1966: Lone Ranger adapts WWW, Batman

Lone Ranger and Tonto in the 1966 cartoon series that aired on CBS.

There have been many versions of The Lone Ranger, but a forgotten one aired on CBS in the fall of 1966.

That was a cartoon series, produced by Format Films. The series apparently was influenced by The Wild Wild West series that aired on CBS and the Batman  series that was broadcast on ABC.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto, as depicted in the cartoon, very much followed the Clayton Moore-Jay Silverheels model that debuted on television in 1949 and starred in movies in 1956 and 1958.

However, the villains the heroes confronted in the 1966 film were different.

The Iron Giant, built by Tiny Tom to menace the Lone Ranger in a 1966 cartoon.

In a number of the cartoons, the Ranger and Tonto faced Tiny Tom, a a very short scientist, sometimes aided by a giant assistant named Goliath. That was similar to Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) and his extremely fall assistant Voltaire (Richard Kiel).

Beyond that pair of villains, other of the Ranger’s foes had familiar capers to viewers of The Wild Wild West.

In particular, a Ranger cartoon titled Quicksilver had a villain who, after consuming a formula, moved so fast he was practically invisible. This was practically the same plot of the first-season episode of The Wild Wild West titled The Night of the Burning Diamond.

Format Films, the maker of the Ranger cartoons, had earlier produced the title sequence for I Spy.

One of the company’s principals was Herbert Klynn (1917-1999). Klynn was an alumnus of UPA, the cartoon operation that produced Mr. Magoo and Gerald McBoing-Boing theatrical shorts as well as a memorable adaption of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, with James Mason as the murder-narrator.

Meanwhile, Format’s version of The Lone Ranger featured villains with elaborate lairs, similar to the Batman television series with Adam West and Burt Ward that debuted in January 1966.

One of the Ranger’s foes in the cartoon series, the Black Widow (in the episode titled Cult of the Black Widow), had thugs in outfits similar to the henchmen in a typical Batman outing. The Black Widow was voiced by Agnes Moorehead, who would later win an Emmy for an appearance in The Wild Wild West.

Today, there’s a term, “steampunk,” definted as “a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.”

The Wild Wild West featured steampunk. So did the 1966 version of The Lone Ranger.

Bond 24: Will Wilson and Broccoli take the `p.g.a.’ credit?

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Alert movie goers (i.e. the ones who read the credits) may have noticed a new credit in films: the letters “p.g.a.” after the names of some, but certainly not all producers.

The letters are short for the Producers Guild of America. It’s intended to show which of many producers actually did most of the producing workload on a movie.

Over the past 35 years, various people — such as agents of stars — have gotten some kind of producing credit, whether it be producer, executive producer, co-producer, et. al. For example, the 2013 film Lee Daniels’ The Butler lists more than 30 producers of one title or another. By comparison, some movies, such as Gone With the Wind, listed one (David O. Selznick).

The Producers Guild this year reached a deal with some studios for a “producer’s mark” to be attached to the real producers on a movie. Since that deal, movies as disparate as The Lone Ranger, Thor: The Lost World and Last Vegas have included the “p.g.a.” label after the producers the guild judges to be the real producers of the movie.

Why “p.g.a.”? Well, according to a story on THE WRAP ENTERTAINMENT WEBSITE, the use of PGA, all capital letters, was staked out by the Professional Golfers Association decades earlier.

Flash forward to 2015, when the as-yet untitled Bond 24 reaches movie theaters. Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, are clearly the primary producers of James Bond movies. But they don’t have to take a “p.g.a.” credit after their names. According to THIS PAGE on the Producers Guild website:

Please note that receiving the Producers Mark is entirely optional. If for whatever reason a producer wishes not to have the Mark appended to her or his credit, that producer need not submit an eligibility form.

For the 23 007 movies through 2012’s Skyfall, Eon has avoided things such as a director’s “vanity’s credit,” a.k.a. “A Sam Mendes Film” or “A Film by Sam Mendes.” It remains to be seen whether “p.g.a.” is so firmly established by the fall of 2015 that by that time it’d be natural to be seen in a Bond film.

What we know and don’t know about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is days away from finishing principal photography. So here’s a quick look at some of what’s know and not known about the project.

It’s a (relatively) lean production: The movie has a production budget of about $75 million, according to a
JULY STORY IN VARIETY BY JON BURLINGAME.

That’s hardly pocket change and a bigger budget than independent dramas. But it’s also noticeably less than Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie ($200 million); R.I.P.D. ($130 million); The Lone Ranger ($215 million); and Man of Steel ($225 million).

Then again, a big budget is hardly a guarantee of success. Skyfall was a hit and Man of Steel (with Henry Cavill, the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s Napoleon Solo, playing Superman) did well enough to proceed with a sequel. R.I.P.D. and The Lone Ranger (with Armie Hammer, the U.N.C.L.E. movie’s Illya Kuryakin, as the title character although the star was Johnny Depp’s Tonto) were bombs. That’s especially true of R.I.P.D. a comedy with Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds that generated total worldwide ticket sales of $78.3 million, which was split with theaters.

It was a (relatively) tightly scheduled shoot: The U.N.C.L.E. movie began filming on Sept. 6. It will finish on Dec. 7, according to A TWEET by Luca Calvani, who play’s the film’s villain. That’s almost exactly three months. By comparison, Skyfall had a seven-month filming schedule from late 2011 through mid-2012.

There will be humor; the question is how much: Cavill signed on as a late replacement for Tom Cruise to play Solo. He said U.N.C.L.E. would have “DRY HUMOR.” The 30-year-old actor described himself as liking dry humor but not a fan of slapstick humor.

One fear of first-generation U.N.C.L.E. fans is there would be too much humor, which happened during THE THIRD SEASON of the original 1964-68 series. One sign that may not be the case: Entertainment Weekly DESCRIBED a scene where Calvani attacks Cavill “savagely,” kicking him in the “bollocks.” That never happened during U.N.C.L.E.’s sometimes goofy third season.

A broken record (by this blog), but who’s going to be the composer? One of the biggest unknowns still remains who will be the movie’s composer.

Hans Zimmer, who worked on director Guy Ritchie’s two Sherlock Holmes movies, has said he probably doesn’t have time given other commitments. Jerry Goldsmith, who composed the distinctive U.N.C.L.E. theme, died in 2004. Music is always an important consideration and there’s still no clue who will handle those chores for the new U.N.C.L.E. movie.

What’s at stake for the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in Italy

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer during filming in Italy

As The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie approaches the end of principal photography, here are some thoughts about what’s at stake for the production.

A potential U.N.C.L.E. franchise or back to limbo? There have been various attempts to revive the 1964-68 series. But there was a 15-year gap between the series and a 1983 television movie with original stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and another 30-year gap until the new movie started filming in September.

It’s a situation similar to The Lone Ranger. There were movies in 1956 and 1958. There wasn’t another live-action film until 1981, which flopped. It wasn’t until 2013 until another movie was released. It, too, flopped.

Best case scenario: the U.N.C.L.E. movie is enough of a hit it spawns sequels. Worst case: It flops and U.N.C.L.E. goes back to limbo for decades, if not forever.

A chance for Henry Cavill to become a star for something in addition to Man of Steel: Comic book movies sometimes revive careers, such as Robert Downey Jr. in three Iron Man movies and The Avengers. In some cases, an actor can be a star in a comic book-based film but not necessarily have that success spill over to other projects.

Playing Napoleon Solo is different than Superman in 2013’s Man of Steel. It remains to be seen if U.N.C.L.E. broadens Cavill’s star power before the Superman-Batman movie that’s slated to come out in 2015.

A chance for Armie Hammer to recover from a flop: Armie Hammer had the title role in 2013’s The Lone Range, although Johnny Depp’s Tonto was the star. Still, generating $260.5 million in worldwide ticket sales (splitting the take with theaters) isn’t the way to make money when you’re spending $215 million (or more) to produce the movie. Put another way: The Lone Ranger had total U.S.-Canada ticket sales of $89.3 million. Skyfall, the most recent James Bond movie, had $88.4 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. and Canada alone.

A hit always helps an actor. With the U.N.C.L.E. movie having an estimated budget of $75 million, it should be easier for the U.N.C.L.E. movie to be financially successful. But whether that happens remains to be seen.

Some fan complaints about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans react to what they've seen about the new movie.

Some U.N.C.L.E. fans react to news about the new movie.

Everybody’s a critic, the saying goes. So it is with The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie a month after it began filming.

The Internet in its myriad forms, including Facebook, Twitter, listservs message boards and blogs like this one, has the potential to give every fan a voice. And many take advantage of the opportunity.

While it’s hard to say how representative they are, here’s a sampling of some fan complaints about the movie that stars Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer in the roles originated by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. A lot of this is subjective and if you’re an U.N.C.L.E. fan you may agree or disagree.

1. The lead actors are too tall: Norman Felton, executive producer of the original 1964-68 series, was on record as not wanting “big, ballsy men” as his leads, which is one reason why Vaughn and McCallum, each below 6-feet tall, got the roles. Some fans refer to Kuryakin/McCallum as LBG, or “little blonde guy.”

Cavill is 6-goot-1 while Hammer is 6-foot-5. That is admittedly a big change and some fans don’t like it. Cavill was a last-minute casting change for 5-foot-7 Tom Cruise, who opted out of the project.

2. Henry Cavill is too muscular: Cavill, 30, is the latest screen Superman (in 2013’s Man of Steel) and will reprise the role in 2014 for a Superman-Batman movie that will be released in the summer of 2015. That’s different that Felton’s “everyman” vision.

3. Armie Hammer isn’t blonde enough: Hammer had dark hair playing the Lone Ranger in the 2013 Disney movie. He has lightened his hair, but for some fans he’s not blond enough.

Armie Hammer with a David McCallum haircut.

Armie Hammer with a David McCallum haircut.

4. Hammer doesn’t have Illya Kuryakin’s hairstyle: McCallum’s Kuryakin had bangs and his hairstyle got shaggier later in the series. Based on photos taken during filming in Rome SUCH AS THIS ONE, Hammer isn’t attempting the same hairstyle.

5. Why does Hollywood do all these remakes and/or sequels? This is a broader complaint about Hollywood in general. As movie costs have spiraled, studios have gotten conservative and are viewed as less willing to take risks in general.

Occasionally, there are remakes worth doing. Humphrey Bogart wasn’t the first actor to play Sam Spade. My Fair Lady, seen as a screen classic, is essentially a musical remake of Pygmalion. Some argue The Godfather Part II is better than the original. The problem isn’t necessarily remakes per se, but how they’re executed.

6. This is going to be a flop on the scale of 2013’s Lone Ranger movie! Actually, that’s almost impossible. The U.N.C.L.E. movie’s budget is a reported $75 million, while Disney’s Lone Ranger movie had a budget of as much as $240 million.

Meanwhile, as far as U.N.C.L.E. concerned, the past 30 years of fan discussion has centered on either the original show or U.N.C.L.E. projects that didn’t get made. Looking on the bright side, the U.N.C.L.E movie is something new to talk about — whether the movie turns out good or ill — for the first time in a long time. It also may recruit new U.N.C.L.E. fans, starting with fans of the lead actors.

More questions about the U.N.C.L.E. movie

"Illya, we need to find out more about the U.N.C.L.E. movie."

“Illya, we need to find out more about the U.N.C.L.E. movie.”


One thing about the HMSS Weblog. It never runs out of questions. Certainly that’s the case with a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. So here we go:

1. Who’s doing the script? Back in late June, it seemed as if the film would use a script penned by Scott Z. Burns for director Steven Soderbergh, who exited the project in late 2011. An INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR ARMIE HAMMER (slated to play Illya Kuryakin) quoted Hammer thusly:

‘It’s such a great script (by Scott Z. Burns), and it’s so funny! Guy Ritchie has such a great take on it.”

But, looking back, Hammer doesn’t say “Scott Z. Burns.” It’s inserted by writer Ruben V. Nepales. Meanwhile, in a NEW STORY IN VARIETY BY JON BURLINGAME, there’s this information:

With a script by Ritchie and his “Sherlock Holmes” writer and producer Lionel Wigram, the film is an origin story that tells of the first pairing of the two spies — one American, one Russian.

Ritchie refers to director Guy Ritchie, who previously helmed two Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr. Later in the Variety story, it lists Burns as among a number of writers who’ve tried devising an U.N.C.L.E. tale over the years. Also, Burns HAS TALKED PUBLICLY ABOUT HIS SCRIPT. If it were actually being used for a film, you’d think studio executives wouldn’t be happy with the scribe disclosing details.

2. Why hasn’t Warner Bros. made an announcement yet? The studio has announced a Superman-Batman movie for 2015 (starring Henry Cavill, who played the title character in this year’s Man of Steel and is to play Napoleon Solo in the U.N.C.L.E. film); a 2014 science fiction movie directed by Christopher Nolan (which will be a co-production with Paramount); and The Judge, an October 2014 movie with Downey and Robert Duvall.

U.N.C.L.E. is supposed to start production in a little more than a month. Both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer have separately said they’ll be doing the movie. Why is Warner Bros. still silent?

3. When will the U.N.C.L.E. movie reach audiences? Assuming the film begins production in early September, it’s possible you could get it out in time for the television show’s 50th anniversary in September 2014. But Warner Bros. (as noted before) has already announced fall 2014 films.

4. What about the rest of the cast? Will there be a Mr. Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief played by Leo G. Carroll in the original 1964-68 series? Who will be the villain? Will there be an “INNOCENT” CHARACTER, one of the key elements that made U.N.C.L.E. different than James Bond?

5. What about the rest of the crew? As of early Aug. 1, the movie’s IMDB.COM entry listed mostly members of the art department. No director of photography. No composer. No editor. Those are all pretty major jobs on a movie and you’d think they’d be lined up by now.

6. Is a $75 million budget enough? Variety said the budget is $75 million. That’s less than half the budget for the 2012 James Bond movie Skyfall. Still $75 million ought to be sufficient. The movie is to be 1960s period piece, but computer effects make it easier to recreate past periods. Meanwhile, Hollywood has a hangover from a half-dozen or so very expensive movies that flopped, including The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. It makes sense that Warner Bros. would be more conservative with this project.

UPDATE: The BLEEDING COOL Web site says the film will have one villain part who “will be a Christoph Waltz-type with fondness for torture.”

U.N.C.L.E. movie budget cut, Variety says

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill, right, and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)

The budget for a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was cut by Warner Bros., according to Variety, which didn’t provide any specifics.

The entertainment news site carried THIS STORY about actress Rose Byrne being in talks for a remake of Annie. There was this reference later:

Byrne is also in consideration for a role in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” but sources say the budget was cut on the film and it may have been hard to finalize a deal if an offer was presented to Byrne.

Production on U.N.C.L.E. has been reported to be gearing up in the U.K. but Warners hasn’t made an official announcement. Henry Cavill, who has said he’ll be playing Napoleon Solo in U.N.C.L.E., was at the big San Diego comic book convention last weekend, but didn’t mention U.N.C.L.E. The big Warner Bros. out of that event was the announcement of a Superman-Batman movie in 2015, with Cavill reprising his role as Superman.

Given a number of recent big-budget flops, such as The Lone Ranger (whose cast includes Armie Hammer, slated to play Illya Kuryakin) and R.I.P.D., some caution would be in order. Also, there have been executive changes at Warners. Perhaps The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse hasn’t been lifted yet.