Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Misses By That Much

THE NUDE BOMB was ahead of its time in one way. In 1979, when it was filmed, it was extremely unusual for Hollywood to remake old television shows as motion pictures, and even more rare for the film to reunite the original cast and/or creators. When THE NUDE BOMB, which brings Don Adams as GET SMART's bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart to the big screen, was being filmed, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE was just preparing for its national release—and that film was considered a sure hit, because of STAR TREK's rabid fan base. While GET SMART had been a successful sitcom—four seasons on NBC and one on CBS—and had been in syndicated reruns for the ten years since its 1970 cancellation, it still seems to have been an unusual choice for a big-screen revamp.

Where Universal went right with THE NUDE BOMB was to bring back Adams, of course, as well as Leonard B. Stern and Arne Sultan, who were valuable writers and producers of the GET SMART series and penned the screenplay along with Bill Dana, a talented actor, comedian and writer who "discovered" Adams when the young standup comic portrayed a clumsy detective on the 1963 sitcom THE BILL DANA SHOW. Where the studio screwed up is not bringing back everybody else involved with the series. Actor Edward Platt, who portrayed the beleaguered Chief of CONTROL, was dead, but the absence of Barbara Feldon, the fine comedienne who played "straight woman" to Adams, is a glaring goof-up. I'm perplexed why Feldon didn't co-star in THE NUDE BOMB—she claims she was never offered the part of Max's sexy sidekick (and eventual wife) Agent 99—and the three actresses hired to replace her—Andrea Howard (as Agent 22), Sylvia Kristel (as Agent 34) and Pamela Hensley (as Agent 35)—beautiful as they may be, don't add up to 99.

Oddly, not even CONTROL is featured in THE NUDE BOMB. Now, Smart (Agent 86, of course) works for an organization called PITS, and it's unclear whether the Chief (now played by Dana Elcar) is supposed to be the same character who ran CONTROL in the 1960s. THE NUDE BOMB is not a successful film, but it almost works somehow. Adams steps back into character smoothly enough, but the script lacks the wit and satire of the TV show. Whereas GET SMART creators Buck Henry and Mel Brooks were spoofing the incompetence of the CIA and government, THE NUDE BOMB is content to mock James Bond movies, which were already gross parodies of themselves at this point (the execrable MOONRAKER, which THE NUDE BOMB's opening copies, came out the year before). The intent is clear from the opening titles, which play behind a terrible Bondian theme song, penned by Don Black and Lalo Schifrin and performed by Merry Clayton, that has nothing to do with GET SMART and everything to do with mocking 007. Would you believe the memorable Irving Szathmary theme from the TV series isn't reprised once in Schifrin's score?

Smart is the only agent who can save the world after mad fashion designer St. Sauvage (Vittorio Gassman) creates missiles that destroy all fabrics and threatens to force the world to face its own nekkiditity if the United Nations doesn't pay up. Someone inside PITS is a double agent feeding inside info to St. Sauvage's one-eyed, one-armed, one-legged assassin, Nino Salvatore Sebastiani (also Gassman), who keeps failing in his efforts to bump off Smart. Without 99 by his side, the Chief gives Max a squad of assistants, including the three sexpots mentioned earlier, brother/sister computer experts (Gary Imhoff, Sarah Rush) and Q stand-in Carruthers (Norman Lloyd).

More money for stunts, special effects and locations might have helped director Clive Donner open GET SMART up for the big screen. A big chase scene through the Universal Studios theme park comes back to bite Donner later, when another chase that's supposed to be set someplace else is also obviously filmed on the Universal lot. The plot takes 86 to Austria, Washington, D.C. and New York City, though the film clearly never leaves Southern California. Likewise, the big action setpiece that closes the movie has the germ of a good idea—clones of Sauvage and Smart fighting each other in an exploding laboratory—but obvious doubles and lethargic staging fail to give the climax the pizzazz it needs.

THE NUDE BOMB was shown on television (and possibly home video) as THE RETURN OF MAXWELL SMART. It's not very good, but GET SMART, AGAIN!, a made-for-television reunion made for ABC in 1989, is. Unlike THE NUDE BOMB, the TV-movie was smart enough to bring back Feldon as 99, as well as fellow GET SMART actors Bernie Kopell (as KAOS baddie Siegfried), Dick Gautier (as robot Hymie), King Moody (Shtarker) and Dave Ketchum (Joey Forman played the part of Agent 13 in THE NUDE BOMB). Besides Adams, Robert Karvelas as Larrabee is the only GET SMART actor to appear in both film sequels.

Adams and Feldon returned to their most famous television roles in—what else—GET SMART, which was the title of a shortlived Fox sitcom in 1995 that cast Andy Dick (NEWSRADIO) as the Smarts' bumbling secret agent son Zach and teamed him with sexy but smart agent 66 (Elaine Hendrix). Sound familiar? Adams, who served in the Marines and fought at Guadalcanal during World War II, died in 2005, but his legacy lives on, not just in syndication and on DVD (the original GET SMART series, the Fox series, THE NUDE BOMB and GET SMART, AGAIN! are all available), but also in the 2008 "reimagining," which stars THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN's Steve Carell as Smart, Anne Hathaway (THE PRINCESS DIARIES) as 99, Alan Arkin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) as the Chief and Terence Stamp (THE LIMEY) as the Chief.

1 comment:

Zokko said...

I agree with your comments about 'The Nude Bomb'. It still has more laughs than the 'Austin Powers' films combined though.