A spy footnote to Christopher Plummer’s career

News spread quickly on Friday that Canadian actor Christopher Plummer had died at 91. He was known for many roles, especially for The Sound of Music (1965).

There are many fine obituaries you can read about his career. The blog just wanted to post a footnote to Plummer’s many roles.

In the 1960s, Plummer played the lead in Triple Cross, a World War II spy film directed by Terence Young. In the main titles, Young (after directing three James Bond films) got the Alfred Hitchock treatment (“Terence Young’s Triple Cross”).

Plummer played Eddie Chapman, a British criminal turned double agent. The cast of the movie also included Bond film alumni Gert Frobe and Claudine Auger. You can see it here:

Plummer played a real-life man named Eddie Chapman. In 1965, the real-life Chapman appeared on To The The Truth. You can view that episode below.

Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

About a possible ‘in memoriam’ title card for NTTD

No Time to Die poster

For a long time, James Bond fans have debated whether No Time to Die should have some kind of “in memoriam” title card for Roger Moore (1927-2017), the first film Bond in the Eon series to pass away.

In the past year, Father Time has caught up with the 007 film series. Sean Connery, the first film Bond, died in October. Before that, actresses who played the lead female characters in the Eon series (Claudine Auger, Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg) all passed away.

And this week, news came of the death of a major contributor, art department stalwart Peter Lamont, who worked on 18 Eon-made Bond films, at age 91.

That’s just for openers. Ken Adam, whose set designs on 007 Bond films established the look of 007 movies, died in 2016 at the age of 95.

So should No Time to Die have some kind of major “in memoriam” title card?

The Bond film series doesn’t do this very often. The end titles of GoldenEye noted the passing of special effects wizard Derek Meddings, who had worked on that film. But it didn’t note the deaths of Richard Maibaum (a 13-time Bond screenwriter) or Maurice Binder, who designed many Bond main titles.

1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies noted the death of Albert R. Broccoli, who co-founded Eon.

What would a big “in memoriam” title card look like?

Here in the U.S., there was a long-running Western series titled Gunsmoke (1955-75). In 1987, there was a reunion TV movie called Gunsmoke: Return to Dodge. In the end titles, there was a mammoth “in memoriam” title card noting key crew and cast members who had died in the intervening years.

Would such a thing even be a possibility for No Time to Die? Hard to say. It hasn’t been that much of an issue until now.

Claudine Auger dies at 78

Sean Connery and Claudine Auger in Thunderball

Claudine Auger, who played the lead female character in Thunderball, died this week at 78, the French newspaper Sud Quest reported.

Auger died on Wednesday. The newspaper cited “the artistic agency Art Time who represented her” as the source of the information.

The actress won the role of Domino, the mistress of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo (Adolfo Celi) in Thunderball. James Bond (Sean Connery) wins over Domino, who provides the British agent help on his mission. In the film’s climax, Domino kills Largo with a spear gun, saving Bond’s life.

Auger turned 24 during production of the fourth Bond movie. Other contenders for the role included Julie Christie, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. Thunderball was a huge hit and came out at the peak of the 1960s spy craze.

The November 1965 U.S. television special The Incredible World of James Bond included a Thunderball scene at a Nassau casino where Auger and Celi could be heard speaking in their own voices. Both were dubbed for the final version of the movie, which came out a month later.

Auger’s IMDB.COM entry lists 80 acting credits, lasting into the 1990s.

Never Say Never Again’s 30th: Battle of the Bonds round 2

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Never Say Never Again marks its 30th anniversary in October. The James Bond film originally was intended to go directly up against Octopussy, the 13th film in the 007 film series made by Eon Productions, that came out in June 1983.

Sean Connery, after a 12-year absence from the role, was going to make a James Bond movie his way. Warner Bros. and producer Jack Schwartzman had made the actor the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. He was not only star, but had approval over various creative aspects. He had much of the power of a producer without the responsibilities.

Schwartzman, an attorney turned film producer, took charge of a long effort to make an non-Eon 007 film. Kevin McClory, who controlled the film rights to Thunderball, had been trying to mount a new production since the mid-1970s with no success. Schwartzman became the producer, with McClory getting an executive producer credit and both men “presenting” Never Say Never Again.

McClory, at one point, had attemped a broader new 007 adventure. Never Say Never Again was only supposed to be a remake of Thunderball. Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had scripted non-serious (the pilot for the Adam West Batman series) and serious (Three Days of the Condor) was hired as writer. Irvin Kershner, who had directed The Empire Strikes Back, was brought on as director. As an added bonus, Kershner had a history of working with Connery in the 1966 movie A Fine Madness.

“As far as I’m concerned, there never was a Bond picture before,” Kershner said in quotes carried in the movie’s press kit. “There is a certain psychological righness to the characters as (Ian) Fleming saw them. He understood people very well. He was an observer of life and that’s what makes him a good writer. I tried to maintain that quality in the film. I wanted the people to be true.”

Not mentioned in the press kit was the fact that Connery, who had script approval, objected to Semple’s effort. As a result, at Connery’s urging, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were hired to rewrite but didn’t get a credit.

The end result was a storyline that veered from a version of Largo who’s clearly off his rocker to goofy site gags involving the likes of British diplomat Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson). Perhaps Connery really meant it when, in 1971, he called Tom Mankiewicz’s lighthearted Diamonds Are Forever script the best of the Eon series up to that point.

Also present in Never was an over-the-top SPECTRE assassin, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), a far wilder version of Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). In Thunderball, Bond tells Domino (Claudine Auger) her brother has been killed in a dramatic scene on a beach. In Never, he tells Domino (Kim Basinger) in the middle of a tango in a campy scene with loud music playing on the soundtrack.

Speaking of music, composer Michel Legrand was recruited by none other than star Sean Connery, according to Jon Burlingame’s 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. According to the book, Legrand felt burned out after working on the movie Yentl. “Sean’s warmth and enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand is quoted by Burlingame. Legrand’s score is a sore point with fans, who still give Connery a pass for his role in bringing Legrand to the film.

Understandably, fans prefer to focus on Connery’s performance in front of the camera, rather than decisions he made behind it. The actor, who turned 52 before the start of production in 1982, looked fitter than his Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever. A survey of HMSS editors reflects admiration for his acting while mostly downplaying his decision making behind the scenes.

At the box office, Never Say Never Again did fine while trailing 1983’s Eon entry, Octopussy, $55.4 million to $67.9 million in the U.S. The Schwartzman production had been delayed by four months compared with Octopussy.

Years later, Connery was seen on a CBS News show, saying that Never had “a really incompetent producer.” For Schwartzman, things didn’t end happily. He died in 1994 at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer. Connery remained a star until he retired from acting in the early 2000s. Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually gained control of the rights to Never Say Never Again.

45th anniversary of The Incredible World of James Bond

This week (Nov. 26 to be precise) marks the 45th anniversary of the 007 infomercial, The Incredible World of James Bond. The program reflected how Agent 007 was reaching his peak popularity.

NBC pre-empted The Man From U.N.C.L.E., enjoying the best ratings that ’60s spy show would achieve, to show Incredible World. The move made a lot of sense for a number of reasons. It was a holiday week, when a lot of people would be at home. The special would inherit U.N.C.L.E.’s audience as well as drawing in Bond fans. And it aired as United Artists was already drumming up publicity about the upcoming fourth Bond film, Thunderball. In fact, Incredible World was a big part of that effort, with UA joining forces with David L. Wolper’s production company.

Producer-Director Jack Haley Jr. brought in actor Alexander Scourby (who had played an U.N.C.L.E. villain the season before) to read the narration written by Al Ramrus (who’d co-write an U.N.C.L.E. episode the following season). Scourby’s voice had an air of soft-spoken authority, as he described the Bond movies as comic strips for adults, which were kindred spirits of adventure stories of centuries past.

The term infomercial hadn’t been coined yet and, to be technical, Incredible World wasn’t exactly an informercial because NBC sold ads to other companies. (Thus, it was a great deal for UA — an hour-long promotion without having to pay for the time.) But the program certain shared some of attributes of infomercials; it was essentially a longer, extented promotion for Thunderball by showing viewers 007’s first three film exploits. Plus there were “candid” shots (which, truth be told, probably weren’t that candid) showing production of the upcoming Bond film.

In a cute touch, the end titles had a “cast of characters” list just like the end titles of a movie. Thus, for one occasion, you had “James Bond…..Sean Connery” heading a list of the major actors and characters of Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. Also, in the special, viewers could hear Thunderball’s Claudine Auger and Adolfo Celi *before* they were dubbed over in the final film.

Here’s the start of what viewers first saw 45 years ago: