Real life catches up to (some) futuristic tropes

Dick Tracy started out with a two-way wrist radio (1946), then upgraded to a two-way wrist TV (1964) and upgraded yet again to a two-way wrist computer (1986).

One of the appeals of the 1960s spy craze was how it embraced gadgets.

In From Russia With Love (1963), James Bond could be buzzed out in the field to call back to headquarters. In Goldfinger, the original version of the Aston Martin DB5 was equipped with a GPS device (a term not coined at the time). The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had communication devices of apparently unlimited range.

The spy craze was predated by the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip by Chester Gould (1900-85). The detective got his two-way wrist radio in 1946, courtesy of industrialist Diet Smith. Smith upgraded the device to a two-way wrist TV in 1964 and a two-way wrist computer in 1986.

But has real life caught up to all this?

The Screen Rant website has come out with an article saying Bond 26 will struggle to utilize gadgets.

Although the gadgets used by James Bond have always been a vital part of the franchise’s appeal, it seems unlikely that Bond 26 will be able to bring back this 007 trope.

We’ll see about that.

The 1960s spy craze had some gadgets yet to be invented. For example, episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. included “McGuffins” such as a limitless energy supply developed to repel invaders from outer space (The Double Affair), a serum that accelerates the healing of the human body (The Girls of Nazarone Affair), a mind-reading machine (The Foxes and Hounds Affair) and a device that can reverse the aging process (The Bridge of Lions Affair).

And, of course, we have yet to see anything like the Space Coupe, Diet Smith’s spacecraft with magnetic power.

From Russia With Love’s 60th conclusion: Legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Adapted from a 2013 post 

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey, as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films.

No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

More than a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

A look back at a Bond continuation story

Playboy’s publication of Midsummer Night’s Doom

In the late 1990s, Playboy magazine revived a tradition. In the 1960s, Playboy serialized James Bond short stories and novels by Ian Fleming. When Raymond Benson was hired by the Ian Fleming estate in the 1990s, Playboy renewed the connection.

The magazine first published Blast From the Past, a Benson short story ahead of the publication of his first Bond continuation novel. The story connected details from Fleming’s You Only Live Twice Novel (what happened to the son Bond fathered with Kissy Suzuki) to more recent Bond literary events.

Benson also was a friend of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner (1926-2017). So, with Benson taking over from John Garnder as continuation author, Playboy went all in.

With Playboy’s January 1999 issue, Benson’s Midsummer Night’s Doom began thusly:

Five minutes into the briefing, M turned her chair to face him and asked, “What do you know about Playboy, 007?

James Bond blinked, “Ma’am?”

The magazine, 007. how much do you know about it?”

At this point, knowing Eon Production now had a woman M (Judi Dench), Ian Fleming Publications followed stit. Toward the end of the story, the reader is informed that Hefner has long known about Bond.

Bond was amazed. “I’m surprised that you remember that day, Mr. Hefner.”

“We have always kept up with you, James,” Hefner said with a wink. “We’re a lot, you and I. And please call me Hef.”

In the movies made by Eon Productions, Bond knew a lot about Playboy. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the George Lazenby version of Bond read a copy while a machine cracked a safe. In 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery’s Bond switched his wallet with Peter Franks, a villain Bond had just killed. Bond had a Playboy Club card

In real life, Hugh Hefner helped boost Bond’s popularity in the U.S.

The 1999 short story played on all of that. Bond’s mission takes him to Hefner’s Playboy Mansion. The story even uses names of friends of Benson’s (similar to how Ian Fleming did in his originals). Benson even evokes the final line of Fleming’s final line from the author’s Goldfinger novel. “Then he brought his mouth ruthlessly down on hers.”

1965: NYT Observer column declares 007 a bungler

Oops.

Thanks to @3octaves on Twitter who referenced this column.

In early 1965, James Bond was big business. Goldfinger had been a huge hit the previous year. The next film installment, Thunderball, was in production. A double feature of the first two Bond films would be released to take advantage of Bondmania.

At The New York Times, the paper’s satiric Observer column offered a different take on April 15, 1965.

Columnist Russell Baker (1925-2019) said Bond was being analyzed by intellectuals “in terms of Freud, of Jung, of the Brothers Grimm and in one case, believe it or not, of Barry Goldwater.”

“This is a waste of good brainpower,” Baker continued. “The simple-minded truth about Bond is on the surface for everyone to see. Bond, quite simply, is a bungler.”

Wait, what?

In Goldfinger, Baker wrote, “Bond bumbles from disaster to disaster and avoids the death he so richly deserves only because his opponent, Auric Goldfinger, is even more grossly incompetent.”

Baker proceeds to examine the plot of the movie in detail, deploying a similar tone. As the column concludes, Baker summarizes Bond’s appeal. “We watch him with delight because, excepting his fatal charm with the cuties, he is one of us. He is no more qualified to handle Goldfinger than we are.”

Obviously, James Bond fans would disagree. And Baker’s column wasn’t intended to be taken seriously.

Still, reading the column is like revisiting a certain era. Baker, for example, refers to women as “cuties.” Baker won two Pulitzer Prizes (one for commentary, one for biography) and other major awards.

Saudis latest to evoke comparisons to Goldfinger

Image of murdered (and dismembered) Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Saudi Arabian government is backing a new professional golf tournament. The new tour evoked a reference to Goldfinger.

Here is an excerpt from a story by Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins:

Phil Mickelson looked like a fugitive from his own face as he cringed at questions inside his dirty new beard. Meanwhile, goons strong-armed the reporter who outed his gambling debts, and Greg Norman stood in the background orchestrating it all with a smile mirthless as Goldfinger’s. What a “fresh and fun” new thing this LIV Golf tour is.

The Saudi government is suspected of the murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi (1958-2018), who likely met his end at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi was a dissident from the Saudi government who wrote for The Washington Post. He hasn’t been heard from since entering the Istanbul consulate.

The Saudis and their new LIV tournament are challenging the U.S. Professional Golfers’ Association of America tour. The LIV tour reportedly is paying PGA players (such as Mickelson) lots of money to play on the new tour.

Regardless, the power of James Bond (and Goldfnger in particular) provides sports writers some easy comparisons.

1972: 007 debuts on U.S. Television

United Artists re-released Goldfinger in the summer of 1972 as part of a triple feature a few months before it was shown on ABC.

Adapted and updated from a 2012 post.

With all the 007 anniversaries this year, one isn’t getting much attention: the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. television showing of a James Bond film when Goldfinger was shown on The ABC Sunday Night Movie.

ABC, which had obtained the TV rights for 007 films, decided to kick off the 1972-73 season with Goldfinger, the third movie in the series made by Eon Productions.

ABC had promoted Goldfinger throughout the summer and especially during its broadcasts of the Summer Olympics in Munich, where 007 promos seemed to air every two hours, prior to the tragic kidnapping and murders of Israeli athletes.

United Artists, moving to squeeze out money from one last theatrical run, had a triple feature of Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger during the summer of 1972.

Finally, on the night of Sept. 17, 1972 (right after the eighth-season opener of The FBI), Goldfinger was broadcast to millions of homes in the U.S. Bond fans who’d seen the film in theaters were caught by surprise immediately. The classic 007 gunbarrel logo had been edited out by the network (though John Barry’s gunbarrel music arrangement remained). It would be the first in a series of changes and cuts ABC would make in the Bond movies.

The ABC broadcast of Goldfinger started at 9 p.m. New York time and ran (including commercials) until 11:15 p.m. In future showings, ABC would take out the pre-credits sequence altogether and start with the main titles so the TV broadcast would run no longer than two hours.

Still, it was a new era. ABC was the U.S. television home for Bond into the early 1990s. ABC even had a last hurrah in 2002, when the network showed the first nine 007 films in the Eon series on consecutive Saturday nights. Today, with DVDs, streaming video, video on demand, etc., none of this sounds special. But, 50 years ago, it was a big deal when agent 007 was available for the first time in living rooms.

Casino Royale’s 55th anniversary: Oh no, 007!

Adapted from a 2012 post

April Fool’s Day is as good as any occasion to note this month marks the 55th anniversary of Charles K. Feldman’s Casino Royale, the producer’s 1967 send-up of 007.

Feldman, one-time agent (Albert R. Broccoli was one of his employees) turned producer, was nobody’s fool. He had produced films in a variety of genres such as 1948’s Red River (uncredited), 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire, 1955’s The Seven Year Itch and 1965’s What’s New Pussycat.

So, when he acquired the film rights to Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel in the early 1960s, Feldman recognized it had commercial potential even as the film series produced by one-time associate Broccoli and Harry Saltzman was getting underway in 1962.

Feldman tried to entice director Howard Hawks, his one-time colleague on Red River. Hawks was interested but the director backed out after seeing an early print of Dr. No with Sean Connery.

Feldman pressed on, signing distinguished screenwriter Ben Hecht to come up with a screenplay. Details of Hecht’s work were reported in 2011 by Jeremy Duns in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper. Hecht died in 1964, while still working on the project. In 2020, Duns uncovered additional details about an attempt by Joseph Heller to adapt Fleming’s first novel.

By the 1960s, Eon’s series was reaching its peak of popularity with 1964’s Goldfinger and 1965’s Thunderball. Broccoli and Saltzman agreed to a co-production deal with Kevin McClory, holder of the film rights for Thunderball.

James Bond, The Legacy, the 2002 book by John Cork and Bruce Scivally, presents a narrative of on-and-off talks between Feldman, Broccoli, Saltzman and United Artists, the studio releasing the Broccoli-Saltzman movies. In the end, talks broke down. (Behind the scenes, Broccoli and Saltzman had their own tensions to deal with, including Saltzman’s outside ventures such as his Harry Palmer series of films.).

So Feldman opted to go for farce, but not in a small way. His movie had an estimated budget, according to IMDB.com. of $12 million. The Cork-Scivally book put the figure at $10.5 million. Either way, it was more than the $9.5 million budget of You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Broccoli-Saltzman series. Twice’s outlay included $1 million for Ken Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set.

Feldman’s film didn’t have that kind of spectacle. But he did pay money (or Columbia Pictures’ money) for talent such as John Huston (one of five credited directors), David Niven (playing the “original” James Bond, brought out of retirement, who implies the Sean Connery version of the Broccoli-Saltzman series was assigned the James Bond name by MI6), Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress (now famous because of Dr. No), William Holden, Woody Allen and….well CLICK HERE to view the entire cast and crew.

Casino Royale, however, was less than the sum of its impressive parts. The humor is uneven, it doesn’t really have a story, despite employing a number screenwriters, including Wolf Mankowitz, who introduced Broccoli and Saltzman to each other.

The’67 Casino managed a reported worldwide gross of $41.7 million. That was good in its day, though less than a third of Thunderball’s $141.7 million global box office.

Much has been written since 1967 about the stressful production, including reported feuds between Sellers and Welles. Perhaps all that took a toll on the film’s producer. Feldman died in May 1968, a little more than 13 months after Casino Royale’s premier. He was 64.

About Bond’s Oscar prospects

The 2022 Oscars show is next Sunday. No Time to Die has three nominations. What are its prospects?

The categories are Best Song, Sound and Visual Effects. A quick look at each.

Visual effects: This reminds me of the 1980 Oscars (for 1979 movies). Moonraker had a nomination but it used “old school” effects based on models and other techniques.

The 1979 007 film was up against Alien, which got the visual effects award.

No Time to Die used visual effects to alter real life. But it’s up against movies such as Dune and Spider-Man No Way Home which, essentially, created new worlds for movie audiences.

Sound: The very first Bond Oscar went to Norman Wanstall for sound with Goldfinger and Skyfall got a sound award (a tie with Zero Dark Thirty). This year, No Time to Die is up against the likes of Dune, Belfast, The Power of the Dog and Steven Spielberg’s version of West Side Story.

Best song: Bond films have been nominated in this category six times. The last two 007 movies, Skyfall and SPECTRE, won. Can No Time to Die make it a hat trick? One of the alternatives is from the animated movie Encanto and was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

We’ll see.

Bond 25 questions: The Oscars edition

No Time to Die poster

Well, the Oscar nominations are out. Good news for Bond fans: No Time to Die got three nominations. Bad news: It didn’t get any of the major ones.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

What happened? Have you paid attention? The Bond film series produced by Eon Productions has won a grand total of five Oscars over 60 years. Goldfinger got a sound award, Thunderball got a special effects award. Skyfall received a sound award (tying with Zero Dark Thirty) and best song. SPECTRE won a best song award.

Meanwhile, John Barry won five Oscars by himself but wasn’t even nominated for his Bond film work.

The Oscars are not particularly friendly to the Bond series. Films like Live And Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only got nominations and walked away empty.

For the record, No Time to Die was nominated for best song, visual effects, and sound.

But I thought this was going to be different! Well, sure, there was talk some genre movies (such as No Time to Die or Spider-Man No Way Home) might sneak in and grab one of the 10 best picture nomination slots.

Sorry. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t have a category for popularity. Once upon a time, popular movies won or at least were nominated. Que sera sera. What will be, will be.

But hey, Spider-Man No Way Home only got one nomination (visual effects). If you’re a Bond fan and want to gloat, you can seize upon that.

Are there any bright spots in this? Sure. No Time to Die is only the third Bond film to receive multiple nominations. The others were The Spy Who Loved Me (three nominations, no wins) and Skyfall (five nominations, two wins).

Any lessons to be learned? Perhaps Bond’s home studio (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) and producers (Eon) ought to roll back their expectations for big, expensive Oscar campaigns.

I wouldn’t go banco on that, however.

Dr. No’s 60th anniversary Part V: Ken Adam’s magic

Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson) gets his instructions from Dr. No on a Ken Adam-designed set.

Adapted from a 2012 post

Dr. No, the first James Bond film, had a modest $1 million budget. Ken Adam, the movie’s production designer, performed some magic that disguised that fact, making the film look more expensive than it really was. In doing so, the designer helped make James Bond’s world a special one.

Adam’s work on the initial 007 film included Dr. No’s living quarters, a mix of modern and antique; a mostly empty room with a large circular grille in the roof where an unseen Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) provides instructions to his lackey Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson); and Dr. No’s control room, complete with nuclear reactor, perfect for any ambitious villain.

Adam’s work had an immediate effect: director Stanley Kubrick snatched Adam up to work on Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In that capacity, Adam’s sets included the Pentagon “war room.” That image has been said to prompt Ronald Reagan, upon becoming U.S. president in 1981, to inquire about seeing the place (CLICK HERE to see a 2001 story in the The Guardian that references this or CLICK HERE for a 2009 review of the movie that also makes mention of it.)

Ken Adam

In any case, 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, after having to forgo Adam’s services for From Russia With Love, made sure the designer was on board for Goldfinger. Adam’s sets got more elaborate. Some had moving sections, such as the room Goldfinger describes his plans to raid Fort Knox. Of course, there was the interior of Fort Knox itself.

Adam’s work influenced other ’60s spy movies. Films such as Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and The Ambushers had scenes where a villain has quarters with moving sections. Adam, though, got more money to play with than his rivals, coming up with the Disco Volante (where a lead hydrofoil could separate from the rear section of the craft) in Thunderball and Blofeld’s volcano headquarters in You Only Live Twice.

Adam (1921-2016) was already a veteran designer when Dr. No came along. He helped make Bond movies special. Adam has worked on less than one-third of the Eon Productions-produced Bond movies and his last 007 credit was 1979’s Moonraker. But his work still stands out and remains the standard others are judged by.

Audiences received yet another reminder of that with 2021’s No Time to Die. Mark Tildesley, the production designer, did an homage to Adam’s circular grille. It was part of the lair of the movie’s villain, Safin played by Rami Malek.

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

NEXT: Legacy