UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

1982: Kingsley Amis rags on Gardner, 007 films

Kingsley Amis

Kingsley Amis

Kingsley Amis, a novelist who enjoyed more prestige than Ian Fleming, was a fan of the latter’s James Bond novels.

Amis (1922-1995) wrote  The James Bond Dossier , a 1965 book that seriously analyzed Fleming’s 007 works. Of course, Amis wrote the first James Bond continuation novel, 1968’s Colonel Sun, under the pen name Robert Markham.

The Times Literary Supplement unearthed  and posted Amis’s 1982 review of John Gardner‘s For Special Services. It was Gardner’s second 007 continuation novel in which Gardner brings SPECTRE back into the picture.

In taking a look at that review, Amis comes across as crabby not only with his Bond continuation novel successor but with the world of 007 in general.

First, an except about For Special Services:

(T)he present offering is an unrelieved disaster all the way from its aptly forgettable title to the photograph of the author – surely an unflattering likeness – on the back of the jacket.

Meow! Still, Amis is just getting warmed up.

Here, Amis unloads on the James Bond films:

Over the last dozen years the Bond of the books must have been largely overlaid in the popular mind by the Bond of the films, a comic character with a lot of gadgets and witty remarks at his disposal.

Still, Amis mostly writes about For Special Services. Here, Amis is a golfer and For Special Services is the golf ball. Here he describes Gardner’s women characters:

The first is there just for local colour, around at the start, to be dropped as soon as the wheels start turning. She is called Q’ute because she comes from Q Branch. (Q himself is never mentioned, lives only in the films, belongs body and soul to Cubby Broccoli, the producer.)

Nor is Amis impressed with the novel’s main female character.

Bond scores all right with the third of the present trio, Nena Bismaquer, née Blofeld and the revengeful daughter of his old enemy, a detail meant to be a stunning revelation near the end but you guess it instantly.

In this regard, Amis was rather prescient. In 2015’s SPECTRE, it was supposed to be a “big reveal” that the head of SPECTRE would be revealed to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a “reveal” that surprised nobody. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and all that.

Before he ends the review, Amis really, really makes it clear he’s not a fan of the films.

Amis writes the 007 movies “cover up any old implausibility or inconsistency by piling one outrage on another. You start to say to yourself ‘But he wouldn’t –’ or’“But they couldn’t –’ and before you can finish Bond is crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit or sinking a Soviet aircraft-carrier with his teeth.”

Amusingly, years after his death, a portion of Amis’s Colonel Sun novel was used in 2015’s SPECTRE — specifically the torture scene. Amis got a backhanded credit, deep in the end titles, where “The Estate of Kingsley Amis” got a “special thanks” credit.

It was the first time Eon Productions utilized the continuation novels in any way, shape for form. Previously, Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has criticized certain continuation novels (Gardner’s in particular).

As for Amis’s 1982 article, you can judge for yourself by CLICKING HERE and reading it for yourself..

MI6 Confidential looks at Corbould, Hamilton

Guy Hamilton (1922-2016)

Guy Hamilton (1922-2016)

MI6 Confidential magazine’s new issue takes a look at special effects wizard Chris Corbould and the late Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 director.

Corbould “started on the films aged eighteen,” according to a summary of issue 36 of the publication. “Today he reflects on his life with Bond, from 1977’s Spy to SPECTRE.”

Corbould’s services are in demand. He has also worked on Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and the Star Wars series.

Hamilton died earlier this year. He helmed 1964’s Goldfinger, the 007 series first mega-hit, as well as Live And Let Die, the first 007 film with Roger Moore.

Other articles include a feature about Moonraker’s NASA advisor.

For more information about ordering, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros.

Our look at the state of the 007 film franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

We’ve taken a few of our recent posts about Bond 25, Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and produced an expanded article about the state of the James Bond film franchise.

You can find this article at our sister site, The Spy Command Feature Story Index.

That site contains longer feature stories. Some began as posts in The Spy Command. Others are feature stories that originally appeared in the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website. The site is intended to provide a place for longer stories.

Other articles at The Spy Command Feature Story Index include pieces about the Cold War years of the Iron Man comic book, the collection of Ian Fleming manuscripts and papers at Indiana University and the University of Iowa’s collections of the papers of screenwriter Richard Maibaum and Norman Felton, the executive producer of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fox commits to pilot ‘loosely’ based on I Spy, Deadline says

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

Jack Davis promotional art for I Spy

The Fox television network has committed to the production of a pilot for a new series that would be based on the I Spy television series, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported. 

The pilot, at least for now, wouldn’t carry the I Spy name and would only be “loosely” based on the 1965-68 series, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva wrote.

“I hear that during the discussions with the network, the idea evolved as Fox brass were not interested in a straight I Spy remake but instead a new take on the buddy spy genre,” according to Andreeva.

It will be written by David Shore and directed by McG, Deadline reported. Also involved is producer John Davis, one of the producers of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In the original series, Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott (Robert Culp and Bill Crosby) were U.S. agents operating under the cover of a tennis pro and his trainer. Of 1960s American spy shows, it was the series most grounded in the Cold War and relatively realistic, compared with U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible and the comedy Get Smart.

I Spy has had a checkered post-series history.

Culp and Cosby were reunited in a 1994 television movie, I Spy Returns, featuring aging versions of their original characters. In it, both have grown children operating as spies.

That TV movie didn’t generate interest in any further adventures. It did, however, posthumously provide a creator credit for Morton Fine and David Friedkin. The two were producers of the series, but never received credit for creating the show while it was originally broadcast. Sheldon Leonard, executive producer of the original, had that title for the TV movie, along with Cosby.

The show was also made as a 2002 comedy theatrical film with Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. That production still causes groans from fans of the 1965 series.

 

Happy 86th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery how we remember him, circa 1963, while posing for publicity stills for From Russia With Love.

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

GoldenEye: How a 007 film became an icon for video games

GoldenEye's poster

GoldenEye’s poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

By November 1995, GoldenEye proved that James Bond was still alive as a film franchise.

Almost two years later, in August 1997, GoldenEye would become something different. That title formed by two different words, that came from Ian Fleming’s house in Jamaica and a book from Carson McCullers, would have some impact withthe video game industry.

In these days there are gamers, or even Facebook pages, claiming “when I was your age, we had GoldenEye, not Call of Duty”. The game is still a legend, almost 20 years of its release.

The Rareware game made for the then popular console Nintendo 64 lead many people to GoldenEye the movie and, therefore, to James Bond. It is very unlikely that if you played the game you would ignore the movie, or vice versa.

GoldenEye 007 was first conceived as an on-rails shooter in the style of Virtua Cop, but Martin Hollis, the director of the project, was the one who went by the 3D environmental game we have now.

The developers took the job very seriously. They visited Leavesden studios to take photos of the sets and requested the blueprints used in the 1995 film to build the digital environments. Stills of the cast were also obtained to make a faithful adaptation of each character to the models of the Nintendo 64 engine.

The game meant a revolution among the Bond video games produced since 1983 and among the world of gaming. Unlike most titles of that time, you had to do much more than to kill people or reach goals unharmed. You were meant to accomplish a mission that included destroying computers, recovering documents, avoid killing civilians and meet your allies.

GoldenEye 007 had the same concept of a film. As we turn on the old console with the game cartridge inside, we see the a screen imitating the BBFC classification notice from the U.K. videotapes, right then, after the logos and before the main menu, a digitalized and polygonal version of the gunbarrel sequence welcomes the player. It’s the Bond film we are going to star in.

Funnily enough, during the game credits we get a cast list where, for example, James Bond was playing “007” and Natalya Simonova was playing the “Computer Programmer.”

The game structure is very similar to the film and most of the film scenarios are there: Arkangelsk Dam, Facility and Runway; the Severnaya plateau and the subterranean Space Weapons Control Center (this time, Bond visits it and meets Natalya there); and the Frigate in Montecarlo, the Streets of St. Petersburg (of course, you can drive the tank!), the Train and — of course — Trevelyan’s Antenna.

To please nostalgic 007 fans, the most successful players were awarded with other two missions inspired by Moonraker and Live and Let Die.

The first one (Aztec) featured Hugo Drax’s hidden launch platform and Jaws, while in the other (Egyptian) the ace players would have to recover Scaramanga’s Golden Gun from a temple before a final showdown with Baron Samedi. GoldenEye 007 was the first game to directly relive previous James Bond films.

Easter eggs and cheats were awarded by passing time trials to assure the amout of fun and the replayability: unlimited weapons, invincibility and slow or fast animation.

A nice homage is also paid by the developers to the original movie in the Bunker mission, where a CCTV tape the player (Bond) has to recover is, in fact, a VHS tape with the film’s poster as a cover.

Far from the Bond film series and the source film, GoldenEye 007 with its multiplayer mode brought some colloquial expressions to the youth such as “bitch slap” (defeating someone with your bare hands) and “No Oddjob” because the Goldfinger henchman was a character available in that mode and it was wrongfully represented as a midget (probably a confusion with Nick Nack?) making him tough to shoot at close range.

In the world of video games, GoldenEye seemed to have his own “franchise”: in 2004, Electronic Arts produced GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, where the player controlled a renegade MI6 agent that teams up with Goldfinger. More recently, in 2010, a remake of the 1997 game by Activision for Nintendo Wii was released and the story re-imagined with Daniel Craig as James Bond.

Image from the 2010 remake of the original GoldenEye video game

Image from the 2010 remake of the original GoldenEye video game

The 2004 title didn’t please people. Activision’s version was more successful, but it lacked the “sandbox” spirit of the original, that left you alone in the field (no radar, hints, etc.) and allowed you to have an unlimited amount of enjoyment and fun even if you failed the mission objectives.

GoldenEye 007 was a great way to introduce James Bond for the video game lovers and for those who had their childhood in the 1990s. It was the toys of their generation, a coveted price as Gilbert’s Aston Martin racing sets from the 1960s.

It may sound shallow to make such remarks of a video game considering the success of James Bond in the world of literature, moviemaking and music. Yet, it helped to keep the 007 flame buring after a few years where Ian Fleming’s character had almost disappeared of the map.

And it also helped to boost the popularity of Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond, in the same year where his second Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, was about to be released.

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