Bond 21-25 questions: Assessing the Craig era edition

Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace

The Daniel Craig era of the James Bond films is drawing to a close. A thoughtful reader drew my attention to an August 2020 article by the Screen Rant site assessing Craig’s tenure.

Still, until No Time to Die comes out, there’s only so far you can go. Or is that correct? Naturally, the blog has questions.

Was the Craig era really that different? Absolutely.

Ian Fleming’s Bond novels referenced how his creation had relationships with married women. In the Eon film series, M lists “jealous husbands” as a possibility for hiring $1 million-a-hit-assassin Scaramanga in 1974’s The Man With the Golden Gun. But 2006’s Casino Royale was more explicit.

Anything else? The tone often was more violent, in particular a killing Bond performs early in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Quantum also had a more political point of view courtesy of director Marc Forster.

Did the Craig era follow earlier Bond films in any way? Yes. The Craig films, like earlier Eon Bond entries, adapted to popular trends in cinema.

In the 1970s, Bond films followed blaxploitation movies (Live And Let Die), kung fu (The Man With the Golden Gun) and science fiction (Moonraker).

In the 21st century Craig movies, the series followed Jason Bourne films (Quantum, including hiring a Bourne second unit director), Christopher Nolan Batman movies (Skyfall) and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (SPECTRE, moving to tie all of the Craig adventures together).

Anything else? Some Bond fans argue Craig is the best film James Bond. No Time to Die (apparently) is the final chapter. No doubt there will be more debate once No Time to Die can be viewed.

John Logan provides a peek behind the 007 film curtain

John Logan

John Logan, co-screenwriter of Skyfall and SPECTRE, provided a glimpse behind the James Bond film curtain in a guest essay for The New York Times.

Logan’s article primarily is a plea for Amazon, which last week agreed to acquire Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (the $8.45 billion deal is subject to regulatory review) to leave the cinematic Bond alone. MGM is Bond’s home studio but it only has half of the Bond franchise, with the Broccoli-Wilson family having the other half.

Where Logan raises the curtain (some) is in describing how the making of Bond films works. One example:

Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson are the champions of James Bond. They keep the corporate and commercial pressures outside the door. Nor are they motivated by them. That’s why we don’t have a mammoth Bond Cinematic Universe, with endless anemic variations of 007 sprouting up on TV or streaming or in spinoff movies. The Bond movies are truly the most bespoke and handmade films I’ve ever worked on.

Logan’s specific example concerns Skyfall where Bond finally meets Silva, the film’s villain.

Sam Mendes, the director, and I marched into Barbara and Michael’s office, sat at the family table and pitched the first scene between Bond and the villain, Raoul Silva. Now, the moment 007 first encounters his archnemesis is often the iconic moment in a Bond movie, the scene around which you build a lot of the narrative and cinematic rhythms. (Think about Bond first meeting Dr. No or Goldfinger or Blofeld, all classic scenes in the franchise.) Well, Sam and I boldly announced we wanted to do this pivotal scene as a homoerotic seduction. Barbara and Michael didn’t need to poll a focus group. They didn’t need to vet this radical idea with any studio or corporation — they loved it instantly. They knew it was fresh and new, provocative in a way that keeps the franchise contemporary. 

Now, this is an opinion piece and Logan is certainly entitled to his opinion. But the scribe overlooks a few things.

When Skyfall began production, Mendes declared the movie was not connected to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, the first two films starring Daniel Craig.

That didn’t last long. SPECTRE, where Logan was the first screenwriter, decided that Silva wasn’t an independent menace but rather was a part of Quantum/SPECTRE. And SPECTRE, after the fact, opted to make all of the Craig films one big arch.

In short, Bond was following the Marvel Cinematic Universe route that Logan appears to decry in his New York Times essay. And Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have doubled down on Marvel-style continuity that with No Time to Die, directed and co-written by Cary Fukunaga.

What’s more, it’s not like Bond has ignored popular trends prior to this. Albert R. Broccoli (father of Barbara Broccoli and stepfather of Michael G. Wilson) was involved with 007 films that referenced blaxploitation films (Live And Let Die), kung fu movies (The Man With the Golden Gun) and Star Wars and science fiction (Moonraker).

And it was under Cubby Broccoli’s watch that Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan yell (originally recorded for a 1930s Tarzan movie) showed up in Octopussy.

Logan’s essay is worth reading for Bond fans. But it should be read amid a larger context.

About that ‘James Bond knockoff’ thing

A James Bond Jr. character with a pencil communicator that looks a lot like The Man From U.N.C.L.E. pen communicator

A James Bond friend of mine misses much spy entertainment as examples of “James Bond knockoffs.”

OK. But the James Bond film franchise has, more than once, borrowed from others. A few examples:

From Russia With Love: Ian Fleming’s fifth novel didn’t include a sequence where Bond dodges a helicopter. This was something the filmmakers added to the movie to add visual excitement. Clearly, it’s an “homage” to North by Northwest where a crop-duster plane goes after Cary Grant.

More broadly, the Bond series owes a lot to North by Northwest. NxNW has a delicate balance of drama and humor. Director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman practically provide a blueprint for the Bond series that Eon Productions would go on to make.

Live And Let Die: The eighth Eon Bond film is based on Fleming’s second novel. But its popularity also owes much to the early 1970s “blaxplotation” craze. Essentially director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz drop Bond into the middle of a blaxplotation movie. Mankiewicz wanted to cast Diana Ross as Solitaire but Eon wouldn’t go that far.

The Man With The Golden Gun: The ninth Eon Bond film sought to take advantage of the popularity of 1970s kung fu movies. You’d see stories (ahead of the film’s release) about how Roger Moore was training furiously to credibly do martial arts.

Moonraker: In 1966, there was an Italian-based spy movie called Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die. It shares Brazilian locations with 1979’s Moonraker. Heck, you could easily argue the 1966 movie makes better use of Brazil, including Rio’s massive Jesus statue. Also, there are sequences of the 1966 movie that would practically be repeated in Moonraker.

In addition to all that, in Moonraker, we hear a key tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Licence to Kill: Bond has a gun with attachments (site, extended barrel, extended magazine, rifle stock) that looks an awfully lot like the U.N.C.L.E. special. In Licence to Kill, the base gun looks like a camera but all the attachments look like the attachments of the U.N.C.L.E. Special.

James Bond Jr.: Many fans disavow this early 1990s cartoon series. But it was officially sanctioned by Eon and Michael G. Wilson shares a “developed by” credit. In episode 9, “The Eiffel Missile,” a character has a pencil communicator that appears copied from U.N.C.L.E.’s pen communicator that debuted in the second season of that series.

When great composers resort to the slide whistle

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Sometimes, great minds just think alike.

So it is with the slide whistle. One of the most controversial James Bond music choices was when John Barry (1933-2011) opted to use a slide whistle in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974).

Bond (Roger Moore), desperate to catch up with villain Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), sends his car across a narrow Thailand waterway. The car completes one full rotation in mid-air before landing on its wheels.

In reality, it was a carefully planned stunt. Such jumps had already been performed at shows. The stunt originally was designed on a computer. Barry utilized a slide whistle for the scene. Many Bond film fans have never forgiven him since.

The thing is, another legendary film composer had used a slide whistle just several years before.

Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) scored the two Derek Flint films, Our Man Flint and In Like Flint. With the latter, a 1967 release, Goldsmith also opted to use a slide whistle. It was part of an action sequence. You can see (and hear) use of the slide whistle around the 1:40 mark of the video below:

That’s show business.

UPDATE: On social media, I encountered someone who is claiming John Barry had absolutely nothing to do with The Man With the Golden Gun’s slide whistle.

In the book The Music of James Bond, Barry told a different story. “I just took the liberty of poking fun at it,” Barry is quoted by author Jon Burlingame in the chapter about Golden Gun (it’s on page 121 of the edition I own) specifically about the slide whistle. “It made a mockery of Bond, looking back on it. Even Cubby (Broccoli) didn’t like that. But it was me getting to the end of it.”

I know there’s a dispute about how much Barry contributed, or didn’t contribute to the Monty Norman-credited James Bond Theme. But people rarely seek credit for a lesser moment like Golden Gun’s slide whistle. With For Your Eyes Only, Richard Maibaum made sure everybody knew he didn’t write the line, “I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!”

About those Bond film series gaps

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Last week saw another delay announced for No Time to Die. That has prompted some entertainment news websites to look back at how the gap between SPECTRE and No Time to Die ranks among Bond films.

With that in mind, here’s the blog’s own list.

You Only Live Twice (1967) to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): This isn’t getting the attention as the others.

But You Only Live Twice came out in June of 1967 while On Her Majesty’s Secret Service debuted in December 1969. That was about two-and-a-half years. Today? No big deal. But at the time, the Bond series delivered entries in one- or two-year intervals.

This period included the first re-casting of the Bond role, with George Lazenby taking over from Sean Connery. Also, Majesty’s was an epic shoot.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) to The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): This period often is written up as the first big delay in the series made by Eon Productions.

It’s easy to understand why. The partnership between Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman broke up. There were delays in beginning a new Bond film. Guy Hamilton originally was signed to direct but exited, with Lewis Gilbert eventually taking over. Many scripts were written. And Eon and United Arists were coming off with a financial disappointment with Golden Gun.

Still, Golden Gun premiered in December 1974 while Spy came along in July 1977. That’s not much longer than the Twice-Majesty’s gap. For all the turmoil that occurred in the pre-production of Spy, it’s amazing the gap wasn’t longer.

Licence to Kill (1989) to GoldenEye (1995): This is the big one. Licence came out in June 1989 (it didn’t make it to the U.S. until July) while GoldenEye didn’t make it to theater screens until November 1995.

In the interim, there was a legal battle between Danjaq (Eon’s parent company) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio, which had acquired UA in 1981. MGM had been sold, went into financial trouble, and was taken over by a French bank. The legal issues were sorted out in 1993 and efforts to start a new Bond film could begin in earnest.

This period also saw the Bond role recast, with Pierce Brosnan coming in while Timothy Dalton exited. In all, almost six-and-a-half years passed between Bond film adventures.

Die Another Day (2002) to Casino Royale (2006): After the release of Die Another Day, a large, bombastic Bond adventure, Eon did a major reappraisal of the series.

Eventually, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided on major changes. Eon now had the rights to Casino Royale, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel. So the duo opted to start the series over with a new actor, Daniel Craig and a more down-to-earth approach.

Quantum of Solace (2008) to Skyfall (2012): MGM had another financial setback with a 2010 bankruptcy. That delayed development of a new Bond film. Sam Mendes initially was a “consultant” because MGM’s approval was needed before he officially was named director.

Still, the gap was only four years (which today seems like nothing) from Quantum’s debt in late October 2008 to Skyfall’s debut in October 2012.

SPECTRE (2015) to No Time to Die (?): Recent delays are due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But pre-production got off to a slow start below that.

MGM spent much of 2016 trying to sell itself to Chinese investors but a deal fell through. Daniel Craig wanted a break from Bond. So did Eon’s Barbara Broccoli, pursuing small independent-style movies such as Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Nancy, as well as a medium-sized spy movie The Rhythm Section.

Reportedly, a script for a Bond movie didn’t start until around March 2017 with the hiring (yet again) of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. The hiring was confirmed in summer 2017. Craig later in summer of 2017 said he was coming back.

Of course, one director (Danny Boyle) was hired only to depart later. Cary Fukunaga was hired to replace him. More writers (Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Scott Z. Burns) arrived. The movie finally was shot in 2019.

Then, when 2020 arrived, the pandemic hit. No Time to Die currently has an October 2021 release date. We’ll see how that goes.

Maibaum’s ‘circular’ script structure

Christopher Reeve (right) with Roger Moore during filming of Octopussy.

A few James Bond films utilize a structure that, for the purposes of this post, I am crediting to veteran screenwriter Richard Maibaum (1909-1991).

That’s the “circular” structure — the audience sees something at or near the start of the movie that is repeated (with key variations) at the climax.

With the following examples, it’s difficult to give Maibaum full credit. Other screenwriters worked on the Bond films involved. But Maibaum is the only constant. So, without further ado:

From Russia With Love (1963): The film opens with James Bond apparently being stalked — and then killed — by Red Grant (Robert Shaw). However, Grant has only killed a double as part of a training exercise.

Grant kills Bond’s double using a garrotte hidden inside a watch. Later, Grant tries to kill the real Bond (Sean Connery) with the garrotte during a fight sequence on the Orient Express. Naturally, Bond turns the tables on Grant.

Caveat: Both Johanna Harwood (who got an “adapted by” credit) and Len Deighton (uncredited) also worked on the script.

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974): The film opens with a gangster (Marc Lawrence) hired to take out Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) on his home grounds, including a “fun house.”

Scaramanga has to scramble before he finally dispatches the gangster. Much later, James Bond (Roger Moore) is lured into the “fun house.” Bond loses his own Walther PPK. But he kills Scaramanga taking a PPK from a life-sized 007 figure.

Caveat:  Tom Mankiewicz was the original screenwriter, then Maibaum was brought in. Mankiewicz did the final rewrites.

Octopussy (1983): After the main titles, a 00-agent disguised as a clown flees from a circus. He’s fatally wounded by twin assassins who are also circus performers.

Toward the climax of the film, Bond (Roger Moore) is disguised as a clown — the same getup as his doomed predecessor — and manages to deactivate an atomic bomb just in the nick of the time.

Caveat: Octopussy began as a script with an effort by George Macdonald Fraser, which was later rewritten by Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.

Bond 25 questions: The lead character edition

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

With less than nine months before the 25th installment of the James Bond film series, the blog had a few basic questions about James Bond, agent 007 (?, at least where Bond 25 is concerned).

Is Bond a hero or anti-hero?

This is a subject the blog has explored before and the answers remain murky.

Michael G. Wilson of Eon Productions, maker of the Bond film series, said seven years ago that Bond was an antihero.

Barbara Broccoli, Wilson’s half-sister, said the same year that Bond is “a classical hero, but he’s very human.”

That makes for a split vote by the two principals of Eon.

An anti-hero is defined as “a central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.”

Is Bond a misogynist or a male chauvinist?

A misogynist is defined as “a person who dislikes, despises, or is strongly prejudiced against women.” Woman hater is a synonym.

A male chauvinist is defined as ” a male who patronizes, disparages, or otherwise denigrates females in the belief that they are inferior to males and thus deserving of less than equal treatment or benefit.”

Since 1995, the Bond film series has gone with misogynist. In Judi Dench’s debut as M in GoldenEye, she calls Bond (Pierce Brosnan) a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur.

Brosnan’s successor, Daniel Craig, said in 2015 that Bond is “actually a misogynist.”

Well, that would seem to settle the issue, wouldn’t it? If the guy who plays the character calls the character a misogynist that would seem to trump what a fan thinks.

How smart is Bond?

Bond doesn’t always show signs of being a strategic thinker.

In Dr. No, Bond (Sean Connery) brings Quarrel with him to Crab Key to see what happens. He brings along a Walther PPK.

In the novel From Russia With Love, Bond knows a trap has been set. But he decides to stay on the train to see what happens.

In The Man With the Golden Gun film, his plan (such as it is) is to fly to Scaramanga’s isolated island and see what happens.

In Quantum of Solace, he brings along his trusty Walther to take on Dominic Greene and his many thugs at the hotel powered by fuel cells (apparently filled with Explodium). He’ll see what happens.

In Skyfall, Bond takes M (Dench again) from London (where she has been guarded ineffectively) to stately Skyfall manor (which has no security, though Bond & Co. manage to cobble together some traps). Bond is able to kill Silva (Javier Bardem) moments before M dies.

The Wrecking Crew-Golden Gun mashup

Bruce Lee supervises Sharon Tate (left) and Nancy Kwan during production of The Wrecking Crew

The new movie Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood prompted the blog to again watch The Wrecking Crew, the final Matt Helm film with Dean Martin.

The latter figures prominently in the Quentin Tarantino-directed Once Upon a Time.

After the latest viewing of The Wrecking Crew, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities with the 1974 James Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun.

Wrecking Crew: Freya Carlson (Sharon Tate) is a klutz.

Golden Gun: Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland) is a klutz.

Wrecking Crew: Freya works for British Intelligence.

Golden Gun: Goodnight works for British Intelligence.

Wrecking Crew: One of Freya’s colleagues is known as JB.

Golden Gun: One of Goodnight’s colleagues is James Bond.

Wrecking Crew: Matt Helm (Dean Martin) spends a portion of the movie commenting on Freya’s clumsiness.

Golden Gun: James Bond (Roger Moore) spends a portion of the movie commenting on Goodnight’s clumsiness.

Wrecking Crew: When the mission is completed, Helm’s boss, MacDonald (John Larch) unexpectedly calls Helm in the villain’s private rail car that is towing $1 billion in gold. (You’d think it’d have an unlisted number.)

Golden Gun: When the mission is completed, Bond’s boss, M (Bernard Lee) unexpectedly calls Bond in the villain’s private boat. (You’d think it’d have an unlisted number.)

Wrecking Crew: Movie ends with Helm and Freya making out, about to make love.

Golden Gun: Movie ends with Bond and Goodnight making out, about to make love.

Golden Gun’s 45th anniversary: The unloved Bond?

goldengunposter

The Man With the Golden Gun poster

Updated and expanded from a 2014 post.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of The Man With The Golden Gun.

The 1974 film has received a lot of flak over the decades. It’s exhibit A when the subject comes up about 007 film misfires. Too goofy. Too cheap. Too many of the crew members having a bad day.

For example, Don McGregor, then a writer for Marvel Comics, savaged the movie in a lengthy article in a 1975 issue of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine (which featured a cover drawn by comics legend Neal Adams).

Also, the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website had few kind words when its contributors (including myself) did rankings of the Bond films. (Speaking only for myself, as I look back on my comments, one about John Barry was over the top.)

Over the years, Bond fans have said it has an average John Barry score (though one supposes Picasso had average paintings). It has too many bad gags (Bond watches as two teenage karate students take out a supposedly deadly school of assassins). And, for a number of first-generation 007 film fans, it has Roger Moore playing Bond, which is bad it and of itself.

Golden Gun is a way for fans to establish “street cred” — a way of establishing, “I’m not a fan boy.”

Neal Adams cover to The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine containing an article savaging The Man With the Golden Gun

However, the movie also has its defenders. Among them is David Leigh, who runs The James Bond Dossier website and is a regular guest on the James Bond & Friends podcast.  Also, the August 2018 issue of 007 Magazine (which is sold out) had an article titled, “In Defence of The Man With the Golden Gun.”

The movie was a bit of a disappointment at the box office. Golden Gun’s worldwide box office plunged 40 percent compared with Live And Let Die ($97.6 million versus $161.8 million, according to THE NUMBERS website). Within a few weeks of its December 1974 U.S. release, United Artists hurriedly paired Golden Gun with Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which UA released earlier in 1974, to make a double feature.

In terms of long-term importance, Golden Gun was the finale of the Albert R. Broccoli-Harry Saltzman 007 partnership. Saltzman would soon be in financial trouble and have to sell out his share of the franchise to United Artists. In a way, things have never really been the same since.

The end of the car jump of The Man With the Golden Gun

Golden Gun is not the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that many like to pick on — even among the same people who’d chafe at criticism of their favorite 007 film.

The documentary Inside The Man With The Golden Gun says the movie has all of the 007 “ingredients.” Of course, such a documentary is approved by executives who aren’t demanding candor.

But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Oswald Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (John Barry); it is one of 13 007 movies Richard Maibaum contributed writing.

Then again, movies sometimes are less the sum of their parts. It happens. Not everyone has their best day.

For many, Golden Gun is a convenient piñata. Despite some positives (including a genuinely dangerous driving stunt), it doesn’t get much love from part of the 007 fan community.

Literary 007 Twitter completes his journey

Part of the Twitter home page for @JB_UnivEX

@JB_UnivEX has completed his 14-year journey (a little over a year in real time) showing what it might be like if the literary James Bond were on Twitter.

The literary Bond, of course, was bound by the Official Secrets Act. So he couldn’t *really* say what was going on. But for those who read Ian Fleming’s original novels and short stories could follow the unfolding events.

One of the challenges for @JB_UnivEX was how Fleming himself wasn’t consistent with his own timeline. So, the Twitter account attempted to bring order to things.

For example, it began the events of the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel. Then, Bond had to make a quick trip to Canada to deal with the events of The Spy Who Loved Me novel before resuming the Majesty’s tale.

The blog first did its first post about @JB_UnivEX in April 2018 as Casino Royale was wrapping up. In the back of my mind, I was curious how he’d handle the conclusion of You Only Live Twice with a Bond suffering from amnesia.

This was how:

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Another highlight was when a brainwashed Bond arrived in London early in the events of The Man With the Golden Gun novel. Brainwashed Bond decides to take in a movie before going to MI6 headquarters.

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In any event, for fans of the literary Bond (and 007 in general), it has been a great ride. This was the final tweet in character. We’re told the more than 2,300 tweets will be re-edited and represented in the future. However, there are no plans to do the continuation novels.

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