The Incredible World of James Bond’s 50th

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned this month

Thunderball British quad that was auctioned this month

This post is both to wish readers a Happy Thanksgiving Day and to note the 50th anniversary of The Incredible World of James Bond.

Incredible World first aired Nov. 26, 1965, in the United States. NBC pre-empted The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to air the special, which reviewed the first three 007 movies and promoted the upcoming Thunderball, due out the following month.

In the 21st century, business types would call this “synergy.” U.N.C.L.E. was at its peak of ratings. Bond was at his peak of popularity. Even though 007 producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had once tried to stop production of U.N.C.L.E., putting the Bond special in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot made perfect business sense.

For this blog, there’s also a personal note. Incredible World was how the Spy Commnader first discovered 007.

Originally, Sean Connery was to host the special but he pulled out at the last minute. As a replacement, character actor Alexander Scourby was hired to narrate.

Scourby (1913-1985) had already acted as a narrator on other documentaries. He was blessed with a pleasant sounding, but firm, voice that conveyed authority. He was perfect for the project.

Had Connery gone through with it, Incredible World might have seemed like a cheesy infomercial (though the term hadn’t been coined yet). Scourby gave Incredible World a sense of heft, perhaps more than it actually deserved. It came across as a documentary, not a promotional vehicle (which it also was).

The narration spoken by Scourby covered both the movies and Ian Fleming’s novels, including a sequence providing a biography of Bond taken from the obituary chapter of You Only Live Twice. In short, Incredible World was the perfect vehicle to entice even more new followers for the exploits of agent 007.

So, Happy Thanksgiving. And happy anniversary to The Incredible World of James Bond.

UPDATE: A couple of other things of note about The Incredible World of James Bond:

–It shows part of the casino scene from Thunderball. Adolfo Celi and Claudine Auger can be heard speaking in their own voices. They were dubbed for the movie.

–Over at The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Inner Circle page on Facebook, an original viewer notes that U.N.C.L.E.’s David McCallum was seen at the end of The Incredible World of James Bond saying the show would be back next week but not sounding very pleased it had been pre-empted in the first place.

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part VI: Diamonds Are Forever

Another moment of 007 clothing splendor

Jimmy Dean, Sean Connery and Shane Rimmer in Diamonds Are Forever

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Sean Connery returned one last time as James Bond to Eon Productions’ 007 series in Diamonds Are Forever, the first Bond film of the 1970s.

Feeling they went a bit too far with the dramatic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Guy Hamilton’s 1971 film returned to the tone set in Goldfinger. Bond’s revenge of his murdered wife Tracy was left to a short scene in the pre-credits sequence..

Once again, there’s no SPECTRE here. The organization isn’t mentioned, with Ernst Stavro Blofeld taking the lead as the villain. Still, we can see the famous octopus logo on his ring and one of his vehicles, the Bathosub.

Far of the volcano lairs and the mountain top headquarters, Blofeld is now stationed on an oil rig off Baja California and atop the Whyte House Hotel, impersonating the Howard Hughes-like millionaire Willard Whyte.

His plan, that inspired the Austin Powers movies (and, yes, Die Another Day), is to randomly detonate missiles with his laser satellite utilizing diamonds stolen to a number of smugglers killed by his henchmen couple, Wint and Kidd.

The Blofeld we see here, played by Charles Gray, is far from the man who caused the death of 007’s wife.

After Bond drowns him (actually, one of his doubles) in boiling mud during the film’s teaser sequence, he seems to forget he’s after the responsible of Tracy’s death.

Following a diamond smuggling link integrated by Tiffany Case, the exhuberant leading lady played by Jill St John, and avoiding a number of creative ways to die by Wint and Kidd, James Bond finds himself face to face with Number One.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q is aghast at Bond’s pink tie.

What follows until the film’s end credits is a number of double entendrés, philosophical quotes (Cubby Broccoli complained about quoting François de La Rochefoucauld) and funny situations where you see 007 very light against the man who took his wife away. The tone was set by Tom Mankiewicz, who rewrote Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. (CLICK HERE for an article that includes details of an early Mankiewicz draft for Diamonds.)

Much like the Telly Savalas version, Blofeld also goes to action… dressed as a woman! He has some authority, but far from threatening it sounds funny as he argues with his laser expert Professor Dr. Metz (Joseph Furst) about giving up or not as the Americans led an attack on his lair.

In the literary Bond timeline, there’s a so-called “SPECTRE trilogy” (Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, in that order). For multiple reasons, the effect of that trilogy was wasted up on their screen adaptations, by having 007 not properly setting the score with the villain, as in the gritty last pages of Ian Fleming’s 1964 book.

The legal conflicts between Eon and Thunderball producer Kevin McClory prevented the official series from using SPECTRE in subsequent films, until now. Here we are days away of the U.S. release of the 24th James Bond adventure, using the organization name as the title.

Blofeld would make a return in the 1983 Bond production by McClory and Jack Schwartzman, Never Say Never Again, played by a charming Max von Sydow.

Half of the world hasn’t seen SPECTRE yet, so for many of us there’s still the doubt about who is really Franz Oberhauser, leader of the rebooted SPECTRE we’ll see fighting Bond soon.

Christopher Waltz, who plays Oberhauser in the fiction, categorically denied Ernst Stavro Blofeld is behind his character. Is it possible that, this time, Blofeld is it overshadowed by the organization he created without even the single mention of his name is heard?

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part IV: You Only Live Twice

You Only LIve Twice poster

You Only LIve Twice poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

Based on Ian Fleming’s penultimate novel, 1967’s You Only Live Twice features the SPECTRE organization as the main villain plus the same Japanese locations and characters as in the 1964 book.

Still, scribes Roald Dahl and Harold Jack Bloom went further and discarded the darkness of the novel by bringing the protagonist and the antagonist on the same setting, but with a more extravagant and actual plot: the Space Race, very much like the first Bond film, Dr. No.

While James Bond fakes his death as part of a staged MI6 operation, America blames Russia for the abduction of a space capsule, an operation executed by a mysterious spacecraft with the USSR insignia.

British intelligence noted echoes of that spacecraft coming down in Japan, where the “deceased” 007 is sent to investigate. Bond will discover that, of course, SPECTRE was behind it all, and this time, he comes face to face with the organization’s leader.

Bond’s contact with SPECTRE comes through the corrupt Japanese businessman Osato (Teru Shimada), who provides chemicals for SPECTRE and has the organization’s Number 11 Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) posing as his secretary.

Captured while investigating Osato’s Ning-Po vessel in Kobe, Bond seduces Helga and manages to escape with her help, but she betrays him and, unsuccessfully, tries to kill him.

Soon, we get to see the new SPECTRE headquarters –- inside an inactive volcano in Japan! Clearly, the organization has made a lot of money from its criminal and terrorist activities conducted in the two years between Thunderball and You Only Live Twice.

As SPECTRE’s Bird 1 spacecraft captures a Soviet capsule and imprisons its astronauts (or “cosmonauts”), we meet again with Number One. Once again, we only get his hands stroking his cat.

He has a bank account in Buenos Aires and asks some money in advance from two of his clients who would benefit after the war is broken between the U.S. and the USSR. Number One he observes how his piranha fish can eat a man to the bone in 30 seconds. He provides a demonstration. Helga Brandt is feed to the piranhas after she failed to kill 007, much like Largo’s henchmen Quist in Thunderball or Kronsteen in From Russia with Love.

First the U.S. blamed Russia, now Russia blames the US. The clock is ticking.

With the aid of his “wife,” Japanese agent Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), James Bond investigates a cave where an ama fishing girl was mysteriously killed. He eventually reaches the volcano and, observing a helicopter went landed inside it, the team decides to investigate.

As Kissy seeks the aid of his boss of Japanese intelligence, Tiger Tanaka (Testuro Tamba), Bond gets inside the volcano base, rescues the astronauts and tries to sabotage the Bird 1, but he is discovered by Number One.

“Allow me to introduce myself, I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld,” the leader introduces himself to the captured Bond, showing the face of the first credited actor to portray him: Donald Pleasence.

Despite the frightening scar around his right eye, Pleasence’s Blofeld seems less threatening than the mysterious Anthony Dawson/Eric Pohlman character that ordered death sitting on his throne.

Blofeld still has some memorable quips towards Bond as he shows him how the hidden machine guns in the crater terminate some of Tanaka’s ninja men. “You can watch it all on TV, it’s the last program you’re likely to see.” He also seems to be intellectual, by quoting Shakespeare’s Macbeth as he says his hideout is “impregnable”.

But, just like Macbeth, his hideout isn’t impregnable enough when Tanaka’s men get to infiltrate the volcano and a fantastic battle ensues, where 007, after beating Blofeld’s bodyguard Hans (Donald Rich), manages to destroy the Bird 1 spacecraft seconds before another American craft is captured.

SPECTRE’s plans went from toppling space rockets to trying to provoke World War III. Its base of operations expanded from a building in Paris (in Thunderball) to a hidden volcano in Japan. Much of the same characteristics remain: a beautiful female agent (Helga Brandt) and a well-built henchman (Hans). The price for failure of betrayal is still death and nobody is forgiven.

But the most important aspect of You Only Live Twice regarding the organization is that, from now on, SPECTRE loses identity. SPECTRE is now Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the leader assumes the role of the villain more than the organization.

As a matter of fact, we’ll see how in the two other remaining films (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever) the organization is barely mentioned and Blofeld takes the lead as the main nemesis.

In the following entry we’ll see Bond getting personal with Blofeld as George Lazenby took over the role of Ian Fleming’s spy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, released in 1969.

Why Mendes couldn’t direct a FRWL type film

Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes

There’s a new issue of Empire magazine that’s guest edited by Sam Mendes, the director of SPECTRE. The DIGITAL SPY WEBSITE has a post quoting from that issue.

Specifically, the Digital Spy post includes quotes from Mendes whether, in SPECTRE, Christoph Waltz plays SPECTRE mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The filmmaker also took issue with fans demanding to know if Waltz is Blofeld before seeing the film.

Responding to the criticism over Star Trek Into Darkness’s John Harrison/Khan reveal, Mendes said: “Why was there a backlash? There’s a narrative as well. The naming of a character is part of a story.

The audience cannot and should not be given – and I’m not confirming or denying anything – information that the characters do not have. And preserving tension in the narrative of a story that is a riff or an acknowledgement of the iconography of Bond over the years has been crucial.” (emphasis added)

That’s interesting. Still, while it might not be the best comparison, From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, may be the exception to what Mendes describes.

In the 1963 movie, the audience is shown most of the conspiracy that James Bond (Sean Connery) will confront. Bond himself doesn’t appear until 18 minutes into the film, although there’s a phony Bond in the pre-titles sequence to hold the interest of the audience.

In Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel, things were even more dramatic. The first 10 chapters show the conspiracy (a Soviet one, while the movie was SPECTRE-driven), and Bond doesn’t show up until Chapter 11. Fleming would attempt something similar in The Spy Who Loved Me novel (where 007 doesn’t put in an appearance until the final third of the story). That novel wasn’t as well received as From Russia With Love.

The point being in the second Bond film, the audience knows a lot that Bond doesn’t know by the time the British agent becomes involved in the case. Still, there was plenty of tension and a number of twists.

Perhaps From Russia With Love is a special case, the exception that proves Mendes’ rule. Still, From Russia With Love was a journeyman director (Terence Young), not the auteurs favored by Eon Productions in the 21st century. Sometimes, there aren’t hard and fast story telling rules.

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part II: From Russia With Love

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The second James Bond film, From Russia With Love, excelled over the first 007 movie, Dr. No, in many areas.

Featuring solid source material from Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel, which pitted the Russian organization SMERSH against James Bond, the film version brought a more realistic approach to the then-emerging film series: a classic Cold War spy thriller compared with Dr. No’s escapism.

The 1963 film, again starring Sean Connery as 007 and directed by Terence Young, provides the viewer a proper introduction to SPECTRE, the criminal organization of which the late Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman) was a member.

“Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one,” SPECTRE’s Number One instructs his operatives Col. Rosa Klebb (Number Three, played by Lotte Lenya) and Kronsteen (Number Five, played by Vladek Sheybal).

The leader of SPECTRE is, of course, referring to James Bond and the possibility of avenging the doctor’s death, as part of Kronsteen’s plan to lure the British agent into a trap with the Russian decoding machine Lektor, and a young female Russian clerk, as bait.

To avoid political conflicts, From Russia with Love’s script replaced the Soviet Union for the apolitical SPECTRE for the villains. This was less than a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, a major event of the Cold War.

Here, the criminal organization would pit the Russians and the British against each other and the patriotic Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) aka the bait, would follow Klebb’s orders, without knowing she’s not working for Russia but for SPECTRE.

The SPECTRE leader, known as Ernst Stavro Blofeld and played by “?”, according to the end titles (actually Anthony Dawson, voiced by Eric Pohlman) is introduced in the shadows. We only see his hands stroking the white cat that is now part of popular culture and a cliché in every spy spoof around. He is located on a vessel and has a meeting with Klebb and Kronsteen.

Klebb defected from the Russians to join SPECTRE. Kronsteen is a stone-faced chess champion. Also employed by SPECTRE is Morzeny (Walter Gottel), who executes those who fail, and henchman Donald “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw), a convicted murderer trained to terminate any obstacle with the group’s plans.

The second Bond film shows the audience how the organization usually works: a leader, a planner, an executioner and an assassin.

There is much debate whether Cristoph Waltz’s character Oberhauser in the upcoming Bond film will be (or eventually “become”) Blofeld or if he is someone close to Blofeld. Two months before the film’s release, he appears to be the shadowy leader of the new (rebooted) SPECTRE and has a personal vendetta with Bond –- even more personal now than the 1963 Blofeld.

In From Russia With Love, the leader of SPECTRE appears to us as a mysterious and threatening man. In the upcoming film titled after the organization, there’s still the possibility he has a high rank à la Dr. No.

In the 1963 film, there’s planner Kronsteen, whose apparently “foolproof” plan fails when Tatiana really falls for Bond. That’s where executioner Morenzy comes in and eliminates him. The assassin in From Russia With Love is a physical imposing challenge for Bond or anyone: Red Grant, who stalks 007 throughout the mission to “heat up” the Cold War.

We are meant to think Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) will play both an “executioner” and an “assassin” as in the trailers we can see him terminating a SPECTRE subordinate and battling Bond aboard a train, very much like the memorable Bond vs Grant fight in From Russia With Love.

If Dr. No introduced us to the name of SPECTRE and the organization’s values by the good doctor, From Russia With Love goes a little further by showing us a glimpse of its leader, the organization’s inside, and the particular roles of its members. There’s a demonstration of their training field, too – where they use live targets as well!

Wait for the next entry on The SPECTRE Chronicles with Thunderball, where the organization will expand, acquiring a “business” status, to put it mildly.

Nicolas Suszczyk is editor of The GoldenEye Dossier

Trigger Mortis: a preview

Trigger Mortis cover

Trigger Mortis cover

By Brad Frank, Guest Writer
Trigger Mortis, by Anthony Horowitz, the newest James Bond continuation novel, comes out Sept. 8. This one is unique because it’s based on an original story outline by Ian Fleming, and brings back one of his most famous characters.

Fleming had always been interested in seeing James Bond on the screen, and throughout the 1950s he considered various deals for the film and/or television rights. A live TV adaptation of his first novel, Casino Royale, aired on CBS in 1954.

In 1956, Fleming was commissioned to create a TV series called “Commander Jamaica.” It was never produced, so he changed the main character’s name and other details, and used it as the basis for his 1958 novel Doctor No.

Another network proposed a James Bond TV series, and Fleming wrote a handful of episode outlines. When that project fell through, he adapted three of them into short stories, which were published in the 1960 collection For Your Eyes Only. Fleming’s habit of adapting unproduced scripts would come back to haunt him during the extended Thunderball legal case.

Fleming’s unused TV outlines have never been seen outside of the archives of Ian Fleming Publications until now. Trigger Mortis is based on one of them, originally called “Murder on Wheels.” Trigger Mortis takes place immediately following the events of Goldfinger, and features that book’s heroine, Pussy Galore.

Goldfinger is arguably the most famous Bond story of all time, although it’s known mainly from the 1964 film starring Sean Connery and Honor Blackman, which differs somewhat from the book.

The first obvious difference between the novel and film is that Bond’s friend, CIA agent Felix Leiter does not appear in the early parts of the book. He only shows up at the very end, during the raid on Fort Knox. Also notable is that in the book, Goldfinger works for SMERSH, using his gold to pay operatives, while the film presents him as a totally independent criminal who has partnered with China.

In the film, Jill Masterson (Masterton in the book) is adamant that Goldfinger pays her only to be seen with him, nothing else. It’s quite the opposite in the novel, in which Goldfinger fantasizes about literally making love to gold. Her death via gold paint isn’t revealed until much later, when Bond (and the reader) learns about it from her sister. And while the golden girl is one of the most memorable images in all of film, upon analysis it makes no sense outside of the broader context.

Fleming, who was very skilled at describing games or competitions, presents all 18 holes of the golf match in wonderful detail. The film reduces this to only three holes, but the results are the same. In the novel, Oddjob is not Goldfinger’s caddy, only his chauffeur. Following the game, Goldfinger in the novel invites Bond to dinner at his home, where we learn about Oddjob’s Karate skills and trick bowler hat.

As in the film, Bond tails Goldfinger to Geneva, meeting Jill’s sister Tilly Masterton along the way. When they are captured spying on Goldfinger’s factory, Tilly is NOT killed –- she survives almost to the end of the novel. The famous laser beam table is merely an old-fashioned circular saw table in the book. Goldfinger inexplicably hires Bond and Tilly to work for him on Operation Grand Slam. In the film, he keeps Bond alive merely for show, knowing that they are being spied upon by Bond’s friends.

Pussy Galore is actually a relatively minor character in the novel, who has little contact with Bond until the end. She is not Goldfinger’s private pilot –- in fact she isn’t a pilot at all, but rather the head of an all-female criminal organization. She first appears along with the other crime bosses who Goldfinger wants to join his big plan.

It has often been stated that the film improved on the book’s plot by having Goldfinger irradiate Fort Knox with an atomic bomb, thus increasing the value of his own gold reserves, rather than trying to steal it. This may be true, and yet there are many other changes in the film which make little or no sense. I’ve already mentioned Jill’s death. Another example is that, in the novel, while Goldfinger does murder the one gangster who refuses to join him, the others, along with Pussy, become active members in the attack on Fort Knox.

The film merely hints, with one line of dialogue, that Pussy may be a lesbian. The novel makes this quite explicit. She and Tilly are obviously attracted to each other. Pussy does not help Bond thwart Goldfinger’s plans, and only turns to his side in the last two chapters.

The novel concludes with their rescue from the crashed plane, which in the book was a hijacked commercial airliner, rather than Goldfinger’s private jet. Oddjob, not Goldfinger, gets sucked out of the airplane window. To justify her conversion, Pussy tells Bond “I never met a man before,” and Bond promises her a course of T.L.C. – Tender Loving Care — treatment.

Fleming would usually, during the opening chapters of his next novel, tie up any loose ends from the previous one. But he never again mentioned Pussy Galore, or what happened between her and Bond after the novel’s conclusion. That conveniently left the door open for her to reappear in Trigger Mortis.

© 2015, Brad Frank

Brad Frank is a director of the Ian Fleming Foundation.

Happy birthday, Sean Connery

Aug. 25 is Sean Connery’s 85th birthday. Since this is also the 50th anniversary of Thunderball, which represented the apex of 1960s Bondmania, here’s the tri-panel poster of the fourth 007 film.

Happy birthday, Sir Sean.

Thunderball's tri-panel poster in 1965


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