About that ‘James Bond knockoff’ thing

A James Bond Jr. character with a pencil communicator that looks a lot like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pen communicator

A James Bond friend of mine misses much spy entertainment as examples of “James Bond knockoffs.”

OK. But the James Bond film franchise has, more than once, borrowed from others. A few examples:

From Russia With Love: Ian Fleming’s fifth novel didn’t include a sequence where Bond dodges a helicopter. This was something the filmmakers added to the movie to add visual excitement. Clearly, it’s an “homage” to North by Northwest where a crop-duster plane goes after Cary Grant.

More broadly, the Bond series owes a lot to North by Northwest. NxNW has a delicate balance of drama and humor. Director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman practically provide a blueprint for the Bond series that Eon Productions would go on to make.

Live And Let Die: The eighth Eon Bond film is based on Fleming’s second novel. But its popularity also owes much to the early 1970s “blaxplotation” craze. Essentially director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz drop Bond into the middle of a blaxplotation movie. Mankiewicz wanted to cast Diana Ross as Solitaire but Eon wouldn’t go that far.

The Man With The Golden Gun: The ninth Eon Bond film sought to take advantage of the popularity of 1970s kung fu movies. You’d see stories (ahead of the film’s release) about how Roger Moore was training furiously to credibly do martial arts.

Moonraker: In 1966, there was an Italian-based spy movie called Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. It shares Brazilian locations with 1979’s Moonraker. Heck, you could easily argue the 1966 movie makes better use of Brazil, including Rio’s massive Jesus statue. Also, there are sequences of the 1966 movie that would practically be repeated in Moonraker.

In addition to all that, in Moonraker, we hear a key tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Licence to Kill: Bond has a gun with attachments (site, extended barrel, extended magazine, rifle stock) that looks an awfully lot like the U.N.C.L.E. special. In Licence to Kill, the base gun looks like a camera but all the attachments look like the attachments of the U.N.C.L.E. Special.

James Bond Jr.: Many fans disavow this early 1990s cartoon series. But it was officially sanctioned by Eon and Michael G. Wilson shares a “developed by” credit. In episode 9, “The Eiffel Missile,” a character has a pencil communicator that appears copied from U.N.C.L.E.’s pen communicator that debuted in the second season of that series.

Historian notes U.N.C.L.E., NxNW anniversaries

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Historian Michael Beschloss used his Twitter feed to note two spy-entertainment landmarks: The first telecast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the end of production on North by Northwest.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted on Sept. 22, 1964 on NBC. The show had been in development for almost two years.

Producer Norman Felton, invited to discuss doing a TV series based on Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book, instead pitched an adventure show.

The network said it’d commit to a series without a pilot episode if Felton could get Ian Fleming on board. The two had discussions in October 1962 in New York. In June 1963, Fleming dropped out because of pressure by 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Despite Fleming’s departure, the project continued, although a pilot would have to be made before NBC committed to a series. Writer Sam Rolfe did the heavy lifting on scripting the pilot and would be the day-to-day producer on the show’s first season. The series paired Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (the character name being one of Fleming’s surviving contributions) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin.

North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Ernest Lehman, would set the style for a lot of 1960s spy entertainment. It balanced drama and humor as Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill would dodge spies, with a climax on Mount Rushmore. The film ended production in September 1958 and would be released in 1959.

Here are Beschloss’s tweets:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

UPDATE (9:30 p.m. New York time): Beschloss was busy with other 1960s TV shows, including Get Smart.

 

Historian takes a brief look at North by Northwest

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Michael Beschloss, a historian who writes about U.S. presidents, turned his attention over the weekend to North by Northwest.

Beschloss’ Twitter feed (@BeschlossDC) often notes the anniversary of major historical events, accompanied by photos and illustrations. But he also posts tweets about the arts and society.

For North by Northwest, the 1959 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Beschloss had two posts.

One tweet included part of a document from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which would release the movie, to National Park Service concerning how Mount Rushmore would be used in the movie.

“None of our characters would tread upon the faces of the Presidents,” the document reads.

Beschloss also tweeted a photo of a brochure marked up by screenwriter to work out the Mount Rushmore sequence.

You can take a look for yourself.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

TCM has a night of spy films on Jan. 25

TCM logo

Turner Classic Movies will show five spy films the evening of Jan. 25 and early-morning hours of Jan. 26.

Here’s the lineup. All times EST.

8 p.m.: Arabesque (1966), directed by Stanley Donen: Donen had a success with 1963’s Charade, a suspense film that included a bit of humor. That movie also included a score by Henry Mancini and titles by Maurice Binder.

Mancini and Binder reunited with Donen on Arabesque, with Gregory Peck as a university professor who gets involved with spies as well as a woman played by Sophia Loren.

Also present was Charade scripter Peter Stone. However, Stone took an alias (Pierre Marton) and shared the screenplay credit with Julian Mitchell and Stanley Price.

 10 p.m.: The Ipcress File (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie: James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman launched a second, less flamboyant, spy film series based on Len Deighton’s novels. This was a source of tension with Saltzman’s 007 partner, Albert R. Broccoli.

The name of Deighton’s spy wasn’t disclosed in the novel that’s the basis of this movie. The character, as played by Michael Caine, was christened Harry Palmer for the film.

For the first of three Palmer films, Saltzman hired a number of 007 film crew members, including composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt.

12 a.m.: Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Delbert Mann: The first of two spy comedies with James Coburn as Derek Flint.

The movie takes nothing seriously, with an organization called ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). ZOWIE is headed by Kramden (Lee J. Cobb), who gets exasperated when he’s forced to recruit Flint (who wouldn’t follow orders when Kramden knew him during their military days). Kramden has no choice because ZOWIE computers have pinpointed Flint as the only man who can foil a plot by Galaxy.

The best things about the movie are Coburn’s winning performance as Flint and Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Goldsmith’s music elevates the proceedings. In terms of production values, it looks only slightly more expensive than the television series produced at the time by 20th Century Fox.

2 a.m.: Our Man in Havana (1959), directed by Carol Reed:  The director again collaborates with Graham Greene, who adapts one of his novels. Vacuum cleaaner salesman Alec Guiness is recruited by British spook Noel Coward to do some spying in Cuba before the revolution. The cast includes Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacks.

4 a.m.: The Prize (1963), directed by Mark Robson: A spy tale starring Paul Newman centered around the Nobel Prizes being awarded in Stockholm. The script is by Ernest Lehman, who wrote 1959’s North by Northwest. Here Lehman adapts an Irving Wallace novel. The cast includes Leo G. Carroll, who was also in North by Northwest and who would shortly take the role of Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Jerry Goldsmith provided the score.

Shoutout to Mark Henderson who brought this up on Facebook.

 

Does SPECTRE have too much humor? Not really

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A recurring criticism of SPECTRE is that the 24th James Bond film engages in too much “Roger Moore humor.”

This trope came up repeatedly. (Trust us, this blog surveyed a lot of reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.) Yet, in a lot of ways, SPECTRE’s humor content was closer to “Alfred Hitchock-Ernest Lehman humor,” as realized in the 1959 movie North by Northwest.

Without going into too much detail, North by Northwest concerns the adventures of New York advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a Cold War adventure involving spies from all sides.

Sounds like very serious stuff. And it is. But there’s also some humor, similar to SPECTRE.

SLAPSTICK: In SPECTRE, the main example of slapstick humor involves a hapless driver of a Fiat in Rome, with Bond (Daniel Craig) tailgating him while trying to evade Hinx (Dave Bautista). The Fiat driver eventually touches (slightly) a post, causing his air bag to deploy.

In North by Northwest, Thornhill has been forced to drink an entire fifth of Bourbon by the lackeys of lead villain Vandamm (James Mas0n). The thugs intend to make it look like Thornhill had a fatal auto accident while drunk. But Thornhills revives enough to drive off. At one point, two of his car’s four wheels are over a cliff. In a closeup, Grant looks at the camera while his character is drunk and not entirely sure what’s going on.

MORE SUBTLE HUMOR: In SPECTRE, Bond has amusing exchanges with M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

In North by Northwest, Thornhill — who finally knows everything — gets away from his “American Intelligence” minder the Professor (Leo G. Carroll). He gets out of his own hospital room and enters the room of a woman patient.

The woman patient, while putting on her glasses, says, “Stop!”

Grant’s Thornhill replies, “I’m sorry…” The woman patient, her glasses now on and realizing what she sees, replies, “Stop….”

“Uh, uh, uh,” Thornhill says, wagging his finger. He then ducks out of the room.

In a 2009 post, this blog argued that North by Northwest provided the blueprint for 1960s spy entertainment. SPECTRE is an attempt to replicate that, as well as the “classic” Bond film style, while including some of the drama of 21st century Daniel Craig 007 movies.

SPECTRE has its faults. This blog’s review, while liking the film overall, cited the “reveal,” the length and the last third of the film as demerits. Still, SPECTRE doen’t remotely resemble a comedy, as some critics seemed to think it did.  It’s an attempt, as we’ve said before, of blending “classic” and Craig-style Bond.

And it’s humor content is comparable to what Hitchcock liked to introduce in some of his films. SPECTRE isn’t up to the standards of North by Northwest. That’s still a nice standard to shoot for.

 

1959: Hitchcock draws the blueprint for Bond movies (and other ’60s spy entertainment)

That blueprint, of course, would be the director’s North by Northwest, which marked its 50th anniversary this year.

The film is normally written about its use of themes such as mistaken identity or use of familiar landmarks as settings that Hitchock employed in his prior films. Still, it’s also striking how the movie also seemed to inspire makers of 1960s spy entertainment.

The documentary Inside From Russia With Love comments on how the second James Bond film tips the cap to Hitchcock by including “an aerial assault on 007” (a helicopter going after Bond) that wasn’t part of Ian Fleming’s original novel. In the Hitchcock film, Cary Grant faced this menace:

North by Northwest’s style may have also rubbed off on the Bond creative crew. Ernest Lehman’s script deftly balanced humor with the story’s suspense. For example, Cary Grant, after being forcibly inebriated by the villain’s henchman, does a double take staring into the camera when the car he’s driving is in a precarious spot on the edge of a cliff. Later, as Grant escapes the custody of U.S. intelligence, he walks on a ledge and into a woman’s hotel room. “Stop,” she says wistfully. It’s not that big a leap to the humor that Richard Maibaum and other screenwriters used in the early 007 movies to provide relief after a tense scene.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which like North by Northwest was filmed at MGM, also may have been influenced to some degree. Grant’s Roger Thornhill was, afterall, an innocent sucked into the world of espionage. The MGM television show utilized such characters as a surrogate for the audience. And, of course, U.N.C.L.E. ended up employing regular Hitchcock supporting player Leo G. Caroll, whose Alexander Waverly wasn’t all that much different than North by Northwest’s mysterious “Professor,” who is some kind of high-ranking U.S. spymaster.

Finally, Saul Bass provided Hitchcock with stylish titles for North by Northwest. Bass’ titles aren’t the same as the stuff Maurice Binder or Robert Brownjohn would turn out, but the title sequence was, and is, memorable: