Did Fleming think Maibaum’s 007 was better?

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

This week, TCM kicked off showing 19 James Bond films made by Eon Productions. The first night included a promotional video featuring comments by Bond film veterans Bruce Feirstein (credited as writer on three films) and Martin Campbell (director on two).

Feirstein, at one point told an anecdote about Bond’s creator talking to Richard Maibaum on the set of Goldfinger.

“Apparently, Fleming told Maibaum that he liked Maibaum’s Bond better than his own. Because Maibaum added the wit….There is no wit in the books. So one of the key elements that we all know and love Bond for was added by Maibaum.”

That sounds very provocative. But how true is it? Feirstein doesn’t provide a source for the information. The word “apparently” is a way to hedge your bet.

What’s more, the Bond scripting process was a lot more complicated.

Movies are a collaborative medium. That’s especially when it comes to scripts. By the time Goldfinger was in production, Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather, Len Deighton, Wolf Mankowitz and Paul Dehn had all taken turns at the typewriter (some getting credit, some not).

At the very least, it’s debatable whether there was a “Maibaum Bond” versus a “Fleming Bond.”

Maibaum was a writer on 13 of the first 16 Bond films made by Eon. He was clearly a major contributor and had a lot of input.

On the other hand, with Goldfinger, Maibaum started the scripting while Dehn did the later drafts. And Mankowitz sold co-producer Harry Saltzman a major idea (having the gangster Mr. Solo in a car that was crushed at a junkyard) that was a highlight of the movie. The 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger spells out the scripting process.

In any case, Feirstein provided an interesting anecdote. You can see it around the 6:40 mark of this YouTube copy of the TCM video. Warning: you never know when these things may get pulled down by YouTube.

4 Responses

  1. Re his comment on there being no wit in the books, this is clearly evident of Feirstein’s understanding of Fleming, and his abysmal contributions to those films.

  2. Feirstein’s anecdote contradicts Maibaum himself, according to his interview with Maibaum in “Backstory: Interviews with Screenwriters of Hollywood’s Golden Age,” where he says the following about Fleming:

    “I met Ian Fleming several times…but I did not speak to him about screenwriting. He didn’t seem very interested…He did say to me once, ‘The pictures are so much funnier than my books.’ He was a little bemused and a little obtuse about it, I thought, because he didn’t really understand that we were trying to make them funnier. That was the thing we changed most about his books as far as the pictures were concerned.”

    The idea that the books are humorless is a canard–though Casino Royale is fairly grim, the books still have humorous moments, especially Goldfinger and the following novels. But their humor doesn’t consist of corny puns; the movies’ style of humor works onscreen but would seem feeble in print.

  3. Correction: “according to his” should be “according to the.” Feirstein never interviewed Maibaum.

  4. I thought this was already well known.

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