The NTTD-NSNA coincidence

h/t to reader Scott Hand to bringing this to my attention.

As almost everybody knows by now, the official U.S. release date for No Time to Die is Oct. 8. But major movies typically now have Thursday night “preview” showings. That means No Time to Die will be out the night of Oct. 7 at many U.S. theaters. (It will be out Sept. 30 in the U.K. and other countries.)

Oct. 7 also is the 38th anniversary of the U.S. release of Never Say Never Again. That was Sean Connery’s swan song as James Bond. But the movie wasn’t made by Eon Productions. Instead, it was a rival project and a remake (more or less) of Thunderball.

Never Say Never Again remains a sore point for Eon all these decades later. The 1983 movie originally was released by Warner Bros. But it’s now part of the film library of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio. The last time I saw Never Say Never Again on TV, it had an Orion studio logo, which is an MGM brand.

All of this is coincidence, of course. No Time to Die has been delayed three times because of the COVID-19 pandemic and five times overall. Still, it is amusing in a way.

UPDATE: Reader Jason Kim (at The Ian Fleming Foundation page on Facebook) notes the coincidences extend further.

–Both Never Say Never Again and No Time to Die feature an aging Bond pressed back into service. Connery’s Bond is still with MI6 but at the start of the film has not been on active missions. Craig’s Bond has been away from MI6.

–Sean Connery was 53 was Never Say Never debuted. Daniel Craig will be 53 when No Time to Die debuts. (The delays with No Time to Die made that possible.)

–Both movies include M, Q, Moneypenny, Blofeld and Felix Leiter.

Richard Donner dies at 91

Richard Donner, left, making a cameo in The Giuoco Piano Affair episode of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

Richard Donner, a director who made audiences believe a man could fly with 1978’s Superman, has died, Variety reported. He was 91.

Donner became an A-list movie director as a result. He directed four installments of the Lethal Weapon film series as well as The Goonies, and Conspiracy Theory.

Among the stepping stones to achieving that status was helming episodes of 1960s spy TV shows. He directed four episodes of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., three episodes of The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Get Smart.

Donner’s U.N.C.L.E. work was all within the show’s first half-season. Two of his episodes, The Quadripartite Affair and The Giuoco Piano Affair, helped establish the character of Illya Kuryakin played by David McCallum.

The Quadripartite Affair was the third episode broadcast and the first with a significant amount of air time for the Kuryakin character. That and The Giuoco Piano Affair were filmed back-to-back. But the latter episode aired four weeks later, presented as a sequel.

Donner, along with other members of the production team, had cameos in a party scene. The director’s character was listed as “Inebriate” in the end titles and was used as comedy relief.

One of Donner’s episodes for The Wild Wild West, The Night of the Murderous Spring, was one of the best episodes involving Dr. Loveless (Michael Dunn) as the arch-foe of U.S. Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon (Robert Conrad and Ross Martin).

Also among Donner’s credits was a 1966 episode of The FBI with an espionage theme titled The Spy Master.

Donner also directed a rare episode of The Twilight Zone, The Jeopardy Room, which had no fantasy or science fiction elements. It was a spy story, essentially a match of wits between two men (Martin Landau and John Van Dreelen).

The director also helmed one of the most famous episodes of the show, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where an aircraft passenger is the only person aboard who can see a gremlin on the wing of the plane.

After Superman, Donner’s services as a film director were in demand.

Donner was Sean Connery’s first choice to direct Never Say Never Again, the 1983 non-Eon Productions James Bond film. The director, however, had misgivings about the script, according to the book Some Kind of Hero. Irvin Kirschner ended up getting the job.

John Glen: Behind the scenes of Octopussy

John Glen

MI6 Confidential is out with a new publication, John Glen: All Time High. It’s a behind the scenes look at Octopussy, the 13th James Bond film made by Eon Productions.

What was different, my from perspective, is I had the chance to work on it.

Not to give too much away, but it was a chance to get a better look at the making of an important James Bond film. Octopussy was up against a competing Bond project, Never Say Never Again. The latter had Sean Connery returning to the role of James Bond. Eon brought back Roger Moore for his sixth Bond outing with Octopussy.

The focus on the new publication was always going to be on director John Glen. He helmed all five of Eon’s 007 movies in the 1980s. A lot was riding on Octopussy.

A personal highlight, for me, was the chance to interview Glen earlier this year. It took place by phone in June. I had a detailed list of follow-up questions to an earlier session.

Interviews are as much art as science. The interviewer needs to be prepared. At the same time, a good interviewer has to press for details at certain times while backing off at other times and let the subject provide their point of view.

Because of the time differences involved, I would be calling in early in the morning my time. I was preoccupied with mechanics, making sure the interview would be recorded properly.

Also, as the interview unfolded, I had to go with the flow. I had to make sure all the questions were asked. But I didn’t want to cut the director off. This was also going to be an important interview for the publication.

It wasn’t until hours after I had completed the interview, I had a chance to reflect on the experience. Yes, I had directed a five-time Bond director. It wasn’t until then I could take a deep breath about the experience.

In any event, I was just a cog in this production. For more information, CLICK HERE. The price is 17 British pounds, $22 and 20 euros, plus shipping.

Sean Connery, an appreciation

Sean Connery in Thundereball (1965), the apex of the 1960s spy craze

For those of us who were in on the ground floor of the 1960s spy craze, the last decade has been pretty rough.

Actors who were leads in multiple TV shows and movies have passed away during that time.

But the passing this weekend of Sean Connery (1930-2020) was the big one. Connery’s early film performances as James Bond provided the foundation for the spy craze.

You had to be there to appreciate it.

At the dawn of the 1960s, the U.S. had a new president. One of his 10 favorite books was Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. Suddenly, it was a new world.

Bond made his film debut in 1962 (in the U.K., at least). Not long before he was assassinated in November 1963, John F. Kennedy viewed From Russia With Love in the White House, according to a tweet by prominent historian Michael Beschloss.

From Russia With Love was early days for Connery’s Bond career. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice were even bigger film adventures.

Connery, as Bond, was a worldwide phenomenon. Still, for him, it was the early stages of a career that extended decades.

Connery was one of the biggest film stars of the 20th century. Yet, the actor wasn’t afraid to make quirky choices such as Robin and Marian (a re-telling of the Robin Hood story), The Offence, Zardoz, and Time Bandits.

Eventually, Connery came out with his own take on Bond with Never Say Never Again, the 007 film not made by Eon Productions. Personally, I find it uneven. But Connery made the movie on his own terms.

This weekend, millions of people around the globe are in mourning. That’s understandable. The worldwide audience has lost one of its most memorable and durable performers.

Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering a remarkable actor and the work he has left behind.

A View To a Kill’s 35th: No more Moore

A View to a Kill's poster

A View to a Kill’s poster

Updated and expanded from a May 2015 post.

To sort of steal from Christopher Nolan, A View To a Kill isn’t the Bond ending Roger Moore deserved, but it’s the one that he got when the film debuted 35 years ago this month.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli had prevailed at the box office in 1983 against a competing James Bond film with Sean Connery, Broccoli’s former star. Broccoli’s Octopussy generated more ticket sales than Never Say Never Again (with Connery as de facto producer as well as star).

That could have been the time for Moore to call it a day. Some fans at the time expected Octopussy to be the actor’s finale. Yet, Broccoli offered him the role one more time and the actor accepted.

Obviously, he could have said no, but when you’re offered millions of dollars that’s easier said than done. There was the issue of the actor’s age. Moore would turn 57 during production in the fall of 1984.

That’s often the first thing cited by various entertainment sites over the years.

However, the problems go deeper than that. As the blog wrote in 2012, the movie veers back and forth between humor and really dark moments as if it can’t decide what it wants to be.

Typical of A View To a Kill's humor

Typical of A View To a Kill’s humor

Director John Glen and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson constantly go from yuks and tension and back again. If the humor were better, that might be easier to accept. A typical example: In the pre-titles sequence, there’s an MI-6 submarine that’s supposed to be disguised as an iceberg but its phallic shape suggests something else.

For those Bond fans who never liked Moore, just mentioning the title of the movie will cause distress. Based strictly on anecdotal evidence over the years, some Moore admirers don’t mention it as one of his better 007 efforts.

Still, A View to a Kill has historical importance for the Bond film series. Besides being Roger Moore’s final outing, it was also the final appearance of Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny.

There’s also an in-joke for those familiar with the business side of 007. Bond, desperately holding onto a rope attached to a blimp, has his manhood imperiled by the top of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.

That structure was home to the conglomerate that formerly owned United Artists, the studio that released Bond films. Transamerica dumped UA, selling it in 1981 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after the movie Heaven’s Gate bombed at the box office. Things have never been the same for the 007 film series since.

Regardless whether you’re a critic of Moore as 007 or a fan, he did hold down the 007 fort through some hectic times (including the breakup of Broccoli with his 007 producing partner Harry Saltzman).

It would have been nicer to go out on a higher note than A View To a Kill. But storybook endings usually only happen in the movies.

Max Von Sydow dies at 90

Max Von Sydow in Never Say Never Again

Max Von Sydow, who played the good (Jesus Christ), the bad (Ernst Stavro Blofeld) and everything in-between, dies Sunday at 90, according to the BBC.

Obituaries noted Von Sydow’s 11 films with director Ingmar Bergman. One was The Seventh Seal where Von Sydow’s character plays chess with death.

He came to Hollywood. He played Christ in 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told, a big financial flop for United Artists. The supporting cast included actors such as David McCallum (as Judas), Donald Pleasance (as Satan, not long before playing Blofeld in You Only Live Twice), Telly Savalas (another future Blofeld), David Hedison and Martin Landau

Von Sydow often was called upon to play villains. Examples: Three Days of the Condor (1975), Flash Gordon (1980) and Never Say Never Again (1983) where he got his turn as Blofeld. The latter was not part of the Eon Productions series of James Bond films. It featured Sean Connery’s return to the role of Bond after 12 years.

The actor was the subject of tributes on social media.

“Max Von Sydow, such an iconic presence in cinema for seven decades, it seemed like he’d always be with us,” director Edgar Wright wrote on Twitter. “He changed the face of international film with Bergman, played Christ, fought the devil, pressed the HOT HAIL button & was Oscar nominated for a silent performance. A god.”

Actress Mia Farrow tweeted a photo of Von Sydow with cinematographer Sven Nykvist.

“Two great artists. Two true gentlemen,” she wrote. “I picture Max in heaven wearing his white linen suit, w Sven, Ingmar Bergman, Bibi Andersson, laughing & loving each other.”

Von Sydow’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 163 acting credits going back to 1949.

Epix, MGM channel, plans Bond marathon

Dr. No poster

Epix, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s premium TV channel, has scheduled a James Bond movie marathon over Thanksgiving.

The marathon begins early Thursday morning with Dr. No, Bond’s 1962 film debut.

The films are run mostly in order through Die Another Day, which will be telecast early Saturday, Nov. 30.

The showings will include Never Say Never Again, the 1983 movie with Sean Connery as Bond that was not produced by Eon Productions. That will be shown early Friday morning, following by Octopussy, the 1983 Eon-made film with Roger Moore as Bond.

In 1983, Octopussy came out first, with Never Say Never Again released a few months later.

The schedule, however, does not include the 1967 Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. MGM has the rights to the two non-Eon Bond entries, which were originally released by other studios.

To view the Epix schedule, CLICK HERE. There’s a calendar icon toward the top of the screen. You can look up the schedule for specific days.

h/t Steve Oxenrider

Michel Legrand’s brush with 007

Cover to Michel Legrand’s soundtrack for Never Say Never Again

The death of accomplished film composer Michel Legrand at 86 resulted in many tributes (see this story in Variety) because of the work generated over a long career.

But, given the subject matter of this blog, Legrand’s score for a James Bond film shows doing music for any movie isn’t easy and especially so when the core audience has built up certain expectations.

The 007 film, of course, was 1983’s Never Say Never Again, with Sean Connery heading up a Bond production competing with Eon’s Octopussy coming out the same year.

Jon Burlingame wrote in the 2012 book The Music of James Bond that Legrand wasn’t even approached until after filming had been completed. The composer had been working on Yentl, “one of his most complex projects,” involving nine original songs as well as the score, according to the book.

Then, Sean Connery came calling about Never Say Never Again.

“Sean’s warmth and his enthusiasm persuaded me,” Legrand told Burlingame. “And I told myself, to attach a Bond to my filmography, it’s not something to pass up!”

The musical template of the Eon 007 films had been established by John Barry, who had been signed to score Octopussy. Legrand chose to go his own way, especially with Never Say Never Again featuring an older Connery.

“The idea of Never Say Never Again was to bring a distance, an irony, a second layer of connection to the official series, in relation to Connery’s age,” the composer told Burlingame. “Immediately, there was a distinction.”

Over the years, I’ve heard fans complain about Legrand’s score. Burlingame, in a review of the score in his book, says “as a fundamentally jazz-based score, it has many fun moments and offers a very different slant on music for 007 even though it was far from what Connery fans were expecting.”

For more details on Legrand’s career, you can read obituaries from Variety (wrtten by the aforementioned Burlingame), the BBC and The New York Times. Below is a tribute on Twitter from film composer Daniel Pemberton.

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Happy 88th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still.

It’s Sean Connery’s 88th birthday.

It has been three years since the last James Bond movie and the next one won’t be out for more than another year.

But that’s OK. Fans still have his seven 007 films (six for Eon Productions’ series, and Never Say Never Again, not part of that series) to view pretty much anytime. Not to mention his many other films.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

1970s: McClory enlists Connery, Deighton for a 007 script

Title page to the 1978 Warhead script.

Kevin McClory had struck it big in 1965. Holding the screen rights to Thunderball, he had been, in effect, made a partner by Eon Productions on the film adaptation. It was a big hit.

Under terms of his deal, McClory wasn’t to attempt another Thunderball-related project for a decade. Once that time elapsed, McClory decided to do just that.

This time, he enlisted Sean Connery, now the former 007, and author Len Deighton, who had performed uncredited work on the screenplay of From Russia With Love.

The trio’s names would be attached to a script titled James Bond of the Secret Service in 1976 and Warhead in 1978. The 1976 script is online, uploaded by 007Dossier.com. I dug out a copy I had of the 1978 effort. Meanwhile, the BBC on July 26 ran a story about the Warhead script.

The two are very similar with key differences. James Bond of the Secret Service is like Thunderball. Blofeld is the behind the scenes mastermind while Largo is the operational commander.

In Warhead, Blofeld (identified as Ernst Stavros Blofed, with the extra “s” in the middle name) performs both functions. The name Largo inadvertently appears a couple of times in my copy of Warhead, as if somebody forgot to remove it.

SPECTRE operates a mammoth underwater operation. In 1976, it’s called Arkos. In 1978, it’s named Aquapolis. The earlier script includes a large thug named Bomba, described as “a black man of gigantic proportions.” The 1978 script the henchman is called Ghengis, “a Mongloian of gigantic proportions.”

More Ambitious

SPECTRE, in both scripts, has gotten more ambitious than it had been in the Eon film series. It’s responsible for missing aircraft in the Bermuda Triangle (apparently because it can). It’s already extracting gold and other substances from seawater.

And this time out, SPECTRE aims to take control of the world’s oceans.

“My first act will be to stop all pollution,” Blofeld says in both scripts. “Each government will answer to me for any desctive elements coming in to our oceans. I will give them six months to cease using our oceans as umping grounds for their sewage, filth, poisons, chemicals and atomic waste.”

SPECTRE’s plan to accomplish all this includes robot sharks and nuclear warheads from a Soviet submarine the criminal organization has disabled.

Familiar Tale?

By this point, the average Bond fan is probably observing all this sounds familiar to The Spy Who Loved Me, the 10th film in Eon’s film series.

That 1977 movie featured villain Karl Stromberg, an industrialist who operated a mammoth installation called Atlantis and who was alarmed about environmental damage to oceans. He, of course, had a large henchman named Jaws. The story line emerged from the contributions of many writers besides the credited Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum.

Indeed, there were court fights between Eon and McClory during this period. The result was that Eon and United Artists proceeded with Spy while McClory stayed on the sidelines.

In James Bond of the Secret Service/Warhead, we don’t encounter Bond himself until the scene switches to Shrublands. This story turned Schrublands from a health clinic into an “aquatactical centre,” which trains operatives of various countries, including the U.K. and U.S.

Here’s a stage direction from the Warhead script:

Along the beach, barbed wires comes down to the sea. JAMES BOND is having sun oil aplied to his body by a girl instructor, an exceptionally athletic and attractive fair-haired girl, JUSTINE LOVESIT. He is reclining in the shade of an old gun emplacement.

Perhaps she’s a cousin of Lovey Kravezit from the Matt Helm movie series. The dialogue here is certainly similar to a Helm movie with Dean Martin.

BOND
Call me James. And what’s your name?

LOVESIT
Justine Lovesit.

BOND
She does?

LOVESIT
My name is Justine.

BOND
(laughs)
Well, I’ll call you ‘Just’ for short.

Anyway, Bond and Felix Leiter meet up at Schrublands. They have an exchange that appears to reference scandals of the era involving the CIA and FBI.

“Good to see you, Felix,” Bond says. “So the Russians haven’t put you behind bars yet.”

“No, but Congress nearly did,” Leiter replies.

Dr. Blush

A briefing is conducted because SPECTRE has contacted the United Nations and “the leaders of the governments of five great powers” in the words of Gardner Steer, a CIA official. SPECTRE has already killed the UN secretary general, disabling his plane as it flew threw the Bermuda Triangle.

Meanwhile, SPECTRE agent Fatima Blush lurks about as a memeber of the medical staff. Bond quickly takes interest. “Well, if the party’s off, perhaps you’d like to give me my physical tonight, Dr. Blush,” the British agent says.

Also, at one point, Bond is scheduled is play Largo/Blofeld (depending on which script) in a backgammon game. But M orders Bond not to participate so we don’t get to see any such confrontation.

Eventually, the story results in a climax in New York City and at the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, the plot is foiled, the villain vanquished.

None of this would make the screen. A Thunderball remake finally became reality in 1983 with Never Say Never Again.

McClorry was aboard with the title of executive producer. But it was producer Jack Schwartzman (1932-1994) who did the heavy lifting, securing Sean Connery’s services to make one final appearance as 007.