How ‘The Trouble With Harry’ still affects the 007 franchise

Our co-publisher has sounded the alarm on how troubles at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. could imperil the movie future of James Bond. But in many ways, it’s merely the latest chapter of “The Trouble With Harry.”

Harry, of course, is Harry Saltzman who launched the Bond series with partner Albert R. Broccoli with 1962’s Dr. No. Saltzman, though, was never satisified with only doing 007 movies. He did other movie projects and got involved with business ventures. He ended up pledging his half of Danjaq LLC (and its production company, Eon Productions) as collateral to banks. As chronicled in the documentary Inside the Spy Who Loved Me, the banks began to foreclose, freezing operations at Danjaq/Eon for a time.

The situation was resolved when United Artists Corp., the studio that rleased the Bond movies, bought Saltzman’s half in the mid-1970s, and gained a direct ownership interest. Over the next two decades, UA got absorbed by MGM and MGM’s ownership changed hands multiple times. Danjaq/Eon largely retained creative control but studio types exercised influence. One small example: In GoldenEye, Bond’s original car was to have been as Aston Martin but the studio struck a deal instead of with BMW AG.

The Harry Saltzman deal thus tied 007’s future to a studio where the words “uncertain outlook” stick like glue. The trouble with Harry continues to haunt 007. For now, the words “uncertain outlook” also stick to James Bond.

Some editorial pissing and moaning

Much as been discussed, amongst James Bond fans, about the current news covering the financial implosion of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, as the once-great studio slides into ignominious dissolution. This article at Deadline Hollywood can bring you up to speed on all the details. Suffice it to say that the future of the James Bond film series looks a little dicey right now.

Most Bond fans, while not necessarily shrugging it off, point to the six-year delay (due to Danjaq’s lawsuit against MGM/UA,) between Licence to Kill and GoldenEye as evidence that the series has “survived” similar problems in the past.
MGM logo

Survived” being the operative word…

The difference between then and now is that, back in 1989, the series was running on inertia if not actually beginning to wind down. The success of The Living Daylights notwithstanding, Timothy Dalton wasn’t the big hit with audiences the studio was expecting, and Licence to Kill, capping off an uneven decade of John Glen cookie-cutter entries, sputtered at the box office during the summer of Batman. Nevertheless, there was in the background a continuing, palpable desire on the audience’s part to see Pierce Brosnan take up the role of James Bond. That unextinguished flame helped light the way for the triumphal return of the series with 1995’s GoldenEye. That was then.

Now we have a “rebooted” series, telling a (new) story of the 007’s career from the beginning, starring one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed actors in the role in history. Chapters 1 and 2 have been enormously successful, and worldwide interest in James Bond hasn’t been this high in decades. But, despite all that momentum, the producers got “tired,” distracted with other projects, and otherwise futzed around with planning the next film — so now there’s nothing in the pipeline when the studio goes kerflooey.

Here’s the situation I think the James Bond movies are in: the production company, which owns half of the property, is ambivalent about its commitment to the property. The bankrupt studio, which owns the other half, isn’t going to let one of its few remaining assets get away while fighting for its survival. So… nobody else can make a James Bond movie, and the people who can can’t afford it, and maybe aren’t all that interested in going to all that work anyhow. It’s probably going to take years for things to sort out, after which 1. Their popular leading man will, almost certainly, be gone — and with no heir apparent in sight; and 2. Audience interest will have found other things to glom on to.

Sorry to be pessimistic, but I think this is a serious setback for the James Bond movie series — a setback which it’s going to have to, once again, “survive.” How many lives does this cinematic cat have? It survived On Her Majesty’s Secret Service‘s box office drubbing because Sean Connery came back for one more; it survived Connery permanently leaving due to the popularity Roger Moore brought with him; it survived The Man with the Golden Gun‘s failure because EON (and newly-sole proprietor Cubby Broccoli) went balls-to-the-wall making The Spy Who Loved Me; it survived Licence to Kill because people still wanted to see Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

It’s been 47 years and 22 screen adventures for our favorite “gentleman secret agent with a license to kill.” But how many bullets can James Bond dodge? Will he finally succumb to inertia, or will he suffer the death of a thousand cuts, inflicted by the ones who can truly kill him — the lawyers and the MBAs and the accountants?

— Paul Baack

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to get a big-screen showing

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the sixth James Bond movie which is about to have its 40th anniversary, is going to get a big-screen showing this fall.

The Lafayette Theater in Suffern, New York, will show the film on Nov. 28, as part of its Big Screen Classics series. Films in that series are shown at 11:30 on Saturday mornings and have a $7 ticket price. For 007 fans in the Northeastern U.S., it’s a chance to see George Lazenby’s sole James Bond film — and one of the best in the series — on the big screen again.

William Safire, one-time spy novelist, dies

Most of the obituaries for William Safire, who died Sept. 27 of pancreatic cancer chronicle how the one-time speech writer for Richard Nixon became a columnist for The New York Times, won a Pulitizer Prize and was an expert on language.

What they probably won’t discuss in detail was how the 79-year-old pundit took a turn at being a spy novelist. Safire’s 1995 novel was called Sleeper Spy. In it, a “sleeper” agent planted by the old Soviet Union has been activated. Enter investigative reporter, Irving Fein, who seems based on journalist Seymour M. Hersh, who has written extensively about intelligence activities. As described by Safire:

Irving Fein found himself kicking around the media, respected by peers but seen as trouble by editors, potent in print but unable to capitalize on what he wrote by touting it effectively on television. Maximum energy, zero synergy.

Fein has gotten a tip and the sleeper and is poking about. It’s more complicated than that, of course, and the tale runs more than 400 paperback pages. It was fairly entertaining and the paperback version carried quotes from the likes of PBS’s Jim Lehrer, former CIA director Richard Helms and then-CBS anchor Dan Rather.

Sleeper Spy is a footnote in Safire’s career. But it was an interestng footnote for fans of espionage fiction.

What if k.d. Lang’s title song was used for Tomorrow Never Dies?

Here’s a song we know was proposed for a James Bond film. The official title is Surrender, it was written by David Arnold and Don Black and performed by k.d. Lang. We know this because it was used in the film Tomorrow Never Dies — in the end titles rather than the main titles.

With the editing software available today and with YouTube as a distribution channel, it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out how things would have turned out had Eon boss people Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli opted for that song instead of the Sheryl Crow song that was used in the main title. It might have gone something like this:

Alternate Quantum of Solace title songs

The title song to last year’s Quantum of Solace had, at best, mixed reviews. On YouTube, there’s a song that supposedly was submitted and rejected by the filmmakers. With YouTube, though, even a rejected song can have a life of its own. Witness this video where the song appears over the titles from the 2008 James Bond film:

Meanwhile, a parody song peformed by Joe Cornish that made the rounds before Quantum was released is back, also paired with the titles of QoS:

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. turns 45

Forty-five years ago — Sept. 22, 1964 — a show debuted that had been pitched to NBC executives as “James Bond for television.”

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. turned out to be more than that. It ushered in an era where spies would be welcomed into U.S. living rooms and not just be seen on movie screens. The opening moments of the pilot/first episode, seen in the first couple of minutes of this video, were certainly eye-catching and enhanced by Jerry Goldsmith’s score:

The show featured a dashing wordly hero, Napoleon Solo. Ian Fleming, during a very brief period when he was involved with the project, had helped name him. Fleming quickly dropped out, at least in part because he didn’t want to anger Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the producers who were turning his James Bond novels into movies. Norman Felton, the producer overseeing U.N.C.L.E., and Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer who Felton chose to write the pilot, would come up with their own take on the spy genre.

While it had some Bondian elements, U.N.C.L.E. would have significant differences:

1. It was the utopian spy show. U.N.C.L.E. was a multi-national organization, whose agents were the best that many countries had to offer. It was a post-Cold War series produced in the middle of the Cold War. The best example of that? Namely:

2. Illya Kuryakin a sympathetic Russian character. Kuryakin was seen only fleetingly in the U.N.C.L.E. pilot, The Vulcan Affair. Nevertheless, it was clear that Felton and Rolfe had bigger plans in the future. Robert Vaughn, in a short presention to advertisers and network executives said that Kuryakin (and the actor who played him, David McCallum) “is an interesting young man — you’ll see him often.” NBC wasn’t that keen on Kuryakin and wanted him out. Felton & Co. instead dumped actor Will Kuluva, who had played U.N.C.L.E. boss Mr. Allison, and had him replaced with Leo G. Carroll as Alexander Waverly. When NBC discovered what had happened, it was too late. (The Kuluva scenes were refilmed with Carroll before the episode aired.)

Bear this in mind. U.N.C.L.E. premiered 23 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the U.S. and Soviet Union nearly went to war. The show often kept Kuryakin’s “Russian-ness” under wraps, but not entirely. In one first-season episode, he’s shown in the U.S.S.R. in a military uniform. In another, he and Solo are driving up to a large mansion. “Suddenly, I feel very Russian,” Kuryakin says. Put another way: director Lewis Gilbert boasted during the making of the 007 film The Spy Who Loved Me how that film featured a sympathetic Russian character. It only took 007’s producers 13 years to catch up to U.N.C.L.E. in that regard.

3. U.N.C.L.E. spies had to be different from Bond because they mixed more with “ordinary” people.

Rolfe in his pilot script established the use of an “innocent” — a character intended as a surrogate for the audience. In Rolfe’s pilot story, it was a housewife who had a close relationship with Andrew Vulcan, a leader of the criminal organization Thrush. Solo and Kuryakin, simply by interacting with the “innocents,” had to act differently than Bond and show different emotions. In the series, the “innocents” are a mixed bunch. A goofy third-season episode, The Matternhorn Affair, has an innocent (Bill Dana) who’s supposed to be funny but instead has the audience rooting for him to get killed.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was like a nova. Its popularity shone brightly but then burned out. By January 1968, it’d be off the air.

But U.N.C.L.E. paved the way for a full fledged spy invasion of U.S. TV screens. A year after its debut, NBC brought out I Spy (a more serious, Cold War-grounded spy drama) and Get Smart, the spy parody created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry while CBS introduced The Wild, Wild West where the spy and cowboy genres mixed. In 1966, CBS went to the well again, with Mission: Impossible.

What’s more, this decade has been quite good for U.N.C.L.E. fans. The entire series is available on DVD with extensive extras. Four volumes of U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack music are available from Film Score Monthly, produced by film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame. There hasn’t been an U.N.C.L.E. movie but having seen what’s happened to Mission: Impossible (Jim Phelps turned into a villain in the 1996 film), The Wild, Wild West (turned into a very uneven 1999 film) and I Spy (turned into a goofy 2002 comedy), that may not be a bad thing.

In any event, happy anniversary, U.N.C.L.E. and Messrs Solo and Kuryakin.

Fleming’s Moonraker novel based on real-life events

Most James Bond fans know that 007 creator Ian Fleming served, during World War II, as special assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence for Britain. Fewer know that Fleming participated in concocting some real-life missions for the British during the war — missions which clearly reflected the capacity of his Bondian imagination.

One of these operations was Target-Force. Launched in 1944 by the Allied High Command, and not dissimilar to the American’s later Operation Paperclip, the mission was to round up as many Nazi rocket scientists as possible before they were captured by the advancing Soviet Red Army.
In his new book T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945 (Constable and Robinson), military historian Sean Longden tells the amazing story of this hitherto little-known wartime op. Of special significance for James Bond fans are the startling parallels he traces to Ian Fleming’s third 007 novel Moonraker! While reading the thriller, he noticed that one of the German research team was named “Dr. Walter,” which immediately put him in mind of T-Force’s juicier targets — of the same name. This discovery led him to work out other similarities:

  • One of Drax’s key henchmen is a Dr Walter. In real life, Dr Hellmuth Walter ran the Walterwerke factory in Kiel, Northern Germany, which was secured by T-Force in 1945. It was responsible for the design of the engines used in V1 and V2 rockets.
  • Sir Hugo Drax works on the “Moonraker” rocket project for the British. This was similar to Operation Backfire, a British project to test German V2 rockets, which T- Force was involved with by recovering missiles.
  • In the book, 50 German scientists – described as ‘more or less all the guided-missile experts the Russians didn’t get’ – are working on the Moonraker project. T-Force had extracted Nazi rocket scientists from the Soviet zone and Dr Walter assisted in this.
  • The fictional Drax had worked for steel company Rheinmetall-Borsig. This was a real German company and had been one of T- Force’s primary targets.
  • The Moonraker rocket is compared to a V2 and is to be test-fired into the North Sea. In Operation Backfire, the British had test-fired V2s into the North Sea.
  • The Moonraker is powered by hydrogen peroxide. The real Dr Walter was a specialist in hydrogen-peroxide engines and worked on engine design for the V2 missile.

Longden knew that Fleming would have seen reports on T-Force’s activities coming out of Germany, so it was a very small jump indeed for him to conclude that Fleming based his novel on these real-life events.

The UK Daily Mail website has the complete story, Hitler’s rocket scientists… the incredible real-life events that inspired… Moonraker posted as of today. Longden’s book is also reviewed at the Financial Times “View from the Top” website; you can read it HERE.

Pretty cool stuff, huh?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: variation on a theme

It’s a few days before The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 45th anniversary. So here’s are variations on a theme — namely the Jerry Goldsmith-composed theme.

There were five different versions of the opening theme (two in the first season), and four different end title versions. Here’s an first-season end title, using an edited version of Goldsmith’s original. The episode is The King of Knaves Affair, the last to feature an original Goldsmith score:

For season two, Lalo Schifrin did a new arrangement. Here it is from the end titles of Alexander the Greater Affair Part II:

By season three, Gerald Fried had become the lead composer for the show and he was given the chance to do his arrangement of the Goldsmith theme. This is from The Galtea Affair, which ran early that season.

For season 4, Fried did another new arrangement that was rejected. That version turned up in one of the U.N.C.L.E. CDs produced by TV and movie music expert Jon Burlingame. Instead, MGM music boss Robert Armbruster came up with a brassy arrangement that fit in with a more serious tone that occurred with season 4 episodes. The title of this episode was The “J” For Judas Affair:

UPDATE: We were remiss in not pointing out that Sept. 19 was David McCallum’s 76th birthday. So happy birthday, DMc.

UPDATE II: The Bish’s Beat blog reminded us of something we should have linked — namely, a 2004 HMSS interview with Jon Burlingame about the U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack CDs. Better late than never, you can view it by CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

Automotive Traveler’s salute to Goldfinger

Automotive Traveler, a Web site that deals in auto-related matters, has its own salute to Goldfinger. Part of the post by Richard Truesdell deals with the sequence where 007’s Aston Martin makes short work of a brand new Ford Mustang:

“From Russia with Love” might be my favorite, “Goldfinger” was clearly the film where the series came into its own, where all the Bond elements meshed perfectly; a classic villain, great Bond babes and locations, and of course the gadgets. Nowhere is this more evident than the film’s classic set piece, the scenes of the driving duel on Switzerland’s Furka Pass between Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 and Tilley Masterson’s white 64½ Ford Mustang. They are simply a film- and car-lover’s delight. Having driven this stretch of road on several occasions–albeit in a BMW Z3 and a Chrysler Crossfire SRT6 instead of an Aston Martin DB5–I can say without equivocation that the Furka Pass road is on my short list as one of the world’s Top 10 driving roads. Driving up the valley from Andermatt, the actual location of the gas station/VW dealership where Bond drops off Masterson after their tire-shredding confrontation, it is a journey almost without equal.

And there’s this observation:

The cultural significance of the release of “Goldfinger” can never be underestimated. Think about it; in a span of less than 12 months The Beatles invaded America…twice, and on 22 December, 1964 “Goldfinger” was unleashed to an almost unsuspecting US public after its 17 September release in the UK.

The post also goes into detail about the kinds of details you can see on the Blu Ray version of the film vs. DVD or VHS. To read the entire post, just CLICK RIGHT HERE.