Christmas themed spy-related entertainment

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

The holidays are fast approaching. With that in mind, the blog is reminded of some Christmas-themed spy-related entertainment.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The sixth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions may not be an “official” Christmas film but it’ll do.

James Bond (George Lazenby) is hunting for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) while also falling in love with Tracy (Diana Rigg).

This time out, Blofeld has brainwashed his “angels of death,” who will spread “virus Omega” at the villain’s command. If that happens, that will wipe out all sorts of crops and livestock.

Bond manages to go undercover at Blofeld’s lair in Switzerland but is discovered. Blofeld sends out his latest batch of “angels” on Christmas Eve. Bond manages to escape, meets up with Tracy.

Bond proposes to Tracy, but she gets captured by Blofeld, setting up a big climatic sequence.

It was the first Bond film to end unhappily when Tracy is killed on her honeymoon with Bond. It’s arguably the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel and an epic film in its own right. And, for what it’s worth, there are many reminders of Christmas during the Switzerland sequences.

Teaser trailer for Diamonds Are Forever: Diamonds Are Forever was released for the Christmas move season of 1971. The teaser trailer played up the Christmas angle.

The movie also marked Sean Connery’s return as Bond after a four-year absence. But the teaser trailer had a gunbarrel without Connery (but still wearing a hat).

Teaser trailer for The Man With the Golden Gun: The teaser trailer for Roger Moore’s second 007 film utilized a similar Christmas theme.

On top of that, the trailer had a scene between Bond and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) that didn’t make it into the final film.

Chairman Koz makes a point to Solo and Illya in The Jingle Bells Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Jingle Bells Affair (first broadcast Dec. 23, 1966): The story begins in New York during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (the start of the Christmas shopping season). U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (the latter, after all, a Russian) are acting as bodyguards for a Soviet leader, Chairman Koz (Akim Tamiroff).

Why Soviet? In one scene in Act III, Koz slams a shoe down on a desk, a la Nikita Khrushchev.

At one point, Koz gets separated from the U.N.C.L.E. agents and dresses as Santa Claus and interacts with children. Koz, dressed as Santa, helps to save the life of a sick kid. In the end, East and West call a truce and wish everyone Merry Christmas.

This was a third-season episode when the series went in a campy direction. The Spy Commander’s review on the third-season page of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide doesn’t give it a high grade.

The FBI: Dark Christmas (first broadcast Dec. 24, 1972): FBI Inspector (Erskine) and Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds) are on the trail of a hit man (Don Gordon). The hit man’s target is a family man who once was involved in a criminal organization but got out.

The case reaches a climax on Christmas Eve. The family man is coming home from a job but doesn’t know the hit man is waiting for him at his home. Colby and other FBI agents get the man’s children to safety. Erskine then confronts and apprehends the hit man. Until Act IV, the episode is a basic procedural show. The Christmas themes are mostly in the final act and epilogue.

While The FBI wasn’t a spy show per se, it had a lot of espionage-related stories. Also, it’s the subject of another website of the Spy Commander, The FBI episode guide. This episode gets a relatively high grade on the eight-season page.

Note: This was an early credit for Sondra Locke (1944-2018), who plays a spinster-like character who falls for Gordon’s character.

007 in New York: Bond exhibition announced

Skyfall’s poster image

A James Bond exhibition will be held in New York City some time in early 2019, according to an announcement posted on Eon Productions’ official 007 website.

The exhibition is being organized by Spyscape, a New York spy museum, Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. An excerpt from the short announcement:

The exhibition will be held at SPYSCAPE’s 60,000 square foot HQ in midtown. SPYSCAPE is open every day for would be secret agents to discover their Spy Role and receive their own personalised Spy Profile developed by top psychologists and a former Head of Training for British Intelligence.

Spyscape describes itself as providing “a fun and fascinating outing for friends and families…SPYSCAPE was developed by a world-class team of curators, designers, gamers, hackers, intelligence professionals, investigative journalists and psychologists – who all want to inspire you!”

Spyscape has set up a registration page “for early access to information and tickets for our new 007 exhibition & experience.” No information, for now, on precise dates.

UPDATE (1:50 p.m. New York time): Reader (and sometimes guest writer) Gert Waterink posted on Facebook there have been previous 007 exhibitions in New York. His example: A 1987 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art featuring donations from Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

UPDATE II (2:30 p.m. New York time): The Bond experience produced a video about Spyscape in April. Here it is.

About those James Bond alcohol studies

Daniel Craig’s 007 enjoys a few (hic) Vespers.

There’s nothing like using a popular entertainment figure (James Bond) to draw attention to a serious subject (alcohol abuse).

This month saw a study about Bond’s alcohol consumption in the 24 Eon Productions films get a lot of publicity.

That study, published by the Medical Journal of Australia may have sounded familiar to 007 fans. Its conclusions were pretty much the same as a 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal about the literary Bond.

Summary of the 2018 study: “James Bond has a severe chronic alcohol problem. He should consider seeking professional help and find other strategies for managing on-the-job stress.”

Summary of the 2013 study: “James Bond’s level of alcohol intake puts him at high risk of multiple alcohol related diseases and an early death. The level of functioning as displayed in the books is inconsistent with the physical, mental, and indeed sexual functioning expected from someone drinking this much alcohol.”

The new study says Bond has 109 “drinking events” in the 24 Eon films combined, or more than 4.5 per movie.

According to the 2013 study, the literary 007 puts his cinematic twin to shame. “After exclusion of days when Bond was unable to drink, his weekly alcohol consumption was 92 units a week, over four times the recommended amount. His maximum daily consumption was 49.8 units. He had only 12.5 alcohol free days out of 87.5 days on which he was able to drink.”

That was based on an analysis of the Ian Fleming novels and short stories. The Spy Who Loved Me novel was excluded because ” as it is written in the first person by a waitresses involved with the criminal underworld, and Bond appears for only eight hours as a peripheral figure.” The collection of the Octopussy and The Living Daylights short stories was excluded ” as it is not one coherent detailed story.”

While writing about a serious subject, the two studies do engage in a bit of humor now and then.

2013 study: “In fact, the author Ian Fleming died aged 56 of heart disease after a life notable for alcohol and tobacco excess. We suspect that Bond’s life expectancy would be similar…We conclude that James Bond was unlikely to be able to stir his drinks, even if he would have wanted to, because of likely alcohol induced tremor.”

2018 study: “Similarly, the workplace culture needs to change; to start with, M should no longer offer Bond drinks in workplace settings. Further, MI6 management needs to redefine Bond’s job to reduce his stress levels. More field support and a stronger team approach are needed so that his duties do not weigh as heavily upon him. This may reduce his need to take excessive individual responsibility for mission success, and lessen his drive to pursue missions when off duty (ie, as a rogue agent) and personal vendettas.”

A final thought: When you’re an academic, getting your research published in scientific journals is important. This may not be the last time that 007’s drinking habits become part of academic studies.

CBS agrees to sell Television City complex

CBS agreed to sell its historic Television City complex to Los Angeles-based real estate developer Hackman Capital Partners for $750 million, it was announced Monday.

The property has been the home site for CBS television shows going back to the 1950s, including the 1954 CBS telecast of Casino Royale.

CBS shows currently based at Television City, including The Late, Late Show, The Price Is Right and The Young and the Restless soap opera, will continue to be produced at the site for “at least” the next five years, according to the announcement.

The announcement confirmed an October story in the Los Angeles Times,

The Casino Royale telecast was part of a series titled Climax!, which adapted various novels as one-hour live TV shows. Television City became CBS’s main production hub in 1952.

A modest proposal for Bond 26 and beyond

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 is in pre-production and is scheduled for a February 2020 release. What happens after that?

Here’s a modest proposal: What if the 007 film series becomes a series of one-offs — a series of anthology movies, not a continuing series, per se.

Every time a new Bond actor is cast, the assumption is they have to be around for a decade or longer. But what if that were no longer the case?

Consider this: Eon Productions is taking longer and longer to make 007 film installments. In previous decades, there were stretches when the series went into hiatus. But that was because of legal conflicts or studio financial problems (1974-1977, 1989-1995, 2008-2012).

With the 2015 and counting gap, there is no such external factor. This gap is a matter of Eon’s choice. It has enabled Eon boss Barbara Broccoli to make small-scale, intimate dramas such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool ($1 million U.S. box office) and Nancy ($80,000 U.S. box office).

At the current rate of production, there may be two, maybe three, 007 films a decade. Thus, the question arises whether it’s necessary for a Bond actor to commit to a decade-long stint.

If the one-off model were adopted, new possibilities arise. Perhaps you could do a one-off with Idris Elba to satisfy the market who’d like to see him play Bond. He’d be around 50 when such a movie would be made, but it’s only one and the Eon series has had actors (Roger Moore and now Daniel Craig) in the same age range.

Also, with a one-off model, you could try out a period Bond. a film set in the 1950s or ’60s, when Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories were published. You’d at least see how it plays out. And if it doesn’t work out? Well, you change the format the next film, no problem.

Is this going to happen? Not likely. But it’s worth thinking about given the current reality of the 007 film series.

Embrace Léa Seydoux, look forward to Madeleine Swann

Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux at the end of SPECTRE.

By Gert Waterink, Guest Writer

When Bond 25 director Cary Fukunaga told the Daily Mail this week that French actress Léa Seydoux would reprise her role as Madeleine Swann, Bond fandom was instantly “menstruating” blood and fire.

I leave it to you to find this either preposterous or a sheer exaggeration. But let me first tell you that time is not treating SPECTRE nicely so far. (Look out for the big #JamesBondTOP2018 Poll to see exactly what has happened.)

Was it the SonyLeaks that immediately brand marked it as the worst Bond-film “evva”? Was it Christoph Waltz’ performance as Oberhauser/Blofeld that left Bond fans cold and bitter? Or, and that I can understand, was the writing not good enough?

Madeleine Swann: Better than we thought?
All I saw was an actress that played a wonderful blond elegant psychiatrist, who had the bad luck to be born out of a father whose sole career was crime (remember Tracy’s father in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?). In my honest opinion Léa Seydoux did magnificent acting work with the script she was given.

She showed off an Honey Ryder-esque vulnerability in the third part of the film that was credible enough to me. Her anger at the start of the film was absolutely delightful (Vesper Lynd could have learned a few lessons from her to that respect). And because of Bond’s complex background, it only made sense that, like Vesper, Bond and Madeleine fell in love.

The problem to me with regard to writing was only the rather sudden change from fierce, angry woman into a sexual passive object of desire that didn’t feel convincing. But that was mostly the case because of lackluster writing, not bad acting.

Sam Mendes, Daniel Craig, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade simply wanted too many narrative twists and turns and character’s back stories to put in a film that should have been divided into two parts (it was Craig who eventually insisted on not doing that). The film also needed some more explanations and not leave certain important events and moments to the viewers imagination.

Let’s be old-fashioned, let’s be patient
Having sad all that, please let us trust Léa’s acting capacities. They are exquisite and above all mesmerizing and convincing. We should not write off Madeleine Swann’s character that soon.

For all we know Danny Boyle’s departure resulted in some more firm brainstorming about the story as compared to the writing process of SPECTRE. Let’s not “Facebook” and “Twitter” Léa/Madeleine to death.

There are luckily no “UniversalLeaks” this time around to strengthen all our presumptuous theories about why Madeleine Swann should not return.

Instead let’s ask ourselves how we can bring back Madeleine Swann in a wonderful way, both for short and longer screen times.

And perhaps it sounds a bit old-fashioned during this digital social media age, but for those people who can still be patient, let’s just wait and see.

If you still want to discuss the film like I do, do it in a positive-spirited, inspiring fashion. Because James Bond will return — and there are fresh new chances to make Bond 25 even better than Casino Royale and Skyfall.

Gert Waterink is the editor of the James Bond Nederland website.

Sandgren confirms to IndieWire he’ll photograph Bond 25


Linus Sandgren confirmed to IndieWire that he will be director of photography for Bond 25.

Sandgren won an Oscar for his cinematography for 2016’s La La Land. The entertainment website didn’t provide a lot of details, just saying it got the word from Sandgren himself.

Earlier this week, Kristopher Tapley of Variety wrote in a Twitter post that, “It appears Linus Sandgren is shooting the next Bond.”  There was no additional information beyond the tweet.

Sandgren, 47, has 26 credits on his IMDB.COM ENTRY, including Bond 25, which is scheduled to begin filming in March.