Spielberg Dumps Matt Helm for Big Bunny

(Aug. 3, 2009)  Secret agent Matt Helm, last seen on the big screen in 1969 defeating “The Wrecking Crew,” may return to cinemas in a big-budget Paramount film, a film that briefly was expected to be helmed by Steven Spielberg.

Project was in development at Spielberg’s Dreamworks company when it was berthed at Paramount, but was left behind as part of the Dreamworks-Par divorce settlement. Spielberg apparently is obligated to produce the film. His interest in directing was revived when noted screenwriter Paul Attanasio turned in a new script.

Notoriously cheap Paramount reportedly was torn between signing almost-guaranteed hit-maker Spielberg to direct what could launch a boffo series of new Helm adventures and having to pay Spielberg his customary huge fee and percentage of the gross. The decision is moot since Spielberg announced his next project will not be the Helm picture but a remake of “Harvey,” the 1950 film about a pixilated fellow (played by Jimmy Stewart in the fondly remembered original) whose best pal is a giant invisible rabbit. Par still has high hopes for Helm and will seek another director.

Author Donald Hamilton created Matt Helm in his 1960 novel “Death of a Citizen,” and wrote 27 Helm stories over the next four decades. The four pics released by Columbia in the 1960s starring Dean Martin as Helm had virtually nothing to do with Hamilton’s novels. Helm was transformed into Martin’s established boozehound-playboy character in screenplays that broadly spoofed the 60s spy craze exemplified by the James Bond movies.

While Ian Fleming gave Bond a license to kill in the course of his duties, Hamilton made Helm an out and out assassin employed by the United States government. Ironically, a new Matt Helm movie will be far more faithful to Hamilton’s character since it will undoubtedly emulate the hyperkinetic, hyper-violent and hyper-gloomy “Bourne Identity” and its sequels — films so successful that even the Bond movies now imitate them.

McCartney Finally Sort of Clears Up

‘Live and Let Die’ Lyrics, Maybe

(July 30, 2009)  Music legend Paul McCartney, out promoting his summer concerts, was interviewed by The Washington Post’s sharp entertainment reporter Paul Farhi, who dared to ask the question on the minds of every James Bond fan for more than 30 years now: what’s up with those “Live and Let Die” lyrics?

The fascinating interview, published July 30 in the Post, posed the question of just what that grammatically challenged line in the song really says: “this ever changing world in which we live in”; or is it possibly “in which we’re living”?

McCartney’s answer: He’s not sure himself. “It’s funny. There’s too many ‘ins.’ I’m not sure. I’d have to actually look…I think it’s ‘in which we’re living.’ Or it could be ‘in which we live in.’ And that’s kind of, sort of, wronger but cuter.”

Wronger but cuter is what most Bond fans always assumed McCartney was aiming for when he went into preposition overload on that line. That is, when we weren’t laughing at the “you know you did, you know you did, you know you did” chorus. For those who’ve forgotten, the song was publicly unveiled during the cute one’s ABC television special “James Paul McCartney” on April 16, 1973, two months before the movie was released. Jaws dropped all over the country as we heard the first James Bond title song written and performed by a rock star (while clips of Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond also were seen for the first time).

There was talk that McCartney would only write the song, not actually perform it in the movie, but of course having Paul McCartney and Wings on the soundtrack was too good a promotional opportunity to pass up. Easily arranged, too, once Beatles producer George Martin inexplicably got the scoring gig for the film. John Barry, the incomparably talented composer who literally invented spy music as we knew and loved it in the early Bond films, took a pass on “Live and Let Die.”

Unfortunately, the precedent set resulted in Barry later being forced to “collaborate” with the likes of Duran Duran and “a-ha” (whose idea of smart lyric writing was “ooh, ooh ooh ooh, the living daylights”), as well as the aural atrocities passed off as title songs in the last half-dozen Bond films (musical decision-making being so obviously in the hands of the studio marketing department since Cubby Broccoli’s death).

As for the line from “Live and Let Die,” we went to the unimpeachable source — the published sheet music, which reads, “But if this ever changing world in which we live in / makes you give in and cry / say live and let die.”

Wronger but cuter it is.