Syd Cain, an appreciation

When the subject of James Bond movies comes up, Syd Cain isn’t one of the first names to come up. But Cain, who has passed away at the age of 93, is one of the unsung heroes of the long-running film series.

In Dr. No, the first 007 film, Cain had the title of art director and was essentially the deputy to production designer Ken Adam while not receiving a credit. In the John Cork-directed documentary Inside Dr. No, Cain described how he had to wade into a swamp in Jamaica and had to deal with leeches. Hardly glamorous.

When From Russia With Love went into production in 1963, the brilliant Adam was working on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. So it fell to Cain (this time receiving an art director credit) to be the primary designer of sets. In the documentary Inside From Russia With Love, Cain would call his set for a chess match, involving SPECTRE master planner Kronsteen, one of his favorites. The video below can’t be embedded but just glancing at it you can get a sense of Cain’s design work:

Cain returned to the series with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this time with the fancier title of production designer, the same title Adam had. That movie couldn’t boast of a volcano headquarters set a la Adam’s You Only Twice set of SPECTRE headquarters. But Cain’s sets for SPECTRE’s home base in Majesty’s were impressive in their own right (integrating actual locations and buildings in Switzerland).

Finally, he was the lead production designer of Roger Moore’s 007 debut, Live And Let Die (this time with the less-fancy title of supervising art director).

Ken Adam, rightfully, is hailed as the innovator of 007 art design with his seven Bond films which included the volcano set, Goldfinger’s Fort Knox sets, The Spy Who Loved Me’s Stromberg villain’s lair and others. Peter Lamont get kudos for longevity, designing sets for nine Bond movies (after also being one of Adam’s deputies), starting with 1981’s For Your Your Eyes Only and running through 2006’s Casino Royale. Also, both Adam and Lamont won Oscars for their non-007 work.

Cain didn’t get that kind of acclaim. But he was responsible for the look of two of the best Bond movies (From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) regardless of his on-screen credit. And he helped Adam in a major way on the first Bond film. On top of all that, his spy entertainment work includes The New Avengers, the 1970s continuation of The Avengers television series.

So, RIP, Mr. Cain. Heroes may go unsung, but they are heroes all the same.

007 films and their (sort of) continuity part II

GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s 1995 debut as 007, marked the end of a six-year hiatus. It also marked the start of a change in the attitude of of the makers of the James Bond film series toward continuity.

Eon Productions, the maker of Bond movies, opted to use fan conventions in 1994 and 1995 as a marketing tool. The latter event, in New York City, a few days before the film’s premier in that city, included the chance for Bond fans to ask questions of Eon personnel, including producer Michael G. Wilson.

During the session, Wilson discussed continuity. He said the Bond films weren’t one big film series but rather a “series of series.” It was an interesting twist, especially given that Wilson and Richard Maibaum had co-scripted 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, which had a pre-titles sequence that explicitly tied that movie to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, even giving Tracy Bond’s date of death as 1969, the same year OHMSS was released.

Then again, when you become boss, things change. Wilson and his half-sister Barbara Broccoli by this time were running Eon, with Albert R. Broccoli incapacited by health issues. Cubby Broccoli had a “presenting” credit but wasn’t listed as a producer of GoldenEye and he died the following year.

Or did things change, continuity wise? Brosnan’s tenure ended with 2002’s Die Another Day, which featured a scene where Brosnan’s Bond while talking to John Cleese’s Q (Desmond Llewelyn died following a 1999 car accident) is in a storage area full of props from earlier Bond movies. Brosnan even asks if the Thunderball jet pack “still works” while throwing a switch activating it. It’s hard to say, given the scene was part of the film’s “Where’s Waldo?” motif of providing homages to previous Bond movies throughout the story.

Behind the scenes, Eon was rethinking Bond, as the series went into a four-year hiatus. Brosnan was out, Daniel Craig was in and Eon opted to begin the saga all over again. In effect, Eon followed Warner Bros.’s strategy with Batman, rebooting the character in 2005 following a four-film series that ran 1989 to 1997. Wilson called it the “beginning of Bond”:

Lest there be any doubt, there’s THIS TOTAL FILM INTERVIEW WITH THE EON BRAINTRUST. It began thusly:

TOTAL FILM: So… Bond is our Reboot Of The Decade.

BARBARA BROCCOLI: Well, that’s wonderful! Thank you very much.

The movie had no Moneypenny, no Q and Bond didn’t drink his martinis “shaken, not stirred.” The only holdover from the Brosnan era was Judi Dench’s M. There was no attempt to explain it, but one could assume it’s another fictional universe and she’s merely a different version of the same character, similar to how Marvel and DC comic books established there are similar versions of characters in different universes.

Casino Royale also got some of the best reviews of a Bond film in decades. So for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, fans were told it would be the first *direct* sequel, and the story would begin within hours of the end of Casino.

Except….well, the continuity still got muddled. In Casino we saw references SUCH AS THIS ONE to the film taking place in 2006. But in Quantum, we saw references SUCH AS THIS ONE that it was now 2008.

Nor was that all. At the end of Casino Royale, British agent Mathis was being interrogated as a suspected double agent. In the “few hours later” Quantum, MI6 had already bought him a villa as a make-up present AND he’s already moved into it. MI6 has apparently moved as well. At the very least, M has a new office.

(UPDATE: Going back to the end of Casino Royale, it shouldn’t have taken Bond very long to track down Quantum’s Mr. White. Bond had White’s cell phone number and that’s like having a GPS device, as this NEWSWEEK ARTICLE notes. It shouldn’t have taken weeks and White and Quantum were morons if they held on to their cell phones for TWO years. That’s why criminals use disposable cell phones and Bond, if he was remotely competent, would have had to act pretty fast to nab White at the end of Casino. A comment to this post, which we appreciate, prompted us to make this addition.)

It sounds like we’re being picky. You could argue, for example, that Quantum had a new production designer after Eon opted not to bring veteran Peter Lamont.

The counter-argument: Eon managed to keep M’s office looking about the same for the first 25 years of the series, despite having different production designers/art directors (Ken Adam, Syd Cain, Peter Murton and Lamont). It’s called attention to detail. Quantum director Marc Forster and production designer Dennis Gassner wanted their own look and they got it.

There have been reports SUCH AS THIS ONE ON THE DEADLINE ENTERTAINMENT NEWS WEB SITE that say the script for Bond 23, due out in November 23, is “being kept under wraps but the story begins after Quantum Of Solace leaves off.”

We hope that’s not literally the case. While it may be possible to resolve Quantum plot lines in an entertaining story, by the time Bond 23 comes out it will have been six years after Casino Royale and four after Quantum of Solace. Then again, it’s not like inattention to detail has cost Bond much at the box office.