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.

Spy fans engage in throwing bricks from glass houses

Mission: Impossible-Fallout poster

Late next week, Mission: Impossible-Fallout reaches theaters. Some 007 fans aren’t happy, feeling the movie is, well, a ripoff.

Specifically, based on trailers, there are at least two segments of M:I-Fallout that seem “inspired” from previous Bond films:

–A villain appears to make an escape similar to the way Franz Sanchez did in Licence to Kill (1989).

–Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt makes a HALO (high altitude, low-opening) parachute jump, similar to how B.J. Worth did one doubling for Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

The resemblances are undeniable. In fact, the current Hawaii Five-0 series did an “homage” to the Licence to Kill sequence at the start of its third season in 2012. So Mission: Impossible-Fallout doing it wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, memories may be short. So the following should be noted.

–Live And Let Die (1973) when it was released was seen as inspired by “blaxploitation” movies of the early 1970s. While Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel featured a black villain, the movie utilized a few characters but dispensed with the book’s main plot.

–The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) was seen as 007’s answer to Kung Fu movies of the 1970s. Fleming’s 1965 novel of the same name was mostly set in Jamaica and didn’t have any Kung Fu.

–Moonraker (1979) was seen as 007’s answer to Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Fleming’s 1955 novel concerned a rocket but no space travel was involved.

–Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) were said to be influenced by the Jason Bourne movies that were popular at the start of this century.

Javier Bardem’s Silva in a Joker-like moment in Skyfall

–Skyfall (2012) was inspired by Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Director Sam Mendes even said so. Javier Bardem’s Silva definitely seemed influenced by Heath Ledger’s Joker.

If fans want to accuse another franchise of copying, it can be a matter of throwing bricks from a glass house.

Filmmakers do this sort of thing all the time. Directors channel their inner-Alfred Hitchcock (or Stanley Kubrick, or whoever) all the time.

Christopher Nolan, who helmed The Dark Knight, channeled 007 films in his Batman trilogy. Example: Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) giving Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gadgets more than slightly resembled Bond-Q scenes from earlier 007 films.

Chances are, if you see a shot or sequence that reminds you of a famous movie sequence, chances are it’s not a coincidence.

The key difference is what does the director do with it? Does it work? Does it contribute to an entertaining film?

In the case of The Dark Knight, whatever you might think of it, Nolan delivered a memorable movie. With Skyfall, whatever was “borrowed” from Nolan, audiences found it an interesting take on a Bond film.

I can’t judge Mission: Impossible-Fallout. I haven’t seen it, other than the trailers.

The question is where M:I-Fallout writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and his star, Tom Cruise, have delivered a good movie. “Borrowing” happens all the time in film. We’ll see soon.

007 Magazine defends Golden Gun film

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

007 Magazine is coming out with a new issue that includes an article titled “In Defence of The Man With the Golden Gun.”

The magazine’s website doesn’t have many details. However, the 1974 James Bond film, the second starring Roger Moore, often gets criticism from critics and fans. So in that regard, 007 Magazine apparently is going to give the ninth Bond film from Eon Productions some fan love.

Also in issue 56 is an interview with Daniel Kleinman, who has designed the titles for seven Bond films, starting with GoldenEye and running through SPECTRE. (Quantum of Solace’s titles were produced by MK12.)

There is also an article about George Leech and his career as a British stuntman and stunt arranger.

For more information, CLICK HERE. The price is 9.99 British pounds, $15.99 and 11.99 euros.

The Man With the Golden Gun novel, a re-evaluation

Cover to a U.S. paperback edition of The Man With the Golden Gun

A friend of mine makes a point of re-reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels every year. He refers to it as “reading the scriptures.”

I haven’t read the texts in a while. 007 continuation novels, yes. But not the originals, at least not beyond researching them for posts.

As a result, I got one out. But I opted for the runt of the litter, Fleming’s last novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.

The novel doesn’t get a lot of fan love. Raymond Benson, in his James Bond Bedside Companion, says it’s “a major disappointment and is the weakest book in the series.”

The novel is, essentially, a published first draft. Fleming wrote it in early 1964, just months before he died in August of that year of a heart attack.

“He died before he could revise, polish, and add the rich detail he always incorporated after he had completed the first draft,” Benson wrote in his 1984 evaluation of the book. In the 1990s, Benson took over as author of 007 continuation novels and movie novelizations.

That said, The Man With the Golden Gun is still an interesting novel. Fleming, despite failing health, was still a spinner of tales.

The novel begins with Bond, brainwashed by the Soviets, trying to kill M. The plot is foiled because a “great sheet of armour-plated glass hurtled down from the baffled slit in the ceiling.”

M decides that Bond is to be un-brainwashed and sent after the supposedly invincible Francisco Scaramanga, the novel’s title character. If Bond dies trying, well, he dies as a hero. If he succeeds, he’s accepted back into the Secret Service.

So far, so good. The problem is Scaramanga doesn’t seem that invincible, other than being a quick draw with his golden gun.

He’s not very smart. Scaramanga comes across as more bluster than brains. He hires Bond (who catches up to Scaramanga in Jamaica thanks to luck) as an assistant.

Meanwhile, Scaramanga’s operation has already been infiltrated by the CIA. The Langley contingent, of course, includes Felix Leiter, who has once again been drafted back into active duty. You would think a guy with one hand and a hook would be a little obvious to deploy in undercover work. But hey, he is awfully capable.

The novel reminds a reader of Fleming’s Goldfinger novel. Instead of a “Hood’s convention” discussing Auric Goldfinger’s Fort Knox robbery plot, Fleming has “The Group,” representing the Mafia, KGB and Castro. The Group’s objectives, though, are less ambitious than Goldfinger’s.

Besides Scaramanga, one of Bond’s adversaries is Mr. Hendriks, the KGB’s representative in this affair. You would think the KGB — by now knowing its plot to have Bond kill M failed — would make sure all of its operatives knew what 007 looked like. But Hendriks has no clue.

“I have no informations or descriptions of this man, but it seems that he is highly rated by my superiors,” Hendriks says at one of The Group’s gatherings.

Still, the novel does get its second wind once Leiter makes his appearance. The Bond films have never really captured the Bond-Leiter rapport of the novels. As far back as Jack Whittingham’s first 007 script draft for Kevin McClory, screenwriters have tried to give Leiter more to do. But it never works out.

One of the best Bond-Leiter bits of this novel comes toward the end. Leiter is getting out of the hospital first. The two have their final Fleming-written banter.

Bond comments how Scaramanga “was quite a guy” and should have been taken alive.

“That’s the way you limeys talk about Rommel and Donitz and Guderian. Let alone Napoleon,” Leiter responds. “Once you’ve beaten them, you make heroes out of them….Don’t be a jerk, James. You did a good job. Pest control. It’s got to be done by someone.”

Each also has trouble actually saying “good-bye” to the other. An exhausted Bond lapses back into unconsciousness. “Mary Goodnight shooed the remorseful Leiter out of the room…”

The Man With the Golden Gun is far from Ian Fleming at his best. But it’s still Fleming. And that’s what makes the difference.

007 literary meme: John F. Kennedy, author

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

In Chapter 7 of The Man With The Golden Gun (“Un-real Estate”), James Bond is relaxing in his room at the uncompleted Thunderbird Hotel in Jamaica.

He’s getting ready to have a bourbon. “The best drink in the day is just before the first one (the Red Stripe didn’t count),” Ian Fleming wrote.

Bond “took Profiles in Courage by Jack Kennedy out of his suitcase, happened to open it at Edmund G. Ross (“I…looked down into my open grave”)…”

When Fleming wrote the book in early 1964,” President John F. Kennedy had been dead only for a few months. Kennedy in 1961 had given U.S. sales of Fleming’s 007 novels a huge lift after listing From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

Thus, it was appropriate that Bond is carrying around Kennedy’s book in the middle of a mission to eliminate Francisco Scaramanga.

Profiles in Courage was published in 1956 when Kennedy was a U.S. senator from Massachusetts. It discussed people who exhibited political courage.

In addition to Ross, a U.S. senator from Kansas in the 19th century, the book also had chapters on, among others, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Sam Houston and Robert A. Taft.

It wasn’t Kennedy’s first book. He wrote the 1940 book Why England Slept.

Profiles in Courage won a Pulitzer Prize in 1957 for biography. However, a controversy ensued after journalist Drew Pearson said in an interview with Mike Wallace in December 1957 that the book was ghostwritten.

“He’s the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him, which indicates the kind of a public relations buildup he has had,” Pearson told Wallace, according to a partial transcript of the interview in an excerpt of a 2005 Wallace autobiography on NBC News’s website.

The interview aired on ABC. Under a threat from the Kennedy family to file a libel suit, the network apologized.

“I was incensed that my employers had caved in to the Kennedys,” Wallace wrote in his memoir, Between You and Me.

In fact, major work on the book was performed by Kennedy assistant Theodore Sorensen.

“It was no great secret that Mr. Sorensen’s intellect was an integral part of the book,” according to The New York Times’ 2010 obituary on Sorensen. “But Mr. Sorensen drafted most of the chapters, and Kennedy paid him for his work.“

“I’m proud to say I played an important role,” Sorensen said in an interview that was recorded to appear with the obituary. He became Kennedy’s speech writer after the latter took office as president.

Soon-Tek Oh, busy actor, dies

Soon-Tek Oh as an ill-fated secret agent in the Matt Helm film Murderers’ Row.

Soon-Tek Oh, a Korean-born actor whose career extended decades, died April 4, according to an obituary in Korea JoonAng Daily, an English language newspaper in South Korea.

The publication listed his age as 85. The Internet Movie Data Base listed his age as 74.

(UPDATE: Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter have listed his age as 85.)

Korea JoonAng Daily said Oh graduated from  Yonsei University in 1959 with a degree in political science. He then went to the University of California-Los Angeles, where he ended up studying acting, the newspaper said.

The actor made his rounds in spy and international intrigue related movies and television series.

He played Lt. Hip in the second Roger Moore 007 film, The Man With The Golden Gun. Before that, he appeared in I Spy, the Matt Helm movie Murderers’ Row (an uncredited role as a Japanese secret agent who’s killed early in the film), It Takes a Thief, The Wild Wild West (a small role as the villain’s houseboy) and eight episodes of Hawaii Five-O.

Lt. Hip assisted Moore’s Bond on a mission in Golden Gun. Often in Bond films, that’s the type of role that ends up being a “sacrificial lamb.” Oh’s Lt. Hip avoided that fate. The character also had two nieces whose martial arts skills helped Bond get out of a jam.

With Five-O, the actor was present at the beginning. In the pilot episode, he played a lab technician for villain Wo Fat, who has devised an unusual torture method involving a “cocoon.”

His parts got larger as the series progressed. Oh returned in a first-season Five-O episode, Face of the Dragon, He played a Chinese agent who is spreading Bubonic plague. Oh also portrayed a “young Maoist” who is being manipulated by Wo Fat as part of a plot in the fifth-season episode The Jinn Who Clears the Way.

The actor’s IMDB.COM entry lists 116 acting credits, extending from 1965 and running through 2006. He was also billed as Soon-Taik Oh (as he was in The Man With the Golden Gun) and Soon-Teck Oh.

Roger Moore: Let’s just say, ‘Au Revoir’

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

On Dec. 31 2016, I spent New Year’s Eve alone. I decided it was a way to say goodbye to my late father who – among other things – introduced me to James Bond.

So, breaking all the known traditions, I popped in the BluRay discs of Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun and Moonraker starting around the afternoon and ending minutes before midnight, to bid farewell to him with those three classic films he always told me about before we watched them on blurry VHS tapes after he picked me up from school.

Little I knew that I was bidding farewell of their protagonist as well.

Painful Year

2017 will be remembered as a painful year for the James Bond community. On May 23, we lost our most remarkable ambassador: Sir Roger Moore, the longest serving James Bond actor in the official cinematic series starring Ian Fleming’s secret agent.

I received the news of his passing with great shock on the afternoon of that fateful day, during my lunch break. It was a simple text message saying “RIP Roger Moore.” My immediate reaction was, simply, to ask “What?!”

Of course, it sounds silly. One should expect an 89-year-old man to depart soon. Maybe I was among those who thought he would live forever and that’s where my surprise and astonishment of sorts came.

Sir Roger Moore became the first (official) film Bond to visit the ultimate location no other Bond has been in: heaven.

My first touch with Moore’s Bond came shortly after I discovered GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies, almost 20 years ago.

It was my dad – whom I hope he has meet Roger up in the borderless skies by now – who once told me (in another lunch break, this time from school) about a Bond movie where a car made a 360 degree jump over a bridge.

Some days later, we were watching The Man With The Golden Gun on a VCR. And months later, we were enjoying Live And Let Die and Moonraker, in that order.

The days went on and as much older people than me explained that Roger Moore was also a relevant figure in The Persuaders! and The Saint, I managed to get a glimpse of those two wonderful TV series thanks to a retro channel that broke the barriers of time.

And as kids of my age were on Dragon Ball Z or Knight of The Zodiac, I was into the globe-trotting adventures of Lord Brett Sinclair and Simon Templar.

Personal Connection

I’m sure I’m not the only one who will feel Roger’s departure as something personal. He joined us on our childhood, teens and adult life.

He retired from the role of James Bond in 1985, exceptionally looking good at 58 years old and he went on to work in comedies and doing small appearances on TV shows like Alias. Much more important, he joined UNICEF and has been actively working as a Goodwill Ambassador, helping children in need.

Still, he always showed gratitude to the role he played in seven films over twelve years. He never refused an autograph. “I’m here because of them,” he told his daughter Deborah when she noted that he took so much time to sign photos, posters or DVD covers.

But more than that, he has been the only one true Bond Ambassador. Having his word on every released 007 film on his many published books or his Twitter account.

The Ambassador

He didn’t go to premieres often, but he cherished every time a new Bond adventure was released. He was the one who bid farewell to the many members of his cinematic family like Richard Kiel, Geoffrey Holder or Guy Hamilton, and a man that retained the same charm, style and sense of humor he had when he portrayed the role.

The truth is… I don’t see any of the other five actors fully acting as “Bond Ambassadors.”

Sean Connery seems out of the spotlight and has barely reconciled with the character that brought him to fame. Timothy Dalton remembers Bond from time to time. George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan would be the closest ones as they often share an anecdote of their time as 007.

Lazenby had a funny biopic titled Becoming Bond and we see Brosnan sharing some publicity stills on Instagram although he’s clearly focused on his current projects. Yet, nobody had the panache of remembering James Bond as Sir Roger Moore did.

While the others portrayed Bond as another job, Moore was Bond until he died. That day, I felt as if James Bond –the unbeatable secret agent– had died. I never stopped feeling that at any age he still had the charm of the James Bond of the 1970s and 1980s.

Roger Moore was a very much important part of my time as a Bond fan. It’s fair to admit that I owe much of my good taste and my sense of humor to him.

It may be a cliché to say this at this point but, truly, nobody did it better.

Good-bye Roger, or – as I’ve learnt from you in that film of 1977 – let’s just say ‘au revoir.’

Thanks for being part of my life.