Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

A modest proposal for a Moonraker video game

Moonraker teaser poster

On a Nov. 27 James Bond & Friends livestream, the discussion veered into the opinion of participants about which films might make a good video game.

I suggested Moonraker. It takes James Bond into outer space (a place many fans say Bond should never go). It was a big, sprawling film that lends itself to video games.

The movie also has a number of similarities to 1966’s Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. Since you’ve gone that far, why not adapt scenes from the earlier movie and provide Sony Corp. (parent company of Columbia, which released the 1966 film) a token payment.

For example, in a Moonraker video game, you could have a level where Jaws and other Hugo Drax henchmen chase Bond to the Christ the Redeemer statue.

Bond goes inside the statue, followed by the baddies. You could have a series of fights as Bond struggles to get to the top. Finally, Bond makes it. In comes Manuela, the local Rio operative from British Intelligence, flying a helicopter with a ladder dangling from it.

Bond gets on the ladder just in time as Jaws lunges for the agent. But Jaws only gets Bond’s shoe. Bond then smiles at Jaws (the way he did in The Spy Who Loved Me and in the film Moonraker) to taunt him. Jaws shakes his fist at the escaping Bond.

Another possibility would a proper sequence at Iguazu Falls. The location figures briefly into the movie but you don’t get a sense of the majesty of the place. Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die sets its title sequence at the falls and you get a better feel for the location.

Thus, with a Moonraker video game, another level would depict Bond with a mini-adventure at the falls.

Separately, Christopher Wood’s novelization for Moonraker had Bond doing a space walk to get from one place on Drax’s space station to another. Obviously, the could make an interesting level for a Moonraker video game.

Needless to say, these suggestions won’t be going anywhere. Consider them food for thought.

The nature of fandom

Daniel Craig as James Bond

The past few weeks have been rough for James Bond fans. They’ve witnessed the passing of key actors such as Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Michael Lonsdale.

All three had long careers that extended beyond James Bond films. But some Bond fans say something to the effect that they represent OUR Pussy Galore, OUR Tracy, OUR Drax.

However, fans of The Avengers TV series might counter something like, yes but that’s OUR Cathy Gale or OUR Emma Peel.

This extends beyond Bond fandom.

I’ve seen some fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. say having an American and a Russian as partners was BIG AND BOLD.

Meanwhile, fans of the original I Spy television series counter that having a White and a Black man as equal partners was a lot more controversial in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Undoubtedly, there are many other examples. Many fans, though, don’t want to examine all that. They are concerned with their fandom. No more, no less.

No criticism is intended in any of this. It’s the way of the world. It’s also the nature of fandom.

Michael Lonsdale dies at 89

Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax in Moonraker

French actor Michael Lonsdale, who played the lead villain in 1979’s Moonraker, has died at 89, according to news accounts, including the BBC and France 24.

Lonsdale’s Hugo Drax wasn’t the scarred, bombastic villain of Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel.

Rather, the Lonsdale version was cool, calm and prone to making droll remarks such as, “See that some harm comes to him,” as he orders a henchman to kill Bond.

The film Drax also liked to take digs at the English. In one scene, he refers to “afternoon tea” as the major English contribution to Western culture.

Moonraker was an English-French co-production. As a result, French actors were placed in a number of roles. The movie ended up being a big hit in the summer of 1979 as Roger Moore’s James Bond went into space for a final showdown with Drax.

Lonsdale’s career began in the mid-1950s and extended into the 21st century.

His English-language highlights included The Day of the Jackal (1973), where he played a detective on the trail of an assassin trying to kill French President Charles de Gaulle; The Name of the Rose (1986); Ronin (1998); and Munich (2005).

In 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a profile of the actor (be warned it’s behind a paywall). It was headlined, “A Gentle Screen Giant Subtly Shines.”

Here’s an excerpt concerning the actor’s versatility.

Mr. Lonsdale has played the gamut of religious roles —priests, abbots, cardinals, inquisitors—as well as countless aristocrats ranging from English lords to Louis XVI. Also a man of the theater, his circle of friends has included literary heavyweights like Marguerite Duras, Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, whose works he performed on stage in Paris in the 1960s. Perfectly bilingual, he moves easily between the bizarre shoe salesman in François Truffaut’s “Stolen Kisses” and the campy bearded villain in the James Bond classic, “Moonraker.”

Revisiting Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (Moonraker ’66)

American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and British agent Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) compare notes in Kiss the Girls and Make The Die

Back in 2008, the blog noted the remarkable similarities between Kiss the Girls and Makes Them Die (1966) and Moonraker (1979).

This week, for the first time in a long time, I had a chance to watch the earlier movie. So here’s a more complete list of similarities.

Homages to Goldfinger and Thunderball: To be clear, Kiss the Girls takes a few cues from Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The villain, industrialist Mr. Ardonian (Raf Vallone) talks the Chinese into helping him. The Chinese supply the rocket from which Ardonian which launch a satellite that will zap the U.S. with radiation that causes men to lose interest in sex. From the Chinese standpoint, this will ensure the U.S. loses its position as the leading world superpower.

That’s similar to how Auric Goldfinger talked the Chinese into supplying him with an atomic bomb as part of his Fort Knox plan.

Except, Ardonian electrocutes a delegation of Chinese officials as part of a double-cross. That’s because Ardonian wants to expose all countries to the radiation. This evokes both Goldfinger (the villain double-crossing the gangsters who were helping him out) and Thunderball (similar to the SPECTRE board meeting where just one person was electrocuted).

There are also a number of “animated sets,” inspired by what Ken Adam designed for the two Bond films.

But there are a number of examples of where how Kiss the Girls reached territory before Bond.

Dorothy Provine’s title card in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die

Rio: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’s only location shooting was in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. That meant shots of Iguazu Falls (for the main titles), Brazilian Carnival and the Christ the Redeemer statue (the latter not really utilized for Moonraker).

“Sit!”: British agent Susan Fleming, being chased by a large dog of Ardonian’s, turns and yells at him, “Sit!” The dog complies. This is similar to what James Bond (Roger Moore) did with a tiger in Octopussy.

Villain’s plot: Ardonian feels the Earth is headed toward an environmental disaster. So he plans to head off overpopulation with his plan. Meanwhile, he is putting beautiful women into suspended animation. When the time comes, he will repopulate the Earth.

This is pretty similar to Moonraker where Drax plans to kill everybody on Earth while his “orbiting stud farm” eventually repopulates the Earth.

A pair of agents: Eventually American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) join forces after a bit of conflict.

This is pretty similar to how British agent James Bond (Moore) joins forces with American agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) join forces in Moonraker after a bit of conflict.

Billboards for product placement: Susan Fleming’s tricked-out Rolls Royce, driven by her chauffeur (Terry-Thomas) has a camouflage device. Panels come out from the bottom of the car, move up to the side and extend to look like a billboard for Bulova watches.

Moonraker didn’t have a tricked-out car. But it had billboards for British Airways, Seiko 7-Up and Marlboro as part of its Rio sequence.

The blog’s complicated feelings about Moonraker

Moonraker teaser poster

This week, I participated in an upcoming episode of the James Bond & Friends podcast where everybody watched Moonraker and commented about it in real time.

Afterward, I reflected on my own conflicted feelings about the 11th James Bond film.

When Moonraker came out in the summer of 1979, I was all in. The Spy Who Loved Me two years earlier had re-energized the franchise. Producer Albert R. Broccoli promised he was going all out with his next effort.

When the movie came out, Broccoli delivered. It even got favorable reviews from The New York Times (Vincent Canby wrote it was “one of the most buoyant Bond films”) and Time magazine, which likened Broccoli to the proverbial Jewish mother who doesn’t let anyone go away hungry. And it was a big hit.

Later, after the initial hit waned, I noted the lack of Fleming material in the movie. And, yes, that double-taking pigeon was a reminder the movie went for comedy in places.

I probably felt the lowest toward the movie in the 2000s. I was a contributor to the now-offline site Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. The site asked its contributors to rank all the movies up through 2006’s Casino Royale. We were also asked to write some remarks and mine about Moonraker were pretty tough.

Since then, my opinions toward the movie have mellowed. Here in the 21st century, there’s been a lot of bad news, including two major financial recessions a decade apart. Escapist entertainment, such as Moonraker, looks a lot better now. I appreciate it a lot more for what it is.

My stock line about Moonraker is, whatever you think of it, is it’s not pretentious. That’s not true of all Bond films.

Also, at this point, we have 25 Bond films from Eon Productions. The fact we can’t see the 25th (because of the release delay because of COVID-19) is another indicator of just how the 21st century has a lot of bad news.

That’s yet another reason why escapist entertainment like Moonraker is better appreciated.

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

Bollinger marks 40th anniversary with Bond films

Eon’s Michael G. Wilson (right) at party celebrating Bollinger’s 40th anniversary with the Bond franchise.

Champagne Bollinger held an event in Paris today to mark the 40th anniversary of its association with the James Bond film franchise.

Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions, maker of the Bond films, was guest of honor at the event.

Bollinger began its association with Bond with 1979’s Moonraker.

“One of the great partnerships in cinema – 40 years and counting,” Wilson and his half-sister Barbara Broccoli said in a statement.

At the event, Bollinger launched its Moonraker Luxury Limited Edition. Naturally, it’s a 2007 vintage. Here’s a description of the package from the statement: “Crafted from pewter and wood veneer, encasing a Saint Louis crystal ice bucket” and a magnum of the champagne.

It’s limited to 407 units. Price: 4,500 British pounds ($5,760) each.

THR features Lynch, de Armas and evolving Bond women

Lashana Lynch publicity still released during April “reveal” event in Jamaica

The Hollywood Reporter is out with a feature story about Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas and how they’re part of efforts “about bringing James Bond into the #MeToo age” in No Time to Die.

Lynch and de Armas have worked with director Cary Fukunaga and producer Barbara Broccoli “to create a new type of female Bond character who is much more fully realized than the ‘Bond girls’ of films past,” writes Rebecca Ford of THR.

“It’s pretty obvious that there is an evolution in the fact that Lashana is one of the main characters in the film and wears the pants — literally,” de Armas told the entertainment news outlet.

Referring to her character, Nomi, Lynch told THR: “Everyone was really responsive to having her be what I wanted. You’re given a fresh perspective on a brand-new black woman in the Bond world.”

Lynch confirmed Nomi is a British agent. She did not comment whether that character has the 007 code number after Bond departed MI6. Ford wrote that “sources close to the film tell THR that it’s accurate.”

The Lynch character joins a series of women agents in the Bond film series, including Soviet Agent Triple-X in The Spy Who Loved Me; CIA agent and astronaut Holly Goodhead in Moonraker; Chinese operative Wai Lin in Tomorrow Never Dies; and NSA agent Jinx in Die Another Day.

De Armas, meanwhile, provided a bit of detail about her character, Paloma.

Paloma “is a character that is very irresponsible,” the actress told THR. “She’s got this bubbliness of someone who is excited to be on a mission, but she plays with this ambiguity — you don’t really know if she’s like a really trained, prepared partner for Bond.”

This is not the first time the franchise has said it’s improving the way women are treated in Bond films. In 2012, Broccoli told the Evening Standard: “Fortunately, the days of Bond girls standing around with a clipboard are over.”

However, No Time to Die is the first Bond film since the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and sexual harassment.

In 2018, The New York Times and The New Yorker magazine shared a Pulitizer Prize “for their revelations of sexual harassment and abuse that had gone on, unheeded and unpunished, in the spheres of Hollywood, politics, the media and Silicon Valley,” The Times said in its account of the awards.

Other highlights from the article:

–THR says the movie’s budget is $250 million. This is the first estimate I’ve seen. That is probably after tax breaks, incentives and product placement deals have been factored in.

–Both actresses compliment screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “I very literally squealed when I first heard her name,” Lynch said to THR. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, British girl just like me. She’s going to know how to actually take care of women onscreen.’ ”

–De Armas told THR that reports that an “intimacy coach” being hired for her scenes with Daniel Craig were false.

To view the entire article, CLICK HERE.

Did Jeffrey Epstein see Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die?

Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die poster

You can’t make this up.

The New York Times today came out with a blockbuster story about Jeffrey Epstein, rich hedge fund manager accused of raping under-aged girls. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Jeffrey E. Epstein, the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker, had an unusual dream: He hoped to seed the human race with his DNA by impregnating women at his vast New Mexico ranch.

Mr. Epstein over the years confided to scientists and others about his scheme, according to four people familiar with his thinking, although there is no evidence that it ever came to fruition.

This sounds uncomfortably like the 1966 spy movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. It starred Mike Connors and Dorothy Provine as American and British agents trying to foil the plot of a rich adversary.

Said villain intends to make mankind sterile in order to avoid an ecological disaster. But the villain has many beautiful women in suspended animation. So when the time comes to repopulate the planet, he’ll take it upon himself to get all those women pregnant.

The plot is awfully similar to 1979’s Moonraker, the 11th James Bond film from Eon Productions. In that movie, Hugo Drax plans to wipe out most of Earth’s population while he operates an orbiting “stud farm.”

Regardless, the natural reaction is something like, “EEEEEEkkkkkkk.” This is supposed to escapist entertainment, not a serious plan.