Christmas themed spy-related entertainment

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

The holidays are fast approaching. With that in mind, the blog is reminded of some Christmas-themed spy-related entertainment.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The sixth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions may not be an “official” Christmas film but it’ll do.

James Bond (George Lazenby) is hunting for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) while also falling in love with Tracy (Diana Rigg).

This time out, Blofeld has brainwashed his “angels of death,” who will spread “virus Omega” at the villain’s command. If that happens, that will wipe out all sorts of crops and livestock.

Bond manages to go undercover at Blofeld’s lair in Switzerland but is discovered. Blofeld sends out his latest batch of “angels” on Christmas Eve. Bond manages to escape, meets up with Tracy.

Bond proposes to Tracy, but she gets captured by Blofeld, setting up a big climatic sequence.

It was the first Bond film to end unhappily when Tracy is killed on her honeymoon with Bond. It’s arguably the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel and an epic film in its own right. And, for what it’s worth, there are many reminders of Christmas during the Switzerland sequences.

Teaser trailer for Diamonds Are Forever: Diamonds Are Forever was released for the Christmas move season of 1971. The teaser trailer played up the Christmas angle.

The movie also marked Sean Connery’s return as Bond after a four-year absence. But the teaser trailer had a gunbarrel without Connery (but still wearing a hat).

Teaser trailer for The Man With the Golden Gun: The teaser trailer for Roger Moore’s second 007 film utilized a similar Christmas theme.

On top of that, the trailer had a scene between Bond and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) that didn’t make it into the final film.

Chairman Koz makes a point to Solo and Illya in The Jingle Bells Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Jingle Bells Affair (first broadcast Dec. 23, 1966): The story begins in New York during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (the start of the Christmas shopping season). U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (the latter, after all, a Russian) are acting as bodyguards for a Soviet leader, Chairman Koz (Akim Tamiroff).

Why Soviet? In one scene in Act III, Koz slams a shoe down on a desk, a la Nikita Khrushchev.

At one point, Koz gets separated from the U.N.C.L.E. agents and dresses as Santa Claus and interacts with children. Koz, dressed as Santa, helps to save the life of a sick kid. In the end, East and West call a truce and wish everyone Merry Christmas.

This was a third-season episode when the series went in a campy direction. The Spy Commander’s review on the third-season page of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide doesn’t give it a high grade.

The FBI: Dark Christmas (first broadcast Dec. 24, 1972): FBI Inspector (Erskine) and Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds) are on the trail of a hit man (Don Gordon). The hit man’s target is a family man who once was involved in a criminal organization but got out.

The case reaches a climax on Christmas Eve. The family man is coming home from a job but doesn’t know the hit man is waiting for him at his home. Colby and other FBI agents get the man’s children to safety. Erskine then confronts and apprehends the hit man. Until Act IV, the episode is a basic procedural show. The Christmas themes are mostly in the final act and epilogue.

While The FBI wasn’t a spy show per se, it had a lot of espionage-related stories. Also, it’s the subject of another website of the Spy Commander, The FBI episode guide. This episode gets a relatively high grade on the eight-season page.

Note: This was an early credit for Sondra Locke (1944-2018), who plays a spinster-like character who falls for Gordon’s character.

Less obvious ways of celebrating Global James Bond Day

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Friday is Global James Bond Day, the event that was invented six years ago for the 50th anniversary of the premiere of Dr. No.

There are obvious ways to mark the day, namely watch a Bond film or films, read a James Bond novel, etc.

What follows are some less obvious ways. They involve offerings available on home video with significant 007 connections.

–Watch selected episodes of Hawaii Five-O (1968-80): Series star Jack Lord was the original Felix Leiter in Dr. No. So any episode begins with that. But these episodes have additional Bond ties.

The Year of the Horse (11th season). George Lazenby, a decade removed from his only performance as Bond, gets “special guest star” billing. He’s actually the secondary villain. His character also is considerably scruffier than Bond. But, hey, it’s a pretty major tie to the Bond series. The episode was filmed in Singapore.

Deep Cover (10th season). Maud Adams made her Five-O appearance inbetween her two 007 films, The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy. Here, she’s the leader of a spy ring that’s up to no good. She’s quite convincing ordering people to die.

George Lazenby in Hawaii Five-O’s The Year of the Horse.

My Friend, the Enemy (10th season). Luciana Paluzzi plays an Italian journalist who complicates things for McGarrett (Lord) in a kidnapping case involving international intrigue. This wasn’t the first time Paluzzi was paired with Lord. They acted together more than a decade earlier in an episode of 12 O’Clock High.

Episodes with Soon-Tek Oh. The late actor was in eight episodes, including the pilot. Recommended would be The Jinn Who Clears the Way (fifth season). It’s one of the Wo Fat episodes and his character is a “young Maoist” who’s being manipulated by Wo Fat. It also has a shock ending.

–Watch selected episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. The 1964-68 series also has performers who’d play major Bond roles before their 007 appearances.

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair. Luciana Paluzzi figures in here. She plays Angela, an operative for Thrush who can be pretty cold blooded.

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy.

To Trap a Spy is an expanded version of the show’s pilot released as a movie. Paluzzi and star Robert Vaughn filmed additional footage after production of the pilot was completed. The thing is, Angela is a dry run for Paluzzi. The character is extremely similar to Fiona, the SPECTRE assassin she’d play in Thunderball.

The Four-Steps Affair is a first-season episode. It takes extra footage used to lengthen the running times of the first two U.N.C.L.E. movies (The Spy With My Face was the other) and combined it with with new material to make a television episode. Obvious difference: Angela sleeps with Solo (Vaughn) in Trap a Spy but doesn’t in The Four-Steps Affair.

The Five Daughters Affair/The Karate Killers (third season). The Five Daughters Affair was a two-part story that was expanded into a feature film for the international market.

At the start, a fleet of mini-helicopters attack Solo and Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). This was made after You Only Live Twice but before the 1967 007 film (which included mini-copter Little Nellie) arrived in theaters.

What’s more, the cast includes Telly Savalas and Curt Jurgens in supporting roles. Neither is a villain, though (as they would be in Bond films). The villain is played by Herbert Lom.

Meanwhile, I am aware of episodes of the Roger Moore version of The Saint with David Hedison and Lois Maxwell. I just don’t own copies. The Hedison episode has an especially cute ending.

UPDATE (9:30 a.m. New York time): I got “mansplained” that Danger Man/Secret Agent has Bond actors in it also. Besides the actors this reader named (Bernard Lee and Desmond Llewelyn), there’s also Earl Cameron. Also, John Glen edited a number of episodes.

You could also extend that to The Prisoner, the other major Patrick McGoohan series. Guy Doleman, who played Count Lippe in Thunderball, was Number Two in the episode titled Arrival.

And while we’re at it, I could also mention Donald Pleasance was in Part II of Hawaii Five-O’s The Ninety-Second War. He’s a German scientist who began working for the U.S. with the end of World War II who’s being blackmailed by Wo Fat.

I could also add The Avengers (Patrick Macnee, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, many character actors and crew members) and various Gerry Anderson shows (Derek Meddings special effects, Shane Rimmer), but I’m not. These are blog posts, not books.

The official 007 Blofeld survey and the options not listed

Max Von Sydow

Max Von Sydow

When you have a long break between films, you need to engage the fans somehow.

So the official James Bond account on Twitter asked, “Who is your favourite Blofeld?”

However, given the weird history about Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s film rights, this question is more complicated, with some options understandably not listed.

The four choices are the Blofeld actors whose face could be seen onscreen in movies made by Eon Productions: Donald Pleasence (You Only Live Twice), Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Charles Gray (misspelled Grey, at least when the tweet first went up, in Diamonds Are Forever) and Christoph Waltz (SPECTRE).

Not making the cut are the combination of Anthony Dawson (body) and Eric Pohlman (voice), used in From Russia With Love and Thunderball. On screen, we never see Blofeld’s face. The dialogue only refers to “Number One,” although the From Russia With Love end titles list “Ernst Blofeld” followed by a question mark in the cast of characters.

This version of Blofeld also dresses different than the others, wearing a suit and not the Nehru jacket-style top of the other four.

Also not listed is the stuntman (body) and Robert Rietty (voice) in the pre-titles sequence of For Your Eyes Only. Last year, the official 007 website carried a press release promoting a re-release of Bond movies featuring SPECTRE. The list included For Eyes Only. The villain in the pre-titles sequence was the only trace of SPECTRE in the movie.

At the time Eyes came out, the rights to Blofeld were in dispute and officially the character in the pre-titles sequence wasn’t Blofeld. In 2013, a settlement was reached with the estate of Kevin McClory, finally bringing Blofeld back into the Eon fold.

Finally, and most significantly, there’s Max Von Sydow, who played Blofeld in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the McClory-Jack Schwartzman remake of Thunderball. It, of course, is not part of the Eon series and there’s no way the 007 Twitter account would include Von Sydow.

Still, Von Sydow is a great actor and his casting was a major plus for the movie. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get that much screen time. Von Sydow’s Blofeld does have a cat (like Eon’s Blofelds) but wears a suit.

The tweet about Blofeld is embedded below. Click on it to see the complete image.

UPDATE (10:10 p.m. New York time): Over on the official James Bond Facebook page, that version of the post does include the Dawson-Pohlman duo.

It should be noted that you can’t actually cast a ballot either on Twitter or Facebook.

Chronicles of SPECTRE Part V: OHMSS

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

The new James Bond film SPECTRE has given the fans many nods to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service throughout the promotions, either by the bars of John Barry’s instrumental theme on the trailer and by the snow scenes. Some people even suggested that the 2015 film could be a remake of the 1969 Bond adventure.

One of the most faithful adaptations of an Ian Fleming novel, the sixth 007 film made by Eon Productions is distinctive in many ways: it was the first film to feature a new Bond actor, George Lazenby, and it establishes some kind of continuity with the previous adventures, by having the secret agent looking up at some personal effects from his old missions on one scene.

It also showed, for the first time, a more emotional Bond. “This one is different. This one has heart”, the trailer narration claimed.

Just like in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the enemy is once again SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

After his reveal in the 1967 film, the organization per se is overshadowed by its Number One figure. Previously played by Anthony Dawson and Donald Pleasance, Blofeld is now portrayed by the charismatic Telly Savalas, who would be later known as TV’s popular detective Kojak.

Unlike the 1963 novel by Fleming, where Bond considers resigning from the Service tired of following Blofeld’s lead, in this 1969 adaptation 007 is completely obsessed to find his nemesis and to kill any trace of SPECTRE, even resigning (he finally doesn’t, thanks to Moneypenny) when M relieves him from the mentioned assignment.

SPECTRE’s Number One, this time, is calling himself Balthazar, Count de Beauchamp. His intentions seem quite less lethal in comparison to his previous demands: to get his title validated by the College of Arms and amnesty for his crimes.

Blofeld turned himself from a criminal mastermind to a snobbist blue-blooded aristocrat. Yet, nobody should be fooled by his image: if his demands are not met, he’ll unleash the virus omega providing total infertility to the world’s livestock. How? By hypnotizing the (young, female) patients of his clinic atop Piz Gloria in Switzerland and, once on their homes via radio transmission, order them to unleash the virus, as “part of the cure.”

Blofeld is certainly not less lethal this time, as he can fistfight 007 himself towards the film’s climax and engage on a shootout with him. He also has a taste for beautiful women, as he tries to seduce the imprisoned Tracy, Bond’s girlfriend and future wife.

In a way, he is more of an equal to Bond and not an authority figure. It could be assumed that, from From Russia with Love to You Only Live Twice, Blofeld was M’s M’s evil counterpart: seated on his throne and giving orders. In OHMSS, Number One has turned into Bond’s counterpart.

As for the SPECTRE organization per se, not much of it remains. Blofeld still has a bunch of troops capable of firing machine guns while skiing at high speed as well as a female agent Irma Bunt.

This time, tough, she’s not a young sexy lady in the scale of Fiona or Helga, but an old and authoritarian woman in the style of Rosa Klebb. Even when in the novels we learn Bunt has married Blofeld, not even a glance of a romantic interaction between the two is given in the 1969 film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has Blofeld as the main villain, his leadership overshadowing the SPECTRE organization. His character will always be remembered for one thing: he had James Bond’s wife, Tracy (Diana Rigg), killed minutes after the wedding, leaving the secret agent for the tears.

Many years before Casino Royale showed us Daniel Craig’s Bond crying over the female lead’s dead body, it was George Lazenby in his short time as 007 who brought drama to the very last second of the film, bringing up a Bond who hasn’t fully triumphed this time.

Next up, in 1971, James Bond takes revenge on Ernst Stavro Blofeld: a different Blofeld, in terms of personality, looks and ambitions.

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 supervised by 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.

HMSS’s favorite character actors: Robert Drivas

Robert Drivas, as Morgan Midas, struggles with Robert Conrad's James West

Robert Drivas in The Wild, Wild West

One in an occasional series

Robert Drivas had a talent for playing characters who seemed normal on the outside but were wound just a little tight on the inside.

In the first season of The Wild, Wild West, Drivas portrayed Morgan Midas, who had a rather ambitious scheme. He stole diamonds and melted them down to create a serum that allowed him to move at super speed.

The episode, The Night of the Burning Diamond, written by Ken Kolb, was pure fantasy, stretching the limits for a series that was often unconventional. But Drivas was an engrossing villain, one who often dominated the scenes where he appeared.

Drivas appeared in a number of episodes of Quinn Martin-produced shows. One of his best performances was in a two-part story in The FBI. Drivas played Paul Clamenti, a man in his mid-20s with lots of issues. Clamenti’s parents had been killed as part of La Cosa Nostra violence and he was adopted by his aunt and uncle.

Problem: his uncle, Edward (Telly Savalas), was one of the chiefs of the Cosa Nostra. He also fell in love with Chris Roland (Susan Strasberg), who was the daughter of Leo Roland (Walter Pidgeon), another mob boss.

On top of all that, Paul Clamenti decided to be a hit man on the side. His specialty was to shoot his victims twice in the heart, earning him the nickname Cupid. That sounds rather melodramatic, but Drivas pulled it off, more than holding his own in scenes with old pros.

Drivas also played a key role in the only three-part story in the original Hawaii Five-O series, V is for Vashon. Drivas, by this time in his 30s, played Chris Vashon, the early 20s scion of the Vashon crime family in Hawaii.

Once again, Drivas played opposite old pros (Harold Gould as his father, Luther Adler as his grandfather) and held his own. Chris Vashon died at the end of the first installment, an event that drives the remaining parts of the story.

Drivas played a variety of parts during his career, including Loudmouth Steve in Cool Hand Luke. He died of AIDS-related cancer in 1986 at the age of 47.

Purvis & Wade: who loves ya, baby?

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis, going from Walther PPKs to lollipops.

Robert Wade, left, and Neal Purvis, going from Walther PPKs to lollipops.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, having concluding a run of working on five James Bond movies, have been hired to script a Kojak film starring Vin Diesel, according to the Deadline entertainment news Web site.

Here’s an excerpt:

EXCLUSIVE: Universal Pictures is getting serious about Kojak, hiring the scribe team of Neal Purvis & Robert Wade to script a movie around the tough-talking, smooth scalped cop played by Telly Savalas on the CBS series. Vin Diesel, who just wrapped Fast And Furious 6 for the studio, will play the chrome-domed cop in the film, which he’s producing with Samantha Vincent for their Universal-based One Race Films.

The original 1973-78 series originated with a made-for-TV movie called The Marcus-Nelson Murders that first aired in March 1973. That original project was scripted by Abby Mann, an Oscar winning screenwriter, and directed by Joseph Sargent. It gave Telly Savalas, normally cast as villains (including 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), a chance to play a sympathetic role. The story was based on the Wylie-Hoffert murders, also known as the Career Girls Murders, which led to to Miranda warnings.

Director Sargent won an Emmy and a Directors Guild of America award for The Marcus-Nelson Murders while Mann was nominated for an Emmy.

The CBS series made Savalas a big star and, for a time, a sex symbol (starting in the second season he doffed neckties a lot and didn’t button the first button or two of his dress shirts). Kojak’s catchphrase was, “Who loves ya, baby?” Kojak, trying to quit smoking, frequently sucked lollipops. The cast included the star’s brother George as one of the New York City detectives that worked with Kojak. The first season of the series included Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel as guest stars. Richard Donner directed some episodes.

Savalas reprised the role in a some TV movies on ABC (part of a Mystery Movie revival that included Peter Falk as Columbo). There was also a brief revival series on cable television in 2005, starring Ving Rhames as Kojak.

To read the entire Deadline story, just CLICK HERE.