Trailer for Becoming Bond released

OHMSS poster

George Lazenby in OHMSS poster

Hulu has released its trailer for Becoming Bond, which recounts George Lazenby’s short tenure as James Bond. The streaming television outlet will show it on May 20.

The “unique documentary/narrative hybrid chronicling the stranger-than-fiction true story ” also is getting its world premiere March 11 at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Lazenby’s sole 007 film was 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He won the role despite having no acting experience. The Peter Hunt-directed movie arguably was the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming 007 novel.

Josh Lawson plays Lazenby, with Adamo Palladino as Peter Hunt. The cast also includes Jane Seymour, who played Solitaire in 1973’s Live And Let Die.

The trailer wouldn’t embed here at the blog, but you can view it at Entertainment Weekly’s website.

UPDATE: Hulu has now posted the trailer to YouTube. You can view it below.

How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.

Guy Hamilton, an appreciation

Goldfinger poster

Goldfinger poster

James Bond was never the same after Goldfinger and director Guy Hamilton got done with it.

The first two 007 films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, were solid successes at the box office. Goldfinger was a spectacular one.

The first two movies contained humor. Goldfinger expanded it.

Dr. No had elements of stories found in pulp magazines and From Russia With Love was grounded in the Cold War. Goldfinger was outlandish, including a henchman with a deadly hat, a tricked out car with an ejector seat among other gadgets and a villain who planned to explode an atomic bomb inside of Fort Knox.

In short, Goldfinger was 1964’s equivalent to today’s comic book-based movies. And Guy Hamilton, who died this week at age 93, was the ringmaster of the show.

Hamilton, in interviews he granted in his later years, made clear Goldfinger was never intended to be anything other than escapist entertainment. Audiences couldn’t get enough.

From that point forward, Bond had to be spectacular. Thunderball, helmed by original 007 director Terence Young, advertised itself as “the biggest Bond of all.” You Only Live Twice tried to be even bigger than that, including a villain’s lair hidden inside a volcano.

The series tried to reel things back a bit with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with George Lazenby succeeding Sean Connery as Bond. Director Peter Hunt insisted on a faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel, unlike how You Only Live Twice jettisoned most of the author’s 1964 book. But Majesty’s was still huge and escapist, not a Cold War thriller like From Russia With Love.

When Majesty’s box office fell off from You Only Live Twice (which in turn earned less than Thunderball), the production team opted for “another Goldfinger.” That included bringing Guy Hamilton back as director for Diamonds Are Forever.

Guy Hamilton (1922-2016)

Guy Hamilton (1922-2016)

Diamonds also was helped by the return of Connery (a United Artists move). But the movie also reflected a clear change in tone from its predecessor to something much lighter and fluffy.

Diamond smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) is aware of the existence of Bond (“You’ve just killed James Bond!” she says after 007 switches wallets with deceased thug Peter Franks.) Blofeld at one point dresses in drag as part of a getaway. Some sequences (a chase involving a moon buggy and plant security cars comes to mind) contain a lot of slapstick.

Bond again was a success at the box office. Hamilton was retained to help introduce Roger Moore as the new 007 after Connery again departed the series.

The lighter tone continued, even intensifying, including a long boat chase in Live And Let Die and a ditzy Mary Goodnight in The Man With the Golden Gun. The former was a big hit worldwide, becoming the first Bond to exceed Thunderball at the box office. Golden Gun, however, fell off from that.

Hamilton was hired to direct his fifth Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me, but changed his mind and bowed out. In the 1990s, Hamilton told writer Adrian Turner that he probably had stayed too long with the series.

Perhaps so. Nevertheless, Hamilton had an enormous impact on the film Bond. Goldfinger let a genie out of the bottle. It wasn’t until the 21st century with the 007 films of Daniel Craig that there was a sustained, concerted effort to dial back humor. For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill were one-off attempts to do so. Even so, the former included an ending with slapstick involving a Margaret Thatcher lookalike and the latter had an over-the-top Wayne Newton and an ending featuring a blinking fish.

Even the Craig films, though, reflect the Hamilton-directed Bond movies.

Skyfall and SPECTRE include the tricked out Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger. (Casino Royale had a different, left-hand drive DB5 without gadgets.) A car chase in SPECTRE contains Goldfinger-style lightness. Quantum of Solace had a Goldfinger homage — a woman dipped in oil, rather than a woman painted in gold paint.

Goldfinger’s impact on the series lingers today. Guy Hamilton was one of the major reasons.

TCM has a night of spy films on Jan. 25

TCM logo

Turner Classic Movies will show five spy films the evening of Jan. 25 and early-morning hours of Jan. 26.

Here’s the lineup. All times EST.

8 p.m.: Arabesque (1966), directed by Stanley Donen: Donen had a success with 1963’s Charade, a suspense film that included a bit of humor. That movie also included a score by Henry Mancini and titles by Maurice Binder.

Mancini and Binder reunited with Donen on Arabesque, with Gregory Peck as a university professor who gets involved with spies as well as a woman played by Sophia Loren.

Also present was Charade scripter Peter Stone. However, Stone took an alias (Pierre Marton) and shared the screenplay credit with Julian Mitchell and Stanley Price.

 10 p.m.: The Ipcress File (1965), directed by Sidney J. Furie: James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman launched a second, less flamboyant, spy film series based on Len Deighton’s novels. This was a source of tension with Saltzman’s 007 partner, Albert R. Broccoli.

The name of Deighton’s spy wasn’t disclosed in the novel that’s the basis of this movie. The character, as played by Michael Caine, was christened Harry Palmer for the film.

For the first of three Palmer films, Saltzman hired a number of 007 film crew members, including composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt.

12 a.m.: Our Man Flint (1966), directed by Delbert Mann: The first of two spy comedies with James Coburn as Derek Flint.

The movie takes nothing seriously, with an organization called ZOWIE (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). ZOWIE is headed by Kramden (Lee J. Cobb), who gets exasperated when he’s forced to recruit Flint (who wouldn’t follow orders when Kramden knew him during their military days). Kramden has no choice because ZOWIE computers have pinpointed Flint as the only man who can foil a plot by Galaxy.

The best things about the movie are Coburn’s winning performance as Flint and Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Goldsmith’s music elevates the proceedings. In terms of production values, it looks only slightly more expensive than the television series produced at the time by 20th Century Fox.

2 a.m.: Our Man in Havana (1959), directed by Carol Reed:  The director again collaborates with Graham Greene, who adapts one of his novels. Vacuum cleaaner salesman Alec Guiness is recruited by British spook Noel Coward to do some spying in Cuba before the revolution. The cast includes Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives and Ernie Kovacks.

4 a.m.: The Prize (1963), directed by Mark Robson: A spy tale starring Paul Newman centered around the Nobel Prizes being awarded in Stockholm. The script is by Ernest Lehman, who wrote 1959’s North by Northwest. Here Lehman adapts an Irving Wallace novel. The cast includes Leo G. Carroll, who was also in North by Northwest and who would shortly take the role of Alexander Waverly in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Jerry Goldsmith provided the score.

Shoutout to Mark Henderson who brought this up on Facebook.

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a re-evaluation

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a special place in the James Bond film series.

It’s the film closest to its source material, Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel of the same name. It’s also a movie whose reputation has improved over the years.

Yet, fans keep pining for things that cannot be. If only the movies had been made in order of the novels, instead of reversing the order of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice. If only the experienced Sean Connery had played Bond in Majesty’s instead of newcomer George Lazenby.

Here are a few thoughts on that:

OHMSS would have been a lot different if it had been filmed in 1966 instead of You Only Live Twice. The fan argument about the filming the Fleming novels in order (Majesty’s first, followed by Twice instead of the other way around) assumes we’d have gotten essentially the same movie as the one released in 1969.

As stated in Majesty’s, “I wouldn’t go banco on that.”

Charles Helfenstein’s The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in 2009, provides a rundown of various Majesty’s treatments and script drafts. According to Helfenstein, Richard Maibaum had a 1966 OHMSS treatment and draft including “an aquatic Aston Martin” a lot more gadgets than the 1969 film would have and the relevation that Blofeld was the brother (treatment) or half brother (draft) of Auric Goldfinger (pages 27-29).

That’s only one example. The book includes a table (pages 38-39) summarizing the differences of 10 different treatments and drafts, from 1964 through the 1969 film’s shooting script. The main thing in common is Tracy, Bond’s doomed wife, dies in all of them.

Peter Hunt, making his directing debut in Majesty’s, was one of the driving forces to keep the movie faithful to the novel. Had Majesty’s been after Thunderball, Hunt wouldn’t be the director. We might have gotten a similar film, but it’s likely we would have gotten something with more gadgets and a different tone (probably closer to Goldfinger) than audiences received in 1969.

Would Majesty’s really be better with Sean Connery than George Lazenby as Bond? For many, the answer is “of course.” Lazenby had no real acting experience before the film and Connery was, well, Connery. But not everyone subscribes to this conventional wisdom.

Writer Jeffrey Westhoff IN THIS ESSAY (in which he details why Majesty’s is his *favorite movie* not just favorite 007 film), argues against that idea. Here’s an excerpt.

I have often heard film critics and fellow Bond fans acknowledge the superior script and technical work in OHMSS, but then say, “It would be the best James Bond movie if only Sean Connery were in it.” I reject that.
(snip)
But let’s pretend a younger, amenable Connery was cast in an OHMSS directed by Hunt. It’s still a dubious proposition. For the story of OHMSS to work, particularly the ending, Bond must be vulnerable. From Goldfinger onward, Connery’s Bond was invulnerable, Superman in a tuxedo. I’m not saying Connery didn’t have the ability to play Bond as vulnerable, but after Goldfinger I doubt the audience would have accepted it.

For many reasons, OHMSS required a new actor as Bond….Lazenby’s athleticism in the fight scenes cannot be matched, and his acting improves as the film progresses, reaching its fruition in the proposal scene. More than any scene in the entire series, this one puts the greatest demand on the actor playing Bond.  (emphasis added)

The thing is, there is no right or wrong answer to all this. Without a time machine to go back to change events, or the ability to travel to an alternative universe where things occurred differently, there’s no way to know.

At the same time, real life is more complicated than what we want. So it is with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The only certainty is the movie remains — perhaps flawed but still one of the best entries in the Bond series.

Majesty’s 45th: ‘This never happened to the other fella’

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

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.

Six years later, 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 45 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 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.

Today, Majesty’s has a good reputation among 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.

REVISITED: the ‘banned’ Goldfinger commentary

Poster for a triple feature of the first three 007 movies

Poster for a triple feature of the first three 007 movies

We conclude our look at the “banned” Criterion James Bond laserdisc commentaries with Goldfinger.

The commentaries on the first three 007 films were “banned” because Criterion didn’t obtain the permission of Eon Production to include them. As a result, unsold laserdiscs were recalled but interest has remained high among 007 fans over the past two decades.

Evidently, the producers of the commentary track didn’t have as much access to Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton as they did with Terence Young, director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love. There are long stretch where host Bruce Eder comments about Goldfinger and the Bond movies generally without any input with the creators of the film.

Again, this is only a sampling. To listen to the entire thing, CLICK HERE.

During the pre-credits sequence, Hamilton describes his approach. “If this amuses you, if this surprises you, good. Sit back, relax, don’t ask too many questions.”

Hamilton also says producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman “were old acquaintances of mine” before they joined forces to produce the early bond films. Hamilton notes he was offered the chance to direct Dr. No but he ‘had to settle some personal affairs” instead.

The director also comments about Cec Linder taking over the Felix Leiter role. “Jack Lord who had played Felix Leiter (in Dr. No) had gone on to better things in Hawaii.”

Hamilton’s memory is faulty on this point. In 1964, Lord was acting in guest star parts on U.S. television. He wouldn’t be cast in Hawaii Five-O until 1968, four years after Goldfinger.

Meanwhile, Hamilton muses how most actors in Bond films, don’t get paid much. “All the money goes to special effects and sets.”

Editor Peter Hunt wasn’t a big fan of an early sequence where Goldfinger is cheating at cards.

“It was a very unfocused beginning, this movie,” Hunt says. “I suspect Guy Hamilton didn’t even believe it. I don’t think he thought it could work. In order to make it work, I had to do a lot of insert shots.”

Hunt also wasn’t fond of a later scene where Bond and M attend a dinner with Colonel Smithers, who explains why gold smuggling is important.

“It was wrong way around. It was very pretentious.” By that, Hunt refers to how the scene begins with a relatively tight shot, then the camera pulls out to show an enormous dinner table and then cuts back to a tigher shot of the three men.

Ken Adam, the production designer, also chimes in at this point. “This was the first time we see an actual gold bar. We made these out of lead. The gold bar had an enormous weight but obviously wasn’t gold.”

Soon after, Hamilton explains his spin on the Bond-Q relationship.

“I was always convinced Q hated Bond,” the director says. “He always mistreated his gizmos and never brings them back.” This became the template for a number of Bond movies to come.

Hamilton and Hunt appear to disagree how much English actor Gert Frobe, who played Goldfinger, actually knew. Hamilton makes it sound as if Frobe knew two sentences. Hunt says Frobe could speak English but slowly. “His knowledge of English was great. His pronunciation of English was poor.” Either way, both agree (separately) that Frobe needed to be dubbed.

When it came to cars, Hunt says, “Ford’s was very good to us. The producers must have had a deal with Ford’s.” Aston Martin, meanwhile, demanded to paid for the DB5 cars it provided for the film, according to Hunt.

Screenwriter Richard Maibaum also weighed in on the delicate balancing of drama and humor. “Every now and then you have do what I call ‘pulling down the balloon,’ and make it more realistic,” Maibaum says. He cites how the audience laughs while Bond shows off the Aston Martin DB5’s gadgets only to then see the death of Tilly (Tania Mallet).

The participants also comment about a scene that gives 21st century audiences pause — when Bond “must have appealed to her maternal instincts” to make Pussy Galore 007’s ally.

Maibaum, in his comments, says it turned out fine. “It all came out the way we hoped it would.”

Hamilton hedges his bets a bit. “I think this is one of the trickiest scenes in the movie. How to go from dy** to sexpot to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission and one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”

Later, Peter Hunt sums up Sean Connery’s appeal as Bond. Connery, he says, was among the few actors who look as if they “can virtually walk into a room and f*** anybody.”