Never Say Never Again’s 30th: Battle of the Bonds round 2

Never Say Never Again's poster

Never Say Never Again’s poster

Never Say Never Again marks its 30th 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 in 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.”

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 site 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.

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 HMSS editors 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.

Irvin Kershner, Never Say Never Again director, dies at 87

Irvin Kershner, best known for directing The Empire Strikes Back as well as the “unofficial” 007 film Never Say Never Again, has died at 87, according to an obituary on the entertainment Web site The Wrap. (UPDATE: For a more detailed obit, you can read The New York Times’s account of Kershner’s career BY CLICKING HERE.)

NSNA had a complicated history. It’s a remake of Thunderball (whose 45th anniversary we’ve been writing about). The original book the subject of a court fight between Kevin McClory and Ian Fleming after Fleming did a novel based on scripts of an abandoned film project. Eventually, McClory, having been a partner in the 1965 original film, began efforts to start his own 007 movie based on his Thunderball rights. After years of effort, that film was NSNA, which would bring back Sean Connery as Bond. Kershner drew the directing assignment and it probably didn’t hurt that he had directed the star in A Fine Madness.

The movie generates a mixed reaction among Bond fans. Some just won’t accept anything that’s not part of Eon Productions’ official series. Others love NSNA because Sean Connery came back for one last outing as 007.

One of the memorable scenes in NSNA where Bond dances a tango with Domino (Kim Basinger taking up the role originally played by Claudine Auger). In one sense, it’s typical of NSNA. Fans either love it or hate it, there’s little middle ground.

007 press kits part I: Never Say Never Again

In this digital age, press kits seem almost quaint. They were intended to spur movie critics of local newspapers to write and/or review upcoming movies. We have a few press kits for James Bond movies, so here’s a look at a few.

First up: the “unofficial” 007 movie Never Say Never Again, which hit U.S. theaters in the fall of 1983. It was unofficial only in that Eon Productions didn’t produce it. But it had Sean Connery as James Bond, 12 years after his final “official” Bond film, and had a budget comparable to the 13th “official” Bond film Octopussy, which came out in the summer of 1983.

The Never Say Never Again press kit was modest. The folder had a color photograph of Connery/Bond but it had a single publicity still inside, again of Connery/Bond.

Part of the press kit included a 12-page biograph of Connery that began thusly:

Sean Connery checked his diving equipment for the last time, adjusted his mask and slipped under the cool inviting water of the Bahamas. Fifty feet below him, on the sea bed, waited an army of highly skilled underwater film technicians. Blazing lights lit up the murky depths and were reflected back in tiny sparkles off the iridescent shoals of fish that swam with regularity past the cameras. The fish swam in safety. The day before, they would have been more uneasy, as the filmmakers had been wrorking with an all-too-real 12-fot shark — a real killer.

Sounds like somebody wanted to emulate Ian Fleming’s writing.

From another article in the press kit, running a modest 26 pages and itended to give the press critic a feel for the film, began like this:

James Bond, British Secret Servie Agent 007, is dangerous.

In a world dominated by computers and bureaucracy, he is a man whose greatest strength lies in his own intuitions, a man who allows his hunches to take him straight to the heart of the danger and who has the courage and the skill to face the greavest perils — and survive.

So when SPECTRE (Special Executor for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) holds the world to ramsom with a devastating act of nuclear terrorism, only Bond is able to cut straigh through to the rotten core of the operation.

Of course, the real name for SPECTRE is the Special EXECUTIVE for Counterintelligence, Revenge and Extortion, but hey, it’s an engrossing tale and who are we to quibble?

Other contents included biographes of Klaus Maria Brandauer, Kim Basinger, Max Von Sydnow, Barbara Carrera, Bernie Casey, Alex McCowen and director Irvin Kershner, who was fresh off directing The Empire Strikes Back.

Kershner prepared for the film by re-reading much of Ian Fleming’s work. There he found the key to the tone and texture of Ian Fleming’s work….In the James Bond books, Fleming was very interested in the characters and wrote wonderful dialogue. Those discoveries influenced Kershner’s work on the script.

Also, in the Kersner bio, we were told this:

“Never Say Never Again” will be a Bond picture with its own unique style based not in reality nor in a cartoon world, but in a world where characters operate from a psychological base that is real,” he explains.

Reading it after 26 years, it didn’t seem the quote marks were all in the right place so we present them as they appear in the press kit.