Appreciating Thrilling Cities

IFP thrilling citiesThe cultural-observer website, When Falls the Coliseum, has posted today really terrific column by crime and espionage journalist, Paul Davis. In Through a Thriller Writers Eyes: The Life and Work of Ian Fleming, he celebrates Fleming’s two nonfiction books, Thrilling Cities and The Diamond Smugglers. The former volume, a collection of pieces on cities the author found particularly fascinating, was reprinted this year by Ian Fleming Publications.

Mr. Davis has a unique appreciation for the Fleming travelogue:

I carried a paperback copy of carried a paperback copy of Thrilling Cities with me throughout my time in the U.S. Navy in the early and mid-1970s. I was thrilled that I was able to visit many of the cities Fleming wrote about two decades before me.

The article concludes with an interview with the Bond creator’s nephew, Fergus Fleming; you can read it all RIGHT HERE. Mr. Davis’website, Paul Davis on Crime has his comments about the column, and a recently posted appreciation of the 1969 James Bond film classic, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as well as a plethora of other interesting goodies.

OSS 117: Rio Doesn’t Answer Anymore

Kevin Collette, a French James Bond specialist and movie critic (who also reads this blog), passes on the following:

Back at the height of the James Bond mania of the ’60s, each and every civilized country of the world started producing 007 clones like crazy. The Italians had 077, James Tont, and the infamous (Operation ) Kid Brother with Neil Connery. The French proudly displayed the adventures of Hubert Bonnisseur de la Bath, code named …OSS 117.

The series lasted a few films (with various actors playing the part including John Gavin and Kerwin Matthews). As with all other imitators, finally the series disappeared in the early 70’s .

Two years ago a mad French director-screenwriter named Michel Hazanaviciius decided it was time to ressurect OSS 117, perhaps as a healthy reaction to the so-serious Casino Royale and Bourne productions of the times.

The first new movie, titled OSS 117, Cairo Nest of Spies became a cult hit, much to the surprise of its creators.
Although set in 1955 , the nod towards the Sean Connery 007 era were more than obvious , with a quasi french clone of a young Connery hired to play the part of our Hero.

Jean Dujardin mimicked so well some attitude and poses of the great Scot actor ,that even the non Bond fan couldn’t help noticing the link.
In fact , France had at last invented her own Maxwell Smart or Austin Powers.

Fast forward to 2009. A new OSS 117 adventure reached the French and European cinemas last April. With that great cheesy title OSS 117 : Rio Doesn’t Answer Anymore!

This time, Gaumont, the producer and distributor, took no chance. A mamoth OSS 117 campaign engulfed France. Teaser posters (conceived in a very You Only Live Twice type way ) were visible everywhere , clips from the upcoming movies shown on TV , a website designed, etc.

Jettisoning all logic , this new adventure is now set in 1967 while OSS hasn’t aged a bit ! The French agent is sent this time to Brazil to deliver a suitcase full of money in exchange for some top-secret microfilms.

Those documents are in the hands of an exiled Nazi officer , who’s hiding (or so the French Secret Service thinks) deep in the Brazilian jungle.

Aided by a beautiful Mossad agent (shades of The Spy Who Love Me) , OSS must first track down his target. What what better place to start than at the Brazilian German Consulate?

Once again, the whole movie is indeed played for laughs and the 007 winks are even more noticeable than in the first movie. There’s even a (sort of) precredits sequence set in Gstaadt , which is truly a copycat sequence from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

But, despite this obvious cinematic love for agent 007, this time the film lacks something .

The casting is still great , the villain exquisitely mad, the girls more beautiful than ever (special mention to the Nazi ‘ Countess’ , aka the delicious Moon Dailly) and Jean Dujardin definitly IS OSS 117. But, for my money, I would have added even more references to James Bond in the story .

For instance, there’s still no trace of gadgets whatsoever –- which is truly a pity since it could produce hilarious sequences in some sort of Q labs recreation shots.

Another danger is that the character hasn’t really evolved between the two films (and two decades !) , meaning he could easily become some sort of carboard secret agent very soon , if no background story is provided to him .

And the final point I should mention is perhaps that the main character may sounds finally too French. References to French Culture abound ( the Students Riot of May 68 , President DeGaulle , etc.,etc . ) but I’m not so sure those will work abroad as good as in the Red wine and beret country.

Anyway , still a very entertaining entry in the 007 clones catalogue I’d say .

Let’s just hope the next one won’t be set in 1974 , or God forbid, 1985.

This writer wishes to thank : AS Communication (Miss Sandra Cornevaux)

Joseph Wiseman, 1918-2009

Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No

Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No

We are saddened to report that Joseph Wiseman — Dr. No, the very first James Bond villain — passed away yesterday, October 19, in New York City. He was 91 years old.

Upon news of Mr. Wiseman’s death, HMSS senior editor James McMahon commented: “Joseph Wiseman holds a special place in [the] 007 pantheon as not just the first Bond villain, but still the best. His calm, almost robotic demeanor in the role lent the character an extra measure of menace, and seeming unassailability. A Caucasian playing an Asian is a tricky thing to pull off; so easy to over play and reduce to charicature. But Joseph Wiseman walked that line adroitly. I’ve never seen him in any role in which he wasn’t compelling, but for me, and most people too, I think, Doctor Julius No will always be his signature role.” The other HMSS editor’s take on Mr. Wiseman’s performance as the seminal James Bond villain can be found at or Villains Survey.

His obituary in the New York Times can be read here.

The publishers and editors of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant extend their sincere condolences to Mr. Wiseman’s family, friends, colleagues, and fans.

1959: Hitchcock draws the blueprint for Bond movies (and other ’60s spy entertainment)

That blueprint, of course, would be the director’s North by Northwest, which marked its 50th anniversary this year.

The film is normally written about its use of themes such as mistaken identity or use of familiar landmarks as settings that Hitchock employed in his prior films. Still, it’s also striking how the movie also seemed to inspire makers of 1960s spy entertainment.

The documentary Inside From Russia With Love comments on how the second James Bond film tips the cap to Hitchcock by including “an aerial assault on 007” (a helicopter going after Bond) that wasn’t part of Ian Fleming’s original novel. In the Hitchcock film, Cary Grant faced this menace:

North by Northwest’s style may have also rubbed off on the Bond creative crew. Ernest Lehman’s script deftly balanced humor with the story’s suspense. For example, Cary Grant, after being forcibly inebriated by the villain’s henchman, does a double take staring into the camera when the car he’s driving is in a precarious spot on the edge of a cliff. Later, as Grant escapes the custody of U.S. intelligence, he walks on a ledge and into a woman’s hotel room. “Stop,” she says wistfully. It’s not that big a leap to the humor that Richard Maibaum and other screenwriters used in the early 007 movies to provide relief after a tense scene.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which like North by Northwest was filmed at MGM, also may have been influenced to some degree. Grant’s Roger Thornhill was, afterall, an innocent sucked into the world of espionage. The MGM television show utilized such characters as a surrogate for the audience. And, of course, U.N.C.L.E. ended up employing regular Hitchcock supporting player Leo G. Caroll, whose Alexander Waverly wasn’t all that much different than North by Northwest’s mysterious “Professor,” who is some kind of high-ranking U.S. spymaster.

Finally, Saul Bass provided Hitchcock with stylish titles for North by Northwest. Bass’ titles aren’t the same as the stuff Maurice Binder or Robert Brownjohn would turn out, but the title sequence was, and is, memorable:

Matt Helm movie update

The News In Film Web site reports that Gary Ross is close to being named to direct a new Matt Helm movie.

An excerpt:

According to The Playlist, George Clooney and Jon Hamm were considered for the title character, but eliminated for separate reasons. Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, The A-Team) is the front runner for the lead. That guy must have a phenomenal agent, he’s popping up in contention for everything. He’s not exactly the modern Dean Martin, the star of the campy 60’s movies.

The Playlist refers to another Web site which RAN THIS STORY.

In any case, Ross has directed movies such as Seabiscuit and Pleasantville. This is the first mention that Bradley Cooper is supposedly the leading contenter to play Matt Helm, the no-nonsense counter-assassin created by author Donald Hamilton who saw five of his Helm novels adapted (loosely) into four movies between 1966 and 1969 starring Dean Martin.

We’ll see how all this turns out.

Happy birthday, Sir Roger Moore

Sir Roger Moore, UNICEF representative and seven-time James Bond, celebrated his 82nd birthday on Oct. 14.

We’ve talked before about how some fans are split about his performances as 007. And, truth be told, the HMSS staff has taken its shots at Sir Roger at times in reviewing and discussing the films.

However, in many ways, Sir Roger is also one of the best ambassadors for the Bond film series, 24 years after he hung up his shoulder holster. Of the six Bonds, he seems to show up most often in TV specials or DVD documentaries. Here’s the start of just one example:

In recent years, Sir Roger has become involved in UNICEF and other causes. Here’s an example where he speaks out against foie gras. The video is disturbing but it’s supposed to be.

So happy birthday, Sir Roger, and many more.

James Bond is back… on the radio!

Toby Stephens

Toby Stephens

Actors Martin Jarvis and Rosalind Ayres are re-teaming with BBC Radio 4 to bring James Bond back to the radio.

As part of last year’s Ian Fleming centenary, the Jarvis and Ayres production company adapted Doctor No for the beeb, having been given special “one-off” permission by Eon Productions for the event. Toby Stephens (Gustav Graves in Die Another Day,) starred as 007, and David Suchet portrayed the titular character. Apparently, Eon was so impressed by the results that they approached the producers with an offer to do another. Goldfinger
has been chosen for this go-round, and Jarvis and Ayres are looking to bring back Stephens to the Bond role.

James Bond has been on the radio only twice before that — South African radio featured Moonraker in the 1950s, and Radio 4 did a production of You Only Live Twice in 1990.

Matthew Hemley’s complete story at The Stage News website, James Bond to return to radio as Goldfinger is adapted for BBC, has all the details.

John Barry to receive Max Steiner award

John Barry, the 11-time 007 composer and five-time Academy Award winner, is about to pick up another piece of hardware: the Max Steiner Life Achievement award.

Barry was scheduled to get the award at the Hollywood In Vienna program on Oct. 14. However, because of an illness by his wife, he can’t make it. Barry will participate via a video connection while 007 producer Barbara Broccoli and compower David Arnold will accept the award on Barry’s behalf.

Barry’s run as 007 started with 1963’s From Russia With Love after helping to arrange and orchestrate The James Bond Theme in Dr. No. He’d go on to do six straight Bonds, with his remaining five spread from 1974 to 1987. Barry’s resume, of course, is much more extensive, including The Lion in Winter, Born Free, Midnight Cowboy and Dances With Wolves.

Still, this is a 007-oriented site. So we direct your attention to YouTube, where someone did a bit more than just imagine what it would have been like had Barry composed the music for GoldenEye, the 1995 007 debut of Pierce Brosnan that was released eight years after Barry’s final Bond score. Take a look:

And here’s a bit more:

1967: Bulldog Drummond gets revived to cash in on the spy craze

James Bond spurred production of many spy-oriented movies and TV shows in the 1960s. One Bond-inspired production was a film series that dusted off the character of Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond.

Ian Fleming, in discussing his James Bond novels, said they were written to be modern, including depictions of sex and violence, unlike the Bulldog Drummond stories by Herman Cyril McNeile, writing under the name of “Sapper” and continued by Gerard Fairlie. Over the years, a number of actors, including Walter Pidgeon, Ronald Colman and Ray Milland would portray Drummond.

For the 1960s film series, the producers chose Richard Johnson, an actor considered for the role of Bond in Dr. No. Also chosen were actors who’d appear in later Bond movies, including Milton Reid, Laurence Naismith and Virginia North.

Here’s the first few minutes of the film:

For sale: some pricey 007 props

At the Heritage Auction Galleries Web site, there are some James Bond props up for sale by the Ian Fleming Foundation for the serious 007 collector:

For example, there’s:

–A temperature gauge from the Goldfinger Aston Martin DB5 with an opening bid of $600.

— A prop cell phone from Tomorrow Never Dies with an opening bid of $400.

— A propeller from one of the Parahawks in The World Is Not Enough, with a minimum bid of $350.

You can find some additional items by CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

There’s about another 26 days of Internet bidding and a live auction on Nov. 7, according to the Web sites.