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.

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.”

REVISITED: The ‘banned’ James Bond commentaries, Dr. No

"Pretty interesting, eh, James?"

“Pretty interesting, eh, James?”

The io9 website did a post this week about the “banned” Criterion James Bond commentaries.

As a result, some fans are, again, discovering the commentaries from early 1990s laser discs that were recalled because Criterion didn’t get permission from Eon Productions for a candid discussion from some 007 film creators as Terence Young, Peter Hunt and Richard Maibaum.

This blog did a post in January 2012 on the topic. Anyway, here’s another, more detailed look at the commentary for Dr. No. It’s still just a sampling, though. You can listen for yourself BY CLICKING HERE.

During the main titles, director Terence Young said: “I wasn’t happy with the theme we had. They were trying to use Underneath the Mango Tree for the theme.” The director says that “was really stupid” because the series would “eventually run out of mango trees.” He credits John Barry for the sound of the James Bond Theme, even though it was credited to Monty Norman.

The director also credited Ken Adam for providing Dr. No having with “a very luxurious look.” Meanwhile, on location, Young said, “To save money, we shot in real houses.”

Young, not surprisingly, praises Sean Connery repeatedly. “He was one of the first cool people in pictures,” the director said. “There was a lot of cool in these pictures.”

Hunt also liked Connery but remarks the actor was “average” when it came to stunts and action scenes. “He wasn’t like Burt Lancaster.”

Both Young and Peter Hunt talk up Jack Lord. Young calls him the best actor to play Felix Leiter up to the time the commentaries were recorded. Meanwhile, according to Hunt: “Jack Lord was a very fine supporting actor. I’m sorry he didn’t go on” to do the other pictures. By the time we did the other pictures, he had become too big for us.”

Cost in 1962: 475 British pounds

Cost in 1962: 475 British pounds, according to Ken Adam

Adam, was who was interviewed separately from Young and Hunt said he had “475 pounds left” for the set where Professor Dent receives his instructions from Dr. No. “It was a complete stylization. It wasn’t based in any way” on reality. “The whole idea of that grid in the ceiling…was like a spider’s web.”

Maibaum had passed away by the time the laser disks were released. In a separate interview he commented about 007 creator Ian Fleming.

“I had the feeling Mr. Fleming was a bit of a snob.” But Maibaum respected the author, calling him “a much greater writer than anybody gave him credit for. I had and still have great admiration for him.” At the same time, Maibaum says Fleming seemed puzzled why there was so much more humor in the Bond films than in the novels. The screenwriter chuckles about that, given he had worked to inject more humor.

Meanwhile, on the commentary, Young takes credit for the final script. “I was locked up in a hotel suite. I rewrote the script going back to the book.” The director also says in the commentary: “We didn’t have an ending. We cooked this one up on the set.”

Funeral in Berlin gets new U.S. DVD release

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Len Deighton and Michael Caine

Funeral in Berlin, the second Harry Saltzman-produced film based on Len Deighton’s spy novels and starring Michael Caine, is now available in a new DVD release in the U.S. through Warner Bros.’s Warner Archives.

Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, producer of the James Bond film series, had ambitions beyond the 007 movies. At the same time, Saltzman summoned 007 film veterans to work on his Deighton-based films.

With 1966’s Funeral in Berlin, Saltzman hired Guy Hamilton, who helmed Goldfinger, as director. Also on board was Ken Adam as production designer and Peter Murton as art director. Other films in the series employed John Barry, Peter Hunt and Maurice Binder.

Warner Archive specializes in “manufactured on demand” (or MOD); the DVDs are made as they’re ordered and the sets aren’t available in stores. Warner Bros. has used Warner Archive for home video releases of properties in the vast WB library, including THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. and THE FBI television series.

The price for Funeral in Berlin is $18.95 plus shipping and handling. For more information on ordering, CLICK HERE.

For more information, you can view the IMDB.COM pages for:

1965’S THE IPCRESS FILES

1966’s FUNERAL IN BERLIN

1967’s BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN

Peter Lamont working on a book about his film career

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont

Peter Lamont, whose 007 art department career ran from Goldfinger through Casino Royale, is working on a book, according to THE WEB SITE OF TOMAHAWK PRESS.

The book is to be called The Man With The Golden Eye. Here’s the description:

The legendary Academy Award winning production designer Peter Lamont is finally opening up his archive for Tomahawk Press in a new book, co-written with Max Pemberton. Lamont designed 18 Bond films, and many of James Cameron’s films, including Titanic. Lamont’s iconic work provided the classy look for these films, and his contribution cannot be overstated.

In addition to being one of the world’s foremost production designers, Lamont is an extraordinary raconteur -– his stories providing new perspectives on the both the Bond franchise and James Cameron’s work. We cannot express how excited we are about publishing what we know will be an extremely important and beautifully designed book.

At this point, there aren’t further details but the publisher promises more as time unfolds.

Lamont, 83, worked on every 007 film of the Eon Production series from Goldfinger in 1964 (as a draftsman) to 2006’s Casino Royale, as production designer, with one exception. He skipped 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies to work as production designer for the James Cameron-directed Titanic.

Lamont scored an Oscar for that film and was also nominated for 1986’s Aliens and 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. On the latter, he worked as art director under legendary 007 production designer Ken Adam. After Adam left the Bond series for good following 1979’s Moonraker, producer Albert R. Broccoli promoted Lamont to production designer for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.

For Lamont, the Bond series also was family business. His brother Michael Lamont and son Neil Lamont held art department posts on the Bond films.

Ken Wallis, Little Nellie pilot, dies

Ken Wallis in Little Nellie

Ken Wallis in Little Nellie

Ken Wallis, 97, the real-life pilot of the mini-helicopter Little Nellie has died, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY ON THE BBC’S WEB SITE.

Little Nellie, which appeared in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice, was an aerial equivalent of the Aston Martin DB5 that was featured in Goldfinger and Thunderball.

In the John Cork-directed documentary Inside You Only Live Twice, YOLT production designer Ken Adam says he heard a BBC interview with Wallis about the mini-helicopter. Adam checked it out and made design changes so the aircraft could included in the fifth James Bond film. The documentary details how Wallis had to make many flights to produce several minutes of screen time for the 1967 movie.

An excerpt from the obituary:

Retired Wing Cdr Ken Wallis, who lived near Dereham, Norfolk, died on Sunday, his daughter confirmed.

Born in Ely, his first solo flight was in 1937. Thirty years later he doubled as Sean Connery’s Bond for an explosive aerial sequence in You Only Live Twice.

His daughter Vicky said her father passed away after “a long and successful life doing what he wanted”.

(snip)

Honoured with an MBE in 1996, he piloted 24 wartime missions over northern Europe in Wellington bombers, before spending 20 years engaged in weapons research in the Royal Air Force.

Here’s a sample of how Little Nellie appeared on screen:

UPDATE (Sept. 13): To view The New York Times’ obituary on Ken Wallis (published Sept. 9): just CLICK HERE.

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.

RE-POST: 007 moments in Oscars history

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Originally posted Feb. 5, 2009. Re-posting because this year’s Oscars on Feb. 24 will have the biggest 007 component in 31 years. We’ve added some links that weren’t available when the original post was published.

The Oscars (R) are coming up this month. That got us to wondering: What were the great James Bond moments at the Academy Awards?

There haven’t been that many, but here’s a partial list:

1965: Soundman Norman Wanstall picks up the first Oscar (R) for a James Bond movie for his work on Goldfinger. We weren’t watching, alas. But a film historian talked to Wanstall decades later. He described the sound effect when Oddjob demonstrates his deadly hat:

“That had to be really frieghtening. So we got an ordinary carpenter’s woodsaw, put it on a bench and just twanged it.” (Adrian Turner on Goldfinger, page 216)

To see Wanstall pick up his Oscar, CLICK HERE.

1966: We weren’t watching, alas. Nor was the special effects wizard of Thunderball, John Stears. In extras for Thunderball home video releases available since 1995, Sears said he didn’t know he had won the Oscar (R) until his arrived in the U.K.

To see Ivan Tors pickup the award for Stears, CLICK HERE

1973: Roger Moore, the incoming Bond, and Liv Ullmann are on hand to present the Best Actor Oscar (R). Marlon Brando won for The Godfather. But the new 007, and everybody else, got a surprise:

1974: Roger Moore is back, with one 007 film under his belt, and ready to film a second. He introduces Best Song nominee Live And Let Die, written by Paul and Linda McCartney. Instead of a performance by McCartney, the audio of the song is played while Connie Stevens dances to it. The song doesn’t win.

1978: The Spy Who Loved Me, nominated for three Oscars (R), is blanked, taking home none. Ken Adam, the production designer guru, loses out to Star Wars. Marvin Hamlisch is double blanked, losing out for best score and he and his lyricist fail to get the Best Song Oscar (R).

1980: Moonraker, nominated for Best Special Effects, fails to repeat what Thunderball accomplished. It’s just as well after we found out about the salt shakers in the rockets in the extras for the DVD. (Feb. 20, 2013 observation: Then again, given the lack of resources that Derek Meddings and his team had, relative to other nominees such as Alien, The Black Hole and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Moonraker nomination is pretty impressive.)

1982: Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, founding co-producer of the Bond franchise, receives the Irving G. Thalberg award, given to producers for a career of work. Then-Bond Roger Moore is on hand once again, this time to give Cubby the award.

Snaring the Thalberg award put Broccoli in some impressive company:

Note: Broccoli is shown twice in that video, once by mistake.

What’s more, the music director for the Oscar (R) show is Bill Conti, composer of For Your Eyes Only, which was nominated for Best Song. Sheena Easton performs the song as part of an elaborate Bond dance act. The long skit includes Richard Kiel and, shortly before his death, Harold Sakata, the actor who played Oddjob, for whom Norman Wanstall labored for his sound effect years earlier.

The only sour moment (from a Bond perspective): For Your Eyes Only didn’t win the Oscar (R). But it hardly ruined the evening for the Broccolis.

To view the Sheena Easton performance of For Your Eyes Only, CLICK HERE. To view Albert R. Broccoli getting the Thalberg award, CLICK HERE.

How British are 007 films?

Skyfall's poster image

BAFTA winner for Outstanding British Film

Of course James Bond films are British. They concern a British icon and are filmed in the U.K. What could be more obvious? That’s like asking if Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley are British.

Well, that might not be the best comparison given that Jaguar and Land Rover are owned by India’s Tata Motors Ltd. and Bentley is owned by Volkswagen AG. Still, 007 films have always been considered British.

Still, the answer isn’t as easy as it might appear.

In the early days, the series made by Eon Productions Ltd. was U.K.-based. While producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were born elsewhere, they were operated out of the U.K. and the movies were full of British film talent such as director of photography Ted Moore, (naturalized citizen) production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt. Of course, the U.S.-based studio United Artists financed the movies.

It pretty much remained that way until Diamonds Are Forever. The Inside Diamonds Are Forever documentary directed by John Cork notes that the producers initially intended to Americanize Bond, even hiring an American (John Gavin) for the role. It was going to be based out of Universal Studios.

Things changed. Sean Connery returned as Bond (at the insistence of United Artists) and U.K.’s Pinewood Studios was again the home base. Yet, some key jobs were split between British and American crew members, including stunt arranger, assistant director, art director, set decorator, production manager and visual effects.

Also, as the years passed, Eon for a variety of reasons (financial among them) based some films primarily outside of the U.K. They included Moonraker (the first unit was based out of France, Derek Meddings’s special effects unit still labored at Pinewood), Licence to Kill (Mexico) and Casino Royale (Czech Republic, with some sequences shot at Pinewood).

What’s more, movies not thought of as British, such as Star Wars (1977), Superman (1978) and Batman (1989) were based out of the U.K. Each had key British crew members, including: Star Wars with production designer John Barry (not to be confused with the 007 film composer), whose group won the art direction Oscar over Ken Adam & Co. (The Spy Who Loved Me); Superman with Barry again, director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth, and second unit director John Glen; Batman with art director Terry Ackland-Snow, assistant director Derek Cracknell and special visual effects man Derek Meddings. Batman was filming at Pinewood at around the same time Licence to Kill’s crew was working in Mexico.

Still, Superman and Batman (which both debuted during the Great Depression) are American icons and Star Wars, while set in a galaxy far, far away, is too.

At the same time, Skyfall, which came out on DVD and Blu-ray on Feb. 12, is very British. Much of the story takes place there and many of Shanghai and Macao scenes were really filmed at Pinewood, with the second unit getting exterior shots.

On Feb. 10, Skyfall picked up the Oustanding British Film award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. It was a first and a lot of 007 fans are still taking it all in.

In truth, movies generally are an international business these days, Bond films included. But 007 isn’t likely to lose his identification as being a British product anytime soon, much the way Jaguar, Land Rover and Bentley have a British identity regardless of ownership.

Some 007 Oscar statistics

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At about 8:30 a.m. New York time, James Bond fans will find out if Skyfall, the 23rd 007 film, scores any Oscar nominations. Ahead of that event, here are some 007 Oscar statistics:

WINS: 2 Goldfinger’s sound man Norman Wanstall won an Oscar for his efforts in 1965 and special effects wizard John Stars, received an Oscar in 1966.

If you CLICK HERE, you can see Wantall get his Oscar from Angie Dickinson. If you CLICK HERE, you can see Ivan Tors, whose production company worked on Thunderball’s underwater sequences, picking up the award for Stears.

MOST NOMINATIONS: 3 (The Spy Who Loved Me) Ken Adam, Peter Lamont and Hugh Schaife were nominated for art direction and set decoration. Marvin Hamlisch was nominated for best score; and Hamisch (music) and Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics) were nominated for best song. None scored a win. Adam got two Oscars and Lamont received one for other movies.

MOST MEMORABLE 007 OSCAR NIGHT: 1982 For Your Eyes Only was nominated for best song and Sheena Easton performed it as part of an elaborate 007 song-and-dance number. It didn’t win but Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, given to a producer for his or her body of work. The veteran producer gave a gracious speech that included acknowledgments for former partners Irving Allen and Harry Saltzman, even though Broccoli had his share of differences of opinion with them over the years.

The 1982 Oscars show was also the last time Bond (formally at least) was part of the ceremony. Since then, contributors to the film series, such as John Barry, Tom Mankiewicz and Joseph Wiseman, have shown up in the “In Memorium” segments that pay tribute to those who’ve died since the preceding Oscar broadcast.

We know that will change with this year’s broadcast, which will have a James Bond tribute. Fans will soon find out whether the evening will include Skyfall being in the mix for Oscars.

The tribute, depending how elaborate it is, and Skyfall breaking the long Oscar drought for Agent 007, could make 2013 the most memorable 007 Oscar night.

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