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.

 

TCM has a night of spy films on Jan. 25

TCM logo

Turner Classic Movies will show five spy films the evening of Jan. 25 and early-morning hours of Jan. 26.

Here’s the lineup. All times EST.

8 p.m.: Arabesque (1966), directed by Stanley Donen: Donen had a success with 1963’s Charade, a suspense film that included a bit of humor. That movie also included a score by Henry Mancini and titles by Maurice Binder.

Mancini and Binder reunited with Donen on Arabesque, with Gregory Peck as a university professor who gets involved with spies as well as a woman played by Sophia Loren.

Also present was Charade scripter Peter Stone. However, Stone took an alias (Pierre Marton) and shared the screenplay credit with Julian Mitchell and Stanley Price.

 10 p.m.: The Ipcress File (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie: James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman launched a second, less flamboyant, spy film series based on Len Deighton’s novels. This was a source of tension with Saltzman’s 007 partner, Albert R. Broccoli.

The name of Deighton’s spy wasn’t disclosed in the novel that’s the basis of this movie. The character, as played by Michael Caine, was christened Harry Palmer for the film.

For the first of three Palmer films, Saltzman hired a number of 007 film crew members, including composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt.

12 a.m.: Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Delbert Mann: The first of two spy comedies with James Coburn as Derek Flint.

The movie takes nothing seriously, with an organization called ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). ZOWIE is headed by Kramden (Lee J. Cobb), who gets exasperated when he’s forced to recruit Flint (who wouldn’t follow orders when Kramden knew him during their military days). Kramden has no choice because ZOWIE computers have pinpointed Flint as the only man who can foil a plot by Galaxy.

The best things about the movie are Coburn’s winning performance as Flint and Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Goldsmith’s music elevates the proceedings. In terms of production values, it looks only slightly more expensive than the television series produced at the time by 20th Century Fox.

2 a.m.: Our Man in Havana (1959), directed by Carol Reed:  The director again collaborates with Graham Greene, who adapts one of his novels. Vacuum cleaaner salesman Alec Guiness is recruited by British spook Noel Coward to do some spying in Cuba before the revolution. The cast includes Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacks.

4 a.m.: The Prize (1963), directed by Mark Robson: A spy tale starring Paul Newman centered around the Nobel Prizes being awarded in Stockholm. The script is by Ernest Lehman, who wrote 1959’s North by Northwest. Here Lehman adapts an Irving Wallace novel. The cast includes Leo G. Carroll, who was also in North by Northwest and who would shortly take the role of Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Jerry Goldsmith provided the score.

Shoutout to Mark Henderson who brought this up on Facebook.

 

About that Batman ’66-U.N.C.L.E. comics crossover

Batman 66-UNCLE

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Batman television series, which coincides with the second issue of DC Comics crossover of Batman ’66 (a comic book version of the Adam West/Burt Ward series) and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The TV series debuted on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13, 1966. It was an instant hit, and its style affected other shows, including The Man From U.N.C.L.E., as producers sought to emulate what made Batman so popular (even if it was for a short time).

The first issue of the comic book came out in December. On social media, we’ve seen some fans of the original U.N.C.L.E. series decry the new comic book and the Batman TV show.

Some original U.N.C.L.E. fans say Batman contributed to U.N.C.L.E.’s eventual demise. That overlooks how nobody forced the U.N.C.L.E. creative team to adopt a similar tone as the Batman show.

Other U.N.C.L.E. fans have complained the Solo and Kuryakin characters in the comic book don’t closely resemble the Robert vaughn and David McCallum versions from the original 1964-68 television series.

According to THIS REVIEW the second issue of the comic book, there were “legal reasons” why exact likenesses of Vaughn and McCallum couldn’t be used.

Regardless, despite the disappointing box office of 2015’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the international spy organization is hanging in there at the start of 2016.

For what it’s worth, the first issue of the comic book evoked scenes from U.N.C.L.E. episodes and it’s apparent the creative team of the comic book has done research into the U.N.C.L.E. series.

Pat Harrington Jr. dies; actor appeared on spy TV

Pat Harrington as a dog expert with David McCallum in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Pat Harrington as a dog expert with David McCallum in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Pat Harrington Jr., a comic and actor who also made appearances in spy television shows, died Jan. 6 at age 86, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY IN THE WASHINGTON POST.

The Post’s obit, understandably, concentrates on Harrington’s role in the situation comedy One Day at a Time, which ran from 1975 to 1984. But he also had acting appearances related to the spy craze of the 1960s.

His main spy credits were his three guest appearances on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. In the first season’s The Bow-Wow Affair, the first episode with David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin getting the primary attention, Harrington was a dog expert named Guido Panzini.

Panzini was an Italian character Harrington had played before, including the Steve Allen version of The Tonight Show. Harrington’s Panzini was there mostly as comedy relief but the character provided Kuryakin with some major assistance against a gypsy who was blackmailing rich people by having their dogs attack them.

This all sounds a bit far out, but the episode is considered a favorite among many U.N.C.L.E. fans. Harrington also appeared in two third-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes.

His other ’60s spy appearance is more of a footnote. In AN EPISODE OF F-TROOP, a Western comedy, Harrington did a parody of Don Adams’ Maxwell Smart. In other words, Harrington’s B Wise was a parody of a parody.

One more, somewhat obscure credit: Harrington was also the voice of The Atom in superhero cartoons produced by Filmation and based on DC Comics in the 1960s.

Jason Wingreen, versatile character actor, dies

Jason Wingreen

Jason Wingreen

Jason Wingreen, a versatile character actor and sometimes writer, died last month at 95.

Film reviewer Rhett Bartlett of the DIAL M FOR MOVIES WEBSITE  said in  A POST ON TWITTER that Wingreen’s son had confirmed the actor’s death. On Dec. 26, Roz Wolfe, a former employee of the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles, SAID ON TWITTER that Wingreen had died.

Wingreen’s ENTRY ON IMDB.COM lists 187 acting credits from 1955 to 1994, mostly in small roles.

Naturally, given how busy Wingreen stayed, he shows up quite a quit during the 1960s spy craze on American television. For example:

–He made six appearances combined on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Sometimes, bad things happened to his characters. He was a low-ranking Thrush operative who’s given a death sentence in The Deadly Decoy Affair. In The Birds and the Bees Affair, he’s an unlucky gambler who is killed by accident when Thrush wants to do in Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn). The gambler dies just as he’s come up a winner at the roulette table.

–He co-wrote (with Philip Saltzman) The Night of the Torture Chamber, a first-season episode of The Wild Wild West. He also appears later in that season as a policeman in The Night of the Whirring Death, a Dr. Loveless episode.

–He had a role in The Weapon on Amos Burke, Secret Agent after that series converted to a spy format after being a crime drama.

–He was “KAOS Agent #2” in an episode of Get Smart.

–He played Hitler in an episode of The Blue Light, the short-lived World War II spy series with Robert Goulet.

–He was in two episodes of Mission: Impossible.

–He was in six episodes of The FBI, including a customs inspector in the third-season episode Counter-Stroke, one of the espionage stories of the series.

With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Wingreen also is being remembered for being the original voice of Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back. (The character was redubbed for a home video release.) Here’s a YouTube video where the actor recalls getting that job:

What will be the No. 1 spy movie in the U.S. for 2015?

Christoph Waltz in SPECTRE

“Do I look like I give a damn?” Blofeld asked.

As the Year of the Spy winds down, there’s a little bit of drama, such as it is. Will SPECTRE or Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation be the No. 1 spy movie in the U.S. and Canada?

At the start of the year, the answer would have been a slam dunk — SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film was the heavy favorite. It was the followup to Skyfall, the No. 2 movie in the world in 2012 and the No. 4 for the U.S. and Canada.

However, that was before Paramount moved Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation from Dec. 25, Christmas Day, to July 31.

That move got the fifth Tom Cruise M:I movie out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, due out Dec. 18. The M:I film became a summer hit and took away the spy audience from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie that came out two weeks later.

To be clear, SPECTRE already is the global spy movie champ ($792.6 million so far versus M:I Rogue Nation’s $682.3 million). But SPECTRE isn’t doing the same business as Skyfall globally and it’s significantly behind the pace of Skyfall in the U.S. and Canada. The region contributed $304.4 million of Skyfall’s $1.11 billion box office.

As of today, it’s still an open question whether M:I Rogue Nation’s $195 million in the U.S. and Canada will hold up as the top spy film in the U.S. and Canada. SPECTRE’s box office in the take totaled $185.1 million through Dec. 7.

Agent 007, of course, still is in theaters. Daniel Craig’s Bond is certainly within striking distance of Cruise’s Ethan HUnt.

Still, as time goes on, SPECTRE is being shown on fewer screens. Its first weekend, Nov. 6-8, SPECTRE was on 3.929 screens, according to BOX OFFICE MOJO. That was down to 2,840 for the Dec. 4-6 weeekend.

The guess here is that SPECTRE will eke out the U.S.-Canada win. It has one more weekend (Dec. 11-13) before Star Wars: The Force Awakens sucks up screens (and ticket sales).

Still, the race shapes up to be considerably closer than what was expected at the start of 2015.

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