REVISITED: the ‘banned’ FRWL commentary

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

We continue our revisiting of the “banned” Criterion 007 laser disk commentaries with a look at what the creators of the early James Bond films said about From Russia With Love.

Again, this is a sampling you can hear in full BY CLICKING HERE. The participants were director Terence Young, editor Peter Hunt and screenwriter Richard Maibaum. The host for the From Russia With Love commentary was author Steven Jay Rubin.

Terence Young says in the pre-credit sequence that Sean Connery wore “some kind of weird plastic makeup,” indicating this might not the real Bond. Meanwhile, during the credits, he muses the movie has “the best cast of any Bond picture.” The director also says when first approached about working on the series he was interested only in Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball. He says other Ian Fleming stories had plots that were like “Republic Studios” movies.

Young also made observations about cast members. Of Lotte Lenya: “She was screwing like mad when she was 80.” Of Robert Shaw, the director says he sent the actor to a gym “because he didn’t have a very good physique.” Young changed his mind after viewing the results of Shaw’s workouts.

Peter Hunt says he had been friends with Shaw for years prior to From Russia With Love and the actor “did a lot of screen tests with girls” auditioning for parts in films.

Hunt and Richard Maibaum also weighed in on the actress who played villain Rosa Klebb.

“This lesbian character of Lotte Lenya is very well done,” Hunt says. Screenwriter Maibaum says “Lotte Lenya was a freak” who projected “concentrated evil.”

Young also comments extensively about terminally ill Pedro Armendariz, who played Kerim Bey, who ran the British Secret Service’s Turkish station.

The director noted how Armendariz walked with a limp in some scenes. “I knew there was something was wrong with him.” The actor’s mood could change and Young suggested Armendariz “was taking morphine” during breaks. (Whether Young knew this for a fact or only suspected isn’t specified.)

Meanwhile, Sean Connery had improved as Bond from his debut in Dr. No, according to the director.

“Everything he does with such assurance,” Young says. “He looked good. He was very proficient playing the part. There’s one or two scenes in Dr. No where he goes over the top. That’s my fault.”

Young only cites one problem with the star. “Sean started to put on weight. He had to pull his gut in.”

The director also openly cites the Alfred Hitchcock influence of a later scene where a SPECTRE helicopter goes after Bond.

“This was my idea,” Young says. “It was a steal from Alfred Hitchcock, North by Northwest.”

Maibaum, in his interview, talked up the finished film. “Russia is more realistic than the others. We hadn’t gone so far to the fantastical. Real people in real situations.” Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana “was so beautiful and so gentle and so pleasant. I liked the love story there.”

Maibaum also commented about his own contributions to the series.

“I gave it a kind of a tempo that prevailed throughout the series,” he says. An English writer “would not have the pace or the tempo I insisted on having.” He says his dialogue “is clipped and terse.”

Young and Maibaum also briefly discussed how the series changed over the years.

Young describes From Russia With Love as having more resources than Dr. No but still an efficient production. In later films, he says, “They threw money around like drunken Indians.”

Maibaum also described part of Bond’s appeal. “He was a great lay. That was part of the James Bond mystique, he could manipulate people. Women’s lib people hated that stuff and we had to do it less and less.”

REVISITED: The ‘banned’ James Bond commentaries, Dr. No

"Pretty interesting, eh, James?"

“Pretty interesting, eh, James?”

The io9 website did a post this week about the “banned” Criterion James Bond commentaries.

As a result, some fans are, again, discovering the commentaries from early 1990s laser discs that were recalled because Criterion didn’t get permission from Eon Productions for a candid discussion from some 007 film creators as Terence Young, Peter Hunt and Richard Maibaum.

This blog did a post in January 2012 on the topic. Anyway, here’s another, more detailed look at the commentary for Dr. No. It’s still just a sampling, though. You can listen for yourself BY CLICKING HERE.

During the main titles, director Terence Young said: “I wasn’t happy with the theme we had. They were trying to use Underneath the Mango Tree for the theme.” The director says that “was really stupid” because the series would “eventually run out of mango trees.” He credits John Barry for the sound of the James Bond Theme, even though it was credited to Monty Norman.

The director also credited Ken Adam for providing Dr. No having with “a very luxurious look.” Meanwhile, on location, Young said, “To save money, we shot in real houses.”

Young, not surprisingly, praises Sean Connery repeatedly. “He was one of the first cool people in pictures,” the director said. “There was a lot of cool in these pictures.”

Hunt also liked Connery but remarks the actor was “average” when it came to stunts and action scenes. “He wasn’t like Burt Lancaster.”

Both Young and Peter Hunt talk up Jack Lord. Young calls him the best actor to play Felix Leiter up to the time the commentaries were recorded. Meanwhile, according to Hunt: “Jack Lord was a very fine supporting actor. I’m sorry he didn’t go on” to do the other pictures. By the time we did the other pictures, he had become too big for us.”

Cost in 1962: 475 British pounds

Cost in 1962: 475 British pounds, according to Ken Adam

Adam, was who was interviewed separately from Young and Hunt said he had “475 pounds left” for the set where Professor Dent receives his instructions from Dr. No. “It was a complete stylization. It wasn’t based in any way” on reality. “The whole idea of that grid in the ceiling…was like a spider’s web.”

Maibaum had passed away by the time the laser disks were released. In a separate interview he commented about 007 creator Ian Fleming.

“I had the feeling Mr. Fleming was a bit of a snob.” But Maibaum respected the author, calling him “a much greater writer than anybody gave him credit for. I had and still have great admiration for him.” At the same time, Maibaum says Fleming seemed puzzled why there was so much more humor in the Bond films than in the novels. The screenwriter chuckles about that, given he had worked to inject more humor.

Meanwhile, on the commentary, Young takes credit for the final script. “I was locked up in a hotel suite. I rewrote the script going back to the book.” The director also says in the commentary: “We didn’t have an ending. We cooked this one up on the set.”

RE-POST: From Russia With Love’s 50th: legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Originally published Sept. 18, the last of a four-part series. Reprinted today, the actual anniversary.

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films. No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

Nearly a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

David Picker discloses some 007 tidbits

David Picker

David Picker


David V. Picker, the former United Artists executive, provides some interesting behind-the-scenes 007 background in his memoir about his long film career.

Among them: Robert Shaw’s name surfaced in the earliest stages of casting Bond; Dr. No really cost $1.35 million, not the $1.1 million it had been budgeted for; and producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman started clamoring to renegotiate their deal with UA shortly after From Russia With Love was released.

That’s all part of the James Bond chapter in MUSTS, MAYBES AND NEVERS.

“Much has been written about Bond,” Picker writes. “Until now, no one has written in detail exactly what happened, how it happened and why it happened for one simple reason: they weren’t there.” The Bond series “would not have happened had it not been for this author’s belief in their potential.”

Picker, 82, was in his early 30s and head of production for UA when it negotiated a deal with Broccoli and Saltzman in 1961. He was the only one on the UA side who had read the Ian Fleming novels. The Bond chapter in the memoir expands on comments he has made in documentaries such as Inside Dr. No and Everything Or Nothing.

Picker doesn’t provide much in the way of details about Shaw, who played Red Grant in From Russia With Love, as a potential Bond. Broccoli and Saltzman were conducting the search and UA gave the producers a lot of a leeway. UA didn’t see anything in detail until Sean Connery was presented, according to Picker’s account.

The former executive has more to say about the budget. Columbia Pictures, which had released a number of Broccoli’s U.K.-produced films in the ’50s, wasn’t enthusiastic but was willing to provide a budget of $300,000 to $400,000, according to Picker. UA agreed to the $1.1 million.

Just before the start of filming on Dr. No, the final budget from Broccoli and Saltzman was for $250,000 more. “In today’s world that may not seem like a lot of money, but then it was a very big deal,” Picker writes. The author describes some subterfuge, enlisting the help of his uncle, Arnold Picker, one of the UA partners, to get the higher budget implemented.

As the series succeeded, Broccoli and Saltzman wanted their deals re-done. UA, however, wasn’t aware of Connery’s growing unhappiness until You Only Live Twice. “United Artists relied on our producers to deal with problems on their films.”

Picker describes how he took the lead at UA to get Connery back for Diamonds Are Forever, a film he credits with saving the franchise.

Picker does make one factual error in the chapter, listing Guy Hamilton as the director of From Russia With Love, instead of Terence Young. That aside, the chapter is an interesting read. The UA side of the Bond story often doesn’t get told and Picker’s viewpoint is worth checking out.

You can CLICK HERE to check out the memoir on Amazon.com

UPDATE: Non-007 reasons to read Picker’s memoir: anecdotes about how Stanley Kramer’s first cut of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was 4:01 and the director vowed not to cut one frame; the backstory behind the movies The Beatles made for UA; how UA passed on movies such as The Graduate and American Graffiti. And much, much more.

From Russia With Love’s 50th conclusion: legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films. No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

Nearly a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”

From Russia With Love’s 50th Part I: the difficult sequel

From Russia With Love's poster

From Russia With Love’s poster

Nothing about From Russia With Love was easy. From scripting all the way through filming, the second James Bond film was difficult and at times an ordeal.

At last three writers (Richard Maibaum, Johnna Harwood and an uncredited Len Deighton) took turns trying to adapt the Ian Fleming novel, with major rewrites during shooting. One cast member (Pedro Armendariz) committed suicide shortly after completing his work on the movie because he was dying of cancer. Director Terence Young was nearly killed in a helicopter accident (CLICK HERE for an MI6 007 fan page account of that and other incidents).

For many 007 fans, the movie, which premiered Oct. 10, 1963, is the best film in the Eon Productions series. It’s one of the closest adaptations of a Fleming novel, despite the major change of adding Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE into the proceedings. It also proved the success of Dr. No the previous year was no accident.

Fleming’s novel was one of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 10 favorite books, a list published in 1961 in Life magazine. From Russia, With Love (with the comma and published in 1957) was one of the author’s most important books.

Fleming’s friend, author Raymond Chandler, had chided 007’s creator for letting the quality of his Bond novels slip after 1953’s Casino Royale. “I think you will have to make up your mind what kind of writer you are going to be,” Chandler wrote to Fleming in an April 1956 letter. Fleming decided to step up his game with his fifth 007 novel.

Years later, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, with an endorsement of the source material from Kennedy, proceeded with adapting the book. Dr. No veterans Young, editor Peter Hunt, director of photography Ted Moore and scribes Maibaum and Harwood all reported for duty on the new 007 project.

The major Dr. No contributor absent was production designer Ken Adam, designing the war room set and other interiors for Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. John Stears, meanwhile, took over on special effects.

Armendariz, as Kerim Bey, the head of MI6’s station in Turkey and Bond’s primary ally, had a big impact. He lit up every scene he was in and had great on-screen chemistry with star Sean Connery. When Kerim Bey is killed, as part of the complicated SPECTRE plot, it resonates with the audience. The “sacrificial lamb” is part of the Bond formula, but Armendariz was one of the best, if not the best, sacrificial lamb in the 007 film series.

The gravely ill actor needed assistance to complete his scenes. In long shots in the gypsy camp sequence, you needn’t look closely to tell somebody else is playing Kerim Bey walking with Connery’s 007. (It was director Young, according to Armendariz’s WIKIPEDIA ENTRY.)

Young & Co. retained the novel’s memorable set pieces (the fight between two gypsy women, the subsequent battle between Bulgarians and gypsies and the Orient Express train fight between Bond and Red Grant). The production also added a few twists, including two outdoor sequences after getting Bond off the train earlier than in the novel. The question was how would audiences respond.

The answer was approvingly. “I see that ‘From Russia With Love’ is now a movie and although I rarely see them I plan to take this one in,” former CIA Director Allen Dulles wrote to Fleming in 1964.

He wasn’t alone. The film, with a budget of $2 million, generated $78.9 million in worldwide box office, almost one-third more than its predecessor.

NEXT: John Barry establishes the 007 music template

1997 HMSS article: A VISIT WITH IAN FLEMING

November 2012 post: LEN DEIGHTON ON FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE

Happy 83rd birthday, Sean Connery

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery, circa 1963

It’s a day early but here’s wishing a happy 83rd birthday to Sean Connery (b. Aug. 25, 1930), the first screen James Bond.

Sir Sean is only seen occasionally in public these days. While his Bond work is a prominent part of his resume, he’s often noted for his non-007 work as well. If you do a SEARCH FOR HIS NAME ON IMDB.COM, it lists him as “(Actor, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989))”.

Even in the world of Bond fandom, there has been a shift. The $1.11 billion box office take of Skyfall has been cited as having the top 007 box office even adjusted for inflation, displacing Connery’s Thunderball. Many fans say the 21st century Bond films of Daniel Craig are much more sophisticated than previous films, the first Connery movies included.

Also, Barbara Broccoli, co-boss of Eon Productions is on record as saying Daniel Craig, the current 007, is the best James Bond ever. (Click HERE, HERE and HERE.)

To be clear, nobody says “Sean Who?” But Connery and his six films for the Eon Productions series aren’t necessarily held with the same reverence as even 10 years ago. Occasionally, you’ll see some younger fans tell older ones who still hold Connery as the No. 1 007 that they need to let it go.

It’s easy to forget, however, how Connery’s Bond early movies — Dr. No through Thunderball, released annually — were a phenomenon. By the mid-1960s, in the days before home video, his 007 adventures seemed to run non-stop in theaters, whether they be new releases or double feature re-releases. Connery, aided and abetted by talented crew members, made a huge impact on popular culture.

So happy birthday, Sir Sean. The blog has posted the following before. It’s Connery’s appearance in the fall of 1965 on the CBS prime-time game show What’s My Line?

By this point, Connery was tiring of Bond and working for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Thus, Connery talks more about his other projects at the time, including The Hill, which was about to open. But during this mystery guest sequence (where blindfolded panelists try to guess the celebrity’s identity) there’s also banter about how the Bond films were constantly in theaters.

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