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.

007 poll shows the devil is in the details

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Earlier this month, the Morning Consult and the Hollywood Reporter conducted a poll of almost 2,100 Americans about James Bond films. Here are two greatly different headlines summarizing the results.

Morning Consult’s report: “007 Poll Shows Scant Support for Diversifying Bonds.”

The Express, U.K. tabloid: “James Bond: Most Americans support a black 007 – Idris Elba BACKED to replace Daniel Craig.”

They’re both right but you have to dig into the data to see why.

According to Morning Consult, 51 percent of adult respondents said “the James Bond series was a classic and nothing about it should be changed, a 17-percentage-point edge over those who said they’d prefer to see the film adapt to the times and have a more diverse cast and lead.”

However, those polled were then asked additional groups about different groups and individuals.

Among groups, 52 percent of adults said they support the idea of a black James Bond, with 20 percent having no opinion and 29 percent opposing.

Also, 39 percent support a Hispanic Bond, 37 percent support an Asian Bond, 37 percent supported a female Bond and 28 percent support a gay Bond.

Meanwhile, when asked specifically about Idris Elba, 63 percent said  they wanted to see him play Bond, with only 21 percent opposed.

Meanwhile, Morning Consult had more details about how respondents feel about agent 007.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the adults polled said they’d at least watched some of the series. And with a net favorability of 62 points, only “Back to the Future” (74 points) and “Indiana Jones” (72 points) were more popular among films made before the 1990s. (“Toy Story” was the most popular movie franchise out of 34 series tested, while “Back to the Future” was second.)

The poll also tackled the issue of who is the most popular actor to play Bond in the Eon Productions series.

Most popular 007 film and Bond actor among Americans polled: Goldfinger and Sean Connery. 

Sean Connery was No. 1 at 82 percent, with Pierce Brosnan right behind at 81 percent. Roger Moore, who made 007 entries in the Eon series, was No. 3 at 74 percent, followed by current Bond Daniel Craig at 71 percent. The least popular Bond actors were Timothy Dalton at 49 percent and George Lazenby at 31 percent.

There’s also the question of favorite 007 films of Americans. Morning Consult again sued a “net favorability” number. On that basis, the top five were: Goldfinger (plus 69), From Russia With Love (plus 66), Live And Let Die (plus 66), Diamonds Are Forever (plus 65) and For Your Eyes Only (plus 64).

The highest Daniel Craig 007 film was his debut, Casino Royale, at No. 6 (plus 63), tied with You Only Live Twice.

The bottom? The Living Daylights, Dalton’s debut, (plus 48). SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, was next at plus 49.

MI6 Confidential looks at Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever poster

The new issue of MI6 Confidential takes a look at the actors who played “the henchman and heavies” in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.

The publication includes one article about Bruce Glover, 86, and Putter Smith, 77, who played killers Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd in the seventh 007 film produced by Eon Productions.

Issue 47 also contains a separate feature about veteran character Sid Haig who had a small role in the film. (“I got a brudda” or “brotha” depending on how one cares to spell it.)

The issue also has a non-Bond article about director Christopher McQuarrie, who has directed the past two Mission: Impossible films.

For more information, CLICK HERE. The cost is 7 British pounds, $9.50 or 8.50 euros.

Bond 25 questions: The “Mr. Obvious” edition

Omega advertising image released hours before Eon Productions announced Danny Boyle was exiting as Bond 25 director.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, who is known for getting 007 film scoops correct, finally weighed in and said that director Danny Boyle departed Bond 25 because Eon Productions wanted to bring in a new writer to replace his man, John Hodge.

As a result, the blog has a series of “Mr. Obvious” questions.

Did Boyle and Hodge do their due diligence before signing on for Bond 25? The 007 film franchise has a history of bringing in multiple writers to massage scripts.

In the early days, Richard Maibaum replaced Johanna Harwood and Len Deighton on From Russia With Love. Paul Dehn replaced Maibaum on Goldfinger. Tom Mankiewicz replaced Maibaum on Diamonds Are Forever.

More recently? Well, this decade, John Logan replaced Neal Purvis and Robert Wade on Skyfall. Purvis and Wade were summoned to replace Logan on SPECTRE. On both films, Jez Butterworth did work (but only getting a credit on SPECTRE).

Assuming Bamigboye is correct, neither Boyle nor Hodge should have been surprised when Eon wanted a new scribe. Hell’s bells, Maibaum dealt with that sort of thing over 13 separate 007 films.

Did Eon Productions do its due diligence before bringing on Boyle and Hodge? In 2017, Eon hired Purvis and Wade do the script for Bond 25. But that work got cast aside when the possibility arose of getting Boyle as director. But Boyle wanted his man, Hodge, to write it.

Boyle has a reputation for doing unique films and Hodge is one of his main collaborators. So you’ve got to figure they have a certain way of working.

Yes, Boyle said he was a James Bond fan. Everybody (especially if they’re British) says they’re a James Bond fan when they hire on to work for Eon. But did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson really think through whether Boyle could adapt to working for Eon?

What role does Daniel Craig have in all this? Bamigboye’s story said Craig was a key figure in wanting a new writer to take over from Hodge. But is that really a big deal?

Before the cameras rolled on Goldfinger, Sean Connery objected to some of Paul Dehn’s ideas (such as ending the moving with “curtains” being drawn). The 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger goes into this in detail.

Tom Mankiewicz, in the documentary Inside Diamonds Are Forever, described a meeting he had with Connery. The star weighed on various issues, according to the screenwriter. So it’s not unprecedented for stars of Bond films to let their opinions be known. Granted, Craig had a co-producer title on SPECTRE, something Connery never got when he toiled for Eon.

Literary 007 meme: Jimmy Cannon

Jimmy Cannon (1909-1973)

Thanks to .@JB_UnivEx on Twitter, the blog was reminded of a major U.S. sports writer, Jimmy Cannon (1909-73).

In the novel Diamonds Are Forever, Bond hangs around quite a bit with former CIA agent Felix Leiter.

Leiter gives Bond a New York Post sports column he clipped from the newspaper.

“This Jimmy Cannon is their sports columnist,” Leiter tells Bond. “Good writer. Knows what he’s writing about. Read it in the car. We ought to be moving.”

A couple of sentences later, there’s this passage:

“Bond settled himself down with Jimmy Cannon’s tough prose. As he read, the Saratoga of the Jersey Lily’s Day vanished into the dusty, sweet past and the twentieth century looked out at him from the piece of newsprint and bared its teeth in a sneer.”

What follows is a supposed Cannon column. (h/t to the Fleming’s Bond website, which wrote about Cannon in 2014.) Afterwards, Leiter comments. “And Jimmy Cannon doesn’t let on the big boys are back again, or their successors.”

Cannon, in his day, was a celebrated U.S. newspaper sports columnist. He wrote short, punchy sentences. It was said Cannon never wrote a sentence longer than 10 words.

One of his fans was Dick Schaap (1934-2001). Schaap began as a newspaper man but managed to transition into television. He was the host of an ESPN show called The Sports Reporters. It consisted of Schaap and (mostly egoist) newspaper columnists. That show ended in May 2017.

Going into commercial breaks during the early years of The Sports Reporters, viewers saw images of Howard Cosell, one of the most famous U.S. sports casters of all time. Another was Jimmy Cannon.

When Cannon died, Dave Anderson of The New York Times did his obituary.

He was perhaps the first sportswriter aware of the sociological impact of the black athlete. Of Joe Louis, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, he once wrote:

“He’s a credit to his race—the human race.”

Of all his assignments, Mr. Cannon appeared to enjoy boxing the most, even though he criticized it as “the red‐light district” of sports. He was content with his role as a sports columnist despite editors who sometimes derided the sports pages as the “toy department” of their newspapers.

When Diamonds Are Forever was written, Ian Fleming was still a working journalist. In his case, Fleming was the foreign editor of The Sunday Times. Of course, earlier in his career, Fleming wrote from the Soviet Union for the Reuters news service.

The fact that 007’s creator was familiar with leading U.S. journalists was not a surprise. Fleming would drop other references to U.S. journalists later in his novels.

Still, Dick Schaap, a Cannon admirer, is barely remembered today. Cannon didn’t live to the era when sports writers became celebrities.

Ford cars, RIP

“Have you not heard? Ford is getting out of the car business!”

This week, Ford Motor Co. said it was virtually exiting the car business in North America, its home (and most profitable) market. By 2020, Ford announced, it will just have two cars in its lineup: the Mustang sports car and the Ford Active crossover due out next year. Ford will concentrate on trucks, SUVs and “crossovers.”

For people of a certain age this seems almost unthinkable. Ford always was aggressive with product placement. Ford cars have been in generations of films and U.S. television shows.

Here’s a look at some prominent examples.

James Bond films: The Bond Cars website provides a list, which says Ford shows up early in the 007 film series produced by Eon Productions. For example, it’s a Ford that serves as the hearse used by Dr. No’s assassins when they kill MI6 operative Strangways.

Ford’s relationship geared up in Goldfinger. A Lincoln Continental is crushed. Felix Leiter rides around in a Ford Thunderbird. Auric Goldfinger uses Ford trucks to transport his larger laser gun to Fort Knox.

And, of course, the movie marked the film debut of Mustang. The sports car was introduced in the spring of 1964 while filming was underway on Goldfinger. Mustangs would also show up in Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever.

Thunderball also featured a lot of Ford cars, including the Continental, Count Lippe’s Ford Fairlane and a station wagon among other vehicles. Emilo Largo drives a Ford Thunderbird on his way to SPECTRE headquarters immediately after the film’s main titles.

The automaker had an on-and-off relationship with the series. Teresa Bond (Diana Rigg) favored a red Mercury Cougar in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A number of Ford cars are crashed in the moon buggy chase in Diamonds Are Forever.

Ford also owned Aston Martin from 1987 until 2007. For Die Another Day, Ford had a huge product placement deal, mostly to promote European brands it owned at that time, including Aston, Land Rover and Jaguar. However, a Ford Thunderbird (driven by Halle Berry’s Jinx) also showed up.

The company’s ties to the film series ended with 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Land Rover would return in the 2010s, but after Ford had sold it off.

Matt Helm and Gail Hendricks (Dean Martin and Stella Stevens) in Matt’s Mercury station wagon equipped with a bar.

Matt Helm film series: For four 1960s Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin, Ford provided the vehicles.

Perhaps the most offbeat car was a Mercury station wagon, which was Matt Helm’s personal car in The Silencers (1966). It was equipped with a bar (!) in the back seat. Matt encourages Gail Hendricks (Stella Stevens) to have a drink or two to loosen up. She ends up consuming too much and passing out.

Other Ford-made cars in the series included a Thunderbird Matt drove around Monte Carlo in Murderers’ Row. It had some extras, including a device where words dictated into a microphone are spelled out on the car’s tail lights. (“If you can read this, you’re too close…”)

Hawaii Five-O (original series): Steve McGarrett’s signature car was a Mercury (a two-door model in the pilot, a four-door version thereafter). Lots of other Ford-made cars showed up during the 1968-1980 series.

Ford even supplied cars for an 11th season episode filmed in Singapore. The cast of that two-hour installment, The Year of the Horse, included George Lazenby, who received “special guest star” billing.

Erskine in a Mercury made by Ford Motor Co. in a sixth-season end titles of The FBI.

The FBI: Ford supplied cars for a number of Quinn Martin-produced shows. But the tightest relationship between the company and QM Productions was this 1965-1974 series.

Ford cut a deal to sponsor the show, which was broadcast on ABC. The automaker agreed to kick in extra money to ensure the series would be filmed in color. Executives felt a color series would show off Ford cars better. When The FBI debuted in fall 1965, most of ABC’s lineup was still produced in black and white.

Ford also vetoed the broadcast of one first-season episode, The Hiding Place, because there had been talk of a boycott being organized. The episode finally saw the light of day in 2011 when Warner Archive began releasing the show.

Symbolic of the ties between Ford and show came in the end titles. Inspector Lewis Erkine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) came out of the FBI Building (now the Department of Justice Building) and drove a Ford product home. It was a Mustang for the first four seasons. Subsequent seasons had different Ford-made cars.

The end titles were productions in and of themselves. Zimbalist traveled to Washington for annual meetings with then-Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover. Ford would transport a car for him to drive in Washington for the following season’s end titles. Some of the cars were prototypes and weren’t the most sturdy.

This post merely scratches the surface. There have been many series over the years featuring Ford cars. It won’t be quite the same with Ford cars going away.

On Superman’s 80th, a few 007 connections

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

This week marks the 80th anniversary of the introduction of Superman. DC Comics is out with Action Comics No. 1,000 to celebrate the occasion

The thing is, there are some elements in common, thanks to how the Christopher Reeve Superman movies were made at Pinewood Studios, the long-time home to the James Bond film franchise.

So here’s a few of them. It’s not a comprehensive list and I’m sure there are many stunt performers who worked on both.

Geoffrey Unsworth: Unsworth (1914-1978) was a celebrated cinematographer, whose credits included Superman (1978) and Superman II (1981), much of which was photographed at the same time as the film movie. Unsworth’s credits also included 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Unsworth also had a James Bond connection. On Dec. 21, 1961, he photographed screen tests for actresses vying to play Miss Taro for Dr. No.

John Glen: Glen directed five James Bond films, 1981-89, after earlier editing and being second unit director on three 007 films. He was one of the second unit directors for the 1978 Superman film.

Stuart Baird: Baird was editor on the first Superman movie. He performed the same duties on Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012).

Alf Joint: A stunt performer on the Bond series, perhaps his most famous bit was in the pre-titles of Goldfinger as Capungo, who gets killed by Bond (Sean Connery). He was also a stunt coordinator on Superman.

Shane Rimmer:  He had small roles in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever while having a larger supporting role as a U.S. submarine captain in The Spy Who Loved Me. It also *sounds* like he does some voiceover work in the pre-titles of Live And Let Die as an agent who’s killed in New Orleans. (“Whose funeral is it?”)

He also played a NASA controller in Superman II. The IMDB listing for Superman III lists him as “State Policeman.” Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie, I can’t confirm.

Guy Hamilton: He directed four 007 films, two with Sean Connery and two with Roger Moore. He was signed to direct Superman but exited the project and replaced by Richard Donner.

(UPDATE 9:40 a.m., April 20): By popular demand, two more.

Tom Mankiewicz: The screenwriter of 1970s 007 films was credited as “creative consultant” in Superman and Superman II. He essentially rewrote the scripts, combining elements of very serious Mario Puzo drafts and much lighter drafts by David Newman and Leslie Newman.

Clifton James: The veteran actor, who played Sheriff J.W. Pepper in two Bond films, again played a sheriff in Superman II.