Some Rod Taylor spy movies on TCM early Friday

Rod Taylor from the main titles of the Masquerade television series.

Friday, Aug. 18, is Rod Taylor day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. And some of Taylor’s spy movies will be part of the proceedings.

As an aside, TCM’s programming day starts at 6 a.m. New York time. The spy movies start early. Sorry for the late notice, but the Spy Commander just found out himself.

6 a.m.: 36 Hours, World War II espionage movie. Germans kidnap an American officer (James Garner). They make him think World War II is over to trick him out of information about the invasion of Europe. Taylor plays the German performing the deception. Based on a story by Roald Dahl.

8 a.m.: The Liquidator. Rod Taylor as John Gardner’s Boysie Oakes. Music by Lalo Schifrin and a title song performed by Shirley Bassey.

10 a.m.: The Glass Bottom Boat, a Doris Day comedy involving spies seeking secrets from a Tony Stark-like character played by Taylor. Cameo by Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo.

Noble failure: The Richard Boone Show

Logo for The Richard Boone Show

On occasion, television shows attempt to punch above their weight. They may not succeed, but they deserve a salute for the effort.

That applies to The Richard Boone Show, which ran for one season (1963-64).

Boone (1917-1981) was at his height of popularity in the early 1960s.

He had starred for six seasons as Paladin in Have Gun — Will Travel. With the end of that popular Western, Boone pretty much could write his own ticket.

The actor was not a typical star. He had quirky tastes. What he wanted to do was the television equivalent of a theater company performing different plays each week.

Boone had a receptive audience in Mark Goodson and Bill Todman. The duo supervised popular game and panel shows such as What’s My Line?, Beat the Clock and To Tell the Truth. But they also wanted to break out of the genre.

In that regard, the Goodson-Todman track record was mixed. They produced a Philip Marlowe series that lasted one season. They also produced The Rebel, a Western series that ran for two series today best remembered for a Johnny Cash title song.

Goodson-Todman was determined to turn The Richard Boone Show into a prestige series.

As producer, Goodson and Todman hired Buck Houghton, the producer of the first three seasons of The Twilight Zone. Clifford Odets was brought on as story supervisor, to line up scripts for the new anthology show. Odets, unfortunately, died in August 1963 during production of the series.

For the “company of players,” the regulars included the likes of Harry Morgan, Robert Blake, Jeanette Nolan, Ford Rainey, Lloyd Bocher, Laura Devon, Warren Stevens and other familiar faces on early 1960s television.

Many of the episodes starred Boone, but not all. When Boone wasn’t the lead player, he would portray a secondary character. Meanwhile, the cast had plenty of opportunities to display their acting abilities.

In many ways, the “company of players” was like an actual theater company with the actors playing around with makeup, include bald caps, fake mustaches, putty noses, wigs and such.

In terms of music, the production team hired Henry Mancini to come up with a theme while episodes were scored by composers such as Bernard Herrmann, Fred Steiner and Lalo Schifrin.

Today, in the 21st century, it’s easy to image an undertaking like The Richard Boone Show being televised on Netfilix or Hulu as an original series (depending on the headliner). But, during the 1963-64 series, the series ran for a year before disappearing.

In a commercial sense, the show was a failure. Artistically, it was a noble failure. What follows is the unusual opening and end titles of the show.

 

Mannix vs. spies

Mike Connors in a first-season episode of Mannix, an iconic image used in the show's main titles.

Mike Connors in The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher, a first-season Mannix episode.

This week’s death of Mannix star Mike Connors spurred the blog to take a look at some spy-related episodes of the private eye drama.

Mannix mostly mixed it up with hoods and other crooks. But, on occasion, there were espionage-related stories.

The Many Deaths of Saint Christopher (first season): Intertect, the large detective agency Mannix works for in the first season, is hired by Germans representing a European industrial concern. They’re after a missing scientist.

Mannix doubts the motives of the agency’s clients — with good reason, it turns out. The reality is there are a group of Nazis from World War II and Nazi hunters. Mannix is in the middle and has to figure out who is who.

Deadfall (first season): A two-part story involving industrial espionage.

Vancom Industries is developing an advanced laser. It has hired Intertect to provide security. A Vancom lab technician is killed in an explosion caused by sabotage and the lead Intertect operative apparently has been killed in an auto accident.

Vancom rival Berwyn Electronics demonstrates its own version of the device. The laser only fires at a target spot and won’t fire if blocked from the target by a human being.

Mannix picks up the trail. The question is whether the Intertect operative was involved with the sabotage and who at Vacom participated in the theft of the system.

Meanwhile, Intertect chief Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella) is behaving erratically as the result of a medical prescription. Toward the end of Part I, Wickersham explodes in rage at Mannix and fights the detective viciously.

Mannix must not only solve the case but find out the reason for Wichersham’s behavior.

To the Swiftest, Death (second season): Mannix is participating in an amateur auto race. One of the race cars is involved in a fiery crash, apparently killing the driver. Mannix is hired to investigate the crash. But U.S. authorities are taking an unusual interest in the case.

Race Against Time (seventh season): The first two-part story since the first season of the series.

Mannix is recruited by the U.S. government. Mannix knows Victor Lucas, who is leading a resistance movement inside a repressive country.

Mannix recruits a famed heart surgeon (John Colicos) and smuggles him into the country. Mannix and the doctor meet up with members of the resistance movement. Before the doctor can perform the surgery, the pacemaker that Mannix brought with him has been smashed.

Mannix must now find another suitable pacemaker and find out who the traitor is within the resistance movement.

Bird of Prey (eighth season): Producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts acquired the rights to a Victor Canning novel as the basis of this two-part episode.

A case takes Mannix to another country. He becomes aware of a plot to kill the nation’s leader. In Part II, the plot succeeds and Mannix is framed as the assassin.

The detective now is on the run, trying to clear his name and bring the conspirators to justice. The two-part story also marks composer Lalo Schifrin’s final original score for the series.

M:I’s 50th: ‘Your mission, should you decide to accept it…’

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Mission: Impossible, 50 years after its first telecast this month, still resonates with some viewers.

Part of it is Lalo Schifrin’s memorable theme. Producer-star Tom Cruise retained it when he began his M:I movie franchise in 1996. In the most recent installment, 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, some of Schifrin’s score from the series was also carried over.

Part of it is that many people still remember the 1966-73 original fondly. In September 2014, the MeTV channel brought M:I back for a year as part of a programming block called “The Spies Who Love ME.”

The channel hired Martin Landau, who played disguise expert Rollin Hand for the show’s first three seasons, to do promos. “Watch me on Mission: Impossible,” Landau said.

Some of the images and catchphrases certainly are still remembered. Among them: the main title with its burning fuse; the team leader (Steven Hill the first season, Peter Graves the final six) being briefed in an unusual manner; and the mysterious voice of the never-seen voice saying, “You mission, should you decide to accept it…”

The original series was a tense place to work.

The show chewed up producers (Joseph Gantman, Stanley Kallis and Bruce Lansbury among them). Those day-to-day producers had the primary task of maintaining a steady supply of elaborate stories. They had a tough act to follow after the pilot where the Impossible Missions Force steals two atomic bombs.

What’s more, Bruce Geller, the creator-executive producer, had a falling out with the talented writing tandem of William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter. Woodfield and Balter had received attention for their intricate tales.

But, in the show’s third season (when they were promoted to producers), Woodfield and Balter soon departed after conflicts with Geller. A few seasons later, Geller himself was barred from the Paramount lot because of his battles with studio executives.

Despite all that (because of all that?), M:I had an impact on television audiences.

When Steven Hill died last month, his obituary in The New York Times, detailed more about his one year on M:I than it did his 10-year stint on Law and Order as stern D.A. Adam Schiff.

The Tom Cruise film series is less team-oriented than the TV show. Most notably, its first installment turned the Jim Phelps character played by Peter Graves in the series into a villain. Regardless, the movie series is still around. The Deadline: Hollywood entertainment news website reported last month that a sixth installment may have hit a temporary snag as details get worked out.

But M:I 6 seems more likely than not. Paramount is struggling right now and needs a hit. Cruise, in great shape at 54, isn’t getting any younger. Both sides have ample incentive to get a deal done.

None of this, of course, would have been possible without Bruce Geller (1930-1978), who managed to make a weekly series where nothing was impossible.

Marching bands prove when spy music is part of society

You know when spy music has become part of the fabric of society when it’s performed by a marching band.

Marching bands, by definition, don’t perform edgy music. Such bands perform music is, more or less, universally accepted.

On Sept. 19, the Ohio State University marching band performed various James Bond music during half time of a football game. The 007 fans who frequent his website will recognize every tune played.

When it comes to spy (or spy-like) television themes that the general public relates to, marching bands are one place to look.

Here’s a marching band playing Lalo Schifrin’s theme for Mission: Impossible:

Also, Morton Stevens’ Hawaii Five-O theme is a favorite for marching bands. Here’s a sample, performed by the University of Minnesota marching band, based a long way from Hawaii:

 

Happy 90th birthday, Mike Connors

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

Aug. 15 is the 90th birthday of actor Mike Connors, a familiar face to American audiences.

His spy entertainment credentials include Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die, a 1966 film that rode the spy craze of the decade.

Today, that movie is a bit of a curiosity item, particularly how it bears a remarkable resemblance to the 1979 007 film Moonraker (except for its budget).

The main item of Connors’ acting resume is the 1967-75 detective series Mannix. The lead character, Joe Mannix, seemed to absorb a considerable amount of punishment in solving his cases.

Mannix dabbled occasionally in espionage, including a second-season episode where there was a spy played by Hugh Beaumont.

The series also had a two-part episode in its seventh season, where Mannix gets recruited by the U.S. government to help out the rebel leader of a South American country.

In the final season, there’s another two-part story where Mannix gets involved in international intrigue outside the U.S. That two parter was based on the Victor Canning novel Venetian Bird. It also had the last score for the series by Lalo Schifrin, who penned the show’s theme music.

Connors was already 42 when Mannix first aired. He had been a basketball player at UCLA and was still athletic enough to make a convincing action hero. During the filming of the pilot, he was injured while dodging a helicopter, a scene that would be used in the main titles of the series.

Jon Burlingame starts a YouTube channel

Film and television music expert Jon Burlingame has started a YouTube channel called Reel Music. First up: a look at Burlingame’s picks for top 10 spy movie scores.

Burlingame has written books on television composers and James Bond music. In the initial video, launched on Aug. 11, his selections comprise a number of different composers.

Burlingame’s list is presented in chronological order and doesn’t attempt to rank the 10 selections. It begins with Bernard Herrmann’s score for 1959’s North by Northwest and ends with John Powell’s score for 2002’s The Bourne Identity.

Along the way, there are two John Barry scores (Goldfinger and The Ipcress File), three Bond films (including one not made by Eon Productions) as well as efforts by Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin.

You can take a look for yourself. While individual viewers might quibble with selections or argue for others, there’s no dispute that Burlingame knows the music territory.

Note: the image below shows posters for Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie. Neither shows up on the list, but they present a “news peg” in journalism-speak.