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.


007 screenwriter Christopher Wood dies

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

Christopher Wood, screenwriter on two big James Bond films of the 1970s, has died, Roger Moore said on Twitter.

Wood, 79, was brought on to write 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me by the movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. He came aboard after various scribes — Richard Maibaum, Stirling Silliphant, Cary Bates and others — had tried their hand at a story for the 10th 007 film.

Wood ended up sharing the screenplay credit with Maibaum, while Tom Mankiewicz did some uncredited rewrites.

Spy was a major test for producer Albert R. Broccoli. It was his first Bond film as solo producer after Harry Saltzman sold off his interest to United Artists. Also, The Man With the Golden Gun had underperformed at the box office.

A lot was riding on Spy and the escapist, extravagant film delivered, becoming a big hit in the summer of 1977.

Wood was brought back for 1979’s Moonraker, also directed by Gilbert. While writer Tom Mankiewicz helped plot the story, Wood was the only credited screenwriter. Broccoli wanted to outdo himself this time, wanting to send Bond into outer space and going bigger in every way. It also was a big hit, but Broccoli scaled things down for future films.

As big as Moonraker was, it was actually reduced from THE FIRST-DRAFT SCREENPLAY, which had his and her micro-jets, a keel-hauling sequence and a jet pack. The keel-hauling sequence (based on the Live And Let Die novel) would be saved for For Your Eyes Only and (only one) micro-jet would be utilized in Octopussy.

Wood also wrote the novelization for the two movies. In the minds of many fans, Wood successfully merged Ian Fleming’s literary Bond with the large-scale epic films.

Here’s Sir Roger’s tweet about Wood’s death:

Happy 88th birthday to Roger Moore

Oct. 14 is the 88th birthday for Roger Moore, who starred in seven James Bond films produced by Eon Productions.

Thirty years after departing the role, Sir Roger remains one of the main ambassadors for the 53-year-old film series.

He’s not as beloved as other Bonds. Even today you hear fan gibes. “I’m not sure we can even count Roger Moore as Bond.” Or, “Roger the clown.”

It’s doubtful such things bother him. He continues on, usually making self-deprecating remarks about his own 007 tenure while complimenting his fellow Bond actors, including current 007 Daniel Craig. Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

SPECTRE song debuts; BBC describes reaction as mixed


Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall,” the title song for SPECTRE, is out today and, ACCORDING TO THE BBC, “split opinion.”

The song for the 24th James Bond film was made available early today at outlets such as ITUNES (where it was priced at $1.29) and SPOTIFY.

One of the song’s most prominent backers was Roger Moore, star of seven 007 films, who said IN A TWEET that “Writing’s On the Wall” is “very haunting and wonderfully orchestrated.”:

The BBC also quoted others, including its own entertainment reporter, on the subject. Here’s an excerpt:

BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Paterson said it was “good enough, but not a classic”.

The song, whose full version runs for 4 minutes and 38 seconds, begins with the words: “I’ve been here before / But always hit the floor.”

“I’ve spent a lifetime running, and I always get away,” it continues. “But with you I’m feeling something, that makes we want to stay.”

“I think it’s a song about a man deciding to quit it all for love,” Paterson said of the track on BBC Breakfast, comparing its melody to that of Michael Jackson’s 1995 single Earth Song.

GUEST REVIEW: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

U.N.C.L.E. movie poster

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

I never fully watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. I wasn’t born when it was released and no DVDs (and few TV telecasts) where released in my country, at least in my teens.

As a Bond fan, of course, I enjoyed many rip-offs, from the funny ones like Get Smart, Johnny English and Kingsman: The Secret Service to the more realistic ones like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible saga, the Harry Palmer films and a few modern-espionage films like The International.

Still, I barely knew about Napoleon Solo and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. except for the fact it was one of the many ingredients of the ‘60s spy phenomenon and the Ian Fleming connection with the character of Napoleon Solo. I was kind of interested, but I never ended up closely following the episodes as I did with Zorro, Batman, The Saint or other cult TV series.

So, what follows “review” of someone in the mid-20s who hasn’t properly watched the original TV series produced by Norman Felton but has an idea on it.

I had a free afternoon so I booked the tickets on a close theatre in my hometown in Buenos Aires. The screening was around 6:30 p.m. As I entered the theatre, all the seats were empty! I wondered if some of the negative reviews had such an impact on people that left Napoleon Solo a bit… “solo” (if you speak Spanish, you’ll get the word game).

A few minutes later, people appeared — not many, five or seven more, making around ten people if you count me. On a side note, I catched the SPECTRE teaser trailer before the film. I’ve always been unlucky in finding a Bond trailer on a screening, something that only happened before in 2002 when the Die Another Day trailer popped up before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the movie my grandmother took me to watch.

And then, Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E. filled the screen.

Overall, the film is enjoyable… enough to relax after a tough day at work, at least. It looks indeed as a movie set in the 1960s: a masterful work of the cinematographer, the costume designer, and Daniel Pemberton in the music department.

There’s a lot of humor like the one you’ll find in Kingsman: The Secret Service, but a lot less exaggerated, and more in the vein of the 1972 TV series The Persuaders. The Henry Cavill-Armie Hammer relationship onscreen is in a way very similar to the Roger Moore-Tony Curtis one.

A scene of Napoleon Solo (Cavill) comfortably drinking wine and having sandwiches while sitting in a truck as Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin (Hammer) gun fighting his enemies on a boat is particularly effective and funny for the inclusion of “Che Vuole Questa Musica Stasera” (sung by Peppino Gagliardi) as both events are taking place. This rivalry that slowly turns into friendship is akin to The Persuader’s pilot “Interlude.”

Other of the film’s pros is the backdrop created for the protagonists: Solo being an art thief working for the CIA on probation and Kuryakin having with anger management problems. The girls, Gaby (Alicia Vikander) and Victoria (Elizabeth Debicki), are in a way the stereotypical “good girls” and “bad girls” you’ll find in any retro spy series. They are not complex characters, but they fit very well into the film.

More into the 60s influence, the scene where Solo is tortured seems to have a small nod to the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, where Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) provides a “mind torture” to Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble, aka James Bond 007, when uncle Rudi shows a video of the Nazi “achievements” as the hero is tied to an electric chair.

A special mention is deserved by Hugh Grant as Waverly, whose presence itself is more than welcome and adds a special touch to the film with his comic quips.

There is, however, a big negative point in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: the editing. It tried to be artistic and it perhaps succeeded in the desired effect, but the fast camera shots, the flashbacks and the split-screen shots are very distracting. It happens, even in a more confusing way, the same that in the shakey cam shots of Quantum of Solace.

The film’s ending offers a nice cliffhanger, maybe predictable, but very similar to the current “reboot” movies where we see the inception of what has been established before. There is a word association to the last line said by Waverly to the relationship a character had with other, something that would probably get lost in translation for many non-English speaking countries.

Verdict: Love the ‘60s spy movies with lots of humor? Watch it!

1974: Maibaum’s 1st try at scripting a Moore 007 film

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

Richard Maibaum, the veteran 007 screenwriter, wasn’t involved with the launch of the Roger Moore era of James Bond films. He was off doing other things as Tom Mankiewicz scripted Moore’s debut in Live And Let Die.

Maibaum, though, was summoned to return to the fold with The Man With the Golden Gun. Mankiewicz bowed out after after the earlier drafts (he’d be back for later rewrites).

Producer Albert R. Broccoli, doing the heavy lifting for this film the way Harry Saltzman had for Live And Let Die, needed help. He turned to Maibaum, an old associate.

Bond collector Gary Firuta provided a copy of Maibaum’s initial effort, dated Jan. 7, 1974. The title page simply reads, “First draft screenplay by Richard Maibaum,” so there’s no way to tell what Mankiewicz ideas were carried over.

Still, reading the draft, there are significant differences compared with the finished film, which was released for 1974’s Christmas film season. Some of the ideas in Maibaum’s draft are arguably improvements from the final movie, but the draft has other issues.

For example, it seemed pretty much established that Major Boothroyd and Q were one and the same. Desmond Llewelyn, who made his debut in the Maibaum-scripted From Russia With Love, was identified as Boothroyd in that film and known as Q thereafter.

In Maibaum’s draft, after the pre-titles sequence (pretty similar to the final movie), there’s a scene in M’s office. With M are Chief of Staff Bill Tanner and “ballistics expert” Boothroyd.

That’s on page 7. But on page 18 (more in a moment about what happened inbetween), Bond meets with Boothroyd *and* Q. Based on the stage directions, It’s clear that Q, rather than Boothroyd, is the character normally played by Llewelyn. In the final movie, Colthorpe is the ballistics expert and Q is his usual self (after a one-movie hiatus, having not appeared in Live And Let Die).

As in the final film, MI6 has received what appears to be a threat — a golden bullet with 007 inscribed — against its prize agent. M relieves Bond off his current assignment of finding a missing solar energy expert until the matter can be resolved. So now Bond is on the trail of Francisco Scaramanga, the title character.

As in the final movie, Bond travels to Beirut, where double-O agent Bill Fairbanks was believed to have been killed by Scaramanga. The trail leads to a woman called Saida.
Except, in this draft, Saida is a prostitute as a bordello, not a dancer in a cabaret. Maibaum’s description:


Recling (sic) on king-size bed, she wears thin Turkish trousers, a short velvet bedjacket, is excessively plump and over made up, but definitely not an old bag. Her eyes light up.

This version avoids a visual gag of the final film (Bond swallowing golden bullet after retrieving it from her belly button). There’s a fight, but the context is different. Afterward, Bond is with Saida once more. She has the mashed golden bullet that is hanging “on ribbon in her cleavage.”

My lucky charm.

She holds out her arms. CAMERA IN on BOND’s reaction. Big “Things I do for England” sigh

Reluctantly starting to take off his jacket.

After some, eh, “bliss” with Saida, Bond has the bullet and takes it back to MI6.

For a while, things proceed much as the finished movie, including Bond roughing up Andrea, Scaramanga’s mistress and a number of other scenes. Scaramanga kills Gibson, the missing solar expert, we meet Hip, the MI6 operative in the area and Bond tries to get the mission back on track.

The trail leads to industrialist Hai Fat. There’s a scene in the draft not contained in the film where Q meets up with Bond, Hip and Mary Goodnight before they can fly to Bangkok. Q gives Bond a camera that do a number of tasks except take photographs. It’s in this scene that Bond asks Q to make a fake third nipple so 007 can pass for Scaramanga.

We eventually get to Bangkok to meet Hai Fat, “an impressive Chinaman in his late forties.” Interestingly, the part would be filled by character actor Richard Loo, who was in his early 70s.

Bond, posing as Scaramanga, manages to get invited by Hai Fat for dinner. As in the final movie, Hip drives him to Hai Fat’s residence, accompanied by his nieces, Cha and Nara.

Things don’t go well. Bond is caputred and ends up in a martial arts academy. There are some interesting differences from the movie.

For one thing, Bond has an exchange with the academy’s headmaster. “Good morning, Mr Bond,” he says. “On hehalf of my academy I accept your challenge.”

This scene is populated by a number of “BLACK BELTERS.” There are also SPECTATORS, a group that somehow includes Hip and his two nieces.

After some preliminaries, Bond faces off against prized pupil Chula. Things don’t look good for 007.

CHULA knocks him down again, then grasps BOND’s neck in a both-hand squeeze, a possibly fatal hold. ANGLE SUDDENLY WIDENS as CHA and NARA come to BOND’S aid. Actually, they are professional Thai girl kick-boxers. Gasp of amazement from CROWD as they go to work on CHULA with their fists, elbows, nkees feet, event butting with their heads. CHULA goes down.

So, if anything, Bond looks even more impotent in the sequence than in the final film, where at least Bond bested Chula before being shown up by the girls.

The ensuing chase plays out a bit differently than the movie. Nevertheless, there is an appearance by J.W. Pepper and his wife. Unlike the film, though, that’s all there is for the good sheriff (a creation of Tom Mankiewicz, after all). Pepper falls into the water, but isn’t pushed by an elephant.

Jumping forward, Andrea is revealed as having sent the golden bullet, wanting to get Bond to kill Scaramanga. When Bond is supposed to meet her, there’s an interesting change from the final film. The event that’s supposed to be the site of the meeting is a tournament of girl Thai kick boxers.

Scaramanga and Nick Nack get the drop on Bond. But Scaramanga, in this draft, provides an attempt of an Ian Fleming-type travelogue.

“You know why these girls aren’t phony?” Scaramanga says of the contestants. “They’re fighting for husbands. Come from the mountain villages up north. Chiang Mai. You need a dowry up there…Win a few fights and you can pick your husband.”

The next major change from the final movie comes in the chase sequence, where Goodnight is in the trunk of Scaramanga’s car while Bond tries to pursue.

Bond needs a car and goes to a Ford Motor Co. dealership (it was American Motors in the movie).

A would-be Thai buyer gets into the car. “Give me demonstration, please. How is pickup?”

This, of course, is where Bond gets into the car and steals it to chase Scaramanga. For the rest of the sequence, PROSPECTIVE BUYER (as he’s called in the script) displays “true Oriental unflappability, his face is expressionless.”

So, instead of a screaming, over-the-top J.W. Pepper, we have a cool, calm Asian man along for the ride with Bond, including the now-famous car jump. (“Nice family car,” Bond quips after the jump.) As in the film, Scaramanga gets away in a flying car.

As Bond and policemen watch the flying car gets away, Prospective Buyer says he “no care for that model,” referring to the departing car plane. Gesturing toward the Ford that Bond stole, he says, “I take that one.”

Eventually, Bond makes it to Scaramanga’s island. They discuss the solar power system made possible by the solex agitator. The stage directions for one of Bond’s lines says “usual expertise when needed.” One difference: when Scaramanga destroys Bond’s plane, 007 responds, “Thanks. A very convincing demonstration.”

Maibaum also comes up with an interesting line when Bond and Scaramanga verbally spar during lunch. Agent 007 says, “You’d kill a blind cripple for tuppence. When I have to kill it’s a kind of justice.”

This draft has a more elaborate duel sequence, which was filmed (some scenes are in the movie’s teaser trailer) but don’t show up in the final version. Some of the dialogue, though, is a little clunky:


(shouting back)
That just pumps my adrenalin (sic) faster. You’re playing it close. Is that what they taught you when you were a KGB punk?


You’re a limey punk yourself — and so far it looks like they didn’t teach you much.

There’s more, but overall the Maibaum draft is mostly what we’d see on screen. Whether the draft is actually better or not is in the eyes of the beholder.

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:


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