From Russia With Love’s 50th Part I: the difficult sequel

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

Nothing about From Russia With Love was easy. From scripting all the way through filming, the second James Bond film was difficult and at times an ordeal.

At last three writers (Richard Maibaum, Johnna Harwood and an uncredited Len Deighton) took turns trying to adapt the Ian Fleming novel, with major rewrites during shooting. One cast member (Pedro Armendariz) committed suicide shortly after completing his work on the movie because he was dying of cancer. Director Terence Young was nearly killed in a helicopter accident (CLICK HERE for an MI6 007 fan page account of that and other incidents).

For many 007 fans, the movie, which premiered Oct. 10, 1963, is the best film in the Eon Productions series. It’s one of the closest adaptations of a Fleming novel, despite the major change of adding Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE into the proceedings. It also proved the success of Dr. No the previous year was no accident.

Fleming’s novel was one of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 10 favorite books, a list published in 1961 in Life magazine. From Russia, With Love (with the comma and published in 1957) was one of the author’s most important books.

Fleming’s friend, author Raymond Chandler, had chided 007’s creator for letting the quality of his Bond novels slip after 1953’s Casino Royale. “I think you will have to make up your mind what kind of writer you are going to be,” Chandler wrote to Fleming in an April 1956 letter. Fleming decided to step up his game with his fifth 007 novel.

Years later, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, with an endorsement of the source material from Kennedy, proceeded with adapting the book. Dr. No veterans Young, editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore and scribes Maibaum and Harwood all reported for duty on the new 007 project.

The major Dr. No contributor absent was production designer Ken Adam, designing the war room set and other interiors for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. John Stears, meanwhile, took over on special effects.

Armendariz, as Kerim Bey, the head of MI6’s station in Turkey and Bond’s primary ally, had a big impact. He lit up every scene he was in and had great on-screen chemistry with star Sean Connery. When Kerim Bey is killed, as part of the complicated SPECTRE plot, it resonates with the audience. The “sacrificial lamb” is part of the Bond formula, but Armendariz was one of the best, if not the best, sacrificial lamb in the 007 film series.

The gravely ill actor needed assistance to complete his scenes. In long shots in the gypsy camp sequence, you needn’t look closely to tell somebody else is playing Kerim Bey walking with Connery’s 007. (It was director Young, according to Armendariz’s WIKIPEDIA ENTRY.)

Young & Co. retained the novel’s memorable set pieces (the fight between two gypsy women, the subsequent battle between Bulgarians and gypsies and the Orient Express train fight between Bond and Red Grant). The production also added a few twists, including two outdoor sequences after getting Bond off the train earlier than in the novel. The question was how would audiences respond.

The answer was approvingly. “I see that ‘From Russia With Love’ is now a movie and although I rarely see them I plan to take this one in,” former CIA Director Allen Dulles wrote to Fleming in 1964.

He wasn’t alone. The film, with a budget of $2 million, generated $78.9 million in worldwide box office, almost one-third more than its predecessor.

NEXT: John Barry establishes the 007 music template

1997 HMSS article: A VISIT WITH IAN FLEMING

November 2012 post: LEN DEIGHTON ON FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

The Spy Who Loved Me’s 35th anniversary: license renewed

July is the 35th anniversary of 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. It may not be the best James Bond movie but it’s certainly one of the most important for the series: 007 got his license to kill renewed.

CLIP TO EMBIGGIN

A preliminary version of Spy’s poster: Barbara Bach is “introduced” while Michael G. Wilson gets a credit he wouldn’t receive on the final version of the poster.


Spy faced many barriers to reaching the screen: the breakup between founding 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; widespread doubt (outside of Bond fandom) whether Agent 007 had a cinematic future; and legal fights as Kevin McClory sought to get back into the 007 movie game more than a decade after 1965’s Thunderball.

All of those topics have been covered in more detail than we can provide here. Suffice to say, there was a lot riding on the 10th James Bond film.

Eon Productions was now headed solely by Cubby Broccoli, aided and abetted by stepson Michael G. Wilson (who got a “special assistant to producer” credit in small type in the main titles). United Artists had bought out Saltzman’s stake in the franchise. The studio (now, in effect, Broccoli’s partner) supported the remaining Bond producer by doubling down, greatly increasing Spy’s budget compared with 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun (about twice Golden Gun’s $7 million outlay).

For star Roger Moore, it was his third 007 film. It firmly established him in the role and he has said it’s his favorite Bond movie. The plot has a number of similarities with 1967’s You Only Live Twice, also directed by Lewis Gilbert. Spy had a tanker that swallowed up submarines where Twice had an “intruder missile” that swallowed up U.S. and Soviet spacecraft.

The script was developed after a number of writers participated without receiving a credit (among them, Anthony Burgess; Cary Bates, then a writer for Superman comic books; future Animal House director John Landis; and Stirling Silliphant). The final credit went to 007 stalwart Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood (the latter, who got top billing in the screenplay credit, was brought in by Gilbert). There even were odd changes in the early version of the film’s poster compared with the final version.

For all the twists and turns, Spy was a big hit in the summer of 1977. It generated $185.4 million in worldwide ticket sales, 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.) The movie also received three Oscar nominations: for its sets (designed by Ken Adam, aided by art director Peter Lamont), score (Marvin Hamlisch) and title song, “Nobody Does It Better” (by Hamilsch and Carole Bayer Sager). The movie, though, went 0-for-3 on Oscar night.

Do all 007 film fans love Spy? No. Check out some of the comments by HMSS EDITORS, many of whom never warmed up the Roger Moore movies. Still, Spy’s success ensured there would be future 007 screen adventures, securing Broccoli’s control of the franchise.

HMSS nominations for underrated 007 moments

What we’re about to discuss aren’t necessarily the *best* James Bond film moments but they may be the most *underrated.* So let’s get right into it:

Most underrated score by somebody not named John Barry: John Barry composed the score for half of Eon Productions Ltd.’s 22 007 movies. He also worked on Dr. No, helping to arrange The James Bond Theme composed by Monty Norman. Barry has earned a special status in the 007 film canon. But what of the other composers in the series?

It’s a hard call. By sheer volume, David Arnold gets notice (the only non-Barry composer to do more than one 007 film). But George Martin, composer of the score for Live And Let Die gets the nod here. Martin, producer of the albums of the Beatles, helped Paul McCartney sell his title song to Eon. And Martin made use of the song by Paul and Linda Martney in his score. It may not be the best non-Barry 007 score, but Martin’s score is a major plus for Roger Moore’s 007 debut.

Most underrated voice dubbing: Robert Rietty dubbed Adolfo Celi’s Largo in Thunderball, Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice and (sort of) Ernst Stavro Blofeld in For Your Eyes Only. Monica Van der Zyl dubbed Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder in Dr. No, and possibly other roles.

However, Shayne Rimmer may get the nod, dubbing a doomed CIA agent in the pre-credits sequence of Live And Let Die. That’s because Rimmer (who had appeared on-screen twice before LALD and would do so again in The Spy Who Love Me is perhaps the least obvious dubbing job.

Most underrated screenwriter not named Richard Maibuam: Maibuam worked on 13 Bond films as a writer. Often his work would get re-written by others but the fact that producer Albert R. Broccoli repeatedly turned to Maibuam indicates the U.S.-born writer (1909-1991) had a special status.

So who earns the most underrated screenwriter title? The Neal Purvis-
Robert Wade duo is a distant second to Maibuam at four films. Tom Mankiewicz has three 007 writing credits (though he may have contributed to two other films on an uncredited basis) and Bruce Feirstein has three Bond film writing credits. Roald Dahl was an accomplished writer but his one Bond screenplay, You Only Live Twice, is a writing equivalent of painting by the numbers.

For the moment, we’ll give the nod (and this is very tentative) to Mankiewicz. His commentary on the DVD of Live And Let Die provides a clinic on how to write a screenplay (you may disagree with his choices but he explains how the choices were made; plus he’s an entertining presecen on DVD documentaries).

Your mileage may vary.

Willard Whyte, aka Jimmy Dean, passes away at 81

Singer Jimmy Dean died on June 13 at the age 81.The Associated Press obiturary for Dean said he passed away at home.

The AP obit goes into detail about Dean’s singing career and business savvy. And there’s this reference:

Dean became a headliner at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Hollywood Bowl and became the first country star to play on the Las Vegas strip. He was the first guest host on ”The Tonight Show,” and also was an actor with parts in television and the movies, including the role of James Bond’s ally Willard Whyte in the 1971 film ”Diamonds Are Forever.”

Dean’s role was the result of producer Albert R. Broccoli having a dream that his old friend, reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes, had been replaced but nobody knew about it. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, taking over after a first draft by Richard Maibaum, built his script around the idea, with Ernst Stavro Blofeld having taken over the busines empire of Mankiewicz’s Willard Whyte character (aided by Bert Saxby, an aide to Whyte). But it was Dean who brought the character to life, which led to one of the highlights in the film:

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary (conclusion): the film’s legacy

This week marks the 45th anniversry of Goldfinger’s U.K. premier. What’s the film’s legacy? Try these on for size:

1. Most obvious, it was the first 007 mega-hit.

Dr. No and From Russia With Love had been successful, but Goldfinger turned 007 into a worldwide phenomenon. It set a record at the time for recouping its costs and spurred massive promotional tie-ins.

2. It was the tide that lifted all boats for 1960s spy entertainment.

Columbia, which had passed on 007 before United Artists snapped him up, and 20th Century-Fox commissioned projects with the idea of creating an “american James Bond.” The result would be four Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin and two Derek Flint films with James Coburn.

On television, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. premiered the same month as Goldfinger’s U.K. premier. The show got off to a slow start in the ratings but NBC kept it on the air and the show caught on, especially after a mid-season change in day and time slot. U.N.C.L.E., in turn, spurred network executives to commission other spy series, such as I Spy and The Wild, Wild West in 1965 and Mission: Impossible in 1966.

Goldfinger’s success also created demand for “anti-Bonds,” or serious spy stories contrasted with Goldfinger’s escapism. Within a year, John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in From The Cold and Len Deighton’s The Ipcress File were made into movies.

Interestingly, both utilized creative personnel from Goldfinger. One of the screenwriters who adapted Le Carre was none other than Paul Dehn, who wrote the critical later drafts of Goldfinger. The Ipcress File was produced by Harry Saltzman, co-producer of the Bond series. For the film, Saltzman hired composer John Barry, production designer Ken Adam and editor Peter Hunt.

3. It changed the Bond film series, not necessarily for the better.

After Goldfinger, Saltzman and partner Albert R. Broccoli went through a period of trying to top their 1964 hit. With Thunderball, they scored an even bigger hit, but the movie was at least faithful to Ian Fleming’s novel (which in turn was based on an earlier movie project that never got off the ground). So for You Only Live Twice, the producers threw out that novel’s plot altogether, kept a few characters and made yet another film relying on spectacle.

After an attempt to bring things back to Fleming with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the producers again were looking for “another Goldfinger.” When Richard Maibaum was hired to adapt Diamonds Are Forever, the screenwriter obliged with a first draft featuring Auric Goldfinger’s twin brother. That approach was rejected, but it reflects how Goldfinger remained on the minds of Broccoli and Saltzman. The producers later hired Goldfinger’s director, Guy Hamilton, to work on Diamonds and again had Shirley Bassey sing the title song.

Over at the I Expect You to Die blog, the case is made that Goldfinger is only the 7th best 007 film, trailing movies such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, From Russia With Love and even GoldenEye. In terms of influence and impact, though, Goldfinger remains at the top of the 007 heap.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary (cont.): “That buzz saw must go”

We’ve previously written about British film historian Adrian Turner’s research into the writing of the film version of Goldfinger. One of the film’s most iconic scenes had its origin with the sentence, “That buzz saw must go.” It was followed by this observation: “It’s the oldest device in cheap melodrama.”

That was part of a memo by screenwriter Richard Maibuam, who described a sequence in Ian Fleming’s 1959 novel where Bond was nearly cut in two by, you guessed it, a buzz saw. “I am dreaming up a machine that utilizes the new laser beam. It was featured in Life magazine,” the memo reads, according to Turner’s 1998 book about the making of Goldfinger.

Another problem with the novel’s sequence is the reason Goldfinger spares Bond’s life. He decides to hire our hero as his secretary. Both Maibuam, and Paul Dehn, who would write the later drafts, felt this simply didn’t work. Both men labored to come up with a semi-plausible explanation why Goldfinger didn’t just kill Bond on the spot. Decades before Austin Powers jokes (“Just shoot him!”), both screenwriters were sweating bullets on how to solve the problem.

In the end, Dehn’s final version has Bond pulling a bluff under the most difficult of conditions.

Goldfinger’s 45th anniversary (cont.): Adapting the golf match

We’re about 10 days from the 45th anniversary of Goldfinger. One of the keys to the film was adapting an 18-hole golf match between James Bond and Auric Goldfinger. The golf match was one of the reasons why Goldfinger was Ian Fleming’s longest novels. Paring it down would help make the film version the shortest 007 movie until 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

The most significant change: we’re only shown the 17th and 18th holes of the match, plus what happens on the putting green of the 16th. Going into the last two holes everything is “all square,” so there’s plenty of tension for what’s to follow.

Other changes: in the novel, Goldfinger’s caddy is “an obsequious, talkative man called Foulks whom Bond had never liked.” For the film, it’s Goldfinger’s lead henchman Oddjob and the golf match is the audience’s first full look at him; earlier, we had only seen Oddjob’s hand as struck Bond down from behind and the villain’s shadow.

Also, in the novel, Bond’s caddie Hawker discovered how Goldfinger was cheating. Bond asks Hawker how he could possibly know. “Because his ball was lying under my bag of clubs, sir,” Hawker tells Bond. “Sorry sir. Had to do it after what he’s been doing to you. Wouldn’t have mentioned it, but I had to let you know he’s fixed you again.”

For the film, screenwriters Richard Maibuam and Paul Dehn have Bond discovering the cheating and making Hawker the Greek chorus telling us how smart 007 is.

Finally one line in the film, where Goldfinger says that golf “is not yet the national game of Korea,” has taken on a certain irony given the results of last month’s PGA tournament.

Anyway, see for yourself: