007’s love-hate relationship with The Beatles

Poster for A Hard Day’s Night starring The Beatles, another United Artists profit engine.

By J. H. Bográn, Guest Writer

Although it’s hard to imagine now, there was a time when some people didn’t like the music from The Beatles. Back in 1964, the group was still a relatively new band that the teenagers went crazy over. In contrast, adults thought of The Beatles as a fad, as ephemeral as a lightening. Oh, and they also thought The Beatles made nothing but noise.

1964 was the year Goldfinger was released. The movie is consistently in everybody’s top-five lists of James Bond’s movies. One scene in particular offers undisputed proof of the loathing that then-adults had for such musical styling. Upon finding a champagne bottle gone hot James utters this admonition to a wide-eyed Jill Masterson:

“My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!

Shocking, isn’t it? Positively shocking. The truth is that every adult thinks of the next generation’s music as garbage. There’s even a term for it: Generational Gap. During the ’60s the producers, directors and even actors in the Bond films were way above their 30s and The Beatles was the music of teenagers. Of course, they’d hate it.

It should be noted that both Bond (via the series produced by Eon Productions) and movies featuring The Beatles were major contributors to the profits of United Artists in the 1960s.

Now, fast forward to the next decade when the same producers wanted to introduce another actor in the role made famous by Sean Connery.

They were careful and hesitant. After all, they had attempted the same feat four years earlier with the then-unknown George Lazenby, a man who had a passing resemblance to Connery in that they were both broad-shouldered, black haired and squared-faced.

This time they were using a dark blond thinner man that had had his bit of fame in the small screen with The Saint. Still, the producers insisted on Roger Moore went a different way from Connery in every possible way.

That premeditated distance meant Bollinger replaced Dom Perignon. Gone were the cigarettes and in their place Moore smoked cigars when he was not making snake barbecue.

Design for LIve And Let Die’s soundtrack album

Not to mention the absence of vodka dry Martinis, Moore ordered Bourbon. By my count, Bond lost two Walter PPKs in the course of this adventure, and thus for the final battle he sported a heavy silver-plated revolver—perhaps influenced by 1971’s Dirty Harry.

There was one other major difference: The artist playing the title song was none other than a former Beatle, and the producers loved him enough they removed the earmuffs!

Paul McCartney’s song (written with Linda McCartney) went on to become a Bond classic in its own right. Of course, ten years had passed and The Beatles had proven themselves as artists with staying power, even after they broke up. Furthermore, the youngsters from the early ’60s had grown up and they were the target audience for the ’70s. What a difference a decade can make.

What’s more, former Beatles producer George Martin (1926-2016) helped sell producer Harry Saltzman on the song. Martin also scored the movie.

Despite its flaws, Live and Let Die has endured and has become Moore’s best performance of the character—perhaps followed closely by For Your Eyes Only. The self-imposed distance must have helped.

Then again, the old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same is also true in this instance.

Moore wasn’t imitating Connery, but as part of an ongoing series the movie kept enough mementos of the previous decade: Bond wore a Rolex as in Goldfinger; there were sharks like in Thunderball; and of course, double-entendre quips still ruled. “Sheer magnetism,” says Bond as he lowers the zipper of an Italian agent’s dress with a magnet.

J.H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. For more details, check out his website, http://www.jhbogran.com.

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Why this blog posts obituaries

Guy Hamilton

The tragic death of Chris Cornell this week was a reminder why this blog publishes so many obituaries.

Cornell’s death by suicide was sudden. To be honest, the blog’s obit was published so quickly because the Spy Command was up in the middle of the night and saw the news.

Obits are as much about lives led as they are the deaths that ended them.

Essentially, obituaries are a very rough first draft of the biographies of prominent people.

A little over a year ago, the blog began writing “prepared obituaries.” In the first part of 2016, the likes of George Martin, Ken Adam and others had died. They were in their 90s.

So the blog began writing prepared obits. The first one published was for Guy Hamilton, a four-time 007 film director whose credits included Goldfinger. The blog’s obit for Hamilton was, literally, written two days before his death. That was, admittedly, a little spooky.

If this sounds ghoulish, it’s not. The New York Times first wrote an obit for Fidel Castro in the 1950s when he was hiding in the jungles of Cuba. The idea is that the rough first-draft biography be as good as it can possibly be.

The blog has posted other prepared obits when those involved died. They included actor Mike Connors and television producer Bruce Lansbury.

Still, the blog is a hobby. This isn’t a major news organization that has an obituary desk. From time to time, there are sudden deaths, such as actor Robert Vaughn and Chris Cornell, that had to be written quickly.

Given that a lot of what the blog writes about originated more than a half-century ago, this is the way of the world.

It’s not fun by any means. But those who’ve departed deserve an appropriate send off. And that’s why the blog spends as much time on obits as it does.

Happy 89th birthday, Roger Moore

Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Roger Moore in his first 007 film, Live And Let Die (1973)

Oct. 14 is the 89th birthday of Sir Roger Moore, the seven-time film 007.

He’s the oldest of the movie Bonds. He’s also at that stage of life where you’re saying your final good-byes to people you’ve known.

This year, on HIS TWITTER FEED, he’s posted about the passing of Guy Hamilton (director of his first two 007 films), Ken Adam (“a friend, a visionary and the man who defined the look of the James Bond films”) and George Martin (“He made my first Bond film sound brilliant!”).

In 2015, he did the same for acting colleagues Patrick Macnee (“true gent”) and Christopher Lee (“one of my oldest” friends). He had known both long before they had appeared in his Bond movies.

Such farewells, as hard as they are, are the way of the world. The actor also lost his 47-year-old stepdaughter Christina Knudsen because of cancer this past summer.

Still, of all the movie Bonds, Moore carries on as the most active ambassador for the 007 movie franchise. Example: THIS PROMO for AN INTERVIEW he did for the James Bond Radio website.

It’s a great “get” for James Bond Radio. But it also shows how the actor still carries the 007 banner.

At a time nobody has any idea when the next James Bond film will come out, that’s reassuring.

Happy birthday, Sir Roger.

007 film franchise at mid-year

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The year is half over and the first six months of 2016 has been a bit of an odd one for the James Bond film franchise.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: The lack of real news.

At the end of 2015, we ran a post about Bond 25 news to look for this year. Have we got egg on our face so far.

Bond 25 distributor selected by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio? Nope.

Bond 25 release date? You can’t have that without a distributor. Bond 25 director revealed? No, again.

Daniel Craig decides if he’s coming back or not? If he has, nobody has said anything officially. The Daily Mail in March and 007 Magazine (in a Facebook post in June) had stories with sources they didn’t identify said Craig has quit.

BIGGEST NEWS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED? Obituaries as major series contributors passed away.

Four-time director Guy Hamilton, seven-time production designer Ken Adam and Live And Let Die composer George Martin all died. All left a mark on the 007 films.

Hamilton directed the series’ first mega-hit, Goldfinger. Adam’s stupendous set designs, such as the Fort Knox interior in Goldfinger, in effect created a world for the film Bond to call his own. Martin, the one-time Beatles producer, was instrumental in selling the Paul and Linda McCartney title song for Live And Let Die to producer Harry Saltzman.

Seven-time 007 star Roger Moore took to Twitter following each death. After Hamilton’s death in April, his tweet included this line: “2016 is horrid.” Many fans probably felt the same way.

THINGS TO WATCH: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s finances continued to improve after the 2010 bankruptcy of the studio.

That’s not as sexy a story as whether they’ll be a new James Bond or not. But, potentially, it could be significiant. Various MGM financial turmoils in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s negatively affected the Bond franchise. So, financial stability at MGM would be a good thing for the film 007.

MGM wants to be a publicly held company in the next three to five years. Presumably, MGM’s interest in the 007 franchise will be a selling point if and when that occurs.

Live And Let Die: a soundtrack to listen without earmuffs

Design for LIve And Let Die's soundtrack album

Design for LIve And Let Die’s soundtrack album

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

George Martin was the first composer to face the challenge that would later come to Marvin Hamlisch, Bill Conti, Michael Kamen, Eric Serra, David Arnold and Thomas Newman: to replace the role of John Barry in a James Bond movie.

The soundtrack is an important part of every movie, and the James Bond films are not an exception. From Dr. No to Diamonds Are Forever, Barry had put his talent to the service of Eon Productions and set the standard for “the spy music,” either with dramatic sounds for Thunderball, funny melodies for Goldfinger or an Asian flavor for 007’s incursion into the east with You Only Live Twice. No matter what vibe he took, the John Barry cues always fitted the words “spy music.”

But in 1973, John Barry was busy composing a musical and unable to score Roger Moore’s debut in the franchise, Live and Let Die. He suggested George Martin, who had been producer of The Beatles.

It was a huge challenge: a new Bond had to be introduced and a new era in the series had begun. And every time a new actor is seen in the 007 gunbarrel logo, the composer has to adapt his tunes to the interpretative style of the new Bond and other topics of the movie: the script, the settings and the period of time.

George Martin was the first to take up the challenge of following in Barry’s footsteps and passed with flying colors. The score for Live and Let Die is explosive, adrenaline filled and exotic.

Tracks like “Trespassers will be Eaten,”, “Bond to New York” and “Whisper who Dares” capture the adventurist feeling of Roger Moore’s Bond adding an atmosphere of thrills and excitement. “Bond meets Solitaire” and “The Lovers” accentuate the delicateness of Jane Seymour’s Solitaire.

The Caribbean flavor of the film is transpired in tracks like “San Monique,” “Sacrifice” and “Baron Samedi’s Dance of Death” while the main motif of the title song is repeated often through the album, either to cue action sequences like the boat chase or as a source music, in a soul version performed by B J Arnau as James and Felix visit the Fillet of Soul bar.

The main title song, Live and Let Die, was also produced by George Martin who insisted to producer Harry Saltzman to hire Paul McCartney for the title song, warning him he’d drop the project if he refused.

Saltzman, a man hard to convince, went for the deal and Martin wasn’t wrong: the song, written by Paul and his wife Linda the same day they finished Ian Fleming’s novel, was the first Bond theme to get an Oscar nomination and it’s widely admired by Bond fans, brilliantly striking with Maurice Binder’s terrifying and colorful main title sequence.

Just like You Only Live Twice’s Asian feeling, Goldfinger’s swinging melody and Diamonds Are Forever’s luscious sound, Live and Let Die lets the influence of the new decade (the 1970s) fill into the soundtrack in a clever and representative way.

George Martin proved indeed the golden sound of Bond, established by John Barry, could be provided by many talented composers.

George Martin lives and let dies at 90

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

George Martin, producer for The Beatles and a key musical contributor for Live And Let Die, has died at 90, ACCORDING TO AN OBITUARY IN THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

Obituaries understandably concentrated on his work with The Beatles. But he was also a major contributor for the eighth James Bond film, helping to sell the Paul and Linda McCartney title song to producer Harry Saltzman as well as scoring the film.

Paul McCartney sought Martin’s help in preparing a demo version of Live And Let Die. McCartney wanted a big sound, something that would rival John Barry’s work on the 007 series.

Martin presented the demo to Saltzman, who liked the song but wanted a female singer to perform it. In a 2006 television special, Martin recalled he had to finally tell the producer that it was a package deal — he either took the song and McCartney or got nothing. Saltzman chose wisely and took the package. The title song would be nominated for an Oscar, losing out to The Way We Were.

Live And Let Die marked a new era, with a new 007 (Roger Moore). Its title song was the series first truly Bond rock song. In a 2006 U.K. survey about Bond songs, Live And Let Die ranked third overall and No. 1 among those 45 and younger.

Martin also took on the task of taking over the scoring chores from Barry, who had established the 007 film sound. He deftly wove the title song into the score while preserving elements of Barry’s musical template.

Roger Moore took to Twitter to note Martin’s contributions to the film:

Live And Let Die’s 40th: the post-Connery era truly begins

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

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 40 years ago this month, 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 television series. Older than Connery, Moore would eventually 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 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 possibly continue 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 several 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’