Spy entertainment in memoriam

In the space of 12 months — Dec. 18, 2019 to Dec. 18, 2020 — a number of spy entertainment figures passed away. The blog just wanted to take note. This is not a comprehensive list.

Dec. 18, 2019: Claudine Auger, who played Domino in Thunderball (1965), dies.

Jan. 8, 2020: Buck Henry, acclaimed screenwriter and co-creator of Get Smart (with Mel Brooks), dies.

Feb. 8, 2020: Anthony Spinner, veteran writer-producer, dies. His credits include producing the final season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and a 1970s version of The Saint.

Feb. 8, 2020: Robert Conrad, star of The Wild Wild West and A Man Called Sloane, dies.

March 8, 2020: Actor Max von Sydow dies. His many credits playing a villain in Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983).

April 5, 2020: Honor Blackman, who played Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), dies.

Sept. 1, 2020: Arthur Wooster, second unit director of photography on multiple James Bond movies, dies.

Sept. 10, 2020: Diana Rigg, who played Emma Peel in The Avengers and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), dies.

Sept. 21, 2020: Michael Lonsdale, veteran French actor whose credits included playing the villain Hugo Drax in Moonraker (1979), dies.

Oct. 5, 2020: Margaret Nolan, who was the model for the main titles of Goldfinger and appeared in the film as Dink, dies.

Oct. 31, 2020: Sean Connery, the first film James Bond, dies. He starred in six Bond films made by Eon productions and a seventh (Never Say Never Again) made outside Eon.

Dec. 12, 2020: David Cornwell, who wrote under the pen name John le Carre, dies. Many of his novels were adapted as movies and mini-series.

Dec. 18, 2020: Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of many James Bond films, including production designer from 1981-2006 (excluding 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies), dies.

Peter Lamont, 007 art department mainstay, dies

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, who worked in the art department of 18 James Bond films, has died. He was 91.

Reuben Wakeman, a Bond collector, in response to an inquiry by me, said on Twitter he had been informed directly by Gareth Owen of Bondstars LLP, who was also a friend of Lamont’s. Owen also assisted Roger Moore on his memoirs.

Lamont began on the Bond series as a draftsman on 1964’s Goldfinger.

One of his first assignments was to make blueprints for the Ken Adam-designed replica of the exterior of Fort Knox’s depository building.

“There were no measurements, just odd bits of information from the little bits of paperwork that Fort Knox” provided to Adam, Lamont said in the home video documentary Designing Bond: Peter Lamont.

He rose through the ranks to become a set decorator, art director and, beginning with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only as production designer.

“I never got bored of the Bond films,” Lamont said in a special issue of MI6 Confidential magazine in 2019.

“They’re fun, action-packaged adventures, they’ll offer challenges for even the most experienced filmmakers and they never take themselves too seriously.” The issue provided Lamont commentary about working on the last film in his career, 2006’s Casino Royale.

Octopussy set

A Peter Lamont-designed set in Octopussy

Working on Bond films also provided Lamont with other surprises.

“I was sitting in the office one day and the phone went,” Lamont said for the 1995 home video documentary The Thunderball Phenomenon. “A voice said he was Captain So-and-So from the Royal Engineers and did I know anything about Thunderball.”

The inquiry concerned a supposed miniature underwater breathing device used by Sean Connery in the 1965 film. The caller wanted to know how much of an air supply it had.

“‘I can tell you exactly,'” Lamont said, recalling the conversation. “‘As long as you can hold your breath.’ I can imagine this poor fellow going white.”

Lamont was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning for 1998’s Titantic, directed by James Cameron. That movie caused him to step aside as production designer for the 1997 Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. Lamont also was nominated for another three BAFTA awards.

Martin Campbell, director of GoldenEye and Casino Royale, praised Lamont in a forward to the 2019 MI6 Confidential issue.

“Peter designed both my Bond films and made my life so simple,” Campbell wrote. “I loved his concepts and, apart from maybe a few technical adjustments, I left him alone.”

The art department of the Bond series was a family affair for Lamont. His younger brother, Michael (who died in 2007), also worked on the series as did his son, Neil.

Peter Lamont’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists credits going back to 1950.

UPDATE (11:47 a.m., New York time): Eon Productions put out a statement on social media.

UPDATE II ( 4:40 p.m. New York time): The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences put out a tribute to Peter Lamont:

TCM to televise Connery tribute Nov. 25

TCM, the U.S. movie channel, said on social media it will show an evening of Sean Connery films on Nov. 25.

The channel will start off at 8 p.m. eastern time with Thunderball, followed by You Only Live Twice at 10:15 p.m.

In a way, that’s appropriate. Connery’s fourth and fifth films for Eon Productions would be shown a number of times as a double feature before the Bond films were broadcast on television.

After that, TCM will televise Marnie, the 1964 Alfred Hitchcock film with Connery at 12:45 a.m., Nov. 26. The Hill, Connery’s first pairing with director Sidney Lumet, will be shown at 3:15 a.m. and The Man Who Would Be King, directed by John Huston, will be telecast at 5:30 a.m.

Connery died last month at the age of 90. TCM already has put out a short tribute video.

Sean Connery, an appreciation

Sean Connery in Thundereball (1965), the apex of the 1960s spy craze

For those of us who were in on the ground floor of the 1960s spy craze, the last decade has been pretty rough.

Actors who were leads in multiple TV shows and movies have passed away during that time.

But the passing this weekend of Sean Connery (1930-2020) was the big one. Connery’s early film performances as James Bond provided the foundation for the spy craze.

You had to be there to appreciate it.

At the dawn of the 1960s, the U.S. had a new president. One of his 10 favorite books was Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. Suddenly, it was a new world.

Bond made his film debut in 1962 (in the U.K., at least). Not long before he was assassinated in November 1963, John F. Kennedy viewed From Russia With Love in the White House, according to a tweet by prominent historian Michael Beschloss.

From Russia With Love was early days for Connery’s Bond career. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice were even bigger film adventures.

Connery, as Bond, was a worldwide phenomenon. Still, for him, it was the early stages of a career that extended decades.

Connery was one of the biggest film stars of the 20th century. Yet, the actor wasn’t afraid to make quirky choices such as Robin and Marian (a re-telling of the Robin Hood story), The Offence, Zardoz, and Time Bandits.

Eventually, Connery came out with his own take on Bond with Never Say Never Again, the 007 film not made by Eon Productions. Personally, I find it uneven. But Connery made the movie on his own terms.

This weekend, millions of people around the globe are in mourning. That’s understandable. The worldwide audience has lost one of its most memorable and durable performers.

Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering a remarkable actor and the work he has left behind.

Earl Cameron dies at 102

Earl Cameron

Earl Cameron, who had a supporting role in Thunderball, has died at 102, according to The Royal Gazette.

The Bermuda-born Cameron ” was one of the first black performers to break into mainstream British entertainment,” the publication said.

In Thunderball Cameron’s 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, Pinder arranged for a power blackout at the estate of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo so Bond could attempt to rescue another agent, Paula (Martine Beswick) there. By the time Bond arrives, Paula has committed suicide with a poison pill.

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.

h/t MI6 James Bond website for the heads up.

Revisiting Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (Moonraker ’66)

American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and British agent Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) compare notes in Kiss the Girls and Make The Die

Back in 2008, the blog noted the remarkable similarities between Kiss the Girls and Makes Them Die (1966) and Moonraker (1979).

This week, for the first time in a long time, I had a chance to watch the earlier movie. So here’s a more complete list of similarities.

Homages to Goldfinger and Thunderball: To be clear, Kiss the Girls takes a few cues from Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The villain, industrialist Mr. Ardonian (Raf Vallone) talks the Chinese into helping him. The Chinese supply the rocket from which Ardonian which launch a satellite that will zap the U.S. with radiation that causes men to lose interest in sex. From the Chinese standpoint, this will ensure the U.S. loses its position as the leading world superpower.

That’s similar to how Auric Goldfinger talked the Chinese into supplying him with an atomic bomb as part of his Fort Knox plan.

Except, Ardonian electrocutes a delegation of Chinese officials as part of a double-cross. That’s because Ardonian wants to expose all countries to the radiation. This evokes both Goldfinger (the villain double-crossing the gangsters who were helping him out) and Thunderball (similar to the SPECTRE board meeting where just one person was electrocuted).

There are also a number of “animated sets,” inspired by what Ken Adam designed for the two Bond films.

But there are a number of examples of where how Kiss the Girls reached territory before Bond.

Dorothy Provine’s title card in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die

Rio: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’s only location shooting was in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. That meant shots of Iguazu Falls (for the main titles), Brazilian Carnival and the Christ the Redeemer statue (the latter not really utilized for Moonraker).

“Sit!”: British agent Susan Fleming, being chased by a large dog of Ardonian’s, turns and yells at him, “Sit!” The dog complies. This is similar to what James Bond (Roger Moore) did with a tiger in Octopussy.

Villain’s plot: Ardonian feels the Earth is headed toward an environmental disaster. So he plans to head off overpopulation with his plan. Meanwhile, he is putting beautiful women into suspended animation. When the time comes, he will repopulate the Earth.

This is pretty similar to Moonraker where Drax plans to kill everybody on Earth while his “orbiting stud farm” eventually repopulates the Earth.

A pair of agents: Eventually American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) join forces after a bit of conflict.

This is pretty similar to how British agent James Bond (Moore) joins forces with American agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) join forces in Moonraker after a bit of conflict.

Billboards for product placement: Susan Fleming’s tricked-out Rolls Royce, driven by her chauffeur (Terry-Thomas) has a camouflage device. Panels come out from the bottom of the car, move up to the side and extend to look like a billboard for Bulova watches.

Moonraker didn’t have a tricked-out car. But it had billboards for British Airways, Seiko 7-Up and Marlboro as part of its Rio sequence.

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

1965: Jesus and the spy (actors)

Blu Ray cover for The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

The death this week of actor Max Von Sydow was a reminder for the blog of a Biblical film that highlighted actors from the 1960s spy craze.

The movie was The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), about the life of Jesus Christ, played by Von Sydow.

The movie was years in the making. The writing of the script alone took about two years. Filming occurred in 1962 and 1963.

The producer-director was George Stevens (1904-1975). Over the years he had helmed movies such as Gunga Din (1939), I Remember Mama (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951), Shane (1953) and Giant (1956).

With the release of 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank, Stevens was at the height of his powers. The film was both a popular and critical hit, winning three Oscars and nominated for five more.

For his next project, Stevens opted to tackle the story of Jesus. The film originated at 20th Century Fox (which had released The Diary of Anne Frank) but ended up at United Artists.

Major stars wanted to be part of the project. John Wayne got one line as a Roman centurion (“Truly this man was the son of God.”). Charlton Heston (as John the Baptist), Sidney Poitier, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Dorothy McGuire (as the Virgin Mary), Shelly Winters and Ed Wynn were in the cast.

And then there was the future spy actor contingent.

There were three future Blofeld actors — Von Sydow (Never Say Never Again), Donald Pleasance (You Only Live Twice) and Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The latter shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate, a look he’d keep until the end of his life.

There was one Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum as Judas), one future Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and one future Rollin Hand (Martin Landau). In a 2007 extra for a home video release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn told McCallum that he, too, had sought the Judas role that McCallum won.

Also present: Victor Buono, who screenwriter Richard Maibaum had recommended to play Goldfinger. Buono had his share of work during the 1960s spy craze in The Silencers, The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

The Greatest Story Ever Told had an actual tragedy. Director of photography William C. Mellor, who had worked with Stevens on other films, died of a heart attack during production.

The movie proved to be a flop. By the time it came out in early 1965, the market for such films had seemingly run its course. The movie was earnest and sincere. So was Ben-Hur (1959), but that project had also ship battles and the famous chariot race.

Stevens would direct only one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was nominated for five Oscars, including special visual effects. It lost out to another United Artists release.

Mr. Peanut, who had Thunderball cameo, perishes at 104

Mr. Peanut enjoying himself during the Junkanoo sequence of Thunderball

Mr. Peanut, ad mascot for Planters since 1916, has perished while saving the lives of Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh. Mr. Peanut’s demise will be featured in a commercial during the pre-game show for the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, according to a press release.

Mr. Peanut was known for his top hat, monocle and spats. His long career included a cameo in the Junkanoo sequence of Thunderball, the 1965 James Bond film.

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

The newly released pre-game ad shows MR. PEANUT, Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes are on a nutty adventure in the NUTmobile when MR. PEANUT is forced to swerve, causing the vehicle to spin out of control. The trio jumps out of the NUTmobile, clinging to a tree branch, as the vehicle crashes down into a deep canyon below. They momentarily find safety until their combined weight begins to break the branch. In the ultimate act of friendship, MR. PEANUT lets go and sacrifices himself to save his friends from impending doom.

The commercial already is online.

About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.