Syd Cain, an appreciation

When the subject of James Bond movies comes up, Syd Cain isn’t one of the first names to come up. But Cain, who has passed away at the age of 93, is one of the unsung heroes of the long-running film series.

In Dr. No, the first 007 film, Cain had the title of art director and was essentially the deputy to production designer Ken Adam while not receiving a credit. In the John Cork-directed documentary Inside Dr. No, Cain described how he had to wade into a swamp in Jamaica and had to deal with leeches. Hardly glamorous.

When From Russia With Love went into production in 1963, the brilliant Adam was working on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. So it fell to Cain (this time receiving an art director credit) to be the primary designer of sets. In the documentary Inside From Russia With Love, Cain would call his set for a chess match, involving SPECTRE master planner Kronsteen, one of his favorites. The video below can’t be embedded but just glancing at it you can get a sense of Cain’s design work:

Cain returned to the series with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this time with the fancier title of production designer, the same title Adam had. That movie couldn’t boast of a volcano headquarters set a la Adam’s You Only Twice set of SPECTRE headquarters. But Cain’s sets for SPECTRE’s home base in Majesty’s were impressive in their own right (integrating actual locations and buildings in Switzerland).

Finally, he was the lead production designer of Roger Moore’s 007 debut, Live And Let Die (this time with the less-fancy title of supervising art director).

Ken Adam, rightfully, is hailed as the innovator of 007 art design with his seven Bond films which included the volcano set, Goldfinger’s Fort Knox sets, The Spy Who Loved Me’s Stromberg villain’s lair and others. Peter Lamont get kudos for longevity, designing sets for nine Bond movies (after also being one of Adam’s deputies), starting with 1981’s For Your Your Eyes Only and running through 2006’s Casino Royale. Also, both Adam and Lamont won Oscars for their non-007 work.

Cain didn’t get that kind of acclaim. But he was responsible for the look of two of the best Bond movies (From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) regardless of his on-screen credit. And he helped Adam in a major way on the first Bond film. On top of all that, his spy entertainment work includes The New Avengers, the 1970s continuation of The Avengers television series.

So, RIP, Mr. Cain. Heroes may go unsung, but they are heroes all the same.

John Logan discusses Skyfall with Collider

John Logan, one of the screenwriters of the upcoming Skyfall, told the Collider Web site what it was like to work on a James Bond movie in a spoiler free interview.

A sample:

It happened because Sam Mendes and I have known each other for 15 years from theater circles…. So we had lunch and he said there’s this great script by (Neal) Purvis and (Robert) Wade that existed, but he wanted me to come onboard and I did the ultimate thing you never do which is I said “Yes. I don’t care what you pay me, I don’t care what I have to do, yes,” because I grew up—the first Bond movie I ever saw was Diamonds are Forever, I remember every moment of it. I’m particularly pleased that Skyfall comes out on the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, so for 50 years this franchise has been going incredibly strong through 23 movies, so to be part of that is incredibly fun.

To read the Collider story CLICK HERE. Collider also provides a video of Logan.

Literary magazine gets free Skyfall exposure, Daily Mail says

The magazine Literary Review will appear as a prop in Skyfall, which amounts to free exposure for the publication, the U.K. Daily Mail newspaper said in a Nov. 19 article.

An excerpt:

So keen were the film’s makers to paint a rounded picture of M, the fictional head of MI6 played by Dame Judi Dench, that they approached the magazine’s publishers for permission to use it.

A copy of the October issue, which features an image of Charles Dickens on the cover, is now set to appear as a prop in a scene set in M’s flat.

According to the story, this isn’t product placement and no money changed hands.

A John Barry tribute

We could say more, but your time is better spent watching. The Barry sampler begins with You Only Live Twice:

11 things that went wrong with the U.N.C.L.E. project

For one last time, in honor of Napoleon Solo’s No. 11 U.N.C.L.E. badge, we have an 11-themed post, this time the 11 things that went wrong with the now-crashed movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

1. An indecisive studio. Warner Bros. picked up the rights to U.N.C.L.E. when its parent company, Time Warner, acquired Ted Turner’s media empire. (It was part of the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film library that Turner bought in the mid 1980s.) The studio hasn’t been able to pull the trigger on a movie version for two decades. That tendency toward indecision will figure into other of the 11 reasons.

2. Steven Soderbergh’s farewell tour. In 2010, Soderbergh, who comes across as a thoughtful filmmaker, became involved with the project and this seemed to be good news. But he also wanted to either retire at a young age (he turns 50 in 2013) or at the very least take a long break. And he absolutely wanted to finish up before the end of 2012. That meant a lack of flexibility — which also influenced other of the 11 reasons.

3. Soderbergh’s friend, George Clooney. Because it was part of his farewell tour, it now appears it was Soderbergh’s idea that old pal George Clooney, 50, play Napoleon Solo.

4. Clooney’s bad back. But Clooney had a bad back due to a an injury in 2004. So even if he felt like coloring his hair, he wasn’t up to doing an action movie. So he bowed out.

5. The economy. It’s not very strong and that’s affecting movie studios, causing them to trim budgets and making them even more risk adverse.

6. Warner Bros.’s reaction to Soderbergh’s choices. According to THE PLAYLIST WEB SITE, Soderbergh’s next choices were Michael Fassbender as Solo and Joel Kinnaman as Russian agent Illya Kuryakin. Warners apparently had a mixed reaction. They weren’t sure about the actors for U.N.C.L.E. but were more than willing to cast them in prominent roles in other movies.

7. Enter: Johnny Depp. The actor’s Lone Ranger movie was temporarily canceled at Disney (partly because of, you guessed it, the economy). So he was looking for something to do. He thought it might be rather fun to play Kuryakin. Warner Bros. liked that idea.

8. Exit: Johnny Depp. Lone Ranger movie back, so sorry, Depp (figuratively) told Warner Bros. Now there was no Fassbender or Kinnaman, either.

9. Warner Bros and Soderbergh go back and forth. Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, who knows who else had their names bandied about. The Playlist said Warner Bros. only wanted a a $60 million budget, which would include $5 million the studio spent on other proposed versions. Soderbergh, who wants to finish up with a Liberace made-for-cable-television movie for HBO, evidently had enough.

10. There’s a curse on this project. Or hadn’t you heard that?

11. Fans, who should have known better, forgetting reasons 1 and 10. That would be us, or at least we would be at the head of that line.

U.N.C.L.E. curse strikes again: Soderbergh drops out

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse strikes again. Director Steven Soderbergh has dropped out of a movie version of the 1964-68 series, THE PLAYLIST WEB SITE REPORTED.

With the studio already hemming and hawing over casting options, this week they delivered a low $60 million dollar budget proposal for what is supposed to be the first in a tentpole franchise threequel. Soderbergh felt the figure wasn’t enough for a ‘60s set period spy film that’s set on four continents, and with a March date looming, he could no longer wait for the studio to refine numbers or set cast, officially pulling out of the project.

We’ll have more to say later. Suffice to say this joins a long line of unsuccessful attempts to revive U.N.C.L.E. Thanks to our friends at Mister 8 for pointing this out to us.

The new issue of HMSS has arrived!

The publishers and editors of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant are pleased to announce the publication of our latest issue. This one — our best yet, we think — is packed with interesting reading about all matters Bondian.

We have some old friends returning and some new ones joining us for the first time. Our good pal Deborah Lipp checks in with two fascinating articles; one about Live and Let Die‘s monkeying around with tarot cards, the other about recurring themes of voyeurism and concealment in You Only Live Twice. Ron Feyereisen returns with a contrarian view of the ongoing Daniel Craig “reboot” tenure; suffice it to say that he’s not a satisfied customer. Speaking of reboots, regular contributor Derek Austin Johnson casts his gimlet eye on the latest 007 literary adventure, Jeffery Deaver’s Carte Blanche (the James Bond watches man, Dell Deaton, offers a rebuttal). On the subject of the latest Bond novel, we’re rerunning Mark Henderson’s excellent interview (first published last April here on the blog,) with the author. We’re excited to welcome Stuart Basinger (that’s “Dr. Shatterhand” to you civilians) to the fold with his imaginary interview with former CIA director (and friend of Ian Fleming) Allan Dulles. James Bond is discussed. Ian Fleming Foundation member Colin Clark regales us with the story of the discovery and acquisition of Franz Sanchez’ escape plane — the Cessna we saw Timothy Dalton’s 007 lasso in Licence to Kill. And our stalwart senior editor Bill Koenig unearths the amazing story of what 1979’s Moonraker could have been like, if only Eon’s budget had matched the screenplay’s requirements. Bill’s story also covers script-to-screen changes in Diamonds Are Forever and Tomorrow Never Dies.

So set aside a little time, mix yourself a cool martini, and point your web browser to HMSS.com, for some thought-provoking entertainment and a heaping helping of, as the French say, le jamesbonderie (even though they probably don’t). Enjoy!

Former 007 screenwriter does a Twitter parody

Bruce Feirstein, who has three James Bond screenwriting credits (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough) imagines what it’d be like if Twitter existed during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Feirstein’s piece in Vanity Fair presents what would have happened had James Stewart, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchock and others had Twitter accounts. To read Feirstein’s musings, JUST CLICK HERE.

Yet another 11 questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Once again, in honor of Napoleon Solo’s U.N.C.L.E. badge number 11, here are 11 questions about the newest developments in trying to bring The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to movie screens.

1. Are they really considering Channing Tatum to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.? That’s what the Deadline entertainment new Web site REPORTED ON NOV. 14. Deadline generally has a good track record on scoops, including a few concerning Skyfall, the James Bond movie now in production. Deadline was very careful to say there was “no offer yet.”

2. How *might* he be right for the role? Well he fits the archetype of Solo being dark and according to his IMDB.COM biography, Tatum is 31, the same age Robert Vaughn was when he filmed the U.N.C.L.E. pilot in late 1963.

3. And why might he not be right for the role? Well, if you look at THE PHOTO, the guy looks like a football linebacker, especially with that thick neck.

4. What’s wrong with that? As originally conceived, Solo (and fellow agent Illya Kuryakin) were supposed to be somewhat average in appearance. Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 show, said in a 1997 interview (portions of which appear on the DVD set for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series) that most TV series of the era featured “big, ballsy men” and he was looking to do something different. Women fans of the show will tell you there was nothing average about Solo or Kuryakin. But they were both under 6-foot-tall. And neither character remotely looked like a football player.

5. So what does Tatum have going for him? He has already worked twice for director Steven Soderbergh, slated to helm the U.N.C.L.E. movie: in Haywire, Soderbergh’s spy movie about a woman operative who vows revenge when she’s doubled crossed (coming to theaters in January) and in Magic Mike, a drama about male strippers, that’s due out next summer.

6. Why is that important? If Soderbergh likes an actor, he generally likes to work with him or her again. The first actor mentioned for Solo was George Clooney, who worked with Soderbergh several times, including the three “Ocean’s” movies (Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 12, etc.). Another actor in the U.N.C.L.E. mix was Michael Fassbender, who’s also in Haywire.

7. So what do you think? Our initial reaction was akin to how Bugs Bunny acts during the 3:00 to 3:08 mark of this cartoon:

8. Seriously? Well, we rarely get the opportunity to include a Bugs Bunny cartoon in a post, so you’ve got to go for it.

9. Oh, come on now. Is is it really that bad? Not necessarily but there’s a lot to think about.

10. Such as? On the one hand, we’re remembering when casting seemed to come out of left field but worked. Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie. Robert Downey Jr. in 2008’s Iron Man. We weren’t familar at all with Tobey Maguire before he played Spider-Man in films that came out in 2002, 2004 and 2007, but thought he was terrific. Still, we also remember the 2002 version of I Spy, which was horrible. Or the 1996 version of Mission: Impossible that turned Jim Phelps into a villain as part of a Tom Cruise ego trip.

11. So what’s the bottom line, Sherlock? You can’t really critique something until there’s actually something to critique. Soderbergh is a good director and he has actually watched a lot of episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. preparing for this movie. Is that enough? That’s a question that can’t be answered yet.

Hawaii Five-O season 12 out on DVD in January

Season 12 of Hawaii Five-O, the last campaign of the 1968-80 show, is scheduled to come out on DVD on Jan. 10, according to the TV Shows on DVD Web site.

By this time, star Jack Lord as lawman Steve McGarrett was the only remaining member of the original cast still present. James MacArthur departed at the end of the 11th season. A new supporting cast was recruited, led by veteran character actor William Smith as James Carew, a cop looking for the men who killed his wife. Also on board was Sharon Farrell as Lori, the first Five-O woman officer. Prior to this, Five-O occasionally utilized policewomen working for the Hololulu P.D.

But there were notable returns. Composer Morton Stevens, who wrote the Five-O theme, was back scoring episodes after skipping the 11th season. Ross Martin, who had appeared in three season 11 episodes as a Hawaiian crime boss, was back in the role for two episodes in season 12. And Khigh Dhiegh as archvillain Wo Fat reprised the role one more time. The back of Five-O Season 12 box has at least three images from the episode, titled “Woe to Wo Fat.”

Most season 12 episodes don’t receive good reviews on the Web site of Five-O expert Mike Quigley. Hard-core Five-O fans, we suspect, will still seek out the DVD set.

Here’s the final scenes of the series, with Morton Stevens supplying the music.