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

The Chronicles of SPECTRE Part I: Dr. No

Dr. No poster

Dr. No poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer
The first film of the James Bond series was released in the middle of the Cold War, the Space Race and one year after Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball was published.

That novel provoked a legal dispute between a severely ill Fleming and producer Kevin McClory. The conflict — not settled until 1963 — prevented Thunderball from becoming the first Bond film made by Eon Productions as originally intended.

1962’s Dr. No followed followed the story line of Fleming’s 1958 book, with Sean Connery as 007 investigating the disappearance of MI6 agent Strangways, who was investigating the activities of the title character.

In the novel, the doctor worked for the Russians. Yet, in the Terence Young-directed film, he is completely apolitical, calling East and West “each as stupid as the other”. He introduces himself as a member of SPECTRE, a criminal organization standing for SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

In this way, the great antagonist of James Bond is introduced: an organization that helped to depoliticize the films. At the time, East and West superpowers were rivals in both the Cold War and the conquest of space, a topic that would be slightly associated to the movie’s plot.

Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) proudly endorses the organization’s activities and, as one of its top members, he carries on one of the group’s world domination plans: the toppling of rockets launched by Americans at Cape Canaveral.

Without being the leader of SPECTRE, Dr. No’s modus operandi is pretty much the same of his Number One and the organization itself: he has goons everywhere at his disposal and provokes fear in those who fail. He is based on an island known as Crab Key.

Dr. No even tells Bond there might be a place in SPECTRE for him, which the British agent refuses. Bond says he if joined SPECTRE, he should be in the “revenge department,” and would begin with those responsible for the death of his friends Quarrel and Strangways.

007 spoils SPECTRE’s plan by sabotaging the toppling mechanism and causing Dr. No’s base to explode. Before the explosion, Bond and Dr. No fight on a platform above the villain’s atomic reactor. As the two men are being lowered into the reactor’s boiling water, Bond is able to get away while Dr. No’s metal hands can’t get a grip and perishes.

Audiences would get a proper introduction of the organization in the second Bond film, From Russia with Love. So far, this first Bond film provides us with a strong nemesis and a mention of the people behind him and their sinister activities. What can we surmise? They’re up for world domination, they’re apolitical, they want chaos and brilliant people, like scientist Dr. No, are on the payroll.

The fictional organization would appear in more films including the 1983 non-Eon film, Never Say Never Again and the upcoming SPECTRE, directed by Sam Mendes.

Nicolas Suszczyk is the editor of The GoldenEye Dossier.

Common thread in 007 scripts: Making Bond bigger

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

There’s something a number of James Bond scripts have in common: There are attempts to build up supporting characters. But in the end, there’s only one top dog. And his name is Bond, James Bond.

007 collector Gary J. Firuta has provided copies of a number of Bond scripts. In a June 1966 draft, screenwriter Roald Dahl had Japanese agent Suki more of an active participant in the Kobe docks action sequence. Both Bond and Suki are shooting it out with thugs at one point. In the final film, however, agent Aki doesn’t do a whole lot, except flee to report to Japanese spy chief Tiger Tanaka.

In both Jack Whittingham’s first draft for what would become Thunderball as well as a later Richard Maibaum-John Hopkins draft, Felix Leiter also is more of an active participant in events. In the final 1965 film, Felix (Rik Van Nutter) gets punched by 007 in the stomach (so Felix won’t say “007” before Bond does so) and watches Bond (Sean Connery) do his thing.

In Richard Maibaum’s rewrite for The Man With the Golden Gun, Lt. Hip *and his nieces* infiltrate the martial arts school where an abducted Bond has been taken. They end up saving him from being finished off by prized pupil Chula. Not so in the final movie, where Bond (at the last second) fights off Chula and escapes *and then* encounters Hip and the nieces.

Finally, here’s an example the blog CITED IN 2009 about the differences between the Goldfinger novel and film. In Ian Fleming’s novel, it was Bond’s caddie who figured out how Goldfinger was cheating. In the film, Bond does it by himself while the caddie nods his approval.

Who’s the next spy to be revived? How about Matt Helm?

Matt Helm as he appeared on Fawcett paperbacks, circa 1963

Matt Helm as he appeared on Fawcett paperbacks, circa 1963

The Man From U.N.C.L.E., after a long hibernation, arrives in movie theaters in less that two weeks. If U.N.C.L.E. can stage a comeback, any character can. So who should be the next ’60s spy to be revived from “suspended animation”?

How about Matt Helm, code name Eric?

Strictly speaking, Helm wasn’t a spy. He was a “counter assassin,” taking out various murderous threats to the United States. Created by author Donald Hamilton (1916-2006), Helm was the star of 27 paperback novels, published from 1960 until 1993.

Of course, the general public has, at best, a hazy memory of that. Helm is mostly remembered for four movies starring Dean Martin, which turned Hamilton’s very serious novels into light romps, which resembled a spy version of Dino’s 1965-74 variety show on NBC.

As this blog has noted before, that film series probably affected the 007 films the most. To get Dean Martin involved, he was made a partner in the enterprise. When Dino made more money from The Silencers than Sean Connery got from Thunderball, the Scotsman’s relationship with Bond producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman soured.

In any case, like U.N.C.L.E. (which, after decades in the wilderness, arrives in movie theaters on Aug. 14), Helm has been “in development” in Hollywood for quite some time.

The last word this blog had was in 2012, when The Hollywood Reporter had a story that Helm still was on Paramount’s to-do list. If there’s been Helm news since, The Spy Commander missed it.

Regardless, you won’t find a Matt Helm movie on any list of scheduled movie releases in the near future.

Fans of Hamilton’s novels have long wished for a serious Matt Helm movie. In the jaded 21st century, audiences are more than ready for Helm’s rough stuff.

Still, Hamilton’s novels would be hard to replicate on film. The stories are told in the first person. Hamilton’s prose is so engaging, the reader gets sucked in. When Helm kills somebody, you almost find yourself saying, “Of course. What else was Matt to do?”

The beauty of Hamilton’s novels is they’re told in a gritty way (not unlike Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer novels), but the author could come up with plots as fanciful as anything Ian Fleming devised. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that many readers enjoyed over more than three decades.

Perhaps the operative with the code name of Eric will never make a screen comeback. Still, if Solo and Kuryakin can return to the screen…..


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