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.

Caveat Emptor: Ritchie floated as Bond 25 director

Armie Hammer with U.N.C.L.E. movie director Guy Ritchie in 2013

Guy Ritchie with Armie Hammer during filming of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 2013

The British press is floating the idea that Guy Ritchie could be the director of Bond 25.

It began with a story A STORY IN THE MIRROR and then THE STAR JUMPED IN, essentially rewriting the Mirror.

The Mirror story says Ritchie got on the radar screen for Bond 25 following The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. he directed and co-wrote.

“Insiders say ­execs loved U.N.C.L.E, starring Henry Cavill and based on the TV series created by Bond writer Ian ­Fleming.

“Guy and Bond actor Daniel Craig are believed to be friends too, which could work very much in Guy’s favour .”

A couple of issues with that passage: 1) Ian Fleming didn’t create the television series, though he contributed to the character of Napoleon Solo. 2) Ritchie and Craig “are believed” to be friends? You don’t know? Who believes this anyway?

Also, there’s this quote from the Mirror’s source that suggests none of this is exactly nailed down. “The (U.N.C.L.E.) film had many of the elements associated with 007. Guy created a world of espionage and action with a bit of comedy. He’s the frontrunner for the next Bond movie – for now.”

The magic words, “for now,” indicate no decision is imminent. Meanwhile, the Star’s story waits until the fourth paragraph to indicate the information is from the Mirror.

U.N.C.L.E. lost money despite its modest $75 million production budget. IF Ritchie really is in the running for Bond 25, he wouldn’t necessarily have the strongest bargaining position. He currently has a movie in post-production, Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur, due out in summer 2016.

Christopher McQuarrie to work on Mission: Impossible 6

Christopher McQuarrie, the scripter-director of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, will work on the next film in the Tom Cruise M:I series. McQuarrie, however, didn’t specify whether what job(s) he’d have on the new movie.

Here’s the tweet that McQuarrie posted on Monday:

It’s not a surprise McQuarrie put out the news on Twitter. He provided a number of updates on the social media outlet about M:I Rogue Nation. If McQuarrie directs M:I 6, it would be the first time a director helmed two films in the series, which began in 1996.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation generated worldwide box office exceeding $680 million, including $195 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to Box Office Mojo.

UPDATE: The Hollywood Report, citing sources it didn’t identify, SAYS IN THIS STORY that McQuarrie will “write, direct and produce” the movie.

Does SPECTRE have too much humor? Not really

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A recurring criticism of SPECTRE is that the 24th James Bond film engages in too much “Roger Moore humor.”

This trope came up repeatedly. (Trust us, this blog surveyed a lot of reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.) Yet, in a lot of ways, SPECTRE’s humor content was closer to “Alfred Hitchock-Ernest Lehman humor,” as realized in the 1959 movie North by Northwest.

Without going into too much detail, North by Northwest concerns the adventures of New York advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a Cold War adventure involving spies from all sides.

Sounds like very serious stuff. And it is. But there’s also some humor, similar to SPECTRE.

SLAPSTICK: In SPECTRE, the main example of slapstick humor involves a hapless driver of a Fiat in Rome, with Bond (Daniel Craig) tailgating him while trying to evade Hinx (Dave Bautista). The Fiat driver eventually touches (slightly) a post, causing his air bag to deploy.

In North by Northwest, Thornhill has been forced to drink an entire fifth of Bourbon by the lackeys of lead villain Vandamm (James Mas0n). The thugs intend to make it look like Thornhill had a fatal auto accident while drunk. But Thornhills revives enough to drive off. At one point, two of his car’s four wheels are over a cliff. In a closeup, Grant looks at the camera while his character is drunk and not entirely sure what’s going on.

MORE SUBTLE HUMOR: In SPECTRE, Bond has amusing exchanges with M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

In North by Northwest, Thornhill — who finally knows everything — gets away from his “American Intelligence” minder the Professor (Leo G. Carroll). He gets out of his own hospital room and enters the room of a woman patient.

The woman patient, while putting on her glasses, says, “Stop!”

Grant’s Thornhill replies, “I’m sorry…” The woman patient, her glasses now on and realizing what she sees, replies, “Stop….”

“Uh, uh, uh,” Thornhill says, wagging his finger. He then ducks out of the room.

In a 2009 post, this blog argued that North by Northwest provided the blueprint for 1960s spy entertainment. SPECTRE is an attempt to replicate that, as well as the “classic” Bond film style, while including some of the drama of 21st century Daniel Craig 007 movies.

SPECTRE has its faults. This blog’s review, while liking the film overall, cited the “reveal,” the length and the last third of the film as demerits. Still, SPECTRE doen’t remotely resemble a comedy, as some critics seemed to think it did.  It’s an attempt, as we’ve said before, of blending “classic” and Craig-style Bond.

And it’s humor content is comparable to what Hitchcock liked to introduce in some of his films. SPECTRE isn’t up to the standards of North by Northwest. That’s still a nice standard to shoot for.

 

The Incredible World of James Bond’s 50th

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned this month

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned this month

This post is both to wish readers a Happy Thanksgiving Day and to note the 50th anniversary of The Incredible World of James Bond.

Incredible World first aired Nov. 26, 1965, in the United States. NBC pre-empted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to air the special, which reviewed the first three 007 movies and promoted the upcoming Thunderball, due out the following month.

In the 21st century, business types would call this “synergy.” U.N.C.L.E. was at its peak of ratings. Bond was at his peak of popularity. Even though 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had once tried to stop production of U.N.C.L.E., putting the Bond special in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot made perfect business sense.

For this blog, there’s also a personal note. Incredible World was how the Spy Commnader first discovered 007.

Originally, Sean Connery was to host the special but he pulled out at the last minute. As a replacement, character actor Alexander Scourby was hired to narrate.

Scourby (1913-1985) had already acted as a narrator on other documentaries. He was blessed with a pleasant sounding, but firm, voice that conveyed authority. He was perfect for the project.

Had Connery gone through with it, Incredible World might have seemed like a cheesy infomercial (though the term hadn’t been coined yet). Scourby gave Incredible World a sense of heft, perhaps more than it actually deserved. It came across as a documentary, not a promotional vehicle (which it also was).

The narration spoken by Scourby covered both the movies and Ian Fleming’s novels, including a sequence providing a biography of Bond taken from the obituary chapter of You Only Live Twice. In short, Incredible World was the perfect vehicle to entice even more new followers for the exploits of agent 007.

So, Happy Thanksgiving. And happy anniversary to The Incredible World of James Bond.

UPDATE: A couple of other things of note about The Incredible World of James Bond:

–It shows part of the casino scene from Thunderball. Adolfo Celi and Claudine Auger can be heard speaking in their own voices. They were dubbed for the movie.

–Over at The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle page on Facebook, an original viewer notes that U.N.C.L.E.’s David McCallum was seen at the end of The Incredible World of James Bond saying the show would be back next week but not sounding very pleased it had been pre-empted in the first place.

Happy 83rd birthday, Robert Vaughn

Today, Nov. 22, is actor Robert Vaughn’s 83rd birthday. The original Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still keeping busy with acting projects.

To note the occasion, here’s a scene from To Trap a Spy, the movie version of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot. This was part of additional footage shot after the pilot was filmed for the movie version. release. In turn, some of the To Trap a Spy additional footage (though not this specific scene) were edited into an episode of the series called The Four-Steps Affair.

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

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