Irvin Kershner, Never Say Never Again director, dies at 87

Irvin Kershner, best known for directing The Empire Strikes Back as well as the “unofficial” 007 film Never Say Never Again, has died at 87, according to an obituary on the entertainment Web site The Wrap. (UPDATE: For a more detailed obit, you can read The New York Times’s account of Kershner’s career BY CLICKING HERE.)

NSNA had a complicated history. It’s a remake of Thunderball (whose 45th anniversary we’ve been writing about). The original book the subject of a court fight between Kevin McClory and Ian Fleming after Fleming did a novel based on scripts of an abandoned film project. Eventually, McClory, having been a partner in the 1965 original film, began efforts to start his own 007 movie based on his Thunderball rights. After years of effort, that film was NSNA, which would bring back Sean Connery as Bond. Kershner drew the directing assignment and it probably didn’t hurt that he had directed the star in A Fine Madness.

The movie generates a mixed reaction among Bond fans. Some just won’t accept anything that’s not part of Eon Productions’ official series. Others love NSNA because Sean Connery came back for one last outing as 007.

One of the memorable scenes in NSNA where Bond dances a tango with Domino (Kim Basinger taking up the role originally played by Claudine Auger). In one sense, it’s typical of NSNA. Fans either love it or hate it, there’s little middle ground.

Thunderball’s 45th anniversary part II: a star talks about moving on

Advertisements proclaimed that with Thunderball, “Here Comes the Biggest Bond of All!” For Sean Connery, things had already gotten too big and he sounded as if he was already looking forward to his post-007 career.

Connery detailed his views about James Bond IN AN INTERVIEW WITH PLAYBOY MAGAZINE. The exchange wasn’t like the quick promotional “interviews” now seen on television and on the Internet, where hordes of interviewers are brought in, each one given a few minutes each. Playboy also asked the star questions about his non-Bond movies and he talked enthusiastically about the military drama The Hill, which also came out in 1965.

Connery in his interview comments talked like a man looking forward to ending his Bondage. The interview was a warning sign to 007 fans that big changes were ahead.

PLAYBOY: In any case, Dr. No turned out to be a hit, and you found yourself under contract for a series—exactly what you said you wanted to avoid.
CONNERY: Yes—but it allows me to make other films, and I have only two more Bonds to do.

PLAYBOY: Which ones?
CONNERY: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and possibly You Only Live Twice. They would like to start On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Switzerland in January, but I’m not sure I’ll be free in time and I don’t want to rush it, although they say the snow will be at its best then. I’m not going to rush anything anymore.

At this point, Connery still left the door open for future Bond films after his contract ended — while indicating his price would go up. “But as far as this series is concerned,” he told Playboy, referring to the Bond movies, “after the next two, the only condition for making any more would be $1 million plus a percentage of the gross.” Connery told Playboy he only got 6,000 British pounds, or $16,800 at the time, to play 007 in Dr. No. When asked by Playboy’s interviewer if $500,000 was “off the mark” for his Thunderball salary, Connery replied, “No, not really.”

The star also told the magazine that “with Thunderball we’ve reached the limit as far as size and gimmicks are concerned…. What is needed now is a change of course—more attention to character and better dialog.”

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman adjusted Connery’s contract so he’d be free after the next Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice (deciding to delay OHMSS). In the interim, Connery unsuccessfully sought to be made a partner after watching Dean Martin make more money than the Scotsman did because of such a parternship arrangement with the Matt Helm movies.

Broccoli and Saltzman threw out the plot of Ian Fleming’s Twice novel to try and outdo Thunderball in terms of spectacle and not the change of course that Connery was seeking.

The duo were unable to entice Connery back for Majesty’s — a film that would have provided Connery the chance to get more into characterization as Bond.