On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: This Never Happened to the Other Fellow

 

This post will eventually contain a key plot spoiler, some distance down the page from here, so if you want to see this 1969 film with virgin eyes, stop reading. But do come back after you’ve seen it. The second “spoiler” is no spoiler at all, no surprise to anyone: Sean Connery is not James Bond in it, and the Bond of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, George Lazenby, is most famous for never having played the role again. That set of facts and how they came about is the main subject of this post, although we will also cover the merits and flaws of the film itself, which some Bond snobs consider one of the best, if not the best, of the entire series. But I can’t tell you why yet, not here at the top of the post, because it will involve the spoiler. You have been warned.

By the time Thunderball (1965) wrapped, Sean Connery was tired of being Bond. Actually, that’s English-style polite understatement that the blunt, Scottish-born Connery would have impatiently penciled out in favor of “thoroughly sick of it”. He felt his character was becoming overshadowed by ingenious gadgets, Ken Adam’s enormous sets, one-liner quips and a growing fantasy element. Connery started the series in 1962 as a relatively unknown actor, quickly became a leading international star, and made an astonishing amount of money. Being a practical Scot, adding to that pile was the only reason he reluctantly stayed aboard for You Only Live Twice (1967). Then he was gone, he swore, for good. So EON Productions, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, conducted an ostentatiously well publicized search for the next Bond. Each new actor in the role of James Bond is a multi, multi-million-dollar box office gamble, and from that standpoint this very first replacement would be by far the most ill-fated.

Established movie stars such as Richard Burton were considered, but Saltzman and Broccoli wanted to repeat what they’d done with Sean Connery, create their own star, who would presumably cost less and be easier to control. Australian actor George Lazenby, who’d so far mostly done commercials for British television, seemed to fill the bill. Less slender, more muscular than Connery, he radiated confidence. Even his TV commercials worked in his favor, as they were mostly for luxury products that showed how at home he looked with beautiful women, expensive tailoring, exotic cars, and champagne. True, he had a case of “loving-cup” ears, but that hadn’t stopped Clark Gable, among others. In screen tests, he handled himself well in fight scenes. He was hired.

British film writer (and lifelong conservative) Alexander Walker was one of the few who’d treat Lazenby’s career arc with some sympathy. Walker points out one critical difference between the way men became stars in Britain and classic-era Hollywood. At that time, most UK actors went to acting school, often RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and learned their profession on stage. By contrast, most American stars didn’t; they were truck drivers (James Stewart), worker in a tire factory (Clark Gable), cowhands (Gary Cooper), bodyguards (George Raft), WWI sailor (Humphrey Bogart) or what have you, and got hired primarily for their looks. Sometimes that minimal preparation for the sound stage was a handicap, but frequently it gave our guys a rough, untutored masculine edge. Sean Connery, though he briefly trod the Shakespearean boards, came up the American style. He’d been a boxer in the Royal Navy, and despite his ability to project refinement, he never lost the brusque suggestion of real, not just on-screen toughness, even in extremes a touch of cruelty. That’s a fair part of what made him so good as Bond, a quality that present-day Daniel Craig has, and as it turned out, George Lazenby lacked. But that wasn’t evident when production began on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

To accompany the new Bond, the writer and producers tried out a back-to-basics style; far fewer flashy gadgets and tricks, less over-the-top sets, and returning to sticking (mostly) with the original Ian Fleming story, all things they hadn’t done since From Russia With Love (not so coincidentally, another film much beloved by Bond purists). OHMSS would be notable for spectacular winter photography and skiing stunts, all of course real and dangerous in that pre-CGI age. Downhill Racer, another skiing picture, this one with Robert Redford right before Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made him a superstar, filmed in the same location during that season, and the crew of Downhill Racer would enviously tell stories to pals at Paramount Pictures about how elaborate the special camera platforms, cradles and mounts were on the higher budget Bond picture. This time, the flashy gadgets were behind the camera.

There were other differences. Telly Savalas was every bit as bald as Donald Pleasance, the original Ernst Stavro Blofeld (the best of the bunch, IMHO), but he comes across less like Pleasance’s evil global mastermind and more in the manner of a conventional mob boss, except for one thing: while the main weakness of other Bond villains was an unfortunate desire to take over the world, the Blofeld of OHMSS has a most surprising weakness—social status insecurity. It leads him to try to establish an aristocratic family tree, giving British Secret Service a chance to plant Bond in Blofeld’s inner circle as Sir Hilary Bray, expert in heraldry, arbiter of ancestry. James Bond is a secret agent, but not generally an actual spy, as he is here, working within the enemy camp under a concealed identity.

When housed in a spectacular mountainside hideaway with a bevy of naïve beautiful young women, Bond has to pretend to be a stereotype sniffy, diffident English gentleman, asexual if not outright hinted to be homosexual (a point made in the novel.) Of course, this being James Bond, he strategically beds one and then another of the women and begins to unravel Blofeld’s plot: using the women to unwittingly spread germ warfare. The “Sir Hilary Bray” cover story falls apart, and Bond makes his last-minute escape in one of the best action sequences of the first decade of the series.

That’s the outline of the main plot, but the subplot is what makes OHMSS special to fans—the character of The Girl. (Don’t faint at the term, Ricochet stalwarts—it’s 1969, remember.) She’s Tracy Draco, played by Diana Rigg, the tempestuous, troubled daughter of a mafia superboss. In the pre-credits scene, Bond—who we first see only in glimpses—rescues her from a seaside attack, with a longer fight scene than usual, but she drives away without a word of thanks. “This never happened to the other fellow”, he grumbles. By coincidence, she’s staying at the same posh hotel, and Bond begins to pursue her. At least as gorgeous as any of her (many) predecessors, she doesn’t tumble into bed, and it becomes clear that Rigg’s Tracy Draco is something new for the series, the closest thing to James Bond’s equal we’ve ever seen. Her scary dad actually encourages Bond to pursue his spirited daughter, and with the mob’s army at his disposal Draco becomes a key factor in the fight against Blofeld.

Diana Rigg was an excellent choice, not only because of her talent and looks, but because unlike Lazenby, she was already a known quantity to worldwide TV audiences, well liked as Mrs. Peel in The Avengers. (Honor Blackman, Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore, was her predecessor in the role, but the early years of that UK series never made it overseas.) We can’t credit women’s lib for Rigg’s strong role; it’s pretty much as Fleming wrote it in 1963. Blofeld captures her, giving Bond the motivation to ignore official Britain’s reluctance to violate Swiss borders, and do a rescue raid on the mountain stronghold with the assistance of Draco’s–the mafia’s–best killers.

They escape. Bond realizes that this is the woman he’s always wanted, after what’s been, after all, a pretty thorough search. They get married. On the drive to the honeymoon, Blofeld and his gunwoman ambush them and kill her, with one shot through the windshield. As the film ends, he’s holding her in his arms, silently crying. It’s largely this stunning ending, straight out of the book, that has earned the film cult status. There’d be no Bond movie finale with this emotional power until Skyfall, 43 years later.

Lazenby fans, and he acquired a few, claim that Sean Connery could never have pulled this off. I don’t know about that. Connery’s a fine actor. It should be conceded, though, that Lazenby, the smiling Bond, managed to make the saddest ending in the series believable.

But the bottom line can’t be denied. Call it the downbeat ending, call it lack of Connery, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service earned less than half of what You Only Live Twice did, alarming United Artists with what seemed to be a franchise-killing loss. Panic ensued. But they didn’t have to get rid of Lazenby; incredibly, he’d already quit, relieving UA of paying off his contract options for sequel films. Unlike Sean Connery, who in his early films was (sensibly) grateful for the chance to become rich and famous, George Lazenby was inexplicably spoiled, arrogant on the set, and difficult to work with. He apparently thought he could do better. He thought wrong. Like Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, who quit Mission: Impossible, like Chevy Chase, who’d quit Saturday Night Live just as the party was getting started, Lazenby walked away for “greater opportunities” that proved imaginary.

That’s the OHMSS story, but for United Artists it couldn’t end there. UA studio chief David Picker managed to get Sean Connery back for one more film. He did it the old-fashioned way, by offering a deal that was unprecedented at the time, lucrative beyond even the greediest king’s ransom, including $2 million up front (roughly $20 million today), 10% of the actual, un-steal-able gross, and the right to produce two independent films of Connery’s choice, a come-on to his artistic vanity that sealed the bargain.

So he made Diamonds Are Forever (1971), the weakest of Connery’s Bonds, which gave the box office a shot of adrenaline. When it was over, Connery walked away again, as he said he would, with a public vow of “Never again” that would provide the rueful title of his final Bond film. Fans who associate Roger Moore with the sillier, more lightweight Seventies Bonds (or blame him for them) should give Diamonds a critical eye; Connery cheerfully phones it in, with all the sets, gadgets, and jokes he previously disdained.

This time EON Productions didn’t go for an unknown actor, but for Roger Moore. Like Diana Rigg, he was already known worldwide for a British TV show, in his case The Saint, where he played a vaguely Bondish leading man. No, Moore wasn’t Connery, but at least he wasn’t Lazenby. Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had learned their lesson, and didn’t clutter Moore’s entrance with OHMSS’s too-elaborate attempts to link the new Bond to the earlier films. He just stepped into the part, Live and Let Die was a big success, and that was that.

Much later, in the pre-credit scenes of For Your Eyes Only (1981), the film would begin with Moore in a cemetery, solemnly placing flowers at a tombstone: Teresa Bond, 1943-1969, Beloved Wife of James Bond. We Have All the Time in the World. It was a rare acknowledgment of a unique moment.

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Percival (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    The only moves they ever made towards a female Bond was serious consideration of turning Halle Berry’s Jinx Johnson into a second franchise, which never happened. I

    I’d love to know why not. That seemed like a no-brainer.

    My guess is money. Movie star salaries, never low, peaked in the late Nineties and have inched down ever since. Julia Roberts and Jim Carrey used to routinely get $20 million for anything they were in. By contrast, Harrison Ford is widely thought to have gotten $16-18 million for his role in “The Force Awakens”, where he was (obviously) a crucial element in reviving the most profitable series in film history. If the new trilogy had been made in the years that the prequel trilogy was (1999-2005) (BTW, it would have been smarter, George), I’d bet that Ford could have demanded $40-50 million. 

    The major reason Tom Cruise was sent to “movie jail” for a couple of years was only tangentially related to jumping on Oprah’s couch, and had a lot to do with the deal that Paramount locked itself into for “Mission: Impossible”. 

    I’ve always liked Robert Duvall, not least because he helped save my neck by turning a risky ACF 1997 Washington event into a triumph, not least because he’s a decent guy and yes, a Hollywood conservative. But he was realistic and unusually candid about why he wasn’t in The Godfather Part III; it was annoyance over money, and I appreciate the fact that he was honest about it. “Pacino getting twice what I do, okay, but four times? No, forget it”. This was particularly true because although Michael Corleone outranks Tom Hagen in the fictional mafia family, Duvall’s subsequent acting career, and fees, were superior to Pacino’s. 

    • #121
  2. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    Welcome, Instapundit Readers!

    Ricochet is the conservative discussion site meets group blog where our members generate most of the content.   Member posts, like this one from @garymcvey , can get promoted to the Main Feed where everyone (including the Instapundit crew) can see it.    We also have moderators and a Code of Conduct to keep the trolling and insanity to a minimum.

    While there is a lot of Ricochet available to the public, there are lots of features available only to members.  Did you know that Gary McVey did a detailed history on broadcast television in a series of posts on the member feed?   There’s a lot of good stuff that stays on the member feed or in groups, and you can comment on all of these posts.   Sign up today!

    • #122
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Instapundit, wow! I don’t know if you can read the archived posts, but you might like a series this past spring on the hidden story of Hollywood Communists. Here’s part 2 of 4, about the Walt Disney Studios strike of 1941, a pivotal moment in Walt’s, and the film industry’s, political history. 

    On Ricochet, the entertainment posts know something about politics and history, and the politics and history posts are entertaining. Omega Paladin is right–you should join us!

    • #123
  4. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Instapundit, wow! I don’t know if you can read the archived posts, but you might like a series this past spring on the hidden story of Hollywood Communists. Here’s part 2 of 4, about the Walt Disney Studios strike of 1941, a pivotal moment in Walt’s, and the film industry’s, political history.

    On Ricochet, the entertainment posts know something about politics and history, and the politics and history posts are entertaining. Omega Paladin is right–you should join us!

    Congrats, Gary.  

    But I feel this overwhelming urge to post something really embarrassing.

    • #124
  5. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    It was on the set that the character of Q became the irritable, eye-rolling, semi-comic figure we came to know.

    I love the original Q. John Cleese was the perfect successor. He had practiced the persona for decades.

    • #125
  6. Hank Rhody, Missing, Inaction Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Missing, Inaction
    @HankRhody

    Two weeks after Louis Armstrong recorded “All the Time in the World” he was dead. I blame Lazenby.

    These days when someone is being apologetic about how much time they’re taking, I reassure them that they have all the time in the world. I leave unstated that I put an upper limit on that; about two weeks.

    • #126
  7. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Hank Rhody, Missing, Inaction (View Comment):

    Two weeks after Louis Armstrong recorded “All the Time in the World” he was dead. I blame Lazenby.

    These days when someone is being apologetic about how much time they’re taking, I reassure them that they have all the time in the world. I leave unstated that I put an upper limit on that; about two weeks.

    I assume you blame Connery for Pedro Amendariz’s death

    • #127
  8. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chris Cam… Coolidge
    MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chris Cam…
    @ChrisCampion

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Diamonds Are Forever was my very first movie that I saw in the theater by myself. Mom and Dad had Christmas shopping that they wanted to do without me along, so they dropped me off at the box office and came back to pick me up when it was over. This then was my baseline Bond and that probably made the Roger Moore version easier to bear, at least initially.

    And you mentioned Lana Wood without mentioning Jill St. John, who played a redhead (usually) named Tiffany. How can you possibly miss a redhead named Tiffany?

    It’s ironic that Tiffany Case was one of the most bimbo-esque of the Bond Girls, as Jill St. John (born Jill Oppenheim) had a high IQ. After Bond surreptitiously swaps his ID with a man he’s killed, DAF had a dubious bit where she’s gasping that “You’ve killed James Bond!”, as if he’s famous. A world famous spy is something of a contradiction in terms.

    You see that kind of thing again and again. In 24, every would be terrorist on the planet had not only heard of, but was terrified of Jack Bauer.

    And even in something like Roadhouse, every bar bouncer in the country knows all the stories of the legendary Dalton and Wade Garret.

    You say that like they’re not real people.

    • #128
  9. MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chris Cam… Coolidge
    MACHO GRANDE' (aka - Chris Cam…
    @ChrisCampion

    OHMSS is on Amazon prime – I’ll check it out.  It’s the only one I haven’t seen.

    The one thing I appreciate with the Bond reboot, with Craig, is how thuggish and straightforward the character is, which is much like how he was originally portrayed/conceived of in the books, from my very limited reading of them (Dr. No, like a bazillion years ago).

    The cavalier, worldly Bond is nothing like his upbringing, which was detailed in Casino Royale, but not overly so.  Him fitting into his dinner jacket, at first not liking it at all, then sort of becoming OK with it.  He wasn’t a nancy boy riding ponies; he was getting in brawls, feeling like he didn’t fit in, which made his antisocial behaviors fit well with what amounts to being a hired killer.

     

    • #129
  10. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Diamonds Are Forever isn’t the only one with that peculiarity. In The Man With the Golden Gun, the custom armorer that makes Scaramanga’s uniquely calibered bullets says he’s honored to have Bond visit his shop. Why? Because he’s an obscure employee of London’s blandly anonymous Universal Exports? 

    • #130
  11. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Diamonds Are Forever isn’t the only one with that peculiarity. In The Man With the Golden Gun, the custom armorer that makes Scaramanga’s uniquely calibered bullets says he’s honored to have Bond visit his shop. Why? Because he’s an obscure employee of London’s blandly anonymous Universal Exports?

    It’s a conceit of the genre. The public has no idea who Bond is. In the extra legal world where spies, secret organizations and plots to blackmail the UN for “one million dollars” intersect, everyone knows everyone. At least by reputation. 

    • #131
  12. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Gary McVey: At least as gorgeous as any of her (many) predecessors, she doesn’t tumble into bed, and it becomes clear that Rigg’s Tracy Draco is something new for the series, the closest thing to James Bond’s equal we’ve ever seen.

    I think you mean successors.

    • #132
  13. MISTER BITCOIN Inactive
    MISTER BITCOIN
    @MISTERBITCOIN

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

     

    • #133
  14. MISTER BITCOIN Inactive
    MISTER BITCOIN
    @MISTERBITCOIN

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: This time EON Productions didn’t go for an unknown actor, but for Roger Moore. Like Diana Rigg, he was already known worldwide for a British TV show, in his case The Saint, where he played a vaguely Bondish leading man.

    Interesting that they would copy that later and pick Pierce Brosnan from Remington Steele.

     

    timothy dalton was chosen in license to kill because pierce brosnan was busy with remington steele.

    same reason why they picked connery over moore. moore was the first choice but he was already committed to another tv show.

     

    • #134
  15. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: At least as gorgeous as any of her (many) predecessors, she doesn’t tumble into bed, and it becomes clear that Rigg’s Tracy Draco is something new for the series, the closest thing to James Bond’s equal we’ve ever seen.

    I think you mean successors.

    I was thinking of the actresses that preceded her, since in 1969 we obviously had no way of judging who’d follow her in the series later. But sure, Diana Rigg compares well to either of them. Probably I should have phrased the last line as “we’d ever seen up to that point”. 

    • #135
  16. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

     

    The show was The Saint, mentioned in the OP. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was originally introduced to the press as “Ian Fleming for television”, even though its actual connection to Fleming was dubious at best. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and was a slow-developing hit, an interesting story that maybe I’ll get to in another post. 

    • #136
  17. MISTER BITCOIN Inactive
    MISTER BITCOIN
    @MISTERBITCOIN

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

     

    The show was The Saint, mentioned in the OP. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was originally introduced to the press as “Ian Fleming for television”, even though its actual connection to Fleming was dubious at best. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and was a slow-developing hit, an interesting story that maybe I’ll get to in another post.

    my mistake – sorry!

     

    • #137
  18. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Gary McVey: At least as gorgeous as any of her (many) predecessors, she doesn’t tumble into bed, and it becomes clear that Rigg’s Tracy Draco is something new for the series, the closest thing to James Bond’s equal we’ve ever seen.

    I think you mean successors.

    I was thinking of the actresses that preceded her, since in 1969 we obviously had no way of judging who’d follow her in the series later. But sure, Diana Rigg compares well to either of them. Probably I should have phrased the last line as “we’d ever seen up to that point”.

    I figured just in terms of numbers.  Only 5 movies – and hence at least “main” actresses – preceded her.  18 movies so far, have followed.

    • #138
  19. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    It may be worth mentioning that The Saint was a British – not US – TV production.  Although it later became popular in the US too.

    • #139
  20. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

     

    The show was The Saint, mentioned in the OP. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was originally introduced to the press as “Ian Fleming for television”, even though its actual connection to Fleming was dubious at best. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and was a slow-developing hit, an interesting story that maybe I’ll get to in another post.

    Please do. It was one of my favorite shows. 

    And then there was Get Smart.

    • #140
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

     

    The show was The Saint, mentioned in the OP. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was originally introduced to the press as “Ian Fleming for television”, even though its actual connection to Fleming was dubious at best. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and was a slow-developing hit, an interesting story that maybe I’ll get to in another post.

    Please do. It was one of my favorite shows.

    And then there was Get Smart.

    That was one of my favorite shoes.

    • #141
  22. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

     

    The show was The Saint, mentioned in the OP. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was originally introduced to the press as “Ian Fleming for television”, even though its actual connection to Fleming was dubious at best. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and was a slow-developing hit, an interesting story that maybe I’ll get to in another post.

    Please do. It was one of my favorite shows.

    And then there was Get Smart.

    That was one of my favorite shoes.

    I see what you did there. :-)

    Speaking of The Man From UNCLE, the opening of the episode The Finny Foot Affair, is very similar to part of the movie The Andromeda Strain.  Worth taking a look, for that alone.

    • #142
  23. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    kedavis (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    MISTER BITCOIN (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    I have never understood why they went with George Lazenby at all. My understanding is that they originally cast Connery because Roger Moore, their first choice, wasn’t available. Why not go directly to him?

    i think roger moore was busy with the tv show, the man named uncle (i botched the title).

    The show was The Saint, mentioned in the OP. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was originally introduced to the press as “Ian Fleming for television”, even though its actual connection to Fleming was dubious at best. It starred Robert Vaughn and David McCallum and was a slow-developing hit, an interesting story that maybe I’ll get to in another post.

    Please do. It was one of my favorite shows.

    And then there was Get Smart.

    That was one of my favorite shoes.

    I see what you did there. :-)

    Speaking of The Man From UNCLE, the opening of the episode The Finny Foot Affair, is very similar to part of the movie The Andromeda Strain. Worth taking a look, for that alone.

    U.N.C.L.E. is a frustrating show to love; at its best it was wonderful, at its worst it’s badly dated and un-funny. But its best years, and shows deserve to be remembered. The recent movie didn’t do enough business to launch a franchise, partly I think because the TV show didn’t re-run for that long. By contrast, Mission: Impossible, another fine but very different spy show, has repeated endlessly and the Tom Cruise movie series started 20 years before the studios gave U.N.C.L.E. a feature film chance. By then, the original show had faded from public consciousness.

    • #143
  24. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    By contrast, Mission: Impossible, another fine but very different spy show, has repeated endlessly and the Tom Cruise movie series started 20 years before the studios gave U.N.C.L.E. a feature film chance. By then, the original show had faded from public consciousness.

    There was also a short-lived TV reboot in 1988.  I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen an episode of the original Mission Impossible TV show, but I did watch and enjoy the ‘88 series.

    • #144
  25. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    By contrast, Mission: Impossible, another fine but very different spy show, has repeated endlessly and the Tom Cruise movie series started 20 years before the studios gave U.N.C.L.E. a feature film chance. By then, the original show had faded from public consciousness.

    There was also a short-lived TV reboot in 1988. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen an episode of the original Mission Impossible TV show, but I did watch and enjoy the ‘88 series.

    There was a long film/TV writer’s strike in 1988, so ABC did that reboot of a CBS show in Australia, where the unions didn’t care that the show essentially did a light rewrite of 1966-72 scripts. It lasted two seasons. That’s another reason why the M:I franchise was ready to come back to life when Cruise made a feature film of it in 1996. 

    –and why U.N.C.L.E. didn’t make it as a film; too much time had passed. 

    • #145
  26. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Supposedly, the OHMSS role was offered to Clint Eastwood.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/7988923/Clint-Eastwood-turned-down-roles-as-Superman-and-James-Bond.html

    Less than a decade later, he made his own Bond film: The Eiger Sanction:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eiger_Sanction_(film)

    @garymcvey, Have you commented on the structural difference between Eiger and the Bond template? In Eiger, there is no supervillain or KGB general. More of a Hitchcock-esque mcguffin. However, they infused some Bond supervillain tropes into the Dragon character. Those almost ruined the film. Dragon, Pope, Jem, and Miles Mellough seemed to be late 1960s characters in a 1975 movie.

    • #146
  27. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    ctlaw (View Comment):

    Supposedly, the OHMSS role was offered to Clint Eastwood.

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/7988923/Clint-Eastwood-turned-down-roles-as-Superman-and-James-Bond.html

    Less than a decade later, he made his own Bond film: The Eiger Sanction:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eiger_Sanction_(film)

    @garymcvey, Have you commented on the structural difference between Eiger and the Bond template? In Eiger, there is no supervillain or KGB general. More of a Hitchcock-esque mcguffin. However, they infused some Bond supervillain tropes into the Dragon character. Those almost ruined the film. Dragon, Pope, Jem, and Miles Mellough seemed to be late 1960s characters in a 1975 movie.

    I have doubts about the Telegraph story. The Bond producers had been pushed to accept an American in the role from the very beginning and (wisely in my opinion) resisted. Eastwood was a star by 1969, already well known to world audiences, and it’s hard to imagine him doing a credible British accent. I projected Eiger in 1975, so I got to see it many times. As an early directorial effort, it’s pretty good. Side note: even on the fashionable upper east side of Manhattan, people were lined up for a noon weekday show. 

    Agreed about Dragon. I didn’t read Trevanian’s book, so I have no basis to compare it with the film. One funny bit at the beginning is Eastwood’s fake act as a wimpy delivery man, all the more enjoyable because everyone in the audience knows what’ll happen when the sap opens the door. He also has a funny bit ordering an elaborate meal at his toughen-up training camp and being served a frugal, minimally enjoyable one. Then there’s “Screw Marlon Brando”, a gag that probably won’t mean anything to anyone who wasn’t around for Brando’s bizarre use of an alleged American Indian woman to refuse his Oscar. The main musical theme is great. 

    Some drawbacks: He didn’t notice George Kennedy’s limp until the last minutes of the movie? Vonetta McGee is good but underused. But an interracial romance was still pretty novel in 1975, especially as Eiger is almost ostentatiously un-PC in today’s terms. Pope is a buffoon. 

    I’ve read that Eastwood has long had quiet regrets about Mellough. This greatly pre-dates the current woke era. Nothing wrong with a gay villain, but Jonathan Harker lines like “You had an incurable disease but didn’t have the guts to kill yourself” are a shock now. He hasn’t re-edited the film or tried to hide it; it was a product of the times it was made in

    • #147
  28. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    I ignore the Mission: Impossible films partly because they’re just too ridiculous, but mostly because they started out by making Mr Phelps a traitor.  Unforgivable!

    • #148
  29. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    There are publicity photos of Cubby Broccoli and Brosnan at his contract signing in 1986. But it’s a false dawn; unexpectedly, Steele got renewed, screwing up the production schedule and forcing EON to find another Bond, Timothy Dalton. (I think Dalton’s pretty good, BTW). Brosnan wouldn’t get to be Bond for another nine years.

    They’d been after Dalton for years, but he kept turning them down. I agree, he was good and had a bit better writing to work with than Brosnan did, though I enjoy Pierce’s first, Goldeneye, quite a bit.

    • #149
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