11 questions about a Tom Cruise U.N.C.L.E. movie

Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise

Warner Bros. is in early talks about Tom Cruise starring in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., according to the Deadline: Hollywood and The Hollywood Reporter Web sites. But there’s been no studio confirmation. That’s understandable if they’re in negotiations.

Still, the development raises a number of questions in our mind. So, in honor of the No. 11 badge Napoleon Solo wore at U.N.C.L.E. headquarters, here are 11 of them.

1. Would Cruise play Napoleon Solo? No idea. Neither Deadline nor The Hollywood Reporter provided that information in their stories this week. When Cruise started his Mission: Impossible movies in 1996, he didn’t play a character from the original show. He played a new character, Ethan Hunt. The first movie turned Jim Phelps, the character played by Peter Graves in the original television series, into a villain.

2. He wouldn’t do that again, would he? Who knows? With Mission: Impossible, Cruise also doubled as producer. The current project is being headed up by Guy Ritchie, assigned by Warner Bros. after Steven Soderbergh bowed out of a possible U.N.C.L.E. movie in late 2011. Pulling the same trick twice, might seem tacky. Then again, Cruise might play a new character even if they don’t make Solo a villain.

3. If Cruise does play Solo, who plays Illya Kuryakin? That depends on the answer to question 1. It also depends on how big a role Kuryakin (if the character does appear) has in the movie.

4. How are long-time U.N.C.L.E. fans taking this? From our sampling, not that well, Earlier this week, we checked out the hashtag #manfromuncle on Twitter and the more vocal fans were quite annoyed, with at least one freely using swear words.

5. What are some of the fan complaints? A recurring one is that Cruise, 50, is too old. Robert Vaughn was 30 when he began filming the series pilot and celebrated his 31st birthday while the pilot was in production. Vaughn was 50 when The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. television movie aired in April 1983, which featured an aging Solo who returns to action 15 years after leaving the international intelligence agency.

6. Is that reaction surprising? No. Fans had the same complaint when George Clooney, born a year earlier than Cruise, was first mentioned as Soderbergh’s preferred choice for Solo. Same complaint, different actor.

7. What does this week’s news tell you about this possible movie? It indicates that Warner Bros. believes U.N.C.L.E. won’t work without a big name star. Some properties work with a relative unknown. The 1978 version of Superman was a hit with unknown Christopher Reeve in the title role, though Warners hedged its bet by having Marlon Brando as Jor-El and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor. The 2002 Spider-Man movie had Tobey Maguire in the title role. But Superman and Spider-Man have been continuously published for decades and the public is more aware of them than U.N.C.L.E.

8. Let’s say Cruise does play Solo, Solo stays a hero and Cruise does a good job. Would there be any fan issues then? Not initially, but it does raise the question whether you can build a multi-movie franchise with an actor in his 50s — unless, of course, he’s really playing Alexander Waverly, the U.N.C.L.E. chief played by Leo G. Carroll in the original show. But that wouldn’t seem likely.

Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo

Robert Vaughn, the original Napoleon Solo

9. Is there a bright side to this week’s news? Yes. For a day or so, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was a hot topic on the Internet. On Yahoo, it was the number one topic after the two stories hit and other entertainment Web sites weighed in. The show went off the air in January 1968 and there has been no official U.N.C.L.E. production since the 1983 television movie. Suddenly, U.N.C.L.E. was a hot topic again, at least for a bit.

10. What are the odds of this becoming reality? For now, the odds are against it but only because studios release fewer movies than they did even a decade ago. Until filming begins, nothing is certain.

11. What’s your opinion? We’re trying not to think about it until there’s something to think about. There was a LONG SOAP OPERA when Soderbergh’s project was underway and we posted a lot about it. This time out (this post notwithstanding), we’d prefer to hold back until things are more certain.

Sam Mendes once doubted casting Daniel Craig as 007?

We were about to take a sabbatical of a few days after reading a lot (probably too much) of the Skyfall publicity blitz. But on a Brazilian Web site, Bol Noticias, which you can view in its original form BY CLICKING HERE, it says Skyfall director Sam Mendes originally felt Daniel Craig wouldn’t be right to play James Bond.

Skyfall director Sam Mendes

Here are samples of the text after running it through Google Translate (caveat emptor):

The hiring of Daniel Craig to take the suit of James Bond has never been a consensus among the fans. Among them, the director of new film “007 – Skyfall”, the third of Craig as the British spy.

“I was one of those people who did not think it right for the role,” confessed Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”), which revealed the actor in the United States with his “Road to Perdition (2002).” Maybe I had not chosen Daniel to be Bond, but he proved me wrong. Watching him go through the process and assume the character was amazing. ”

Mendes and Craig did a collective online direct from Pinewood Studios in England to the press. Earlier, the teaser trailer was shown for the first time. Revealed by the scenes, “007 – Skyfall” James Bond will have a thirst for revenge for a series of attacks on British soil, culminating in the murder of several colleagues.

Now, this is the first of the many stories (reported over the past couple of weeks and released April 16 when an embargo set by Eon Productions lifted) that mentioned details of the teaser trailer:

The trailer begins with the agent himself being interrogated under the eyes of the official M (Judi Dench) and Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes). When asked about the mission “Skyfall,” he answered only: “It’s done.” Then scenes of explosions in London, falling buildings in Shanghai and a funeral.

“The film has some darker moments, but there are a variety of colors, the beautiful bondgirls and some references of mythology that we are bringing the series back to,” said Mendes. “007 is not a real world. So he’s not Bond and Bourne.”

By now our head hurts, but a few observations:

No Bourne influences? It was a different story when studio executives requesting anonymity told The New York Times in 2005 that “the model was Jason Bourne.”

At the end of the story, Daniel Craig, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson say Bond will still drink martinis while also consuming Heineken beer. Running the story through Google Translate makes it difficult to say who said exactly what, but all three commented to some extent:

“He also will drink vodka martini in the movie, he said producer Barbara Broccoli. “We care first to write the best possible movie. Then just incorporate what we think appropriate,” the producer Michael G. Wilson.

The first quote appears to be Craig based on the context of the story (via Google Translate). Broccoli appears to chime in the “best possible movie line” with Wilson getting in the last word.

UPDATE: A Yahoo! Movies blog post, which you can read BY CLICKING HERE says there was a press event in Mexico, where reporters got these quotes via a hookup to the U.K. where the principals (Craig et. al.) spoke.

Barbara Broccoli draws a line in the sand

In the past 10 days, Eon Productions has lifted the veil a bit on Skyfall, with various press interviews. In one of them, Barbara Broccoli, the co-boss of Eon Productions, drew a line in the sand: Skyfall would be the best, or one of the best, entries in the 23-film Eon-produced series.

Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Cubby Broccoli and co-boss of Eon Productrions

She made the comment to the Yahoo! Movies blog. Here’s the quote:

“We all want this to be the best Bond ever,” declares Broccoli. “And I think it’s going to be; I really feel that.” (emphasis added)

Better than Goldfinger, the 1964 007 film that turned the series into a phenomenon? Evidently. Better than Thunderball, which was the highest-grossing 007 film on an inflation-adjusted basis? There’s little doubt in that quote. Better than On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, arguably the 007 film most faithful to its Ian Fleming source material? You saw the quote and the answer would appear to be yes.

Now, some of you may say, “Hey, that’s just P.R.” Perhaps. Still, we tend to take people at their word — at least until there’s evidence to the contrary.

Also, part of this blog is devoted to revisiting what people have said in the past and whether it measures up to later facts. That’s why we remind our readers of statements by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli’s half brother and the other co-boss of Eon, in posts LIKE THIS ONE or LIKE THIS ONE or THIS ONE

Words mean something. We give people the benefit of the doubt, but we don’t forget how what they say now compares with what they’ve said in the past. Naive? Maybe. Still, we respect the power of the word.

Second, while we give people leeway — to a degree, Eon’s principals and its star actors are the modern-day equivalents of P.T. Barnum — we don’t have amnesia. So when Daniel Craig says naming the 2008 007 film Quantum of Solace was HIS IDEA because Ian Fleming novel and short story titles are “not about anything” while Fleming himself pretty much explained the titles meant, we’re going to note it.

And we’re also going to note when Craig sings the praises of a script in 2008 while disowning it three years later.

So, when Barbara Broccoli promises the best James Bond movie ever, or close to it, that is worth noting. “Best” is a subjective term, of course. Still, if she is going to speak without nuance, we’re happy to take her at her word. If she’s right, nobody will be happier than us.

The literary James Bond and beer

The product-placement deal between Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film, and Heineken has gotten some 007 fans worked up. Yahoo! Movie’s MovieTalk blog did an April 4 post summarizing fan reaction. An exerpt:

"Martini, James?"
"No. Make mine Heineken (R)."

“D**** you, Product Placement,” Doug wrote on Twitter in response to our update on @YahooMovies. Davey C simply tweeted “Screw ’em.” Dave Yakir echoed thoughts with a “what a load of crap” tweet, and Keith Williams typed, “Booooo!!!”

The James Bond of Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories was no stranger to beer, though he didn’t drink it with the same frequency as martinis, bourbon, whiskeys and soda or champagne. But here is a sampling:

Diamonds Are Forever (1956): Bond and Felix Leiter are driving to Saratoga from New York City. The duo “stopped for lunch at The Chicken in the Basket, a log-built Frontier-style road-house with standard equipment…(T)he scrambled eggs and sausages and hot buttered rye toast and the Miller Highlife beer came quickly and were good.”

The Living Daylights (1962): Bond is in Berlin. One one of three nights a British agent will cross the border between East and West and 007 is to shoot a KGB assassin. During one afternoon, after a two-hour walk, has a meal in a restaurant. He has two Molle mit Korn, which we’re told is a double schapps “washed down with draught Lowenbrau.”

The Man With the Golden Gun (1965): Trying to get a lead on killer Fransisco Scaramanga, Bond stops by a brothel and orders a Red Stripe beer. The woman taking his order “deftly uncapped the bottle and put it on the counter besides an almost clean glass.”

In 2006, the Brookston Beer Bulletin blog had a long post (CLICK HERE to read it; the post also has a longer list of other times the literary Bond had beer) that addressed the possibility 007 might have a Heinken in that year’s Casino Royale movie. The blog did not approve of that brand.

But Heineken? Not Heineken. Bond’s character would never drink such swill. He wouldn’t be a snob about wine, food, clothes, cars and practically everything else and then drink such a pedestrian beer.


The fictional resort town where most of the (Casino Royale) novel takes place is supposedly near the mouth of the Somme River in the Picardie region, which is only about two hours from Belgium. So while France is not known for its beers, a good selection of Belgian beers would likely be available at the casino and area restaurants. That’s what a beer savvy Bond would order.

We suspect all of this will depend how the Heineken placement is handled. If Daniel Craig’s Bond has a Heineken while still having other drinks, no problem. On the other hand, if it’s handled like this recent Hawaii Five-0 episode with Subway, audiences may wince:

The proprietor of the James Bond Dossier was interviewed by the CBC about product placement and the Heineken deal. Just CLICK HERE to check it out.

UPDATE (April 8): The Scotsman.com Web site has weighed in on the subject and you can CLICK HERE to read it. The article starts off with an anecdote that appears to have been taken from the 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger. We say appears because the quotes are the same as the ones Turner got from interviewing Guy Hamilton. There’s no attribution of the quotes, however.

UPDATE II (April 9): Looks like the Web site of Bloomberg Businessweek also ran a short article on the subject.