Bond 25 questions: MGM edition

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had a little, but not much, to say about Bond 25 after releasing fourth-quarter financial results. Naturally, that leaves the blog with more questions.

Was there anything significant in what MGM had to say about Bond 25? In a backhanded way, the studio reaffirmed that November 2019 release date.

Two different executives referenced “the return of James Bond in 2019” in their prepared remarks.

Why is that significant? MGM is the studio that fired its chief executive (Gary Barber) just last week only months after it extended his contract. Whatever the effects of Barber’s firing, MGM said indirectly in won’t affect its plans for Bond 25.

Anything else? Yeah. this is the same production that spent the better part of a year developing a script by 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Except it apparently put that story aside to see what John Hodge, writing up a new script based on an idea he had and director Danny Boyle had, can come up with.

So, whatever is going on behind the scenes, it would seem Bond 25 won’t get pushed back, at least if the studio can help it.

How stable is MGM? The post-Gary Barber management went out of its way to say things are great, just great.

We’ll see. However, during a call with investors, Barber’s name was only mentioned once and only to say executives wouldn’t answer questions about his abrupt departure.

Why Bond fans should care: MGM controls half of the 007 film franchise.

Why has no distribution deal been announced? Nobody outside of MGM knows for sure, but here’s a guess.

In April 2017, The New York Times reported five studios were seeking the Bond 25 distribution deal.

One of them, Annapurna Pictures, formed a joint venture with MGM. The joint venture will release each other’s movies in the U.S. market.

Now, Bond 25 was not part of the deal. However, on Thursday’s investors call, MGM executives talked up the joint venture as being great, just great for MGM in the long run. It will have more control over its movies and it will make more money in the long run.

Now, if it’s that good a deal, it makes no sense for Bond 25 not to be part of it. And Deadline: Hollywood reported last year, the joint venture was extremely close to distributing Bond 25 in the U.S. But a formal announcement never came.

Even if MGM-Annapurna has the U.S. deal, that still leaves international distribution. For whatever reason, that’s been a long slog with no conclusion yet.

Any other thoughts? Just one. To quote a line from a previous post, “Agent 007 is tethered to a studio where nothing seems to stay stable for long.”

MGM says little about Bond 25 or CEO’s departure

MGM logo

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer didn’t a lot to say today about either Bond 25 or the abrupt departure of CEO Gary Barber.

MGM has a strong film slate in 2018 and will have “the return of James Bond in 2019,” Chief Operating Officer Christopher Brearton said in introductory remarks during an investor call Wednesday. The company earlier reported fourth-quarter and year-end 2017 earnings.

Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Kay said almost the the same thing as Brearton. He said MGM films in 2019 would be “headlined by the return of James Bond. We are working with out partners at Eon Productions on what we believe will be another highly successful installment of this evergreen franchise.”

Later, during a brief question and answer session, executives were asked about the progress of negotiations for a Bond 25 distributor.

“We don’t have any formal update on this right now,” Brearton said. “We will be updating you when we have further progress in that regard.”

For now, Bond 25 doesn’t have announced distributors. MGM last year formed a joint venture with Annapurna Pictures to distribute each other’s movies in the U.S. market. But Bond 25 wasn’t part of that deal. And even if the joint venture handles Bond 25 U.S. distribution, there’s the question of who will distribute the film in international markets.

MGM had even less to say about Barber’s exit. “We will not be addressing questions about Gary’s departure,” Brearton said.

With Barber gone, MGM is being supervised by an “office of the CEO” that reports to the board of directors. Brearton talked up how remaining executives “are all energized and focused.”

Brearton, an entertainment lawyer, joined MGM last month. Barber became the top MGM executive in 2010 and led the company out of bankruptcy. MGM in October extended his contract through 2022. The extension occurred just months before Barber was fired.

OHMSS script: Train of the dead, other surprises

OHMSS poster

The blog got around to reading the shooting script for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While very close to the finished film, there were still a few surprises, including a rail coach full of corpses.

The title page says the script was “issued 5th September, 1968” with some pages saying they had been revised “8.10.68.” There are no names on the title page. Richard Maibaum got the sole screenplay credit while Simon Raven got a credit for “additional dialogue.”

By this time, Maibaum had spent years developing a screen adaptation of one of Ian Fleming’s best 007 novels.

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service summarizes 10 different treatments or scripts, including this one. The blog obtained its copy from collector Gary J. Firuta.

The script begins in a slightly different way than the film. After the gunbarrel, the script begins at the lobby of Universal Exports. A “Uniformed SECURITY MAN” is “at desk near door checking credentials of EMPLOYEES.”

The security man greets dome of the employees. Then there’s an “elderly MAINTENANCE MAN, mottled face, scraggly moustache, carrying wrench and plunger, plodding toward desk.”

The security man says (“cheerfully” as the maintenance man passes), “Morning, Double O-Seven.” We then go to the scene where M, Q and Moneypenny talk about how Bond can’t be found. Something not in the film: Moneypenny says, “Station R, Reykjavik seems to think Double O-Seven’s in Iceland — !”

After that, the scene where Bond meets Tracy unfolds much as it does in the film. One difference is that Tracy is driving a Bugati, rather than the Mercury Cougar we’d see in the movie.

‘This Never Happened Before’

The end of the pre-credits sequence ends with a slightly different line compared with the film. “This never happened before, Double O-Seven.”

On Her Majesty Secret Service’s gunbarrel.

Immediately after the titles, however, Bond returns to MI6. In the final film, this wouldn’t occur until later.

The sequence as depicted in the script is very similar to the final movie, except with some minor differences in dialogue. For example, Bond refers to M as “the Director.” (“Does this mean The Director has lost confidence in me?”)

As in the film, Bond dictates a letter of resignation to Moneypenny after the agent has been taken off Operation Bedlam (“Take a memo to the Director, Moneypenny.”) When Bond gets back to his office and starts clearing out his desk. The only specified object from a previous film is the “WRIST-WATCH GAROTTE used in FROM RUSSIA.”

The script has Moneypenny changing the resignation to a request for leave.

Before he departs MI6, there’s another scene in a garage area with the “latest model” Aston Martin. “You can break it in during your holiday,” Q says.

The pre-titles sequence had Bond driving an Aston. This script says is a new model. Bond gets in the car and checks it out.

“No reclining-seat lever?” Bond asks.

“No, Double O-Seven,” Q responds. “We don’t consider convenient love-making essential.”

“Your department always underestimates the personal requirements of my work, Q.”

Q “prissily” replies, “We still haven’t developed a substitute for that, Double O-Seven.”

“BOND grins, starts motor, drives ASTON-MARTIN out of garage.”

Pardon My French

The agent makes it to Portugal and, eventually, meets up with Tracy again. As in the movie, Bond uses his relationship with her to get some help from her father, Marc Ange Draco, in locating Blofeld.

In the scene where Bond meets Draco there’s this exchange:

BOND
She fascinates me, Mr. Draco — but I’m not a psychiatrist —

DRACO
(contemptuously)
Psychiatry! Merde! What she needs is a man, to beat her, to make love to her enough to make love him! A man like you, Mr. Bond

For the uninitiated, “merde” is the French version of a familiar swear word (if you don’t know it, just click here and look on GoogleTranslate). Evidently, in 1968-69, James Bond movies apparently weren’t ready to go that far in terms of language.

Train of the Dead

Eventually, Bond gets back on Blofeld’s trail. He’s off to the College-of-Arms to meet with Sir Hilary Bray and Phidian, an artist. The latter leaves and Bond talks to Sir Hilary. What follows in the script is a major sequence that wouldn’t be in the film.

“Put on any new personnel lately?” Bond asks.

“Only Phidian — last week — poor chap was out of work so long he presented me with a token of his appreciation.” The token is a paperweight lion on Sir Hilary’s desk. “Carved it himself,”

Bond is immediately suspicious and picks up the paperweight.

“Talented, isn’t he?” Sir Hillary asks.

“BOND screws off lion’s head, revealing tiny MICROPHONE. His fingers remove it,” the stage directions read. “SIR HILARY dumbfounded as BOND shows him microphone.”

A chase ensues, including some on rooftops. Bond and Phidian end up in a train tunnel. Phidian ends up “STRIKING ELECTRIFIED RAIL. Blinding flash and PHIDIAN’s scream. An instant later TROLLEY hits him, hurling his body off track and smashing it against wall.”

Phidian at one point in the sequence had written a telegram and put it in his pocket. “BOND stares down at PHIDIAN, mericifully below CAMERA LINE, reaches down into his jacket pocket, takes TELEGRAM OUT OF IT.”

It had been a warning from Phidian to Blofeld. “CONSIGNMENT NOT AS SPECIFIED. PHIDIAN.” Bond blocks out the word “NOT” and sends the telegram.

Now, of course, Bond has to make sure Phidian’s death doesn’t appear suspicious. So Bond, assisted by Q (!), stages a train accident.

The dead Phidian and other corpses are put in a train coach. Here’s the description.

“CAMERA SHOOTING FROM COORDOR THROUGH GLASS OF COMPARTMENT DOOR. PHIDIAN is very dead, swaying slightly in motion of train. CAMERA PULLS BACK SLIGHTLY. He is seated between TWO OTHER CORPSES. THEN CAMERA DOLLIES BACK ALONG CORRIDOR SHOOTING INTO OTHER COMPARTMENTS. SIX PEOPLE IN EACH, ALL DEAD. CAMERA HOLDS ON LAST COMPARTMENT. BOND IS SEATED BETWEEN TWO STIFFS.”

The engine cab and coach full of bodies is switched off onto a siding. Bond and a motor man put on “crash-helmets and protective jackets.” They jump from the engine cab.

The engine then plows into some freight cars. “As ENGINE crashes into them. FREIGHT CARS telescope,” the script says. “(If on elevated stretch they plunge over side with Engine and Coach.”)

BOND

(turning to MOTORMAN)

Ghastly wreck —
(wryly)
At least they felt no pain —

The finished film may refer to all of this. Campbell, Bond’s MI6 contact in Switzerland, is reading a newspaper. It has a front-page headline referring to a fatal train crash.

Bond and Tracy Get Chatty

After that, we’re back into familiar territory. After all this buildup, the stage directions don’t make a big deal about Blofeld. He’s described as “an impressively and strongly-built man in his early fifties.”

Some scenes have more dialogue than in the final film.

After Tracy rescues Bond, she is driving her Bugati and they talk a bit more.

TRACY
(slowing slightly)
Shall I stop so can spank me?

BOND
Step on the gas, Countess. Business before pleasure.

Later, after the pair find a “typical Swiss farm two-level stone and wood building” to stay for the night they talk a lot more. In fact, they’re downright chatty.

TRACY
Did you miss me at all? Up there on the mountain?

BOND
I had…a lot to occupy me. Body and mind.

TRACY
I understand.

BOND
Not quite, you don’t. I was…using people, Tracy. Using women, for my job. And I enjoyed it.

TRACY
(level)
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t do it well.

BOND
You don’t mind?

TRACY
You forget, James. I’ve used people too. And without even the excuse of a job. Do you mind?

In this script, it’s Tracy who ends up proposing. Director Peter Hunt, in the documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, said he had it changed to Bond making the proposal. Hunt said in the documentary that Bond was the stronger character and therefore should be the one who proposes.

‘Your Double-O Man’

Much later, at the wedding there are some bits that wouldn’t make the final film.

M specifically tells Bond that all of the “angels of death” (the women Blofeld had programmed to distribute Virus Omega, which could wipe out grains and livestock) have been accounted for. Bond then begins to ask M if he’ll be godfather to his and Tracy’s first child.

Before he can complete the sentence, the “CAMERA ANGLE WIDENS TO INCLUDE MONEYPENNY, with Q.”

“You’ll find your Double-O man some day, dear girl,” Bond tells Moneypenny.

“Bless you, James,” she replies.

The scripts ends with Tracy’s death. One slight difference is in the stage directions.

“His head remains against TRACY’s, his face smeared with her blood.”

A look at some 007 #MeToo moments

#MeToo went viral last year as the result of workplace sexual harassment and assault, a lot of it media related such as now-disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

With the 25th James Bond film (slowly) in development, there has been speculation about how Bond will be affected by the Me Too movement. We won’t know for some time.

However, certain scenes from previous Bond films were cited in THIS ARTICLE from The Scotsman.

“Almost as soon as Harvey Weinstein’s dressing-gown fell open, and the first gruesome revelations of sexual coercion and assault in Hollywood spilled out, a debate was sparked about the future of Bond,” wrote Aidan Smith of The Scotsman.

With that in mind, here are some Bond movie scenes that get cited in #MeToo conversation.

“Dink, say goodbye to Felix.”

“Man Talk” (Goldfinger, 1964)

After the main titles of Goldfinger, the CIA’s Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) makes contact with Bond (Sean Connery).

Bond is with Dink (Margaret Nolan, who also participated in the main titles as the “Golden Girl” of the title song).

Bond sends Dink on her way saying he has to engage in some “man talk” with Felix. As she walks away, Bond slaps her on her buttocks, accompanied by an Oscar-winning sound effect.

Not something you could do in the 21st century.

“You don’t mean…”

“I’d Lose My Job” (Thunderball, 1965)

Bond (Connery again) is almost killed after Count Lippe sets a device intended to stretch the spine on full speed and the agent is helpless to do anything about it.

Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters), a nurse who had strapped Bond into the machine in the first place, returns early and saves the agent’s life.

As he’s recovering, Bond says somebody will regret this day. He’s referring to Count Lippe but there’s no way for Patricia to know that.

She urges Bond to stay silent or else she could lose her job.

Bond immediately seizes upon the situation. “I suppose my silence could have a price…”

“You don’t mean…”

“Oh, yes…”

According to the stage directions of the script:

The steam rises higher and higher making is even more difficult to see anything at all.

This is probably just as well.

As the saying goes, it is what it is. After having sex with Patricia, Bond gets even with Count Lippe. However, the villain doesn’t meet his demise until it is administered by another SPECTRE operative who figures into our next example.

Interplay between Bond and Fiona in Thunderball.

“Would You Please Give Me Something to Put On?” (Thunderball)

SPECTRE executioner Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi) uses her sex appeal as part of her work for the criminal organization.

For example, posing as the “social secretary” for a NATO pilot, she arranges for him to be killed so a SPECTRE double can take his place. This enables SPECTRE to steal two atomic bombs.

Later, Fiona has encountered Bond but finally decides he needs to be eliminated.

She’s naked in a bathtub when Bond enters. “Would you please give me something to put on?” Fiona says. Bond hands her a pair of sandals and sits in a chair.

Not much later, they have sex. After they get dressed, SPECTRE thugs enter the hotel room. Eventually, Bond escapes. Fiona catches up, but she’s killed when one of the thugs tries to shoot Bond.

This is stretching things a bit in terms of #MeToo. Fiona knew exactly what she was doing and sex was part of her M.O. Also, Luciana Paluzzi had played a very similar character in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fiona absolutely was a strong, independent character. She just came up short going against Bond.

“I like you better without your Beretta.”

Bond and Severine in Skyfall (2012)

This example is one of the most controversial, certainly among recent 007 films.

Severine (Bérénice Marlohehad been forced into the sex trade at a young age. Bond (Daniel Craig) deduces this from a small tatoo of hers.

She tells Bond her bodyguards will try to kill him as soon as she departs. But in case she survives, she tells Bond the name of the yacht she’ll be on, where to find it and that it will be casting off in an hour.

Severine waits in her cabin, with a bottle of champagne on ice. The yacht casts off. But when she decides to take a shower, Bond is there as naked as she is.

However, for Severine, things go downhill from there. Silva (Javier Bardem) has her roughed up. Later, there’s a William Tell bit where Bond and Silva try to shoot a glass of Scotch off her head. Silva doesn’t bother to really try and just shoots her to death.

Bond fights his way out this and helicopters descend to capture Silva.

Why this is controversial: I’ve seen some fans on 007 message boards compare Bond’s encounter with Severine in the shower to rape. But the shot of Severine with the bottle of champagne on ice suggests she was wanting Bond to get to the yacht.

On the other hand, Bond shows no remorse whatsoever that Severine was killed. After he gets the upper hand, Bond gloats to Silva. But he doesn’t acknowledge Severine’s ultimate sacrifice.

By comparison, both Thunderball (with the death of MI6 agent Paula) and You Only Live Twice (with the death of Japanese agent Aki) depict Bond acknowledging the deaths of the women, which is emphasized by John Barry’s music.

Should Marvel’s Feige get a Thalberg award?

Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios

The Playlist website had a story where the writers of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War make the case for Marvel Studios getting at least some awards love.

““When is someone going to get [Kevin] Feige the [Irving G.] Thalberg award,” scribe Stephen McFeely was quoted as saying. “All he’s doing is remaking Hollywood. Please!”

The Thalberg award is an honorary award given out by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the same organization that gives out the Oscars. The award is given to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production,” according to the Oscars website.

The Thalberg award isn’t given out every year. In fact, it hasn’t been given out since 2010 when Francis Ford Coppola, also a noted writer and director, received it.

The thing is, comic book movies generally don’t get a lot of Oscars love. Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor award for The Dark Knight (2008). Suicide Squad (2016) won an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling.

More broadly, escapist movies generally don’t appear to get the same consideration as more serious fare. James Bond films won five Oscars from 1965 to 2016, including two Best Song awards, but none for acting, writing or directing.

The biggest Oscar love was when Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, received a Thalberg award in 1982, presented to him by Roger Moore, his 007 actor at the time.

Still, the Playlist story may have a point.

Under Feige, 44, Marvel has produced its own movies, rather than licensing rights to other studios, starting with 2008’s Iron Man. In that decade, Marvel established the idea of inter-connected movies all within the same fictional universe.

The success of that universe spurred Walt Disney Co. to buy Marvel, which has mostly let Feige run his own show.

So far, that has resulted in 18 movies, running through last month’s Black Panther. Two more Marvel Studios films are coming out this year, including next month’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Remember, Broccoli won the Thalberg when he was in his early 70s for his Bond output. That was 12 films at the time he received the award (Dr. No through For Your Eyes Only) with the 13th (Octopussy) in preparation. He would eventually be involved with the first 17 007 films before he died in 1996.

Now there are big differences between Marvel and Bond. As the blog has written before, Marvel is a prime example of the corporate model while Eon is the embodiment of the family model.

Still, Feige has had a major impact. Warner Bros., over the decades, came out with Superman and Batman movies that weren’t part of a single universe. Marvel spurred Warner Bros. to follow suit. Other studios have tried to replicate what Marvel did but came up short.

It remains to be seen whether the academy will consider Feige for the Thalberg, considered one of its major awards. But Feige, over the past decade, has had a major impact on the movie business.

THR says Broccoli & Wilson had rift with deposed MGM chief

Barbara Broccoli

The Hollywood Reporter, as part of a followup story about the firing of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer chief Gary Barber, said Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions also had major differences with Barber.

“(I)nsiders say a rift had also developed between (Barber) and 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson,” according to the story by THR’s Paul Bond. ‘“There was a revolt,’ says an insider who claims the Broccoli camp ultimately refused to work with Barber.”

The THR story  was posted this morning. Variety and Deadline: Hollywood had new or updated stories Tuesday night. All three outlets described how Barber and board chairman Kevin Ulrich disagreed over strategy. Ulrich, according to the accounts, wants MGM to get bigger amid changes in media.

Variety said MGM’s board “had doubts about whether Barber had the right strategic vision and willingness to take big risks.”

Deadline said: “Ulrich saw an opportunity for MGM to remake itself into a digital powerhouse by renaming Epix with the MGM brand and making it a subscription streaming service that could line up favorably along the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Disney’s new service, Hulu and others that come along. The idea would be to include the upcoming James Bond film’s pay window as part of this.”

The upcoming film, of course, is Bond 25, which has an official U.S. release date of November 2019. Ulrich heads a New York investment company, Anchorage Capital Group, a major shareholder in MGM.

UPDATE (2:35 p.m.): The Wall Street Journal weighed in with an MGM story I can’t access because it’s behind a paywall. However, one of the reporters, Ben Fritz, sent out this tweet quoting from a Broccoli-Wilson statement that’s not referenced in the story.

 

Bond 25 questions (MGM-Gary Barber edition)

 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, James Bond’s home studio, is now leaderless after CEO Gary Barber was apparently forced out. Naturally, the blog is intrigued and has some questions.

Why did Barber get the heave-ho? Outlets including  The Hollywood Reporter (“Barber was blindsided”), Variety (“Barber was blindsided”) and Deadline: Hollywood (“Gary Barber was asked to leave”) made it sound that Barber’s departure was swift and sudden. Considering that MGM in May extended Barber’s contract through 2022, that’s quite understandable.

The reports also cited disagreements between Barber and the board of directors.

What might that mean? Remember, MGM spent much of 2016 negotiating to sell itself to a Chinese buyer, a deal that never materialized, The Wall Street Journal reported in February 2017.

Barber, who took command of MGM in 2010 when it was in bankruptcy, has been gradually trying to expand the company. It has become a good-sized buyer of television shows.

And it took a step toward again becoming a “big boy studio” by striking a deal with Annapurna Pictures to create a joint venture to release each other’s movies. That would be a step toward MGM taking more control of its films. Until now, MGM has cut deals with other studios to distribute MGM films, including the Bond series.

Speculation: It may be the MGM board lost patience and wants to sell the studio.

UPDATE (7 p.m. eastern time): Actually, Deadline: Hollywood, in an update, says it was the other way around from the blog’s speculation — directors didn’t want to sell but Barber wanted to entertain a sale.

How might this affect Bond 25? The next 007 film was specifically exempted from the MGM-Annapurna joint venture. Deadline reported in November that joint venture was “thisclose” to securing U.S. domestic distribution. That was never announced. But if that’s an unannounced reality, there’s still the question of international distribution.

If you’re a studio interested in Bond 25 distribution (in whole or part), who do you talk to? MGM said Monday night there will be an “office of the CEO” that reports to the board until a successor is named.

More broadly, at least for now, Barber’s ouster creates uncertainty for Eon Productions and its parent company, Danjaq. MGM controls half the franchise. That means Agent 007 is tethered to a studio where nothing seems to stay stable for long.

UPDATE II (9:45 p.m., eastern time): The Tracking Board and Variety came out with similar “behind the scenes” stories Tuesday night.

The Tracking Board said a key MGM director saw the company “as a growing empire more than a company on the block as an acquisition target. ” Variety said MGM’s board “has big ambition for growing the once-troubled studio into a major force in film and TV” while deciding Barber “was not the person to lead MGM into the future.”