Lalo Schifrin to receive an honorary Oscar

Cover to a 1960s Lalo Schifrin album

Composer Lalo Schifrin will receive an honorary Oscar later this year, the Academy of Motor Picture Arts and Scientists announced this week.

Schifrin, 86, first made his mark composing for scores for television, including the pilots for Mission: Impossible and Mannix. He moved into films, scoring, among others, The Cincinnati Kid, Bullitt, Dirty Harry and Enter the Dragon. Schifrin was nominated for six Oscars.

And since this blog concentrates on spy-related entertainment, we note he also scored Murderers’ Row, the second Matt Helm film, and The Venetian Affair. He also did the arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for that show’s second season (1965-66).

Honorary Oscars used to be given out during the Oscars telecast. But in recent years, they’re part of a separate event, which this year will be held Nov. 18.

The academy also said actress Cicely Tyson, 93, and publicist Marvin Levy will receive honorary Oscars.

Also, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall will receive the Irving G. Thalberg Award, a career award given to producers. It’s the first Thalberg award given since 2010.

50th anniversary of the best TV theme

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Morton Stevens (1929-1991)

Apapted and updated from a 2013 post.

Sept. 20 is the 50th anniversary of, arguably, the best television theme of all time: Hawaii Five-O by composer Morton Stevens.

The Five-O theme is one of the most famous pieces of music in the world. People who’ve never watched an episode recognize it when just a few notes are played.

Over the decades, it’s been used in commercials and been played by marching bands. Yet, the vast majority of those who’ve heard it probably couldn’t name the man who wrote it.

In the 1960s, the likes of Stevens, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Lalo Schifrin were busy doing scores for television. Of that quartet, three became big-time film composers. Stevens didn’t.

In the spring of 1965, CBS hired Stevens to supervise its West Coast music operation. It was in that capacity that Stevens scored the Hawaii Five-O pilot. But Stevens couldn’t do every job himself. Thus, he hired Williams to score 1969’s The Reivers, which CBS released under the Cinema Center Films label. The Steve McQueen movie helped Williams transition from TV to films.

Stevens died in 1991, at the age of 62, of cancer. His lasting music achievement was the original 1968-80 Five-O series. Not only did he write the theme, he created the music template for the series.

Stevens delivered episode scores for 11 of the 12 seasons. The Five-O theme was often used by Stevens and other composers in the background music. It showed up as an action riff. It would also be slowed way down for reflective moments in a story.

This decade, Stevens got attention for his other work. The DVD set for the 1960-62 Thriller anthology series with Boris Karloff featured a number of episodes where viewers can isolate the scores of Stevens and Jerry Goldsmith.

A Morton Stevens title card (for music supervision, not for his theme) for a first-season episode of Hawaii Five-O

Jon Burlingame, who has written extensively about film and television music, did a commentary track about each composer. He discussed Stevens’ work in detail.

In 2016, the blog did a post about Stevens as part of its “unsung figures of television” series.

Stevens’ work on Hawaii Five-O represents a paradox. It’s a famous TV theme. Million of people know it. Yet he’s relatively obscure. Stevens had a successful career. Yet his contemporaries — such as Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams — achieved more fame than he did.

Regardless, the Five-O theme is a crowning achievement for Stevens. Watching a Hawaii Five-O theme is akin to viewing a James Bond film scored by John Barry. In both cases, the composers established a music template that thrills viewers decades later.

Mission: Impossible-Fallout: A film Bruce Geller might love

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

As I watched Mission: Impossible-Fallout, I kept wondering what M:I creator Bruce Geller would think. My guess: I think he would approve.

The best episodes of the original 1966-73 series featured slick plans devised by Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) and Jim Phelps (Peter Graves). While the plans were brilliantly devised, the Impossible Missions Force would be forced to improvise when things went wrong or surprises occurred.

Previous Mission: Impossible films, which debuted in 1996, have this same feature. But in the newest installment, IMF leader Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has to improvise more often, more quickly than ever before.

The new film also has a personal angle (an apsect Geller wouldn’t have been fond of) — something the 007 film series has featured constantly since 1989. But for M:I-Fallout, the personal angle doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings.

As a result, Hunt isn’t out for revenge (a la Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Die Another Day and other 007 films). No readings of poems (a la M in Skyfall). No villain with a “personal” connection to the hero (SPECTRE’s new version of Blofeld).

The trailers for Mission: Impossible-Fallout have emphasized that evoke set pieces from 007 movies (Licence to Kill and Tomorrow Never Dies). Some fans complain that’s ripping off Bond.

But, in the end, they’re only set pieces and don’t take up that much screen time. What’s more, there are twists involved that weren’t shown in the trailers.

Mission: Impossible-Fallout still is mostly its own thing. It tips its hat to the original show via a Lalo Schifrin-inspired score by Lorne Balfe. It’s not the first time the movie series has embraced Schifrin. Joe Kreamer, composer for 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, also weaved Schifrin into his score. Balfe does it his own way. (CLICK HERE for a feature story Jon Burlingame did for Variety about Balfe’s work.)

Meanwhile, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who also worked on M:I Rogue Nation, keeps things at a frantic pace. The movie has a 147-minute running time. That’s almost as long as SPECTRE’s 148 minutes. But M:I-Fallout, overall, moves more quickly. At the same time, McQuarrie’s movie isn’t just set pieces strung together.

As a fan of the original TV show, I still don’t care for how the first movie in the Cruise series made Jim Phelps into a traitor. At this point, I just have to rationalize the film series is an alternate universe.

At 56, you’ve got to wonder how much longer Cruise can keep the Mission: Impossible film franchise going. But that’s something most viewers won’t think about until after they’re headed home from Mission: Impossible-Fallout. GRADE: A-Minus.

1988 Mission: Impossible series gets a soundtrack release

Mission: Impossible soundtrack from 1988 revival series.

A soundtrack to the 1988-90 Mission: Impossible revival television series is coming out from La-La Land Records, the company said July 23 ON FACEBOOK.

The price is $29.98 and sales will be limited to 1,988 units, La-La Land said. The new soundtrack includes music by Lalo Schifrin (composer of the famous Mission: Impossible theme) and Ron Jones.

The sets will include liner notes by film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who has worked on other La-Land projects, including a soundtrack for the original 1966-73 Mission: Impossible series.

The 1988 series starred Peter Graves, reprising his role as Jim Phelps of the Impossible Missions Force. In the first episode, he returns to the IMF after a protégé was killed. At the time it began production, there was a Writers Guild strike. As a result, the initial stories were based on scripts written for the original show. The revival series aired on ABC while the original had been telecast by CBS.

The revival soundtrack will go on sale July 31. Presumably, it will be sold (like other La-La Land offerings) on the company’s website.

Joe Kraemer won’t score M:I-Fallout

Mission: Impossible-Fallout promotional image featuring Tom Cruise performing a stunt.

Joe Kraemer, who scored 2015’s Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, will not handle music for the franchise’s new installment, Mission: Impossible-Fallout.

“There seems to be confusion in the film music community re:my assoc with MI6:Fallout. Here’s the deal: I wasn’t hired, fired, or replaced,” Kraemer wrote in a post on Twitter.

“I was notified by email that I was not being asked back,” he wrote. “That is the full extent of my involvement with the film & the filmmakers.”

Kramer’s music was one of the highlights of the 2015 M:I adventure. The composer, in addition to using Lalo Schifriin’s iconic theme from the original show, also utilized one of Schifrin’s underscore compositions from the series.

A fellow film composer also took to Twitter to compliment Kraemer’s work.

“I think the confusion would be based on everyone wanting more @joekraemer MI music because Rogue Nation was so good!” Daniel Pemberton wrote in a Twitter post. Pemberton’s work includes the 2015 film version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”

Kraemer’s Twitter post is embedded below.

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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.