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.”

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.”

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