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.

Daily Mail says Daniel Craig is out as 007

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

UPDATE (May 19): The BBC reports that “authoritative Bond sources” say Daniel Craig hasn’t made up his mind and no decision is expected soon. CLICK HERE and see the item with a time stamp of 07:56.

ORIGINAL POST: The U.K. tabloid newspaper and website the DAILY MAIL said turned down a 68 million pound ($99 million) to do two more 007 films.

In the past, the Daily Mail had a number of scoops about 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s SPECTRE that were proven to be true. The bulk of those stories were written by Baz Bamigboye, but he been writing about other entertainment subjects since late 2014.

Here’s an excerpt from the new story by Rehema Figueiredo:

Insiders said Craig turned down a £68million offer from MGM studio to return as Bond for two more films following last year’s hit Spectre. The sum included endorsements, profit shares, and a role for him working as a co-producer.

One LA film source said: ‘Daniel is done – pure and simple – he told top brass at MGM after Spectre. They threw huge amounts of money at him, but it just wasn’t what he wanted.’

There has been a lot of speculation that Craig, 48, was quitting Bondage and even more about possible replacements. Almost all of those stories cited how Craig some in some interviews shortly after SPECTRE finished filming that he would rather slit his wrists than do another Bond film.

However, the Daily Mail is the first outlet to go out on a limb and state definitively that Craig was out. Craig has done the last four films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Craig also was a co-producer of SPECTRE.

What follows is in the for what it’s worth category (and not an endorsement of the Daily Mail story):

SPECTRE ended with Bond driving off in the Aston Martin DB5 with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux).

Just before filming began, the script had Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world,” a line originally from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, spoken by George Lazenby’s Bond, just before (and after) his wife Tracy (Diana Rigg) is killed. The finished version of SPECTRE didn’t have the line.

To read the entire Daily Mail story, CLICK HERE.

 

Our modest proposals for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Since the British tabloids are stirring the pot, what better time for this blog to weigh in with some Bond 25 ideas? So here goes.

Consider adapting one of the better continuation novels: For years, Eon Productions has resisted this path. Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has bad mouthed the John Gardner novels.

However, Eon itself opened the door with SPECTRE. The 24th James Bond film includes a torture scene based on the one in 1968’s Colonel Sun novel. So much so, there’s a “special thanks” credit for “The Estate of Kingsley Amis” in the end credits.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to use a novel as a starting point. The movie You Only Live Twice didn’t have much in common with its namesake novel, but characters, names, situations, etc. did figure into the movie. Given the soap opera of SPECTRE’s scripting process, any step to simplify the process would be a help.

At this point, there are plenty of continuation novels to choose from.

Worry about the script first, actor second: Various “making of” documentaries about 007 films discuss how scripts are tailored to their lead actor.

How about this? Write a James Bond story first, tweak it later after your actor has been cast. James Bond is the star. The series has seen six different actors play Bond. Some day, there will be a seventh.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon, always felt 007 was the star, the rest came later. Words to live by.

Or, put another way: story, story, story.

If you have a good story but it conflicts with continuity, go with the story: Let’s be honest. Continuity isn’t a strong point for the Bond film series. Michael G. Wilson said Quantum of Solace took place “literally an hour” after Casino Royale.

Yet, Quantum couldn’t be bothered with the slightest effort to tie together with Casino. Casino took place in 2006. Quantum in 2008. Did it really take Bond *two years* to track down Mr. White? Only if Bond and Mr. White are idiots.

Continuity isn’t in Eon’s wheelhouse. If you have a great Bond story but it doesn’t match up with earlier films? Go with the story. If fans exit the theater thinking, “That was one of the best Bond movies I’ve ever seen,” nobody will really care about the continuity.

Have a great Bond 25 idea that doesn’t immediately tie in with SPECTRE? Go with the great idea. You can always bring Blofeld back later, even if he’s not played by Christoph Waltz.

But what about the “Blofeld Trilogy”?: That ship has sailed. It was a lost opportunity. Meanwhile, you might find the part of the You Only Live Twice novel that Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and their cohorts didn’t use might make for difficult filming. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to recapture the past.

Put yet another way: How many people leaving the theater after seeing SPECTRE really thought Daniel Craig’s Bond loved Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine as much as George Lazenby’s Bond loved Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? This blog’s guess: Not many.

Chronicles of SPECTRE Part V: OHMSS

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

The new James Bond film SPECTRE has given the fans many nods to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service throughout the promotions, either by the bars of John Barry’s instrumental theme on the trailer and by the snow scenes. Some people even suggested that the 2015 film could be a remake of the 1969 Bond adventure.

One of the most faithful adaptations of an Ian Fleming novel, the sixth 007 film made by Eon Productions is distinctive in many ways: it was the first film to feature a new Bond actor, George Lazenby, and it establishes some kind of continuity with the previous adventures, by having the secret agent looking up at some personal effects from his old missions on one scene.

It also showed, for the first time, a more emotional Bond. “This one is different. This one has heart”, the trailer narration claimed.

Just like in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the enemy is once again SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

After his reveal in the 1967 film, the organization per se is overshadowed by its Number One figure. Previously played by Anthony Dawson and Donald Pleasance, Blofeld is now portrayed by the charismatic Telly Savalas, who would be later known as TV’s popular detective Kojak.

Unlike the 1963 novel by Fleming, where Bond considers resigning from the Service tired of following Blofeld’s lead, in this 1969 adaptation 007 is completely obsessed to find his nemesis and to kill any trace of SPECTRE, even resigning (he finally doesn’t, thanks to Moneypenny) when M relieves him from the mentioned assignment.

SPECTRE’s Number One, this time, is calling himself Balthazar, Count de Beauchamp. His intentions seem quite less lethal in comparison to his previous demands: to get his title validated by the College of Arms and amnesty for his crimes.

Blofeld turned himself from a criminal mastermind to a snobbist blue-blooded aristocrat. Yet, nobody should be fooled by his image: if his demands are not met, he’ll unleash the virus omega providing total infertility to the world’s livestock. How? By hypnotizing the (young, female) patients of his clinic atop Piz Gloria in Switzerland and, once on their homes via radio transmission, order them to unleash the virus, as “part of the cure.”

Blofeld is certainly not less lethal this time, as he can fistfight 007 himself towards the film’s climax and engage on a shootout with him. He also has a taste for beautiful women, as he tries to seduce the imprisoned Tracy, Bond’s girlfriend and future wife.

In a way, he is more of an equal to Bond and not an authority figure. It could be assumed that, from From Russia with Love to You Only Live Twice, Blofeld was M’s M’s evil counterpart: seated on his throne and giving orders. In OHMSS, Number One has turned into Bond’s counterpart.

As for the SPECTRE organization per se, not much of it remains. Blofeld still has a bunch of troops capable of firing machine guns while skiing at high speed as well as a female agent Irma Bunt.

This time, tough, she’s not a young sexy lady in the scale of Fiona or Helga, but an old and authoritarian woman in the style of Rosa Klebb. Even when in the novels we learn Bunt has married Blofeld, not even a glance of a romantic interaction between the two is given in the 1969 film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has Blofeld as the main villain, his leadership overshadowing the SPECTRE organization. His character will always be remembered for one thing: he had James Bond’s wife, Tracy (Diana Rigg), killed minutes after the wedding, leaving the secret agent for the tears.

Many years before Casino Royale showed us Daniel Craig’s Bond crying over the female lead’s dead body, it was George Lazenby in his short time as 007 who brought drama to the very last second of the film, bringing up a Bond who hasn’t fully triumphed this time.

Next up, in 1971, James Bond takes revenge on Ernst Stavro Blofeld: a different Blofeld, in terms of personality, looks and ambitions.

Patrick Macnee dies at 93, BBC says

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Macnee, debonair actor best known for playing John Steed on The Avengers, died today at 93, according to the BBC, WHICH CITED MACNEE’S SON RUPERT.

There was also a statement ON THE ACTOR’S WEBSITE that said Macnee “died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California…with his family at his bedside.”

Macnee enjoyed a long career, playing dozens of characters. Still, The Avengers and his character of John Steed, with his bowler and umbrella, became Macnee’s career trademark. The show first went into production in 1961. Its greatest popularity came when he was paired with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

The actor saw two of his co-stars — Honor Blackman and Rigg — leave the series to take the lead female role in James Bond movies (Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Another Majesty’s actress, Joanna Lumley, was Macnee’s co-star in a 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Macnee finally got his turn at a Bond movie, A View to a Kill, in 1985, playing an ally of Bond (Roger Moore) who is killed by henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones). Macnee, years earlier, had played Dr. Watson to Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in a made-for-television movie. Macnee also made a properly dignified chief of U.N.C.L.E. in 1983’s The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

UPDATE: For the second time this month (Christopher Lee’s death was the other), Roger Moore bids adieu to a colleague:

Brian Clemens, mastermind of The Avengers, dies

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Brian Clemens, a mastermind of the television series The Avengers, has died, according to an obituary on the INQUISITR WEBSITE.

Clemens, born in 1931, had a lengthy career as a writer and producer. But he is perhaps best known for his work on The Avengers (1961-69) and The New Avengers (1976-77).

In a 2008 U.K. television interview, Clemens said The Avengers “had a curious logic all its own.” Ideas that might work elsewhere could work on The Avengers, he said. “The Avengers had unwritten rules” which were “in my head,” Clemens said.

Of suave John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, Clemens said in 2008: “He is the manipulator of the all the girls he’s ever been associated with. He gets them into situations for his own benefit.”

Eon Productions, maker of the James Bond film series, used The Avengers as a farm club. Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale on The Avengers, was signed to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. After bringing aboard Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, the series even made a joke about Mrs. Gale sending Steed a card from Fort Knox.

Rigg, of course, ended up playing Tracy, Bond’s doomed bride, in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Macnee finally made his 007 appearance in 1985’s A View to a Kill. Going the other way, Joanna Lumley, who had a small part in Majesty’s, was the female lead in The New Avengers.

Here’s the 2008 interview with Clemens:

Majesty’s 45th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

 

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond in Dr. No, there was interest. Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were popular. President John F. Kennedy was among their fans. Still, it wasn’t anything to obsess over.

Six years later, things had changed. Bond was a worldwide phenomenon. 007 was a big business that even producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hadn’t anticipated originally. Now, the role was being re-cast after Sean Connery departed the role.

As a result, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which debuted 45 years ago this month, was under intense scrutiny. The film required a long, exhausting shooting schedule. This time, Bond would be played by a novice actor, George Lazenby, and supervised by a first time director, Peter Hunt.

Hunt, at least, was no novice with the world of 007. He had been editor or supervising editor of the previous five Broccoli-Saltzman 007 films and second unit director of You Only Live Twice. So he was more than familiar with how the Bond production machine worked. Also, he had support of other 007 veterans, including production designer Syd Cain, set decorator Peter Lamont, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry.

Lazenby, on the other hand, had to take a crash course. He was paired with much more experienced co-stars, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. And he was constantly being compared with Connery.

When, at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella,” the statement was true on multiple levels.

Majesty’s was also the first time Eon Productions re-calibrated. You Only Live Twice had dispensed with the main plot of Fleming’s novel and emphasized spectacle instead. Majesty’s ended up being arguably the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming 007 novel. It was still big, but it had no spaceships or volcano hideouts.

Majesty’s global box office totaled $82 million, according to THE NUMBERS WEBSITE. That was a slide from You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million. Twice’s box offce, in turn, had declined compared with Thunderball.

For Lazenby, once was enough. He subsequently has said he erred by not making a second Bond. “This never happened to the other fella,” indeed.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among 007 fans. In 1969 and 1970, the brain trust at Eon Productions and United Artists concluded some re-thinking was needed. Things were about to change yet again.