Bond Is Back!: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (United Artists 1963)

The Cold War got really hot when James Bond returned to the screen in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, second in the film series starring Sean Connery as Ian Fleming’s Secret Agent 007. Picking up where DR. NO left off, the film is popular with Bond fans for its more realistic depiction of the spy game, though there’s still plenty of action, romance, and quick quips, along with the introduction of several elements soon to be integral to the series.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE has Bond falling for Soviet defector Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who’s willing to help steal a Russian Lektor decoding machine for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But both she and Bond are just pawns in a larger game, with the international crime cartel SPECTRE making all the moves. Their goal is to not only posses the decoder and ransom it back to the Russians, but to eliminate 007 for taking their operative Dr. No out of circulation. The complicated story involves double-and-triple crosses, and two of the best villains in the Bond canon – Lotte Lenya as the sinister ex-Soviet spymaster Rosa Klebb, now working for SPECTRE, and Robert Shaw as the cold as ice assassin “Red” Grant, whose job is to protect Bond from harm while the machine is being stolen, then kill him for his transgressions against SPECTRE.

It’s the first film we get a look inside SPECTRE and the first appearance of SPECTRE’s Number One, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and his white cat), soon to become James Bond’s Number One Nemesis. His face is never shown here, though British actor Anthony Dawson is seen in body (his voice is dubbed by Austrian Eric Pohlman). Also making his debut is Desmond Llewelyn as “Boothroyd from Q Branch”, the gadget man later known as just Q. Other Bond firsts are the pre-credits opening sequence, a theme song (sung by Matt Munro at the movie’s end), and the presence of Martine Beswick as a Gyspy girl. Miss Beswick later appeared in THUNDERBALL, though as a different character (and her name is erroneously spelled in the credits as ‘Martin’… how anyone could mistake lovely Martine for a Martin, I’ll never know!).

Despite being more grounded in reality than most Bonds, playing more like a traditional spy saga, there’s still lots of action going on, including a battle at the Gypsy camp, a perilous train ride aboard the Orient Express featuring an extended fight between Connery and Shaw, a dangerous journey to freedom that includes a helicopter scene intentionally reminiscent of NORTH BY NORTHWEST’s crop duster, and an exciting boat chase, followed by a final confrontation with the evil Rosa Klebb in Bond’s hotel room. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was another box office smash, cementing 007 as a cinematic force to be reckoned with, and led to a third sequel, 1964’s GOLDFINGER. Since I’ve already covered that film (follow this link ), next up will be the fourth entry… THUNDERBALL!

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A Big Screen, Some Popcorn, and JAWS (Universal 1975)

Dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun…..

This past Wednesday night, I went out to New Bedford’s Zeiterion Theater to watch a screening of the summertime classic JAWS. The Z, as we locals call it, began life as a vaudeville palace in 1923, and five months later changed its name to The State and ran the latest silent movies. The State operated as a movie house until the late 70’s, with the historic building refurbished in 1982 and retro rebranded as the Zeiterion, hosting concerts, plays, dance, and other performing arts. The city (which now owns and operates the Z) recently purchased a state-of-the-art high-definition digital projector and, after an absence of almost a year,  movies are back in New Bedford! They kicked off a “summer series” of films with Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster scarefest, filmed not far from here (just a fast ferry ride away aboard the Sea Streak) on Martha’s Vineyard.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

And what a FIN-tastic experience it was! It was the perfect film to start with for the #1 fishing port in America, and the place was jam-packed. Imagine that, an almost full house to watch a 42-year-old film on a Wednesday night! I enjoyed watching the little kids seeing the movie for the first time as much as I did watching it myself. Everybody jumped and screamed when Richard Dreyfuss , exploring an abandoned boat underwater, was startled by a dead body popping up – including me, and I’ve seen JAWS at least 30 times! A similar reaction occurred at the shark’s first appearance, scaring the bejeezus out of both Roy Scheider and us. Spontaneous applause erupted from the crowd on three different occasions; when Jaws is blown to smithereens, when Dreyfuss emerges from the deep alive, and of course at Scheider’s iconic “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” line!

Capt. Quint enjoying a Narry!

The audience was crazy about Quint, the crusty sea captain played by Robert Shaw . It seems everybody around these parts knows a “Quint” down at the docks! Dreyfuss had more than his share of fans in the seats, too. As for myself, I liked all of Spielberg’s little “in-jokes” and film quotes, honoring Hitchcock and the 50’s sci-fi movies he grew up with. And the sound was awesome, with most people humming along to John Williams’ famous “dun-dun, dun-dun, dun-dun” theme. All in all, a great night out watching a great film with a great crowd. Much as I sometimes complain about all the negative shenanigans that go on in New Bedford these days (drug dealing, gang violence, etc) , there are still a lot of good people living here, and some good things going on as well. Next up in the Z’s “Summer Movie Series” they will be showing another one of my favorites, 1993’s coming-of-age baseball comedy THE SANDLOT. Anyone want to guess where I’ll be on July 12?

The State Theater hosting the World Premiere of “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949)
The Zeiterion Theater today

Super Bowl Alternative: The “Other” BLACK SUNDAY (Paramount 1977)

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My New England Patriots aren’t in this year’s big game, and I can’t stand that big-headed Peyton Manning, so my interest in tonight’s Super Bowl is minimal. And the halftime show does nothing for me: Coldplay is probably one of my least favorite bands (Beyoncé’s OK, though). So if like me, you’re not planning on spending much time watching Roger Goodell’s season-ending spectacular (can’t stand Goodell, either) may I suggest an alternative, namely John Frankenheimer’s thriller BLACK SUNDAY.

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No, it’s not the 1960 Barbara Steele/Mario Bava horror classic, this BLACK SUNDAY is a rousing political thriller about terrorist organization Black September plotting a strike against America at the biggest game of them all, the Super Bowl. Beautiful but deadly terrorist Dahlia (Marthe Keller) has recruited the bitter, unstable blimp pilot Michael Lander (Bruce Dern at his 70’s psycho best) to turn the blimp into the ultimate suicide bomb, with plastique explosives setting off thousands of steel flechettes into the unsuspecting crowd. Isreali agents Kabakov (Robert Shaw) and Moshevsky (Steven Keats) race against time to foil the fiendish plot and stop Dahlia from enacting her mad scheme.

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BLACK SUNDAY was made at the height of the “disaster film” craze, though it’s really more in Frankenheimer’s political thriller wheelhouse. The director knew the territory well, as he’d previously done classics like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. The screenplay’s based on a novel by Thomas Harris, long before his success with a character named Hannibal Lecter in a book called SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. John Williams adds another stirring score to his list of credits that include the same year’s STAR WARS.

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The cast is rounded out by domestic and international veterans such as Fritz Weaver, William Daniels, Michael V. Gazzo (THE GODFATHER PT 2), Bekim Fehmiu (THE ADVENTURERS), Walter Brooke (THE GRADUATE), Walter Gotell (General Gogol in the James Bond series), and Victor Campos (SCARFACE). BLACK SUNDAY was given access to shoot at Super Bowl X (Pittsburgh vs Dallas), and use of the Goodyear Blimp. Miami Dolphins (then) owner Joe Robbie and broadcasters Pat Summerall and Tom Brooksheir make cameo appearences. So now you’ve got a football alternative for tonight. As for me, I’m eagerly awaiting spring training! GO RED SOX!!

Here’s the trailer for BLACK SUNDAY:

Reinventing Dickens: CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS (Telsun Foundation 1964)

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You’d think with a cast featuring Sterling Hayden, Ben Gazzara, Peter Sellers, Eva Marie Saint, Robert Shaw, and other notables, a script by Rod Serling, score by Henry Mancini, and direction from Oscar winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz that CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS was a long-lost big screen spectacular, right? Wrong. It’s actually a made-for-TV movie produced by the Telsun Foundation, Telsun being Television Series for the United Nations. That’s right, the UN (funded in part by the Xerox Corporation) once produced a series of television specials with big name artists in an attempt to promote brotherhood and world peace (or to create a New World Order, depending on which way you lean in the political spectrum).

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The first entry was a take on Charles Dickens’ classic A CHRISTMAS CAROL. Sterling Hayden starred as Daniel Grudge, filling in for Scrooge. Grudge is a wealthy industrialist whose son was killed in World War II , and who is now a staunch isolationist that believes might makes right, namely by having a strong national defense. His nephew Fred (Ben Gazzara) is on the opposite side of the issue, believing that open communication and negotiations will be of greater benefit. They argue their views on Christmas Eve before Grudge throws Fred out, at which point the image of Grudge’s son Marley appears, along with the playing of The Andrews Sisters’ “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”.

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It’s then that we hit the familiar Dickens territory with Grudge visited by the three ghosts. The Ghost of Christmas Past (singer Steve Lawrence in a solid dramatic turn) welcomes Grudge aboard a cargo ship filled with coffins of war dead from throughout the 20th Century. He escorts Grudge through a doorway back to Hiroshima, where then-Colonel Grudge and his assistant (Eva Marie Saint) tour the aftermath of nuclear destruction, visiting a Red Cross unit full of horribly burned children. This sequence is the film’s best, and could easily have fit as an episode of Serling’s brilliant THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

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Next up is the Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle), who sits before an overflowing banquet table while thousands of starving displaced persons watch from behind a barbed wire fence. Grudge is forced to see the “needy and oppressed” he derided so much up close and personal, knowing he’s done nothing to help alleviate their struggles while he lives a life of luxury.

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Finally the Ghost of Christmas Future (Robert Shaw) takes Grudge to a post-nuclear apocalypse world where everyone is out for themselves. Peter Sellers (Hayden’s costar in DR. STRANGELOVE) pops up as Imperial Me, leading a band of anarchic survivors, whipping them into a frenzy with his rhetoric about killing those who’re not part of their group and the power of the individual. Sellers is good as always, giving the demagog a lunatic quality we find in many of today’s more odious politicians. Calling Donald Trump!

Grudge finally wakes up on Christmas Day, and reconciles with nephew Fred. He’s a bit more willing to admit now that maybe this international cooperation thing isn’t so bad after all. The tightly wound Hayden is perfect for the role of uptight Mr. Grudge, and the rest of the cast do yeoman’s work in support. Percy Rodriguez, James Shigeta, and Britt Eklund also appear, with Rodriguez as Grudge’s butler a particular standout. Rod Serling’s script is clever though somewhat preachy in parts but hey, it’s Rod Serling. He’s always been a “message” writer, and the teleplay has that TWILIGHT ZONE-ish quality we all know and love. Mankiewicz , one of Hollywood’s best, could direct an elementary school Christmas pageant and make it interesting. He’s aided by some fine cinematography from Arthur J. Ornitz, who’s also responsible for lensing another Serling drama, 1962’s REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT.

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Telsun produced three more of these TV movies, WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND?, ONCE UPON A TRACTOR, and THE POPPY IS ALSO A FLOWER, before folding up shop. POPPY is the only one to receive a theatrical release, and the only one available on DVD, while the other two have faded into obscurity. Telsun was an interesting and well-meaning if unsuccessful experiment at promoting the UN agenda, and we’ll never see anything quite like it again. CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS has popped up on TCM during the holiday season, and though it’s message is somewhat didactic, it deserves to have a wider audience if only because of the people in front of and behind the cameras. Maybe some enterprising releasing company will pick it up someday. After all, look what Grindhouse Releasing has done for MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE. Are you listening, all you entrepreneurs out there?