Leslie Bricusse, prolific songwriter, dies at 90

Leslie Bricusse (1931- 2021)

Leslie Bricusse, a prolific songwriter whose work included some of the best-known songs of the 1960s spy craze, has died at 90, according to the BBC.

Bricusse, over his career, picked up two Oscars and multiple nominations.

His work included the 1967 film Doctor Doolittle, where he wrote the screenplay and the music and lyrics for the songs. The movie included the song If I Could Talk to the Animals, which has been re-recorded on numerous occasions.

Bricusse became familiar to fans of 1960s spy movies. He collaborated with composer John Barry and wrote the lyrics to two of the most famous James Bond songs, Goldfinger (with Anthony Newley) and You Only Live Twice.

Goldfinger, recorded by Shirley Bassey, was a big hit song. The subject of Bond, though, wasn’t new to Bricusse. He told Jon Burlingame, author of The Music of James Bond, that he was a fan of Ian Fleming’s novels.

“I read the books from the day they came out,” Bricusse said. The songwriter told Burlingame they key to writing the song was the phrase “Midas touch,” because after that the rest of the lyrics came together.

John Barry

With You Only Live Twice, the Barry-Bricusse team wrote two songs. The first, recorded by Julie Rogers, went unused (surfacing in the early 1990s on a collection of 007 title songs and film music). The second attempt was written in early 1967, according to Burlingame’s book.

“John made it easy for the lyric writer in that the music said what it was meant to be,” Bricusse told Burlingame. “Remember, you go in (a) knowing the context, (b) you’ve got the melody, and (c) you’re given the title of the song. So it’s fill in the blanks.” The song was recorded by Nancy Sinatra.

Barry and Bricusse also worked together on another Bond song, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was intended as the title song for 1965’s Thunderball. But the production team vetoed it at the last minute, instead wanting a song titled Thunderball.

Barry and Don Black collaborated on Thunderball, which was recorded by Tom Jones. However, music from the Mister Kiss Kiss Bang Bang song was woven into the film’s score by Barry.

Bricusse also worked with Jerry Goldsmith on the unlikely titled Your Zowie Face in 1967’s In Like Flint. An instrumental version was used in the main titles. But the end titles featured full vocals.

Zowie came from Z.O.W.I.E., or Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage, that was part of the two Derek Flint films starring James Coburn. Working “zowie” into a song sounds as if it might have been difficult, but the song actually works.

Bricusse knew early he wanted to be a songwriter.

“I wanted to grow up to be George and Ira Gershwin from the age of about six,” he told the Financial Times in a November 2017 interview.

Asked by the FT what kept him motivated, Bricusse replied: “The sheer pleasure of writing. When you live in a world of imagination, your imagination doesn’t necessarily grow old with you.”

The songwriter also told the FT he didn’t believe in an afterlife.

“No. I think we have to assume we have one life,” he said. “Though having said that, I did write a song called ‘You Only Live Twice’. I’ll settle for that.”

Bond, Steranko bits show up in Black Widow

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine’s debut in Strange Tales 159 in 1967

Spoilers, although so much is available on social media, the horse is out of the barn.

Marvel Studios has resumed movie releases with Black Widow that was released last weekend. A lot of James Bond fans were pleased with 007 references. Also, a character created by writer-artist Jim Steranko’s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD made an encore appearance in the MCU.

By this time, it’s pretty common knowledge that Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is seen watching Moonraker, a scene that includes a clip from the 1979 Bond film. Also, John Barry gets a credit in the end titles crawl for a composition titled Bond Fights Snake. Those who’ve seen Moonraker will instantly remember the composition involved.

Beyond that, there has been a lot of Bond fan discussion via social media about other Black Widow sequences that borrow from Bond.

Meanwhile, in a scene during the end titles, a character created by Jim Steranko during his 1960s run on Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, made her second MCU appearance.

Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, aka Val, first appeared in 1967. Originally, Black Widow was intended to be Val’s MCU debut. However, the movie was delayed from its original May 2020 release date because of COVID-19.

As a result, Val (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) first showed up in the Marvel streaming series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier in April. Originally, Val was a SHIELD recruit. She’s now a villainous character.

UPDATE: Fellow Bond fan Jeffrey Westhoff and I exchanged messages on Facebook. He makes the case (and I agree) there’s a Black Widow sequence inspired by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

When great composers resort to the slide whistle

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Sometimes, great minds just think alike.

So it is with the slide whistle. One of the most controversial James Bond music choices was when John Barry (1933-2011) opted to use a slide whistle in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).

Bond (Roger Moore), desperate to catch up with villain Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), sends his car across a narrow Thailand waterway. The car completes one full rotation in mid-air before landing on its wheels.

In reality, it was a carefully planned stunt. Such jumps had already been performed at shows. The stunt originally was designed on a computer. Barry utilized a slide whistle for the scene. Many Bond film fans have never forgiven him since.

The thing is, another legendary film composer had used a slide whistle just several years before.

Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) scored the two Derek Flint films, Our Man Flint and In Like Flint. With the latter, a 1967 release, Goldsmith also opted to use a slide whistle. It was part of an action sequence. You can see (and hear) use of the slide whistle around the 1:40 mark of the video below:

That’s show business.

UPDATE: On social media, I encountered someone who is claiming John Barry had absolutely nothing to do with The Man With the Golden Gun’s slide whistle.

In the book The Music of James Bond, Barry told a different story. “I just took the liberty of poking fun at it,” Barry is quoted by author Jon Burlingame in the chapter about Golden Gun (it’s on page 121 of the edition I own) specifically about the slide whistle. “It made a mockery of Bond, looking back on it. Even Cubby (Broccoli) didn’t like that. But it was me getting to the end of it.”

I know there’s a dispute about how much Barry contributed, or didn’t contribute to the Monty Norman-credited James Bond Theme. But people rarely seek credit for a lesser moment like Golden Gun’s slide whistle. With For Your Eyes Only, Richard Maibaum made sure everybody knew he didn’t write the line, “I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!”

Sean Connery, original film 007, dies at 90

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery, the original film James Bond, has died at 90. His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a post on Twitter.

Jason Connery, the actor’s son, told the BBC that his father “has been unwell for some time.”

The Scottish actor took on the role of James Bond with Dr. No, when he was 31. By doing so, he became one of the major icons of the 1960s, along with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Connery enjoyed a long career, which extended into the early 21st century. His last live-action performance was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery also did voice work for a 2005 video game that adapted the 007 film From Russia With Love and a 2012 animated film, Sir Billi.  The actor’s honors included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s The Untouchables.

Despite all that, his seven Bond films — six for Eon Productions as well as the non-Eon production of 1983’s Never Say Never Again — defined his career and made him a star.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.

Audiences adored the combination. The first four Bond films were mostly faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming novels. For the American market, Connery’s Bond was a more macho hero than audience members probably expected.

The actor stayed busy with non-Bond projects, including The Hill, a World War II drama. But the conversation kept coming back to Bond, like in an Oct. 3, 1965 episode of What’s My Line?

Connery, the first of two mystery guests, was present because The Hill was opening in New York later that week. He was also in New York filming A Fine Madness, directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later work with Connery on Never Say Never Again.

But panelist Martin Gabel, one of Connery’s co-stars in the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie, cited Bond in deducing the actor’s identity.

What’s more, Connery’s relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman became troubled. As the budgets and scope of the movies expanded, Connery felt cheated with his share of the enterprise.

In 1966, Columbia Pictures released The Silencers, a spoofy version of Donald Hamilton’s very serious Matt Helm novels. The producer was Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen.

To secure the services of star Dean Martin, Allen had to make Dino a partner. That ensured the actor, who received a share of the proceeds, would get a bigger payday than Connery got for 007 films. From then on, Connery would be at odds with his Bond employers.

Connery quit the series after 1967’s You Only Live Twice (the first 007 venture than dispensed with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel).

UA, unhappy with the box office of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, lured Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with a big payday, including a $1.25 million fee (which the Scottish actor donated to a trust he founded). Connery also received a percentage of the box office.

After Diamonds, Connery said he was done with Eon for good. But he went back into Bondage one more time with Never Say Never Again.

Connery had more behind-the-camera power than he ever had with Eon. He brought in scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to do an uncredited rewrite of Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script. The actor also recruited Michel Legrand to score the movie.

Both the script and the music would be among the most criticized aspects of Never Say Never Again. But many Bond fans, happy to see Connery one last time, overlooked the actor’s role as de facto producer.

Sean Connery in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Regardless, Connery was the building block for Eon’s 007 film series that has lasted more than a half century.

The series, of course, had many talented contributors including director Young, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry. However, Connery provided a popular Bond for audiences. All future Bond actors would be compared to Connery.

Some fans and critics have argued that Connery has been surpassed in the 21st century by Daniel Craig. But without Connery at the start, that’s almost a moot point. All of Connery’s 007 successors had the opportunity because of the Scot’s original work.

Margaret Nolan, Bond’s ‘Golden Girl,’ dies

Margaret Nolan, an actress who appeared in Goldfinger and A Hard Day’s Night, has died, according to director Edgar Wright.

Wright reported her passing on Twitter:

Nolan was 76, according to her entry on Wikipedia.

Nolan had a small role as Dink in Goldfinger, a woman James Bond (Sean Connery) meets in Goldfinger. But it was the film’s main titles, designed by Robert Brownjohn, where Nolan made her biggest impact.

In Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel, Auric Goldfinger has a fetish of having women painted gold. Brownjohn jumped on the idea for his main titles. Nolan, clad in a bikini, was painted gold, with scenes from the movie (as well as scenes from Dr. No and From Russia With Love) projected onto her body.

Brownjohn’s visuals of Nolan coupled with the title song written by John Barry and lyricists Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, helped make Goldfinger a huge hit. The lyrics referred to a “Golden Girl.” Both the song and the images captured the imaginations of audiences in 1964.

She also had a small role in A Hard Day’s Night starring The Beatles. Bond fans could spot her instantly.

Below is an image from her brief appearance in Goldfinger outside of the main titles.

“Dink, say goodbye to Felix.”

And below is one of the Goldfinger posters with the Nolan image.

Goldfinger poster

UPDATE (Oct. 12): The official 007 Twitter feed took note of Nolan’s passing this morning.

No Time to Die title song debuts

The title song for No Time to Die debuted Thursday night. The song co-written and performed by Billie Eilish included a few Bond music touches.

Around the 1:00 mark, there was a “WAAAAAA” sound that John Barry dropped into his James Bond film scores now and then. Around the 2:02 mark, there was an ominous-sounding instrumental, similar to Barry scores when something, well, ominous was about the happen.

Finally, at the end, there was a brief twang of an electric guitar, again similar to early Barry scores in the Bond series. Barry retired the electric guitar after Sean Connery departed the Eon-produced series. Other composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Kamen, and David Arnold brought it back.

We’ll see how the reaction goes. Regardless, it was far from the parody version seen on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert on CBS. That was essentially “Bad Guy” with tweaked lyrics.

You can view the YouTube version of the No Time to Die song below.

What’s more, Eon Production posted a video featuring the song. It had some shots (not many) that hadn’t been in previous trailers and TV spots.

UPDATE (8:02 p.m., New York time): If you CLICK HERE you can read the lyrics to No Time to Die. h/t Jack Lugo.

UPDATE II (3:40 a.m., Feb. 14): Hans Zimmer, who is scoring the movie, says on Twitter, that the No Time to Die song includes an orchestral arrangement by himself and Matt Dunkley. 

About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.

OHMSS’ 50th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

Updated and adapted from a 2014 post.

When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond in Dr. No, there was interest. Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were popular. President John F. Kennedy was among their fans. Still, it wasn’t anything to obsess over.

By the end of the 1960s, things had changed. Bond was a worldwide phenomenon. 007 was a big business that even producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hadn’t anticipated originally. Now, the role was being re-cast after Sean Connery departed the role.

As a result, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which debuted 50 years ago this month, was under intense scrutiny. The film required a long, exhausting shooting schedule. This time, Bond would be played by a novice actor, George Lazenby, and supervised by a first-time director, Peter Hunt.

Hunt, at least, was no novice with the world of 007. He had been editor or supervising editor of the previous five Broccoli-Saltzman 007 films and second unit director of You Only Live Twice. So he was more than familiar with how the Bond production machine worked. Also, he had support of other 007 veterans, including production designer Syd Cain, set decorator Peter Lamont, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry.

Lazenby, on the other hand, had to take a crash course. He was paired with much more experienced co-stars, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. And he was constantly being compared with Connery.

When, at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella,” the statement was true on multiple levels.

Majesty’s was also the first time Eon Productions re-calibrated. You Only Live Twice had dispensed with the main plot of Fleming’s novel and emphasized spectacle instead. Majesty’s ended up being arguably the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming 007 novel. It was still big, but it had no spaceships or volcano hideouts.

Majesty’s global box office totaled $82 million, according to THE NUMBERS WEBSITE. That was a slide from You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million. Twice’s box offce, in turn, had declined compared with Thunderball.

For Lazenby, once was enough. He subsequently has said he erred by not making a second Bond. “This never happened to the other fella,” indeed.

The film also marked Hunt’s exit from the series. He had been one of the major contributors of the early 007 films. But Eon would no longer employ his services after Majesty’s.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among many 007 fans. In 1969 and 1970, the brain trust at Eon Productions and United Artists concluded some re-thinking was needed. Things were about to change yet again.

Dan Romer to compose Bond 25’s score, IndieWire says

Eon’s Bond 25 logo

Dan Romer, who has previously worked with Bond 25 director Cary Fukunaga, will compose the score for Bond 25, IndieWire reported. The entertainment website didn’t specify how it obtained the information.

Romer previously composed the score for Maniac, a 10-episode television mini-series directed by Fukunaga. Romer also scored Beasts of No Nation, a 2015 film directed, written and photographed by Fukunaga.

“Romer excels at finding the appropriate vibe with quirky, eclectic unpredictability,” wrote IndieWire’s Bill Desowitz.

On June 25, Eon Productions released a Bond 25 promotional video featuring behind the scenes shots filmed in Jamaica. Romer’s style, according to IndieWire is “in sync with Fukunaga’s reel, which was luscious, dark, and frenetic.”

If the IndieWire report pans out, it will continue a 007 trend begun under Sam Mendes, the director of Skyfall and SPECTRE. Thomas Newman, who scored both films, was Mendes’ choice.

In the 1960s, beginning with From Russia With Love, John Barry was the to-go composer for the series regardless of director. Barry had arranged the final version of The James Bond Theme in Dr. No. Once in the composer’s chair, he established the Bond musical template.

Barry did six consecutive Bond films from 1963 through 1971. He eventually did 11 007 scores, ending with 1987’s The Living Daylights.

David Arnold, who followed the Barry template while trying to update it, did five consecutive Bond scores from 1997 through 2008’s Quantum of Solace. Some fans had hoped that Arnold would return for Bond 25.

h/t @CorneelVf on Twitter

UPDATE: Dan Romer put out a tweet related to the news.

 

Golden Gun’s 45th anniversary: The unloved Bond?

goldengunposter

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

Updated and expanded from a 2014 post.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun.

The 1974 film has received a lot of flak over the decades. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

For example, Don McGregor, then a writer for Marvel Comics, savaged the movie in a lengthy article in a 1975 issue of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine (which featured a cover drawn by comics legend Neal Adams).

Also, the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website had few kind words when its contributors (including myself) did rankings of the Bond films. (Speaking only for myself, as I look back on my comments, one about John Barry was over the top.)

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.”

Neal Adams cover to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine containing an article savaging The Man With the Golden Gun

However, the movie also has its defenders. Among them is David Leigh, who runs The James Bond Dossier website and is a regular guest on the James Bond & Friends podcast.  Also, the August 2018 issue of 007 Magazine (which is sold out) had an article titled, “In Defence of The Man With the Golden Gun.”

The movie was a bit of a disappointment at the box office. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Golden Gun is not the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that many like to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t demanding candor.

But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Oswald Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (John Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it doesn’t get much love from part of the 007 fan community.