Real life catches up to (some) futuristic tropes

Dick Tracy started out with a two-way wrist radio (1946), then upgraded to a two-way wrist TV (1964) and upgraded yet again to a two-way wrist computer (1986).

One of the appeals of the 1960s spy craze was how it embraced gadgets.

In From Russia With Love (1963), James Bond could be buzzed out in the field to call back to headquarters. In Goldfinger, the original version of the Aston Martin DB5 was equipped with a GPS device (a term not coined at the time). The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had communication devices of apparently unlimited range.

The spy craze was predated by the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip by Chester Gould (1900-85). The detective got his two-way wrist radio in 1946, courtesy of industrialist Diet Smith. Smith upgraded the device to a two-way wrist TV in 1964 and a two-way wrist computer in 1986.

But has real life caught up to all this?

The Screen Rant website has come out with an article saying Bond 26 will struggle to utilize gadgets.

Although the gadgets used by James Bond have always been a vital part of the franchise’s appeal, it seems unlikely that Bond 26 will be able to bring back this 007 trope.

We’ll see about that.

The 1960s spy craze had some gadgets yet to be invented. For example, episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included “McGuffins” such as a limitless energy supply developed to repel invaders from outer space (The Double Affair), a serum that accelerates the healing of the human body (The Girls of Nazarone Affair), a mind-reading machine (The Foxes and Hounds Affair) and a device that can reverse the aging process (The Bridge of Lions Affair).

And, of course, we have yet to see anything like the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s spacecraft with magnetic power.

FRWL’s 60th: The dancer in the main titles

Autographed photo of Julie Mendez (Provided by Steve Oxenrider)

Steve Oxenrider, a long-time James Bond fan, originally prepared this story more than a decade ago. He talked to Julie Mendez, who was the dancer in the main titles of From Russia With Love. She passed away in 2013.

By Steve Oxenrider, Guest Writer

A belly dancer’s best friend is her snake.  If Julie Mendez had had her way, the undulating, gyrating movements of the main title dancer in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE might have featured a boa constrictor. 

Julie is the dance artist who performed as the credits were projected onto her shimmering body for the introduction to the second James Bond thriller. When I spoke to her at her Brighton home summer 2009, Julie had just returned from holidays in Málaga, Spain. 

She was tanned, exuberant and excited to talk about her contribution to what many fans and critics consider the best  Bond film.  She is also extremely modest.  “All my work, no matter how popular, I just regarded it as going from one job to another.  It never went to my head…even FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.”

“My background was as a specialty dancer.  I started training at age 4.”  Julie continued training and practice and her love of dance developed into other talents.

“I left home when I was 15 and was chaperoned around England by an American family of performers.  I learned how to ride a unicycle, jump trampoline, even shooting.”  Somewhere around the age of 18 or 19, Julie added a new dimension to her cabaret act by working with large, live snakes.

“I learned everything I could about them.  I had no fear at all.  Each snake has its individual characteristics.  I would do housework, vacuuming, washing dishes with the snake wrapped around me and that way the snake would get used to me.” 

But accidents do happen. “Before I went on one evening, I was bitten by one of the snakes after it had been fed two large rats.  I went to the hospital and got a tetanus shot and went right back on stage.  But I had a noticeable bite mark inside my arm.  So I applied glue and glitter and it looked just like a decorative bracelet, part of my costume.”

Julie says she prefers boas to pythons.  “Boas cling to you but pythons are more interested in trying to escape.”

 One of Julie’s earliest screen appearances was in the 1959 Brian Rix comedy THE NIGHT WE DROPPED A CLANGER in which she appeared as a tassel dancer.  She had a brief role as an alluring snake dancer in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960), as an exotic cabaret dancer in THE VALIANT (1962) and as a cabaret snake dancer in THE INSPECTOR (1962) starring Stephen Boyd. 

 “In Tel Aviv, THE INSPECTOR was advertised by posters with me holding the snake!  I always took an interest in all the places I traveled to.  Before I went to Israel I learned all about the desert.  It’s much more interesting to talk to people about their countries than about my snake!  I read up on copper mining before I went to Zambia and so on.”

There is a lot of debate over how the innovative title design of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE evolved.  In a 1964 interview for SHOWTIME magazine American graphic designer and creative advertising specialist Robert Brownjohn recalled how a student, late to his typography class, accidentally walked in front of his slide-projector presentation at school.  “He walked in front of the projector’s beam.  Immediately the type in the slide shot on to his shirt.  Of course, the shirt wasn’t flat like a screen, so the type changed sizes.  It looked great!” 

In her lavishly produced book ROBERT BROWNJOHN: SEX AND TYPOGRAPHY (2005, Princeton Architectural Press, New York) author Emily King stated that in animator Trevor Bond’s initial meeting with Robert Brownjohn the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE main title design was to be an animated chessboard, with bullet holes.

But when Bond producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli met with Brownjohn and mentioned there was a belly dancer in the film, the slide projector idea immediately came back to Brownjohn.  The designer demonstrated the notion by borrowing a projector, darkening the room, removing his jacket and dancing in front of a beam of projected images.  “It’ll be just like this,” he told the producers and executives, “except we’ll use a pretty girl.”

In fact, three different women would be used for the title design.  Harry Saltzman introduced Brownjohn to Trevor Bond, who had animated the Maurice Binder titles for DR. NO.  After Brownjohn explained the belly dancer theme, Trevor Bond accompanied him to audition girls at Omar Khayyam,  a famed Oriental cabaret of Middle Eastern belly dancers in London in the 1960s.  They brought one of the dervish dancers to the studio to do tests, but when they asked her to lift her skirt in order to project on her legs, the frightened girl fled in disgust.  A brief filmed sequence of this first girl appears during the smaller credits. Then a friend mentioned Julie Mendez to Trevor Bond.

“I approached Robert Brownjohn directly, not through an agent.  I didn’t have to audition as I just showed him stills of myself from another film, THE INSPECTOR, with Stephen Boyd and Dolores Hart.  The costume I did the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE titles in was used in several other films, including THE INSPECTOR.  We had a chat and that was it.  His choice was made.  I did not meet the director, Terence Young.”

“Robert Brownjohn was a large man, very charming and extremely professional.”  Julie was very candid in describing her working relationship with Brownjohn.  “I just remember him sitting behind a desk.  He had very little to do with me, whereas Trevor Bond was young, hip and attractive.  Secretly… he took a fancy to my hairdresser!”

“Trevor directed me to move my body, but not to music, and he focused the letters to my body as I moved.  He’d direct me to step back a little…move to the left…which way to step.”

“I remember that at one stage during filming, the titles were focused on my right thigh.  So when I moved, it tended to disappear…up my backside!!  We all laughed about this, as it was highly amusing.  In the end, I had to change position so this didn’t happen.”

“I had to concentrate my movements on the titles…I had to focus on accuracy.  I had good balance and could do it quickly.  Time is money.  The whole lot was filmed over several days in a private studio on Baker Street in London.”

A third girl, a Persian model, was later brought in for the face and breast shots, with ‘007’ projected onto them.  Years later, Julie says she wasn’t really aware of any other face in the titles and speculates “it might have been Robert Brownjohn’s wife as I had seen her around a lot in the office.”  FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square, London, on October 10, 1963.  Julie was invited along with the rest of the cast and crew but had a previous engagement and was unable to attend.  “I saw it for the first time at a West End cinema.”

When asked if she is ever confused with Lisa ‘Leila’ Guiraut, the sensual belly dancer who charms Bond at the gypsy camp, Julie replies, “Whenever anyone has asked, I have always said I was the belly dancer behind the credits and that’s all.  As far as being recognized, if people don’t know, I don’t say anything.  I’m four feet eleven inches.  Leila was much taller.”

“Leila and I did cabaret together at Omar Khayyam.  She was booked long before the main titles were done.  I actually invited her to my house for tea.  She was lovely, very charming and an excellent belly dancer.”

 The rest of the 1960s was an especially prolific period for Julie, with a steady stream of film and television offers (SHE, THEATRE OF DEATH, DUFFY, “Hugh and I Spy”, “Virgin of the Secret Service”), choreographer on several CARRY ON films (“In FOLLOW THAT CAMEL I taught Anita Harris how to belly dance”), worldwide theatre and cabaret, even a safety film for the National Coal Board!

 Readers can enjoy seeing Julie in two of her most celebrated on-screen appearances.  In a 1970 episode of the British TV. comedy On the Buses titled, appropriately enough, “The Snake”, Stan and Jack go to an Indian evening at the depot. Both have their eye on an attractive Indian cook, Fatima, played by Mendez.  As the evening progresses, Fatima, much to their surprise, does an exotic dance with a large snake and ends by putting the snake’s head in her mouth!

Interestingly, the character Ahmed is played by Ishaq Bux, who 20 years later would appear as the fakir disturbed from his restful bed of nails in the OCTOPUSSY market scene.  And in perhaps the funniest scene of THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)  Dr. Longstreet (Terry-Thomas) tries desperately to get his inquisitive maid out the door so he can enjoy a ‘stag’ film of a scantily-clad snake dancer (Mendez) on an old-fashioned home projector, shortly before he becomes victim to one of Phibes’ ingeniously gruesome murders.

“I entertained U.S. forces in Germany, France and England.  Other belly dancers or artists would come on stage and the GIs would be yelling out ‘Take it off!’  But when I appeared, with a large snake wrapped around me, there was surprise, then a long silence, then applause.  The snake controlled the audience.”

  Note from Steve Oxenrider: A special thank you to Vicky Yare for arranging this interview

From Russia With Love’s 60th conclusion: Legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Adapted from a 2013 post 

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey, as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films.

No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

More than a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

From Russia With Love’s 60th Part III: Desmond Llewelyn

Desmond Llewelyn instructs Sean Connery

Desmond Llewelyn instructs Sean Connery

Adapted from a 2013 post

Audiences of the initial release of From Russia With Love didn’t realize it at the time, but they witnessed the start of a character actor’s 17-film, 36-year run.

Desmond Llewelyn took over the role of Major Boothroyd from Peter Burton, who played the part in Dr. No. In the initial 007 outing, Boothroyd presented Bond with his new gun, a Walther PPK. Llewelyn’s Boothroyd gave Sean Connery’s James Bond something more elaborate: a briefcase which, if not opened properly, would emit tear gas. It was also equipped with a sniper’s rifle, 50 gold pieces and a knife.

At this point, the character wasn’t referred to as Q. Llewelyn’s character is listed as Boothroyd in the end titles. M mentions “Q branch” and its “smart-looking piece of luggage.” Boothroyd doesn’t reveal much of his feelings toward Bond either.

No matter. The actor’s appearance in From Russia With Love set the stage for his long run in the part. The Guy Hamilton-directed Goldfinger established Boothroyd’s annoyance at Bond regarding the agent’s disrespect of Q-branch equipment. In the 1965 television special The Incredible World of James Bond, the character would be referred to as “the fussy Major Boothroyd.”

Eventually, Llewelyn’s character would just be called Q, though Soviet agent Triple-X reminded viewers of the Boothroyd name in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Llewelyn would play opposite five Bond actors. In the 1990s, the question was how long would the actor continue. Bruce Feirstein’s first-draft screenplay of Tomorrow Never Dies, includes a character named Malcolm Saunders, who is “Q’s successor.”

In his first appearance in the script, Saunders is “looking like a mummy – plaster casts on his left leg, left arm; neck-brace, crutch.” Saunders explains how he received his injuries: “Q’s retirement party. I’d just put the knife into the cake, and – ” However, the retired Q shows up later in the story. In the much-revised final story, we get a standard Bond-Q scene with Llewelyn opposite Pierce Brosnan, except it takes place in Germany instead of MI6 headquarters.

In Llewelyn’s finale, 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Q/Boothroyd is talking about retirement. Brosnan’s Bond doesn’t believe it — or doesn’t want to believe it. Q gives Bond some advice (always have an escape route) and makes his exit.

Llewelyn died in December 1999 of injuries from a car accident.

NEXT: Legacy

From Russia With Love’s 60th Part II: John Barry

John Barry

John Barry

Adapted from a 2013 post

John Barry wasn’t a happy man after Dr. No came out in 1962.

Barry had arranged and revamped Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. He thought the piece would only be in Dr. No’s main titles. Instead, it was inserted by editor Peter Hunt throughout much of the movie.

With the second 007 film, From Russia With Love, “John Barry’s irritation at seeing his work all over the film of Dr. No would soon turn to elation,” author Jon Burlingame wrote in his 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. Barry got the job of scoring the new 007 film and, in the process, established the Bond movie music template.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hired Lionel Bart to write the title song. But Barry would score provided all the dramatic music.

Barry’s impact was evident immediately. Dr. No’s gunbarrel logo utilized electronic noises. Barry instead used an arrangement of Bond theme. The pre-credits sequence, where where assassin Red Grant (Robert Shaw) kills a Bond double during a training exercise, was heightened by Barry’s music. In 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, composer Marvin Hamlisch did an homage to Barry’s work where Bond (Roger Moore) and Soviet agent Triple-X (Barbara Bach) are searching for Jaws amid Egyptian ruins. (CLICK HERE to see a Stuart Basinger-produced video comparing the two scenes.)

Barry’s work on From Russia With Love was the beginning of the James Bond sound.

“The 007 films demanded music that could be variously romantic, suspenseful, drive the action, even punctuate the humor,” Burlingame said in a 2012 E-MAIL INTERVIEW WITH THE HMSS WEBLOG about his book. “It was a tall order, and John Barry, especially, delivered what was necessary and helped define James Bond in a way that wasn’t possible with the visuals alone.”

Barry also composed what amounted to a second Bond theme, simply titled 007. It was used during two action sequences: A big fight between Soviet-aligned Bulgarians and gypsies working for MI6 and when Bond snatches a Russian decoding machine out of the Soviet consulate in Istanbul. Barry would end up bringing the 007 theme back in four more movies, the last being 1979’s Moonraker.

For the composer, this was just the beginning. He scored 10 more Bond films and become one of the most sought-after composers in the movies. Remarkably, his Bond work never got an Oscar nomination. But he won five Oscars for non-007 films starting with 1967’s Born Free and ending with 1990’s Dances With Wolves.

Meanwhile, Barry’s template was something other composers had to keep in mind when they worked on 007 films. In the 1990s, David Arnold, a Barry admirer, produced new takes on classic Barry 007 songs. That helped him to secure work on five Bond films.

NEXT: Desmond Llewelyn’s debut as Q

January 2011 post: JOHN BARRY, AN APPRECIATION

September 2012 post: HMSS TALKS TO JON BURLINGAME ABOUT HIS 007 MUSIC BOOK

From Russia With Love’s 60th Part I: The difficult sequel

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

Adapted from a 2013 post.

Nothing about From Russia With Love was easy. From scripting all the way through filming, the second James Bond film was difficult and at times an ordeal.

At last three writers (Richard Maibaum, Johnna Harwood and an uncredited Len Deighton) took turns trying to adapt the Ian Fleming novel, with major rewrites during shooting. One cast member (Pedro Armendariz) committed suicide shortly after completing his work on the movie because he was dying of cancer. Director Terence Young was nearly killed in a helicopter accident (CLICK HERE for an MI6 HQ page account of that and other incidents).

For many 007 fans, the movie, which premiered Oct. 10, 1963, is the best film in the Eon Productions series. It’s one of the closest adaptations of a Fleming novel, despite the major change of adding Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE into the proceedings. It also proved the success of Dr. No the previous year was no accident.

Fleming’s novel was one of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 10 favorite books, a list published in 1961 in Life magazine. From Russia, With Love (with the comma and published in 1957) was one of the author’s most important books.

Fleming’s friend, author Raymond Chandler, had chided 007’s creator for letting the quality of his Bond novels slip after 1953’s Casino Royale. “I think you will have to make up your mind what kind of writer you are going to be,” Chandler wrote to Fleming in an April 1956 letter. Fleming decided to step up his game with his fifth 007 novel.

Years later, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, with an endorsement of the source material from Kennedy, proceeded with adapting the book. Dr. No veterans Young, editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore and scribes Maibaum and Harwood all reported for duty on the new 007 project.

The major Dr. No contributor absent was production designer Ken Adam, designing the war room set and other interiors for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. John Stears, meanwhile, took over on special effects.

Armendariz, as Kerim Bey, the head of MI6’s station in Turkey and Bond’s primary ally, had a big impact. He lit up every scene he was in and had great on-screen chemistry with star Sean Connery. When Kerim Bey is killed, as part of the complicated SPECTRE plot, it resonates with the audience. The “sacrificial lamb” is part of the Bond formula, but Armendariz was one of the best, if not the best, sacrificial lamb in the 007 film series.

The gravely ill actor needed assistance to complete his scenes. In long shots in the gypsy camp sequence, you needn’t look closely to tell somebody else is playing Kerim Bey walking with Connery’s 007. (It was director Young, according to Armendariz’s WIKIPEDIA ENTRY.)

Young & Co. retained the novel’s memorable set pieces (the fight between two gypsy women, the subsequent battle between Bulgarians and gypsies and the Orient Express train fight between Bond and Red Grant). The production also added a few twists, including two outdoor sequences after getting Bond off the train earlier than in the novel. The question was how would audiences respond.

The answer was yes. “I see that ‘From Russia With Love’ is now a movie and although I rarely see them I plan to take this one in,” former CIA Director Allen Dulles wrote to Fleming in 1964.

He wasn’t alone. The film, with a budget of $2 million, generated $78.9 million in worldwide box office, almost one-third more than its predecessor.

NEXT: John Barry establishes the 007 music template

1997 HMSS article: A VISIT WITH IAN FLEMING

November 2012 post: LEN DEIGHTON ON FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Ernest Lehman bio: Salute to a screen great

Cover to Jon Krampner’s biography of Ernest Lehman

In Hollywood, there’s a trope about how the screenwriter gets the short end of the stick. It doesn’t matter how accomplished the writer is, stars and directors are at the head of the line for getting credit.

This even shows up in movies such as 1950’s Hollywood Boulevard or 1965’s In Harm’s Way. In the latter film, Burgess Meredith plays a reserve naval officer who had been a screenwriter. Meredith’s character had married separate starlets. He takes comfort in how one of his ex-wives never had a hit after he stopped writing her films.

Ernest Lehman was one of the most successful Hollywood screenwriters. Jon Krampner’s new biography examines Lehman career, warts and all.

Lehman was not the ideal subject for a biography. In his lifetime, Lehman provided conflicting accounts of his work. The scribe was not a personally colorful character. After reading Krampner’s biography, I might be tempted to call him nerdy. Regardless, he paid attention to detail and was very versatile.

“Lehman was a uniquely difficult subject,” Krampner writes in the book’s preface. “He was not larger than life. In fact, he was slightly smaller than life, although his films (most, but not all) are monster huge.”

For readers of this blog, the No. 1 example was North by Northwest, Lehman’s only original screenplay among films that were produced by studios.

North by Northwest, with its mix of drama and humor, helped set up the 1960s spy craze.

It’s generally accepted that the Lehman-scripted crop duster sequence (and Krampner makes a convincing case it was Lehman’s idea, not director Alfred Hitchock). Regardless, the sequence became an, er, “homage,” in From Russia With Love when a helicopter attacks Sean Connery’s James Bond.

But Krampner also provides details how Lehman sweated bullets over the development of North by Northwest’s script.

The audience is way ahead of Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill. Eventually, Thornhill is filled in by Leo G. Carroll’s “The Professor.”

“One of Lehman’s core tenets as a screenwriter was to conceal exposition, not engaging in excessive explanation of plot details,” Krampner writes. So, in North by Northwest, when Thornhill and The Professor walk on the airport tarmac, there are airplane noises when The Professor says what the audience knows.

Intentional or not, this same technique was used in From Russia With Love. The audience twice sees Bond use a recognition code with allies. But it comes into play two more times when an enemy (Robert Shaw) uses it with another British agent (the real Captain Nash) as well as Bond. In both cases, the audience doesn’t hear it *because they don’t have to*. The audience knows what it is being said. Things move along quickly.

In terms of versatility, much can be cited about Lehman. His biographer cuts to the chase. Lehman could shift from The Sound of Music to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Again, screenwriters often get the short end. This biography is a study of one of the screenwriting greats. GRADE: A.

Ernest Lehman biographer discusses the writer’s spy films

Cover to Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success

Ernest Lehman (1915-2005) was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood history. His work covers various genres and includes massive box office successes.

A new biography of the writer is coming out this month — Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success.

The blog interviewed the author, Jon Krampner, by email. The interview concentrated on three espionage-themed productions that Lehman scripted: North by Northwest (evoked on the book’s cover image), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, The Prize, and Black Sunday, Lehman’s final movie project. But Lehman also scripted various dramas such as Executive Suite (1954) and musicals, including West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965).

North by Northwest, in particular, had a major impact. Released in 1959, its balance of humor and drama coupled with certain set pieces (especially when a crop duster plane chases after Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill) helped set the stage for the 1960s spy film craze.

1963’s From Russia With Love, in a sequence not part of Ian Fleming’s novel, had a helicopter going after Sean Connery’s James Bond.

Here is the interview.

THE SPY COMMAND: How did Ernest Lehman first get connected to Alfred Hitchcock? How did the idea of a spy thriller evolve?

JON KRAMPNER: They were connected by the composer Bernard Herrmann who, appropriately enough, wound up scoring “North By Northwest.” Herrmann told Lehman he thought he and Hitchcock would get along well, so he set up a lunch meeting for them in Hitchcock’s office at Paramount in late August of 1956.

Herrmann was right — the two did hit it off, so they started to work on adapting “The Wreck of the Mary Deare,” a maritime drama based on the Hammond Innes novel about an abandoned ship found adrift at sea. But Lehman, as he often did during his career, quit the project, feeling there was no way he could turn it into a good film.

Lehman assumed that would be the end of their working relationship, but Hitchcock, enjoying his company, said they should work together on something else. But what? “The Hitchcock film to end all Hitchcock films,” Lehman said, and “North By Northwest” was born.

(NOTE FROM THE BLOG: The Wreck of the Mary Deare was made into a film with Gary Cooper and Charlton Heston)

TSC: Was the Lehman-Hitchcock collaboration a smooth one? Or were there rough patches?

KRAMPNER: Surprisingly, given that they were both control freaks, Lehman and Hitchcock got along pretty well on “North By Northwest,” one exception being when they were working through the crop duster scene in the living room of Hitchcock’s Bel Air home. Hitchcock, who never raised his voice, yelled at Lehman “Why do you insist on telling me how to direct the film?” Lehman would later say he should have told Hitchcock “Why do you insist on telling me how to write it?”

Seventeen years after “North By Northwest,” Lehman and Hitchcock worked together on “Family Plot,” Hitchcock’s last film. That was a different story: Hitchcock was in poor health, but Lehman kept showing up for working and wanting to get on with it. And being an established Hollywood figure himself now, he was less inclined to defer to Hitchcock. That was not a happy collaboration.

TSC: I have written before that North by Northwest had a balance of drama and humor that other films (the Bond series in particular) emulated. What thoughts did Lehman have on this subject?

KRAMPNER: Your observation is apt, but while your question is a good one, I don’t have a good answer. I worked on this book for seven years, but never ran across any musings Lehman had about the James Bond films.

TSC: How did Lehman rank North by Northwest among the movies he scripted?

KRAMPNER: It was not only his signature film, but the only original of his 15 screenplays, so he regarded it highly and with great fondness. Interestingly, the screenplay of his that he identified several times as his favorite was “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” the Rocky Graziano biopic that made Paul Newman a star.

TSC: The Prize came along a few years later. Leo G. Carroll was in the cast. And Paul Newman’s character ends up proposing to the female lead (Elke Sommer). Did Lehman consciously throw in NxNW elements? Or was that in the source material all along?

KRAMPNER: Any plot similarities between “North By Northwest” and “The Prize” were purely intentional on Lehman’s part. As with “The Wreck of the Mary Deare,” Lehman didn’t feel he could make a decent script out of “The Prize” and was preparing to abandon it. But then he decided to play up the Cold-War plot aspects that were less prominent in Irving Wallace’s novel and, in Lehman’s own words, turn it into a “road-company, not first-rate North By Northwest-type film.”

Anyone familiar with “North By Northwest” can find echoes of it throughout “The Prize”:  there’s a riff on the scene where Cary Grant takes the police back to the Townsend mansion in a futile effort to show them that’s where he was set upon by Van Damm and his gang. In “The Prize,” there’s a scene at a nudist colony that evokes NxNW’s auction sequence. And it features not one, but two — is auto-homage a word? — of the conclusion of the crop duster scene, where Cary Grant is almost run over by an oil tanker. In reviewing “The Prize,” Variety derisively referred to Lehman’s “Hitchcockeyed screenplay.”

TSC: How did Lehman feel about The Prize? Was he pleased with it? Or were there issues for him?

KRAMPNER: As suggested by the previous answer, Lehman didn’t think much of “The Prize,” although he was still stung by some of the bad reviews it got

TSC: Black Sunday was Lehman’s last movie. Big cast, based on a best-selling novel. But Lehman shared the writing credit with two others. Was Lehman satisfied or dissatisfied with it?

KRAMPNER: Lehman shared the screenwriting credit with, in that order, Kenneth Ross and Ivan Moffat, with Lehman’s name coming first. He had to share the credit because it was the only one of his films he was fired from, by producer Robert Evans and director John Frankenheimer. They may have wanted “thriller insurance” (Ross had worked on a number of such films), but they also got a film that’s more confusing, has lapses in plot logic and is utterly devoid of Lehman’s trademark humor. In a 1976 seminar Lehman gave at the American Film Institute before “Black Sunday” was released, Lehman said sardonically “I hear it’s very exciting.”.

TSC: Black Sunday is more overtly political (Israeli-Palestinian) compared with NxNW and The Prize. How did Lehman feel about that? Was Black Sunday a happy experience? Or did he know it was time to call it day?

KRAMPNER: Congratulations for spotting a hole in my research: the answer is “I don’t know.” One of the things I ordinarily would have done was to read Lehman’s last draft of the screenplay, among his papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. But around the time I would have done so, the plague was upon the land, everyone retreated into their burrows, and I never doubled back to cover that part of the waterfront.

“Black Sunday” was praised for the extent to which it humanized the Palestinian terrorists and their grievances, highly unusual for a big-budget American studio film (that praise was not universal: supposedly the Los Angeles-based B’nai Brith Messenger ran a headline “Robert Evans, Hitlerite.”)

In general, Lehman was pretty apolitical, so if I had to guess, I’d say that one (or both) of the screenwriters who came after him was responsible for that aspect of the script.

TSC: How does Ernest Lehman rank among Hollywood screenwriters? While this interview was concentrated on the spy genre, Lehman handled a variety of subjects. To a layman, such as myself, he seems incredibly versatile.

KRAMPNER: As you might, expect Ernest Lehman’s biographer to say, if he’s not at the top, he’s darn close. William Goldman, another candidate for king of the hill, said, “The three greatest screenwriters are Ingmar Bergman, Billy Wilder, and Ernest Lehman.” The British newspaper The Guardian said “He may have been the most successful screenwriter ever.”

Many are crowded near the top of screenwriting’s pantheon: Nunnally Johnson, Jules Furthman, Nora Ephron, the list goes on. I won’t say Lehman was the best, but he certainly ranked among them.

Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success is being published on Sept. 27 by the University Press of Kentucky. For more information, CLICK HERE. It can be ordered at AMAZON and BOOKSHOP.ORG. The latter is a website for independent bookstores and you may want to order there instead of behemoth Amazon.

Importance of score & editing (Bond edition)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said this week several Oscars will be awarded before the Oscars telecast, including best score and editing.

Ben Mankiewicz, a TCM host, did a tongue-in-cheek tweet asking followers to name movies where score and editing made a difference. You can view it below.

For the purposes of this post, we’ll keep examples of James Bond movies only.

From Russia With Love: According to the documentary Inside From Russia With Love (available on some home video editions of the movie), editor Peter Hunt changed the order of early sequences. This, in effect, created the Bond tradition of the pre-title sequence.

The movie was also the first Bond film (out of 11 total) scored by John Barry. That helped establish the “Bond sound” of 007 movie film music. Barry’s contributions have lasted beyond his death. No Time to Die’s score incorporated Barry’s instrumental theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Thunderball: Director Terence Young departed the project early before post-production was completed. That left editor Hunt by himself, with deadlines for a Christmas release coming down upon him.

What’s more, things were hectic for Barry as well. The title song was changed late from Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang to Thunderball. “Barry worked overtime to incorporate the new theme into the score so it wouldn’t look like the kind of pasted-on song he loathed,” according to The Music of James Bond by Jon Burlingame.

You Only Live Twice: Originally, Peter Hunt was going to be the second unit director and not edit (see James Bond in the Cinema by John Brosnan). But early cuts of the movie were running long and Hunt ended up applying his editing talents as well. The film’s running time ended up just under two hours.

The Man With the Golden Gun: John Barry, generally, scored Bond films on a tight schedule. According to Burlingame’s book, even Barry felt the pressure. Barry only had three weeks to complete the entire score.

There are other examples, of course. In general, movies can be saved in post-production (1975’s Jaws being a notable example).

Biography about writer Ernest Lehman to be published

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A biography of Ernest Lehman, the screenwriter of North by Northwest and many other films, is coming out in September.

The book is titled Ernest Lehman: The Sweet Smell of Success. Author Jon Krampner has updated potential readers at his Ernest Lehman Bio page on Twitter concerning his research about Lehman and his work.

Lehman (1915-2005) worked in a variety of genres, including musicals such as The Sound of Music and the 1961 version of West Side Story. But Lehman’s scripts for espionage films such as The Prize, Black Sunday, and, especially, 1959’s North by Northwest, is a big source of interest for the blog.

The Alfred Hitchcock-directed movie blended drama and humor as advertising man Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) becomes involved with spies.

In some ways, North by Northwest became a template for 1960s spy movies, including James Bond films.

One of North by Northwest’s major set pieces, where a crop duster plane attacks Thornhill, was the inspiration for a sequence in From Russia With Love where a helicopter menaces Bond (Sean Connery).

In the 1960s, some members of North by Northwest’s cast would have prominent parts on spy shows on American television: Leo G. Carroll (The Man and The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.), Martin Landau (Mission: Impossible), and Edward Platt (as the Chief in Get Smart).

Krampner’s book has a website. It includes an excerpt describing the filming of North by Northwest’s crop-duster sequence. The book is scheduled to debut Sept. 27 and its price is $34.95 in hardback.