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.

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.

Octopussy’s 35th: Battle of the Bonds, round 1

Octopussy poster with a suggestive tagline.

Poster with a suggestive tagline.

Adapted from a May 2013 post with an epilogue added at the end..

Thirty-five years ago, there was the much-hyped “Battle of the Bonds.” Competing 007 movies, the 13th Eon Productions entry with Roger Moore and a non-Eon film with Sean Connery, were supposed to square off in the summer.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. In June 1983, Eon’s Octopussy debuted while Never Say Never Again got pushed back to the fall.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli was taking no chances. He re-signed Moore, 54 at the start of production in the summer of 1982, for the actor’s sixth turn as Bond. It had seemed Moore might have exited the series after 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Broccoli had considered American James Brolin, and Brolin’s screen tests surfaced at a 1994 007 fan convention in Los Angeles. But with Never Say Never Again, a competing 007 adventure starring Connery, the original screen Bond, the producer opted to stay with Moore.

Also back was composer John Barry, who been away from the world of 007 since 1979’s Moonraker. Octopussy would be the start of three consecutive 007 scoring assignments, with A View To a Kill and The Living Daylights to follow. The three films would prove to be his final 007 work.

Barry opted to use The James Bond Theme more than normal in Octopussy’s score, presumably to remind the audience this was the part of the established film series.

Meanwhile, Broccoli kept in place many members of his team from For Your Eyes Only: production designer Peter Lamont, director John Glen, director of photography Alan Hume and associate producer Tom Pevsner. Even in casting the female lead, Broccoli stayed with the familiar, hiring Maud Adams, who had previously been the second female lead in The Man With the Golden Gun.

Behind the cameras, perhaps the main new face was writer George MacDonald Fraser, who penned the early versions of the script. Fraser’s knowledge of India, where much of the story takes place, would prove important. Richard Maibaum and Broccoli stepson Michael G. Wilson took over to rewrite. The final credit had all three names, with Fraser getting top billing.

As we’ve WRITTEN BEFORE, scenes set in India have more humor than scenes set in East and West Germany. Some times, the humor is over the top (a Tarzan yell during a sequence where Bond is being hunted in India by villain Kamal Khan). At other times, the movie is serious (the death of “sacrificial lamb” Vijay).

In any event, Octopussy’s ticket sales did better in the U.S. ($67.9 million) compared with For Your Eyes Only’s $54.8 million. Worldwide, Octopussy scored slightly less, $187.5 million compared with Eyes’s $195.3 million. For Broccoli & Co., that was enough to ensure the series stayed in production.

Hype about the Battle of the Bonds would gear back up when Never Say Never premiered a few months later. But the veteran producer, 74 years old at the time of Octopussy’s release, had stood his ground. Now, all he could do was sit back and watch what his former star, Sean Connery, who had heavy say over creative matters, would come up with a few months later.

2018 epilogue: Over the past five years, Octopussy has continued to generate mixed reaction.

One example was an article posted this month the Den of Geek website. 

While the site said Octopussy deserves another chance with fans, it also levied some criticisms.

It’s a funny old film, Octopussy, one used as evidence by both Moore’s prosecution and his defense. Haters cite the befuddled plot, an older Moore, some truly silly moments (Tarzan yell, anyone?), a Racist’s Guide to India, and the painfully metaphorical sight of a 56 year-old clown trying to disarm a nuclear bomb (rivalled only by Jaws’ Moonraker plunge into a circus tent on the “Spot the Unintentional Subtext” scale.)

At the same time, Den of Geek also compliments aspects of the movie, including its leading man.

Moore also submits a very good performance, arguably his strongest. Easy to treat him as a joke but the man really can act. Sometimes through eyebrows alone.

Thirty-five years later, Octopussy still has the power to enthrall some and to generate salvos from its critics.

I know someone, now in his 40s, who says it’s his favorite James Bond film. I have a friend who refuses to buy a home video copy of it (and every other Roger Moore 007 film) on the grounds that none of the Moore entries are true James Bond films. So it goes.

Settlement reached in 007 box set case

Never Say Never Again’s poster

A settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit that originated when a consumer who bought a James Bond box set marketed as containing “all” of the 007 movies but didn’t include 1967’s Casino Royale and 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

The lawsuit was filed against Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, home studio to the 007 franchise, and 20th Century Fox, which distributes Bond films on home video.

Under terms of the settlement, eligible consumers will receive digital copies of the two 007 films that were not made by Eon Productions.

“The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing and the Court has not decided who is right and who is wrong.  Instead, the parties decided to settle the dispute,” according to the announcement.

The box sets referenced in the settlement announcement were “Bond 50: Celebrating Five Decades of Bond 007,” “The James Bond Collection” and “The Ultimate James Bond Collection.”

If someone wants to claim the digital copies, they have to submit a claim form by May 29. “Claim forms can be obtained at www.bondDVDsettlement.com or by calling 1-833-380-5565.”

If someone wants to be excluded from the settlement they have to do so by May 18. “This is the only option that allows you to keep any rights you currently have to negotiate with or sue Defendants about the claims in this case,” according to the announcement.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

This is the same case where a federal judge in Seattle last year issued a 14-page ruling full of James Bond puns.

James Bond: The tired franchise?

Daniel Craig

Happy 50th birthday, Daniel Craig. You’re only the second cinematic James Bond to make it to 50, after Roger Moore, while in the employ of Eon Productions.

(Sean Connery had passed his 50th birthday when he did Never Say Never Again, but that 1983 007 film was not part of the Eon series.)

Still, the blog can’t help but remember Craig’s remarks in October 2016 during an event sponsored by The New Yorker magazine.

“There’s no conversation going on (about Bond 25) because genuinely everybody’s just a bit tired,” Craig said at that time.

When Craig said that, he had worked on the movie Logan Lucky, was getting ready to do a stage production of Othello and had other projects. Barbara Broccoli, the boss of Eon Productions, was producing that Othello stage production, was planning the film Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. And she had other projects in the pipeline.

Physically tired? No.

Tired of making James Bond movies?

That’s the question.

Bond 25, in its early stages, didn’t seem to be making major changes.

Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, writers on six 007 films, were hired for a seventh. This was confirmed in a July 24, 2017 press release that said the movie would be released in November 2019 in the United States. This was weeks before Craig, confirmed in August 2017 he was coming back to Bondage.

At this point, Bond 25 is mostly murky. There is no announced distributor and no announced director,

Supposedly, Eon and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer want prestige director Danny Boyle to helm the movie, according to stories last month in Variety and Deadline: Hollywood. If that happens, the choice of Boyle would follow the selections of “auteur” directors such as Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace) and Sam Mendes (Skyfall and SPECTRE).

The Deadline story said Boyle would direct if a new story he devised with John Hodge is used. Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter said March 1 that Boyle may direct another film as early as this summer.

Much of Bond 25 is unresolved. What’s also unresolved is how enthusiastic Eon is regarding the film future of 007.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has been described as a dream project of Barbara Broccoli. It’s not a big box office hit. But it wasn’t intended to be.

As the sixth film Bond celebrates his half century, there’s still a lot to be determined in the film world of 007. One of the most important questions is what does “everybody’s just a bit tired” really mean.