007 (or so) observations about Moonraker

A "guilty pleasure" for some 007 fans

A “guilty pleasure” for some 007 fans

Wednesday, June 29, was the 37th anniversary of Moonraker’s U.S. debut. The 11th James Bond film doesn’t get much love from fans in the 21st century. Yet, it was a huge financial success in the 20th.

With that in mind, what follows are some observations about the film:

001: Drax’s disdain for Britain: This may reflect a few bits of Ian Fleming’s third Bond novel that made it into the movie.

The nationality of Drax (Michael Lonsdale) isn’t specified but he clearly isn’t British. He keeps a British butler around, mostly to boss around.

The Moonraker villain also tells Bond that “afternoon tea” is the U.K.’s greatest contribution to Western civilization. Later (after Bond has investigated Drax’s Venice facilities), Drax makes a comment about not understanding British humor.

002: Bond’s physical stamina: As Bond (Roger Moore) agrees to take a ride in Drax’s centrifuge, Holly (Lois Chiles) says “even a 70-year-old” can take “three Gs” (the force of takeover). Holly says most people “pass out” at seven Gs. Bond withstands *13 Gs* before activating a device he got from Q to escape.

003: One of the best (unheralded) scenes of the movie: Bond further investigates Drax’s Venice facilities. For the Moore version of Bond, this represents one of his deadliest miscalculations.

Bond briefly observes two of Drax’s scientists at work. Visually, there are a number of things to catch the viewer’s eyes. When the scientists briefly walk away, 007 moves in further.

Unfortunately, Bond didn’t leave everything as he left it, and the two scientists die as a result. One of the best shots of the film is one of the scientists dying while Bond watches on the other side of a Plexiglass barrier.

Yes, this sequence included the joke that draws groans from hard-core Bond fans (the John Williams theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the entry code). Still, overall, the sequence is a mostly serious one for a very lighthearted movie.

004: The minister of defense (defence to our British friends) plays Bridge with Drax: Others have made this observation long ago, but it is one of the few direct references to Ian Fleming’s 1955 novel. So we thought we’d mention it here.

005: Bond is a cheapskate! No tip, James? You get to stay in the President’s Suite at an expensive hotel in Rio and you stiff the guy on the tip. In From Russia With Love, Bond (Sean Connery) stuffed his tip in the suitcoat pocket of the guy who took him to his Istanbul hotel room. He shows his contempt while *still* giving a tip.

But here? Come on, Bond! The guy is just trying to make a living!

006: Bond’s brief moment of compassion for a fellow MI6 agent: After almost getting killed by Jaws, the MI6 agent in Rio offers to still help bond. He declines, saying she should get some rest.

007: Bond’s cable car reaction: Only 007 would react to a stalled cable car by going to the car’s roof. Only a CIA agent (Holly in this case) would have a first reaction to grab the nearest chain. Also, how many cable cars have a chain laying around?

008: The special effects of the boat chase weren’t that good, even in 1979: Friend or foe of the movie, this was not a highlight.

Seriously, the Spy Commander saw the film five times in the theater and you can could discern what was real and was special effects.. But Albert R. Broccoli & Co. had the good sense to keep up the pace to get past that.

009: Bond momentarily loses his cool: It only lasts a few seconds, but Bond really is annoyed with Jaws (Richard Kiel) after the henchman fishes 007 out of Drax’s pool.

0010: Some of the walls of Drax’s space station seem to be made of cardboard: Ken Adam (1921-2016) was one of the greatest production designers in the history of film. But a few shots in the climatic space station fight indicate the budget was running low.

0011: John Barry deserves every compliment he’s ever gotten for this film: The veteran 007 composer improves almost every scene in the movie with his score. It might not be his best Bond score, but Barry elevates the film throughout.

0012: This film is unique in the 007 film series:  It’s the one time that Eon Productions founder Albert R. Broccoli more or less didn’t have to worry about the budget.

In the 1970s, United Artists and Eon had to confront whether the 007 film series could continue after Sean Connery left for good and after Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold his interest to United Artists.

In the 1980s (and beyond), Eon had to deal with budget issues after Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer acquired UA in the early part of the decade.

For Moonraker, Broccoli really had (almost) Carte Blanche for making a Bond movie. This really was “the money’s up on the screen.”

 

Just another wacky week for James Bond fans

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE's main titles

Daniel Craig in SPECTRE’s main titles

It’s only Wednesday but it’s already been a weird week for the serious 007 fan. Let’s get to it.

CRAIG WHIPLASH: Early Tuesday, the LIVERPOOL ECHO ran a short story Tuesday about actor Daniel Craig that had the following quote about playing James Bond again:

Speaking to the TV Times the Wirral actor said: “I have no thoughts about it. What the future holds, I don’t know. That’s the honest truth.”

Some Bond fans spotted that and viewed it as a sign that the four-time 007 might still be available for Bond 25. However, reader James Page (who saw this post when it was first published) advises the quote is from 2015.

Later on Tuesday, DEADLINE: HOLLYWOOD reported Craig was in talks to star with Halle Berry in a drama set during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Other entertainment websites, such as VARIETY, quickly confirmed the development.

The possible project for Craig comes on top of a Steven Soderbergh heist movie (filming this fall), an off-Broadway play (to occur during the 2016-17 season) and a 20-episode limited series to be produced in 2017 to run on the Showtime premium cable channel in 2017 and 2018.

Never say never, the saying goes. Still, Craig’s schedule is getting full.

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

Your intrepid James Bond reporter in action

REDDIT, YOUR SOURCE FOR 007 NEWS: So it’s come to this: James Bond fans are so starved for news, an anonymous Reddit post this week about 007 film gossip in London generated buzz.

Citing “the world around London,” the post said Bond 25 pre-production “has officially begun,” that Steven Knight is writing the script and that Daniel Craig hasn’t made a decision about returning as Bond. The post also references three directors — Joe Wright, Yann Demange and Paul McGuigan — who have been rumored to have met with producer Barbara Broccoli.

It also says Sony Pictures will distribute Bond 25. That’s interesting because Sony executive Tom Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter this month that Sony hasn’t even started talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer about a new Bond distribution deal.

Regardless, news-starved fans like a thread on message board of the MI6 James Bond website and social media such as Facebook were linking and commenting about it in detail.

Early Tuesday, the original poster posted a follow-up comment. For what it’s worth:

The British film community is surprisingly small in London. This was the ‘news’ I was hearing over the last week.

EON had been more involved in distributing the long delayed ‘The Silent Storm’ and making ‘Film Stars’. Pre-production for B25 has just begun in earnest.

I’ve heard plenty of other directors mentioned (all with varying degrees of credibility), but those three come up the most often.

The other film often being discussed around Soho VFX houses is ‘Rogue One’ which is said to be in more turmoil than imaginable. People love to gossip.

Your mileage may vary. For the moment, caveat emptor.

ACTUAL NEWS: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer on Monday extended its contract with 20th Century Fox to distribute MGM productions via home video, including the Bond films, though June 2020, according to a press release.

Daniel Craig’s may non-007 dance card may expand again

Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Daniel Craig in Skyfall

UPDATE (9:15 p.m. ET): Deadline altered the wording of its original post. It now describes Craig as being “in talks to star” in Kings instead of “is set to star.” The headline of this post was altered to reflect that.

ORIGINAL POST: Daniel Craig added another non-007 project and will star with Halle Berry in a drama set against riots in 1992 in Los Angeles, Deadline: Hollywood reported.

Here’s an excerpt:

 

EXCLUSIVE– Daniel Craig is set to star opposite Halle Berry in Mustang director Deniz Gamze Erguven’s eagerly-anticipated English language debut pic Kings. The project is set against a backdrop of rising tensions in L.A with the Rodney King trial in 1992. Craig will play Ollie, a loner who lives in South Central- one of its only white residents- who befriends and falls in love with Berry’s character, a tough, protective mother who looks after a group of kids. When the riots explode in the city, Craig’s character helps Berry try and track down the kids from the worst of the violence. Kings will have the same mix of lightness and tough emotion that made Mustang such a standout.

Besides King, Craig’s upcoming non-007 projects consist of:

Logan Lucky, a heist film directed by Steven Soderbergh. Filming to start this fall.

Othello, off-Broadway play, part of the 2016-2017 season at the New York Theatre Workshop.

Purity, a limited series to be televised on the Showtime premium channel. Production is to start sometime in 2017. The 20 episodes will be telecast in 2017 and 2018. Craig also is an executive producer of the project.

 

1991: Donald Hamilton discusses Matt Helm films

Donald Hamilton

Donald Hamilton

Over on The Spy Command’s Facebook page, reader Bill Groves shared a 1991 letter he received from Matt Helm creator Donald Hamilton.

In the letter, Hamilton commented about the four 1960s Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin.

The films took Hamilton’s very serious novels and made them into comedies that incorporated bits from Dino’s variety show. The hero supposedly drank heavily (like Dean on his show) and was frequently surrounded by beautiful women. The Ambushers (1967) even had a joke referencing Martin’s birthplace of Stubenville, Ohio.

Poster for The Silencers

Poster for The Silencers

As it turns out, Hamilton wasn’t upset about the changes. Groves gave us permission to do a post about the letter. What follows is a portion of the text. The word is boldface was underlined by Hamilton in the original.

 

Dear Mr. Groves:

With respect to the Helm movies, my philosophy is that I write to entertain and once I’ve done a book or story to my satisfaction, anybody who can use my material entertainingly, and is willing to pay me for the privilege, is welcome, even if he doesn’t stick very closely to my original vision (if I may use a fancy word for it).

From this standpoint, I found the movie of THE SILENCERS enjoyable even though the playboy character played by Dean Martin was pretty far from the grimmer character I’d visualized. So it wasn’t my SILENCERS; it was still a fun movie, and I had no objections. (Of course a writer would always prefer to see his work brought to the screen the way he wrote it, but that happens so seldom, it’s only a dream.) The other Helm movies, unfortunately, were pretty mechanical and I didn’t like them much, not because they treated my ‘vision’ disrespectfully, but simply because they were not very enjoyable as movies.

(snip)

PS: For a much more satisfactory job, from the writer’s standpoint, try to catch a rerun of the movie made by William Wyler from my book THE BIG COUNTRY.

The Silencers, released in 1966, was the first film in the Helm series. It actually took material was from both 1960s’s Death of a Citizen, the first Helm novel, and 1962’s The Silencers, the fourth.

The four movies used varying amounts of Hamilton content from the books. For more details, read this 2000 article, which includes updates from 2006 and 2015.

Meanwhile, for those unfamiliar with it, The Big Country was an epic 1958 film with Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives and Chuck Connors. Ives won an Oscar as best supporting actor.

Stephen Kandel: Have genre, will write

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Stephen Kandel from an interview about The Magician television series.

Another in an occasional series about unsung figures of television.

Stephen Kandel, now 89, was the kind of television who could take on multiple genres and do it well.

Science fiction? He wrote the two Star Trek episodes featuring Harry Mudd (Roger C. Carmel), one of Captain Kirk’s more unusual adversaries.

Espionage? His list of credits included I Spy, The Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible, It Takes a Thief and A Man Called Sloane.

Crime dramas? Hawaii Five-O and Mannix, among too many to list here. His work included a Cannon-Barnaby Jones crossover, The Deadly Conspiracy, a 1975 two-part story airing as an episode of each series.

Not to mention the occasional Western, drama, super hero series (Batman and Wonder Woman) and some shows that don’t easily fit categories (The Magician, MacGyver).

Writer Harlan Ellison in 1970 referred to Kandel as “one of the more lunatic scriveners in Clown Town.” In a column reprinted in The Other Glass Teat, Ellison wrote that Kandel was assigned to write an episode of a drama called The Young Lawyers that was to introduce a new WASP character.

According to Ellison, ABC opted to tone down socially conscious stories among other changes. Kandel wasn’t a fan of the changes. He initially named the new WASP character “Christian White.”

“It went through three drafts before anyone got hip to Steve’s sword in the spleen,” Ellison wrote.

Other in-joke humor by Kandel that did make it to television screens.

One was a 1973 episode of Mannix, Sing a Song of Murder. Kandel named a hit man Anthony Spinner. Kandel had earlier worked for Spinner on the QM series Dan August.

Presumably Spinner didn’t mind. Kandel ended up working for Spinner on Cannon.

Another bit was Kandel’s script for A Man Called Sloane episode titled The Seduction Squad. Robert Culp played a Blofeld-like criminal, except he carried around a small dog instead of a cat.

Kandel wrapped up his television career with MacGyver. Today, somewhere in the world, there may be an episode of some series written by Kandel being shown.

 

UK voters disregard Craig, 007 producers on Brexit vote

Daniel Craig photo opposing Brexit

Daniel Craig photo opposing Brexit

UK voters weren’t swayed by 007 (both the actor playing him and the producers employing him).

Britain voted Thursday to depart the European Union. Daniel Craig, who played James Bond for four movies, and Eon Productions co-bosses Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were among celebrities and movie producers who had publicly urged voters to stay in the EU.

The Thursday vote is “a historic decision sure to reshape the nation’s place in the world, rattle the Continent and rock political establishments throughout the West,” Steven Erlanger wrote in a story in The New York Times.

Craig had been among celebrities, including former soccer star David Beckham, who came out in support of the UK staying in the EU. Other celebrities, such as actor Michael Caine and author Frederick Forsyth, urged the UK depart the EU.

Broccoli and Wilson were among about 20 movie producers who said the UK’s membership in the EU had provided funds to help the nation’s movie industry.

The vote is a huge story with worldwide implications. The 007 angle is only a small part of the story. Still, in this case, the 007 contingent didn’t convice the UK electorate.

 

Sony executive says no talks on new 007 deal yet

sonylogo

A Sony Pictures executive, in an interview with THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, said the studio hasn’t started talks with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer concerning whether Sony will distribute future James Bond films.

Tom Rothman, who heads Sony’s movie group, didn’t say much more than that. Sony has released the past four 007 films, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale and running through 2015’s SPECTRE. Sony’s most recent two-picture contract expired with SPECTRE.

Here’s the exchange in the interview:

 

Where do discussions stand on the next James Bond film?

I’m not going to comment on that, other than to say that we remain very interested in continuing that excellent and important relationship. And I think we have certain advantages as the incumbent. No discussions have started yet.

MGM emerged a smaller company after exiting bankruptcy in 2010. It has no distribution organization and cuts deals with other studios to release its movies. Under the Bond deal, MGM and Sony co-financed the movies but Sony’s cut of the profits was small.

Rothman assumed the Sony job after Amy Pascal — the Sony executive who negotiated the Bond film deal — departed the studio although she has a producer’s deal at Sony.

In March, MGM CEO Gary Barber said on an investor call, “There’s no rush” to negotiate a new 007 deal with Sony or another studio. “We’re evaluating all of our options. We will advise on the deal when we actually make it.” Based on Rothman’s comments, that hasn’t changed.

Rothman, in The Hollywood Reporter interview, also commented on Sony’s relationship with Marvel Studios concerning future stand-alone Spider-Man movies.

“Sony has the ultimate authority,” the executive told the entertainment website. “But we have deferred the creative lead to Marvel, because they know what they’re doing.”

Sony released five Spider-Man films from 2002 through 2014. Under the agreement with Marvel, Spider-Man is now part of Marvel’s film universe. The character made his Marvel Studios debut with last month’s Captain America: Civil War.