A Bond for all seasons; how 007 endures

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming


By Nicolás Suszczyk

Who was the best James Bond? Which is the Best Bond film?

We often ask and we often fight in boards, Facebook groups, Twitter posts, etc. Want to know my answer? Pierce Brosnan and GoldenEye. Still, I get along with every Bond and every film very well, despite those I don’t like very much, i.e. Quantum of Solace.

But besides many people are a child of their generation or relate to their favorite Bond actor/film to his first memories, there are many reasons to consider every 007 film was great and every Bond actor was unique. They represented a particular time in society.

Back in 2005, Daniel Craig was the most “hated” newcomer James Bond -– mainly thanks to the Internet and the famous CraigNotBond.com site. We can remember Daniel wasn’t only criticized for his looks but for representing an opposition to the style set by Pierce Brosnan in four James Bond films, a style reminiscent to the Roger Moore era with typical “save the world” and “get the girl” plots with a pinch of drama.

But Craig promised a grittier and tougher Bond, his muscular body giving us a hint of that, and fans couldn’t really get it.

It is funny to see what happens now, with Daniel Craig being established as a successful 007 after three films: Casino Royale, his follow-up Quantum of Solace and the Academy Award winning Skyfall, also the most successful Bond film to date. Now there are lots of people out there blaming the Pierce Brosnan era calling his Bond “weak”, “without charm” and with “stupid plots”.

This makes me think and evaluate every Bond and Bond film not as standalone plots or just thinking about the actor, but going beyond the film and actor and thinking of the sociopolitical/cultural era they were released. Why does Bond battle a media-tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies? Why does Bond go to outer space in Moonraker? Why the Miami Vice-style villains and plot in Licence to Kill?

The answer is simple: the era in which the film was released.

It’s perfectly logical Bond has to face a guy like Franz Sánchez: his American friend works with the DEA, he was captured and tortured, his wife killed, Bond seeks revenge on his own –- and obviously, Auric Goldfinger won’t be his villain, he’ll have to face a ruthless drug dealer with his butchers. The same way a man obsessed with increasing his value of gold won’t be a drug dealer in 1964. In 1989, you could obviously expect plots like Miami Vice or Die Hard.

Of course, if Star Wars rings a bell to you, then you’d understand why 007 went to outer space in 1979, the same way in 1997 communications and technology were involving every day and you could create a war using mass media – oh, by the way, remember how the media was involved in the Gulf War from the 1990s?

Ian Fleming began writing his novels in the early ‘50s and the Broccoli-Saltzman duo adapted the plots to the ‘60s, respecting the standards set by the British spy, journalist and author, but making them suitable for the time we were living.

That’s why Goldfinger tries to irradiate Fort Knox and ties the secret agent to a laser beam instead of stealing the gold or using a buzz-saw. The same reason the guano plot from Dr. No the novel is no match for the rocket toppling the evil doctor plans in the 1962 film. And of course, the abundance of girls had to be there (the swinging ‘60s) in the first Bond cinematic adventure, instead of letting Honey Ryder being the only girl in the whole adventure.

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

Fifty years later, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli go straight the same way: they respect the origins of the character, but they also give a look at the times we’re living. Plenty of situations in Casino Royale and Skyfall were lifted from the Fleming books: Bond’s “death” at the end of You Only Live Twice with M’s obit, the Glencoe settings where Fleming tells us Bond was born, and 007’s decadent situation and re-shaped for duty just like at the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun.

We all have our hearts, people. Mine is, of course, with that first glance at the GoldenEye film and game and the cardboard Tomorrow Never Dies standee I came across at a shopping mall being a kid in the ‘90s. That was “James Bond” for me as today “James Bond” is what people see in Skyfall or what my parents or my uncle watched in the Roger Moore era (some of them still complaining about the few gadgets in Quantum of Solace).

But Bond was made for all seasons. Perhaps that’s why we all get the “James Bond Will Return” credit at the end of every film!

Our modest proposal for a James Bond-related movie

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

This weekend in the U.S., Saving Mr. Banks, a telling of the behind-the-scenes turmoil during the making of 1964′s Mary Poppins, is out. Generally, movie makers love to make movies about their industry. So why not a movie based on how James Bond made it to the screen?

There certainly were moments of drama that occurred before 007 made it to the screen in 1962′s Dr. No. The meeting where Irving Allen, then the partner of Albert R. Broccoli, ridicules the Bond novels to Ian Fleming’s face. The ticking clock as Harry Saltzman strained to make a deal with a studio before his six-month option on the bulk of the 007 novels expired. How the producers and United Artists wrangled about who to cast to play Fleming’s gentleman agent with a license to kill.

Such a project likely would face complications. It’d be easiest for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in partnership with Sony. Saving Mr. Banks was released by Walt Disney Co., which meant it was no problem to use clips from Mary Poppins in a sequence about the movie’s world premier. However, an MGM-Sony combo would need to proceed cautiously, not wanting to alienate Eon Productions, which actually produces the 007 movies.

One possible vehicle to do a “being the scenes of 007″ movie would be to acquire the screen rights of one-time United Artists executive David V. Picker’s memoir, which includes a chapter on the Bond movies and how they came to be. One possible scenario for a movie would be show how things came to be through Picker’s eyes.

Don’t hold your breath for such a movie (or even TV movie). But it would have the potential to be an entertaining film.

What if the early 007 films had Marvel-style teasers?

drnoposter

Thor: The Dark World was the No. 1 movie at the U.S. box office this weekend with an estimated $86.1 million in ticket sales. It also continues the Marvel movie tradition, begun with 2008′s Iron Man, of having a teaser in the end titles for future film adventures.

By now, such teasers occur not only in the films made by Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Studios. They’ve also become part of movies made by other studios, such as X-Men at 20th Century Fox and Spider-Man made at Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures.

So what would have been like if the early James Bond movies had such teasers? It was a different time back then, of course. Still, it might have gone something like this.

DR. NO

After the end titles roll, the screen goes black. We CUT TO:

INT.-DAY-BLOFELD’S OFFICE
BLOFELD, whose face, we can not see, is at his desk, petting his cat. The telephone RINGS and he answers.

BLOFELD
What’s that? Dr. No is dead? How?
(a beat)
Well, that makes me quite displeased. We should take note of this Mr. Bond.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

After the end titles roll, the screen goes black. We CUT TO:

INT.-DAY-M’S OFFICE
M is at his desk, smoking his pipe. His telephone RINGS and he answers.

M
Hello. What’s that? Unauthorized leakages? Involving gold? But why should it involve my deprtment?
(a beat)
Oh, I see. I’ll get our best man on it at once. He’s due back quite soon.

GOLDFINGER

INT.-DAY-BLOFELD’S OFFICE
Blofeld, whose face we still cannot see, is at his desk, petting his cat. The telephone rings and he answers.

BLOFELD
Yes, Number 2? Ah….splendid. Yes, please proceed. This will be the largest operation SPECTRE has ever undertaken. I am depending on you to make sure it becomes a reality.

Earlier posts:

MAY 2012: THE AVENGERS: THE POWER OF PLANNING

APRIL 2013: THE FAMILY MODEL (EON) VS. THE CORPORATE MODEL (MARVEL)

David Picker discloses some 007 tidbits

David Picker

David Picker


David V. Picker, the former United Artists executive, provides some interesting behind-the-scenes 007 background in his memoir about his long film career.

Among them: Robert Shaw’s name surfaced in the earliest stages of casting Bond; Dr. No really cost $1.35 million, not the $1.1 million it had been budgeted for; and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman started clamoring to renegotiate their deal with UA shortly after From Russia With Love was released.

That’s all part of the James Bond chapter in MUSTS, MAYBES AND NEVERS.

“Much has been written about Bond,” Picker writes. “Until now, no one has written in detail exactly what happened, how it happened and why it happened for one simple reason: they weren’t there.” The Bond series “would not have happened had it not been for this author’s belief in their potential.”

Picker, 82, was in his early 30s and head of production for UA when it negotiated a deal with Broccoli and Saltzman in 1961. He was the only one on the UA side who had read the Ian Fleming novels. The Bond chapter in the memoir expands on comments he has made in documentaries such as Inside Dr. No and Everything Or Nothing.

Picker doesn’t provide much in the way of details about Shaw, who played Red Grant in From Russia With Love, as a potential Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman were conducting the search and UA gave the producers a lot of a leeway. UA didn’t see anything in detail until Sean Connery was presented, according to Picker’s account.

The former executive has more to say about the budget. Columbia Pictures, which had released a number of Broccoli’s U.K.-produced films in the ’50s, wasn’t enthusiastic but was willing to provide a budget of $300,000 to $400,000, according to Picker. UA agreed to the $1.1 million.

Just before the start of filming on Dr. No, the final budget from Broccoli and Saltzman was for $250,000 more. “In today’s world that may not seem like a lot of money, but then it was a very big deal,” Picker writes. The author describes some subterfuge, enlisting the help of his uncle, Arnold Picker, one of the UA partners, to get the higher budget implemented.

As the series succeeded, Broccoli and Saltzman wanted their deals re-done. UA, however, wasn’t aware of Connery’s growing unhappiness until You Only Live Twice. “United Artists relied on our producers to deal with problems on their films.”

Picker describes how he took the lead at UA to get Connery back for Diamonds Are Forever, a film he credits with saving the franchise.

Picker does make one factual error in the chapter, listing Guy Hamilton as the director of From Russia With Love, instead of Terence Young. That aside, the chapter is an interesting read. The UA side of the Bond story often doesn’t get told and Picker’s viewpoint is worth checking out.

You can CLICK HERE to check out the memoir on Amazon.com

UPDATE: Non-007 reasons to read Picker’s memoir: anecdotes about how Stanley Kramer’s first cut of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was 4:01 and the director vowed not to cut one frame; the backstory behind the movies The Beatles made for UA; how UA passed on movies such as The Graduate and American Graffiti. And much, much more.

A brief history of 007′s cars

Copyright © Evans Halshaw

1963 page from Bond: Licence to Drive

The Evans Halshaw company is a leading car and van retailer in the United Kingdom, with over 130 locations across England, Scotland, and Wales. Of much more interest to us 007 fans is that they’ve created, for their Web site, a very cool history of the cars of the screen James Bond.

Combining interesting factoids with a very slick vector graphics look, the presentation takes us all the way from the Sunbeam Alpine Sean Connery piloted in Dr. No, through Skyfall‘s Land Rover Defender (and – Spoiler Alert! – a certain Aston Martin DB 5).

James Bond fans – and motoring enthusiasts (a.k.a. car nuts) – can point their web browsers to Bond: Licence to Drive and feast their eyes.

Tell ‘em that HMSS sent ya!

(Big thanks to Laura Bailey at Online Ventures Group for tipping us to this neat little show!)

Happy 83rd birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery, circa 1963

It’s a day early but here’s wishing a happy 83rd birthday to Sean Connery (b. Aug. 25, 1930), the first screen James Bond.

Sir Sean is only seen occasionally in public these days. While his Bond work is a prominent part of his resume, he’s often noted for his non-007 work as well. If you do a SEARCH FOR HIS NAME ON IMDB.COM, it lists him as “(Actor, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989))”.

Even in the world of Bond fandom, there has been a shift. The $1.11 billion box office take of Skyfall has been cited as having the top 007 box office even adjusted for inflation, displacing Connery’s Thunderball. Many fans say the 21st century Bond films of Daniel Craig are much more sophisticated than previous films, the first Connery movies included.

Also, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions is on record as saying Daniel Craig, the current 007, is the best James Bond ever. (Click HERE, HERE and HERE.)

To be clear, nobody says “Sean Who?” But Connery and his six films for the Eon Productions series aren’t necessarily held with the same reverence as even 10 years ago. Occasionally, you’ll see some younger fans tell older ones who still hold Connery as the No. 1 007 that they need to let it go.

It’s easy to forget, however, how Connery’s Bond early movies — Dr. No through Thunderball, released annually — were a phenomenon. By the mid-1960s, in the days before home video, his 007 adventures seemed to run non-stop in theaters, whether they be new releases or double feature re-releases. Connery, aided and abetted by talented crew members, made a huge impact on popular culture.

So happy birthday, Sir Sean. The blog has posted the following before. It’s Connery’s appearance in the fall of 1965 on the CBS prime-time game show What’s My Line?

By this point, Connery was tiring of Bond and working for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Thus, Connery talks more about his other projects at the time, including The Hill, which was about to open. But during this mystery guest sequence (where blindfolded panelists try to guess the celebrity’s identity) there’s also banter about how the Bond films were constantly in theaters.

RE-POST: Ian Fleming cries U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Originally published May 2. Reposted today, May 28, the 50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s letter saying he wanted to pull out of the Solo television project.

May 1963 was an eventful month for James Bond author Ian Fleming.

It was THE MONTH that Dr. No finally reached the U.S. market after a slow rollout that began the previous October in the U.K. At last Americans, who’d heard about how President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s books, could sample the first film adaptation. Meanwhile, a second Bond film, From Russia With Love, was in production.

It was also the month that things were coming to a head with the television project that producer Norman Felton had wanted to title Ian Fleming’s Solo.

In the middle of the month, things were picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt from CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE:

Tuesday, May 14, 1963
New York entertainment lawyer Ronald S. Konecky, in a letter to Fleming, delivers his legal opinion that Solo is not an infringement on Eon’s James Bond film rights.

Tuesday, May 14, 1963

Sam Rolfe delivers five-page memo to Norman Felton outlining in print for the first time the Solo format developed to date — with an organization known as U.N.C.L.E., headed by a Mr. Allison, employing Solo and agents of all nationalities, “even Russians,” and recurrent encounters with an international criminal group called Thrush. Rolfe eliminates Doris Franklyn, who’s both a secretary to Solo’s boss and a part-time actress in the Fleming-Felton notes, adding Allison’s secretary Miss Marsidan, “who is fat, fifty and somewhat on the motherly side.”

According to the timeline compiled by Henderson, writer Rolfe agreed a few days later “to rewrite the existing Solo format, develop story ideas and make further contributions to the format.”

Meanwhile, Fleming was getting cold feet under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their company, Eon Productions. In the early 1990s. Rolfe said at an event called Spy Con that Felton told him that Fleming was scared of Saltzman in particular. (Rolfe’s talk is on a YOUTUBE VIDEO but the sound is very feint; the Saltzman anecdote is around the 17:57 mark.)

The truth of this story is hard to determine. All concerned (Fleming, Felton, Rolfe, Broccoli and Saltzman) are dead and Rolfe was told about it second hand. In any event, on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, the author wrote to the Ashley-Steiner Agency, where Phyllis Jackson, his U.S. agent worked, according to the Henderson timeline. The message: Fleming didn’t want to participate in Solo after all.

It was the beginning of the end for Ian Fleming’s Solo. Less than a month later, the author would sign away his rights to the show. Meanwhile, the James Bond films were gaining momentum and steps were being taken that would result in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. emerging in the place of Ian Fleming’s Solo.

Star Trek’s homage to Ken Adam

Ken Adam's "war room" set from Dr. Strangelove

Ken Adam’s “war room” set from Dr. Strangelove

This weekend, the No. 1 in the U.S. is Star Trek Into Darkness. The movie references the original 1966-69 television series and one of the movies in the franchise. We’ll avoid specifics. But it also has an homage to veteran production designer Ken Adam, one of the major contributors to the early James Bond films.

Early in the new Star Trek film, there’s an emergency meeting of Starfleet captains and their first officers. The meeting room is clearly influenced by Adam’s “war room” set from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Do you suppose Ken Adam will get a royalty for this scene?

Do you suppose Ken Adam will get a royalty for this scene?

For the uninitiated, Ken Adam designed the sets for the modestly budgeted first James Bond film Dr. No. Producer-cirector Stanley Kubrick, upon watching the 1962 007 film, offered Adam the job to design the sets for Dr. Strangelove. The “war room” set is among the most memorable for that 1964 film.

Adam designed the sets for seven James Bond films in all, starting with Dr. No and ending with 1979′s Moonraker. He won TWO OSCARS and was nominated for another for 1977′s The Spy Who Loved Me. Kubrick did some uncredited consulting work for Adam for the 1977 007 movie, according to the documentary Inside The Spy Who Loved Me.

May 1963: Ian Fleming cries U.N.C.L.E.

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

May 1963 was an eventful month for James Bond author Ian Fleming.

It was THE MONTH that Dr. No finally reached the U.S. market after a slow rollout that began the previous October in the U.K. At last Americans, who’d heard about how President John F. Kennedy was a fan of Fleming’s books, could sample the first film adaptation. Meanwhile, a second Bond film, From Russia With Love, was in production.

It was also the month that things were coming to a head with the television project that producer Norman Felton had wanted to title Ian Fleming’s Solo.

In the middle of the month, things were picking up steam. Here’s an excerpt from CRAIG HENDERSON’S FOR YOUR EYES ONLY WEB SITE:

Tuesday, May 14, 1963
New York entertainment lawyer Ronald S. Konecky, in a letter to Fleming, delivers his legal opinion that Solo is not an infringement on Eon’s James Bond film rights.

Tuesday, May 14, 1963

Sam Rolfe delivers five-page memo to Norman Felton outlining in print for the first time the Solo format developed to date — with an organization known as U.N.C.L.E., headed by a Mr. Allison, employing Solo and agents of all nationalities, “even Russians,” and recurrent encounters with an international criminal group called Thrush. Rolfe eliminates Doris Franklyn, who’s both a secretary to Solo’s boss and a part-time actress in the Fleming-Felton notes, adding Allison’s secretary Miss Marsidan, “who is fat, fifty and somewhat on the motherly side.”

According to the timeline compiled by Henderson, writer Rolfe agreed a few days later “to rewrite the existing Solo format, develop story ideas and make further contributions to the format.”

Meanwhile, Fleming was getting cold feet under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and their company, Eon Productions. In the early 1990s. Rolfe said at an event called Spy Con that Felton told him that Fleming was scared of Saltzman in particular. (Rolfe’s talk is on a YOUTUBE VIDEO but the sound is very feint; the Saltzman anecdote is around the 17:57 mark.)

The truth of this story is hard to determine. All concerned (Fleming, Felton, Rolfe, Broccoli and Saltzman) are dead and Rolfe was told about it second hand. In any event, on May 28, Fleming’s 55th birthday, the author wrote to the Ashley-Steiner Agency, where Phyllis Jackson, his U.S. agent worked, according to the Henderson timeline. The message: Fleming didn’t want to participate in Solo after all.

It was the beginning of the end for Ian Fleming’s Solo. Less than a month later, the author would sign away his rights to the show. Meanwhile, the James Bond films were gaining momentum and steps were being taken that would result in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. emerging in the place of Ian Fleming’s Solo.

RE-POST: Happy 60th anniversary, Mr. Bond

Casino Royale's original cover

Casino Royale’s original cover


Originally posted April 1. Reposted for the actual anniversary.

Sixty years ago, readers sampled the start of a novel by a new author. “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning,” it began. The world hasn’t been quite the same since.

The novel, of course, was Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, published April 13, 1953. About 5,000 copies of its first edition were printed and it sold out quickly. Fleming combined the skills and experiences of two lives: his work as an intelligence officer during World War II and his experience as a journalist in spotting the right, and telling detail.

Casino Royale was a short novel. But it had an impact on readers. The story’s hero, British secret agent James Bond, first loses and then wins a high-stake game of cards with Le Chiffre, the story’s villain. Later, Bond is helpless, the victim of torture by Le Chiffre. But before Le Chiffre can finish the torture, he is dispatched by an operative of Smersh for being “a fool and a thief a traitor.” The Smersh operative has no orders to kill Bond, so he doesn’t. But he carves up the back of Bond’s right hand. “It would be well that should be known as a spy,” the killer says.

What seems to be novel’s climax happens less than three-quarters of the way through the story. But the new author had some other ideas to keep readers turning the pages until the real resolution. Bond is betrayed Vesper, a woman he had fallen deeply in love with. She commits suicide by taking a bottle of sleeping pills.

Bond, after all this, doesn’t collapse. He emerges more resolute, determined to “attack the arm that held the whip and the gun…He would go after the threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy.”

Writer Jeremy Duns in an essay PUBLISHED IN 2005 argued “there’s a strong case to be made for it being the first great spy thriller of the Cold War.” Toward the end of his article, Duns writes, “Before Casino Royale, the hero always saved the damsel in distress moments before she was brutally ravaged and tortured by the villain; Fleming gave us a story in which nobody is saved, and it is the hero who is abused, drawn there by the damsel.”

For Fleming, Casino Royle was just the start. More novels and short stories followed. He lived to see two of his novels, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, turned into movies in 1962 and 1963 (following a CBS adaptation of Casino Royale in 1954). The author visited the set of the third film, Goldfinger, but died in August 1964, just before 007 became a phenomenon, spurring a spy craze.

Six decades later, the 23 movies of the Eon Production series (plus a couple of non-Eon films) are what most people think of when the name James Bond is mentioned. 2012′s Skyfall had worldwide ticket sales of $1.1 billion.

Oh, the Fleming books remain in print. Ian Fleming Publication hires a continuation novel author now and then (William Boyd, the latest continuation author, is scheduled to disclose his novel’s title on April 15). Periodically, there’s a new book about some aspect about the film series.

Fans can fuss and debate about Bond (and do all the time). But there is one certainty: without Casino Royale’s publication six decades ago, none of that would be possible.

UPDATE: Other 007 blogs and bloggers are noting the anniversary today, including THE JAMES BOND DOSSIER, BOND BLOG, MARK O’CONNELL, JAMES BOND BRASIL, FROM SWEDEN WITH LOVE and THE BOOK BOND You can also read an article in the Express newspaper by CLICKING HERE.

Finally, Spy Vibe, part of the COBRAS group of blogs, has a post including a graphic of various Casino Royale covers. You can check it out by CLICKING HERE.

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