George Kennedy and the art of scene stealing

George Kennedy's Patroni steals a scene from Burt Lancaster, the star of Airport.

George Kennedy’s Patroni steals a scene from Burt Lancaster, the star of Airport.

We deviate from our normal format to note the passing of character actor George Kennedy, who has died at the age of 91, according to an obituary at  THEWRAP WEBSITE.

Kennedy won an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke. But he also provided a kind of acting lesson in the 1970 film Airport — namely, a practical demonstration of how a supporting player can steal a movie from its stars.

Airport has been copied and parodied over the years. But in 1970, it was a big, prestigious film, starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin. It eventually was nominated for Best Picture and the distinguished actress Helen Hayes, who appeared in the film, picked up an Oscar for best supporting actress.

Nevertheless, Kennedy in a secondary role actually dominates the scenes he’s in. He plays Joe Patroni, a gruff airliner mechanic. For much of the movie he has a cigar. He also takes great advantage of the structure of the Big Movie.

Tom Mankiewicz, the one-time James Bond screenwriter, in his audio commentary for Live And Let Die describes a type of character such movies can’t do without — Leo The Explainer.

These characters provide expository dialogue, giving the audience information it needs to know. As Mankiewicz told it, stars don’t like providing such explanations. So Leo The Explainer serves that purpose.

The thing is, Kennedy’s Patroni — Airport’s Leo The Explainer — does so in an entertaining fashion that draws attention to himself.

In the movie, a mentally disturbed man (Van Heflin) intends to explode a bomb aboard a flight to Rome so his wife will collect insurance. The authorities have figured this out but the question is how to stop him.

There’s a scene in the office of airport manager Mel Bakersfeld (Lancaster) with a model of a Boeing 707. Patroni talks about what what happens when there’s sudden decompression, giving a semi-graphic explanation. (Patroni says he once witnessed such an incident personally.)

Eventually, the disturbed man sets off the bomb. Later, it’s up to Patroni to get a stranded airliner, stuck in snow, to free up the airport’s main runway so the returning, damaged jet can land safely. With time running out, Patroni declares, “We’re going for broke!” and against all odds moves the stranded plane out of the way.

Universal, the studio that released Airport, decided to release other Airport movies between 1974 and 1979. The one constant: George Kennedy as Patroni. Acting schools teach you about the craft. But Kennedy’s performance in the original Airport is a lesson for aspiring actors about the reality.

Writing’s On The Wall wins Best Song Oscar

SPECTRE LOGO

Writing’s On The Wall, the title song for SPECTRE, won the Best Song Oscar on Sunday night.

The award marked the first back-to-back Academy Awards for the James Bond franchise since Goldfinger won a sound award (Norman Wanstall) and Thunderball won for special effects (John Stears) in the 1960s. 2012’s Skyfall also won for Best Song as well as receiving an Oscar for sound editing.

Co-writer and performer Sam Smith gave a short acceptance speech. The award went to Smith and his co-writer, Jimmy Napes.

Meanwhile, songs from James Bond movies played a prominent part of the Oscar proceedings. Live And Let Die (nominated but which didn’t win) and Diamonds Are Forever (not even nominated) were played at various spots in the telecast on ABC. Also played was the main theme from 1967’s Casino Royale, a comedy that’s not part of the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions.

Also during the show, stand-up comic Sarah Silverman introduced Sam Smith’s rendition of Writing’s On The Wall. It became a forum for Silverman to tell James Bond jokes. Here’s a sample from the JUST JARED website.

“I guess I was a Bond girl, in that I had sexual intercourse with James Bond and never heard from him… I know he has a cell phone – he has four!” Sarah said. “He loves sleeping with women with heavy Jewish boobs.”

“Oh here’s something. James Bond – not a grower or a shower. I don’t want to say he’s terrible in bed… but he’s slept with 55 women in 24 movies and most of them tried to kill him afterwards.”

The show’s In Memoriam segment included Christopher Lee (including a brief clip from The Man With The Golden Gun) and mogul Kirk Kerkorian, who bought and sold Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer multiple times. It was under Kerkorian’s leadership that MGM bought United Artists in the early 1980s, a move that still affects the Bond franchise to this day.

Also in the segment was character actor Theodore Bikel, who auditioned for the role of Auric Goldfinger but lost to Gert Frobe.

Finally, related to 2015 spy-related films, Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Bridge of Spies.

UPDATE: They’re playing the theme from Goldfinger (another Bond song never even nominated for an Oscar) going into the final commercial break.

SPECTRE: What’s the difference between $200M, $199.8M?

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

Answer: Not much in the big scheme of things.

It’s one thing for 007 fan message boards to discuss (even obsess) over the subject of SPECTRE’s box office in the U.S. and Canada. But when a major entertainment website like TheWrap (which we read regularly and usually enjoy) DOES SO, well it’s time to take a deep breath.

Here’s an excerpt from TheWrap’s Feb. 25 story:

The latest James Bond movie, “Spectre,” should cross $200 million in domestic box-office on Thursday.

It’s taken the suave spy nearly four months to get there, and Sony raised the theater count from 47 to 340 last weekend to make sure it did.

Except, it didn’t.

Through Friday, Feb. 26 (when the screen count dipped to 92 from the aforementioned 340), the 24th James Bond film had a cumulative U.S.-Canada box office of $199,829,527, according to the Box Office Mojo website. The movie’s global box office has topped out at around $879.5 million.

SPECTRE generated $5,000 in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada on Friday. At that rate, it will be only a little more than a month before SPECTRE crosses the $200 million mark for the region — while the movie is also available on home video.

TheWrap story did, however, address an issue that has more long-term importance — when will Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer select a studio partner to release Bond 25?

The contract of Sony Pictures, which has release 007 movies since 2006, expires with SPECTRE. MGM has to decide whether to re-up with Sony or select a new partner. MGM, after a 2010 bankruptcy, doesn’t have a distribution arm.

The Wrap, though, didn’t add much new. MGM either has received “or will soon… a pitch from every Hollywood studio, including Sony Pictures, the current rights-holder,” The Wrap said.

Essentially, not much about Bond 25 can happen until MGM makes its choice. You can’t release a movie if there’s nobody to release it.

UPDATE: The estimated U.S.-Canadian box office for SPECTRE for the Feb. 26-28 weekend is $16,000, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO.  That place it at No. 45, with a cumulative box office in the region of $199,840,527.

40th anniversary of Hawaii Five-O’s Nine Dragons

Wo Fat triumphs (for a while) over McGarrett in Nine Dragons

Wo Fat triumphs (for a while) over McGarrett in Nine Dragons

This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of the best episodes of the original Hawaii Five-O series, the two-hour Nine Dragons.

The first episode of the 1976-77 season was one of the best encounters between the original Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) and the original Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh).

The episode also featured the most James Bond-like plot of the original 1968-80 series. Wo Fat intends to lead a coup of China, then launch a preemptive nuclear attack on the United States.

To ensure no other nations retaliate, Wo Fat abducts McGarrett. The lawman, under torture, is recorded as saying the U.S. was responsible for the deaths of Chinese leadership (that Wo Fat plans to accomplish). The film will be broadcast as the attack against the U.S. takes place, causing other countries to not attack China.

All of this, of course, is rather fantastic. Nevertheless, it features one of the best performances by Khigh Diegh as Wo Fat. The actor (1910-1991) essentially gets a chance to meld his two best-known characters: Wo Fat and the Chinese brain washing expert in the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate.

What’s more, Jack Lord’s McGarrett, for once in the series, is utterly defeated, at least for a time. Despite McGarrett’s resistance, he eventually gives in. McGarrett, naturally, rallies and escapes. McGarrett has no memory of the defeat until he gets a chance to view the film shortly before Wo Fat intends to use it.

Nine Dragons included contributions from one of Five-O’s best writers (Jerome Coopersmith, his next-to-last script) and directors (Michael O’Herlihy, his final effort for the series). Above all, it features one of the best scores for the show by Morton Stevens, who composed the classic Five-O theme.

Finally, the episode includes on-location filming in Hong Kong, a first for the show. To defray the cost, CBS struck a deal with Air Siam (everybody in the epiosde who takes a flight flies on Air Siam).

Five-O would not have such on-location filming until the end of the 11th season, where a two-hour episode was filmed in Singapore (The Year of the Horse), that included one-time 007 George Lazenby.

Eon’s newest non-007 venture

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Eon Productions, which produces the James Bond film series, has entered into a “creative alliance” with newly formed Cove Pictures, a new international television production concern, VARIETY REPORTED.

Cove “will focus on high-end drama, comedy and factual programs for the global market,” and will work with Eon to develop “internationally targeted” shows, according to the entertainment news outlet.

The new production company is headed by Heather Rabbatts, who has served with Eon co-boss Barbara Broccoli on the U.K. Film Council, Variety said.

Eon, since the death of co-founder Albert R. Broccoli in 1996, has become involved in a number of stage productions. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the other Eon co-boss, were among 12 executives producers of the 2014 film The Silent Storm.

Eon also has worked to develop a movie about Edward Snowden, who leaked National Security Agency documents to reporters. Barbara Broccoli and Wilson also have been involved in an effort to remake a 1957 horror film titled Night of the Demon in the U.K. and Curse of the Demon in the United States.

You can read the Variety story by CLICKING HERE or a story about Cove by The Hollywood Reporter by CLICKING HERE.

How a line from David Lean applies to Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bondlifier  feed on Twitter

The line we’re referring to comes from the director’s 1957 epic The Bridge On the River Kwai: “Madness! Madness!”

Put another way, the last few days have been a doozy regarding the future of the cinema version of James Bond.

Character actor and Daniel Craig friend Mark Strong, while promoting a movie, was quoted by THE SHORT LIST WEBSITE as saying:

““Do you know what, I’d have loved to have played the villain in a Bond movie while Daniel was doing it because he’s a pal and that would have been great. But I think he’s come to the end of his Bond time and so it’s probably never going to happen, but that would have always been great.”

Despite starting off the last sentence with the words, “But I think,” Strong’s comments were read as a virtual confirmation not only by The Short List but by THE INDEPENDENT (albeit with the qualifier “seemingly”), THE DAILY MAIL, THE MIRROR,  MOVIE WEB and /FILM.

In turn, FORBES.COM film writer Scott Mendelson used the news (such as it was) to write why Craig should come back for a fifth outing as 007, even though the writer criticized SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, when it came out.

Separately, actress Naomie Harris, weighed in on Twitter with her opinions about 007 film’s future, including how she hopes her portrayal of Miss Moneypenny will eventually be seen like Judi Dench playing M:

Imagine what it will be like when there’s actual news about Bond 25.

Douglas Slocombe, renown cinematographer, dies at 103

Never Say Never Again's poster

Poster for Never Say Never Again, photographed by Douglas Slocombe

Douglas Slocombe, who photographed more than 80 films in a long career, has died at 103, according to AN OBITUARY BY AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE.

Slocombe’s many credits included the first three Indiana Jones films from 1981 to 1989 as well as the 1983 007 film Never Say Never Again, not part of the 24-film series produced by Eon Productions.

The cinematographer also had his own real life adventure. He was in Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, working on filming for a documentary when Germany invaded the country, starting World War II. Here’s an excerpt FROM A 2014 BBC STORY:

“But I still remember the shock when at about 05:00 on 1 September we awoke to find the attack had begun,” says Slocombe. “There were bombers overhead and the whistle of falling bombs.

“I had no understanding of the concept of blitzkrieg. I had been expecting trouble but I thought it would be in trenches, like WW1. The Germans were coming over the border at a great pace.”

Slocombe and American filmmaker Herbert Klein, who was making the documentary, took a long, arduous trek. At one point, “A young girl died in front of us. We were shaken by that,” Slocombe told the BBC.

For part of the journey, “(W)e walked and walked north with the cart — me, Herbert Kline, the horse and the foal. By now I was an enemy alien so if we’d encountered any Germans that would have been it,” Slocombe told the BBC. They eventually got to Stockholm. The documentary, Lights Out in Europe, came out in 1940.

After something like that, photographing the make-believe Nazis of the Indiana Jones movies must have been child’s play.

Besides Steven Spielberg on the Indiana Jones films and Irvin Kershner on Never Say Never Again, Slocombe worked with a number of famed directors, including John Huston, as noted in this tweet:

SPECTRE has U.S.-Canada weekend box office of $105K

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE generated an estimated $105,000 at the U.S.-Canada box office for the Feb. 19-21 weekend, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO after AMC Theaters ran a “buy one, get one free” ticket special for the 24th James Bond film.

The movie’s cumulative U.S.-Canada box office is at an estimated $199,774,852. SPECTRE debuted in the United States in early November and has been available on Blu Ray and DVD since earlier this month.

AMC’s SPECTRE special began Feb. 19 and runs through Feb 25. The promotion raised SPECTRE’s theater count in the region this weekend to 340, up from 47 last weekend.

The promotion also raised SPECTRE to No. 31 in the U.S. and Canada this weekend, up from No. 50 in the Feb. 12-14 weekend.

The promotion may also be the one of final 007 film moves by Sony Pictures, which has released the past four Bond films. Sony’s contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expires with SPECTRE. MGM has yet to select a studio partner to release Bond 25.

U.N.C.L.E.’s Mr. Fixit

George M. Lehr silhouette  (far right) incorporated into the title of Batman '66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. No. 6

George M. Lehr silhouette (lower, far right) incorporated into the title of Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. No. 6

One of an occasional series on unsung heroes of television.

In the end titles of many television series, there are credits that don’t really don’t provide a viewer what a crew member really does.

So it was with George M. Lehr on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.

In the first season of Man, which ran from 1964 to 1968, Lehr had the title “assistant to producer.” In reality, he was a key member of the production team, headed by executive producer Norman Felton and producer-developer Sam Rolfe.

Lehr was, “for all intents and purposes, the third member of the Felton-Rolfe team,” Jon Heitland wrote in his 1987 book about U.N.C.L.E. “He undertook a myriad of duties on the show, including all postproduction work.”

That covers quite a bit of ground, from film editing to music scoring. That meant that Lehr touched a lot of bases with accomplished professionals.

U.N.C.L.E. was produced at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where John Dunning (1916-1991), who won an Oscar for Ben-Hur, was the supervising editor. Franklin Milton (1907-1985), another Ben-Hur Oscar winner, was the recording supervisor.

Lehr even appeared on-screen, in a fashion. Starting with the eighth episode, The Double Affair, the main titles began with the silhouette of an attacker inside U.N.C.L.E. headquarters who fires a gun at Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). This would last through the end of the first season. Lehr provided that silhouette.

During the second half of the show’s second season, Lehr got a promotion to associate producer (which meant a bigger credit in the end titles), a recognition of his contributions. For the 1966-67 season, he held the same title at The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. (sharing it with Max Hodge).

After that series was canceled following its only season, he rejoined Man’s crew for its final campaign for the 1967-68 season, again with the title of associate producer. Lehr was around for the entire development of U.N.C.L.E.

“(H)e also helped to create the…”whip pan” by inserting blurred images between scenes,” Cynthia W. Walker wrote in Work/Text Investigating The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The “whip pan” was used as a transition and a key part of the show’s look.

Lehr’s silhouette from U.N.C.L.E.’s first season has surfaced on the cover of the Batman ’66 Meets The Man From U.N.C.L.E. mini-series published by DC Comics. The silhouette is altered slightly to make it appear that of an U.N.C.L.E. agent.

Meanwhile, you can see him in the video below, explaining the origin of the U.N.C.L.E. Special. It was part of an extra originally made for a 2007 DVD release of the show.

Caveat Emptor: U.K. tabloid weighs in on Craig AGAIN

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

Once more, with feeling.

The U.K. tabloid, The Sun, HAS A STORY saying that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is willing to push back Bond 25 to 2018 to keep Daniel Craig as James Bond.

It was The Sun that less than a week ago asserted that Craig was quitting the 007 role. As originally phrased, The Sun said:  “DANIEL Craig is quitting as James Bond after signing up for a US TV series. He will star in Purity, which is set to run for several series of 20 episodes each.”

THAT STORY was later softened to say, “DANIEL Craig has signed up for a US TV series, throwing his future as James Bond into doubt. He will star in Purity, which is set to run for several series of 20 episodes each.” However, you can tell the story’s original emphasis by its URL that ends with Daniel-Craig-quits-James-Bond-007-role-for-US-telly-series.html.

In this newest story, The Sun has this passage:

Bond franchise bosses are so desperate to keep him in the famous tuxedo that they are willing to delay the next movie so he can film the show first.

MGM Studios, which produces the Bond flicks, told Daniel it will push back the next movie to 2018 if necessary.

A source said: “Daniel leaving the franchise at this moment is something MGM cannot stomach. (emphasis added)

Why the Caveat Emptor label should apply.

–The Sun said Craig’s possible participation in the television project is “throwing his future as James Bond into doubt.” No, The Sun’s original story saying he was definitely quitting is what attracted the attention. Other U.K. tabloids did stories, citing The Sun’s original version of its first story.

–Things were already looking doubtful for Bond 25 coming out in 2017. Craig is committed to an off-Broadway production of Othello this year.

The exact dates haven’t been announced. But with both Skyfall and SPECTRE, principal photography began late in the years before their release dates (November 2011 for Skyfall, December 2014 for SPECTRE).

Also, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, previously have not sounded enthusiastic about bringing out 007 on an every-other-year schedule.

–As stated before, nothing much can happen on Bond 25 until MGM selects a studio partner for Bond 25. The contract of Sony, which has released the past four 007 films, expires with SPECTRE.

MGM, slimmed down after a 2010 bankruptcy, doesn’t have the capability of releasing movies on its own. MGM has to either re-up with Sony or find a replacement. Bond 25 can’t get a release date until there’s somebody to actually release the movie.