RECAP: 007 film franchise at mid-2017

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

For the James Bond film franchise, the first half of 2017 was similar to 2016: more heat than light.

There has been nothing confirmed in the first half of the year. There have been two meaningful bits of Bond film news:

–Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail reported in March that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were retained to work on Bond 25, which would be their seventh 007 scripting effort.

The reason that merits serious consideration is that Bamigboye had a number of scoops concerning Skyfall and SPECTRE that were proven to be correct.

–The New York Times reported in April that five studios made proposals to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to be its studio partner to release Bond 25.

According to The Times, four were established studios: Sony Pictures (which has released the last four 007 films), Warner Bros., Universal and 20th Century Fox. The fifth is an upstart, Annapurna, a movie production company just now entering the movie distribution business.

The significance: The Times has more gravitas than entertainment news websites and British tabloids (including Bamigboye’s Daily Mail), where a lot of 007 items originate.

Other than that? A lot of stories about British bookmakers setting odds for different actors to play 007 in Bond 25. There have also been stories that speculated about actors and Bond.

Eon Productions bought a helicopter from a museum early in the year but, according to the MI6 James Bond website, that aircraft is for a non-Bond film project.

There have been examples of journalistic empty calories, including a Twitter post last month by The Tracking Board’s Jeff Sneider. He tossed out the idea that Eon Productions would like a 007 film universe but hasn’t provided anything to back it up.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Bond 25 to come out in 2018, something many fans want to happen.

In July 2013, more than a year before SPECTRE came out, there was a confirmed director (Sam Mendes’ return to the director’s chair was announced July 11, 2013); a confirmed Bond distributor (Sony); and a confirmed Bond star (Daniel Craig).

There’s still no distributor for Bond 25. Maybe MGM makes a decision in the second half of 2017. Still, Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions said in November 2015 that he was expecting a decision in early 2016.

No director is in place for Bond 25. There’s no confirmed James Bond actor for Bond 25. Some fans believe it’s a cinch Daniel Craig will be back for his fifth 007 film. Maybe he will, maybe he won’t.

But until the distributor selection is made, it doesn’t really matter. MGM, Bond’s home studio for more than 35 years, is one of the weakest studio operations. It can’t release its own films. It needs partners to co-finance and distribute them.

Dina Merrill dies at 93

Dina Merrill, center, with Jeffrey Hunter and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in a publicity still for the debut of The FBI.

Dina Merrill, an “actress and heiress to two fortunes,” has died at 93, according to an obituary posted by The New York Times.

Merrill was the daughter of Wall Street stockbroker E.F. Hutton and “cereal heiress” Marjorie Merriweather Post died Monday, according to The Times.

Her acting credits included the first episode of The FBI, where she played Jean Davis, a woman being stalked by a psychopath played by Jeffrey Hunter; The Controllers, a two-part Mission: Impossible story, where she played a woman operative in the show’s fourth season; an academic manipulated by Wo Fat in the 1976 Hawaii Five-O episode Nine Dragons; and Calamity Jan, the girlfriend of cowboy villain Shame (Cliff Robertson, her then-husband) during the final season of Batman.
An excerpt from the obituary:

 

As a child, born into the American aristocracy of money and high society, Ms. Merrill wished she could take the bus “like the other kids,” she said, instead of being driven to school by the family chauffeur. After she became a successful actress, she told Quest magazine, “It’s fascinating to lead someone else’s life for a while.”

Merrill also appeared on game shows, such as To Tell The Truth. Here is an example.

NYT features a crossword puzzle with 007 clues

Crossword puzzle in The New York Times with 007 clues.

Reader Gary J. Firuta passed along word (and an image) of a May 15 New York Times crossword puzzle with various James Bond-themed clues.

They were:

–Instead of 7 down, it’s 007 down. The clue: “What the answers to the italicized clues share, in two ways.”

–17 across: 1962-67, 1971. (No credit for Never Say Never Again, it would appear.)

–27 across: 1987-89.

–35 across (with 39 across): 1973-85.

–48 across: 1995-2002.

–63 across: 2006-

You can actually play the crossword puzzle for yourself online. However, you have to subscribe to the crossword puzzle even if you already have a Times digital subscription.

Bond 25 questions/observations after NYT story

Daniel Craig

The New York Times turned up how five studios are bidding to release Bond 25. That new piece of the jigsaw puzzle adds information and raises new questions.

So much for that fan theory: Until now, there has been a popular fan theory that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer really had a Bond 25 distribution deal in its hip pocket but was just waiting for the right time to announce it.

If The Times is correct, no way. The April 20 story says MGM and Eon Productions only now “have started attending dog and pony shows put on by studios that want the (distribution) rights.”

A sliver of uncertainty in an uncertain world: Relatively speaking, Sony didn’t make as much money as you might think from distributing Skyfall and SPECTRE, the two most recent entries in the 007 series. Sony co-financed the movie but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM and Eon got a bigger share of the haul that Sony did.

However, as Brooks Barnes of The Times wrote, the competition reflects “the realities of the modern movie business. As competition for leisure time increases, studios have focused more intently on global blockbusters, and those are in short supply….Having a Bond movie on the schedule guarantees at least one hit in a business where there is almost no sure thing.”

Now the questions.

So when does Bond 25 come out? Not soon. Until a distribution deal is reached, things such as budgets can’t even be discussed. Some fans still hope that Bond 25 can still go into production in early 2018 for a late 2018 release.

Is Daniel Craig coming back as Bond? Still unknown.

What is Annapurna? It’s one of the five bidders, along with Sony, Warner Bros. Universal and 20th Century Fox.

Annapurna is a movie company founded by tech heiress Megan Ellison. Here’s a description from a 2011 New York Times story:

Annapurna Pictures has Megan Ellison, a 25-year-old scion of Silicon Valley, who over the last year or so has been feeding what may soon be hundreds of millions of dollars to the hungriest part of the movie business: the writers, producers, directors and stars who make sophisticated dramas and adventure films that are too risky for studios and their corporate owners.

Annapurna, for example, has a Kathryn Bigelow-directed drama due out in August, simply titled Detroit, set during the 1967 riots in that U.S. city. Ellison, now 31, has producing credits including Zero Dark Thirty. Finally, Annapurna has done business with MGM in the past.

5 studios seeking to release Bond 25, NYT reports

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Five studios are seeking to release Bond 25, The New York Times reported, citing five people familiar with the process it didn’t identify.

What’s more, according to the newspaper, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions are only offering a one-film deal. Sony Pictures has released the last four Bond films and its most recent two-picture agreement expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

The studios identified by The Times are Sony, Warner Bros., Universal, 20th Century Fox and Annapurna, “an ambitious upstart financed and led by the Oracle heiress Megan Ellison.” Neither Walt Disney Co. nor Paramount are involved, The Times said. None of the companies involved returned calls from The Times seeking comment.

Reporter Brooks Barnes described an elaborate presentation by Sony that involved Kazuo Hirai, the CEO of parent company Sony Corp.

“Casting for the franchise has not been discussed in the meetings, according to the people briefed on them, although producers hope Daniel Craig will play the lead for at least one more chapter,” Barnes wrote. “He has a gap on his docket, according to movie industry databases, that would allow for filming.”

Under the most recent distribution deal, Sony co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE but only got 25 percent of the profits. MGM emerged from a 2010 bankruptcy as a smaller company, without its own distribution operation. MGM mostly produces television shows. It relies on distribution deals with other studios for its small film slate.

Leslie H. Martinson, versatile director, dies at 101

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Cover to the Fathom soundtrack

Leslie H. Martinson, a versatile director who mostly worked in television, has died at 101, according to an obituary published by The New York Times.

Martinson’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 108 directing credits, from 1953 through 1989. Besides TV, he also directed some movies, including the 1966 Batman feature based on the Adam West television show and 1963’s PT 109, with Cliff Robertson playing John F. Kennedy as a U.S. Naval officer in World War II.

Naturally, with a resume that long, Martinson dabbled in spy entertainment.

Another one of his movie credits was 1967’s Fathom, Raquel Welch’s entry into the 1960s spy craze. It also featured a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and main titles designed by Maurice Binder, and prominently feature the movie’s star.

What’s more, Martinson directed nine episodes of the original Mission: Impossible series. Those episodes ran during the show’s later seasons.

The director worked at various studios. He was in demand at Warner Bros. in the late 1950s and early ’60s, directing episodes of the studio’s detective (77 Sunset Strip, Hawaiian Eye, Bourbon Street Beat, Surfside 6) and western (Maverick, Lawman, Cheyenne) series.

In the latter category, Martinson directed a particularly amusing Maverick installment, Gun-Shy,  which was a parody of the hugely popular CBS western Gunsmoke.

In Gun-Shy, Bret Maverick (James Garner) keeps running afoul of Marshal Mort Dooley. Maverick is repeatedly thrown out of town by Dooley. But Bret, trying to find buried riches, keeps coming back. Writer Marion Hargrove even threw in a joke referencing another CBS western, Have Gun-Will Travel.

Eventually, Bret has to face off against Dooley in a gunfight. But Maverick outsmarts the marshal by staying just outside the range of the lawman’s pistol. Martinson staged the sequence as a send-up of the opening of Gunsmoke where Marshal Matt Dillon faced off against a gunfighter.

Steven Hill, original M:I star, dies at 94

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set

Cover to the first season MIssion: Impossible DVD set, with Steven Hill, left, as Dan Briggs.

Steven Hill, the first star of Mission: Impossible, has died at 94, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

Hill enjoyed a long acting career, including a 10-year stint on Law And Order as D.A. Adam Schiff.

For fans of the spy genre, Hill’s one season as Dan Briggs, team leader of the Impossible Missions Force, is a huge “what if?”

As noted in The Times’ obituary, Hill did not work late on Fridays (standard operating procedure at the time on most series) in observance of the Jewish sabbath. It’s also discussed in detail in Patrick J. White’s 1991 book on the series.

Mission: Impossible had the longest run, seven seasons, of the 1960s spy shows in the U.S. But Hill would only be around for the first.

The audience knew little of Briggs. In the pilot episode, written by Bruce Geller, we’re told he had been away from the IMF for some period. In another episode, we see Briggs was a friend of a high school principal. Mobsters kidnap the principal’s daughter to try to get leverage on Briggs.

The IMF leader could be quietly ruthless. For example, there’s the end of the episode Operation: Rogosh. The IMF has pulled a con on an enemy agent, who is driven away by officials of his government. Barney Collier muses (Greg Morris) muses, “I’m sorry we had to let a man like Rogosh live.”

“We didn’t,” Briggs replies.

As time went on, Hill’s Briggs got less screen time. One beneficiary was Martin Landau, whose Rollin Hand character took on more importance. The other was Peter Graves, hired to replace Hill, starting with the second season.

One can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Hill’s Briggs lasted the whole series. Regardless, Hill is being remembered as an excellent actor for other roles.