Patrick Macnee dies at 93, BBC says

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Patrick Macnee, debonair actor best known for playing John Steed on The Avengers, died today at 93, according to the BBC, WHICH CITED MACNEE’S SON RUPERT.

There was also a statement ON THE ACTOR’S WEBSITE that said Macnee “died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California…with his family at his bedside.”

Macnee enjoyed a long career, playing dozens of characters. Still, The Avengers and his character of John Steed, with his bowler and umbrella, became Macnee’s career trademark. The show first went into production in 1961. Its greatest popularity came when he was paired with Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel.

The actor saw two of his co-stars — Honor Blackman and Rigg — leave the series to take the lead female role in James Bond movies (Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Another Majesty’s actress, Joanna Lumley, was Macnee’s co-star in a 1970s revival, The New Avengers.

Macnee finally got his turn at a Bond movie, A View to a Kill, in 1985, playing an ally of Bond (Roger Moore) who is killed by henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones). Macnee, years earlier, had played Dr. Watson to Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in a made-for-television movie. Macnee also made a properly dignified chief of U.N.C.L.E. in 1983’s The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E.

UPDATE: For the second time this month (Christopher Lee’s death was the other), Roger Moore bids adieu to a colleague:

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a re-evaluation

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a special place in the James Bond film series.

It’s the film closest to its source material, Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name. It’s also a movie whose reputation has improved over the years.

Yet, fans keep pining for things that cannot be. If only the movies had been made in order of the novels, instead of reversing the order of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice. If only the experienced Sean Connery had played Bond in Majesty’s instead of newcomer George Lazenby.

Here are a few thoughts on that:

OHMSS would have been a lot different if it had been filmed in 1966 instead of You Only Live Twice. The fan argument about the filming the Fleming novels in order (Majesty’s first, followed by Twice instead of the other way around) assumes we’d have gotten essentially the same movie as the one released in 1969.

As stated in Majesty’s, “I wouldn’t go banco on that.”

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 2009, provides a rundown of various Majesty’s treatments and script drafts. According to Helfenstein, Richard Maibaum had a 1966 OHMSS treatment and draft including “an aquatic Aston Martin” a lot more gadgets than the 1969 film would have and the relevation that Blofeld was the brother (treatment) or half brother (draft) of Auric Goldfinger (pages 27-29).

That’s only one example. The book includes a table (pages 38-39) summarizing the differences of 10 different treatments and drafts, from 1964 through the 1969 film’s shooting script. The main thing in common is Tracy, Bond’s doomed wife, dies in all of them.

Peter Hunt, making his directing debut in Majesty’s, was one of the driving forces to keep the movie faithful to the novel. Had Majesty’s been after Thunderball, Hunt wouldn’t be the director. We might have gotten a similar film, but it’s likely we would have gotten something with more gadgets and a different tone (probably closer to Goldfinger) than audiences received in 1969.

Would Majesty’s really be better with Sean Connery than George Lazenby as Bond? For many, the answer is “of course.” Lazenby had no real acting experience before the film and Connery was, well, Connery. But not everyone subscribes to this conventional wisdom.

Writer Jeffrey Westhoff IN THIS ESSAY (in which he details why Majesty’s is his *favorite movie* not just favorite 007 film), argues against that idea. Here’s an excerpt.

I have often heard film critics and fellow Bond fans acknowledge the superior script and technical work in OHMSS, but then say, “It would be the best James Bond movie if only Sean Connery were in it.” I reject that.
(snip)
But let’s pretend a younger, amenable Connery was cast in an OHMSS directed by Hunt. It’s still a dubious proposition. For the story of OHMSS to work, particularly the ending, Bond must be vulnerable. From Goldfinger onward, Connery’s Bond was invulnerable, Superman in a tuxedo. I’m not saying Connery didn’t have the ability to play Bond as vulnerable, but after Goldfinger I doubt the audience would have accepted it.

For many reasons, OHMSS required a new actor as Bond….Lazenby’s athleticism in the fight scenes cannot be matched, and his acting improves as the film progresses, reaching its fruition in the proposal scene. More than any scene in the entire series, this one puts the greatest demand on the actor playing Bond.  (emphasis added)

The thing is, there is no right or wrong answer to all this. Without a time machine to go back to change events, or the ability to travel to an alternative universe where things occurred differently, there’s no way to know.

At the same time, real life is more complicated than what we want. So it is with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only certainty is the movie remains — perhaps flawed but still one of the best entries in the Bond series.

007 Magazine offering Majesty’s collectible

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

007 Magazine is offering an On Her Majesty’s Secret Service collectible.

The fan publication is reprinting two issues and offering them as a single publication. Two 36-page issues were published in 2010 and are out of print.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was released in late 1969. It was the first Eon Productions 007 film not to feature Sean Connery as Bond. George Lazenby, the movie’s star, quit after his only appearance as the secret agent.

Various photos and feature stories are part of the 007 Magazine package.

007 Magazine is reprinting both in a single issue with a new cover. The price is 19.99 British pounds, $30.99 or 26.99 euros.

Orders are due March 31.

For more information about the reprint, CLICK HERE.

Brian Clemens, mastermind of The Avengers, dies

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Brian Clemens, a mastermind of the television series The Avengers, has died, according to an obituary on the INQUISITR WEBSITE.

Clemens, born in 1931, had a lengthy career as a writer and producer. But he is perhaps best known for his work on The Avengers (1961-69) and The New Avengers (1976-77).

In a 2008 U.K. television interview, Clemens said The Avengers “had a curious logic all its own.” Ideas that might work elsewhere could work on The Avengers, he said. “The Avengers had unwritten rules” which were “in my head,” Clemens said.

Of suave John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, Clemens said in 2008: “He is the manipulator of the all the girls he’s ever been associated with. He gets them into situations for his own benefit.”

Eon Productions, maker of the James Bond film series, used The Avengers as a farm club. Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale on The Avengers, was signed to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. After bringing aboard Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, the series even made a joke about Mrs. Gale sending Steed a card from Fort Knox.

Rigg, of course, ended up playing Tracy, Bond’s doomed bride, in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Macnee finally made his 007 appearance in 1985’s A View to a Kill. Going the other way, Joanna Lumley, who had a small part in Majesty’s, was the female lead in The New Avengers.

Here’s the 2008 interview with Clemens:

Richard Graydon, 007 stuntman, dies at 92

Richard Graydon, a stuntman in several James Bond films, died Dec. 22, according to an obituary at the MI6 JAMES BOND WEBSITE.

Two of Graydon’s signature stunts involved cable cars. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he doubled star George Lazenby, in a sequence where Bond is supposed to be on a cable as a cable car approaches. The official 007 Twitter feed on Dec. 23, posted a picture in connection with the movie’s 45th anniversary.

A decade later, Graydon doubled for Roger Moore atop a Rio cable car in a scene where 007 is depicted as fighting Jaws. In the documentary Inside Moonraker, director Lewis Gilbert described himself as transfixed watching, having to be reminded to yell cut. Graydon shows up as an interview subject in a number of the 007 film documentaries directed by John Cork.

Graydon also got an on-screen credit in the end titles of 1983’s Octopussy as Francisco, the Fearless, one of the acts in Octopussy’s circus.

Watching the 007 sausage getting made

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

No SPECTRE spoilers in this post.

There’s an old saying that you shouldn’t watch laws or sausage being made.

With the recent hacking at Sony Pictures, there’s been an opportunity to watch sausage production as it relates to SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film produced by Eon Productions.

The CNN/Money website reported about hacked emails CONCERNING SPECTRE’S BUDGET. The Gawker website reported about hacked emails DEALING WITH ISSUES ABOUT THE MOVIE’S SCRIPT. (Warning: if you’re spoiler adverse, don’t click on either link).

Movie making can be a messy business. There are countless decisions to be made all the time. Different ideas get floated and what, to the lay person, seems like a terrible idea can even be seriously considered.

Until now, the sausage making, as it concerns Bond films, has emerged well after the movies came out. Books such as Steven Jay Rubin’s The James Bond Films, Adrian Turner’s Adrian Turner on Goldfinger and Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service showed how the 007 movies didn’t always go smoothly. Even studio-approved documentaries on DVDs of the films detailed problems with the productions.

Thus, fans have become familiar with stories how screenwriters wanted to dump Ian Fleming’s Dr. No character and have a villain with a pet monkey named Dr. No; how screenwriters sweated bullets to explain why Goldfinger just didn’t kill Bond when he had the chance; how screenwriter Paul Dehn turned in a draft where Goldfinger would end with “red velvet curtains” coming down as if the movie were a play; how some drafts of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service included an amphibious Aston Martin. One resource in uncovering all this has been the papers of 007 screenwriter Richard Maibaum at the University of Iowa.

With the Sony hacking, the information about the script and budget came out shortly after SPECTRE began principal photography. A seven-month shoot is scheduled, so the movie is a long way from being finished.

Meanwhile, Eon has a history of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Maibaum didn’t begin a draft that solved the storytelling problems of inserting SPECTRE into the plot of From Russia With Love until filming was underway. The screenplays of The Spy Who Loved Me and Tomorrow Never Dies had chaotic histories but things turned out all right in the end.

Thus, it’s certainly possible that SPECTRE could well turn out fine. It’s just that 21st century technology (and hazards such as the Sony hackers) makes things more anxious until there’s an actual movie to judge.

Majesty’s 45th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond in Dr. No, there was interest. Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were popular. President John F. Kennedy was among their fans. Still, it wasn’t anything to obsess over.

Six years later, things had changed. Bond was a worldwide phenomenon. 007 was a big business that even producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hadn’t anticipated originally. Now, the role was being re-cast after Sean Connery departed the role.

As a result, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which debuted 45 years ago this month, was under intense scrutiny. The film required a long, exhausting shooting schedule. This time, Bond would be played by a novice actor, George Lazenby, and a first time director Peter Hunt.

Hunt, at least, was no novice with the world of 007. He had been editor or supervising editor of the previous five Broccoli-Saltzman 007 films and second unit director of You Only Live Twice. So he was more than familiar with how the Bond production machine worked. Also, he had support of other 007 veterans, including production designer Syd Cain, set decorator Peter Lamont, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry.

Lazenby, on the other hand, had to take a crash course. He was paired with much more experienced co-stars, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. And he was constantly being compared with Connery.

When, at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella,” the statement was true on multiple levels.

Majesty’s was also the first time Eon Productions re-calibrated. You Only Live Twice had dispensed with the main plot of Fleming’s novel and emphasized spectacle instead. Majesty’s ended up being arguably the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming 007 novel. It was still big, but it had no spaceships or volcano hideouts.

Majesty’s global box office totaled $82 million, according to THE NUMBERS WEBSITE. That was a slide from You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million. Twice’s box offce, in turn, had declined compared with Thunderball.

For Lazenby, once was enough. He subsequently has said he erred by not making a second Bond. “This never happened to the other fella,” indeed.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among 007 fans. In 1969 and 1970, the brain trust at Eon Productions and United Artists concluded some re-thinking was needed. Things were about to change yet again.

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