Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.: More than a footnote

Ian Fleming

This weekend marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming.

Understandably, there were the usual observations of his passing. After all, without Fleming, we wouldn’t have James Bond movies or the 1960s spy craze.

After all these years, however, there’s an oddity. That is, Fleming’s connection to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

U.N.C.L.E. originated because there was interest in turning Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into some kind of television show.

That led to television producer (who concluded the book would not be the basis of a show) into doing a pitch for something different. In turn, that led to NBC saying it Fleming could be enticed into participating, it’d buy the series without a pilot being produced.

In turn, that led to meetings between Felton and Fleming in New York in October 1962. In turn, that led to Felton writing up ideas and Fleming (after days without much being accomplished) writing on 11 pages of Western Union telegram blanks. In turn, that led to Felton employing Sam Rolfe to concoct something that went beyond far beyond the initial Felton-Fleming ideas.

Eventually, Fleming exited the project (under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), selling off his interest for 1 British pound.

Regardless, without Fleming, U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t exist given the history with Thrilling Cities. But some long-time (i.e. original) U.N.C.L.E. fans hesitate to acknowledge that. Felton and Rolfe did the heavy lifting — there’s no denying that at all. But Thrilling Cities was the catalyst.

Also, Fleming’s idea of naming the hero Napoleon Solo (Felton’s initial idea was Edgar Solo) was huge. The original idea was Solo would be an ordinary looking fellow. But a character named Napoleon Solo was not going to be your next door neighbor or the guy in the apartment down the hall.

At the same time, Bond movie fans don’t even consider it. And Ian Fleming Publications, run by Fleming’s heirs, don’t even mention U.N.C.L.E. in the IFP timeline of Fleming’s life. 

Fleming was connected to U.N.C.L.E. for less than eight months (late October 1962 to June 1963). Not an enormous amount of time but more than just a footnote.

It is what it is, as the saying going. The 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t give a credit to either Sam Rolfe or Ian Fleming, while Felton (who died in 2012) got an “executive consultant” credit. Ironically, one of Fleming’s 1962 ideas — of Solo being a good cook — was included in the film.

It would appear that U.N.C.L.E. will remain Fleming’s bastard child (figuratively, of course) now and forever.

Bond 25: ‘Mind you, all of this is pure guesswork…”

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Alert: What follows is just for fun. The blog wanted to make that clear following last weekend’s fiasco in The Mirror.

So, Bond 25 has some momentum following last week’s announcement of a 2019 release date.

That announcement left a number of issues unresolved. Channeling M in You Only Live Twice (“Mind you, all of this is pure guesswork, but the PM wants us to play it with everything we’ve got.”), here’s a quick look with more than a little guesswork.

Status of the story: The release date announcement also said Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were working on Bond 25’s story. That confirmed a March story by Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail. Thus, that story now becomes “news that hadn’t been announced yet” from the rumor category.

But how far along are Purvis and Wade? It depends on how long ago they were hired. It has been almost five months since Bamigboye’s story.

Guess: They’ve had enough time to come up with a treatment, perhaps even a full first draft script. If it’s the latter, that’s just the start. But it’s certainly a possibility.

Status of Bond 25’s distributor: Sony Pictures has distributed the last four 007 films. But its most recent two-picture deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, can’t distribute films on its own. Unless, of course, MGM is feeling bolder seven years after existing bankruptcy.

With that in mind, it’s a natural question whether a Bond 25 distributor has already been selected.

Eon Production made the most recent announcement. But it has no distribution operation. It doesn’t finance its movies. The fact Eon made a release date announcement suggests a deal is in hand. We’ll see.

Status of Daniel Craig as James Bond: Craig is 49. Here’s the precedent involving actors in their late 40s/early 50s playing James Bond.

–Roger Moore was 49 when The Spy Who Loved Me was released. He came back for four more movies. Sometimes the negotiations went down to the wire (and potential replacements auditioned). But he was 58 when his final 007 film, A View to a Kill, was released.

–Pierce Brosnan was 49 when Die Another Day came out. He said on talk shows he had an offer for a fifth Bond outing. It didn’t happen that way and Daniel Craig replaced him.

The thing is, Brosnan was the final Bond selected by Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli. Craig was the first Bond selected by Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Sometimes, it’s hard to let go. That’s true even if it contradicts your previous public statements.

The prestige media is mixed. The New York Times has reported Craig will be back. The BBC has said it “understands the actor has not yet signed a contract.”

The guess: Craig stays for Bond 25.

Status of the director: This is one category the blog won’t guess. It really depends on what Eon boss Barbara Broccoli is thinking.

Should Roger Moore get a shoutout in Bond 25?

Roger Moore in a 1980s publicity still

On Twitter, the MI6 James Bond website raised an interesting question: Should Bond 25, coming out in 2019, be “dedicated to the memory of Roger Moore’, like TND was for Cubby Broccoli?”

Eon Productions, which produces the 007 films series, has been a bit inconsistent when it comes to on-screen acknowledgements of those who helped make the series what it is.

When GoldenEye came out, following a six-year hiatus, there was no mention of 13-time screenwriter Richard Maibaum or long-time titles designer Maurice Binder.

Maibaum and Binder both died in 1991, during the long stretch when the Bond film franchise lay dormant.

However, special effects and miniatures guru Derek Meddings was mentioned in the end titles. (“To the memory of DEREK MEDDINGS”). This was his first Bond film since 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and he passed away about two months before GoldenEye was released.

The release of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies occurred after the 1996 death of Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli, the father of Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and the stepfather of Eon’s Michael G. Wilson. Understandably, this was acknowledged in the end titles (“In loving memory of ALBERT R. “CUBBY’ BROCCOLI”).

Bond 25 is scheduled for a U.S. release of November 2019 (even though, as this is being written, no distribution agreement has been announced). It will be the first 007 film to come out after one of the James Bonds of Eon’s series has passed away.

This may be a relatively minor point. But it remains to be seen whether Roger Moore, who played Bond more than any actor in the Eon series, is acknowledged in the next film adventure.

Remembering that 1989-95 007 hiatus

GoldenEye’s poster

Our post the other day about the anniversary of Licence to Kill’s release got the blog to thinking about what followed: The six-year hiatus in James Bond film production.

Like the earlier post, this is more of a personal take on the events.

The thing is, in those pre-internet days, the news was much slower in getting around. During much of this period, I saw a number of items in The Wall Street Journal. I had a subscription at the time.

Also, the extent of what was going on wasn’t immediately evident.

There were reports in the trade press that director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wouldn’t be returning to the series. This was the first indication (at least to me) that a big makeover, rather than minor tweaks, was in store.

There were occasional stories about potential new directors and screenwriters. Things got more serious when it was announced that Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, was putting itself up for sale. Eventually, no sale occurred, but seeing the original announcement was an eye-opener.

What’s more, the soap opera at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, went into overdrive. MGM was bought and sold again, with a bank (Credit Lyonnais) taking over the operation. Bond fans now needed to read the business pages of newspapers just to keep things straight.

Also, Danjaq/Eon filed a lawsuit related to what was going on with MGM. It was clear the next James Bond film wouldn’t be made soon. Even when the lawsuit was settled (I had a chance to read the press release at my office), it still wasn’t clear when production would resume.

Timothy Dalton

During this period, there were questions about what would happen with the incumbent 007, Timothy Dalton. Geraldo Rivera had a syndicated U.S. television show at the time and one broadcast was devoted to Bond. Some Bond experts participated. Rivera asked if Dalton would be back. The experts said they expected him to return.

Finally came the announcement that Dalton was gone. What was going to happen next?

Attention turned to Pierce Brosnan, who lost out on his chance to play Bond in 1986, when Dalton got the nod.

Eon maintained in a 1987 television interview that Dalton was always its No. 1 choice. In that interview, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond.

Brosnan had been signed (and it’s detailed in the Inside The Living Daylights documentary that’s part of home video release), but NBC reacted by ordering more episodes of Remington Steele. That, of course, was what gave Dalton his opportunity to play Bond.

In 1994, shortly before the casting decision was announced, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a long front-page story about the Bond search and that it was not a clear-cut choice.

Regardless, Brosnan got the nod. Many fans, no doubt, thought, “Finally!”

Advertisement for 1994 James Bond convention

Still, Bond had been away from theater screens for quite a while. Eon did something it had never done — having an official James Bond fan conventions in the fall of 1994 and 1995 (the latter days before the premiere of GoldenEye).

That was part of an effort to revive interest in Bond. For hard-core fans, they were anxiously waiting all along. Still, both conventions were interesting to attend. For some fans, it was a chance to meet like-minded people they had never had a chance to encounter before.

In the end, Bond resumed production. 007 even maintained an every-other-year schedule until the end of the 1990s.

Still, looking back at the hiatus, it’s a reminder that film franchises — for fans, for productions companies, for studios — can’t be taken for granted.

As Eon’s non-007 portfolio expands, what about Bond 25?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Eon Productions is going to make a spy movie without James Bond. Naturally, that raises some questions. So here goes.

Does anybody think Bond 25 is coming out in late 2018?

There are always some die-hard believers. After all, Linus believed the Great Pumpkin was coming.

Still, the evidence available to outsiders suggest 2018 is no longer operative, if it ever was.

Eon announced July 12 it would make The Rhythm Section, a spy thriller featuring a female lead played by Blake Lively. According to the announcement, filming is to begin later this year.

The last two Bond films, Skyfall (2012) and SPECTRE (2015) began filming in November and December respectively of the years before they were released.

Bond 25, with no confirmed leading man, no director and no script, doesn’t seem to be on track for 2018.

At this point, the question is whether 2019 is realistic. Eon is supposed to be producing a historical war movie starting late this year, according to the James Bond MI6 website.

So when does Bond 25 actually get into production and come out?

Who knows? We won’t get much information until at least Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reaches a deal with another studio to release Bond 25. As of today, there’s no such deal.

What does this mean?

It means this is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) James Bond film series.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, the founders of Eon, had various non-Bond film projects. But, aside from 1963’s Call Me Bwana, Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t do them through Eon. They did them through separate production companies.

Eon has a lot on its plate. Not all of its various projects have become reality. In the early 2000s, a proposed Jinx movie was junked, for example.

But, for now, things are more complicated than the days (say 1977-1989) when Cubby Broccoli produced Bond movies every two years. Maybe every three years.

Nobody does it better: 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Four decades after its theatrical release (on that apt 7/7/1977 date) , The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most beloved James Bond films — not only for the Roger Moore era but the entire Eon Productions series.

Moore himself declared a couple of times this was his favorite Bond film. His preference for this film was understandable.

The film’s production had a rough start. In 1975, shortly after the release of The Man With The Golden Gun, Harry Saltzman sold his share of the Bond rights to United Artists after facing serious debts and personal problems, leaving Albert R. Broccoli as sole producer.

Eon Productions was not allowed by contract to use anything from Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel except for the title. It is known that the James Bond creator wasn’t happy with his most peculiar book, written in first person from the viewpoint of Vivienne Michel, a young girl attacked by goons in a motel in the United States and rescued by James Bond.

Various writers were hired to devise a story. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum would receive the screenplay credit. Guy Hamilton departed the project, originally set for a 1976 release. Finally, Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice a decade before, was hired.

Attempts to bring back Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were cancelled after Thunderball producer Kevin McClory threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, scribes Wood and Maibaum penned a suitable Bond extravaganza that pleased audiences.

In the process from the script to screen, a huge set was built at Pinewood Studios to double for the tanker owned by the villain. Claude Renoir’s camera captured the exotic beauty of turistic spots like Sardinia and Cairo. In Egypt, the crew was constantly monitored by the government. The catering service was a disappointment, leaving Cubby Broccoli to step up and personally cook spaghetti for the whole crew.

The Spy Who Loved Me stands out as an improvement for the Moore 007 movies. After two entertaining but rather “cheap” Bond films, this third Moore/Bond adventure looks expensive.

The action scenes are tidy and organized proving to be a perfect syncronization between the soundtrack, the cinematography, the stunt team and Lewis Gilbert’s experience in delivering an extraordinary adventure in the scale of You Only Live Twice.

Also notable was the work of the model unit to turn Bond’s white Lotus Espirit into a mini submarine, which he uses to explore the villain’s lair beneath the Sardinian seas (actually shot in The Bahamas, as were most of 007’s underwater sequences).

However, honors for The Spy Who Loved Me should go for a very brave man who performed an unforgettable stunt.

1975 trade advertisement for The Spy Who Loved Me before Harry Saltzman sold out his interest in Bond

Rick Sylvester got on his skis and slided trough the snowy summit of Canada’s Mount Asgard. He jumped off a cliff and opened a Union Jack parachute. This moment that won cheers and applause over cinemas across the United Kingdom almost killed Sylvester when one of the abandoned ski poles nearly punctured the parachute.

Roger Moore kept his grace in his third Bond film. He dashingly wears a Royal Navy uniform and has the USS Wayne submarine troops in charge before a big scale gunfight takes place against the villain’s forces. He lets an assasin fall to his death after extracting him information. And, bravely, he tells her KGB companion Anya Amasova that he was responsible for the death of her boyfriend. “In our business, Anya, people get killed.”

Barbara Bach lacked acting talent as the leading lady. This weak aspect was compensated by Curt Jurgens magnificient performance of Bond’s nemesis Karl Stromberg who tries to ignite World War III as the initial step for the inception of a world beneath the sea.

However, the most memorable character in the film’s rogue gallery was Richard Kiel’s Jaws, the giant with steel teeth who would return to join the side of good in the next film, Moonraker. The popularity of Jaws was so big that Richard Kiel shared his likeness for three Bond videogames: GoldenEye 007 (1997), Everything or Nothing (2003) and 007 Legends (2012).

Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score in tone with the times, influenced by the Bee Gees music and the late 1970s disco tunes but also with the dramatic tunes some moments require, such as the tanker battle near the end.

Particularly good are his remixes of the classic James Bond Theme that heralded the many action sequences of the film. For the main title song, Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager took inspiration from Mozart and created the immortal ode to Bond: “Nobody Does it Better,” a title that could very well also fit the effort to deliver a Bond film with capital B.

Happy 100th birthday, Dino

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter

Dean Martin (1917-1995), a lover not a fighter in The Ambushers (1967).

Today, June 7, is the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Dean Martin. Dino, in his day, was the epitome of cool and charm. For many, he still is.

His contribution to spy entertainment was starring in the four-film Matt Helm series produced by Irving Allen, former partner of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli.

To entice Dino, Allen made the actor his partner. As a result, Martin enjoyed a bigger pay day for the first Helm film, The Silencers, than Sean Connery got for Thunderball. Connery noticed and wanted to be a partner in the Bond franchise..

The Helm series doesn’t get respect in the 21st century. Many who like the movies refer to their affection as a “guilty pleasure.”

The Helm movies, rather than doing straight adaptations of Donald Hamilton’s serious novels, incorporated Dino’s “lovable lush” act.

One of the movies, Murderers’ Row, even had a plot point where Matt gives his boss Mac (James Gregory) a clue by deliberately misstating his alcohol preference. (“Matt Helm never drank a glass of bourbon in his life!” Mac says as he tries to figure out the traitor in his organization.)

For the record, this blog would greatly appreciate a new Helm movie that faithfully adapted the Hamilton novels. At the same time, the Spy Commander discovered the novels *because* of the Dean Martin films. Speaking strictly for myself, I’m very fond of both, despite the flaws of the movies.

Regardless, today is a day of celebration. Bottoms up, Dino.