Bond 25 questions: The Amazon edition

Amazon logo

A few days ago, Variety reported that Amazon was in talks to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio of James Bond. Naturally, the blog has questions.

Is this serious?

Yes. Variety is a serious-minded outlet among the Hollywood trade publications. MGM also is a runt among the Hollywood studios and, in the long run, needs to be part of a bigger organization.

Is this a sure thing?

No. By Variety’s account, talks are still underway. Even if Amazon and MGM strike a deal, it will be subject to regulatory review. On occasion, acquisition agreements are reached but flak from regulators cause them to be undone.

What’s the broader context?

The movie and TV industry is facing a lot of changes because of the rise of streaming and the emergence of Netflix as a major player. MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010, owned mostly by hedge funds. Those hedge funds have held onto MGM for longer than such funds normally hold onto assets.

Put another way, MGM is a source of programming for a streaming service (and Amazon plays in that space in a big way). Acquiring MGM gives you access to a number of franchises and properties including Bond. Now might be a good time for MGM’s hedge fund owners to cash out.

Could this affect release plans for No Time to Die?

I suspect not. Even if a deal were announced an hour after this post were published, getting regulatory approval may take months. That’s usually the case with big acquisitions. As things stand now, No Time to Die is scheduled to come out on Sept. 30 in the U.K.

But, in the meantime, if you’re an Amazon Prime member in the U.S., you can watch Call Me Bwana (Eon’s second film, made between Dr. No and From Russia With Love) or Operation Kid Brother, Neil Connery’s spy film made, more or less, because he was Sean Connery’s brother.

Amazon in talks to acquire MGM, Variety says

MGM logo

Amazon is in negotiations to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, for about $9 billion, Variety reported.

MGM has been owned by a group of hedge funds since the studio emerged from bankruptcy in 2010. MGM reportedly has been for sale for months. According to Variety, talks have taken on new urgency. Here’s an excerpt from the Variety story:

Amazon’s interest in acquiring the studio has taken on a new tenor beyond the usual rumor mill. The deal is said to be being orchestrated by Mike Hopkins, senior VP of Amazon Studios and Prime Video, directly with MGM board chairman Kevin Ulrich, whose Anchorage Capital is a major MGM shareholder.

MGM and Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, control the Bond franchise. MGM is one of the last of the independent studio operations available for aquisition.

Bond would be one of the major properties that would interest a buyer. MGM also controls the likes of The Pink Panther and Rocky/Creed franchises. MGM acquired United Artists, Bond’s original studio, in 1981

Amazon runs the Amazon Prime streaming service. The company, founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has been expanding its entertainment properties.

No Time to Die, the 25th James Bond film is scheduled to be released this fall. United Artists Releasing, a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna, is to distribute the movie in the U.S. Universal will handle international distribution.

Media merry-go-round continues with AT&T-Discovery deal

One of the brands affected by Discovery’s deal with AT&T

The media business was shaken up, yet again, when AT&T announced today it’s opting to exit the media business and combining those assets with Discovery Inc.

Not that long ago, AT&T couldn’t wait to get into media as a way of combining “content” (Warner Bros., HBO, TBS, TCM, etc.) with wireless.

It was AT&T management that had Warner Bros. debut its 2021 film slate simultaneously in theaters (those that are open) and on the new HBO Max streaming service.

Never mind. AT&T’s media entities will be combined with Discovery’s, which include the likes of HGTV and The Food Network.

Why you should care: The deal announced today is a reminder that media (including, but not limited to, movie studios) remains volatile.

For James Bond fans, their hero is tethered to a media small fry, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. MGM reportedly is for sale. It would be no surprise if MGM gets gobbled up by a bigger media player.

Why you could care Part II: The AT&T-Discovery deal involves a lot of prominent media properties. Warner Bros. already has been affected by being acquired by AT&T. Who knows what happens next?

What happens next: MGM controls some prominent media properties (the Bond franchise among them). The AT&T-Discovery deal that well encourage additional media deals. MGM is owned by hedge funds so now may be the time to cash out.

We’ll see.

How Operation Kid Brother was ahead of the Bond films

Operation Kid Brother had tropes that would later appear in the Bond films.

I finally finished off watching Operation Kid Brother/OK Connery/Double Double 007. It turns out the Italian production starring Sean Connery’s brother, Neil, provided the path that the Eon-produced James Bond film series would follow.

–Assistant Maxwell (Lois Maxwell) isn’t just a helper for Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee). She goes out into the field and shoots guns. This is a preview of agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in Skyfall, who revealed to be Moneypenny at the end of the film.

–There’s a ship of female operatives overseen by Maya Rafis (Daniela Bianchi). But those women aren’t just decoration. They can fight. In fact, fight in a manner similar to the Octopussy women in Octopussy (1983).

By the end of Operation Kid Brother/OK Connery, Maya Rafis and her women operatives have switched sides to the cause of good. Dr. Neil Connery (Neil Connery) uses his powers of hypnotism to make Commander Cunningham forget pretty much everything.

The movie ends with Dr. Neil Connery and Maya Rafis sailing off with all the women operatives. It’s implied that Dr. Neil Connery will be even busier than James Bond (George Lazenby) was at the top of Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

A pair of O’Briens

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title; Liam O’Brien, brother of actor Edmond, was story consultant in the third season.

A major h/t to .@smilingcobra on Twitter. Sometimes you don’t get the connections. But it turns out actor Edmond O’Brien and his brother Liam O’Brien had connections to spy entertainment.

Edmond O’Brien (1915-85) had been a major player in movies such as White Heat, D.O.A., The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Fantastic Voyage. He was also a villain in a second-season episode of Mission: Impossible titled The Counterfeiter.

In the 21st century, less well known is Liam O’Brien, who died in 1996. His Los Angeles Times obituary described him as “a poet and cartoonist and then worked as a labor organizer before turning to writing plays.”

For the 1970-71 season of Hawaii Five-O, Liam O’Brien got the title of “story consultant.” In those days, a story consultant might be an in-house writer or he or she may have arranged free-lance writers to do scripts.

During his one season on Five-O, Liam O’Brien didn’t get any writing credits. Many of the episodes were written (or re-written) by scribes Jerry Ludwig and Eric Bercovici, either by themselves or as a team.

Given O’Brien’s story consultant title, he may well have been involved in assigning scripts or conducting story meetings during that Five-O season.

Later in his career, Liam O’Brien worked on series such as Police Story and Miami Vice.

Neil Connery, footnote to ’60s spy craze, dies

Neil Connery in a lobby card for Operation Kid Brother

Neil Connery, younger brother of James Bond star Sean Connery and a footnote to the 1960s spy craze in his own right, has died.

His death at age 83 was reported on social media by two James Bond fan sites, 007 Magazine and From Sweden With Love. The latter site then published a detailed obituary.

Neil Connery was signed to spy in his own spy movie, Operation Kid Brother, also known as OK Connery.

The 1967 Italian production was released by United Artists, Bond’s home studio in the 1960s and ’70s. It featured five actors who had been in the Bond movie series (Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Anthony Dawson).

In an example of originality, Neil Connery’s character was dubbed Dr. Neil Connery. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 11 accting credits.

Before James Bond movies were shown on American television, Operation Kid Brother was shown in prime time on NBC. Years later, the film got the Mystery Science 3000 treatment, where a man and “robots” comment on the proceedings. Here it was called Operation Double 007.

Musk-see TV: Mogul’s SNL episode skips Bond skit

Elon Musk photo on Twitter in 2015.

James Bond fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Elon Musk, a billionaire involved with electric vehicles and rockets (Tesla and SpaceX), hosted Saturday Night Live but avoided a “Woke James Bond” skit.

Musk on May 1 floated the idea of a “Woke James Bond” skit on social media. That seemed a real possibility because the billionaire has a Bond fixation. In 2013, he purchased the submarine car from The Spy Who Loved Me at auction. At one point, his photo on Twitter had him posing as a combination of Blofeld and Dr. Evil. (see above)

Saturday Night Live has been televised on NBC since 1975. The comedy show helped launch the careers of, among others, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy and Kate McKinnon. But critics depict the show in recent years as wildly uneven. And some of the skits on the May 8 telecast were awful.

Vox on May 7 published a story explaining why Musk was a controversial choice to host the show as well as examining its “outsize importance.” Robert Reich, a former U.S. labor secretary, posted a video on social media calling Musk “a modern day robber baron.”

SNL was scheduled to be livestreamed internationally on YouTube, a first for the show, according to Deadline Hollywood.

1977: Sam Rolfe (sort of) revisits U.N.C.L.E.

Sam Rolfe dances with Jill Ireland in an early episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. while director Richard Donner hams it up.

Sam Rolfe was nothing if not persistent. In the 1970s, he re-worked his two greatest television triumphs. One, The Manhunter, took the concept of a bounty hunter, a la the western Have Gun-Will Travel, and set it during the Great Depression. It ran for one season.

With Engima, a pilot production, the writer-producer revisited the basic concept of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., was a mysterious organization with a secret headquarters. Enigma’s base of operations was further out, an island in the Caribbean.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., featured a dashing operative, in this case Andrew Icarus (Scott Hylands). He’s assisted by Mei San Gow (Soon-Tek Oh) and reports to Maurice Mockcastle (Guy Doleman). The supporting players were alumni of the James Bond film series (The Man With the Golden Gun and Thunderball respectively) and Doleman had been in other espionage productions.

Enigma, like U.N.C.L.E., also had a thing for triangles. U.NC.L.E.’s security badges were triangle shaped. Enigma’s headquarters made triangles a major part of the interior design.

Around this same time, Rolfe had also scripted a proposed TV movie that would have been a straight U.N.C.L.E. revival that would have been titled The Malthusian Affair. That project was commissioned by producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts, veteran writer-producers themselves but without U.N.C.L.E. experience. It was never produced.

With Enigma, Rolfe also wore the producer’s hat as well as writing. For director, he hired Michael O’Herlihy, who had been one of the leading directors of Hawaii Five-O but by this point had moved on. O’Herlihy also had directed one first-season episode of U.N.C.L.E. and would later direct The Say U.N.C.L.E. Affair, an episode of The A-Team with Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.

Rolfe’s Enigma had one other thing with U.N.C.L.E. Like U.N.C.L.E.’s Napoleon Solo, Andrew Icarus recruits an “innocent” to help him accomplish his mission.

This curiosity has been posted to YouTube by the Museum of Classic Chicago Television. You can take a look for yourself. The video includes commercials.

Frank McRae, LTK co-star, praised after his passing at 80

Frank McRae, a likeable presence in 1989’s License to Kill, received tributes after he passed away at age 80.

McRae played Sharkey, a friend of Felix Leiter who becomes an ally of James Bond as the British agent seeks to avenge Leiter’s maiming by villain Franz Sanchez. Sharkey ended up as Licence to Kill’s “sacrificial lamb.”

Robert Davi, who played Sanchez, was among those who took to social media.

Grand L. Bush, another member of The Licence to Kill cast, weighed in.

The official James Bond feed on Twitter also noted McRae’s death.

1978: QM tries its version of The Avengers

In the late 1970s, things were changing at QM Productions. Founder Quinn Martin sold his company to Taft Broadcasting and those he left behind tried to carry on.

One project after Martin’s departure was Escapade, a QM version of The Avengers. It starred Granville Van Dusen and Morgan Fairchild. QM brought aboard Brian Clemens as writer-producer. Clemens was was of the major creative forces behind The Avengers and its 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Escapade included a mammoth computer to assist its heroes. QM held onto the general notion. In 1979, QM launched A Man Called Sloane, which also had a chattering computer.

By this time, many of the QM behind-the-camera veterans had also departed. One who was still around was John Conwell, QM’s long-time casting director. So was John Elizalde, the music supervisor who hired composers for QM productions.

Here is the video. H/T @LeeGoldberg who got our attention about this.