The rise of the ‘origin’ storyline

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Daniel Craig and Jeffrey Wright in Casino Royale

Fifty, 60 years ago, with popular entertainment, you didn’t get much of an “origin” story. You usually got more-or-less fully formed heroes. A few examples:

Dr. No: James Bond is an established 00-agent and has used a Baretta for 10 years. Sean Connery was 31 when production started. If Bond is close to the actor’s age, that means he’s done intelligence work since his early 20s.

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

Napoleon Solo on TV: fully formed

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: During the first season (1964-65), Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) has worked for U.N.C.L.E. for at least seven years (this is disclosed in two separate episodes). A fourth-season episode establishes that Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum) graduated from U.N.C.L.E.’s “survival school” in 1956 and Solo two years before that.

Batman: While played for laughs, the Adam West version of Batman has been operating for an undisclosed amount of time when the first episode airs in January 1966. In the pilot, it’s established he has encountered the Riddler (Frank Gorshin) before. There’s a passing reference to how Bruce Wayne’s parents were “murdered by dastardly criminals” but that’s about it.

The FBI: When we first meet Inspector Lewis Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) in 1965, he’s established as the “top trouble shooter for the bureau” and is old enough to have a daughter in college. We’re told he’s a widower and his wife took “a bullet meant for me.” (The daughter would soon be dropped and go into television character limbo.) Still, we don’t see Young Lewis Erskine rising through the ranks of the bureau.

Get Smart: Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a top agent for CONTROL despite his quirks. There was no attempt to explain Max. He just was. A 2008 movie version gave Max a back story where he had once been fat.

I Spy: Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) have been partners for awhile, using a cover of a tennis bum and his trainer.

Mission: Impossible: We weren’t told much about either Dan Briggs (Steven Hill) or Jim Phelps (Peter Graves), the two team leaders of the Impossible Missions Force. A fifth-season episode was set in Phelps home town. Some episodes introduced friends of Briggs and Phelps. But not much more than that.

Mannix: We first meet Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) when he’s the top operative of private investigations firm Intertect. After Joe goes off on his own in season two, we meet some of Joe’s Korean War buddies (many of whom seem to try to kill him) and we eventually meet Mannix’s father, a California farmer. But none of this is told at the start.

Hawaii Five-O: Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is the established head of the Hawaiian state police unit answerable only to “the governor or God and even they have trouble.” When the series was rebooted in 2010, we got an “origin” story showing McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) as a military man, the unit being formed, his first meeting with Dan Williams, etc.

And so on and so forth. This century, though, an “origin story” is the way to start.

With the Bond films, the series started over with Casino Royale, marketed as the origin of Bond (Daniel Craig). The novel, while the first Ian Fleming story, wasn’t technically an origin tale. It took place in 1951 (this date is given in the Goldfinger novel) and Bond got the two kills needed for 00-status in World War II.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, co-bosses of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Nevertheless, audience got an “origin” story. Michael G. Wilson, current co-boss of Eon Productions (along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli) wanted to do a Bond “origin” movie as early as 1986 after Roger Moore left the role of Bond. But his stepfather, Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, vetoed the idea. With The Living Daylights in 1987, the audience got a younger, but still established, Bond (Timothy Dalton). In the 21st century, Wilson finally got his origin tale.

Some of this may be due to the rise of movies based on comic book movies. There are had been Superman serials and television series, but 1978’s Superman: The Motion Picture was the first A-movie project. It told the story of Kal-El from the start and was a big hit.

The 1989 Batman movie began with a hero (Michael Keaton) still in the early stages of his career, with the “origin” elements mentioned later. The Christopher Nolan-directed Batman Begins in 2005 started all over, again presenting an “origin” story. Marvel, which began making movies after licensing characters, scored a big hit with 2008’s Iron Man, another “origin” tale. Spider-Man’s origin has been told *twice* in 2002 and 2012 films from Sony Pictures.

Coming up in August, we’ll be getting a long-awaited movie version of U.N.C.L.E., this time with an origin storyline. In the television series, U.N.C.L.E. had started sometime shortly after World War II. In the movie, set in 1963, U.N.C.L.E. hasn’t started yet and Solo works for the CIA while Kuryakin is a KGB operative.

One supposes if there were a movie version of The FBI (don’t count on it), we’d see Erskine meet the Love of His Life, fall in love, get married, lose her and become the Most Determined Agent in the Bureau. Such is life.

Groundhog Day: 007, U.N.C.L.E. fan comments

SPECTRE teaser poster

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE teaser poster

Like the movie Groundhog Day, some things in spy fandom happen over and over.

In the James Bond world, even though Daniel Craig was cast as 007 almost a decade ago, you can still find fan debates about the 47-year-old actor.

For example, a story IN THE U.K. MIRROR reported Honor Blackman said that Craig, and not Sean Connery was now the best film Bond.

“I’m sorry to say he’s a better actor – but I think Sean would acknowledge that,” the Mirror quoted Blackman, who played Pussy Galore oppose Connery in Goldfinger. “I think Dan is terrific. He’s capable of so much more.”

Naturally, on social media, Craig fans and supporters noted the story and got into it with critics of the actor.  It happens the other way round, of course, when someone famous — say Ursula Andress in a DAILY MAIL STORY — says Craig isn’t the best Bond (“‘Hes a great actor, but not James Bond.”) Fan critics seize on comments such as that and try to rub it in the nose of Craig fans.

Then again, maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. There are still 007 fans who harshly criticize Roger Moore — who hasn’t done a Bond movie in 30 years — for taking too light a tone with his Bond films.

At the same time, Blackman’s comments were totally comfort food for 007 fans.

“Now it’s no longer like Ian Fleming, it’s more like The Bourne Identity,” Blackman said about current Bond movies. “It’s a different kind of film.” A lot of Bond fans don’t like the comparison with the Bourne films.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

Meanwhile, fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. continue to have variations on a the same theme: Namely, should a movie version of the 1964-68 spy show have been made at all?

There are some fans of the original show who never wanted it made in the first place and view it as garbage four months before it’s due out in theaters.

Among the reasons: it changes the U.N.C.L.E. timeline (the movie depicts the beginning of U.N.C.L.E. in 1963, whereupon in the show it began sometime shortly after World War II); there’s no way the stars (Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer) can possibly compare to Robert Vaughn and David McCallum); and the movie has lost the “everyman” dynamic of the show because it with two leads over 6-feet tall, including the 6-foot-5 Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, originally played by the 5-foot-7 McCallum.

As details dribble out, such as the movie Solo has a history as an art thief, that debate intensifies.

Nevertheless, other U.N.C.L.E. fans, having gone without an official U.N.C.L.E. production since a 1983 television movie, are looking forward to the film and want to give it a chance.

Both are spy entertainment’s version of Groundhog Day. No doubt somebody will again gear up one or the other debate sooner than later.

Who’s in, and out, of the U.N.C.L.E. movie poster credits

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

We decided to take a look at THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. OFFICIAL WEBSITE and examined the credits that go with the teaser poster. If you go to the page, you can view them, but you have to put your cursor on the lower left where it says “Legal.”

A reminder before we go further. Credits in a poster sometimes vary from the film. With 2012’s Skyfall, for example, the poster only listed one editor, but the movie’s credits listed two, the second being listed in small type. With that in mind:

Who’s not there: The credits simply say, “Based on the Television Series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” No mention of developer Sam Rolfe, nor of Norman Felton and Ian Fleming, who came up with the character Napoleon Solo.

Vanity credits: We’re told it’s “A Witchie/Wigram Production,” “A Davis Entertainment Production,” and “A Guy Ritchie Film.”

Who gets the “p.g.a.” mark: Since mid-2013, most movies include “p.g.a.” after those considered the primary producers of the film by the Producers Guild of America.

The movie lists four producers, with John Davis (who has been involved trying to develop an U.N.C.L.E. movie since the early 1990s), Lionel Wigram and Guy Richie getting the p.g.a. mark. (It’s in lower case letters with periods to avoid confusion with the Professional Golfers’ Association, or PGA.)

Steve Clark-Hall, listed second among the four, doesn’t get the mark. David Dobkin gets an executive producer credit. In television, executive producer is supposed to be the big boss. That’s not true for movies. Regardless, Dobkin’s name was associated with the project, circa 2010.

Writing credit: “Story by Jeff Kleeman & David Campbell Wilson and Lionel Wigram & Guy Ritchie, Screenplay by Lionel Wigram & Guy Ritchie.” This was included in the teaser trailer but it goes by very quickly.

Others jobs that get credits: Composer, costume designer, editor, production designer and director of photography.

Other tidbits: According to this, the soundtrack will be available on Watertower Music.

Return of the mysterious, shadowy organization

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation's teaser poster

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’s teaser poster

It’s like the mid-1960s all over again.

–Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation unveiled its teaser trailer this week, in which a mysterious, shadowy organization called the Syndicate is trying crush the Impossible Missions Force.

–SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, is in the midst of production, featuring a 21st century take on the organization that opposed 007 in the early Bond films.

–Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest Marvel Studios film is coming out May 1 and may include the latest appearance by Hyrdra, a vast group that infiltrated SHIELD in last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

–The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie is due out Aug. 14. It, too, features a mysterious organization. The question is whether it will be Thrush, the “supra nation” that opposed U.N.C.L.E. in the original 1964-68 series.

At this point, all we need Galaxy (two Derek Flint movies) and BIGO (three of four Matt Helm movies) to come back. KAOS, may be lurking as well (having been included in a 1980 theatrical movie and a 1989 made-for-TV film).

The notion of the huge group that, in some cases, was like a shadow government fell out of favor after the 1960s. Bond was the last man standing by 1971 and 007 encountered mostly one-off independent menaces (though some were affiliated with unfriendly governments). At the same time, the cinema Blofeld was the subject of jokes in Austin Powers movies.

What’s more, there were legal disputes about SPECTRE, with producer Kevin McClory saying the rights to the criminal organization belonged to him. A specific reference to SPECTRE boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld was taken out of the script of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. The script had a line where a mysterious guy who resembled Blofeld said this was the 10th anniversary of his last encounter with 007. Even though it didn’t make the movie, it was too late to take it out of the Marvel Comics adaptation.

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

By 2012, Eon Productions said it wasn’t even interested in SPECTRE.

“I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years,” Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli said in an interview with CRAVE ONLINE. “The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new.”

Eon whistled a different tune after a 2013 settlement with the McClory estate secured the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE. Recently, Broccoli acknowledged to Empire magazine that SPECTRE is a new take on the old villainous organization. The cast of SPECTRE includes Jesper Christensen, who played Mr. White, an official of a group called Quantum in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (the name wasn’t revealed until Quantum of Solace).

Marvel Studios also was bringing back the vast villainous organization. In 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, set during World War II, viewers were introduced to Hydra, formed by Hitler but a group that has its own ambitions to take over for itself. In the 2014 Captain America movie, we see Hydra is alive and well and moving forward on its ambitions.

Hydra in the comics made its debut in Strange Tales 135 in a story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby that introduced Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Later, writer-artist Jim Steranko connected Hyrdra to Fury’s World War II past, establishing that Hydra’s leader was Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker, a World War II foe of Fury’s.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

With M:I, the existence of the Syndicate was teased at the end of 2011’s Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. In the original television series, the Syndicate merely was an alternate name for the Mafia. The trailer unveiled this week makes clear the Syndicate is a much larger animal.

Which brings us to Thrush, which U.N.C.L.E. was waging war against in that television series. (At one point, WASP and MAGGOTT were considered as alternate names.) Thrush had vast resources, with thousands of employees on the U.S. West Coast alone. In the show’s final season, Thrush spent billions of dollars in various failed schemes. The Thrush name, however, wasn’t mentioned in the teaser trailer that came out in February.

Why the surge in popularity for such organizations?

Well, Hydra has been part of successful Marvel movies. Also, naming specific countries as being responsible for mayhem can be tricky. In 2002, Die Another Day had the North Koreans as villains. In 2014, North Korea was the leading suspect for being responsible for hacking at Sony Pictures, including leaks of SPECTRE’s script. What’s more, no studio wants to offend China and its vast market for movie goers.

Thus, what is old is new again. Don’t bet against the return of Galaxy and BIGO.

Jerry Goldsmith and the 1954 Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954's Casino Royale

Barry Nelson in 1954’s Casino Royale

UPDATE (March 22): Jon Burlingame’s research indicates Casino Royale was all “tracked” music, with Jerry Goldsmith just selecting previously recorded musical cues. See below in the original post where Goldsmith describes the process. Meanwhile, the post has been re-titled.

ORIGINAL POST: As we’ve noted before, the 1954 television broadcast on CBS of Casino Royale doesn’t get a lot of respect from James Bond fans. But did that first adaptation of an Ian Fleming story include music by a future superstar movie composer?

The composer in question is Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004). In 2002, Goldsmith gave an interview to journalist Jon Burlingame about his career. One of Goldsmith’s first efforts was on the CBS series Climax!, a series of one-hour live television dramas.

BURLINGAME: How did you get Climax!? Did they feel you were ready?

GOLDSMITH: No, they did’t know anything. This was the very early days of television. Music was even more infantile. Music was the bastard child…it was a necessity but it was the most unimportant necessity…At that point, CBS, they had me sort of on staff. They said they were going to put me under contract and I’m going to be responsible for the music on Climax! Basically, it was going to be recorded music.

BURLINGAME: So you were supposed to be picking cues?

GOLDSMITH: Yeah.

BURLINGAME: Just as you had done on (CBS) radio?

GOLDSMITH: Yeah.

At this point, it sounds like Goldsmith was more of a music supervisor for Climax! and wasn’t doing original work. Yet there are more details in the interview.

To avoid union penalties, “Whatever I wrote for CBS would immediately be recorded in Europe as track music,” Goldsmith told Burlingame in 2002. “I actually wrote music for the (CBS) library.”

At the same time, directors wanted music tailored for the Climax! episodes, Goldsmith said in the interview. According to Goldsmith, there’d be a mix of some new music (with very few instruments) with the track music.

Here’s the key thing. Burlingame pressed Goldsmith about the first Climax! episode he wrote music for. “I remember it was the second broadcast. We had an alto flute, and me playing the piano and organ. That was it.”

Burlingame asked again what the show was. Goldsmith didn’t specify. “I did three years…I did 36 a year…It became mostly original after a while.” Later, Goldsmith says “the first show I did” was The Long Goodbye. Goldsmith doesn’t mention this but The Long Goodbye was was the first episode of Climax! (One of that episode’s highlights, Goldsmith says, is an actor whose character was supposed to be killed gets up and walks off.)

The Climax! adaptation of Casino Royale, with Barry Nelson as an American Bond, was the show’s third broadcast, ON OCT. 21, 1954. While there are copies of the broadcast out there, some have shortened end titles, which don’t include complete end titles. The IMDB.com entry for the broadcast credits Goldsmith with the music, but IMDB.com relies on volunteers to enter information.

Goldsmith did indeed get music credits for later Climax! broadcasts, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which he received a “special music composed and conducted by” credit. In Keep Me in Mind, he’s listed as musical director.

Here’s the 2002 interview. The part about Climax! starts around the 16:00 mark, with the reference to The Long Goodbye around the 28:00 mark. The interview lasts almost two hours:

Napoleon Solo’s blood type and continuity

Fugitive Nazi scientist Prof. Amadeus about to drain Napoleon Solo of his blood in The Deadly Games Affair.

Fugitive Nazi scientist Volp about to drain Solo of his blood in The Deadly Games Affair.

In the 1960s, continuity wasn’t a high priority for the makers of television series. It turns out The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had a remarkable piece of continuity — intended or not.

In the first season, in The Deadly Games Affair, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (Robert Vaughn and David McCallum) are on the trail of a fugitive Nazi scentist, Wolfgang Volp (Alexander Scourby). It turns out Volp, who now calls himself Professor Amadeus and teaches in a New York City-area college, is selling off rare stamps.

Volp/Amadeus isn’t working on any ordinary project. It turns out he has Adolf Hitler in suspended animation. But the scientist needs “fresh, whole blood” to reanimate his former boss. He’s selling off his rare stamps to buy enough blood for the task. Solo falls into Volp’s hands. This turns out to be the answer to Volp’s “last, desperate prayers” because Solo has the same blood type as Hitler.

Needless to say, things don’t go the way Volp wants. Solo wheels Hitler into a fire. Volp, who can’t stand it anymore, throws himself into the flames as well.

To be sure, the name “Hitler” isn’t actually uttered. But in the context of the episode (particularly Solo’s look of horror when he finds Hitler in suspended animation) it can’t be anybody else.

Flash forward to the show’s final season. In The Thrush Roulette Affair, around the 38:00 mark, the viewer gets a look at a Thrush dossier of Solo. We’re told he’s 6-foot tall (taller than actor Robert Vaughn) and weights 175 pounds. It also says Solo’s blood type is A.

Well, according to the website WHAT’S MY BLOOD TYPE, the two episodes are actually consistent. Solo had type A. Hitler had type A. (So did Alan Alda, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon.)

Was this actually planned? Doubtful. The Deadly Games Affair was written by Dick Nelson, who penned three first-season episodes and never worked on the show again. The Thrush Roulette Affair was written by Arthur Weingarten, who never worked on the series before its final season. Also, there’s no guarantee that Weingarten supplied the Solo dossier materials.

Anyway, given how continuity was normally an afterthought in 1960s shows, it’s remarkable the two references actually match up.

UPDATE (March 20): In case you’re wondering how common Type A is, the answer is at LIVESCIENCE.COM.

In the U.S.,34 percent of the population has A-positive and 7 percent has A-negative. The most common type is O-positive at 38 percent. The rarest is AB-negative at 1 percent.

U.N.C.L.E. movie changes Solo’s back story a bit

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo

ShortList.com has published a feature story on actor Henry Cavill that indicates The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie changes Napoleon Solo’s back story a bit.

In the original 1964-68 series, Solo had served in Korea under a Col. Morgan and had joined U.N.C.L.E. by 1954. In THE SHORTLIST STORY, there’s this passage:

Cavill’s character in The Man From UNCLE is Napoleon Solo. Or, ‘the one played by Robert Vaughn’ for those of us who spent childhood Saturday teatimes being entertained by TV repeats – always featuring men in roll necks – from this strange, colourful decade our parents banged on about. Solo, a postwar art thief-turned-Cold War agent, is the dapper playboy – who Cavill describes as “an arsehole with a heart” – working alongside Soviet spying machine Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer in the film, David McCallum when it was on TV). It’s Solo’s look that inspired the shoot. Cavill likes this. (emphasis added)

In the movie’s trailer that went online last month, there was a passing reference to Solo being a thief. There may be additional Solo back story in the movie. There’s a young Napoleon Solo character in it, but no details have come out about that.

It was already known that the movie made one other major change: that U.N.C.L.E. didn’t exist in 1963 (the year the film is set), whereupon in the show it had been operating for some time.

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