Spy Games: Matchless (1967)


Following the phenomenal success of United Artists’ early James Bond films many Hollywood studios tried to mimic their crowd winning formula. One of the most successful attempts to cash in on Bond’s appeal was OUR MAN FLINT (1966) starring a tall, lanky and laid-back James Coburn. The film was produced by Saul David for 20th Century Fox and although it spoofed the Bond films with a knowing wink and wide smile, it also had its own kind of charm and wacky appeal. OUR MAN FLINT was followed by a sequel (IN LIKE FLINT; 1967) and there were plans to make more Flint movies but unfortunately they never materialized. Today the Flint films aren’t as popular or well known as the Bond films but they were wildly successful during their day and they’re credited for making James Coburn a star. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the popularity of the Flint films led to them being spoofed as well.

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Spy Games: James Bond at 50

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Sean Connery’s debut as James Bond in Terence Young’s DR. NO (1962). In honor of the event Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios along with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment recently announced that they have a program of exciting events planned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the longest running film franchises in history. I’ve decided to participate in the festivities with a new monthly feature at the Movie Morlocks called Spy Games. Every month I plan on focusing some of my attention on a particular espionage thriller or the spy genre in general. I’ll also be spending more time discussing aspects of the Bond films throughout the year. To get things started I thought I’d take a look ahead at some of the James Bond 50th anniversary events that are already in the works for 2012.

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Frozen in Time: Making the Present Period

When Dino De Laurentiis announced plans to remake the Eighth Wonder of the World, King Kong, in 1976, there was no question the movie would take place in the present, just as the original had.  The present, for the original, was 1933 and the present for the remake was 1976.  However, when Peter Jackson decided to remake King Kong in 2005 there was no question for him that the film would be period, just like the original, which wasn’t period but now kind of was because 1976 was out of the question.   Jackson’s version took place in 1933 to play off of the original’s time period which, for whatever reason, works better than the present, especially when dealing with giant apes.   Except that in 1933 it was the present and no one seemed to have a problem with that then.  For what it’s worth, I think placing the movie in 1933 was the right decision because an undiscovered island in the world of GPS just doesn’t fit.    I don’t doubt that if the film were made again, it would still take place in the past. 

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He Is A Weapon: Danger Route (1967)

When it came time to cast Dr. No (1965) director Terence Young’s first choice to play James Bond was actor Richard Johnson. Johnson’s movie star good looks, captivating voice and masculine charm made him the perfect candidate to play a sly British spy that effortlessly seduces beautiful women while saving the world from vicious criminals and madmen. Johnson declined an exclusive 7-year contract that the producers of the James Bond franchise offered him because he didn’t like the idea of being tied to a particular character for any length of time. But that didn’t stop him from playing a spy in other films. Richard Johnson was terrific as Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond in the lighthearted and extremely stylish espionage adventure Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and its sequel Some Girls Do (1969). But I think Johnson’s most interesting and challenging role as a British intelligence agent can be found in Seth Holt’s ambitious spy thriller DANGER ROUTE (1967). DANGER ROUTE lacks the camp appeal and visual allure of Deadlier Than the Male but it provided Johnson with a complex character that he effortlessly brought to life and showcases why the actor was a prime candidate to play Bond.

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My TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule

Today marks the beginning of TCM’s Classic Film Festival taking place April 28-May 1. A number of people have asked me if I’m attending the festival this year but unfortunately I’m stuck at home writing about it. Personal budget constraints make my attendance impossible but there are a lot of film screenings and events taking place at the festival that I wish I could see. I thought it would be fun to imagine how I might have planned out my trip to TCM’s Classic Film Festival this year and share a few movie recommendations in the process.

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John Barry 1933-2011: The Beat Goes On

John Barry loved movies and the movies loved him. The British born composer passed away on Sunday, January 31st at age 77 following a heart attack but he left a rich legacy of musical accomplishments behind. Barry was a giant in the industry and the obituaries and tributes that have followed his death have reflected his importance as an Oscar winning film composer who worked on award winning films like Born Free (1966), The Lion in Winter (1968), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Out of Africa (1986), Dances with Wolves (1990) and Chaplin (1992) as well as his contribution to the classic James Bond theme, which happens to be one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever recorded. John Barry’s work touched people and many of the heartfelt remembrances that I’ve read express a real connection to the man and his music. His soundtracks were often some of the first film scores that movie fans purchased and when a film was easily forgettable it was John Barry’s music that often stayed with viewers long after the credits rolled. Barry didn’t just make music, he made movie magic. The searing melodies, guitar driven rhythms, punchy horn sections and lush orchestration found in his scores have the ability to transport audiences to another place and time. Few artists can claim to have that kind of power but Barry’s musical wizardry is renowned. I thought it would be fun to take a look back at Barry’s impressive career and see how he progressed from a film projectionist’s son into an Oscar winning composer.

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Anne Francis in The Satan Bug (1965)

Like many film fans, I was disappointed to learn that Anne Francis had passed away on January 2 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. She was 80 years old at the time and is fondly remembered for her roles in movies like Susan Slept Here (Frank Tashlin; 1954), Blackboard Jungle (Richard Brooks; 1955), Bad Day at Black Rock (John Sturges; 1955) and the science fiction classic Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox; 1956). She also appeared in many popular television shows including The Twilight Zone (1960-63), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1963-65) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964). And won an Emmy for her starring role in Honey West (1965-66).

The beautiful and athletic actress always seemed to have a sparkle in her eye and the tiny mole that accented her winning smile gave her a distinct look that was hard to forget. She wasn’t your typical blond bombshell. Anne Francis was a brainy and tough broad who could obviously take care of herself and I admired her apparent confidence as well as her sense of humor.

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Secret Agent Super Dragon

One of countless Eurospy actioners released in the wake of the James Bond film craze in the sixties, SECRET AGENT SUPER DRAGON (aka New York chiama Superdrago, 1966) has been mercilessly ridiculed on MST3K but served straight up, it’s often funnier in its own poker-faced way and has some oddball flourishes to set it apart from its fellow spy wannabes. I know it denotes a certain immaturity in the writer to even do a post on this, yet I am compelled…I must! (Alcohol can aid and sometime improve B-movies….but rarely art films). [...MORE]

Remembering Tom Mankiewicz (Part II.)

This is the second half of David Konow’s interview with the late Tom Mankiewicz. The first part was posted earlier today.

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It was the early ’70s and Cubby Broccoli was preparing Diamonds Are Forever. He told David Picker, then the head of United Artists, “I’m lookin’ for a writer who’s young. I think we gotta stay hip. He has to be American because 75% of the picture takes place in Vegas, but he has to be able to write the British idiom because I don’t want to hire another writer to do that.” As luck would have it, Picker saw “Georgy” before it was shut down and remembered that Joe Mankiewicz’s kid wrote it. The play was all in Brit speak, but he knew the young Mank was American.

“I went up to Cubby Broccoli’s house, I met with him and the director, Guy Hamilton, and they signed me for $12,500 a week on a two-week guarantee,” Mankiewicz recalled. “They said, ‘Let’s see what you can do with the first thirty pages.’ I went home and thought, ‘Damn it, this is the kind of film when I’m sitting in the audience I’m going: I can do this better.’ I thought if I didn’t work out I was going to get really depressed. I wrote the first thirty pages and they said, ‘This is terrific, keep going.’ Suddenly I was writing a major motion picture.”

Mankiewicz continued to work on the Bond series throughout the ’70’s, writing Live and Let Die, co-writing The Man With the Golden Gun, doing an uncredited rewrite on The Spy Who Loved Me, and writing the story for Moonraker. Now Mankiewicz was the next established and wildly successful writer in the Mankiewicz clan.

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Remembering Tom Mankiewicz (Part I.)

On July 31, 2010 screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz passed away at his home in Los Angeles due to complications from cancer. The Mankiewicz family is the stuff of Hollywood legend and consists of Tom Mankiewicz’s father, the Academy Award winning director and writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz, as well as celebrated screenwriters Herman J. Mankiewicz and Don Mankiewicz; and Turner Classic Movie’s very own Ben Mankiewicz. Before Tom Mankiewicz died he spent some time talking to writer David Konow (SCHLOCK-O-RAMA: The Films of Al Adamson, Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal, etc.) about his family and what it was like trying to find work as a writer in Hollywood when the shadow of your ancestors is weighing heavily on your shoulders. Below is the first half of David Konow’s insightful piece on Tom Mankiewicz. I’m sharing it here in an effort to shine a light on Mankiewicz and honor his memory. The second half will be posted later today.

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