Happy New Year 2019 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2019 for readers of The Spy Command.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year, everyone.

Forever and a Day: Mixing 1950 with 2018

U.K. cover image for Forever and a Day, Anthony Horwitz’s second James Bond continuation novel.

Yes, there are spoilers. Stop reading if you don’t want to see them.

Art reflects the time when it was produced. So it is with Forever and a Day, the second James Bond continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz. The story mixes a 1950 setting with 2018 sensibilities.

When the novel was announced, Ian Fleming Publications emphasized how it would be a prequel to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. (Horowitz’s first Bond novel, 2015’s Trigger Mortis, was set in 1957 after the events of Goldfinger.)

Specifically, IFP’s marketing emphasized how the new novel would show Bond being promoted to the Double-O section and depict his first mission with the code number 007.

Horowitz’s story emphasizes the time period. It’s just five years after World War II ended and there’s plenty of uncertainty. The reader is treated to a bit of M’s philosophy in managing the Double-O section and how it reflects what’s occurring in 1950.

At the same time, there is a 2018 mind-set present.

The female lead, Joanne Brochet, aka Sixtine, aka Madame 16, is introduced as a mysterious character. Before the novel ends, she’s like a more subtle version (at least in personal style) of Jinx from the Eon 007 film Die Another Day. Just to be clear, Sixtine is a much more developed character than Jinx. But they’re comparable in their abilities to inflict death.

By the time I finished the novel, I imagined what it would be like if Sixtine were a character in an Eon 007 movie. She’s Bond’s equal in every way. She takes her destiny in her own hands. She’s not passive.

In Forever and a Day, it turns out Sixtine is even better at killing than Bond is. She makes clear to Bond they will only make love on her terms. And she’s older than Bond.

Bond himself changes because of their relationship. When he first meets Sixtine, there’s this passage: “She was about ten years older than him and, for Bond, that made her at least fifteen years too old to be truly desirable.” The agent feels considerably differently when they part ways.

Horowitz utilizes two villains. With one, Horowitz describes Fleming-style physical characteristics. It’s a Horowitz take on a classic trope. The other villain, however, reflects current-day U.S. politics despite the 1950 setting This occurs when this character gives his “big villain speech.”

Just to be clear, I enjoy big villain speeches when done well. The one Horowitz writes keeps you reading. But I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to what’s happening in 2018 with talk (via the villain) of why the U.S. should be more isolationist.

One other note: Whether intentional or not (my guess is not), the plot of the villains has a strong resemblance to a villain’s plot in a certain Roger Moore 007 film. The dynamics aren’t identical. The movie villain expects to get even richer; Horowitz’s villain expects the opposite but is doing it for a far different reason.

This, of course, doesn’t figure into the theme of 2018 creeping into Horowitz’s 1950 tale. But it is there.

Somewhere in an alternative universe…

…this James Bond-ish adventure was an actual film, not just a “movie within a movie” as in 1978’s Hooper. And, in that alternate universe, you could be sure that egotist director Roger Deal would seek enhanced billing.

“Make me look good, Sonny.”

Warner Bros. Presents
A film by ROGER DEAL  A Max Berns production

ADAM WEST in THE SPY WHO LAUGHED AT DANGER

Screenplay by Cordwainer Bird and Roger Deal  Story by Cordwainer Bird

Produced by Max Berns

Directed by ROGER DEAL

(c) MCMLXVIII Warner Bros. A Warner Communications Company

Epilogue: Why MGM dumped its CEO

MGM’s Leo the Lion logo

One of the oddities of the long hiatus between SPECTRE and Bond 25 was how Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer extended the contract of CEO Gary Barber in October 2017 and then got rid of him in early 2018.

MGM, of course, has been the home studio of the 007 film series since the company acquired United Artists in 1981.

The New Yorker on Dec. 27 came out with a lengthy profile of Mark Burnett. Formerly, he was a reality TV mogul whose company made Survivor and The Apprentice. The latter featured now-U.S. President Donald Trump and helped shape his image in the 21st century. (That’s the primary reason for the Burnett profile.)

MGM acquired Burnett’s company in 2015 to bolster its TV operations. Burnett now oversees those operations, both reality programs and scripted dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale.

According to the profile, Burnett worked with Kevin Ulrich, MGM’s chairman, to have Barber “kicked off the island.”

Barber was interested in selling the studio—a move that Ulrich opposed. According to several sources, Burnett began cultivating Ulrich, inviting him to events and introducing him to celebrities. Then, last March, M-G-M’s board informed Barber that he had been fired; he had just signed a contract extension, so the studio would pay him two hundred and sixty million dollars to leave. Despite this payment, he was incensed.

The disagreement about strategy between Barber and Ulrich was reported earlier this year by The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and Deadline: Hollywood. The New Yorker article provides some additional color.

“People who know Ulrich describe him as someone who relishes the flashy perquisites of Hollywood moguldom,” according to The New Yorker. “Whereas Barber liked to spend weekends quietly tending to the racehorses he owns, Ulrich liked going to parties and premières.”

MGM has yet to hire a replacement for Barber. Since Barber’s ouster, MGM has been run by a committee of executives. On the studio’s website, there’s a page featuring three key executives. One is Burnett. Another is his wife, Roma Downey,

There’s no business like show business.

Unanswered 007 questions as 2018 draws to a close

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

2018 is about to end. So here are some questions that have gone unanswered — and likely will remain so — as the year concludes.

Whatever happened to the notion that the Broccoli-Wilson family might sell out its interest in the Bond franchise after Bond 25? 

In July 2017, Phil Nobile Jr., then a writer for Movies. Birth. Death., had a story with this passage:

“I  have read thoughts from someone I believe to be close wth the production that the Broccolis are looking to do one more Bond then sell the franchise off, a la George Lucas/Star Wars/Disney.”

In reaction, the James Bond MI website wrote the following on Twitter:

would love to say there’s nothing to this but we can’t.”

Since then? Nada. Neither was a definitive “this is going to happen.” And neither has followed up that the blog is aware of. For that matter, neither have British tabloids (who’ll write stories at the drop of a hat when British bookies adjust their odds on future Bonds). Neither have major entertainment news outlets.

Was there never anything to it? Is there something to it, but we won’t know until 2020, when Bond 25 is scheduled to come out?

Who knows? But it’s one of the most intriguing questions during long hiatus between SPECTRE and Bond 25.

Whatever happened to the idea that Apple and Amazon were “racing” to lock up 007 film rights?

That’s was what The Hollywood Reporter reported in a story labeled “exclusive” in September 2017. The story was so exclusive that THR rivals Deadline: Hollywood and Variety never got around to matching it. Neither did The New York Times nor The Wall Street Journal, both of which follow Apple and Amazon closely. And THR itself never appeared to have done a follow-up.

Were Apple and Amazon really making a concerted effort but came up short? Or was the story so much hot air? Eventually, in 2018, it was announced that Bond 25 would be released in the U.S. by an MGM-Annapurna joint venture, with international distribution by Universal.

Does Eon-Danjaq still have its heart in doing Bond films? 

The hiatus between 2015’s SPECTRE and Bond 25 will be the second-longest in the history of the Eon-produced series.

Moreover, it’s the first such hiatus that occurred simply because the principals (Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and star Daniel Craig) simply didn’t feel like making one for a while. A long while. There have been no legal fights (the 1989-95 hiatus) or studio bankruptcies (1989-95 *and* 2008-2012) in the mix.

Some fans will shout, “Of course they do!” Maybe yes, maybe no. We’ll see.

Happy holidays 2018 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

The accompanying graphic has been the blog’s annual Christmas/holiday season greeting since 2011. It’s a tradition and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

The graphic was designed by Paul Baack (1957-2017). It’s just one sample of his artistic handiwork. He designed it when the blog was part of the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (1997-2014).

To the blog’s readers: Thanks for being here. If you’ve got some time off, enjoy it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.

About Eon’s lack of a long-term plan

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Over the weekend, I read complaints by friends on social media about the 007 film series.

One cited how Eon flipped the order of filming You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The other cited SPECTRE, the most recent Bond film made by Eon Productions.

Neither friend knows the other. The thing is, both complaints reflected the same thing — Eon isn’t known for its long-term planning.

When Eon launched the series, it initially intended to adapt Thunderball, the then-newest Ian Fleming novel. Richard Maibaum cranked out a script before Eon cast its Bond actor (Sean Connery).

But there were legal issues so plans shifted to starting with Dr. No. For the next entry, Eon opted for From Russia With Love, even though that novel preceded Dr. No.

That wasn’t a big deal at the time. But the OHMSS-YOLT switch was more of a problem. The novels were very connected. Bond is a broken man in the Twice novel because of how Majesty’s ended. But that went by the wayside for a variety of reasons. Still, that wouldn’t have occurred if a long-term plan had been in place.

For some Bond fans (including one of the aforementioned friends), that was a major missed opportunity.

With SPECTRE, the tale is even more complicated.

Quantum is better than SPECTRE. What’s that? Uh, never mind!

Screenwriter John Logan sold Eon on a two-film story, something Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced in November 2012. But star Daniel Craig vetoed that approach. So Logan retrenched. Eventually, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to rewrite Logan’s script.

At one point, Logan’s scripts had Blofeld as an African warlord or a woman. After Purvis and Wade got through with it, there was a more traditional Blofeld. However, in the final version, Blofeld was also Bond’s foster brother — pretty similar to how Dr. Evil was the brother of Austin Powers.

Just a guess, but that wouldn’t have been the case with long-term planning.

Over the decades, there are other examples.

At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the audience was promised that For Your Eyes Only would be the next entry in the series. But with the popularity of the first Star Wars film, Eon grabbed the only Fleming title with a rocket theme (Moonraker) as the starting point for its next production.

In the 21st century, Eon’s brain trust talked about how SPECTRE was passe and how the new Quantum was more sophisticated. Then, Eon got all the rights that had been held by Kevin McClory. Suddenly, SPECTRE was the No. 1 villainous organization again.

Regardless of your opinions about the individual films involved, it’s pretty clear Eon has never had a long-term footprint. SPECTRE was a belated attempt to tie the four Daniel Craig films together.

That doesn’t make individual entries bad. Still, the lack of a long-term plan still has an impact on Eon’s 007 film series.