Remembering that 1989-95 007 hiatus

GoldenEye’s poster

Our post the other day about the anniversary of Licence to Kill’s release got the blog to thinking about what followed: The six-year hiatus in James Bond film production.

Like the earlier post, this is more of a personal take on the events.

The thing is, in those pre-internet days, the news was much slower in getting around. During much of this period, I saw a number of items in The Wall Street Journal. I had a subscription at the time.

Also, the extent of what was going on wasn’t immediately evident.

There were reports in the trade press that director John Glen and screenwriter Richard Maibaum wouldn’t be returning to the series. This was the first indication (at least to me) that a big makeover, rather than minor tweaks, was in store.

There were occasional stories about potential new directors and screenwriters. Things got more serious when it was announced that Danjaq, parent company of Eon Productions, was putting itself up for sale. Eventually, no sale occurred, but seeing the original announcement was an eye-opener.

What’s more, the soap opera at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, went into overdrive. MGM was bought and sold again, with a bank (Credit Lyonnais) taking over the operation. Bond fans now needed to read the business pages of newspapers just to keep things straight.

Also, Danjaq/Eon filed a lawsuit related to what was going on with MGM. It was clear the next James Bond film wouldn’t be made soon. Even when the lawsuit was settled (I had a chance to read the press release at my office), it still wasn’t clear when production would resume.

Timothy Dalton

During this period, there were questions about what would happen with the incumbent 007, Timothy Dalton. Geraldo Rivera had a syndicated U.S. television show at the time and one broadcast was devoted to Bond. Some Bond experts participated. Rivera asked if Dalton would be back. The experts said they expected him to return.

Finally came the announcement that Dalton was gone. What was going to happen next?

Attention turned to Pierce Brosnan, who lost out on his chance to play Bond in 1986, when Dalton got the nod.

Eon maintained in a 1987 television interview that Dalton was always its No. 1 choice. In that interview, Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond.

Brosnan had been signed (and it’s detailed in the Inside The Living Daylights documentary that’s part of home video release), but NBC reacted by ordering more episodes of Remington Steele. That, of course, was what gave Dalton his opportunity to play Bond.

In 1994, shortly before the casting decision was announced, The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a long front-page story about the Bond search and that it was not a clear-cut choice.

Regardless, Brosnan got the nod. Many fans, no doubt, thought, “Finally!”

Advertisement for 1994 James Bond convention

Still, Bond had been away from theater screens for quite a while. Eon did something it had never done — having an official James Bond fan conventions in the fall of 1994 and 1995 (the latter days before the premiere of GoldenEye).

That was part of an effort to revive interest in Bond. For hard-core fans, they were anxiously waiting all along. Still, both conventions were interesting to attend. For some fans, it was a chance to meet like-minded people they had never had a chance to encounter before.

In the end, Bond resumed production. 007 even maintained an every-other-year schedule until the end of the 1990s.

Still, looking back at the hiatus, it’s a reminder that film franchises — for fans, for productions companies, for studios — can’t be taken for granted.

Licence to Kill: Odd opening day in 1989

Licence to Kill’s poster

Twenty-eight years ago today, Licence to Kill, the 16th James Bond film had its U.S. opening.

It didn’t go well, financially. Licence to Kill finished No. 4 at the U.S.-Canada box office that weekend, behind even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

But even leaving that aside, it was an odd day for various reasons. This is a more personal post about that day.

I had arranged to take the day off from work. Back then, you didn’t really have the Thursday night preview showings (starting at 7 p.m.) that are common today. You’d have to show up late and the movie would begin just after midnight. It was technically a Friday showing.

Anyway, Mrs. Spy Commander and myself went to the first showing. It was after 1 p.m. Today, multiplexes start their day at 10 a.m. or earlier.

I knew ahead of time there was a scene (“He disagreed with something that ate him”) based on the Live And Let Die novel that had gone unused when the book was adapted by Eon in the early 1970s. I knew Licence to Kill was supposed to be a grittier Bond film and was more than ready to view it.

My initial reaction was the movie probably needed another draft for its script. It didn’t have the polish of previous Bond adventures. But I was also aware that a Writers Guild strike meant Richard Maibaum hadn’t fully participated in the proceedings despite the fact he shared the writer’s credit with Michael G. Wilson.

Anyway, after it was over, I asked Mrs. Spy Commander what she thought.

“It was….fine,” she replied.

Uh-oh. This was my first sign she didn’t like it. I pressed for more of a reaction.

“No, it’s OK,” she said. “They got their revenge story.”

When things really got odd was when we got home. I turned on TV and began “channel surfing.”

Suddenly, on Nickelodeon of all places, there was a Licence to Kill special. Kid anchors from the network were interviewing the principals of Licence to Kill. Clearly, the interviews had been done months before when the crew was filming in Key West, Florida.

The most unusual sequence was a joint interview of producer-screenwriter Michael G. Wilson and character actor Anthony Zerbe, who played secondary villain Milton Krest.

The kid interviewer asked about the increased violence in Licence to Kill. Wilson said something about how Bambi was emotionally intense.

Zerbe reacted by pretending he was about to cry. “I never got over Bambi,” he said.

That was the highlight of the show, such as it was. Timothy Dalton also did an interview for the Nickelodeon special, but it wasn’t nearly as memorable as Zerbe’s bit of comedy.

The thing was, I had no idea it would be more than six years before I’d have a chance to see another new James Bond film.

Nobody does it better: 40 years of The Spy Who Loved Me

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Four decades after its theatrical release (on that apt 7/7/1977 date) , The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most beloved James Bond films — not only for the Roger Moore era but the entire Eon Productions series.

Moore himself declared a couple of times this was his favorite Bond film. His preference for this film was understandable.

The film’s production had a rough start. In 1975, shortly after the release of The Man With The Golden Gun, Harry Saltzman sold his share of the Bond rights to United Artists after facing serious debts and personal problems, leaving Albert R. Broccoli as sole producer.

Eon Productions was not allowed by contract to use anything from Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel except for the title. It is known that the James Bond creator wasn’t happy with his most peculiar book, written in first person from the viewpoint of Vivienne Michel, a young girl attacked by goons in a motel in the United States and rescued by James Bond.

Various writers were hired to devise a story. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum would receive the screenplay credit. Guy Hamilton departed the project, originally set for a 1976 release. Finally, Lewis Gilbert, who directed You Only Live Twice a decade before, was hired.

Attempts to bring back Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE were cancelled after Thunderball producer Kevin McClory threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, scribes Wood and Maibaum penned a suitable Bond extravaganza that pleased audiences.

In the process from the script to screen, a huge set was built at Pinewood Studios to double for the tanker owned by the villain. Claude Renoir’s camera captured the exotic beauty of turistic spots like Sardinia and Cairo. In Egypt, the crew was constantly monitored by the government. The catering service was a disappointment, leaving Cubby Broccoli to step up and personally cook spaghetti for the whole crew.

The Spy Who Loved Me stands out as an improvement for the Moore 007 movies. After two entertaining but rather “cheap” Bond films, this third Moore/Bond adventure looks expensive.

The action scenes are tidy and organized proving to be a perfect syncronization between the soundtrack, the cinematography, the stunt team and Lewis Gilbert’s experience in delivering an extraordinary adventure in the scale of You Only Live Twice.

Also notable was the work of the model unit to turn Bond’s white Lotus Espirit into a mini submarine, which he uses to explore the villain’s lair beneath the Sardinian seas (actually shot in The Bahamas, as were most of 007’s underwater sequences).

However, honors for The Spy Who Loved Me should go for a very brave man who performed an unforgettable stunt.

1975 trade advertisement for The Spy Who Loved Me before Harry Saltzman sold out his interest in Bond

Rick Sylvester got on his skis and slided trough the snowy summit of Canada’s Mount Asgard. He jumped off a cliff and opened a Union Jack parachute. This moment that won cheers and applause over cinemas across the United Kingdom almost killed Sylvester when one of the abandoned ski poles nearly punctured the parachute.

Roger Moore kept his grace in his third Bond film. He dashingly wears a Royal Navy uniform and has the USS Wayne submarine troops in charge before a big scale gunfight takes place against the villain’s forces. He lets an assasin fall to his death after extracting him information. And, bravely, he tells her KGB companion Anya Amasova that he was responsible for the death of her boyfriend. “In our business, Anya, people get killed.”

Barbara Bach lacked acting talent as the leading lady. This weak aspect was compensated by Curt Jurgens magnificient performance of Bond’s nemesis Karl Stromberg who tries to ignite World War III as the initial step for the inception of a world beneath the sea.

However, the most memorable character in the film’s rogue gallery was Richard Kiel’s Jaws, the giant with steel teeth who would return to join the side of good in the next film, Moonraker. The popularity of Jaws was so big that Richard Kiel shared his likeness for three Bond videogames: GoldenEye 007 (1997), Everything or Nothing (2003) and 007 Legends (2012).

Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score in tone with the times, influenced by the Bee Gees music and the late 1970s disco tunes but also with the dramatic tunes some moments require, such as the tanker battle near the end.

Particularly good are his remixes of the classic James Bond Theme that heralded the many action sequences of the film. For the main title song, Hamlisch and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager took inspiration from Mozart and created the immortal ode to Bond: “Nobody Does it Better,” a title that could very well also fit the effort to deliver a Bond film with capital B.

More Bond 25 questions after P&W’s return

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

With the apparent return of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade to script Bond 25, naturally there are more questions.

No Bond 25 story yet? After all this time?

According to the Daily Mail’s Baz Bamigboye, Purvis and Wade are the first writers to be hired.

Given Bamigboye’s record with scoops proven correct about Skyfall and SPECTRE, you have to take him seriously.

But the first to be hired 16 months after SPECTRE debuted? We’re not talking a first draft or a treatment (story outline). We’re talking about turning on the old word processor and confronting a blank screen.

By contrast, MGM announced in November 2012 — while Skyfall was still in theaters — that John Logan had been hired to write the next two installments. Eventually, that was changed to one, but the studio wanted everyone to know things were full speed ahead.

Purvis & Wade again? This will be their seventh (or 007th if you like puns) consecutive Bond film effort.

To put that in perspective consider this: Richard Maibaum had 13 Bond writing credits. But his longest streak was five (all 1980s Eon Productions efforts).

Also, the hiring comes less than two months after Purvis told The Telegraph, “I’m just not sure how you would go about writing a James Bond film now.” Evidently, something came up.

To be clear, this blog has not bashed the writing duo. But their hiring for Bond 25 begs the question whether Eon casts a very wide net. Are there really so few writers suitable for the job?

On the other hand, it is a tough job as the likes of John Logan, Paul Haggis, Bruce Feirstein and others have found out over time.

John Logan and Jez Butterworth, who also worked on the last two 007 films (Logan credited both times, Butterworth only once) were brought in by director Same Mendes.

What does this say about when Bond 25 eventually comes out? 

As noted above, Logan was on board to write Bond 24 (later titled SPECTRE) in November 2012. He didn’t submit his first draft until March 2014.

If indeed Purvis and Wade are just getting started, 2019 seems a stronger possibility than 2018. Once a first draft is delivered, months of rewrites usually ensue. If, say, a script is hammered out in early 2018, there’s still casting and numerous other details.

“In any event, no camera will roll on Bond 25 until next autumn at the earliest,” Bamigboye wrote in his story.

And, for now, there’s no confirmed James Bond and no studio to distribute the movie.

The Living Daylights at 30: A short-lived new era

The Living Daylights poster

The Living Daylights poster

The Living Daylights, the 15th James Bond film made by Eon Productions, was going to be the start of a new era for the series.

With hindsight, it’s now evident the new era was doomed to be short-lived. But nobody envisioned that when the movie came out in the summer of 1987.

Roger Moore hung up his shoulder holster following 1985’s A View to a Kill. There was going to be a new film James Bond. The question was who would it be.

Sam Neill was screen tested. He had supporters among the production team, but didn’t have the vote of producer Albert R. Broccoli, according to the documentary Inside The Living Daylights.

Pierce Brosnan tested for the role (including playing scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). He even signed a contract, with a photo taken of the event.

But all that went askew when NBC renewed his Remington Steele series. Broccoli had second thoughts.

Broccoli and his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, later denied in a television interview that Brosnan had even been signed.

The ultimate choice was Timothy Dalton. Broccoli said Dalton was the first choice all along.

“We wanted to get Timothy,” Broccoli said. “We had standing by the possibility of Pierce Brosnan. We liked Pierce. But we did really feel Timothy was the man we wanted.” Even if NBC hadn’t renewed Remington Steele, the producer said, “We liked Timothy very much.”

After the bumpy start, Daylights got into gear. Dalton, 40 at the time filming began, was almost 20 years younger than Moore. The actor also was more than willing to do some of his own stunts. This tendency showed up in the pre-titles sequence when Bond is on the top of a military truck at the Rock of Gibraltar.

Dalton, though, brought more than (relative) youth to the role. His Bond was more conflicted and more grounded in the original Ian Fleming novels and short stories.

Early in the film, Bond disobeys orders when he suspects a supposed sniper (Maryam d’Abo) isn’t genuine. He shoots her rifle instead of her.

Later, Saunders, another MI6 agent, says he’s going to report Bond to M. Dalton’s Bond isn’t fazed. “If he fires me, I’ll thank him for it.”

Richard Maibaum was on board for his 12th Bond film as scripter, collaborating with Wilson. The Maibaum-Wilson team built their story out from a sequence in Ian Fleming’s short story of the same title.

Initially, the duo had an “origin” story line that Broccoli vetoed. Instead, Dalton’s Bond would again be depicted as a veteran agent.

The Living Daylights generated worldwide box office of $191.2 million, an improvement over A View to a Kill’s $152.6 million.

In the U.S. market, however, Daylights’ $51.2 million wasn’t much better than View’s $50.3 million. For whatever reasons, American audiences never warmed to Dalton the way international audiences did.

Still, Daylights seemed to represent a fresh start for the Bond film series. What nobody knew at the time was that audiences had already consumed half of the Dalton Bond films.

What’s more, Daylights was the end of an era for the series. It had John Barry’s final 007 score. For his final Bond film, the composer would make a brief on-screen appearance.

Daylights also would be the last time that Maibaum would fully participate in the writing.

The veteran scribe (1909-1991) would help plot 1989’s Licence to Kill. But the actual script was written by Wilson, with Maibaum sidelined by a Writers Guild of America strike.

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 40th: 007 rolls with the punches

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me, which debuted 40 years ago this year, showed the cinema 007 was more than capable of rolling with the punches.

Global box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, plunged almost 40 percent from Live And Let Die, the debut for star Roger Moore. For a time, things got worse from there.

The partnership between 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, unsteady for years, ruptured. Eventually, Saltzman was bought out by United Artists, leaving Broccoli in command. But that was hardly the end of difficulties.

Kevin McClory re-entered the picture. He had agreed not to make a Bond movie with his Thunderball rights for a decade. That period expired and McClory wanted to get back into the Bond market. Eventually, court fights permitted Broccoli’s effort for the 10th James Bond movie to proceed while McClory couldn’t mount a competing effort.

But that still wasn’t the end of it. Numerous writers (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant) tried their hand at crafting a new 007 tale.

Finally, a script credited to Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum, with uncredited rewriting by Tom Mankiewicz, emerged.

Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct his fifth Bond movie but left the project. That paved the way for the return of Lewis Gilbert, who helmed You Only Live Twice a decade earlier. It was Gilbert who brought Christopher Wood to work on the script.

The final film would resemble Twice. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

With Saltzman gone, Cubby made his stepson, Michael G. Wilson, a key player in the production. Wilson was already on the Eon Productions payroll and was involved in the negotiations that saw Saltzman’s departure.

For Spy, Wilson’s official credit was “special assistant to producer” and it was in small type in the main titles. However, Spy was that downplayed Wilson’s role. An early version of Spy’s movie poster listed Wilson, but not production designer Ken Adam, whose name had been included in the posters for Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.

UA, now in possession of Saltzman’s former stake in the franchise, doubled down, almost doubling the $7 million budget of Golden Gun.

In the end, it all worked. Bond shrugged off all the blows.

Spy generated $185.4 million in worldwide box office in the summer of 1977, the highest-grossing 007 film up to that point. (Although its $46.8 million in U.S. ticket sales still trailed Thunderball’s $63.6 million.)

Roger Moore, making his third Bond movie, would later (in Inside The Spy Who Loved Me documentary) call Spy his favorite 007 film.

The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for sets (designed by Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), its score (Marvin Hamlisch) and its title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). None, however, won. 

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.