United Artists name revived by MGM, Annapurna

United Artists logo from 1997

The United Artists name — officially 100 years old today — is being revived by the joint venture of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures, MGM said in a statement.

The joint venture will now be known as United Artists Releasing. The joint venture, formed in late 2017, performs U.S. distribution for both MGM and Annapurna.

The original United Artists studio was formed on Feb. 5, 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. UA, then headed by a management team that included Arthur Krim, was the studio that launched the James Bond film series in 1962.

United Artists Releasing is scheduled to handle U.S. distribution of Bond 25 in 2020, with Universal performing distribution in overseas markets. In effect, Bond 25 will represent a homecoming of sorts with the UA name.

Other films released by the original UA included The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Knight and the Pink Panther and Rocky series.

MGM acquired UA from Transamerica Corp. in 1981. The United Artists brand has mostly disappeared since the late 1990s. Bond films were released under the UA name through 1997.

United Artists Releasing “intends to work not only with MGM and Annapurna but with third-party filmmakers – offering an alternative distribution option outside the studio system,” according to today’s statement.

The board of United Artists will have equal representation from MGM and Annapurna.

Daily Mail rips the scab off the Barry-Norman question again

John Barry

Over the weekend, the Daily Mail ran a story ripping the scab off the question whether it was the credited Monty Norman or John Barry who really wrote The James Bond Theme.

The article tilts in Norman’s favor simply because the composer, 90, is still around (and was interviewed) while Barry died in 2011. Anyway, here’s an exerpt:

Barry and Norman, like their screen counterparts Bond and Blofeld, became bitter rivals, slugging it out for decades as they fought over this piece of Hollywood gold.

(snip)

Norman says he’s amazed at both the riff’s success and its longevity. ‘I accept the good fortune that I wrote something that has not only lasted more than 50 years but will last another 50,’ he says. ‘There are musicals I have written that took six months and I think, “Oh God, James Bond took just six hours.’’’

The question was once part of a court case where Norman came out on top. At the end of the Daily Mail story, Norman takes a victory lap.

Barry died in 2011 but the two men never buried the hatchet. Does he have any regrets about that? ‘None whatsoever,’ says Norman. ‘I did not like him.’

The most neutral answer to the question is “it’s complicated.” Author Jon Burlingame in his 2012 book The Music of James Bond examined the conflicting stories between Barry (officially brought aboard or orchestrate and arrange the theme) and Norman.

Barry fans argue it’s really not that complicated, with Barry doing much of the heavy lifting and drawing upon some of his past work. Barry ended up scoring 11 Bond films and co-wrote famous title songs to Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. He ended up winning five Oscars (though none for a Bond film).

For those who’ve never seen it, this 2009 video comes from the Barry side. You can judge its point of view for yourself.

UPDATE (4:15 p.m. New York Time): I exchanged an e-mail with a long-time (i.e. from Dr. No onwards) 007 film fan. This reminds me of the debate in comic books about who created what at Marvel between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. My correspondent referenced parts of the Dr. No score that incorporated the Bond theme that don’t sound like Barry. I am just referencing this for informational purposes.

 

About Eon’s lack of a long-term plan

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Over the weekend, I read complaints by friends on social media about the 007 film series.

One cited how Eon flipped the order of filming You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The other cited SPECTRE, the most recent Bond film made by Eon Productions.

Neither friend knows the other. The thing is, both complaints reflected the same thing — Eon isn’t known for its long-term planning.

When Eon launched the series, it initially intended to adapt Thunderball, the then-newest Ian Fleming novel. Richard Maibaum cranked out a script before Eon cast its Bond actor (Sean Connery).

But there were legal issues so plans shifted to starting with Dr. No. For the next entry, Eon opted for From Russia With Love, even though that novel preceded Dr. No.

That wasn’t a big deal at the time. But the OHMSS-YOLT switch was more of a problem. The novels were very connected. Bond is a broken man in the Twice novel because of how Majesty’s ended. But that went by the wayside for a variety of reasons. Still, that wouldn’t have occurred if a long-term plan had been in place.

For some Bond fans (including one of the aforementioned friends), that was a major missed opportunity.

With SPECTRE, the tale is even more complicated.

Quantum is better than SPECTRE. What’s that? Uh, never mind!

Screenwriter John Logan sold Eon on a two-film story, something Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced in November 2012. But star Daniel Craig vetoed that approach. So Logan retrenched. Eventually, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to rewrite Logan’s script.

At one point, Logan’s scripts had Blofeld as an African warlord or a woman. After Purvis and Wade got through with it, there was a more traditional Blofeld. However, in the final version, Blofeld was also Bond’s foster brother — pretty similar to how Dr. Evil was the brother of Austin Powers.

Just a guess, but that wouldn’t have been the case with long-term planning.

Over the decades, there are other examples.

At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the audience was promised that For Your Eyes Only would be the next entry in the series. But with the popularity of the first Star Wars film, Eon grabbed the only Fleming title with a rocket theme (Moonraker) as the starting point for its next production.

In the 21st century, Eon’s brain trust talked about how SPECTRE was passe and how the new Quantum was more sophisticated. Then, Eon got all the rights that had been held by Kevin McClory. Suddenly, SPECTRE was the No. 1 villainous organization again.

Regardless of your opinions about the individual films involved, it’s pretty clear Eon has never had a long-term footprint. SPECTRE was a belated attempt to tie the four Daniel Craig films together.

That doesn’t make individual entries bad. Still, the lack of a long-term plan still has an impact on Eon’s 007 film series.

Supposed 007 gun apparently withdrawn from auction

Bond gets a new gun in Dr. No.

A Walther PPK that was billed as being in Dr. No apparently has been withdrawn from auction. The listing for the gun now says, “This lot is no longer available.” The full listing had been online as late as Wednesday afternoon.

The firearm was listed as having been owned by actor Bernard Lee and used in the scene where Bond is told to start using the PPK. The story went that the crew needed a gun and Lee provided his. The firearm “was gifted to the vendor,” according to original listing.

Attentive 007 fans noted that the film used the Walther PP, rather than the PPK, in the first James Bond films. The listing had referenced that but still said the PPK being auctioned was legitimate.

“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.”

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.

Eon’s new normal: Update

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This isn’t your father’s James Bond film franchise.

Hire a new director? Great! Except, Cary Fukunaga has to deal with a new television project at more or less the same time.

Got your leading man back on board? Great! Except he began filming a movie just a month (or so) before the latest Bond movie originally was to start filming. Thankfully (from the actor’s standpoint, anyway) the Bond film got delayed until March.

Your latest James Bond film project moving ahead? Great! Except we have to get our latest non-007 project (The Rhythm Section) out of the way first.

When Eon Productions started operations, the idea was to make 007 films every year with other project in between. That lasted as far as 1963 (Dr. No, Call Me, Bwana, From Russia With Love).

Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman went off and did non-007 films (the Harry Palmer series, Battle of Britain) on his own. Albert R. Broccoli, the other co-founder, did one more non-007 project (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) while devoting the rest of his life to the Bond film series.

Saltzman, of course, is long gone, having sold his interest in the mid 1970s. Broccoli, before he died in 1996, yielded control to his daughter (Barbara Broccoli) and stepson (Michael G. Wilson).

Now, the main figures of the Bond series juggle 007 among their various projects. Fukunaga, hired in September to direct Bond 25, is only the latest. Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson have been doing it for years. Writer John Logan juggled various enterprises in 2013 and 2014 before delivering a first draft for SPECTRE.

One reader of the blog pointed out on Twitter that Marvel Studios directors Joe and Anthony Russo are cutting deals for future projects even while the untitled Avengers 4 is in post-production.

That’s true enough. Still, by 2019, the Russos will have directed four movies (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4) in five years for Marvel. During that same period, there will have been just one James Bond film (SPECTRE).

In the 21st century, the 007 film series is like Paul Masson wine. No wine (or film) before its time.

1996: Five-O fans meet (almost all of) the original cast

Hawaii Five-O logo in the main title of the original series.

In 1996, fans of the original Hawaii Five-O series had a chance to meet with almost all of the main cast members of the series at a fan convention.

The event took place in two locations: The first half in the Los Angeles area, the second in Honolulu.

James MacArthur, Gilbert Kauhi (stage name, Zulu) and Kam Fong, the supporting actors in the 1968-80 show, were there. Jack Lord, who starred as lawman Steve McGarrett (six years after playing Felix Leiter in Dr. No), was still alive but had retired to private life.

I attended the Los Angeles part of the event. Among the things that happened there:

On the first day of the gathering, MacArthur, Zulu and Kam Fong just hung around with fans, engaging in casual conversation. It was very low-key and informal.

-MacArthur, asked why he left the show after 11 seasons, said he simply had done enough. He described telling the powers that be about the decision and that he didn’t want to make a big deal of it.

–Zulu was asked why he left the show. He replied that he and Jack Lord never got along all that well. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Zulu said he tried at the start of one season (I suspect season three but he didn’t specify) he tried to get off to a new start with the series star.

Zulu’s title card during the first four seasons of Hawaii Five-O.

“Hey Jack, you’re looking great!” But Lord walked off. Zulu said he was confused. Then he was told the actor had gotten a facelift during the series hiatus.

Zulu told another anecdote in which the Five-O team apprehended a suspect. According to him, Lord felt Zulu was little slow. On the next take, according to this anecdote, Zulu zoom around the others. “OK, McGarrett! I’ve got him.” In this telling, the Big Kahuna wasn’t happy.

After, some time elapsed, a late-arriving fan again asked Zulu why he left the show. For a moment, I felt bad after hearing the stories he told earlier. But Zulu didn’t miss a beat. He grinned and repeated his “Lord taketh away” line.

–MacArthur, commenting to Zulu, said the Hawaiian actor was burning the candle at both ends in those days. Zulu did his Five-O work during the day and did a night club act in the eventing.

–Rose Freeman, widow of Five-O creator Leonard Freeman, told attendees that Jack Lord was cast only days before filming of the pilot began. Initially, American actor Robert Brown (not to be confused with the British actor Robert Brown, who played M in four 007 films) had been cast.

–Fans watched episodes shown with a film projector. At one point , Zulu was there watching with the fans. One episode shown had his replacement, Al Harrington. Zulu did a mock boo. Another one of the episodes shown was Bored, She Hung Herself, an episode that was shown only once on CBS and hasn’t been seen since, in either syndication or home video. The story behind that is a little complicated. 

–I let myself get outbid for a copy of the 1967 first draft of Leonard Freeman’s pilot script for a charity auction. I scanned it and committed to memory what I could. There was no Danno and McGarrett was the only Caucasian of the Five-O characters.

–A friend of Five-O theme composer Morton Stevens showed up. He had heard about the event and wanted to check it out.

–On the final day in LA, many of the fans were preparing to head to Hawaii for the rest of the event. I prepared to head home. As I was leaving the hotel to head to LAX, I ran into Zulu at the door.

“I just want to thank you for being here,” he said.

Obviously, he would have said it to any other fan. But it was a great moment for me, nevertheless.

“No, thank you,” I replied.