Cruise’s M:I, like NTTD before it, is in ‘the barrel’

Tom Cruise

Exploding production budgets and release delays stemming (at least in part) to COVID-19. That’s a familiar tale to fans of the cinematic James Bond and No Time to Die.

But, based on a Hollywood Reporter story posted March 24, the scenario is being repeated with Mission: Impossible 7 and 8.

Both projects have been in “the barrel,” something hit by bad luck — bad luck that lasts a long time.

No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film produced by Eon Productions, cost about $300 million to make. The movie incurred five delays, with three because of COVID-19. The other two were because the movie’s original director, Danny Boyle, departed because of “creative differences.”

Originally, Mission: Impossible 7 and 8, starring and produced by Tom Cruise, were to be made back to back.

M:I 7 has been delayed four times, THR noted, with a current release date of July 2023. MI:7 isn’t done yet while work has started on M:I 8, the entertainment news site said.

Here’s an excerpt:

By holding on to the film as a work in progress while working on the eighth, Cruise and his writer-director, Christopher McQuarrie, ensure that Paramount won’t have much luck imposing budget restrictions on what is allegedly the final installment in the franchise. It also gives Cruise — who has creative control — flexibility with respect to the cliffhanger ending of M:I 7.

Cruise’s Mission: Impossible movies have been popular. In the 2010s, there were more M:I installments (2011, 2015, and 2018) than Bond films (2012 and 2015). Some Bond fans point out that some M:I sequences were an homage to Bond. And the M:I films haven’t matched Bond’s global box office.

Regardless, since COVID-19, Cruise’s series has been challenged by the pandemic, as was No Time to Die, finally released in the fall of 2021.

THR reports MI: 7’s budget is at $290 million and counting (in the same territory as No Time to Die).

Another interesting tidbit in The Hollywood Reporter story: Cruise vetoed the idea of Paramount, the studio that releases the M:I movies, coming up with a television spinoff. The idea “was no-go,” THR said.

That sounds similar to how Eon Productions, which makes the Bond film series is resisting Bond spinoffs for streaming television.

Mission: Impossible originated as a TV series made by Desilu in 1966. It became a Paramount property when Lucille Ball sold Desilu to Gulf + Western, then the parent company of Paramount. That transition took place during the 1967-68 season. One week, the end titles had a Desilu logo. The next week, the end titles carried a “Paramount Television” logo.

You can CLICK HERE to read the entire THR story, written by veteran entertainment journalist Kim Masters.

The other Fleming 60th anniversary

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

Adapted from a 2015 post.

NEW INTRODUCTION: 2022, of course, marks the 60th anniversary of the James Bond film series. It also marks the 60th anniversary of when Ian Fleming became involved with what would become The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming spent three days talking to television producer Norman Felton (born in London but who emigrated to the U.S.). The James Bond author made contributions that had an impact on the final product.

ORIGINAL POST: A Bond collector friend let us look over his photocopies of various Ian Fleming correspondence. Much of it included the 007 author’s involvement with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

First, there were photocopies of 11 Western Union telegraph blanks where Fleming in October 1962 provided ideas to U.N.C.L.E. producer Norman Felton. The first blank began with “springboards,” ideas that could be the basis for episodes.

One just reads, “Motor racing, Nurburgring.” Fleming had a similar idea for a possible James Bond television series in the 1950s. This notion was included in this year’s 007 continuation novel Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horwitz, which boasts of containing original Ian Fleming content.

On the fifth telegram blank, Fleming includes this idea about Napoleon Solo: ““Cooks own meals in rather coppery kitchen.”

Whether intentional or not, this idea saw the light of day in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie released in August. In an early scene in the film, Solo (Henry Cavill) is wearing a chef’s apron, having just prepared dinner for Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander) after getting her across the Berlin Wall.

Fleming also made some other observations about Solo and the proposed series.

Telegraph blank No. 8: “He must not be too ‘UN’” and not be “sanctimonious, self righteous. He must be HUMAN above all else –- but slightly super human.”

Telegraph blank No. 11: “In my mind, producing scripts & camera will *make* this series. The plots will be secondary.”

Ian Fleming notes, written on one of 11 telegram blanks, and given to Norman Felton

On May 8, 1963, the Ashley-Steiner agency sends a letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which includes details about Fleming’s financial demands for being a participant in U.N.C.L.E.

“He definitely wants to be involved in the series itself if there is a sale and is asking for a mutual commitment for story lines on the basis of two out of each 13 programs at a fee of $2500.00 per story outline,” according to the letter.

Fleming also wants a fee of $25,000 to be a consultant for the series per television season. In that role, the author wants two trips per “production year” to travel to Los Angeles for at least two weeks each trip and for as long as four weeks each trip. The author wants to fly to LA first class and also wants a per diem on the trips of $50 a day.

On June 7, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a letter containing material devised by Sam Rolfe, the writer-producer commissioned to write the U.N.C.L.E. pilot.

“In the latter part of the material, which deals with the characterization of Napoleon Solo, you will discover that those elements which you set down during our New York visit have been retained,” Felton writes Fleming. “However, the concept for a base of operations consisting of a small office with more or less a couple of rooms has been changed to a more extensive setup.”

This refers to the U.N.C.L.E. organization that Rolfe has created in the months since the original Fleming-Felton meetings in New York.

“It will give us scope and variety whenever we need it, although as I have said, in many stories we may use very little of it,” Felton writes. “This is its virtue. Complex, but used sparingly.

“In my opinion almost all of our stories we will do little more than ‘touch base’ at a portion of the unusual headquarters in Manhattan, following which we will quickly move to other areas of the world.”

At the same time, Felton asks Fleming for additional input.

“I want the benefit of having your suggestions,” Felton writes Fleming. “Write them in the margin of the paper, on a telegraph blank or a paper towel and send them along. We are very excited, indeed, in terms of MR. SOLO.” (emphasis added)

However, Fleming — under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman — soon signs away his rights to U.N.CL.E. for 1 British pound.

On July 8, 1963, Felton sends Fleming a brief letter. It reads in part:

Your new book, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, is delightful. I am hoping that things will calm down for you in the months to come so that in due time you will be able to develop another novel to give further pleasure to your many readers throughout the world.

They tell me that there are some islands in the Pacific where one can get away from it all. They are slightly radioactive, but for anyone with the spirit of adventure, this should be no problem.

Fleming responds on July 16, 1963.

Very many thanks for your letter and it was very pleasant to see you over here although briefly and so frustratingly for you.

Your Pacific islands sound very enticing, it would certainly be nice to see some sun as ever since you charming Americans started your long range weather forecasting we have had nothing but rain. You might ask them to lay off.

With best regards and I do hope Solo gets off the pad in due course.

Hard reboots vs. continuations

In the coming years, the James Bond franchise will need to decide how to continue. The basic paths involve hard reboots (which Bond has done once) versus continuations.

What follows is a sampling of each.

Mission: Impossible (1988): A new television version of Mission: Impossible debuted in 1988. Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) came out of retirement after his protege was murdered.

Phelps took command of a new collection of agents. Some of the original operatives, played by Greg Morris and Lynda Day George, appeared in one-offs. The series ran for two years.

Mission: Impossible (1996 and beyond): When Mission: Impossible went to the big screen in the 1990s, there was a hard reboot. So hard that Phelps (now played by Jon Voight) was the villain, leading star-producer Tom Cruise to become the lead figure. That has continued into the 21st century.

Casino Royale (2006): Eon Productions opted to start over with Casino Royale (a very hard reboot) when Eon’s Barbara Broccoli pushed hard for Daniel Craig to become the new James Bond. That era has now been completed with 2021’s No Time to Die.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015): So much time had elapsed from the 1964-68 television series (and a 1983 made-for-TV movie), a movie would have to do a hard reboot. Early takes included an older Solo paired with a young Kuryakin but it ended up with two actors near the same age, like the original TV show.

Decoding The Man Who Knew Too Much

The Spy Command teamed up with The Spy Movie Navigator for a podcast to decode the 1934 and 1956 versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Director Alfred Hitchcock did his first version of the story fairly early in his career, and early in the sound era of motion pictures.

Hitchcock returned to the tale in the 1950s, now a major director. The 1956 version had James Stewart and Doris Day as stars. Hitchcock also had composer Bernard Herrman and writer John Michael Hayes, who had penned a number of Hitchcock scripts in the 1950s, along for the ride.

The podcast examining all this runs for about 90 minutes. It can be found here:

Website link: https://spymovienavigator.com/podcast/the-man-who-knew-too-much/

Apple: https://apple.co/3AOBaKm

Overcast: https://overcast.fm/+Spu89lNLg

Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3ghbw7U

Castbox: https://bit.ly/3s6Nimi

Podcast Addict: https://podcastaddict.com/episode/134824797

Dr. No’s 60th-anniversary conclusion: Legacy

Adapted from a 2012 post.

In evaluating the legacy of Dr. No as it approaches its 60th anniversary, start with the obvious: There’s still a 007 film series to talk about.

James Bond isn’t the biggest entertainment property in the world the way it was in 1965. But its longevity is unique.

The time that has passed includes more than a decade of enforced hiatus (a troublesome 1975 financial split between Eon co-founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; a legal fight in the early 1990s between Broccoli and MGM; and MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy) disrupting production of the Bond movies.

Still, the Bond films soldier on. The 25th entry, No Time to Die, debuted in the fall of 2021.

The series turned actor Sean Connery into a major star. It made Roger Moore, known mostly as a television star, into a movie star. The same applies to Pierce Brosnan. It made Daniel Craig a star. Even George Lazenby (one movie) and Timothy Dalton (two) who had limited runs as 007 are identified with the series.

The films generated new fans of Ian Fleming’s hero to the point that the movie 007 long ago outsized the influence of his literary counterpart. Finally, the film 007 helped form an untold number of friendships among Bond fans who would have never met otherwise.

All of that began with a modestly budgeted film, without a big-name star, led by a director for hire, Terence Young, who’d be instrumental in developing the cinema version of Agent 007. Dr. No, filmed in Jamaica and at Pinewood Studios, made all that followed possible.

Fans may fuss and feud about which Bond they like best. This 007 film or that may be disparaged by some fans, praised by others. The series may get rebooted. Bond may get recast. The tone of the entries may vary greatly.

In the end, Bond continues. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t say that; The Avengers, the John Steed variety which debuted the year before Dr. No, can’t say that; Matt Helm can’t say that. Jason Bourne, which influenced recent 007 movies, hasn’t been heard from since a 2016 film.

Many of those responsible for Dr. No aren’t around to take the bows.

They include:

–Producers Broccoli and Saltzman

–Director Young

–Screenwriter Richard Maibaum

–Editor Peter Hunt

–Production designer Ken Adam

–United Artists studio executive Arthur Krim, who greenlighted the project

–David V. Picker, another key UA executive, who was a Bond booster

–Joseph Wiseman, who played the title charater, the first film Bond villain

–Jack Lord, the first, and some fans say still the best, screen Felix Leiter, who’d become a major television star on Hawaii Five-O

–Art director Syd Cain

–Composer John Barry who orchestrated Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme and who would later define 007 film music.

–Nikki van der Zyl, who dubbed Ursula Andress in Dr. No and would work on other Bond films.

–Finally, Sean Connery, who brought the film Bond to life, passed away in 2020 at the age of 90.

That’s too bad but that’s what happens with the passage of time. The final product, though remains. It’s all summed up with these words:

James Bond will return. (Even with the ending of No Time to Die.)

Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 delayed again

Tom Cruise

Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 have been delayed again, The Hollywood Reporter said, citing an announcement by Paramount.

The newest installments of the Tom Cruise spy franchise are now scheduled for July 14, 2023, and June 28, 2024.

The two movies have been delayed multiple times because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both films were directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who helmed the two most recent entries in the series, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible Fallout.

On 007’s 60th, will Harry Saltzman be the forgotten man?

Cover to When Harry Met Cubby by Robert Sellers

Adapted from a 2012 post.

The 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, is gearing up. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has come out with an MGM logo noting the anniversary. No Time to Die is making a return to Imax theaters.

All of this is a reason to remind everyone about Harry Saltzman, the co-founder of Eon Productions, who played a key role in getting Agent 007 to the screen.

When Saltzman’s name comes up today, the image is of a cranky, volatile man who almost axed the classic Goldfinger title song, ordered elephant shoes for a movie (The Man With the Golden Gun) that didn’t have any elephants in it, etc., etc. At least one film historian, Adrian Turner, took a different view in his 1998 book, Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“To begin with, Saltzman took the responsibility for the scripts” of the early 007 films, Turner wrote. “Having worked with John Osborne, it’s clear he thought that Richard Maibaum — Broccoli’s man — was little more than a hack.”

Obviously, that’s hardly a unanimous opinion of Maibaum. Still, Maibaum is quoted on page 100 in author James Chapman’s 2000 book Licence to Thrill as saying that Saltzman did bring in U.K. screenwriter Paul Dehn to do the later drafts of Goldfinger (the notes section of the book says the quote is from page 285 of a book called Backstory.)

Saltzman’s contributions extended beyond being an eccentric crank.

The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership wasn’t an easy one. Eventually, the pair largely alternated producing the films while both were listed as producers. Saltzman primarily responsible for Live And Let Die (though Broccoli did visit the set in Louisiana and posed for a photograph with Saltzman and star Roger Moore) while The Man With the Golden Gun was Broccoli’s picture.

Saltzman had ambitions beyond the Bond films. He produced the Harry Palmer movies based on Len Deighton’s novels. He also produced (with S. Benjamin Fisz) Battle of Britain, a big, sprawling movie about Britain’s darkest hour. Saltzman’s three Palmer films employed the services of Bond crew members including Ken Adam, John Barry, Guy Hamilton and Maurice Binder.

The Broccoli-Wilson clan, now headed by Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, has supervised the 007 series since 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Nobody is suggesting that Cubby Broccoli wasn’t a master showman, who deserves a lot of credit for launching Bond on the screen. Still, it would be a shame if Saltzman ends up being the forgotten man as fans look back on 60 years of 007 films.

Footnote to Fleming’s involvement with U.N.C.L.E.

Last week, an artifact of Ian Fleming’s involvement in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. showed up on social media.

It was a copy of a November 1964 article in the Daily Mail with a headline of “FLEMING’S LAST CASE: The Man From UNCLE versus The Girl From THRUSH.”

An excerpt:

Mr. (Napoleon) Solo was the last creation of Ian Fleming before he died. You will see Napoleon Solo when a new TV series called The Man From UNCLE comes to Britain next year. Mr. Solo, I predict, will soon have a following. Not perhaps quite as large as Agent 007 but satisfying enough. I like him.

What’s interesting about the article is how earlier in 1964, attorneys for Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sent a cease and desist letter to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where the U.N.C.L.E series was produced).

That led to legal negotiations. The result was the TV series being retitled The Man From U.N.C.L.E. instead of Solo (also the name of one of the gangsters in Goldfinger), as originally planned. At one point, MGM issued a press release saying Ian Fleming had nothing to do with the TV show. The text of both the cease-and-desist letter and the MGM press release can be FOUND HERE.

The Daily Mail story contains an amusing gaffe. It identifies the “Girl From THRUSH” as actress Anne Francis. It was really actress Janine Gray (b. 1940). The Daily Mail also used a severely cropped image of Gray from her appearance in an U.N.C.L.E. episode, The Deadly Games Affair. Here’s the full image:

Biography about writer Ernest Lehman to be published

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A biography of Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter of North by Northwest and many other films, is coming out in September.

The book is titled Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success. Author Jon Krampner has updated potential readers at his Ernest Lehman Bio page on Twitter concerning his research about Lehman and his work.

Lehman (1915-2005) worked in a variety of genres, including musicals such as The Sound of Music and the 1961 version of West Side Story. But Lehman’s scripts for espionage films such as The Prize, Black Sunday, and, especially, 1959’s North by Northwest, is a big source of interest for the blog.

The Alfred Hitchcock-directed movie blended drama and humor as advertising man Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) becomes involved with spies.

In some ways, North by Northwest became a template for 1960s spy movies, including James Bond films.

One of North by Northwest’s major set pieces, where a crop duster plane attacks Thornhill, was the inspiration for a sequence in From Russia With Love where a helicopter menaces Bond (Sean Connery).

In the 1960s, some members of North by Northwest’s cast would have prominent parts on spy shows on American television: Leo G. Carroll (The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible), and Edward Platt (as the Chief in Get Smart).

Krampner’s book has a website. It includes an excerpt describing the filming of North by Northwest’s crop-duster sequence. The book is scheduled to debut Sept. 27 and its price is $34.95 in hardback.

The 355 flops as spy movies struggle to find an audience

The 355 movie poster

The 355, a spy movie with a mostly female cast, flopped over the weekend in its U.S. debut.

The film’s opening U.S. weekend totaled an estimated $4.8 million, according to Exhibitor Relations Co., which tracks box office data. It was the first film of 2022 with a “wide” opening (3,000 screens or more).

The 355 shows it’s hard for spy movies not part of the James Bond or Mission: Impossible films series to get much traction.

At one time (the early 2000s), Jason Bourne was a big success, even prodding Eon Productions to change the tone of its 007 productions and dump Pierce Brosnan in favor of Daniel Craig as Bond. In the mid- to late-2010s, director Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman series, mixing violence and comedy, appeared to be something new.

However, Bourne’s success has been difficult to extend without Matt Damon. In 2016, there was another Bourne entry with Matt Damon (simply titled Jason Bourne). But nothing has happened since then. 2017 saw Atomic Blonde with a global box office of $100 million. However, no sequel resulted. And Matthew Vaughn’s most recent Kingsmen effort, The King’s Man, flopped.

Other spy film attempts have been a mixed bag.

Salt (2010) had a respectable $293.5 million at the global box office but never generated a sequel. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015), (loosely) based on the 1964-68 TV show, had a global box office of $107 million. Hopes for a revived U.N.C.L.E. disappeared.

The Rhythm Section (2020), made by Eon Productions, had a worldwide box office of not quite $6 million. Clearly, the makers of the Bond films weren’t able to duplicate the success of the 007 movies.

We’ll see. Matthew Vaughn has another spy project titled Argylle which will star Henry Cavill (who played Solo in the 2015 U.N.C.L.E. movie).

Hope springs eternal when it comes to spy films.