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.

Fan sites post videos about Laz at the Spy Museum

On Oct. 5, Global James Bond Day, there was a James Bond-related event at the International Spy Museum in Washington. The headliner was George Lazenby, 79, who played 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Proprietors of James Bond fan sites have now posted videos about the event.

Here’s the video posted by the James Bond Experience. There’s a short introduction followed by Lazenby talking to the audience.

Also posting a video was Being James Bond’s Joseph Darlington. It’s a summary of the event and a an exhibit about Bond villains that will close at the end of the year.

Discussion of the event begins around the 15:45 mark. The video below is set up to begin then when you click on it. However, you may want to check the preceding segment. Darlington presents his wish list of five things he’d like to see in Bond 25 and future 007 films.

Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 35th anniversary

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in a publicity still for The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted from a 2013 post with updates.

You can’t keep a good man down. So it was for former U.N.C.L.E. spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who made a return 35 years ago.

The intrepid agents, again played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were back after a 15-year absence. This time they appeared in a made-for-television movie broadcast in April 1983 on CBS, instead of NBC, home of the original 1964-68 series.

It was a mixed homecoming. Return’s script, penned by executive producer Michael Sloan, recycled the plot of Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film. Thrush steals two nuclear bombs from a U.S. military aircraft. Thrush operative Janus (Geoffrey Lewis) boasts that the criminal organization is now “a nuclear power.” Yawn. Thrush was much more ambitious in the old days.

The show had been sold to NBC as “James Bond for television.” Sloan & Co. took the idea literally, hiring one-time 007 George Lazenby to play “JB,” who happens to drive as Aston Martin DB5. JB helps Solo, who has just been recalled to active duty for U.N.C.L.E., to get out of a jam in Las Vegas.

In a sense, this TV movie was a footnote to 1983’s “Battle of the Bonds.” Roger Moore and Sean Connery were starring in dueling 007 films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again respectively.

As a result, for a time in 1982, when the two Bond films and this TV movie were in production, all three Bond film actors up to that time were either playing 007 or a reasonable facisimile..

The original U.N.C.L.E. had been filmed no further out that about 30 miles from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s studio in Culver City, California. Return was really filmed in and around Las Vegas, with the desert nearby substituting for Libya, where Thrush chieftain Justin Sepheran (Anthony Zerbe) has established his headquarters.

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George Lazenby’s title card in the main titles of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Vaughn and McCallum, being old pros, make the best of the material they’re given, especially when they appear together. That’s not often, as it turns out. After being reunited, they pursue the affair from different angles. Solo has to put up with skeptical U.N.C.L.E. agent Kowalski (Tom Mason), who complains out loud about new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh (Patrick Macnee) bringing back two aging ex-operatives.

Sloan did end up bringing in two crew members of the original series: composer Gerald Fried, who worked on the second through fourth seasons, and director of photography Fred Koenekamp, who had photographed 90 U.N.C.L.E. episodes from 1964 through 1967.

Also on the crew was Robert Short, listed as a technical adviser. He and Danny Biederman had attempted to put together an U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Their project eventually was rejected in favor of Sloan’s TV movie.

In the end, the April 5, 1983 broadcast produced respectable ratings. CBS, however, passed on committing to a new U.N.C.L.E. series.

For a long time, Return remained the last official U.N.C.L.E. production. Another U.N.C.L.E. project wouldn’t be seen until 2015. That’s when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film debuted. It had an “origin” story line, didn’t feature many of the familiar U.N.C.L.E. memes and revised the back stories of Solo and Kuryakin.

In 2013, the blog did a post about Return’s 30th anniversary. Since then Vaughn, Macnee and Koenekamp have died.

For a more detailed review of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., CLICK HERE.

MI6 Confidential brings out 2 new publications

Peter Lamont

MI6 Confidential is bringing out two new publications.

The first is a 100-page special publication focused on Peter Lamont’s work on 1973’s Live And Let Die.

In the publication, “Peter tells the story of making the film, location by location, as they appear in the film. It is lavishly illustrated with rare stills from the film, behind the scenes photographs never committed to print, and notes and storyboards from Lamont’s personal collection,” according to the MI6 Confidential website.

Lamont had the title of co-art director on the film. He worked on the 007 film series in various art department capacities starting with Goldfinger and running through Casino Royale. The only Bond film he missed was 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies because he was production designer on Titanic.

The other publication is issue 42 of the regular MI6 Confidential magazine. It concentrates on George Lazenby and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Included is a story about Lazenby and “007’s lifelong shadow” on the actor as well as a feature on Diana Rigg.

To order the 100-page special, CLICK HERE. The price is 17 British pounds, $22 or 19.50 euros.

To order MI6 Confidential No. 42, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $10 or 8.50 euros.

Hugh Hefner, who helped popularize 007, dies

George Lazenby’s 007 reading a copy of Playboy

Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy and who helped popularize James Bond for American audiences, has died at 91, according to CNBC, citing a statement from Playboy Enterprises.

Playboy published the Ian Fleming short story The Hildebrand Rarity in 1960, beginning a long relationship between the magazine and the fictional secret agent.

At the time, the literary Bond has his U.S. fans but the character’s popularity was far from its peak. Things changed a year later when the new U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, listed Fleming’s From Russia With Love as one of his 10 favorite books.

As Bond’s popularity surged in the 1960s, Playboy serialized the novels You Only Live Twice and The Man With The Golden Gun.

The relationship spread into the Bond movies produced by Eon Productions. In 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond (George Lazenby) kills time looking at an issue of Playboy while a safe cracking machine works away. Two years later, in Diamonds Are Forever, the audience is shown that Bond (Sean Connery) had a membership card at a Playboy club. Also, over the years, Playboy published Bond-related pictorials.

In the 1990s, the Playboy-literary Bond connection was revived. Playboy published some 007 short stories by continuation novelist Raymond Benson, including Blast From the Past as well as serializations of Benson novels.

One of Benson’s short stories published by Playboy, Midsummer Night’s Doom, was set at the Playboy Mansion. Hefner showed up as a character.

During the 21st century, Playboy “has struggled in the face of tough competition from the available of free pornography online,” CNBC said in its obituary. The magazine experimented with no nude photos “before returning to its previous formula,” CNBC said.

The Spy We Loved: Remembering Roger Moore

Roger Moore’s Bond rarely lost his cool.

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

The work of Sir Roger Moore has had a great impact in our lives. For some, he was Simon Templar, The Saint For others, he was the “Persuader” Brett Sinclair. For the ones who are reading this article, he was the longest-serving James Bond.

Moore was the first “English from England” Bond actor. He had the tough challenge to follow the Scottish-born Sean Connery, the first film 007.

Unlike Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who felt the pressure to “imitate” Connery in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moore adapted much of his Simon Templar and Brett Sinclair personas in his James Bond. He was different than the Bond of Ian Fleming’s novels. But he was very effective, achieving success and popularity for over 12 years.

Roger Moore’s first minute in Live and Let Die established him as a playboy. We see the new Bond sleeping with an Italian beauty, played by Madeleine Smith.

The rest of the 1973 movie wouldn’t be so comfortable for him. While moving along the streets of Harlem or the Louisiana bayous, he had to improvise escapes like maneuvering a plane with an elderly flying student or jumping over a row of hungry alligators.

The Man With The Golden Gun, his second Bond, had the influence of the martial arts craze that Bruce Lee created. The 1970s vibe was present with Lulu’s main title song and John Barry’s soundtrack, underlining Bond’s escape from karate experts, or a 360 degree jump with an AMC Matador accompanied by his annoying ally Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

No matter the odd, Roger Moore’s James Bond always looked clean and tidy, whether he was dressed with his ivory dinner jacket or his pistachio green safari suit. Comical, but well played, were the performances of Christopher Lee and Hervé Villechaize as the debonair assassin Scaramanga and his servant and accomplice, respectively.

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

In spite of the humor that some considered ridiculous, The Man With The Golden Gun showed one of the few gritty moments of Moore: The scene where he interrogates Scaramanga’s lover Andrea (Maud Adams). This movie also features for the first time some ethical statements by James Bond, who differentiates himself of his nemesis by firmly saying “he only kills professionals.”

Moore’s third 007 adventure, The Spy Who Loved Me, was a breakthrough.

The 1977 film — the first Bond with Albert R Broccoli as sole producer — featured a solid script. It was an original story far from Ian Fleming’s novel of the same title that dealt with a shipping magnate plotting to instigate World War III to create “a beautiful world beneath the sea.”

The splendor of locales such as as Cairo and Sardinia gave brilliance to the movie. Its action scenes are among the best of the series. Spy stands out the epic battle between the forces of the villain Stromberg and the captive USS Wayne troops, allied to 007, inside the huge Liparus tanker.

Even when Moore admitted to be doubled in most of the action scenes, he looked both sympathetic and manfull in one his best performances as the secret agent. He himself declared to be pleased with the result, and the tenth film in the series was his favorite.

The biggest Bond extravaganza from the 1970s came at the very end of the decade: 1979’s Moonraker.

Roger Moore and Lois Chiles in a Moonraker publicity still

After the success of Star Wars, it was decided that James Bond was also important enough to conquer outer space to stop a madman. Moonraker remained the most successful box office Bond hit until GoldenEye in 1995.

Director John Glen took the helm of the Bond franchise in 1981, and the films became more down-to-earth. Nevertheless, Moore’s portrayal didn’t leave his sense of humor aside.

For Your Eyes Only felt the influence of the new decade with Bill Conti’s disco-inspired soundtrack, which emphasized some comical actions by the actor, such as the car chase in Madrid where Bond runs away from hit men in a Citroen 2 CV or ski sequences in Cortina D’Ampezzo, where 007 interferes in a bobsled track after knocking down like dominoes a row of skiing trainees. The gag was reprised in GoldenEye with bicycles.

However, For Your Eyes Only isn’t without grit. In one scene, Bond kicks Emile Locque’s car off to a cliff, sending the villain to his death. It is because of this scene Moore considered Locque one of the most important villains he faced, because he was reluctant to shoot it.

For Octopussy, James Bond visited India and Moore gave one of his hilarious performances: Going incognito as a clown to defuse a bomb in a circus tent and yelling like Tarzan while jumping ropes in a jungle are among the funniest moments in the film and the whole series.

While the plot had a serious backdrop such as the tension between the West and the East, Octopussy was a Bond film made for Roger Moore’s adventurer spirit — dozens of girls, car chases, fist fights, and many gags and funny one- liners.

He retired from the role after A View To A Kill, in 1985. The marketing campaign of the film tried to aim to a younger audience, promoting Duran Duran’s main title song throughout trailers and TV spots.

Popular singer Grace Jones joined the cast as the May Day. Christopher Walken portrayed one of the most ruthless Bond nemesis as Max Zorin. Courtesy of these two villains, A View To A Kill could be considered one of the most violent films from the Moore era. This is also reflected by John Barry’s music, which sounded more dramatic this in comparison with the more relaxed sound of Octopussy or The Man With The Golden Gun.

Then again, Roger Moore didn’t let his sense of humor out. Looking dashing at 57 years old, Moore illuminated the screen with his magnetism: he (or his doubles) could stand up on a fight or survive a dangerous stunt, but his best defense mechanisms were still the one-liners.

True to his nature, he spent his last minute onscreen taking a shower with Tanya Roberts character. In a way, he never detached himself from the playboy image. He felt more comfortable holding a glass of champagne than a gun. If he had the option, he would have opted for killing a villain with the smoke of his Davidoff cigars rather than with a bullet or a knife.

Some people may still debate if he was a good or a bad James Bond.

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

He was just different – different than Sean Connery, different than George Lazenby, different than the literary Bond. But it was thanks to that difference that he kept the Bond flame alive for over a decade, and welcome many people to join the Bondwagon during the 1970s and the early 1980s.

People from all over the world felt his death as somehow personal, yet we all feel like if he is still around in every frame of Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me or Octopussy – for natural charm, elegance, and a refined sense of humor can transcend the barriers of time, space, and the temporary existence of earthly life.

Here’s to Sir Roger – nobody did it better!