The Spy Command marks its 9th anniversary

Today marks the ninth anniversary of The Spy Command.

The blog began with the name The HMSS Weblog. The first post on Oct. 8, 2008 concerned how three Raymond Benson James Bond continuation novels had been collected under the title The Union Trilogy. The post was penned by Paul Baack, who had the idea of the blog.

The Spy Commander, who has been running the blog for some time, didn’t weigh in with his first post until Oct. 19, 2008. That concerned A Man Called Sloane, the short-lived spy adventure with Robert Conrad and produced by QM Productions.

The blog began to hit its stride (and find its own voice) with a 2009 series of posts about the 45th anniversary of Goldfinger. It later had series of posts about the 50th anniversary of Dr. No and From Russia With Love as well as series about Dr. No’s script and behind-the-scenes financial issues of Dr. No. (CLICK HERE for part I.)

The blog formally was on its own in September 2014. The blog changed its name to The Spy Command in February 2015.

Assuming the blog is still around next year, we’ll have to do something more elaborate for the 10th anniversary.

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Dr. No’s 55th: A peculiar anniversary

Dr. No poster

This week, the James Bond film franchise celebrates the 55th anniversary of its first entry, Dr. No. However, it’s a bit of peculiar milestone.

Five years ago, for the 50th anniversary, it was a time of celebration. The golden anniversary of Dr. No was marked with the knowledge that a new Bond film, Skyfall, would be out soon.

For Bond fans, it was a “win-win.” They could celebrate the franchise’s past while looking forward to the near future

For the 55th, not as much.

Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in July announced a November 2019 release date for Bond 25. But, as of this writing, there isn’t an actual distributor to get the movie into theaters. Such a distributor likely would provide a significant chunk of the funding for the project.

The incumbent 007, Daniel Craig, said in August he’s coming back for a fifth outing. However, besides the lack of a distributor, there’s no director in place, either.

Veteran 007 film scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are working on Bond 25 story, according to that July announcement.

But until a director is on the job — and directors are known for bringing in their own writers to re-work a script — things can only proceed so far. One of the reported contenders, Denis Villeneuve, confirmed to The Montreal Gazette, that he has been in talks with Craig and Eon boss Barbara Broccoli. But Villeneuve, coming off Blade Runner 2049, is in demand for other projects.

What’s more, there have been fuzzy, imprecise vibes that Eon Productions might sell off its interest in 007 after Bond 25. Nobody has actually said this will happen but people have said it might happen.

Finally, tech giants Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are looking to get the Bond 25 distribution rights or perhaps acquire the whole thing, according to a Sept. 6 story by The Hollywood Reporter. Yet, major news outlets that follow both Apple and Amazon closely (think The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal) have ignored the story.

Is there anything to The Hollywood Reporter’s story or not? Who knows?

All this uncertainty overshadows Dr. No.’s anniversary. The first 007 film included Sean Connery introducing the line, “Bond, James Bond. It was a project the followed the unusual circumstances that brought Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman together.

While a modestly budgeted production, the work of production designer Ken Adam made Dr. No look more expensive than it was. And actress Ursula Andress made an impression on audiences. Director Terence Young, not the first choice of either the producers or distributor United Artists, got the series off to a rousing start.

Some Bond fans fans are sure a major announcement about Bond 25 is coming on Oct. 5, Global James Bond Day and also the anniversary of Dr. No’s premiere. Maybe they’re right. We’ll see.

In any case, the 55th anniversary of Dr. No has an uncertainty that the 50th anniversary didn’t.

1967: Connery says 007 had become a ‘Frankenstein’

While viewing something Bond-related on YouTube, the blog came across something else — a 1967 interview Sean Connery gave to attorney F. Lee Bailey.

“How long are you going to be James Bond?” Bailey asks.

“As long as they keep releasing and re-releasing the films that I’ve made,” Connery replies. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m finished with the James Bond…I’ve stated my terms that I would take one million pounds tax free to do another one.”

“I don’t think anybody would pay that amount,” Connery adds following another question or two from Bailey.

The 32:31 video was posted by Historic Films Stock Footage Archive. The video actually consists of two versions of the interview. The quotes above are from the second version.

Bailey, in the first version, gets a couple of details wrong. In setting up a question, the attorney says Connery identified himself in Dr. No as “James Bond,” while in the second, he quotes the line correctly as, “Bond, James Bond.” Also, in the first interview, Bailey says Bond shot Dr. Dent in the head in Dr. No. Connery corrects him.

Connery also describes why he was tiring of the role.

“It’s some sort of Frankenstein,” Connery says in the first version of the interview.

“As far as being an actor is concerned, it begins to go off a bit,” he says in the second version. “I don’t think there have been any other films that have created a phenomena as the James Bond…There are only so many things one can do as far as the character is concerned.”

Connery also compliments Terence Young for the way he directed Dr. No and says “the second one” (From Russia With Love) was the best Bond film up to that point.

Here’s the video:

Evolution of the United Artists logo on 007 films

United Artists logo from 1983

United Artists is a forgotten studio today despite an illustrious history. It was founded in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.

For James Bond fans, it was the studio that gave life to the cinematic 007. In 1961, UA, by then led by Arthur Krim, bought into the pitch by independent producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. For two decades, UA financed the 007 movies.

Under Krim’s leadership, UA invested in other film properties, including The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and movies starring The Beatles. Under Krim, UA acted more like a bank than a true studio, financing various independent producers. UA didn’t have actual studio facilities.

For first-generation 007 film fans, the UA logo (or lack thereof) was part of the theater experience. What follows is a look at what theater goers would see. Still other UA logos were devised for home video and television showings.

1962-1965: For the first four 007 films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball), there was no UA logo. Just a black screen before the gunbarrel logo. Some fans look on those days fondly. Without a logo, it build up the anticipation for the gunnbarrel.

1967: Transamerica, an insurance and financial conglomerate, bought UA in 1967 while keeping Krim and his crew in charge.

The first Bond film with a UA logo was You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Eon series. United Artists was identified as “a Transamerica company.” There was no music with the logo.

1969-1979: Tranamerica devised a stylized “T” logo that was incorporated with the United Artists logo.

Long-running UA logo under Transamerica ownership.

Theater goers would see the “T” logo come together, followed by the words, “United Artists, Entertainment From Transamerica Corporation.” There was still no music accompanying the logo.

This logo would run a full decade as far as the 007 series was concerned, beginning with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and running through 1979’s Moonraker.

However, behind the scenes, UA was undergoing challenges. Krim and his executives exited UA in the late 1970s, starting a new operation, Orion Pictures.

Various executives were promoted to replace them. That group (financially, at least) made a bet on director Michael Cimino and his movie Heaven’s Gate. It was a huge bomb. Would lead to….

UA logo, 1981

1981: Transamerica had enough with the unpredictable film business. The company sold off UA. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio weaker than its glory days of the 1930s-1950s.

When For Your Eyes Only came out, there was a UA logo without mention of Transamerica. Just “United Artists,” with white letters on a black background.

1980s MGM/UA logo

In 1983, MGM was now billing itself as MGM/UA Entertainment Co. That year, UA-branded films (including the 007 adventure Octopussy). were followed by “United Artists Presents.”

With A View To a Kill, things were simplified, with just the MGM/UA logo.

UA logo, late 1980s

However, toward the latter part of the 1980s, a new stylized UA logo following a new MGM/UA logo (without MGM’s Leo the Lion in it).

Music accompanied the MGM/UA logo. When it switched to the UA logo there would be a “swoosh” sound effect.

This would be seen in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill. What’s more, it shows up on some television versions of 007 films.

However, another shakeup was in store.

MGM in the early 1990s was in financial turmoil after it changed hands and called itself MGM-Pathe. French bank Credit Lyonnais took over MGM in 1991. Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, also sued MGM following an MGM sale of television rights to the 007 film series that Danjaq/Eon felt undervalued the movies.

UA logo in 1995

It wouldn’t be until 1995 things were sorted out where the Bond film series could resume with GoldenEye. (The bank would eventually sell MGM to Kirk Kerkorian, a previous owner of the studio.)

A new United Artists logo debuted with the words, “United Artists Pictures Inc.” Lights came together to form the words “United Artists.”

UA logo 1997

When 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies was released, the logo was tweaked slightly to say, “United Artists, An MGM Company.”

What’s more, versions of this logo were also used in home video releases of Bond films in the late 1990s. They were attached to the early 007 movies without logo and replaced UA-Transamerica logos in other movies.

And then, as far as Bond was concerned, it was over.

MGM 1999 logo used with The World Is Not Enough

Starting with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Bond movies were now marketed under the main MGM brand name. That film included a version of the familiar MGM logo noting the studio’s 75th anniversary with the words, “A legacy of excellence.”

From this point forward, the only reminder of the UA days for Bond would be deep in the titles in the copyright notice where United Artists Corp. would be listed as one of the copyright holders.

Footnote: MGM revived the United Artists brand, cutting a 2006 deal with Tom Cruise’s production company. That resulted in the 2008 movie Valkyrie.

Footnote II: Orion Pictures, the outfit founded by the former UA executives, is part of MGM.

How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.

You Only Live Twice: Beginning of the end of ’60s spymania

You Only Live Twice promotional art

You Only Live Twice promotional art

The 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice isn’t just a milestone for a memorable James Bond film. It’s also the anniversary for the beginning of the end of 1960s spymania.

The 007 film series led the way for spymania. Over the course of the first four Bond films, everything skyrocketed. Not only did the Bond series get bigger, it created a market for spies of all sorts.

By June 1967, when You Only Live Twice debuted, that upward trajectory had ended.

To be sure, Twice was very popular. But there was a falloff from its predecessor, 1965’s Thunderball. Twice’s box office totaled $111.6 million globally, down 21 percent from Thunderball’s $141.2 million.

The fifth 007 movie produced by Eon Productions didn’t lack for resources.

Twice’s famous volcano set cost $1 million, roughly the entire budget of Dr. No. Helicopters equipped with giant magnets swooped out of the sky. A seeming endless number of extras was available when needed. .

At the same time, the movie’s star, Sean Connery, wanted out of Bondage. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman adjusted his contract. But their inducements weren’t enough.

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

It didn’t help that Broccoli and Saltzman themselves had their own, growing differences. Broccoli didn’t want to take on Connery as another partner — the same kind of arrangement Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen, bestowed upon Dean Martin for the Matt Helm movies.

Finally, there was another Bond film that year — the spoof Casino Royale, released in the U.S. less than two months before Twice. However, anybody who viewed Casino Royale’s marketing or trailers could mistake the Charles K. Feldman production for the Eon series.

As this blog has discussed before, Twice has a lot going for it. Ken Adam’s sets were spectacular. John Barry’s score was among the best for the Bond series. It was also the one film in the series photographed by acclaimed director of photography Freddie Young.

In the 21st century, fan discussion is divided. Some appreciate the spectacle, viewing it as enough reason to overlook various plot holes. Others dislike how the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel was jettisoned, with only some characters and the Japanese location retained.

With this year’s 50th anniversary, the former may be celebrated more. The movie’s scope, even its posters, aren’t the kinds of things you see these days.

The longer-term importance of the movie, however, is that Twice symbolizes how interest in the spy craze was drawing to a close. Bond would carry on, but others — including U.S. television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy — weren’t long for this world when Twice arrived at theaters.

Ken Adam to be honored by American Film Institute

Ken Adam

Ken Adam

Ken Adam, the long-time film production designer who died in March, is being honored by the American Film Institute with a film series that runs starting July 9 and into September.

AFI is showing a range of films reflecting Adam’s work, including all seven James Bond films he designed for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

In addition, the series includes The Ipcress File, the first Harry Palmer film that was produced by Saltzman, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the children’s movie based on an Ian Fleming novel that Broccoli produced.

The movies are being shown at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The dates are as follows. The movies are shown at different times of day and for full details, CLICK HERE.

July 9, 11, 13: Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond film, where Adam’s sets made the movie look more expensive than it really was.

July 10, 12, 14: Goldfinger (1964). Adam, with no access to the interior of Fort Knox, created one from his imagination.

July 16, 20: Thunderball (1965). The Biggest Bond of All and Adam’s work was one of the reasons.

July 17: You Only Live Twice (1967), the first Bond film to toss out an Ian Fleming plot and substitute its own. Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set was a major highlight.

July 23, 26: Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

July 25: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

July 31: Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Michael Todd-produced film version of the Jules Verne novel starring David Niven, with various stars making cameo appearances.  Adam is credited as an art director and his name is spelled Adams. The movie’s associate producer was William Cameron Menzies, who helped pioneer the concept of a production designer responsible for the overall look of a film.

Aug. 6, 10: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Adam returned after a two-picture absence from the Bond series. His work included the interior of what’s supposed to be a tanker that swallows nuclear submarines.

Aug. 7, 9: Moonraker (1979), Adam’s farewell to the 007 series, where his contributions included a space station.

Aug. 13, 16: The Ipcress File (1965), Adam demonstrated he could handle a more realistic spy film.

Aug. 20, 24: Barry Lyndon (1975), Stanley Kubrick-directed film where Adam won an Academy Award.

Aug. 26, 30, Sept. 1: Night of the Demon (1957)

Aug. 27, 28, 30, Sept. 1: Gideon of Scotland Yard (1958)

Sept. 2, 3, 5: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Who better to design a flying car than Ken Adam?

Sept. 3, 6, 8: The Last of Shiela (1973)

Ken Adam's "war room" set from Dr. Strangelove

Ken Adam’s “war room” set from Dr. Strangelove

Sept. 9, 10, 12, 13, 14: Dr. Strangelove (1964): Adam passed on the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, to work with Kubrick on the nuclear war satire. Adam’s biggest contribution was the War Room set, which has inspired production designers and art directors ever since.

Sept. 10: The Madness of King George, which resulted in Adam’s second Academy Award.