Our Man in Havana’s (sort of) 007 in-joke

Our Man in Havana

We’re still catching up with TCM’s marathon of spy films from Jan. 25. Anyway, in the Carol Reed-directed Our Man in Havana, there’s a sort-of in-joke to James Bond films.

Considering the movie was released in late 1959, before the 007 film series debuted with Dr. No in 1962, that’s a mean trick.

Here’s the explanation. Our Man in Havana’s crew included Syd Cain, who was the movie’s assistant art director. Cain, of course, worked on a number of Bond films, including as art director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love and production designer of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Our Man in Havana involves Jim Wormold (Alec Guiness), a seller of vacuum clearners who’s recruited to be the British Secret Service’s man in pre-revolution Havana. Wormold, after unsuccessfully trying to recruit a spy network, begins making stuff up — and London is buying (literally) every bit of it.

Wormold is now considered so important that British Intelligence is assigning him support personnel, including a secretary (Maureen O’Hara). One of Wormold’s fictional agents supposedly flew over a secret Cuban installation and saw a secret weapon (really a drawing of a vacuum cleaner). Now, there’s pressure from London to get photographs of it.

Wormold, in trying to decide his next step, happens to see a comic strip in a newspaper. It’s called Rock Kent and is supposed to be by Syd Cain. (It’s on the top of the page, just above Blondie.)

This particular strip depicts Rock crashing into the side of a mountain. “We shall hear no more of Captain Rock Kent!” reads the caption accompanying the drawing of the plane crashing.

This gives Wormold an idea how to solve his problem. Of course, things get more complicated.

Regardless, it’s an amusing moment for viewers familiar with the early 007 movies.

1962: Hope and Crosby provide 007 a `Road’ map

Bob Hope, left, and Bing Crosby in the opening to The Road to Hong Kong

Five months before the debut of Dr. No, the final Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” movie came out, The Road to Hong Kong. The film, we suspect by coincidence, provided a road map to the future of 007 movies.

The 1962 movie had some major departures from previous “Road” movies. It was produced in the U.K. and was released by United Artists. The earlier films in the series had been produced in Hollywood and released by Paramount. Dorothy Lamour, the female lead of the previous Road movies, makes a cameo as herself but Joan Collins is the main female lead.

The change in locale meant the Norman Panama-Melvin Frank production (both would write the script, Panama directed and Frank produced; the duo had written the 1946 Road to Utopia) would take advantage of U.K. movie talent: Syd Cain was one of the art directors. Maurice Binder designed the main titles. Walter Gotell is one of the main lieutenants of a mysterious organization — stop us if you’ve heard this before — trying to take over the world. Bob Simmons shows up late in the movie as an astronaut in the employ of the villainous organization.

What’s more, there are “animated” sets (designed by Roger Furse) at the villain’s lair that would do Ken Adam proud. Two future participants in the 1967 Casino Royale (Peter Sellers and David Niven) show up in cameos. Did we mention Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin making cameos at the end? Well, they do.

If you’ve never seen The Road to Hong Kong, you can CLICK HERE and watch the 91-minute film on YouTube (at least until it gets taken off that Web site). While a comedy, it is a preview of the more fantastic Bond movies that would emerge a few years later, starting with 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

Len Deighton on From Russia With Love

Len Deighton and Michael Caine


The Deighton Dossier blog has a new interview with author Len Deighton. You can read the entire interview by CLICKING HERE One thing that caught our eye was Deighton’s description of his work on From Russia With Love, the second 007 film.

The Q and A featured questions from readers. One of those readers was Jeremy Duns, journalist (he dug out Ben Hecht’s screenplay drafts for producer Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale) and spy author.

Richard Maibaum got the screenplay credit for From Russia With Love, with Johanna Harwood receiving an “adapted by” credit. Maibaum had a long association with Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli. On the early Bond films, Harry Saltzman, the other Eon co-founder, was involved heavily in developing the scripts and often sought English writers such as Paul Dehn and John Hopkins. Saltzman later produced the Harry Palmer series, starring Michael Caine, based on Deighton novels.

Here’s how Deighton in the Deighton Dossier interview, prompted by a question from Duns, described his time working on the film:

I’m very interested in your work on From Russia With Love – do you have any surviving drafts of your script and how do you regard it?

Len: I went to Istanbul with Harry Saltzman, plus the director and the art director. As with virtually all movies, the producer is the driving force who gets the idea, buys the rights, commissions the screenplay, chooses the actors and employs the director.

Harry demonstrated this creative power. We took breakfast together every day so that he could guide me and teach me how film stories worked. It was a wonderful course in movie making especially as the rest of each day was spent roaming around Istanbul with Harry plus the director and art director talking about locations and building the sets back in England.

I’ve always been rather careless about typescripts and notes etc. And having a restless disposition I have packed, unpacked and repacked countless times as my family and I lived in different countries, I don’t have much written stuff left.

Terence Young directed the movie and Syd Cain worked as art director, with Michael White as assistant art director.

The Deighton Dossier and this blog, are members of the Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies. We noticed the From Russia With Love mention from Tweets by Jeremy Duns.

Dr. No’s 50th anniversary conclusion: legacy


In evaluating the legacy of Dr. No as it approaches its 50th anniversary, start with the obvious: There’s still a 007 film series to talk about.

James Bond isn’t the biggest entertainment property in the world the way it was in 1965. But its longevity is unique. The five decades that have passed include more than a decade of enforced hiatus (a troublesome 1975 financial split between Eon co-founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; a legal fight in the early 1990s between Broccoli and MGM; and MGM’s 2010 bankruptcy) disrupting production of the Bond movies. But the Bond films soldier on, with the 23rd entry in the Eon Productions’ series, Skyfall, coming out soon.

The series turned actor Sean Connery into a major star. It made Roger Moore, known mostly as a television star, into a movie star. The same applies to Pierce Brosnan. It made Daniel Craig a star. Even George Lazenby (one movie) and Timothy Dalton (two) who had limited runs as 007 are identified with the series.

The films generated new fans of Ian Fleming’s hero to the point that the movie 007 long ago outsized the influence of his literary counterpart. Finally, the film 007 helped form an untold number of friendships among Bond fans who would have never met otherwise.

All of that began with a modestly budgeted film, without a big-name star, led by a director for hire, Terence Young, who’d be instrumental in developing the cinema version of Agent 007. Dr. No, filmed in Jamaica and at Pinewood Studios, made all that followed possible.

Fans may fuss and feud about which Bond they like best. This 007 film or that may be disparaged by some fans, praised by others. The series may get rebooted. Bond may get recast. The tone of the entries may vary greatly.

In the end, Bond continues. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. can’t say that; The Avengers, the John Steed variety which debuted the year before Dr. No, can’t say that; Matt Helm can’t say that. In time, we suspect, Jason Bourne, which influenced recent 007 movies, won’t either.

Many of those responsible for Dr. No aren’t around to take the bows. They include producers Broccoli and Saltzman; director Young; screenwriter Richard Maibaum; editor Peter Hunt; United Artists studio executive Arthur Krim who greenlighted the project; Joseph Wiseman, who played the title charater, the first film Bond villain; Jack Lord, the first, and some fans say still the best, screen Felix Leiter, who’d become a major television star on Hawaii Five-O; art director Syd Cain, the main lieutenant for production designer Ken Adam; and composer John Barry who orchestrated Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme and who would later define 007 film music.

That’s too bad but that’s what happens with the passage of time. The final product, though remains. It’s all summed up with these words:

James Bond will return.

007 references at the Oscars (R)

"Who's this Sandler kid?"

The Oscars (R) telecast on ABC early in the proceedings had a montage of clips of popular movies of yesteryear. Austin Powers made the cut while 007 got blanked.

Shortly thereafter, there was a montage of actors talking about the first movie they saw. Adam Sandler said his was Diamonds Are Forever when he was 5. He said something about being impressed by Sean Connery’s performance and his chest hair and that inspired him to become an actor. For some critics, that will be seen as another reason why Bond films aren’t good.

UPDATE: Bond film alumnus John Richardson lost out on a visual effects Oscar. He and three others were nominated for Harry Potter And the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The special effects team for Hugo won the award.

UPDATE II: Skyfall screenwriter John Logan, nominated for Hugo, loses out on the adapted screenplay award. The writers for The Descendants win.

UPDATE III: The In Memoriam segment had only one person with any major 007 connection, former studio executive John Calley, who was involved in relaunching the Bond series with 1995’s GoldenEye. Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, reportedly had issues with Calley. Like him or not, he was a major player at a time some questioned whether the series could be revived after a long hiatus.

Syd Cain, who passed away last year and helped sets on a number of 007 films, wasn’t included. In 2011, major actors such as Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Falk passed away as did Gilbert Cates, a director who also produced a number of Oscar telecasts and who first hired Billy Crystal as host of the Oscars telecast.

Ken Russell’s brush with the world of spies

Movie director Ken Russell died this week at the age of 84. Obituaries concentrated on films such as the rock opera Tommy or the drama Women In Love.

Russell though had a flirtation with spy entertainment, directing 1967’s Billion Dollar Brain, the third of 007 producer Harry Saltzman’s Harry Palmer series, based on Len Deighton’s novels, and starring Michael Caine. It wasn’t supposed to be Saltzman’s last film of the series but it turned out that way.

Saltzman, restless by nature, wasn’t content with producing James Bond films with Albert R. Broccoli. Various authors have detailed how Saltzman’s outside ventures caused tensions between Saltzman and Broccoli. Nevertheless, Saltzman frequently tapped the talents of 007 crew members. Billion Dollar Brain was no exception, including sets designed by Syd Cain and titles designed by Maurice Binder.

Speaking of which, here are Binder’s titles:

Syd Cain, an appreciation

When the subject of James Bond movies comes up, Syd Cain isn’t one of the first names to come up. But Cain, who has passed away at the age of 93, is one of the unsung heroes of the long-running film series.

In Dr. No, the first 007 film, Cain had the title of art director and was essentially the deputy to production designer Ken Adam while not receiving a credit. In the John Cork-directed documentary Inside Dr. No, Cain described how he had to wade into a swamp in Jamaica and had to deal with leeches. Hardly glamorous.

When From Russia With Love went into production in 1963, the brilliant Adam was working on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. So it fell to Cain (this time receiving an art director credit) to be the primary designer of sets. In the documentary Inside From Russia With Love, Cain would call his set for a chess match, involving SPECTRE master planner Kronsteen, one of his favorites. The video below can’t be embedded but just glancing at it you can get a sense of Cain’s design work:

Cain returned to the series with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this time with the fancier title of production designer, the same title Adam had. That movie couldn’t boast of a volcano headquarters set a la Adam’s You Only Twice set of SPECTRE headquarters. But Cain’s sets for SPECTRE’s home base in Majesty’s were impressive in their own right (integrating actual locations and buildings in Switzerland).

Finally, he was the lead production designer of Roger Moore’s 007 debut, Live And Let Die (this time with the less-fancy title of supervising art director).

Ken Adam, rightfully, is hailed as the innovator of 007 art design with his seven Bond films which included the volcano set, Goldfinger’s Fort Knox sets, The Spy Who Loved Me’s Stromberg villain’s lair and others. Peter Lamont get kudos for longevity, designing sets for nine Bond movies (after also being one of Adam’s deputies), starting with 1981’s For Your Your Eyes Only and running through 2006’s Casino Royale. Also, both Adam and Lamont won Oscars for their non-007 work.

Cain didn’t get that kind of acclaim. But he was responsible for the look of two of the best Bond movies (From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) regardless of his on-screen credit. And he helped Adam in a major way on the first Bond film. On top of all that, his spy entertainment work includes The New Avengers, the 1970s continuation of The Avengers television series.

So, RIP, Mr. Cain. Heroes may go unsung, but they are heroes all the same.