Patrick Macnee, an appreciation

Patrick Macnee's image in an end titles to an episode of The Avengers

Patrick Macnee’s image in a titles sequence of an episode of The Avengers

Patrick Macnee had a career that last decades. His acting credits in his IMDB.COM ENTRY begin in 1938 and run through 2003.

During that span, he didn’t get the role that defined his career — John Steed on The Avengers — until he was 39.

Even then, it took a while for The Avengers to become a worldwide phenomenon. Macnee’s Steed was the one consistent element in a show that changed cast members often.

It’s easy to see why. John Steed didn’t just know the right wines. He knew which end of the vineyard where the grapes had been grown. Steed could handle himself but — as the epitome of the English gentleman — he could adeptly out think his foes as well as out fight them.

It was all outrageous, of course. Steed and his various colleagues encountered robots, mad scientists, Soviet agents and all sorts of dangers. All were dispatched with a sense of style and elegance.

After that show ran its course, he seemed to transition effortlessly to an in-demand character actor. The captain of a cruise ship on Columbo. An alien menace on Battlestar Galactica. Dr. Watson in the made-for-TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York.

All done with style, seemingly without effort. It seemed like he’d go on forever. He couldn’t, of course. He died today at 93.

Anytime it seems like a performance was effortless, chances are it wasn’t. To keep getting acting gigs is tough. However, watching Macnee it’s understandable why casting directors would keep turning to him.

Even with lesser material, he established a presence. For example, the 1983 TV movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had an uneven script. Yet Macnee shined as new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh. When performing great material — such an Avengers script by Brian Clemens or Philip Levene — Macnee made it even more special.

Part of it was his distinctive voice. In the 1990s, when documentaries were made about James Bond movies for home video releases, he was a natural to narrate them. (He didn’t narrate Inside A View to a Kill, presumably because he was in the cast of the 1985 007 movie.)

On social media today, fans all over the world expressed sadness. That’s very understandable. Macnee was so good, for so long, it was easy to take him for granted. Nobody is doing so today.

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:

Brian Clemens, mastermind of The Avengers, dies

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Patrick Mcnee and Diana Rigg, arguably the best pairing in The Avengers

Brian Clemens, a mastermind of the television series The Avengers, has died, according to an obituary on the INQUISITR WEBSITE.

Clemens, born in 1931, had a lengthy career as a writer and producer. But he is perhaps best known for his work on The Avengers (1961-69) and The New Avengers (1976-77).

In a 2008 U.K. television interview, Clemens said The Avengers “had a curious logic all its own.” Ideas that might work elsewhere could work on The Avengers, he said. “The Avengers had unwritten rules” which were “in my head,” Clemens said.

Of suave John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee, Clemens said in 2008: “He is the manipulator of the all the girls he’s ever been associated with. He gets them into situations for his own benefit.”

Eon Productions, maker of the James Bond film series, used The Avengers as a farm club. Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale on The Avengers, was signed to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. After bringing aboard Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, the series even made a joke about Mrs. Gale sending Steed a card from Fort Knox.

Rigg, of course, ended up playing Tracy, Bond’s doomed bride, in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Macnee finally made his 007 appearance in 1985’s A View to a Kill. Going the other way, Joanna Lumley, who had a small part in Majesty’s, was the female lead in The New Avengers.

Here’s the 2008 interview with Clemens:

The Secret Service principals compare movie to old-style 007

UPDATE (July 26): A reader who was at the presentation tells us that a Colin Firth quote below was transcribed incorrectly by Screen Rant. Quote has been changed to reflect that.

Some of the people behind the new Kingsman: The Secret Service compared the upcoming film to 1960s James Bond movies and other spy entertainment of that decade, according to the entertainment website SCREEN RANT.

The movie got promoted at the San Diego comic book convention. The film is based on a 2012 comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

Millar made light of more recent Bond films with Daniel Craig in discussing Kingsman. “James Bond cries in the shower now in these movies but [star Colin Firth] gets to do cool stuff – like firing these gadgets and all this stuff. I think he got the best gig in the end.”

Firth kept his comparisons to the 1960s. He was quoted thusly by Screen Rant (with corrections included): “I enjoyed this kind of thing growing up in the ’60s and the character of the spy movie has its roots in the ’60s. It’s the Man from Uncle U.N.C.L.E., it’s the Harry Donner Palmer films, it’s John Speed’s Steed’s Avengers, and those early Bond films. It’s the guy in the suit who seems slick and cool and capable but very contained but you cross him at your peril.”

The Matthew Vaughn-directed film is due out this fall in February.

45th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)


Jan. 15 marks the 45th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also the beginning of the end for 1960s spymania.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts. Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.” Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty. NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969. NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but abandoned spy storylines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done. Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.

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.

One list of top 15 anticipated 2012 films excludes Skyfall

The Wrap, one of the big U.S. entertainment news Web sites, excluded Skyfall from its list of the top 15 most-anticipated films of 2012.

What made the list? Here’s part of it:

–Three major superhero movies (two based on Marvel Comics characters including THIS ONE, while the other features one of DC Comics big hitters).

–Two films featuring Abraham Lincoln as a character (including one where Honest Abe hunts vampires.

–Yet another remake of The Great Gatsby (a 1949 version was produced and co-scripted by 007 film scribe Richard Maibaum).

–A film remake of a gothic horror television soap opera.)

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