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.

Bond 25: “This time, it’s repetitive!”

Bond mourning the death of Madeline Swann in Bond 25?

With the news that Lea Seydoux, the female lead of SPECTRE, will make a return appearance in Bond 25, the “Writing’s on the Wall” where the next 007 film is heading.

Unlike the usual Bond news, this isn’t from an unidentified source. It comes from Bond 25’s director himself, Cary Fukunaga via Daily Mail scribe Baz Bamigboye.

What can we expect?

Madeleine Swann’s life expectancy won’t be very long in terms of screen time. SPECTRE was a kind-of, sort-of remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  One of the trailers even used a new recording of John Barry’s main theme for the 1969 film.

And, a draft of the script, dated one week before the start of filming, had Bond telling Swann, “We have all the time in the world.” While that didn’t make the final film, it was pretty clear that Swann was supposed to be the 2.0 version of Tracy from Majesty’s.

Thus, Swann is likely to get bumped off, perhaps in the pre-titles sequence.

“But you don’t know that!” No, I don’t. But it’s pretty pointless to bring Seydoux back for a scene where she and Bond break up. When Ian Fleming had Bond break up with Tiffany Case, it happened between the novels Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia With Love.

Meanwhile, it’d be even worse if Seydoux is dragged throughout Bond 25. In SPECTRE, Seydoux’s Swann was convincing when she hated Bond. She was less than convincing when she supposedly fell in love with him. Imagine that for an entire movie. It’ll be bad. B.A.D.

If Swann gets bumped off, Bond is out for revenge — again. Or, put another way, the series will again fall back on a trope it has used multiple times beginning with 1989’s Licence to Kill.

“But if that happens, we’ll finally get a faithful adaptation of the You Only Live Twice novel!” The thing about the novel You Only Live Twice is that Bond fell apart once. That’s what made it so special.

Eon has already cherry picked the You Only Live Twice novel (and The Man With the Golden Gun novel) for Skyfall. The 2012 film had Judi Dench’s M writing Bond’s obiituary, a la You Only Live Twice, just substituting “Turkey” for “Japan.” Bond was a broken man who has to get his mojo back.

So now, Eon gets to cherry pick the novel again, like fixing a meal from Thanksgiving leftovers. Will Daniel Craig’s 007 be a broken man again? If Swann gets killed early in Bond 25, how much screen time will Craig have of being on the edge?

“Mind you, all of this is pure guess work,” as M said in the movie You Only Live Twice. But if these guesses are at all close to what’s in store for Bond 25, the film’s advertising slogan is obvious. “This time, it’s repetitive!”

Lea Seydoux will be in Bond 25, Bamigboye says

Lea Seydoux with Daniel Craig in a SPECTRE poster.

Lea Seydoux, the female lead in 2015’s SPECTRE, will be in Bond 25, the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye reported, citing comments from director Cary Fukunaga.

The key excerpt:

Bond star Daniel Craig wanted her back — and so did film-maker Cary Joji Fukunaga, who will be directing his first Bond picture.

Fukunaga told me exclusively that ‘Lea will be returning’; as will regulars Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris.

The news undoubtedly will revive speculation that Bond 25’s plot will be similar to the Ian Fleming novels On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

In the OHMSS novel, Bond marries Tracy, who is killed at the end. The 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service film replicated that. In the You Only Live Twice novel, Bond has fallen apart. He’s about to be fired from the British Secret Service. He’s given a “last chance” mission that puts him on the trail of Blofeld, now in Japan having established a “garden of death” for suicide-inclined Japanese.

SPECTRE (kind-of, sort-of) was a bit of an OHMSS remake. While Seydoux’s character had a different name (Madeline Swann), she was apparently intended as Tracy 2.0. In a Dec. 1, 2014 draft of the script, Bond event tells her at the end, “We have all the time in the world.” The line was cut from the final film.

Bamigboye’s report doesn’t get into such details. The obvious question is whether Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld from SPECTRE will also return.

OHMSS script: Train of the dead, other surprises

OHMSS poster

The blog got around to reading the shooting script for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While very close to the finished film, there were still a few surprises, including a rail coach full of corpses.

The title page says the script was “issued 5th September, 1968” with some pages saying they had been revised “8.10.68.” There are no names on the title page. Richard Maibaum got the sole screenplay credit while Simon Raven got a credit for “additional dialogue.”

By this time, Maibaum had spent years developing a screen adaptation of one of Ian Fleming’s best 007 novels.

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service summarizes 10 different treatments or scripts, including this one. The blog obtained its copy from collector Gary J. Firuta.

The script begins in a slightly different way than the film. After the gunbarrel, the script begins at the lobby of Universal Exports. A “Uniformed SECURITY MAN” is “at desk near door checking credentials of EMPLOYEES.”

The security man greets dome of the employees. Then there’s an “elderly MAINTENANCE MAN, mottled face, scraggly moustache, carrying wrench and plunger, plodding toward desk.”

The security man says (“cheerfully” as the maintenance man passes), “Morning, Double O-Seven.” We then go to the scene where M, Q and Moneypenny talk about how Bond can’t be found. Something not in the film: Moneypenny says, “Station R, Reykjavik seems to think Double O-Seven’s in Iceland — !”

After that, the scene where Bond meets Tracy unfolds much as it does in the film. One difference is that Tracy is driving a Bugati, rather than the Mercury Cougar we’d see in the movie.

‘This Never Happened Before’

The end of the pre-credits sequence ends with a slightly different line compared with the film. “This never happened before, Double O-Seven.”

On Her Majesty Secret Service’s gunbarrel.

Immediately after the titles, however, Bond returns to MI6. In the final film, this wouldn’t occur until later.

The sequence as depicted in the script is very similar to the final movie, except with some minor differences in dialogue. For example, Bond refers to M as “the Director.” (“Does this mean The Director has lost confidence in me?”)

As in the film, Bond dictates a letter of resignation to Moneypenny after the agent has been taken off Operation Bedlam (“Take a memo to the Director, Moneypenny.”) When Bond gets back to his office and starts clearing out his desk. The only specified object from a previous film is the “WRIST-WATCH GAROTTE used in FROM RUSSIA.”

The script has Moneypenny changing the resignation to a request for leave.

Before he departs MI6, there’s another scene in a garage area with the “latest model” Aston Martin. “You can break it in during your holiday,” Q says.

The pre-titles sequence had Bond driving an Aston. This script says is a new model. Bond gets in the car and checks it out.

“No reclining-seat lever?” Bond asks.

“No, Double O-Seven,” Q responds. “We don’t consider convenient love-making essential.”

“Your department always underestimates the personal requirements of my work, Q.”

Q “prissily” replies, “We still haven’t developed a substitute for that, Double O-Seven.”

“BOND grins, starts motor, drives ASTON-MARTIN out of garage.”

Pardon My French

The agent makes it to Portugal and, eventually, meets up with Tracy again. As in the movie, Bond uses his relationship with her to get some help from her father, Marc Ange Draco, in locating Blofeld.

In the scene where Bond meets Draco there’s this exchange:

BOND
She fascinates me, Mr. Draco — but I’m not a psychiatrist —

DRACO
(contemptuously)
Psychiatry! Merde! What she needs is a man, to beat her, to make love to her enough to make love him! A man like you, Mr. Bond

For the uninitiated, “merde” is the French version of a familiar swear word (if you don’t know it, just click here and look on GoogleTranslate). Evidently, in 1968-69, James Bond movies apparently weren’t ready to go that far in terms of language.

Train of the Dead

Eventually, Bond gets back on Blofeld’s trail. He’s off to the College-of-Arms to meet with Sir Hilary Bray and Phidian, an artist. The latter leaves and Bond talks to Sir Hilary. What follows in the script is a major sequence that wouldn’t be in the film.

“Put on any new personnel lately?” Bond asks.

“Only Phidian — last week — poor chap was out of work so long he presented me with a token of his appreciation.” The token is a paperweight lion on Sir Hilary’s desk. “Carved it himself,”

Bond is immediately suspicious and picks up the paperweight.

“Talented, isn’t he?” Sir Hillary asks.

“BOND screws off lion’s head, revealing tiny MICROPHONE. His fingers remove it,” the stage directions read. “SIR HILARY dumbfounded as BOND shows him microphone.”

A chase ensues, including some on rooftops. Bond and Phidian end up in a train tunnel. Phidian ends up “STRIKING ELECTRIFIED RAIL. Blinding flash and PHIDIAN’s scream. An instant later TROLLEY hits him, hurling his body off track and smashing it against wall.”

Phidian at one point in the sequence had written a telegram and put it in his pocket. “BOND stares down at PHIDIAN, mericifully below CAMERA LINE, reaches down into his jacket pocket, takes TELEGRAM OUT OF IT.”

It had been a warning from Phidian to Blofeld. “CONSIGNMENT NOT AS SPECIFIED. PHIDIAN.” Bond blocks out the word “NOT” and sends the telegram.

Now, of course, Bond has to make sure Phidian’s death doesn’t appear suspicious. So Bond, assisted by Q (!), stages a train accident.

The dead Phidian and other corpses are put in a train coach. Here’s the description.

“CAMERA SHOOTING FROM COORDOR THROUGH GLASS OF COMPARTMENT DOOR. PHIDIAN is very dead, swaying slightly in motion of train. CAMERA PULLS BACK SLIGHTLY. He is seated between TWO OTHER CORPSES. THEN CAMERA DOLLIES BACK ALONG CORRIDOR SHOOTING INTO OTHER COMPARTMENTS. SIX PEOPLE IN EACH, ALL DEAD. CAMERA HOLDS ON LAST COMPARTMENT. BOND IS SEATED BETWEEN TWO STIFFS.”

The engine cab and coach full of bodies is switched off onto a siding. Bond and a motor man put on “crash-helmets and protective jackets.” They jump from the engine cab.

The engine then plows into some freight cars. “As ENGINE crashes into them. FREIGHT CARS telescope,” the script says. “(If on elevated stretch they plunge over side with Engine and Coach.”)

BOND

(turning to MOTORMAN)

Ghastly wreck —
(wryly)
At least they felt no pain —

The finished film may refer to all of this. Campbell, Bond’s MI6 contact in Switzerland, is reading a newspaper. It has a front-page headline referring to a fatal train crash.

Bond and Tracy Get Chatty

After that, we’re back into familiar territory. After all this buildup, the stage directions don’t make a big deal about Blofeld. He’s described as “an impressively and strongly-built man in his early fifties.”

Some scenes have more dialogue than in the final film.

After Tracy rescues Bond, she is driving her Bugati and they talk a bit more.

TRACY
(slowing slightly)
Shall I stop so can spank me?

BOND
Step on the gas, Countess. Business before pleasure.

Later, after the pair find a “typical Swiss farm two-level stone and wood building” to stay for the night they talk a lot more. In fact, they’re downright chatty.

TRACY
Did you miss me at all? Up there on the mountain?

BOND
I had…a lot to occupy me. Body and mind.

TRACY
I understand.

BOND
Not quite, you don’t. I was…using people, Tracy. Using women, for my job. And I enjoyed it.

TRACY
(level)
If you didn’t, you wouldn’t do it well.

BOND
You don’t mind?

TRACY
You forget, James. I’ve used people too. And without even the excuse of a job. Do you mind?

In this script, it’s Tracy who ends up proposing. Director Peter Hunt, in the documentary Inside On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, said he had it changed to Bond making the proposal. Hunt said in the documentary that Bond was the stronger character and therefore should be the one who proposes.

‘Your Double-O Man’

Much later, at the wedding there are some bits that wouldn’t make the final film.

M specifically tells Bond that all of the “angels of death” (the women Blofeld had programmed to distribute Virus Omega, which could wipe out grains and livestock) have been accounted for. Bond then begins to ask M if he’ll be godfather to his and Tracy’s first child.

Before he can complete the sentence, the “CAMERA ANGLE WIDENS TO INCLUDE MONEYPENNY, with Q.”

“You’ll find your Double-O man some day, dear girl,” Bond tells Moneypenny.

“Bless you, James,” she replies.

The scripts ends with Tracy’s death. One slight difference is in the stage directions.

“His head remains against TRACY’s, his face smeared with her blood.”