Actor Robert Wolders dies at 81

Robert Wolders in The Man From Thrush Affair, a fourth-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Robert Wolders, an actor who was married to actress Merle Oberon and was the long-time companion to Audrey Hepburn, died last week at the age of 81, according to an obituary published by The Hollywood Reporter.

His roles included playing a guest agent in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode The Man From Thrush Affair.

The episode was filmed in the fall of 1967. In real life, the script was of the episode was revised so series co-star David McCallum could marry Kathy Carpenter and have a short honeymoon.

In the final version, Solo (Robert Vaughn) and agent Andreas Petros (Wolders) infiltrate an island taken over by Thrush. The villainous organization has enslaved the island’s population and has built a device that can cause earthquakes around the world.

Wolders also was a co-star for the second season of Laredo, a Western series that ran from 1965 to 1967.  The series mixed comedy and drama, with Wolders playing Erik Hunter, a worldly addition to the Texas Rangers.

Wolders’ death was first noted by the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund

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Historian takes a brief look at North by Northwest

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Michael Beschloss, a historian who writes about U.S. presidents, turned his attention over the weekend to North by Northwest.

Beschloss’ Twitter feed (@BeschlossDC) often notes the anniversary of major historical events, accompanied by photos and illustrations. But he also posts tweets about the arts and society.

For North by Northwest, the 1959 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Beschloss had two posts.

One tweet included part of a document from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which would release the movie, to National Park Service concerning how Mount Rushmore would be used in the movie.

“None of our characters would tread upon the faces of the Presidents,” the document reads.

Beschloss also tweeted a photo of a brochure marked up by screenwriter to work out the Mount Rushmore sequence.

You can take a look for yourself.

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NYT column casts Putin as 007 villain

Vladimir Putin, head of Russia

U.S. President Donald Trump has been in Europe and the U.K. the past few days for a NATO summit and a visit to the U.K. Much has been written but one column in The New York Times is evoking James Bond films.

Columnist Michelle Goldberg, writing from Berlin, interviewed Cem Özdemir, described as “a member of the German Bundestag from the center-left Green Party.” He commented about Trump and Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.

Özdemir, the first politician of Turkish descent to serve in Germany’s parliament, according to the column. He brought James Bond films into the conversation.

“It reminds me of a James Bond movie,” he said. “You have a guy” — Putin — “who has a clear plan. Step 1, Step 2. It’s Brexit, it’s President Trump, it’s having Europe stumbling, it’s having authoritarian regimes getting stronger on a daily basis, it’s an escalation in Syria. He gets everything he wants.” But while the world seems to be ruled by Bond villains, he said, there is “no James Bond.”

Disclaimer: I know readers of the blog have differing opinions about Brexit and Trump. This post is to draw the comment to your attention. Any way, at least there was no From Russia With Love pun in the column.

M:I-Fallout gets some love from critics

A clapperboard from Mission: Impossible-Fallout

Mission: Impossible-Fallout is getting some positive reviews two weeks ahead of its release.

The sixth M:I film starring Tom Cruise and released by Paramount is due out the last weekend of this month.

It was a hectic production, which included Cruise breaking his ankle during a stunt. But the early reviews are mostly complimentary.

Here are some non-spoiler excerpts:

ROBERT ABELE, THE WRAP: “In the shootout phase of international action franchise competition, then, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” has decidedly zinged one past all caped defenders with a rousing, silly-serious, old-fashioned humdinger that could make a whole audience of veteran action stars nod slowly, wide-eyed, and say, “I remember those days, but I never worked that hard.”

RAFER GUZMAN, NEWSDAY: “Yet here is Cruise, 56, performing some of the most impressive feats of derring-do ever captured on screen….Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, on his second “M:I” film, keeps this elaborate machine purring like a luxury sedan with only the occasional misfire. The plot gets so tangled in mental chess and double deceits that the characters often sound like internet conspiracy theorists (“Don’t you see? This is the trap!”).”

TODD MCCARTHY, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: “The plot may be as indecipherable as The Big Sleep, but the action is insane in this sixth installment of Mission: Impossible. Loaded with extended sequences that show Tom Cruise doing what look like real — and really dangerous — stunts all over central Paris and London…writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s second outing on the series tops what he did with Cruise three years ago with Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.”

PETER DEBRUGE, VARIETY: “(Tom Cruise character Ethan) Hunt himself has acquired a gravitas along the way that distinguishes the series from its most obvious inspiration, the James Bond movies of the 1960s, back when Sean Connery was that franchise’s first and only star. Now playing to an audience who’s forgotten (if it ever realized) that these films were inspired by a knockoff TV series from the same era, “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” isn’t just another stunt-driven save-the-world bonanza.”

KEITH UHLICH, SLANT MAGAZINE: ” It would help if there was a single character worth caring about…The real fallout here is that everyone’s a zero.”

Bond 25 has new production designer, fan publication says

Bond 25 will have a new production designer, with incumbent Dennis Gassner not returning, James Bond-magasinet said, citing comments made at the opening of the 007 Elements museum in Austria.

“Dennis Gassner is not doing the production design on Bond 25,” the publication said in an Instagram post. “The new production designer is Mark Tildesley. The news was confirmed by art director Neal Callow at the opening for @007elements.”

Gassner told International Cinematographers Guild Magazine last year that he was “about to do my fourth James Bond film.” Gassner took over from Peter Lamont starting with 2008’s Quantum of Solace through 2015’s SPECTRE.

However, that was before Danny Boyle emerged as Bond 25’s director earlier this year. Tildesley has been production designer on Boyle-directed movies such as 28 Days Later and T2 Trainspotting.

When the 007 film series began, Eon Productions had regular crew members such as Ken Adam (production designer), Peter Hunt (film editor) and Ted Moore (director of photography). When Adam was unavailable for From Russia With Love, art director Syd Cain essentially took over.

In recent decades, Eon has deferred selections for key posts to the directors it hired. That has been the case with directors of photography for years. Now, that trend is spreading to other posts. Thomas Newman, for example, scored Skyfall and SPECTRE because he was director Sam Mendes’ choice.

UPDATE (3 p.m. eastern time): Other fan groups have posted on social media while not mentioning the production designer news. Apparently, today was a press event at 007 Elements. The actual opening is July 12.

MI6 Confidential examines Horowitz, other topics

Anthony Horowitz

MI Confidential No. 46, the publication’s newest issue, looks at 007 continuation author Anthony Horowitz and other topics.

According to the publication’s website, Horowitz, among all the Bond continuation authors, was the only one who “had the privilege and challenge of integrating original and unused (Ian) Fleming material.

“After doing so successfully in 2015 (with Trigger Mortis), Anthony Horowitz was invited to reprise this role for ‘Forever and a Day’, released this May.”

MI6 Confidential said it spoke with Horowtiz about research and the  “enormity of the task of integrating his timeline with Fleming’s.”

Other articles in No. 46 include Steven Cole discussing his six years of writing the Young Bond book series.

For more information, CLICK HERE. To order, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $9.50 and 8.50 euros.

1966: Dick Van Dyke takes on the spy craze

Title card for The Man From My Uncle

In the 1960s, many television shows did a take on the spy craze. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66), one of the most acclaimed U.S. situation comedies, was no exception.

Near the end of its run, CBS aired “The Man From My Uncle.” It has references to both The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (near the peak of its popularity) and James Bond films. Amusingly, the episode doesn’t actually have spies.

Nevertheless, a nameless U.S. agency (resembling the FBI) asks Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) for the use of their house to conduct a surveillance in their New Rochelle, New York, neighborhood.

The lead agent is Harry Bond (Godfrey Cambridge). Given this is 1966, the significance of agent Bond’s name is obvious when Rob looks at the agent’s identification.

ROB: Bond? Harry Bond? Hey, you’ve got the same last name…

BOND: Yeah. Please no jokes. I’m not 007.

Something similar happens a few moments later when Laura meets the government man.

LAURA: Bond? Isn’t that the name of….

Rob stops her before things get too far.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Rob was the head writer for a leading variety television program. The Dick Van Dyke Show was an early sitcom which depicted its lead character at both home and at work.

As a result, in this story, Rob is nervous and excited that a government man is working out of his home. Rob’s anxiety around Harry Bond is the source of much of the humor of the episode.

Harry Bond’s quarry is a criminal who has a relative living in Rob’s neighborhood. Suffice to say, the feds eventually get their man despite Rob’s offers of assistance.

At the end of the episode, Rob speaks into what he thinks is his son’s walkie talkie.

ROB: Hello, Thrush? This is agent Triple-oh-nine. If you do not release our agents immediately, we will activate our atomic de-activator and blow up your tonsils. Do you read me there, Thrush?

BOND: This is Thrush.

ROB (embarrassed): Hi, Thrush.

BOND (bemused): We read you and will release all your agents if you just stop playing with our equipment.

ROB: Mr. Bond, I’m sorry. I thought this was my son’s.

BOND: That’s all right, Triple-oh-nine. We’ll be right in.

For those not familiar with U.N.C.L.E., Thrush was the villainous organization of that 1964-68 series.

Godfrey Cambridge’s title card for The Man From My Uncle

Trivia: The Man From My Uncle was written by Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson. While mostly known for writing comedy, the duo also wrote an episode of the hour-long drama I Spy that same season.

Sheldon Leonard was the executive producer of both The Dick Van Dyke Show and I Spy. Marshall and Belson later developed Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple into a television series.

Marshall (1934-2016) later became a director of such films as Pretty Woman and The Princess Dairies.

Godfrey Cambridge died in 1976 in the TV production Victory at Entebbe, where he was playing Ugandan president Idi Amin. He was replaced by Julius W. Harris, who had portrayed Tee Hee in Live And Let Die.

Meanwhile, you can view The Man From My Uncle below (at least as long as YouTube doesn’t yank it).