Live And Let Die’s 50th: The post-Connery era truly begins

Live And Let Die's poster

Live And Let Die’s poster

Adapted from a 2013 post
For the eighth James Bond film, star Sean Connery wasn’t coming back. Three key members of the 007 creative team, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry, weren’t going to participate. And producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were mostly working separately, with this movie to be overseen primarily by Saltzman.

The result? Live And Let Die, which debuted in 1973. It would prove to be, financially, the highest-grossing movie in the series to date.

Things probably didn’t seem that way for Eon Productions and United Artists as work began.

They had no Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t want Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. The studio didn’t want to take a chance and made the original screen 007 an offer he couldn’t refuse. But that was a one-film deal. Now, Eon and UA were starting from scratch.

Eon and UA had one non-Connery film under their belts, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. They had tried the inexperienced George Lazenby, who bolted after one movie. For the second 007 film in the series not to star Connery, Eon and UA opted for a more-experienced choice: Roger Moore, former star of The Saint and The Persuaders! television shows. Older than Connery, Moore would employ a lighter touch.

Behind the camera, Saltzman largely depended on director Guy Hamilton, back for his third turn in the 007 director chair, and writer Tom Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz would be the sole writer from beginning to end, rewriting scenes as necessary during filming. In a commentary on the film’s DVD, Mankiewicz acknowledged it was highly unusual.

Perhaps the biggest creative change was with the film’s music. Barry had composed the scores for six Bond films in a row. George Martin, former producer for The Beatles, would take over. Martin had helped sell Saltzman on using a title song written by Paul and Linda McCartney. The ex-Beatle knew his song would be compared to the 007 classic title songs Barry had helped write. McCartney was determined to make his mark.

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pose with their new star, Roger Moore, during filming of Live And Let Die

Saltzman liked the song, but inquired whether a woman singer would be more appropriate. Martin, in an interview for a 2006 special on U.K. television, said he informed Saltzman that if Eon didn’t accept McCartney as performer, the producer wouldn’t get the song. Saltzman accepted both.

Live And Let Die wasn’t the greatest James Bond film, despite an impressive boat chase sequence that was a highlight. The demise of its villain (Yaphet Kotto) still induces groans among long-time 007 fans as he pops like a balloon via an unimpressive special effect.

Sheriff J.W. Pepper, up to that time, was probably the most over-the-top comedic supporting character in the series. (“What are you?! Some kind of doomsday machine, boy?!”)

But Live And Let Die is one of the most important films in the series. As late as 1972, the question was whether James Bond could survive without Sean Connery. With $161.8 million in worldwide ticket sales, it was the first Bond film to exceed the gross for 1965’s Thunderball. In the U.S., its $35.4 million box office take trailed the $43.8 million for Diamonds Are Forever.

Bumpy days still lay ahead for Eon. The Man With the Golden Gun’s box office would tail off and relations between Broccoli and Saltzman would get worse. Still, for the first time, the idea took hold that the cinema 007 could move on from Connery.

Many editors at the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website criticized the movie and its star in a survey many years ago. But the film has its fans.

“I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me,” Skyfall director Sam Mendes said at a November 2011 news conference. Whatever one’s opinions about the movie, Live And Let Die ensured there’d be 007 employment for the likes of Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

FEBRUARY 2012 POST: LIVE AND LET DIE, A REAPPRAISAL

JANUARY 2010 POST: 1973: TIME PROFILES THE NEW JAMES BOND

JANUARY 2010 POST: 1973: TIME CALLS 007 A `RACIST PIG’

From Russia With Love’s 60th conclusion: Legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Adapted from a 2013 post 

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey, as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films.

No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

More than a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

From Russia With Love’s 60th Part III: Desmond Llewelyn

Desmond Llewelyn instructs Sean Connery

Desmond Llewelyn instructs Sean Connery

Adapted from a 2013 post

Audiences of the initial release of From Russia With Love didn’t realize it at the time, but they witnessed the start of a character actor’s 17-film, 36-year run.

Desmond Llewelyn took over the role of Major Boothroyd from Peter Burton, who played the part in Dr. No. In the initial 007 outing, Boothroyd presented Bond with his new gun, a Walther PPK. Llewelyn’s Boothroyd gave Sean Connery’s James Bond something more elaborate: a briefcase which, if not opened properly, would emit tear gas. It was also equipped with a sniper’s rifle, 50 gold pieces and a knife.

At this point, the character wasn’t referred to as Q. Llewelyn’s character is listed as Boothroyd in the end titles. M mentions “Q branch” and its “smart-looking piece of luggage.” Boothroyd doesn’t reveal much of his feelings toward Bond either.

No matter. The actor’s appearance in From Russia With Love set the stage for his long run in the part. The Guy Hamilton-directed Goldfinger established Boothroyd’s annoyance at Bond regarding the agent’s disrespect of Q-branch equipment. In the 1965 television special The Incredible World of James Bond, the character would be referred to as “the fussy Major Boothroyd.”

Eventually, Llewelyn’s character would just be called Q, though Soviet agent Triple-X reminded viewers of the Boothroyd name in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

Llewelyn would play opposite five Bond actors. In the 1990s, the question was how long would the actor continue. Bruce Feirstein’s first-draft screenplay of Tomorrow Never Dies, includes a character named Malcolm Saunders, who is “Q’s successor.”

In his first appearance in the script, Saunders is “looking like a mummy – plaster casts on his left leg, left arm; neck-brace, crutch.” Saunders explains how he received his injuries: “Q’s retirement party. I’d just put the knife into the cake, and – ” However, the retired Q shows up later in the story. In the much-revised final story, we get a standard Bond-Q scene with Llewelyn opposite Pierce Brosnan, except it takes place in Germany instead of MI6 headquarters.

In Llewelyn’s finale, 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Q/Boothroyd is talking about retirement. Brosnan’s Bond doesn’t believe it — or doesn’t want to believe it. Q gives Bond some advice (always have an escape route) and makes his exit.

Llewelyn died in December 1999 of injuries from a car accident.

NEXT: Legacy

From Russia With Love’s 60th Part I: The difficult sequel

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

Adapted from a 2013 post.

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 HQ 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 yes. “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

Bond cultural reference: Terry and the Pirates

Diamonds Are Forever poster

In 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, the seventh James Bond film referenced a comic strip that may have gotten past some 007 fans.

Toward the end of the movie, Bond (Sean Connery) and Blofeld (Charles Gray) exchange some witticisms. At one point, Bond tells Blofeld he’s holding “all the aces, right down to the Dragon Lady (Jill St. John as Tiffany Case) here.”

The Dragon Lady originated with the comic strip Terry and the Pirates, created by Milton Caniff (1907-1988). Caniff exited the strip late in 1946 when he created Steve Canyon, a character he owned.

At the time Diamonds Are Forever was made, Terry and the Pirates was still being made with other writers and artists. The Dragon Lady remained one of the strip’s most famous characters. Here’s part of the Wikipedia description of The Dragon Lady:

Dragon Lady is usually a stereotype of certain East Asian and occasionally South Asian and/or Southeast Asian women as strong, deceitful, domineering, mysterious, and often sexually alluring.[1][2] Inspired by the characters played by actress Anna May Wong,[3] the term comes from the female villain in the comic stripTerry and the Pirates.[1][3] It has since been applied to powerful women from certain regions of Asia, as well as a number of Asian and Asian American film actresses. The stereotype has generated a large quantity of sociological literature. 

At the time Diamonds Are Forever was released, Terry and the Pirates was in its last years. It would end its run in 1973. With the Bond film, the last drafts of the script were written by Tom Mankiewicz (b. 1942). It’s possible Mankiewicz had read the comic strip. But, at this late date, there’s no way to be sure.

Regardless, the Dragon Lady was a character Diamonds Are Forever references.

Barbara Walters dies, her interviews included Connery

Barbara Walters (1929-2022)

Barbara Walters, one of the most famous American news interviewers of her era, has died at 93, according to multiple reports, including an obituary published by The Washington Post.

Walters over her career interviewed major newsmakers and celebrities. With the latter, one of her most notable interviews aired on ABC in 1987 with actor Sean Connery, the first film James Bond actor.

In that interview, Walters famously asked the actor about striking women.

Citing an earlier interview, Walters quoted Connery as saying, “You don’t do it with a clenched fist, you do it with an open hand.”

“I haven’t changed my opinion,” Connery responded.

“You haven’t?” Walters said.

“No, I haven’t.”

“You think it’s good to slap a woman?” the interviewer asked.’

“I don’t think it’s good,” Connery said. “I think it depends on the circumstances.” It would be one of the most famous interviews of the actor’s career.

Walters was one of the first women to make an impact on U.S. television news shows. She was a co-host on NBC’s Today show in the 1960s. ABC hired her away in the 1970s as co-anchor of that network’s evening news show. ABC also produced entertainment specials where she interviewed celebrities. At one point, NBC’s Saturday Night Live had comic actress Gilda Radner doing a parody of Walters dubbed “Barbara Wa-Wa.”

When ABC hired Walters, she was paid $1 million a year. Walters soon was almost as famous as those she interviewed.

Here is how The Washington Post summarized her career:

Ms. Walters repeatedly enjoyed the last guffaw over doubters and detractors during a career spanning five decades. She shattered glass ceilings, sending shards into many male egos. She became the most durable and versatile TV host of her era, as well as a celebrity more controversial than many of the ones she covered.

Here is part of her interview with Connery:

RE-POST: What 007 and Batman have in common

Adapted from a 2012 post

When following debates among James Bond fans — whether on Internet bulletin boards, Facebook or in person — people sometimes say “try reading Fleming” (or a variation thereof) as if it were a trump card that shows they’re right and the other person is wrong.

Read Fleming. That shows Bond is supposed to be a “blunt instrument.” Therefore, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace are really true to Fleming.

“Read Fleming!” = “I’m right, you’re wrong!”

Read Fleming. That shows Bond is a romantic hero, not a neurotic antihero, therefore, (INSERT BOND ACTOR HERE) was true to Fleming. Meanwhile, (INSERT BOND ACTOR HERE) meant the 007 film series had reached a nadir.

In reality, over a half-century, the Bond films have passed through multiple eras. To some, Connery can never be surpassed and Moore was a joke. Except, the Connery films have more humor than Fleming employed (on the “banned” Criterion laser disc commentaries, Terence Young chortles about how Fleming asking why the films had more humor than his novels). The Moore films, for all their humor, do have serious moments (Bond admitting to Anya he killed her KGB lover in The Spy Who Loved Me or Bond being hurt but not wanting to admit it after getting out of the centrifuge in Moonraker). Other comments heard frequently: Brosnan tried to split the difference between Connery and Moore, Craig plays the role seriously, the way it should be, etc., etc.

Lots of different opinions, all concerning the same character, dealing with different eras and the contributions of multiple directors and screenwriters. Which reminded of us another character, who’s been around even longer than the film 007: Batman, who made his debut in Detective Comics No. 27 in 1939.

Early Batman stories: definitely dark. “There is a sickening snap as the cossack’s neck breaks under the mighty pressure of the Batman’s foot,” reads a caption in Detective Comics No. 30.

Then, things lightened up after Batman picked up Robin as a sidekick. Eventually, there was Science Fiction Batman in the 1950s (during a period when superhero comics almost disappeared), followed by “New Look” Batman in 1964 (which could also be called Return of the Detective), followed by Campy Batman in 1966 (because of popularity of the Batman television show), followed by Classic Batman is Back, circa 1969 or ’70, etc., etc. All different interpretations of the same character.

In the 1990s, there was a Batman cartoon that captured all this. A group of kids are talking. Two claim to have seen Batman. The first provides a description and we see a sequence resembling Dick Sprang-drawn comics of the 1940s, with Gary Owens providing the voice of Batman. The second describes something much different, and the sequence is drawn to resemble Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns comic of the 1980s, with Michael Ironside voicing Batman.

Eventually, the group of kids gets into trouble and we see the 1990s cartoon Batman, voiced by Kevin Conroy, in a sequence that evokes elements of both visions.

With the Bond film series, something similar has occurred. In various media, you’ll see fans on different sides of an argument claiming Fleming as supporting their view. Search hard enough, and you can find bits of Fleming or Fleming-inspired elements in almost any Bond film. The thing is, the different eras aren’t the result of long-term planning. They’re based on choices, the best guess among filmmakers of what is popular at a given time, what makes a good Bond story, etc.

In effect, both the film 007 and the comic book Batman have had to adapt or die. Fans today can’t imagine a world without either character. But each has had crisis moments. For Bond, the Broccoli-Saltzman separation of the mid-1970s and the 1989-95 hiatus in Bond films raised major questions about 007’s future. Batman, meanwhile, faced the prospect of cancellation by DC Comics (one reason for the 1964 revamp that ended the science fiction era) but managed to avoid it.

None of this, of course, will stop the arguments. Truth be told, things might become dull if the debates ceased. Still things might go over better if participants looked at them as an opportunity. An opposing viewpoint that’s well argued keeps you sharp and might cause you to consider ideas you overlooked.

Sean Connery Foundation announced

Sean Connery (1930-2020) in The Hill

The family of the late Sean Connery has announced the formation of the Sean Connery Foundation.

According to the announcement, the foundation will make grants in Scotland and the Bahamas “the two countries he called home.”

“Within these locations, the goal of the foundation is to accelerate positive change in areas of interest and importance to Sir Sean and his family, with an emphasis on education and ocean conservation,” the Connery family said.

The announcement was made on Oct. 31, two years after the original film James Bond actor died.

The foundation is on track to make 6 million pounds (almost $6.9 million) in grants by the end of this year, according to the announcement. Recipients include St. Andrews University, the Scottish Youth Film Foundation, and the Scottish International Foundation Trust.

Is it 60 years of Bond or 15 years of Craig?

This week, the official James Bond feed on Twitter promoted two projects: A Decca Records release of reimagined Bond movie themes and a documentary about the music of James Bond.

The promos have one thing in common. The visuals for both promos only show movie clips from the Daniel Craig era of Bond films (2006-2021).

Here is the tweet about the Decca Records release.

Here’s the tweet about the music documentary. There’s a lot of talk about Bond music but only images from Craig’s appearance in Skyfall.

All of this is in connection with the 60th anniversary of the Bond film series produced by Eon Productions. While Craig accounts for 15 years of that history, he did five movies, less than Roger Moore (seven) and Sean Connery (six, not counting the non-Eon Bond film Never Say Never Again). Also, Craig’s year total gets inflated because of gaps of 2008-2012 and 2015 to 2021.

A joke I’ve seen on social media is that Eon Productions boss Barbara Broccoli, whose admiration for Craig is well known, did the editing herself for these promos.

Craig’s run as Bond ended with 2021’s No Time to Die. But Broccoli said more than once she was in denial that the actor’s time as Bond was coming to an end.

Pinewood names a sound stage after Connery

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

Pinewood Studios announced it was naming a new stage after Sean Connery (1930-2020).

The London studio used what would have been the actor’s 92nd birthday to make the announcement.

“Officially named, The Sean Connery Stage, the 18,000 square foot purpose-built sound stage is one of five new stages opening on the Pinewood Studios lot,” Pinewood said.

The announcement, understandably, heavily references Connery as the first actor to play James Bond in the film series made by Eon Productions.

At the same time, the studio mentioned other films produced at Pinewood, and its sister facility Shepperton, featuring Connery.

“First passing through the gates of Pinewood Studios for Hell Drivers (1957), other titles from his extensive filmography include On the Fiddle (1961) at Shepperton, Woman of Straw (1964) at Pinewood, The Russia House (1990) Pinewood, Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves (1991) Shepperton, First Knight (1995) Pinewood and Entrapment (1999) at both Pinewood and Shepperton.”

Connery, over a long career, was more than Bond. He did many commercial movies but also appeared in productions such as The Offence and Zardoz.

For more about Connery’s career, see THE SEAN CONNERY HAIRPIECE PAGE.