Goldfinger’s 50th anniversary: the golden touch

Sean Connery and Honor Blackman projected onto the iconic "Golden Girl."

Sean Connery, Honor Blackman and the “Golden Girl.”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Goldfinger, the third James Bond film.

Where Dr. No and From Russia With Love were wildly successful, Goldfinger turned 007 into a phenomenon. Where the first two films were escapist, Goldfinger was outlandish — a woman killed with gold paint, a car equipped with an ejector seat, machine guns and other weaponry, a plot to invade Fort Knox and a henchman who killed people by throwing a steel-rimmed hat at them.

Audiences could not get enough. Worldwide, Goldfinger’s box office was 58 percent higher ($124.9 million) than the box office of From Russia With Love ($78.9 million). In the U.S., Goldfinger’s box office more than doubled that of its 007 predecessor ($51.1 million compared with $24.8 million).

Sean Connery had become a star as Bond, his status confirmed by having his name “above the title” in the main credits. In the first two films, it was “Starring Sean Connery” immediately after the name of the movies was shown.

As noted here before, Goldfinger was the tide that lifted all boats of the 1960s spy craze.

In the U.S., The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which had struggled in the ratings early in its run, rallied around the time Goldfinger made its American debut. By the fall of 1965, spy shows would be a major attraction on U.S. television.

In theaters, Bond’s success encouraged both wildly escapist films (the Flint and Matt Helm series) and the occasional serious, “anti-Bond” film (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The Ipcress File, the later produced by 007 co-producer Harry Saltzman and having several 007 production crew members aboard.).

Television commercials likewise were inspired by Goldfinger and 007. Harold Sakata, who played henchman Oddjob, starring in a series of spots for cough medicine. Butterfinger candy bars had a spot that utilized the hit John Barry-Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley Goldfinger title song.

The movie has been analyzed in many, many places, including five years ago at this blog. It was a difficult film to script, with Richard Maibaum, and later, Paul Dehn tackling storytelling issues in Ian Fleming’s novel. The final script turned Fleming’s longest novel into a tight film that ran below two hours.

In the 21st century, some Bond fans will say Goldfinger isn’t the best 007 movie. Some even say they’ve seen it so many times they’re really not sure they can watch it again.

Still, whatever one’s opinion, Goldfinger changed everything in the 007 universe. For years, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman sought “another” Goldfinger. Richard Maibaum’s first take on Diamonds Are Forever included Goldfinger’s twin brother, an idea that was rejected.

You can make the case that various 007 films are better. Some fans cite From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale and Skyfall among them. But Goldfinger, because of its impact not only on the 007 franchise but on other popular entertainment, may be the most important.

Early 1962: Dr. No’s script takes shape Part I

Sean Connery in Dr. No

Sean Connery in Dr. No

By early 1962, the screenwriters of Dr. No finished their fifth draft of a script adapting Ian Fleming’s novel. That draft, dated 8-January-1962, greatly resembles the film that would ultimately premier that fall. But there were still elements that either got dropped or significantly altered during production.

What follows is a summary based on a copy supplied by Bond collector Gary Firuta.

The draft’s title page lists Richard Maibaum, Wolf Mankowitz and J.M. Harwood as the writers and Harry Broccoli and A.R. Broccoli as producers. The production company name is listed as Eon Film Productions Ltd., later shortened to Eon Productions.

The early sequences are very similar to the final product, but scenes have additional dialogue than would make the final cut.

In the stage directions, John Strangways, R.N. (ret.) is described as “Carribean Universal Exports Agent, or, less discreetly, the local representative of the British Secret Service. He is a tall, lean man with a black patch over his right eye, and the sort of acquiline good looks associated with the bridge of a destroyer.”

The bridge game at the Queen’s Club includes an exchange after Strangways departs the bridge game for his daily call from headquarters. Potter, one of the players, asks, “What is his wretched Company, anyway?” Professor Dent replies, “He’s the Carribean Agent for Universal Exports…”

In the script, Strangways realizes, too late, he’s in danger. “The tapping of the sticks” of the supposedly three blind men “ceases. STRANGWAYS turns partially back to the, the moment of silence registering.” (Yes, there appears to be a dropped word.) The stage directions specify Strangways is hit between the shoulders, small of the back and the pelvis. The driver says, “Hurry it up, boys…” rather than the “Hurry, man, hurry!” of the final film. Meanwhile, inside the hearse, the killers put on “roomy black alpaca coats” and replace their baseball caps with black top hats.

At Strangways house, Mary Prescott, “STRANGWAYS’ secretary and No. 2,” is described as “a striking-looking young woman despite her tailored dress.” As described in the stage directions, she only sees one of the assassins before she dies.

As in the final film, the scene switches to London. The script references “the M.I.6. building, a square eight-storey structure near Regent’s Park.” An operator even says, “Urgent. M.I.6. RT Control.”

We’re then off to Le Cercle Casino. On page 10, the stage directions refer to SYLVIA TRENCHARD, who is “willowly exquisitely gowned with a classic, deceptively cold beauty. The stage directions say at first she is playing the “MAN” As the game progresses, it’s specified “we have still not seen” the Man. He is then identified as BOND when he “takes a cigarette from a flat gun-metal case on the table besides him.”

The game continues. On page 11, Sylvia introduces herself as “Trench…Sylvia Trench.” Bond lights her cigarette.

SYLVIA
And I admire your luck, Mr….?

BOND
(as he brings the lighter up to his own cigarette, and for the first time we see his face.)
Bond….James Bond.

TO BE CONTINUED

Repeat after me, ‘Writing a James Bond movie is hard’

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

Bond 24 writer, err co-writer, John Logan

John Logan is learning a lesson that the likes of Paul Haggis, Bruce Feistein, Jeffrey Caine and Michael France learned before him. Writing a James Bond movie is hard.

You can be a hero one day (Logan after Skyfall, Feirstein after GoldenEye, Haggis after Casino Royale) and out the door the next (Feirstein for a period during Tomorrow Never Dies until he got asked back, Haggis after Quantum of Solace).

Screenwriting in general is tough. If you’re in demand, you make a lot of money. If you’re not, it can be humbling. Studios make fewer, more expensive movies. With the stakes so high, there are all sorts of people — directors, stars, studio executives — looking over your shoulder. Bond movies take it a step further. You have the Broccoli-Wilson family, which has controlled the franchise for more than a half century. They have definite ideas of what they like and don’t like.

Screenwriters don’t tally up a lot of multiple 007 screen credits. An Oscar winner such as Paul Dehn had only one. Other one-time only scribes include John Hopkins. Roald Dahl and Michael France. Some writers toil without even getting a credit, such as Len Deighton and Donald E. Westlake, hardly slouches as authors.

All of which is a long way of saying it’s remarkable that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have been summoned, according to Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail, for a sixth turn writing a James Bond movie, taking over for Logan, who, in turn, rewrote their script for Skyfall. The only writer who has more Bond screenwriting credits is Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) with 13. Maibaum had the advantage of a long-standing relationship with producer Albert R. Broccoli.

Maibuam and the Purvis-Wade team have one thing in common. They’ve taken their share of flak over the years. The British film historian Adrian Turner, in a 1998 book about Goldfinger, made it clear he didn’t think much of Maibaum, painting Dehn as the one who brought the Goldfinger script into shape. Purvis and Wade, meanwhile, get criticized on Internet message boards and social media by some fans as hacks. It helps to have a thick skin.

Feirstein, Haggis and Logan were the final writers on three significant 007 hits: GoldenEye (reviving the franchise after a six-year hiatus), Casino Royale (a reboot of the franchise) and Skyfall (the first billion-dollar Bond film). They got invited back but in the cases of Feirstein and Haggis it was hardly easy going. Something similar may be going on with Logan. He was hired to write a two-film story arc, but that plan got scrapped as part of the price to get Skyfall director Sam Mendes back for Bond 24.

The situation undoubtedly is even more complicated and can only really be appreciated by those who’ve gone through the same grind. But the basic lesson still stands. It’s hard to write a James Bond movie.

Moonraker’s 35th: when outer space belonged to 007

moonrakerposter

June marks the 35th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer. Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967’s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit. This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

MI6 Confidential features Armstrong, Picker in new issue

David Picker

David Picker

MI Confidential is out with A NEW ISSUE that, among things, includes features on stuntman/second unit director Vic Armstrong and former United Artists executive David V. Picker.

Armstrong worked on the 007 film series in such films as You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was interviewed for John Cork-directed documentaries about those movies, providing some behind-the-scenes perspective about how stunts were performed. From 1997-2002, Armstrong assumed the helm as stunt coordinator and second unit director for three Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan.

Picker was among the UA executives who reached a deal in 1961 with producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to get the 007 film series started. His memoirs were published last year, including A CHAPTER ON THE BOND FILM SERIES.

Also included in the issue are stories about Lana Wood and her experiences filming Diamonds Are Forever and Ian Fleming’s taste in cars.

The price for MI Confidential No. 25 is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros. For more information about the contents or to order, CLICK HERE.

Licence to Kill’s 25th: 007 flops in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Licence to Kill, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series; the last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum participated in the writing; it was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye); it was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder; and the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first that was an unqualified flop in the U.S. market.

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has almost always been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend, coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero but that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens for another six years. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters. In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights.

Licence to Kill did better in other markets. Still, Licence’s $156.2 million in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary: 007’s sacrificial lamb

goldengunposter

Normally, we’d have waited to do a post about The Man With The Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary. But with this week’s passing of co-director of photography Oswald Morris, this is as good a time to examine the ninth James Bond film.

Let’s face it: Golden Gun doesn’t get a lot of love among James Bond fans or even professionals. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.” The 1974 film is a way for the makers of 007 films to establish they’re really talking candidly, that not every Bond film has been an unqualified success.

The latter point is true enough. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

This is not to argue that Golden Gun is the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that everybody likes to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t exactly demanding candor. But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it’s never going to get much love in the 007 community.

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