Movie draws attention to U.N.C.L.E.’s origins

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie comes out this week, prompting the Los Angeles Times to examine the origins of the 1964-68 series it’s based on.

The story looks at a number of angles, including how 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the first few months of the show’s development.

Susan King of the Times talked to the likes of Dean Hargrove, one of the main writers on the show; Steven Jay Rubin, author of books about James Bond; film and TV music expert Jon Burlingame, who produced a series of U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack recordings in the 2000s; and Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

Here’s an excerpt:

Young moviegoers checking out the feature film version Aug. 14 starring Henry Cavill as Solo and Armie Hammer as Kuryakin probably don’t realize the original TV series existed — let alone know of the show’s impact on baby boomers.

“Man From U.N.C.L.E.” hit at the right time. Noted Ron Simon, curator of television and radio at the Paley Center for Media in New York, “The same excitement seeing the Beatles live on television which happened a few months before, I think the same thing happened when ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ debuted in fall 1964.

“There was something cool about it. It created an emotional resonance for TV. It became the most popular show on campus in 1964, ’65 and ’66 — the first two seasons. It was a cultural phenomenon.”

Separately, The Hollywood Reporter talk about how U.N.C.L.E. MAY HERALD THE RETURN OF SPY ACRONYMS.

U.N.C.L.E. helped popularize such acronyms, although Marvel Studios has beaten the U.N.C.L.E. movie to the punch by including SHIELD (which didn’t debut until a year after U.N.C.L.E.) in its films.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in knowing more about the show, CLICK HERE for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide, produced by The Spy Command.

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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.

REVISITED: the ‘banned’ FRWL commentary

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

We continue our revisiting of the “banned” Criterion 007 laser disk commentaries with a look at what the creators of the early James Bond films said about From Russia With Love.

Again, this is a sampling you can hear in full BY CLICKING HERE. The participants were director Terence Young, editor Peter Hunt and screenwriter Richard Maibaum. The host for the From Russia With Love commentary was author Steven Jay Rubin.

Terence Young says in the pre-credit sequence that Sean Connery wore “some kind of weird plastic makeup,” indicating this might not the real Bond. Meanwhile, during the credits, he muses the movie has “the best cast of any Bond picture.” The director also says when first approached about working on the series he was interested only in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball. He says other Ian Fleming stories had plots that were like “Republic Studios” movies.

Young also made observations about cast members. Of Lotte Lenya: “She was screwing like mad when she was 80.” Of Robert Shaw, the director says he sent the actor to a gym “because he didn’t have a very good physique.” Young changed his mind after viewing the results of Shaw’s workouts.

Peter Hunt says he had been friends with Shaw for years prior to From Russia With Love and the actor “did a lot of screen tests with girls” auditioning for parts in films.

Hunt and Richard Maibaum also weighed in on the actress who played villain Rosa Klebb.

“This lesbian character of Lotte Lenya is very well done,” Hunt says. Screenwriter Maibaum says “Lotte Lenya was a freak” who projected “concentrated evil.”

Young also comments extensively about terminally ill Pedro Armendariz, who played Kerim Bey, who ran the British Secret Service’s Turkish station.

The director noted how Armendariz walked with a limp in some scenes. “I knew there was something was wrong with him.” The actor’s mood could change and Young suggested Armendariz “was taking morphine” during breaks. (Whether Young knew this for a fact or only suspected isn’t specified.)

Meanwhile, Sean Connery had improved as Bond from his debut in Dr. No, according to the director.

“Everything he does with such assurance,” Young says. “He looked good. He was very proficient playing the part. There’s one or two scenes in Dr. No where he goes over the top. That’s my fault.”

Young only cites one problem with the star. “Sean started to put on weight. He had to pull his gut in.”

The director also openly cites the Alfred Hitchcock influence of a later scene where a SPECTRE helicopter goes after Bond.

“This was my idea,” Young says. “It was a steal from Alfred Hitchcock, North by Northwest.”

Maibaum, in his interview, talked up the finished film. “Russia is more realistic than the others. We hadn’t gone so far to the fantastical. Real people in real situations.” Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana “was so beautiful and so gentle and so pleasant. I liked the love story there.”

Maibaum also commented about his own contributions to the series.

“I gave it a kind of a tempo that prevailed throughout the series,” he says. An English writer “would not have the pace or the tempo I insisted on having.” He says his dialogue “is clipped and terse.”

Young and Maibaum also briefly discussed how the series changed over the years.

Young describes From Russia With Love as having more resources than Dr. No but still an efficient production. In later films, he says, “They threw money around like drunken Indians.”

Maibaum also described part of Bond’s appeal. “He was a great lay. That was part of the James Bond mystique, he could manipulate people. Women’s lib people hated that stuff and we had to do it less and less.”

Michael France, an appreciation

goldeneyeposter

The James Bond film franchise wasn’t in a good place in 1994.

There had been no 007 film in five years. Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli had been in a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Broccoli had put Eon up for sale before taking it off the market. The producer wasn’t in great health. He had decided that 007 veterans John Glen and Richard Maibaum would not continue laboring on Bond.

In short, everything was up for grabs.

Broccoli yielded primarily responsibility for overseeing Bond 17 to his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, and his daughter, Barbara Broccoli. But if the cinematic Bond was going to make a comeback, somebody had to step up.

That somebody was screenwriter Michael France, who died last week at the age of 51.

“I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was watching Goldfinger,” France was quoted by Steven Jay Rubin in his The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia’s updated 1995 edition. “When I was a kid, I wanted to be Richard Maibaum, not Bond.” According to Rubin’s account, he was given the chance to come up with a script in March 1993.

“We had meetings twice a week for several months with Michael, Barbara, Cubby and Dana,” France told Rubin, referring to Wilson, Barbara Broccoli as well as Albert R. Broccoli and his wife Dana. “We also wanted a villain on the level of Goldfinger — with an elaborate, unsinkable plot. At the same time, we also want him to be credible as a threat — that all of the story elements were based in reality, that these things could happen.”

In 1994, France delivered a first-draft script. It took a real-life event, a 1993 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and went from there. There was no way to know it at the time but France’s script was prescient because on Sept. 11, 2001, the towers were brought down by a terrorist attack.

France’s script wasn’t the last word. Other writers revised his draft. France only got a “story by” credit while Jeffrey Caine and Bruce Feirstein got the “screenplay by” credit. Only Feirstein was invited by Wilson and Barbara Broccoli back for the next Bond film. Feirstein’s FIRST DRAFT also got revised, much the way France’s GoldenEye initial draft was. Still, Feirstein got the sole screenwriting credit for Tomorrow Never Dies. That’s show business.

The fact remains that the cinematic Bond was dead in the water until Michael France delivered his script. By that time, Richard Maibuam, the dean of 007 scriptwriters, was dead. Cubby Broccoli was in failing health. And the future of the cinematic Bond was far from assured. The work was far from complete. But Michael France gave everybody a starting point. For that alone, his contributions to the film franchise are huge.

Price of access to 007?

James Bond fandom is different than others. How so? Well, one can make a living off being a fan because of 007’s longevity. But there’s a price.

The other day we wrote a post about how Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli came down hard on commentary tracks produced for early 1990s laser discs for the first three James Bond movies, Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. We got a lot of reponses. The consensus was it was understandable why Eon would crack down but those commentaries provided some honest statements from some of the most important creators of the early 007 films.

That got us to thinking. If you’re going to create videos, or books or articles about the cinema world of James Bond, you have to make a choice: do you seek access to Eon Productions, the makers of 007 films? Or do you go it alone, a possibly risky path?

Some of the featurettes on DVDs of the 007 films are made in cooperation with Eon (hence credits such as, “Very Special Thanks to Dana Broccoli, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson”). These featurettes are entertaining and well done. But they also are sanitized. For Licence to Kill, we’re told the 1989 film failed “to find a breakout American audience.” Translation: the film bombed in the U.S. (an $8.77 million opening weekend in the U.S. and a total $34.7 million U.S. million box office) while doing better in other markets.

Another part of the 007 film mythology is how actors are put up at five-star hotels during filming. That’s true as far as it goes. But we’re also reminded of how Maud Adams, at a fan outing in the early 2000s said that was great because “they don’t really pay you that much.” That’s not part of officially approved narrative.

Others soldiered on despite the lack of cooperation from Eon: John Brosnan wrote “James Bond In the Cinema,” published in 1972 and later updated. Steven Jay Rubin wrote “The James Bond Films,” first published in 1981, with an update in 1983 (we have both). Rubin, in particular, was one of the first to disclose details of the sometimes-rocky relationship with Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the other co-founder of Eon. Both Brosnan and Rubin wrote with affection about 007 but neither was an extnesion of Eon’s public relations machine. Both Brosnan and Rubin commented on what they viewed as weaker entries in the film series.

Meanwhile, over the years, other “professional fans” have developed business relationships with Eon. You do what you have to do what you have to do. At the same time, there is a price to be paid. You lose part of your independence. For some, that’s an easy decision. For others, well, you have to think about it.

The `banned’ 007 commentaries: what was the fuss?

Over the holidays, we had a chance to listen to the so-called “banned” James Bond laser disk commentaries from the early 1990s. They appeared on Criterion laser discs of Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, featuring some of the people who helped create those classic 007 films.

The commentaries have taken on a life of their own. Albert R. Broccoli, who started the film series with then-partner Harry Saltzman, objected after the discs went on sale and unsold discs were recalled. As a result, the original discs are collector’s items. But what was the fuss? Why did Broccoli object so strongly?

We can only guess. So here are two of them:

There’s some occasional bad language, at least by early ’90s standards. Near the end of the Goldfinger commentary, film editor Peter Hunt says that star Sean Connery “was really a very sexy man” and that the few stars of his appeal “virtually can walk into a room and f*** anybody.”

Some of this language includes anti-gay slurs (or certainly would be classified as that now).

Terence Young, director of From Russia With Love, describes his first meeting with Pedro Armendariz. Prior to that encounter, Young says he intended to shampoo his own hair while accidentally using his wife’s hair coloring. He had his hair dyed black but it turned “black green.” Armendariz stared at the director’s hair. “Look here, Mr. Armendariz, you get one thing straight, I’m not a…” Young says before using the anti-gay slur, which got got NBA player Kobe Bryant in hot water when he used it on a referee.

Guy Hamilton, director of Goldfinger, describes the scene where Bond wins Pussy Galore to his side, using a term for a female gay person, says the character goes from that “to sexpot, to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission, one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”

Some comments may have rubbed the Eon leadership the wrong way. Screenwriter Richard Maibaum, in an interview shortly before he died in 1991, talked about why James Bond made such an impression on movie goers.

“He was a great ladies’ man,” Maibaum says on the Goldfinger commentary. “He was not above using them in his work. That was part of the James Bond mystique, that he could manipulate women that way….The women’s lib people hated that…we eventually had to do it less and less.” That would imply Eon might have compromised the Ian Fleming original to appeal to changing audience tastes.

Young, on the From Russia With Love commentary, talks about how the series went from small- to big-budget films. “They threw money around,” he says. Beyond that, the host of the From Russia With Love commentary introduces himself as Steve Rubin. Steven Jay Rubin wrote 1981’s The James Bond Films, a book where Eon didn’t cooperate and thus no stills from the movies could be used. It’s possible his participation might not have sat well with Broccoli.

Again, these are only guesses. If language was a concern, well, one can only imagine what Cubby Broccoli would have thought about Daniel Craig interviews such as this one in Esquire or this one in Time Out magazine.

Newest Never Say Never Again DVD release

Besides the DVD release of Quantum of Solace, this week will also see a new DVD issue of Never Say Never Again, a non-official 007 movie and Sean Connery’s last bow as James Bond.

The DVD will include commentaries by director Irvin Kershner and Steven Jay Rubin, author of The Complete James Bond Film Encyclopedia. Extras include featurettes called The Big Gamble and Sean Is Back.

Never Say Never Again draws mixed reactions from Bond fans. Many love it because of Connery’s participation. Others feel it’s uneven, possibility because its script was a committee job. The official scripter is Lorenzo Semple Jr., who wrote the pilot for the Adam West Batman series but also dramatic movies such as The Parallax View. In addition, the writing team of Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement did an uncredited revamping job on the screenplay.

Whatever your feelings, you can check out the press release about the newest NSNA release by clicking RIGHT HERE.