Norman Hudis, busy spy TV writer, dies at 93

Norman Hudis

Norman Hudis

Norman Hudis, who penned episodes of various spy and spy-related television shows, has died at 93, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY BY THE BBC.

In his native England, Hudis is remembered as the writer of the first six “Carry On” comedy films that began in 1958.

Hudis was very busy with spy-related entertainment. He wrote episodes of The Saint and Danger Man. He moved to the United States, where he wrote episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (including its final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, released outside the U.S. as the film How to Steal the World), The Wild Wild West, Hawaii Five-O, It Takes a Thief, The FBI and Search, among others.

According to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. timeline website, producer Norman Felton in 1971 responded to an NBC suggestion that U.N.C.L.E. be revived as a TV movie by saying Hudis would be a good writer for such a project. Nothing came of the suggestion.

Jason Bourne ad debuts during Super Bowl

The new Bourne movie now has a title, simply Jason Bourne, and a 30-second ad aired during CBS’ telecast of the Super Bowl.

The ad didn’t reveal much, mostly showing Matt Damon in action as Bourne. Tommy Lee Jones wonders “why would he come back now?”

The movie, due out July 29, is the fifth Bourne film released by Universal and the fourth with Damon. The most recent entry in the series, 2012’s The Bourne Legacy, featured Jeremy Renner as another character, Aaron Cross.

Damon’s three previous movies were made from 2002 through 2007. Jason Bourne was directed by Paul Greengrass, who helmed Damon’s last two Bourne films, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum.

Scott Mendelson, a writer at Forbes.com, has A COMMENTARY, where he speculates whether Jason Bourne will acknowledge the events of The Bourne Legacy. Meanwhile, you can watch the ad below.

About Honest Trailers and SPECTRE

By now, the Honest Trailers Series of online, parody trailers produced at Screen Junkies.com is well established. Getting an Honest Trailers sendup is a rite of passage for a movie, sometime between being viewed in theaters and at home.

This week, Honest Trailers teed off on SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film. Naturally, some websites wrote about it, including THE PLAYLIST and ESQUIRE. Some fans laugh with it, but others criticize Honest Trailers as self-absorbed and not serious film criticism.

Well, they’re not certainly serious film criticism. Each Honest Trailers entry lasts a few minutes and is full of one-liners. For the SPECTRE entry, the jokes conclude with all the similarities between SPECTRE and 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a comic book-based film with a lot of spy elements. Take a look if you haven’t seen it already.

The thing is, as much as the SPECTRE version of Honest Trailer talks up the 2014 Captain America film, the folks at Screen Junkes still did a parody of it. CLICK HERE to view it.

When it comes to Honest Trailers, it’s best to go along for the ride, or, depending on your view, ignore the series. It ain’t Pauline Kael (or your movie essayist of choice) nor does it attempt to be.

Our Man in Havana’s (sort of) 007 in-joke

Our Man in Havana

We’re still catching up with TCM’s marathon of spy films from Jan. 25. Anyway, in the Carol Reed-directed Our Man in Havana, there’s a sort-of in-joke to James Bond films.

Considering the movie was released in late 1959, before the 007 film series debuted with Dr. No in 1962, that’s a mean trick.

Here’s the explanation. Our Man in Havana’s crew included Syd Cain, who was the movie’s assistant art director. Cain, of course, worked on a number of Bond films, including as art director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love and production designer of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Our Man in Havana involves Jim Wormold (Alec Guiness), a seller of vacuum clearners who’s recruited to be the British Secret Service’s man in pre-revolution Havana. Wormold, after unsuccessfully trying to recruit a spy network, begins making stuff up — and London is buying (literally) every bit of it.

Wormold is now considered so important that British Intelligence is assigning him support personnel, including a secretary (Maureen O’Hara). One of Wormold’s fictional agents supposedly flew over a secret Cuban installation and saw a secret weapon (really a drawing of a vacuum cleaner). Now, there’s pressure from London to get photographs of it.

Wormold, in trying to decide his next step, happens to see a comic strip in a newspaper. It’s called Rock Kent and is supposed to be by Syd Cain. (It’s on the top of the page, just above Blondie.)

This particular strip depicts Rock crashing into the side of a mountain. “We shall hear no more of Captain Rock Kent!” reads the caption accompanying the drawing of the plane crashing.

This gives Wormold an idea how to solve his problem. Of course, things get more complicated.

Regardless, it’s an amusing moment for viewers familiar with the early 007 movies.

U.N.C.L.E.’s connection to The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

This week, Turner Classic Movies televised a series of spy films, including The Prize (1963). The movie, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had a number of connections to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some of this stemmed from how U.N.C.L.E. was also produced at MGM. In any case, here’s a partial list of U.N.C.L.E. ties to The Prize.

Crew: These names show up on just about every production either produced by MGM or made at MGM in the 1960s: George W. Davis (co-art director), Henry Grace (co-set decorator) and Franklin Milton (sound or recording supervisor). Another name that shows up in many MGM-related productions is William Tuttle, who headed MGM’s makeup department.

(Totally as an aside: Grace resembled Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, he played the Allied supreme commander in 1962’s The Longest Day.)

The Prize also includes a score by Jerry Goldsmith. At this point, Goldsmith was transitioning from a television composer to a movie composer. Despite that, Goldsmith scored the pilot episode for U.N.C.L.E. as well as two additional episodes.

Speculation: The Spy Commander has long wondered if Goldsmith, in his early 1960s work, was influenced by Bernard Herrman. Both Herrmann and Goldsmith did work at CBS during this period. In his score for The Prize, there are bits of Goldsmith’s score that evokes Herrmann (this also applies to Goldsmith’s score for 1964’s In Harm’s Way).

Cast: The Prize (which, essentially is a star vehicle for Paul Newman) includes a number of cast members who would later appear in U.N.C.L.E. Among them:

Leo G. Carroll: Played U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. In the Prize, he plays a small, but key, role as a Swedish count who helps administer the Nobel Prizes.

John Banner: Most famous for playing Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, the character actor also played one of a group of scientists trying to take over the world in The Neptune Affair in U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. In The Prize, he plays a newscaster during the movie’s title sequence.

Teru Shimada: In U.N.C.L.E., he plays the head of an Asian country who’s the target of an assassination plot in Season Two’s Part Two, Alexander the Greater Affair. In The Prize, he’s another newscaster in the title sequence. Shimada also played Mr. Osato in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Kevin McCarthy: He played the villain in the U.N.C.L.E. Season Two episode The Moonglow Affair (which was also the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). In The Prize, he plays a Nobel Prize winner.

Ben Wright: The character actor was in two U.N.C.L.E. episodes (The Deadly Games Affair and The Girls of Nazarone Affair). In The Prize, he plays a reporter who asks question of Andrew Craig (Paul Newman’s character) at a press conference.

Noel Drayton: Played a physician who conducts an autopsy on a seal in U.N.C.L.E.’s The Finny Foot Affair. In The Prize, he plays a policeman trying to verify what seems to be a wild story from Newman’s character.

Miscellaneous

Irving Wallace: The Prize is based on a novel by Wallace, who also had written some episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, which was co-created by Sam Rolfe, who developed U.N.C.L.E. Wallace’s nephew was Danny Biederman, a first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan who (with Robert Short) attempted to produce an U.N.C.L.E. movie in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

 

Manic-depressive days waiting for Bond 25 news

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Nature abhors a vacuum. So in the absence of Bond 25 news, there’s the occasional 007 commentary that can come across as manic-depressive.

On the manic side, Forbes.com contributor Scott Mendelson weighed in with a Jan. 26 post about what a success SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, was at the box office. Part of the introduction read thusly:

So how did James Bond do this time out? Well, pretty darn spectacular, actually…(T)he film earned an obscene $877 million worldwide on a $240m budget, so it’s obviously a huge hit.

Depends on your definition of “obscene,” but SPECTRE did come in at No. 6 worldwide and No. 10 in the U.S. and Canada at $199.3 million. Neither figure was as good as 2012’s Skyfall but clearly SPECTRE was a popular movie.

However, Mendelson (who wrote a review saying SPECTRE was the worst 007 film in 30 years) may have gotten a bit carried away talking about how the film did at the box office.

“The next entry will probably be Daniel Craig’s swan song and will definitely be out by 2017 in order to capitalize on the 55th anniversary of Dr. No,” Mendelson wrote. (emphasis added)

A few things: 1) Daniel Craig is scheduled to be in an off-Broadway production of Othello this fall. The exact schedule hasn’t been announced, according to stories LIKE THIS ONE. But for Bond 25 to be in theaters in 2017, production may need to get started before the end of this year. Will Craig have enough time between Othello and Bond 25?

2) At this point, we don’t know what studio will release Bond 25. Sony Pictures’ contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer expired with SPECTRE. It might be a little premature to assume a 2017 release until MGM reaches a new deal, either with Sony or another studio.

3) 55th anniversary? Do people really care about 55th anniversaries? This is the same franchise that passed up a once-in-a-lifetime marketing opportunity to have a Bond movie come out in 2007.

Neither Michael G. Wilson nor Barbara Broccoli is anxious to produce movies on an every-other-year schedule (which a 2017 release for Bond 25 would represent). It really seems hard to believe they’d move heaven and earth for a marketing tagline of “the 55th anniversary Bond film!”

On the depressive side, there’s a Jan. 7 commentary on the Cultbox website. The post, by on the artistic side, makes it sound like Bond 25 comes at a critical time.

While entertaining in parts, for many the 24th official Bond adventure was one of the biggest letdowns of 2015. The Blofeld twist was the least surprising reveal since Cumberbatch was Khan in Star Trek into Darkness, and him being Bond’s foster brother somehow added precisely zero depth to the narrative and characters.

Coupled with a fondness for lingering silently on dimly-lit moments of supposed tension for an interminable length of time and Daniel Craig’s unease with playing the lighter moments, audiences were left disheartened with the direction the franchise had taken.

It sounds a little dire. Almost every film generates mixed fan opinion. The post does explore alternate ideas (getting a new Bond, sticking with Craig, making a period piece 007 film) and it makes for an interesting discussion.

Reading the two articles back-to-back makes for interesting reading. With no real Bond 25 news to chew over, we can probably expect more varying interpretations of the state of the franchise.

Financial behind the scenes of Dr. No, Part III

Terence Young

Terence Young

Film Finances Inc. had agreed to provide a “completion bond” for Dr. No and provide contingency funding to ensure the first James Bond film would be finished.

However, because of continuing cost overruns, Film Finances under its agreement with Eon Productions and United Artists, exercised its right to take over responsibility for the production as it began post production.

According to the 2011 book, A Bond for Bond, published by Film Finances, such an option was supposed to be a last resort. In 1962, Film Finances would end up doing it three times on United Artists movies, including Tom Jones, another film plagued by overruns.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and director Terence Young would retain responsibility for creative decisions. Film Finances, however, now controlled the purse strings, author Charles Drazin wrote. The book reproduces documents in the archives of Film Financing.

Post-production included some additional film shooting to complete the movie, including shots of Bond (Sean Connery) in a shaft in Dr. No.’s headquarters, the agent laying on his hotel room when a tarantula arrives and two men exiting a hatch from the “dragon” that patrolled Crab Key.

Originally, these shots were to be performed over two days. With Film Finances now in control, they were done in a single day, April 26, 1962.

Other matters needed to be resolved. There had been 7,000 pounds (almost $20,000 at an exchange rate of $2.80 to the pound) in cost overruns for sets — overages that production designer Ken Adam had anticipated and informed Saltzman about.

Film Finances agreed not to force repayment of the set overruns. In return, Danjaq SA, the holding company for Eon Productions, agreed on April 10, 1962 to grant 5 percent of Dr. No’s profits to Film Finances.

However, Danjaq had the option to buy back Film Finances’ profit participation  for the sum of the 7,000 pounds (for the set overruns) plus an additional 2,500 pounds after Film Finances recovered all money advanced to finance the production. Danjaq ended up exercising the option, Drazin wrote. A copy of the agreement is on page 94 of the book.

Another issue was Terence Young’s compensation. The director had agreed to defer as much as 10,000 of his 15,000 pound fee. More than 8,600 pounds was to be withheld from Young until it “had been earned back at the box office,” Drazin wrote. (page 85)

This didn’t  make Young happy.

“But I do feel, and I feel this most strongly, that Film Finances have behaved very shabbily to put it mildly,” the director wrote in a letter to his lawyer (pages 95-98).

“When I got back from Jamaica, I expected to get a medal for what I had accomplished,” Young wrote. “I have never in my life worked so hard, I have never on any location film had to put up with so many difficulties, and at the end I got no thanks whatsoever but was told Cubby and Harry made a mistake in ever taking me.”

On page 99 and 100, there’s a copy of a memo by Film Finances executive Robert Garrett about Young.

“I do not dispute that Terence Young probably worked very hard on location, but I do suggest he is a director who seems quite incapable of ever making compromises when things do not go smoothly.”

In the end, Dr. No’s final budget was more than 392,022 pounds (almost $1.1 million), according to a copy dated Jan. 11, 1963 filed by associate producer Stanley Sopel to Film Finances (pages 103-106). The sources of the money were 322,069 pounds from a Bank of America loan (the budget before overruns), 10, 063 pounds from United Artists and 59,890 pounds from Film Finances.

Film Finances, in a letter to Eon daed Jan. 21, 1964, said as of Dec. 31, 1963, it had been paid back with interest. From that point forward, author Drazin wrote, Eon would not utilize Film Finances’ services for Bond films.

 Thanks to Gary J. Firuta for loaning the blog his copy of A Bond for Bond.

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