On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a re-evaluation

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a special place in the James Bond film series.

It’s the film closest to its source material, Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name. It’s also a movie whose reputation has improved over the years.

Yet, fans keep pining for things that cannot be. If only the movies had been made in order of the novels, instead of reversing the order of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice. If only the experienced Sean Connery had played Bond in Majesty’s instead of newcomer George Lazenby.

Here are a few thoughts on that:

OHMSS would have been a lot different if it had been filmed in 1966 instead of You Only Live Twice. The fan argument about the filming the Fleming novels in order (Majesty’s first, followed by Twice instead of the other way around) assumes we’d have gotten essentially the same movie as the one released in 1969.

As stated in Majesty’s, “I wouldn’t go banco on that.”

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 2009, provides a rundown of various Majesty’s treatments and script drafts. According to Helfenstein, Richard Maibaum had a 1966 OHMSS treatment and draft including “an aquatic Aston Martin” a lot more gadgets than the 1969 film would have and the relevation that Blofeld was the brother (treatment) or half brother (draft) of Auric Goldfinger (pages 27-29).

That’s only one example. The book includes a table (pages 38-39) summarizing the differences of 10 different treatments and drafts, from 1964 through the 1969 film’s shooting script. The main thing in common is Tracy, Bond’s doomed wife, dies in all of them.

Peter Hunt, making his directing debut in Majesty’s, was one of the driving forces to keep the movie faithful to the novel. Had Majesty’s been after Thunderball, Hunt wouldn’t be the director. We might have gotten a similar film, but it’s likely we would have gotten something with more gadgets and a different tone (probably closer to Goldfinger) than audiences received in 1969.

Would Majesty’s really be better with Sean Connery than George Lazenby as Bond? For many, the answer is “of course.” Lazenby had no real acting experience before the film and Connery was, well, Connery. But not everyone subscribes to this conventional wisdom.

Writer Jeffrey Westhoff IN THIS ESSAY (in which he details why Majesty’s is his *favorite movie* not just favorite 007 film), argues against that idea. Here’s an excerpt.

I have often heard film critics and fellow Bond fans acknowledge the superior script and technical work in OHMSS, but then say, “It would be the best James Bond movie if only Sean Connery were in it.” I reject that.
(snip)
But let’s pretend a younger, amenable Connery was cast in an OHMSS directed by Hunt. It’s still a dubious proposition. For the story of OHMSS to work, particularly the ending, Bond must be vulnerable. From Goldfinger onward, Connery’s Bond was invulnerable, Superman in a tuxedo. I’m not saying Connery didn’t have the ability to play Bond as vulnerable, but after Goldfinger I doubt the audience would have accepted it.

For many reasons, OHMSS required a new actor as Bond….Lazenby’s athleticism in the fight scenes cannot be matched, and his acting improves as the film progresses, reaching its fruition in the proposal scene. More than any scene in the entire series, this one puts the greatest demand on the actor playing Bond.  (emphasis added)

The thing is, there is no right or wrong answer to all this. Without a time machine to go back to change events, or the ability to travel to an alternative universe where things occurred differently, there’s no way to know.

At the same time, real life is more complicated than what we want. So it is with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only certainty is the movie remains — perhaps flawed but still one of the best entries in the Bond series.

TCM schedules To Trap a Spy for June 13

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap  a Spy

Luciana Paluzzi and Robert Vaughn in To Trap a Spy

Turner Classics Movie has scheduled a prime time showing ON JUNE 13 at 10:15 p.m. New York time of To Trap a Spy, the movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’s pilot episode.

The production has an unusual history.

The U.N.C.L.E. pilot was filmed in color. During production in late 1963, there was an internal debate within the production team whether U.N.C.L.E. agent Solo’s first name should be Napoleon. (Academic Cynthia W. Walker has written about this subject IN HER BOOK ABOUT THE SERIES.)

In the actual pilot, originally titled Solo, Robert Vaughn’s character is only called Solo. In the pilot, as originally filmed, the end titles said, “Starring Robert Vaughn as Solo.”

According to a timeline researched and compiled by Craig Henderson, additional footage was filmed March 31 through April 2, 1964, to turn the pilot into a feature film. The footage includes Luciana Paluzzi playing a femme fatale named Angela. Her character is very similar to the Fiona Volpe character she’d play a year later in Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film.

In that footage, Solo introduces himself to Angela as “Napoleon Solo.” Evidently, by the spring of 1964, the internal debate about the agent’s name had been settled in favor of the moniker bestowed upon him by Ian Fleming, the creator of 007.

In the end, Solo becomes a series, but under the title The Man From U.N.C.L.E. To Trap a Spy initially is shown in international markets, but with U.N.C.L.E.’s popularity, it is shown in the United States in 1966 as part of a double feature with The Spy With My Face, another movie based on an U.N.C.L.E. episode with additional footage.

U.N.C.L.E.’s executive producer, Norman Felton, was nothing if not thrifty. A tamer version of the Luciana Paluzzi footage shows up in a first-season episode that aired in the spring of 1965 called The Four-Steps Affair. It also includes some of the extra footage used in The Spy With My Face.

Another curiosity: in To Trap a Spy, the name of the villainous organization is changed from “Thrush” to “Wasp.” If you watch closely, you can see the actors saying “Thrush” with “Wasp” on the audio track. To Trap a Spy also includes the original U.N.C.L.E. boss, Will Kuluva as Mr. Allison. With the pilot, scenes were reshot with Leo G. Carroll playing Mr. Waverly, Solo’s new superior.

Regardless, To Trap a Spy is the first “official” U.N.C.L.E. movie. TCM has shown the film previously, but usually nowhere near prime-time.

Who’s in, and out, of the U.N.C.L.E. movie poster credits

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. teaser poster

We decided to take a look at THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. OFFICIAL WEBSITE and examined the credits that go with the teaser poster. If you go to the page, you can view them, but you have to put your cursor on the lower left where it says “Legal.”

A reminder before we go further. Credits in a poster sometimes vary from the film. With 2012’s Skyfall, for example, the poster only listed one editor, but the movie’s credits listed two, the second being listed in small type. With that in mind:

Who’s not there: The credits simply say, “Based on the Television Series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” No mention of developer Sam Rolfe, nor of Norman Felton and Ian Fleming, who came up with the character Napoleon Solo.

Vanity credits: We’re told it’s “A Witchie/Wigram Production,” “A Davis Entertainment Production,” and “A Guy Ritchie Film.”

Who gets the “p.g.a.” mark: Since mid-2013, most movies include “p.g.a.” after those considered the primary producers of the film by the Producers Guild of America.

The movie lists four producers, with John Davis (who has been involved trying to develop an U.N.C.L.E. movie since the early 1990s), Lionel Wigram and Guy Richie getting the p.g.a. mark. (It’s in lower case letters with periods to avoid confusion with the Professional Golfers’ Association, or PGA.)

Steve Clark-Hall, listed second among the four, doesn’t get the mark. David Dobkin gets an executive producer credit. In television, executive producer is supposed to be the big boss. That’s not true for movies. Regardless, Dobkin’s name was associated with the project, circa 2010.

Writing credit: “Story by Jeff Kleeman & David Campbell Wilson and Lionel Wigram & Guy Ritchie, Screenplay by Lionel Wigram & Guy Ritchie.” This was included in the teaser trailer but it goes by very quickly.

Others jobs that get credits: Composer, costume designer, editor, production designer and director of photography.

Other tidbits: According to this, the soundtrack will be available on Watertower Music.

Literary 007 location: St. Petersburg, Florida

Cover to a U.S. paperback edition of LIve And Let Die

Cover to a U.S. paperback edition of LIve And Let Die

In the novel Live And Let Die (1954), St. Petersburg, Florida, wasn’t exactly James Bond’s type of town.

In Chapter 13, “Death of a Pelican,” at one point “Bond caught a whiff of the atmosphere that makes the town the ‘Old Folks Home’ of America. Everyone on the sidewalks had white hair, white or blue, and the famous Sidewalk Davenports that Solitaire had described were thick with oldsters sitting in rows like the starlings in Trafalgar Square.”

Author Ian Fleming goes on to describe “the stringy, collapsed chests and arms of the men displayed to the sunshine in Truman shirts.” Women had “fluffy, sparse balls of hair” while the men had “bony bald heads.”

As Bond takes all this in, American agent Felix Leiter says, “It makes you want to climb right into the tomb and pull the lid down.”

By the late 1980s, Pinellas County, Florida, part of the Tampa Bay metro area which includes St. Petersburg, was bustling with development. Downtown St. Petersburg, however, wasn’t seeing as much of that development.

In 2015, it’s doubtful Fleming would recognize the place.

On March 7, there were several weddings taking place in downtown St. Petersburg, including an outdoor ceremony. Not a strand of blue hair to be seen. The downtown area now is jammed with with various new restaurants.

It’s also awash in money. There’s a large sign promoting a condo project for units priced from $500,000 to more than $1 million. A major St. Petersburg pier project is planned. It’s a long way from what Leiter described to Bond as “pawnshops stuffed with gold watches and masonic rings.”

For more information about St. Petersburg, CLICK HERE for Wikipedia’s entry about the city.

Canada may change copyright laws

"I may not be in the public domain in Canada afterall?"

“I may not be in the public domain in Canada afterall?”

Canada may change its copyright laws as part of trade negotiations, which could squelch publication of new, unauthorized James Bond stories.

Here’s an excerpt from a Feb. 7 story in THE HUFFINGTON POST.

The U.S.’s controversial “Mickey Mouse Protection Act” — the name given by critics to a particularly strong copyright term law — may be coming to Canada thanks to a new trade deal.

There’s plenty we don’t know about what’s been agreed to in the negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, largely because of a monolithic veil of secrecy surrounding the talks (although many of Canada’s lobbyists have reportedly been given access).

But according to a news brief from Japan’s NHK, negotiators working on the 12-country TPP trade area have come to an agreement on the copyright chapter of the trade deal. Under the agreement, copyright terms would be extended to the life of the creator plus 70 years.

You can view view the NHK item BY CLICKING HERE. It’s short and vague, referring to how trade negotiators “are a step closer” to change.

The literary 007 is controlled by Ian Fleming Publications, managed by the heirs of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

In Canada, the literary Bond entered public domain on Jan. 1. Under copyright law there, protection lasts 50 years after the author’s death. That prompted the announcement of AN UNAUTHORIZED ANTHOLOGY OF JAMES BOND STORIES CALLED LICENCE EXPIRED to be published in that country. The copyright law may endanger that project. For more, you can view THIS STORY on the MI6 James Bond website.

A couple of questions, though, to keep in mind: If Canada changes its copyright laws, when would it take effect? (Immediately? Some future date?) Depending on that answer, is still possible the unauthorized Bond stories could see print before the law changes? If the answer to that question is yes, the anthology could become a bit of a Bond collector’s item.

James Bond and Cuba

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming

James Bond novels are many things. But they weren’t necessarily the best predictor of some geopolitical events.

The United States said Dec. 17 it will re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. (CLICK HERE to read The New York Times story.)

The news reminded us of a passage in Ian Fleming’s last 007 novel, The Man With the Golden Gun. In Chapter 4, “The Stars Foretell,” Bond and his former secretary, Mary Goodnight, are in Jamaica and end up discussing recent news in the Caribbean.

Goodnight brings up sugar futures. “Washington’s trying to keep the price down, to upset Cuba’s economy, and (Fidel) Castro’s out to keep the world price up so that he can bargain with Russia.”

She adds the following prediction: “Pretty daft business, isn’t it? I don’t think Castro can hold out much longer. The missile business in Cuba must have cost Russia about a billion pounds…I can’t help thinking they’ll pull out soon and leave Castro to go the way Batista went.”

The novel’s Mary Goodnight seems more with it than her cinematic counterpart. Bond compliments her in the novel. “Goodnight, you’re a treasure. You’ve certainly been doing your homework.”

Ian Fleming wrote the novel in early 1964, more than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. More than a half-century after Fleming wrote the novel, Castro’s brother is running the country even after the end of the Soviet Union. You can’t win them all.

The evolution of James Bond movies

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

Daniel Craig during the filming of Skyfall

An exchange with a former colleague prompted us to look back at how James Bond films have evolved the past decade.

Paul Baack, co-founder of the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (and originator of this blog), made the following observation via social media. His quote is presented here with his permission.

“At their best, James Bond movies are factory-made ‘B’ pictures with…’A movie’ polish.”

Ian Fleming’s original novels had a lot of influences. Some of his novels come across as fancier versions of pulp adventure stories. At one time, pulp-like stories were “B” movie fodder while “A” films were more prestigious, adult fare.

The early Bond movies were, indeed, like “B” movies with “A” movie gloss. Even the modestly budgeted Dr. No had Ken Adam-designed sets that made it look more expensive than it really was. Back in September, we posed the questions whether Goldfinger could be considered the first “A-movie” comic book film.

And, whether you consider them a factory product, the movies were controlled by producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and later Broccoli solo. Directors had impact, but Bond films weren’t part of the auteur school of movie making.

Since 2005, when actor Daniel Craig was cast for Casino Royale, the formula changed. The Bond series, in some respects, became “A-movie” dramas with genre-movie action sequences and special effects.

Directors began to exhibit auteur tendencies. Marc Forster had scripts reshaped to fit his “classical four elements” theme of fire, water, earth and air (see HAPHAZARD STUFF’s four-part video review of the film for details). Sam Mendes, with Skyfall, emphasized drama. Example: near the end of the pre-credits sequence, when it appears Bond has been killed, it starts raining outside M’s office. Also, M (Judi Dench) gets to read a poem in a dramatic moment.

Bond directors have yet to get a vanity credit — “A Sam Mendes Film” or “A Film by Sam Mendes”. Still, they do seem to have more control than under the Brocccoli-Saltzman days. With Mendes aboard once more for SPECTRE, that doesn’t look to change.

Meanwhile, the new Bond dramas aren’t inexpensive. Documents hacked from Sony Pictures indicate the new movie’s budget may exceed $300 million, which would make it one of the most expensive movies of all time. That’s not just “A-movie” polish, that’s a warehouse full of “A-movie” polish.

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