1990: Columbo vs. Hugh Hefner (sort of)

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) conducts a con game with Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk).

Over the years, there have been many takeoffs based on Hugh Hefner and Playboy magazine.

Hefner’s death this week reminded the blog of one of the most amusing versions from 1990 when Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) dealt with a Hefner-like character.

Columbo Cries Wolf did more than that. Writer William Read Woodfield (1928-2001) very much played with the normal Columbo formula. Years earlier, Woodfield, with his then-partner Allan Balter (1925-1984), had written key episodes of Mission: Impossible

Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the founder of a Playboy-like magazine, Bachelor’s World. Instead of Playmates, there are “Nymphs.” Instead of the Playboy Mansion, there is the “Chateau.”

However, in this story, the Hefner figure has a business partner (Deidre Hall) who owns 51 percent of the enterprise. She appears to want to sell out to a Rupert Murdoch-like media baron. But the partner goes missing and Lt. Columbo is assigned the case as a possible homicide.

Woodfield even works in a reference to a British police detective played by Bernard Fox in a 1972 Columbo story, Dagger of the Mind.

The first three-quarters of Columbo Cries Wolf unfolds as a typical Columbo outing. But Brantley pulls a switch, basically begging for publicity as Columbo’s investigation proceeds.

Los Angeles officials (including a nervous mayor played by David Huddleston) aren’t sure. The Police Chief (Columbo veteran bit part player John Finnegan) assures the mayor that the department’s “best man” (Columbo, finally getting some recognition for a spectacular record) is on the case.

Woodfield pulls a big switch when it’s revealed that no murder actually occurred, with Brantley and his partner pulling a con game on Columbo.

Despite that, Brantley’s business partner still wants to sell to the media baron (albeit at a higher price). So Brantley kills her for real this time.

Columbo, with egg on his face from the first fiasco, takes another turn at bringing Brantley to justice. The climax depends on early 1990s tech (which new viewers wouldn’t recognize.

Still, it’s one of the best episodes of the Columbo revival on ABC that ran from 1989 to 2003. (The original Columbo series ran from 1971 to 1977 on NBC.)

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Who did more to make 007 popular in U.S. — JFK or Hefner?

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

2017 has been an eventful year related to the growth of U.S. interest in James Bond. This was the centennial of the birth of President John F. Kennedy and it was the year Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died.

JFK, unquestionably, gave the literary Bond a huge boost in 1961. Kennedy — the first U.S. president born in the 20th century — listed Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

At the time, Kennedy provided a youthful image. He was the youngest elected president at the age of 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the actual youngest president (at age 42), but he assumed office with the assassination of William McKinley.

Regardless, JFK was sworn into office after the then-oldest president, Dwight Eisenhower, departed. Kennedy brought a sense of glamour. That’s why his presidency was dubbed “Camelot.”

As a result, Kennedy’s including the Fleming novel in that 10 favorite book list was an enormous boost. It occurred just as the Eon film series was getting started. Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman struck their deal with United Artists in 1961, with Dr. No beginning production in early 1962.

Still, you could make the case that Hefner’s interest in Bond had a longer-lasting impact.

Playboy published Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity short story in 1960, a year before the famous JFK book list. Playboy serialized Fleming 007 stories. And Playboy’s ties to Bond would be referenced in the Eon films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever.

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

What’s more, Hefner’s Bond interest remained. Playboy published Bond-related pictorials for decades. In the 1990s, the magazine published short stories and serialized novels by 007 continuation author Raymond Benson.

As an aside, the Spy Commander once interviewed Benson about becoming the Bond continuation author. Benson mentioned, in passing, he was a friend of Hefner’s.

My memory is I asked him to go over that again. It was true. And one of the Benson 007 short stories (Midsummer Night’s Doom) was set at the Playboy mansion and Hefner showed up as a character.

The purpose of this post is to pose the question. The answer is up to the reader.

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.

Blade Runner 2049 may draw eye of 007 fans

Blade Runner 2049 poster

Blade Runner 2049, the sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner, may get some extra attention when it opens early next month.

The source of that extra attention may be from James Bond film fans wanting to check out the work of director Denis Villeneuve.

Villeneuve, of course, has been mentioned as a contender to direct Bond 25. Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, last week reported that 007 star Daniel Craig “is rooting” for Villeneuve to helm Bond 25.

Bamigboye has a track record of Bond scoops being proven correct. As a result, a number of entertainment websites, including Screen Rant , Den of Geek  and IndieWire jumped on the story. So did British publications such as The Telegraph. Naturally, it has also been discussed among Bond fans.

Whether Villeneuve gets the job remains uncertain at the moment. He is slated to direct a new version of Dune, but schedules have been known to change. Craig himself was scheduled to star in Purity, a limited series for pay channel Showtime, but that project apparently got delayed while Craig pursued Bond 25.

Regardless, the Blake 2049 crew includes people with Bond experience. The production designer is Dennis Gassner, who’s held the same job the past three 007 films, taking over from Peter Lamont. And the director of photography is Roger Deakins, who photographed Skyfall.

Deakins is well thought of by his peers and has been frequently nominated for Oscars (including for Skyfall) while not winning.

UPDATE (7:25 p.m. New York time): The Deadline: Hollywood entertainment news website today reported that Villeneuve is in the running to direct a new version of Cleopatra for Sony.

UPDATE (8:35 a.m., Sept. 30): Villeneuve, while promoting Blade Runner 2049, told The Montreal Gazette that he has been in talks about Bond 25.

“It’s true — I’ve been in discussions with (producer) Barbara Broccoli and (actor) Daniel Craig,” Villeneuve told the newspaper. “It’s a magnificent project; I would love to do a James Bond, but I don’t know how it would fit with my current projects. We’ll have to see.”

1967: Connery says 007 had become a ‘Frankenstein’

While viewing something Bond-related on YouTube, the blog came across something else — a 1967 interview Sean Connery gave to attorney F. Lee Bailey.

“How long are you going to be James Bond?” Bailey asks.

“As long as they keep releasing and re-releasing the films that I’ve made,” Connery replies. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m finished with the James Bond…I’ve stated my terms that I would take one million pounds tax free to do another one.”

“I don’t think anybody would pay that amount,” Connery adds following another question or two from Bailey.

The 32:31 video was posted by Historic Films Stock Footage Archive. The video actually consists of two versions of the interview. The quotes above are from the second version.

Bailey, in the first version, gets a couple of details wrong. In setting up a question, the attorney says Connery identified himself in Dr. No as “James Bond,” while in the second, he quotes the line correctly as, “Bond, James Bond.” Also, in the first interview, Bailey says Bond shot Dr. Dent in the head in Dr. No. Connery corrects him.

Connery also describes why he was tiring of the role.

“It’s some sort of Frankenstein,” Connery says in the first version of the interview.

“As far as being an actor is concerned, it begins to go off a bit,” he says in the second version. “I don’t think there have been any other films that have created a phenomena as the James Bond…There are only so many things one can do as far as the character is concerned.”

Connery also compliments Terence Young for the way he directed Dr. No and says “the second one” (From Russia With Love) was the best Bond film up to that point.

Here’s the video:

Kingsman sequel: ‘More everything!’

Teaser poster for Kingsman: The Golden Circle

In 1968, there was a trailer for a Thunderball-From Russia With Love double feature that promised more thrills, excitement, etc. Finally there was this promise: “More everything!”

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the sequel to 2015’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. more or less makes and delivers on the same promise.

With The Golden Circle, there’s more violence, more swearing (the f-bomb is a favorite) and more cynicism compared with the original.

However, the Matthew Vaughn-directed movie at times actually provides actual emotion. But don’t worry. If that’s not your thing, it’ll pass before long and you can enjoy more mayhem.

In a way, the movie is almost review proof. People who liked the original (also directed by Vaughn) are going to enjoy the sequel and won’t care about reviews. Those who didn’t care for the 2015 movie, more or less, aren’t part of The Golden Circle’s intended audience anyway.

Just to keep the plot summary to a minimum (what follows are shown on trailers so the spoiler adverse needn’t fear): The secret Kingsman organization is almost entirely wiped out although Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and gadget master Merlin (Mark Strong) survived.

They meet up with Statesman, a U.S.-based secret organization much like Kingsman except its front is a distillery. Julianne Moore is this movie’s lead villain, who is going to kill millions of people unless she gets what she wants.

Vaughn (who co-wrote the script with Jane Goldman) is a skilled director who knows exactly what he’s doing. The occasional emotional scenes demonstrate that. It’s more or less up to the viewer whether it’s what you want.

The movie is long (141 minutes). Still, it has its moments. For me, though, not as many as the first half of the original film. While there are plot twists, there’s nothing that surprising.

By this time, you know exactly what you’re getting. “Manners maketh man” of the original film is given lip service but mostly is gone. Grade: C-Plus.

Bond 25: Reading between the lines edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There hasn’t been much hard news since Daniel Craig said more than a month ago he’d be back for Bond 25. But some reports suggest things if you read between the lines. And so…

Still no director yet: In July, entertainment news websites identified three Bond 25 director front runners (Denis Villeneuve, Yann Demange and David Mackenzie). Variety said Demange was the top ranked contender.

All was quiet until Thursday night when Daily Mail scribe Baz Bamigboye (who has a record of scoops being proven correct) tweeted that Craig was “keen” on Villeneuve as Bond 25 director.

How much influence Craig will have on the voice is subject to debate and conjecture. But if Bamigboye is correct this time, it certainly sounds as if the decision hasn’t been made yet.

Still no distributor yet: On July 24, Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced Bond 25 would have a U.S. release date of November 2015. It was interesting given that MGM doesn’t have a distribution operation and relies on cutting deals with other studios to get its films into theaters.

Earlier this month, The Hollywood Reporter broke a story saying tech giants Apple and Amazon were now in the hunt for Bond 25 film rights in addition to traditional movie studios.

Not much since then. Interestingly, news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, which follow both Apple and Amazon closely, haven’t weighed in yet.

So some fans are undoubtedly asking, “Why should I care?” 

Here’s the best the blog can come up with: That November 2019 release date can’t be considered solid until a distributor is in place. Also, just because a release date gets announced doesn’t mean it can’t be changed.

To be clear, there’s no reason for panic. To be honest, there’s not enough information at this point to panic about. But, viewing it from the outside, Bond 25 has some peculiar aspects. Or, as Birth.Movies.Death scribe Phil Nobile Jr. (a big Bond enthusiast) put it on Twitter in response to Bamigboye’s tweet:

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UPDATE: 7:55 p.m. New York time: It turns out Baz Bamigboye wrote about this as part of a column in the Daily Mail.

“Bond star Daniel Craig is rooting for thriller film-maker Denis Villeneuve to direct him in his final 007 movie,” Bamigboye wrote.

Villeneuve “has spoken with Craig and Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson about making what is currently known simply as Bond 25….There are several other directors on the ‘wanted’ list, but I’m hearing that Craig is most interested in Villeneuve.”