How adapting Fleming’s Twice novel may be hard

Cover to the first-edition U.S. hardback edition of You Only Live Twice

This week, the blog published a post about issues related to reworking the plot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a way to faithfully adapt Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel.

A reader e-mailed the blog should go a step further and discuss the difficulties in doing a faithful adaptation of the 1964 novel.

So, with that in mind, here’s a breakdown by chapter of what a screenwriter would need to examine. Fleming creates a mood by describing Bond’s inner thoughts and observations. The novel also was a major change of pace following the epic novel of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 1, Scissors Cut Paper: Bond and Tiger Tanaka are at a geisha party. They drink sake and play a game of scissors-rock-paper.

Bond is a bit uneasy. “Tiger had promised he would beat Bond. To fail would be to lose much face. How much? Enough to breach a friendship that had become oddly real between the two of them over the past weeks?”

The chapter ends with Bond at Tiger’s home to discuss a discrete matter.

Chapter 2, Curtains for Bond?: Flashback to previous events where Bond is a broken man following the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Chapter 3, The Impossible Mission: M, after consulting with Sir James Molony in the previous chapter, gives Bond a diplomatic mission. A lot of talking and exposition, not many visuals.

Chapter 5, Magic 44: The novel’s McGuffin is explained and why it’s important.

Chapter 7, The Death Collector: Plot twist. Tiger tells Bond there’s a fellow, one Doctor Shatterhand, who’s causing the Japanese government some discomfort by enticing those inclined to suicide. Much of the chapter is a list of types of poisons as well as poisonous plants.

Chapter 8, Slay It With Flowers: Tiger puts the proposition to Bond — kill the foreigner with his poison garden that attracts the suicidal. “You are to enter this Castle of Death and slay the dragon within.”

Chapter 11, Anatomy Class: Tanaka tells Bond about haiku poems and 17th century poet Bassho. Bond writes his own haiku: “You only live twice: Once when you are born, Once when you look death in the face.” Tiger tells Bond that “it is a most honourable attempt.”

Chapter 12, Appointment in Samarra: The chapter begins with a bit of action. Bond and Tiger are being followed by a man on a motorcycle. The tables are turned and a chase ensues. The motorcycle rider dies. A tattoo shows he is a Black Dragon.

Later, Bond discovers that Doctor Shatterhand, the target he’s been given by Tanaka, is really Blofeld.

You Only Live Twice first U.K. edition

Chapter 13, Kissy Suzuki: More details why Bond wants revenge on Blofeld and the scale of his villainy, which is on “the scale of a Caligula, of a Nero, of a Hitler or any other great enemy of mankind.” Bond also meets Kissy Suzuki.

Chapter 17, Something Evil Comes This Way: Bond has infiltrated the Shatterhand/Blofeld estate. He witnesses Blofeld’s guards torture a man before tossing him into a lake with piranha. Blofeld and Irma Bunt chat a bit. Blofeld suggests they may need to move on, establishing other places to entice suicides. “The same pattern can be repeated in other countries,” Blofeld says. “Everywhere there are people who want to kill themselves.”

Chapter 20: Blood and Thunder: Bond and Blofeld have their showdown. Bond escapes Blofeld’s castle via a balloon but after an explosion he drops into the sea.

Chapter 21; Obit: M writes Bond’s obituary for The Times of London. Skyall (2012) adapted this, substituting Turkey for Japan.

Chapter 22: Sparrows’ Tears: It turns out Bond is suffering amnesia due to head injuries. He’s settles down with Kissy but finds a scrap of paper with the word “Vladivostok.” The novel ends with Bond (unaware that Kissy is pregnant) planning to go to the Soviet Union.

This was loosely adapted in Skyfall. In that film, Bond simply quits MI6 (and goes off the grid) after being wounded by Moneypenny.

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Fleming and U.N.C.L.E.: More than a footnote

Ian Fleming

This weekend marked the 53rd anniversary of the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming.

Understandably, there were the usual observations of his passing. After all, without Fleming, we wouldn’t have James Bond movies or the 1960s spy craze.

After all these years, however, there’s an oddity. That is, Fleming’s connection to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

U.N.C.L.E. originated because there was interest in turning Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book into some kind of television show.

That led to television producer (who concluded the book would not be the basis of a show) into doing a pitch for something different. In turn, that led to NBC saying it Fleming could be enticed into participating, it’d buy the series without a pilot being produced.

In turn, that led to meetings between Felton and Fleming in New York in October 1962. In turn, that led to Felton writing up ideas and Fleming (after days without much being accomplished) writing on 11 pages of Western Union telegram blanks. In turn, that led to Felton employing Sam Rolfe to concoct something that went beyond far beyond the initial Felton-Fleming ideas.

Eventually, Fleming exited the project (under pressure from 007 film producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), selling off his interest for 1 British pound.

Regardless, without Fleming, U.N.C.L.E. wouldn’t exist given the history with Thrilling Cities. But some long-time (i.e. original) U.N.C.L.E. fans hesitate to acknowledge that. Felton and Rolfe did the heavy lifting — there’s no denying that at all. But Thrilling Cities was the catalyst.

Also, Fleming’s idea of naming the hero Napoleon Solo (Felton’s initial idea was Edgar Solo) was huge. The original idea was Solo would be an ordinary looking fellow. But a character named Napoleon Solo was not going to be your next door neighbor or the guy in the apartment down the hall.

At the same time, Bond movie fans don’t even consider it. And Ian Fleming Publications, run by Fleming’s heirs, don’t even mention U.N.C.L.E. in the IFP timeline of Fleming’s life. 

Fleming was connected to U.N.C.L.E. for less than eight months (late October 1962 to June 1963). Not an enormous amount of time but more than just a footnote.

It is what it is, as the saying going. The 2015 movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t give a credit to either Sam Rolfe or Ian Fleming, while Felton (who died in 2012) got an “executive consultant” credit. Ironically, one of Fleming’s 1962 ideas — of Solo being a good cook — was included in the film.

It would appear that U.N.C.L.E. will remain Fleming’s bastard child (figuratively, of course) now and forever.

Without whom, etc.

Our annual tradition. Ian Fleming died on Aug. 12, 1964 at age 56. So here’s a quick reminder of an extraordinary life. Ian Fleming crammed 90 years of living into a little more than 56.

Blanche Blackwell, Fleming companion, dies

Blanche Blackwell and Ian Fleming in Jamaica

Blanche Blackwell, who had a relationship with Ian Fleming, has died at 104, according to an obituary posted by The Telegraph.

Blackwell was part of two 007-related documentaries, 2000’s Ian Fleming: 007’s Creator ( an extra in the home video release of The Living Daylights) and 2012’s Everything or Nothing.

Her interviews for the documentaries provided perspective for fans about Fleming’s complicated life, touching on her affair with the married author. She lived in Jamaica, where Fleming wrote his James Bond novels.

“He was somebody who could be anybody he wanted to be,” Blackwell says of Fleming at the start of the 2000 documentary.

Ian Fleming: 007’s Creator included a section on Blackwell. “I decided how I wanted to live long ago,” she says. “And I’ve managed to succeed at doing it without getting into too much trouble.”

In 2012, The Express. published a feature story about her.

“A neighbour of both (Noel) Coward and Fleming, she was a society beauty who beguiled the guests who came to her home, Bolt House, in St Mary, Jamaica,” according to the story.

UPDATE (Aug. 12): The Washington Post has published a very detailed obituary of Blanche Blackwell that’s worth a read.

 

JFK at 100: 007’s biggest American fan

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas (photo by the Spy Commander)

Today, May 29, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

His presidency, shortened by assassination in November 1963, is still studied by scholars.

The purpose of this post is more limited. JFK was the most prominent American fan of the literary James Bond, propelling the character to even greater heights of popularity in the early 1960s, just as the movie series was about to start.

Kennedy provided a list of his 10 favorite books. The titles tended to be biographies of prominent politicians and one was written by Winston Churchill.

But the list also included a spy thriller, From Russia With Love, the fifth James Bond novel penned by Ian Fleming.

Today, you might ask what was the big deal?

JFK was the first American president born in the 20th century. His election amounted to a major generational change. And he and his family were photogenic at a time television became the dominant medium.

As a result, JFK’s endorsement was a boon to the Bond novels and the movies about to come out.

Ian Fleming certainly knew that was the case.

” I am delighted to take this opportunity to thank Kennedys everywhere for the electric effect their commendation has had on my sales in America,” Fleming wrote in a 1962 letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother.

UPDATE (4:15 p.m. New York time): A 1987 story in the Los Angeles Times provides a bit more detail.

ABC newsman Pierre Salinger, formerly Kennedy’s press secretary, said from Paris: “I was simply given the list and instructed to distribute it. There’s been speculation its inclusion was engineered to show he wasn’t an egghead. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I can tell you people were shocked on Capitol Hill.”

The article was a tremendous boon to producers Albert (Cubby) Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who only months earlier had acquired film rights to the Bond novels. By year’s end, they were in pre-production on “Dr. No” and had a deal with United Artists for a second installment–“From Russia With Love.”

Kennedy had done more than just help popularize the novels and pave the wave for screen adventures. He had “created a public tolerance for this type of activity,” said Roy Godson, a professor of government at Georgetown University. “Kennedy was fascinated by these types of operations. No other President, before or since, has been as actively involved in the covert-action aspect of spying.”

 

“Without whom, etc.”

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

It was 109 years ago today that Ian Fleming was born.

Without him, James Bond novels wouldn’t have come to be. That would have freed up a slot for President John F. Kennedy’s list of his top 10 favorite books. Who knows what book would have benefited from being on that early 1960s list?

Also, James Bond movies wouldn’t have come to be. That’s 24 movies in the official series (and counting) plus two others.

Neither would have The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which originated when producer Norman Felton was approached about whether he’d like to a series based on Fleming’s Thrilling Cities book.

The author’s involvement (from October 1962 to June 1963) with U.N.C.L.E. spurred NBC to put the show in development. By the time Fleming exited (under pressure from Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman), enough work had occurred for NBC to keep developing the series. One of Fleming’s ideas (that Napoleon Solo liked cooking) ended up in the 2015 movie version of the show.

For that matter, pretty much the entire 1960s spy mania (Matt Helm movies, Flint movies, I Spy, The Wild Wild Wild West, Mission: Impossible) probably doesn’t happen because Bond generated a market for such entertainment.

Happy birthday, Ian Fleming.

Our rants about Bond 25

James Bond, feeling sad after examining his back story one more time.

James Bond, feeling sad, yet again.

Bond isn’t at the same level as other film franchises: You’ve bought an old helicopter. And we should care, why?

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie in 2015 acquired a lot of old cars. More than three years after filming began, it didn’t really matter in the movie’s ultimate success (or lack thereof), did it? Buying vehicles and props is, at the end of the day, a minor enterprise.

Real film franchises have studios that distribute them. Bond doesn’t have one.

The most recent 007 film, SPECTRE, came out in the fall of 2015. Sony Pictures released the last four Bond movies. SPECTRE concluded Sony’s most recent two-picture contract.

If Bond were a fantastically profitable film franchise, other studios would be beating down the doors of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio. But MGM hasn’t yet reached a new deal.

Of course, Sony got taken with the last two films (Skyfall and SPECTRE), providing 50 percent of the financing but only 25 percent of the profits. That might, just might, be a factor in MGM’s delays in finding a new studio partner.

Meanwhile, real film franchises actually seek publicity. Marvel Studios releases two movies a year. But it successfully gets publicity year round. Ditto for Warner Bros.’ DC Comics film universe, despite the fact it’s not as successful as Marvel.

The Bond franchise is more like the Kremlin. I know, Ian Fleming would spin in his grave at that reference.

Seriously, though, there are parallels. Both provide little tiny bits of news that require the knowledge of long-time followers to interpret. Why else, do you suppose, there has been so much attention to the purchase of a helicopter?

Carry on.