Real life catches up to (some) futuristic tropes

Dick Tracy started out with a two-way wrist radio (1946), then upgraded to a two-way wrist TV (1964) and upgraded yet again to a two-way wrist computer (1986).

One of the appeals of the 1960s spy craze was how it embraced gadgets.

In From Russia With Love (1963), James Bond could be buzzed out in the field to call back to headquarters. In Goldfinger, the original version of the Aston Martin DB5 was equipped with a GPS device (a term not coined at the time). The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had communication devices of apparently unlimited range.

The spy craze was predated by the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip by Chester Gould (1900-85). The detective got his two-way wrist radio in 1946, courtesy of industrialist Diet Smith. Smith upgraded the device to a two-way wrist TV in 1964 and a two-way wrist computer in 1986.

But has real life caught up to all this?

The Screen Rant website has come out with an article saying Bond 26 will struggle to utilize gadgets.

Although the gadgets used by James Bond have always been a vital part of the franchise’s appeal, it seems unlikely that Bond 26 will be able to bring back this 007 trope.

We’ll see about that.

The 1960s spy craze had some gadgets yet to be invented. For example, episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included “McGuffins” such as a limitless energy supply developed to repel invaders from outer space (The Double Affair), a serum that accelerates the healing of the human body (The Girls of Nazarone Affair), a mind-reading machine (The Foxes and Hounds Affair) and a device that can reverse the aging process (The Bridge of Lions Affair).

And, of course, we have yet to see anything like the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s spacecraft with magnetic power.

Wait, what? Really?

Henry Cavill

Supposedly, a sequel to the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is in development, according to a website called Giant Freakin Robot. (Giant Freakin Robot?)

Cavill, who turns 40 in June, has departed various film franchises. He was once Superman but is no longer. He was once the star of the streaming series The Witcher but is no longer.

U.N.C.L.E. didn’t catch on when it was released in August 2015. Normally, that would be it.

Yet, this is an excerpt from the latest article:

 Through our trusted and proven sources, we can report that The Man from U.N.C.L.E 2 is being developed with Henry Cavill returning in the main role. Guy Ritchie is also returning to write and direct the sequel, though we are sure Armie Hammer will not be in it.

Armie Hammer, who played Illya Kuryakin in the 2015 movie, has endured, shall we say, various controversies that have stalled his acting career.

For now, color the blog skeptical. Maybe something will happen. Then again, it may be another chapter in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Rewatching The Avengers Part II

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Here are some more selections from the fourth season of The Avengers, which introduced Diana Rigg as Emma Peel and the first season produced on film.

Too Many Christmas Trees: John Steed (Patrick Macnee) is having nightmares involving Christmas trees and someone who has dressed up like Santa Claus. After awakening from one sucsh nightmare, Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) arrives at Steed’s flat and gives him some Christmas cards he has received.

One is from Cathy Gale. Steed is pleased but wonders why Mrs. Gale sent it from Fort Knox. Mrs. Gale, of course, was played by Honor Blackman, who played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

The Girl From Auntie: Emma is incapacitated and kidnapped after an “MFU” (Man From U.N.C.L.E.?) all-night costume party. Another woman has been substituted in Emma’s place.

Auntie refers to Mr. Auntie, the villain of the episode. But there are multiple in-jokes. Two dead men (of several) are named Bates and Marshall, presumably a reference to John Bates (costume designer for Diana Rigg) and Marshall (presumably a reference to writer Roger Marshall). Auntie operates out of the offices of Art Incorporated. Steed investigates the office. While checking out a control panel, it starts beeping. The sound is similar to (but not identical to) the communicator sound of the communicator from The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

We also see in Emma’s apartment she has a copy of “Self Defence: No Holds Barred” supposedly written by Ray Austin. Austin was the stunt arranger for the series. He’d become a director and emigrate to the U.S. where he would helm episodes of various productions. One was the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The cast includes David Bauer as a sinister Soviet bloc diplomat. He’d later appear in You Only Live Twice (American diplomat) and Diamonds Are Forever (Mr. Slumber). At one point, certain knitting needles are referred to as “double-ohs.”

A Touch of Brimstone: This episode is perhaps best remembered for Diana Rigg appearing in a skimpy outfit while wearing a spiked collar

When the U.S. ABC network imported the show to the United States, ABC did not broadcast this installment. In 1999, the U.S. cable television channel TV Land had a week of spy-related TV shows as part of a promotion for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. The night for The Avengers included A Touch of Brimstone and referenced the censorship issue.

A new Hellfire Club is doing no good, bringing Steed and Mrs Peel into the case. The striking visuals cause this to be one of the best-remembered episodes of the series.

The cast included Carol Cleveland, who often appeared with Monty Python, and Alf Joint, the stunt performer who appeared in the pre-titles sequence of Goldfinger.

The House That Jack Built: The audience learns A LOT about the background of Emma Peel. In previous episodes, we’re told how she’d a genius. In this episode, we eventually are told how she took control of the empire of her late father, Sir John Knight. The audience is shown part of a newspaper headline that says, “21-year-old girl to head board.” Once in control, Emma fired an automation expert.

That expert is Professor Keller. He is the one who has lured Emma into the trap. Except it turns out that Keller IS DEAD. He laid out the trap to live beyond him. He has made recordings to test Emma. The point of the exercise is to drive Emma to kill herself

Thankfully, Steed is on the job. Regardless, the episode is a showcase for Diana Rigg and art director Harry Pottle, with his imaginative sets. Pottle would work on the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, working with production designer Ken Adam

55th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

Originally published Dec. 28, 2012. 

Jan. 15 marks the 55th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also a sign that 1960s spymania was drawing to a close.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Spinner also had been associate producer on the first season of QM’s The Invader series. He hired Sutton Roley, who had worked as a director on The Invaders, as an U.N.C.L.E. director

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second season, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.”

Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundtracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding version was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968.

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the only spy casualty.

NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970). The last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969.

NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but shifted away from spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.” (i.e. organized crime or the Mafia)

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done.

Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

Re-Watching The Avengers Part I

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

In the U.S., the Amazon Prime streaming service is showing the fourth season (the first Diana Rigg season) of The Avengers.

That was the season that Rigg (as Emma Peel) succeeded Honor Blackman (as Cathy Gale) on the series starring Patrick Macnee. The Avengers debuted in 1961, a year before Dr. No was released in the U.K.

Season Four had other changes. The Avengers had been a studio-bound, videotape series for its first three seasons. With the fourth season, the production was on film and there was some location shooting.

A few highlights from the early part of Season Four:

The Town of No Return: John Steed (Macnee) and his new partner, Emma Peel (Rigg) already are up to speed with no explanation about the departure of Cathy Gale.

The duo head to a small British town where agents keep disappearing. One of the villains is played by Robert Brown, who’d go on to play M in four James Bond films in the 1980s, including A View to a Kill, which included Macnee in the cast.

Macnee and Brown have a fight scene at one point. The hurried pace of the now-filmed production shows up at places. At one point, a boom microphone can be seen at the top of the screen.

Still, the episode demonstrates why The Avengers attracted a wide audience. There’s a mix of adventure, quirky characters, weird shots, and humor all within 50 (or so) minutes of screen time. The episode was written by Brian Clemens (1931-2015), who had the title of associate producer at the time. He’d be promoted to producer in the next season and would have that title in the 1970s revival The New Avengers.

The Gravediggers: Again, striking visuals, including an odd-looking funeral at the start of the episode. After an apparent burial, an antenna rises up from the grave. The cast includes future Bond film actor Steven Berkoff.

The episode includes a sequence where Rigg’s Emma Peel is tied to the tracks of a miniature railroad. Composer Laurie Johnson provides “Peril of Pauline” type music.

The Cybernauts: One of the show’s best-remembered stories where a robot is killing off industrialists. The episode would inspire a sequel in the next season as well as another sequel in The New Avengers revival.

The cast of the episode includes future Bond film actors Burt Kwouk and Bernard Horsefall. The villain is played by Michael Gough, who’d portray Alfred the Butler in four Batman movies from 1989 through 1997.

UPDATE: When I watched this episode on Jan. 12, it said Brian Clemens wrote it. But the IMDB.COM ENTRY says it was scripted by Philip Levene. When I tried to check it again on Amazon Prime, it says the video is unavailable. Levene was one of the best writers on The Avengers.

UPDATE II: The episode is back up on Amazon Prime. The writing credit says, “Teleplay by Brian Clemens.” That’s not what it says on IMDB. Readers reassure me it was written by Levene. (See comments below.) I don’t know what’s going on. I am a fan of the Levene-written episodes. He would get a story consultant credit in the final season of the show.

TO BE CONTINUED

Happy New Year 2023 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2023 for readers of The Spy Command.

The future of the James Bond film series is up in the air. (Who will be the next film Bond? When Bond 26 even have a script?)

Regardless, another Mission: Impossible movie is scheduled for 2023, with another in 2024. And there will be other spy entertainment along the way.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Henry Cavill: The U.N.C.L.E. footnote

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (as devised by the late Paul Baack)

There has been plenty of coverage how Henry Cavill is being retired as Superman. Some James Bond fans still hold out (the fading) hope the 39-year-old Cavill could still be cast as James Bond. But that may be a long shot at this point.

Meanwhile, this week, the Collider website published an article that The Man From U.N.C.LE. was “the Henry Cavill franchise that should have been.”

Background: Cavill was a late casting as Napoleon Solo for the U.N.C.L.E. movie (filmed in the fall of 2013, but not released until August 2015).

Until Cavill came aboard, the filmmakers envisioned an older Solo paired with a younger Illya Kuryakin. Armie Hammer was cast as Illya first. Eventually, Guy Ritchie took over the project and his first choice was Brad Pitt as an older Solo. For a time, Tom Cruise was in the picture, but he went back to Paramount’s Mission: Impossible franchise.

When Cavill was cast as Solo, the concept of the original series was re-established: Two leads of about the same age.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie was not a financial success. It divided fans of the original 1964-68 television series. Some loved it. Others despised it, saying it was U.N.C.L.E. in name only.

Regardless, there is a “what could have been” vibe associated with all this. We’ll likely never know what could have been.

Tom Cruise teases his next Mission: Impossible film

Tom Cruise is ending 2022 with one box office triumph, Top Gun: Maverick. But as the year nears its end, he is hyping his seventh Mission: Impossible film, due out in July 2023.

Cruise and his M:I studio, Paramount, have shown behind-the-scenes footage for the signature stunt of Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One. In that scene (filmed in 2020), Cruise’s Ethan Hunt drives a motorcycle off a cliff.

Of course, that evokes a stunt from 1995’s GoldenEye, near the end of that Bond film’s pre-credits sequence. Except, this time, Cruise himself is doing the stunt. In a video that runs more than nine minutes, Cruise says it’s the most dangerous stunt attempted in a Mission: Impossible film.

Here’s the video:

“I’ve been wanting to do it since I was a little kid,” the 60-year-old Cruise says in the video. “It all comes down to one thing — the audience.” According to the video, Cruise did at least six such jumps.

Toward the end of the video, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie adds this note: “The only thing that scares me is what we have planned for Mission 8.” Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part Two is due out in 2024.

When even escapist stories have dark edges

Poster for In Like Flint

In the 1960s, there were many escapist takes on the spy genre. But even the escapist versions had their dark sides.

Case in point: In Like Flint (1967), the second Derek Flint movie starring James Coburn. The movie’s story includes elements that are downright disturbing when you stop to think about it.

Rich people out to take over the world: In the case of In Like Flint, the rich people are women. As the film opens, the women have been at it for some time. They have been working to brainwash other women through their chain of Fabulous Face beauty outlets. Hair washing and brainwashing at the same time, hero Flint observes.

A big chunk of the U.S. military is on the plot: Colonel Carter (Steve Ihnat) is on the plot — or so the rich women think. In reality, Carter is going to double-cross the rich women. He intends to take over the world himself.

More disturbingly, Carter appears to have quite a number of military personnel working with him. And Carter has access to U.S. space projects which figure into the plan. Flint ends up having to combat quite a number of Carter’s men.

The U.S. President can easily be replaced with a double: A big part of the plan involves kidnapping U.S. President Trent (Andrew Duggan) with an actor who has undergone plastic surgery. The President’s abduction occurs with only a minimum of security present while Trent is golfing with ZOWIE head Kramden (Lee J. Cobb). After the switch takes place, very few people are aware of it.

To be sure, the movie is very light-hearted overall. Flint comments about an actor as president. At the time this was made, Ronald Reagan had been elected as governor of California and there was already talk of him running for president. There are also in-joke references to the 1966 Batman series (made at 20th Century Fox, where this movie was also produced) and Fantastic Voyage (also made at Fox and produced by Saul David, producer of the Flint films).

A look at some directors of the spy craze

In the 1960s, spies became a big thing and that provided a lot of work for directors, both in movies and television.

Today, in the 21st century, some of these directors aren’t remembered very much. Occasionally, a spy craze director would go to bigger things. Here is a look at some of them.

(John Brahm, right, with Burgess Meredith on the set of an episode of The Twilight Zone

John Brahm (1893-1982): The German-born Brahm had directing credits going back to the 1930s. He was mostly working in television by the 1950s and directed series across various genres. He directed 12 episodes of The Twilight Zone, including one of the best, Time Enough at Last, starring Burgess Meredith.

When the spy craze hit, producers needed directors who could work quickly while maintaining quality. Brahm ended up directing eight episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and six episodes of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. Both were made by Norman Felton’s Arena Productions. Brahm also directed 14 episodes of Arena’s Dr. Kildare series. Separately, Brahm helmed a number of episodes of both Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Henry Levin (1909-1980): The New Jersey-born Levin’s career went from the 1940s to 1980. Like other journeymen directors, his movies covered various genres. One of his more prestigious films was 1959’s Journey to the Center of the Earth with Pat Boone and James Mason.

With the spy craze, Levin would be employed for three spy movies all made in short order: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (produced by Dino De Laurentiis) and Murderers’ Row and The Ambushers (both produced by Irving Allen, former partner to Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli). All three movies were released by Columbia, now part of Sony.

Richard Donner (1930-2021): Donner was a spy craze director who eventually became an A-list director in Hollywood.

Donner today is best remembered for Superman (1978), the first movie featuring Christopher Reeve as the title character, as well as the Lethal Weapon series of films.

But, in the 1960s, Donner was busy doing spy-related episodes of TV shows. He directed four early episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West and two episodes of spy parody Get Smart. Donner also directed an espionage-related episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, with Martin Landau and John van Dreelen.