Bruce Geller: M:I’s renaissance man

Bruce Geller “cameo” as an IMF operative not selected for a mission by Briggs (Steven Hill).

A sixth Mission: Impossible film is in production. There’s plenty of publicity concerning star-producer Tom Cruise, actor Henry Cavill (who has joined the cast of this installment) and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie.

What you won’t find much is mention without whom none of it would be impossible, M:I creator Bruce Geller.

Geller died almost four decades ago in a crash of a twin-engine aircraft. It was a sudden end for someone who had brought two popular series to the air (M:I and Mannix) that ran a combined 15 years on CBS. He was a renaissance man capable of writing, producing, directing and song writing.

Geller, according to The New York Times account of his death, graduated from Yale in 1952, majoring in psychology, sociology and economics. His father, Abraham Geller, was a judge. However, Geller didn’t pursue a law career. (He did end up portraying his father in a 1975 TV movie, Fear on Trial.)

Instead, Geller became a writer of various television series, including Westerns such as Have Gun-Will Travel, The Westerner and The Rifleman. Along the way, he also wrote the lyrics and book for some plays.

By the mid-1960s, Geller was also a producer at Desilu. His brainchild was M:I, whose pilot involved the theft of atomic bombs from a Caribbean dictator unfriendly to the United States.

The pilot was budget at $440,346 with a 13-day shooting schedule, according to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier. It came in at $575,744, with 19 days of filming. While series episodes would be more modestly budgeted, it was a preview that M:I was not going to be an easy show to make.

CBS picked up M:I for the 1966-67 season. A year later, the network did the same for Mannix, featuring Mike Connors as a private investigator.

Geller didn’t create the character. Richard Levinson and William Link pitched the concept of a rugged, no-nonsense Joe Mannix coping with the corporate culture of investigative company Intertect.

Geller threw out a Levinson-Link story and wrote his own pilot script. Levinson and Link would be credited as creating the series, with Geller getting a “developed by” credit.

Mannix would be the last Desilu series. During its first season. Lucille Ball sold the company and it would become part of Paramount.

Eventually, that meant trouble for Geller. Paramount wanted to control costs and it eventually barred Geller from the studio lot. He’d continue to be credited as executive producer of both M:I and Mannix but without real input.

The producer moved over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where he made a police drama, Bronk, that only lasted one season on CBS (1975-76). Geller also produced and directed a movie with James Coburn about pickpockets, 1973’s Harry In Your Pocket.

Today, Geller is almost a footnote when it comes to the M:I film series, which began in 1996. He does get a credit (“Based on the Television Series Created by Bruce Geller”). But the films are more of a star vehicle for Tom Cruise, including spectacular stunts Cruise does himself.

There’s no way to know what Geller’s reaction would be. And, because he was only 47 when he died, there’s no way to know what Geller may have accomplished had it not been for the 1978 plane crash.

Regardless, Geller crammed a lot of living into his 47 years. At the end of the video below, you can see him collect his Emmy for the Mission: Impossible pilot script.

Mission: Impossible 6 hits snag, Deadline says

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

The sixth Mission: Impossible movie has been halted until Paramount works out a deal with star-producer Tom Cruise, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Here’s an excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount Pictures has stopped the ticking clock and halted early pre-production of M:I6 Mission: Impossible. The studio won’t start up again until salary is worked out with franchise star Tom Cruise. The studio had hired between 15 to 20 people in London to start the soft prep work after writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise worked out the beats of the film, and McQuarrie went off to write the script. Those hired had just begun to work on the design of visual effects, and were told today to stop, we learned.

Some background: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, released last year, was a hit. Its U.S.-Canada box office of $195 million was almost as much as SPECTRE’s $200 million.

The 2015 M:I film was originally scheduled to come out on Dec. 25, 2015. Paramount moved it up to the end of July that year. It was an astute move. The M:I movie avoided Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Also, the M:I film got the jump on 2015’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, crushing that spy film at the box office.

Meanwhile, there has been a lot of drama at Paramount’s parent company, Viacom, including the ouster this week of its CEO, according to THIS NPR STORY.

Cruise, 54, has gotten a lot of mileage from his M:I franchise. The first Cruise M:I movie came out 20 years ago. After Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation came out, Paramount signaled it wanted another film in the series as soon as possible.

Now, there’s uncertainty what will happen next.

 

The Spy Command’s final thoughts on ‘Year of the Spy’

BridgeOfSpies
Almost a year ago, this blog christened 2015 as the “Year of the Spy.” As the year draws to a close, this post looks back on that year with some final thoughts.

The blog didn’t write about all the movies discussed here. But the blog editor did see them all. The films listed are in order from best to worst. Actually, none of them was a stinker, so “worst” here is relative. Regardless, here we go.

Bridge of Spies: This wasn’t so much a spy movie as a film about the aftermath of espionage.

The Steven Spielberg-directed “biopic” starred Tom Hanks as James B. Donovan (1913-1970), the American lawyer who negotiated the release of U.S. U2 spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers from the Soviets.

With any “based on true events” film, one should never view it as history. Regardless, it was very engrossing. Here, CGI is used to recreate Powers’ capture when his plane was shot down.

Hanks is an accomplished actor and, as usual, delivers a strong performance. This movie also is a milestone of a different sort. Spielberg had to rely upon a composer other than mostly retired John Williams. For this film, that was Thomas Newman.

Bridge of Spies is mostly a low-key drama. The stakes are large, but it doesn’t have the pyrotechnics of the typical action film. This is exactly what Newman excels at. His score is perfect for the movie — and also points out his weakness at another prominent movie on this list.

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The return of Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin after a 32-year absence was a financial failure, despite a modest $75 million production budget.

The Guy Ritchie-movie took liberties with the source material. Henry Cavill’s Solo was, more or less, the same character that Robert Vaughn played in the 1964-68 series but his back story was quite different. Ritchie took more liberties with Armie Hammer’s Kuryakin, who had a far darker side than David McCallum’s original.

Still, it mostly worked, even if it relied on an “origin” story line. It had a strong opening, downshifted to a decent middle section, then went into high gear in its second half. Once main villain Victoria (Elizabeth Debecki) calls Cavill by “Mr. Solo,” the proceedings accelerated until the end.

One of the strengths of the movie is Daniel Pemberton’s score. The composer was instructed by Ritchie NOT to emulate John Barry’s 007 movie style and that advice pays off.

The chances of a sequel are remote. That’s show biz. But the movie wasn’t camp (a fear of long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans). Perhaps, in coming years, this movie might attain the status of a “cult classic.”

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE:  The 24th James Bond film started out strong as it sought to mix “traditional” 007 movie elements with Daniel Craig’s 21st century grittier take. For the first two-thirds, it succeeded.

Yet, in its desire to top 2012’s Skyfall, some things went awry. The same writers of Skyfall (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) worked on this year’s Bond film. Their roles, however, were reversed.

Until now, Purvis and Wade — who are very familiar with Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories — would do the early drafts while another writer (Logan in the case of Skyfall) would come in and polish things up.

In this case, Logan did the early drafts. Purvis and Wade weren’t even supposed to participate. However, Logan’s efforts were found lacking — something that likely wouldn’t have been known had it not been for computer hacking at Sony Pictures, which exposed behind-the-scenes details of many movies, including SPECTRE. Also, playwright Jez Butterworth (who did uncredited polishes on Skyfall) apparently did more on SPECTRE because he got a credit with the other scribes.

Thomas Newman, who did such a splendid job on Bridge of Spies, is only serviceable here, even recycling some of his Skyfall score in some scenes. Clearly, doing a Bond film is NOT in the talented composer’s wheelhouse.

Regardless of the soap opera, SPECTRE ran out of gas. Its final third wasn’t a total loss but it didn’t sustain the momentum of the first two-thirds. As a result, this blog puts SPECTRE behind U.N.C.L.E., which finished much stronger.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation: The fifth Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible film had its own behind-the-scenes soap opera.

The movie was originally scheduled to debut Dec. 25. But Paramount abruptly moved up the release date to July 31, presumably to get it out of harm’s way from Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Presumably, that had to add extra stress to screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie. Directors almost always want more time to tinker with a movie in editing, not less.

Regardless, from a box office standpoint, it was an astute move. It definitely hurt the U.N.C.L.E. movie (which came out two weeks later). And the movie was well received, encouraging Paramount to order up another film.

Technically, the movie was very exciting. Star (and producer) Cruise probably scares studio bosses by insisting on doing his own stunts. This blog drops the movie down a step because it’s not as much of a Mission: Impossible movie as its predecessor, the Brad Bird-directed Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol.

The original M:I series (1966-73) was very much about team work. Ghost Protocol very much followed that path (even reworking some bits from the show, albeit in a bigger and more spectacular fashion). Rogue Nation was a step backward. It was another example of turning M:I into The Tom Cruise Show.

Kingsman: The Secret Service: If this movie had sustained its first half for the rest of the film, it probably would have been the best spy movie of the year.

It didn’t. In the first half of the movie, one of the best scenes in the first half is where Kingsman Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, “Manners maketh man,” before he clobbers some British thugs. But director Matthew Vaughn conveniently forgets that advice. Once Harry is killed midway throught he film, the movie dies a bit with him.

There’s still a decent amount worth watching (and the movie was a hit, especially with international audiences). Still, whatever class was present disappears into the mist.

Taken 3: The final (we hope) of Liam Neeson’s adventures as a former spy does everything it’s supposed to do — but no more. In this installment, the wife of Neeson’s Bryan Mills has been killed and he’s been framed. Of course, he’ll get out it. The question is how.

Director McQuarrie may helm Cruise’s M:I 6

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Christopher McQuarrie, writer-director of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, will write the next movie in the Tom Cruise film series, and may direct it as well, VARIETY REPORTED.

Here’s an excerpt:

(Paramount) and reps for McQuarrie have declined to comment, but several sources with knowledge of the situation say talks are progressing towards a deal being closed, with one insider saying that the studio plans to get production up and running by next August.

Heretofore, Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films have come out at irregular intervals, with the five films spread over 19 years. The producer-star is now 53. While still in movie star shape, Cruise and Paramount have indicated they want a sixth installment sooner than later.

If McQuarrie returns as director, it would be a departure for the series. Each film has had a different director.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation generated worldwide box office of more than $682 million, including $195 million in the U.S. and Canada. The movie originally was scheduled to open on Dec. 25, but was moved up to July 31.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation won’t disappoint fans of the five-film, 19-year-old series.

Daredevil stunts, including many performed by star-actor Tom Cruise? Check. Lots of plot twists and turns? Check. Familiar supporting players such as Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner doing their thing? Check.

Whether the movie reaches out to a broader audience (as was the case with previous entries) remains to be seen. Still, Cruise & Co., aided and abetted by screenwriter-director Christopher McQuarrie, keep things fresh enough to hold the viewer’s attention. There’s also a new character played by Rebecca Ferguson to keep both cast and audience guessing.

There are a number of clever bits, including a twist on “The Syndicate,” a mysterious, shadowy group. In the original 1966-73 series, the Syndicate was another name for the Mafia. McQuarrie and co-plotter Drew Pearce devised an interesting twist on the concept, one consistent with darker, more cynical 21st century movies.

One of the best things about the movie is the score by Joe Kraemer. The composer embraces the Lalo Schifrin music template of the original show (which extends beyond the iconic theme). Kraemer comes up with a compelling sound while acknowledging what Schifrin started almost a half-century ago.

Kraemer’s score is somewhat like the musical equivalent of writing a sonnet or haiku. Kreamer follows the M:I template but is also original while using the occasional Schifrin riff. Schifrin even gets a credit in the end titles for one of his pieces of underscore from the series, while the main titles includes a credit for his M:I theme.

For spy-fi fans, there’s enough worth watching. Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation may not break a lot of new ground, but there are enough tweaks on the margin to keep things interesting. GRADE: B.

M:I Rogue Nation cast to take questions on Twitter

The cast of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation on July 25 will be answering questions submitted via Twitter using the hashtag #AskMissionImpossible.

The fifth Mission: Impossible movie with star-producer Tom Cruise has been active using social media to promote the film. Director Christopher McQuarrie has used Twitter to provide update and answer questions.

Embedded below is the tweet from Parmount announcing the Q&As. The movie will be released July 31.

M:I Rogue Nation director answers Twitter questions

Christopher McQuarrie, the director of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, answered questions on Twitter on Sunday.

The fifth Mission: Impossible film with Tom Cruise, is due out at the end of this month. McQuarrie provided updates about the movie while it was in production. So the Q&A session was a natural extension of that.

Here’s a sampling of the director’s interaction.

Question: How long did it take to film the plane sequence?

Q: What was the toughest scene to shoot?

Q: How often do you have to talk Tom Cruise out of doing insane stunts?

Q: Do you relate yourself to Ethan Hunt or any other M:I character?

To check out the entire Q&A, go to McQuarrie’s TWITTER FEED.