For now, there have been reminders of the Bond franchise’s proud past, including last month’s death of Roger Moore and this month’s 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice. The future remains to be seen.

Batman & Robin, a reappraisal

Batman & Robin promotional art

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Batman & Robin, the most disliked Batman movie.

In some ways, it’s the closest you’ll find to a big-budget movie version of an Adam West-Burt Ward Batman television series.

From 1989 to 1997, Batman was one of Warner Bros.’s main movie franchises. Yet, things were askew.

When Batman & Robin came out in June 1997, there had been three separate actors (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney) playing Batman/Bruce Wayne over consecutive films.

The film series, over four installments, had chewed up and spit out multiple Batman villains (the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and Bane). The tone had diverged from dark to campy with two directors (Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher).

With Batman & Robin, the transformation was complete. The film even had sound effects similar to Hanna-Barbera cartoons (for example around the 46:25 mark during a big fight scene).

Like the Batman TV show, Batman & Robin depicts its namesake heroes utilizing Bat-gadgets in the nick of time such as Bat-ice skates hidden in the boots of Batman and Robin (Clooney and Chris O’Donnell).

With the 20th anniversary, director Schumacher has apologized for the movie. In recent years, Clooney has said he ruined the Batman film franchise.

After Batman & Robin, eight years would pass until Warner Bros. launched a new Batman project with the first of three Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films.

Still, there are some interesting moments in the 1997 movie. There’s a family theme (which is about as subtle as a heart attack).

Clooney’s best scenes are as Bruce Wayne interacting with Alfred (Michael Gough, in the fourth, and final, appearance as the character). The family theme carries over to Bruce’s relationship with Dick Grayson as well as Alfred’s relationship with his niece (Alicia Silverstone), this movie’s version of Batgirl.

Just to be clear, Batman & Robin is not a good movie. Still, with the recent death of actor Adam West, comparisons between West’s 1966-68 series and this film are obvious.

Armie Hammer gives an update on U.N.C.L.E. sequel effort

Armie Hammer in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Armie Hammer, in an interview with the Uproxx website, included an update about efforts to try to get a Man From U.N.C.L.E. sequel off the ground.

Previously, the actor told the /Film website he had convinced Lionel Wigram, co-writer and co-producer of the 2015 movie, to start work on a script for a sequel.

In the Uproxx story, Hammer was asked about comments from U.N.C.L.E. director Guy Ritchie that he didn’t know much about it. This excerpt picks up from there with Hammer asking the interviewer a question. Interviewer comments are in boldface.

 

Was this before King Arthur premiere or after the King Arthur premiere?

Before.

Okay, because he came into town for the premiere and we all had dinner: Guy, Lionel, myself, and Lynn Harris, who was one of the executives on the movie. And we all had dinner together and that’s when I told them. I was like, “So, guys.” So, yes, it is completely conceivable that he didn’t know. After you interviewed him, probably about a week after that, sat down and was like, “So here’s the deal. We’re doing this.”

He seemed very happy people were discovering it.

Yeah, people bring it up quite a bit and it just makes me really happy for Guy and it makes me really happy for Lionel and for Henry and for myself. You know, we put a lot of work into it and we really enjoyed making it, so the fact that people enjoyed watching it is a lot of fun. And if people enjoyed watching enough to sort of warrant making another one, I would be there. You know, I loved working with those guys. I loved working on that project. I’d love to do another one.

Again, the odds would seem to be against an U.N.C.L.E. sequel. The 2015 movie generated less than $110 million in global box office.

Then again, at times, the odds were against the original movie being made. It had been in development at Warner Bros. for more than 20 years.