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.

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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.

Nobody does it better: 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Four decades after its theatrical release (on that apt 7/7/1977 date) , The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most beloved James Bond films — not only for the Roger Moore era but the entire Eon Productions series.

Moore himself declared a couple of times this was his favorite Bond film. His preference for this film was understandable.

The film’s production had a rough start. In 1975, shortly after the release of The Man With The Golden Gun, Harry Saltzman sold his share of the Bond rights to United Artists after facing serious debts and personal problems, leaving Albert R. Broccoli as sole producer.

Eon Productions was not allowed by contract to use anything from Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel except for the title. It is known that the James Bond creator wasn’t happy with his most peculiar book, written in first person from the viewpoint of Vivienne Michel, a young girl attacked by goons in a motel in the United States and rescued by James Bond.

Various writers were hired to devise a story. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum would receive the screenplay credit. Guy Hamilton departed the project, originally set for a 1976 release. Finally, Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice a decade before, was hired.

Attempts to bring back Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were cancelled after Thunderball producer Kevin McClory threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, scribes Wood and Maibaum penned a suitable Bond extravaganza that pleased audiences.

In the process from the script to screen, a huge set was built at Pinewood Studios to double for the tanker owned by the villain. Claude Renoir’s camera captured the exotic beauty of turistic spots like Sardinia and Cairo. In Egypt, the crew was constantly monitored by the government. The catering service was a disappointment, leaving Cubby Broccoli to step up and personally cook spaghetti for the whole crew.

The Spy Who Loved Me stands out as an improvement for the Moore 007 movies. After two entertaining but rather “cheap” Bond films, this third Moore/Bond adventure looks expensive.

The action scenes are tidy and organized proving to be a perfect syncronization between the soundtrack, the cinematography, the stunt team and Lewis Gilbert’s experience in delivering an extraordinary adventure in the scale of You Only Live Twice.

Also notable was the work of the model unit to turn Bond’s white Lotus Espirit into a mini submarine, which he uses to explore the villain’s lair beneath the Sardinian seas (actually shot in The Bahamas, as were most of 007’s underwater sequences).

However, honors for The Spy Who Loved Me should go for a very brave man who performed an unforgettable stunt.

1975 trade advertisement for The Spy Who Loved Me before Harry Saltzman sold out his interest in Bond

Rick Sylvester got on his skis and slided trough the snowy summit of Canada’s Mount Asgard. He jumped off a cliff and opened a Union Jack parachute. This moment that won cheers and applause over cinemas across the United Kingdom almost killed Sylvester when one of the abandoned ski poles nearly punctured the parachute.

Roger Moore kept his grace in his third Bond film. He dashingly wears a Royal Navy uniform and has the USS Wayne submarine troops in charge before a big scale gunfight takes place against the villain’s forces. He lets an assasin fall to his death after extracting him information. And, bravely, he tells her KGB companion Anya Amasova that he was responsible for the death of her boyfriend. “In our business, Anya, people get killed.”

Barbara Bach lacked acting talent as the leading lady. This weak aspect was compensated by Curt Jurgens magnificient performance of Bond’s nemesis Karl Stromberg who tries to ignite World War III as the initial step for the inception of a world beneath the sea.

However, the most memorable character in the film’s rogue gallery was Richard Kiel’s Jaws, the giant with steel teeth who would return to join the side of good in the next film, Moonraker. The popularity of Jaws was so big that Richard Kiel shared his likeness for three Bond videogames: GoldenEye 007 (1997), Everything or Nothing (2003) and 007 Legends (2012).

Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score in tone with the times, influenced by the Bee Gees music and the late 1970s disco tunes but also with the dramatic tunes some moments require, such as the tanker battle near the end.

Particularly good are his remixes of the classic James Bond Theme that heralded the many action sequences of the film. For the main title song, Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager took inspiration from Mozart and created the immortal ode to Bond: “Nobody Does it Better,” a title that could very well also fit the effort to deliver a Bond film with capital B.

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.