John Gavin, actor and ambassador, dies

John Gavin (1931-2018) in a publicity still

John Gavin, an actor and one-time U.S. ambassador to Mexico, has died at 86, TMZ reported. 

The American-born actor’s career began in the mid-1950s and lasted through the early 1980s. His most famous role, arguably, was Sam Loomis, the boyfriend of the doomed Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Gavin also was signed to play James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. The casting came at a time that Eon Productions was looking to Americanize 007. The production originally was to have been based at Universal Studios in Southern California.

All that vaporized when United Artists executive David Picker insisted on making a run at getting the original film 007, Sean Connery, to return for a one-off. Connery agreed, receiving more than $1 million (which he donated to a trust he started).

The Scotsman did the film and Gavin’s contract was paid off. Pinewood Studios in the U.K. was again the home base for a Bond film, although the project did extensive U.S. filming because much of the story was set in Las Vegas.

Other notable Gavin film parts included Julius Caesar in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus; agent OSS 117 in OSS 117 Murder for Sale; and Midnight Lace. On television, he appeared on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Mannix and Kraft Suspense Theater.

His acting career ended in 1981 when then-President (and former actor) Ronald Reagan named Gavin U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He resigned in 1986 to return to private life.

Director William Friedkin, who helmed The French Connection, paid Gavin a tribute on Twitter:


Bullitt: Movie auto history in Detroit

The original Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in Bullitt, on display at Ford Motor Co.’s stand today at the North American International Auto Show.

DETROIT — A car from the past was featured today at the North American International Auto Show, which normally introduces new models.

The car was the Ford Mustang driven by Steve McQueen in 1968’s Bullitt. It was one of two Mustangs in the film. The other was a stunt car.

One of the new models Ford Motor Co. unveiled was a 50th anniversary, 2019 “Bullitt Mustang.”

However, the new car may have been upstaged a bit by the original car, which was brought out as part of the new model’s introduction.

As part of the presentation, Ford used some of Lalo Schifrin’s score from the 1968 movie in a video promoting the new car. Also present was Molly McQueen, granddaughter of McQueen and Neile Adams. Molly McQueen was born seven years after the death of her grandfather.

In fact, you can check out the promotional video below:

UPDATE (Jan. 15): Hagerty, which insures classic cars, said in an e-mailed statement today that the 1968 Mustang from Bullitt, if it comes to auction, could fetch a price similar to the $4.1 million for the James Bond Aston Martin DB5 in 2010 and the $4.6 million for original Batmobile in 2013.

Craig ‘keen’ on Villeneuve for B25, Bamigboye says

Daniel Craig in 2012 during filming of Skyfall.

Baz Bamigboye, the Daily Mail scribe who has had a number of 007 scoops proven correct, put out a Bond 25 tweet but it’s hard to say how important it is or is not.

Returning 007 actor Daniel Craig “is said to be ‘keen’ for” Denis Villeneuve to do direct the 25th 007 film, Bamigboye said in the post on Twitter.

That’s all Bamigboye said. The tweet went out in the early evening New York time on Thursday. I thought he might be following up with a story later. But as of 11 p.m. New York time, no story had surfaced.

Bamigboye has had a number of Bond scoops proven correct this decade. His most recent one was in March when he said that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade had been hired to write Bond 25. That was confirmed in a July announcement by Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that Bond 25 would have a release date of November 2019.

Deadline: Hollywood said on July 26 there were three director front runners: Villeneuve, Yann Demange and David Mackenzie. Variety said the same day that Demange was the No. 1 front runner.

Since then, not a peep about a Bond 25 director. For that matter, the movie at this point doesn’t have a distributor.

Anyway, Villeneuve has a big movie, Blade Runner 2049, coming out this fall. He’s also committed to direct a remake of Dune. The latter project might limit Villeneuve’s availability for Bond 25. But who knows?

Meanwhile, it’s unclear the importance of Bamigboye’s tweet. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli clearly wanted him back for a fifth 007 film. And Craig was given the title of co-producer for 2015’s SPECTRE.

But, assuming Craig is indeed “keen” on Villeneuve, is there any more to it? Your guess is as good as the blog’s.

Here’s the tweet if you want to see for yourself.


Batman & Robin, a reappraisal

Batman & Robin promotional art

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Batman & Robin, the most disliked Batman movie.

In some ways, it’s the closest you’ll find to a big-budget movie version of an Adam West-Burt Ward Batman television series.

From 1989 to 1997, Batman was one of Warner Bros.’s main movie franchises. Yet, things were askew.

When Batman & Robin came out in June 1997, there had been three separate actors (Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney) playing Batman/Bruce Wayne over consecutive films.

The film series, over four installments, had chewed up and spit out multiple Batman villains (the Joker, the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and Bane). The tone had diverged from dark to campy with two directors (Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher).

With Batman & Robin, the transformation was complete. The film even had sound effects similar to Hanna-Barbera cartoons (for example around the 46:25 mark during a big fight scene).

Like the Batman TV show, Batman & Robin depicts its namesake heroes utilizing Bat-gadgets in the nick of time such as Bat-ice skates hidden in the boots of Batman and Robin (Clooney and Chris O’Donnell).

With the 20th anniversary, director Schumacher has apologized for the movie. In recent years, Clooney has said he ruined the Batman film franchise.

After Batman & Robin, eight years would pass until Warner Bros. launched a new Batman project with the first of three Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films.

Still, there are some interesting moments in the 1997 movie. There’s a family theme (which is about as subtle as a heart attack).

Clooney’s best scenes are as Bruce Wayne interacting with Alfred (Michael Gough, in the fourth, and final, appearance as the character). The family theme carries over to Bruce’s relationship with Dick Grayson as well as Alfred’s relationship with his niece (Alicia Silverstone), this movie’s version of Batgirl.

Just to be clear, Batman & Robin is not a good movie. Still, with the recent death of actor Adam West, comparisons between West’s 1966-68 series and this film are obvious.

Jonathan Demme’s Columbo episode

Louis Jourdan and Peter Falk in Murder Under Glass, directed by Jonathan Demme

Jonathan Demme, a well-regarded director, has died at 73. He’s understandably remembered for Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia and other films.

Demme, though, shares something in common with another major director, Steven Spielberg. Both had early credits directing an episode of Columbo.

Spielberg directed a first-season episode, Murder by the Book. (It was the first series episode telecast after two pilot TV movies.) Demme’s turn came toward the end of the detective’s 1971-78 run on NBC (the show was revived later on ABC).

Murder Under Glass, featured Louis Jourdan as an influential food critic (who has his own television show) who has extorted owners of restaurants for favorable reviews that has made their businesses successful.

When one of them (Michael V. Gazzo) balks, the food critic poisons him through an ingenious method, thanks to the critic’s own formidable culinary skills and knowledge.

Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) plays his normal game of cat and mouse before bringing in his man. The good detective (a good cook in his own right) also manages to eat quite well along the way.

As often was the case with Columbo, it wasn’t the outcome as it was the journey.

Jourdan’s Paul Gerard was a worthy adversary for the detective. Gerard even tries to do in Columbo while the two are having a meal. The attempted murder is the last thing Columbo needs to make his case.

The episode was a highlight for Columbo’s final NBC season. For Jonathan Demme, bigger things lay ahead.

Noble failure: The Richard Boone Show

Logo for The Richard Boone Show

On occasion, television shows attempt to punch above their weight. They may not succeed, but they deserve a salute for the effort.

That applies to The Richard Boone Show, which ran for one season (1963-64).

Boone (1917-1981) was at his height of popularity in the early 1960s.

He had starred for six seasons as Paladin in Have Gun — Will Travel. With the end of that popular Western, Boone pretty much could write his own ticket.

The actor was not a typical star. He had quirky tastes. What he wanted to do was the television equivalent of a theater company performing different plays each week.

Boone had a receptive audience in Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. The duo supervised popular game and panel shows such as What’s My Line?, Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth. But they also wanted to break out of the genre.

In that regard, the Goodson-Todman track record was mixed. They produced a Philip Marlowe series that lasted one season. They also produced The Rebel, a Western series that ran for two series today best remembered for a Johnny Cash title song.

Goodson-Todman was determined to turn The Richard Boone Show into a prestige series.

As producer, Goodson and Todman hired Buck Houghton, the producer of the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone. Clifford Odets was brought on as story supervisor, to line up scripts for the new anthology show. Odets, unfortunately, died in August 1963 during production of the series.

For the “company of players,” the regulars included the likes of Harry Morgan, Robert Blake, Jeanette Nolan, Ford Rainey, Lloyd Bocher, Laura Devon, Warren Stevens and other familiar faces on early 1960s television.

Many of the episodes starred Boone, but not all. When Boone wasn’t the lead player, he would portray a secondary character. Meanwhile, the cast had plenty of opportunities to display their acting abilities.

In many ways, the “company of players” was like an actual theater company with the actors playing around with makeup, include bald caps, fake mustaches, putty noses, wigs and such.

In terms of music, the production team hired Henry Mancini to come up with a theme while episodes were scored by composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Fred Steiner and Lalo Schifrin.

Today, in the 21st century, it’s easy to image an undertaking like The Richard Boone Show being televised on Netfilix or Hulu as an original series (depending on the headliner). But, during the 1963-64 series, the series ran for a year before disappearing.

In a commercial sense, the show was a failure. Artistically, it was a noble failure. What follows is the unusual opening and end titles of the show.


John Wick 2 and Logan: Peckinpah for the 21st century

John Wick Chapter 2 poster

John Wick Chapter 2 poster

The name Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) doesn’t come up much these days. But somewhere old Sam has to be amused that two films following in his footsteps are among the best reviewed movies of 2017.

Those movies would be John Wick Chapter 2 (with a 90 percent fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website) and Logan (at 93 percent).

Peckinpah, meanwhile, became known mostly for film violence in movies such as The Wild Bunch and The Getaway. Monty Python in the 1970s did a Peckinpah parody titled “Salad Days,” where a party is the English countrywide becomes an orgy of blood and severed limbs.

Peckinpah was more than that, of course. One of his earliest films, Ride the High Country, is a mix of ode to classic Westerns with key updates in the movie’s middle section. The 1962 film also lacks the kind of violence he’d be known for later.

There’s an edge to Peckinpah’s work. In a 1956 episode of Gunsmoke scripted (but not directed) by Peckinpah titled The Guitar, citizens of Dodge City manage to lynch two villainous types. But there’s nothing Matt Dillon (James Arness) can do about it. It’s also strongly implied his assistant Chester (Dennis Weaver) was in on it.

Hugh Jackman in Logan's poster

Hugh Jackman in Logan’s poster

Also, there are a few of James Bond-related things related to Peckinpah.

Tomorrow Never Dies was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who had an “editorial consultant” credit on Peckinpah’s The Getaway and was an editor on the director’s Straw Dogs and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid.

Spottiswoode favored a slow motion technique similar to Peckinpah’s in Tomorrow Never Dies. Years later, the climax of the Sam Mendes-directed Skyfall was compared by some to Straw Dogs.

Anyway, Peckinpah’s name tends to be overshadowed by classic director such as John Ford and Howard Hawks as well as directors who started their career later, such as Steven Spielberg.

Still, in 2017, John Wick Chapter 2 and Logan seem to dip deep into Peckinpah techniques and themes.

In the two R-rated movies, the title characters kill dozens of people in messy ways. John Wick’s violence is a bit more stylized, akin to Peckinpah’s work. Both feature characters who are drawn into their situations reluctantly but don’t back down, not unlike Peckinpah’s Steve Judd (Joel McCrea) in Ride The High Country.

This isn’t to say the similarities are intentional. Logan cites a classic Western (and it’s about as subtle as a heart attack) not directed by Peckinpah (don’t click if you’re spoiler adverse).

Nevertheless, Peckinpah enthusiasts may find themselves amused if they sample either movie.