Reminder of a major Bond transition

Earlier today, the Eon Productions official James Bond feed on Twitter posted a reminder of a major transition in the long-running film series.

The tweet had a photo from 1988 of the start of production of Eon’s 16th Bond film. In the photo, Eon co-founder, Albert R. Broccoli, is holding a clapperboard. At the time the film was to have been called License Revoked:

Richard Maibaum, a screenwriter who went back to the earliest days of the Eon series, had worked on the plot. But the Writers Guild of America went on strike.

Michael G. Wilson, who collaborated on the Eon Bond films of the 1980s, took over as lead screenwriter. In those days, the weekly print edition of Variety carried a chart of major movies in production. That listed only Wilson as the movie’s screenwriter. Eventually, after the WGA went back to work, the final credit, when the movie was released in 1989, was “Written by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum.”

The title later was changed to Licence (the English, rather than American, spelling) to Kill.

The movie would be the final Bond credits for Maibaum, director John Glen (who, in addition to his five directing credits had worked as editor and second unit director on three others) and title designer Maurice Binder.

Albert R. Broccoli chose Pierce Brosnan to play Bond in the 1990s, but passed on producing duties to Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. The Eon co-founder got a “presents” credit in GoldenEye.

Frank McRae, LTK co-star, praised after his passing at 80

Frank McRae, a likeable presence in 1989’s License to Kill, received tributes after he passed away at age 80.

McRae played Sharkey, a friend of Felix Leiter who becomes an ally of James Bond as the British agent seeks to avenge Leiter’s maiming by villain Franz Sanchez. Sharkey ended up as Licence to Kill’s “sacrificial lamb.”

Robert Davi, who played Sanchez, was among those who took to social media.

Grand L. Bush, another member of The Licence to Kill cast, weighed in.

The official James Bond feed on Twitter also noted McRae’s death.

About that ‘James Bond knockoff’ thing

A James Bond Jr. character with a pencil communicator that looks a lot like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pen communicator

A James Bond friend of mine misses much spy entertainment as examples of “James Bond knockoffs.”

OK. But the James Bond film franchise has, more than once, borrowed from others. A few examples:

From Russia With Love: Ian Fleming’s fifth novel didn’t include a sequence where Bond dodges a helicopter. This was something the filmmakers added to the movie to add visual excitement. Clearly, it’s an “homage” to North by Northwest where a crop-duster plane goes after Cary Grant.

More broadly, the Bond series owes a lot to North by Northwest. NxNW has a delicate balance of drama and humor. Director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman practically provide a blueprint for the Bond series that Eon Productions would go on to make.

Live And Let Die: The eighth Eon Bond film is based on Fleming’s second novel. But its popularity also owes much to the early 1970s “blaxplotation” craze. Essentially director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz drop Bond into the middle of a blaxplotation movie. Mankiewicz wanted to cast Diana Ross as Solitaire but Eon wouldn’t go that far.

The Man With The Golden Gun: The ninth Eon Bond film sought to take advantage of the popularity of 1970s kung fu movies. You’d see stories (ahead of the film’s release) about how Roger Moore was training furiously to credibly do martial arts.

Moonraker: In 1966, there was an Italian-based spy movie called Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. It shares Brazilian locations with 1979’s Moonraker. Heck, you could easily argue the 1966 movie makes better use of Brazil, including Rio’s massive Jesus statue. Also, there are sequences of the 1966 movie that would practically be repeated in Moonraker.

In addition to all that, in Moonraker, we hear a key tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Licence to Kill: Bond has a gun with attachments (site, extended barrel, extended magazine, rifle stock) that looks an awfully lot like the U.N.C.L.E. special. In Licence to Kill, the base gun looks like a camera but all the attachments look like the attachments of the U.N.C.L.E. Special.

James Bond Jr.: Many fans disavow this early 1990s cartoon series. But it was officially sanctioned by Eon and Michael G. Wilson shares a “developed by” credit. In episode 9, “The Eiffel Missile,” a character has a pencil communicator that appears copied from U.N.C.L.E.’s pen communicator that debuted in the second season of that series.

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Landis tells author he turned down directing Licence to Kill

One of the covers to The Lost Adventures of James Bond by Mark Edlitz

Writer-director John Landis says in a new book that he turned down the opportunity to direct 1989’s Licence to Kill.

“My agent got a call from Cubby (Broccoli) and I’d already made a bunch of big movies and Cubby asked if I was interested,” Landis is quoted on page 101 of The Lost Adventures of James Bond by Mark Edlitz.

“I thought the script was really lousy,” Landis told Edlitz about Licence to Kill. “I really did not like the script. It was corny and I just didn’t think it was that interesting.”

In the book, Landis primarily is interviewed about his script work for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

Landis was among many writers who either made pitches or wrote treatments and/or wrote draft screenplays for the 10th James Bond film made by Eon Productions. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum received the final final writing credit.

In the course of an interview for the book, Landis is quoted as saying he could have directed the movie that became Licence to Kill.

“I know that Cubby kept tight control,” Landis said in the interview. “And the director made the movie, but it was the movie Cubby wanted. And no Bond director ever got final cut…But anyway, the bottom line is that at the time I felt very strongly that Cubby was not going to give me final cut.”

Also, in the interview, Landis said Talisa Soto had already been cast in the production as one of the two female leads.

Landis told Edlitz that he would have directed the movie “if I thought the script was good. The script was not interesting. It was just dumb.”

Licence to Kill ended up being the fifth Bond film directed by John Glen, who had been promoted from second unit director.

The script for the film was credited to Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum. The latter’s participation was limited to plotting because of a 1988 Writer’s Guild strike. It would be Maibaum’s final Bond effort.

Landis, 70, has 46 directing credits, according to his IMDB.COM entry.

One of those directing efforts, a segment in 1983’s Twilight Zone movie, saw three fatalities (actor Vic Morrow and two child actors) in an accident involving a helicopter.

New book examines never-made Dalton 007 films

A question asked by James Bond fans is what would have happened if Timothy Dalton made more than two 007 films.

A new book, The Lost Adventures of James Bond, may provide answers. A press release for the book says that author Mark Edlitz “uncovers different scenarios for Timothy Dalton’s abandoned third and fourth Bond movies.”

Edlitz previously wrote the book The Many Lives of James Bond.

In 1990, a treatment for Bond 17 was written by Michael G. Wilson and Alfonse Ruggeriro that took a bigger, more science fiction take compared with Dalton’s Licence to Kill movie. The treatment included robots, including a robot that could pass for a woman.

The treatment was turned into a script by other writers and this gets examined in the new book.

A third Dalton movie ultimately was derailed when Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, got into a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Bond would not return to theater screens until 1995’s GoldenEye, with Pierce Brosnan as Bond.

The Edlitz book also looks at other Bond-related events, including the James Bond Jr. animated series and a “lost” performance by Sean Connery as Bond.

For information about ordering, CLICK HERE.

MGM, Universal consider 2021 NTTD date, MI6 says

No Time to Die poster

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal are considering pushing No Time to Die’s release date to a “Summer 2021 release window,” the MI6 James Bond website said.

A decision on such a move “will be due soon,” the website reported.

The 25th James Bond film currently is scheduled for November after a delay from April.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has jumbled movie release schedules. Films such as Tenet, a new Christopher Nolan movie, have had multiple release dates.

In March, when the decision was made to delay No Time to Die until November, COVID-19 had caused theaters in China to shut down and Italy was the site of a major outbreak in Europe. Marketing for No Time to Die was well underway when the delay to November was announced.

Since then, Asia and Europe have moved to contain the virus. But major states in the U.S. — including Florida, Texas and California — have had major outbreaks. Theaters in the U.S. have been deciding when and how to reopen.

No Time to Die is being released in the U.S. by United Artists Releasing, co-owned by MGM, and by Universal internationally. MGM also is Bond’s home studio.

The last James Bond film to have a summer release date was 1989’s Licence to Kill.

No time to drive: Price appreciation of 007 cars

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

A study by 1st Move International looked at how prices have appreciated for various cars that appeared in James Bond movies.

At the top, not surprisingly, was the Aston Martin DB5, which was originally priced at 4,175 British pounds ($11,690 at the 1960s exchange rate of $2.80 to the pound), which now fetches 687,696 pounds (more than $883,786 at current exchange rates.

What follows is  sampling of other cars of note in British pounds. The data is as of Sept. 20.

Toyota 2000 GT (You Only Live Twice): 6,379 pounds originally, now 530,111 pounds.

Aston Martin DBS (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service): 4,473 pounds originally, now 214,950 pounds.

Lincoln Continental Convertible (Thunderball): 475 pounds originally, now 20,336 pounds

Chevrolet Impala Convertible (Live And Let Die): Almost 2,084 pounds originally, now 23,906 pounds.

Bentley Mark IV (From Russia With Love): 2.997 pounds originally, 29,500 pounds now.

Ford Mustang Mach 1 (Diamonds Are Forever): 2,883 pounds originally, 20,000 pounds now.

Sunbeam Alpine Series II (Dr. No): 985 pounds originally, 6,771 pounds now. 

Lincoln Mark VII (Licence to Kill) 8,041 pounds originally, 43,499 pounds now.

Lotus Esprit S1 (The Spy Who Loved Me): 10,791 pounds originally, 39,999 pounds now. 

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Voltaire (The Living Daylights): 54,685 pounds originally, 150,000 pounds now. 

The study also analyzed car appreciation place by actor. Sean Connery cars, for example, averaged an appreciation of 7,134 percent. Timothy Dalton was at the low end at 208 percent. Daniel Craig films weigh in at 1,193 percent, which includes use of the DB5.

For more about the 1st Move International study, CLICK HERE.

David Hedison dies at 92

David Hedison (1927-2019)

David Hedison, star of the original film version of The Fly, the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea TV series and a two-time Felix Leiter, has died at 92, according to various reports, including The Hollywood Reporter.

Hedison died last week and the news was released by a family spokeswoman, THR said.

Hedison’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 90 acting credits beginning in 1954 and extending into the 21st century.

The actor also was a friend of Roger Moore. “David phoned Roger regularly throughout his final illness in 2017 and was a great support.” according to a tweet from Moore’s official account on Twitter.

The two worked together in an episode of The Saint. They acted together again, with Hedison as Felix Leiter in Live And Let Die, Moore’s debut as James Bond. Hedison reprised the role opposite Timothy Dalton’s James Bond in Licence to Kill.

Hedison also had a relationship with producer Irwin Allen. The actor was in the cast of Allen’s 1960 version of The Lost World.

Allen wanted Hedison for the 1961 film version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea but the actor turned it down. Robert Sterling got the part instead. But Hedison signed on when Allen launched the 1964-68 television version.

The first season, shown in black and white, had a lot of espionage and international intrigue stories. As the series progressed, there were a lot of monster story lines.

After Voyage’s run concluded, Hedison didn’t lack for work, often getting guest star parts from producers Quinn Martin (The FBI, Cannon, The Manhunter and Barnaby Jones) and Aaron Spelling (The Love Boat, Dynasty, Fantasy Island).

Here’s the tweet from the Roger Moore account.

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Licence to Kill’s 30th anniversary: 007 falters in the U.S.

Licence to Kill's poster

Licence to Kill’s poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

Licence to Kill, which had its world premiere 30 years ago today, is mostly known for a series of “lasts” but also for a first.

–It was the last of five 007 films directed by John Glen, the most prolific director in the series.

–The last of 13 Bond films where Richard Maibaum (1909-1991) participated in the writing

–It was the last with Albert R. Broccoli getting a producer’s credit (he would only “present” 1995’s GoldenEye).

–It was the last 007 movie with a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder, who would die in 1990.

–And the it was last 007 film where Pan Am was the unofficial airline of the James Bond series (it went out of business before GoldenEye).

It was also the first to falter badly in the U.S. market.

Economy Class

Bond wasn’t on Poverty Row when Licence to Kill began production in 1988. But neither did 007 travel entirely first class.

Under financial pressure from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (which acquired half the franchise after buying United Artists earlier in the decade), Eon Productions moved the home base of the production to Mexico from Pinewood Studios.

Joining Timothy Dalton in his second (and last) outing as Bond was a cast mostly known for appearing on U.S. television, including Anthony Zerbe, Don Stroud, David Hedison (his second appearance as Felix Leiter), Pricilla Barnes, Rafer Johnson, Frank McRae as well as Las Vegas performer Wayne Newton.

Meanwhile, character actor Robert Davi snared the role of the film’s villain, with Carey Lowell and Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto as competing Bond women.

Wilson’s Role

Michael G. Wilson, Broccoli’s stepson and co-producer, took the role as lead writer because a 1988 Writers Guild strike made Richard Maibaum unavailable. Maibaum’s participation didn’t extend beyond the plotting stage. The teaser trailer billed Wilson as the sole writer but Maibaum received co-writer billing in the final credits.

Wilson opted for a darker take, up to a point. He included Leiter having a leg chewed off by a shark from the Live And Let Die novel. He also upped the number of swear words compared with previous 007 entries. But Wilson hedged his bets with jokes, such as Newton’s fake preacher and a scene where Q shows off gadgets to Bond.

Licence would be the first Bond film where “this time it’s personal.” Bond goes rogue to avenge Leiter. Since then, it has been frequently been personal for 007. Because of budget restrictions, filming was kept primarily to Florida and Mexico.

The end product didn’t go over well in the U.S. Other studios had given the 16th 007 film a wide berth for its U.S. opening weekend. The only “new” movie that weekend was a re-release of Walt Disney Co.’s Peter Pan.

Nevertheless, Licence finished an anemic No. 4 during the July 14-16 weekend coming in behind Lethal Weapon 2 (in its second weekend), Batman (in its fourth weekend) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (also fourth weekend).

Glen and Maibaum were done with Bond, the latter being part of the 007 series since its inception.

Bond 17’s Fembot

Initial pre-production of the next 007 film proceeded without the two series veterans. Wilson wrote a treatment in 1990 for Bond 17 with Alfonse Ruggiero that included a deadly fembot. Scripts with other scribes were then written based on that treatment. But that story was never made.

That’s because Broccoli would enter into a legal fight with MGM that meant Bond wouldn’t return to movie screens until 1995. By the time production resumed, Eon started over, using a story by Michael France as a beginning point for what would become GoldenEye. Maibaum, meanwhile, died in early 1991.

Today, some fans like to blame MGM’s marketing campaign or other major summer 1989 movies such as Batman or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But Licence came out weeks after either of those blockbusters.

And, it needs to be repeated, Bond couldn’t best Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which also came out weeks earlier.

In the end, the U.S. audience didn’t care for Licence. The movie’s total U.S. box office of $34.7 million didn’t match Batman’s U.S. opening weekend of $40.5 million. Licence’s U.S. box office was almost a third less than its 007 predecessor, The Living Daylights. Licence to Kill sold the fewest tickets in the U.S. among James Bond films.

Licence to Kill did much better in other markets. Still, Licence’s in worldwide ticket sales represented an 18 percent decline from The Living Daylights.

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Some 007 fans blame a lackluster U.S. advertising campaign. However, Michael G. Wilson said in 2015 that Eon “really run the marketing ourselves” and the and the studios involved “execute it.” Did that apply to Licence to Kill? Or was Licence somehow an exception?

For Dalton, Glen, Maibaum and even Broccoli (he yielded the producer’s duties on GoldenEye because of ill health), it was the end of the road.

Michael G. Wilson, despite his enormous impact on Licence to Kill, remained in place. Blood (even adopted blood), after all, is thicker than water — or even box office receipts.