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

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.

Richard Johnson, would be 007, dies

Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

Veteran actor Richard Johnson, a potential screen James Bond, died over the weekend.

How close Johnson, who was 87 when he died, to snagging the role isn’t clear.

Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli, in his autobiography, acknowledged Johnson was in the conversation. But the co-founder of Eon Productions, makes it sound as if Johnson wasn’t that close.

(Dr. No director) Terence Young had been promoting the idea of getting that polished British actor Richard Johnson to play Bond. It was a valid idea, but we thought (Sean) Connery was a much more exciting proposition. We called Terence in to hell him.

When the Snow Melts, page 169-170

On the other hand, an obituary by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS (VIA THE NEW YORK TIMES) carries a different account.

(Johnson) told Cinema Retro magazine in 2009 that he declined the role and that he felt Sean Connery, who got the part and went on to play it in seven films, was miscast — but that the casting turned out to be perfect, “because it turned the thing on its head and he made it funny.”

Whatever the truth, Johnson did get his turn in the 1960s spy boom. The character of Bulldog Drummond was dusted off and turned into a series of spy films with Johnson as Drummond.

For more information, you can CLICK HERE for a post at Cinema Retro’s website. You can also CLICK HERE for an obit at The Telegraph.

UPDATE: The Double O Section blog HAS A POST that details Johnson’s other spy roles.

Marvel Studios and the Cubby Broccoli playbook

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

Avengers: Age of Ultron poster

The Wall Street Journal, in a story by Ben Fritz, takes a look at how Marvel Studios operates. While it doesn’t come up in the story, it sounds like Marvel has read the old Albert R. Broccoli playbook.

Like James Bond movies produced by Broccoli, Marvel makes big, sprawling movies. But, like the Eon Productions co-founder, Marvel doesn’t spend top dollar for everything. Here’s a key excerpt:

But no company has eschewed A-list talent as consistently and effectively in the modern age as Marvel. All but one of its 10 films released so far have been hits, a record rivaled only by Pixar Animation Studios. And none have featured a major star or established action director.

Money is a key reason, say people who have done business with Marvel. The Disney subsidiary’s chief executive, Ike Perlmutter, is notoriously frugal and doesn’t believe that the millions rivals like Warner Bros. spend to get big-name stars like Ben Affleck and Will Smith are worth it.

“They are in the business of hiring the guy who hasn’t had a big success, because they don’t have to pay that guy very much,” said Mr. Whedon, adding that he made more money on his self-produced Internet series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” than he did directing the first “Avengers,” which cost $230 million to produce and grossed $1.5 billion world-wide.

When Broccoli (first with Harry Saltzman and then on his own) produced 007 films, a formula eventually emerged where the actor playing James Bond would be paid well but Eon didn’t usually pay for A-list actors for other roles. “Regulars” such as Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn were paid relatively modestly.

As directors, Eon would hire journeymen such as Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Or, with John Glen, promote from within, elevating him to the director’s chair from the second unit.

Marvel isn’t exactly the same, but there are similarities. The Journal describes how Marvel’s approach to talent is to seek out actors on their way up (who don’t cost top dollar yet) or are making a comeback (such as Robert Downey Jr.). There’s a similar strategy with directors, including Joss Whedon (referenced in the excerpt above) and Joe and Anthony Russo.

As we’ve written before, Eon’s strategy has evolved since the Cubby Broccoli days. Bond movies employ more auteur directors (Sam Mendes, Marc Forster) and more expensive actors for at least some roles (Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes).  Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the co-leaders of Eon, have been putting their own stamp on the series.

In any case, if you want to read the entire Journal story about Marvel, CLICK HERE.


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.”


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