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.

Honor Blackman dies at 94

Goldfinger/Dr. No double feature poster featuring images of Honor Blackman, Ursula Andress, and Sean Connery

Honor Blackman, who made an impression with audiences as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, has died at 94, The Guardian reported.

She “died of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Blackman’s Pussy Galore was the lead female character in the 1964 Bond film that turned the gentleman agent into a global phenomenon.

She made her mark in his very first scene. Sean Connery’s Bond sees Pussy Galore’s face after waking up from a drugged dart.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Pussy Galore,” she responds.

“I must be dreaming,” Bond says.

In the film, Blackman’s character is working as the personal pilot for Auric Goldfinger. She tells Bond that the agent can “turn off the charm” because she’s “immune.” It was a veiled reference to how the character was a lesbian in Ian Fleming’s original 1959 novel.

Pussy Galore displays judo skills, capturing Bond after he’s been observing Goldfinger conducting a briefing about Operation Grand Slam. This sets up a later scene where the two characters throw each other around before Bond gets on top of her. As the scene ends, she is enthusiastically kissing him but for some audience members, it’s too close to rape.

“I think this is one of the trickiest scenes in the movie,” director Guy Hamilton said on a commentary track for a Criterion laserdisc that was recalled. “How to go from dy** to sexpot to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission and one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”

The movie helped launch the 1960s spy craze, Within a year of Goldfinger’s release there were new spy TV shows such as I Spy (relatively realistic spies), The Wild Wild West (spies in the Old West) and Get Smart (comedy spies). Other spy film series, such as Matt Helm and Derek Flint would go into production.

Prior to Goldfinger, Blackman played Cathy Gale on The Avengers. Like Pussy Galore, the character was independent. After Blackman’s departure, Diana Rigg came aboard as Emma Peel.

One episode depicts John Steed (Patrick Macnee) receiving a card from Cathy Gale. He wonders aloud why it was sent from Fort Knox. Both Rigg and Macnee would later appear in Bond films (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and A View to a Kill respectively).

Blackman’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 100 acting credits. One of the highlights, for American audiences, was a 1972 Columbo episode, Dagger of the Mind.

The story was set in London and featured Blackman and Richard Basehart as Shakespearean actors who commit murder. Unfortunately for them, Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) happens to be in London and assists Scotland Yard in the case.

UPDATE (1:50 p.m., New York time): The official social media accounts of Eon Productions published a tribute to Blackman.

 

About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

Tabloid silliness: Bond’s gray hair

If Daniel Craig is the first film Bond with gray hair, what is this? Oh, the gray on the temples is Connery’s own, not his hairpiece.

This month, the Mirror had a breathless story with a headline that declared: “Daniel Craig is the first ever James Bond to have grey hair in new 007 film.” It was also labeled “Exclusive.”

Really? Are you sure?

Even if it was true, such a story hardly merits being called an exclusive. In this case, it’s not even true.

Exhibit A: 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. Sean Connery made a one-film return to the Eon Productions 007 film series. While his gray hair may vary from scene to scene, the actor had gray hair. That includes gray hair at his temples (his own hair and not part of his hairpiece).

Connery’s gray would be more noticeable in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which wasn’t part of the Eon series. Bond fans often refer to non-Eon productions as “unofficial.” But you don’t even have to go there. Diamonds has a Bond with gray hair.

Nevertheless, the Mirror went nuts.

Craig returns as 007 in No Time To Die, his final outing as the super-spy.

And he becomes the first James Bond with grey hair.

Despite efforts to cover them up, the actor’s silver strands clearly shine through in a couple of shots in the trailer.

The article referenced Diamonds, saying Connery used hair dye to try to hide gray streaks.

All of this is pretty silly, of course. Still, the story has been making the rounds on social media. Whatever.

Claudine Auger dies at 78

Sean Connery and Claudine Auger in Thunderball

Claudine Auger, who played the lead female character in Thunderball, died this week at 78, the French newspaper Sud Quest reported.

Auger died on Wednesday. The newspaper cited “the artistic agency Art Time who represented her” as the source of the information.

The actress won the role of Domino, the mistress of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo (Adolfo Celi) in Thunderball. James Bond (Sean Connery) wins over Domino, who provides the British agent help on his mission. In the film’s climax, Domino kills Largo with a spear gun, saving Bond’s life.

Auger turned 24 during production of the fourth Bond movie. Other contenders for the role included Julie Christie, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. Thunderball was a huge hit and came out at the peak of the 1960s spy craze.

The November 1965 U.S. television special The Incredible World of James Bond included a Thunderball scene at a Nassau casino where Auger and Celi could be heard speaking in their own voices. Both were dubbed for the final version of the movie, which came out a month later.

Auger’s IMDB.COM entry lists 80 acting credits, lasting into the 1990s.

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.