The Spy Who Loved Me’s 45th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

Adapted from a 2017 post.

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 45 years ago, showed the cinema 007 was more than capable of rolling with the punches.

Global box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, plunged almost 40 percent from Live And Let Die, the debut for star Roger Moore. For a time, things got worse from there.

The partnership between 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, unsteady for years, ruptured. Eventually, Saltzman was bought out by United Artists, leaving Broccoli in command. But that was hardly the end of difficulties.

Kevin McClory re-entered the picture. He had agreed not to make a Bond movie with his Thunderball rights for a decade. That period expired and McClory wanted to get back into the Bond market. Eventually, court fights permitted Broccoli’s effort for the 10th James Bond movie to proceed while McClory couldn’t mount a competing effort.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Numerous writers (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant) tried their hand at crafting a new 007 tale.

Finally, a script credited to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, with uncredited rewriting by Tom Mankiewicz, emerged.

Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct his fifth Bond movie but left the project. That paved the way for the return of Lewis Gilbert, who helmed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. It was Gilbert who brought Christopher Wood to work on the script.

The final film would resemble Twice. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

With Saltzman gone, Cubby made his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, a key player in the production. Wilson was already on the Eon Productions payroll and was involved in the negotiations that saw Saltzman’s departure.

For Spy, Wilson’s official credit was “special assistant to producer” and it was in small type in the main titles. However, that downplayed Wilson’s role. An early version of Spy’s movie poster listed Wilson, but not production designer Ken Adam, whose name had been included in the posters for Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

UA, now in possession of Saltzman’s former stake in the franchise, doubled down, almost doubling the $7 million budget of Golden Gun.

In the end, it all worked. Bond shrugged off all the blows.

Spy generated $185.4 million in worldwide box office in the summer of 1977, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.)

Roger Moore, making his third Bond movie, would later (in Inside The Spy Who Loved Me documentary) call Spy his favorite 007 film.

The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for sets (designed by Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), its score (Marvin Hamlisch) and its title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). None, however, won.

Observations of a No Time to Die rewatch Part I

One of the many No Time to Die posters

The movie has some nifty image composition/photography.

In the pre-titles sequence, Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) writes a secret, burns it and sends the embers into the night air. The camera follows it until the Matera landscape turns to day. Very classy.

Bond isn’t very bright, is he?

Let’s face it, Bond has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer. In Dr. No, he has no real plan for when he gets to Crab Key. In From Russia With Love, he’s easily taken in by Grant’s less-than-sophisticated set up of Kerim and a Soviet agent supposedly killing each other. In the film, Kerim has a knife in his side, hardly the easiest way of killing oneself.

But in No Time to Die, Bond falls for Blofeld’s frame of Madeline. This propels the plot through much of the movie.

That curious music title card

“Music by Hans Zimmer, Score produced by Steve Mazzaro.”

Zimmer, on mulitiple occasions, said the score was a collaboration between himself and Mazzaro. One thinks the the title card should have had a footnote. “Sorry, Steve. We know you did half or so of the score. This is the best we could do.”

Bond knows his Jamaican home has been invaded. Does his outside shower and toothbrushing lead to Safin getting his DNA?

The scene around the 47:00 mark (the scientist who has been working for Safin) suggests so. Then against the scientist substitutes a sample of all the SPECTRE leadership. Hard to tell.

Which M made the bigger mistakes? Judi Dench in Skyfall or Ralph Fiennes in No Time to Die?

Judgment call.

“Come on, Felix. we’ve been in worse than this. Let’s go.”

How many times have Bond and Felix Leiter been in jeopardy *at the same time*? Not many in either the first 20 Eon films or the Craig era. Going back to Kevin McClory’s first Thunderball scripting efforts, there were more attempts to go give Felix more to do.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: First attempt at a Thunderball script

Kevin McClory's cameo in Thunderball

Kevin McClory’s cameo in Thunderball

Adapted from a 2015 post

Bond collector Gary J. Firuta loaned us a copy of the first script in what would eventually become 1965’s Thunderball — but it’s an uneven effort at best.

The script was Jack Whittingham’s first draft, titled Longitude 78 West for producer Kevin McClory. It’s dated as being completed on Feb. 15, 1960. The title page specifically refers to it as a “first draft screenplay” that’s “Based on a story by Ian Fleming.”

The villains belong to the Mafia and are led by Giovanni “Joe” Largo. Except we’re told in the second half of the script that name is an alias. Nevertheless, he is identified as Largo throughout the script in both lines of dialogue and in stage directions.

Aside from the hijacking of two atomic bombs, there’s no other action in the script’s first half. It begins with a short pre-credits sequence where U.S. President Harry S. Truman comments about how, one day, civilization could be destroyed by atomic weapons.

“It is hoped that we may be able to persuade Mr. Truman to record this scene,” the stage directions read. “If not, it’s (sic) intention and content can be expressed quite easily some other way.”

Bond doesn’t appear until page 26. The rule of thumb is that one page of script equals a minute of running time. So 007 wouldn’t be seen until almost a half-hour into the movie. He’s on the shooting range at headquarters, in a scene similar to the opening of Fleming’s Moonraker novel.

Bond is summoned to M’s office. Here, the secretary to the MI6 chief is named simply Penny, not Moneypenny. The British government has been notified by the Mafia it has the atomic bombs and it wants 100 million pounds.

We also see things unfold in the Bahamas. Largo’s mistress is Gaby. It’s clear she’s not particularly enthusiastic about the arrangement. He wants her for, in effect, decoration at an upcoming meeting of delegates to a supposed union meeting (of course they’re fellow members of the Mafia, or the Brotherhood). “I’ve got a lot of entertaining to do, and I want you around,” Largo tells Gaby.

Bond meets Gaby at a hotel on page 38. It turns out Largo’s group is meeting there as well. Bond orders a planter’s punch from a bartender and buys a vodka martini for Gaby. They talk until page 41, when Bond first gets a look at Largo and 007 meets the villain on the following page.

Shortly thereafter, Bond meets up with the CIA’s Felix Leiter. After a meeting with the governor of the Bahamas, the agents have lunch. Bond talks a lot about food. When Bond asks the waiter for a wine list, Leiter replies: “Not for me thanks. Bring me a glass of water.” Bond says, “Of course, I’d forgotten!” What he forgot is never explained.

In the story, there’s a sequence that goes back and forth between Bond romancing Gaby and Leiter keeping tabs on Largo’s group. There’s also a scene where Gaby talks to Johnni, a young boy who’s a crew member on Largo’s yacht. Bond wonders why Gaby is so interested in children. She replies because she can’t have any.

The action picks up in the second half. Largo is mad about Bond being with Gaby, and the agent gets beaten up. Eventually, the Mafia makes its move and is ready to bring one of the bombs to Miami.

Bond plays Largo in a game of baccarat. Presumably, this is an homage to Fleming’s Casino Royale and the scene is more important that a similar scene in Thunderball; in that version, the card game is where Bond and Largo first meet. Bond tries to win Gaby to his side and instructs her how to deactivate, or activate, the bomb.

Meanwhile, Leiter, while not an equal to Bond, is more of a participant in events than he’d be in Thunderball. He gets captured by Largo and is on the villain’s yacht.

In the climax, Bond is involved in an underwater fight with the Mafia (though not as expansive as would take place in Thunderball). Largo shoots Leiter, after the CIA agent had gotten free. Largo takes Gaby and the other bomb in an airplane.

Bond tends to Felix and watches the plane getting away. Then, the aircraft goes up in an atomic explosion. “She’s done it…She had the guts…She’s done it!” Bond says as the story ends.

Besides the downer ending, which 007 audiences wouldn’t experience until 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the script is unusual in other ways. It’s very chatty. VERY chatty. Scenes go on and on. Bond comes across as a social worker where he quizzes Gaby about her fondness for children.

Granted this is a first draft, but one suspects if this version had gone before the cameras, the cinema 007 might have ended right there.

Ralph Fiennes rips off a SPECTRE scab

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes caused a stir with comments on a podcast about how he successfully resisted attempts during production of SPECTRE to turn his M into a villain.

“I had to fight off an attempt by (Skyfall and SPECTRE director) Sam (Mendes) in SPECTRE…I don’t want to play M and then you turn around make M the bad guy. M is never the bad guy….I had to have some pretty intense discussions with Sam.”

The key excerpt is below:

The thing is all of this became known in 2014 with the hacking at Sony, which distributed Skyfall and SPECTRE. What makes it of interest is Fiennes talking about it. Eventually, a new character, dubbed C, became the traitor.

The 2014 hacks also revealed that, at the same time, Tanner would also be revealed to be a traitor. He would commit suicide while Bond observed. At least two SPECTRE script drafts, including one with an Irma Bunt henchwoman (a major character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), leaked out.

Fiennes’ comments draw attention to a volatile time.

Pre-production of SPECTRE (then known as Bond 24) had been well underway when, on Nov. 15, 2013, it was announced that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Danjaq/Eon had reached an agreement with the estate of Kevin McClory. As a result of the pact, MGM and Danjaq/Eon now firmly held the rights to Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE.

One way to go would be to put Blofeld and SPECTRE in a drawer for use later. Instead, Blofeld and SPECTRE were shoehorned into Bond 24.

All of a sudden, everything was up for grabs. In Fiennes case, he put his foot down and the notion of M as a traitor passed.

All of this had been mostly forgotten until the actor’s recent comments. All of this reflects Eon’s “we’ll make it up as we go along” approach. Example: At a 2011 press conference, Mendes said Skyfall had nothing to do with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

When SPECTRE rolled around, lo and behold, Skyfall villain Silva was really part of SPECTRE. It would be as if Goldfinger had been part of SPECTRE in 1964. (He wasn’t.)

So it goes.

A No Time to Die reality check

Daniel Craig/James Bond character poster

Adapted, updated and expanded from previous blog posts.

Ben Whishaw, who has played Q for three James Bond films, has told Collider.com that No Time to Die will be a “summing up” of Daniel Craig’s 007 films.

There has been some fan discussion of how the Craig films will now be this five-film epic, something the series had never attempted. Under this idea, No Time to Die will conclude five Bond films, similar to how Avengers: Endgame was the conclusion of more than 20 Marvel Studios movies.

No Time to Die may be presented that way. But this is just a reminder that Craig’s tenure was never planned this way unlike Marvel.

Let’s go back some years.

Sam Mendes said Skyfall “didn’t connect” to Casino Royale or Quantum of Solace: At a November 2011 press conference, Mendes was asked whether Skyfall was related to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

“It’s its own story,” the Skyfall director said of Skyfall. “It doesn’t connect with the last two movies.”

After the fact, things changed.

The filmmakers once told us SPECTRE was passe: Here’s a quote from Barbara Broccoli in a 2012 interview with CRAVE ONLINE:

Barbara Broccoli: I mean, we’ve talked about Blofeld over the years. The thing is Blofeld was fantastic for the time but I think it’s about creating characters that are, villains that are more appropriate for the contemporary world. It’s more exciting for us to create somebody new. (emphasis added)

The filmmakers told us Quantum was better than SPECTRE: Here’s a summary by the JAMES BOND INTERNATIONAL FAN CLUB of an article that originally appeared in SPX magazine.

Interestingly, Wilson and Broccoli told SFX that they have not abandoned the Quantum organisation, but also confirmed that it is not used in ‘Skyfall’. Wilson also revealed that they have the rights to bring back Blofeld and SPECTRE. ‘We believe we can use them. They’re a little dated at the moment. We went for the Quantum organisation, which was more business oriented, trying to corner the market on scarce resources, rather than a criminal organisation that did blackmail and bank robberies…’.

But Wilson’s co-producer Barbara Broccoli added, cautiously, that they needed a little more time to pass before they could go back to ‘extortion and blackmail! The Quantunm organisation does seem far more realistic. (emphasis added)

In 2006’s Casino Royale, the mysterious organization that Bond battled didn’t have a name. In Quantum of Solace, we found out it was called Quantum. In SPECTRE, we learned there was a tie between Quantum and SPECTRE via Mr. White.

The 2013 settlement with the Kevin McClory estate that gave Eon Productions the ability to use SPECTRE was an opportunity. That changed everything,

With SPECTRE, we got a “retcon” (retroactive change in continuity).

I saw a tweet from a fan who wondered whether No Time to Die was SPECTRE Part II. Essentially, many fans are buying into the idea (seemingly voiced by Whishaw in his Collider interview) that No Time to Die is Casino Royale Part V.

None of this means No Time to Die won’t be an entertaining James Bond. Still, let’s not get carried away.

Jack Whittingham’s daughter talks about her father

Cover to The Thunderball Story

Sylvan Whittingham Mason, daughter of screenwriter Jack Whittingham, discused her father and her limited-edition book, The Thunderball Story in an interview with the blog.

Jack Whittingham (1910-1972) was hired to pen a script while Kevin McClory collaborated with 007 creator Ian Fleming to try to launch a James Bond film in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

That initial effort faltered, but was the heart of a 1960s court case that would have an impact on the cinematic 007 for decades.

McClory would gain the film rights to Fleming’s Thunderball novel, written by Fleming after the film project ended. McClory would work in partnership with Eon Productions for 1965’s Thunderball. He’d try to compete with Eon with projects based on his Thunderball film rights. One emerged (1983’s Never Say Never Again) while nothing came of other attempts.

The interview was conducted by email. Some of the answers were edited for length. Thanks to Shane Whaley of the Spybrary podcast and Facebook page for making introductions for the interview.

UPDATE 3:45 p.m. New York time: Readers of the blog have advised the book isn’t available in the United States.

UPDATE 5:45 p.m. New York time: Sylvan Whittingham Mason advises the book can be ordered in the U.S. CLICK HERE for the Kindle version.

SPY COMMAND: Just how did your father come to be involved in the late 1950s/very early 1960s film project?

SYLVAN WHITTINGHAM MASON: In 1959, My father was a writer for hire, having just left Ealing studios to go free-lance, where he had been been part of the Ealing team, and had been writing screenplays for 14 years. Kevin McClory was looking for an experienced screenwriter to work with Ian Fleming on a James Bond movie, and approached MCA agent, Bob Fenn who suggested my father.

SC: How did your father come to be the forgotten man of Thunderball?

SWM: My father was at the height of his career; he had a six bedroom house in a leafy Surrey stockbroker belt, and two children in private education.

However, sometime after proceeding with Kevin McClory as co-plaintiff against (Ian) Fleming and (Fleming friend Ivar) Bryce, and watching the case mushroom out of all proportion, he realised that Kevin, (who had Bobo Sigrist’s Hawker Siddeley fortune behind him should he fail,) had everything to gain but nothing to lose. My father, who had no one backing him, had nothing to gain and everything to lose as he had been paid for the original screenplay and had transferred his rights (of whatsoever nature) to Kevin.

He stepped down as co-plaintiff and became principal witness supporting Kevin completely for the remainder of the proceedings, thus reducing the risk of bearing the potentially enormous cost of a case that could be of no financial compensation to him should they lose.

His own case against Fleming for professional damages and false attribution, etc. was scuppered when Fleming’s final heart attack put an end to it.

SC: The Thunderball affair has been examined in detail, including The Battle for Bond by Robert Sellers. What will readers learn with this new book?

SWM: There are some new quotes and several photographs that have not been widely seen before, but most of the information, as you rightly say, came from ‘The Battle For Bond,’ in which the information for that book (regarding my father and Kevin,) originally came from me, as I hold a complete set of both plaintiff’s court case papers, and so was able to provide absolutely accurate source material to my esteemed friend Robert Sellers.

However, my aim with this small book was to present my father’s enormous contribution to the 007 phenomenon in a simple, concise way that, not just the serious James Bond aficionado who is happy to trawl through some 400 pages of small writing in ‘The Battle For Bond’ could enjoy, but for everybody who finds it hard to grasp this somewhat complex tale.

I have been asked so many times to explain what happened. I always start off by saying, “I’ll try and keep this as brief as I can.” Before I am half way through the story, eyes start to glaze over, and very few people actually “get” that Ian Fleming did not write the THUNDERBALL novel or the THUNDERBALL screenplay, and the character of Bond in his books was not the same character that appeared in the films, though he did bear the same name. One of my closest friends remarked recently after reading my book, “At last I see clearly exactly what happened!”
`

SC: What would you say your father contributed to Thunderball?

SWM: My father contributed a screenplay that catapulted a popular set of seven well (but not brilliantly) written books with a rather stuffy Bond character who wore pin striped suits, carried an umbrella and drove a Bentley, and who was somewhat lacking in charm or charisma, into the raised eyebrow, charismatic, charming, suave, tongue in cheek, superstar character we know and love today.

Screenplay title card for Thunderball (1965) that references Jack Whittingham’s earlier script

His professionally written screenplay was the pivot between the books being turned down by all the film studios for being too misogynistic, violent and unbelievable, and a film project that had the top movie makers queuing up.

This very first screenplay was plagiarized on 105 pages in Fleming’s novel of Thunderball, and was the basis for that book and for the final screenplay that emerged from the book that was based on the first screenplay.

Without my father’s first screenplay, it is entirely possible that the film James Bond phenomenon as we know it today might never have taken off at all and would probably have never progressed further than the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.

Jack Whittingham’s daughter publishes a Thunderball book

Cover to The Thunderball Story

Sylvan Whittingham Mason, daughter of screenwriter Jack Whittingham, has published a book about her father’s work on what would become Thunderball, the fourth James Bond film.

The book, which is available on Amazon, is titled The Thunderball Story: The Untold History of the First James Bond Screenplay. Here’s the description on Amazon:

“The story is the most fascinating and controversial in the entire history of James Bond. It began way back in 1958 when maverick Irish producer, Kevin McClory collaborated with 007 creator Ian Fleming and screenwriter, Jack Whittingham on a screenplay that was eventually entitled ‘THUNDERBALL’.” (Robert Sellers – “The Battle for Bond”) Jack Whittingham’s daughter, Sylvan – one of the few people left alive still alive from that time – provides an unique and personal insight into the untold history of the very first James Bond screenplay.

Jack Whittingham (1910-1972) doesn’t get as much attention as the other players in the Thunderball saga. Kevin McClory took on Ian Fleming in court and eventually received the film rights to the novel. An attribution would be added to the book that it was based on a story by McClory, Whittingham and Fleming.

McClory cut a deal with Eon Productions and Thunderball became the fourth film in the Eon series. McClory in the 1970s battled Eon in court as well amid attempts to make a new film based on the novel. Eventually, Never Say Never Again, a Thunderball remake, was released in 1983.

Some collectors have a copy of an early 1960 draft by Whittingham for McClory. At that point the title was Longitude 78 West. In that script, the villains, led by Largo, belong to the Mafia. Other scripts would be written before the McClory project ran aground. Fleming would use the work as the basis for his Thunderball novel and the legal fights began after it was published. Writer Robert Sellers’s book The Battle for Bond covered that history. (You can CLICK HERE to view a 2015 interview the blog did with Sellers.)

The Thunderball Story is priced at 16.99 British pounds. For more information, CLICK HERE.

UPDATE OCT. 27: The original Amazon description was changed from saying Sylvan Whittingham Mason was “the only person still alive from that time” to saying she was “one of the few people left alive still alive from that time.” So the post has been edited today, Oct. 27, to reflect that. See a comment from another Whittingham below.

1970s: McClory enlists Connery, Deighton for a 007 script

Title page to the 1978 Warhead script.

Kevin McClory had struck it big in 1965. Holding the screen rights to Thunderball, he had been, in effect, made a partner by Eon Productions on the film adaptation. It was a big hit.

Under terms of his deal, McClory wasn’t to attempt another Thunderball-related project for a decade. Once that time elapsed, McClory decided to do just that.

This time, he enlisted Sean Connery, now the former 007, and author Len Deighton, who had performed uncredited work on the screenplay of From Russia With Love.

The trio’s names would be attached to a script titled James Bond of the Secret Service in 1976 and Warhead in 1978. The 1976 script is online, uploaded by 007Dossier.com. I dug out a copy I had of the 1978 effort. Meanwhile, the BBC on July 26 ran a story about the Warhead script.

The two are very similar with key differences. James Bond of the Secret Service is like Thunderball. Blofeld is the behind the scenes mastermind while Largo is the operational commander.

In Warhead, Blofeld (identified as Ernst Stavros Blofed, with the extra “s” in the middle name) performs both functions. The name Largo inadvertently appears a couple of times in my copy of Warhead, as if somebody forgot to remove it.

SPECTRE operates a mammoth underwater operation. In 1976, it’s called Arkos. In 1978, it’s named Aquapolis. The earlier script includes a large thug named Bomba, described as “a black man of gigantic proportions.” The 1978 script the henchman is called Ghengis, “a Mongloian of gigantic proportions.”

More Ambitious

SPECTRE, in both scripts, has gotten more ambitious than it had been in the Eon film series. It’s responsible for missing aircraft in the Bermuda Triangle (apparently because it can). It’s already extracting gold and other substances from seawater.

And this time out, SPECTRE aims to take control of the world’s oceans.

“My first act will be to stop all pollution,” Blofeld says in both scripts. “Each government will answer to me for any desctive elements coming in to our oceans. I will give them six months to cease using our oceans as umping grounds for their sewage, filth, poisons, chemicals and atomic waste.”

SPECTRE’s plan to accomplish all this includes robot sharks and nuclear warheads from a Soviet submarine the criminal organization has disabled.

Familiar Tale?

By this point, the average Bond fan is probably observing all this sounds familiar to The Spy Who Loved Me, the 10th film in Eon’s film series.

That 1977 movie featured villain Karl Stromberg, an industrialist who operated a mammoth installation called Atlantis and who was alarmed about environmental damage to oceans. He, of course, had a large henchman named Jaws. The story line emerged from the contributions of many writers besides the credited Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum.

Indeed, there were court fights between Eon and McClory during this period. The result was that Eon and United Artists proceeded with Spy while McClory stayed on the sidelines.

In James Bond of the Secret Service/Warhead, we don’t encounter Bond himself until the scene switches to Shrublands. This story turned Schrublands from a health clinic into an “aquatactical centre,” which trains operatives of various countries, including the U.K. and U.S.

Here’s a stage direction from the Warhead script:

Along the beach, barbed wires comes down to the sea. JAMES BOND is having sun oil aplied to his body by a girl instructor, an exceptionally athletic and attractive fair-haired girl, JUSTINE LOVESIT. He is reclining in the shade of an old gun emplacement.

Perhaps she’s a cousin of Lovey Kravezit from the Matt Helm movie series. The dialogue here is certainly similar to a Helm movie with Dean Martin.

BOND
Call me James. And what’s your name?

LOVESIT
Justine Lovesit.

BOND
She does?

LOVESIT
My name is Justine.

BOND
(laughs)
Well, I’ll call you ‘Just’ for short.

Anyway, Bond and Felix Leiter meet up at Schrublands. They have an exchange that appears to reference scandals of the era involving the CIA and FBI.

“Good to see you, Felix,” Bond says. “So the Russians haven’t put you behind bars yet.”

“No, but Congress nearly did,” Leiter replies.

Dr. Blush

A briefing is conducted because SPECTRE has contacted the United Nations and “the leaders of the governments of five great powers” in the words of Gardner Steer, a CIA official. SPECTRE has already killed the UN secretary general, disabling his plane as it flew threw the Bermuda Triangle.

Meanwhile, SPECTRE agent Fatima Blush lurks about as a memeber of the medical staff. Bond quickly takes interest. “Well, if the party’s off, perhaps you’d like to give me my physical tonight, Dr. Blush,” the British agent says.

Also, at one point, Bond is scheduled is play Largo/Blofeld (depending on which script) in a backgammon game. But M orders Bond not to participate so we don’t get to see any such confrontation.

Eventually, the story results in a climax in New York City and at the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the plot is foiled, the villain vanquished.

None of this would make the screen. A Thunderball remake finally became reality in 1983 with Never Say Never Again.

McClorry was aboard with the title of executive producer. But it was producer Jack Schwartzman (1932-1994) who did the heavy lifting, securing Sean Connery’s services to make one final appearance as 007.

Never Say Never Again’s 35th: Battle of the Bonds round 2

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Adapted from a June 2013 post. An epilogue is added at the end.

Never Say Never Again marks its 35th anniversary in October. The James Bond film originally was intended to go directly up against Octopussy, the 13th film in the 007 film series made by Eon Productions, that came out in June 1983.

Sean Connery, after a 12-year absence from the role, was going to make a James Bond movie his way. Warner Bros. and producer Jack Schwartzman had made the actor the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. He was not only star, but had approval over various creative aspects. He had much of the power of a producer without the responsibilities.

Schwartzman, an attorney turned film producer, took charge of a long effort to make an non-Eon 007 film. Kevin McClory, who controlled the film rights to Thunderball, had been trying to mount a new production since the mid-1970s with no success. Schwartzman became the producer, with McClory getting an executive producer credit and both men “presenting” Never Say Never Again.

McClory, at one point, had attemped a broader new 007 adventure. Never Say Never Again was only supposed to be a remake of Thunderball. Lorenzo Semple Jr., who had scripted non-serious (the pilot for the Adam West Batman series) and serious (Three Days of the Condor) was hired as writer. Irvin Kershner, who had directed The Empire Strikes Back, was brought on as director. As an added bonus, Kershner had a history of working with Connery on the 1966 movie A Fine Madness.

“As far as I’m concerned, there never was a Bond picture before,” Kershner said in quotes carried in the movie’s press kit. “There is a certain psychological righness to the characters as (Ian) Fleming saw them. He understood people very well. He was an observer of life and that’s what makes him a good writer. I tried to maintain that quality in the film. I wanted the people to be true.”

By the Way

Starlog magazine devoted a cover to the “Battle of the Bonds” in 1983.

Not mentioned in the press kit was the fact that Connery, who had script approval, objected to Semple’s effort. As a result, at Connery’s urging, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were hired to rewrite but didn’t get a credit.

The end result was a storyline that veered from a version of Largo who’s clearly off his rocker to goofy gags involving the likes of British diplomat Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson). Perhaps Connery really meant it when, in 1971, he called Tom Mankiewicz’s lighthearted Diamonds Are Forever script the best of the Eon series up to that point.

Also present in Never was an over-the-top SPECTRE assassin, Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera), a far wilder version of Thunderball’s Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). In Thunderball, Bond tells Domino (Claudine Auger) her brother has been killed in a dramatic scene on a beach. In Never, he tells Domino (Kim Basinger) in the middle of a tango in a campy scene with loud music playing on the soundtrack.

‘Sean’s Warmth’

Speaking of music, composer Michel Legrand was recruited by none other than star Sean Connery, according to Jon Burlingame’s 2012 book, The Music of James Bond. According to the book, Legrand felt burned out after working on the movie Yentl. “Sean’s warmth and enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand is quoted by Burlingame. Legrand’s score is a sore point with fans, who still give Connery a pass for his role in bringing Legrand to the film.

Understandably, fans prefer to focus on Connery’s performance in front of the camera, rather than decisions he made behind it. The actor, who turned 52 before the start of production in 1982, looked fitter than his Eon finale, Diamonds Are Forever.

A survey of Her Majesty’s Secret Servant editors some years ago (the survey is now offline) reflects admiration for his acting while mostly downplaying his decision making behind the scenes.

At the box office, Never Say Never Again did fine while trailing 1983’s Eon entry, Octopussy, $55.4 million to $67.9 million in the U.S. The Schwartzman production had been delayed by four months compared with Octopussy.

Years later, Connery was seen on a CBS News show, saying that Never had “a really incompetent producer.” For Schwartzman, things didn’t end happily. He died in 1994 at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer.

Connery remained a star until he retired from acting in the early 2000s. Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer eventually gained control of the rights to Never Say Never Again.

Cover to Bondage No. 12, 1983

2018 epilogue: Like Octopussy, Never Say Never Again polarizes fans. Maybe more so.

Bond fans who never warmed to Roger Moore say the movie is just fine and superior to many of the 007 offerings of Eon Productions during this era. Evidently, Nigel Small-Fawcett’s goofiness is better than the goofiness of, say, Eon’s Sheriff J.W. Pepper.

During this time, there was a U.S.-based 007 fan publication, Bondage. You got the idea whose side Bondage was taking with the “Battle of the Bonds.” Issue No. 12’s cover had a publicity still of Connery from Never Say Never Again.

“Sean Connery returns in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN,” read the cover blurb. “Plus Octopussy.” The publication devoted a second cover to Never Say Never Again in 1984.  (The Book Bond website ran a 2014 story showing all the covers from 1974 to 1989.)

Meanwhile, to this day, pro-Eon fans still curse the name of Kevin McClory. I’ve seen comments from 007 fans on message boards who abhor Never Say Never Again simply because it’s not an Eon product.

For me, Connery is my favorite Bond actor. But looking back, I suspect Connery discovered being a (de facto) Bond producer is a lot harder than it looks.

There have been fan efforts of re-editing parts of the movie, including one with an Eon gunbarrel logo (putting Connery’s head on top of Timothy Dalton’s body) and overlaying John Barry scores from the Eon series.

Decades after its release, Never Say Never Again still gets a rise out of fans, regardless of their opinion.

1 million page views later

Today, Aug. 1, The Spy Command reached 1 million page views. Sounds like a big number but it’s actually pretty modest for the internet. But it’s not bad for a blog with a niche audience.

The blog’s best day for views was Nov. 15, 2013. That’s when it published a post with the press release that Danjaq LLC (parent of Eon Productions) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer had reached an agreement with the Kevin McClory estate.

The deal brought all rights that had been held by McClory into the Danjaq-MGM fold “thus bringing to an amicable conclusion the legal and business disputes that have arisen periodically for over 50 years,” according to the statement. Thus, the Eon 007 series could again use Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE without fear of legal action.

That, however, was not the most viewed post in the history of blog. That honor goes to a post quoting Guy Ritchie that his first choice for Napoleon Solo in a movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was Brad Pitt.

Who’d have thought? Perhaps more surprises lay ahead.