In a way, cinema Bond’s 60th already is underway

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

h/t to David Leigh of The James Bond Dossier who researched the founding date of Eon Productions.

2022 will mark the 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No. But in one sense, the 60th already is underway when it comes to key events that led to the movie.

What follows is a sampling (hardly a comprehensive list) of key dates.

June 29, 1961: United Artists issues a press release that it will distribute a series of James Bond films to be produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. A partial image of the press release is shown in Inside Dr. No, a documentary included in Bond film home video releases.

The producers earlier agreed to join forces. Saltzman held a six-month option on most of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. But he had been unable to reach a deal with a studio.

Broccoli had been interested in the Bond novels for years. He was introduced to Saltzman. Broccoli was unable to buy out Saltzman’s option. So they approached UA together.

July 6, 1961: Eon Productions is incorporated. It is the Broccoli-Salzman company that will produce the Bond films. A separate company, Danjaq, was formed to control the copyright to the movies.

Aug. 18, 1961: Eon receives a script by Richard Maibaum adapting Thunderball, Fleming’s most recent Bond novel. However, the novel had been based on material from an unmade film. Thunderball would generate legal fights. Eon would switch gears and begin its Bond series with Dr. No instead.

Aug. 23, 1961: Broccoli sends a note to Saltzman. “Blumofe reports New York did not care for Connery feels we can do better.”

The note appears in both Inside Dr. No and When the Snow Melts, Broccoli’s autobiography.

Blumofe may refer to Robert F. Blumofe, a West Coast-based UA executive from 1953 to 1966.

A 1961 article in The New York Times described him as “Hollywood symbol of cinematic revolution.” That referred to how UA provided producers and filmmakers more autonomy than other studios.

Connery, of course, was Sean Connery who got the Bond role. UA would soon change its mind about Connery’s suitability for the part.

UPDATE: Last year, Eon’s official Twitter feed listed Nov. 3, 1961 as the date when Connery’s casting was announced.

Nikki van der Zyl, voice of Bond women, dies

Nikki van der Zyl (1935-2021)

Nikki van der Zyl, a German-born actress who provided the voice for various Bond women characters, has died at 85, Her death was disclosed on Twitter by The Bond Bulletin.

Van der Zyl was used to dub over, among others, Ursula Andress in Dr. No, Eunice Gayson in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger and Claudine Auger in Thunderball. She worked on various Bond films through Moonraker.

In addition, van der Zyl acted as a dialogue coach for Gert Frobe (who ended up dubbed by Michael Collins) in Goldfinger.

Being a voice actor “is technically exacting work,” van der Zyl said in a 2015 story in The Independent. “The art of such acting is often much overlooked. You have to have to pay attention to the physical appearance of the person to ensure the character has an appropriate voice and actors speak with a blend of dialects, making it quite a challenge matching your speech to their lip movements.”

In a 2015 interview with James Bond Radio, van der Zyl said Goldfinger was her favorite Bond film because she was on the set and present throughout the film because of working with Frobe. “I feel more close to that film than the others.”

Here is the James Bond Radio interview. Van der Zyl appears beginning around the 13:25 mark.

And here is a 2013 video in The New York Times Magazine showing van der Zyl reading some of the same lines she spoke in Dr. No.

Bond 26 and beyond

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Bond fans are waiting for another delay for the release of No Time to Die/Bond 25. If/when (probably when) that happens, the bigger question is for Bond 26 and beyond.

No Time to Die was a pre-COVID-19 movie with pre-COVID-19 finances. The 25th James Bond film ran up costs approaching $290 million as of mid-2020, according to a U.K, regulatory filing.

But, hey, it was a contender for a theatrical box office of $1 billion or more (split with theaters). Certainly Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Bond’s home studio) and Danjaq LLC (parent company of Eon Productions) were working on that assumption.

Then, of course, COVID-19 changed everything. Theaters were shut down in many regions. And the virus — despite the emergence of vaccines — has not been brought to heel. At least not yet and maybe not soon.

Perhaps you can just kick the can. Delay the release date one, two, who knows how many times? Eventually, everything will be back to normal.

Won’t it?

No Time to Die is on the shelf. It will get shown. Sometime.

The big question is what happens with Bond 26, whenever that gets made, and in whatever form.

Studios such as Walt Disney Co. and AT&T’s Warner Bros. have embraced the streaming model model. MGM reportedly shopped No Time to Die around for a streaming deal but couldn’t get the price it wanted.

What’s more, MGM reportedly has put itself up for sale. The studio’s association with Bond will reach its 40th anniversary this year. The Bond-MGM association has been a rocky one, dysfunctional even.

Danjaq/Eon controls the rights to Bond. But Danjaq/Eon needs MGM (whether by itself or in alliance with other studios) to get 007 movies made.

Put another way, there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed before you can even talk about future Bond adventures.

Example: Is the traditional model of a big theatrical release followed by home video revenues even practical now? Or do studios need to reduce the costs of big “tentpole” films?

Of major tentpoles, Bond seemingly is in a good position to ramp down and do more cost-effective productions. The early 007 films such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger, were pretty lean films.

Still, that was almost 60 years ago. Things change.

No Time to Die may be a rousing James Bond film. But Bond’s future still is being determined — and things are more uncertain than James Bond emerging triumphant at the end of a movie.

Dr. No lobby card: Denial is not just a river in Egypt

Dr. No lobby card with Jack Lord (yes, really), Ursula Andress and Sean Connery

Social media has a way of unleashing debate. For example, a 58-year-old Dr. No lobby card showed up this week on Facebook and got one such debate going.

The question was whether Jack Lord was in it, along with Ursula Andress and Sean Connery.

Lord, of course, was the first film Felix Leiter. (The 1954 Casino Royale on CBS changed Leiter’s first name to Clarence and made him British.)

The lobby card photo (see above) was taken on the same Jamaican beaches that doubled for Crab Key in the movie. Lord as Leiter wasn’t in those sequences. The actor also is wearing clothing (a big hat and ascot) he didn’t have in his scenes in the film.

This week on social media, some Bond fans said there was no way it could be Jack Lord because of that outfit.

Nevertheless, Lord often wore similar outfits during Hawaii Five-O (1968-80) in scenes where Steve McGarrett was off duty. At a 1996 Five-O convention in the Los Angeles area, a fan asked members of the original cast about such outfits. “Jack picked his own clothes,” replied James MacArthur, who played Danny “Danno” Williams in the show.

Here’s an example from the 1972 episode V for Vashon: The Patriarch, the only three-part story of the series.

Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett in an off-duty moment in a 1972 Hawaii Five-O episode.

Long before this, the lobby card photo has made the rounds (without the lobby card information). It must be John Derek! (Andress’ husband at the time). That comment was made without knowing the photo was part of a lobby card.

Would United Artists feature somebody in a lobby card who wasn’t in the movie or part of the crew? Pretty doubtful. Meanwhile some collectors have the captions for the lobby cards, which indicate that, yes, it was Jack Lord.

While the consensus seemed to be it must have been Jack Lord, there were those who still didn’t believe it. Some may have been joking, but some clearly were serious. “It’s just my opinion.”

There is a famous quote from Isaac Asimov. Part of it refers to how there is “the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

Sean Connery, original film 007, dies at 90

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery, the original film James Bond, has died at 90. His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a post on Twitter.

Jason Connery, the actor’s son, told the BBC that his father “has been unwell for some time.”

The Scottish actor took on the role of James Bond with Dr. No, when he was 31. By doing so, he became one of the major icons of the 1960s, along with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Connery enjoyed a long career, which extended into the early 21st century. His last live-action performance was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery also did voice work for a 2005 video game that adapted the 007 film From Russia With Love and a 2012 animated film, Sir Billi.  The actor’s honors included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s The Untouchables.

Despite all that, his seven Bond films — six for Eon Productions as well as the non-Eon production of 1983’s Never Say Never Again — defined his career and made him a star.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.

Audiences adored the combination. The first four Bond films were mostly faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming novels. For the American market, Connery’s Bond was a more macho hero than audience members probably expected.

The actor stayed busy with non-Bond projects, including The Hill, a World War II drama. But the conversation kept coming back to Bond, like in an Oct. 3, 1965 episode of What’s My Line?

Connery, the first of two mystery guests, was present because The Hill was opening in New York later that week. He was also in New York filming A Fine Madness, directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later work with Connery on Never Say Never Again.

But panelist Martin Gabel, one of Connery’s co-stars in the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie, cited Bond in deducing the actor’s identity.

What’s more, Connery’s relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman became troubled. As the budgets and scope of the movies expanded, Connery felt cheated with his share of the enterprise.

In 1966, Columbia Pictures released The Silencers, a spoofy version of Donald Hamilton’s very serious Matt Helm novels. The producer was Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen.

To secure the services of star Dean Martin, Allen had to make Dino a partner. That ensured the actor, who received a share of the proceeds, would get a bigger payday than Connery got for 007 films. From then on, Connery would be at odds with his Bond employers.

Connery quit the series after 1967’s You Only Live Twice (the first 007 venture than dispensed with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel).

UA, unhappy with the box office of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, lured Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with a big payday, including a $1.25 million fee (which the Scottish actor donated to a trust he founded). Connery also received a percentage of the box office.

After Diamonds, Connery said he was done with Eon for good. But he went back into Bondage one more time with Never Say Never Again.

Connery had more behind-the-camera power than he ever had with Eon. He brought in scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to do an uncredited rewrite of Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script. The actor also recruited Michel Legrand to score the movie.

Both the script and the music would be among the most criticized aspects of Never Say Never Again. But many Bond fans, happy to see Connery one last time, overlooked the actor’s role as de facto producer.

Sean Connery in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Regardless, Connery was the building block for Eon’s 007 film series that has lasted more than a half century.

The series, of course, had many talented contributors including director Young, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry. However, Connery provided a popular Bond for audiences. All future Bond actors would be compared to Connery.

Some fans and critics have argued that Connery has been surpassed in the 21st century by Daniel Craig. But without Connery at the start, that’s almost a moot point. All of Connery’s 007 successors had the opportunity because of the Scot’s original work.

Happy 90th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a 1960s 007 publicity still

Adapted and expanded from a 2011 post.

Sean Connery celebrates his 90th birthday today. There’s little more than needs to be said about Connery’s contributions to the James Bond film series.

Terence Young, director of three of the first four Bond movies, famously said the three reasons that 007 films took off were, “Sean Connery, Sean Connery and Sean Connery.” Young also tutored Connery in the ways of Bond.

Still, the blog can’t help but wonder if Connery had even the slightest hint of what was about to happen to him after being cast as Bond.

The answer is probably not. Who could?

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were a couple of journeymen producers. Terence Young was a journeyman director. Richard Maibaum, a journeyman screenwriter and occasional producer.

Ian Fleming had written some novels that had gotten attention, including in 1961 when Life magazine listed the author’s From Russia With Love as one of then-President John F. Kennedy’s favorite novels.

Also in 1961, United Artists announced it intended to start a film series based on the novels. Connery would end up with a $16,800 paycheck for the first film, Dr. No. Hardly the makings of a phenomenon.

Life can change in an instant. That was certainly true of a Scot actor who was starting to make an impression with audiences.

Things were never quite the same after that. Connery has been retired for almost two decades. His Bond films perhaps aren’t seen with the same enthusiasm by modern audiences. So it goes.

Then again, without Connery’s Bond films, would there even be a 21st century Bond series?

Like with much of the 1960s spy craze, the Connery 007 films caught lightning in a bottle. Bond was able to remain relevant after Connery’s departure. But you can argue that Connery provided the foundation that others followed.

Broccoli is gone. Saltzman is gone. Young is gone. Maibaum is gone. Even one of Connery’s successors, Roger Moore, is gone. United Artists was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. UA exists pretty much only on paper today.

Connery, in retirement, remains.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

New normal? ‘U.S. Last’ releasing model isn’t that new

Christopher Reeve near the end of Superman II

There has been a lot of buzz this month that the “new normal” for major theatrical releases will be a “U.S. Last” model (the blog’s name for it, nothing official) where the United States will get the movie much later than other regions.

The reason for this is how the U.S. is one of the countries hardest hit by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). While much of Asia and Europe have managed to contain the virus, there are major outbreaks in highly populated U.S. states such as Florida, Texas and California.

A July 22 story in The Hollywood Reporter describes what may be happening.

In recent weeks, a campaign to begin releasing new Hollywood movies even if it means only launching a title in markets that are able to open safely — whether overseas or in the U.S. — has gained momentum as a global day-and-date launch becomes impossible in the era of coronavirus.

The thing is such a model, if it emerges, is more like the old normal than a new normal.

Back in the day, it took a long time for a movie to reach all global markets. With Dr. No, for example, its U.K, premiere was in October but it didn’t reach the U.S. until the spring of 1963. From Russia With Love came out in the fall of 1963, but didn’t reach U.S. shores until the following year. And Goldfinger didn’t reach the U.S. until Christmas 1964, months after its U.K. debut.

Nor was Bond alone. With Superman II, a highly awaited sequel to Christopher Reeve’s debut as Superman in 1978, the movie was in major markets in late 1980 and didn’t get to the U.S. until the summer of 1981. Some U.S. publications referenced what was in the movie ahead of its American premiere.

In recent decades, studios have grabbed for theatrical release money fast. Movies came out in a relatively short time globally. That enabled quicker home video releases.

All of this may affect No Time to Die. Is it possible a “U.S. Last” releasing model may be used for the 25th James Bond film? We’ll see.

Bond 25 questions: The production designer edition

Rami Malek on a No Time to Die set designed by Mark Tildesley that certainly appears inspired by a Ken Adam set from Dr. No.

Mark Tildesley, production designer for No Time to Die, has gone public with some tidbits from the 25th James Bond film. Naturally, the blog has some questions.

Homages? Again?

So it would seem.

Tildesley, in a Masterclass video interview, said “we’ve heavily lent on previous films and the designers of previous films for some of the shapes and stuff…We went through all the films. Let’s take everything we love.”

It’s not like we haven’t been down this route before. Die Another Day (2002), Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012) all had their share of homages to previous 007 film adventures.

There were already signs it was happening again with No Time to Die.

One of Tildesley’s sets had a circular grille in the ceiling, similar to a Ken Adam-designed set for Dr. No. Stills emerged with Rami Malek’s villain Safin at the set.

And, of course, the Aston Martin DB5 is back, which gave the production designer a chance to tweak its design.

The car is actually a replica of the DB5 (with a carbon fiber body and BMW engine) and the designer moved the placement of the machine guns to the headlights. That’s been a prominent part of No Time to Die trailers and TV spots.

What was Danny Boyle up to?

Tildesley said a rocket and a Russian gulag were among the things being built for a Danny Boyle-directed No Time to Die.

He didn’t give away a whole lot more. But his comments suggesting various reports that Boyle wanted to cast a Russian villain were correct. Also, the MI6 James Bond website reported in February 2019 Bond was imprisoned by the villain for much of the Boyle version of No Time to Die.

So it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that a Russian villain would imprison Bond in a gulag.

Boyle’s hiring was announced in May 2018 and he left because of “creative differences in August 2018. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace Boyle.

Fukunaga also is listed as one of the writers of No Time to Die. His version of the movie is a sequel to 2015’s SPECTRE, even bringing back Lea Seydoux as Madeline Swann.

Anything else interesting?

In parts of the interview, Tildesley talks about how having a low budget forces the creative team to be more creative.

No Time to Die doesn’t have a low budget. The estimated production outlay is $250 million.

The designer said the challenge with a large budget film is to stay creative.

“The thing about doing a bigger film is to try and keep light on your feet,” he said. “I’m always trying to think of. like, arresting images that will burn onto your retina.”

Broccoli & Wilson talk up diversity in Bond films

Barbara Broccoli, boss of Eon Productions

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions have talked up how the James Bond film series has embraced diversity over its almost 58-year history in an interview with the Blackfilm website.

We’ve always tried to have diversity in the films,” Wilson said in the interview.

“We’ve always had international casts, and they’ve all been different ethnicities,” Wilso added. “So it’s nothing new. However, people are more sensitive to what they want to see, and when they see it — they point it out. I think we have a great diverse cast from all over the world. It’s in keeping with the times, but I think we’ve always been a little ahead of the times.”

Barbara Broccoli added the following: “Look at Live and Let Die, which was 1973. It was one of the first interracial relationships, Bond with Gloria Hendry. I mean, it’s crazy.”

Fact check: In Dr. No, Sean Connery’s Bond told Quarrel to “fetch my shoes.” This occurred seven years after the Montgomery bus boycott (a major event in the U.S. civil rights movement) and hasn’t aged well since.

What’s more, Live And Let Die screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz got shot down when he proposed that Solitaire (Jane Seymour in the movie) be played by an African American actress. So Bond films weren’t that ahead of the times. (Soliaire was written as a white woman in Ian Fleming’s novel.)

Broccoli also talked about Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas:

“These women have trained like you can’t imagine. They are absolutely in tip-top, peak condition, and they could take anyone on. It is not just strength; it’s flexibility. Your muscles have to be in good condition, you have to be able to stop and start. So it’s a constant training thing. And then they have weapons training. They have to look like they know how to shoot a weapon, and you want them to be safe, and you want them to look good. It’s been a long, intensive training program for both of them.”

Broccoli also talked up how No Time to Die ties up the Daniel Craig era for Bond films.

“I think the story is really an accumulation of the past four films and this one. So the five-film cycle, and I think the arc of his character — particularly the emotional arc of his character, is completed. We feel it’s a very satisfying conclusion to his movies; hopefully, the audiences will too.”

‘No comment’ trumps a falsehood

Rami Malek

Earlier today, I saw some social media accounts express exasperation that the idea that Rami Malek may be playing a rebooted Dr. No in No Time to Die.

Malek, in a recent interview, said he wasn’t playing Dr. No. Shouldn’t that be the end of it?

Under normal circumstances, yes.

But Malek’s Dr. No denial comes after Eon Productions, and the actors it hired, denied things that were true.

–Naomie Harris denied she was playing a new version of Moneypenny in Skyfall. But she was.

–Eon boss Barbara Broccoli and star Daniel Craig, in a joint interview during the production of Skyfall, denied Ben Whishaw was playing Q in Skyfall. This came after Whishaw’s agent said his client had the part.

“Agents are liars,” Craig said. “You know that.” The actor laughed, according to the transcript.

–Christoph Waltz denied he was playing Blofeld in SPECTRE. But he was.

It may well be true that Malek isn’t playing Dr. No. The timeline for the Malek-is-playing-Dr. No is a bit odd. See THIS DEC. 6 SPY COMMAND POST for some background.

The thing is, once a pattern is established of denying things that are true, you lose the benefit of the doubt. You don’t get to unring a bell. You don’t get a do-over.

Put another way, credibility once lost is hard to get back. With Malek as Dr. No 2.0, fans may be going down a rabbit hole. But Eon Productions and its publicity department have only themselves to blame.

“No comment” is always a better alternative to a falsehood.