Who’s the next spy to be revived? How about Matt Helm?

Matt Helm as he appeared on Fawcett paperbacks, circa 1963

Matt Helm as he appeared on Fawcett paperbacks, circa 1963

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., after a long hibernation, arrives in movie theaters in less that two weeks. If U.N.C.L.E. can stage a comeback, any character can. So who should be the next ’60s spy to be revived from “suspended animation”?

How about Matt Helm, code name Eric?

Strictly speaking, Helm wasn’t a spy. He was a “counter assassin,” taking out various murderous threats to the United States. Created by author Donald Hamilton (1916-2006), Helm was the star of 27 paperback novels, published from 1960 until 1993.

Of course, the general public has, at best, a hazy memory of that. Helm is mostly remembered for four movies starring Dean Martin, which turned Hamilton’s very serious novels into light romps, which resembled a spy version of Dino’s 1965-74 variety show on NBC.

As this blog has noted before, that film series probably affected the 007 films the most. To get Dean Martin involved, he was made a partner in the enterprise. When Dino made more money from The Silencers than Sean Connery got from Thunderball, the Scotsman’s relationship with Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman soured.

In any case, like U.N.C.L.E. (which, after decades in the wilderness, arrives in movie theaters on Aug. 14), Helm has been “in development” in Hollywood for quite some time.

The last word this blog had was in 2012, when The Hollywood Reporter had a story that Helm still was on Paramount’s to-do list. If there’s been Helm news since, The Spy Commander missed it.

Regardless, you won’t find a Matt Helm movie on any list of scheduled movie releases in the near future.

Fans of Hamilton’s novels have long wished for a serious Matt Helm movie. In the jaded 21st century, audiences are more than ready for Helm’s rough stuff.

Still, Hamilton’s novels would be hard to replicate on film. The stories are told in the first person. Hamilton’s prose is so engaging, the reader gets sucked in. When Helm kills somebody, you almost find yourself saying, “Of course. What else was Matt to do?”

The beauty of Hamilton’s novels is they’re told in a gritty way (not unlike Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels), but the author could come up with plots as fanciful as anything Ian Fleming devised. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that many readers enjoyed over more than three decades.

Perhaps the operative with the code name of Eric will never make a screen comeback. Still, if Solo and Kuryakin can return to the screen…..

1966: Roald Dahl finds Twice is the only way to Live

You Only LIve Twice poster

You Only Live Twice poster

When Roald Dahl handed in his June 17, 1966, draft of You Only Live Twice, things were getting tight.

The fifth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions would begin filming in a few weeks, on July 4. Dahl, taking over from American writer Harold Jack Bloom, had jettisoned the plot of Ian Fleming‘s 1964 novel. Dahl’s story would try to out-Thunderball Thunderball in terms of spectacle.

The Spy Commander reviewed a copy of Dahl’s draft, thanks to Bond collector Gary J. Firuta. The draft has some pages that were updated in mid-July after the start of filming.

Not surprisingly, the draft largely resembles the final film. But there are still a number of interesting differences. When this draft was completed, there was no helicopter with a giant magnet. The Little Nellie helicopter was present, but it didn’t have all the gadgets it’d have in the movie.

Dahl even included an Ian Fleming-ism that would be stripped from the final film. Both Tiger Tanaka and Japanese agent Suki (renamed Aki after actress Akiko Wakabayashi was cast) address Bond as “Bondo-san” in the draft.

In the novel (Chapter 6, Tiger, Tiger!) Tanaka explains that Bond-san sounds too much like bon-san, or “a priest, a graybeard.” Also, Tiger says, hard consonants aren’t easy for Japanese, so “when these occur in a foreign word, we add an O.” This isn’t included in Dahl’s draft but “Bondo-san” is used anyway. It’d be dropped from the 1967 movie.

In the pre-titles sequence, the most significant change is the American spacecraft is called Gemini (as in real life at the time). Some scenes play longer and there’s more dialogue, but it’s mostly as viewers of the film know it. The sequence ends with Bond apparently being killed.

After the titles, Bond’s “funeral” takes place. Again, dialogue is different. Aboard a submarine, Bond bums a cigarette from M when he says the only ill effect he was feeling was “a slight lack of nicotine.” Bond also uses the lit cigarette to light the paper with his contact address in Tokyo.

Interestingly, Bond only has 10 days to act before the next U.S. space flight, instead of 20 as in the movie. After he’s done with M, Bond gives Moneypenny a kiss. She does not give him a copy of Instant Japanese and 007 doesn’t say he took a first in Oriental languages at Cambridge.

Bond meets up with his contact, Henderson. Bond kicks the shin of Henderson’s false leg to ensure he’s the right person. Henderson makes martinis. “Shaken not stirred? That *was* right, wasn’t it?” Apparently, it wasn’t Dahl’s fault that the film has Henderson stirring the martinis and Bond declares they’re “perfect.”

Sometime later, after Henderson’s death and Bond has been to Osato Chemical, 007 meets Tiger Tanaka. As in the film, he falls down a chute, through a door and lands into a comfortable chair.

Tiger, in this draft, provides more information. Had it not been Bond, computers “would very quickly have redirected the chute and you’d have been in a much hotter seat than that one.”

As in the film, Tiger takes Bond to his house. 007 asks the Japanese Secret Service chief if his wife’s at home.

“Me, a wife?” Tiger replies. “Never! In matters of this sort, I think I am very much the Japanese equivalent of Bondo-san.” Or Derek Flint based on the number of women present in the house.

Bond and Tiger first go to “sweat boxes” before they’re washed by the Japanese women. It’s here that the two men compare notes. Tiger is “offended” when Bond says Mr. Osato isn’t big enough to be behind the hijacking of American spacecraft. When Tiger asks who is large enough, Bond says, “Nobody…unless it could my old friends in the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.” The finished film wouldn’t bother to say what SPECTRE stood for.

Now it’s time to be washed. “It is noticeable that the TWO GIRLS helping TANAKA are unable to keep their eyes off BOND,” according to the stage directions. Shortly thereafter, “all FOUR GIRLS have quietly slid over to BOND, leaving TANAKA alone.”

Tiger bellows for the women to come back. “The FOUR GIRLS ignore TANAKA,” the stage directions say. “They rinse soap off BOND and help him into the bath. TANAKA roars at them in Japanese, threatening them with terrible punishments.” One could only imagine what 21st century audiences would make of this.

As for what it is about Bond that fascinates the women, Tiger says: “It is nothing but your ape-like appearance…All Japanese men are blessed with exceptionally clean smooth skin. We consider hair on the chest to be obnoxious.”

Bond has a nice comeback:

BOND
(looking at the FOUR GIRLS lined up at the edge of the bath)
What are they waiting for now?

The next day, as in the film, Bond goes undercover to meet Mr. Osato. When Osato uses the X-ray device in his desk to check out Bond, “BOND’S REVOLVER is very prominent.” Yet, later in the movie, Blofeld says the gun is a Walther PPK, which most assuredly isn’t a revolver. Details, details.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

Osato orders Bond killed. Suki saves him and the pair get away in her while but are pursued by thugs in a sedan. Suki requests the “usual reception” from Tiger but in this script that takes a different form.

For thing, Suki tells the Japanese Secret Service chief that she’s “heading for Street X as fast as possible.”

Tiger is in his office. He “flicks speak-box switch, and begins to shout into box with great rapidity and urgently in Japanese,” according to the stage directions. We see “TWO JAPANESE MEN” receive orders in Japanese.

Soon after, Suki’s car “swerves into a deserted alley” with the thugs in the sedan still in pursuit.

Suki “begins to SOUND HORN…Suddenly, ONE BUILDING on either side fo the street dislodges itself from the other houses and slides forward. The buildings meet in street centre, forming a brick wall.” The sedan of the thugs “crashes into the wall and explodes in a sheet of flame.”

Much of what happens next mimics the finished movie, though many of the scenes have more dialogue. Little Nellie doesn’t have all the explosive power it’d have in the film. But he mini-copter has other gadgets such as “a kind of wire fishing-net” that fouls the rotor-blade of one of the SPECTRE helicopters menacing Bond.

The deaths of two women characters also are different in this draft than the final film. Assassin Helga walks across a bridge at SPECTRE HQs that’s over a lava pool. Blofeld pulls lever, the bridge drops “like a trap door” and she goes into the lava.

When Suki dies from being poisoned, Bond is more affected than when Aki perishes in the film.

BOND, visibly distressed, stares at the girl he is carrying. Then he holds her close, lays his cheek against hers. He walks away with her, and sits down, still holding her in his arms.”

Still later, on the Ama island, Bond and Kissy (following their phony marriage that’s part of Bond’s cover) investigate a tunnel where an Ama diver died. As in the film, they discover poison gas and dive into the water to save themselves.

The stage directions have one major difference. After reaching safety, “BOND is lying on his back. He has more or less recovered. Much of his Japanese make-up has come off in the water. (NOTE: During the next few scenes, he should revert, as inconspicuously as possible, to being non-Japanese.)”

Finally, there’s the big Blofeld reveal. Dahl’s script attempts to make the most of it.

CAMERA reaches BLOFELD’S FACE. And what a face it is! We see reflected therein all the evil in the world. The eyes, greatly magnified behind steel-rimmed pebble glasses, are like the eyes of an intelligent octopus — all black, with no whites around them at all. The skin of the cheeks is pock-marked. The ears protrude slightly, the jaw is prognathus. CAMERA STAYS CLOSE on FACE.

There’s more, of course, but suffice to say there was still a lot of work to do before You Only Live Twice was ready for theaters in the summer of 1967.

The draft is 142 pages, meaning the movie should have been 142 minutes. The final movie came in at just under two hours, with many scenes considerably tighter than they appear in this draft.

M:I Rogue Nation has biggest spy opening of 2015 so far

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation had the biggest U.S. opening weekend so far in “The Year of the Spy,” according to box office estimates released Sunday, VARIETY.COM REPORTED.

The fifth movie in the M:I film series generated estimated box office of $56 million, making it the top movie at the box office this weekend, Variety.com said. The final figures will be reported Monday.

M:I Rogue Nation’s performance was substantially better than early “tracking numbers” two weeks ago of a $40 million opening.

The movie also came in considerably higher than other spy films released earlier this year: Taken 3’s $39.2 million, Kingsman: The Secret Service’s $36.2 million and Spy’s $29.1 million.

Producer-star Tom Cruise made his first M:I movie 19 years ago. the previous entry in the series, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, was released in 2011.

The Deadline: Hollywood website WROTE FRIDAY that M:I Rogue Nation had benefited from good reviews. According to the ROTTEN TOMATOES website, the film had a “fresh” rating of  93 percent for reviews and a 92 percent audience rating.

Next up for the Year of the Spy is The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on Aug. 14, which will be challenged to come close to M:I Rogue Nation’s opening. SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film that’s due out this fall, is all but certain to have No. 1 spy opening.

 

The ‘Hunt’ for Bond — M:I connections to 007

Spoilers after second paragraph.

A Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation poster

A Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

It is uncertain if Tom Cruise wanted to join the Bondwagon in 1996 when his first Mission: Impossible film debuted, one year after the successful return of James Bond to the big screen in GoldenEye.

But thing is certain: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, the producer-star’s fifth movie based on the 1966-73 TV series, features a number of connections, intentional or not, with Bond films starring Daniel Craig.

Feel free to omit the over-hyped pre-titles scene of Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hanging of a plane on mid-air that reminds us of what Roger Moore (or one of his stunt doubles) did with Kamal Khan’s plane in Octopussy, or Hunt’s stylish exit shortly after when he activates the parachute attached to nerve gas tanks similar to Bond and Kara’s escape from the Hercules plane in The Living Daylights.

Moments later, a new character is introduced: Hunley, the CIA director played by Alec Baldwin, questioning the IMF’s procedures and asking to a Senate committee for the force’s disavowal. This character is somewhat reminiscent to Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes in 2012’s Skyfall and now returning in SPECTRE.

Action moves to Vienna, to a performance of the opera Turandot. What is seen here could perfectly be a mash-up between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, with Hunt fighting one of his enemies and trying to prevent a sniper shooting the Austrian chancellor, all as the play ensues.

Not to mention the shots of Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) preparing her weapon hidden in a clarinet are very similar to those of Patrice doing the same at the Shanghai tower, before shooting his victim.

(Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation may also owe a debt of gratitude to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much, which featured an attempted assassination during a concert.)

M:I Rogue Nation composer Joe Kraemer’s music is somewhat close to “African Rundown,” composed by David Arnold for 2006’s Casino Royale, when a high-speed bike chase comes along between Hunt and Ilsa through the Moroccan roads.

The IMF agent is stopped in a unique way – the woman stands right in front of him. Ethan crashes and falls in order to avoid her, a bit similar to the way Eva Green’s Vesper was tied on the road to make Bond (Daniel Craig) crash his Aston Martin DBS.

Just like in Skyfall, London is also used prominently in the film, including the last action scene that features Jens Hultén, who played one of Silva’s henchmen in the 2012 film. Solomon Lane himself, the villain played by Sean Harris, has a loose connection with Silva by being also a former British agent.

In another scene, the prime minister (actually Ethan Hunt in disguise) menaces MI6’s head Attle (Simon McBurney) with an enquiry, a situation Judi Dench’s M faced in Skyfall, too.

A big wink to the first Sam Mendes’ James Bond film is given right before the closing credits: Hunley, admitting his mistake, asks for the reactivation of the IMF. As the committee reinstates the force, Brandt (Jeremy Renner) addresses him as “secretary,” very much like Mallory becoming M at the end of Skyfall.

Chris Corbould concludes work on SPECTRE

SPECTRE LOGO

Long-time 007 special effects man Chris Corbould took to Twitter to say he’s finished up his work on the 24th James Bond film.

Corbould isn’t a prolific Twitter user. He had put out only 36 tweets as of early Thursday afternoon. But he used his THIRD TWITTER POSTING in October to announce he’d be on the movie’s crew.

You can see an image below of Corbould’s tweet announcing wrapping up work on the film. Corbould won an Oscar for the Christopher Nolan-directed Inception and worked on Nolan’s Batman movies.

Quick recap of Eon non-007 projects

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions

It’s not easy to get a movie made. Studios make fewer and more expensive films.

Even when producers with a good box office record aren’t guaranteed of seeing their projects become reality. That includes Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the co-chiefs of Eon Productions, which makes James Bond films.

The Eon leaders have been working on a number of film projects away from the world of James Bond, even as it continued work on the 007 film series.

Here’s a list of Eon projects that have been formally announced but are still in development.

Remake of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Referenced in this APRIL 2009 PRESS RELEASE issued by Sony Pictures.

The 1968 film musical, based on an Ian Fleming novel for children, was the final non-007 movie produced by Albert R. Broccoli co-founder of Eon Productions. Technically, it wasn’t made by Eon Productions but another Broccoli production company, Warfield. The movie’s crew included a number of 007 film series veterans.

Dana Broccoli, widow of Albert R. Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli produced a London stage production that opened in 2002. A Broadway production opened in 2005.

So, Sony, following the release of 2008’s Quantum of Solace, announced that the studio was developing a new film musical to be produced by Eon.

Film adaptation of REMOTE CONTROL NOVEL: The main subject of the same APRIL 2009 PRESS RELEASE. 

Here’s how the press release began:

CULVER CITY, Calif., April 14 /PRNewswire/ — Building on their successful collaboration on the two most recent and highest grossing James Bond adventures in the history of the franchise, Sony Pictures Entertainment has acquired the motion picture rights to REMOTE CONTROL, a thriller novel by Mark Burnell, to be produced as a feature film by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli’s Eon Productions, it was announced today by Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach, presidents of Columbia Pictures. Ileen Maisel will join Wilson and Broccoli in producing the project. Burnell will adapt his novel into the screenplay.

Edward Snowden movie: Announced in May 2014 and reported widely, including this REUTERS STORY that appeared in The Huffington Post.

Sony acquired the film rights to a book by journalist Glenn Greenwald. The studio said Eon Productions would produce the movie, and that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli would be producers.

A competing Snowden movie, simply titled Snowden and directed by Oliver Stone, and is scheduled to be released on Dec. 25. The Stone movie is based on two other books.

Eon has worked with Sony for the past decade. Sony’s Columbia Pictures has released the last four Bond films, including SPECTRE, due out this fall. Sony’s contract to release the 007 series expires with SPECTRE. Also, Sony executive Amy Pascal was forced out of her job earlier this year following controversies related to last year’s hacking at Sony. Whether any of that affects these projects isn’t clear.

 

007 Magazine examines SPECTRE’s script issues

SPECTRE LOGO

No spoilers in this post. You’re on your own if you click on the links.

Graham Rye’s 007 Magazine has posted A LENGTHY STORY about SPECTRE, including A PORTION about script issues involving the 24th James Bond film.

The story by Luke G. Williams is split into two parts. The first sums up production developments involved with SPECTRE. The second part delves into the hacking at Sony Pictures, which caused at least some SPECTRE script drafts and numerous executive memos about the film to become available.

Some of the information about the scripts has been written about by other outlets, but 007 Magazine goes into further details.

The movie’s initial writer was John Logan, who was brought in to rewrite the efforts of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on Skyfall. With SPECTRE, Purvis and Wade were brought in to revamp Logan’s efforts.

To read the entire article, CLICK HERE for part one, and CLICK HERE for part two. Spoilers are in part two.

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