Hal Needham, director of Hooper, dies

Burt Reynolds and the cast of Hooper in the film's final scene

Burt Reynolds and the cast of Hooper in the film’s final scene

Hal Needham, a veteran Hollywood stuntman and director of action comedies such as 1978’s Hooper, has died at the age of 82 according to AN OBITUARY IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.

As a director, Hooper, starring Burt Reynolds as an aging stuntman, is arguably Needham’s best work. The movie looks at the stunt work being done on a James Bond-like film by an A-list Hollywood director.

The movie has its origins in an earlier film, 1976’s Nickelodeon. It was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, with Reynolds as one of the stars and Needham as stunt coordinator.

When Hooper came out two years later, there were reviews posing the question whether Needham and Reynolds were getting a little payback. Whether that’s true or not, Hooper wasn’t just played for jokes.

The title character played by Reynolds is getting old for to be a stuntman and knows it; his next major injury could paralyze or kill him. What’s more, Hooper is being pushed by a younger rival stuntman (Jan-Michael Vincent). All of this is happening on a movie directed by egotistic director Roger Deal (Robert Klein) that resembles a James Bond film (starring, as it turns out, Adam West).

Needham also directed 1981’s The Cannonball Run, another Reynolds comedy, with a cast including Roger Moore, playing somebody who thinks he’s Roger Moore.

Here’s part of the climatic sequence of Hooper (as long as it doesn’t get yanked by YouTube):

The joke U.N.C.L.E. and Batman shared

We picked up a copy last weekend of Billion Dollar Batman, the new book by Bruce Scivally, examining the origins and television and movie adaptations of Batman. Scivally was part of the crew that in the 1990s turned out documentaries about the making of James Bond films that are part of the DVD extras.

“Holy recycling, Batman!”

We were skimming the chapter about the making of the Adam West-Burt Ward 1966-68 television series and were reminded of how writer Stanley Ralph Ross (1935-2000) managed to get the same joke in a third-season episode of The Man Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Batman.

The joke first appeared on The Thor Affair on Oct. 28, 1966, scripted by Ross and Don Richman. Character actor Bernard Fox was the title character, Brutus Thor, who has made a fortune selling weapons. Thor hatches an elaborate plot to assassinate a Ghadhi-like character (Harry Davis) who has pressured major countries into a peace conference. At one point, Thor is interrupted by his butler. “Yes, Rhett, what is it?”

Flash forward to Dec. 15, 1966, and The Bat’s Kow Tow, the second half of a Catwoman story on Batman, scripted this time by Ross solo. The Catwoman (Julie Newmar) has “stolen” the voices of British sensations Chad and Jeremy (don’t ask). Batman and Robin, at one point, visit a British official in the U.S. to discuss the Catwoman’s ransom demands. They’re interrupted by, you guessed it, the official’s butler. “Yes, Rhett, what is it?” Moreover, the same actor plays the butler.

In 1997, Ross contacted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide by e-mail because its reviews of third-season episodes noted the joke in the U.N.C.L.E. episode and how it also appeared on Batman. Apparently because the writer was pleased that somebody spotted the joke (both times). Ross granted an interview via e-mail where he discussed his work on U.N.C.L.E. and Batman (he appeared as an actor on both as well as writing episodes) as well as other shows.

UPDATE: Oops. We should have provided this link before. To get more information on Billion Dollar Batman (including how to order), CLICK HERE to go to the author’s Web site.

Cesar Romero and a Man From U.N.C.L.E. mystery

A video has surfaced on the Internet from 1966. An Austin, Texas, television station interivewed cast member of the 1966 Batman movie, based on the 1966-68 Batman TV series. The movie had its world premier in Austin in the summer of 1966. In one of the interviews, Cesar Romero (in full Joker makeup but wearing an undershirt and smoking a cigarette) says one of his upcoming project is a two-part episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Romero had earlier played a villain in a first-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By the time of the Austin television interview, production had begun on the show’s third season. In August of 1966, The Concrete Overcoat Affair, a two-part episode, would begin filming. Later, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would re-edit the show into a movie for international markets called The Spy With the Green Hat.

The plot of The Concrete Overcoat/The Spy With the Green Hat had U.N.C.L.E. enlisting the aid of three old mobsters, the Stiletto brothers, against Thrush, the criminal organization that was U.N.C.L.E.’s main opponent. Romero likely would have been portraying one of the Stiletto brothers. Initially the U.N.C.L.E. production team wanted Edward G. Robinson to play the Thrush chieftain of the story; instead, Jack Palace got the part.

Still, why did Romero bow out? We’ll probably never know. Romero died on Jan. 1, 1994. Key U.N.C.L.E. production staff of that era (producer Boris Ingster, associate producer Irv Pearlberg and supervising producer David Victor) are no longer with us. To view the Austin television station footage JUST CLICK HERE.

The Romero footage appears in the middle of the video. It begins with Lee Meriwhether (in full Catwoman costume), followed by Romero, followed by Adam West (also in full costume) and producer William Dozier (who also was the narrator of both the 1966 movie and the 1966-68 television series).

Eastwood as 007? Just one of the worst James Bond film ideas that were seriously considered

The Express newspaper in the U.K., on its Web site, has run a short item that Clint Eastwood says he was approached by 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman about playing James Bond after Sean Connery quit the role.

The California-born star was approached by Bond bosses to play the superspy when Sean Connery quit the franchise, but he turned the role down.

And Eastwood insists he made the right decision – because he didn’t want to see the iconic character portrayed by an American.

He says, “I thought James Bond should be British. I am of British descent but by that same token, I thought that it should be more of the culture there and also, it was not my thing.”

There aren’t many additional details presented. But, as the Cinema Retro Web site says, if this is true, it probably happened between the release of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, where Broccoli and Saltzman seemed convinced they needed an American 007.

If that’s the case, it only one example of the worst James Bond movie ideas that were seriously considered. By that, we mean ideas that were REALLY, REALLY close to being reality, at least closer to reality than 007 fans would prefer. Among the others:

— Considering Adam West for the role of Bond (source: the documentary Inside Diamond Are Forever and West’s autobiography).

— Signing John Gavin to play Bond in Diamonds until United Artists (principally executive David Picker) decided that Connery should be approached one more time; Picker’s gambit paid off and Gavin was paid off on the contract he signed with Broccoli and Saltzman.

— Considering Burt Reynolds to play Bond. This was primarily director Guy Hamilton’s idea. But in the period from 1970 into 1975, Hamilton had more influence on the Bond franchise except for Broccoli and Saltzman.

— Considering James Brolin to play Bond, to the point of having him screen tested in either 1981 or 1981, in the period between For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy, when it appeared Roger Moore would retire from the role. In the documentary Inside Octopussy both co-producer Michael G. Wilson and director John Glen claimed Brolin had a great screen test. But when some of our staff saw the screen tests at the 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles, Brolin came across as laughable.

— Passing over Julie Christie, one of the best British film actresses of the 20th Century, because her breasts were too small.

— The decision to both reverse filming of Ian Fleming’s novels On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice PLUS throwing out the plot of Twice altogether.

With the former, there are some quirks that fans just have to overlook and with the latter, the film producers tossed a wonderful story down the toilet. Twice screenwriter Roald Dahl has been quoted as saying the novel’s story was unfilmable. Really? At its core, Fleming’s novel is Bond’s ultimate “personal” mission where he finally settles accounts with Blofeld. Meanwhile, 1989’s Licence to Kill, 1995’s GoldenEye, 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, 2002’s Die Another Day, 2006’s Casino Royale and 2008’s Quantum of Solace all featured varioations of the theme “This time — it’s personal!” If Eon Productions actually makes another James Bond movie, we’re hoping it won’t be personal just because this theme is getting tiring and none of Eon’s attempts on theme have matched Fleming’s original.

Nominations for most harebrained 007 movie ideas

The James Bond movie series is remarkable for its longevity (47 years, albeit with a couple of notable gaps in production). But it’s also remarkable for some harebrained ideas that were seriously considered. Our list of five nominations.

1. Considering Adam West, for the role of Bond.

West, the one-time Batman, disclosed in his autobiography that he had been approached for the role in the late 1960s after Sean Connery quit the role for the first time. When we read that, we wondered if West had taken one too many blows to the head from the Riddler. However, this was verified by none other than Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Albert R. Broccoli, in the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever.

2. Considering James Brolin for the role of Bond

In 1982, it looked like Roger Moore had retired as 007. Producer Broccoli lined up James Brolin as a replacement. The actor’s screen tests were first publicly shown to fans at a 1994 fan convention in Los Angeles. Broccoli’s stepson, Michael G. Wilson, described Brolin’s approach as “Mid-Atlantic.”

If he meant all wet (as in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean), he was right. The actor’s screen tests were first shown publicly at a 1994 Bond fan convention in Los Angeles. Brolin’s attempt at a British accent were laughable. Meanwhile the rival Bond production Never Say Never Again was gearing up, with Sean Connery on board. Broccoli decided to pony up more money and bring Moore back for his sixth 007 outing in Octopussy.

3. Making Dr. No in the villain’s pet monkey.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Wolf Mankowitz felt Ian Fleming’s Dr. No villain was too much of a stereotype. So they devised a draft where a villain had a pet monkey named Dr. No. Broccoli wasn’t amused, having spent years pursuing his dream of producing movies from Fleming’s novels. So he instructed his writers to go back to the source. Interestingly, Broccoli largely dispensed with the source material after 1969.

4. Having an ending for Goldfinger involving curtains closing.

Screenwriter Paul Dehn, having taken over for Maibuam on Goldfinger, had a draft where we’d see Bond and Pussy Galore in a clinch and then we’d see curtains close on the scene. The curtains would reopen and we’d be told what the next movie would be. In fact, this was the next-to-last draft of the script. Sean Connery, among others, thought the idea was horrible and it was dropped when the final shooting script was written.

5. Using Moonraker as a way to copy Star Wars

Rather than adapt or just update Moonraker, Broccoli and United Artists had an idea that they’d use the title as a way to exploit the Star Wars craze and….oh, wait. They did that, didn’t they? As it turned out, Moonraker ended up the most successful Bond movie up to that time, despite a budget that ran more than 30 percent its original estimate.