007: News mostly about the past

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As 2017 enters its final month, James Bond is mostly looking backward, rather than forward.

News item: There’s an expanded soundtrack now available for Die Another Day, a movie that originally came out in 2002 — 15 years ago.

News item: Roger Moore’s diary written during the filming of Live And Let Die is to get a new printing next year. The original was published in 1973 — 44 years ago. The new version will be printed in hardback. It will also feature a forward by David Hedison, a long-time friend of Moore’s who played Felix Leiter in Live And Let Die.

But wait! Isn’t there a new 007 product coming out in 2018? True. That will be the second 007 continuation novel by Anthony Horowitz. It is scheduled to be published sometime in the spring.

However, the literary Bond, in the 21st century, is almost like a distant satellite of the larger 007 entity, the film series.

Which leads us to….

Bond 25’s status: As of this writing, the film officially has a leading man (Daniel Craig), a pair of producers (Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson), a pair of writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) and a release date (Nov. 8, 2019 in the United States).

And not much else. At least not now.

Around this time a year ago, the blog asked if 2016 was 007’s lost year.

2017 has been more eventful, but not by much. While Bond 25 has a release date, nobody knows — for sure — how it will get to theaters.

The Deadline: Hollywood website reported Nov. 12 that a new joint venture between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Annapurna Pictures was close to striking a deal to distribute Bond 25 in the U.S. But there’s been no announcement. And the Deadline report said international distribution hadn’t been decided.

Since then, no news. For most franchises, the distributor isn’t a big deal. The studio involved controls that. MGM, seven years after exiting bankruptcy, is trying to become a “big boy” studio again. But MGM, which controls half the Bond franchise, isn’t there yet.

And for Bond 25, an international distributor (assuming the MGM-Annapurna deal comes to be) is probably going to kick in a large piece of the production budget.

Obviously, there are things happening behind the scenes. Purvis and Wade have had enough time to complete a first-draft script. Whether they have or not is anybody’s guess.

James Bond can look back to a glorious past with certainty. The expanded Die Another Day soundtrack and new printing of Roger Moore’s Live And Let diary are just two of many examples.

An even bigger example: The death of Roger Moore in May naturally spurred a look back at his seven 007 films. He was the first of six screen Bonds in the Eon Productions series to pass away.

The future? That’s still a little fuzzy as 2017 nears its end. We’ll see if that status changes in the year’s final month.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit of perspective: General Motors Co. said Nov. 30 it expects to launch a “ride-hailing service” of self-driving cars in the United States by 2019. Self-driving cars are supposed to be the next big thing in autos. If GM is correct, that service could be in business before 007’s next screen adventure.

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Roger Moore, an appreciation

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with Roger Moore during the filming of Live And Let Die.

Roger Moore as James Bond wasn’t the physical specimen that Sean Connery was in his early 007 films. Moore’s best moments in the role occurred when he didn’t try to be.

One of the actor’s best Bond scenes occurred in 1983’s Octopussy. Bond takes on Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) in a crooked game of backgammon.

Bond exercises “player’s privilege” and opts to use Kamal’s “lucky dice.” Bond can only win with a double six.

Bond throws the dice. “Fancy that,” Bond says, without looking down. “Double sixes.” Bond has out-cheated the cheater.

Octopussy is a movie with a lot of outrageous action as well as a hot-air balloon with a Union Jack design. But it also had a quiet, dramatic moment in the middle of all this.

Moore was 54 when Octopussy began production in the summer of 1982. In the story, Bond befriends a younger MI6 agent, Vijay (Vijay Amritraj). Bond almost becomes a mentor to Vijay.

One part of the Bond formula is the “sacrificial lamb,” an ally of Bond who is killed. The chemistry between Moore and Amritraj helped give the film a little emotional oomph when Vijay is killed by goons working for Kamal.

Moore doesn’t overplay the scene. He says, “No more problems,” while looking at Vijay’s body, a reference to Vijay’s catchphrase throughout the film. Later, while in Berlin, Bond is reminded of Vijay when a driver for MI6 says, “No problem.” There’s a little John Barry music to emphasize the point.

“Bond and Holly” by Paul Baack

The Moore films have various examples of this sort of thing if you know where to look. Bond visiting Tracy’s grave in For Your Eyes Only. Bond admitting to Anya he had killed her lover in The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond discovering Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) has been killed in A View to a Kill. They’re brief but effective.

The actor was mostly known for bringing a lighter tone to the series. In reality, the series was already going in this direction, starting with Diamonds Are Forever.

Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz introduced the tone when he took over for Richard Maibaum on Diamonds. The scribe said in an interview for the documentary Inside Live And Let Die it accelerated when Moore became aboard because “you wrote differently for Roger” than Sean Connery.

Some fans still hold Moore accountable. Some argue the producers “indulged” Moore.

Once, I was on a conference call at work. Somehow, the subject of Bond came up. When Roger Moore’s name was mentioned, someone on the call said, “I don’t think you can count Roger Moore” as being James Bond. I briefly registered a protest but gave up.

The actor never seemed to mind. In his public comments, he always acknowledged Connery’s popularity as Bond. After he left the role, Moore spoke fondly of his successors.

While some fans complained — in some cases, *still* complain  — you got the impression Roger Moore was fine with it all.

Post-Bond, Moore was an unofficial ambassador for the series. He also performed humanitarian work for UNICEF.

Perhaps that’s why, when Moore’s family announcing his death via Twitter on May 23, people around the globe expressed sorrow.

Roger Moore lived a long, full life. He died famous and wealthy. Still, his passing resulted, for many, with an enormous sense of loss.

Here’s one such expression.

 

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Clifton James, known as 007 sheriff, dies at 96

Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in The Man With The Golden Gun

Clifton James, a character actor whose career extended more than 60 years but perhaps best known as a redneck sheriff in two 007 films, has died at 96, according to an obituary by The Associated Press.

James embodied a 1970s shift in James Bond films to a lighter, more comedic tone. He played Sheriff J.W. Pepper, a Louisiana lawman who was comic relief in 1973’s Live And Let Die and 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun.

“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” James’ Pepper says, emerging from a wrecked police car and confronting Roger Moore’s James Bond following that film’s massive boat chase sequence.

J.W. Pepper was created by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, the scribe said he didn’t want the audience laughing at the African American villains in the film.

Clifton James as J.W. Pepper fit the bill. James said in the documentary he wore padding to make himself look heavier.

The character was brought back for Golden Gun. In one January 1974 draft, by 007 veteran Richard Maibaum (who took over for Mankiewicz), Pepper only had a small appearance.

Somewhere along the way, things changed. In the final film, Pepper accompanies Bond on a car chase. The sheriff at one point is leaning out a car window, yelling at other drivers. (The Maibaum draft had a Thai character simply called “Prospective Buyer” ride with Bond.)

James, however, was far more than J.W. Pepper. He easily made a convincing villain in various television series. He also played cheapskate Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey in Eight Men Out , a drama about the scandal when the baseball team threw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.

James’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 100 acting credits from 1954 to 2017.

UPDATE (6:05 p.m., New York time): Roger Moore took to Twitter to note the death of Clifton James.

 
UPDATE II (April 16): The official James Bond Twitter feed published a post about the actor’s passing.

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Guy Hamilton’s one-time preference for 007: Burt Reynolds

Guy Hamilton, the four-time 007 director, is on record as saying he had thought Burt Reynolds would have been an intriguing choice as James Bond.

In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, he says he had seen Reynolds on television and thought he had all the right elements. We’re told in the documentary (via LALD screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz) that Albert R. Broccoli disagreed, in part, because the producer “wanted Bond tall.”

The documentary didn’t specify which show or shows Hamilton had seen. Here are a couple. The first is Hawk, a 1966 police drama. Here’s the opening, which includes a cigarette commercial:

Here’s the opening to an episode of Dan August, another police drama from producer Quinn Martin that ran for one season on ABC in the 1970-71 season and rerun on CBS in the summer of 1973: