Happy 90th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a 1960s 007 publicity still

Adapted and expanded from a 2011 post.

Sean Connery celebrates his 90th birthday today. There’s little more than needs to be said about Connery’s contributions to the James Bond film series.

Terence Young, director of three of the first four Bond movies, famously said the three reasons that 007 films took off were, “Sean Connery, Sean Connery and Sean Connery.” Young also tutored Connery in the ways of Bond.

Still, the blog can’t help but wonder if Connery had even the slightest hint of what was about to happen to him after being cast as Bond.

The answer is probably not. Who could?

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were a couple of journeymen producers. Terence Young was a journeyman director. Richard Maibaum, a journeyman screenwriter and occasional producer.

Ian Fleming had written some novels that had gotten attention, including in 1961 when Life magazine listed the author’s From Russia With Love as one of then-President John F. Kennedy’s favorite novels.

Also in 1961, United Artists announced it intended to start a film series based on the novels. Connery would end up with a $16,800 paycheck for the first film, Dr. No. Hardly the makings of a phenomenon.

Life can change in an instant. That was certainly true of a Scot actor who was starting to make an impression with audiences.

Things were never quite the same after that. Connery has been retired for almost two decades. His Bond films perhaps aren’t seen with the same enthusiasm by modern audiences. So it goes.

Then again, without Connery’s Bond films, would there even be a 21st century Bond series?

Like with much of the 1960s spy craze, the Connery 007 films caught lightning in a bottle. Bond was able to remain relevant after Connery’s departure. But you can argue that Connery provided the foundation that others followed.

Broccoli is gone. Saltzman is gone. Young is gone. Maibaum is gone. Even one of Connery’s successors, Roger Moore, is gone. United Artists was bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. UA exists pretty much only on paper today.

Connery, in retirement, remains.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

1995: Gene Siskel really did not like GoldenEye

GoldenEye’s poster

Here in the United States, film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert enjoyed a long run on television reviewing movies. Both have long since passed, but for many their various shows remain memorable.

Thanks to THIS TWEET, the blog discovered a YouTube video of their 1995 review of GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut as James Bond.

Ebert, then the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, gave it a passing grade. But Siskel, the then film critic of the Chicago Tribune, had nothing good to say about the movie.

EBERT: I enjoy GoldenEye for what it was, though, and I give it thumbs up.

SISKEL: That thumbs-up comes as a surprise because I didn’t get a sense at all you enjoyed the picture. I certainly didn’t.

EBERT: I’m sorry. (NOTE: He sounded a little sarcastic there.)

(snip)

SISKEL: I think he (Pierce Bronsan) isn’t an interesting Bond. I like (Sean) Connery and everybody else has been nothing compared to Connery. Frankly, Roger Moore has a more commanding physical performance than this guy. I thought this was an average picture….I can’t recommend this picture at all.

A bit of perspective: Siskel panned every James Bond film between Thunderball (1965) and For You Eyes Only (1981).

Anyway, if you’d like to take a look at the review, here it is:

UPDATE (2:15 p.m. New York time): In 1983, Siskel and Ebert took a look back at the first 21 years of James Bond films. CLICK HERE to view the episode. You see some promos at the start before the episode proper begins.

A View To a Kill’s 35th: No more Moore

A View to a Kill's poster

A View to a Kill’s poster

Updated and expanded from a May 2015 post.

To sort of steal from Christopher Nolan, A View To a Kill isn’t the Bond ending Roger Moore deserved, but it’s the one that he got when the film debuted 35 years ago this month.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli had prevailed at the box office in 1983 against a competing James Bond film with Sean Connery, Broccoli’s former star. Broccoli’s Octopussy generated more ticket sales than Never Say Never Again (with Connery as de facto producer as well as star).

That could have been the time for Moore to call it a day. Some fans at the time expected Octopussy to be the actor’s finale. Yet, Broccoli offered him the role one more time and the actor accepted.

Obviously, he could have said no, but when you’re offered millions of dollars that’s easier said than done. There was the issue of the actor’s age. Moore would turn 57 during production in the fall of 1984.

That’s often the first thing cited by various entertainment sites over the years.

However, the problems go deeper than that. As the blog wrote in 2012, the movie veers back and forth between humor and really dark moments as if it can’t decide what it wants to be.

Typical of A View To a Kill's humor

Typical of A View To a Kill’s humor

Director John Glen and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson constantly go from yuks and tension and back again. If the humor were better, that might be easier to accept. A typical example: In the pre-titles sequence, there’s an MI-6 submarine that’s supposed to be disguised as an iceberg but its phallic shape suggests something else.

For those Bond fans who never liked Moore, just mentioning the title of the movie will cause distress. Based strictly on anecdotal evidence over the years, some Moore admirers don’t mention it as one of his better 007 efforts.

Still, A View to a Kill has historical importance for the Bond film series. Besides being Roger Moore’s final outing, it was also the final appearance of Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny.

There’s also an in-joke for those familiar with the business side of 007. Bond, desperately holding onto a rope attached to a blimp, has his manhood imperiled by the top of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco.

That structure was home to the conglomerate that formerly owned United Artists, the studio that released Bond films. Transamerica dumped UA, selling it in 1981 to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after the movie Heaven’s Gate bombed at the box office. Things have never been the same for the 007 film series since.

Regardless whether you’re a critic of Moore as 007 or a fan, he did hold down the 007 fort through some hectic times (including the breakup of Broccoli with his 007 producing partner Harry Saltzman).

It would have been nicer to go out on a higher note than A View To a Kill. But storybook endings usually only happen in the movies.

Revisiting Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die (Moonraker ’66)

American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and British agent Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) compare notes in Kiss the Girls and Make The Die

Back in 2008, the blog noted the remarkable similarities between Kiss the Girls and Makes Them Die (1966) and Moonraker (1979).

This week, for the first time in a long time, I had a chance to watch the earlier movie. So here’s a more complete list of similarities.

Homages to Goldfinger and Thunderball: To be clear, Kiss the Girls takes a few cues from Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The villain, industrialist Mr. Ardonian (Raf Vallone) talks the Chinese into helping him. The Chinese supply the rocket from which Ardonian which launch a satellite that will zap the U.S. with radiation that causes men to lose interest in sex. From the Chinese standpoint, this will ensure the U.S. loses its position as the leading world superpower.

That’s similar to how Auric Goldfinger talked the Chinese into supplying him with an atomic bomb as part of his Fort Knox plan.

Except, Ardonian electrocutes a delegation of Chinese officials as part of a double-cross. That’s because Ardonian wants to expose all countries to the radiation. This evokes both Goldfinger (the villain double-crossing the gangsters who were helping him out) and Thunderball (similar to the SPECTRE board meeting where just one person was electrocuted).

There are also a number of “animated sets,” inspired by what Ken Adam designed for the two Bond films.

But there are a number of examples of where how Kiss the Girls reached territory before Bond.

Dorothy Provine’s title card in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die

Rio: Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die’s only location shooting was in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. That meant shots of Iguazu Falls (for the main titles), Brazilian Carnival and the Christ the Redeemer statue (the latter not really utilized for Moonraker).

“Sit!”: British agent Susan Fleming, being chased by a large dog of Ardonian’s, turns and yells at him, “Sit!” The dog complies. This is similar to what James Bond (Roger Moore) did with a tiger in Octopussy.

Villain’s plot: Ardonian feels the Earth is headed toward an environmental disaster. So he plans to head off overpopulation with his plan. Meanwhile, he is putting beautiful women into suspended animation. When the time comes, he will repopulate the Earth.

This is pretty similar to Moonraker where Drax plans to kill everybody on Earth while his “orbiting stud farm” eventually repopulates the Earth.

A pair of agents: Eventually American agent Kelly (Mike Connors) and Susan Fleming (Dorothy Provine) join forces after a bit of conflict.

This is pretty similar to how British agent James Bond (Moore) joins forces with American agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) join forces in Moonraker after a bit of conflict.

Billboards for product placement: Susan Fleming’s tricked-out Rolls Royce, driven by her chauffeur (Terry-Thomas) has a camouflage device. Panels come out from the bottom of the car, move up to the side and extend to look like a billboard for Bulova watches.

Moonraker didn’t have a tricked-out car. But it had billboards for British Airways, Seiko 7-Up and Marlboro as part of its Rio sequence.

The canard that haunts the Bond franchise

The prototype for the “reveal” of SPECTRE (2015)

Last week, a website called The Ringer became the latest outlet to repeat the canard that the James Bond films were forced to change in tone to be more serious.

The article was called “Austin Powers Still Haunts the James Bond Franchise.” Here’s an excerpt:

But as excellent as some of (Daniel Craig’s) Bond films have been, fun probably isn’t the first adjective that comes to mind when describing Craig’s take on the character; that was a point unto itself. “Mike Myers fucked us,” Craig told the Bond fan site MI6 Confidential Magazine in 2014. “I am a huge Mike Myers fan, so don’t get me wrong—but he kind of fucked us.”

He’s referring to—what else?—the Austin Powers franchise, Myers’s iconic spoof of Bond and the larger spy genre.

The problem with this often-repeated trope is Austin Powers was hardly the first to poke fun at Bond’s expense.

As early as 1964, future Bond Roger Moore played 007 in a variety show skit.

In 1965, The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71), a wildly successful, if improbable, situation comedy, featured man-child Jethro Bodine returning from the theater after seeing Goldfinger. Jethro recites the plot to his rich uncle Jed Clampett, who has lost none of his common sense despite his sudden wealth.

After listening to Jethro, Jed has one question: “Why didn’t he just shoot him?” Jethro, who had been smiling moments before, is crestfallen.

Despite that, Jethro decides that being a “double-naught spy” is his life’s calling because double naughts engage in a lot of “fightin’ and lovin’.” Jethro takes the Clampett family truck and adds a bulletproof shield (a meta tub), defensive weapons (two rifles that can be fired when Jetro pulls on strings tied to the rifles) and an ejector seat. Naturally, the latter figures into the episode’s final gag.

In fact, Jethro’s quest to be a “double naught” became a running gag for multiple episodes. There was a follow-up story the next season as Thunderball was coming out.

The Beverly Hillbillies wasn’t the only show to poke fun at 007. It happened all the time during the 1960s. Another example: A 1966 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show titled “The Man From My Uncle,” in which Godfrey Cambridge played a character named Harry Bond. (“Yeah. Please no jokes. I’m not 007.”)

And, of course, there was Get Smart, a parody of Bond and the spy craze that ran for five seasons (four on NBC, one on CBS).

So, the Austin Powers series, consisting of three movies, was hardly plowing new ground in making light of Bond. Indeed, the Austin Powers series ended (for now) with Austin Powers in Goldmember in 2002, the same year as Die Another Day.

The first new serious, Daniel Craig film, Casino Royale didn’t come out until 2006. Casino Royale had been influenced (in terms of a more serious tone) by the Jason Bourne films starring Matt Damon. With 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the Bond series went full Bourne, bringing in Dan Bradley as second unit director, who had the same job on the Bourne films.

By Casino Royale, and certainly by Quantum of Solace, Austin Powers was receding into memory.

Meanwhile, with 2015’s SPECTRE, the Bond series embraced one of the Austin Powers tropes. It had been revealed that Austin Powers and his arch-enemy Dr. Evil were really brothers. In SPECTRE, it was revealed that Craig/Bond and Blofeld were foster brothers. And SPECTRE came out more than a decade after Austin Powers in Goldmember.

In the words of Daniel Craig, if Austin Powers “fucked us,” it was self-inflicted.

The man behind the Oscars mic

Hank Simms (1923-2013) in a rare on-camera appearance on The Invaders (a QM series where Simms didn’t announce the titles)

This weekend will include the latest Oscars show. For the occasion, the blog is noting the show’s long-time announcer, Hank Simms (1923-2013).

Simms had a 15-year association with television producer Quinn Martin, acting as announcer from the first episode of The FBI through the final episode of Barnaby Jones.

But Simms had an even longer association with the Oscars, from the early 1960s into the early 1980s. With that in mind, here are some highlights, including some James Bond moments at the Oscars.

Opening of the 1961 Oscars telecast:

1966: John Stears wins the special effects Oscar for Thunderball. Stears isn’t present. Simms informs the audience that Ivan Tors (whose company produced the underwater sequences) is accepting the award for Stears.

1973: Roger Moore, the “new James Bond,” and Liv Ullmann are on hand to present the Best Actor Oscar. The winner is Marlon Brando for The Godfather. He’s not present. Simms tells the audience that Sacheen Littlefeather will accept. But the presenters, and the audience, are in for a surprise.

1982: At the opening of the 1982 Oscars telecast, Simms refers to Roger Moore as “perhaps the most handsome man alive.” The announcer informs the audience that the actor is presenting a special award.

1982: Here is that special award. Moore introduces Albert R. Broccoli getting a lifetime achievement for a movie producer. You don’t hear Simms in this clip. However, in the commercial break just before the clip, Simms had told the audience, “We’ll be back with some great James Bond action.”

Epix, MGM channel, plans Bond marathon

Dr. No poster

Epix, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s premium TV channel, has scheduled a James Bond movie marathon over Thanksgiving.

The marathon begins early Thursday morning with Dr. No, Bond’s 1962 film debut.

The films are run mostly in order through Die Another Day, which will be telecast early Saturday, Nov. 30.

The showings will include Never Say Never Again, the 1983 movie with Sean Connery as Bond that was not produced by Eon Productions. That will be shown early Friday morning, following by Octopussy, the 1983 Eon-made film with Roger Moore as Bond.

In 1983, Octopussy came out first, with Never Say Never Again released a few months later.

The schedule, however, does not include the 1967 Casino Royale spoof produced by Charles K. Feldman. MGM has the rights to the two non-Eon Bond entries, which were originally released by other studios.

To view the Epix schedule, CLICK HERE. There’s a calendar icon toward the top of the screen. You can look up the schedule for specific days.

h/t Steve Oxenrider

Author discusses The Many Lives of James Bond book

The Many Lives of James Bond cover

James Bond, whether the literary or screen version, always attracts writers wanting to examine the character.

Author Mark Edlitz’s new book, The Many Lives of James Bond: How the Creators of 007 Have Decoded the Superspy, has widened his attention to cartoons, video games, television, radio and other media.

The book is billed as offering “the largest ever collection of original interviews with actors who have played Bond in different media.” That includes performers beyond the six actors who played Bond in the long-running film series produced by Eon Productions.

The book also interprets creators broadly, including actors, directors, writers, song writers, artists and, in one case, a dancer.

The Many Lives of James Bond has five parts: Bond on Film, Bond in Print, Being Bond, Designing 007 and Bond Women.

In this interview, Edlitz discusses why he took on the book and the effort involved.

SPY COMMAND: There have been many books written about the literary and film James Bond. As you planned your book, what did you feel you could add? What areas needed to be addressed?

MARK EDLITZ: There have been many fantastic books about the cinematic and literary Bond; I have many of them. In fact, I assume that my ideal reader is a Bond fan who has read all of the books. Of course, books and films are the most visible part of the franchise, but they are not the only parts. So, I certainly cover both of them in detail. But I also explore the character of Bond in video games, radio dramas, television shows, and comic strips. 

The Many Lives of James Bond is a couple of things. One, it’s the most extensive collection of interviews with actors who have played Bond.  But it’s not always the Bond you’d expect.  Two, it’s also a look at the character as he is interpreted in different media by the artists who created them.

SC: How long did you work on the book? It has interviews with directors (Martin Campbell, among others), actors, and an academic. When did you start and when did you finally have a manuscript you could submit?

EDLITZ: The book took me a few years to write. Tracking down actors, writers, directors, and other artists can be a slow process. But my strategy was to take the book one chapter at a time. Eventually, you write enough chapters, put them all together and think, “Yup, this actually might be a book.”

Having said that, writing The Many Lives of James Bond took less time than my first book How to Be a Superhero, which was a collection of interviews with actors who played superheroes over the last seven decades. How to Be a Superhero took a whopping ten years to write. The Many Lives of James Bond took about three years.

The Many Lives of James Bond is a collection of interviews with the creators of Bond films, books, audio dramas, books on tape, poster artists, and more. I spoke to three Bond directors — Martin Campbell, Roger Spottiswood, and John Glen.

I talked with Bond screenwriters, novelists, comic book writers, and lyricists.  I also interviewed some amazing Bond poster artists, including the legendary Dan Goozee and Robert McGinnis. The two of them created some of the best and most unforgettable art from the entire series.

SC: How many of these are original interviews? How many are compiled from other sources? I ask because Sean Connery has been mostly out of public view for some years.

I conducted all of the full interviews in the book. There is also an appendix for sourced quotes from people who had either passed away or were not available to me. But that’s just a small portion of the book.

The lion share of interviews are brand new.  My self-imposed rule was if I could find the Bond actor and they would talk to me, I would devote an entire chapter to their work. I didn’t speak to Sean Connery.  Of course, I tried. But I’m not sure I would have been able to learn something new from him that he hasn’t already revealed.

I think the book’s strength is that I spoke to people who Bond actors who don’t typically get approached for interviews. For example, I interviewed the performer who played James Bond in the Oscars at the tribute to Albert R. Broccoli and the franchise. He played 007 while Sheena Easton sang “For Your Eyes Only.”

(Spy Command note: This took place at the 1982 Oscars when Broccoli received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. A video of the Easton performance is below. The Q&A resumes underneath the video.)

SC: What was your biggest surprise you found as you researched the book?

EDLITZ: There were several surprises. In The Many Lives of James Bond, I solve a longstanding Bond mystery. Bond fans have wondered about Bob Holness’s performance as Bond in the South African Broadcast Company’s production of Moonraker in the ’50s. No one recorded the production, and there is very reliable information about it.

I was able to track down Holness’s daughter, who gave me some very valuable information that proves once and for all when the production took place. And Brain McKaig of The Bondologist Blog shared his personal correspondence with Holness. That letter also sheds light on his performance.

Another surprise is Connery’s feelings about the part. We all know that he has complicated feelings about playing Bond. And that’s true. But there are some remarkable stories in the book about Connery returning to the role for his performance in the video game From Russia with Love.

I don’t want to spoil it, but he went through the arduous process of recording his dialogue for the day, and something happened to the audiotape. It was gone. The recording was gone. What happened next showed how loyal and magnanimous Connery can be.

SC: Do you think people take Bond for granted? The first novel came out in 1953. The film first came out in 1962. I think some fans think it’s guaranteed Bond will go on. But from what I’ve read, 007 has had some close calls over the years.

EDLITZ: I think there are probably elements of the Bond franchise that people take for granted. The general public probably doesn’t realize just how entertaining the Fleming novels are to read. There have been several periods where pundits said that Bond was done for.

In some cases, they were talking about the films. But Eon finds a way to change things up and make Bond continually relevant. In the periods between films, Bond fans read continuation novels and comic books to hold them over. While we wait for the next movie, Bond fans gather in message boards on websites and on podcasts, where they can talk and share information.

SC: Your book includes comments from the likes of Barry Nelson (who played an American Bond on CBS in 1954), Bob Holness (who played Bond in a radio production), and Bob Simmons (Sean Connery’s stunt double who also did the first gun barrel image). What did those guys bring to the party? (I actually defend the 1954 TV production, which many fans insist upon comparing to the films; for me, it’s something different.)

EDLITZ: Most casual Bond fans will say that only six people played Bond. They are, of course, talking about Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig. A slightly more serious Bond fan will mention David Niven or Barry Nelson. But the true Bond fans know that many actors have played Bond in different media.

I wanted to help shed light on some of their unique contributions. That’s why I tracked down actors who played Bond on the radio, on the cartoon James Bond Jr., and in the video games, to name a few.  Each of these performers has contributed to Bond’s legacy and I wanted to honor them for it.

As an aside, I also agree with you about the merits of 1954’s Casino Royale. When you read Barry Nelson’s comments about the production, you get the sense that he was disappointed with it. Of course, the live production took many liberties and wasn’t always faithful to Fleming’s novel. But what they did was pretty unique; especially for a live production in the ’50s.

SC: What do you think accounts for Bond’s durability?

That’s a good but tough question. It’s almost unanswerable.

The artists I interviewed in the book each have their own theories. The producers’ ability to change with the times plays a big part. I also think he’s possible because Fleming created an endurable character, who isn’t completely knowable.

(Screenwriter) Richard Maibaum made him slightly more accessible, added irony and Bond’s wit. But in all iterations; he retains his mystery.  But he’s malleable enough that he can be interpreted and reinterpreted by so many different artists and in many various forms.

The comic book Bond is different from the Bond of the video games, who is different from the Bond on the radio. Bond is also a perfect vehicle for our fantasies. (Screenwriter) Bruce Feirstein said that any guy who has ever put on a tuxedo thinks he’s James Bond. I agree.

SC: What was your reaction when you finally finished? Elation? Relief? Some other emotion?

EDLITZ: I’ll take D, all of the above. Also, I’m a bit wistful. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I’m a little sorry to let that go. However, I’m thrilled to share the book with my fellow Bond fans.

Many of those Bond fans have been generous, kind, and supportive to me during this process. For many Bond fans, the films and novels are just the tip of the iceberg. The way we deepen our love of the character is by reading books, magazines, and message boards about Bond. So I really hope that Bond fans enjoy The Many Lives of James Bond.

To see the Amazon listing for The Many Lives of James Bond, CLICK HERE.

Maibaum’s ‘circular’ script structure

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

A few James Bond films utilize a structure that, for the purposes of this post, I am crediting to veteran screenwriter Richard Maibaum (1909-1991).

That’s the “circular” structure — the audience sees something at or near the start of the movie that is repeated (with key variations) at the climax.

With the following examples, it’s difficult to give Maibaum full credit. Other screenwriters worked on the Bond films involved. But Maibaum is the only constant. So, without further ado:

From Russia With Love (1963): The film opens with James Bond apparently being stalked — and then killed — by Red Grant (Robert Shaw). However, Grant has only killed a double as part of a training exercise.

Grant kills Bond’s double using a garrotte hidden inside a watch. Later, Grant tries to kill the real Bond (Sean Connery) with the garrotte during a fight sequence on the Orient Express. Naturally, Bond turns the tables on Grant.

Caveat: Both Johanna Harwood (who got an “adapted by” credit) and Len Deighton (uncredited) also worked on the script.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): The film opens with a gangster (Marc Lawrence) hired to take out Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) on his home grounds, including a “fun house.”

Scaramanga has to scramble before he finally dispatches the gangster. Much later, James Bond (Roger Moore) is lured into the “fun house.” Bond loses his own Walther PPK. But he kills Scaramanga taking a PPK from a life-sized 007 figure.

Caveat:  Tom Mankiewicz was the original screenwriter, then Maibaum was brought in. Mankiewicz did the final rewrites.

Octopussy (1983): After the main titles, a 00-agent disguised as a clown flees from a circus. He’s fatally wounded by twin assassins who are also circus performers.

Toward the climax of the film, Bond (Roger Moore) is disguised as a clown — the same getup as his doomed predecessor — and manages to deactivate an atomic bomb just in the nick of the time.

Caveat: Octopussy began as a script with an effort by George Macdonald Fraser, which was later rewritten by Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.

James Bond Radio says it will return in October

James Bond Radio logo

The James Bond Radio podcast said today via Twitter it will return in October.

Last month, the podcast announced that co-host Chris Wright was signing off. Tom Sears, the other co-host said he would be “thinking things through” concerning James Bond Radio’s future.

Today’s twitter post didn’t have specific details, such as a precise date for the podcast’s return or whether there would be a new co-host.

James Bond Radio debuted in 2014. Its highlights included a 2016 interview with 007 actor Roger Moore and a 2014 interview with Sylvan Mason, daughter of Jack Whittingham, the screenwriter who penned the first Thunderball screenplays for Kevin McClory.

Here is the tweet that went out this morning.

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