Octopussy’s 35th: Battle of the Bonds, round 1

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Poster with a suggestive tagline.

Adapted from a May 2013 post with an epilogue added at the end..

Thirty-five years ago, there was the much-hyped “Battle of the Bonds.” Competing 007 movies, the 13th Eon Productions entry with Roger Moore and a non-Eon film with Sean Connery, were supposed to square off in the summer.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. In June 1983, Eon’s Octopussy debuted while Never Say Never Again got pushed back to the fall.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli was taking no chances. He re-signed Moore, 54 at the start of production in the summer of 1982, for the actor’s sixth turn as Bond. It had seemed Moore might have exited the series after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Broccoli had considered American James Brolin, and Brolin’s screen tests surfaced at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. But with Never Say Never Again, a competing 007 adventure starring Connery, the original screen Bond, the producer opted to stay with Moore.

Also back was composer John Barry, who been away from the world of 007 since 1979’s Moonraker. Octopussy would be the start of three consecutive 007 scoring assignments, with A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights to follow. The three films would prove to be his final 007 work.

Barry opted to use The James Bond Theme more than normal in Octopussy’s score, presumably to remind the audience this was the part of the established film series.

Meanwhile, Broccoli kept in place many members of his team from For Your Eyes Only: production designer Peter Lamont, director John Glen, director of photography Alan Hume and associate producer Tom Pevsner. Even in casting the female lead, Broccoli stayed with the familiar, hiring Maud Adams, who had previously been the second female lead in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Behind the cameras, perhaps the main new face was writer George MacDonald Fraser, who penned the early versions of the script. Fraser’s knowledge of India, where much of the story takes place, would prove important. Richard Maibaum and Broccoli stepson Michael G. Wilson took over to rewrite. The final credit had all three names, with Fraser getting top billing.

As we’ve WRITTEN BEFORE, scenes set in India have more humor than scenes set in East and West Germany. Some times, the humor is over the top (a Tarzan yell during a sequence where Bond is being hunted in India by villain Kamal Khan). At other times, the movie is serious (the death of “sacrificial lamb” Vijay).

In any event, Octopussy’s ticket sales did better in the U.S. ($67.9 million) compared with For Your Eyes Only’s $54.8 million. Worldwide, Octopussy scored slightly less, $187.5 million compared with Eyes’s $195.3 million. For Broccoli & Co., that was enough to ensure the series stayed in production.

Hype about the Battle of the Bonds would gear back up when Never Say Never premiered a few months later. But the veteran producer, 74 years old at the time of Octopussy’s release, had stood his ground. Now, all he could do was sit back and watch what his former star, Sean Connery, who had heavy say over creative matters, would come up with a few months later.

2018 epilogue: Over the past five years, Octopussy has continued to generate mixed reaction.

One example was an article posted this month the Den of Geek website. 

While the site said Octopussy deserves another chance with fans, it also levied some criticisms.

It’s a funny old film, Octopussy, one used as evidence by both Moore’s prosecution and his defense. Haters cite the befuddled plot, an older Moore, some truly silly moments (Tarzan yell, anyone?), a Racist’s Guide to India, and the painfully metaphorical sight of a 56 year-old clown trying to disarm a nuclear bomb (rivalled only by Jaws’ Moonraker plunge into a circus tent on the “Spot the Unintentional Subtext” scale.)

At the same time, Den of Geek also compliments aspects of the movie, including its leading man.

Moore also submits a very good performance, arguably his strongest. Easy to treat him as a joke but the man really can act. Sometimes through eyebrows alone.

Thirty-five years later, Octopussy still has the power to enthrall some and to generate salvos from its critics.

I know someone, now in his 40s, who says it’s his favorite James Bond film. I have a friend who refuses to buy a home video copy of it (and every other Roger Moore 007 film) on the grounds that none of the Moore entries are true James Bond films. So it goes.

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Live And Let Die’s 45th: The post-Connery era truly begins

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

Adapted from a June 2013 post with appropriate updates.

For the eighth James Bond film, star Sean Connery wasn’t coming back. Three key members of the 007 creative team, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry, weren’t going to participate. And producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were mostly working separately, with this movie to be overseen primarily by Saltzman.

The result? Live And Let Die, which debuted 45 years ago this month, would prove to be, financially, the highest-grossing movie in the series to date.

Things probably didn’t seem that way for Eon Productions and United Artists as work began. They had no Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t want Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The studio didn’t want to take a chance and made the original screen 007 an offer he couldn’t refuse. But that was a one-film deal. Now, Eon and UA were starting from scratch.

Eon and UA had one non-Connery film under their belts, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They had tried the inexperienced George Lazenby, who bolted after one movie. For the second 007 film in the series not to star Connery, Eon and UA opted for a more-experienced choice: Roger Moore, former star of The Saint television series. Older than Connery, Moore would eventually employ a lighter touch.

Behind the camera, Saltzman largely depended on director Guy Hamilton, back for his third turn in the 007 director chair, and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz would be the sole writer from beginning to end, rewriting scenes as necessary during filming. In a commentary on the film’s DVD, Mankiewicz acknowledged it was highly unusual.

Perhaps the biggest creative change was with the film’s music. Barry had composed the scores for six Bond films in a row. George Martin, former producer for the Beatles, would take over. Martin had helped sell Saltzman on using a title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney. The ex-Beatle knew his song would be compared to the 007 classic title songs Barry had helped write. McCartney was determined to make his mark.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Saltzman liked the song, but inquired whether a woman singer would be more appropriate. Martin, in an interview for a 2006 special on U.K. television, said he informed Saltzman if Eon didn’t accept McCartney as performer, the producer wouldn’t get the song. Saltzman accepted both. The song eventually received an Oscar nomination.

Live And Let Die wasn’t the greatest James Bond film, despite an impressive boat chase sequence that was a highlight. The demise of its villain (Yaphet Kotto) still induces groans among long-time 007 fans as he pops like a balloon via an unimpressive special effect. Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), up to that time, was probably the most over-the-top comedic supporting character in the series. (“What are you?! Some kind of doomsday machine, boy?!”)

For Clifton James, the role was just one of many over a long career. But he made a huge impression. When the actor died in April 2017 at the age of 96, the part of J.W. Pepper was mentioned prominently in obituaries, such as those appearing in The New York TimesThe Guardian, The Associated Press and Variety.

Live And Let Die is one of the most important films in the series. As late as 1972, the question was whether James Bond could possibly continue without Sean Connery. With $161.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, it was the first Bond film to exceed the gross for 1965’s Thunderball. In the U.S., its $35.4 million box office take trailed the $43.8 million for Diamonds Are Forever.

Bumpy days still lay ahead for Eon. The Man With the Golden Gun’s box office would tail off and relations between Broccoli and Saltzman would get worse. Still, for the first time, the idea took hold that the cinema 007 could move on from Connery.

Many editors at the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website criticized the movie and its star in a survey many years ago. But the film has its fans.

“I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a November 2011 news conference. Whatever one’s opinions about the movie, Live And Let Die ensured there’d be 007 employment for the likes of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

Should Marvel’s Feige get a Thalberg award?

Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios

The Playlist website had a story where the writers of the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War make the case for Marvel Studios getting at least some awards love.

““When is someone going to get [Kevin] Feige the [Irving G.] Thalberg award,” scribe Stephen McFeely was quoted as saying. “All he’s doing is remaking Hollywood. Please!”

The Thalberg award is an honorary award given out by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, the same organization that gives out the Oscars. The award is given to “creative producers whose bodies of work reflect a consistently high quality of motion picture production,” according to the Oscars website.

The Thalberg award isn’t given out every year. In fact, it hasn’t been given out since 2010 when Francis Ford Coppola, also a noted writer and director, received it.

The thing is, comic book movies generally don’t get a lot of Oscars love. Heath Ledger won a Best Supporting Actor award for The Dark Knight (2008). Suicide Squad (2016) won an Oscar for makeup and hairstyling.

More broadly, escapist movies generally don’t appear to get the same consideration as more serious fare. James Bond films won five Oscars from 1965 to 2016, including two Best Song awards, but none for acting, writing or directing.

The biggest Oscar love was when Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon Productions, received a Thalberg award in 1982, presented to him by Roger Moore, his 007 actor at the time.

Still, the Playlist story may have a point.

Under Feige, 44, Marvel has produced its own movies, rather than licensing rights to other studios, starting with 2008’s Iron Man. In that decade, Marvel established the idea of inter-connected movies all within the same fictional universe.

The success of that universe spurred Walt Disney Co. to buy Marvel, which has mostly let Feige run his own show.

So far, that has resulted in 18 movies, running through last month’s Black Panther. Two more Marvel Studios films are coming out this year, including next month’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Remember, Broccoli won the Thalberg when he was in his early 70s for his Bond output. That was 12 films at the time he received the award (Dr. No through For Your Eyes Only) with the 13th (Octopussy) in preparation. He would eventually be involved with the first 17 007 films before he died in 1996.

Now there are big differences between Marvel and Bond. As the blog has written before, Marvel is a prime example of the corporate model while Eon is the embodiment of the family model.

Still, Feige has had a major impact. Warner Bros., over the decades, came out with Superman and Batman movies that weren’t part of a single universe. Marvel spurred Warner Bros. to follow suit. Other studios have tried to replicate what Marvel did but came up short.

It remains to be seen whether the academy will consider Feige for the Thalberg, considered one of its major awards. But Feige, over the past decade, has had a major impact on the movie business.

Bond 25: The passionless 007?

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond 25 is progressing. Nobody knows how quickly. Nobody outside Eon Productions know exactly what’s happening..

Despite questions this blog has raised (including how nobody knows the distributor who will actually get the movie to theaters) , chances are the next James Bond film will still come out in the fall of 2019.

Why? Well, somebody is likely to step up even if Skyfall and SPECTRE generated small profits for Sony Pictures, the distributor for those two 007 films. Bond, at least for now, still generates a lot of global attention.

Bond still is a way to promote other, more profitable movies for studios that may become involved in Bond 25’s distribution.

The question remains whether Bond 25 will generate passion for global movie audiences.

Marvel Studios’s Black Panther, the newest member of the billion-dollar movie club, generated passion. It was viewed as a breakthrough for a vast audience that finally got to see sympathetic movie characters who looked like them.

That’s passion.

James Bond movies, of course, have been around for more than 55 years. There have been a half-dozen actors who’ve played Bond in the films.

Yet, the lack of Bond passion goes beyond familiarity.

The two custodians of the 007 franchise (Barbara Broccoli, 57, and Michael G. Wilson, 76) have spent the bulk of their lives in Bondage. That’s both a tremendous achievement (keeping such a franchise going) and, one suspects, a tremendous burden.

Broccoli and Wilson operated for years under the watchful eye of Eon Productions co-founder Albert R. Broccoli (1909-1996) and his wife Dana Broccoli (1922-2004).

Since then, Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have pursued non-Bond projects for many years now. Bond is lucrative. The other projects have provided variety. Maybe even provided passion.

In the coming months, there likely will be many stories generated about Bond 25.

But the larger question is whether Bond 25 will generate passion — for Broccoli and Wilson as well as the larger 007 audience.

Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. But it’s something to keep in mind as the Bond 25 story unfolds.

Lewis Gilbert, an appreciation

Lewis Gilbert (right) with Albert R. Broccoli, Roger Moore and Lois Chiles during filming of Moonraker

Lewis Gilbert, coming off producing and directing Alfie (1966), was not the most obvious candidate to direct a James Bond movie.

Alfie was a comedy-drama about the emptiness and consequences from pursuing a lifestyle purely for your own enjoyment. It was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.

You Only Live Twice, the 1967 007 film Gilbert signed on for, by contrast was a huge, sprawling film. It teased the possibility of sending James Bond (Sean Connery) into space. It featured a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, with a squad of Japanese Secret Service ninjas squaring off against the minions of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Subtle, it wasn’t.

Yet, Gilbert, with a varied resume of films, was up to the challenge. The movie did away with the plot of Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel. In its place was a thrill ride.

You Only Live Twice promotional art, which provides an idea of the movie’s spectacle

“Well, I was a bit dubious at first,” Gilbert said on an installment of Whicker’s World, the BBC documentary series while the movie was in production in Japan.

“I must say in this case the two of them (producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), they’ve been wonderful. They’ve let me come in with any ideas that could improve the Bond.

“I don’t think there’s anything on this picture that I could ask for that hasn’t been given,” the director continued. “I said today, ‘Look, I want 5,000 people flown in from Tokyo, I’m sure they would be flown in.”

You Only Live Twice, the fifth film in the series, was a success despite how the 1960s spy craze was starting to wane. A decade later, Broccoli — his partnership with Saltzman now dissolved — came calling again.

This time, the project was The Spy Who Loved Me, the third 007 film with Roger Moore. The franchise was at a crossroads. The previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had a falloff in the box office compared with Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

Gilbert brought something of a fresh set of eyes having been away from Bond for so long. He decided Spy should play to Moore’s strengths and not have the actor try to copy Sean Connery.

Again, the movie would be epic: A tanker swallowed British, Soviet and U.S. submarines. A megalomaniac villain (Curt Jurgens) was out to end civilization and start over. Subtle it wasn’t.

At the same time, there was a moment of drama when Bond’s Moore admits to Soviet agent Anya (Barabara Bach) that he killed her lover while on a mission. It was a scene that caught a viewer’s attention amid the spectacle.

Spy was a huge success, revitalizing the series. So it was natural that Broccoli brought Gilbert back to direct Moonraker. The showman producer intended the film would be extravagant.

This time, a Bond film would complete was had been teased in Twice — Bond would go into space for a final showdown with another megalomaniac villain, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).

The plot of Gilbert’s three Bond adventures are undeniably similar. But the spectacle overwhelms such concerns during viewing. It’s only until the films are over that fans debate such concerns.

When Gilbert emerged from Bondage, he continued directing, working into his 80s.

When news of his death emerged on Tuesday (he had died late last week at the age of 97), a new generation of directors expressed admiration for his work.

“RIP Lewis Gilbert, the great British director who, among his 40 plus credits, directed ‘Alfie’, ‘Educating Rita’, ‘Reach For The Sky’, ‘Shirley Valentine’ and one of my very favourite Bond films: ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’,” Edgar Wright, the director of Baby Driver, wrote on Twitter. ‘”Why’d you have to be so good?”‘

“Lewis Gilbert, director of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER, has passed away,” Peyton Reed, the director of 2015’s Ant-Man wrote, also in a Twitter post. “SPY was the first Bond film I saw in the theater. (And I have a tiny homage to MOONRAKER in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP.) Rest in Peace.”

Lewis Gilbert, director of three 007 epics, dies

Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert (1920-2018)

Lewis Gilbert, who directed three of the biggest, most spectacular James Bond films, has died at 97, according to a tweet by the James Bond fan website From Sweden With Love.

Gilbert helmed You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). The three epics contained more less the same basic plot, where a villain is going to wipe out huge parts of mankind.

The films also utilized production designer Ken Adam to the fullest, including a SPECTRE headquarters inside a volcano, a tanker that swallowed atomic submarines and a space station.

Gilbert wasn’t the most obvious choice to supervise such massive, escapist movies. The director’s first films in the 1940s were documentaries. During the 1950s and ’60s, he directed dramas or comedies such as The Good Die Young, Sink the Bismarck!, The 7th Dawn and Alfie.

The latter, released in 1966, was critically acclaimed. According to the documentary Inside You Only Live Twice, Gilbert initially turned down directing Bond but producer Albert R. Broccoli remained insistent until he got his man.

Twice was the first 007 film to totally dispense with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel as it instead tried to top its 1965 predecessor, Thunderball, for spectacle. It turned out not to be as big a hit as Thunderball but was still popular. The movie was overshadowed, to an extent, by star Sean Connery announcing he was through as Bond.

Gilbert directed other films until Broccoli came calling again. The producer had split with partner Harry Saltzman. This time, Broccoli only had a Fleming title with The Spy Who Loved Me.

By the mid 1970s, some questioned how much life was left in 007. The Man With the Golden Gun’s global box office had slid almost 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die. The Spy Who Loved Me would test both Broccoli and Bond’s box office appeal.

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The 10th James Bond film proved to be a big hit. Gilbert was brought back for Moonraker while Broccoli sought to make an even more extravagant film where Bond would go into outer space.

“Bond is just a huge entertainment, it isn’t just a normal film,” Gilbert told the BBC during filming of Moonraker in Rio. “It isn’t meant meant to be a great drama…It is pure escapism.”

Moonraker also delivered at the box office, although some fans complained the movie had strayed far beyond Fleming. Broccoli opted to bring Bond back to earth for For Your Eyes Only and the budget would be scaled back. Rather than retain Gilbert, Broccoli promoted editor-second unit director John Glen to the director’s chair.

Gilbert, though, didn’t lack for things to do. He directed six post-007 films, remaining active into the early 2000s. He wrote an autobiography, All My Flashbacks, that was published in 2010.

UPDATE (2 p.m. New York time): Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions issued a statement on the official James Bond website: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our dear friend Lewis Gilbert. Lewis was a true gentleman. He made an enormous contribution to the British film industry as well as the Bond films, directing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER. His films are not only loved by us but are considered classics within the series. He will be sorely missed.”

50th anniversary of the end of U.N.C.L.E. (and ’60s spymania)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

The symbolism of a 1965 TV Guide ad for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. came true little more than two years later. (Picture from the For Your Eyes Only Web site)

Originally published Dec. 28, 2012. Adjusted to note it’s now the 50th anniversary along with a few other tweaks.

Jan. 15 marks the 50th anniversary of the end of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was also a sign that 1960s spymania was drawing to a close.

Ratings for U.N.C.L.E. faltered badly in the fall of 1967, where it aired on Monday nights. It was up against Gunsmoke on CBS — a show that itself had been canceled briefly during the spring of ’67 but got a reprieve thanks to CBS chief William Paley. Instead of oblivion, Gunsmoke was moved from Saturday to Monday.

Earlier, Norman Felton, U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, decided some retooling was in order for the show’s fourth season. He brought in Anthony Spinner, who often wrote for Quinn Martin-produced shows, as producer.

Spinner had also written a first-season U.N.C.L.E. episode and summoned a couple of first-season writers, Jack Turley and Robert E. Thompson, to do some scripts.

Also in the fold was Dean Hargrove, who supplied two first-season scripts but had his biggest impact in the second, when U.N.C.L.E. had its best ratings. Hargrove was off doing other things during the third season, although he did one of the best scripts for The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. during 1966-67.

Hargrove, however, quickly learned the Spinner-produced U.N.C.L.E. was different. In a 2007 interview on the U.N.C.L.E. DVD set, Hargrove said Spinner was of “the Quinn Martin school of melodrama.”

Spinner wanted a more serious take on the show compared with the previous season, which included a dancing ape. Hargrove, adept at weaving (relatively subtle) humor into his stories, chafed under Spinner. The producer instructed his writers that U.N.C.L.E. should be closer to James Bond than Get Smart.

The more serious take also extended to the show’s music, as documented in liner notes by journalist Jon Burlingame for U.N.C.L.E. soundstracks released between 2004 and 2007 and the FOR YOUR EYES ONLY U.N.C.L.E. TIMELINE.

Matt Dillon, right, and sidekick Festus got new life at U.N.C.L.E.'s expense.

Matt Dillon (James Arness), right, and sidekick Festus (Ken Curtis) got new life at U.N.C.L.E.’s expense.

Gerald Fried, the show’s most frequent composer, had a score rejected. Also jettisoned was a new Fried arrangement of Jerry Goldsmith’s theme music. A more serious-sounding one was arranged by Robert Armbruster, the music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of the fourth season’s scores would be composed by Richard Shores. Fried did one fourth-season score, which sounded similar to the more serious style of Shores.

Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, however, weren’t a match for a resurgent Matt Dillon on CBS. NBC canceled U.N.C.L.E. A final two-part story, The Seven Wonders of the World Affair, aired Jan. 8 and 15, 1968..

U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t be the first spy casualty.

NBC canceled I Spy, with its last new episode appearing April 15, 1968. Within 18 months of U.N.C.L.E.’s demise, The Wild, Wild West was canceled by CBS (its final new episode aired aired April 4, 1969 although CBS did show fourth-season reruns in the summer of 1970) and the last episode of The Avengers was produced, appearing in the U.S. on April 21, 1969.

NBC also canceled Get Smart after the 1968-69 season but CBS picked up the spy comedy for 1969-70. Mission: Impossible managed to stay on CBS until 1973 but shifted away from spy story lines its last two seasons as the IMF opposed “the Syndicate.”

Nor were spy movies exempt. Dean Martin’s last Matt Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew, debuted in U.S. theaters in late 1968. Despite a promise in the end titles that Helm would be back in The Ravagers, the film series was done.

Even the James Bond series, the engine of the ’60s spy craze, was having a crisis in early 1968. Star Sean Connery was gone and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pondered their next move. James Bond would return but things weren’t quite the same.