In what is probably the biggest casting surprise of the year, Robert Redford is talks to appear in Marvel Studio’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Deadline is reporting that the iconic actor will be playing a ranking official in the spy organization SHIELD, which is run in the Marvel films by Samuel L. Jackson’s Col. Nick Fury. Marvel has not yet commented on the report.
Redford has been in a number of films that make him a good fit for the film’s tone, which studio honcho Kevin Feige has described as “political thriller.”
Although there is no firm word about the components of the deal, I would not be surprised if Redford was signed for appearances in multiple, to-be-named-as-they-go films, so we may see Redford appearing in The Avengers 2, Ant-Man, Iron Man 4 or any other film the studio has in development.
Equally vague is the character whom Redford will be playing. All we have to go on is that he has “a senior leadership role in SHIELD.” While discussing the casting with our Comic Book Film editor William Gatevackes suggested that he might be playing an older, “slow-aged” Dum-Dum Dugan, noting a resemblance between Redford and Neal McDonough, who played World War Two-era Dum-Dum in the 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger. (In one of the deleted scenes on the Avengers blu-ray we see Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, looking through the dossiers of his old WWII buddies and seeing that of some of them had died while he was in suspended animation, but Dum-Dum Dugan’s file isn’t seen.)
Joe and Anthony Russo are directing the film from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is scheduled for release on April 4, 2014.
In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we’ll look at Superman’s return to the movie screen.
Jaws showed us that a blockbuster could make a lot of money in the summer. Star Wars taught us genre films could do very well at the summer box office. So, it was natural that audiences would be clamoring to see if a man could fly…again. And in the 1970s, Ilya and Alexander Salkind knew the exact way to turn Superman into a summer blockbuster success—make it as campy as possible, just like that Batman TV show.
For those of you who have seen Superman, you’ll know that it wasn’t all that campy. Well, anytime that Otis came on the screen, maybe, but overall, no. There’s a story behind that. It didn’t come out in the summer either, but that’s part of the story, too.
Superman was one of the first films I remember seeing as a child. Even though the film came out in December of 1978, I remember seeing it in the summer. It was at a local drive-in, so, maybe the summer of 1979? I remember my dad packed up our blue Ford Mercury station wagon, put a huge orange and white cooler full of RC Cola in the back, and drove me and my mom to the drive-in. I remember the comic book opening. I remember Marlon Brando’s big head staring at me as we walked to the concession stand. And I remember being flat out captivated.
The reason for this has to do with director Richard Donner, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, and, especially, the unknown actor chosen for the lead. But it was a long road before they got there.
The Salkinds acquired the rights to Superman in 1974 and began their master plan to get it on the big screen. They went to screenwriters William Goldman and Alfred Bester before hiring Mario Puzo, he of The Godfather fame, to write the script for two movies which they would film simultaneously. Puzo delivered a 550-page script for the two films combined. The task of whittling it down fell to husband and wife team David and Leslie Newman, with some early assistance from Robert Benton. Directors ranging from Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Richard Lester, Sam Peckinpah and William Friedkin were approached before the producers settled on Guy Hamilton as director.
This might have happened if Eastwood was willing to take the role.
Gene Hackman was cast as Lex Luthor and Marlon Brando cast as Superman’s birth father, Jor-El. But the lead role was harder to cast. Any man between the ages of 28 and 55 who had a modicum of fame in the early to mid 1970s was considered for the role. Some choices were intriguing (Muhammad Ali), some were obvious (Steve McQueen, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood), some were mind-numbingly bad (Neil Diamond, Charles Bronson, Arnold Schwarzenegger). As interesting as some of those choices were, it is hard to think of anyone but Christopher Reeve in the role. However, the only reason he was even considered was because of problems Marlon Brando and Guy Hamilton had with the shooting locations.
The film was originally set to shoot in Italy. This was bad for Brando because he had an arrest warrant out for him in the country due to his role in Last Tango in Paris. The production was then moved to England, which was bad for Brit Hamilton because he was living as a tax exile from the country, and couldn’t set foot in the country for longer than 30 days. In a sign of which one was more important, the production was moved to England and Hamilton was out of a job.
The producers chose Richard Donner as a replacement because they liked his work on The Omen. When Donner signed on, one of his first orders of business was to rewrite the script that was provided to him. Donner felt the script was too campy. He hired Mankiewicz to rework the piece into something more somber and serious (due to Writer’s Guild regulations, Donner couldn’t give Mankiewicz credit for writing the new script. He made him an “executive consultant” instead). Donner’s next decision was to cast an unknown in the role of Superman, thinking a star would be too distracting in the role.
Finding a relative unknown would be a difficult process. Hundreds of candidates were auditioned, including Christopher Walken and Nick Nolte, but with no luck. Donner and Salkind decided to test a 25-year-old actor whose audition packet had been recommended to them no less than three times before. Christopher Reeve’s main claim to fame was co-starring with Katharine Hepburn in the short-lived Broadway comedy, A Matter of Gravity, but he was a classically trained actor. A meeting with Donner and Salkind set up a screen test, and the screen test got him the job.
It’s easy to beatify Reeve because of his unfortunate health issues at the latter part of his life and his tragic death, but it is not hyperbole to say that many comic fans consider him to be THE Superman. He had the square-jawed, All–American look to him, with just a touch of something alien about him. His Superman was wholesome without ever being corny. His Clark Kent was fumbling and clumsy without losing dignity. He played both roles in such a way that us theatergoers who had the inside information would obviously know they are the same man, but that the other characters in the film would not. That kind of balancing act takes skill and talent. Reeve did it superbly. It is an underrated performance from and underrated actor.
For the role of Lois Lane, Donner would choose Margot Kidder over actresses such as Stockard Channing, Anne Archer and Lesley Ann Warren (who portrayed Lois in the TV adaptation of the Broadway musical, It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman). With his cast set, Donner went immediately to work on the film. And that film was…Superman II.
Next time, the Superman soap opera continues as Donner’s decision to film the sequel first leads to friction between Donner and the Salkinds and to there being two Superman II’s.
In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, we’ll focus how Star Wars went from not being a comic book movie to being a comic book movie.
It seems hard to believe that there ever was a time when putting the words Star Wars on something wasn’t the equivalent of printing money. But that wasn’t always the case. As a matter of fact, the thought of putting up the first Star Wars film was a dicey proposition.
You had George Lucas, a talented yet unproven writer/director with only two films to his name—THX1138 and American Graffiti. He was creating the big space opera that many studio executives didn’t get. It promised to be a big budget production, which scared off many studios. Theaters weren’t that willing to carry the movie, considering that the biggest stars on screen were Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing. Sure, you had Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds daughter in the film and James Earl Jones doing a voice, but it wasn’t like you had Paul Newman and Robert Redford in the film. Some theater owners had to be blackmailed into carrying the film by Fox threatening to withhold the then highly anticipated adaptation of Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight.
So, before it came out, Star Wars wasn’t a slam dunk guaranteed success. But Lucas and his staff came up with an ingenious way of promoting the film—comic books. They created a pitch and presented their case to Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee. Marvel would get the rights to publish a comic book based on Star Wars with the only catch being that they would have to publish two issues of the six-issue adaptation of the film before the film was released (to generate buzz amongst comic fans for the film). Lee, being a prudent businessman, did the smart and logical thing.
He told them no. He flat out denied their request.
Perhaps it was due to Lee’s aversion to licensed properties (Roy Thomas had to beg him to agree to license Conan the Barbarian, a property that became a best-seller for Marvel). Or maybe Lee knew that Marvel, a company that was experiencing an uncertain future due to declining sales and a shaky corporate parent in the Cadence Industries, wouldn’t want to risk taking a chance on a science-fiction property (which didn’t sell well in the renewed age of the superhero comic) adapted from a film (which were seldom high sellers, even if the source film was a hit, which there was serious doubt that Star Wars would be). So Lee said no and when he killed an idea, the idea stayed dead.
Unless, that is, Roy Thomas could convince him otherwise.
Roy Thomas was a respected writer and editor and was Stan’s handpicked successor to become Editor-In-Chief at Marvel when Lee stepped down from the position. Thomas had just resigned as EIC himself to focus on writing when Lucas contacted him through a mutual acquaintance. The acquaintence set up a meeting between Thomas and Lucas’ right hand man, Charley Lippincott, to try once more to get the comic book up and running. Thomas agreed to listen to the pitch with little intention of approving the concept. First, he wasn’t EIC anymore, so he couldn’t get it approved without Stan Lee’s approval and, second, Stan had already passed on it, which made it essentially a moot issue.
Lippincott began telling Thomas the plot of the film, armed with the now famous production drawings of Ralph McQuarrie. He got halfway through the presentation when Thomas stopped him. He had heard all he needed to hear.
Thomas was sold. He saw potential in the story. The film might not do that good, but it would make a great comic book. He immediately went to Stan and convinced him to change his mind. He did and same as Stan rejecting an idea would kill it dead, his approving an idea meant it got published—even if the people working at Marvel were dead against it.
How did the comic do? I’ll let Jim Shooter, editor at Marvel at the time, explain:
The first two issues of our six (?) issue adaptation came out in advance of the movie. Driven by the advance marketing for the movie, sales were very good. Then about the time the third issue shipped, the movie was released. Sales made the jump to hyperspace.
And the title kept on selling. The film was a cultural phenomenon. People lined up around the block just to get into a showing from the day it was released. Theaters that wanted to have nothing to do with the film were now clamoring to house the film as it expanded into wider release. And this adaptation that almost never got made ended up saving Marvel.
The Comic Book Jabba
Star Wars has been published in comics form ever since. Marvel published 107 issues of the series over the next nine years. It adapted Empire Strikes Back in its pages and gave fans its first look at Jabba the Hutt (who Marvel artists drew to resemble a green rabbit/walrus hybrid, not the slug-like Jabba from the films). Marvel also published an adaptation of Return of the Jedi in a separate miniseries. This miniseries got Marvel in a bit of hot water when Luke Skywalker himself, comic fan Mark Hammill, walked into a comic shop and found that some enterprising comic shop owner had started selling the miniseries before not only the predetermined street date but also before the sequel hit movie screens. Ironic that Marvel was getting into trouble for something the studio made them do at the start of the relationship, isn’t it?
The success of the Star Wars comic book not only kept Marvel afloat during a tough time, but allowed them to develop the right creators on the right titles that would give them the lead in market share. Pairings such as Chris Claremont and John Byrne on the X-Men, Frank Miller on Daredevil, Byrne on Fantastic Four, and Walt Simonson on Thor.
The Star Wars license is now at Dark Horse Comics and is a great contributor to that company’s bottom line. But none of it would have happened if Roy Thomas hadn’t taken a chance on the property years earlier. Star Wars might not have been adapted from a comic, but it did appear in comics before it appeared in movie theaters. And I think that’s worthy of inclusion here.
Next up, you will believe a man can fly. Because the actor playing the man is exceptionally super.
Bonus, another form of Star Wars marketing from the era!