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

A View To a Kill: 25th anniversary of the end of an era

This month is the silver anniversary of the release of A View To a Kill. It’s not a film that often enters the James Bond discussion of classic entries in the series. Truth be told (and in the interests of full disclosure), AVTAK didn’t get much love in a survey of HMSS editors some time back.

Still, it’s an anniversary worth noting if only because it the swan song of Roger Moore in the role of James Bond after seven films. One can certainly argue that Sir Roger was (and looked) too old but he does have a lot of fans who were willing to overlook that to see the actor one more time.

AVTAK also has elements of a classic 007 movie, though weird things happen at critical moments. One of the main examples: the pre-titles sequence starts out with second unit director/ski stunt arranger Willy Bogner and composer John Barry seemingly at the top of their games then a Beach Boys song pops up, completing changing the mood.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli went out and hired an Oscar winner (Christopher Walken) to be the villain, but he sometimes draws mixed reactions among fans. Broccoli also hired Patrick Macnee to be one of Bond’s (doomed) allies, letting the actor get into a 007 movies after three of his co-stars on The Avengers had participated. (Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg were hired at least in part because of the fame they got from the show; Joanna Lumley’s Bond time was prior to being Macnee’s co-star in The New Avengers.)

In any case, here’s the trailer:

And here are the main titles, which include a Duran Duran-performed song that apparently inspired designer Maurice Binder to come up with unusual makeup for his nude models:

Salute to Maurice Binder’s non-007 work

The late Maurice Binder is closely associated with the world of James Bond, starting with his gunbarrel logo that began Dr. No to the main titles of 14 007 movies. But Binder did many creative main titles for other films that ought not be overlooked.

Binder did some interesting collaborations with composer Henry Mancini. For example, there was 1963’s Charade:

A few years later, producer-director Stanley Donen again tapped Binder and Mancini for Arabesque:

Finally, there was The Tamarind Seed, one of the few movies directed by Blake Edwards that didn’t have a score by Mancini. Instead, John Barry was hired, with Binder doing the main titles. By coincidence, a number of 007 alumni (director of photography Freddie Young and art director Harry Pottle) also worked on the movie. It began like this:

Ken Adam and Maurice Binder discuss Bond films, circa 1980

Ken Adam and Maurice Binder gave an interview in 1980 and discussed their work on the Bond films. Much of what they talked about concerned Moonraker. We have to credit “Mr. Wint” on the Commander Bond Web site’s message boards for finding this.

A Peter Gunn influenced by Maurice Binder?

In 1967, Peter Gunn got the big-screen treatment. Gunn came out six years after the 1958-61 series ended. Craig Stevens even reprised the role, even though all the supporting characters were recast.

Being a movie meant a longer version of the famous Peter Gunn Theme by Henry Mancini. But the main titles may have also been influenced by the main titles that Maurice Binder was doing for the James Bond movies that included a combination of images of women and animation.

Take a look for yourself.

UPDATE: Richard Kuhn, the title designer of Gunn, also did the titles of a 1966 movie based on a television show:

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