Mission: Impossible 7 (and Bond) questions

The trailer for Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One is out. For understandable reasons, fans of the James Bond films are interested.

Naturally, the blog has questions.

Is Tom Cruise’s M:I series ripping off Bond? You might not want to throw bricks from inside a glasshouse.

Live And Let Die evoked “Blaxploitation” films of the early 1970s. The Man With the Golden Gun evoked kung fu films from the same period. Moonraker evoked Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (even using the same musical notes from John Williams’ score from the latter movie). Moonraker also has similarities to the 1966 movie Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die.

So how would you phrase it?

It depends on how well the ideas are executed.

Movie audiences, generally, don’t care about what ideas are borrowed from whom. They care about whether they like the movie or not.

What makes Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films different from the most recent Bond movies?

The most recent M:I movies (2011, 2015, 2018) are, for the most part, more fun than the Bond installments of the same period. According to Barbara Broccoli, No Time to Die was a “cinematic masterpiece” (source: No Time to Die official podcast).

No Time to Die enthusiasts would agree. Others may or may not say they had a better time viewing the three M:I films of the 2010s.

That’s all a subject for debate. The seventh M:I film won’t be out for more than a year. We’ll see how it goes.

REVISIT: A Bond tour of NYC

New York City’s 21 Club in better days (photo courtesy of Gary J. Firuta)

With the 60th anniversary of the film Bond (and the 69th anniversary of the literary 007), the blog was reminded a mini-tour New York City locations.

The blog’s host more than a decade ago was Bond fan Gary J. Firuta. He lived in the greater New York area at the time.

(Originally published 2009)

Sardi’s, 234 West 44th Street: In Chapter 8 of Diamonds Are Forever, Felix Leiter takes Bond to lunch at Sardi’s and they dine in the upstairs dining room. The friends have some martinis (with a domestic vermouth).

At the time of the visit, the upstairs dining room was closed but the Spy Commander had an unofficial tour guide. We were told the bar had been moved since the time Fleming described the Bond-Leiter meal. Also, black paint had been removed from windows overlooking 44th Street, so now the restaurant has a great view of nearby theaters.

21 Club, 21 West 52nd Street: In chapter 9 of Diamonds, Bond and Tiffany Case have dinner. Tiffany has three martinis before dinner and as the main course arrives, so does “one of the famous Kriendler brothers who have owned ’21’ since it was the best speak-easy in New York.”

The 21 Club is known for the jockey statues outside. If you go, prepare to spend money. A cocktail costs about $15. There’s a men’s room attendant who has been with 21 for decades, complimenting patrons (for example telling middle-aged men they should remember to bring their ID next time or they might get carded).

Years later, toward the end of the Live And Let Die film, Bond (Roger Moore) tells Felix Leiter (David Hedison to remember to meet up for dinner the following night at the 21 Club. As Bond gets on a train with Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Felix asks why Bond is traveling by train. “Say goodbye to Felix, darling,” Bond says.

Unfortunately, the 21 Club has closed, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

No Time to Die wins best song Oscar

No Time to Die won the best song Oscar Sunday night.

Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell received Oscars for writing the title song to the 25th James Bond film. It was the third straight best song Oscar for the Bond film series, following 2012’s Skyfall and Writing’s on the Wall from 2015’s SPECTRE.

No Time to Die also had been nominated in the sound and visual effects categories. Dune won those Oscars.

The show’s in memoriam segment also included Leslie Bricusse, who co-wrote the lyrics for Goldfinger’s title song and who wrote the lyrics for the title song of You Only Live Twice.

The Oscars telecast also included a tribute to the Bond series via film clips while the title song for Live And Let Die played.

Dr. No’s 60th anniversary Part I: The odd couple

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman

Adapted from a 2012 post.

By mid-1961, there had been multiple attempts to adapt Ian Fleming’s James Bond to other media. A 1954 CBS adaptation of Casino Royale had become reality and was mostly forgotten. No film versions had yet gone before the cameras. That was about to change as American Albert R. Broccoli and Canadian Harry Saltzman agreed to team up. It’d be an eventful, and sometimes stormy, 14 years.

Each had something the other wanted: Saltzman had secured a six-month option on Fleming’s novels other than Casino Royale (and a court settlement would take the 1961-published Thunderball out of that package). Broccoli had studio connections that Saltzman lacked. Broccoli wanted to buy the option from Saltzman, but the latter wanted to go into business with Broccoli.

Saltzman, by multiple accounts, provided a constant flow of ideas. The quality, reportedly, was erratic but when they were good, they were brilliant. (Let’s have Bond “killed” at the start of From Russia With Love.) He could be volatile, almost killing off what would be two of the most popular title songs in the 007 series (Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever). Composer John Barry bemoaned in a 2006 U.K. television special that, “I could never deal with Harry and didn’t.”

Broccoli, by these accounts, was the steadier, more patient of the duo. He had wanted to do Bond for years before meeting Saltzman and was mostly content with 007, a large endeavor of its own. Saltzman, meanwhile, would launch a series based on Len Deighton’s spy novels and pursue other non-Bond projects.

Eventually, the producers grew apart, with Live And Let Die primarily a Saltzman production (although there are shots of Broccoli visiting locations and sets) while The Man With the Golden Gun was primarily overseen by Broccoli. The partnership would end when Saltzman, in severe financial trouble, sold his half of the franchise to United Artists, the studio that released the 007 films.

During work on 1962’s Dr. No, the producers managed to find a collaborative rhythm. James Bond probably would have come to the screen, but likely not in exactly the same form had Broccoli and Saltzman not joined forces.

For their work on Dr. No, the first 007 film, Broccoli and Saltzman received a producer’s fee of $80,000 and 50 percent of the profits, according to the 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger. The film debuted on Oct. 5, 1962, in the U.K., reaching other countries the following year.

In 1965, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. did an interview with Broccoli and Saltzman. At this point, Thunderball was about to be released.

Around 14 minutes into the interview, Saltzman had to take a call regarding a censorship issue with one of his non-007 movies. At the end, Saltzman works in a plug for his Harry Palmer films. Broccoli didn’t appear pleased.

NEXT: The $40,000 man

On 007’s 60th, will Harry Saltzman be the forgotten man?

Cover to When Harry Met Cubby by Robert Sellers

Adapted from a 2012 post.

The 60th anniversary of the first James Bond film, Dr. No, is gearing up. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has come out with an MGM logo noting the anniversary. No Time to Die is making a return to Imax theaters.

All of this is a reason to remind everyone about Harry Saltzman, the co-founder of Eon Productions, who played a key role in getting Agent 007 to the screen.

When Saltzman’s name comes up today, the image is of a cranky, volatile man who almost axed the classic Goldfinger title song, ordered elephant shoes for a movie (The Man With the Golden Gun) that didn’t have any elephants in it, etc., etc. At least one film historian, Adrian Turner, took a different view in his 1998 book, Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“To begin with, Saltzman took the responsibility for the scripts” of the early 007 films, Turner wrote. “Having worked with John Osborne, it’s clear he thought that Richard Maibaum — Broccoli’s man — was little more than a hack.”

Obviously, that’s hardly a unanimous opinion of Maibaum. Still, Maibaum is quoted on page 100 in author James Chapman’s 2000 book Licence to Thrill as saying that Saltzman did bring in U.K. screenwriter Paul Dehn to do the later drafts of Goldfinger (the notes section of the book says the quote is from page 285 of a book called Backstory.)

Saltzman’s contributions extended beyond being an eccentric crank.

The Broccoli-Saltzman partnership wasn’t an easy one. Eventually, the pair largely alternated producing the films while both were listed as producers. Saltzman primarily responsible for Live And Let Die (though Broccoli did visit the set in Louisiana and posed for a photograph with Saltzman and star Roger Moore) while The Man With the Golden Gun was Broccoli’s picture.

Saltzman had ambitions beyond the Bond films. He produced the Harry Palmer movies based on Len Deighton’s novels. He also produced (with S. Benjamin Fisz) Battle of Britain, a big, sprawling movie about Britain’s darkest hour. Saltzman’s three Palmer films employed the services of Bond crew members including Ken Adam, John Barry, Guy Hamilton and Maurice Binder.

The Broccoli-Wilson clan, now headed by Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, has supervised the 007 series since 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. Nobody is suggesting that Cubby Broccoli wasn’t a master showman, who deserves a lot of credit for launching Bond on the screen. Still, it would be a shame if Saltzman ends up being the forgotten man as fans look back on 60 years of 007 films.

Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

Live and Let Die script: More mayhem

Part of the Live And Let Die soundtrack packaging.

Live And Let Die was a rare case for the James Bond film series. Only one screenwriter, Tom Mankiewicz, was employed throughout the production.

An Oct. 2, 1972 screenplay was labeled as the shooting script. It’s close to what moviegoers would see in the summer of 1973 for Roger Moore’s debut as Bond. But the script still contains notable differences. With the excerpts below, words between asterisks were underlined in the script.

A more gruesome death: The script opens with the deaths of three agents as in the finished film. But the demise of the third agent is implied to more gruesome.

A MACHETE BLADE FLASHES INTO FRAME: A sickening laugh i heard as the blade sweeps down at BAINES. CAMERA FREEZES FRAME ON GLINTING MACHETE BLADE.

Recognition phrase: When Bond arrives in New York, he meets up with a contact named Charlie. Except in this script, there’s a recognition phrase or code involved,

Charlie attempts to introduce himself in a more conventional way. Bond instead pulls his Walther PPK on Charlie.

CHARLIE
Oh!
(mechanically)
You want to go to Shea Stadium? The Yankees are playing a double header.

BOND
(smiles, lowers gun)
The *Mets* play at Shea. The Baseball season doesn’t begin until April.

CHARLIE
My mistake.
(sighing)
Sorry – I forgot. We don’t do too much of that over here anymore. Oh – Mister Leiter wants to talk to you.

This exchange doesn’t appear in the film. But the basic notion of American operatives giving up on recognition phrases while the British stick with them would be used in 1995’s GoldenEye.

Bond’s trip to Harlem: Bond catches a cab to Harlem while following a group of Dr. Kananga’s associates. For some reason, the cab driver addresses Bond as “Jim” twice even though no introduction had been made. In the film, as in this script, the driver shows up again in New Orleans calling Bond “Jim.”

Tombstones: Mr. Big/Kananga tells Bond that, “Names are for tombstones, baby.” In the film, it’s come out as, “Names is for tombstones, baby.” The latter is sometimes used as a catchphrase among Bond fans.

Bond dispatches Mr. Big’s thugs: Bond is being led from Mr. Big/Kananga’s New York office to be killed by two thugs. The description is a bit more violent than in the film.

As in the film, Bond uses a steel grating from a fire escape. The grating is coming at Bond’s face but the agent ducks. The grating “slams into GUARD ONE’s face with a terrifying crunch.” Bond gets the thug’s gun as the man falls. Bond then gets behind the first thug as the second fires. That shot kills the first thug. Bond shoots the second to death.

Bond arrives in San Monique: There is a scene that’s not in the movie. Bond goes through customs upon arrival. The customs area has photos of Dr. Kananga and “propaganda messages for San Monique.” Bond doesn’t notice that the customs official he’s dealing with takes a photo of the agent’s passport photo.

Bond’s San Monique bungalow: The scene is very similar to the final film but there are a few key differences. Bond manages to decapitate the snake intended to kill him. Rosie Carver is described as “a beautiful WHITE GIRL.” After Bond tosses her on the bed she is “semi-naked, her dress having been torn in half.” The part was played by Black actress Gloria Hendry in the movie.

Continuity: Bond and Rosie charter a boat. She doesn’t know it belongs to Quarrel Jr., who’s working with Bond. Eventually, the agent makes an introduction. “Rosie Carver – meet the man who shares my hairbrush – Quarrel Jr. His father and I locked horns with a Doctor named No several years ago.” The latter line wouldn’t make the final film.

Shark gun: This weapon, which fires gas-filled pellets, is introduced during the boat sequence of the script. After told about the gun by Quarrel Jr., Bond fires a pellet into the mouth of a shark. “CAMERA HOLDS ON SHARK as it suddenly *begins to inflate to several times normal size*, the huge balloon-like fish now disappearing in the wake of the fishing boat.”

Rosie’s death: In the movie, she is killed by a gun hidden in a Baron Samedi-style scarecrow. In this script, she’s running away from Bond when she “suddenly *jumps off the side of the road*, disappears from view.” It’s a long fall. “ROSIE’s body lies broken and mangled in a stone quarry some hundred feet below.”

New Orleans airport: Bond eventually meets up with Solitaire and takes her to New Orleans. The sequence set at that city’s airport has considerably more mayhem than in the final film.

Among other things, Bond attempts to take off in the Bleeker flying school plane (with kindly Mrs. Bell aboard). But he uses a runway where two private planes are landing. There are combined plane and car crashes. The gag where the wings of the Bleeker plane are torn off is in the script but adds Mrs. Bell feinting.

Toward the end of the sequence, the plane’s controls won’t respond. The aircraft hits a fence, its propeller cutting through the fence. The plane comes down at a 45-degree angle. Bond is hanging upside down, held in place by his seat belt. “He looks over at MRS. BELL who moans, starts to come out of her coma.”

Felix Leiter later summarizes events.

“Not too bad. Extensive damage to the hangar, five planes, four cars, and a forty foot section of fence. Not to mention giving a seventy-year-old Granny the worst jolt she’s had since her wedding night. Christ, James, what a way to sneak into town.”

Boat chase: This was the action centerpiece of the film. This script’s version is more frantic. For example, a boat towing a pyramid of water skiers gets in the middle of the chase. The skiers stay upright for quite a while before they inevitably come tumbling down.

Also, a boat involved in the chase goes from the water onto a golf course. A member of a foursome is about to attempt a 30-foot putt. He jerks, striking his golf ball involuntarily as one of the villain boats lands in a nearby bunker. Naturally, the putt proves successful.

The end: In this script, there is no Baron Samedi riding the train engine. Instead we have this symbolic ending of what Bond and Solitaire are doing. Perhaps it was an homage by Mankiewicz of North by Northwest.

EXT. TRAIN TRACK JUNCTION CLOSE ON RED SIGNAL NIGHT

CAMERA CLOSE on a large, circular sign hanging over one track at a central train junction: A red light blinks on and off over the words: *NO ENTRY*. With a loud “ding,” the sign flips down, is replaced by a bright, blinking green light as BOND’s train whistles through, and off into the distance…

FADE OUT

THE END

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

Yaphet Kotto, an appreciation

Yaphet Kotto in Live And Let Die

Early in his career, Yaphet Kotto (1939-2021) was working as an actor when “Old Hollywood” was holding on for dear life.

For example, he appeared in 5 Card Stud, a 1968 western starring Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum. It was produced by Hal Wallis, born in 1900 and as “Old Hollywood” as you could get. His credits included Casablanca as well as Martin and Lewis comedies. And this movie came out before the Wallis-produced True Grit.

Nevertheless, Kotto, not yet 30, more than held his own with his established fellow actors. Kotto’s character is killed but in his dying moments provides the clue needed to track down his killer.

Hollywood was about to change. And Yaphet Kotto would be part of the change.

Kotto made an impact, whether in films or on television shows. As news of his passing circulated, the actor was subject of numerous tributes on social media.

He was one of the most memorable villains in the James Bond film series. Kotto was Bond’s first Black primary adversary in Live And Let Die (1973). His Dr. Kananga led a double life, as the leader of a Caribbean nation who moonlights as an American criminal.

In his two identities, Kotto projected different personalities. Kananga was the seemingly dignified head of government for San Monique. Mr. Big was the street criminal.

It’s not until the second half of the movie, the audience gets to see Kananga’s true self. Kotto gets one of the best “villain speeches” in the series. He explains his plan is to provide free samples of heroin until the number of addicts in the U.S. has doubled.

Roger Moore, making his Bond debut, asks if that won’t upset certain “families” (i.e. the Mafia).

Kotto seizes the set-up line and runs with it.

He says those families will be driven out of their minds and “subsequently out of the business, leaving me and the telephone company as the only growing monopolies in this country for years to come.” Kotto’s delivery makes an impact.

Kotto had a long career. His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 90 credits. He appeared in a variety of genres, everything from science fiction to gritty crime dramas.

Among those paying tribute to Kotto were two film directors:

Yaphet Kotto dies

Yaphet Kotto with Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Yaphet Kotto, who played the villain in the first Roger Moore James Bond movie, Live And Let Die, has died at 81, according to website Comicbook.com, which cited a post by Kotto’s official Facebook site.

Kotto played Dr. Kananga, prime minister of the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique. Kananga also impersonates American gangster Mr. Big, who operates out of Harlem in New York City. Kotto’s character, with both identities, opposes Moore’s Bond in his first 007 film outing.

All of that was a major change dreamed up by Tom Mankiewicz, the sole screenwriter for Live And Let Die.

In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, Mankiewicz said he was approached by Eon Productions about what Ian Fleming novel he’d like to adapt. Mankiewicz was the second scribe on Eon’s Diamonds Are Forever, which featured the return of Sean Connery as James Bond. It was a hit and Eon wanted Mankiewicz back.

The screenwriter, in the documentary, quoted himself as saying he wanted to do Live And Let Die because it was edgier. The book was Fleming’s second Bond novel and featured Bond against Black villains in New York, Florida and the Caribbean.

Kotto had a long career. His credits included 1979’s Alien, Across 110th Street and a first-season Hawaii Five-O episode as a U.S. soldier suffering a head injury who thinks he’s back in Vietnam.

UPDATE (2 a.m., New York Time): Variety has a story about Kotto’s death that includes a confirmation from his agent.

A trivia note: Both Kotto and his Live And Let Die co-star, Julius W. Harris (Tee Hee), played Uganda President Idi Amin in competing productions about the 1976 Israeli raid at Entebbe. Harris appeared first (in a show produced on video tape) on ABC, while Kotto was on a filmed NBC production. The latter was directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later helm The Empire Strikes Back and Never Say Never Again.