Live And Let Die’s 50th: The post-Connery era truly begins

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

Adapted from a 2013 post
For the eighth James Bond film, star Sean Connery wasn’t coming back. Three key members of the 007 creative team, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry, weren’t going to participate. And producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were mostly working separately, with this movie to be overseen primarily by Saltzman.

The result? Live And Let Die, which debuted in 1973. It would prove to be, financially, the highest-grossing movie in the series to date.

Things probably didn’t seem that way for Eon Productions and United Artists as work began.

They had no Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t want Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The studio didn’t want to take a chance and made the original screen 007 an offer he couldn’t refuse. But that was a one-film deal. Now, Eon and UA were starting from scratch.

Eon and UA had one non-Connery film under their belts, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They had tried the inexperienced George Lazenby, who bolted after one movie. For the second 007 film in the series not to star Connery, Eon and UA opted for a more-experienced choice: Roger Moore, former star of The Saint and The Persuaders! television shows. Older than Connery, Moore would employ a lighter touch.

Behind the camera, Saltzman largely depended on director Guy Hamilton, back for his third turn in the 007 director chair, and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz would be the sole writer from beginning to end, rewriting scenes as necessary during filming. In a commentary on the film’s DVD, Mankiewicz acknowledged it was highly unusual.

Perhaps the biggest creative change was with the film’s music. Barry had composed the scores for six Bond films in a row. George Martin, former producer for The Beatles, would take over. Martin had helped sell Saltzman on using a title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney. The ex-Beatle knew his song would be compared to the 007 classic title songs Barry had helped write. McCartney was determined to make his mark.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Saltzman liked the song, but inquired whether a woman singer would be more appropriate. Martin, in an interview for a 2006 special on U.K. television, said he informed Saltzman that if Eon didn’t accept McCartney as performer, the producer wouldn’t get the song. Saltzman accepted both.

Live And Let Die wasn’t the greatest James Bond film, despite an impressive boat chase sequence that was a highlight. The demise of its villain (Yaphet Kotto) still induces groans among long-time 007 fans as he pops like a balloon via an unimpressive special effect.

Sheriff J.W. Pepper, up to that time, was probably the most over-the-top comedic supporting character in the series. (“What are you?! Some kind of doomsday machine, boy?!”)

But Live And Let Die is one of the most important films in the series. As late as 1972, the question was whether James Bond could survive without Sean Connery. With $161.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, it was the first Bond film to exceed the gross for 1965’s Thunderball. In the U.S., its $35.4 million box office take trailed the $43.8 million for Diamonds Are Forever.

Bumpy days still lay ahead for Eon. The Man With the Golden Gun’s box office would tail off and relations between Broccoli and Saltzman would get worse. Still, for the first time, the idea took hold that the cinema 007 could move on from Connery.

Many editors at the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website criticized the movie and its star in a survey many years ago. But the film has its fans.

“I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a November 2011 news conference. Whatever one’s opinions about the movie, Live And Let Die ensured there’d be 007 employment for the likes of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

FEBRUARY 2012 POST: LIVE AND LET DIE, A REAPPRAISAL

JANUARY 2010 POST: 1973: TIME PROFILES THE NEW JAMES BOND

JANUARY 2010 POST: 1973: TIME CALLS 007 A `RACIST PIG’

Eon Productions posts 2021 financial results in U.K. filing

Eon Productions logo

Eon Productions, in a U.K, regulatory filing for the year ended Dec. 31, 2021, said it had a loss before taxes of 48.9 million British pounds ($59.1 million) before taxes.

After taxes, Eon reported a profit of 2.44 million British pounds (almost $2.97 million) after taxes.

To view for yourself and CLICK HERE and click on the entry for Dec. 29, 2022.

2021 was the year Eon’s most recent James Bond film, No Time to Die, was released. The bulk of Bond film finances come from its studio partner, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, now part of Amazon.

“The directors (of Eon) consider the results of the group to be in line with expectations,” the filing says. “The results for the year were considered more than satisfactory by the directors who anticipate an increase in the net profitability of the group during periods when a film is released.

“Looking forward, the directors the directors anticipate to display continued growth and profitability whilst concentrating on the next development of its next film toward its production.”

The filing is signed by “M Wilson CBE, Director.” Presumably, that means Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions.

The financial results were first reported in a Variety story.

The unheralded James Bond anniversary

Albert R. Broccoli (Illustration by Paul Baack)

Last month marked a notable anniversary of the James Bond film franchise, but it dealt with behind-the-scenes maneuvers.

In December 1992, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer settled a lawsuit filed by Danjaq LLC, the parent company of Eon Productions. The legal fight had paralyzed the production of Bond films.

The dispute was related to a takeover of MGM by financier Giancarlo Parretti. Here’s an excerpt from a UPI story about the settlement.

The companies said the agreement settles the suit Danjaq filed in February 1991 against MGM and its former parent company, Pathe Communications Corp. Danjaq claimed in the suit that then-MGM owner Parretti had breached contracts with it by selling the rights to the Bond films to help finance his $1.4 billion purchase of the studio in late 1990 from Kirk Kerkorian.

This is how Albert R. Broccoli, the co-founder of Danjaq and Eon, described the situation leading up to the lawsuit in his autobiography When the Snow Melts.

We learned that our sixteen James Bond pictures were being sold off as part of Parretti’s cash-raising in order to clinch the purchase of MGM/UA. Moreover, it was clear — to us least — that these pictures were to be sold off at bargain-basement prices in a number of foreign TV and video licensing deals. The longer we looked at the fine print, the more our attorneys, Michael (G. Wilson) and me were convinced that not only an alleged breach of contract was involved. This was becoming a question of the virtual survival of James Bond…Our action was a matter of simple prudence…During the protracted lawsuits that arose from this situation we were forced to put James Bond on hold and carry on with our lives.

The legal settlement changed that. Much work would remain to relaunch the film series, such as hiring a director and writers. Still, the conclusion of the legal fight more than 30 years ago was a significant milestone.

Puck News (sort of) joins The Sun on Taylor-Johnson

James Bond gunbarrel logo

Puck News, the upstart online news outlet, is now out on the same limb as The Sun in saying Aaron Taylor-Johnson is being considered as the 007th James Bond film actor.

The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. tabloid, has been leading the charge that Taylor-Johnson, 32, is being seriously considered to succeed Daniel Craig as Bond. Now Puck, led by former Hollywood Reporter editor Matthew Belloni, is saying the news is true (while not mentioning The Sun).

Here’s an excerpt from a Belloni post addressing various entertainment stories:

The Aaron Taylor-Johnson rumors are true—he sat with producer Barbara Broccoli, and the meeting went well, per sources. But while Taylor-Johnson fits the bill—great actor, British, fits the younger direction the Broccolis want to go, accomplished but not particularly famous—he’s about to be a much bigger star. If Sony’s Spider-Man spinoff Kraven the Hunter or Universal’s Ryan Gosling two-hander The Fall Guy works, Taylor-Johnson might end up, ironically, too famous to take on Bond.    

There isn’t anymore offered by Belloni. But, at long last, somebody (sort of) has joined The Sun in promoting Taylor-Johnson’s prospects.

As usual, we’ll see.

UPDATE: A variety of news outlets including the New York Post, Collider, and Yahoo Entertainment are going WILD with the Puck New Report. There are others but you get the point.

Happy New Year 2023 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

It’s the end of another year. Here’s hoping for a great 2023 for readers of The Spy Command.

The future of the James Bond film series is up in the air. (Who will be the next film Bond? When Bond 26 even have a script?)

Regardless, another Mission: Impossible movie is scheduled for 2023, with another in 2024. And there will be other spy entertainment along the way.

And, as Napoleon Solo reminds everyone, be sure to party responsibly this New Year’s Eve.

Happy New Year, everyone.

State of the Bond franchise: Year-end 2022

The year of the 60th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise is drawing to an end. What happens next?

The thing is, nobody outside of Eon Productions (and their film partners Amazon and MGM) really knows.

Nature abhors a vacuum. So it is with the future of the cinematic James Bond.

One U.K. tabloid, Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun, claims that Aaron Taylor-Johnson, has the inside track to be the next cinematic Bond. But nobody else has confirmed that. For now, The Sun is alone, out on that limb.

One Bond fan YouTube Channel has suggested Christopher Nolan has an inside track to be Bond 26’s director. But we’ve heard that song before.

One Spanish-language Bond fan site once claimed in 2017 that Nolan would direct Bond 25/No Time to Die. This week, that same site did a gag post saying it had confirmed Taylor-Johnson would be the new film Bond. Dec. 28 is the Spanish equivalent of April Fools. You might think that’s funny but it’s not a way to enhance your credibility.

All of this reflects a thirst, a hunger, for ANYTHING about ACTUAL, REAL information about the future of the cinematic 007.

Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, said repeatedly it would be at least two years before Bond 26 would start filming. Supposedly, Eon is doing a deep dive into Bond’s movie future.

Broccoli’s father, Albert R. Broccoli, once (between May 1985 and July 1987) changed creative direction and cast not one, but two Bond actors (Pierce Brosnan first and when that didn’t work out, Timothy Dalton).

Is this a serious deliberation? Of course. But it’s not rocket science. James Bond is James Bond. The character has been adapted to the times on numerous occasions.

Maybe, just maybe, we’ll know more in 2023.

Until then, happy New Year.

A history of Christopher Nolan as next Bond director

Christopher Nolan

There has long been fan interest in the idea of Christopher Nolan directing a James Bond film. This week, The Bond Geek channel on YouTube brought up the idea again.

Nolan is a self-confessed Bond fan. Some bits from his trilogy of Batman movies (2005, 2008, 2012) have homages to the Bond film series. So did his 2010 movie Inception, where one segment seemed based on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

What’s more, Nolan’s name comes up every so often in connection with Bond movies.

It happened in 2013 when Nolan was mentioned as a possible director for Bond 24 (finally titled SPECTRE).

It happened again in December 2017, when a fan website said Nolan was “more than likely” to direct Bond 25, finally titled No Time to Die. I’d provide the link, except the fan site apparently took the article down.

As the blog has written before, the Bond series itself has been affected by Nolan. 2012’s Skyfall had Nolan inflences. Director Sam Mendes said so.

That influence continued with SPECTRE, which had Hoyte Van Hoytema as director of photography and Lee Smith as editor.

If you bring Nolan inside the Eon 007 tent, there are other issues. With Nolan, you typically also get the involvement of his production company, Syncopy. Nolan gets a producer’s credit. So does his wife, Emma Thomas.

As usual, we’ll see. Nolan’s next film, Oppenheimer, is scheduled for release in July 2023. Here’s the trailer:

Michael Reed, OHMSS director of photography, dies

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, photographed by Michael Reed

Michael Reed, who photographed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, has died at 93, according to various James Bond websites.

Reed was director of photography on a Bond film with various “one and done” participants.Star George Lazenby and director Peter Hunt were the others. Hunt had previously edited and/or was second unit director on the five previous 007 movies made by Eon Productions. But Hunt would never direct another Bond film.

First-time director Hunt turned to Reed, a veteran of British television, to photograph Majesty’s. Reed had photographed episodes of The Saint with Roger Moore, including a two-part story that was re-edited into The Fiction Makers. Hunt also hired another British TV veteran, John Glen, who had edited episodes of Danger Man, to be editor and second unit director.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had a different look than previous Eon Bond films. A recurring motif was the use of the color purple in a casino sequence and later at Blofeld’s Switzerland laboratory.

After OHMSS, Reed’s many credits included episodes of The New Avengers, a 1970s revival of the 1960s TV show. Another Bond alumnus, art director Syd Cain, also worked on The New Avengers.

Lazenby, on his official Twitter feed, wrote a tribute to Reed:

Bond 26 questions: The Henry Cavill edition

Henry Cavill

It turns out that Henry Cavill isn’t playing Superman anymore. The actor has quit The Witcher streaming show on Netflix. So does Cavill re-enter the picture to play James Bond in Bond 26?

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Is Cavill back in the picture?

I wouldn’t go banco on that.

Much has been made how Cavill, now 39, was in contention to play Bond for Casino Royale back when he was in his early 20s.

However, we know that Eon boss Barbara Broccoli was always keen on Daniel Craig playing Bond. While there were screen tests of other actors (including Cavill), they were stalking horses to show Sony/Columbia (which would release Casino Royale) that it wasn’t a one-horse race. Except, it was a one-horse race from almost the beginning.

What about the Pierce Brosnan precedent? Eon *had* signed Brosnan in the 1980s to play Bond. But the actor’s ties to the Remington Steele TV show got in the way when NBC renewed the series at the last minute. Eon would bring Brosnan back to play Bond for GoldenEye (1995).

Eon *has never* shown that level of commitment to Cavill.

Are you skeptical that Cavill had a chance this time?

Yes.

A few years ago, the conventional wisdom was Eon wouldn’t go back to Cavill because he had played Superman and appeared in spy movies (The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in 2015 and Mission: Impossible Fallout in 2018).

Now, it could be updated by saying Cavill is damaged goods by Warner Bros. rejecting him participating in future Superman movies. And don’t forget The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie had modest box office.

Lately, Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of Eon have talked about how a future Bond actor should be younger. Then again, Daniel Craig was 37 when cast and his first Bond movie came out when he was 38.

As usual, we’ll see.

Ex-MGM executive talks about working with Eon

Michael Nathanson, an executive at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer during the Pierce Brosnan era of James Bond films, discussed what it’s like working with Eon Productions, which produces the movies.

Nathanson was president and chief operating officer at the time. He was interviewed in a November episode of The San Francisco Experience podcast.

Among the highlights:

Bond was “critically important” for MGM: “The Bond franchise was critical,” Nathanson said. “There was an active and open dialogue going on” between MGM and Eon.

Nathanson came aboard as Tomorrow Never Dies was going into production. “The Bond movie is an industry onto its own in terms of product placement, cooperative advertising and merchandise. Whenever you have a movie that has all of those components, it’s all built upon a release date.”

“Our ability to move” the release date was limited because of all the corporate partners, the former MGM executive said.

Tomorrow Never Dies had a tight schedule. Principal photography didn’t begin until spring 1997, with a Christmas release date. Post-production, in particular, had a short schedule.

Eon protects Bond as the “crown jewels:” “They protect that movie like it’s the crown jewels and it is the crown jewels for the (Broccoli) family.”

After Harry Saltzman exited the series (selling his interest to United Artists), Albert R. Broccoli “became, sort of, a tyrant, with the whole thing. A lot of that rubbed off on the children.”

To be sure, Nathanson compliments both Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.

Selecting a Bond actor: Eon was “1,000 and 10 percent” involved in picking a Bond actor.

Selecting a Bond director: “The selection of the director was always the most challenging part.” MGM and Eon often disagreed about directors, the ex-MGM executive said.

In MGM’s view, he said, Eon choices for director were “traffic cops.”

“I always believed we could really take the Bond movie to a new height if we didn’t get a traffic cop as a director.”

In the 21st century, Eon picked an “auteur” director, Sam Mendes, who helmed Skyfall and SPECTRE.

MGM had no advanced notice that Pierce Brosnan was fired as Bond: “It was always a see-saw. Keeping Pierce happy, the Broccolis not going too far with how unreasonable he was.”

MGM believed Brosnan could do one more Bond movie. But the executive got a call from Barbara Broccoli. “I’m going to tell him (Brosnan) we’re going to make a switch.”

“I was shocked,” the ex-MGM executive said. “Pierce was shattered.”

Daniel Craig as Bond:” “He had that sort-of Steve McQueen thing about him.”