Christmas themed spy-related entertainment

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

The holidays are fast approaching. With that in mind, the blog is reminded of some Christmas-themed spy-related entertainment.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The sixth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions may not be an “official” Christmas film but it’ll do.

James Bond (George Lazenby) is hunting for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) while also falling in love with Tracy (Diana Rigg).

This time out, Blofeld has brainwashed his “angels of death,” who will spread “virus Omega” at the villain’s command. If that happens, that will wipe out all sorts of crops and livestock.

Bond manages to go undercover at Blofeld’s lair in Switzerland but is discovered. Blofeld sends out his latest batch of “angels” on Christmas Eve. Bond manages to escape, meets up with Tracy.

Bond proposes to Tracy, but she gets captured by Blofeld, setting up a big climatic sequence.

It was the first Bond film to end unhappily when Tracy is killed on her honeymoon with Bond. It’s arguably the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel and an epic film in its own right. And, for what it’s worth, there are many reminders of Christmas during the Switzerland sequences.

Teaser trailer for Diamonds Are Forever: Diamonds Are Forever was released for the Christmas move season of 1971. The teaser trailer played up the Christmas angle.

The movie also marked Sean Connery’s return as Bond after a four-year absence. But the teaser trailer had a gunbarrel without Connery (but still wearing a hat).

Teaser trailer for The Man With the Golden Gun: The teaser trailer for Roger Moore’s second 007 film utilized a similar Christmas theme.

On top of that, the trailer had a scene between Bond and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) that didn’t make it into the final film.

Chairman Koz makes a point to Solo and Illya in The Jingle Bells Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Jingle Bells Affair (first broadcast Dec. 23, 1966): The story begins in New York during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (the start of the Christmas shopping season). U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (the latter, after all, a Russian) are acting as bodyguards for a Soviet leader, Chairman Koz (Akim Tamiroff).

Why Soviet? In one scene in Act III, Koz slams a shoe down on a desk, a la Nikita Khrushchev.

At one point, Koz gets separated from the U.N.C.L.E. agents and dresses as Santa Claus and interacts with children. Koz, dressed as Santa, helps to save the life of a sick kid. In the end, East and West call a truce and wish everyone Merry Christmas.

This was a third-season episode when the series went in a campy direction. The Spy Commander’s review on the third-season page of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide doesn’t give it a high grade.

The FBI: Dark Christmas (first broadcast Dec. 24, 1972): FBI Inspector (Erskine) and Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds) are on the trail of a hit man (Don Gordon). The hit man’s target is a family man who once was involved in a criminal organization but got out.

The case reaches a climax on Christmas Eve. The family man is coming home from a job but doesn’t know the hit man is waiting for him at his home. Colby and other FBI agents get the man’s children to safety. Erskine then confronts and apprehends the hit man. Until Act IV, the episode is a basic procedural show. The Christmas themes are mostly in the final act and epilogue.

While The FBI wasn’t a spy show per se, it had a lot of espionage-related stories. Also, it’s the subject of another website of the Spy Commander, The FBI episode guide. This episode gets a relatively high grade on the eight-season page.

Note: This was an early credit for Sondra Locke (1944-2018), who plays a spinster-like character who falls for Gordon’s character.

Publicist’s book: For 007 completists only

Cover to Jerry Juroe book

Charles “Jerry” Juroe, a veteran movie publicist, met many famous and interesting people over a long career. But that doesn’t mean the telling of those interactions is interesting.

That’s the problem with his book, Bond, the Beatles and My Year With Marilyn. Many names get dropped. Observations are made. And we’re off to the next anecdote. It’s like an extended party conversation rather than a narrative.

Juroe had separate stints working at United Artists (in the 1960s when the 007 series was launched) and later at Eon Productions where he headed the publicity operation for about a decade before retiring in 1990. In between, he also did publicity for The Man With the Golden Gun

That’s supposed to be the selling point for the book.  That’s why he’s holding a gun on the cover. The Beatles get a quick mention in a chapter about United Artists. Marilyn Monroe is the subject of a pre-UA chapter when Juroe did publicity for 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl.

Among the 007 insights provided: Columbia Pictures messed up by passing on Bond, allowing UA to make the deal. Dana Broccoli made “immense and continuous contribution behind the scenes.” Albert R. Broccoli, “oh-so-steady and ways in control,” was “a perfect match” for Harry Saltzman. UA made a mistake with the first U.S. release of Dr. No but wisely did a quick re-release Juroe liked Christopher Lee, “a thoroughly decent human being and also a world class raconteur.” Roger Moore’s then-wife Luisa was “volatile.”

There’s more, of course. But there’s not a lot of depth.

Of all the anecdotes in the book, one of the most attention grabbing took place years before Juroe’s involvement with Bond.

Juroe worked at Paramount in the 1950s. The publicist writes he was in a limo with William Holden and his wife Brenda Marshall after the actor won his Oscar for Stalag 17. “You didn’t deserve that,” Marshall said. “Holden’s fingers white with rage as his fist tightened around his Oscar,” Juroe writes

It was a revealing moment. But it’s over in a few sentences. We’re off to another Oscar-night anecdote.

For 007 completists, who can’t get enough books about 007 films, the book may be worth the time. Others may or may not find the book worth their while.

Happy 89th birthday, Roger Moore

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in his first 007 film, Live And Let Die (1973)

Oct. 14 is the 89th birthday of Sir Roger Moore, the seven-time film 007.

He’s the oldest of the movie Bonds. He’s also at that stage of life where you’re saying your final good-byes to people you’ve known.

This year, on HIS TWITTER FEED, he’s posted about the passing of Guy Hamilton (director of his first two 007 films), Ken Adam (“a friend, a visionary and the man who defined the look of the James Bond films”) and George Martin (“He made my first Bond film sound brilliant!”).

In 2015, he did the same for acting colleagues Patrick Macnee (“true gent”) and Christopher Lee (“one of my oldest” friends). He had known both long before they had appeared in his Bond movies.

Such farewells, as hard as they are, are the way of the world. The actor also lost his 47-year-old stepdaughter Christina Knudsen because of cancer this past summer.

Still, of all the movie Bonds, Moore carries on as the most active ambassador for the 007 movie franchise. Example: THIS PROMO for AN INTERVIEW he did for the James Bond Radio website.

It’s a great “get” for James Bond Radio. But it also shows how the actor still carries the 007 banner.

At a time nobody has any idea when the next James Bond film will come out, that’s reassuring.

Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

Writing’s On The Wall wins Best Song Oscar

SPECTRE LOGO

Writing’s On The Wall, the title song for SPECTRE, won the Best Song Oscar on Sunday night.

The award marked the first back-to-back Academy Awards for the James Bond franchise since Goldfinger won a sound award (Norman Wanstall) and Thunderball won for special effects (John Stears) in the 1960s. 2012’s Skyfall also won for Best Song as well as receiving an Oscar for sound editing.

Co-writer and performer Sam Smith gave a short acceptance speech. The award went to Smith and his co-writer, Jimmy Napes.

Meanwhile, songs from James Bond movies played a prominent part of the Oscar proceedings. Live And Let Die (nominated but which didn’t win) and Diamonds Are Forever (not even nominated) were played at various spots in the telecast on ABC. Also played was the main theme from 1967’s Casino Royale, a comedy that’s not part of the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions.

Also during the show, stand-up comic Sarah Silverman introduced Sam Smith’s rendition of Writing’s On The Wall. It became a forum for Silverman to tell James Bond jokes. Here’s a sample from the JUST JARED website.

“I guess I was a Bond girl, in that I had sexual intercourse with James Bond and never heard from him… I know he has a cell phone – he has four!” Sarah said. “He loves sleeping with women with heavy Jewish boobs.”

“Oh here’s something. James Bond – not a grower or a shower. I don’t want to say he’s terrible in bed… but he’s slept with 55 women in 24 movies and most of them tried to kill him afterwards.”

The show’s In Memoriam segment included Christopher Lee (including a brief clip from The Man With The Golden Gun) and mogul Kirk Kerkorian, who bought and sold Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer multiple times. It was under Kerkorian’s leadership that MGM bought United Artists in the early 1980s, a move that still affects the Bond franchise to this day.

Also in the segment was character actor Theodore Bikel, who auditioned for the role of Auric Goldfinger but lost to Gert Frobe.

Finally, related to 2015 spy-related films, Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Bridge of Spies.

UPDATE: They’re playing the theme from Goldfinger (another Bond song never even nominated for an Oscar) going into the final commercial break.

Some 007-Star Wars connections over the years

Poster for the original Star Wars in 1977

Poster for the original Star Wars in 1977

Something trending on social media on Friday was whether James Bond actor Daniel Craig appears as a storm trooper in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as reported in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. Some fans say it sounds as if Craig did the role, but at least one entertainment journalist who occasionally reads the blog says it’s not.

Regardless, there are a number of ties between the Star Wars and 007 film series. That’s not a surprise because Star Wars movies are produced at London’s Pinewood Studios, the home base for most 007 films.

What follows are some of the major connections, though it’s not intended as a comprehensive list. To streamline things, this post shortens the Star Wars titles to take out the various chapter numbers.

John Stears: The special effects guru for the early 007 films traded Walther PPKs for light sabers when he was part of the special effects crew for the original 1977 Star Wars film.

Stears shared an Oscar (with John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Grant McCune and Robert Blalack) for special effects for his work on that movie. It was Stears’ second Oscar. He won the special effects Oscar for 1965’s Thunderball.

Irvin Kershner: The American-born director helmed the second Star Wars epic, The Empire Strikes Back, considered by some fans and critics as the best Star Wars film. In that 1980 film, things got complicated when it was revealed Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father.

The director’s next project was 1983’s Never Say Never Again, a Bond film not part of the series produced by Eon Productions. Its main asset was Sean Connery’s final movie as 007. The director had a relationship with the actor, having directed him in 1966’s A Fine Madness.

Alan Hume: Hume photographed three 007 films in the 1980s — For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. Between assignments for Bond, he was director of photography of Return of the Jedi. In the summer of 1983, his Bond and Star Wars work could be viewed essentially as the same time when Return and Octopussy were in theaters.

Anthony Waye: He was an assistant director on Star Wars. In the 1980s, he started out doing similar duties on Bond and worked his way up to associate producer (on GoldenEye), line producer (on Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough) and executive producer (Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace).

Julian Glover: The actor was a minor villain in The Empire Strike Backs and the lead villain in For Your Eyes Only.

Alf Joint, Paul Weston (and who knows how many other stunt performers): Joint’s most famous 007 stunt work was in the pre-credits sequence of Goldfinger, but he also did Star Wars movies. Weston did as well and with Bond worked his way up to stunt supervisor in The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill.

Christopher Lee: The British actor and relative of Ian Fleming was the title character in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun. In 2002 (in Attack of the Clones) and 2005 (Revenge of the Sith), he appears as a villain (though very briefly in the latter film).

Max Von Sydow: The actor played Blofeld in Never Say Never Again and has a small role in The Force Awakens.

Chris Corbould: Part of the special effects crews of numerous Bond films going back to the 1980s, including this year’s SPECTRE. He’s also credited with special effects for The Force Awakens.

 

Christopher Lee dies at 93

Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun

Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun

Christopher Lee, who enjoyed a long film career in character roles, died June 7, according to AN OBITUARY IN THE GUARDIAN.

Lee, 93, was well known for playing Dracula. As a change of pace, he played the title character in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. Lee transformed the thuggish Scaramanga of Ian Fleming’s final James Bond novel into a sophisticated villain with psychological issues.

Golden Gun is viewed by many fans a weaker entry in the Bond film series though Lee’s performance usually isn’t cited as a factor. Also, Lee was a distant relative of Fleming and had experience in intelligence work during World War II, according to the documentary Inside The Man With the Golden Gun.

In addition to the obituary, The Guardian posted an appreciation of Lee’s career. Here’s an excerpt from the commentary by Peter Bradshaw, referring to the actor’s first appearance as Dracula:

(W)hen Lee’s Count Dracula first walked down to the stairs to greet his visitors in the first Hammer movie version it was a revelation. He was tall (six foot five), handsome and well-built, with an easy athleticism and a frank, direct manner. His deep, melodious voice completed the effect: commanding. There was nothing unwholesome-looking about this vampire, not at first: he looked more like a British or at any rate Central European version of Gary Cooper….Christopher Lee was Dracula; he had taken over the character as clearly as Sean Connery took over James Bond.

To view a list of Lee’s acting credits on IMDB.com, CLICK HERE. To view The New York Times’s obituary for Lee, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m., New York time): Roger Moore, who played Bond opposite Lee, commented on Twitter:

UPDATE II (11 a.m., New York time): Also, via Twitter, here’s a chart showing how Christopher Lee and Ian Fleming were related:

Quick reactions to the new Skyfall trailers

SEMI-SPOILERS. We’ve had a chance to look over the new international and U.S. trailers for Skyfall. While each is only about two-and-a-half minutes long, they’re the most revealing glimpse yet. We’ll call these observations semi-spoilers. Anybody who has read certain key writings by Ian Fleming won’t be surprised but many 007 film fans haven’t read the books.

“You were expecting somebody else?”


So if you don’t want to know *anything at all*, stop reading now. Without further ado:

More Ian Fleming content this time out: There have been signs for a while that director Sam Mendes and his writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan had tapped into Chapter 21 of Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel, You Only Live Twice. The chapter is Bond’s obituary as published in The Times of London, written by M.

First, pictures taken by a nature photographer surfaced in March of an outdoor Skyfall set, that included tombstones for Bond’s parents, whose names are referenced in the obituary in Fleming’s novel. Now, in the new trailers, we briefly see Judi Dench’s M writing 007’s obituary and are shown why the world thinks Bond is dead.

This raises the question whether Mendes & Co. are also dipping into Fleming’s final 007 novel, The Man With the Golden Gun. In that story, a brainwashed Bond, turns up in London and tries to kill M. We’re NOT predicting Skyfall goes that far, but in the trailers Bond surprises M after his “death.”

During the November Skyfall press conference, the principals said the new movie had no connections to an Ian Fleming stories (That occurs around the 15:00 mark if you check out the video embedded in that link). Then, in late April, Mendes & Co. emphasized how Skyfall was true to Fleming.

Evidently, there was some “misdirection” going on in November. We’re intrigued by the apparent renewed emphasis on Fleming material. So we’ll leave it at that.

Question No. 2: Could Javier Bardem’s Silva be a revamped version of Fleming’s Francisco Scaramanga? Bardem, with his blonde wig doesn’t have “hair reddish in a crew cut” like Scaramanga did, so he’s not a physical twin.

In 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun, very little of the novel was actually used. Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga was more sophisticated chap than his literary counterpart while retaining the basic back story (which Lee briefly recites in a scene with Roger Moore).

Still, could Bardem’s Silva be possibly channeling the literary Scaramanga? Skyfall could end up, in terms of amount of Fleming content, being like 2002’s Die Another Day. The first half of that movie was a de facto adaptation of Fleming’s 1955 Moonraker novel. Both Moonraker and You Only Live Twice were cases where the movie of the same name used little of the source material.

More homages in Skyfall to previous 007 films: We had the same reaction to seeing a bootleg copy of a Skyfall trailer last week (evidently a pirated copy of a special Imax trailer for Skyfall). In the new trailers, Q (Ben Whishaw) gives Bond (Daniel Craig) a new Walther that can only be fired by 007 and nobody else. Desmond Llewelyn provided Timothy Dalton’s Bond a gun with similar technology in Licence to Kill.

We’re hoping Skyfall doesn’t go too far overboard with the homages. Die Another Day, the 40th anniversary Bond film, did so and it turned into a game of “Where’s Waldo?” that got distracting. In the new trailers, there’s a shot of a helicopter turning that looks much like a similar shot in Die Another Day’s pre-credit sequence. *IF* that’s an intended homage (and not a coincidence), we’re not sure you have to go that far.