Variety posed an interesting question: If you’re remaking a classic TV series, what role — if any — does the musical theme of that series play? Should you remind the audience of the series’ origins via its music? Is it key to a marketing plan? If the theme is not iconic, should it be jettisoned altogether in favor of a new musical approach? With The Man From U.N.C.L.E. having just opened, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation still playing strongly, and The Peanuts Movie on the horizon, I talked to the composers of all three films (Daniel Pemberton, Joe Kraemer, Christophe Beck, respectively) about the importance of music from the small-screen originals.
It was a pleasure to participate in Saturday’s event celebrating The Man From U.N.C.L.E., old and new, with fans and friends at Creature Features in Burbank, Calif. Veteran special-effects artist Bob Short showcased dozens of original props, costumes and behind-the-scenes photos from the original series, and regaled us with tales of being on the set as an extra — along with his later work as consultant and gun designer for The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. I was happy to sign copies of my book The Music of James Bond and talk about producing the U.N.C.L.E. soundtrack albums.
Then on Sunday it was down to the D23 Expo in Anaheim, where I was delighted to join composer Mark Watters and Disney historian and filmmaker Dave Bossert to talk about music for animation. Bossert screened his award-winning documentary The Tunes Behind the Toons, in which Watters and I appear. Earlier in the day we attended a concert of music from Disney’s Silly Symphony series, hosted by Leonard Maltin. Here is my review of that event.
As many of you know, I have often written about music for spy films and TV. This story combines both. English composer Daniel Pemberton has scored Guy Ritchie’s new feature-film adaptation of the classic 1960s series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which opens on Aug. 14. Pemberton finds a new musical signature for the movie by incorporating all kinds of classic ’60s spy sounds from harpsichord to cimbalom and mandolin. It’s great fun, so I interviewed Pemberton about his musical choices and the unusual recording techniques he employed. (There’s also a hint about precisely where fans will discover the original Jerry Goldsmith TV theme. But just a hint.)
Bob Drasnin was one of the last of the great composers of the classic era of TV that spanned the 1950s through the 1980s. He scored everything from The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90 to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. I was proud to have included excepts from all of his U.N.C.L.E. music on the albums I produced for FSM a few years ago. In his later years he was a teacher and mentor to dozens if not hundreds of film-scoring students… and he was a nice guy with great, often very funny, stories about his years in the trenches. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; and here is a longer, more detailed appreciation of his work.
We knew her as Sarah Johnson, the beautiful, very efficient (and gun-toting) secretary in U.N.C.L.E. headquarters on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But after a handful of guest spots in ’60s TV, she ditched the acting career for a typewriter, penning some of our other favorite spy shows including Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief. Later she wrote a number of action and adventure films (including the original treatment for guilty-pleasure blaxploitation flick Truck Turner, starring Isaac Hayes). Here’s my obituary for Variety.
Jerry Goldsmith’s thrilling score is the reason I agreed to come aboard for this one. Producer Nick Redman, writer Julie Kirgo and I spent a fun morning talking about the making of this World War I movie starring George Peppard, Ursula Andress and James Mason. It’s a surprisingly good action film, looking and sounding great thanks to Twilight Time’s remastering.
I uncovered a good deal of new information in preparation for the commentary (much of which is not in any of the liner notes for the various LP or CD incarnations of the score). I was able to pinpoint the London recording dates as Friday, Saturday, and Monday, March 25, 26 and 28, 1966. And the concertmaster, interestingly enough, was David McCallum Sr., first violinist of the Royal Philharmonic and the London Philharmonic at the time. His son had achieved worldwide stardom as Illya Kuryakin on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — which had a theme by none other than Jerry Goldsmith.
A very ambitious project: Not just the first commercial release of all 105 episodes (including the uncut pilot, titled Solo), but also an attempt to go behind the scenes in several featurettes, including new interviews with stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum. This was a landmark spy series of the ’60s, a personal favorite, and it was a pleasure to do a 24-minute segment on the music of U.N.C.L.E. (as well as consulting with the producers, supplying material for the other featurettes, and writing the booklet essay on Season 4). I even supplied the photograph of Del Floria’s Tailor Shop that’s on the inside cover of the “attache case” that contains all the discs.
When I was producing the first Man From U.N.C.L.E. album, I was unaware that its fourth-season composer had passed away. I really loved Dick Shores’ music, not only for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but also for The Wild Wild West, It Takes a Thief, Hawaii Five-0 and other series of the 1960s and ’70s. I met him in 1991 and had a fun time at his house. I was astonished that there were no obituaries and his death had seemingly gone unnoticed. I decided at that point to write a long chronicle of his life and career, which begins here, continues here and concludes here. His daughter and her family were wonderfully cooperative and supplied some of the photos that accompany these pieces. I took the color shot that tops the final piece.
The release of the misbegotten film version of I Spy served as a springboard for a piece about why filmmakers can’t seem to get big-screen versions of classic ’60s spy shows right. Detective-show historian Ric Meyers, veteran TV critic Matt Roush and pop-culture specialist Robert J. Thompson all chimed in when I called. I was irritated by the trashing of The Wild Wild West, The Avengers and Mission: Impossible — and worried about what might happen with a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie (see Roush’s great quote at the end).