A spy footnote to Christopher Plummer’s career

News spread quickly on Friday that Canadian actor Christopher Plummer had died at 91. He was known for many roles, especially for The Sound of Music (1965).

There are many fine obituaries you can read about his career. The blog just wanted to post a footnote to Plummer’s many roles.

In the 1960s, Plummer played the lead in Triple Cross, a World War II spy film directed by Terence Young. In the main titles, Young (after directing three James Bond films) got the Alfred Hitchock treatment (“Terence Young’s Triple Cross”).

Plummer played Eddie Chapman, a British criminal turned double agent. The cast of the movie also included Bond film alumni Gert Frobe and Claudine Auger. You can see it here:

Plummer played a real-life man named Eddie Chapman. In 1965, the real-life Chapman appeared on To The The Truth. You can view that episode below.

Sean Connery, original film 007, dies at 90

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery in a 007 publicity still

Sean Connery, the original film James Bond, has died at 90. His death was confirmed by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, in a post on Twitter.

Jason Connery, the actor’s son, told the BBC that his father “has been unwell for some time.”

The Scottish actor took on the role of James Bond with Dr. No, when he was 31. By doing so, he became one of the major icons of the 1960s, along with The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Connery enjoyed a long career, which extended into the early 21st century. His last live-action performance was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Connery also did voice work for a 2005 video game that adapted the 007 film From Russia With Love and a 2012 animated film, Sir Billi.  The actor’s honors included an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1987’s The Untouchables.

Despite all that, his seven Bond films — six for Eon Productions as well as the non-Eon production of 1983’s Never Say Never Again — defined his career and made him a star.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, working with a modest budget, decided on Connery relatively early in pre-production. United Artists, the studio that would release 11 Bond films before it was absorbed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, initially was skeptical.

Eventually, UA executives were sold. It was a decision they would profit from handsomely. The 007 series was UA’s major asset in the 1960s, a decade when the studio also released such films as West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and low-cost but profitable films featuring The Beatles.

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Jack Lord and Sean Connery during Dr. No filming

Connery’s Bond was both sophisticated and ruthless. The actor was tutored in the former trait by director Terence Young, who helmed three of the first four 007 movies. It was Young who polished the rough diamond of an actor who came from a working-class background in Scotland.

Audiences adored the combination. The first four Bond films were mostly faithful adaptations of Ian Fleming novels. For the American market, Connery’s Bond was a more macho hero than audience members probably expected.

The actor stayed busy with non-Bond projects, including The Hill, a World War II drama. But the conversation kept coming back to Bond, like in an Oct. 3, 1965 episode of What’s My Line?

Connery, the first of two mystery guests, was present because The Hill was opening in New York later that week. He was also in New York filming A Fine Madness, directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later work with Connery on Never Say Never Again.

But panelist Martin Gabel, one of Connery’s co-stars in the Alfred Hitchcock film Marnie, cited Bond in deducing the actor’s identity.

What’s more, Connery’s relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman became troubled. As the budgets and scope of the movies expanded, Connery felt cheated with his share of the enterprise.

In 1966, Columbia Pictures released The Silencers, a spoofy version of Donald Hamilton’s very serious Matt Helm novels. The producer was Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen.

To secure the services of star Dean Martin, Allen had to make Dino a partner. That ensured the actor, who received a share of the proceeds, would get a bigger payday than Connery got for 007 films. From then on, Connery would be at odds with his Bond employers.

Connery quit the series after 1967’s You Only Live Twice (the first 007 venture than dispensed with the plot of an Ian Fleming novel).

UA, unhappy with the box office of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, lured Connery back for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever with a big payday, including a $1.25 million fee (which the Scottish actor donated to a trust he founded). Connery also received a percentage of the box office.

After Diamonds, Connery said he was done with Eon for good. But he went back into Bondage one more time with Never Say Never Again.

Connery had more behind-the-camera power than he ever had with Eon. He brought in scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to do an uncredited rewrite of Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s script. The actor also recruited Michel Legrand to score the movie.

Both the script and the music would be among the most criticized aspects of Never Say Never Again. But many Bond fans, happy to see Connery one last time, overlooked the actor’s role as de facto producer.

Sean Connery in 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Regardless, Connery was the building block for Eon’s 007 film series that has lasted more than a half century.

The series, of course, had many talented contributors including director Young, production designer Ken Adam and composer John Barry. However, Connery provided a popular Bond for audiences. All future Bond actors would be compared to Connery.

Some fans and critics have argued that Connery has been surpassed in the 21st century by Daniel Craig. But without Connery at the start, that’s almost a moot point. All of Connery’s 007 successors had the opportunity because of the Scot’s original work.

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.

Bond 25 questions: The No Time to Die edition

No Time to Die logo

Bond 25 has a title — No Time to Die. So does the blog have questions?

You bet.

What’s your reaction? It’s OK.

Just OK? I rarely go to a movie for its title. I liked Avengers: Endgame a lot, but the title had little to do with it.

What about the visuals? The font? The logo? 

It’s apparently a font that’s been around for decades called Futura black. A couple of examples: The Love Boat (1977-87) and Banyon (1972-73)
But what about the title itself?

James Bond Brasil in a tweet raised the question whether No Time to Die is a tribute to a 1958 film of that name co-produced by Albert R. Broccoli (with Irving Allen), directed by Terence Young and written by Richard Maibaum and Young.

In the United States, that movie was released with the name Tank Force. Besides those future Bond film crew members, the director of photography on Tank Force was Ted Moore, who’d photograph seven Bond films between 1962 and 1974.

Any other thoughts?

In episode 0019 of the James Bond & Friends podcast, I predicted the title of Bond 25 would come out in August. So, I will take some satisfaction from that.

If Twitter existed in the early days of 007 films

Twitter logo

Twitter, founded in 2006, drives a lot of the conversation on social media.

When it comes to movies and TV shows, Twitter often is a medium for fans to express themselves about movies and TV shows. It’s also a way for various media outlets to blast out headlines before publishing stories.

With that in mind, here are some of the tweets that could have been posted in the earliest days of the James Bond film franchise.

Sean Connery’s casting as James Bond is announced.

–They cast WHO? The guy is balding and he has bad teeth!

Production on Dr. No begins

–Dr. No is a half-day behind schedule after its first day of filming! This movie is doomed!

–I hear the reason for the delay was Jack Lord was late. Bloody American!

–Rumor has it the fourth day of shooting was almost a total loss. Does this production know what it’s doing?

–The Dragon keeps breaking down! Lousiest machine I’ve had to work on!

Things get serious when the movie goes to post-production.

–Film Finances, the company that provided the completion bond for Dr. No, has taken over control. This production is doomed!

–Word is Film Finances has impounded a big chunk of Terence Young’s salary until it gets its money back. What a messed up production this is!

The movie comes out

–Felix Leiter?! He wasn’t in the book!

–Hey! They changed the ending! What happened to Dr. No being buried under guano?!

Eon makes From Russia With Love as the second film in the series

–Call Me Bwana? It was Niagara in the book! And it was Marilyn Monroe, not Anita Ekberg!

–I must say Lotte Lenya is far too glamorous to play Rosa Klebb!

–Pedro Armendariz just committed suicide. How tragic! I wonder if they got all the Darko Kerim footage they needed.

–Terence Young was almost killed in a helicopter accident! Is this production jinxed?

–There’s a rumor that they set off explosions for what was intended as run-through. Do these jokers know what they’re doing?

–Hey! They changed the ending! Bond went all the way to Paris in the book!

–I still don’t know about this Connery guy.

An educated guess about Bond 25: The volatile mix

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

The British tabloid press is generating stories about what supposedly caused Danny Boyle to exit Bond 25. One example: a Daily Mail story (not done by Baz Bamigboye who has a record of scoops proven to be correct). The new story purports to provide behind-the-scenes detail.

The thing is, under the best of circumstances, Bond films often are tense, expensive affairs. Thunderball raced to meet a Christmas 1965 release. The script of Tomorrow Never Dies was being written on the fly extensively. SPECTRE’s production issues were explosed via the Sony hacks before filming began.

The tabloid stories have sought to sniff out specific details. But it almost doesn’t matter. Bond 25, from the outside, appears to have had an even more volatile mix than even the 007 series norm. And some of the factors go back years.

Eon’s desire for critical respect: The James Bond film franchise was built, in part, on the work of journeymen directors such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton.

For example, Young helped to shape Sean Connery’s performance as Bond, introducing him to tailored suits and expensive dress shirts. Later, Eon would promote the likes of Peter Hunt and John Glen (who had been editors and second unit directors) to the 007 director chair.

But in the 21st century, Eon wants more respect. “(W)e’ve never been one to hire directors for hire,” Eon boss Barbara Broccoli said in a 2012 interview with ComingSoon.net.  “We always wanted someone who was a great director in their own right and a storyteller.”

As a result, Eon hired the likes of Marc Forster for Quantum of Solace and Sam Mendes for Skyfall and SPECTRE. So the hiring of Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting, was part of a broader pattern.

Boyle had even directed a video for the 2012 Olympics featuring Daniel Craig as Bond. A natural, right? Not so fast.

A new director who had mixed feelings: Boyle had previously said he wasn’t Bond director material.

“I’m not the guy to make Bond movies,” Boyle said in 2013. “I love watching them and I like the books…As a teenager, I read those books cover to cover many times.” He said working on lower-budget films like the ones he usually does provides more freedom. You can see for yourself in the video below, starting about the 1:56 mark.

However, Daniel Craig, returning for his fifth 007 film, really wanted Boyle as director, according to March Daily Mail story by Baz Bamigboye.

If Craig wanted it, then it was likely that Barbara Broccoli would want it, too. Broccoli made the choice of Craig in the first place in 2005 and has made it clear she wants him to stick around as long as possible.

Boyle got himself in this position by pitching an idea that would later be written into script form by John Hodge, Boyle’s screenwriter on Trainspotting.

Sure enough, on May 25, Eon announced Boyle would direct Bond 25 from an original screenplay by Hodge. Everything was rolling, right?

A 007 star with unprecedented power: With 2015’s SPECTRE, Craig added the title of co-producer. It was something no other Bond actor in the Eon series had achieved. Connery in the 1960s wanted to be an Eon partner but was turned down.

Exhibit A as an example of Craig’s power: The Aug. 21 press release announcing Boyle’s departure. “Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli and Daniel Craig today announced that due to creative differences Danny Boyle has decided to no longer direct Bond 25.”

If Boyle had any serious disagreement with Craig, chances are he wasn’t going to come out on top.

The mix: So we have an “auteur” director uncomfortable with big-budget film making, who’s used to doing things his own way. He’s working his way amid a big, expensive project. He’s working with a star who had the additional clout of a producer’s title who also has the backing of the leader of the production company that’s been making 007 films since 1962.

Shrug. Just another day at the Universal Exports office, I suppose.

Financial behind the scenes of Dr. No, Part III

Terence Young

Terence Young

Film Finances Inc. had agreed to provide a “completion bond” for Dr. No and provide contingency funding to ensure the first James Bond film would be finished.

However, because of continuing cost overruns, Film Finances under its agreement with Eon Productions and United Artists, exercised its right to take over responsibility for the production as it began post production.

According to the 2011 book, A Bond for Bond, published by Film Finances, such an option was supposed to be a last resort. In 1962, Film Finances would end up doing it three times on United Artists movies, including Tom Jones, another film plagued by overruns.

Dr. No producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and director Terence Young would retain responsibility for creative decisions. Film Finances, however, now controlled the purse strings, author Charles Drazin wrote. The book reproduces documents in the archives of Film Financing.

Post-production included some additional film shooting to complete the movie, including shots of Bond (Sean Connery) in a shaft in Dr. No.’s headquarters, the agent laying on his hotel room when a tarantula arrives and two men exiting a hatch from the “dragon” that patrolled Crab Key.

Originally, these shots were to be performed over two days. With Film Finances now in control, they were done in a single day, April 26, 1962.

Other matters needed to be resolved. There had been 7,000 pounds (almost $20,000 at an exchange rate of $2.80 to the pound) in cost overruns for sets — overages that production designer Ken Adam had anticipated and informed Saltzman about.

Film Finances agreed not to force repayment of the set overruns. In return, Danjaq SA, the holding company for Eon Productions, agreed on April 10, 1962 to grant 5 percent of Dr. No’s profits to Film Finances.

However, Danjaq had the option to buy back Film Finances’ profit participation  for the sum of the 7,000 pounds (for the set overruns) plus an additional 2,500 pounds after Film Finances recovered all money advanced to finance the production. Danjaq ended up exercising the option, Drazin wrote. A copy of the agreement is on page 94 of the book.

Another issue was Terence Young’s compensation. The director had agreed to defer as much as 10,000 of his 15,000 pound fee. More than 8,600 pounds was to be withheld from Young until it “had been earned back at the box office,” Drazin wrote. (page 85)

This didn’t  make Young happy.

“But I do feel, and I feel this most strongly, that Film Finances have behaved very shabbily to put it mildly,” the director wrote in a letter to his lawyer (pages 95-98).

“When I got back from Jamaica, I expected to get a medal for what I had accomplished,” Young wrote. “I have never in my life worked so hard, I have never on any location film had to put up with so many difficulties, and at the end I got no thanks whatsoever but was told Cubby and Harry made a mistake in ever taking me.”

On page 99 and 100, there’s a copy of a memo by Film Finances executive Robert Garrett about Young.

“I do not dispute that Terence Young probably worked very hard on location, but I do suggest he is a director who seems quite incapable of ever making compromises when things do not go smoothly.”

In the end, Dr. No’s final budget was more than 392,022 pounds (almost $1.1 million), according to a copy dated Jan. 11, 1963 filed by associate producer Stanley Sopel to Film Finances (pages 103-106). The sources of the money were 322,069 pounds from a Bank of America loan (the budget before overruns), 10, 063 pounds from United Artists and 59,890 pounds from Film Finances.

Film Finances, in a letter to Eon dated Jan. 21, 1964, said as of Dec. 31, 1963, it had been paid back with interest. From that point forward, author Drazin wrote, Eon would not utilize Film Finances’ services for Bond films.

 Thanks to Gary J. Firuta for loaning the blog his copy of A Bond for Bond.

Financial behind the scenes of Dr. No Part II

Jack Lord, Ursula Andress and Sean Connery relaxing on the Dr. No set

Jack Lord, Ursula Andress and Sean Connery relaxing on the Dr. No set

The first day of filming on Dr. No had a bad omen.

Principal photography began Jan. 16, 1962 at the Kingston, Jamaica, airport. Jack Lord, playing CIA agent Felix Leiter, had been scheduled to arrive Jan. 14 and report for work at 8:30 a.m., Jan. 16.

Because of travel complications, Lord couldn’t get to Kingston until 12:20 p.m. on Jan. 16 and didn’t arrive on the set until 2:45 p.m. Sean Connery, playing Bond, and John Kitzmiller, playing Quarrel, had arrived at 8:30 a.m.

“Because of the sun angle, we lost his first shots,” production manager L.C. Rudkin wrote on a unit progress report on Jan. 16, referring to Lord. The Dr. No crew would have to return to the airport the following day, putting the production of the first James Bond film one-half day behind schedule on its very first day.

That report is one of the various documents in the 2011 book A Bond for Bond, describing the travails of Dr. No’s production. The book, by Charles Drazin, focuses on the contributions of Film Finances Inc., the company that provided the “completion bond,” ensuring the movie would be finished.

Nor was that the only delay the Dr. No unit would see.

Day 4: “Bad light and generator breakdown,” according to a summary of location shooting after principal photography concluded. “Nearly day lost yet we shot -” Day 6: “Rough seas made abandonment necessary. Had to move over to location 15 miles.” Day 17: “Rough seas and two locations with retakes.” Day 20: “Rained nearly all day – shot in rain.” Day 24: “Whole beach had to be rebuilt because of hurricane in night, yet we shot.” Day 25: The “dragon” broke down and a safety winch also broke down, causing another half-day delay.

By the end of location shooting, according to this summary, 10 to 12 days of work had been lost and two sequences (“Interior Hotel Foyer” and the interior of Playdell-Smith’s office) would have to be filmed when the production moved to Pinewood Studios in England.

The report also contained this passage: “It is questionable if any other major film, with a similar budget, had ever accomplished the feat of shooting on 22 major different sets in 23 days. This practically Television or ‘B’ picture scheduling, but on this film it was necessary, and had to be done.”

Trouble was also brewing at Pinewood. Production designer Ken Adam had written a letter to Film Finances that the budget for sets was adequate. It wasn’t.

In a Feb. 1, 1962 letter to co-producer Harry Saltzman, and cc’d to his partner Albert R. Broccoli, Adam said set construction, props and set dressing would be more than budgeted. “This is merely a note to make quite certain you have realised this,” Adam wrote Saltzman.

On Feb. 18, Saltzman wrote Film Finances executive Robert Garrett to reassure him about cost overruns — which were exceeding the financing for contingencies that Garrett’s company had provided.

“I must say that (director) Terence Young has behaved tremendously well, despite all our misgivings and I honestly must say that none of the hold-ups have been due to his proclivity from procrastination,” Saltzman wrote. At the same time, the producer wrote that Young still has a “grande seigneur” lifestyle. “He has spent money personally like water.”

Saltzman added, “In spite of all the ulcer-making frustrating situations and the invasion of a good part of our contingency fund, the stuff we have shot here is tremendously impressive and I think well worth our troubles.”

Garrett wasn’t reassured. In a March 16, 1962 letter to Saltzman, the executive outlined budget overruns for publicity, music, studio rentals, insurance and other expenses and said it appeared the pace of production had slowed during filming at Pinewood.

“I must ask you and Cubby to take all possible measures of economy and above all, to see that the schedule position does not deteriorate further,” Garrett wrote. “From the progress to date in the studio we had the impression Terence Young has lost his earlier sense of urgency.”

According to author Draznin, Dr. No had exceeded its budget by 57,027 pounds (almost $160,000) for the week ending March 23, 1962. Principal photography finally ended April 3. By that time, Film Finances took an action it normally considered a last resort.

Thanks to Gary J. Firuta for loaning the blog his copy of A Bond for Bond.

NEXT: Film Finances takes control of Dr. No.

 

Financial behind the scenes of Dr. No Part I

Dr. No poster

Dr. No poster

Squabbles over money, production delays and the exchange of terse words.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film? No. Dr. No, the first.

In 2011, Film Finances Inc., which specializes in “completion bonds” that ensure movies get finished, published A Bond for Bond. The book presented the company’s history with Dr. No, including reproducing memos and production budgets.

For a fee, Film Financing, founded in 1950, guarantees completion of a movie, including providing contingency financing. With Dr. No, Film Financing ended up taking financial control of the film as principal photography ended and post-production began. That meant all expenditures from that point forward had to be approved by Film Financing.

According to the book, written by Charles Drazin and reprinted in 2014, Film Finances had previously provided completion bonds to earlier movies produced separately by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. While the new partners had a distribution deal with United Artists, Film Finances would provide the completion bond for the first Bond.

As Film Finances considered the project, executives were enthusiastic but had concerns.

A Dec. 16, 1961 memo analyzing the movie’s budget questioned whether shooting schedule was too optimistic and whether director Terence Young could meet it.

John Croydon, a consultant for Film Finances, wrote, “I must confess to alarm at the combination of Broccoli, Saltzmann (sic) and Young in charge of the picture, especially as (L.C.) Rudkin, although a good PM (production manager) is probably not the strongest controller of people of this type.”

Croydon wrote from first-hand experience. He had been associate producer on the 1960 Saltzman-produced film The Entertainer.

Dr. No had an initial budget of 317,399 pounds (almost $889,000 at an exchange rate of $2.80 per pound), later revised to 322,096 (almost $901,800), with 23,199 pounds in contingency funds.

Various crew members, including Young and production director Ken Adam, wrote brief letters to Film Finances saying the budget was adequate for the movie. Harry Saltzman wrote a similar but more detailed letter.

Young was slated to receive a fee of 15,000 pounds ($42,000), but agreed to defer 10,000 pounds of it into an escrow account. This would cause tension later.

The pre-production documents in A Bond for Bond also show the distinguished British director of photography Geoffrey Unsworth worked on Dr. No for a day. On Dec. 21, 1961, Unsworth photographed screen tests of four actresses contending for the role of Miss Taro, including eventual winner Zena Marshall.

In January 1962, principal photography on Dr. No began. Before it was over, executives at Film Finances would make a move the company rarely made because of financial concerns.

Thanks to Gary J. Firuta for loaning the blog his copy of A Bond for Bond.

NEXT: Dr. No falls a half-day behind schedule on its first day.

 

Thunderball’s 50th: apex of the 1960s spy craze

Thunderball British quad poster.

Thunderball British quad poster.

December marks the last major 007 anniversary of this year — the 50th anniversary of Thunderball, the fourth Bond film and the apex of the 1960s spy craze.

This blog has written a lot about Thunderball. It was a milestone. In the fall of 1965, spies had taken over television, trying to get a piece of the spy frezy unleashed by Agent 007. But Thunderball transcended all that.

A half-century after it was released, Thunderball generates mixed reactions. For those who were there, it was a huge event. For those who weren’t, some go so far to wonder what the fuss was all about.

The former looks fondly at a spectacle that could only be viewed on the silver screen, not on TV. The latter sees a slow-moving movie (at least in its underwater sequences).

The former sees a self-assured Sean Connery as Bond, at the height of his powers. The former says, “Meh!” and the original 007 director, Terence Young, phoning it in.

In the U.S. and Canada (ticket information outside that region is hard to come by), no James Bond movie sold more tickets for viewing in a theater. Not just during its initial release, but various re-releases that took place for almost a decade.

In the end, which James Bond movie you like best comes down to personal preference. When looked at on that basis, there are untold opinions.

But Thunderball remains the movie when 007 made his biggest impact on popular entertainment. Thunderball was the follow-up to Goldfinger, the first Bond mega-hit. That was a time that can’t be re-created.

Thunderball, like other spy-entertainment of the mid-1960s, was like catching lightning in a bottle. No matter was happens in the 007 film series, Thunderball remains something to be celebrated.