The Spy Who Loved Me’s 40th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 40 years ago this year, 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, Spy was 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. 

The official 007 Blofeld survey and the options not listed

Max Von Sydow

Max Von Sydow

When you have a long break between films, you need to engage the fans somehow.

So the official James Bond account on Twitter asked, “Who is your favourite Blofeld?”

However, given the weird history about Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s film rights, this question is more complicated, with some options understandably not listed.

The four choices are the Blofeld actors whose face could be seen onscreen in movies made by Eon Productions: Donald Pleasence (You Only Live Twice), Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Charles Gray (misspelled Grey, at least when the tweet first went up, in Diamonds Are Forever) and Christoph Waltz (SPECTRE).

Not making the cut are the combination of Anthony Dawson (body) and Eric Pohlman (voice), used in From Russia With Love and Thunderball. On screen, we never see Blofeld’s face. The dialogue only refers to “Number One,” although the From Russia With Love end titles list “Ernst Blofeld” followed by a question mark in the cast of characters.

This version of Blofeld also dresses different than the others, wearing a suit and not the Nehru jacket-style top of the other four.

Also not listed is the stuntman (body) and Robert Rietty (voice) in the pre-titles sequence of For Your Eyes Only. Last year, the official 007 website carried a press release promoting a re-release of Bond movies featuring SPECTRE. The list included For Eyes Only. The villain in the pre-titles sequence was the only trace of SPECTRE in the movie.

At the time Eyes came out, the rights to Blofeld were in dispute and officially the character in the pre-titles sequence wasn’t Blofeld. In 2013, a settlement was reached with the estate of Kevin McClory, finally bringing Blofeld back into the Eon fold.

Finally, and most significantly, there’s Max Von Sydow, who played Blofeld in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, the McClory-Jack Schwartzman remake of Thunderball. It, of course, is not part of the Eon series and there’s no way the 007 Twitter account would include Von Sydow.

Still, Von Sydow is a great actor and his casting was a major plus for the movie. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get that much screen time. Von Sydow’s Blofeld does have a cat (like Eon’s Blofelds) but wears a suit.

The tweet about Blofeld is embedded below. Click on it to see the complete image.

UPDATE (10:10 p.m. New York time): Over on the official James Bond Facebook page, that version of the post does include the Dawson-Pohlman duo.

It should be noted that you can’t actually cast a ballot either on Twitter or Facebook.

About that whole ‘Blofeld Trilogy’ thing…

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

This blog’s recent post about suggestions for Bond 25 included the idea that it may be time to let the “Blofeld Trilogy” idea pass. But many don’t want to let go. So here’s a closer look.

What is it? The phrase was popularized by Raymond Benson in his 1984 book The James Bond Bedside Companion, referring to Ian Fleming’s novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

The term “Blofeld Trilogy” isn’t mentioned in the index. On page 123, the author introduces his analysis of Thunderball thusly:

The ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, is a terrific book. It is the beginning of what could be called the Blofeld Trilogy, which also includes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Thunderball also marks the change from the earlier novels to the later, more mature books.

Anything wrong with that? Not wrong, but perhaps more complex.

How so? First, Fleming almost certainly didn’t plan a trilogy. The Thunderball novel was Fleming’s way of recouping time spent on the unsuccessful film project spearheaded by Kevin McClory. McClory sued after the novel came out. In the resulting settlement, future editions of the novel indicated it was based on a screen treatment by McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming.

Second, Fleming wrote four novels during this period. He also penned The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962, written from the perspective of a woman who encounters Bond in the last third of the novel. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE but this only is mentioned in passing. Again, a sign this wasn’t a planned thing.

An important part of the Blofeld Trilogy: At the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is dead. Early in the You Only Live Twice novel, we’re told how Bond has fallen apart and is about to get his walking papers. He’s given a last chance to salvage his career. The unlikely mission leads to Blofeld and a final confrontation.

Yeah, so? The 007 film series adapted the novels out of order (as hard-core fans know all too well), so the Blofeld Trilogy, per se, wasn’t done. However, Eon Productions already has clearly cherry picked from the Blofeld Trilogy.

Example: In Skyfall, Bond has fallen apart after being shot by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’s a shell of former self when he finds out MI6 has been attacked. Even then, it takes quite a bit of screen time before Bond is back to his former self.

I repeat, yeah, so? Some fans would like Bond 25 to adapt the setup of the Blofeld Trilogy, have Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) killed and have 007 have a proper “revenge” story.

Initially, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During the scripting process, there was a henchwoman named Irma Bunt and the last line of the movie was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world.” Both were deleted from the final film.

A couple of things, regarding Bond 25:

1) Do we really want Bond to fall apart for the second time in three movies? Remember, it’s not the Blofeld Trilogy if he doesn’t fall apart.

2) We’ve had either revenge story lines or elements of them in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. Does the film series really cry out for another revenge story?

Nobody is going to change their mind based on this post. Just something to think about.

Robert Sellers talks about Thunderball

Thunderball poster in 1965

Thunderball poster in 1965

The Spy Command interviewed Robert Sellers, the author of The Battle of Bond, about Thunderball ahead of the film’s 50th anniversary.

Because of its length, the FULL INTERVIEW is posted on our sister site, The Spy Command Feature Story Index. Here are some highlights:

Sellers on Kevin McClory’s bad side: “He was a shyster and thank God his Thunderball film never got off the ground, it would have sunk the franchise before it had a chance to get started.”

Sellers on McClory’s good side: “However, one must not underestimate the importance of McClory, after all he was the first person to fully realize the potential of Bond as a screen character when Fleming had already been turned down by most of Hollywood. He also contributed lots of ideas to the project.”

Sellers on Ian Fleming: “I think an element of arrogance seeped into his thinking…Maybe he thought his establishment credentials (Eton, Sandhurst, Naval Intelligence) lent him superiority over the brash, Irish and working class McClory.

Sellers on Jack Whittingham, the screenwriter hired by McClory, who turned in the first Thunderball-related script in 1960: “To a large extent Whittingham also changed the character of Bond himself from the one in the original novels to one that contemporary cinema audiences would find more palatable.”

Sellers on Thunderball itself: ” I love Thunderball, it’s my favourite Bond film. For me it retains the dark, edginess of Dr No and From Russia With Love, combined with the fun and campness of Goldfinger, while looking ahead to the all-out epicness of things like You Only Live Twice.”

To read the full interview, CLICK HERE.

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part I: Dr. No

Dr. No poster

Dr. No poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The first film of the James Bond series was released in the middle of the Cold War, the Space Race and one year after Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball was published.

That novel provoked a legal dispute between a severely ill Fleming and producer Kevin McClory. The conflict — not settled until 1963 — prevented Thunderball from becoming the first Bond film made by Eon Productions as originally intended.

1962’s Dr. No followed followed the story line of Fleming’s 1958 book, with Sean Connery as 007 investigating the disappearance of MI6 agent Strangways, who was investigating the activities of the title character.

In the novel, the doctor worked for the Russians. Yet, in the Terence Young-directed film, he is completely apolitical, calling East and West “each as stupid as the other”. He introduces himself as a member of SPECTRE, a criminal organization standing for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

In this way, the great antagonist of James Bond is introduced: an organization that helped to depoliticize the films. At the time, East and West superpowers were rivals in both the Cold War and the conquest of space, a topic that would be slightly associated to the movie’s plot.

Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) proudly endorses the organization’s activities and, as one of its top members, he carries on one of the group’s world domination plans: the toppling of rockets launched by Americans at Cape Canaveral.

Without being the leader of SPECTRE, Dr. No’s modus operandi is pretty much the same of his Number One and the organization itself: he has goons everywhere at his disposal and provokes fear in those who fail. He is based on an island known as Crab Key.

Dr. No even tells Bond there might be a place in SPECTRE for him, which the British agent refuses. Bond says he if joined SPECTRE, he should be in the “revenge department,” and would begin with those responsible for the death of his friends Quarrel and Strangways.

007 spoils SPECTRE’s plan by sabotaging the toppling mechanism and causing Dr. No’s base to explode. Before the explosion, Bond and Dr. No fight on a platform above the villain’s atomic reactor. As the two men are being lowered into the reactor’s boiling water, Bond is able to get away while Dr. No’s metal hands can’t get a grip and perishes.

Audiences would get a proper introduction of the organization in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love. So far, this first Bond film provides us with a strong nemesis and a mention of the people behind him and their sinister activities. What can we surmise? They’re up for world domination, they’re apolitical, they want chaos and brilliant people, like scientist Dr. No, are on the payroll.

The fictional organization would appear in more films including the 1983 non-Eon film, Never Say Never Again and the upcoming SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes.

Nicolas Suszczyk is the editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

Here we go again: SPECTRE an origin story, Mendes says

SPECTRE teaser poster

SPECTRE teaser poster

It’s deja vu all over again.

Sam Mendes, the director of SPECTRE, is quoted in an ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY STORY as saying the 24th James Bond film is an origin story.

Here’s an excerpt:

“The Bond creation myth never happened,” Mendes says. “I felt there was an opportunity there: What made him? And who were the people who affected him along the way? You’re sort of telling the story backwards of how Bond became Bond.”

Nine years ago, Casino Royale, the 21st 007 film and the first to star Daniel Craig, was marketed as an origin story for Bond.

This continued well after its theatrical release. In the United States, the USA cable channel showed the film. USA’s promos had the tagline, “How James became Bond!”

In the Casino Royale novel, author Ian Fleming’s first, Bond already was a veteran agent. The story took place in 1951 (or so we’re told in Fleming’s Goldfinger novel) and Bond had been active as an operative since World War II.

That was then, this is now. “Spectre provides a kind of culmination to the three previous films while developing a backstory that’s been largely unexplored until now,” according to the Entertainment Weekly story.

The main thing that’s changed since Casino Royale is that Danjaq LLC/Eon Productions (the Broccoli-Wilson family entities that control the Bond film rights and produce the films) reached a settlement with the estate of Kevin McClory.

That settlement, reached in 2013, gives Danjaq/Eon (and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, their partner) control of SPECTRE and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

“Retcon”: For Your Eyes Only now official SPECTRE movie

Blofeld (apparently we can actually call him that now) menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld (apparently we can actually call him that now) menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

The James Bond film series has done what’s known in comic books as a “retcon” — or retroactive change in continuity. It appears 1981’s For Your Eyes Only is now officially considered a SPECTRE-related movie.

When did this happen? Today when the official 007 site today announced A HOME VIDEO RELEASE in connection with the 24th James Bond film.

Here’s the start of the press release:

As fans prepare for the November 6th release of SPECTRE, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment will release an all-new line-up of special edition Blu-rays, DVDs and box-sets on September 15th.

Two never-before-seen featurettes are included with interviews from Bond writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. “The Shadow of SPECTRE” will recount the fictional history of the global criminal syndicate and terrorist organization, “The Story So Far” will provide an overview of Daniel Craig’s first three Bond movies.

Six films featuring the SPECTRE organization (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY) and the three recent Daniel Craig titles (CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE, SKYFALL) will each get a limited edition Blu-ray Steelbook release, their cover designs inspired by each film’s opening title sequence. (emphasis added)

Interestingly, at the time of its release, 1981’s For Your Eyes Only wasn’t considered a SPECTRE related film. Its pre-titles sequence features a wheelchair-bound villain who looked like Ernst Stavro Blofeld but wasn’t identified as such.

The script, by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, had a line where the villain notes this is the 10th anniversary of his last encounter with Bond. That would appear to be a veiled reference to 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The line was cut from the movie but appears in the Marvel Comics adaptation.

At the time, Kevin McClory still held the film rights to Thunderball and he claimed ownership of the Blofeld character.

Presumably, with Danjaq LLC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 2013 obtaining all of the 007 rights held by McClory’s estate, all of that is moot now. Voila, For Your Eyes Only’s story has been changed.

One other note: Dr. No, the first 007 film, was also SPECTRE related because Dr. No was a member of the criminal organization. However, Blofeld didn’t put in an appearance, probably explaining why it’s not listed as part of this package.