A key, if imprecise, date for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

With the lack of any substantive news about Bond 25, 007 fans are wondering if the next James Bond movie can make a 2018 release.

Here’s a key date that could tell the tale, even if it’s not a precise one.

If — and that’s a big if — a first draft script is delivered in the spring of 2017, then a 2018 release for Bond 25 could still happen.

With SPECTRE, released in the fall of 2015, scribe John Logan told Empire magazine in March 2014 that the first draft was “almost done.”

The script went through a lot of changes after that — including reworking by the likes of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth. Still, there at least was a starting point.

The problem is nobody outside of Eon Productions knows whether anybody is actually working on a Bond 25 script at this point.

Logan’s hiring to write what would become SPECTRE was announced in November 2012. That was the same month Skyfall was released in the United States.

Originally, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer disclosed that Logan was hired to write two 007 movies, but that plan was later scrapped — in part to lure Skyfall director Sam Mendes back for SPECTRE.

No announcement has been made concerning a writer or writers for Bond 25.

With the lack of any official news, fans have looked for any tidbits, even rumors. For example, THIS REDDIT POST by someone who knows “people in London who work in the film industry” caused a buzz on some 007 message boards this week.

This is from the same Reddit user WHO HAD A POST IN JUNE that has been contradicted by the new post.

If you want to check out the two posts, feel free. The point for providing the links here is that drastically different, and unconfirmed, stories/rumors are being told.

As this blog said recently, 2016 is shaping up as a lost year for the film 007. Spring 2017, as imprecise as that may be, is a key date that could tell us much about Bond 25.

UPDATE: 20 years of the U.N.C.L.E. episode guide

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Originally posted May 18. Re-posting (with some tweaks and additions) today, Dec. 1, the date of the actual anniversary.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide marks its 20th anniversary today. Naturally, after researching some things, the Spy Commander couldn’t wait to do a post.

The episode guide was one of the first U.N.C.L.E. fan sites. It first went live on Dec. 1, 1996. It wasn’t complete at the time by any means, but there were at least some reviews for each of the four seasons of the show.

The following summer, the Spy Commander did a geeky thing, sending a printout of the website to retired executive producer Norman Felton. After putting it in the mail, I immediately had the equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Some of the Season Three reviews (when the show often took a campy approach) were pretty rough. What if Felton became offended? I wondered. Yikes.

Not to fear. Felton sent a letter dated June 23, 1997. At the top, there was a cartoon of someone critiquing a frustrated William Shakespeare. “Good, but not immortal.”

The letter read thusly (underlined words are highlighted with asterisks) in part:

Terrific! The pages from the Web page — yes, and there were ‘duds’ along the way — but enough *good enough* for our *fans*, yes?

In a P.S. he said he might send a copy of a screenplay he was about to finish. “*Not* in the vein of U.N.C.L.E. — and certainly *not* immortal. Wow!”

Also included were two strips of film with a Post It Note. “Enclosed bits of film made to checking lighting for the cameraman” during filming of U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot.

The Spy Commander did a second geeky thing. Making yet another printout, I went to a collectible show in suburban Chicago in the late 1990s where Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, had a table signing autographs.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“It’s a printout of a website.”

No reaction from an actor. I began to try to explain but simply felt embarrassed for bringing the printout. Later, I was told from someone who talked to him extensively he wasn’t on the internet much at the time.

The episode guide also generated a response from writer Stanley Ralph Ross, a frequent writer for the 1966-68 Batman show, who also penned some third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes. He liked how the episode guide noted how the writer used the same joke in U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

An e-mail interview ensued. “I have some funny stories about the show, especially when I was in The Pop Art Affair,” he wrote in a June 21, 1999, e-mail. Ross said he did an uncredited rewrite on the episode and got a part in the third-season episode as part of the deal.

“David  asked me to stand on a box,” Ross wrote. “I am already 6:6 and said that he would look like a midget but he replied that the taller I was, the stronger and more macho he would seem for having me beat up.” Ross referred to 5-foot-7 David McCallum, who played U.N.C.L.E. Russian agent Illya Kuryakin.

The U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, meanwhile, has had its share of ups and downs. It originally was hosted by AOL. But in 2008, AOL stopped hosting websites. It moved to the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. But when HMSS went offline in 2014, the episode guide went dark with it — missing the show’s 50th anniversary in September of that year.

But you can’t keep a good U.N.C.L.E. agent down. The episode guide returned on Oct. 18, 2014 on WordPress, part of a family of websites including The Spy Command.

Since then, the site has been improved, including finally finishing reviews for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.  and updating and adding features because of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer.

As far as those two geeky incidents? I don’t really have regrets. Felton died in 2012 and Vaughn on Nov. 11 of this year. My interactions with them may have been awkward. But at least I did gain some insight because of them.

In particular, I remember Vaughn talking about the end of the series at one of the collectibles shows. He said he wasn’t crushed about the show being canceled.  “I just went on to the next thing I had to do.”

Hopefully, the episode guide will remain around for a while — good, but not immortal.

Al Brodax, cartoon producer, dies at 90

Art for a home video release of Cool McCool

Art for a home video release of Cool McCool

Al Brodax, a busy cartoon producer in the 1960s, has died at the age of 90, according to an obituary posted by The New York Times.

Brodax was in charge of the motion picture of King Features Syndicate. In that capacity, he produced Popeye cartoons for television as well as cartoons based on King Features comic strips such as Beetle Bailey, Snuffy Smith and Krazy Kat.

Broadax also became involved with the 1960s spy crazy with Cool McCool, which originally aired on NBC on Saturday mornings from 1966 to 1969.

Brodax co-created the show with Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman. This took place at the height of popularity for the Batman television show on ABC. Thus, Kane’s involvement gave Cool McCool a foot in two popular genres of the day.

Cool McCool was closer to Get Smart than James Bond as its hero bumbled his way through assignments from the unseen “No. 1” (voiced by Chuck McCann). No. 1 often lost his cool with McCool (voiced by Bob McFadden) and used an ejector seat (or similar device) to send the operative on his way.

A half-hour show would consist of three cartoons. The first and third featured McCool against a variety of Batman-esque villains such as the Owl, Hurricane Harry (“with all the wind he can carry” according to the catchy title song) and the Rattler. The second cartoon was about McCool’s father, Harry, who had been a cop.

The obituary by the Times focuses on one of Brodax’s biggest successes, the 1968 animated Beatles film Yellow Submarine. However, he also had a notable flop, the 1968 live-action Blondie situation comedy on CBS. It only aired a half season.

Bourne 6: Another reason to keep on living

Jason Bourne teaser poster.

Jason Bourne poster.

Frank Marshall, producer of this year’s Jason Bourne, told Yahoo Movies that a sixth installment in the series is in development.

According to the website, “the franchise is taking a break but a sixth film is currently in development, and it may address the character facing up the ageing process.”

The producer said star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass are “very pleased with how the movie turned out. It’s really about the story, just like on this one, everyone said ‘if you come to us with a good story, we’ll think about it.’”

Marshall added: “So right now, we’re taking a pause and then we’re going to dive back in and try to find a story.”

That’s not exactly a hard and firm commitment. Jason Bourne had worldwide box office of $415,2 million, according to Box Office Mojo. That’s solid for most movies but lagged the $442.8 million for 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum, the previous Damon-Greengrass Bourne entry.

Overall, there have been five Bourne films, four with Damon and one (The Bourne Legacy) with Jeremy Renner as another character. That 2012 film’s global box office totaled $276.1 million.

The Bourne series had an impact on the 007 film series and was a factor in Eon Productions ditching Pierce Brosnan and casting Daniel Crag as a tougher Bond. The primary example of that was 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which featured similar jerky camera movements and fast editing cuts.

Also, according to Greengrass, Bond producer Barbara Broccoli once inquired whether the director would be interested in a 007 film. Meanwhile, Damon has criticized the Bond character in the past.

Caribe: QM tries to cross Five-O and U.N.C.L.E.

Advertisement for Caribe's premiere in early 1975.

Advertisement for Caribe’s premiere in early 1975.

Producer Quinn Martin enjoyed a lot of success in the 1970s with Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco and Barnaby Jones. Caribe was not a high mark, however.

The veteran producer, in effect, was doing a cross of Hawaii Five-O (police drama in a tropical setting) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Caribe, like U.N.C.L.E. was multi-national, although Caribe’s  jurisdiction only extended throughout the Carribean).

Unfortunately for QM Productions (and ABC, the network which televised the show), it ran only for a half-season, from February through May of 1975. The show’s IMDB.COM ENTRY only has episode titles and no plot summaries.

The Spy Commander actually watched the series regularly. I can tell you it included international intrigue (the way Five-O did on CBS). I also have a vague memory of an episode where a military coup against the United States was foiled.

The problem is the show has rarely been seen since its original ABC run. The main source of information about the show is Jonathan Etter’s 2003 book Quinn Martin, Producer.

Martin assigned the project to producer Anthony Spinner, who was simultaneously producing the private eye drama Cannon. According to the Etter book, Spinner envisioned Robert Wagner in the lead. Martin sent word that Stacy Keach would be the lead instead.

“And my head was swiveling like in The Excorist,” Spinner told Etter. “I said, ‘Quinn, I’ve written nine shows for R.J. Wagner — all slick, sophisticated, superficial, wise-guy charm, with millions of girls. How does Stacy Keach play R.J. Wagner? I’ll have to rewrite every single script now.'”

Rounding out the cast was future director Carl Franklin as Keach’s sidekick and Robert Mandan as the boss who sent Our Heroes on their assignments. Mandan , up until this time, was primarily a dramatic actor (including guest star appearances on other QM shows), but he’d become most famous for the (deliberately) goofy 1977-81 series Soap.

Caribe was based out of Miami, similar to how Five-O was based out of Honolulu. The original plan, according to Etter’s book, was to actually film elsewhere in the Carribean but that proved logically impossible because of obtaining visas, etc.

That perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise. Thirteen years earlier, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, had a difficult shoot in Jamaica that put the movie well behind schedule. And Caribe faced tighter deadlines than Dr. No had. In any case, Miami and vicinity would double for the whole Carribean.

Despite the efforts of Spinner and others, Caribe didn’t survive its only half-season. Today, it’s hard to find evidence of the show’s existence. Even a talented producer such as Quinn Martin has his off days.

Meanwhile, author and television writer-producer has posted an audio copy of a Caribe main titles, including voice work by QM announcer Hank Simms.

Fritz Weaver, dependable character actor, dies at 90

Fritz Weaver's title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver’s title card for the pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fritz Weaver, a versatile character in television and movies, has died at 90, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

The Times’ obituary led with how Weaver won he won a Tony award and that he played a German doctor slain by the Nazis in the 1978 mini-series Holocaust.

Weaver’s career extended from the 1950s into the 21st century. It included performances in a number of 1960s spy shows, including the pilot to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (The Vulcan Affair, or its movie version, To Trap a Spy) and multiple episodes of Mission: Impossible. He also appeared in the pilot to Magnum: PI, which had a story line involving international intrigue.

The actor’s non-spy television appearances included two episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Weaver’s film appearances included 1964’s Fail Safe, as an Air Force officer who cracks under pressure, and Black Sunday, a 1977 John Frankenheimer-directed movie about terrorists who attempt an attack at the Super Bowl.

While Weaver never became a star, he found steady work on film and the stage. What follows is a clip of Weaver in a third-season episode of The FBI, where he played a member of a spy ring.

2016: 007’s lost year?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

While there’s a little more than month yet to go, 2016 is shaping up as a kind of lost year for the cinematic James Bond — when pretty much nothing substantial happened.

Decision made about a studio to actually release Bond 25? No.

Release date, if only the year? No. Can’t set a release date without somebody to distribute it.

Script? Not that anyone knows about.

Director? No.

Bond actor cast for sure? Not really. Incumbent Daniel Craig said in October of Bond, ” Were I to stop doing it, I’d miss it terribly.” But that’s not the same thing as saying, “I’ll be back.”

Something else of note that Craig said was, “There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,”

That evokes the 2002-2006 period when Eon Productions co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were going through a creative mid-life crisis.

Or, as Wilson told The New York Times in 2005, describing that period: “We are running out of energy, mental energy. We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

That creative mid-life crisis followed the release of Die Another Day, a big, sprawling and expensive (for the time) movie. The current exhaustion followed the release of SPECTRE, a big, sprawling and expensive movie.

On top of the usual pressures, much of the behind-the-scenes issues on SPECTRE became public knowledge because of the Sony computer hacks in 2014.

Thus, e-mails about the film’s budget, script problems and negotiations for tax incentives in Mexico became public knowledge. The Gawker website described the plot in detail based on a draft of the script made available by the leaks. So, to be fair, you could argue SPECTRE was more stressful than the usual big-budget movie.

Still, nobody — especially this blog — expected that things would seemingly shut down in 2016.

Michael G. Wilson said late last year he thought Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would select a new distributor by January or February. Wilson also said MGM had talked with executives at three studios, although he didn’t identify them. Sony Pictures has distributed the past four 007 films but its contract expired with SPECTRE.

By March, MGM said no deal was struck and it wasn’t hurrying to reach one. Studio boss Gary Barber said he expected Bond movies to come out on a “three-to-four year cycle.” Eight months later, that’s still the status quo.

As a result, right now there appears to be no momentum on the 007 film front.

By contrast, in November 2012 (the same month Skyfall was released in the U.S.), a writer (John Logan) had been hired and publicly announced by MGM. In July 2013, a fall 2015 release date for the then-untitled Bond 24 was disclosed, along with an announcement that Skyfall director Sam Mendes would return for an encore.

Much of the year has been taken up by reports of supposed contenders for the Bond role or, conversely, supposed major offers for Craig to come back.

Remember how Tom Hiddleston, among others, was a cinch to be the next 007? Remember how Sony supposedly “should be announcing any day” it had a new deal to release Bond 25 and was offering Craig $150 million for two more movies?

Months and months later, neither has become reality.

Maybe there will be a flurry of news in December, such as MGM finally selecting its studio partner. Still, Bond 25 development is behind the pace of SPECTRE at a similar point three years ago. Maybe 2017 will be more eventful.