Case study: How your views of 007 films evolve

Original 007 gunbarrel logo with Bob Simmons subbing for Sean Connery.

Following the release of 2006’s Casino Royale, the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website commissioned an interesting project. It asked all of its contributors to score all of the Eon 007 films plus Never Say Never Again.

The scores were then assigned points and the various films ranked. It was a very detailed effort.

While HMSS has been offline since 2014, much of it has been preserved at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine website. And that includes the survey of HMSS contributors.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not linking to the survey. Anyone else who participated in that HMSS survey can speak up for themselves if they’d like. I’m just keeping this post to my own ups and downs with the Bond films.

Still, viewing my own comments in that survey, I can appreciate how feelings about different series entries can vary over time.

So, to begin with, my harshest rating (D) and comments were for Moonraker.

Roger Moore looks like he’s sleepwalking at times (though he has a couple of good scenes). The hovercraft scene almost ruins a decent chase scene in Venice. The outer space effects are OK but not up to Lucasfilm levels. Too jokey at times…Ken Adam and John Barry are again the real stars of the film.

I still dislike elements now that I did then (pigeons doing double takes, Jaws flapping his arms when his parachute malfunctions, less-than-subtle product placement for Marlboro, British Airways and 7-Up).

At the same time, I’m more accepting of what Moonraker for what it is. The film was incredibly ambitious in terms of spectacle (and was even more so in its first-draft script). And, looking back, I was too harsh on Roger Moore, though I thought his performance in For Your Eyes Only was better.

Put simply, I’m more forgiving of the movie for its flaws, more enthusiastic about its strong points.

For what it’s worth, my grade wasn’t the lowest in that survey. There were two D-Minus grades and an F.

Speaking of For Your Eyes Only, I had the highest grade in that survey for that film, an A.

“The opening scene at the cemetery clearly shows this film is going to be different than Moonraker,” I wrote at the time. “The quick end for Blofeld didn’t bother me that much, but as many fans, the line, ‘I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel’ makes me groan.”

I saw For Your Eyes Only again in a theater in 2017, part of a tribute to Moore after his death in May of that year. Viewing it again on a movie screen with an audience pretty much reinforced how I felt. Perhaps it was because the 1981 film seemed more in line with the Bond films of the 21st century.

Finally, one more: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Over the past 20 years or so, people have made the case for why this should be considered in the top three (or so) of Bond films.

My grade was B, which lagged the pack (there were four A grades and one A-plus).  What held me back was George Lazenby’s inexperience.

Extremely faithful adaptation of one of Fleming’s best. Lazenby’s inexperience is evident. On the other hand, would Connery have cried at the end? Diana Rigg is a major plus. Telly Savalas is OK as Blofeld. Probably Richard Maibaum’s best script for the series. Ken Adam is gone but not really missed. John Barry hits on all cylinders.

If pressed, I’d probably give it a higher grade today. Still, I don’t think it’d be the greatest Bond film if Sean Connery had done it.

Had Majesty’s been done for 1967 instead of You Only Live Twice, we wouldn’t have gotten Peter Hunt as director. We now know thanks to the book The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service details of various script drafts, including one that included an underwater Aston Martin.

Hunt being installed in the director’s chair after editing the first five Eon 007 films had a major impact. In a lot of ways, the 1969 version of Majesty’s was catching lightning in a bottle.

Working on a film set

Peter Hunt during an interview.

For the past week or so, there have been numerous stories about supposedly grim feelings on the Bond 25 set.

The thing is, given how unnatural it is to work on a movie, it’s surprising there aren’t even more accounts about unease on film sets.

With On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, first-time director Peter Hunt played mind games with first-time actor George Lazenby during the film’s critical ending scene.

“I would make him sit and wait and get a bit nervous,” Hunt said of Lazenby said in an interview for the documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “I wanted him to feel nervous and uptight.”

It’s not just Bond films, of course. Martin Landau, as part of a TCM video, talked about feeling insecure during filming of a scene in North by Northwest.

Landau talked about how director Alfred Hitchcock whispered direction to Cary Grant, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint. Landau approached Hitchcock whether he wanted the tell the actor anything.

“Martin, I’ll only tell you if I don’t like what you’re doing,” Landau quoted Hitchcock as saying while doing a Hitch impersonation.

Working on a film (for actors, anyway) involves waiting a long time while the director of photography and other crew members get things ready to film a scene. For actors, doing a play is more natural. But films pay better.

Bond 25 may, or may not, have had a lot of tension on the set so far. Regardless, making movies isn’t a 9-to-5 job. We won’t really know how it’s going until the finished product is ready for viewing.

Christmas themed spy-related entertainment

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

The holidays are fast approaching. With that in mind, the blog is reminded of some Christmas-themed spy-related entertainment.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The sixth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions may not be an “official” Christmas film but it’ll do.

James Bond (George Lazenby) is hunting for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) while also falling in love with Tracy (Diana Rigg).

This time out, Blofeld has brainwashed his “angels of death,” who will spread “virus Omega” at the villain’s command. If that happens, that will wipe out all sorts of crops and livestock.

Bond manages to go undercover at Blofeld’s lair in Switzerland but is discovered. Blofeld sends out his latest batch of “angels” on Christmas Eve. Bond manages to escape, meets up with Tracy.

Bond proposes to Tracy, but she gets captured by Blofeld, setting up a big climatic sequence.

It was the first Bond film to end unhappily when Tracy is killed on her honeymoon with Bond. It’s arguably the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel and an epic film in its own right. And, for what it’s worth, there are many reminders of Christmas during the Switzerland sequences.

Teaser trailer for Diamonds Are Forever: Diamonds Are Forever was released for the Christmas move season of 1971. The teaser trailer played up the Christmas angle.

The movie also marked Sean Connery’s return as Bond after a four-year absence. But the teaser trailer had a gunbarrel without Connery (but still wearing a hat).

Teaser trailer for The Man With the Golden Gun: The teaser trailer for Roger Moore’s second 007 film utilized a similar Christmas theme.

On top of that, the trailer had a scene between Bond and Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) that didn’t make it into the final film.

Chairman Koz makes a point to Solo and Illya in The Jingle Bells Affair

The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Jingle Bells Affair (first broadcast Dec. 23, 1966): The story begins in New York during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (the start of the Christmas shopping season). U.N.C.L.E. agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin (the latter, after all, a Russian) are acting as bodyguards for a Soviet leader, Chairman Koz (Akim Tamiroff).

Why Soviet? In one scene in Act III, Koz slams a shoe down on a desk, a la Nikita Khrushchev.

At one point, Koz gets separated from the U.N.C.L.E. agents and dresses as Santa Claus and interacts with children. Koz, dressed as Santa, helps to save the life of a sick kid. In the end, East and West call a truce and wish everyone Merry Christmas.

This was a third-season episode when the series went in a campy direction. The Spy Commander’s review on the third-season page of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode guide doesn’t give it a high grade.

The FBI: Dark Christmas (first broadcast Dec. 24, 1972): FBI Inspector (Erskine) and Special Agent Colby (William Reynolds) are on the trail of a hit man (Don Gordon). The hit man’s target is a family man who once was involved in a criminal organization but got out.

The case reaches a climax on Christmas Eve. The family man is coming home from a job but doesn’t know the hit man is waiting for him at his home. Colby and other FBI agents get the man’s children to safety. Erskine then confronts and apprehends the hit man. Until Act IV, the episode is a basic procedural show. The Christmas themes are mostly in the final act and epilogue.

While The FBI wasn’t a spy show per se, it had a lot of espionage-related stories. Also, it’s the subject of another website of the Spy Commander, The FBI episode guide. This episode gets a relatively high grade on the eight-season page.

Note: This was an early credit for Sondra Locke (1944-2018), who plays a spinster-like character who falls for Gordon’s character.

007 poll shows the devil is in the details

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Earlier this month, the Morning Consult and the Hollywood Reporter conducted a poll of almost 2,100 Americans about James Bond films. Here are two greatly different headlines summarizing the results.

Morning Consult’s report: “007 Poll Shows Scant Support for Diversifying Bonds.”

The Express, U.K. tabloid: “James Bond: Most Americans support a black 007 – Idris Elba BACKED to replace Daniel Craig.”

They’re both right but you have to dig into the data to see why.

According to Morning Consult, 51 percent of adult respondents said “the James Bond series was a classic and nothing about it should be changed, a 17-percentage-point edge over those who said they’d prefer to see the film adapt to the times and have a more diverse cast and lead.”

However, those polled were then asked additional groups about different groups and individuals.

Among groups, 52 percent of adults said they support the idea of a black James Bond, with 20 percent having no opinion and 29 percent opposing.

Also, 39 percent support a Hispanic Bond, 37 percent support an Asian Bond, 37 percent supported a female Bond and 28 percent support a gay Bond.

Meanwhile, when asked specifically about Idris Elba, 63 percent said  they wanted to see him play Bond, with only 21 percent opposed.

Meanwhile, Morning Consult had more details about how respondents feel about agent 007.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the adults polled said they’d at least watched some of the series. And with a net favorability of 62 points, only “Back to the Future” (74 points) and “Indiana Jones” (72 points) were more popular among films made before the 1990s. (“Toy Story” was the most popular movie franchise out of 34 series tested, while “Back to the Future” was second.)

The poll also tackled the issue of who is the most popular actor to play Bond in the Eon Productions series.

Most popular 007 film and Bond actor among Americans polled: Goldfinger and Sean Connery. 

Sean Connery was No. 1 at 82 percent, with Pierce Brosnan right behind at 81 percent. Roger Moore, who made 007 entries in the Eon series, was No. 3 at 74 percent, followed by current Bond Daniel Craig at 71 percent. The least popular Bond actors were Timothy Dalton at 49 percent and George Lazenby at 31 percent.

There’s also the question of favorite 007 films of Americans. Morning Consult again sued a “net favorability” number. On that basis, the top five were: Goldfinger (plus 69), From Russia With Love (plus 66), Live And Let Die (plus 66), Diamonds Are Forever (plus 65) and For Your Eyes Only (plus 64).

The highest Daniel Craig 007 film was his debut, Casino Royale, at No. 6 (plus 63), tied with You Only Live Twice.

The bottom? The Living Daylights, Dalton’s debut, (plus 48). SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, was next at plus 49.

Fan sites post videos about Laz at the Spy Museum

On Oct. 5, Global James Bond Day, there was a James Bond-related event at the International Spy Museum in Washington. The headliner was George Lazenby, 79, who played 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Proprietors of James Bond fan sites have now posted videos about the event.

Here’s the video posted by the James Bond Experience. There’s a short introduction followed by Lazenby talking to the audience.

Also posting a video was Being James Bond’s Joseph Darlington. It’s a summary of the event and a an exhibit about Bond villains that will close at the end of the year.

Discussion of the event begins around the 15:45 mark. The video below is set up to begin then when you click on it. However, you may want to check the preceding segment. Darlington presents his wish list of five things he’d like to see in Bond 25 and future 007 films.

Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s 35th anniversary

Robert Vaughn and David McCallum in a publicity still for The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Adapted from a 2013 post with updates.

You can’t keep a good man down. So it was for former U.N.C.L.E. spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, who made a return 35 years ago.

The intrepid agents, again played by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, were back after a 15-year absence. This time they appeared in a made-for-television movie broadcast in April 1983 on CBS, instead of NBC, home of the original 1964-68 series.

It was a mixed homecoming. Return’s script, penned by executive producer Michael Sloan, recycled the plot of Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film. Thrush steals two nuclear bombs from a U.S. military aircraft. Thrush operative Janus (Geoffrey Lewis) boasts that the criminal organization is now “a nuclear power.” Yawn. Thrush was much more ambitious in the old days.

The show had been sold to NBC as “James Bond for television.” Sloan & Co. took the idea literally, hiring one-time 007 George Lazenby to play “JB,” who happens to drive as Aston Martin DB5. JB helps Solo, who has just been recalled to active duty for U.N.C.L.E., to get out of a jam in Las Vegas.

In a sense, this TV movie was a footnote to 1983’s “Battle of the Bonds.” Roger Moore and Sean Connery were starring in dueling 007 films, Octopussy and Never Say Never Again respectively.

As a result, for a time in 1982, when the two Bond films and this TV movie were in production, all three Bond film actors up to that time were either playing 007 or a reasonable facisimile..

The original U.N.C.L.E. had been filmed no further out that about 30 miles from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s studio in Culver City, California. Return was really filmed in and around Las Vegas, with the desert nearby substituting for Libya, where Thrush chieftain Justin Sepheran (Anthony Zerbe) has established his headquarters.

lazuncle

George Lazenby’s title card in the main titles of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Vaughn and McCallum, being old pros, make the best of the material they’re given, especially when they appear together. That’s not often, as it turns out. After being reunited, they pursue the affair from different angles. Solo has to put up with skeptical U.N.C.L.E. agent Kowalski (Tom Mason), who complains out loud about new U.N.C.L.E. chief Sir John Raleigh (Patrick Macnee) bringing back two aging ex-operatives.

Sloan did end up bringing in two crew members of the original series: composer Gerald Fried, who worked on the second through fourth seasons, and director of photography Fred Koenekamp, who had photographed 90 U.N.C.L.E. episodes from 1964 through 1967.

Also on the crew was Robert Short, listed as a technical adviser. He and Danny Biederman had attempted to put together an U.N.C.L.E. feature film. Their project eventually was rejected in favor of Sloan’s TV movie.

In the end, the April 5, 1983 broadcast produced respectable ratings. CBS, however, passed on committing to a new U.N.C.L.E. series.

For a long time, Return remained the last official U.N.C.L.E. production. Another U.N.C.L.E. project wouldn’t be seen until 2015. That’s when The Man From U.N.C.L.E. film debuted. It had an “origin” story line, didn’t feature many of the familiar U.N.C.L.E. memes and revised the back stories of Solo and Kuryakin.

In 2013, the blog did a post about Return’s 30th anniversary. Since then Vaughn, Macnee and Koenekamp have died.

For a more detailed review of The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., CLICK HERE.

MI6 Confidential brings out 2 new publications

Peter Lamont

MI6 Confidential is bringing out two new publications.

The first is a 100-page special publication focused on Peter Lamont’s work on 1973’s Live And Let Die.

In the publication, “Peter tells the story of making the film, location by location, as they appear in the film. It is lavishly illustrated with rare stills from the film, behind the scenes photographs never committed to print, and notes and storyboards from Lamont’s personal collection,” according to the MI6 Confidential website.

Lamont had the title of co-art director on the film. He worked on the 007 film series in various art department capacities starting with Goldfinger and running through Casino Royale. The only Bond film he missed was 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies because he was production designer on Titanic.

The other publication is issue 42 of the regular MI6 Confidential magazine. It concentrates on George Lazenby and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Included is a story about Lazenby and “007’s lifelong shadow” on the actor as well as a feature on Diana Rigg.

To order the 100-page special, CLICK HERE. The price is 17 British pounds, $22 or 19.50 euros.

To order MI6 Confidential No. 42, CLICK HERE. The price is 7 British pounds, $10 or 8.50 euros.