Sep 19, 2017

Discussing A LEGACY OF SPIES on the Spybrary Podcast

On the latest episode of the Spybrary Podcast, I join host Shane Whaley and Spywrite's Jeff Quest to discuss John le Carré's brand new Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies. At the beginning of the summer, Shane and I discussed the first Smiley novel, Call for the Dead, so it feels appropriate to end the summer discussing the latest one! Furthermore, Jeff and I have been trying to do a podcast together for a few years now, so I'm really happy that Shane finally made that happen. I will be posting a full review here of A Legacy of Spies later, but in the meantime, listen to the podcast to hear my feelings on the book.

Listen to Episode 18 of The Spybrary Podcast (A Legacy of Spies) here, or subscribe on iTunes.

Listen to Episode 006 of The Spybrary Podcast (Call for the Deadhere,

Read "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.

Purchase A Legacy of Spies on Amazon.

Sep 14, 2017

John le Carré's DEADLY AFFAIR Comes to Blu-Ray in Fabulous Special Edition

Amidst the flurry of John le Carré excitement surrounding the publication of the great author's new Smiley novel, A Legacy of Spies, an excellent new Blu-ray release of the film of his first book has gone somewhat overlooked. Sidney Lumet's The Deadly Affair (1966) was adapted from le Carré's debut novel Call for the Dead, and starred James Mason as the hero readers knew as George Smiley, here rechristened "Charles Dobbs" because Paramount owned the rights to Smiley following their film of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold the previous year (in which the character only had a small part). That film's screenwriter, Paul Dehn (who also adapted Goldfinger for the screen) also penned the script for The Deadly Affair... and actually managed to make a few improvements on the book! Mason is terrific as Dobbs, and sadly overlooked when we think of screen Smileys thanks to his more famous successors. In my opinion, The Deadly Affair is the most underrated of the films of le Carré's oeuvre. (Read my review of it here.) As such, its home video track record has been a bit spotty. For years it was available only as a rather unimpressive Region 2 DVD, and when it finally got Region 1 attention it was merely as a sparse, featureless MOD title from Sony's Columbia Screen Classics by Request. Now that oversight has finally been redressed, thanks to UK company Indicator, who have released a truly impressive, special feature-laden, region-free, limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo! And the transfer is even more impressive than the supplements. This movie has never looked so good, and takes on a whole new life in Indicator's high-def remaster. Here's a rundown of the set's features:

• High Definition remaster 
• Original mono audio 
• Audio commentary with film historians Michael Brooke and Johnny Mains
The National Film Theatre Lecture with James Mason (1967, 48 mins): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Leslie Hardcastle at the National Film Theatre, London 
The Guardian Lecture with Sidney Lumet (1983, 89 mins): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Derek Malcolm at the National Film Theatre, London 
A Different Kind of Spy: Paul Dehn's Deadly Affair (2017, 17 mins): writer David Kipen on screenwriter Paul Dehn
• New interview with camera operator Brian West (2017, 5 mins) 
• Original theatrical trailer 
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography 
• New English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing 
• Limited edition exclusive booklet featuring newly commissioned writing by Thirza Wakefield , an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film including interviews with James Mason and cinematographer Freddie Young

It also features a cool reversible cover with two choices of poster art and a choice of dark or light spines, either one of which will look good on the shelf next to your Criterion Spy Who Came in from the Cold Blu-ray. The Blu-ray world premiere of The Deadly Affair, a dual format edition, is strictly limited to 3,000 copies; any future pressings, should they happen, won't include the excellent 48-page booklet. (And trust me, you want this booklet!)

The features are excellent, though Kipen misspeaks a couple of times. After reiterating le Carré's claim from his interview on the Criterion Spy Who Came in from the Cold disc that screenwriter Dehn was an assassin for the SOE during WWII, he implies that le Carré trained under Dehn at Camp X with Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee. (Le Carré didn't sign up for spook school until well after the war.) And later he implies that Dehn wrote more than one of the early James Bond movies. It really should have been up to the producers of the special features to edit him better; I get the impression these are just conversational blunders and I suspect he instantly regretted them, as overall he comes across as quite knowledgeable. And despite those minor hiccups, it's great to finally have a documentary shining the spotlight on the underrated Dehn! I learned a lot from this piece, including the fascinating tidbit that Dehn's longtime partner was Hammer composer James Bernard. For some reason Kipen doesn't tell us why Smiley was changed to Dobbs, but this crucial bit of information is covered in depth on the commentary track. He does talk about some of Dehn's earlier, more obscure spy movies, which is great to see. West relates some very interesting anecdotes about cinematographer Freddie Young, and ably gives a great example of just what exactly camera operators and cinematographers do in the form of an amusing anecdote about shooting the scene in theater with Lynn Redgrave. Basically, all of the features are terrific, the transfer looks great, and this is a disc that all le Carré fans and all Sixties spy fans simply need! The region-free disc should be playable everywhere and can be ordered from or Amazon UK. (American consumers may find it works out in their favor to order from the UK.)

Read my movie review of The Deadly Affair here.
Read my book review of Call for the Dead here.
Read my introduction to George Smiley here.

First RED SPARROW Trailer

Fox has released the first trailer for Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence's film of the bestselling Jason Matthews novel. Last year, the book made my list of the ten best spy novels written during the decade I've been writing this blog, so obviously the movie is one I'm really looking forward to... albeit trepidatiously. Joel Edgerton is definitely not who I pictured as Nate Nash, and I'm dubious of convincing chemistry between him and star Jennifer Lawrence (sixteen years his junior), which is crucial to the story. But overall, this trailer looks pretty faithful to the novel, and quite promising! One major change from the book, however, has already been reported by The Hollywood Reporter. According to that trade, real-life Russian president Vladimir Putin, a key character in the novel (and more so in its sequel), has been cut from the film, allegedly over fears of Interview-style retaliation from Russian hackers. Additionally, one of the novel's primary settings, Helsinki, has been replaced by the more familiar and less exotic (though cheaper) Budapest. Red Sparrow opens March 2, 2018, and Matthews' final novel in the trilogy, The Kremlin's Candidate (whose plot has changed somewhat since it was first announced, either because of or despite its similarity to world events), comes out a few weeks prior.

Jul 31, 2017

Tradecraft: Bleecker Street Walks a High Wire With Jon Hamm

Spy fans have been eagerly anticipating the Brad Anderson-directed, Tony Gilroy-penned High Wire Act ever since Anderson (claimed in May 2015 that veteran Bourne series scripter Gilroy "may have been channeling John le Carré when he wrote this." And now the 1980s Beirut-set spy movie starring Jon Hamm (Keeping Up With the Joneses) and Rosamund Pike (Die Another Day) at last has a U.S. distributor! Deadline reports that Bleecker Street will release the picture here. No date has been set yet. According to the trade, Hamm plays a U.S. diplomat who, having fled Lebanon after the death of his wife in the Seventies, is recruited by CIA agents PIke and Dean Norris (The Book of Henry) to go back a decade later for a mission only he can accomplish. The script is said to be more in the vein of Gilroy's smart, adult thrillers like Michael Clayton and Nightcrawler than his Bourne movies. Anderson's directing credits include Session 9 and The Machinist.

Jul 29, 2017


With Atomic Blonde premiering this weekend, Lionsgate has released the trailer for their own female spy action movie, Unlocked, starring Noomi Rapace (The Girl Who Played With Fire). We first heard about this one back in early 2014, so it's good to see it finally coming to fruition. Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough) directs, and Michael Douglas (Haywire), John Malkovich (RED), Toni Collette (xXx: Return of Xander Cage), and Orlando Bloom (Black Hawk Down) fill out the impressive cast. Unlocked opens September 1, kicking off a spy-rich month of movies that also includes Kingsman: The Golden Circle, American Assassin, and American Made.

Jul 24, 2017

Tradecraft: James Bond Returns November 2019; New York Times Reports Daniel Craig will be Back

Daniel Craig drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz
MGM and EON Productions have set a North American release date for the still untitled Bond 25. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the 25th official James Bond movie will hit U.S. theaters on November 8, 2019. The only creative involvement included in the announcement was that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have had a hand in every Bond script since The World is Not Enough in 1999) will once again handle writing duties, and Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson will, naturally, produce. According to the statement, cast, crew (including a director) and a distribution partner will be announced "at a later date." The omission of one key cast member in particular is, of course, jarring. One might expect such an announcement to come only when the studio had a star nailed down, and if Daniel Craig was indeed on board to reprise the role he's played so successfully in four 007 films to date, it would be logical to think that information would be the leader in such a statement. But at least one outlet isn't worried. The New York Times is confidently reporting that "Mr. Craig’s return is a done deal, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflicts with Eon and MGM." I really hope they're right! Not only am I dying to see the actor back at least once more as the world's most famous secret agent; I am more than ready for the constant tabloid speculation of his possible replacement to end... at least until the next movie comes out!

Also essential to nail down is a distribution partner. Sony has partnered with MGM and EON to release the previous four Craig Bond movies. Their contract is up, but of course they are anxious to extend it as other studios vie for the prize. Personally, my money is on upstart Annapurna, Megan Ellison's boutique production company that will branch out into distribution next month, in partnership with MGM, with Kathryn Bigelow's Detroit. The two companies signed a multi-year deal (which currently does not cover James Bond titles) earlier this year.

It could be that MGM was just keen to stake its claim before the prime fall date filled up with more releases from rival companies. It's already been claimed by Disney for an untitled live action fairy tale movie. Hopefully we'll learn more soon!

Jul 23, 2017

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Return to Marvel Movies

Ever since S.H.I.E.L.D. was taken apart in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (one of the best spy movies of the decade), we've seen very little of its agents in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Apparently that's about to change. Two announcements earlier this month indicate that two of Marvel Comics' most famous agents will be making their way into upcoming MCU movies.

Deadline reports that Samuel L. Jackson will return as Nick Fury in 2019's Captain Marvel, where he will reunite with his Kong: Skull Island and Unicorn Store co-star Brie Larson (Free Fire). Jackson last appeared as Fury in a brief cameo in The Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2014. He is expected to reprise the role in The Avengers: Infinity War and its sequel. At first I assumed this news probably indicated that Fury will survive those films, which are expected to take a high toll on the MCU heroes. But yesterday Deadline updated their story, reporting that Captain Marvel will for some reason take place in the early 1990s, making it a prequel to all the other MCU films except for the first Captain America (which took place in WWII) and the Eighties-set opening scene of Ant-Man. Moreover, Marvel chief Kevin Feige revealed at Comic-Con that Fury will have two eyes in Captain Marvel. Does that mean he'll still be in the Army? (Presumably the MCU Nick also started out as Sgt. Fury, even if he came along long after the Howling Commandos.) Will Jackson sport his Pulp Fiction wig? (That I'd like to see!) We probably won't find out until closer to March 2019 when the movie opens. And in the meantime, Nick Fury is as precariously poised as anyone else when it comes to surviving the Infinity War.

Even more exciting, perhaps, is the news that first appeared on The Tracking Board (via Dark Horizons) and since been confirmed by multiple outlets that Randall Park (The Interview) will portray Agent Jimmy Woo in Ant-Man and the Wasp! Woo debuted in the late 1950s as an FBI agent in Marvel precursor Atlas Comics' The Yellow Claw before Jim Steranko brought him into his Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. stories in Strange Tales and ultimately made him a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent himself. Woo has sine been a fixture of the Marvel Universe, appearing in various comics over the years including Godzilla and Agents of ATLAS. Park is an excellent actor, but primarily a comedic one. (He stars on the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat recently made a scene-stealing cameo in Snatched.) I can imagine him fitting in very well with Paul Rudd and Michael Pena in a comic relief role, but I hope that's not the case. Jimmy Woo was the first Asian-American comic book hero, and was treated as a serious member of the team in the Sixties. I would hate to see him reduced to a joke. That said, the part could of course be both comedic and completely competent, which is what I'm hoping for. Either way, it will be cool to see Woo make his MCU debut.

Jul 20, 2017

Dynamite Reveals Art from Upcoming CASINO ROYALE Graphic Novel

When it was first announced back in 2015 that Dynamite had landed the license to produce James Bond comics, part of that announcement was that the publisher would release period-set graphic novel adaptations of the Ian Fleming novels. The first, Casino Royale, was originally set for publication last year with a different artist, then delayed several times. Now, at least, it is almost here! Dynamite will release the 160-page graphic novel Casino Royale, adapted by Van Jansen and illustrated by Dennis Calero, on October 17, 2017, under a stunning cover by Fay Dalton. Dalton's involvement is a nice bit of synergy for Ian Fleming Publications, as she also illustrates the beautiful slip-cased Folio Society editions of the Bond novels. (Indeed, her slipcase art for Folio's Casino Royale, below depicts the same characters as her comic cover!) This week Dynamite provided a first glimpse at Calero's interior artwork in Previews. The final art will be in color.

Jul 12, 2017

Tradecraft: Blake Lively to Star in Spy Movie THE RHYTHM SECTION for EON Productions

EON Productions, producers of the James Bond movies, are going from the Double O Section to The Rhythm Section. The Hollywood Reporter reports that 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, along with IM Global, will produce a film adaptation of Mark Burnell's 1999 novel The Rhythm Section starring Blake Lively (Age of Adeline). The Rhythm Section is the first in a four novel series about a woman named Stephanie who, through both self-preservation and the training of the intelligence agency that recruits her, lives many lives in many identities. (In this respect, it sounds somewhat similar to J.J. Abrams' Alias, or the Robert Littell novel Legends, and should afford Lively a good opportunity to play many different roles in one.) The publisher's blurb describes it as a tale of a massive identity crisis. Stephanie embarks on her journey of multiple identities and revenge after her family is killed in a terrorist bombing. It would certainly be interesting if EON manages to launch a successful series about a female agent alongside their Bond films!

Jul 10, 2017

Tom Cruise Posts Team Photo from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6

We've gotten a few paparazzi shots of filming in the streets of Paris and a bunch of great on-set portraits shot by the film's director, Christopher McQuarrie, via his Instagram feed. Now we have what I assume must be the first official still from Mission: Impossible 6, a great shot of the whole IMF team in costume and in character posted jointly on McQuarrie's Instragram and Tom Cruise's Facebook page. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I'm glad that the first official still is a team shot. Hopefully it portends that the sixth movie in the series will still be team-oriented, like Ghost Protocol and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rogue Nation (and of course like the TV show, most importantly), despite telling a more personal story for Ethan Hunt. The occasion for this photo's release is the crew's departure from New Zealand (which in the film doubles for Iraq at least part of the time), where they're pictured. They now head back to London for the final stretch of principal photography.
Thanks to Craig Arthur for the heads-up on this one!

Jul 1, 2017

WILD WILD WEST TV Soundtrack Coming Next Week!

It was rumored earlier this year, but today La La Land Records officially announced on their Facebook page that they will release a 4-disc soundtrack for the classic Sixties spy Western The Wild Wild West on July 11! (Which makes this a very good summer for Wild Wild West fans, as the two TV reunion movies were just released on a standalone DVD for the first time a few weeks ago.) The set will be produced by Jon Burlingame, renowned not only for his immeasurable soundtrack knowledge at large, but particularly for his spy music expertise. Burlingame wrote the book The Music of James Bond and previously produced four excellent volumes of music from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and the amazing 6-disc Mission: Impossible TV soundtrack. He also provided extensive liner notes for each of those releases, and this one will be no different, coming with a lengthy booklet.

According to a post from Burlingame, the set includes "excerpts from 26 scores representing all four seasons. Composers include Richard Markowitz, Robert Drasnin, Richard Shores, Dave Grusin, Fred Steiner, Harry Geller, Walter Scharf, Jack Pleis -- plus the never-before-heard Dimitri Tiomkin theme that was rejected early on." Burlingame asserts that there were three rejected Tiomkin themes (at least one a vocal), but it's unclear if all three will be included in the set or not. The tapes that made this release possible were found in an exhaustive two-year search of the UCLA Film and Television Archives, which also contained alternate, unused versions of Markowitz's iconic main theme. The set contains over an hour of music by Shores.

Limited to just 1,000 units, Music From the Television Series The Wild Wild West will be available to order from the La La Land website starting at noon Pacific on July 11.

Jun 27, 2017

Trailer: Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan in Martin Campbell's THE FOREIGNER

STX have released a trailer for GoldenEye and Casino Royale director Martin Campbell's The Foreigner, starring Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan. And it looks great! I love seeing Chan (who, like Brosnan, has aged well) in a grittier, more serious action movie than we're used to. The terrorism drama based on Stephen Leather's 1992 novel The Chinaman opens October 13 in the United States.

Jun 22, 2017

Rare Eurospy Movies Including OSS 117 on the Big Screen in Los Angeles This July!

On July 26 and July 27, Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles will screen two exceedingly rarely shown Eurospy movies, including a classic OSS 117 title! Better still, each will be presented in 35mm IB Technicolor prints! The night kicks off at 7:30pm with genre stalwarts Ray Danton, Margaret Lee, and the impossibly sexy Marisa Mell (Danger: Diabolik) in Secret Agent Super Dragon (1966). That's followed by 1968's OSS 117: Murder for Sale (aka OSS 117: Double Agent, aka No Roses for OSS 117), starring John Gavin (Psycho) as superspy Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath and co-starring Margaret Lee along with Bond luminaries Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball) and Curd Jürgens (The Spy Who Loved Me). Gavin himself was of course briefly cast as 007 in Diamonds Are Forever, before Sean Connery agreed to return and Gavin was quietly paid a large sum to walk away. (It's okay. He went on to become U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.) Presumably that casting was partly because of his more than credible spy performance in this movie. I've said before that the five main OSS 117 movies from the Sixties are the cream of the crop when it comes to Eurospy cinema. Don't miss an extremely rare opportunity to see one in the cinema! Tickets for both nights' shows are available from Brown Paper Tickets, and cost just $8 (plus service fee) for both movies.

Both of these titles will probably sound familiar to comedy fans as well. Secret Agent Super Dragon made a memorable episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (but that should not dissuade viewers from giving it the benefit of the doubt on its own, as it is legitimately fun low-budget spy fare), and director Michel Hazanavicius revived the OSS 117 brand in 2005 as a very successful send-up of Sixties spy fare in two wildly popular French comedies. But great as those ones are (starring Jean Dujardin), the originals are absolute must-sees for any serious spy fan.

Read my review of OSS 117: Murder for Sale here.
Read my Introduction to the OSS 117 series here.

Jun 21, 2017

New AMERCIAN ASSASSIN Red Band Trailer and Poster

Lionsgate and CBS Films have released a new poster and two new trailers - one a restricted red band, the other approved for all audiences - for the first Mitch Rapp movie, American Assassin, which opens September 15 amidst a spy-packed month that also sees the releases of the Tom Cruise Iran-Contra movie American Made and Matthew Vaughn's eagerly anticipated sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle.

Mitch Rapp has taken a long, winding road to get to the screen, and it's unfortunate that author Vince Flynn didn't live to see the results. (Though like Bourne and Bond, Rapp has outlived his creator with new books still being published by continuation authors.) First set up at CBS Films for producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura way back in early 2008, actors like Gerrard Butler, Matthew Fox and Chris Hemsworth all at one time or another flirted with playing Flynn's counter-terror hero, and Bruce Willis was at one point up for the mentor role that eventually went to Michael Keaton. Legends' Jeffrey Nachmanoff and Legends of the Fall's Ed Zwick (who ultimately earned a writing credit on the final product) were both linked to direct at one time or another, before the job eventually went to Homeland veteran Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger), working from a script by The Americans' Stephen Schiff. Originally it was CBS Films' plan to adapt Flynn's 2005 novel Consent to Kill first. But at some point they shifted gears to tackle Flynn's prequel novel telling Rapp's origin story, and now American Assassin is a reality!

Jun 19, 2017


During the production of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, paparazzi photos of location filming were the best glimpse fans could get of what to expect. On the sixth Mission: Impossible movie, the best source has been director Christopher McQuarrie's own social media feed - particularly his Instagram account. He's been posting a series of individual cast portraits (including our first official view of Henry Cavill's look in the film, and the revelation that Michelle Monaghan would be reprising her M:i:III role of Julia), and now his latest posts include a portrait of Rebecca Ferguson (reprising her Rogue Nation role of Ilsa Faust) and a group shot of four of the film's female leads. From the left, the show taken on the movie's New Zealand set shows series newcomer Vanessa Kirby (The Crown), Angela Basset (Survivor) as the Director of CIA (a role she also played on Alias, for M:i:III director J.J. Abrams), Ferguson, and Monaghan. Not pictured (and likely not involved in the New Zealand shoot) is Sherlock's Sian Brooke, who rounds out an exceptionally strong female cast. With all these excellent actresses, will this be a blockbuster spy movie that manages to pass the Bechdel Test? To date, no Mission: Impossible movie has. (In McQuarrie's Rogue Nation, Ferguson played the only significant female character, and thus did not converse with any other women.) But I'd say the odds are looking pretty good for this one! The men in the cast include series returnees Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, and Sean Harris, and newcomer Cavill.
A post shared by Christopher McQuarrie (@christophermcquarrie) on

A post shared by Christopher McQuarrie (@christophermcquarrie) on

Jun 14, 2017

Tradecraft: Aldrich Ames Movie CIRCLE OF TREASON Moves Forward with Director

It's been a while since we heard of any progress on the movie version of CIA counterintelligence officers Sandra Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille's book Circle Of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed, which was already filmed (quite effectively, I thought) as a 2014 ABC miniseries called The Assets. But the movie still lives! Yesterday, Deadline reported that Focus Features has set Massy Tadjedin to direct the film, working from a script by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel, the writers currently penning the Edge of Tomorrow sequel for Doug Liman and Tom Cruise. Tadjedin is best known as a screenwriter (whose credits include the Daniel Craig movie The Jacket), but she also directed the 2010 Keira Knightley movie Last Night. Hopefully in the wake of Wonder Woman's success, we'll see even more female directors like Tadjedin given the opportunity to tell strong female-centered stories like this one. Circle of Treason tells the true story of how real-life female Smileys Grimes and Vertefeuille uncovered one of the most damaging moles in the history of the CIA, Aldrich Ames. Hindering their investigation more than Ames' Soviet handlers is the Agency's institutional chauvinism. It's a great book that already made a compelling (if notoriously under-watched) miniseries, and should make a terrific movie as well. I'll be interested to see who signs on to play Grimes and Vertefeuille, as they are both juicy roles that should attract top-caliber actresses. And, depending on how much screen time he ends up with, Ames himself should be a great role for a top-tier actor as well.

Senate Debates Spy Fiction, Including Jason Matthews

During his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions engaged in a brief and somewhat baffling debate on spy fiction with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). It was certainly surprising to hear the following exchange (which you can watch on CNN) occur on the Senate floor!

Cotton: Mr. Sessions, are you familiar with what spies call "tradecraft?"

Sessions: A little bit.

Cotton: That involves things like covert communications, and dead drops, and brush passes, right?

Sessions: That is part of it.

Cotton: Do you like spy fiction? John le Carré? Daniel Silva? Jason Matthews?

Sessions: Yeah. Alan Furst. David Ignatius... I just finished Ignatius's book.

Cotton: James Bond? Jason Bourne? Do you like Jason Bourne or James Bond movies?

To the last question, a giggling Sessions claims, "No..." then quickly admits, "Yes." I honestly thought for a second that some stenographer was going to end up transcribing a debate about who made the best 007! Weird as the exchange was (ultimately forming a basis for Cotton to compare allegations of collusion in Russia's tampering with the 2016 U.S. presidential election to fantastical espionage fiction), it does show that the two men have pretty good taste in spy writers. The inclusion of Jason Matthews (a former CIA officer) was especially apropos... or, I suppose, ironic, depending on your point of view.

The Kremlin's Candidate, the forthcoming final book in Matthews' trilogy that began with Red Sparrow (a book I selected as one of the ten best spy novels of the past decade) was at one time, according to a publisher's blurb posted last summer, supposed to deal with the exact topic being discussed at the hearing—Russian meddling in an American election! However, since the election it seems that the plot of the final novel has mutated somewhat as the book keeps being put off. I'm kind of surprised, because the original plot description seemed so literally torn from developing headlines that I would have thought Scribner would have done everything in their power to get it on shelves ASAP. Instead, they delayed the book until 2018 (ostensibly to tie in with the release of the Jennifer Lawrence movie of Red Sparrow, but last I heard the film was still slated for this fall), removed that original plot description, and replaced it with another, and then another, each one moving farther and farther away from the original, incredibly prescient premise. (The final version, sadly, sounds very much like a retread of the first two novels, when I was hoping for something different. I'm still looking forward to it, though, and hoping for the best!) Here is the publisher's original blurb, long since removed from Amazon and other retail sites.
The dazzling finale to the Red Sparrow Trilogy from New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Jason Matthews, featuring star-crossed Russian agent Dominika Egorova and CIA’s Nate Nash caught up in a blackmail scandal with Vladimir Putin and the newly elected US President.

A junior American code clerk has defected to the Russians. He informs the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service that former US Secretary of Commerce Natalie Childers manipulated US global trade agreements to facilitate trade deals for the investment conglomerate owned by her husband. Natalie is now the Democratic presidential candidate, in the middle of a vigorous national campaign.

Meanwhile double agent Dominika Egorova is ordered by Vladimir Putin to begin work on a special operation in which Russia will inform candidate Childers that her malfeasance will be made public unless she agrees—if she is elected President—to order Pentagon budget cuts, to propose debilitating reforms in NATO, and to move toward the dissolution of the Atlantic Alliance. Refusal will result in scandal and her impeachment. When Dominika reports on her mission to her CIA handlers, Nate, Benford, Gable, and Forsyth, they know that any leak, any misstep, will trigger the Kremlin to go public, destroy the American democratic process, and discredit the country forever. But any counter to the operation moreover will expose Dominika as a CIA asset. Dominika decides they must eliminate the blackmailers: President Putin and his diabolical mastermind, the only two other Russians who know about the plan.

With a plot ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, The Kremlin’s Candidate is a riveting read if you've never read Jason Matthews, and a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy begun with Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason, which The New York Times Book Review called, “a primer in twenty-first-century spying...terrifically good.”
I want to read that book! Perhaps Matthews elected to change the plot because tomorrow's headlines too quickly became today's, and he feared the timeliness had worn off. Or perhaps it was a political decision, since the candidate in the book was clearly based on Hilary Clinton, perhaps under the assumption that she would win the election and he didn't want to risk impugning the current Administration. (That doesn't seem like a very good reason, as the book is ultimately fiction either way.) Or perhaps the decision was editorial rather than the author's. Whatever the reason, that surefire bestselling plot now seems to be out the door, replaced with one that sounds sort of like Matthews' take on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Here is the current description on Amazon:
Russian counterintelligence chief Colonel Dominika Egorova has been a recruited asset of the CIA, stealing Kremlin secrets for her CIA handler Nate Nash for over seven years. In the dazzling finale to the Red Sparrow Trilogy—which will be published right before the release of Red Sparrow, a major motion picture starring Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgarton—their forbidden and tumultuous love affair continues, mortally dangerous for them both, but irresistible.

In Washington, a newly installed US administration is selecting its Cabinet members. Dominika hears a whisper of a closely held Kremlin operation to place a mole inside a high intelligence position. But it’s worse than that: One of the three candidates under consideration has been a paid Russian spy for a decade, selling precious US secrets. If the Kremlin’s candidate for the position is confirmed, the Russians will have access to all the names of assets spying for CIA in Moscow, including Dominika’s. But which of the three individuals is the mole?

Dominika’s report triggers a desperate mole hunt before she’s exposed and arrested. Resisting all suggestions to defect and save herself, Dominika recklessly immerses herself in the palace intrigues of the Kremlin, searching for the mole’s name, and stealing as many of President Putin’s secrets for her CIA handlers before her time runs out—even as Putin’s dangerous interest in her grows. The treasure trove of her intelligence reporting sends Nate Nash and colleagues on desperate missions to Sevastopol, Istanbul, Khartoum, and Hong Kong.

With a plot ripped from tomorrow’s headlines, The Kremlin’s Candidate is a riveting read if you’ve never read Jason Matthews, and a thrilling conclusion to the trilogy begun with Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason, which The New York Times Book Review called, “a primer in twenty-first-century spying...terrifically good.”
As I said... I'm still excited to read it, either way! But it does seem like a strange (or appropriate) connection for this author to have come up for discussion at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on real Russian interference in a U.S. election. And it's still kind of hilarious that a Senator asked an Attorney General, under oath, if he likes James Bond movies!

Jun 13, 2017

Michelle Monaghan Joins MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6

This weekend, Mission: Impossible 6 director Christopher McQuarrie posted portraits of some of the film's stars on his Instragram account. Today he's added two more, and used the social media platform to reveal that Rebecca Ferguson (who previously co-starred in McQuarrie's 2015 Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) won't be the only actress returning from a previous franchise installment in the new movie. Michelle Monaghan (The Bourne Supremacy, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), who played the female lead in J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III (2006) and returned for a cameo in Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) will once again reprise her role as Julia, Ethan Hunt's (Tom Cruise) estranged wife. Ethan and Julia tried to settle down into blissful domestic life in M:i:III, which aimed to tell a more personal Mission: Impossible story. Their bliss was naturally short-lived, however, and she was kidnapped by Phillip Seymour Hoffman's villain to use as leverage against the adrenaline-fueled superspy. In Ghost Protocol we learned that Hunt still cared for her, and after faking her death had set her up in a new life without him... though he still (apparently) liked to kind of creepily spy on her from time to time to make sure she was safe. Since McQuarrie has stated that he intends to make Mission: Impossible 6 a more personal story once again, it makes sense that Mrs. Hunt would return in some capacity. Just what that capacity is remains a mystery. Will she have a starring role, or just another cameo? Will she appear in the present, or in a flashback sequence? We don't know. But it's apparent that at least some of her scenes will be shot in New Zealand, where production is currently underway and where McQuarrie snapped this beautiful portrait of the actress. He also posted what amounts to our first look at Simon Pegg on set of this entry. Pegg returns for his fourth go-round as IMF agent Benj Dunn. Mission: Impossible 6 also stars Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Alec Baldwin, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, and Ving Rhames, and opens next summer.

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Jun 11, 2017

Christopher McQuarrie Shares Set Portraits of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 6 Stars

Director Christopher McQuarrie has shared some of his own portraits of actors in Mission: Impossible 6 on his Instagram feed, offering us glimpses of franchise newcomers Henry Cavill and Angela Basset in character. As we saw in paparazzi shots and a shot McQuarrie shared on Twitter from the recent Paris shoot, Cavill sports a full mustache in his role - presumably in part to clearly differentiate him from his other Sixties TV-derived screen spy, Napoleon Solo, and from his most famous role, Superman. I like the look! All we really know about Cavill's role is that he'll be the right-hand man to Alec Baldwin's IMF chief, which is the same function Jeremy Renner's character, Brandt, filled in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. So it seems likely that Cavill is stepping in for the unavailable Renner in a similar but slightly re-written role. (There is plenty of precedent for this sort of actor substitution on the original TV series, where Peter Graves replaced Steven Hill as the team leader in Season 2, Leonard Nimoy replaced Martin Landau as the disguise expert in Season 4, and Sam Elliott briefly filled in for Peter Lupus on a bi-weekly basis in Season 5.) Bassett will play the new CIA director, a position Baldwin's character occupied in the last film before accepting the IMF position. I'm really hoping neither of them turns out to be a traitor, because the Mission: Impossible film franchise overdid it on rogue agents and moles to such a degree in the first three installments that I never need to see another one in this series! Finally, McQuarrie also shares a very nice shot of fan favorite Ving Rhames, who returns for his sixth Mission as Luther Stickell. The director recently explained how he planned to make his second entry in the series stand apart from his first (and why that's important in a franchise that has never tapped the same director twice before) in a fascinating podcast.

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Jun 7, 2017

Tradecraft: TAKEN Series Gets New Showrunner for Season 2

Deadline reports that Greg Plageman has been hired to succeed the departing Alex Cary as showrunner on the second season of Taken, the NBC TV series prequel to Luc Besson's neo-Eurospy movies starring Liam Neeson. Plageman specializes in "procedural drama with an ongoing mythology," and most recently served as co-showrunner on CBS' procedural spy show Person of Interest. It is expected that he will take Taken in a more procedural direction (with ongoing mythology) in its 16-episode second season, Taken stars Clive Standen and Jennifer Beals, and follows Bryan Mills (Standen, in the Neeson role) in his formative days as a secret agent, decades prior to the events of the first film (yet set in the present day). Plageman's credits also include writing an episode of the 2000 spy series Secret Agent Man.

Jun 6, 2017

Talking le Carré on the Spybrary Podcast

I'm a guest on the latest episode of the Spybrary Podcast, where host Shane Whaley and I discuss John le Carré's debut novel, Call for the Dead. Call for the Dead was also the debut of one of the greatest characters in spy fiction, George Smiley, whose more famous outings include Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. We also touch on the 1966 film version, The Deadly Affair, which was adapted by Paul Dehn in the same remarkable three-year period in which he also penned Goldfinger and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. It was a pleasure talking spy fiction with Shane, and I hope to do so again in the future.

Listen to Episode 006 of The Spybrary Podcast here, or subscribe on iTunes.

Read "George Smiley: An Introduction" here.
Read my review of Call for the Dead here.
Read my review of The Deadly Affair here.

Purchase Call for the Dead on Amazon.
Purchase The Deadly Affair on Amazon.

Jun 5, 2017

Trailer and Poster for Doug Liman's Iran-Contra Movie AMERICAN MADE

Universal has released the first trailer for the Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Fair Game)/Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, Knight and Day) reunion (following their successful sci-fi collaboration Edge of Tomorrow), the Iran-Contra story American Made. This is the one that we first heard about two years ago, when it was called Mena, in which Cruise plays the infamous CIA pilot Barry Seale. Seale ended up at the epicenter of an intricate conspiracy involving the Agency, the White House, the Medellin Cartel, the Nicaraguan factions the Sandinistas (the government) and the Contras, Manuel Noriega, Pablo Escobar, Vice President George Bush, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, and Oliver North, to name-check just a few strands of the web. Liman has a very personal connection to the material, as his father, Arthur Liman, was Chief Counsel in the Senate's investigation of the Iran-Contra Scandal and conducted the televised hearings that fascinated the nation in the summer of 1987 and made household names out of people like North and CIA Director William Casey. It's clear from the trailer that he has chosen to take a somewhat light-hearted approach to the subject matter (which makes sense when you focuse on someone involved at a ground-level, as opposed to North or Casey), possibly focusing more on the criminal aspects of Seale's career than the espionage aspects (not that there was any clear delineation between the two!). I can't wait to see the results!

Cruise will next be on screens in Universal's Mummy reboot, and is currently filming the next Mission: Impossible movie with returning director Christopher McQuarrie. American Made hits theaters September 29, coming in the same a spy-saturated month that also sees the releases of Kingsman: The Golden Circle and American Assassin.

May 30, 2017

McQuarrie Offers Insights on the Tone of Mission: Impossible 6

Image: Christopher McQuarrie
Mission: Impossible 6 writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, speaking on John August and Craig Mazin's Scriptnotes podcast (via Collider), offered some insights into what fans can expect from his second entry in the movie series based on the classic TV show. Speaking from Paris, where he's currently filming exterior action sequences with stars Tom Cruise (American Made) and Henry Cavill (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), McQuarrie told the podcasters (both highly successful screenwriters themselves) the next movie would feature less globetrotting and more human drama.

When McQuarrie was announced as the first recurring director in the film franchise's history, the choice raised some eyebrows since one of the series' hallmarks was the fact that each entry felt different, offering a new director's vision. The director himself is clearly well aware of that, and wants to very clearly differentiate his next Mission movie from his first one. One of the ways he intends to accomplish that is by working with a new cinematographer. Robert Elswit (Tomorrow Never Dies), who defined the look of the last two Mission: Impossible movies, will not return. Instead, McQuarrie is working with Rob Hardy (Shadow Dancer), who's most famous for bringing a very distinctive look to Alex Garland's Ex Machina.
That happened from the conversation I had with Rob Hardy, I said I want to do a very different Mission: Impossible. The franchise relies on a different director every time. That’s what it’s sort of become known for. And so I want to maintain that, even though I’m coming back. And to that end, I’m going to defer to you on certain things. And Rob said, okay. I said, so how do you like to shoot? He said, “Well, I tend to shoot pretty much on a 35 and a 50mm lens. Everything.” Which terrified me, because I tend to start at 75mm. And so 30 and 50 I reserve for very specific things. He shoots everything. He covers scenes in it.
He'll also limit the globetrotting.
I was determined, unlike the last movie, to spend more time in one location. I went back and I looked at the first movie, which started in Prague, and realized that they’re in Prague for the first half of the movie. So, I sort of pulled back a little bit on the globe-trotting.
While thrilling locations all around the world are one of my favorite aspects of spy movies, I am not opposed to this approach. The television show, after all, did not generally hop from country to country within a given episode. (And, for me, it's the show that should always be the touchstone, not previous Cruise movies.) But it's also not as if Mission: Impossible 6 won't have globetrotting. It's just going to spend more time in a given place. But announced locations include Paris, London, India, and New Zealand.

Perhaps most of all, though, McQuarrie intends to set the next film apart from the previous two by making the mission more personal for Ethan Hunt, and giving the character more of an arc. This strikes me as dangerous territory. J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible III tread similar ground with mixed results. The James Bond producers struck gold by mining more personal ground in Skyfall, but then faltered when they attempted to repeat the trick. In a spy franchise where the hero works for a government agency, you simply can't have every mission be personal. Fortunately, it sounds like McQuarrie is aware of that potential pratfall, and also aware that it would be a mistake to make the franchise too dark. He's also aware of his responsibility working on a franchise like Mission: Impossible that "your movie leaves it so that another chapter in the franchise can exist."
You worry all the time, am I taking this in a way that it can't go? And we have this conversation all the time about tone. Because [Ghost Protocol director] Brad Bird really changed the tone of the franchise and Rogue Nation embraced that tone completely. At the beginning of this I said to Tom, “I don’t think we can do that three in a row. I think now it’s going to become cute. I think we need to take it another direction still.” And we did. But now we find ourselves going, you know, are we going where Bond went where Bond became–serious. It’s another kind of tone. Which, by the way, has not hurt their bottom line at all. They’ve really found their place. But we can’t go there. We were sort of laughing because we were looking at Rogue Nation and saying, “Well thanks, Bond, for not doing that anymore, so we’ll do it.” Now we’re looking at it and going, “But we can’t keep doing that.” We suddenly hit that same wall and understood why Bond went the way they did. And we’re at this kind of emotional crossroads with the franchise saying well how dramatic can you take Mission? It’s not going to a dark place. It’s going to a more emotionally dramatic place.
I'm glad it's not going to a dark place, and I'm glad that McQuarrie clearly realizes the difference between "dark" and "emotionally dramatic." It seems like some directors of major tentpole movies don't make the distinction. And lest one fear that this movie will depart from the series' trademark action setpieces, fear not! 
I started with more of an emotional story for this character and more of a character arc within it. It’s definitely more of an emotional journey for Ethan Hunt in that movie. But then the action comes in. And the ambitions of that action, so there’s a sequence at the end of the movie which is fabulous. It’s never been done. It’s all photo real. It’s going to be incredible. You then have to create the contrivances for that sequence to happen. And then there’s only a few locations in the world where you can shoot that sequence. So suddenly you find yourself going, well, I have this resource and that resource, and I have to put them in my movie. Why are they in my movie? And now I’ve got to explain that.
These are just a few choice nuggets from an hour-plus podcast that's well worth listening to in its entirety. Check it out here. Mission: Impossible 6 is currently shooting, with a release date of July 27, 2018. Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby, Alec Baldwin, Sian Brooks, and Sean Harris co-star, along with Angela Basset, who was recently announced to play the head of the CIA (a position occupied by Baldwin in the last film). She previously played a CIA director on J.J. Abrams' TV series Alias.

May 23, 2017

Remembering Roger Moore

The great Sir Roger Moore has passed away after a short battle with cancer, according to numerous news outlets. And this is the piece I have most dreaded writing ever since I began this blog. Roger Moore may not have been the screen’s "best" James Bond in terms of realizing Ian Fleming’s literary character, but he is certainly one of the most appealing. He is the one you most want to hang out with. He was my favorite Bond as a kid, and was always the Bond actor I most fancied having a conversation with. Even now, when I’m in the mood for a Bond movie in general but have no specific title in mind, I find myself most frequently putting on a Moore movie—usually For Your Eyes Only (1981), easily in my Top 5 Bond movies.

Roger Moore personified the witty playboy adventurer who brushes off danger without creasing his immaculately tailored suits. He perfected this persona most famously across three different characters—TV’s Simon Templar on The Saint and Lord Brett Sinclair on The Persuaders!, and of course 007—each distinct, and yet each distinctly Roger Moore. He sold a personal brand long before we spoke in such terms, and he sold it to perfection. Critics have accused him of turning all of his roles into Roger Moore rather than adapting Roger Moore to the roles, but for a movie star, I’ve never seen that as a bad thing. In fact, I’ve always found it incredibly appropriate that at the height of his Saint fandom in the 1960s, while every popular TV character (including The Saint) had his own Annual (hardcover books for children packed with stories, comics, and puzzles), Moore was the only actor to have his own—The Roger Moore Adventure Book.

It was a narrative often put forth by Moore himself that he was not a good actor. Always charmingly self-deprecating, he once famously reduced his own acting ability to, “left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised.” He was, of course, selling himself short, and I’m saddened to see that many obituaries today still persist with that narrative. Many James Bond purists lament that Moore played the character so comically, and they certainly have a point. But ask any actor what’s harder, comedy or drama, and nearly unanimously they all answer comedy. It’s true that Roger Moore was not one of the screen’s great dramatic actors (though he was certainly capable of fine dramatic performances, as evidenced in The Man Who Haunted Himself and several crucial scenes in For Your Eyes Only, among others), but he was an incredibly gifted comedian, and deserves recognition as such. His comic timing was impeccable, and his wry delivery of innumerable oft-quoted one-liners unequaled. For proof, one need look no further than other, subsequent James Bond actors who have been saddled with similar lines and unable to pull them off despite their undeniable dramatic gravitas. Roger Moore had a unique talent to sell even the most ridiculous double-entendres or pithy asides, and that talent more than anything else carried the Bond franchise to new Box Office heights in the Seventies and ensured its continuation after Sean Connery.

This is another part of Moore’s legacy that should never be overlooked. While all the other popular spy series of the Sixties (on the big and small screen) dried up in the Seventies (as public perception of spies themselves shifted from heroic to underhanded in the wake of Watergate, COINTELPRO, the Church Committee Hearings, and other scandals), James Bond thrived during Moore’s tenure. Moonraker may not have pleased critics, but it broke Box Office records. What Roger Moore brought to the franchise was exactly what audiences craved in the 1970s. Without him, the series may well have languished, but instead it became more popular than ever.

Despite eventually personifying the upper-class English gentleman, Roger Moore was born into a working class London family. He grew up idolizing suave leading men like George Sanders and Stewart Granger, and following his compulsory army service and a stint as a male knitwear model (which briefly earned him the nickname of “The Big Knit”), had the chance not only to follow in their footsteps, but eventually to work with both. After a string of supporting roles as an MGM contract player opposite the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Lana Turner (during which, Moore wrote in his autobiography*, he and his neighbor William Shatner “whiled away many an evening… sitting around the pool [of their Westwood apartment complex], having a drink or three”), Moore found success on television. First as the titular knight on Ivanhoe (for England’s ITV, where he would later find stardom as The Saint), then as a cowboy with an unlikely accent on The Alaskans and Maverick (both for Warner Bros.), where he had the unenviable task of filling the void left by James Garner, playing Brett (Garner) and Bart’s (Jack Kelly) English cousin Beau Maverick. In the former he found himself speaking Garner’s lines (a writers’ strike led to scripts from Maverick being recycled wholesale for The Alaskans), and in the latter wearing his clothes (from his autobiography: “They assured me that I wasn’t replacing [Garner]. Oh yeah? Then why did all of my costumes have ‘Jim Garner’ in them, semi-scratched out?”). It would prove valuable experience for later, when he once again found himself taking over from a very popular actor!

Moore’s real fame, however, came not from American television, but UK television. After trying himself, unsuccessfully, to acquire the rights to Leslie Charteris’ Saint stories several years earlier, Moore jumped at the chance to play Simon Templar for producers Monty Berman and Robert S. Baker at Lord Lew Grade’s powerhouse production company, ITC. He made 118 episodes of The Saint, the first batch in black and white, and the second (without Berman) in color. Charteris had imbued his hero with ample wit to match his wits, and Moore, naturally, excelled at conveying that wit on screen. His Simon Templar would break the fourth wall to directly address the audience, making the most of Moore’s innate charm. Simon Templar was the absolute perfect part for Moore, the idea match of character and star. In America, The Saint played on NBC, making Moore a household name on both sides of the Atlantic. It was also his first major brush with spy stardom, as, though Templar was no agent, his adventures frequently brought him into espionage territory.

Once The Saint wrapped, Moore was eager to segue from television into movies. He and Baker, now producing partners, made Crossplot, a highly entertaining Hitchcock knock-off (parts North by Northwest and The Man Who Knew Too Much) in which Moore played an advertising executive caught up in an espionage plot who has to stop an assassination. Bernard Lee, best known as M from the Bond movies, co-starred, and the advertising campaign traded heavily on Bondian imagery, prominently featuring Moore in a white dinner jacket brandishing a pistol. It wasn’t the first connection between Moore and 007. His name was linked with the Bond role as soon as the first movie was announced, but of course Sean Connery was cast instead. Still, Moore played the character in a 1964 sketch on the BBC comedy series Mainly Millicent, and in the Saint episode “Luella” (co-starring future Felix Leiter David Hedison), Templar jokingly introduced himself as James Bond. In another episode, he ordered his drink “neither shaken nor stirred.”

Moore and Baker had planned several other films together (including, according to Andrew Pixley, the spy drama The Patterson Report and an action-adventure called Vanishing Point**), but never had the chance to make them. Instead, Moore was lured back to television by Lew Grade, who had already sold The Persuaders! based on Moore’s involvement, but without his permission! He then persuaded Moore to make the series by urging him to think of all the jobs it would create, and the boon it would be to the British economy. (“Think of the Queen!”) And thank God it worked, because The Persuaders! is fantastic. It’s one of my favorite TV series, and it's actually his character from that show, Lord Brett Sinclair, that I think of first when I think of Roger Moore... much as I love his Saint and his Bond.

The Persuaders! arose from an idea Moore and Baker had had while shooting the final season of The Saint—the idea of a buddy series teaming Moore with a brash American co-star. The Saint episode “The Ex-King of Diamonds” served as an unofficial pilot, pairing Moore with The Champions star Stuart Damon. When it came to the series, however, a bigger name was required, and when Rock Hudson proved unavailable, Tony Curtis came aboard as self-made oil millionaire Danny Wilde. When Brett and Danny first encounter each other on the French Riviera, the two wealthy alpha males find themselves instantly in competition, first in a road race (Brett’s Aston Martin DBS versus Danny’s Ferrari Dino), and then in a fist fight over the proper way to make a ridiculous drink called a Creole Scream. In the course of this fight, they tear apart the whole hotel bar and find themselves facing a judge, Judge Fulton (played by Diamonds Are Forever’s Laurence Naismith), who offers them an alternative to a jail sentence. It turns out he manipulated their meeting, having selected them to be his personal vigilante crime fighters. It’s a tenuous premise, but it serves its purpose, setting Brett and Danny on numerous missions against kidnappers, counterfeiters, and, of course, spies. (Somehow this judge is also privy to information about classified British Intelligence operations when the plots require that.) The Persuaders! had a top-notch roster of talent (including Avengers writer Brian Clemens and Casino Royale director Val Guest) both behind and in front of the cameras, and their skills combined with lush location filming in exotic European locales (as opposed to The Saint’s stock footage and studio backlots) made every episode of the series look like a feature film. But more than anything, it was the fantastic chemistry between Moore and Curtis (whose off-screen relationship influenced their friendly on-screen competition) that made the series work so well. While The Persuaders! faced stiff competition in America from Mission: Impossible, it was a huge hit around the world, and a second season was in the offing… until Moore received a life-changing phone call from Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

During his Bond tenure, Moore made numerous other action-adventure movies, including Gold (for Bond director Peter Hunt), The Wild Geese (opposite Richard Burton), Shout at the Devil (with Lee Marvin), North Sea Hijack (aka Ffolkes, with Bond alumni David Hedison and George Baker), and The Sea Wolves (with Patrick Macnee and David Niven). He even found time to, unlikely though it may seem, play Sherlock Holmes on TV, in Sherlock Holmes in New York with Macnee as Watson and John Huston as Professor Moriarty. All of these movies are well worth watching. He also displayed that considerable gift for comedy in Cannonball Run (sending up his own image as an Aston Martin-driving racer who thinks he’s Roger Moore) and Blake Edwards’ Curse of the Pink Panther (1983). While the latter is a pretty lousy movie, Moore elevates it considerably in his brief cameo as a post-plastic surgery Inspector Clouseau, ably aping Peter Sellers’ famous French accent and pulling off the requisite pratfalls with great aplomb. (You can watch his scene on YouTube, saving yourself from slogging through the entire film.) In my opinion he’s the only actor to ever successfully fill Sellers’ shoes in that role (once again demonstrating his ability to rise to the challenge following in famous footsteps), and it’s a real shame that Edwards didn’t make Moore’s Clouseau the star of the film.

Moore played James Bond in seven official entries in the series, more than any other actor (though tied with Connery if you count the unofficial Never Say Never Again), and until he was 57, making him the oldest actor to play 007. Too old, really. Moore himself was the first to admit that A View to a Kill was at least one movie too many, and stretched credibility when he switched off with stuntmen for the outlandish action. He had actually tried to leave the series, but Broccoli simply offered him too much money to pass up.

After finally hanging up the Walther PPK, Moore focused more on charity than acting, devoting much of his time to children’s health as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF. (His friend Audrey Helpburn had recruited him to the cause.) He played two more spy roles (in The Enemy, based on a Desmond Bagley novel, and as a guest star on J.J. Abrams’ TV show Alias), and made an intriguing mystery for director Bill Condon, The Man Who Wouldn’t Die, but primarily focused on comedy when he did act. His comedic roles included Bullseye! (an unfortunate miss, but an opportunity to star with his good friend Michael Caine), Boat Trip (an awful movie in which Moore is nonetheless hilarious), and Spice World. The latter was the first of several cameos sending up his Bond image. More recently, he starred in a Lifetime holiday movie, A Princess for Christmas, and played an important supporting role in the unsold pilot for a new version of The Saint starring Adam Rayner. (Sadly, that remains unreleased.) He also found time to record many excellent DVD commentaries, and to pen three memoirs (co-authored with Gareth Owen), My Word is My Bond, Bond on Bond, and One Lucky Bastard. My Word is My Bond is essential reading for any 007 fan, and one of my very favorite showbiz autobiographies, full of humorous and typically self-deprecating anecdotes from Moore’s amazing life.

With Roger Moore’s passing, we have lost one of the true titans of the spy genre, and a very talented comedic actor who never got proper credit for those talents. Fortunately, that Roger Moore brand will live on in his incredible body of work, preserved for posterity on DVD and Blu-ray and no doubt all formats to come. There is truth to the criticism that his Bond movies aren’t so much Bond movies as “Roger Moore movies.” But so what? I find myself frequently craving Roger Moore movies, and I don’t expect that will ever change. It may well be that I'm a bit more of a Roger Moore fan than I am a James Bond fan. Roger Moore was truly one of my heroes, and I am genuinely crushed by his passing. But what a legacy he leaves behind!

*Moore, Roger with Gareth Owen: My Word is My Bond, 2008
**Pixley, Andrew: The Persuaders! Read and Destroy: A Complete Series Guide, 2011