Robin and Marian: Aged in the Woods

 DATELINE: Sherwood Denizens Return

shaw as sheriff Nottingham, not Cape Cod!

The idea looked brilliant in pitch phase: Robin Hood and Marian re-unite after 20 years and are older, but not necessarily wiser. You call it Robin and Marian and the critics will go wild. Throw in a cast to salivate over: Richard Harris and Robert Shaw stand out.

The script is by James Goldman who gave us The Lion in Winter, a rather pedestrian and witless look at Henry II and Richard the Lion-hearted. That, of course, was a sequel of sort to Becket, wherein Peter O’Toole played Henry and Richard Burton was the meddlesome priest.

The level of writing descends with each period drama. Now, you have Richard Harris as the Lion-Heart king, fresh off being King Arthur in Camelot.

We presume Anthony Hopkins and Peter O’Toole were unavailable.

Goldman does not botch the tale, but his legend is soggy-bottom stuff. Alas, the youth market of the mid-1970s wasn’t quite ready for middle-age.

The notion of a stellar cast gained traction with the actors: put Sean Connery looking to shed his James Bond image as an older bearded Robin, and Audrey Hepburn would come back as Marian after a film hiatus. Throw in with equal billing, the villain of the decade: Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws) as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Wow. If you present off-beat director Richard Lester (3 Musketeers, etc.) as the man behind the camera, you cannot lose. It did not work out perfectly but is an adventure for sure.

If you compare this to Richard Fleischer and Kirk Douglas producing The Vikings, you have something less fun and less successful. Oh, it’s highly watchable, but not a romp. Shaw as usual runs off with the movie as the deadpan, time-worn Sheriff who knows Sherwood Forest and its foibles all too well.

Lester tries to steal the movie with his standard atmospheric shots of Medieval times, including people with physical deformity and mud-caked urchins everywhere.They stand out, but not in a good way.

Connery and Hepburn are, well, Connery and Hepburn, acting older. Throw in some choice character actors like Ian Holm as King John and Kenneth Haigh as the Sheriff’s rival, and you have top-drawer performers.

A pleasant time-killer is the least to be expected. What you actually have is a James Goldman version of a geriatric Romeo & Juliet, which does not satisfy.

 

 

 

From Russia (With Kisses & Flowers)

DATELINE: Spy Extravaganza

Lotte Lenya Lets Bond Have It

Lotte Lenya & Sean Connery in Fight Royale!

No, From Russia with Love is not about a date between Trump and Putin. It’s the 1963 movie about James Bond, based on Ian Fleming’s hilarious novels, and starring Sean Connery.

With its iconic music, beautiful location photography, glorious Technicolor, and outrageous performances, it is a hoot and a half, even fifty years after its original release. Every set up will have your mouth agape and fighting back laughs.

If you want to know how a movie can stand up to time, take a look: even with its anachronistic and silly car phones, beepers, and lasers. These were cutting edge back then.

Not half the entertainment is in its two foremost early Bond villains: Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya.

Shaw’s tow-headed muscle guy was a forerunner of Dolph Lundgren’s Soviet superman from Rocky. It was the start of a decade of over-the-top villains, culminating with Quint from Jaws.

No overwhelming technology or special effects had yet to take hold in the well-produced low-budget Bond movies. However, a regrettable act or two occurs, with Connery slugging a woman. The producers also steal Hitchcock’s North by Northwest crop duster chase with a helicopter going after Bond.

Pipsqueak septuagenarian Lotte Lenya steals every scene, as she did as the procuress in Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Her final confrontation, a fight with James Bond, is a kick or two to the head. She gives him a run for his secret agent style. You can’t beat an old lady fighting James Bond in grand style.

Yes, Dr. No is Bananas

DATELINE:  First Bond

in Bond bed

Back in 1963, audiences were treated to a new kind of superhero in the person of Sean Connery:  Bond, James Bond.

The film called Dr. No was a departure on many levels from your usual spy/adventure stories. First, this was tongue-in-cheek (sort of) and came out of a series of Cold War novels by Ian Fleming.

As you might expect in this movie, the spies are decidedly low tech: old fashioned telephone banks are everywhere. There are no computers, and MI-5 or 6 communicates by short-wave radio with its agents.

The shocker: Bond has a license to kill and does so with the aplomb of your everyday cold-blooded sociopath. Of course, it’s all done in the name of the Queen and Country.

This movie deals with an independent terrorist organization that calls itself SPECTRE and is motivated mostly by evil and money, whichever is most handy.

The movie is lusciously filmed in Technicolor in Jamaica where Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a half-Chinese mad genius, has a nuclear power plant where his workers wear what we’d call Hazmat suits today. Yet, the whole bunch of bananas seems like parody, not far from Get Smart.

Along for the Bond ride in this first Fleming novel on the big screen is Ursula Andress in various states of undress and Jack Lord as the CIA agent (before he went Hawai 5-O on us). Wiseman’s half-Chinese villain has no hands (black prosthetics) and cream-color suits that would make Sydney Greenstreet envious.

Bond is nothing less than promiscuous and rather dangerous, and Connery is perfect as the pre-politically-correct man’s man. Don’t shake that martini. Audiences must have hooted every time that Bond music motif hit the screen. It still tingles.

We particularly like the tarantula put into Bond’s bed and crawling up Connery’s arm and back. Ah, those were the days!

In Bush League with Fictional Heroes

 ImageShane West and Sean Connery

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

We saw an Internet trifle that dismissed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen as one of the worst films in recent memory—and the movie that sent Sean Connery’s career into the downspout.

Our first reaction was, “Come again?” Then we decided we needed to see for ourselves.

The conceit for this movie endeared old English majors: the great fictional characters of the 19th century literature gather together as a band of superheroes of yesteryear. We’re game for any travesty that entertains.

And, since this screenplay is based on a graphic novel (better identified as a comic book), you can forget any notion of literary merit. The characters are shadows that not even Cliff’s Notes would recognize.

Dr. Jekyll’s alter ego is the Incredible Hulk, and Dracula’s girlfriend is Mina Harker. Dorian Gray is slightly prissy, and someone has stolen the Invisible Man’s serum. The token American is Tom Sawyer, looking 22 in 1899, making him another Dorian Gray.

Sean Connery seems a little long in the tooth for these stunts, but he looks marvelous in his wink and nod meeting with ‘M’ of the British secret service.

Put aside wit and cleverness in lieu of needless overkill and loud noise.

This is not the worst movie of the decade, merely representative of its ilk: watering down dialogue in favor of violence and twisting quality into the pretzel of popular epic.

This film did not inspire sequels with Sherlock Holmes, Natty Bumppo, and Dr. Frankenstein, other notable 19th century folk characters that were missing from this tale full of sound and fury.

It was no better than most, and no worse for the viewing as a Victorian version of X-Men or Mission Impossible’s team.

For more movies mashed up, try William Russo’s books TO SEE OR NOT TO SEE and/or MOVIE MASHUP! Both are available on Amazon.com.

Everything or Nothing: Bond, James Bond

DATELINE: Movie Mashup of James Bond

A documentary on the franchise and character of James Bond may surprise everyone and no one. From the pen of Ian Fleming to the small screen, the first Bond was Barry Nelson on TV in 1954 with Peter Lorre as the villain.

This entertaining documentary manages to pull together an epic story of productions, lawsuits, rivalries, and vastly differing philosophies of Bondage.

Touch on every key point, the film will rivet the casual Bond fan to the devotee of all those Broccoli-Saltzman films. From Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, the styles of Bond have matched the historical epoch of the 20th and 21st century, from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism.

The men who played Bond seemed touched by the experience and delighted by the opportunity. Each one left a mark on the character and the character changed the actor.

Harder to explain is the family sense of the Bond movies that exploited women, violence, and special effects to the size of enormous profits.

In the final analysis, feuds between Broccoli and Saltzman, between rival producer Kevin McClory and the Broccoli family, between Roger Moore and Sean Connery, all seem to be part of a story to savor.

Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton offer their analysis and opinions on James Bond as if to show the spectrum of appeal.

Pierce Brosnan notes that fewer men played Bond than men who walked on the Moon. It makes for a special club.

Enriched by clips and clever dialogue from the films, this movie turns out to be a guilty pleasure.