Reminder of a major Bond transition

Earlier today, the Eon Productions official James Bond feed on Twitter posted a reminder of a major transition in the long-running film series.

The tweet had a photo from 1988 of the start of production of Eon’s 16th Bond film. In the photo, Eon co-founder, Albert R. Broccoli, is holding a clapperboard. At the time the film was to have been called License Revoked:

Richard Maibaum, a screenwriter who went back to the earliest days of the Eon series, had worked on the plot. But the Writers Guild of America went on strike.

Michael G. Wilson, who collaborated on the Eon Bond films of the 1980s, took over as lead screenwriter. In those days, the weekly print edition of Variety carried a chart of major movies in production. That listed only Wilson as the movie’s screenwriter. Eventually, after the WGA went back to work, the final credit, when the movie was released in 1989, was “Written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum.”

The title later was changed to Licence (the English, rather than American, spelling) to Kill.

The movie would be the final Bond credits for Maibaum, director John Glen (who, in addition to his five directing credits had worked as editor and second unit director on three others) and title designer Maurice Binder.

Albert R. Broccoli chose Pierce Brosnan to play Bond in the 1990s, but passed on producing duties to Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. The Eon co-founder got a “presents” credit in GoldenEye.

Q the Music is hanging it up

Q the Music, which does live performances of James Bond music and songs, will shut down permanently in 2022 after a farewell tour, Warren Ringham, the group’s director, announced on social media.

Ringham cited how Brexit and COVID-19 how changed conditions for the group.

“Whilst we have fought on for as long as possible, I myself as the director must now think about how my decisions will impact my own health and that of my family around me,” he wrote.

I never had the opportunity of witnessing a live performance by Q the Music. But those who have rave about the experience.

Below is a video Q the Music posted to YouTube about one of its performances. It runs almost two hours.

About those defenses of Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace’s soundtrack

Recently, there have been podcasts and videos defending 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

If you love the 22nd James Bond movie made by Eon Productions, good for you. But there’s a recurring theme that those who aren’t as enthusiastic (including this blog) are somehow ignorant and their observations aren’t legitimate.

Here’s a recap of some aspects of Quantum that fall short.

When does Quantum of Solace take place? Casino Royale took place in 2006 (based on timestamps of surveillance videos). Eon Productions said Quantum took place shortly (the exact amount varied but supposedly it was an hour or so). But it wasn’t *years* later.

Vesper sacrificed herself at the end of Casino Royale. But she made sure that Bond got Mr. White’s mobile phone number.

Even in the 2000s, mobile phones acted as a GPS device. Vesper wanted to make sure that Bond could track Mr. White down. That’s why she got him Mr. White’s phone number.

In those days, street thugs were smart enough to use “burner,” or disposable, phones. Mr. White wasn’t? Or, was Bond not bright enough to track down Mr. White despite knowing his phone number?

Quantum fans will say that’s being picky. But it was Eon’s marketing campaign that stressed this was a direct sequel! Except those involved couldn’t match up the direct sequel to the original film.

Did M get shot? In the sequence after the main titles, it sure looks like it. But those who have better Blu Ray/DVD players that I do have screen captures where a long, thin metal object blocked the bullet. OK, fine. But that was not obvious watching it the theater first run. The audience in the theater should know what’s going on.

The thirsty villagers: Bond and Camille discover an underground lake, part of a plot to ensure a monopoly of water in South America. They walk past a lot of thirsty villagers, desperate for water. Do Bond and Camille let them know? “Hey, there’s a big underground lake back there!” No, of course not.

M’s quick turnaround: M shows up with several agents to take Bond in because (wait for it) he’s gone rogue. Bond beats the agents up. Then M says she trusts Bond because she’s his guy. Oh.

This week, I heard from a Quantum fan who said he doesn’t watch movies to find mistakes.

Guess what? Neither do I. But when the filmmakers throw them your face, it’s hard to overlook.

If you love Quantum, great. But don’t claim those of us who can detect imperfections are at fault.

Douglas Cramer, controversial M:I figure, dies

Dougas S. Cramere title card on a third-season episode of Mission: Impossible.

Douglas S. Cramer, a successful TV executive and producer, has died at 89, according to The Wrap. His credits include the likes of the likes of The Love Boat, the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series and Vega$. But he was also a controversial figure with the original Mission: Impossible television series.

Background: Mission: Impossible originated with writer-producer Bruce Geller who had landed at Desilu. During M:I’s second season, Lucille Ball sold Desilu to the parent company of Paramount. Suddenly, Desilu became Paramount Television.

In M:I’s third season, Geller was now dealing with Douglas S. Cramer, who more cost-conscious that previous management.

Among many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer is seen as a villain. It was under his tenure that Martin Landau and Barbara Bain departed the show. Landau had never signed a long-term series deal and negotiated his salary a season as a time.

It was during the Cramer regime at Paramount that Landau’s bargaining power ran out. Bain, his wife at the time, went with him out the door.

The 1991 book The Complete Mission: Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White included interviews with Cramer.

“Bruce had a wonderful concept of the show, put it together beautifully, but paid no attention to budget,” Cramer told the author. “Secondly, he traditionally wrote bigger shows than we could afford to do….Bruce was a madman about scripts and there would be layer after layer of writers working on them.”

There were other Mission: Impossible conflicts. Bruce Geller, as executive producer, clashed with writer-producers William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter during the third season. The Woodfield-Balter team, who had authored many of the best episodes, left.

Still, the big conflict was the one with Geller and Cramer. The latter described his perspective to author White.

“Bruce and his refusal to pay any attention to budget had permeated all the people that worked for him,” Cramer said. In the book, Cramer referred to Geller as a “mad dictator.”

For many Mission: Impossible fans, Cramer was in the wrong and Geller was proven correct in the end. M:I ran seven seasons, the longest run of the 1960s spy craze and spawned a successful series of Tom Cruise movies.

Regardless, Cramer’s story is a reminder that making a television series it never easy. It’s always a balance of art and commerce.

Aston Martin gets its 1st F-1 podium in a Bond setting

Aston Martin achieved its first podium finish today in Formula One. Appropriately, it took place in a James Bond film setting, although not one of the usual suspects.

Sebastian Vettel, driver for Aston Martin’s F-1 team, finished second in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, held on the streets of Baku. The race was stopped with a few laps to go and a restart took place.

For the uninitiated, the top three finishers appear on the podium where they proceed to spray champagne on each other. The winner was Sergio Perez of the Red Bull team.

F-1’s most famous street race is the Monaco Grand Prix, an event held since 1929.

Still, Aston Martin is a brand associated with Bond and Azerbaijan was a setting for 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. (Even if the main Bond car was a BMW in that film.)

Here’s a tweet Aston Martin posted about today’s race.

An old Hollywood hand opines on Bond amid Amazon deal

Peter Bart’s Twitter avatar (@MrPeterBart)

h/t to David Leigh and Phil Nobile Jr. who brought this to my attention. The post below is my responsibility alone.

Peter Bart is an old Hollywood hand. He has worked both sides of the fence, serving as a studio executive and an entertainment industry trade journalist (he was a long-time editor of Variety). Currently, he writes columns for the Deadline: Hollywood site.

This week, he opted to weigh in on Amazon’s announced deal to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $8.45 billion. He told an anecdote or two, drawing on his studio executive experience.

 I was personally introduced to the Bond bonanza in 1983 when a cadre of business affairs executives invaded my office with packets of documents. “When you sign the top document, you’ll be greenlighting the next Bond movie,” instructed the first executive. “The film is titled Octopussy.”

“Is the script as bad as the title?” I asked.

“Probably,” came the reply. “But you’re signing as president of United Artists and we need your signature, not your opinion. A Bond deal is a special deal.”

I promptly signed. I’d heard the legend of how Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, heirs to the Bond dynasty, had constructed a web of contracts that tightly controlled every creative and marketing element of their franchise, and also kept half of the action. I had no stake in intruding in this cozy arrangement.

That’s all very interesting but, as of 1983, Barbara Broccoli had a junior role in the franchise. Her father, Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq LLC and Eon Productions, still controlled operations. Barbara Broccoli graduated college and went to work on Octopussy in 1982. She got an on-screen credit but it was part of the end titles.

Bart also took a shot at Octopussy star Roger Moore “who, at 55, came across more as a stylish maître d’ than as a master spy.” Bart also wrote that Octopussy “performed torpidly at the worldwide box office,”

The movie finished 1983 with a global box office of $187.5 million. While behind 1981’s For Your Eyes Only ($195.3 million), it was ahead of Never Say Never Again, a competing Bond film starring Sean Connery ($160 million). Those were big numbers four decades ago.

The article by Bart, who turns 89 in July, reflects a broader unease among entertainment types with Amazon and its outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is planning to spend more time with his rocket company.) Hollywood is being rocked by streaming services (such as Amazon Prime) and is still adjusting to the new reality.

Bart also offered this observation about No Time to Die, the upcoming 25th film in the Eon-produced series:

A $300 million theatrical release, the latest Bond represents a tangle of rights agreements dating back 60 years that reflect the legalistic compromises of the past rather than the slick streamer dealmaking of the present…Some ticket buyers may also see its plot as a creaky reminder of white-bread misogyny.

For Your Eyes Only’s 40th: Back to Fleming

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld (?) menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Updated from a June 2016 post.

Audiences got something in June 1981 they hadn’t seen in a while — a James Bond film with much of the proceedings actually based on Ian Fleming stories.

For Your Eyes Only, based on two Fleming short stories, even included some dialogue here and there taken from 007’s creator.

At this point, there hadn’t been so much Fleming material in a Bond movie since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended with the death of Bond’s wife Tracy.

That movie was referenced at the very start of the pre-titles sequence when Bond visits Tracy’s grave. Her year of death was listed on her headstone as 1969 and her epitaph read, “We Have All the Time in the World.”

Following two Bond spectacles, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, the 1981 pre-titles sequence immediately signaled a change in tone.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson ended up using chunks of the For Your Eyes Only and Risico short stories while fashioning a plot line to tie the two Fleming tales together.

It was also one time where Eon Productions and producer Albert R. Broccoli varied from their usual strategy of “tailoring” a movie to its leading man.

Roger Moore, making his fifth 007 film appearance, was called upon in the Maibaum-Wilson script to kick a car containing a killer in the employ of the movie’s villain off a cliff. Earlier in the story, Bond’s opponent was responsible for the death of an MI6 agent.

There were multiple accounts at the time that Moore hesitated but that first-time director John Glen (who had been promoted by Broccoli from second unit director) stuck to his guns.

It was a harder Bond than Moore normally played and it worked for the story. This was a case of writing Bond first and having the actor play to that.

For Your Eyes Only still added big set pieces, including a wheelchair-bound Blofeld (originally it wasn’t officially supposed to be the villain, but that got “re-conned” many years later as part of an official home video promotion) controlling a helicopter with Bond inside. There were also chases, with Bond in a small car for a change and on skis being menaced by various killers.

However, For Your Eyes Only stayed very much earth-bound compared with Moonraker, where Bond had gone into space. On more than one occasion, Moore’s Bond is forced to use his wits to survive.

During the summer of 1981, Bond still drew audiences amid heightened box office competition, such as Indiana Jones’ debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a huge hit with global box office of almost $390 million.

For Your Eyes Only generated global box office of $195.3 million. While a bit down from Moonraker’s $210.3 million, the change in direction was accepted by the general public.

Moreover, fans of Fleming’s original novels and short stories took note. It would not be until 2006’s Casino Royale that audiences would get as much Fleming content in a 007 film. For Your Eyes also was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

FROM 2011: For Your Eyes Only’s 30th anniversary: 007 returns to earth

Robert Hogan, character actor, dies

Robert Hogan

Robert Hogan, a character actor whose career extended decades, has died at 87. While never a star, he kept busy as an actor.

Hogan was a friend of Albert S. Ruddy, a co-creator of Hogan’s Heroes (1965-71). The lead character of Col. Robert Hogan (Bob Crane) was named after Robert Hogan. The real-life Hogan appeared in an episode of Hogan’s Heroes.

Robert Hogan also was a member of the “QM Players” of actors frequently cast in shows produced by Quinn Martin. He appeared on such QM series as The FBI, Barnaby Jones, The Manhunter, Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco, 12 O’Clock High and The Fugitive.

The actor appeared in many shows beyond that. Hogan’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 150 acting credits.

In 2019’s Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, Hogan got a shoutout of sorts. The movie included a sequence based on an episode of The FBI. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is watching himself on The FBI (it was Burt Reynolds in the original). As Dalton watches, he comments, “That’s Bobby Hogan, a good guy.”

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

Film and literary 007: Is there a plan going forward?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

In the next year, James Bond fans (hopefully) will get to view a new film (No Time to Die) and a new novel (title yet to be chosen).

What happens after that? Does either the cinematic Bond or the literary Bond have a plan for the future?

No Time to Die was filmed in 2019 after starting pre-production two years earlier. A third 007 continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz was announced today by Ian Fleming Productions.

The thing is, the film and literary franchises are on the same track. Each pushes out “events” with no regular releases.

Back in the day, Ian Fleming cranked out novels annually. This was copied during the continuation novel eras of John Gardner and Raymond Benson. Since then? Not so much.

Once upon a time, James Bond movies came out every two or three years. Today? Absolutely not. If No Time to Die makes its (current ) release date, it will have been a six-year gap since SPECTRE.

With the novel, Anthony Horowitz has made an impact with readers. But he operates in the original Ian Fleming timeline. He’s done mid-career (Trigger Mortis) and and the start of his career (Forever And a Day). The new novel picks up with the end of Fleming’s final novel, The Man With the Golden Gun.

Back in 2010, Ian Fleming Publications hired Jeffery Deaver to do a new novel (Carte Blanche) that was supposed to be a start of a new, timeshifted series. Remember that? Well, here’s a video where he talked about the concept:

Never mind. Deaver’s novel was never followed up upon.

Is there anyplace yet to go with the current course? Horowitz comes out with another novel with Bond at the one-quarter phase of his career? His three-quarter phase? His five-sixth phase?

With the films? Who knows. Eon opted to reboot things with 2006’s Casino Royale. No Time to Die (apparently) deals with many loose ends after 2015’s SPECTRE.

Fine. But what happens with Bond 26, whenever that comes out?

Netflix is paying more than $400 million for two Knives Out sequels. It’s hard to imagine Daniel Craig (who has suffered various injuries playing Bond) coming back to play Bond again when he can make good money with less stress. That won’t make Eon boss Barbara Broccoli happy.

The point is both the film and literary Bond franchises are at a key point. There’s a lot to anticipate the next couple of years. But is there much after that?

We’ll see.