Historian notes U.N.C.L.E., NxNW anniversaries

Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo

Historian Michael Beschloss used his Twitter feed to note two spy-entertainment landmarks: The first telecast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the end of production on North by Northwest.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. debuted on Sept. 22, 1964 on NBC. The show had been in development for almost two years.

Producer Norman Felton, invited to discuss doing a TV series based on Ian Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book, instead pitched an adventure show.

The network said it’d commit to a series without a pilot episode if Felton could get Ian Fleming on board. The two had discussions in October 1962 in New York. In June 1963, Fleming dropped out because of pressure by 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

Despite Fleming’s departure, the project continued, although a pilot would have to be made before NBC committed to a series. Writer Sam Rolfe did the heavy lifting on scripting the pilot and would be the day-to-day producer on the show’s first season. The series paired Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (the character name being one of Fleming’s surviving contributions) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin.

North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Ernest Lehman, would set the style for a lot of 1960s spy entertainment. It balanced drama and humor as Cary Grant’s Roger O. Thornhill would dodge spies, with a climax on Mount Rushmore. The film ended production in September 1958 and would be released in 1959.

Here are Beschloss’s tweets:

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UPDATE (9:30 p.m. New York time): Beschloss was busy with other 1960s TV shows, including Get Smart.

 

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Historian takes a brief look at North by Northwest

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Michael Beschloss, a historian who writes about U.S. presidents, turned his attention over the weekend to North by Northwest.

Beschloss’ Twitter feed (@BeschlossDC) often notes the anniversary of major historical events, accompanied by photos and illustrations. But he also posts tweets about the arts and society.

For North by Northwest, the 1959 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Beschloss had two posts.

One tweet included part of a document from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which would release the movie, to National Park Service concerning how Mount Rushmore would be used in the movie.

“None of our characters would tread upon the faces of the Presidents,” the document reads.

Beschloss also tweeted a photo of a brochure marked up by screenwriter to work out the Mount Rushmore sequence.

You can take a look for yourself.

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Martin Landau, M:I’s disguise artist, dies

Martin Landau as Rollin Hand in an IMF dossier photo

Martin Landau, who gained fame as Mission: Impossible disguise expert Rollin Hand, has died at 89, the TMZ website said.

Landau died Saturday at the UCLA Medical Center “after a short hospitalization where he suffered unexpected complications,” TMZ said.

Landau enjoyed a long career that began in the early 1950s. It included a number of espionage-related stories, including portraying Leonard, a henchman in the Alfred Hitchcock-directed North by Northwest (1959); a Cold War themed episode of The Twilight Zone; and playing Thrush operative Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair, a second-season episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

But he was most famous for Mission: Impossible, where he appeared during the show’s first three seasons.

M:I producer Bruce Geller wrote the part of Rollin Hand (originally named Martin Land) in his pilot script especially for Landau. Landau didn’t want to sign a series deal. Geller wanted the actor for the pilot badly enough he proceeded anyway.

It would be a decision that would have a major impact on the series.

Initially, the idea was Rollin would only appear occasionally. However, series star Steven Hill, for religious reasons, insisted on leaving work at sundown on Friday.

Count Zark (Martin Landau) menaces Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) in The Bat Cave Affair

As a result, scripts were revised to de-emphasize Hill’s Dan Briggs and to keep bringing back Rollin. Throughout the first season, Landau was listed as either a guest star or making a “special guest appearance.”

After the first season, Hill was fired, with Peter Graves replacing him as a new Impossible Missions Force mastermind, Jim Phelps. Landau was now joint star with Graves.

However, Landau would only agree to do one season at a time. This gave him enormous leverage in his contract negotiations.

After three seasons, Paramount executives wanted to cap costs on Mission: Impossible. The studio had tough negotiations with Landau.

According to Patrick J. White’s The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier, Paramount offered a small raise (to $7,000 an episode from $6,500 in the third season) while the actor wanted $11,000 per episode for the fourth season and $12,500 for season five.

Meanwhile, according to the book, Peter Graves had a clause in his contract that nobody else on the show could be paid more than he was. A raise for Landau also meant a raise for Graves.

Eventually, Landau departed, replaced by Leonard Nimoy as a new disguise expert, Paris. That led to Barbara Bain, Landau’s real-life spouse, exiting the series as well.

Landau and Bain years later starred in Space: 1999, a syndicated Gerry Anderson science fiction series that ran two seasons. The couple divorced in 1993.

Landau eventually secured three nominations for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, with one win for 1994’s Ed Wood as Bela Lugosi. His turn as Count Zark in The Bat Cave Affair decades earlier (where he spoke with the same Lugosi accent) was a sort of warm up.

Neverthless, Landau retained his association as Rollin Hand. In 2014, the MeTV cable channel produced promos for M:I with Landau urging viewers to “watch me on Me…MeTV,” while it was running the series as part of a Sunday night block of spy shows.

North by Northwest: Feast of the character actors

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo right after his "directed by" credit in North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo right after his “directed by” credit in North by Northwest

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy 1959’s North by Northwest, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best thrillers. Among them: a slick performance by Cary Grant. Eva Marie Saint as the heroine, James Mason as the villain, Martin Landau as the villain’s main assistant, Ernest Lehman’s script, Bernard Herrmann’s music, etc.

The purpose of this post, though, is to point out the wealth of character actors, especially for those familiar with 1960s and 1970s television shows in the U.S. Hitchcock’s 136-minute film provided plenty of parts, albeit small in most cases, for busy character actors.

What follows is a sampling:

Leo G. Carroll (The Professor): Carroll, by this point, was something of a Hitchock regular, having previously appeared in Rebecca, Suspicion and Spellbound. Here’s he appears as “The Professor,” a high-ranking official of U.S. intelligence. It’s a preview of his performances as Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Jessie Royce Landis (Roger Thornhill’s mother): Landis was born in 1896, just eight years before Cary Grant. She steals almost every scene she’s in here, especially when she’s skeptical of her son’s wild story of spies. Her career spanned decades.

Edward Platt (Thornhill’s lawyer): At his point, Platt was six years away from his best-known role, The Chief in Get Smart.

Ken Lynch (Chicago policeman): Lynch showed up as gruff cops (he had a recurring role on the 1970s show McCloud as a New York cop) or gruff villains. With 189 acting credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY, he never lacked for work.

Malcom Atterbury (Man at Bus Stop): The busy charactor actor (155 credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY) only gets a few lines as he chats with Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill in the middle of nowhere. But Atterbury’s observation about the crop dusting plane sets up a classic sequence, which would be an influence in the Terence Young-directed From Russia With Love.

Lawrence Dobkin (U.S. intelligence official): He’s one of the people who participates in a meeting chaired by The Professor. In the 1970s, he’d double as a director on various series as well as being a character actor (including being the villain in the pilot of The Streets of San Francisco).

Les Tremayne (Auctioneer): Blessed with a smooth, silky voice, Tremayne remained busy for decades, including a part in the 1953 version of War of the Worlds.

Olan Soule (Assistant Auctioneer): Another actor blessed with a smooth voice. He had a slight build, but an enormous voice, ensuring he could get work frequently. His many voice-only roles included playing Batman in cartoons produced by Filmation and Hanna-Barbera.

Alfred Hitchcock (Man at New York Bus Stop): One of Hitchcock’s more prominent cameos, he misses the bus immediately after his “directed by” credit.

And no this is not a comprehensive list (sorry, Edward Binns and Ned Glass, among others).

 

Does SPECTRE have too much humor? Not really

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

Cover art for a North by Northwest Blu Ray release

A recurring criticism of SPECTRE is that the 24th James Bond film engages in too much “Roger Moore humor.”

This trope came up repeatedly. (Trust us, this blog surveyed a lot of reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.) Yet, in a lot of ways, SPECTRE’s humor content was closer to “Alfred Hitchock-Ernest Lehman humor,” as realized in the 1959 movie North by Northwest.

Without going into too much detail, North by Northwest concerns the adventures of New York advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), who suddenly finds himself in the midst of a Cold War adventure involving spies from all sides.

Sounds like very serious stuff. And it is. But there’s also some humor, similar to SPECTRE.

SLAPSTICK: In SPECTRE, the main example of slapstick humor involves a hapless driver of a Fiat in Rome, with Bond (Daniel Craig) tailgating him while trying to evade Hinx (Dave Bautista). The Fiat driver eventually touches (slightly) a post, causing his air bag to deploy.

In North by Northwest, Thornhill has been forced to drink an entire fifth of Bourbon by the lackeys of lead villain Vandamm (James Mas0n). The thugs intend to make it look like Thornhill had a fatal auto accident while drunk. But Thornhills revives enough to drive off. At one point, two of his car’s four wheels are over a cliff. In a closeup, Grant looks at the camera while his character is drunk and not entirely sure what’s going on.

MORE SUBTLE HUMOR: In SPECTRE, Bond has amusing exchanges with M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

In North by Northwest, Thornhill — who finally knows everything — gets away from his “American Intelligence” minder the Professor (Leo G. Carroll). He gets out of his own hospital room and enters the room of a woman patient.

The woman patient, while putting on her glasses, says, “Stop!”

Grant’s Thornhill replies, “I’m sorry…” The woman patient, her glasses now on and realizing what she sees, replies, “Stop….”

“Uh, uh, uh,” Thornhill says, wagging his finger. He then ducks out of the room.

In a 2009 post, this blog argued that North by Northwest provided the blueprint for 1960s spy entertainment. SPECTRE is an attempt to replicate that, as well as the “classic” Bond film style, while including some of the drama of 21st century Daniel Craig 007 movies.

SPECTRE has its faults. This blog’s review, while liking the film overall, cited the “reveal,” the length and the last third of the film as demerits. Still, SPECTRE doen’t remotely resemble a comedy, as some critics seemed to think it did.  It’s an attempt, as we’ve said before, of blending “classic” and Craig-style Bond.

And it’s humor content is comparable to what Hitchcock liked to introduce in some of his films. SPECTRE isn’t up to the standards of North by Northwest. That’s still a nice standard to shoot for.

 

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.

Spring 1964: U.N.C.L.E. gets a new chief

Leo G. Carroll's title card for first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes

Leo G. Carroll’s title card for first-season U.N.C.L.E. episodes

With less than a month before regular series production began, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had some tweaks, both major and minor.

Superficially, star Robert Vaughn changed his hairstyle, switching his part and going for more of a “dry look” compared to the pilot that would air as the first episode.

More substantively, U.N.C.L.E. would have a new chief: Leo G. Carroll, a mainstay of several Alfred Hitchcock films, was cast as Alexander Waverly, replacing Will Kuluva’s Mr. Allison.

Carroll was three decades older than Kuluva. He had two basic on-screen personas: kind and bumbling (the 1955 comedy We’re No Angels or the Topper television series) or cold and calculating (“The Professor” in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest).

Occasionally, he got to a character where he displayed *both* personas (such as THIS EPISODE of the Boris Karloff Thriller anthology series where his character’s seeming bumbling masked his true persona).

Here’s an entry from Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE:

Monday, May 18, 1964

(Executive Producer Norman) Felton officially informs NBC that (Rober) Vaughn and (David) McCallum will remain to play running characters but Will Kuluva has been dropped. The new chief at U.N.C.L.E. will be played by Leo G. Carroll, and the character’s name has changed from Allison to Alexander Waverly.

Arguably, Carroll’s Waverly is an extension of his “Professor” character. Waverly is calculating and, as the series went on, showed he was more than willing to sacrifice his operatives if necessary. In one second-season episode (The Foxes and Hounds Affair), Waverly drops Solo (just returning from a vacation) into the middle of a complicated assignment where the ace agent’s life is in danger.

The official casting of the new U.N.C.L.E. chief came less than two weeks before series production began on June 1. The first draft for The Double Affair, which would be the eighth episode broadcast, still refers to Allison as the U.N.C.L.E. chief.

As the first season unfolded, the production team would seek to expand Carroll’s role. Waverly would be given a cousin who bore an uncanny resemblance (The Bow-Wow Affair) and would occasionally demonstrate he had once been a pretty mean operative himself (knocking out a lackey in The Deadly Decoy Affair).

The on-camera team was now complete. The question now was whether the show would work — or even survive.