Diana Rigg dies at 82

Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg in a publicity still for The Avengers

Diana Rigg, who entertained generations of fans in The Avengers, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Game of Thrones, has died at 82, the BBC reported.

The actress was versatile, acting in a variety of roles on stage, television and films.

Rigg became an international star in the 1960s, playing Emma Peel on The Avengers. She joined the series after Honor Blackman exited, going on to play Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.

The Avengers didn’t lose a step. One of the Rigg episodes had John Steed (Patrick Macnee) receiving a Christmas card from Blackman’s character, Cathy Gale. Steed wondered what she was doing in Fort Knox.

Rigg had a huge impact on the show. Mrs. Peel, a “talented amateur” (in the words of one introduction for The Avengers) could out-fight and out-think male opponents. Rigg and Macnee had a chemistry that fans enjoyed.

The U.K.-produced series was imported into the United States during Rigg’s run. Mrs. Peel became an icon on both sides of the Atlantic.

She was twice nominated for an Emmy for The Avengers. She lost both times to Barbara Bain of Mission: Impossible.

Rigg left the show to seek new challenges. One of her post-Avengers projects was On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She played Tracy, the doomed bride of James Bond.

The actress got the role, in part, because the filmmakers figured they needed an experienced female lead opposite the inexperienced George Lazenby.

Majesty’s, while financially successful, wasn’t as big a hit as earlier Bond entries. Nevertheless, Rigg again was memorable. Her character’s death at the end of the movie, was the first unhappy conclusion for the film series produced by Eon Productions.

About the only format Rigg couldn’t conquer was starring in her own TV situation comedy. A U.S. series, Diana, ran less than a full season during 1973-74.

Rigg’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists 70 movie and TV credits.

Happy holidays 2019 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

The accompanying graphic has been the blog’s annual Christmas/holiday season greeting since 2011. It’s a tradition and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

The graphic was designed by Paul Baack (1957-2017). It’s just one sample of his artistic handiwork. He designed it when the blog was part of the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (1997-2014).

This year, the graphic means even more because this month marks the 50th anniversary of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

To the blog’s readers: Thanks for being here. If you’ve got some time off, enjoy it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.

Fukunaga talks up ‘the joy of continuity’

Cary Joji Fukunaga, director of No Time to Die

No Time to Die director Cary Joji Fukunaga participated in a round of interviews last week after the film’s first trailer was released.

In one of them, with an outlet called Games Radar +, the director talked up the use of continuity in the new James Bond movie.

“Some people might look at it as a burden, and some people might look at it as an opportunity, when you’re inheriting characters or story points,” Fukunaga told Games Radar +.

“The way I saw it was: there’s a lot of rich material to draw from. And then there’s also the joy of continuity.

“So for the people who know the stories, to be able to pick up on some of these things, plus leitmotifs and other references to previous films; it just enriches the experience.”

The Bond franchise has had continuity in varying degrees. From Russia With Love made passing references to the events of Dr. No, for example. The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only referenced what occurred with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

It has been only recently that the series has embraced continuity as a selling point.

In 2011, Skyfall director Sam Mendes said specifically that the 23rd film in the Eon Production series had nothing to do with the two previous entries, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

All concerned, including Mendes, changed their minds with 2015’s SPECTRE. That film’s story did a “retcon” (retroactive change in continuity) that established all the Daniel Craig Bond films were all interconnected — including how Silva, the villain of Skyfall, was part of SPECTRE.

That trend continues in No Time to Die with the return of Madeline Swann and the rebooted Blofeld from SPECTRE.

With that move, Bond is taking a page from Marvel Studios, which has made more than 20 interconnected movies since 2008.

OHMSS’ 50th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

Updated and adapted from a 2014 post.

When Sean Connery was cast as James Bond in Dr. No, there was interest. Ian Fleming’s 007 novels were popular. President John F. Kennedy was among their fans. Still, it wasn’t anything to obsess over.

By the end of the 1960s, things had changed. Bond was a worldwide phenomenon. 007 was a big business that even producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman hadn’t anticipated originally. Now, the role was being re-cast after Sean Connery departed the role.

As a result, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which debuted 50 years ago this month, was under intense scrutiny. The film required a long, exhausting shooting schedule. This time, Bond would be played by a novice actor, George Lazenby, and supervised by a first-time director, Peter Hunt.

Hunt, at least, was no novice with the world of 007. He had been editor or supervising editor of the previous five Broccoli-Saltzman 007 films and second unit director of You Only Live Twice. So he was more than familiar with how the Bond production machine worked. Also, he had support of other 007 veterans, including production designer Syd Cain, set decorator Peter Lamont, screenwriter Richard Maibaum and composer John Barry.

Lazenby, on the other hand, had to take a crash course. He was paired with much more experienced co-stars, including Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas. And he was constantly being compared with Connery.

When, at the end of the pre-titles sequence, Lazenby says, “This never happened to the other fella,” the statement was true on multiple levels.

Majesty’s was also the first time Eon Productions re-calibrated. You Only Live Twice had dispensed with the main plot of Fleming’s novel and emphasized spectacle instead. Majesty’s ended up being arguably the most faithful adaptation of a Fleming 007 novel. It was still big, but it had no spaceships or volcano hideouts.

Majesty’s global box office totaled $82 million, according to THE NUMBERS WEBSITE. That was a slide from You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million. Twice’s box offce, in turn, had declined compared with Thunderball.

For Lazenby, once was enough. He subsequently has said he erred by not making a second Bond. “This never happened to the other fella,” indeed.

The film also marked Hunt’s exit from the series. He had been one of the major contributors of the early 007 films. But Eon would no longer employ his services after Majesty’s.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among many 007 fans. In 1969 and 1970, the brain trust at Eon Productions and United Artists concluded some re-thinking was needed. Things were about to change yet again.

Lazenby returns in an audio spy adventure

Passport to Oblivion Cover

George Lazenby, the one-time film James Bond, is returning to the espionage genre.

Lazenby stars as Dr. Jason Love in an audio adaptation of author James Leasor’s Passport to Oblivion. The adapation is part of a two-disc set selling for 14.99 British pounds.

Some details from a press release:

An audio spy adventure based on a series of internationally bestselling books (published in 19 languages) by James Leasor, ‘Passport to Oblivion’ features an all-star cast that also includes Glynis Barber, Nickolas Grace, Michael Brandon and Terence Stamp as ‘C’ the Head of MI6.

‘Passport to Oblivion’ is the first of 10 planned audio recordings by award-winning Spiteful Puppet and based on books first published in the 1960s. The novels, which sold in their millions, have a worldwide fan base. This is the first time they have been adapted as audio dramas.

Spiteful Puppet have been granted the license for all 10 of James Leasor’s Dr. Jason Love books. ‘Passport to Oblivion’ (2-disc audio set) will be released 29 November 2019.

‘Passport to Oblivion’, set in 1964, has astonishing parallels with today’s allegations of Russian interference in politics of the West, unrest in the Middle East, and seems very fresh and relevant.

Lazenby, 80, played James Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Passport to Oblivion previously was adapted as the 1966 movie Where the Spies Are, with David Niven as Dr. Jason Love.

Seydoux’s NTTD role to be bigger than thought, fan site says

No Time to Die logo

Obviously, this is a spoiler. If you don’t like that sort of thing, move on.

Lea Seydoux’s Madeline Swann role in No Time to Die will be larger than fans initially thought, James Bond Brasil said. 

The website said in a tweet it got the information by talking to actress Davina Moon, who is playing  Swann’s receptionist.

Swann “will also play a considerable role in the plot, as her character will again appear working in a psychiatric clinic,” according to a Google Translate version of the article.

Seydoux’s Swann was the female lead of 2015’s SPECTRE. She rode off with Daniel Craig’s Bond at the end of that film in the Aston Martin DB5. Seydoux’s return for the 25th James Bond film was formally announced in late April, although director Cary Fukunaga had earlier said she was coming back.

A December 2014 SPECTRE script draft had Bond telling Swann, “We have all the time in the world.” That was a famous line uttered by Bond (George Lazenby) in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service just before his wife Teresa (Diana Rigg) was killed.

The line didn’t make the final version of SPECTRE. But a favorite fan theory is that Swann will be killed early in No Time to Die.

Bond 25 questions: The mid-year edition

We’re almost halfway through 2019. That’s as good a reason as any for the blog to ask some new questions about Bond 25.

What do you make of the (apparently) discarded title A Reason to Die?

The MI6 James Bond website sniffed out that A Reason to Die was the tentative title for Bond 25. But Eon Productions after conferring with its studio partners decided not to proceed with it the night before an April 25 live stream event from Jamaica.

What the blog wonders is why did it take so long to make that decision? Or, put another way, was the live stream event scheduled before said studio partners (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Universal among them) weighed in?

Back in 2015, Eon’s Michael G. Wilson said the production company devises the marketing while the studios executes those plans.

So, was A Reason to Die an Eon initiative? Were MGM (handling U.S. distribution for Bond 25) and Universal (handling international distribution) not in the loop until the last minute? Or was the situation more complicated?

Where did A Reason to Die come from anyway?

Edward Biddulph of the James Bond Memes website wrote on Twitter the title may stem from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel.

Specifically, in Chapter 5, The Capu, Marc-Ange Draco tells Bond, referring to his daughter Tracy: “Will you help me save this girl? It is my only chance, that you will give her hope. That you will give her a reason to live. Will you?”

Is that a big deal?

It’s hardly the most significant Ian Fleming reference available. Fleming short titles (Risico, The Hildebrand Rarity, The Property of a Lady and 007 in New York) haven’t been used. However, plot elements from Risico were used for 1981’s For Your Eyes Only. Ditto for The Hildebrand Rarity in 1989’s Licence to Kill (plus a passing reference to the name Hildebrand in 2015’s SPECTRE). Also, plot elements from  The Property of a Lady showed up in 1983’s Octopussy.

What’s more, there are chapter titles from the Fleming novels that might be worth considering. Still, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade are known for mining small details from Fleming. They were the first screenwriters on Bond 25. It’s possible A Reason to Die fits their original script.

So what happens next?

When Prince Charles visited the Bond 25 set at Pinewood Studios earlier this month, Daniel Craig told him that filming on the production was about one-third complete.

There’s no teaser trailer yet, although a promotional video was released this week. A teaser trailer may be out sooner than later and we may get a title — A Reason to Die or something else — at that time. As usual, we’ll see.

Working on a film set

Peter Hunt during an interview.

For the past week or so, there have been numerous stories about supposedly grim feelings on the Bond 25 set.

The thing is, given how unnatural it is to work on a movie, it’s surprising there aren’t even more accounts about unease on film sets.

With On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, first-time director Peter Hunt played mind games with first-time actor George Lazenby during the film’s critical ending scene.

“I would make him sit and wait and get a bit nervous,” Hunt said of Lazenby said in an interview for the documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “I wanted him to feel nervous and uptight.”

It’s not just Bond films, of course. Martin Landau, as part of a TCM video, talked about feeling insecure during filming of a scene in North by Northwest.

Landau talked about how director Alfred Hitchcock whispered direction to Cary Grant, James Mason and Eva Marie Saint. Landau approached Hitchcock whether he wanted the tell the actor anything.

“Martin, I’ll only tell you if I don’t like what you’re doing,” Landau quoted Hitchcock as saying while doing a Hitch impersonation.

Working on a film (for actors, anyway) involves waiting a long time while the director of photography and other crew members get things ready to film a scene. For actors, doing a play is more natural. But films pay better.

Bond 25 may, or may not, have had a lot of tension on the set so far. Regardless, making movies isn’t a 9-to-5 job. We won’t really know how it’s going until the finished product is ready for viewing.

Happy holidays 2018 from The Spy Command

Our annual greeting

The accompanying graphic has been the blog’s annual Christmas/holiday season greeting since 2011. It’s a tradition and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

The graphic was designed by Paul Baack (1957-2017). It’s just one sample of his artistic handiwork. He designed it when the blog was part of the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (1997-2014).

To the blog’s readers: Thanks for being here. If you’ve got some time off, enjoy it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone.

About Eon’s lack of a long-term plan

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Over the weekend, I read complaints by friends on social media about the 007 film series.

One cited how Eon flipped the order of filming You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The other cited SPECTRE, the most recent Bond film made by Eon Productions.

Neither friend knows the other. The thing is, both complaints reflected the same thing — Eon isn’t known for its long-term planning.

When Eon launched the series, it initially intended to adapt Thunderball, the then-newest Ian Fleming novel. Richard Maibaum cranked out a script before Eon cast its Bond actor (Sean Connery).

But there were legal issues so plans shifted to starting with Dr. No. For the next entry, Eon opted for From Russia With Love, even though that novel preceded Dr. No.

That wasn’t a big deal at the time. But the OHMSS-YOLT switch was more of a problem. The novels were very connected. Bond is a broken man in the Twice novel because of how Majesty’s ended. But that went by the wayside for a variety of reasons. Still, that wouldn’t have occurred if a long-term plan had been in place.

For some Bond fans (including one of the aforementioned friends), that was a major missed opportunity.

With SPECTRE, the tale is even more complicated.

Quantum is better than SPECTRE. What’s that? Uh, never mind!

Screenwriter John Logan sold Eon on a two-film story, something Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced in November 2012. But star Daniel Craig vetoed that approach. So Logan retrenched. Eventually, veteran 007 screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to rewrite Logan’s script.

At one point, Logan’s scripts had Blofeld as an African warlord or a woman. After Purvis and Wade got through with it, there was a more traditional Blofeld. However, in the final version, Blofeld was also Bond’s foster brother — pretty similar to how Dr. Evil was the brother of Austin Powers.

Just a guess, but that wouldn’t have been the case with long-term planning.

Over the decades, there are other examples.

At the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, the audience was promised that For Your Eyes Only would be the next entry in the series. But with the popularity of the first Star Wars film, Eon grabbed the only Fleming title with a rocket theme (Moonraker) as the starting point for its next production.

In the 21st century, Eon’s brain trust talked about how SPECTRE was passe and how the new Quantum was more sophisticated. Then, Eon got all the rights that had been held by Kevin McClory. Suddenly, SPECTRE was the No. 1 villainous organization again.

Regardless of your opinions about the individual films involved, it’s pretty clear Eon has never had a long-term footprint. SPECTRE was a belated attempt to tie the four Daniel Craig films together.

That doesn’t make individual entries bad. Still, the lack of a long-term plan still has an impact on Eon’s 007 film series.