Unlikely Bond streaming spinoff series

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There has been a lot of speculation whether the streaming era will lead to new James Bond-related series for streaming.

In late 2019, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that her company was resisting the idea of such spinoffs. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” she told the publication. She didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from but a reasonable guess might be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Broccoli may be able to head off such pressure. Or perhaps not. Regardless, this list of potential spinoffs is unlikely to see the light of day.

The Adventures of Bill Tanner: In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bill Tanner, chief of staff to M, was the closest thing to a friend that James Bond had in the British secret service.

In the films made by Eon, Tanner hasn’t had that much of a presence.

In GoldenEye, Tanner (Michael Kitchen) criticizes the new M (Judi Dench), unaware she’s right behind him. In For Your Eyes Only, Tanner (James Villiers) comes across as a stuffy bureaucrat and not a pal of James Bond (Roger Moore). In more recent films, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is there, gets a few lines with Daniel Craig but not much else.

Trying to build a streaming series, even if it were only six to eight episodes, might be a bit of a challenge.

Cooking With May: May, Bond’s housekeeper, is a character from Fleming’s novels who hasn’t been included in the films.

One possibility would be to hire someone who can cook playing May as she prepares meals for Bond. Expect many of her dishes to involve scrambled eggs.

Leolia!: Leolia Ponsonby was the secretary to the 00-section in Fleming’s novels. There were three 00-agents. Others were referenced, but readers only witnessed Ponsonby interacting with Bond. The character was phased out and replaced by Mary Goodnight.

A streaming series would have the inevitable origin story. That would answer such pressing questions such as how she came to work for the British Secret Service in the first place.

Golfing With Hawker: This would be a show about how to improve your golf game. A real golfer would play Hawker, Bond’s caddy in both the novel and film Goldfinger. Viewers would learn the secrets of hitting out of sand traps, straightening out their drives and hitting around trees.

After watching Golfing With Hawker, you, too, can learn to hit out of a bunker like this one.

21 Club, a literary Bond location, to close

The 21 Club, a well-known New York City restaurant, is closing, the New York Post reported, citing a spokesman.

The restaurant was a location for the literary James Bond. In the novel Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Tiffany Case dine there after Bond has smuggled diamonds into the U.S. They meet “one of the famous Kriendler brothers, who have owned ’21’ ever since it was the best speak-easy in New York.”

The Kriendler and Berns families owned 21 from 1922 to 1985, according to the restaurant’s entry in Wikipedia.

The 21 Club also is referenced, but not shown, in the film Live And Let Die. Bond (Roger Moore) and Felix Leiter (David Hedison) are to meet there for dinner, the audience is told as Bond and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) get ready to board a train to travel to New York.

The restaurant is known for his exterior (statues of jockeys) and its clientele (the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway) over the decades.

The restaurant has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. New York state has banned indoor dining for a second time to slow the spread of the virus. 21 has been shut since March of this year. According to the Post, 21’s employees have been told they’ll lose their jobs by March 2021.

The Post said 21’s owners are exploring options for the restaurant to reopen in some form in the future.

Landis tells author he turned down directing Licence to Kill

One of the covers to The Lost Adventures of James Bond by Mark Edlitz

Writer-director John Landis says in a new book that he turned down the opportunity to direct 1989’s Licence to Kill.

“My agent got a call from Cubby (Broccoli) and I’d already made a bunch of big movies and Cubby asked if I was interested,” Landis is quoted on page 101 of The Lost Adventures of James Bond by Mark Edlitz.

“I thought the script was really lousy,” Landis told Edlitz about Licence to Kill. “I really did not like the script. It was corny and I just didn’t think it was that interesting.”

In the book, Landis primarily is interviewed about his script work for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

Landis was among many writers who either made pitches or wrote treatments and/or wrote draft screenplays for the 10th James Bond film made by Eon Productions. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum received the final final writing credit.

In the course of an interview for the book, Landis is quoted as saying he could have directed the movie that became Licence to Kill.

“I know that Cubby kept tight control,” Landis said in the interview. “And the director made the movie, but it was the movie Cubby wanted. And no Bond director ever got final cut…But anyway, the bottom line is that at the time I felt very strongly that Cubby was not going to give me final cut.”

Also, in the interview, Landis said Talisa Soto had already been cast in the production as one of the two female leads.

Landis told Edlitz that he would have directed the movie “if I thought the script was good. The script was not interesting. It was just dumb.”

Licence to Kill ended up being the fifth Bond film directed by John Glen, who had been promoted from second unit director.

The script for the film was credited to Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum. The latter’s participation was limited to plotting because of a 1988 Writer’s Guild strike. It would be Maibaum’s final Bond effort.

Landis, 70, has 46 directing credits, according to his IMDB.COM entry.

One of those directing efforts, a segment in 1983’s Twilight Zone movie, saw three fatalities (actor Vic Morrow and two child actors) in an accident involving a helicopter.

Author discusses James Bond Movie Encyclopedia

Cover to the new edition of The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia

Steven Jay Rubin has written about the James Bond films since the early 1980s. A new edition of the author’s The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia is out.

The encyclopedia first debuted in the 1990s and the most recent edition was published in 2003. Since that edition, the entire Daniel Craig era has unfolded.

The blog sent Rubin questions by email. Disclosure: I fielded some questions as the author was conducting research to update the encyclopedia and he referenced me in the acknowledgments.

What follows is the interview.

THE SPY COMMAND: What prompted you to update the James Bond Movie Encyclopedia?

STEVEN JAY RUBIN: The last edition had come out in 2003, so I had not covered the Daniel Craig era. Also, the publisher that brought out the 2003 edition was too cheap to re-alphabetize the book, so the latest Pierce Brosnan films were stuffed in the back.

TSC: The last edition of the book was in 2003. What are the challenges involved updating something after that long of a hiatus?

RUBIN: My biggest challenge was re-illustrating. I felt strongly that if anyone was going to buy another edition, it would have to be an almost completely new book.

Over the years, I had met a number of collectors around the world who had amassed huge still collections. I reached out to people like Anders Frejdh in Sweden, Dave Reinhardt in Canada, Michael Van Blaricum in Santa Barbara, Luc Le Clech in France and special effects maestro Brian Smithies in England.

The result was a huge trove of new pictures so that the book is 95 percent new images.

Chicago Review Press also budgeted for color images — my first in a James Bond book. This not only allowed me to use some spectacular color photos, but I had the opportunity to reach out to artists Jeff Marshall and Brian May to use their extraordinary interpretations of the films. They’re just wonderful. 

TSC: It has been almost 40 years since your first Bond book, The James Bond Films. Have your views toward Bond evolved? If so, how?

RUBIN: I must say that Daniel Craig’s era has revitalized my interest in the series.

I grew up with Connery, so, for me at least, the movies that followed never had that level of entertainment. I liked Roger Moore and his films were spectacular – but they were just too funny to be taken seriously.

Timothy Dalton is a fine actor, but The Living Daylights was just fair, and Licence to Kill played like a two-hour episode of Miami Vice. 

I was a big fan of Pierce Brosnan, but, once again, I thought his movies were just fair – my favorite being The World is Not Enough. 

So I came into the Daniel Craig era not expecting much. Casino Royale just blew me away. And although the quality of the scripts has gone up and down, Craig is always good.  Love his Bond. The grittiness, the avoidance of stupid humor, the realism.

Obviously, the series has had to compete with the Bourne films, Mission: Impossible, even the stunts of The Fast and the Furious films, and they’ve been competitive.

TSC: The new edition of The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia is your first analysis of the Daniel Craig era of Bond films. What makes it different from earlier eras?

RUBIN: Realism. We’ve actually come full circle. The very first two James Bond movies – Dr. No and From Russia with Love – were real spy adventures with a story that could have happened in the real world. 

The Craig era Bonds have that quality.  No one is trying to take over the world – many of the stories are about international terrorism and blackmail –- stories that could be in the news right now.

As screenwriter Richard Maibaum once said to me when discussing the motivation for the more realistic For Your Eyes Only, it was decided to pull in the balloon and get away from the big fantastic plots – to do a realistic spy adventure.  It worked back then.  And it continues to work today.

To view the book’s page on Amazon.com, CLICK HERE.

New book examines never-made Dalton 007 films

A question asked by James Bond fans is what would have happened if Timothy Dalton made more than two 007 films.

A new book, The Lost Adventures of James Bond, may provide answers. A press release for the book says that author Mark Edlitz “uncovers different scenarios for Timothy Dalton’s abandoned third and fourth Bond movies.”

Edlitz previously wrote the book The Many Lives of James Bond.

In 1990, a treatment for Bond 17 was written by Michael G. Wilson and Alfonse Ruggeriro that took a bigger, more science fiction take compared with Dalton’s Licence to Kill movie. The treatment included robots, including a robot that could pass for a woman.

The treatment was turned into a script by other writers and this gets examined in the new book.

A third Dalton movie ultimately was derailed when Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, got into a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Bond would not return to theater screens until 1995’s GoldenEye, with Pierce Brosnan as Bond.

The Edlitz book also looks at other Bond-related events, including the James Bond Jr. animated series and a “lost” performance by Sean Connery as Bond.

For information about ordering, CLICK HERE.

About that Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M thing

Portrait of the Bernard Lee M in The World Is Not Enough. Thanks to Ben Williams.

One of the ongoing debates in James Bond fandom is whether Bernard Lee’s M (1962-79) is the same as Robert Brown’s M (1983-89).

The answer: You can argue they are the same or they are different characters, with Brown’s M being Admiral Hargreaves from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

The available evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

Background: Bernard Lee played Sir Miles Messervy for the first 11 James Bond films.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, the character name was not revealed until Ian Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man With the Golden Gun. “Miles” was mentioned briefly by General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me movie.

Lee died in January 1981. He wasn’t available to participate in the production of For Your Eyes Only. In that film, it was stated that M was on leave and that the chief of staff was running operations.

Octopussy script: In the first draft by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, dated June 10, 1982, there isn’t a hint that M is another person.

M’S VOICE
(over intercom)
Stop fishing for compliments, Double-O-Seven, and get in here.

(snip)
M’S OFFICE – M MINISTER FANNING
as BOND enters. Fanning is a scholarly looking slightly pudgy man in his late thirties. SOTHEBY CATALOGUE and the FABERGE EGG lie on M’s desk

The rest of the scene is more or less what we got in the 1983 movie. Again, there was no hint that M was a different character than in the first 11 movies.

From that, you can conclude that a simple change in casting took place. Bernard Lee died. Robert Brown replaced him. But the character is the same.

Judi Dench’s M lectures Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the portrait of Bernard Lee’s M in the background.

However, in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, things may have changed.

In the pre-titles sequence, there is an explosion at MI6 headquarters in London. British Intelligence is forced to regroup at another headquarters in Scotland.

The art department (Peter Lamont? One of his deputies? One of the lowest ranking blokes?) included a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M.

Was this a “retcon,” or retroactive change in continuity?

There are certainly signs that the view of Lee/M and Brown/M being separate characters has taken hold with many fans. The MI6 James Bond website conducted a vote on Twitter this weekend, with the view that they are different characters winning the day.

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Without whom, etc. (56th anniversary)

1977: Spoilers? What spoilers?

“Wet Nellie” from The Spy Who Loved Me

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of angst over the reveal of a spoiler from No Time to Die. But, a couple of generations ago, the James Bond film franchise was a lot looser when it came to potential spoilers.

There are multiple examples. Bond soundtracks often came out before the films did. Some tracks had titles like Death of Grant, Death of Goldfinger, Death of Fiona and Death of Aki. So those developments clearly weren’t dealt with as big secrets.

But 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was perhaps the most cavalier in this regard. What’s a spoiler?

Instead of re-issuing the Ian Fleming novel The Spy Who Loved Me, a novelization written by co-screenwriter Christopher Wood reached book stores ahead of the movie (at least here in the U.S.).

On the very first page — before even the title page — there was an excerpt of Bond’s jump with the agent’s Union Jack parachute.

That was just for openers. Wet Nellie was the centerpiece of the Who-Cares-About-Spoilers marketing campaign.

Wet Nellie, of course, was the movie’s central gadget, the Lotus that could convert into a submarine. In reality, multiple cars were used but most Bond fans are familiar with the tale by now.

At the time, I had a mail subscription to the Los Angeles Times. I was studying journalism and the paper was at its peak of excellence and influence. Each day’s paper arrived four days after the publication date.

Anyway, weeks before the movie was out, the entertainment section of the LAT had a detailed story about Wet Nellie. It was the first time I even heard of the Wet Nellie nickname and how it was a takeoff of the Little Nellie name for Bond’s mini-helicopter in You Only Live Twice.

The story described how the version that actually traveled underwater worked, including how it was piloted by guys with scuba equipment. Moreover, the story clearly had been done with the cooperation of the filmmakers. They wanted to be sure everybody knew about Wet Nellie.

As a result, two of the biggest highlights of the movie were pretty common knowledge before its U.S. debut.

To a degree, that was understandable. Eon Productions and United Artists were betting big on Bond after the breakup between producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The budget roughly doubled compared with the previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun.

So there was a lot riding on the 1977 movie. If Bond went down, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort — and publicity about two of its biggest sequences.

That was then. This is now. Fan attitudes change. So do studio publicity strategies.

Does No Time to Die evoke one of Fleming’s last ideas?

New No Time to Die poster

Is this a spoiler? Only if it’s correct. Nevertheless, don’t read any further if that upsets you.

The MI6 James Bond website today published a story about No Time to Die spoilers based on call sheets issued during filming in Italy last year.

The article reveals a number of details. But one in particular would catch the attention of Bond fans who’ve read Ian Fleming’s original novels.

Specifically, such fans would note the end of the author’s You Only Live Twice novel.

Here’s an excerpt:

One of the final scenes to be shot Italy back in September was with Nomi (Lashana Lynch) and Madeliene (Lea Seydoux) on the coast near Maratea Port for scene #235. This location is doubling for Safin’s island. Local press caught shots of a rib boat with Nomi in combat gear and Madeline on a radio.

But there is a third character included in these late scenes, and it is not James Bond. Her name is Mathilde and she is 5 years old. She appears in scene #235: “Nomi pilots Madeliene and Mathilde to safety with island in the background.”

Could Mathilde be the daughter of Bond? That would be similar to the You Only Live Twice novel, where Bond, suffering from amnesia and thinking he’s a Japanese fisherman, travels off to the Soviet Union. He’s unaware that Kissy Suzuki is pregnant with his son.

The MI6 article adds this at the end:

Could James Bond become a parent? Regular Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have for years worked on including elements of unused Ian Fleming material, and aside from Bond’s brainwashed attempt to assassinate M in ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of the most glaring omissions from the film series is how Bond leaves Kissy at the end of ‘You Only Live Twice’.

We’ll see. Eventually.

Footnote: Bond continuation novel author Raymond Benson ran with the idea at the beginning of his 1997-2002 run. James Suzuki, the daughter of Bond and Kissy, figures into the short story Blast From the Past. That story was first published in Playboy.

James Suzuki is killed, bringing Bond into conflict with another old enemy.

Jeremy Duns discusses scripts for 1967 Casino Royale

Jeremy Duns

Writer Jeremy Duns over the past nine years has researched the James Bond work performed by journalist-screenwriter Ben Hecht (1893-1964) and novelist Joseph Heller (1923-1999).

Both were among the scribes employed by producer Charles K. Feldman for his 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. But little had been written about that Casino Royale work prior to Duns’ research.

The Spy Command conducted an interview with Duns via email.

QUESTION: What is it about the Charles K. Feldman production of Casino Royale that spurred you to find out more?

JEREMY DUNS: I tend to be interested in oddities and gaps in the record, and follow them up if I think there might be more there.

There has been so much written about the James Bond series that the tendency is to think that there’s nothing substantial that could now be discovered about this world, but I started to rethink that in 2005 after I found a few draft pages of an unpublished Bond novel from the Sixties (Per Fine Ounce).

That research was triggered by my reading a few sentences about the book in Duff Hart-Davis’ excellent biography of Peter Fleming, published in 1974. The discovery suggested to me that there might be more to find than I’d thought. A couple of years later, a passing mention in one of Kingsley Amis’ published letters to a ‘story outline’ he was writing ‘based on an original Ian Fleming idea’ led me to finding Jon Cleary’s unfilmed screenplay for The Diamond Smugglers.

So what else could there be out there? Like many, I had read more about the 1967 version of Casino Royale in advance of the reboot with Daniel Craig, and had watched it again. It was as much of a mess as I remembered, but I was intrigued as to how it had all come about.

So many famous actors, directors and writers were involved, and I was particularly intrigued by some of the names in the latter camp – several books mentioned that, among others, Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller had been involved in writing for the film.

Those are two mammoth figures, of course, so that started me looking. Idly searching the internet in late 2009 I found that the Newberry Library in Chicago had copies of Ben Hecht’s material for the film. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I had any luck with Heller, for reasons explained here.

QUESTION: As you’ve written, Feldman’s project went through various phases from straight adaptation to madcap spoof. What do you think accounts for this?

DUNS: Lots of factors, I think, although we don’t know for sure. Eon’s films became increasingly successful as Feldman was trying to make his, and with each one, Sean Connery became more established in the public’s view as James Bond – he was soon virtually indistinguishable from the character.

Feldman tried to poach Connery for his movie, but Connery asked for a million dollars and Feldman refused (according to Connery he admitted to him later that this had been a mistake). But at some point, I suspect he figured that trying to compete with Eon by making a film like theirs, without Connery, would risk a weak imitation.

Feldman had also negotiated with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to make Casino Royale with them, but they had balked at his price. There might well have been some bitterness on Feldman’s part from those negotiations failing. And in 1965 he produced What’s New Pussycat?, which despite being a chaotic production, became a big hit.

Just as a few years later, George Lazenby was convinced by his agent that James Bond was old hat in the hippie era, Feldman seems to have convinced himself of something a little similar –- that the wild madcap psychedelic tone of What’s New Pussycat? was the hip new thing, and that he had a finger on that pulse.

QUESTION: What accounts for the interest of Ben Hecht and Joseph Heller in writing for Feldman? Was it just money? Were the writers genuinely interested in the material?

DUNS: It’s always tricky to speculate on people’s motivations, and I suspect they were nuanced and with many factors.

Ben Hecht

I don’t think Hecht needed the money, but he had initially moved to Hollywood in order to make it, of course. He was a screenwriter for hire, and one of the highest-paid in the field. He knew Feldman, had worked with him before, and they seemed to have been on friendly terms. He was certainly interested in the material – in his last letter to Feldman he said he had “never had more fun writing a movie.” I think the drafts he wrote also show he was interested in the source material.

As for Heller, Feldman offered him $150,000 to work on the script, and by Heller’s own account that was a major motivating factor – as it likely would have been for most writers.

But Heller was also interested in the material, I think, and enjoyed writing it, if not the stress of working for Feldman and doing so in the dark with other writers simultaneously working on the same script. Heller’s correspondence with Feldman and his satirical article about the experience are self-deprecating and dismissive, to the point where one might feel he disliked Bond, but that’s the Heller voice, familiar from Catch-22: cool, cynical, sardonic. It’s not the voice of his material.

If I’d only found a snippet of his letter to Feldman in which he described the pre-titles sequence he and George Mandel wrote for the film, but none of the script material, it would be easy to assume that he found the whole thing beneath him and was taking the mickey out of the whole thing. But I think that sequence is brilliant and shows a lot of care and craft. That and a lot else he wrote is easy to imagine in a later Connery film.

Other aspects of that letter, the script material, and Heller’s extensive notes and suggestions for it, show that he took the job very seriously, and did a lot of work on it.

Joseph Heller

QUESTION: Of the Hecht and Heller Casino Royale scripts, which do you think is better?

DUNS: That’s impossible to say at this point, mainly because I don’t know if there’s any more Heller material out there. There are thousands of pages in the Charles K Feldman Collection, but it’s currently closed, and there are clearly parts of the story we don’t yet know.

That said, it looks on the face of it that Hecht did more work on the film, for longer, and it more generally fits the kind of Bond film I tend to favor, eg From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Heller’s material wasn’t pastiche, spoof or satire, but nudges more towards the vein of You Only Live Twice.

Heller built on a lot of Hecht’s material, though, perhaps with Billy Wilder’s material in between, so there are several plot similarities, and their tone is broadly similar. But there’s more research to do, and it’s a little like comparing apples and pears. These were two geniuses of the 20th century, let loose on James Bond.

QUESTION: How would you describe Charles K. Feldman. I know he was an agent (and Albert R. Broccoli’s boss) and he got into production. What made him want to do that transition?

DUNS: He was a powerful Hollywood figure, and as an agent represented a huge number of stars: Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, to name just a few. He was handsome and debonair and had a rather peculiar biography, of which it’s not clear how much was true – there’s a touch of Jay Gatsby about him. I’m no expert on his career, but I think he went into production at least in part because the studio system was collapsing and creating his own projects was a way to steer a new course for the talent he represented.

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

QUESTION: Is there an element of tragedy with the Feldman production of Casino Royale? Hecht dies while working on the project. Feldman dies not long after the movie came out. The finished movie seems to have wasted an enormous amount of money. Was it worth it?

DUNS: Ben Hecht was 71 when he died, Feldman 63. I don’t know if the latter’s death was at all connected to the stress of making Casino Royale, but I doubt Hecht’s was related. This just happened to be the project he was working on when he died.

In terms of the finished film, I think it was a folly and an obsession that led Feldman astray, and he squandered enormous sums – including a lot of his own money – on it. But he also didn’t make use of some extraordinary script material he had commissioned from two of the era’s greatest writers. That’s perhaps not a tragedy, but it’s certainly a crying shame. Still, the material itself still exists, and I hope it can be read more widely at some point.

QUESTION: Perhaps an obvious question but is making a James Bond movie a lot harder than it looks? The two non-Eon films (1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again) both encountered a lot of problems.

DUNS: Making any film is harder than it looks, but yes, a Bond film is especially tricky, especially because of the weight of expectations. At this point, Feldman was up against a phenomenon and, despite Heller’s clear warning, he didn’t understand that even a spectacle like Bond has to be at least halfway coherent.

You can replace John Barry with Burt Bacharach. You can have tremendous sets and costumes and Ursula Andress and David Niven and Orson Welles and the world’s greatest directors and writers… but you need to be able to put it all together. Feldman, quite literally, lost the plot.

The book Duns on Bond is an omnibus that collects Duns’ articles about Hecht’s Casino Royale scripts as well as pieces he wrote concerning Per Fine Ounce and The Diamond Smugglers. It can be ordered at AMAZON UK and AMAZON US, as well as AMAZON CANADA and other Amazon sites.

Duns wrote about Joseph Heller and Casino Royale in an APRIL 20 article in The Times of London. The article is behind a paywall. if you register for The Times’ site, you can see two free articles a month. The Times is offering a one-month free subscription plan.