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.”