Golden Gun’s 45th anniversary: The unloved Bond?

goldengunposter

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

Updated and expanded from a 2014 post.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun.

The 1974 film has received a lot of flak over the decades. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

For example, Don McGregor, then a writer for Marvel Comics, savaged the movie in a lengthy article in a 1975 issue of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine (which featured a cover drawn by comics legend Neal Adams).

Also, the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website had few kind words when its contributors (including myself) did rankings of the Bond films. (Speaking only for myself, as I look back on my comments, one about John Barry was over the top.)

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.”

Neal Adams cover to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine containing an article savaging The Man With the Golden Gun

However, the movie also has its defenders. Among them is David Leigh, who runs The James Bond Dossier website and is a regular guest on the James Bond & Friends podcast.  Also, the August 2018 issue of 007 Magazine (which is sold out) had an article titled, “In Defence of The Man With the Golden Gun.”

The movie was a bit of a disappointment at the box office. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Golden Gun is not the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that many like to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t demanding candor.

But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Oswald Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (John Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it doesn’t get much love from part of the 007 fan community.

Moonraker’s 40th: When outer space belonged to 007

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Moonraker poster

Adapted and updated from a 2014 post.

June marks the 40th anniversary of Moonraker, a James Bond movie fans either like or despise.

Producer Albert R. Broccoli sought to make the most extravagant Bond film ever. The film’s first-draft script was too big even for the ambitions of the veteran producer.

Twin mini jets, a jet pack and a keel hauling sequence were removed in subsequent drafts. Some of the ideas would be used in the next two films in the series, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

But there was plenty left, including taking Agent 007 into outer space (or Outer Space! as it was spelled in the list of locations in the end titles). Writer Tom Mankiewicz did uncredited work to develop the story. Screenwriter Christopher Wood received the only screen credit for the film.

Broccoli and United Artists initially wanted to spend about $20 million, a substantial hike from the previous 007 adventure, The Spy Who Love Me. It soon became evident the budget would have to even higher, costing more than $30 million. Today, that’s a pittance. Back then, it was a huge investment.

Broccoli and director Lewis Gilbert had teased the audience in 1967’s You Only Live Twice with the idea of Bond going into space. In that film, Ernst Stavro Blofeld catches Sean Connery’s Bond in a mistake before Bond can be launched into orbit.

This time out, Broccoli and Gilbert would not use such restraint. Roger Moore’s Bond would go into space, in a spacecraft modeled after the space shuttles that NASA had in development.

Rave Reviews

As with other Bond films of the era, there was a lot of humor, including pigeons doing double takes and henchman Jaws (Richard Kiel) suffering various indignities. The movie got good reviews from some critics, including Frank Rich, then of Time magazine. A sample of Rich’s take: ” When Broccoli lays out a feast, he makes sure that there is at least one course for every conceivable taste.”

Also singing Moonraker’s praises was reviewer Vincent Canby (1924-2000) of THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Moonraker, Canby wrote, was “one of the most buoyant Bond films of all. It looks as if it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, though it has nothing on its mind except dizzying entertainment, which is not something to dismiss quickly in such a dreary, disappointing movie season.”

Bond fans have a more mixed reaction. Some feel it’s too far from the spirit of the original Ian Fleming novels. For examples, CLICK HERE. Others, while acknowledging there isn’t much from Fleming’s namesake novel, are more than content to go along for the ride.

The final film bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1966 Dino De Laurentiis-produced Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. Both films feature a villain who feels Earth is getting over populated and is willing to go to extreme lengths to address that problem.

The 1966 film was also filmed in Brazil and arguably makes better use of the locations. However, during Moonraker’s release, Kiss the Girls was mostly forgotten and there wasn’t the kind of home video for viewers to compare the two movies.

Despite the higher budget, Broccoli & Co. weren’t willing to pay what major U.S. special effects houses wanted. Instead, Derek Meddings used decidedly lower tech ways to simulate a fleet of Moonraker rockets launching into space and meeting up with a space station. Meddings and his crew an Academy Award nomination. Meddings & Co. lost to Alien.

For Moonraker, it was a major accomplishment to get the nomination. Meddings and his special effects colleagues were the only crew members working at England’s Pinewood Studios. The home base for Moonraker was Paris because of tax reasons.

Two stalwarts of the Bond series, composer John Barry and production designer Ken Adam were also aboard. Moonraker monopolized stages at three Paris studios with Adam’s sets. It would be designer’s farewell to the series. Shirley Bassey performed the title song, her third and final 007 film effort.

In the end, Moonraker was a success at the box office. The movie’s $210.3 million worldwide box office was the most for the series to date.

A Different Era

Broccoli changed course soon after, with 1981’s For Your Eyes Only being much more down to earth, with a greater emphasis on Ian Fleming original source material. Never again would Broccoli or United Artists (or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which acquired UA in 1981) attempt a spectacle on this scale.

Moonraker also is a symbol of a different 007 era.

Albert R. Broccoli only cared about entertainment. In the 21st century, Eon Productions has chased after Oscars and prestige, seeking out writers such as Peter Morgan and directors such as Danny Boyle (both of whom ended up dropping out of 007 film projects). You can’t image the current principals of Eon even attempting a Moonraker.

Case study: How your views of 007 films evolve

Original 007 gunbarrel logo with Bob Simmons subbing for Sean Connery.

Following the release of 2006’s Casino Royale, the Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website commissioned an interesting project. It asked all of its contributors to score all of the Eon 007 films plus Never Say Never Again.

The scores were then assigned points and the various films ranked. It was a very detailed effort.

While HMSS has been offline since 2014, much of it has been preserved at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine website. And that includes the survey of HMSS contributors.

For the purposes of this post, I’m not linking to the survey. Anyone else who participated in that HMSS survey can speak up for themselves if they’d like. I’m just keeping this post to my own ups and downs with the Bond films.

Still, viewing my own comments in that survey, I can appreciate how feelings about different series entries can vary over time.

So, to begin with, my harshest rating (D) and comments were for Moonraker.

Roger Moore looks like he’s sleepwalking at times (though he has a couple of good scenes). The hovercraft scene almost ruins a decent chase scene in Venice. The outer space effects are OK but not up to Lucasfilm levels. Too jokey at times…Ken Adam and John Barry are again the real stars of the film.

I still dislike elements now that I did then (pigeons doing double takes, Jaws flapping his arms when his parachute malfunctions, less-than-subtle product placement for Marlboro, British Airways and 7-Up).

At the same time, I’m more accepting of what Moonraker for what it is. The film was incredibly ambitious in terms of spectacle (and was even more so in its first-draft script). And, looking back, I was too harsh on Roger Moore, though I thought his performance in For Your Eyes Only was better.

Put simply, I’m more forgiving of the movie for its flaws, more enthusiastic about its strong points.

For what it’s worth, my grade wasn’t the lowest in that survey. There were two D-Minus grades and an F.

Speaking of For Your Eyes Only, I had the highest grade in that survey for that film, an A.

“The opening scene at the cemetery clearly shows this film is going to be different than Moonraker,” I wrote at the time. “The quick end for Blofeld didn’t bother me that much, but as many fans, the line, ‘I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel’ makes me groan.”

I saw For Your Eyes Only again in a theater in 2017, part of a tribute to Moore after his death in May of that year. Viewing it again on a movie screen with an audience pretty much reinforced how I felt. Perhaps it was because the 1981 film seemed more in line with the Bond films of the 21st century.

Finally, one more: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Over the past 20 years or so, people have made the case for why this should be considered in the top three (or so) of Bond films.

My grade was B, which lagged the pack (there were four A grades and one A-plus).  What held me back was George Lazenby’s inexperience.

Extremely faithful adaptation of one of Fleming’s best. Lazenby’s inexperience is evident. On the other hand, would Connery have cried at the end? Diana Rigg is a major plus. Telly Savalas is OK as Blofeld. Probably Richard Maibaum’s best script for the series. Ken Adam is gone but not really missed. John Barry hits on all cylinders.

If pressed, I’d probably give it a higher grade today. Still, I don’t think it’d be the greatest Bond film if Sean Connery had done it.

Had Majesty’s been done for 1967 instead of You Only Live Twice, we wouldn’t have gotten Peter Hunt as director. We now know thanks to the book The Making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service details of various script drafts, including one that included an underwater Aston Martin.

Hunt being installed in the director’s chair after editing the first five Eon 007 films had a major impact. In a lot of ways, the 1969 version of Majesty’s was catching lightning in a bottle.

Why it may be time for Eon to modernize its P.R.

Eon Productions logo

You are making a major action-adventure film. Your star injures himself. What do you do?

If you’re making Mission: Impossible-Fallout, you get ahead of the story. Your writer-director Christopher McQuarrie gives an interview to Empire magazine to explain how things are under control even though star Tom Cruise broke his ankle.

Confirming that Cruise had broken his right ankle, McQuarrie assured Empire that his star remained in good shape, in spite of his injury. “Tom is great,” McQuarrie said. “He’s in very good spirits.”

Meanwhile, if you’re Eon Productions and your star, Daniel Craig, has suffered (apparently) a lesser injury, you stay quiet.

This week, The Sun, Rupert Murdoch’s U.K. tabloid, ran a story about how Craig hurt his ankle during Bond 25 filming. Other outlets summarized The Sun’s story, including Variety.

Throughout all this, there was no word from Eon, which has produced the 007 film series since 1962.

Finally, after about 24 hours, The Sun produced a follow-up story saying Craig’s injury wasn’t that bad and he’ll be back at work in a week or so.

Still, for that 24 hour period, others were dictating the Bond 25 story line to the general public.

The thing is, this is par for the course. Eon has a history of denying things that are true such as Ben Whishaw being cast as Q, Naomie Harris being cast as Moneypenny, John Logan being hired to write Bond 24 and 25 (before things changed), Christoph Waltz being cast as Blofeld and so on and so forth.

For that matter, Eon spun a fairy tale in the 1970s that Roger Moore was always the first choice (rather than Sean Connery) to play Bond. For that matter, in the 1980s, Eon’s principals said with a straight face that Pierce Brosnan had never been signed to play Bond and Timothy Dalton was always its first choice to succeed Roger Moore as 007.

We’re now almost one-fifth into the 21st century. Things change. What worked in the past, doesn’t necessarily work now.

You need a communications strategy where your viewpoint is made clear and plain at all times. If you’re making a movie that costs more than $200 million, you can’t be passive.

Truth be told, a big chunk of the 007 fan base acts as if this is still 1965 and Bond is the biggest thing on the planet. There are times that Eon appears to believe the same thing.

Whatever you believe, you can’t be passive in an age where social media helps shape the perception of your product. For one 24-hour period this week, Bond fans genuinely were wondering what was going on.

With silence from Eon, the notion that Craig suffered an injury serious enough to affect Bond 25 filming began to take hold.

This particular dust-up already is fading. But it still points to the need for a more pro-active public relations approach.

Naomie Harris emerges as 007’s unofficial ambassador

Naomie Harris introduces the Lego Aston Martin DB5 in 2018

Naomie Harris, seven years after entering the film world of 007, may have emerged as a sort-of unofficial ambassador for the James Bond film franchise.

When Sony was the distributor of 007 films, it employed Harris as her Moneypenny character in a commercial. She retrieves Bond’s smartphone for him.

It fell to Harris to introduce the Lego Aston Martin DB5 that came out at an event in London in 2018.

Also in 2018, Harris was the headliner for the opening of 007 Elements in Austria, “a James Bond-themed installation.”

This week, she appeared at Eon Production’s “reveal” event in Jamaica. In an interview with Nine News Australia, she said she wasn’t involved in filming Bond 25 scenes there.

“I’m not, unfortunately,” she said. “I know I’m not…I wish I was.” Meanwhile, other members of the 007 “Scooby Gang” (Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear) didn’t put in an appearance in Jamaica.

For many years, Roger Moore, who starred in seven of Eon’s Bond films, filled the “ambassador” role. He publicly spoke in support of his 007 successors.

“Roger came down to set one day on ‘GoldenEye’ and wished me well,” Brosnan wrote in a 2017 tribute in Variety published after Moore’s death “I was still in awe of the man” Moore also complimented Daniel Craig’s Bond performances.

Perhaps Harris’ schedule makes her available to promote Bond more. Still, she has developed a presence that’s reaching out to audiences on behalf of the gentleman spy.

Shane Rimmer dies at 89

Shane Rimmer (1929-2019)

Shane Rimmer, a character actor who often played Americans in British-based productions and who appeared in three James Bond films, has died at 89.

His death was reported by the Official Gerry Anderson Website. Rimmer was a voice on Anderson-produced shows, including Thunderbirds. The website said his death was confirmed by his widow, Sheila Rimmer.

Shane Rimmer appeared in You Only Live Twice (1967), Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). The latter provided the actor with his biggest 007 role, that of a U.S. submarine captain who assists Roger Moore’s James Bond.

Rimmer was born in Toronto. After moving to the U.K., he became a busy actor. Besides his work for Anderson and the Bond films, his credits included Dr. Strangelove, Superman II and various television shows, including The Persuaders!

In 2016, Rimmer did an interview where he reflected on working with Anderson, Dr. Strangelove director Stanley Kubrick and screen Bonds Sean Connery and Roger Moore.

UPDATE: The official James Bond Twitter feed from Eon Productions also paid tribute to Rimmer.

 

Tidbits from updated 007 book

Cover to the updated edition of Some Kind of Hero

The blog ordered the updated edition of Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury, an extensive look at the 007 film series. What follows are some tidbits since the original 2015 edition. The book has an expanded chapter on SPECTRE, plus a new chapter about the preliminary development of Bond 25.

–The idea of releasing SPECTRE in the summer of 2015 apparently was considered for a time. The book doesn’t state this explicitly. But there’s this passage in the chapter on SPECTRE:

(Skyfall director Sam) Mendes recalled, ‘It took MGM and Eon accepting that the movie wasn’t going to come out in the summer of ’15. I said I couldn’t do it that fast’ (emphasis added)

Sony Pictures, which distributed and co-financed Skyfall and SPECTRE had told movie theater executives that Bond 24 (later titled SPECTRE) would be out in 2014. Barbara Broccoli, Eon’s boss, and star Daniel Craig shot down that idea in interviews during publicity for Skyfall. After that, nobody talked about Bond 24/SPECTRE having a 2014 release.

–SPECTRE received $14 million in Mexican tax incentives. Among the conditions: The sequence filmed in Mexico had to have a Mexican Bond girl, a non-Mexican Bond villain and the target of an assassination plot had to be “a local governor and not an ambassador.” The authors, in a footnote, cited a 2015 article from http://www.taxanalysts.org as their source of the information.

–The Bond 25 chapter implies the search for a distributor delayed development. Sony’s deal expired with SPECTRE. “By late 2016, no distributor had been announced and thus no screenplay, title director or cast could have been announced.”

However, Eon and MGM announced a fall 2019 release date in July 2017 despite having no distributor in place. It wasn’t until May 2018 that it was announced a joint venture between MGM and Annapurna Pictures would release the film in the U.S. and Universal would handle international distribution. (This is referenced later in the chapter.)

Because of publication deadlines, the book’s Bond 25 chapter includes Danny Boyle being hired as director but doesn’t include his exit because of “creative differences.”  Cary Fukanaga was hired to replace Boyle, with the release date pushed back to February 2020. Obviously, there is more fodder for future editions.

The updates also include, understandably, a new Roger Moore chapter following the death of the seven-time 007 in 2017.