Video of the Fleming-LeCarre debate

On Nov. 29, Intelligence Squared, staged a debate in London whether Ian Fleming or John Le Carre was the better espionage novelist.

The group has now posted the video of the debate to YouTube. You can view the debate here.

Anthony Horowitz, who has written one 007 continuation novel (Trigger Mortis) and is committed to another, represented the Fleming side. David Farr, who adapted Le Carre’s The Night Manager, represented Le Carre.

You can view the debate for yourself here:

 

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.

Have No Fear, Bond is Here: 50 Years of Casino Royale

Poster for Charles K. Feldman's 1967 version of Casino Royale

Poster for Charles K. Feldman’s 1967 version of Casino Royale

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

It was a day of 2002 when my father bought me a VHS tape of the 1967 satirical version of Casino Royale, then the only film tied to Ian Fleming’s much different book that initiated the literary saga of James Bond.

That video had no subtitles in Spanish, and by then my English knowledge was good but not good enough to understand a movie. If the film’s plot was already confusing, misguided and in many aspects “incomplete,” just imagine a 12-year-old boy trying to get something out of it, barely understanding a few words and having not read the novel.

Strangely enough, I was fascinated by the movie. I still am.

The Charles K. Feldman production is a colorful, bombastic and very funny film: you won’t be laughing for hours, but there are a few humorous moments that will make you raise a smile.

It has a great score, with the legendary Burt Bacharach and the Herb Alpert trumpets for the main titles. And there’s the delicate voice of Dusty Springfield, who performed the Oscar-nominated song that has outlived the movie, “The Look of Love.”

‘Suggested by’

The story, “suggested” by Fleming’s novel and written by, among others, Wolf Mankowitz, has the four leaders of the secret services begging the retired Sir James Bond (David Niven) for help after a mysterious threat has agents of every secret service killed.

Sir James refuses, disappointed by the abuse of gadgetry in the operatives and upset for “the bounder who was been given his name and number,” an obvious reference to Sean Connery’s official 007.

Failing every attempt to bring him back, a missile (actually a plan of M to take him out of retirement) blows his mansion away. Back to London, Sir James plans a strategy to confuse the enemy: to recruit a number of agents and name them all “James Bond 007,” including the girls.

What follows is an absolute nonsense. Peter Sellers is seduced by Ursula Andress and recruited to play baccarat against Orson Welles. The daughter of Mata Hari and James Bond are kidnapped by an UFO. A psychedelic mind torture replaces the infamous carpet beater from the novel.

Woody Allen, pioneering a look for Bond villains that would be seen in the official 007 film series

Woody Allen, pioneering a look for Bond villains that would be seen in the official 007 film series

And the evil threat behind it all… the nephew of 007, Jimmy Bond.

In the end, after an everyone vs everyone battle that includes George Raft, Jean Paul Belmondo, Geraldine Chaplin and dozens of Indians and cowboys, everything goes up in smoke.

Messy production

The production of the film was messy, with the stars fighting each other almost like at the end of the movie, and Peter Sellers rewriting his scenes and hassling with Orson Welles to the point their scenes had to be shot separately.

The film was directed by five movie makers (John Houston, Ken Hughes, Robert Parrish, Joe McGrath and Val Guest) not knowing what the other was shooting. Yet, I don’t think Casino Royale is a bad movie.

The best advice is to fully enjoy it would be to put the novel aside, forget every comparison to the official Bond films, sit back and enjoy an hilarious and colourful story that resembles the swinging 1960s. The structure of the story evokes another Charles K. Feldman production, What’s New Pussycat, released two years before.

The cast has a good number of very talented actors that maybe don’t show all their talents and even when their appearances are limited to a few frames, it wasn’t bad to see them. Yet, in my opinion, the ones that steal the show are David Niven and Woody Allen.

Niven, an original suggestion of Fleming to portray Bond, plays a refined 007 in his retirement. The movie shows him as a man worried about banal things like the black flower in his garden, his time to play Claude Debussy pieces on piano, and came from “a selected priesthood” to become a spy.

This Bond shows a great difference with Eon’s version. He refuses the seduction of the many young girls who laid eyes on him at McTarry’s castle and rejects his widow (Deborah Kerr), considers a spy has now became a “sex maniac” and his trademark drink is a lapsang souchong tea instead of a martini shaken not stirred. In Feldman’s vision, this is not Connery’s Bond retired but “one and only” and Connery’s Bond an impostor.

On the other hand, Woody Allen’s Dr. Noah – head of SMERSH, no reference is made to the Soviets as in the book – is seen in the shadows until his real identity is revealed: Jimmy Bond.

The nephew of Sir James can’t speak in front of him – a trauma makes his voice block upon the admiration of his uncle. Shortly after, we see him trying to impress (and ultimately falling into her trap) the captive agent Detainer (Daliah Lavi) by replicating all the abilities of his uncle: “everything uncle James does, I can do it better.”

Another special mention goes to Joanna Pettet and the late Ronnie Corbett in the Berlin scenes, where Pettet’s character Mata Bond (daughter of Sir James and Mata Hari) infiltrates the old dancing school of her mum that has become a SMERSH hideout, to find a battery operated butler who – falling into Mata’s seduction — reveals Le Chiffre is trying to make money by selling his “art collection,” actually… soldiers caught in the act having fun with hookers.

Like I said before, this movie has won my heart. I would not dare to put it next to the Eon Bond films (not in chronological order, at least) but as I get older, I understand its humor more and more.

Everytime I watch it, I feel like getting into a time machine and going back to the late 1960s. And it’s a great experience indeed!

Writers to debate whether Fleming, Le Carre is better

Intelligence Squared's poster for its Fleming-LeCarre debate.

Intelligence Squared’s poster for its Fleming-LeCarre debate.

Intelligence Squared, which stages debates and presentations on various topics, will hold a debate this month whether Ian Fleming or John Le Carre is the better spy novelist.

Representing Fleming (1908-64) will be Anthony Horowitz, author of the James Bond continuation novel Trigger Mortis, according to the group’s website.

Advocating for LeCarre (real name David Cornwell, b. 1931) will be David Farr, who adapted LeCarre’s The Night Manager for the BBC. The debate is scheduled for Nov. 29 at Emmanuel Centre in London.

Here’s an excerpt from the website:

To illustrate their arguments, Horowitz and Farr will be calling on a cast of actors to bring the novels to life. So far we are delighted to have confirmed Harry Potter star Matthew Lewis and Peaky Blinders star Alex Macqueen.

The tone of the debate may be interesting. Le Carre and some of his fans over the years have been critical of Bond.

Le Carre, in a 2012 interview with CBS, said, “We had the image of James Bond. He had this extraordinary life: the license to kill, all the girls he could eat and so on, and wonderful cars. He was the Superman with some kind of mysterious patriotic purpose.

“But people knew while they were watching that stuff, people knew then about this gray army of spooks that was around.”

Thanks to 007 Magazine publisher Graham Rye for the heads up via posts on Facebook.

 

Robert Vaughn dies at 83

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

Robert Vaughn, star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series, died today at 83, according to an obituary at Deadline: Hollywood.

The actor died after battle with acute leukemia, according to the entertainment news website.

Vaughn had plenty of roles over a long career, including The Magnificent Seven (1960) and Bullitt (1968). He remained active in recent years, including a U.K. stage production of 12 Angry Men.

Still, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which ran from September 1964 to January 1968 on NBC, made Vaughn a star. He played Napoleon Solo, a character created by Norman Felton and Ian Fleming. Solo was an enforcement agent for the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, an international agency. U.N.C.L.E., which was developed fully by writer-producer Sam Rolfe, was a post-Cold War series airing in the midst of the Cold War.

Vaughn’s Solo had similarities to Fleming’s James Bond. Both were womanizers and sophisticated in the ways of the world. But Solo worked with a Russian agent, Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum). In the Bond film series, the notion wouldn’t occur until 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Solo also had more of a moral code than Bond. Part of the format called for Solo to interact with “innocents,” ordinary people either recruited to help U.N.C.L.E. or who stumbled into the action. As a result, Solo had to look out for the innocents, which made his character different than 007.

In the final episode of the series, Vaughn had one of his best scenes as he confronted the conspirators of a plot to take over the world. That was a familiar plot of escapist 1960s spy entertainment. Yet, in that scene, Vaughn played it entirely seriously, giving the proceedings a gravitas they might ordinarily lack.

Years after the series, Vaughn had a lengthy interview with the Archive of American television. Here’s a clip where he discussed U.N.C.L.E.

In real life, Vaughn was an intellectual. He studied for his Ph.D while U.N.C.L.E. was in production. Vaughn, an opponent of the Vietnam war, debated the subject with William F. Buckley on the latter’s Firing Line series. Buckley introduced Vaughn as “a professional actor.” However, Vaughn was thoroughly prepared and the debate (on Buckley’s home turf) was judged a draw.

Post-U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn tended to play villains, such as the politician he portrayed in Bullitt. He did get to reprise the Solo role in the 1983 television movie The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. He indicated he’d be willing to play a cameo role in the 2015 film version directed by Guy Ritchie. But he was never approached.

Vaughn died 11 days short of what would have been his 84th birthday.

We’ll have a more detailed “appreciation” post tomorrow.

This month’s ‘other’ Ian Fleming anniversary

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

Earlier this month, Oct. 5, was Global James Bond Day, celebrating the 54th anniversary of the original U.K. premiere of Dr. No.

Today, Oct. 29, is the 54th anniversary of another Ian Fleming-related annivesary: When the James Bond author first met television producer Norman Felton in New York.

The results, eventually, would be The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series. However, those meetings, which lasted into Oct. 31, 1962, according to Craig Henderson’s U.N.C.L.E. Timeline website, don’t get much attention.

Ian Fleming Publications, for example, doesn’t mention the meetings in its detailed ONLINE TIMELIME OF FLEMING’S LIFE. Ironically, IFP’s 2013 007 continuation novel by William Boyd was titled Solo, the original title for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Fleming was bullied by James Bond movie producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman from exiting the project. You can read some of the correspondence involved by CLICKING HERE. Fleming sold his interest in U.N.C.L.E. for the princely sum of 1 British pound.

Meanwhile, U.N.C.L.E. fans downplay Fleming’s involvement. Yes, some say, he named Napoleon Solo, but so what? And, to be fair, others did the heavy lifting on U.N.C.L.E.

On the other hand, Fleming’s involvement, however limited, had attracted NBC’s interest.

Had Fleming remained on the show, the network was willing to commit to a series without a pilot. After Fleming’s departure, a pilot would be necessary. Still, by that time a lot of energy and time had been invested. It wasn’t just dropped after Fleming’s exit.

Title page to pilot for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. when the title was still Solo.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. originally was to have been billed Ian Fleming’s Solo.

Thus, ironically, Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. involvement isn’t celebrated by either the Bond and U.N.C.L.E. sides. On the U.N.C.L.E. side, the narrative (understandably) plays up the contributions of Felton and Sam Rolfe, the writer of the U.N.C.L.E. pilot who produced the first season of the show.

It didn’t help that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (where U.N.C.L.E. was produced) put out a press release denying had been involved (even though he was). No doubt that was the result of threatened legal action from Eon Productions. Lawyers for Eon had sent a cease and desist letter in early 1964 claiming the character Napoleon Solo infringed on the production company’s rights to Goldfinger, which included a gangster named Solo.

Also, Felton, on advice of his attorneys, declined to write up notes about his meetings with the 007 author for Fleming biographer John Pearson concerning U.N.C.L.E. (Read Text of Letters About Ian Fleming’s U.N.C.L.E. Involvement for more details.)

Still, an anniversary is an anniversary. In this case, it’s an anniversary of an event (the Fleming-Felton meetings) that helped lead to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Meanwhile, here’s a shameless plug. If you want to read more about the subject, this blog’s editor has an article in MI6 Confidential No. 37. For more information about the issue (which includes an article about 007 film production designer Peter Lamont), CLICK HERE. 

More Fleming ties to the Fleming Timeless episode

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

The Timeless episode with a story featuring a fictionalized Ian Fleming has some additional Fleming connections.

–The cast includes Goran Visnjic, a Croatian actor who was screen tested for the James Bond role in 2005, when Daniel Craig ended up being cast for Casino Royale.

–One of the executive producers of the series is John Davis, who was also one of the producers of the 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. That movie featured a hero named Napoleon Solo, who was given that name by Ian Fleming.

Meanwhile, as depicted in the episode, titled Party at Castle Varlar, Fleming (Sean Maguire) is depicted as a field agent for MI6. Fleming was more of an office man during the war, according to his biography at the website of Ian Fleming publications.

Amusingly, the episode makes a reference to 2012’s Skyfall and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

UPDATE (10:55 p.m. ET): History, however, has been altered from what it’s supposed to be, concerning a certain 1964 007 movie with Sean Connery.

Here’s a tweet that Maguire posted on Oct. 18.