Dino’s Matt Helm movies to be shown Sept. 26 on TCM

Dean Martin and Stella Stevens in The Silencers.

Movie channel TCM will present all four of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films on Sept. 26. It’s part of a month-long salute to Dino, with Martin movies being shown on Wednesdays.

The Helm movies were produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Albert R. Broccoli. That partnership ended, in part, because Broccoli wanted to make movies based on Ian Fleming’s 007 novels. Allen wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea.

After the early Bond films, produced by Broccoli and his new partner, Harry Saltzman, had become a success, Allen searched for his own spy property to pursue.

He ended up with Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm series of serious spy novels. But Allen got Dean Martin to participate as a partner. So the movie adaptations took a much lighter tone and, in effect, were spy versions of Martin’s variety show.

The Silencers will be shown at 8 p.m. ET, followed by Murderers’ Row at 10, The Ambushers at midnight and The Wrecking Crew at 2 a.m., Sept. 27.

For more about the Helm film series, read MATT HELM, AMERICA’S LOADED WEAPON.

h/t to reader Mark Henderson, who flagged this on The Spy Command’s Facebook page.

007 gets drawn into U.S. politics

One-time GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s Twitter picture.

James Bond got drawn into U.S. politics this week as CIA got a new director.

The U.S. Senate voted to ratify Gina Haspel in a 54-45 vote. But not all Republican members of the Senate voted for the veteran CIA employee because at one point she ran an agency facility in Thailand performing “enhanced interrogation,” including waterboarding. Haspel wrote a letter dated May 14 (which became public the next day) saying the agency shouldn’t have utilized such techniques.

Mike Huckabee, a one-time GOP presidential candidate, criticized one GOP Senator who voted no, Jeff Flake of Arizona.

“Of course Jeff ‘Flaky Flake’ didn’t vote for Gina Haspel,” Huckabee wrote May 17. “If @realDonaldTrump nominated James Bond, he would have voted ‘no.’ That’s why Flake is ‘Dr. No.’ And I’ll be HE colluded with the Russians! ‘From Russia With Love.'”

Huckabee also is the father of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary.

Here’s what the tweet looked like:

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Meanwhile, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, whose politics are the opposite of Sanders, had this reaction:

 

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Some Rod Taylor spy movies on TCM early Friday

Rod Taylor from the main titles of the Masquerade television series.

Friday, Aug. 18, is Rod Taylor day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. And some of Taylor’s spy movies will be part of the proceedings.

As an aside, TCM’s programming day starts at 6 a.m. New York time. The spy movies start early. Sorry for the late notice, but the Spy Commander just found out himself.

6 a.m.: 36 Hours, World War II espionage movie. Germans kidnap an American officer (James Garner). They make him think World War II is over to trick him out of information about the invasion of Europe. Taylor plays the German performing the deception. Based on a story by Roald Dahl.

8 a.m.: The Liquidator. Rod Taylor as John Gardner’s Boysie Oakes. Music by Lalo Schifrin and a title song performed by Shirley Bassey.

10 a.m.: The Glass Bottom Boat, a Doris Day comedy involving spies seeking secrets from a Tony Stark-like character played by Taylor. Cameo by Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo.

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.

U.N.C.L.E.’s connection to The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

Poster for The Prize (1963)

This week, Turner Classic Movies televised a series of spy films, including The Prize (1963). The movie, released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, had a number of connections to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Some of this stemmed from how U.N.C.L.E. was also produced at MGM. In any case, here’s a partial list of U.N.C.L.E. ties to The Prize.

Crew: These names show up on just about every production either produced by MGM or made at MGM in the 1960s: George W. Davis (co-art director), Henry Grace (co-set decorator) and Franklin Milton (sound or recording supervisor). Another name that shows up in many MGM-related productions is William Tuttle, who headed MGM’s makeup department.

(Totally as an aside: Grace resembled Dwight Eisenhower. As a result, he played the Allied supreme commander in 1962’s The Longest Day.)

The Prize also includes a score by Jerry Goldsmith. At this point, Goldsmith was transitioning from a television composer to a movie composer. Despite that, Goldsmith scored the pilot episode for U.N.C.L.E. as well as two additional episodes.

Speculation: The Spy Commander has long wondered if Goldsmith, in his early 1960s work, was influenced by Bernard Herrman. Both Herrmann and Goldsmith did work at CBS during this period. In his score for The Prize, there are bits of Goldsmith’s score that evokes Herrmann (this also applies to Goldsmith’s score for 1964’s In Harm’s Way).

Cast: The Prize (which, essentially is a star vehicle for Paul Newman) includes a number of cast members who would later appear in U.N.C.L.E. Among them:

Leo G. Carroll: Played U.N.C.L.E. chief Alexander Waverly. In the Prize, he plays a small, but key, role as a Swedish count who helps administer the Nobel Prizes.

John Banner: Most famous for playing Sgt. Schultz in Hogan’s Heroes, the character actor also played one of a group of scientists trying to take over the world in The Neptune Affair in U.N.C.L.E.’s first season. In The Prize, he plays a newscaster during the movie’s title sequence.

Teru Shimada: In U.N.C.L.E., he plays the head of an Asian country who’s the target of an assassination plot in Season Two’s Part Two, Alexander the Greater Affair. In The Prize, he’s another newscaster in the title sequence. Shimada also played Mr. Osato in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice.

Kevin McCarthy: He played the villain in the U.N.C.L.E. Season Two episode The Moonglow Affair (which was also the pilot for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.). In The Prize, he plays a Nobel Prize winner.

Ben Wright: The character actor was in two U.N.C.L.E. episodes (The Deadly Games Affair and The Girls of Nazarone Affair). In The Prize, he plays a reporter who asks question of Andrew Craig (Paul Newman’s character) at a press conference.

Noel Drayton: Played a physician who conducts an autopsy on a seal in U.N.C.L.E.’s The Finny Foot Affair. In The Prize, he plays a policeman trying to verify what seems to be a wild story from Newman’s character.

Miscellaneous

Irving Wallace: The Prize is based on a novel by Wallace, who also had written some episodes of Have Gun — Will Travel, which was co-created by Sam Rolfe, who developed U.N.C.L.E. Wallace’s nephew was Danny Biederman, a first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fan who (with Robert Short) attempted to produce an U.N.C.L.E. movie in the late 1970s-early 1980s.

 

Fact checking TCM’s To Trap a Spy presentation

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

TCM on July June 13 showed To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pilot during prime time, part of a evening featuring films with actor Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo.

The cable channel has showed the film before but usually in off hours. The 10:15 p.m. eastern time presentation meant it’d get an introduction from TCM host Robert Osborne, a one-time actor (he makes a brief appearance in the pilot for The Beverly Hillbillies) who has written extensively about movies for decades.

However, there were a few errors. Most of these are old hat to long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans. But with a new U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August, potential new fans may have watched. With that in mind here’s some fact checking.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was an immediate hit. No. It originally aired on NBC on Tuesday nights against The Red Skelton Show on CBS. U.N.C.L.E.’s ratings struggled, but rallied after a mid-season change to Monday nights. The show’s best season for ratings was the 1965-66 season when it aired at 10 p.m. eastern time on Fridays.

The show was “created by producer Norman Felton.” The situation is a bit more complicated. Felton definitely initiated the project. He consulted Ian Fleming, who contributed ideas but the one that stuck was naming an agent Napoleon Solo.

The vast bulk of U.N.C.L.E. was created by Sam Rolfe (who wrote the pilot and gets the “written by” credit on To Trap a Spy), including the character of Illya Kuryakin. The show had no creator credit and Rolfe had a “developed by” credit.

Felton’s “inspired idea.” Osborne said Felton always intended to turn some of the episodes into feature films released internationally (true). He then said the films were actually two episodes of the series edited together along with extra footage. (Not 100 percent true).

The first two movies, To Trap a Spy and The Spy With My Face, were based on first season single episodes: the pilot, The Vulcan Affair, and The Double Affair, with additional footage.

Starting with the second season, the show did two-part episodes that were edited, with some additional footage, into movies for the international market. That was the case for the rest of the series, including the two parter, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, that ended the series in January 1968.

Osborne also made it sound as if all of the first season were filmed in color, even though it was broadcast in black and white on NBC. Not true.

Both The Vulcan Affair and The Double Affair were filmed in color, as was the extra film footage with each. The rest of the season, however, was filmed in black and white.

One oddity is the first season episode The Four-Steps Affair. Ever efficient, Felton took some of the extra footage from the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (including Luciana Paluzzi in To Trap a Spy) and had a new story written to incorporate it. Sexy scenes for To Trap a Spy between Vaughn and Paluzzi were toned down for Four Steps.

Some of Four Steps is a black and white print from a color negative. The same applies to the broadcast versions of Vulcan and Double. But the new material for Four Steps was filmed in black and white, like most of the first season. There’s a slight change in contrast as the story goes back and forth between the two sources of footage.

Meanwhile, in Osborne’s closing remarks after the movie, he worked in a plug for the Guy Ritchie-directed U.N.C.L.E. movie coming out in August. TCM is owned by Time Warner, also the parent company of Warner Bros., the studio releasing the August film.

TCM schedules To Trap a Spy for June 13

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

Turner Classics Movie has scheduled a prime time showing ON JUNE 13 at 10:15 p.m. New York time of To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot episode.

The production has an unusual history.

The U.N.C.L.E. pilot was filmed in color. During production in late 1963, there was an internal debate within the production team whether U.N.C.L.E. agent Solo’s first name should be Napoleon. (Academic Cynthia W. Walker has written about this subject IN HER BOOK ABOUT THE SERIES.)

In the actual pilot, originally titled Solo, Robert Vaughn’s character is only called Solo. In the pilot, as originally filmed, the end titles said, “Starring Robert Vaughn as Solo.”

According to a timeline researched and compiled by Craig Henderson, additional footage was filmed March 31 through April 2, 1964, to turn the pilot into a feature film. The footage includes Luciana Paluzzi playing a femme fatale named Angela. Her character is very similar to the Fiona Volpe character she’d play a year later in Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film.

In that footage, Solo introduces himself to Angela as “Napoleon Solo.” Evidently, by the spring of 1964, the internal debate about the agent’s name had been settled in favor of the moniker bestowed upon him by Ian Fleming, the creator of 007.

In the end, Solo becomes a series, but under the title The Man From U.N.C.L.E. To Trap a Spy initially is shown in international markets, but with U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, it is shown in the United States in 1966 as part of a double feature with The Spy With My Face, another movie based on an U.N.C.L.E. episode with additional footage.

U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, Norman Felton, was nothing if not thrifty. A tamer version of the Luciana Paluzzi footage shows up in a first-season episode that aired in the spring of 1965 called The Four-Steps Affair. It also includes some of the extra footage used in The Spy With My Face.

Another curiosity: in To Trap a Spy, the name of the villainous organization is changed from “Thrush” to “Wasp.” If you watch closely, you can see the actors saying “Thrush” with “Wasp” on the audio track. To Trap a Spy also includes the original U.N.C.L.E. boss, Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison. With the pilot, scenes were reshot with Leo G. Carroll playing Mr. Waverly, Solo’s new superior.

Regardless, To Trap a Spy is the first “official” U.N.C.L.E. movie. TCM has shown the film previously, but usually nowhere near prime-time.