Unlikely ’60s spies, or Ward Cleaver, secret agent

Spy stories were big on television in the 1960s, thanks to James Bond. Even non-espionage shows incorporated spy-oriented stories. But there were a few where the actors cast come across as a bit unlikely. A few examples:

Hugh Beaumont, Mannix: In the second-season episode, “To The Swiftest, Death,” private eye Joe Mannix has taken up amateur auto racing. While he’s near the back of the pack, another participant appears to have run off the track and been consumed in a fiery crash. Mannix is hired to investigate but he’s getting heat from U.S. authorities, including Frank Abbott (Hugh Beaumont), who may be with a U.S. intelligence agency. This episode aired in 1968, five years after Leave It To Beaver went off the air but for some viewers, it’s hard to get the image of Ward Cleaver out of their heads.

William Windom, The FBI: Windom plays the title character in the second-season episode “The Assassin.” Windom’s character, Anton Christopher, is the most feared assassin in the employ of the Soviet Bloc. We see him make a hit in the pre-credits sequence, but his face isn’t shown. Later, Christopher meets a contact (Tom Skerritt), who is taken aback by how ordinary the assassin appears. Christopher makes a remark to the effect that successful operatives don’t look glamorous like in the movies. No specific character is mentioned, but presumably this is a Bond reference. Windom is quite good and comes across as both ruthless and weary.

Russell Johnson, The FBI: the former Professor on Gilligan’s Island appears as a Soviet agent in the fourth-season episode “Caesar’s Wife.” He even gets to beat the crap out of Harrison Ford in one scene. Johnson’s character has been operating in the U.S. for years and has befriended a retired diplomat (Michael Rennie), whose knowledge would be most useful to the U.S.S.R.

Larry Blyden, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: In the second-season episode “The Waverly Ring Affair,” Blyden plays George Dennell, an U.N.C.L.E. employee who gets drafted by the crafty Alexander Waverly to help smoke out a traitor in the organization. Blyden usually (but not exclusively) was normally cast in comedic roles and he uses some of that here. Dennell is the episode’s “innocent.” Part of the show’s format involved an innocent character getting swept up in the adventures of agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin. Some fans don’t care for the innocent characters (they’d rather see more of Solo and Kuryakin). Blyden’s Dennell, though, is one of the better innocent characters in the series.

Leslie Nielsen, Hawaii Five-O: The show’s pilot has Hawaii lawman Steve McGarrett trying to find the killer of an old friend who also happened to be an agent of U.S. “Intelligence.” Presumably, this means the CIA, but that’s not specified. The Big Kahuna has two suspects as possible traitors: Miller (Andrew Duggan), a veteran agent passed over for promotion, and Brent (Leslie Nielsen), the Honolulu station chief. The audience knows there’s a traitor because of the pre-credits sequence where *somebody* is working with villain Wo Fat. But the audience doesn’t see the traitor’s face, though we’re shown he smokes a pipe. And wouldn’t you know it, both Trend and Miller smoke pipes. Nielsen, who spent much of his career doing dramatic parts, is actually fine. But given all his over-the-top comedic roles, people who see the pilot episode for the first time are probably taken aback.

Wally Cox, Mission: Impossible: Cox appears in the series pilot as Terry Targo, a safecracker who is supposed to play an important part in the scheme cooked up by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill). When we see the “apartment scene” (where the audience is given hints about the plan, but not all the information), Cox’s Targo comes across as savvy. The IMF is playing a penny ante poker game and Targo catches Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) cheating. The plan calls for Targo to be inside a large case into a safe where two unclear weapons are stored. A major complication occurs later when Targo’s hands are broken. One can’t help but wonder if the creators of the George Clooney version of Ocean’s Eleven saw the episode. In any event, Cox makes an interesting (if one-time) addition to the IMF.

Countdown to Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary part III: even ESPN gets into the act

Goldfinger, the 007 movie about to celebrate its 45th anniversary, still is having an effect on popular culture. Consider ESPN’s Around The Horn.

On Thursday, the half-hour show of “competitive banter” featuring four sports columnists blathering about topics of the day featured a Goldfinger reference by host Tony Reali.

Reali awards points based on the arguments of the sports scribes. During a segment about a U.S.-Mexico soccer game, Reali felt some points made by Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News were too sarcastic. “Choose your next witticism carefully, it may be your last,” Reali said as he deducted points from Cowlishaw.

That, of course, is nearly a verbatim quote from Goldfinger as James Bond tries to bluff the film’s title villain. Things are a little tense. Bond is bound to a table while a laser beam is coming up between his legs.

HMSS nominations for editing changes in 007 movies

What if you could go back and change something in a movie you’ve seen? That’s the notion behind this post — what could you change in a James Bond movie?

The ground rules are there’s only enough money to make editing changes. You don’t have the time or resources to reassemble the cast for reshoots (which is fairly rare in movies, anyway).

With that in mind, here are some nominations in no particular order:

1. Clip the line where Bond tells Quarrel in Dr. No to “fetch my shoes.” This had to cause some in the audience to wince even in 1962. In 2009? Arrggghhhh.

2. Cut the “pop goes the weasel” music effect from the car stunt in The Man With The Golden Gun where a car spins one complete revolution before landing on its wheels. John Barry was one of the great movie composers. But the sequence shows even great composers make mistakes. It trivializes the film’s best stunt.

3. Cut the “Tarzan yell” from Octopussy. Another example of a goofy idea that mars a mostly successful sequence, in this case Bond being hunted by the film’s villain.

4. Cut the Beach Boys song from A View To a Kill. The pre-credits sequence of the movie — Bond, on skis, dodging Soviet troops in Siberia — has its moments. But adding the song ruins the mood.

5. Alter the death of Kananga in Live And Let Die. The film’s main villain supposedly is killed by a gas capsule causing him to literally explode. The effect clearly is just a big balloon popping. Changing that might be the trickiest item on this list, but surely SOMETHING could be done in editing from available footage to improve it.

We’ll accept additional nominations from readers.

Aug. 12, 1964: Ian Fleming passes away

Aug. 12 is the 45th anniversary of the death of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. There’s a tendency to forget Fleming. His last Bond novel was published in 1965 and the movies long ago became the center of the 007 universe. While he lived to see two of his novels turned into movies (and visited the set of the third, Goldfinger), he never saw Bond movies become mega hits.

Still, the anniversary of his death is reason enough to remember the person who actually created James Bond.

First, how Fleming selected the character’s name. It’s an old story but here it’s told in his own words.

Here’s a longer clip from the same interview:

Countdown to Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary part II

The 45th anniversary of Goldfinger’s world premier is next month. With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 major decisions that helped shape the movie.

1. Selecting Goldfinger as the third Ian Fleming novel in the series to be filmed. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t going by the order the novels appeared. So they could have chosen from the likes of Diamonds Are Forever or Live And Let Die. But they didn’t.

2. Dumping the buzz saw of the novel in favor of a laser beam to menace Bond. This was one of screenwriter Richard Maibaum’s first recommendations to the producers.

3. Casting Gert Frobe, despite his inability to speak English, to play the title role. Theodore Bikel had been screen tested and writer Maibaum had recommended Victor Buono.

4. The decision to hire Paul Dehn to rewrite the early drafts by Maibuam.

5. Cutting the Bond-Goldfinger golf game to two holes. Ian Fleming’s novel described all 18 holes of the match. The film tells us it’s all even with two holes to go and we then see the two opponents try to outcheat each other. This move is one reason why Fleming’s longest novel was turned into the shortest 007 movie until 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

6. The decision to recast the role of Felix Leiter. Jack Lord, who created the film Leither in Dr. No, wanted equal billing with Sean Connery. Broccoli and Saltzman weren’t going to go for that. For better or worse, a tradition was started that would last until 1989 of a different actor playing Leiter each time.

7. Broccoli wanting the film to take the audience inside Fort Knox. The initial drafts mirrored Fleming’s novel and never made it inside the gold-storage facility. This decision enabled Ken Adam to create yet another spectacular set.

8. The decision to let composer John Barry collaborate on the title song. Barry had composed the background music for From Russia With Love but Lionel Bart did the title song.

9. The decision to keep the character name Pussy Galore. There had been talk of changing it to Kitty Galore. Somehow, it just wouldn’t have been the same.

10. The decision to have a tight production schedule. John Barry has quoted Saltzman as saying if the producers had had more time, they’d have scrapped the now-famous Goldfinger title song in favor of something else. In this instance, less time meant more.

Countdown to Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary part I

Whether you like the movie or not, Goldfinger in 1964 was the first mega-007 hit. There may be better Bond movies (From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service come to mind), but Goldfinger made James Bond a cinema super star.

Next month is the 45th anniversary of the film’s world premier. In honor of that upcoming anniversary, we begin with a 1970s rendition of the title song by Shirley Bassey. Clips of this performance were used in a 2006 U.K. TV special that named Goldfinger the most popular 007 song. Here’s the entire clip:

A mini-007 tour of New York

The Spy Commander was recently in New York and (figuratively) retraced some of the steps that the literary James Bond took.

Sardi’s, 234 West 44th Street: In Chapter 8 of Diamonds Are Forever, Felix Leiter takes Bond to lunch at Sardi’s and they dine in the upstairs dining room. The friends have some martinis (with a domestic vermouth).

At the time of the visit, the upstairs dining room was closed but the Spy Commander had an unofficial tour guide. We were told the bar had been moved since the time Fleming described the Bond-Leiter meal. Also, black paint had been removed from windows overlooking 44th Street, so now the restaurant has a great view of nearby theaters.

21 Club, 21 West 52nd Street: In chapter 9 of Diamonds, Bond and Tiffany case have dinner. Tiffany has three martinis before dinner and as the main course arrives, so does “one of the famous Kriendler brothers who have owned ’21’ since it was the best speak-easy in New York.”

The 21 Club is know for the jockey statues outside. If you go, prepare to spend money. A cocktail costs about $15. There’s a mens room attendant who has been with 21 for decades, complimenting patrons (for example telling middle aged men they should remember to bring their ID next time or they might get carded).

Nick Fury Masterworks Vol. 2 to debut

Marvel is scheduled to release Volume 2 of its Nick Fury Masterworks in December.

Masterworks is Marvel’s series of hard-back, glossy paper reprints. In this case, it will reprint the Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories from Strange Tales Nos. 154-168 as well as Nos. 1-3 of Fury’s own title, which debuted in 1968.

Masterworks ain’t cheap, in this instance carrying a price of $54.99. But it’s also a chance to view the remarkable work of writer-artist Jim Steranko.

Steranko didn’t create Nick Fury, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby did. Steranko, though, caused a sensation when he took over Fury’s super-spy adventures.

For more information about the volume, CLICK HERE.

1968: CBS promo for Hawaii Five-O

In the 1960s and ’70s, U.S. television networks ran lengthy promos for the upcoming season. Here’s one from 1968 for a new police drama CBS was introducing that had espionage overtones. The 5-minute promo is mostly a Cliff’s Notes version of the Hawaii Five-O pilot (McGarrett’s first encounter with Chinese spy Wo Fat), along with a few scenes from “Samuari,” the first episode filmed after the pilot.

UPDATE: Of course, all these must end. So, here’s a 1981 promo made by Viacom to sell the series in syndication to local TV stations:

1990: 007 stuntman appears on To Tell The Truth

Back in the days before DVD extras (including “making of” documentaries), being a stuntman — even one who did spectacular skydiving stunts — was a profession one could practice in anonymity. Thus, B.J. Worth, who had performed major stunts in Moonraker, A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights would be a perfect contestant on the game show To Tell The Truth.