Ken Russell’s brush with the world of spies

Movie director Ken Russell died this week at the age of 84. Obituaries concentrated on films such as the rock opera Tommy or the drama Women In Love.

Russell though had a flirtation with spy entertainment, directing 1967’s Billion Dollar Brain, the third of 007 producer Harry Saltzman’s Harry Palmer series, based on Len Deighton’s novels, and starring Michael Caine. It wasn’t supposed to be Saltzman’s last film of the series but it turned out that way.

Saltzman, restless by nature, wasn’t content with producing James Bond films with Albert R. Broccoli. Various authors have detailed how Saltzman’s outside ventures caused tensions between Saltzman and Broccoli. Nevertheless, Saltzman frequently tapped the talents of 007 crew members. Billion Dollar Brain was no exception, including sets designed by Syd Cain and titles designed by Maurice Binder.

Speaking of which, here are Binder’s titles:

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U.N.C.L.E. epilogue: Soderbergh finds a new project

Steven Soderbergh, who bailed out of directing a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., has found a new project, according to THE WRAP entertainment news Web site.

Steven Soderbergh has signed on to direct a new thriller, “The Bitter Pill,” TheWrap has confirmed.

Scott Burns wrote the script and is also producing. Other producers include Soderbergh’s producing partner, Greg Jacobs, and Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

Soderbergh recently bailed out of an U.N.C.L.E. film project at Warner Bros., which also would have used a script by Burns. Soderbergh on the one hand says he wants to retire from filmmaking while jamming his schedule before that retirement begins. Anyway, presumably The Bitter Pill will take up the time he would have spent shooting U.N.C.L.E., (reportedly starting between mid-February and March), which would be before his final directing project, a made-for-HBO movie about Liberace.

UPDATE: It turns out THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER was first to report the news.

Robert Vaughn on U.N.C.L.E. (and many other things)

Bits and pieces of an Archive of American Television interview with Robert Vaughn are up on YouTube. The full interviews for the series are lengthy (typically two to three hours) and are intended for notable figures in television to discuss their full careers. Excerpts are put on YouTube to stir interest for would be viewers.

Here are a couple of clips:

If you CLICK HERE, you’ll see a series of clips from the interview, a number related to U.N.C.L.E. If you CLICK HERE you’ll see Vaughn discuss a debate he had with William F. Buckley Jr. on the Firing Line program. By CLICKING HERE you’ll see Vaughn discuss his opposition to the Vietnam War.

And if you CLICK HERE, you can see the entire interview on the Archive of American Television’s Web site.

Ben Whishaw is Q in Skyfall, BBC says

Ben Whishaw will play Q in Skyfall, the BBC reported, citing the actor’s agent.

Whishaw, 31, had been previously announced as being in Skyfall’s cast with no details provided about his character.

Whishaw would be the youngest Q in the Eon Productions series. Peter Burton was 41 when he played the character (referred to as Major Boothroyd) in Dr. No. Desmond Llewlyn was 48 when he made his debut (still billed as Boothroyd) in From Russia With Love. (Calling the character Q didn’t occur until Goldfinger.) John Cleese was 63 when 2002’s Die Another Day premiered, where he played Boothroyd’s sucessor as Q. Cleese had appeared three years earlier in The World Is Not Enough, where his character was Q’s second in command.

No word whether Whishaw’s Q would also be the Boothroyd character, or simply go unnamed beyond the Q designation.

(SPOILER ALERT) We’ll have to see whether Whishaw’s Q gets along with Daniel Craig’s Bond better than their characters in Layer Cake at end end of the movie:

Warner Bros. still wants an U.N.C.L.E. film, The Wrap says

Warner Bros. hasn’t given up on making a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. despite director Steven Soderbergh’s departure from the project, THE WRAP ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE SAYS.

Quoting “an individual close to `U.N.C.L.E.'” (Napoleon Solo? Alexander Waverly? Maybe somebody less well know like George Dennell or Mandy Stevenson? It is a goofy attribution.), The Wrap’s Joshua L. Weinstein reports this:

The studio “doesn’t think there’s millions and millions of rabid ‘U.N.C.L.E’ fans out there, but they do recognize that the brand has some mythology to it,” the individual said. “It’s a major franchise they have wanted for over a decade now and a script they’re very happy with.”

The script is the one Scott Z. Burns did for Soderbergh. Color us skeptical because earlier in the story there’s this passage:

“This is a movie the studio was trying to make before Soderbergh was involved,” an individual close to “U.N.C.L.E.” told TheWrap. “If he is truly off, it’s hard to believe the studio won’t want to make it with someone else.”

*If* Soderbergh is truly off the project? Doesn’t the individual *close* to U.N.C.L.E. know? Or this is guesswork, educated or otherwise?

Wake us when the movie starts filming. Meanwhile, if you’re curious about our little joke in the second paragraph of this post, CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 25, and CLICK HERE and scroll down to episode 48.

Compare Die Another Day vs. Hawaii Five-0

At the start of 2002’s Die Another Day, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured on a mission in North Korea. Danny Kleinman’s main titles incorporates depiction of Bond being tortured:

On the Nov. 21 episode of Hawaii Five-0, Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) has been tricked by arch enemy Wo Fat (Mark Dacascos) to coming to North Korea. McGarrett is on the receiving end of a similarly tough time. In both Die Another Day and Five-0, sequences set in Korea are shot in a washed out style while scenes at other locations are in bright color. In this clip, the Five-0 team is flying into North Korea (courtesy of a pilot played by Jimmy Buffett) while Wo Fat is torturing McG.

Happy Thanksgiving from the HMSS Weblog

It’s a crazy world out there, so it’s good to have a holiday to remind you that there are things to be thankful for. For Bond fans, production of a new film, Skyfall, is underway. That’s something that wasn’t assured at this time last year. Most 007 fans we know, even though who don’t care for the current direction of the movies, will be in theaters next year when Skyfall hits theaters.

For fans of other spy entertainment, there are also reasons to be thankful. Even ones that were turned into bad movies. Or others where the hero was turned into a villain. Or other shows where studio executives fumble and dither around on whether to do a movie.

What’s to be thankful for? You can see the original series for all of these examples, not to mention still more others we haven’t brought up. No matter how new versions may get messed up, the originals are still around.

And, at HMSS, we’re thankful we have readers who care (or at least look at) what we have to say. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.