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could now be discovered about this world, but I started to rethink that in 2005 after I found a few draft pages of an unpublished Bond novel from the Sixties (Per Fine Ounce).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. 

Duns uncovers Joseph Heller’s work on Casino Royale

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

Writer Jeremy Duns, who in 2011 researched Casino Royale scripts by Ben Hecht, has produced another chapter in the saga of the Charles K. Feldman production — work that Catch 22 author Joseph Heller did for Feldman’s project.

Duns’ research about Heller is contained in an April 20 article in The Times of London.

Heller was approached by producer Feldman after Hecht died in 1964. Hecht’s work was more of a faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.

However, according to the article, Feldman wanted to go in a more extravagant direction after Hecht’s death. Heller, who worked with novelist George Mandel as a co-writer, came aboard during this phase of the project in early 1965.

In one version of the Heller material, according to Duns, the fugitive Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele “is removing the brains of leading scientists” and storing them.

A very similar idea would be included in a March 1966 episode of The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Druid’s Blood. The series was set in the 1870s but the villain of the episode has removed the brains of scientists who are still alive, albeit disembodied. That episode was scripted by Henry Sharp, one of the show’s leading writers who earlier in his career had written for pulp magazines.

The Heller-Mandel material also includes the villain’s base is in a dormant volcano. As noted by Duns, both Our Man Flint, with James Coburn, and 1967’s You Only Live Twice featured the same concept.

Despite such flourishes, Duns says the tone of the Heller material has “a real sense of menace and suspense.”

Duns found the Heller material in the Charles K. Feldman Collection at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. Feldman’s family donated Casino Royale material in 1969 but the collection has been closed to the public until recently, according to Duns.

To read the much more detailed article, CLICK HERE. The article is behind a paywall. However, 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. Duns also has his own summary of his research on his blog.

007-related obits of note

Nicholas Roeg’s title card for the 1967 Casino Royale

There were a couple of obituaries over the weekend of accomplished professionals with ties to James Bond.

The first was the film director Nicolas Roeg. The New York Times’ obit cited how he directed The Man Who Fell to Earth. The Guardian’s obit prominently referenced him directing Don’t Look Now.

Years before, Roeg was credited with “additional photography” for 1967’s Casino Royale, Charles K. Feldman’s expensive spoof of the 1960s spy genre For Roeg, Casino Royale was a footnote. The primary director of photography was Jack Hildyard, a distinguished cinematographer.

The other 007-related obit of note was Ricky Jay, who played a secondary villain in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.

Jay was a big deal before he entered the film world of 007. The New Yorker magazine published a detailed 1993 feature story about Jay. One short passage described how Jay mastered being a magician.

Michael Weber, a fellow-magician and close friend, has said, “Basically, Ricky remembers nothing that happened after 1900.”

One of Jay’s best scenes was cut from the final version. The official Eon Production 007 feed on Twitter included it.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

.

Settlement reached in 007 box set case

Never Say Never Again’s poster

A settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit that originated when a consumer who bought a James Bond box set marketed as containing “all” of the 007 movies but didn’t include 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

The lawsuit was filed against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio to the 007 franchise, and 20th Century Fox, which distributes Bond films on home video.

Under terms of the settlement, eligible consumers will receive digital copies of the two 007 films that were not made by Eon Productions.

“The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing and the Court has not decided who is right and who is wrong.  Instead, the parties decided to settle the dispute,” according to the announcement.

The box sets referenced in the settlement announcement were “Bond 50: Celebrating Five Decades of Bond 007,” “The James Bond Collection” and “The Ultimate James Bond Collection.”

If someone wants to claim the digital copies, they have to submit a claim form by May 29. “Claim forms can be obtained at www.bondDVDsettlement.com or by calling 1-833-380-5565.”

If someone wants to be excluded from the settlement they have to do so by May 18. “This is the only option that allows you to keep any rights you currently have to negotiate with or sue Defendants about the claims in this case,” according to the announcement.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

This is the same case where a federal judge in Seattle last year issued a 14-page ruling full of James Bond puns.

Roger Moore part of TCM Remembers 2017

Turner Classic Movies has unveiled the 2017 edition of its TCM Remembers video, honoring actors and crew members who passed away during the year.

Roger Moore, who played James Bond in seven 007 films from 1973 to 1985, was part of the video. At around the 3:10 mark, the video includes a clip of Moore from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Other notables in the video include:

–Martin Landau, who played a henchman in 1959’s North by Northwest (used for one of two clips in the video) and gained fame in the Mission: Impossible television series.

–Veteran character actor Clifton James, whose many credits include playing redneck sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun.

–Fred Koenekamp, an Oscar-winning director of photography who had earlier honed his craft photographing 90 episodes (out of 105 total) of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series.

–Daliah Lavi, an actress whose credits included the first Matt Helm film, The Silencers, and the 1967 Casino Royale spoof.

–Bernie Casey, a busy actor who, among other things, played Felix Leiter in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon 007 film starring Sean Connery.

You can view the video below.

007 by the numbers: Films per decade

An exchange with a fellow James Bond fan got us to thinking about the output of James Bond fans by decade.

There has been a long-term trend of fewer movies. Some say it’s because making films has gotten more complicated.

Anyway, without further analysis, here’s how it breaks down by decade.

1960s: 007 films. This was the decade of Bondmania so, naturally, it’s when output reached its zenith. There were six entries in the Eon Productions series, plus the Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman with fifth credited directors including John Huston.

1970s: 005 films. The Eon series began the decade by bringing back its original leading man (Sean Connery) while spending the rest of the ’70s with Roger Moore.

1980s: 006 films. The Eon series was like clockwork, with a movie every other year. Also, there was Connery’s final Bond film, Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon production that came out in 1983, the same year as Eon’s Octopussy.

Timothy Dalton replaced Moore with 1987’s The Living Daylights (after Pierce Brosnan had been signed but couldn’t get out a contract with NBC). Eon didn’t miss a beat. That would be the last time such a statement would be uttered, though fans didn’t realize it at the time.

1990s: 003 films. A big legal fight between Eon and studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer shut down production at the start of the decade. Bond didn’t return until 1995’s GoldenEye. But the (by now) tradition every-other-year production schedule still resulted in three entries for star Pierce Brosnan.

2000s: 003 films. MGM gave Eon an extra year to put out Die Another Day in 2002. It was Brosnan’s finale, though he didn’t know it at the time. Eon then went into a period of self-reflection. It got the rights to Casino Royale, opted to ditch Brosnan and hire Daniel Craig as a replacement.

Quantum of Solace in 2008 proved to be the final 007 film produced on an every-other-year schedule. But nobody knew it at the time.

2010s: 003 films (scheduled). The decade began with MGM going into bankruptcy and emerging as a smaller company. Craig, though, stayed onboard with 2012’s Skyfall, followed by 2015’s SPECTRE.

“Everybody’s just a little bit tired,” Daniel Craig said in 2016.

Then, another self-imposed break took hold.

“There’s no conversation going on because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Craig said at a New Yorker magazine event in fall 2016, referring to the next Bond film. Eon boss Barbara Broccoli stepped up her involvement with non-Bond films as well as plays, including a production of Othello with Craig.

Craig said last month on CBS’s The Late Show he would be back for Bond 25. “I needed a break,” he told host Stephen Colbert.

Eon has announced a U.S. release date of November 2019 for Bond 25. But, for now, it’s not known what studio will actually distribute the film. MGM doesn’t have a distribution operation and cuts deals with other studios.

Judge can’t resist 007 puns in box set ruling

Never Say Never Again’s poster

A federal judge in Seattle on Aug. 3 issued a 14-page ruling by a consumer who bought a James Bond box set marketed as containing “all” of the 007 movies but didn’t include 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

The ruling, reported on earlier by The Hollywood Reporter, rules for the consumer in part and against the consumer in part. Essentially, it does let the case proceed.

We’re mostly interested how Judge Ricardo S. Martinez couldn’t resist a good James Bond pun (or four) in his ruling.

Page 2: “At this time, Court will Live And Let Die. For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants’ Motion.”

Page 10: “From the Defendants’ perspective, this claim will have to Die Another Day.

Page 12: “Plaintiff may amend her claim once if she discovers sufficient facts to establish privity, thus this claim may Only Live Twice.”

Page 14: “Although Diamonds Are Forever, if Plaintiff wishes to amend her Complaint as directed above, she only has fourteen (14) days from the date of this order.”

The 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again were not made by Eon Productions. But both films are now owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio for the Eon 007 series.