How Marvel began to struggle

Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios

A decade ago, the blog examined how Marvel (the corporate model of filmmaking) compared with Eon Productions (the family model).

In its early years, Marvel actually adapted Eon’s model. Early Marvel films kept costs in line. It was similar to how Eon co-founder Albert R. Broccoli would be willing to pay big for a Bond actor but supporting actors got relatively small pay. The likes of Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn received modest wages.

As Marvel became a big success, budgets expanded. A cost of $200 million or more became common. But, hey, when $1 billion global box office figures were regular occurrences, that can happen. Marvel chief Kevin Feige became a big name in Hollywood.

Marvel’s box office climaxed with 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, with almost $2.8 billion in global box office.

Since then, Marvel hasn’t come close to those levels. But Marvel’s movie costs have stayed expensive. In addition, Marvel has made television series for the Disney + streaming series.

From the outside, it seems Marvel management, including Feige, is stretched thin. Earlier this month, one of Marvel’s top-ranking executives, Victoria Alonso, abruptly left the company.

Walt Disney Co. acquired 20th Century Fox a few years ago. That means that Marvel now has control of the X-Men and Fantastic Four, characters created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. But Marvel has yet to show what it can do with those characters. (An alterative universe version of the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards was murdered in 2022’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness.)

It is possible the eyes of Marvel executives are bigger than their stomachs? Very possible. Marvel may be in need of a big mid-course correction.

What does ‘James Bond will return’ mean for Bond 26?

A former image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

It’s inevitable. After the Daniel Craig version of James Bond was killed in No Time to Die, the Bond character will return somehow at some time.

But how?

Some possibilities follow.

Eon starts over — again: In Craig’s debut as Bond, Eon Productions did a reboot. That is, the series started all over again.

Since No Time to Die, Craig has claimed it was always his intention that his version of Bond would die in the end. Whether true or not, that’s how Craig’s five-film tenure played out.

Here is an excerpt from a Craig interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“Two things, one for myself and one for the franchise,” Craig said. “One, for the franchise, was that resets start again, which [the franchise] did with me. And I was like, ‘Well, you need to reset again.’ So let’s kill my character off and go find another Bond and go find another story. Start at [age] 23, start at 25, start at 30.”

However, until Eon shows its cards, there are other possibilities.

The code name theory rears its head: The code name theory refers to a way to explain how different actors (Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, etc., etc.) portray a character named “James Bond” while each actually is different.

The one time this notion was used occurred in the 1967 Casino Royale spoof. There was one “real” James Bond (David Niven) with multiple agents being designated as “James Bond.”

Hard-core Bond fans mostly despise this idea. But there are general movie fans who argue it’s a wonderful idea. Until Bond 26 gets sorted out, you can expect more of this stuff.

In fact, the Screen Rant website already has come out with a version of this notion.

One potential option for Bond 26 is to continue directly from the ending of No Time To Die. MI6 would be in mourning over the loss of James Bond, but international villainy waits for no one, and a replacement must be found. This new “James Bond” would then be recruited to replace Daniel Craig’s version, with explicit references to how their predecessor died saving the world from Safin and the Heracles weapon. This scenario would help preserve a semblance of continuity between James Bond movies, and also allow EON to think outside its usual box when casting Daniel Craig’s replacement.

We pretend the Craig era never happened: Eon’s Bond series had a very loose continuity from 1962-2002. When Sean Connery first departed the series in 1967, Bernard Lee’s M, Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn’s Q remained. Connery came back in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever but Lee, Maxwell and Llewelyn remained.

Roger Moore came aboard in 1973, with Lee and Maxwell still present. Llewelyn came back as Q for Moore’s second outing in The Man With the Golden Gun.

With Bond 26, what happens with the Craig supporting cast? You could have Ralph Fiennes’ M, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Wishaw’s Q without any mention of the Craig version of Bond.

Conceivably, you pick up with the incredibly loose continuity of the 1962-2002 movies. Let’s move on, chaps.

Or not. Who knows?

Dr. No script Part II: Bond memes make their debut

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Adapted from a 2014 post. Continuing the blog’s look at a January 1962 Dr. No script provided by collector Gary Firuta.

Bond, having bested Sylvia Trench (or Trenchard, depending on which page of the script you’re reading), gets ready to exit the casino. Bond invites Sylvia for golf and dinner, similar to the finished film with a few differences in dialogue.

On page 13, Bond enters the office. He says, “Hi….Moneypenny….” as he enters. There is no mention of him throwing his hat on the hat rack. The dialogue is again very close to the final version of the movie. Stage directions specify that she “takes in his appearance with mock admiration” as she says, “You never take me out look like that James….” She has a “deep sigh” and says, “You never take me out, period.”

Bond replies, “I’d take you out tomorrow, only I’d have me courtmartialled for illegal use of Government property.”

After Bond enters M’s office, there’s a description. “He is a man in his middle fifties, well-sel up, with some of the Navy about him.” M and Bond discuss the situation in Jamaica before Major Boothroyd enters to give Bond his new gun. Boothroyd “is a short, slim man, with snady (sic) hair.” When Boothroyd produces the Walther PPK he is “producing gun and shoulder holster from case with professional pride.”

As in the finished movie, Bond tries to sneak out his old Beretta from the office but M stops him. “They catch each others’ eyes. They really understand each other perfectly. BOND GOES.”

The intrepid agent goes back to his flat and gets a surprise in the form of Sylvia in Bond’s pajama tops. She is practicing chip shots “into the bowler hat which is laying on the floor by foot of bed.”

The rest of the scene plays out as in the finished film, but there’s an extra. As Bond and Sylvia make out, there’s this stage direction: “CAMERA PANS DOWN to take in his toes curling inside silk evening socks and her bare ones on tiptoe. The golf club drops onto the carpet; as his tie foins it, we….. FADE OUT.” (Note: it says “foins” rather than “joins” in case you’re wondering.)

Bond takes a BOAC flight to Jamaica, rather than PanAm, as in the film. He is met by a chauffeur, who says, “I’m Mistuh Jones, suh…chauffeur from Government House. Ah been sent to get you.” Bond even calls him “Mistuh Jones” in return.

007 calls Government House. Playdell-Smith takes the call. “Put him through, Miss Taro.” After talking with Bond, Playdell-Smith wraps up the call and says “(off-screen to SECRETARY) Thank you, Miss Taro. I’ll call when I want you.”

Meanwhile, at the Kingston airport, another figure takes in the scene: “a tall thin HATCHET-FACED MAN (FELIX LEITER).”

Bond and Jones depart the airport, followed by Leiter and a “humourous-looking, intelligent CAYMAN ISLANDER (QUARREL).”

The British agent, as in the film, loses his pursuers and gets Jones off alone to interrogate him. He still addresses him as “Mistuh Jones.” After Bond bests Jones in a fight, Jones commits suicide rather than reveal who he’s working for. Jones says, “The….hell with you….” before he dies.

With nothing else to do, Bond drives to Government House. “THE CHAUFFEUR’s body is propped up realistically in the back seat.” When he arrives, the agent utters a witticism to A UNIFORMED GUARD similar to the finished movie.

BOND
(indicating CHAUFFEUR)
Watch him. Make sure he doesn’t get away.

GUARD
(briskly)
Yes, sir.

He does a double take as he sees the DEAD MAN.

TO BE CONTINUED

How Operation Kid Brother was ahead of the Bond films

Operation Kid Brother had tropes that would later appear in the Bond films.

I finally finished off watching Operation Kid Brother/OK Connery/Double Double 007. It turns out the Italian production starring Sean Connery’s brother, Neil, provided the path that the Eon-produced James Bond film series would follow.

–Assistant Maxwell (Lois Maxwell) isn’t just a helper for Commander Cunningham (Bernard Lee). She goes out into the field and shoots guns. This is a preview of agent Eve (Naomie Harris) in Skyfall, who revealed to be Moneypenny at the end of the film.

–There’s a ship of female operatives overseen by Maya Rafis (Daniela Bianchi). But those women aren’t just decoration. They can fight. In fact, fight in a manner similar to the Octopussy women in Octopussy (1983).

By the end of Operation Kid Brother/OK Connery, Maya Rafis and her women operatives have switched sides to the cause of good. Dr. Neil Connery (Neil Connery) uses his powers of hypnotism to make Commander Cunningham forget pretty much everything.

The movie ends with Dr. Neil Connery and Maya Rafis sailing off with all the women operatives. It’s implied that Dr. Neil Connery will be even busier than James Bond (George Lazenby) was at the top of Piz Gloria in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Neil Connery, footnote to ’60s spy craze, dies

Neil Connery in a lobby card for Operation Kid Brother

Neil Connery, younger brother of James Bond star Sean Connery and a footnote to the 1960s spy craze in his own right, has died.

His death at age 83 was reported on social media by two James Bond fan sites, 007 Magazine and From Sweden With Love. The latter site then published a detailed obituary.

Neil Connery was signed to spy in his own spy movie, Operation Kid Brother, also known as OK Connery.

The 1967 Italian production was released by United Artists, Bond’s home studio in the 1960s and ’70s. It featured five actors who had been in the Bond movie series (Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Anthony Dawson).

In an example of originality, Neil Connery’s character was dubbed Dr. Neil Connery. His IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 11 accting credits.

Before James Bond movies were shown on American television, Operation Kid Brother was shown in prime time on NBC. Years later, the film got the Mystery Science 3000 treatment, where a man and “robots” comment on the proceedings. Here it was called Operation Double 007.

About that Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M thing

Portrait of the Bernard Lee M in The World Is Not Enough. Thanks to Ben Williams.

One of the ongoing debates in James Bond fandom is whether Bernard Lee’s M (1962-79) is the same as Robert Brown’s M (1983-89).

The answer: You can argue they are the same or they are different characters, with Brown’s M being Admiral Hargreaves from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

The available evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

Background: Bernard Lee played Sir Miles Messervy for the first 11 James Bond films.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, the character name was not revealed until Ian Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man With the Golden Gun. “Miles” was mentioned briefly by General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me movie.

Lee died in January 1981. He wasn’t available to participate in the production of For Your Eyes Only. In that film, it was stated that M was on leave and that the chief of staff was running operations.

Octopussy script: In the first draft by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, dated June 10, 1982, there isn’t a hint that M is another person.

M’S VOICE
(over intercom)
Stop fishing for compliments, Double-O-Seven, and get in here.

(snip)
M’S OFFICE – M MINISTER FANNING
as BOND enters. Fanning is a scholarly looking slightly pudgy man in his late thirties. SOTHEBY CATALOGUE and the FABERGE EGG lie on M’s desk

The rest of the scene is more or less what we got in the 1983 movie. Again, there was no hint that M was a different character than in the first 11 movies.

From that, you can conclude that a simple change in casting took place. Bernard Lee died. Robert Brown replaced him. But the character is the same.

Judi Dench’s M lectures Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the portrait of Bernard Lee’s M in the background.

However, in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, things may have changed.

In the pre-titles sequence, there is an explosion at MI6 headquarters in London. British Intelligence is forced to regroup at another headquarters in Scotland.

The art department (Peter Lamont? One of his deputies? One of the lowest ranking blokes?) included a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M.

Was this a “retcon,” or retroactive change in continuity?

There are certainly signs that the view of Lee/M and Brown/M being separate characters has taken hold with many fans. The MI6 James Bond website conducted a vote on Twitter this weekend, with the view that they are different characters winning the day.

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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.

Rise of the ‘Scooby Gang’ in 007 films

SPECTRE publicity still featuring part of the fan-dubbed “Scooby Gang,” Tanner (Rory Kinnear), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw).

There’s a fan-generated 007 nickname that has gotten traction these days.

That would be the “Scooby Gang.” It’s shorthand for how supporting characters in the Eon Production film series join Bond out in the field. It’s based on the cartoon series Scooby-Doo, where the Scooby Gang of young people and a dog go out and solve mysteries together.

“Scooby Gang” was used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, referring to the cartoon show.

Formerly, Bond was a lone-wolf. M would give 007 the mission. Q would provide some gadgets and Moneypenny would flirt before Bond departed the office.

That’s been changing for a while. In 1989’s Licence to Kill, Q (Desmond Llewelyn) goes rogue, as Bond (Timothy Dalton) has. He not only brings along some gadgets, he acts as 007’s assistant.

After Judi Dench came aboard as M in 1995’s GoldenEye, her character’s screen time expanded. That process started with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough where M’s kidnapping is a major aspect of the plot.

Finally, with 2012’s Skyfall, we got a rebooted Moneypenny (now with a first a name, Eve) who we initially see as a field agent. Also, the Judi Dench M scores more screen time than before because she’s a mother figure for both Bond (Daniel Craig) and the villain Silva (Javier Bardem).

In 2013, there was an early indication the Scooby Gang would come together in SPECTRE.

“Naomie Harris is getting more  of the action in the next James Bond film, which starts shooting next year,” Baz Bamigboye of the Daily Mail wrote in a story published on Sept. 12 of that year.

Director Sam Mendes, Craig, and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are all big fans of Naomie’s and don’t want her to be too desk-bound, as other Moneypennys have been.

‘The idea formulating in Bond-land is for Naomie to be much more of a sidekick to James, and for her to get out and harm the bad guys,’ an executive close to the production told me.

Meanwhile, Judi Dench/M perished at the end of Skyfall and was succeeded by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), who has his own impressive military background.

By the end of SPECTRE, M, Moneypenny, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are all out in the field helping Bond. And, thus, the Scooby Gang nickname was born. It has appeared on 007 message boards and elsewhere on the internet.

Now, there has been recent fan speculation/questioning whether Fiennes can return to play Mallory/M because of other acting jobs.

In the “old days,” few fans wondered about the availability of Llewelyn, Bernard Lee or Lois Maxwell. The actors only had a few days of work and the focus was on Bond. Llewelyn was absent from Live And Let Die, but most of the publicity and fan attention was on Roger Moore’s debut as 007.

We’ll see what happens next. Meanwhile, here’s an amusing tweet from Phil Nobile Jr., former writer for Birth. Movies. Death and now editor of a new incarnation of Fangoria magazine. He’s a big 007 fan and has written extensively about Bond films in the past.

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Eon’s new normal (cont.): Q’s comments analyzed

Publicity still of Ben Whishaw with Daniel Craig in Skyfall

So, this week, actor Ben Whishaw, Q in the two most recent James Bond movies, made a few comments to Metro which were deemed news about Bond 25.

“I haven’t had an update for a while. I would imagine, I think they have a release date for next year, so I think by the end of this year we have to have started filming something,” Whishaw was quoted by the website. “Although it has gone strangely quiet, but that’s often the way it goes.”

This was analyzed by Birth. Movies. Death (“Q Is Standing by for BOND 25“) and Screen Rant (“Ben Whishaw Expects Bond 25 To Begin Filming Later This Year“).

And, yes, it was news, at least of a sort. Neither Eon Productions (which makes Bond movies) nor Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which controls half of the 007 franchise) have said a whole lot for months. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of a news blackout, a nugget becomes news.

It’s another reminder about Eon’s new normal. The Bond franchise has franchise has transitioned from being a film series to more like occasional events not on a set schedule.

In the 1970s, even 1980s, it probably wouldn’t have been much of a story if Desmond Llewelyn, the longest-serving film Q, commented about an upcoming film.

Imagine in that time period if Llewelyn said, “I guess they’re getting ready. They have a release date. So they’d have to start filming something before too long.” That wouldn’t have been a blip.

Also, consider this line from the Screen Rant story: “Whishaw may have confirmed his involvement, but there is still no news as to whether Ralph Fiennes (M) or Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) may be joining him.”

In the 1970s, the equivalent would have been: “Llewelyn may have confirmed his involvement, but there is still no news as to whether Bernard Lee (M) or Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny) may be joining him.”

In those days, it’s not a question a lot of people would have been asking. The show was James Bond and whoever was playing him. Connery is back! (Diamonds Are Forever) Who will be the new Bond? Can Roger Moore make it as the new Bond? (Live And Let Die)

This isn’t a complaint. The world is as it is. And Eon’s new normal is what it is.

Our modest proposal for 007 Twitter quizzes

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The OFFICIAL JAMES BOND TWITTER FEED has been doing occasional quizzes about the Bond film series of late.

One such quiz was took place May 15 and the question was who played Moneypenny the most times in Bond films.

Not the most difficult quiz, given the correct answer was Lois Maxwell at 14, with Samantha Bond the next highest at four followed by Caroline Bliss at two and Naomie Harris at one (going up to two when SPECTRE comes out in November).

On June 12, there was another quiz. Compared to the Moneypenny question, the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 is narrower, but Bernard Lee is the only actor to play M with double digit appearances at 11 while Judi Dench is runner up at seven.

We mused about this on Twitter and a reader suggested these quizzes may well be aimed at those with only a passing knowledge of James Bond. So perhaps the intent is to make Bond more accessible to a broader audience.

With that in mind, here are some suggested future quizzes for the James Bond feed on Twitter:

What actor has played Q the most times in the Bond films?

a) Desmond LLewelyn b) Peter Burton c) John Cleese d) Ben Whishaw

What is James Bond’s code number?

a) 007 b) 86 c) 99 d) 008 e) $6.2 billion

James Bond has a license to do what?

a) kill b) fish c) drive d) print money at the box office