Happy 100th, Earl Cameron

Earl Cameron

Today, Aug. 8, is the 100th birthday of actor Earl Cameron, whose many credits included Pinder in Thunderball.

Pinder was “our man here” in Nassau, as James Bond (Sean Connery) referred to him while introducing the operative to CIA agent Felix Leiter (Rik Van Nutter).

Among other things, Cameron’s Pinder arranged for a power blackout at the estate of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo so Bond could do some snooping there.

Cameron also appeared in a number of episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent in different roles.

His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 90 acting credits from the early 1950s to as recently as 2013. One of his most recent credits included a part in 2010’s Inception.

Thanks to reader @Osric_ on Twitter for the heads up.

Luciana Paluzzi: Angela vs. Fiona

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy, the first U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Today, June 10, is the 80th birthday of Luciana Paluzzi. She’s perhaps best known for Thunderball.

But her character in the 1965 James Bond movie is more than a little similar to another femme fatale she played in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

How similar? Let’s take a look.

Quick explanation: Paluzzi did U.N.C.L.E. first. She and Robert Vaughn shot extra footage after production of the pilot so it could be a movie for international audiences. That extra footage (although some times a tamer version) was used in an episode called The Four-Steps Affair

To Trap a Spy/The Four-Steps Affair: Angela pretends to be the girlfriend of an U.N.C.L.E. agent (named Lancer in one version, Dancer in the other)

Thunderball: Fiona pretends to be the girlfriend/”social secretary” of a NATO pilot.

Luciana Paluzzi and Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela is really an operative of Thrush (called Wasp in To Trap a Spy, but it’s dubbed — the actors are saying “Thrush”).

Thunderball: Fiona is really an operative of SPECTRE.

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela sets up Lancer/Dancer to be killed by a machine gun.

Thunderball: Fiona sets up the pilot to be poisoned to death by an agent who has underwent plastic surgery to be the pilot’s double.

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela goes to bed with Napoleon Solo (To Trap a Spy only; in the Four-Steps Affair they just do a lot of heavy flirting.)

Thunderball: Fiona goes to bed with James Bond (Sean Connery).

U.N.C.L.E.: Angela tries to push Solo so he’ll be shot with a machine gun. He ducks and she gets shot instead. In To Trap a Spy, it’s pretty clear she’s dead. In The Four-Steps Affair, it’s stated she’s unconscious.

Thunderball: Bond is dancing with Fiona, turns so she is hit by a shot fired by a SPECTRE thug.

 

Happy 100th birthday, Dino

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter in The Ambushers (1967).

Today, June 7, is the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Dean Martin. Dino, in his day, was the epitome of cool and charm. For many, he still is.

His contribution to spy entertainment was starring in the four-film Matt Helm series produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

To entice Dino, Allen made the actor his partner. As a result, Martin enjoyed a bigger pay day for the first Helm film, The Silencers, than Sean Connery got for Thunderball. Connery noticed and wanted to be a partner in the Bond franchise..

The Helm series doesn’t get respect in the 21st century. Many who like the movies refer to their affection as a “guilty pleasure.”

The Helm movies, rather than doing straight adaptations of Donald Hamilton’s serious novels, incorporated Dino’s “lovable lush” act.

One of the movies, Murderers’ Row, even had a plot point where Matt gives his boss Mac (James Gregory) a clue by deliberately misstating his alcohol preference. (“Matt Helm never drank a glass of bourbon in his life!” Mac says as he tries to figure out the traitor in his organization.)

For the record, this blog would greatly appreciate a new Helm movie that faithfully adapted the Hamilton novels. At the same time, the Spy Commander discovered the novels *because* of the Dean Martin films. Speaking strictly for myself, I’m very fond of both, despite the flaws of the movies.

Regardless, today is a day of celebration. Bottoms up, Dino.

Thunderball’s Molly Peters dies

Nurse Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters) helps James Bond (Sean Connery) off “the rack” in Thunderball

UPDATE (June 4): It turns out Molly Peters was born in 1939, rather than 1942, making her 78, according to the MI6 James Bond website and other sources.

ORIGINAL POST (May 30): Molly Peters, who played a nurse in Thunderball who becomes involved with James Bond, has died at 75, according to an announcement on the official James Bond account on Twitter.

Thunderball billed itself as the “Biggest Bond of All.” Bond was particularly active wooing women characters in the film, with nurse Patricia Fearing (Peters), SPECTRE agent Fiona Volpe(Luciana Paluzzi) and Domino (Claudine Auger), the mistress of SPECTRE operative Largo.

Peters’s entry on IMDB.COM lists only seven acting credits from 1964 through 1968.

Here’s the posting from the official James Bond feed on Twitter.

 

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Phrases long-time 007 fans will recognize instantly

Well, he did say, “Hit me.”

You can tell when long-time James Bond fans get together. They’re likely to say phrases that make no sense to the average person.

“Cai…Cai…CAIRO!” In the pre-titles sequence of Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond is hunting down Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Apparently in Japan (no doubt a sound stage at Pinewood Studios), 007 throws a would-be informant through a couple of paper walls.

Finally, Bond asks, “Where is Blofeld?” The informant says, “Cai…Cai…Cairo!” What makes the sequence is the informant’s mouth movements don’t remotely match the words he’s supposedly saying. For Bond fans, that’s part of the fun.

“Hit me.” In the next scene of Diamonds, we see a casino in Cairo. You can tell by the guys wearing a fez that This Must Be in The Middle East.

One is playing blackjack and says, “Hit me.” Cue Bond punching the guy out.

“Opening crater…Closing crater.” Those are the only lines that a lower-level SPECTRE employee we’ve dubbed “Crater Guy”  gets to utter in You Only Live Twice.

Crater Guy, well, opens the closes the door to SPECTRE’s volanco headquarters in the movie. He’s not a mastermind (Blofeld is). He’s not even a henchman (Hans is).

Crater Guy, no doubt, is a working stiff just trying to feed his family. Bond kills him but can’t kill Blofeld, the guy who started all this trouble. The blog suspects this could spur academic papers about how Bond tramples on the working class.

Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die

“You made a shocking mess of my hair, you sadistic brute!” That’s a line from SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) in Thunderball after she’s made love with Bond.

Occasionally, when Bond fans get together, they come up with, eh, more colorful variations of the first half of the line. All spoken in an Italian accent (matching Paluzzi’s), of course.

“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” That’s probably the most memorable line spoken by Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) in Live And Let Die.

Bond fans, in addition to that line, are known to utter other Pepperisms such as, “I got me a regular Ben Hur down here, doing 95 minimum.”

James passed away recently. Most obits referenced Live And Let quite a bit. That reflects how the New York-born actor stole the scenes he was in for the eighth James Bond film.

What’s at stake for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

After the “lost year” of 2016, Bond 25 appears to be actually getting into gear.

The New York Times reported that five studios (four established, one a newcomer) are bidding for a one-picture deal to distribute the next 007 film from Eon Productions.

However that bidding turns out, the stakes are still high for the 25th James Bond film.

SPECTRE was OK financially but didn’t grow the franchise

2012’s Skyfall was (pardon the pun) a quantum improvement over Quantum of Solace in terms of popular and critical reaction. Skyfall almost seemed like a return to the mid-1960s when Goldfinger made 007 a “thing.”

The 007 series followed up Goldfinger with Thunderball, which was even bigger.

The series followed up Skyfall with SPECTRE, which….wasn’t as big. In the U.S. market, SPECTRE sold the fewest theater tickets (23 million) of 007 movies released since 1995 (and the advent of the home video era).

SPECTRE brought back Blofeld but made him Bond’s “foster brother.” Shades of Austin Powers.

Because of information from the Sony hacks, we know other things that could have made it into the movie. M was a traitor. Tanner was a traitor. Bond watches Tanner commit suicide. Felix Leiter calls Moneypenny a “fox lady.”

Veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to perform triage. SPECTRE was no disaster at the box office, but it didn’t match Skyfall.

Where is this franchise going? At the end of SPECTRE, Bond (Daniel Craig) is driving off in the Aston Martin DB5 with Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). The car was seemingly destroyed in Skyfall, but the Eon crew can’t let go.

If Craig comes back, do we go off on another revenge story (as in Quantum of Solace)? If Seydoux is killed by Blofeld (a fan favorite scenario), does Bond fall apart yet again (as in Skyfall)?

Or does Bond 25 mostly ignore SPECTRE, similar to how Diamonds Are Forever for the most part didn’t reference On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? (There are references but very slight.)

In Bond 25, after things don’t work out with Madeline Swann, 007 asks to be reinstated to MI6.

Does Bond 25 cap its production budget? Or does it double down?

 SPECTRE had examples of ridiculous spending. A $36 million car chase (really, a car drive). The “largest explosion in motion picture history” that had no drama because Bond and Swann were well away and safe when it happened.

Does Eon Productions scale back? Or does it try to keep up with the Joneses, i.e. modern movie blockbusters?

We’re a long way off from a movie being filmed. Not a whole lot can happen until there’s a studio to actually release Bond 25. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, doesn’t have the resources to finance a big-budget Bond on its own.

Here’s the thing. As of now, the Bond series doesn’t have direction. In the 21st century, successful franchises (think Disney’s Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm Ltd.) plan things out years ahead of time.

With Bond, it’s kind of, “Let’s see how it goes.”

For 55 years, since the release of Dr. No, that has worked out. Maybe it will again. Bond 25 will tell us a lot whether that’s still the case.

Should 007 aspire to be a $1B a film franchise?

Skyfall teaser poster

The motion picture industry has always been about money. Sometimes art mixed with money. Sometimes a message mixed with money. But money is always part of the equation.

When you’re dealing with money, round numbers are always nice. The current fixation is with $1 billion worldwide box office.

The James Bond film franchise met that standard (on an unadjusted basis) once with 2012’s Skyfall. It was a big deal at the time. The movie came out on Agent 007’s 50th anniversary and demonstrated the series can play with the “big boys.”

Since then the roster of movies with $1 billion global box office has expanded to 29. Skyfall is ranked 15th of those 29 films. The Fate of the Furious, which opened this weekend, the eighth film in the Fast and the Furious series, may end up making it an even 30. It’s certainly not going to stop there.

It’s gotten to the point that, for some franchise films, not making it to $1 billion comes across as a disappointment.

That was certainly the case with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That 2016 movie that was the first cinematic joint appearance of the three biggest DC Comics characters (Wonder Woman was in it, even if she didn’t figure in the title).

Though no one will admit it publicly, that was probably the case for SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film. You can’t help but wonder if Eon Productions and studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures thought something like, “If Skyfall made $1 billion, this movie will surely make $1.5 billion.” Certainly, some fans were talking like that before the movie came out in fall 2015.

Here’s a question to mull over: Should the Bond franchise actively be attempting to crank out $1 billion blockbusters?

Some fans will reply: “Of course!” If you adjusted for inflation, Thunderball would have a $1 billion-plus box office.

Still, today, to play in the $1 billion club, often requires a lot of money.

Skyfall’s estimated budget was $200 million, which was less than the $230 million or so Quantum of Solace.

An MGM memo that became public because of the 2014 Sony hacking, said SPECTRE’s spending was tracking to go well above $300 million. The final, unofficial estimate was $245 million, after various product placement and tax credits got factored in.

The production cost went up in part because Eon said the movie had the biggest explosion in motion picture history and a car chase sequence estimated to cost about 24 million British pounds, or $36 million at the time. “It’s one of those scenes that’s going to be very iconic,” SPECTRE co-star Dave Bautista said in a promotional video for the film.

Whether either sequence made that much of a difference is up for debate. But the increased cost isn’t. Only the accountants know the final figures.

The ante is going up to play in the $1 billion box office club. There’s speculation that Marvel’s third and fourth Avengers movies that are being filmed at the same time may cost a combined $1 billion (or $500 million each).

This stemmed from remarks by the top executive of Pinewood Studios Atlanta that the studio was home to the “largest film production ever.”  He didn’t specify, but the two Avengers movies are being filmed there.

Bringing this back to the world of James Bond: Should 007 try to keep up with this? Or is it time to re-evaluate, scale back and proceed in a different direction?

Unfortunately, no answers here. For the moment, there’s no studio to actually release Bond 25. Sony’s most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE. But it’s something to keep in mind.