Happy birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery, circa 1963

Sean Connery, circa 1963

Aug. 25 is Sean Connery’s 84th birthday.

A recent CBS NEWS POLL of Americans indicates he is still, far and away, the most popular screen James Bond.

In that poll, Connery was the No. 1 choice among 51 percent of those surveyed. The poll was performed July 16 to 20 among 1,024 adults across the Unites States. People were surveyed using both cell phones and land lines. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

In the second position was Pierce Brosnan at 12 percent, with Roger Moore at No. 3 at 11 percent and Daniel Craig No. 4 at 8 percent.

Some Bond fans, expressing their opinion on social media, question the results, saying it sounds like a poll done before 2006. 

We suspect the results more reflect how Connery blazed the trail that others followed. No matter how well his successors have performed, he remains the original screen 007.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

Connery still No. 1 007 among Americans, CBS poll says

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

CBS News commissioned a poll of Americans concerning who the best screen James Bond was. The answer: Sean Connery, the original movie Bond, at 51 percent.

Connery hasn’t played Bond (in a movie, anyway) in 31 years, in 1983’s Never Say Never Again. His last appearance in the 23-film series of Eon Productions was Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. He did voice over work as 007 in a video game version of From Russia With Love (which also mixed in the Aston Martin DB5 and a jet pack from later films).

Nevertheless, CBS says the margin of error for the poll was only 3 percentage points, meaning the Connery vote could range from as low as 48 percent to as high as 54 percent.

Connery’s debuted in the role in 1962’s Dr. No and held the role for five consecutive films. After a one-film absence, United Artists offered $1.25 million, as well as financing for other films, to get him back for Diamonds. With Never Say Never Again, he was a de facto producer, helping to select writers and the composer, for a 007 film not made by Eon.

No. 2 in the poll was Pierce Brosnan, the Bond of record from 1995 to 2002, at 12 percent, and Roger Moore, who did seven 007 films from 1973 through 1985, at 11 percent. The rest: current 007 Daniel Craig, on duty since 2006’s Casino Royale, at 8 percent, and 1 percent each for Timothy Dalton (1987-89) and George Lazenby, who was the lead in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

CBS says was conducted by telephone July 16-20, with 1,024 U.S. residents participating. Interviews were conducted over both land lines and cell phones. A company called SSRS conducted the poll on behalf of CBS.

Could both 007 and U.N.C.L.E. end up in Rome?

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Rome is getting to be a popular place for spies.

Bond 24, according to a local film official, is to include a car chase in Rome. The Play 4 Movie website attributed the news to Luciano Sovena, president of the Roma Lazio Film Commission.

There aren’t many details. Sovena says on the website he’s met with the co-bosses of Eon Productions, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, about it. “Barbara and Michael really count on it, they’re already excited,” Sovena is quoted as saying. (Thanks to the James Bond Dossier for the heads up.) It should be noted for Skyfall there were reports the producers were looking at India, but the production ended up doing its main location shooting in Turkey.

The 007 film series has been in Italy before, including three stops (From Russia With Love, Moonraker and Casino Royale) in Venice with three different leading men (Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig). The first time viewers see Roger Moore’s 007 in Live And Let Die, he’s back home from a mission M refers to as “the Rome affair.” It’s a passing reference (though we’re told Italian officials were impressed with Bond). It’s mostly to explain for the audience the presence of a woman Italian agent at Bond’s flat. (“They do seem to be missing one of their agents, a Miss Caruso.”)

Last year, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie with Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer also filmed in Rome. A fair amount of location shooting time for the film, which is due out in January 2015, was filmed in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. Here’s a video of the U.N.C.L.E. crew during the Rome shoot.

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.

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.

Three Tom Mankiewicz 007 anecdotes

"Mankiewicz? I have some more ideas."

“Mankiewicz? I have some more ideas.”

Empire magazine’s website has A 2010 INTERVIEW with screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz about his work on James Bond films.

A couple of anecdotes may be of interest.

Connery’s contribution to the script of Diamonds Are Forever: There may been various tellings of a script meeting Mankiewicz had with star Sean Connery. This interview had additional details.

When Lana Wood appears at the crap table and says, “Hi, I’m Plenty.” Bond says, “Why, of course you are.” She says, “Plenty O’Toole.” (Connery) asked me if he could respond, “‘Named after your father perhaps?’” I said, “It’s a great line.” But the very fact that he asked me – I was (only) 27 years old – shows you the kind of way he goes about his work. He’s totally professional. Any other actor would just have tried it right in the take. I was amazed. It’s a good line, and it’s his line.

The writer’s deleted reference to From Russia With Love in The Spy Who Loved Me: Mankiewicz did an uncredited rewrite on The Spy Who Loved Me. The finished film referenced, briefly, Tracy from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It occurred in a scene where Bond and Soviet agent Triple-X verbally joust to show off how each knows the other’s dossier.

Mankiewicz wanted to insert a From Russia With Love reference in the same scene.

The Best Bond quip maybe that I ever wrote – and I wrote hundreds of them – was cut out of The Spy Who Loved Me. It’s when Roger (Moore) meets Barbara Bach at the bar. He knows that she’s a Soviet Major or something and she knows he’s 007. Anyway, he says, “I must say, you’re prettier than your pictures, Major,” and she responds, “The only picture I’ve seen of you, Mr. Bond, was taken in bed with one of our agents – a Miss Tatiana Romanova.”…Roger then said, “Was she smiling?” And Barbara Bach answers, “As I recall, her mouth was not immediately visible.” Roger retorts, “Then I was smiling.”

You can read the entire Bond-related portion of the interview by CLICKING HERE. From the same interview, you can read what Mankiewicz said about the Christopher Reeve Superman movies BY CLICKING HERE.

UPDATE: In the Superman portion of the interview, Mankiewicz provides some 1972 quotes from Connery. According to the screenwriter, he had been asked by 007 producer Albert R. Broccoli to see if Connery could be enticed to play Bond in Live And Let Die.

He said, “Listen, Boy-o, one of the things I always hear is that I owe it to the public to play Bond. I’ve done six fucking movies. When do I stop owing it to the public? It’s not a question of being kind or unkind. What, after the twelfth or fifteenth? After they stop making money anymore and people say, “What, that’s all he plays? How much do you owe after six films?” I understood completely. If he didn’t get out then, he would just be James Bond. His other films wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Aging in James Bond movies

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

Skyfall director Sam Mendes this month said his 007 film was the first Bond adventure “where characters were allowed to age.” But was it really?

In 2000, author James Chapman made an observation about the opening of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. At the start of the film, Roger Moore’s Bond visits the grave of his late wife, Tracy. Her headstone gives her year of death as 1969, the year On Her Majesty’s Secret Service came out.

What is unusual, however is not that the film refers back to Bond’s wife…but that it should do so in such a temporally precise way. The dates on the gravestone place the Bond of For Your Eyes Only as being twelve years older than the Bond of OHMSS. Assuming that Bond is usually taken to be in his late thirties, then the Bond of For Your Eyes Only would therefore be approaching fifty. In this sense, the film brings Bond roughly in line with Roger Moore’s own age (he was fifty-three when the film was released) and works better for Moore than it would likely have done for a younger, incoming actor.

Licence to Thrill, Columbia University Press, page 207

Chapman, interacting with fellow 007 fans on Facebook, also mentioned how Desmond Llewelyn’s Q aged. In The World Is Not Enough, he refers to his upcoming retirement and gives Bond a piece of advice before the agent departs on his mission. It would be the last time Llewelyn’s Q would be seen. The actor died after the film was released in the fall of 1999.

This wasn’t the first time such a notion had been considered. In Bruce Feirstein’s first draft script for what would become Tomorrow Never Dies, Q is retired. He has been succeeded by a man named Malcolm Saunders. Q even got a retirement gift from the CIA.

However, later in the Feirstein draft, Q interrupts his retirement to help Bond out. In the final version of Tomorrow Never Dies, there is no hint about a Q retirement.

Finally, while it’s not part of the Eon Productions series, 1983’s Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery returning as Bond, embraced the older Bond concept.

Arguably, though, Mendes’ Bond film addressed the aging issue the most of a 007 story.

Variations of the line sometimes, the old ways are best were repeated. Mendes, in various interviews, quoted himself as telling Daniel Craig before production started that “you’ll have to play this at close to your own age.” Also, Roger Deakins, the movie’s director of photography, seemed to highlight every wrinkle on Judi Dench’s face in some closeups.

UPDATE: Some other examples of aging in the pre-Mendes Bond universe:

–Connery, in a 1971 article in True magazine, indicated he wanted to play an older Bond in Diamonds are Forever. He said how immortality “isn’t anyone’s, not yours, not mine and not James Bond’s.” The article also referenced how Connery would have preferred to portray a balding Bond.

–Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny, in Octopussy, says “as I used to be?” when Moore’s Bond talks about how lovely her new assistant is. Of course, this changed when the part was recast in The Living Daylights.

–In Licence to Kill, David Hedison tells his wife that Bond had been married “a long time ago,” in a reference that’s not as specific as the one in For Your Eyes Only.

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