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.

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

1962: Hope and Crosby provide 007 a `Road’ map

Bob Hope, left, and Bing Crosby in the opening to The Road to Hong Kong

Five months before the debut of Dr. No, the final Bob Hope-Bing Crosby “Road” movie came out, The Road to Hong Kong. The film, we suspect by coincidence, provided a road map to the future of 007 movies.

The 1962 movie had some major departures from previous “Road” movies. It was produced in the U.K. and was released by United Artists. The earlier films in the series had been produced in Hollywood and released by Paramount. Dorothy Lamour, the female lead of the previous Road movies, makes a cameo as herself but Joan Collins is the main female lead.

The change in locale meant the Norman Panama-Melvin Frank production (both would write the script, Panama directed and Frank produced; the duo had written the 1946 Road to Utopia) would take advantage of U.K. movie talent: Syd Cain was one of the art directors. Maurice Binder designed the main titles. Walter Gotell is one of the main lieutenants of a mysterious organization — stop us if you’ve heard this before — trying to take over the world. Bob Simmons shows up late in the movie as an astronaut in the employ of the villainous organization.

What’s more, there are “animated” sets (designed by Roger Furse) at the villain’s lair that would do Ken Adam proud. Two future participants in the 1967 Casino Royale (Peter Sellers and David Niven) show up in cameos. Did we mention Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin making cameos at the end? Well, they do.

If you’ve never seen The Road to Hong Kong, you can CLICK HERE and watch the 91-minute film on YouTube (at least until it gets taken off that Web site). While a comedy, it is a preview of the more fantastic Bond movies that would emerge a few years later, starting with 1967′s You Only Live Twice.

Our modest proposal for Skyfall’s gunbarrel (if there is one)

There’s one thing Eon Productions could do for the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No, that could be done for minimal cost, evoke the series’ long history and might get at least some fans pumped up.

Bob Simmons, subbing for Sean Connery, performing the gunbarrel sequence that would be used in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.


Film a gunbarrel sequence to start out the movie with Daniel Craig’s 007 wearing a hat.

You remember the hat, don’t you? In about 10 seconds, the gunbarrel sequence evokes danger as the audience views Bond from the vantage point of an assassin attempting to kill 007. Bond, aware of the peril, turns and fires, and we see what’s supposed to be blood come down from the top of the screen.

Bob Simmons, Sean Connery’s stunt double, subbed for the star after title designer Maurice Binder had devised the gunbarrel logo to start off Dr. No. We don’t know if Connery wasn’t available. Regardless, Simmons looked enough like Connery (certainly at a distance and wearing a hat) so nobody would notice it wasn’t the star of the movie who walked out and suddenly fired at the audience.

Thus, began a tradition, that lasted 20 movies, through, 2002′s Die Another Day, where the gunbarrel logo started off a 007 film with some variation of The James Bond Theme. The hat disappeared when Roger Moore assumed the role with 1973′s Live And Let Die; it’s our understanding a version with Moore wearing the hat was filmed but it obviously wasn’t used.

Starting in 2005, producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli to make the series theirs, in effect declaring their independence from Eon Productions late co-founder Albert R. Broccoli. (“We need to generate something new, for ourselves,” Wilson told The New York Times in 2005.)

So the traditional gunbarrel was scrapped, with a new one (without the Bond theme) featuring star Daniel Craig just before the main titles. Wilson said in 2008 that “We’ll probably go back to the traditional style,” for Quantum of Solace. It didn’t turn out that way. Craig’s second gunbarrel came at the end of the movie, just before the end titles although with a traditional James Bond theme arrangement.

Daniel Craig


We don’t take it for granted the gunbarrel will back in any way, shape or form. Wilson, Broccoli and director Sam Mendes may decide to dispense with a gunbarrel altogether as far as we know. But *IF* one is included, having Craig wear a hat would be (pun intended) a tip of the cap to the past that’s subtle. The series did a special gunbarrel with Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, but it was hardly subtle. Brosnan “fired” a CGI bullet at the audience (and supposedly into the barrel of the assassin following Bond).

If Wilson is serious about Skyfall having “a magical Goldfinger feel,” then a traditional gunbarrel with Craig sporting a hat (as Simmons, Connery and George Lazenby did) would be a good place to start.

Run James, Run – Brian Wilson’s James Bond theme

Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

It is early 1966. The fourth 007 screen adventure, Thunderball, recently released, is a monstrous hit. “James Bond mania” is at its peak. You happen to be Brian Wilson, leader of the Beach Boys — “America’s Band” — and in a personal neck-and-neck competition with the Beatles to conquer new sonic frontiers in pop music. So what do you do? You decide to compose a theme song for the next James Bond movie.

It’s a little-known fact that Brian Wilson harbored such an intent, much less actually went and did it. Working in the studio with the cream of Los Angeles-based studio musicians (while his bandmates were on tour in Japan), Wilson composed and recorded an instrumental track titled Run James, Run. Stacked with swinging brass, bongos, and (the de rigueur) twangy guitars, it’s a quintessential piece of 60s-style spy music. Unfortunately, Wilson wasn’t the most self-confident person in the world to begin with, and his fragile psyche was further compromised by nervous breakdowns, heavy drug use, and (later diagnosed) bipolar syndrome. End result: he lost his nerve and never submitted the music to Eon Productions, producers of the Bond films. Happy ending: he renamed the piece Pet Sounds and made it the title track to one of the greatest albums of the rock era.

It’s an interesting thought that the natural, intuitive, pairing of James Bond and pop music would have been his countrymen — and fellow British invaders — the Beatles1. But it was their American counterpart who actually made the first move, abortive as it was. At any rate, here is an imagining of the title sequence for You Only Live Twice, marrying Maurice Binder’s visuals with Brian Wilson’s music:

(Courtesy LuiECuomo’s channel on YouTube.)

1 Who knows? Maybe they were still smarting over the “earmuffs” crack in Goldfinger. Maybe John Lennon would’ve had political issues with the amorality of the screen 007. Maybe Paul was setting things up for Live and Let Die. Maybe Ringo was setting things up for Barbara Bach…

Ken Russell’s brush with the world of spies

Movie director Ken Russell died this week at the age of 84. Obituaries concentrated on films such as the rock opera Tommy or the drama Women In Love.

Russell though had a flirtation with spy entertainment, directing 1967′s Billion Dollar Brain, the third of 007 producer Harry Saltzman’s Harry Palmer series, based on Len Deighton’s novels, and starring Michael Caine. It wasn’t supposed to be Saltzman’s last film of the series but it turned out that way.

Saltzman, restless by nature, wasn’t content with producing James Bond films with Albert R. Broccoli. Various authors have detailed how Saltzman’s outside ventures caused tensions between Saltzman and Broccoli. Nevertheless, Saltzman frequently tapped the talents of 007 crew members. Billion Dollar Brain was no exception, including sets designed by Syd Cain and titles designed by Maurice Binder.

Speaking of which, here are Binder’s titles:

For Your Eyes Only’s 30th anniversary: 007 returns to earth

The James Bond film series ended the 1970s with one of its most extravagent entries, Moonraker, where James Bond went into outer space. For the first Bond film of a new decade, producer Albert R. Broccoli opted to bring the gentleman agent back down to earth in For Your Eyes Only.

Moonraker hadn’t used much of Ian Fleming. For Your Eyes Only would tap the plots of two Fleming short stories, For Your Eyes Only and Risico. Both had been published in the same 1960 collection of short stories by Fleming. Broccoli brought back screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who hadn’t been involved with Moonraker, to write the new movie. Broccoli collaborated with Broccoli’s stepson Michael G. Wilson on the script.

The pair invented a “McGuffin” to marry the two short story plots. A British submarine sinks equipped with a signaling device that, if it falls into the wrong hands, could be used to order U.K. submarines to attack U.K. cities. Naturally, KGB spymaster General Gogol covets the device and contacts “our usual friend in Greece” to secure it. As a result, For Your Eyes Only would have the strongest Cold War feel in the series since 1963′s From Russia With Love.

While Maibaum was back, other Bond crew veterans were not. John Barry didn’t score the film and Broccoli hired Bill Conti instead. The producer, instead of hiring a previous 007 film director, promoted second unit director/film editor John Glen. Ken Adam bid adieu to the series with Moonraker, so Broccoli promoted Peter Lamont as production designer.

With all the crew changes, though, Broccoli ended up bringing back Roger Moore to play Bond. By this time, Moore’s original Bond contract had expired and there were questions whether the actor would return for a fifth film. The film’s opening appears to have been written and shot to introduce a new Bond. 007 goes to visit the grave of his late wife Tracy from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. We don’t see Bond’s face until after he’s laid flowers atop the grave.

The film very much had a “back to basics” feel. Moore/Bond even throws a hat on the coatrack of Miss Moneypenny’s office, similar to Sean Connery in the early Bond movies. The MI6 cover name of Universal Exports was revived. The movie ended up being a blend of the familiar and new. Besides the crew changes, title designer Maurice Binder changed things up by having singer Sheena Easton actually appear in the main titles.

The one constant: For Your Eyes Only did well enough at the box office to ensure future Bond film adventures. Here’s the trailer that audiences saw in the summer of 1981:

007 films and their (sort of) continuity part I

Poster for a Dr. No/From Russia With Love double feature

Poster for a Dr. No/From Russia With Love double feature


We were scanning some 007 Internet message boards recently. A couple of assertions caught our eye, including one that *every* James Bond film has its own timeline that has nothing to do with any other 007 film. The other was that Casino Royale wasn’t a “reboot,” in which the Bond saga started over.

Facts would indicate otherwise. Still, the subject of continuity is a murky one for Bond films. Continuity has never been a big marketing point, at least until 2008′s Quantum of Solace, which was hyped as the first “direct” sequel to a Bond film (Casino Royale, in this instance). So here’s a glance at when the series at least attempted continuity.

Contrary to the Quantum of Solace hype, 1963′s From Russia With Love contains a few references to the events of Dr. No. True, it’s not mere minutes or hours later (even that is murky in Quantum, which we’ll get to in part II), but it’s clearly a year or less. Examples:

Early in the film, SPECTRE chief Ernst Stavro Blofeld is conferring with Kronsteen, his director of planning, and Rosa Klebb, a recent SPECTRE hire from the Soviet Union. Kronsteen tells Blofeld that SPECTRE “will have the chance for a personal revenge for the killing of our operative, Dr. No, because the man the British will almost certainly send is their agent, James Bond.”

After the plot has started, we finally see Sean Connery’s Bond spending a pleasant day making out with girlfriend Sylvia Trench out in the English countryside. Bond had met Sylvia in Dr. No and the two, eh, enjoyed each other’s company before Bond flew to Jamaica on the Dr. No assignment. Their reunion is interrupted when Bond has to call the office and is told he needs to return. Bond tells a disappointed Sylvia, “We’ll do this again some time soon.” Sylvia replies: “The last time you said that, you flew off to Jamaica. I haven’t seen you in six months…” Bond manages to buy some time before returning to headquarters.

In 1964′s Goldfinger, there’s another apparent refernece to Dr. No. In the original film, Bond met CIA agent Felix Leiter for the first time (Leiter wasn’t in the Ian Fleming novel). After the main titles, Leiter meets Bond again in Miami, where 007 is getting a rubdown from a woman named Dink. After Dink departs, Leiter says he’s surprised that Bond has let “a member of the opposition get that close to you.” Bond’s reply: “Well, they got a lot closer to you in Jamica, didn’t they?”

Five years later, 1969′s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a new Bond with George Lazenby. M tells Bond he’s being taken off Operation Bedlam because he’s had “two years” to track down Blofeld but has been unsuccessful. You Only Live Twice had come out in 1967 (and showed Blofeld’s face on camera for the first time), so that’s an apparent reference. More explicitly, when Bond decides to quit, he’s going through his desk, taking out objects from previous movies, including Honey Rider’s knife and Red Grant’s garrote watch, with excerpts from the scores of Dr. No and From Russia With Love playing in the background as he does so.

All of this was probably meant to reassure the audience that despite the new face, it was still Bond. Whatever the motivation, dicector Peter Hunt, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry had hit continuity button hard. On top of that, Maurice Binder’s main titles had an “hourglass” motiff showing the passage of time as well as (non-Sean Connery) clips from the five previous 007 films.

Eight years later, in The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond and Agent Triple-X are showing off how much they know from each other’s dossiers. Triple-X one ups Bond by starting to talk about his late wife, presumably Tracy from OHMSS. Bond cuts her off, showing it’s still a sore subject. It’s the first time since OHMSS the marriage was explicitly referenced.

For Your Eyes Only in 1981 takes the OHMSS continuity play one step further. In the pre-titles sequence, Bond visits Tracy’s grave (and her name is on it, so there’s no possible mistake). The tombstone says Tracy died in 1969, the year OHMSS was released. The epitath is “We Have All the Time in the World,” the last line of OHMSS when a disbelieving Bond is mourning the loss of his wife, as well as the name of the main song from the film.

What’s more, the script contained a reference where the (sort of) Blofeld in the film’s pre-titles sequence says this is “the 10th anniversary of last encounter,” which would match 1971′s Diamond Are Forever, the last time the official film series used the Blofeld character openly. The line was snipped in final editing; Kevin McClory claimed ownership of Blofeld so Eon opted to take out the explicit reference. That decision was too late for Marvel Comics, which included the line in its comic book adaptation of the movie.

The ill-fated marriage gets referenced yet again in 1989′s Licence to Kill when Felix (whose own wife is about to get killed) says Bond was once married “but it was a long time ago.”

So connecting the dots, it would seem, at the very least, the Sean Connery-George Lazenby-Roger Moore films all share a timeline, though you’ll get arguments whether Diamonds Are Forever pretends OHMSS never happened. The films all have Lois Maxwell playing Miss Moneypenny. Extending the timeline through Timothy Dalton’s two films may be a more dicey proposition (he had his own Moneypenny, Caroline Bliss). On the other hand, Robert Brown, who had played M in the last two Roger Moore films, was still around, and so was Desmond Llewelyn’s Q.

After Licence to Kill, Bond went into a hiatus during a six-year period when Albert R. Broccoli considered selling off his Bond interest as well as getting into a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. When the dust settled, yet another new Bond was about to debut. And one of the key Eon Production personnel was about to muddy things up more, continuity wise.

TO BE CONTINUED

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