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.

Bond 24 to have new Aston, Wilson tells ITN

Bond 24 will include a new Aston Martin model, Eon Productions co-boss Michael G. Wilson told ITN News.

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson


ITN covered had a story about the opening of the BOND IN MOTION show in the U.K. featuring vehicles from the 007 film series. Wilson was interviewed along with his half-sister, Barbara Broccoli.

“The next film by the way, we’re going to have a new Aston that people haven’t seen yet,” Wilson said. He didn’t provide additional details. His comments about Bond 24 start around the 45-second mark of the ITN video.

Skyfall, the most recent Bond film, used an Aston Martin DB5, the same model that debuted in 1964′s Goldfinger. The movie’s main automotive product placement deal was with Tata Motors Ltd.’s Jaguar and Land Rover brands. Bond 24 is scheduled for release in fall 2015.

Also, here’s a shoutout to the Commander Bond website, which had a story about the ITN report earlier.

Will Bond 24 be Skyfall Part II?

Bond 24 writer John Logan

Bond 24 writer John Logan

The answer is almost certainly not. But some recent comments by Bond 24 scribe John Logan remind long-time 007 fans of history: on previous occasions, Eon Productions has followed up enormous Bond hits with more of the same.

The IGN website had a Jan. 17 story that quotes Logan, signed to write Bond 24 and Bond 25, about the next 007 movie.

“My goal is to write a great movie that’s appropriate, to build on what we did on Skyfall, but make it its own unique animal,” Logan said of the teams aspirations for Bond 24. “The themes, ideas and the characters from Skyfall can obviously continue on, because it is a franchise, and it is an ongoing story. So I think there’s resonance from Skyfall in the new movie.”

Some history: 1965′s Thunderball was the biggest 007 hit of the 1960s, the decade the film series began. Eon followed it up with You Only Live Twice, which dispensed with most of the plot of the 1964 Ian Fleming novel. Instead, Eon came up with bigger set pieces and even had a SPECTRE woman assassin (Karin Dor) made up to look very similar to Thunderball’s femme fatale (Luciana Paluzzi).

In the 1970s, the future of the franchise was at stake. The Spy Who Loved Me was a huge hit in 1977 and Eon’s next outing was Moonraker, an even bigger spectacle. The former had a villain who wanted to kill off the human race to preserve the oceans; the latter had a villain who wanted to kill off the human race and repopulate it with a “flying stud farm” of perfect human specimens.

Skyfall, while having its share of spectacle, was more about introspection, inner emotions and the like. Based on Logan’s remarks, will viewers get even more introspection, even more inner emotions? Perhaps even flashbacks as Bond thinks back to the demise of M (Judi Dench)?

Obviously, few people have any idea what will happen next. Logan has made a tease, but that’s all it is. Still, it’ll be interesting to see when the movie comes out in the fall of 2015.

Wilson & Broccoli, an appreciation

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, are scheduled to get an award from the Producers Guild on Jan. 19. The half-siblings this week were featured in a write-up on Variety.com previewing the event.

Evaluations of second-generation business leaders (and running the Bond franchise qualifies as a business) can vary. Occasionally, the second-generation outshines the first (think Thomas Watson Jr. of IBM). Sometimes, the second generation’s ambitions are frustrated by the first (think Edsel Ford). Sometimes, the second generation can make its own mark that’s simply different than the first (think Richard D. Zanuck).

In any case, it can be a balancing act. In the case of the 007 franchise, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli was a co-founder and a showman. His stepson and daughter succeeded him in the 1990s but had entirely different styles.

Wilson and Broccoli’s main accomplishment may have been to deal with changing executive regimes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman initially had the support of a firmly entrenched group of executives at United Artists, including Arthur Krim, Robert Benjamin and David Picker. That began to change in the 1970s (and after Saltzman departed the series). MGM acquired UA in the early ’80s and changes in the executive suite accelerated.

Also, Wilson and Broccoli were handed the reins in the midst of a six-year hiatus that might have killed the series. In the 21st century, MGM went through bankruptcy, another time of uncertainty.

Wilson and Broccoli may not have the publicity flair that Albert R. Broccoli had. Wilson has his P.T. Barnum moments, where his statements don’t always square with each other. Barbara Broccoli can rely on a few catch phrases such as “the money’s on the screen.”

Still, the pair remain in charge of the Bond franchise, which will result in the start of production of Bond 24 later this year.

The 21st century 007 meme: a Bond who isn’t Bond (yet)

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

In the 21st century, there have been four James Bond films, two Bond actors and four directors. But there has been one thing in common over a decade: Bond either has lost his Bond mojo (and needs to get it back) or he’s not really Bond yet.

The trend began with 2002′s Die Another Day. Bond (Pierce Brosnan) is captured during a mission in North Korea and is tortured over the next 14 months. He’s eventually returned to the U.K. authorities, but not under good circumstances. He’s suspected of having spilled his guts and a prisoner exchange was set up. 007 proceeds on a mission of personal revenge.

In the DVD extras, writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade describe the storyline as how Bond becomes Bond again. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, in his last film mission, succeeds.

Four years later, Eon Productions rebooted the franchise with Casino Royale and new star Daniel Craig. The film’s publicity stressed how this wasn’t a smooth, fully formed Bond. The James Bond Theme wasn’t heard until the very end of the movie after Craig’s 007 has endured a betrayal at the hands of Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Now, he’s supposed to be a fully formed Bond.

Not so fast. With 2008′s Quantum of Solace, Bond still isn’t fully formed. During filming, Eon Productions stressed how the Casino storyline was so engrossing, it needed another film to play out. Thus, no James Bond gunbarrel at the start of the movie. That doesn’t appear until the end of the film, which implies Bond now is fully formed.

Four years later, with Skyfall, Bond is, more or less, where he was at the start of Die Another Day, i.e. a fully formed 007. Except, by the end of the pre-titles sequence, he has been shot by another MI6 operative and presumed dead.

He goes into a period of depression and alcohol dependence. In other words, he’s no longer a fully formed 007. At this point, the Craig Bond is, more or less, at the same point, that Brosnan/Bond was after the prisoner exchange in Die Another Day.

Craig/Bond rallies after seeing MI6 has been attacked but still has a lot of issues to deal with. Judi Dench’s M clears him for duty despite being told he’s nowhere near ready. He wears a scruffy beard until well into his mission. By the end of the film, he’s again a fully formed 007 (symbolized by the gunbarrel again being used at the end of the movie).

As Bond 24 begins production later this year (for a 2015 release), the question is whether we have a fully formed Bond (think, among other films, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Living Daylights) all the way through the story or will 007 again have a mojo crisis.

Writers Purvis and Wade, who’ve been involved in the various versions of the incomplete 007/007 who has lost his mojo aren’t scheduled to be part of this production. So we’ll see.

Spy entertainment to watch in 2014

It’s only a few days before the near year. So it’s not too early to think about spy-related entertainment coming up in 2014.

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall


Bond 24 begins filming: The 24th 007 film produced by Eon Productions probably will go into production toward the end of the year to meet is October (U.K.)/November (U.S.) 2015 release date.

There’s not much hard information, other than Daniel Craig is back as Bond, Sam Mendes is again directing and John Logan is writing the script.

Ralph Fiennes, whose Mallory became the new M at the end of 2012′s Skyfall, TOLD REUTERS IN A DEC. 24 STORY that, “I know nothing, I’ve not been told anything, I have no information, no dates, no sense of the journey of my character at all! I don’t!”

If Bond 24 follows the same path as Skyfall, casting details will dribble out, though not be confirmed initially. With Skyfall, the casting of Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Javier Bardem were all reported long before the movie started principal photography in November 2011.

U.N.C.L.E. movie (probably) arrives in theaters: Director Guy Ritchie’s movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. wrapped production the first week of December. Warner Bros. hasn’t publicly announced a release date but there’s certainly enough post-production time for a fall 2014 release.

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer (Art by Paul Baack)

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer
(Art by Paul Baack)


The movie, starring Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, will be the first U.N.C.L.E. production since the 1983 television movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which reunited Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, the stars of the original 1964-68 television series.

The film will also be a test whether there’s a mass audience in the 21st century for U.N.C.L.E., a “utopian” spy concept in which agents from opposing sides in the Cold War could unite against common menaces. The movie will be set in the 1960s, the same as the original show.

Mission: Impossible 5 starts production: Tom Cruise is back for a fifth time as the star of a Mission: Impossible film, which will be released at Christmas 2015. Cruise had been slated to star in the U.N.C.L.E. movie as Solo but dropped out as M:I 5 (which his production company produces) developed. That move gave the opening for Cavill’s casting in the U.N.C.L.E. movie.

Cruise’s most recent M:I film, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, was a hit while while paying homages to the original 1966-73 television series, while the original 1996 movie turned Jim Phelps into a villain. Since then, Cruise has had his ups and downs. So he could use another financially successful M:I movie.

Golfinger’s 50th anniversary: 1964′s Goldfinger turned Bond into a worldwide phenomenon. Dr. No’s 50th anniversary got a lot of attention, in part because Skyfall was coming out. It’ll be interesting to see if Goldfinger’s golden anniversary draws attention.

Will Blofeld return to the 007 film series?

"Good to see you again, Mr. Bond." (Graphic by Paul Baack.)

“Good to see you again, Mr. Bond.”
(Graphic by Paul Baack.)

Now that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the Broccoli family have acquired the 007 film rights held by the estate and family of Kevin McClory, the obvious question is whether Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond’s arch-enemy, will return to the film series.

The brief announcement on Nov. 15 didn’t provide details of the settlement. But it closed a half-century saga. It began with an ill-fated James Bond movie project in the 1950s in which 007 author Ian Fleming participated. When the project fell apart, Fleming based his Thunderball novel on screenplays written for the never-made movie.

A legal fight ensued. Under a settlement, Kevin McClory held the screen rights. As a result, he had the leverage to negotiate a deal with 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman for a co-production of Thunderball. Fleming’s novel had introduced Blofeld and his SPECTRE organization (the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). Broccoli and Saltzman already had inserted SPECTRE into their adaptations of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Fleming novels that hadn’t included SPECTRE.

Ten years after Thunderball, McClory began efforts to do his own Bond movies based on his Thunderball rights. As a result, the Eon Productions series steered clear of Blofeld and SPECTRE.

Barbara Broccoli, daughter of Albert R. Broccoli and current co-boss of Eon Productions, previously said Blofeld was past his due date. For example there was A CRAVEONLINE INTERVIEW where this exchange occurred:

Barbara Broccoli: I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years. The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new.

Some fans cite comments like this one and figure there’s no way Blofeld will return. However, that’s also the same interview where Broccoli denied writer John Logan had been hired to write Bond 24 and Bond 25, the next two movies in the series. (“That was a Hollywood announcement, not from us if you notice.”) A few days after the interview was published, MGM confirmed on an investor call that Logan had, indeed, been hired to script the films. When it comes to previous statements by Bond producers, caveat emptor applies.

As reader Mark Henderson pointed out in a response to a previous post, “The realism of the last three movies, and the legacy of Austin Powers, all but preclude the Nerhu jacket and white cat fetish.” But that garb and pet were creations of the early Bond filmmakers. There’s nothing to preclude a darker, more realistic Blofeld.

In From Russia With Love and Thunderball (with Anthony Dawson providing the body and Eric Pohlman providing the voice), Blofeld wore a plain business suit. The character didn’t get the Nehru jacket until 1967′s You Only Live Twice.

Only Ms. Broccoli, her half-brother Michael G. Wilson and their associates know whether Blofeld, and SPECTRE, will only live twice. But the McClory settlement certainly makes it possible. The real question is whether Broccoli and Wilson want do exercise that option.

Danjaq, MGM reach agreement with McClory estate

MGM logo
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq LLC, the Broccoli family company that controls 007 copyrights ,said they’ve acquired all of the James Bond rights held by the Kevin McClory family and estate.

Text of a statement:

Los Angeles, CA (November 15, 2013) – Danjaq, LLC, the producer of the James
Bond films, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), the longtime distributor of the Bond
films, along with the estate and family of the late Kevin McClory, announced
today that Danjaq and MGM have acquired all of the estate’s and family’s rights
and interests relating to James Bond, thus bringing to an amicable conclusion
the legal and business disputes that have arisen periodically for over 50
years.

That would seem to pave the way for the return of Ernst Stavro Blofeld to the Bond series if Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson want to pursue it. Blofeld was introduced in the Ian Fleming novel Thunderball, based on scripts commissioned by McClory during an ill-fated movie project in the 1950s.

McClory dut a deal with Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman for a co-production of Thunderball. McClory in the 1970s began efforts to launch his own 007 movies.

1964: Broccoli and Saltzman try to derail U.N.C.L.E.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

By early 1964, post production was underway on the pilot for Solo. On Jan. 7, composer Jerry Goldsmith recorded his score, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E.-007 Timeline. But things would shortly get bumpy for Norman Felton’s production.

Toward the end of January, The New York Times ran an article about spy-oriented pilots, including Solo. In early February, Albert R. Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions, which made the 007 films, had had enough. Here’s how the Henderson website describes it:

Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1964
Cubby Broccoli telephones Sam Kaplan of Ashley-Steiner, telling Kaplan he intends to sue Arena, Felton and all others connected with Solo for violating Broccoli’s and Saltzman’s rights to the James Bond stories, referring specifically to the Jan. 26 New York Times story.

Ian Fleming hadn’t been involved with Solo since June of the previous year. The author signed away his rights under pressure from Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the other co-head of Eon. The name Napoleon Solo had been one of his few contributions to make it to the final product of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot..

Still, it appears Broccoli couldn’t stand U.N.C.L.E. In his later years, in ill health, Broccoli worked on an autobiography that wouldn’t be published until after his death. Here’s how he described U.N.C.L.E.:

MGM came in with The Man From UNCLE, which was a straight steal from Fleming’s use of acronyms like SMERSH and SPECTRE.

When The Snow Melts, the autobiography of Cubby Broccoli with Donald Zec, 1998, page 199

Of course, Smersh wasn’t an acronym and Fleming was involved with U.N.C.L.E. from October 1962 until June 1963. Nothing had been stolen from Fleming (though he signed away his rights for a mere one British pound). Also, it was pretty easy to tell Napoleon Solo, suave U.N.C.L.E. agent apart from Mafia boss Solo in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel and Eon movie.

None of that mattered. Again, an excerpt from the Henderson website:

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 1964
New York law firm for Saltzman and Broccoli sends cease-and-desist letter to Felton, MGM, NBC and Ashley-Steiner demanding immediate end to use of Fleming’s name in connection with planned Solo series — and end to all use of name and character “Solo,” “Napoleon Solo” and “Mr. Solo,” claiming theft of the “Mr. Solo” character in Goldfinger, which Eon is currently filming.

By April, the two sides agree Solo won’t be the title but the Napoleon Solo name is retained for the television series. NBC picks up the series to debut the following fall.

In May, the new series title ends up being The Man From U.N.C.L.E. By that time, first drafts of series scripts have been written. The first draft for an episode to be called The Double Affair refers to the villainous organization as MAGGOT. The name is later changed to Thrush, which had been the choice of Felton and Sam Rolfe, the writer of the pilot, all along.

U.N.C.L.E. is now on its way to becoming reality. But more changes await before the cameras roll on the early episodes of the show.

CRAIG HENDERSON’S U.N.C.L.E. BOND TIMELINE FOR 1964

Earlier posts:

JUNE 1963: IAN FLEMING SIGNS AWAY HIS U.N.C.L.E. RIGHTS

MAY 1963: IAN FLEMING CRIES U.N.C.L.E.

What’s the future of 007 continuation novels?

007 continuation novel authors William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks and friend.

007 authors William Boyd and Sebastian Faulks and friend.

Another James Bond novel has been published. So where does the series go from here? Ian Fleming Publictions (formerly Glidrose) has been all over the place.

From 1981 until 2002, continuation novels by John Gardner followed by Raymond Benson were published pretty much on a regular basis.

A new regime then took control of the literary 007 and that changed. The literary secret agent went on hiatus while novels featuring a young James Bond and The Moneypenny Diaries were published.

Since 2008, and the return of an adult Bond, Ian Fleming Publications has veered from period piece (Devil May Care) to total reboot (Carte Blanche) back to period piece (Solo).

The only thing the novels have in common is name authors: Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver and William Boyd.

The question is whether that strategy is working. There were reports (such as THIS ONE ON THE MI6 JAMES BOND FAN WEBSITE) that sales have tailed off in the U.K. since Faulks’s Devil May Care, published the same year as the 100th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s birth.

Novels written by John Gardner and Raymond Benson attempted to maintain a sense of continuity, with stories playing upon one another. The current IFP management seems to prefer one-off adventures that have no connection to each other.

Part of that stems from the choice of employing big-name authors — their James Bond will only live once.

“They find it fun and enjoyable but they’ve got their own books to write.” Corinne Turner, Corinne Turner, managing director of IFP, told The New York Times in a story PUBLISHED THIS MONTH.

Strictly a guess, but don’t expect another adult James Bond continuation novel soon. IFP has announced a new Young Bond series, with Steve Cole taking over from Charlie Higson. So IFP will be busy.

Also, based on The New York Times story, IFP doesn’t sound like it intends to change direction for the literary adult 007. So, if IFP opts to keep going for big-name writers, perhaps it will keep 007 off the market for a while to let demand build back up.

For the moment, there’s no incentive to make a major change. Eon Productions has made clear it has no interest in using continuation novels as the basis of 007 movies.

Eon co-boss Michael G. Wilson criticized the Gardner novels in the 1980s and ’90s. Meanwhile, John Logan, one of Skyfall’s screenwriters, was hired to write the next two movies, the first of which won’t be out until two years from now.

So the next time you read about a 007 author saying his story has “been sent to Eon,” the best-case scenario was the novel was placed on a shelf.

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