About that Thunderball jet pack

Sean Connery in an insert shot during the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball

For first-generation fans of the James Bond films, the pre-titles sequence of Thunderball is an enduring memory. A major reason was how Bond (Sean Connery) got away from thugs with a jet pack.

Bond fans who weren’t around then may not understand the excitement that the sequence generated. That’s understandable. You had to be there.

Still, here’s the broader context: By 1965, the Bond films had created a market for all sorts of spy entertainment. On television, the best of these entries had interesting characters and concepts: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a series where Ian Fleming had been involved for a time), The Wild Wild West, I Spy and others.

In terms of movies, the Matt Helm and Derek Flint films were in production.

By the fall of 1965, spies were *everywhere*. How could Bond stay ahead?

That was the challenge for Thunderball, which began filming in early 1965.

Eon Productions decided to go bigger, giving the audience what they couldn’t get on TV or on other more modestly budgeted films.

With Thunderball, the jet pack was the perfect example. It was real. No special effects (example for the insert shots of Sean Connery supposedly piloting the jet pack).

Over the years, Eon Productions flirted with bringing the jet pack back. The first draft of Moonraker had Bond using a jet pack during the Venice sequence. The first draft of The World Is Not Enough had Bond using a jet pack instead of the “Q boat.”

The closest Eon got was a jet pack cameo for Die Another Day. We haven’t seen it since.

That’s probably how it should be. Thunderball was catching lightning in a bottle (there was a lot of that, circa 1965). It should remain there. But for those of us who witnessed it first run, we won’t forget it.

Meanwhile, this tweet embeds a video of a Lego version of the Thunderball jet pack sequence. Amazing work.

 

1965: Jesus and the spy (actors)

Blu Ray cover for The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

The death this week of actor Max Von Sydow was a reminder for the blog of a Biblical film that highlighted actors from the 1960s spy craze.

The movie was The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), about the life of Jesus Christ, played by Von Sydow.

The movie was years in the making. The writing of the script alone took about two years. Filming occurred in 1962 and 1963.

The producer-director was George Stevens (1904-1975). Over the years he had helmed movies such as Gunga Din (1939), I Remember Mama (1948), A Place in the Sun (1951), Shane (1953) and Giant (1956).

With the release of 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank, Stevens was at the height of his powers. The film was both a popular and critical hit, winning three Oscars and nominated for five more.

For his next project, Stevens opted to tackle the story of Jesus. The film originated at 20th Century Fox (which had released The Diary of Anne Frank) but ended up at United Artists.

Major stars wanted to be part of the project. John Wayne got one line as a Roman centurion (“Truly this man was the son of God.”). Charlton Heston (as John the Baptist), Sidney Poitier, Jose Ferrer, Claude Rains, Dorothy McGuire (as the Virgin Mary), Shelly Winters and Ed Wynn were in the cast.

And then there was the future spy actor contingent.

There were three future Blofeld actors — Von Sydow (Never Say Never Again), Donald Pleasance (You Only Live Twice) and Telly Savalas (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The latter shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate, a look he’d keep until the end of his life.

There was one Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum as Judas), one future Felix Leiter (David Hedison) and one future Rollin Hand (Martin Landau). In a 2007 extra for a home video release of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn told McCallum that he, too, had sought the Judas role that McCallum won.

Also present: Victor Buono, who screenwriter Richard Maibaum had recommended to play Goldfinger. Buono had his share of work during the 1960s spy craze in The Silencers, The Wild Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy.

The Greatest Story Ever Told had an actual tragedy. Director of photography William C. Mellor, who had worked with Stevens on other films, died of a heart attack during production.

The movie proved to be a flop. By the time it came out in early 1965, the market for such films had seemingly run its course. The movie was earnest and sincere. So was Ben-Hur (1959), but that project had also ship battles and the famous chariot race.

Stevens would direct only one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

The Greatest Story Ever Told was nominated for five Oscars, including special visual effects. It lost out to another United Artists release.

Mr. Peanut, who had Thunderball cameo, perishes at 104

Mr. Peanut enjoying himself during the Junkanoo sequence of Thunderball

Mr. Peanut, ad mascot for Planters since 1916, has perished while saving the lives of Wesley Snipes and Matt Walsh. Mr. Peanut’s demise will be featured in a commercial during the pre-game show for the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, according to a press release.

Mr. Peanut was known for his top hat, monocle and spats. His long career included a cameo in the Junkanoo sequence of Thunderball, the 1965 James Bond film.

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

The newly released pre-game ad shows MR. PEANUT, Matt Walsh and Wesley Snipes are on a nutty adventure in the NUTmobile when MR. PEANUT is forced to swerve, causing the vehicle to spin out of control. The trio jumps out of the NUTmobile, clinging to a tree branch, as the vehicle crashes down into a deep canyon below. They momentarily find safety until their combined weight begins to break the branch. In the ultimate act of friendship, MR. PEANUT lets go and sacrifices himself to save his friends from impending doom.

The commercial already is online.

About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.

Claudine Auger dies at 78

Sean Connery and Claudine Auger in Thunderball

Claudine Auger, who played the lead female character in Thunderball, died this week at 78, the French newspaper Sud Quest reported.

Auger died on Wednesday. The newspaper cited “the artistic agency Art Time who represented her” as the source of the information.

The actress won the role of Domino, the mistress of SPECTRE villain Emilo Largo (Adolfo Celi) in Thunderball. James Bond (Sean Connery) wins over Domino, who provides the British agent help on his mission. In the film’s climax, Domino kills Largo with a spear gun, saving Bond’s life.

Auger turned 24 during production of the fourth Bond movie. Other contenders for the role included Julie Christie, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway. Thunderball was a huge hit and came out at the peak of the 1960s spy craze.

The November 1965 U.S. television special The Incredible World of James Bond included a Thunderball scene at a Nassau casino where Auger and Celi could be heard speaking in their own voices. Both were dubbed for the final version of the movie, which came out a month later.

Auger’s IMDB.COM entry lists 80 acting credits, lasting into the 1990s.

Ford v Ferrari’s odd James Bond reference

Henry Ford II (1917-1987) in front of portraits of his father, Edsel Ford (1893-1943) and grandfather Henry Ford (1863-1947).

Obviously, this is a spoiler for Ford v Ferrari.

This weekend, the top box office movie in the U.S. is Ford v Ferrari, a depiction of how Ford beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in the 1960s. It also has a peculiar James Bond reference.

Early in the film, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) is trying to persuade Ford Motor Co. boss Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to get involved in international auto racing to boost the company’s image.

As part of Iacocca’s presentation he shows two slides of Sean Connery as James Bond — one a publicity photo for Goldfinger of Connery with the Aston Martin DB5, the other a still from Thunderball. “James Bond doesn’t drive a Ford,” Iacocca says.

“That’s because he’s a degenerate,” Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce,” scoffs.

This is a little odd for a few reasons.

In Goldfinger, Ford already supplied a fleet of vehicles. Ford Motor wouldn’t own Aston Martin until 1987. But the movie was the movie debut of the Ford Mustang (driven by Tilly in Switzerland).

The film also had a Lincoln Continental (crushed with the body of Mr. Solo inside), a Ford Thunderbird (with Felix Leiter as a passenger) and a group of Ford trucks (driven to Fort Knox).

Ford’s presence was even more prominent in Thunderball.

There was another Thunderbird (driven by Largo to SPECTRE headdquarters in Paris), two Lincoln Continentals, a Ford Fairlane (driven by Count Lippe when he meets his demise via rockets fired by Fiona Volpe) and another Mustang (driven by Fiona when she picks up a hitchhiking Bond).

On top of all that, Henry Ford II himself was an extra in the movie during the Nassau casino sequence, according to The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin. The auto executive’s fee was $35, according to that book.

Also, if anything, Bond and Henry Ford II should have been kindred spirits. Here’s a short passage from an obituary about Henry Ford II by the Los Angeles Times.

He was the international playboy who did as he liked, starring in the jet set gossip columns and making headlines as master of revels at famous watering holes in the Bahamas, Mexico and the Riviera.

“Never complain, never explain,” he said when questioned about a 1975 peccadillo.

Ford Motor had a long, on-and-off relationship with the Bond film series. Other Bond films with Ford vehicles include On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Three brands formerly owned by Ford, Aston Martin (sold in 2007) and Jaguar and Land Rover (sold in 2008) continue to appear in the series.

No time to drive: Price appreciation of 007 cars

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

A study by 1st Move International looked at how prices have appreciated for various cars that appeared in James Bond movies.

At the top, not surprisingly, was the Aston Martin DB5, which was originally priced at 4,175 British pounds ($11,690 at the 1960s exchange rate of $2.80 to the pound), which now fetches 687,696 pounds (more than $883,786 at current exchange rates.

What follows is  sampling of other cars of note in British pounds. The data is as of Sept. 20.

Toyota 2000 GT (You Only Live Twice): 6,379 pounds originally, now 530,111 pounds.

Aston Martin DBS (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service): 4,473 pounds originally, now 214,950 pounds.

Lincoln Continental Convertible (Thunderball): 475 pounds originally, now 20,336 pounds

Chevrolet Impala Convertible (Live And Let Die): Almost 2,084 pounds originally, now 23,906 pounds.

Bentley Mark IV (From Russia With Love): 2.997 pounds originally, 29,500 pounds now.

Ford Mustang Mach 1 (Diamonds Are Forever): 2,883 pounds originally, 20,000 pounds now.

Sunbeam Alpine Series II (Dr. No): 985 pounds originally, 6,771 pounds now. 

Lincoln Mark VII (Licence to Kill) 8,041 pounds originally, 43,499 pounds now.

Lotus Esprit S1 (The Spy Who Loved Me): 10,791 pounds originally, 39,999 pounds now. 

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Voltaire (The Living Daylights): 54,685 pounds originally, 150,000 pounds now. 

The study also analyzed car appreciation place by actor. Sean Connery cars, for example, averaged an appreciation of 7,134 percent. Timothy Dalton was at the low end at 208 percent. Daniel Craig films weigh in at 1,193 percent, which includes use of the DB5.

For more about the 1st Move International study, CLICK HERE.