Albert Finney dies at 82

Albert Finney (1936-2019)

British actor Albert Finney has died at 82, according to obituaries published by The Guardian and the BBC.

The actor had a long career, beginning in the 1950s and concluding with 2012’s Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond film. He was nominated five times for an Oscar, including for his performances in 1963’s Tom Jones and 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express.

One of his early highlights was 1960’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, a “kitchen sink” drama from producer Harry Saltzman, who a year later co-founded Eon Productions with Albert R. Broccoli.

In Skyfall, Finney played Kincade, who the actor described as “an old retainer of James Bond’s family.”

Skyfall director Sam Mendes told The Huffington Post in 2012 there had been consideration of trying to cast Sean Connery, the original film Bond, in the part. ” So, it was a very brief flirtation with that thought, but it was never going to happen, because I thought it would distract,” Mendes told the website.

Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in a November 2011 story that Mendes surprised the Skyfall cast during a script reading with the news that Finney was joining them.

The story, however, had one key error: “Finney, who has been in remission from cancer of the prostate for several years, will play a Foreign Office mandarin with powers over the Secret Intelligence Service, described to me as a reasonably big role and full of class.” That would turn out to be Mallory, played by Ralph Fiennes. Mallory takes over as the new M following the death of the Judi Dench M at the climax of the film.

Below is a brief video with Finney in costume talking about Skyfall.

007 scripts and a gun to be auctioned

Screenplay title card for Thunderball (1965) that references Jack Whittingham

Thunderball scripts and related documents from writer Jack Whittingham and a Walther PPK that belonged to actor Bernard Lee are to be sold at separate auctions.

On Dec. 11, “seven items from the personal archive of the daughter of acclaimed British playwright and screenwriter Jack Whittingham will be auctioned” according to a statement by Bonhams.

Whittingham was the screenwriter employed by Kevin McClory in an attempt to make a James Bond film a reality. The project wasn’t successful and Ian Fleming wrote his Thunderball novel based on the material. A court fight ensued. In a settlement, McClory got the film rights to the novel. Eon Productions brought McClory into the fold for 1965’s Thunderball. McClory was involved with competing 007 projects of which only one, 1983’s Never Say Never Again, was made.

Among the items being auctioned by Sylvan Whittingham Mason are:

–A 35-page treatment dated Nov. 10, 1959 and titled James Bond of the Secret Service.

–First draft script titled Longitude 78 West.

–Letters and documents between Whittingham, McClory, Ian Fleming and others.

Bernard Lee (1908-1981)

Meanwhile, a Walther PPK handed to Sean Connery’s 007 in an early scene of 1962’s Dr. No is being auctioned, according to the BBC. An excerpt from the story:

The Walther PPK pistol was owned at the time by M actor Bernard Lee, who brought it on set when a prop was not available.

A letter signed by Lee confirms the then fully-active gun was the “first ever to appear in a James Bond film”.

Auctioneer Jonathan Humbert described the piece as a “superlative piece of British film history”.

In the scene, M forces Bond to give up his Beretta .25 handgun (“It jammed on you last job.”) and take the Walther instead. The scene was a straight adaption of Fleming’s 1958 novel.

UPDATE (1:20 p.m., New York time): On social media, some fans say the gun seen in Dr. No is really a Walther PP, not a PPK. As a result, they’re questioning how valid this item is. A website (new to me) called the Internet Movie Firearms Data Base states this as so. (The site looks similar to Wikipedia with a logo looking similar the Internet Movie Data Base). So if you’re thinking about bidding, Caveat Emptor.

UPDATE (4:50 p.m., New York time): The blog looked up the actual listing for the gun being auctioned. Here’s part of what the listing says:

“This Walther PPK was the personal property of Bernard Lee (who played ‘M’) and was gifted to the vendor (referred to as ‘your boy’ in above letter). According to Eon Productions- the ‘call list’ for this scene (list of props required for filming) included ‘a gun’ however, said gun was not available at the time of filming so Bernard Lee bought in his own. It is famously known that a Walther PP, not a PPK was in fact used in the balance of the filming- and likely Bernard Lee’s ‘live and unregistered’ PPK was inappropriate for filming on location and Eon’s PP was the only substitute available. This is therefore, the first of the famous James Bond Walther PPKs to appear in a Bond film.”

I have the feeling that explanation isn’t going to satisfy many, but there you have it.

Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man, dies at 90

Steve Ditko’s cover to Amazing Spider-Man 33

Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and a key member of the Marvel Comics “bullpen” of the 1960s, has died at 90, TMZ reported.

Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment on June 29, TMZ said. The website said the chief medical examiner listed the cause of death as “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive cardiovascular disease — basically, a heart attack brought on by clogged arteries.”

The Hollywood Reporter, in a separate obituary, said Ditko may have died two days earlier.

Ditko co-created Spider-Man with writer-editor Stan Lee. He took over the assignment after artist Jack Kirby had taken on the project. Ditko drew, and later took plotting credit for, the earliest Spider-Man stories, lasting from 1962 into 1966.

The character has been the subject of six movies from 2002 to 2017, with another set for 2019. He also appeared in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and this year’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Nerdy Hero

Spider-Man’s true identity was nerdy teenager Peter Parker. While other heroes were admired, Spider-Man was feared, thanks to publisher J. Jonah Jameson. Parker had to worry about making ends meet for himself and his aunt May.

Things happened to Ditko’s Spider-Man that other heroes didn’t experience.  In Amazing Spider-Man No. 25 (the first to carry a Ditko plot credit) Spidey was forced to ditch his primary costume. But Aunt May also found his spare costume.

Peter came up with an explanation but May kept the costume. In the next issue, Peter buys a costume but it gets stretched out. He’s forced to use his webbing to keep it in place.

Memorable Sequence

One of Ditko’s most-remembered Spider-Man sequences Amazing Spider-Man No. 33. the climatic installment of a three-issue story arc. Spidey is underneath “tons of fallen steel” while a serum Aunt May needs “laying just out of reach.”

The artist used the first five pages to depict Peter working up the strength to lift the steel. The final page was a full-page panel where Spider-Man finally throws off the steel.

In later interviews, Stan Lee acknowledged the idea was Dikto’s. Lee likened his scripting to doing a crossword puzzle to come up with the right dialogue and captions for the moment.  The sequence was adapted in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming.

Dr. Strange as drawn by Steve Ditko

Ditko also created Dr. Strange, who had his own Marvel film in 2016 and who also appeared in Avengers: Infinity War. The artist also also helped to revamp the Hulk when that character (created by Lee and Jack Kirby) got revived in the mid-1960s (in Tales to Astonish) after an initial comic title of his own was canceled after six issues.

In the 1960s, Ditko’s politics were far different, and much more conservative, than his many college-age fans. The artist was an admirer of author Ayn Rand, and that influenced much of his post-Marvel comic book work with characters such as Mr. A.

‘J.D. Salinger of Comic Books’

Ditko was known for being a recluse. Writer J.M. DeMatteis once called him ” the J.D. Salinger of comic books.”

In 2007, British television show host Jonathan Ross reported a documentary about the artist. The program went into detail about how much Ditko extensive contributions to the early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories.

The show’s climax was Ross finally getting in to see Ditko (with the assistance of writer Neil Gaiman), but that moment took place off-camera. “It was quite magical, actually,” Gaiman says on the documentary. “It was really, really cool.”

Ditko abruptly quit Marvel after clashes with Lee. He’d eventually return but it wasn’t the same as his 1960s stint.

As news of Ditko’s death spread, there were tributes by comics professionals influenced by the artist’s creativity.

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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.”

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.

Caveat Emptor: 007 sale rumor surfaces

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Amid the announcement that Bond 25 has a release date, the Birth.Movies.Death website dropped the idea that the Broccoli-Wilson clan might sell out its interest in the 007 enterprise in a few years.

The post, by Philip Nobile Jr., mostly looks at why the fall 2019 release date was announced without saying whether actor Daniel Craig will be back as Bond.

After going through some possibilities, Nobile concluded with this:

On the less official front, I have read thoughts from someone I believe to be close wth the production that the Broccolis are looking to do one more Bond then sell the franchise off, a la George Lucas/Star Wars/Disney. If that comes to pass, it will be interesting times indeed for Ian Fleming’s gentleman spy.

Read thoughts? Interesting phrasing. But, on Twitter, Nobile’s post drew a response from the James Bond MI6 website, which previously disclosed that a helicopter Eon purchased wasn’t for Bond 25.

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Putting the Caveat Emptor on this one because Birth.Movies.Death isn’t explicitly reporting it as well as the unusual phrasing of the post and the exchange on Twitter.

Eon and its parent company, Danjaq, jointly control the Bond franchise with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Disclosure: This blog’s webmaster has written two articles for MI6 Confiential, which is published by the James Bond MI6 website.

Separately, the BBC said it “understands” that Craig “has not yet signed a contract” for Bond 25. The New York Times reported Monday that Craig’s return is “a done deal.”