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.

Diamonds’ 45th: Rodney Dangerfield of 007 films

Diamonds Are Forever poster

Diamonds Are Forever poster

When Diamonds Are Forever came out 45 years ago this month, it was a huge deal. Sean Connery was back! Everything was back to normal in 007 land.

Nowadays, Diamonds is more like the Rodney Dangerfield of James Bond films, not getting any respect.

Some fans complain about too much humor, about Connery not being in shape, about Blofeld (Charles Gray) dressing in drag as a disguise and about Bond’s wardrobe (his fat, pink tie in particular).

Perhaps the biggest advocate of the movie is former United Artists executive David Picker. In his 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybes and Nevers, he says Diamonds saved the Bond series because he got the idea of paying Connery a lot of money to return as 007.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had cast American John Gavin in the role. But UA became more hands on with the seventh film in the series compared with previous entries. UA (via Picker) didn’t want to take a chance after George Lazenby played Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Regardless, Diamonds reflected the creative team’s desire to get back to the style of Goldfinger. As a result, director Guy Hamilton returned. So did production designer Ken Adam after a one-picture absence. John Barry was on board and this time Shirley Bassey would return to perform the title song.

There was new blood, however, in the form of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to rewrite Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. Mankiewicz would work on the next four films of the series, although without credit on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q was aghast at Bond’s tie.

Mankiewicz (1942-2010), part of a family prominent in both show business and politics, still generates sharp divisions among Bond fans. Supporters say his witty one liners enlivened the proceedings. (“At present, the satellite is over Kansas,” Blofeld muses at one point. “Well, if we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.”) Detractors say he simply didn’t understand Bond and made things too goofy.

The writer’s initial draft actually contained more bits from Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel than would be in the final film. (This 2011 ARTICLE has more details, just scroll down to the section about the Mankiewicz draft.) Still, with Diamonds, it was now standard practice that the films need have little in common with Fleming’s novels.

The legacy of the movie is mixed. Diamonds got 007 into the 1970s. But as late as 1972, people still questioned whether the series could survive without Sean Connery. That wouldn’t be evident until after Diamonds. And the movie clearly began a lighter era for the series.

Still, Bond was Bond. The movie was a success with moviegoers. It had a worldwide box office of $116 million, an improvement from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s $82 million and You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million.

Diamonds fell short of Goldfinger and Thunderball ($124.9 million and $141.2 million respectively). But it did well enough that Eon Productions would again try to find a successor to Connery.

UPDATED: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

The cast of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television show.

Almost five years ago we published a post about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. curse.

Since the end of the 1964-68 series, a lot of things just seemed to go wrong. Well, after taking a look at the original, we decided to dress it up with events of the past few years. The more things change, the more, etc.

So you be the judge whether there’s a curse.

1970s: Veteran James Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum is hired to develop a new version of U.N.C.L.E. Nothing comes of it, despite Maibaum’s track record.

1976-77: Writer-producers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts hire Sam Rolfe, the original developer of the show, to do a script for a made-for-televison movie that could be the springboard for a new show. “The Malthusian Affair” has some interesting concepts (including having a dwarf occupy an armored exo-skeleton) but it doesn’t get past the script stage. Had it become reality, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum would have reprised their roles as Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.

Early 1980s: Would-be producers Danny Biederman and Robert Short cobble together a theatrical movie project. Their script had Thrush, the villainous organization of the original series, take over the world without anyone realizing it. Vaughn and McCallum had expressed interest, as had former 007 production designer Ken Adam. Alas, nothing happened.

1983: The made-for-television series movie The Return of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. airs on CBS. No series, or even a sequel made-for-TV movie, develops.

Early 1990s: Sam Rolfe attempts to do a made-for-cable-television movie that would have been an U.N.C.L.E. “next generation” story. Rolfe drops dead of a heart attack in 1993, ending any such prospect.

Circa 2004-2005: Norman Felton, executive producer of the orignal show, cuts a deal with a small production company for some sort of cable-televison project. Nothing concrete occurs.

2010-2011: Warner Bros. entices director Steven Soderbergh to direct an U.N.C.L.E. movie after a number of false starts. However, the director and studio can’t agree on budget and casting. Ironically, one of Soderbergh’s choices, Michael Fassbender as Napoleon Solo, later emerges as a star. Soderbergh gives up in late 2011.

Spring 2013: Guy Ritchie is now the director on the project. For a time, there are negotiations with Tom Cruise to play Solo. He’d be paired with Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin. In May, Cruise breaks off talks to concentrate on a new Mission Impossible movie.

June 2013: The Solo slot doesn’t stay vacant long. Henry Cavill, currently doing publicity for Warner Bros.’s Man of Steel emerges as the new choice.

September 2013: Filming actually starts on an U.N.C.L.E. movie. Is the curse abut to lift?

August 2015: The answer turns out to be no. The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is trounced at the box office. One of the movies doing the trouncing: Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation starring none other than Tom Cruise. Meanwhile, some fans of the original show complain Rolfe was denied a credit and Jerry Goldsmith’s theme went almost entirely unused.

August 2016: A year after the flop, some salt gets rubbed in the wound. Matthew Bradford, in a post on the Facebook group The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle notes the following: A commentary track for a Blu Ray release for Modesty Blaise dismisses U.N.C.L.E. as “unwatchable” today.

It turns out the commenter, film historian David Del Valle, based his comment on an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., where Robert Vaughn appeared as Solo. That episode was titled The Mother Muffin Affair and features Boris Karloff as an elderly woman.

For Your Eyes Only’s 35th: Back to Fleming

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Blofeld menaces 007 at the start of For Your Eyes Only

Audiences got something in June 1981 they hadn’t seen in a while — a James Bond film with much of the proceedings actually based on Ian Fleming stories.

For Your Eyes Only, based on two Fleming short stories, even included some dialogue here and there taken from 007’s creator.

At this point, there hadn’t been so much Fleming material in a Bond movie since 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which ended with the death of Bond’s wife Tracy.

That movie was referenced at the very start of the pre-titles sequence when Bond visits Tracy’s grave. Her year of death was listed on her headstone as 1969 and her epitaph read, “We Have All the Time in the World.”

Following two Bond spectacles, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker, the 1981 pre-titles sequence immediately signaled a change in tone.

Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson ended up using chunks of the For Your Eyes Only and Risico short stories while fashioning a plot line to tie the two Fleming tales together.

It was also one time where Eon Productions and producer Albert R. Broccoli varied from their usual strategy of “tailoring” a movie to its leading man.

Roger Moore, making his fifth 007 film appearance, was called upon in the Maibaum-Wilson script to kick a car containing a killer in the employ of the movie’s villain off a cliff. Earlier in the story, Bond’s opponent was responsible for the death of an MI6 agent.

There were multiple accounts at the time that Moore hesitated but that first-time director John Glen (who had been promoted by Broccoli from second unit director) stuck to his guns.

It was a harder Bond than Moore normally played and it worked for the story. This was a case of writing Bond first and having the actor play to that.

For Your Eyes Only still added big set pieces, including a wheelchair-bound Blofeld (originally it wasn’t officially supposed to be the villain, but that got “re-conned” many years later as part of an official home video promotion) controlling a helicopter with Bond inside. There were also chases, with Bond in a small car for a change and on skis being menaced by various killers.

However, For Your Eyes Only stayed very much earth-bound compared with Moonraker, where Bond had gone into space. On more than one occasion, Moore’s Bond is forced to use his wits to survive.

During the summer of 1981, Bond still drew audiences amid heightened box office competition, such as Indiana Jones’ debut in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a huge hit with global box office of almost $390 million.

For Your Eyes Only generated global box office of $195.3 million. While a bit down from Moonraker’s $210.3 million, the change in direction was accepted by the general public.

Moreover, fans of Fleming’s original novels and short stories took note. It would not be until 2006’s Casino Royale that audiences would get as much Fleming content in a 007 film. For Your Eyes also was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

FROM 2011: For Your Eyes Only’s 30th anniversary: 007 returns to earth

 

‘Enjoy it lightly, lightly’: Guy Hamilton’s 007 films

Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Dedicated to Guy’s memory. Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to meet or interact with him, but The Man With The Golden Gun and Live and Let Die were the first two classic Bonds I ever saw, both very entertaining. May he rest in peace. .

The contribution the late Guy Hamilton made to the James Bond series can be defined in a phrase he said to Roger Moore and Christopher Lee on the set of The Man With the Golden Gun: “Enjoy it, lightly, lightly”.

Hamilton took the helm of Goldfinger after rejecting Dr. No and came up shining the James Bond series. As previously stated on this site, the Bond movies became more extravagant since the third outing, released in 1964.

Goldfinger, starring Sean Connery, added to the humorous situations of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, directed by Terence Young, and brought a simple and basic premise repeated in subsequent films: an extravagant mastermind (the title villain, played by Gert Frobe), special gadgets shown in a Q Lab scene, who went further than the attaché case from the previous film with Bond’s trademark Aston Martin DB5; and the abundance of beautiful women to please the secret agent and the audience (this time, there weren’t only two or three women but a group of beauties working for the main girl, Pussy Galore).

The formula was established: movie begins with a mini-adventure, then follows up with actual assignment. Bond gets M’s briefing, his gadgets from Q and is sent to investigate the villain. Eventually, he’ll come across many girls and thrills across the globe until the villain captures him and reveals his outrageous plan: a plan 007 averts before or after killing the main villain (and/or the henchman) and ending with one of the girls.

While Goldfinger had a great success and impact among Bond fans, the following 007 film directed by Hamilton, Diamonds Are Forever, isn’t held in the same high regard. Neither are the other Bonds he directed, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, now with Roger Moore on the role.

Diamonds Are Forever’s asset was the return of Sean Connery in the role. The movie, released in 1971, was very representative of the times and way more relaxed in comparison of the previous James Bond adventure, the faithfully adapted On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Not everything in the movie is perfect, but it manages to shine with a very eye-pleasing cinematography by Ted Moore, who excelled with colorful shots of Las Vegas or the monotone palette of the Nevada dunes. The lines, although a bit parodic, are punchy. That’s particularly true in the scene when 007 infiltrates Blofeld’s oil rig off the California coast by saying: “Good morning, gentlemen. Acme pollution inspection. We’re cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point.”

Guy Hamilton’s collaboration with screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (Mankiewicz wrote the later script drafts) provided a funny ride for Sean Connery’s return in Diamonds Are Forever, with gorgeous girls and comical situations like having James Bond escaping from a compound in a Moon buggy (even John Barry’s music captured the funny aspect of the scene).

For Roger Moore’s introduction as James Bond in 1973, Hamilton opted to make the new Bond completely different from his predecessor, the Scottish actor who patented the image of 007. He would return for a last 007 outing in 1974 for Moore’s second Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun.

Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun

Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun

These two films lack some of the qualities of Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever, yet a lot of humor, girls and gadgets are maintained. Roger Moore’s adventuristic spirit was inspired from his days as Simon Templar in The Saint, helping to enhance the standard quota of humor from Hamilton and Mankiewicz.

The story lines of Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun were simplistic. In the former, Bond is sent to investigate the death of colleagues and a British representative at the UN that leads to a case of drug-dealing. In the latter, Bond is the target of assassin Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), who also wants to monopolize solar energy.

In Live and Let Die, 007 breaks interracial barriers with CIA agent Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), visits the Caribbean once more and opposes Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), the mastermind behind the drug trafficking. There were no vehicles this time but a Rolex Submariner wristwatch with a powerful magnet.

The technical aspect of the 1973 movie is a bit of a letdown in comparison to Diamonds Are Forever or Goldfinger. George Martin’s score succeeds the difficult task of replacing the usual John Barry, but the cinematography -–again by Ted Moore -– is somewhat lackluster.

On the other hand, The Man With The Golden Gun brought John Barry back and Ted Moore, joined by Oswald Morris, brought more colors to the scenes.

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

There is an abundance of women in the movie. The ninth Bond installment saw the secret agent involved with both Britt Ekland and Maud Adams, with a romantic-comedy-like jealousy scene included, plus some Asian beauties such as the suggestive nudist swimmer Chew Me and two teenager karate experts.

Guy Hamilton’s goodbye to the series was filled with humorous situations not only made by the actors or screenwriters, but also in the technical area: John Barry added a sound effect as Bond’s AMC Matador car takes a 360-degree jump and the art crew set the MI6 base in Hong Kong inside the sunken remains of the Queen Elizabeth ship, apparently because of the expensive Hong Kong real estate, or so a a British naval officer explains Bond in the film.

These two films feature a recurring character: Sheriff J. W. Pepper, played by Clifton James, whose scenes almost turn both films into comedies. If in Live and Let Die the southern lawman interfered in a boat chase between 007 and the bad guys and made some racist remarks, in The Man with the Golden Gun he’s fully ridiculed by an elephant who throws him to the Thai canals.

It’s a continuous subject of debate if the cinematic James Bond should be a dramatic anti-hero as the one seen in Licence to Kill or Casino Royale or a lighter action man as the protagonist of the movies Guy Hamilton directed. Both definitions of Ian Fleming’s character were key to make 007 the longest running franchise in cinema history.

Guy Hamilton was the man who popularized Bond. The term “popularized” goes in a appeasing way, because he made these movies the kind of entertainment teenagers and adults wanted in the 1960s or 1970s. And he did not only “entertaining movies,” but great, entertaining adventures.

Guy Hamilton made James Bond a super star, an icon of the popular culture.

007 screenwriter Christopher Wood dies

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

The Spy Who Loved Me poster

Christopher Wood, screenwriter on two big James Bond films of the 1970s, has died, Roger Moore said on Twitter.

Wood, 79, was brought on to write 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me by the movie’s director, Lewis Gilbert. He came aboard after various scribes — Richard Maibaum, Stirling Silliphant, Cary Bates and others — had tried their hand at a story for the 10th 007 film.

Wood ended up sharing the screenplay credit with Maibaum, while Tom Mankiewicz did some uncredited rewrites.

Spy was a major test for producer Albert R. Broccoli. It was his first Bond film as solo producer after Harry Saltzman sold off his interest to United Artists. Also, The Man With the Golden Gun had underperformed at the box office.

A lot was riding on Spy and the escapist, extravagant film delivered, becoming a big hit in the summer of 1977.

Wood was brought back for 1979’s Moonraker, also directed by Gilbert. While writer Tom Mankiewicz helped plot the story, Wood was the only credited screenwriter. Broccoli wanted to outdo himself this time, wanting to send Bond into outer space and going bigger in every way. It also was a big hit, but Broccoli scaled things down for future films.

As big as Moonraker was, it was actually reduced from THE FIRST-DRAFT SCREENPLAY, which had his and her micro-jets, a keel-hauling sequence and a jet pack. The keel-hauling sequence (based on the Live And Let Die novel) would be saved for For Your Eyes Only and (only one) micro-jet would be utilized in Octopussy.

Wood also wrote the novelization for the two movies. In the minds of many fans, Wood successfully merged Ian Fleming’s literary Bond with the large-scale epic films.

Here’s Sir Roger’s tweet about Wood’s death: