How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.

You Only Live Twice: Beginning of the end of ’60s spymania

You Only Live Twice promotional art

You Only Live Twice promotional art

The 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice isn’t just a milestone for a memorable James Bond film. It’s also the anniversary for the beginning of the end of 1960s spymania.

The 007 film series led the way for spymania. Over the course of the first four Bond films, everything skyrocketed. Not only did the Bond series get bigger, it created a market for spies of all sorts.

By June 1967, when You Only Live Twice debuted, that upward trajectory had ended.

To be sure, Twice was very popular. But there was a falloff from its predecessor, 1965’s Thunderball. Twice’s box office totaled $111.6 million globally, down 21 percent from Thunderball’s $141.2 million.

The fifth 007 movie produced by Eon Productions didn’t lack for resources.

Twice’s famous volcano set cost $1 million, roughly the entire budget of Dr. No. Helicopters equipped with giant magnets swooped out of the sky. A seeming endless number of extras was available when needed. .

At the same time, the movie’s star, Sean Connery, wanted out of Bondage. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman adjusted his contract. But their inducements weren’t enough.

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

It didn’t help that Broccoli and Saltzman themselves had their own, growing differences. Broccoli didn’t want to take on Connery as another partner — the same kind of arrangement Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen, bestowed upon Dean Martin for the Matt Helm movies.

Finally, there was another Bond film that year — the spoof Casino Royale, released in the U.S. less than two months before Twice. However, anybody who viewed Casino Royale’s marketing or trailers could mistake the Charles K. Feldman production for the Eon series.

As this blog has discussed before, Twice has a lot going for it. Ken Adam’s sets were spectacular. John Barry’s score was among the best for the Bond series. It was also the one film in the series photographed by acclaimed director of photography Freddie Young.

In the 21st century, fan discussion is divided. Some appreciate the spectacle, viewing it as enough reason to overlook various plot holes. Others dislike how the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel was jettisoned, with only some characters and the Japanese location retained.

With this year’s 50th anniversary, the former may be celebrated more. The movie’s scope, even its posters, aren’t the kinds of things you see these days.

The longer-term importance of the movie, however, is that Twice symbolizes how interest in the spy craze was drawing to a close. Bond would carry on, but others — including U.S. television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy — weren’t long for this world when Twice arrived at theaters.

Fun with numbers: Most popular Bond in U.S.

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Consider this post fun with numbers on a holiday: Who was the most popular James Bond in the United States when it comes to getting people to actually pay for a movie ticket?

If you guessed Sean Connery, the original film 007, you’re right and it’s not much of a surprise. But available statistics show how dominant the Scotsman was in the U.S. when it came to Bond movies.

On Box Office Mojo, you can find a list of Bond films by estimated number of tickets sold in the U.S. It has 25 films, the 24 made by Eon Productions plus 1983’s Never Say Never Again.

By that measure, Connery 007 films comprise five of the top 10 Bond movies.

In order: Thunderball (1), Goldfinger (2), You Only Live Twice (4), From Russia With Love (8) and Diamonds Are Forever (9).

In that top 10, two actors are tied at two apiece. Daniel Craig has Skyfall (3) and Casino Royale (10). Pierce Brosnan has Die Another Day (6) and Tomorrow Never Dies (7).

Rounding out the top 10 is Roger Moore with Moonraker (5).

Looking at the list, there’s a surprise or two.

Live And Let Die in 1973 and The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977 were big hits globally at the time of their release.

Live And Let Die, Moore’s debut and featuring a Paul McCartney title song, was the first Bond movie to exceed Thunderball at the worldwide box office. Spy re-energized the franchise after the split of producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

But on the U.S. list of ticket purchases, Spy shows up  at No. 16. It’s edged out by Octopussy at No. 15. Meanwhile, Live And Let Die is No. 17.

Curious about how George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton did? Well, Lazenby’s sole 007 effort, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is No. 21. Dalton’s two Bond films come in at No. 23 (The Living Daylights) and No. 25 (Licence to Kill).

Finally, Connery isn’t completely invincible on this list. Dr. No, the first Bond film (which came to the U.S. in 1963) is No. 19. Never Say Never Again, Connery’s effort to do a Bond without Albert R. Broccoli, is No. 20.

If you’re a James Bond fan in general, or of a specific 007 actor, none of this should really matter.

Even when keeping it to tickets purchased, comparisons across decades are a dicey thing. For example, movie going habits have changed. In the 1960s, people went more often to the movies than they do now.

Diamonds’ 45th: Rodney Dangerfield of 007 films

Diamonds Are Forever poster

Diamonds Are Forever poster

When Diamonds Are Forever came out 45 years ago this month, it was a huge deal. Sean Connery was back! Everything was back to normal in 007 land.

Nowadays, Diamonds is more like the Rodney Dangerfield of James Bond films, not getting any respect.

Some fans complain about too much humor, about Connery not being in shape, about Blofeld (Charles Gray) dressing in drag as a disguise and about Bond’s wardrobe (his fat, pink tie in particular).

Perhaps the biggest advocate of the movie is former United Artists executive David Picker. In his 2013 memoir, Musts, Maybes and Nevers, he says Diamonds saved the Bond series because he got the idea of paying Connery a lot of money to return as 007.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had cast American John Gavin in the role. But UA became more hands on with the seventh film in the series compared with previous entries. UA (via Picker) didn’t want to take a chance after George Lazenby played Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Regardless, Diamonds reflected the creative team’s desire to get back to the style of Goldfinger. As a result, director Guy Hamilton returned. So did production designer Ken Adam after a one-picture absence. John Barry was on board and this time Shirley Bassey would return to perform the title song.

There was new blood, however, in the form of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, brought in to rewrite Richard Maibaum’s early drafts. Mankiewicz would work on the next four films of the series, although without credit on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

"What does that mean, anyway?"

Q was aghast at Bond’s tie.

Mankiewicz (1942-2010), part of a family prominent in both show business and politics, still generates sharp divisions among Bond fans. Supporters say his witty one liners enlivened the proceedings. (“At present, the satellite is over Kansas,” Blofeld muses at one point. “Well, if we destroy Kansas, the world may not hear about it for years.”) Detractors say he simply didn’t understand Bond and made things too goofy.

The writer’s initial draft actually contained more bits from Ian Fleming’s 1956 novel than would be in the final film. (This 2011 ARTICLE has more details, just scroll down to the section about the Mankiewicz draft.) Still, with Diamonds, it was now standard practice that the films need have little in common with Fleming’s novels.

The legacy of the movie is mixed. Diamonds got 007 into the 1970s. But as late as 1972, people still questioned whether the series could survive without Sean Connery. That wouldn’t be evident until after Diamonds. And the movie clearly began a lighter era for the series.

Still, Bond was Bond. The movie was a success with moviegoers. It had a worldwide box office of $116 million, an improvement from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s $82 million and You Only Live Twice’s $111.6 million.

Diamonds fell short of Goldfinger and Thunderball ($124.9 million and $141.2 million respectively). But it did well enough that Eon Productions would again try to find a successor to Connery.

Four 007 films credited with saving the franchise

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

This week’s 10th anniversary of Casino Royale generated a number of stories crediting the 21st James Bond film with saving the franchise.

However, this wasn’t the first time the series, in the eyes of some, had been saved. What follows is a list of four.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Sean Connery returned to the Eon Productions fold for a one-off after 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman weren’t looking for Connery’s return. But United Artists executive David V. Picker was. As a result of efforts by Picker, Connery was offered, and accepted, a $1.25 million salary coupled with other financial goodies. John Gavin, who had  been signed as Bond, was paid off.

None other than Picker himself, in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers,  said the moved saved the Bond series.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Still, Majesty’s box office ($82 million) slid 26.5 percent from You Only Live Twice and 42 percent from Thunderall. Those percentage change figures won’t warm a studio executive’s heart.

Diamonds rebounded to $116 million, better than Twice but still not at Thunderball levels. Nevertheless. Picker has argued his strategy of getting Connery back kept the series going.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): The 10th 007 film was made after Broccoli and Saltzman dissolved their partnership, with UA buying out Saltzman.

What’s more, the box office for the previous series entry, The Man With the Golden Gun, had plunged almost 40 percent from Roger Moore’s Bond debut, Live And Let Die.

As a result, there was anxiety associated with the production. Spy ended up re-establishing Bond, in particular the Roger Moore version. The movie produced a popular song, Nobody Does It Better, and the film received three Oscar nominations.

GoldenEye (1995): The 17th Bond adventure made its bow after a six-year hiatus, marked by legal fights. Albert R. Broccoli, at one point, put Danjaq and Eon on the market, though no sale took place.

As the movie moved toward production, health problems forced Broccoli to yield day-to-day supervision over to daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson.

The question was whether 007, now in the person of Pierce Brosnan, could resume being a successful series. The previous entry, Licence to Kill, didn’t do well in the U.S., finishing No. 4 in its opening weekend, even though it was the only new movie release released that weekend.

GoldenEye did fine and Bond was back.

Casino Royale (2006): This week, a website called History, Legacy & Showmanship had comments by various Bond students, including documentary maker John Cork, who is quoted as saying, “Casino Royale saved Bond.” Yahoo Movies ran a piece with the headline ‘Casino Royale’: The Movie That Saved James Bond Turns 10.

Meanwhile, GQ.com ran a article saying Casino was the best 007 film while Forbes.com aruged the movie “provides a helpful template in terms of doing the reboot just right.”

If Casino saved the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily in a financial sense. 2002’s Die Another Day was a success at the box officce. But Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson were having a creative mid-life crisis.

“We are running out of energy, mental energy,” Wilson told The New York Times in October 2005. “We need to generate something new, for ourselves.”

The something new was casting Daniel Craig in a more serious version of 007 and starting the series over with a new continuity.

Casino was a hit with global box office of $594.4 million compared with Die Another Day’s $431.9 million. In the U.S. market, Casino actually sold fewer tickets than Die Another Day (25.4 million compared with 27.6 million). But, with higher ticket prices, Casino out earned Die Another Day in the market, $167.4 million to $160.9 million.

On Twitter, the blog did an informal (and very unscientific) survey whether fans thought Casino had saved the series. You can see the results below.

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Happy 86th birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery how we remember him, circa 1963, while posing for publicity stills for From Russia With Love.

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Our salute to Jim Steranko’s classic SHIELD cover

It’s birthday No. 240 for the United States of America. So, we’re celebrating Independence Day like we usually do with this Jim Steranko cover to Strange Tales No. 167, published in January 1968.

This time, though, we thought we’d present a little more detail.

This particular issue wrapped up a months long Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD story line where writer-artist Steranko revived a Marvel villain from the 1950s, the Yellow Claw.

Along the way (issue 164, to be precise), Steranko included a one-panel cameo by the Sean Connery version of James Bond at a SHIELD front in New York (a barber shop, to be precise).

Jim Steranko's cover to Strange Tales 167

Jim Steranko’s cover to Strange Tales 167

 

 

Issue 167 had a twist ending where it was revealed the Claw was actually a robot being manipulated by Dr. Doom, the Marvel villain of all Marvel villains. For Doom, it was just a game for amusement. (The very same month, Doom had manipulated the Fantastic Four into fighting Daredevil, Thor and Spider-Man. Obviously, Doom was a busy man.)

Steranko reveals his twist ending in Strange Tales 167.

Steranko reveals his twist ending in Strange Tales 167 via two full comic book pages.