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.

Some critiques from 007’s first Oscar winner

The James Bond Radio website had an interview with Norman Wanstall, the first James Bond movie Oscar winner. The sound effects editor, who won for Goldfinger, had a number of observations of interest.

Here’s a sampling:

– The current leaders of Eon Productions: “I think the biggest problem is, with all respect to the producers, they’re really not what I would call film producers. They’ve inherited the role. So now, they’ll feel because Skyfall was probably the biggest grosser of all time, they’ll feel, fine. They won’t realize the film itself wasn’t up to it. That’s dangerous. They need to be told.”

– Wanstall’s critique of Skyfall: “At one point, I was rather tempted to leave the cinema, which is of unheard of…After (Bond) had hung on to the bottom of the lift, I thought, forget it, it’s getting ridiculous. I knew there was no way for him to get into the building from the lift, so they faked it.”

–The unanswered letter: “Quantum of Solace, of course, is a complete disaster…I’ve often said to people if it was any film other than a Bond film, it would have been shelved. It was unshowable…After Quantum, I did actually write to the producers…I said I was supervising sound editor on six Bond films…we all love them, I said it’s just a terrible shame that you allowed so many things to go on to ruin it…People will always be loyal. But don’t take advantage of it.” Wanstall says he didn’t get a response.

–Wanstall says he can’t watch a Roger Moore 007 film these days. Meanwhile, Sean Connery is his favorite Bond.

The entire interview is embedded below. It runs almost one hour and 47 minutes.

007 films to get a theater showing near Chicago

Sean Connery during the production of Goldfinger.

Sean Connery during the production of Goldfinger.


Three James Bond films are scheduled to be shown again on the big screen near Chicago in September.

A 50th anniversary showing of Goldfinger has been scheduled at the Classic Cinemas Paramount Theater in Kankakee, Illinois, at 7:15 p.m. on Sept. 5, according to the Classic Cinemas website. A digitally remastered copy of the third James Bond is slated to be shown.

The next day, the same theater will have two Bond movies: a 40th anniversary showing of The Man With The Golden Gun at 4:15 p.m., and The Spy Who Loved Me at 7:15 p.m.

Admission for each movie is $5. Kankakee is about 60 miles south of Chicago

REVISITED: the ‘banned’ Goldfinger commentary

Poster for a triple feature of the first three 007 movies

Poster for a triple feature of the first three 007 movies

We conclude our look at the “banned” Criterion James Bond laserdisc commentaries with Goldfinger.

The commentaries on the first three 007 films were “banned” because Criterion didn’t obtain the permission of Eon Production to include them. As a result, unsold laserdiscs were recalled but interest has remained high among 007 fans over the past two decades.

Evidently, the producers of the commentary track didn’t have as much access to Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton as they did with Terence Young, director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. There are long stretch where host Bruce Eder comments about Goldfinger and the Bond movies generally without any input with the creators of the film.

Again, this is only a sampling. To listen to the entire thing, CLICK HERE.

During the pre-credits sequence, Hamilton describes his approach. “If this amuses you, if this surprises you, good. Sit back, relax, don’t ask too many questions.”

Hamilton also says producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman “were old acquaintances of mine” before they joined forces to produce the early bond films. Hamilton notes he was offered the chance to direct Dr. No but he ‘had to settle some personal affairs” instead.

The director also comments about Cec Linder taking over the Felix Leiter role. “Jack Lord who had played Felix Leiter (in Dr. No) had gone on to better things in Hawaii.”

Hamilton’s memory is faulty on this point. In 1964, Lord was acting in guest star parts on U.S. television. He wouldn’t be cast in Hawaii Five-O until 1968, four years after Goldfinger.

Meanwhile, Hamilton muses how most actors in Bond films, don’t get paid much. “All the money goes to special effects and sets.”

Editor Peter Hunt wasn’t a big fan of an early sequence where Goldfinger is cheating at cards.

“It was a very unfocused beginning, this movie,” Hunt says. “I suspect Guy Hamilton didn’t even believe it. I don’t think he thought it could work. In order to make it work, I had to do a lot of insert shots.”

Hunt also wasn’t fond of a later scene where Bond and M attend a dinner with Colonel Smithers, who explains why gold smuggling is important.

“It was wrong way around. It was very pretentious.” By that, Hunt refers to how the scene begins with a relatively tight shot, then the camera pulls out to show an enormous dinner table and then cuts back to a tigher shot of the three men.

Ken Adam, the production designer, also chimes in at this point. “This was the first time we see an actual gold bar. We made these out of lead. The gold bar had an enormous weight but obviously wasn’t gold.”

Soon after, Hamilton explains his spin on the Bond-Q relationship.

“I was always convinced Q hated Bond,” the director says. “He always mistreated his gizmos and never brings them back.” This became the template for a number of Bond movies to come.

Hamilton and Hunt appear to disagree how much English actor Gert Frobe, who played Goldfinger, actually knew. Hamilton makes it sound as if Frobe knew two sentences. Hunt says Frobe could speak English but slowly. “His knowledge of English was great. His pronunciation of English was poor.” Either way, both agree (separately) that Frobe needed to be dubbed.

When it came to cars, Hunt says, “Ford’s was very good to us. The producers must have had a deal with Ford’s.” Aston Martin, meanwhile, demanded to paid for the DB5 cars it provided for the film, according to Hunt.

Screenwriter Richard Maibaum also weighed in on the delicate balancing of drama and humor. “Every now and then you have do what I call ‘pulling down the balloon,’ and make it more realistic,” Maibaum says. He cites how the audience laughs while Bond shows off the Aston Martin DB5’s gadgets only to then see the death of Tilly (Tania Mallet).

The participants also comment about a scene that gives 21st century audiences pause — when Bond “must have appealed to her maternal instincts” to make Pussy Galore 007’s ally.

Maibaum, in his comments, says it turned out fine. “It all came out the way we hoped it would.”

Hamilton hedges his bets a bit. “I think this is one of the trickiest scenes in the movie. How to go from dy** to sexpot to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission and one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”

Later, Peter Hunt sums up Sean Connery’s appeal as Bond. Connery, he says, was among the few actors who look as if they “can virtually walk into a room and f*** anybody.”

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!

2014: numerous big 007 anniversaries

"Order plenty of Bollinger -- '55, of course."

“Order plenty of Bollinger — ’55, of course.”

We were reminded that 2014 will mark a number of significant James Bond film anniversaries. Thus, there’s more reason than normal for 007 fans to dip into their home video copies.

50th anniversary of Goldfinger. The first mega-hit for Agent 007.

45th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. An early attempt to bring 007 back down to earth, but one that wasn’t judged a success by United Artists.

40th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun. A box office misstep after Live And Let Die set a worldwide 007 box office record (though not in the U.S. market).

35th annivesary of Moonraker. Producer Albert R. Broccoli’s extragant follow-up to The Spy Wh Loved Me.

25th anniversary of Licence to Kill. A controversial Bond entry that preceded a six-year hiatus for the series.

15th anniversary of The World Is Not Enough. Pierce Brosnan’s third 007 entry and a preview of attempts to bring a more dramatic take to the world of 007.

UPDATE: As reader Stuart Basinger reminds us:

60th anniversary of the CBS television broadcast of Casino Royale. The first, and so far only, adaptation to feature an American (Barry Nelson in this case) playing Bond.

50th anniversary of Ian Fleming’s death on Aug. 12. 007’s creator passed away the month before the film version of Goldfinger’s U.K. debut.

And one more that’s related:
50th anniversary of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: Debut of the series featuring Ian Fleming’s other spy, Napoleon Solo, co-created with television producer Norman Felton.

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.

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)

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.

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