Warner Bros. and its priorities

Ben Affleck in 2003's Daredevile

Ben Affleck in 2003′s Daredevil

It doesn’t appear that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is at the top of priority list for Warner Bros’s publicity department.

The studio put out a press release that Ben Affleck will play Batman opposite Henry Cavill’s Superman in a movie with a July 17, 2015 release date. Affleck played Daredevil in a 2003 20th Century Fox movie based on a Marvel Comics character who made his debut in 1964, the same year The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered.

Cavill played Superman in this year’s Man of Steel movie. Cavill is also the studio’s choice to play Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. that is scheduled to start filming next month. Warner Bros. has yet to make an official announcement about that movie, even though Cavill and Armie Hammer, slated to play Illya Kuryakin, have said that will be their nest project. Robert Vaughn and David McCallum played Solo and Kuryakin in the 1964-68 television series.

"Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?"

“Mr. Warner, when do I rate a press release?”

Batman and Superman are two of the most lucrative characters controlled by Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros. Author Bruce Scivally wrote a book called Billion Dollar Batman tracing the history of that character from the comics through movies directed by Christopher Nolan.

It would appear Warner Bros.’s U.N.C.L.E. project isn’t at the top of its list while the Batman-Superman project for 2015 is. Such is life. Variety has reported the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget was reduced to $75 million after Tom Cruise departed the project, paving the way for Cavill to get the Solo role.

E-book on the Matt Helm films now available

Dean Martin as Matt Helm with Stella Stevens in The Silencers.

Dean Martin as Matt Helm in The Silencers.

There’s an new e-book about the four-film Matt Helm series available. Bruce Scivally has written Booze, Bullets & Broads: The Story of Matt Helm, Superspy of the Mad Men Era.

Scivally previously worked on John Cork-directed documentaries of the James Bond films that were part of DVD extras. He and Cork also wrote James Bond: The Legacy, a coffee table book that came out last decade.

Here’s the description from the new e-book’s AMAZON.COM LISTING:

The story of Matt Helm, spy of the Mad Men era. After his creation by Donald Hamilton, Helm went from being a literary rival of James Bond to being a cinematic rival with the production of four movies starring crooner Dean Martin as a woozy, boozy secret agent. Produced by Irving Allen, the former partner of 007 film producer Cubby Broccoli, the Helm movies influenced not only the Bond films but also Austin Powers, and remain a “guilty pleasure” viewing favorite of red-blooded males everywhere.

We’ve written before how the first Helm movie, The Silencers, had THE BIGGEST EFFECT ON THE 007 FILM SERIES from rival movies because Dean Martin got a bigger paycheck than Sean Connery. Allen made Dino a partner in the enterprise. Soon after, Connery began demanding not only more money but to be a partner in the Bond films. 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman resisted the partnership demand, contributing to Connery’s departure after You Only Live Twice.

Also, according to film historian Adrian Turner, some at United Artists were keen on Phil Karlson to direct Dr. No. But Karlson’s asking price was $75,000, which helped Terence Young get the job. Karlson ended up directing The Silencers and The Wrecking Crew, the final Helm movie.

For the Scivally e-book, the price is $2.99. You can download it for free if you’re a Prime Member of Amazon.

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.

Casino Royale’s 45th anniversary: Oh no, 007!

April Fool’s Day is as good as any occasion to note this month marks the 45th anniversary of Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale, the producer’s 1967 send-up of 007.

Feldman, one-time agent (Albert R. Broccoli was one of his employees) turned producer, was nobody’s fool. He had produced films in a variety of genres such as 1948′s Red River (uncredited), 1951′s A Streetcar Named Desire, 1955′s The Seven Year Itch and 1965′s What’s New Pussycat.

So, when he acquired the film rights to Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel in the early 1960s, Feldman recognized it had commercial potential even as the film series produced by one time associate Broccoli and Harry Saltzman was getting underway in 1962. (CLICK HERE for a post on Jeremy Duns’s Debrief blog for a more detailed history.)

Feldman tried to entice director Howard Hawks, his one-time colleague on Red River. Hawks was interested but the director backed out after seeing an early print of Dr. No with Sean Connery.

Feldman pressed on, signing distinguished screenwriter Ben Hecht to come up with a screenplay. Details of Hecht’s work were reported last year by Jeremy Duns in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper. Hecht died in 1964, while still working on the project.

By now, Eon’s series was reaching its peak of popularity with 1964′s Goldfinger and 1965′s Thunderball. Broccoli and Saltzman agreed to a co-production deal with Kevin McClory, holder of the film rights for Thunderball. James Bond, The Legacy, the 2002 book by John Cork and Bruce Scivally, presents a narrative of on-and-off talks between Feldman, Broccoli, Saltzman and United Artists, the studio releasing the Broccoli-Saltzman movies. In the end, talks broke down. (Behind the scenes, Broccoli and Saltzman had their own tensions to deal with, including Saltzman’s outside ventures such as his Harry Palmer series of films.).

So Feldman opted to go for farce, but not in a small way. His movie had an estimated budget, according to IMDB.com. of $12 million. The Cork-Scivally book put the figure at $10.5 million. Either way, it was more than the $9.5 million budget of You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Broccoli-Saltzman series. Twice’s outlay included $1 million for Ken Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set.

Feldman’s film didn’t have that kind of spectacle. But he did pay money (or Columbia Pictures’ money) for talent such as John Huston (one of five credited directors), David Niven (playing the “original” James Bond, brought out of retirement, who implies the Sean Connery version of the Broccoli-Saltzman series was assigned the James Bond name by MI6), Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress (now famous because of Dr. No), William Holden, Woody Allen and….well CLICK HERE to view the entire cast and crew.

Casino Royale, however, was less than the sum of its impressive parts. The humor is uneven, it doesn’t really have a story, despite employing a number screenwriters, including Wolf Mankowitz, who introduced Broccoli and Saltzman to each other. (For a more sympathetic view, CLICK HERE for a long essay on the subject.)

The’67 Casino managed a reported worldwide gross of $41.7 million. That was good in its day, though less than a third of Thunderball’s $141.7 million global box office.

Much has been written since 1967 about the stressful production, including reported feuds between Sellers and Welles. Perhaps all that took a toll on the film’s producer. Feldman died in May 1968, a little more than 13 months after Casino Royale’s premier, at age 64.

The mysterious 007 movie writing credit

One of the more intriguing credits — and one we suspect has an interesting story behind it — is in the main titles of You Only Live Twice. It reads, “Additional Story Material by Harold Jack Bloom.”

It appears in a noticeably smaller font than the “Screenplay by Roald Dahl” credit. What does this mean exactly?

Some Bond reference sources omit mention of Bloom’s work on YOLT entirely, including James Bond, The Legacy by John Cork and Bruce Scivally and James Chapman’s Licence to Thrill. You can read all sorts of things about Roald Dahl, a prolific author who made his screenwriting debut with YOLT, helped by the fact that Dahl himself described his 007 experience in Playboy magazine.

But what of Bloom? Cork and Scivally provide a few clues in their Inside You Only Live Twice documentary that Cork wrote and directed and Scivally co-produced. Ken Adam, the film’s production designer, said this in the documentary:

We were in serious trouble. Because the film had a release date, Sean’s contract was running out and we had no script. So, the pressure was on everybody and we lost the writer.

As Adam says this, there is one shot of five men sitting at a table. Four are recognizable: producers Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, director Lewis Gilbert and Adam, smoking one of his trademark cigars. At the far left fo the shot is a man who is apparently Bloom, but he’s not identified as such. A few seconds later is a headshot of Bloom, who looks to be the same man as in the previous shot but we’re not told that for sure.

Narrator Patrick Macnee simply says, “After Harold Jack Bloom’s departure, the producers decide to hire noted short story writer Roald Dahl.” No further mention of Bloom, or his apparent troubles, is made.

After Dahl’s death in 1990, Starlog magazine profiled the writer and described how he worked on YOLT.

In the midst of that 1991 article, there’s this mention:

“We had a writer,” Broccoli told a gathering at the Museum of Modern Art in 1979, “who came up with the idea of having these Ninja-like Japanese characters crawling all over Tokyo, and it just wouldn’t work. So, we flew all over Japan with a fleet of kamikaze pilots,, and that’s when we found the volcano.”

So the question remains how much of Bloom’s work made the final film. A set piece or two? If that’s the case, why give Bloom a credit at all? Or did Dahl actually rewrite a Bloom draft rather that coming up with his own story?

This was the first time Broccoli and Saltzman junked the plot of a Fleming novel, retaining only the title and a few characters. The principals in this tale are mostly dead (Bloom died in 1999, Saltzman in ’94 and Broccoli in ’96). Richard Maibuam, whose papers are at the University of Iowa, didn’t work on the film.

In any case, here’s a sample of Bloom’s work pre-YOLT. If you CLICK HERE you can see the trailer to The Naked Spur, a 1953 James Stewart Western co-written by Bloom and Sam Rolfe.

Eleven years later, Rolfe had developed and was producing The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Its second episode was The Iowa Scuba Affair written by Bloom. Here’s a scene;

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 124 other followers