About those MGM sales talks and Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The New York Post reported that an unknown Chinese buyer is negotiating to buy Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio.

The Post’s sister paper, The Wall Street Journal, followed up by saying MGM had been in talks with a Chinese buyer but the negotiations broke off last year.

How all this applies to Bond 25?

This may explain why MGM never reached a Bond 25 distribution deal

Back in March 2016, MGM said it was in no hurry to negotiate a new Bond movie distribution deal. If the Post and Journal are accurate (that MGM at least *had* talks with a would-be Chinese purchaser), the reason is obvious.

MGM CEO Gary Barber had bigger things on his mind. James Bond may be MGM’s biggest asset, but whether to sell the company or not is bigger (from the perspective of an MGM CEO) than that.

Such talks may have slowed the pace of Bond 25 development

Until there’s a studio that can distribute Bond 25, a new 007 production can’t reach theaters.

Following its 2010 bankruptcy, MGM no longer had a distribution operation. Since then, it has negotiated co-financing and distribution deals with other studios. Maybe that would have changed if a Chinese concern acquired MGM. If the Journal is correct, we’ll never know.

Regardless, MGM negotiating to sell to the Chinese probably would have sent any talks with other U.S.-based studios to distribute Bond 25 to the back burner.

Where do we go from here?

Your guess is as good as this blog’s. However, this is a reminder that Bond is tethered to a weak studio.

MGM bought United Artists in 1981. UA, years earlier, got control of half of the Bond franchise when Harry Saltzman, co-founder of Eon Productions, sold out because of financial troubles.

The MGM soap opera changes in some regards (executives come, executives go) but not in others.  MGM’s glory days are long gone.

 

MGM sale to Chinese not happening, WSJ says

MGM logo

A sale of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, to a Chinese buyer isn’t happening, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Talks broke down between MGM and several Chinese companies late last year, an apparent casualty of China’s move to stanch capital outflows that has stalled the country’s shopping spree in Hollywood, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Journal reported.

“An MGM sale would have been among the biggest-ticket and highest-profile such acquisitions, but its failure to materialize is evidence of a twist ending that few in Hollywood expected,” according to the story by three Journal reporters.

Earlier, the New York Post reported that MGM was in talks with a Chinese buyer it didn’t identify. Both the Journal and Post are owned by News Corp., controlled by Rupert Muchoch.

Uncertainty at MGM would have an adverse effect on the 007 film franchise. MGM has been involved with Bond since it acquired United Artists in 1981. UA, in 1975, acquired half of the franchise after Eon Productions co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out because of financial troubles.

MGM emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 as a smaller company, unable to release its own films. MGM cuts deals with other studios to co-finance and release those movies, including the Bond series.

An MGM spokeswoman told the Journal that the studio wasn’t for sale.

Here’s an excerpt from the Journal story about the broader issues facing Hollywood and China:

The economic-policy changes in China come amid mounting protectionist rhetoric in the U.S. from the administration of President Donald Trump.

“We’ve heard from both [private-equity] firms and investment banks that China investment activity around [Hollywood] assets started to wane just prior to the election and is almost nonexistent now,” said Chris Fenton, a trustee of the U.S.-Asia Institute, which organizes congressional delegations to China, and president of DMG Entertainment, a media company headquartered in Beverly Hills and Beijing.

“No China entity wants to be the first to test” the heated rhetoric on the U.S. side and the capital controls on the Chinese side, he added.

The last four Bond films have actually been released by Sony Pictures. Sony’s most recent two-picture 007 deal expired with 2015’s SPECTRE.

 

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 40th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 40 years ago this year, showed the cinema 007 was more than capable of rolling with the punches.

Global box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, plunged almost 40 percent from Live And Let Die, the debut for star Roger Moore. For a time, things got worse from there.

The partnership between 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, unsteady for years, ruptured. Eventually, Saltzman was bought out by United Artists, leaving Broccoli in command. But that was hardly the end of difficulties.

Kevin McClory re-entered the picture. He had agreed not to make a Bond movie with his Thunderball rights for a decade. That period expired and McClory wanted to get back into the Bond market. Eventually, court fights permitted Broccoli’s effort for the 10th James Bond movie to proceed while McClory couldn’t mount a competing effort.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Numerous writers (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant) tried their hand at crafting a new 007 tale.

Finally, a script credited to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, with uncredited rewriting by Tom Mankiewicz, emerged.

Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct his fifth Bond movie but left the project. That paved the way for the return of Lewis Gilbert, who helmed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. It was Gilbert who brought Christopher Wood to work on the script.

The final film would resemble Twice. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

With Saltzman gone, Cubby made his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, a key player in the production. Wilson was already on the Eon Productions payroll and was involved in the negotiations that saw Saltzman’s departure.

For Spy, Wilson’s official credit was “special assistant to producer” and it was in small type in the main titles. However, Spy was that downplayed Wilson’s role. An early version of Spy’s movie poster listed Wilson, but not production designer Ken Adam, whose name had been included in the posters for Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

UA, now in possession of Saltzman’s former stake in the franchise, doubled down, almost doubling the $7 million budget of Golden Gun.

In the end, it all worked. Bond shrugged off all the blows.

Spy generated $185.4 million in worldwide box office in the summer of 1977, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.)

Roger Moore, making his third Bond movie, would later (in Inside The Spy Who Loved Me documentary) call Spy his favorite 007 film.

The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for sets (designed by Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), its score (Marvin Hamlisch) and its title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). None, however, won. 

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.

Fun with numbers: Most popular Bond in U.S.

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Consider this post fun with numbers on a holiday: Who was the most popular James Bond in the United States when it comes to getting people to actually pay for a movie ticket?

If you guessed Sean Connery, the original film 007, you’re right and it’s not much of a surprise. But available statistics show how dominant the Scotsman was in the U.S. when it came to Bond movies.

On Box Office Mojo, you can find a list of Bond films by estimated number of tickets sold in the U.S. It has 25 films, the 24 made by Eon Productions plus 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

By that measure, Connery 007 films comprise five of the top 10 Bond movies.

In order: Thunderball (1), Goldfinger (2), You Only Live Twice (4), From Russia With Love (8) and Diamonds Are Forever (9).

In that top 10, two actors are tied at two apiece. Daniel Craig has Skyfall (3) and Casino Royale (10). Pierce Brosnan has Die Another Day (6) and Tomorrow Never Dies (7).

Rounding out the top 10 is Roger Moore with Moonraker (5).

Looking at the list, there’s a surprise or two.

Live And Let Die in 1973 and The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 were big hits globally at the time of their release.

Live And Let Die, Moore’s debut and featuring a Paul McCartney title song, was the first Bond movie to exceed Thunderball at the worldwide box office. Spy re-energized the franchise after the split of producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

But on the U.S. list of ticket purchases, Spy shows up  at No. 16. It’s edged out by Octopussy at No. 15. Meanwhile, Live And Let Die is No. 17.

Curious about how George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton did? Well, Lazenby’s sole 007 effort, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is No. 21. Dalton’s two Bond films come in at No. 23 (The Living Daylights) and No. 25 (Licence to Kill).

Finally, Connery isn’t completely invincible on this list. Dr. No, the first Bond film (which came to the U.S. in 1963) is No. 19. Never Say Never Again, Connery’s effort to do a Bond without Albert R. Broccoli, is No. 20.

If you’re a James Bond fan in general, or of a specific 007 actor, none of this should really matter.

Even when keeping it to tickets purchased, comparisons across decades are a dicey thing. For example, movie going habits have changed. In the 1960s, people went more often to the movies than they do now.

Diamonds’ 45th: Rodney Dangerfield of 007 films

Diamonds Are Forever poster

Diamonds Are Forever poster

When Diamonds Are Forever came out 45 years ago this month, it was a huge deal. Sean Connery was back! Everything was back to normal in 007 land.

Nowadays, Diamonds is more like the Rodney Dangerfield of James Bond films, not getting any respect.

Some fans complain about too much humor, about Connery not being in shape, about Blofeld (Charles Gray) dressing in drag as a disguise and about Bond’s wardrobe (his fat, pink tie in particular).

Perhaps the biggest advocate of the movie is former United Artists executive David Picker. In his 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybes and Nevers, he says Diamonds saved the Bond series because he got the idea of paying Connery a lot of money to return as 007.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had cast American John Gavin in the role. But UA became more hands on with the seventh film in the series compared with previous entries. UA (via Picker) didn’t want to take a chance after George Lazenby played Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Regardless, Diamonds reflected the creative team’s desire to get back to the style of Goldfinger. As a result, director Guy Hamilton returned. So did production designer Ken Adam after a one-picture absence. John Barry was on board and this time Shirley Bassey would return to perform the title song.

There was new blood, however, in the form of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to rewrite Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. Mankiewicz would work on the next four films of the series, although without credit on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q was aghast at Bond’s tie.

Mankiewicz (1942-2010), part of a family prominent in both show business and politics, still generates sharp divisions among Bond fans. Supporters say his witty one liners enlivened the proceedings. (“At present, the satellite is over Kansas,” Blofeld muses at one point. “Well, if we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.”) Detractors say he simply didn’t understand Bond and made things too goofy.

The writer’s initial draft actually contained more bits from Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel than would be in the final film. (This 2011 ARTICLE has more details, just scroll down to the section about the Mankiewicz draft.) Still, with Diamonds, it was now standard practice that the films need have little in common with Fleming’s novels.

The legacy of the movie is mixed. Diamonds got 007 into the 1970s. But as late as 1972, people still questioned whether the series could survive without Sean Connery. That wouldn’t be evident until after Diamonds. And the movie clearly began a lighter era for the series.

Still, Bond was Bond. The movie was a success with moviegoers. It had a worldwide box office of $116 million, an improvement from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s $82 million and You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million.

Diamonds fell short of Goldfinger and Thunderball ($124.9 million and $141.2 million respectively). But it did well enough that Eon Productions would again try to find a successor to Connery.