When character genders change

Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson with Cary Grant as editor Walter Burns in His Girl Friday

Every so often, the idea is raised about having James Bond be played by a woman. It came up again just last week, raised by none other than British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Her comment was prompted, in part, by how Jodie Whittaker is the new Doctor Who.

“I think it’s a great move forward for girl power that there is going to be a female Doctor Who,” May told reporters on board her RAF plane Voyager, according to The Guardian. “And one day there should be a female James Bond.”

Other British newspapers ran similar accounts. And when it’s coming from the PM, it’s naturally going to be reported widely. Just as certain, many James Bond fans complained, in effect saying, “Here we go again….”

The thing is, male characters do get transformed into female ones on occasion.

His Girl Friday (1940) was the second film adaptation of the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. In the Howard Hawks-directed movie, newspaper reporter Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) became a woman and the ex-wife of editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant).

There was a similar setup in 1988’s Switching Channels, also based on the Hecht-MacArthur play, but transporting the story to television and changing the character names.

Meanwhile, Whittaker has come aboard as Doctor Who. The BBC even posted the end of a Doctor Who Christmas special on YouTube:

 

For now, changing 007’s gender isn’t on the table, with actor Daniel Craig announcing in August he’s coming back for a fifth Bond film. But chances are the idea will get raised again at some point.

Two non-007 homages in Skyfall

Dude (Dean Martin) survives his moment of crisis in Rio Bravo

SPOILERS lie ahead if you haven’t seen Skyfall.

007 fans are comparing notes about Skyfall’s homages to past Bond movies. What’s not getting as much attention are homages to non-Bond films in the 23rd 007 entry.

First, there are Daniel Kleinman’s main titles include Daniel Craig’s James Bond shooting at mirrors. This appears to be an homage to Orson Welles and his 1948 film, The Lady From Shanghai. The movie wasn’t a commercial hit but gained attention over the years as noted in an article on TCM.COM. An excerpt:

Film critic Pauline Kael once pointed out that Welles’s contribution to the evolution of film language lay in his dramatizing the techniques of cinema. That is obvious in every frame of The Lady from Shanghai. Jump cuts in the editing, the almost Brechtian distancing effect of the stylized performances, the doubling of the film frame in the Chinese theater scene, the deep focus that disorients by giving far backgrounds equal weight with extreme close-ups, the use of optical devices ranging from water tumblers to windshields to (in the film’s most famous set pieces) aquarium glass and multiple mirrors – all of these serve to forefront the experience of watching cinema and to push the envelope of what is expected and permissible on screen. (emphasis added)

Mirrors have figured into set pieces in movies such as Blake Edwards’ Gunn (1967), Enter the Dragon (1973) and, appropriately enough, The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).

The other homage, intentional or not, is Howard Hawks’ 1959 Western, Rio Bravo. One of its main characters is Dude (Dean Martin), who has substance abuse problems (he’s an alcoholic) and has trouble shooting straight until, in a moment of crisis, it all comes together for him. There’s also a scene where an attractive woman (Angie Dickinson) shaves him with a straight razor.

In Skyfall, of course, Daniel Craig’s 007 has substance abuse problems (he’s been hitting the sauce pretty heavily while presumed dead), can’t shoot straight (he records sub-standard scores on the MI6 shooting range) and gets shaved by fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris). Like Dude, Craig’s Bond gets it together when he’s needed the most and is suddenly a crack shot.

Ironically, both Welles and Hawks have 007 ties. Welles was part of the cast in the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. Hawks in 1962 briefly considered directing a movie adaptation of Casino Royale until he saw an early print of Dr. No.

Casino Royale’s 45th anniversary: Oh no, 007!

April Fool’s Day is as good as any occasion to note this month marks the 45th 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. (CLICK HERE for a post on Jeremy Duns’s Debrief blog for a more detailed history.)

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 last year by Jeremy Duns in the U.K. Telegraph newspaper. Hecht died in 1964, while still working on the project.

By now, 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. (For a more sympathetic view, CLICK HERE for a long essay on the subject.)

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, at age 64.

Telegraph reports on Ben Hecht’s 1960s Casino Royale scripts

The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. has an article by Jeremy Duns about the scripts noted screenwriter Ben Hecht did for producer Charles K. Feldman’s ill fated Casino Royale movie.

Duns has a brief entry in his blog, the Debrief, which you can read BY CLICKING HERE. You can try to read the article itself by registering for a one-day free trial at the Telegraph’s Web site BY CLICKING HERE. The article is in the Telegraph’s Seven magazine.

Hecht died in April 1964. His long career including co-writing the play The Front Page (with Charles MacArthur, husband of Helen Hayes) and scripting Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 film Notorious starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman.

Based on some comments Duns has made on his Facebook page, Hecht’s drafts leaned toward a faithful adapation of Ian Fleming’s first novel, including a torture scene. Before Hecht was hired, Feldman had tried to interest director Howard Hawks in the project. Feldman later shifted gears, turning Casino Royale into a colossal, and expensive, spoof.

UPDATE: Jeremy Duns advises an extended version of the article will be on the Telegraph’s Web site in a few days. He also confirms that Hecht’s drafts are for a straight version of the novel, not the mega-spoof Feldman produced later.

UPDATE II: We couldn’t wait, so we did the one-day trial subscription. A few details from the Duns article:

1.) The Hecht drafts are at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

2) Hecht kept the basic plot, but as with Dr. No and From Russia With Love in the official 007 series, LeChiffre now works for SPECTRE, rather than the Soviets.

3) Hecht, in one of his drafts introduces the idea that the real James Bond has died and another agent is being re-named James Bond. In the rest of the script, “Bond” acts just like Bond.

The Duns article includes an excerpt of this draft where M informs the agent about the name change. This is the origin of an idea that will be greatly expanded upon in the final version of the 1967 Feldman film, which implies the Connery version of Bond in the official film series took the name of David Niven’s James Bond. It’s also a notion that gets recycled on message boards of fan Web sites in which some people argue that James Bond is just a code name, therefore, the Sean Connery version isn’t the same as Roger Moore, etc., etc., etc.

Mr. Duns notes the scene where Bond II is informed of his new name may simply have been inserted as a possible option for producer Feldman. It only appears in some drafts and isn’t part of others. Throughout the the remainder of Hecht’s material, Bond acts like Bond and he says you can even “hear” Sean Connery’s voice as you read Bond’s scripted lines.

4) Hecht invented a character called Gita, Le Chiffre’s wife, who gets half her face shot away when Bond uses her as a shield. She, rathern the Le Chieffre himself, later administers the torture. Le Chiffre has Gita stop the torture at one point and says, “M’sieur Bond may want to change his mind while he is still a m’sieur.”

5) Hecht was still working on Casino Royale at the time of his death.