John le Carre, an appreciation

David Cornwell, aka John le Carre

The 1960s spy craze, started by James Bond films, unleashed many escapist spies. But one of the most enduring espionage universe not escapist. It was the one penned by David Cornwell, writing under the name John le Carre.

Le Carre novels involved flawed humans dealing with grays, rather than black and white.

Cornwell wrote his novels independently of James Bond. Cornwell, like Ian Fleming, had worked in intelligence. Cornwell/le Carre had something to say in a more grounded espionage setting.

Le Carre would have written novels regardless of the spy craze. But the escapist thrust of much of the 1960s spy craze helped create a market for something else. James Bond helped create a market for George Smiley, le Carre’s best remembered (but from his only) protagonist.

Many le Carre novels were set during the Cold War. In 1989, as the cold war was winding down, the author was undaunted that the world was changing.

“It gives me wonderful breaks, a wonderful new deck of cards,” le Carre said in an interview with PBS. “I mean, the spy story was not invented by the cold war, it’ll continue after the cold war.”

Indeed, in the following years, le Carre wrote novels including The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama and A Most Wanted Man. Le Carre never lacked for anything to say.

“I think this is a time when we’re going to have to turn around our thinking to a great extent,” le Carre said in the 1989 interview.

“There does come a point here too, as Smiley, himself, is saying, the when is the question about when could it happen that institutional guidance, patriotism, if you will, in this case, institutional commitment, actually outlives its purpose and imposes on me and upon my conscience individual strains which I cannot support.”

Le Carre lives on through numerous adaptations of his work, both as feature films and as television miniseries.

Amusingly, two writers who adapted Fleming to the screen also worked on le Carre projects: Paul Dehn (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold) and John Hopkins (Smiley’s People). The latter also had le Carre working on the adaptation.

Today, le Carre fans are in mourning after the author’s death this past weekend. That’s understandable. Reading le Carre works usually leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

John le Carre dies at 89

David Cornell, aka John Le Carre, circa 1964

John le Carre, a prolific author of spy novels with characters coping with ambiguously moral situations, has died at 89, The Guardian reported, citing a family statement.

Le Carre, real name David Cornwell, reached fame in 1963 with the novel The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Other popular novels followed, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People, The Russia House and The Night Manager.

Cornwell had worked in intelligence, which is why he adopted the le Carre pen name. In a 1989 interview with PBS, he said espionage involved doing “dishonorable things for honorable purposes.”

The author discussed the many types of spies.

“The field man is the figure who interests me because I feel he’s a metaphor for other walks of life,” Cornwell told PBS. “He’s a person I can explore, some kind of alienated character perhaps who rather like a writer is dependent on the society he’s deceiving, or penetrating, and who rather like a writer makes his perceptions secretly and reports them in due course to the consumer.”

Le Carre works were made into films and television miniseries. By 2016, a group called Intelligence Squared, held a debate which spy author — le Carre or Ian Fleming — was better.

David Farr, who adapted The Night Manager for the BBC, advocated for le Carre. Anthony Horwitz, a popular novelist whose works include two James Bond continuation novels, spoke on Fleming’s behalf.

 Below is a video from 1964 as le Carre’s career was taking off. He appeared on the U.S. television show To Tell The Truth. By this point, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was going to be made into a movie and le Carre was a hot property. The le Carre segment begins at the 8:22 mark.

21 Club, a literary Bond location, to close

The 21 Club, a well-known New York City restaurant, is closing, the New York Post reported, citing a spokesman.

The restaurant was a location for the literary James Bond. In the novel Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Tiffany Case dine there after Bond has smuggled diamonds into the U.S. They meet “one of the famous Kriendler brothers, who have owned ’21’ ever since it was the best speak-easy in New York.”

The Kriendler and Berns families owned 21 from 1922 to 1985, according to the restaurant’s entry in Wikipedia.

The 21 Club also is referenced, but not shown, in the film Live And Let Die. Bond (Roger Moore) and Felix Leiter (David Hedison) are to meet there for dinner, the audience is told as Bond and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) get ready to board a train to travel to New York.

The restaurant is known for his exterior (statues of jockeys) and its clientele (the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway) over the decades.

The restaurant has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. New York state has banned indoor dining for a second time to slow the spread of the virus. 21 has been shut since March of this year. According to the Post, 21’s employees have been told they’ll lose their jobs by March 2021.

The Post said 21’s owners are exploring options for the restaurant to reopen in some form in the future.

Dr. No lobby card: Denial is not just a river in Egypt

Dr. No lobby card with Jack Lord (yes, really), Ursula Andress and Sean Connery

Social media has a way of unleashing debate. For example, a 58-year-old Dr. No lobby card showed up this week on Facebook and got one such debate going.

The question was whether Jack Lord was in it, along with Ursula Andress and Sean Connery.

Lord, of course, was the first film Felix Leiter. (The 1954 Casino Royale on CBS changed Leiter’s first name to Clarence and made him British.)

The lobby card photo (see above) was taken on the same Jamaican beaches that doubled for Crab Key in the movie. Lord as Leiter wasn’t in those sequences. The actor also is wearing clothing (a big hat and ascot) he didn’t have in his scenes in the film.

This week on social media, some Bond fans said there was no way it could be Jack Lord because of that outfit.

Nevertheless, Lord often wore similar outfits during Hawaii Five-O (1968-80) in scenes where Steve McGarrett was off duty. At a 1996 Five-O convention in the Los Angeles area, a fan asked members of the original cast about such outfits. “Jack picked his own clothes,” replied James MacArthur, who played Danny “Danno” Williams in the show.

Here’s an example from the 1972 episode V for Vashon: The Patriarch, the only three-part story of the series.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett in an off-duty moment in a 1972 Hawaii Five-O episode.

Long before this, the lobby card photo has made the rounds (without the lobby card information). It must be John Derek! (Andress’ husband at the time). That comment was made without knowing the photo was part of a lobby card.

Would United Artists feature somebody in a lobby card who wasn’t in the movie or part of the crew? Pretty doubtful. Meanwhile some collectors have the captions for the lobby cards, which indicate that, yes, it was Jack Lord.

While the consensus seemed to be it must have been Jack Lord, there were those who still didn’t believe it. Some may have been joking, but some clearly were serious. “It’s just my opinion.”

There is a famous quote from Isaac Asimov. Part of it refers to how there is “the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

About that Christopher Nolan directing a Bond film thing

Christopher Nolan

There are a number of Hollywood types upset with Warner Bros.’s plans to debut its 2021 film slate simultaneously on the HBO Max streaming service as well as theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. And one of the most prominent is writer-producer-director Christopher Nolan.

Nolan directed a financially successful trio of Batman movies released by Warner Bros. He also shows up as a favorite among some James Bond fans to direct a Bond film at some point.

After all, he’s worked in Bond-inspired bits among his Batman films as well as 2010’s Inception and this year’s Tenet. Meanwhile, Bond films such as Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015) had Nolan influences. A marriage made in heaven, right?

In a statement to THR, Nolan made clear how unhappy he is about the HBO Max news. The streaming service will show the Warner Bros. movies for 31 days. It’s a way to boost HBO Max.

“Warner Bros. had an incredible machine for getting a filmmaker’s work out everywhere, both in theaters and in the home, and they are dismantling it as we speak,” Nolan said. “They don’t even understand what they’re losing. Their decision makes no economic sense, and even the most casual Wall Street investor can see the difference between disruption and dysfunction.”

So here’s the question: Does this mean that Nolan is looking for the exit from his long-standing Warner Bros. relationship?

If so, does this make it more likely he might direct a Bond movie in the future? Or does it show he’s more than willing to bite the hand that feeds him?

Nolan had a pretty good deal at Warners. Nolan’s Syncopy company produced his movies. Nolan’s wife, Emma Thomas, gets a producer credit on his films.

That’s a lot to walk away from. Bond fans who clamor for Nolan to direct Bond say he likes Bond so much he might well turn away such perks. He’d surely be happy to work for Eon Productions, so the thinking goes.

Who knows? It’s still early days of the shakeup that’s going on in the movie business. And when might Bond 26 get off the ground?

Bond 25 questions: The cinema uncertainty edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

So, one major studio, Warner Bros., says it will release its 2021 film slate simultaneously in movie theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service. Also, the costs of No Time to Die, the 25th James bond films continue to balloon.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What does all this mean for No Time to Die?

It reinforces how No Time to Die was a pre-COVID-19 movie that will debut, one way or another, in a post-COVID-19 world.

What’s different? Really different?

Both Walt Disney Co. (Disney +) and Warner Bros. (HBO Max) are really committed to their corporate streaming services. The Warner Bros. announcement supposedly is temporary for 2021. But few believe this is a short-term step.

To be sure, HBO Max is available mostly in the U.S. But AT&T, the owner of Warner Bros., appears committed to streaming.

Yes, but No Time to Die has no tie to AT&T and Warner Bros., right?

True. The James Bond film franchise is tethered to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, one of the weakest Hollywood studios that doesn’t have a streaming service.

What does that mean?

It remains to be seen how streaming affects the Bond franchise. MGM reportedly reached out to other streaming services to license No Time to Die. Nothing came of it (as far as we know). But MGM is on the hook for a lot of money and loans related to No Time to Die.

How much?

B25 Ltd., a company formed by Eon Productions to make No Time to Die, said in a Dec. 1 U.K. regulatory filing that the film’s costs were approaching $290 million.

The traditional business model called for a wide, worldwide theatrical release, followed by a home video release. But COVID-19 has changed things. Movie theatres have been closed in multiple markets.

And now?

Everything is in flux. Netflix is putting pressure on traditional studios. Disney and Warner Bros. are trying to compete with Netflix with their own streaming services.

MGM, meanwhile, doesn’t have a streaming service. Reportedly, streaming services including Apple + considered a one-year license for No Time to Die but found MGM’s asking price too steep.

For now, No Time to Die is tied to the traditional business model.

NTTD cost approaches $290M, B25 says

No Time to Die poster released Sept. 1.

The cost of No Time to Die was approaching $290 million as of mid-year, according to a U.K. regulatory filing.

B25 Ltd., in a Dec. 1 filing, put the cost at 213.9 million British pounds as of June 30 for a “work in progress.” The filing defines that as “costs incurred on film production for which the film has not yet been completed or delivered.”

At current exchange rates, that’s about $287.7 million.

Eon Productions formed B25 as part of the making of No Time to Die. The movie has been delayed multiple times, including twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No Time to Die currently is scheduled for release in April 2021.

The filing also said the company received 95,487 pounds (about $128,600) as part of a U.K. job retention program. The payments were related to “furlough costs for payroll staff” from March to June 2020. The average monthly number of people employed was 25. The government payments were reported earlier this week by the Daily Mail.

Warner Bros. bets big on streaming for 2021

Warner Bros. logo

Warner Bros. plans to make its 2021 film slate available on the HBO Max streaming service the same day the movies are released in theaters, Variety reported.

The movies will be on HBO Max for 31 days. After that time, they will be only available in theaters until the normal home video window opens up, according to the entertainment-news outlet.

The films involved include a new version of Dune, directed by Denis Villeneuve (a one-time contender to direct No Time to Die); The Matrix 4; and Suicide Squad.

Warner Bros. is doing something similar with Wonder Woman 1984. That film opens in international theaters in mid-month but will be on HBO Max and theaters in the U.S. starting Dec. 25.

AT&T owns Warner Bros., HBO and HBO Max, the latter intended as a streaming competitor to Netflix.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the home studio of the James Bond films, reportedly had shopped No Time to Die to streaming outlets. No leasing deal took place. The 25th James Bond film currently has an April 2021 release date in theaters.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has played havoc with movie release plans, with many films being delayed multiple times.

Bond 25 questions: The end (?) of the pandemic edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There are promising vaccines being developed for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). So what does this mean for No Time to Die?

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What do you think are the odds that these vaccines mean No Time to Die will meet its scheduled April 2021 release date?

Less than 50-50.

What? Why?

Because it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get vaccines out to a large number of people.

Is there something else?

As of the time this post is being written, there are still a lot of COVID-19 deniers. On social media, I saw somebody refer to “pandemic” in quotes, an indication of skepticism that COVID-19 was real. Even before COVID-19 arose, there was a robust anti-vaccination movement.

What do you think?

An acquaintance spent a week in the hospital (she said she had COVID-19) and was on oxygen for at least part of that time. I take that seriously.

How does this shake out for No Time to Die?

As stated above, it’s going to take time for vaccines to have an effect. In the long run, it may turn out great. Will vaccines have an impact in time to help No Time to Die? That’s not so certain.

Put another way, it’s possible No Time to Die might get delayed again. But, to be honest, it’s too early to say.