You Only Live Twice: Beginning of the end of ’60s spymania

You Only Live Twice promotional art

You Only Live Twice promotional art

The 50th anniversary of You Only Live Twice isn’t just a milestone for a memorable James Bond film. It’s also the anniversary for the beginning of the end of 1960s spymania.

The 007 film series led the way for spymania. Over the course of the first four Bond films, everything skyrocketed. Not only did the Bond series get bigger, it created a market for spies of all sorts.

By June 1967, when You Only Live Twice debuted, that upward trajectory had ended.

To be sure, Twice was very popular. But there was a falloff from its predecessor, 1965’s Thunderball. Twice’s box office totaled $111.6 million globally, down 21 percent from Thunderball’s $141.2 million.

The fifth 007 movie produced by Eon Productions didn’t lack for resources.

Twice’s famous volcano set cost $1 million, roughly the entire budget of Dr. No. Helicopters equipped with giant magnets swooped out of the sky. A seeming endless number of extras was available when needed. .

At the same time, the movie’s star, Sean Connery, wanted out of Bondage. Producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman adjusted his contract. But their inducements weren’t enough.

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

You Only Live Twice marker in western Japan

It didn’t help that Broccoli and Saltzman themselves had their own, growing differences. Broccoli didn’t want to take on Connery as another partner — the same kind of arrangement Broccoli’s former partner, Irving Allen, bestowed upon Dean Martin for the Matt Helm movies.

Finally, there was another Bond film that year — the spoof Casino Royale, released in the U.S. less than two months before Twice. However, anybody who viewed Casino Royale’s marketing or trailers could mistake the Charles K. Feldman production for the Eon series.

As this blog has discussed before, Twice has a lot going for it. Ken Adam’s sets were spectacular. John Barry’s score was among the best for the Bond series. It was also the one film in the series photographed by acclaimed director of photography Freddie Young.

In the 21st century, fan discussion is divided. Some appreciate the spectacle, viewing it as enough reason to overlook various plot holes. Others dislike how the plot of Ian Fleming’s novel was jettisoned, with only some characters and the Japanese location retained.

With this year’s 50th anniversary, the former may be celebrated more. The movie’s scope, even its posters, aren’t the kinds of things you see these days.

The longer-term importance of the movie, however, is that Twice symbolizes how interest in the spy craze was drawing to a close. Bond would carry on, but others — including U.S. television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and I Spy — weren’t long for this world when Twice arrived at theaters.

Bond series now No. 004 in unadjusted film series box office

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook

Facebook image Marvel put on Facebook in May.

The Bond Bulletin in a post today noted that the James Bond film series had fallen behind Star Wars in all-time box office. Depending on how you define “franchises,” 007 is now 004 in unadjusted box office.

In a list of franchises on The Numbers box office website, the Marvel Cinematic Universe as of Dec. 30 has $10.9 billion worldwide box office, Harry Potter $8.47 billion, Star Wars $7.2 billion and James Bond $7.08 billion.

Again, this is unadjusted box office. It’s not number of tickets sold. And it doesn’t account for rising ticket prices.

Here’s how each franchise is defined in the list compiled by The Numbers website:

James Bond: The 24 007 films produced by Eon Productions since 1962 plus 1983’s Never Say Never Again (not made by Eon but with original film 007 Sean Connery). It does not include 1967’s Casino Royale spoof film.

Star Wars: Nine movies comprised of original trilogy (1977-1983), second trilogy (1999-2005), Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015), the animated movie Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008), and this year’s Rogue One, a Star Wars story.

Harry Potter: Eight Harry Potter series films released 2001 to 2011, a Potter marathon at Imax theaters this year and 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a spinoff.

Marvel: Fourteen films, beginning with 2008’s Iron Man and running through this year’s Dr. Strange, produced by Marvel Studios. All of the movies occur in the same fictional universe. It does not count X-Men and Fantastic Four films produced by 20th Century Fox and Spider-Man movies produced by Sony Pictures.

Fox and Sony licensed those characters before Marvel decided to make its own movies. The separate X-Men category on The Numbers website includes solo films featuring Wolverine an Deadpool.

Both Star Wars and Marvel fell under the wing of Walt Disney Co. through acquisitions. They’re released under Lucasfilm Ltd. and Marvel brand names.

Under Disney ownership, both Lucasfilm and Marvel are ramping up production.

Episode VIII of Star Wars comes out next year, with other Star Wars-related films, such as Rogue One, planned. Marvel has been making two movies a year and will make three in 2017, including Spider-Man: Homecoming, which Marvel is producing but Sony will release. This year, Spider-Man joined the Marvel cinema universe in Captain America: Civil War.

Warner Bros. plans as many as five Fantastic Beasts films.

The Bond series doesn’t have an “extended universe,” a concept made popular by Marvel. It features one character, James Bond.

2012’s Skyfall, showed the series is capable of billion-dollar box office. It terms of number of tickets sold, Skyfall was No. 3 in series history in the U.S. market at 37.8 million, behind Thunderball and Goldfinger.

The most recent entry, SPECTRE, had worldwide box office of $880.7 million, No. 6 globally in 2015.

In the U.S. market, SPECTRE sold 23 million tickets, No. 14 in series history. On that basis, it was also the lowest since the series resumed in 1995 following a six-year hiatus.

1961: John Wayne’s 007 movie

The Comancheros poster

The Comancheros poster

There’s an old saying to the effect there hasn’t been an original plot since the ancient Greeks.

Well, you can believe it if you’ve ever seen the 1961 John Wayne western film The Comancheros.

The cast of the movie includes  Nehemiah Persoff as a wheelchair-bound criminal mastermind who has struck an alliance with Indians to cause a lot of havoc.

What’s more, the villain describes what he has built over 30 years as a business and a “society.”

“We have a society here, a society that’s different from anything visualized by people anywhere in the world,” Persoff’s character says. “The rules of this society are magnificently simple — transgress and you die…We as a society of thieves cannot tolerate stealing from each other.”

To get his point across, Persoff’s villain points to a poor wretch hanging by his wrists. “He stole.”

Now it’s not a stretch to see similarities with Thunderball (1965), where we witness a SPECTRE board meeting after the main titles. Ernst Stavro Blofeld executives a SPECTRE official who has embezzled from the criminal organization.

What’s more, there are scenes in The Comancheros where heroes John Wayne and Stuart Whitman have drinks and later dinner with Persoff’s villain.

They’re remarkably similar to scenes in 007 films where James Bond makes nice with his adversary, each trying to get a measure of the other. In The Comancheros, there’s even a sacrificial lamb played by Patrick Wayne, the Duke’s son, and an oversized henchman who has to be dealt with.

Finally, The Comancheros has an action-packed finale as the Texas Rangers come to rescue, not unlike Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

Still, The Comancheros runs less than 100 minutes. The climax is a lot leaner than what you see in 21st century movies which run well over two hours.

Today, The Comancheros is best remembered as the final film for director Michael Curtiz, who earlier directed Casablanca. It’s also the first teaming of star John Wayne and composer Elmer Bernstein. From 1961 onward, Bernstein worked on a number of the Duke’s movies, including Wayne’s finale, 1976’s The Shootist.

If you go to YouTube, there’s a version of The Comancheros where the image is small (presumably the poster believed this would avoid avoid reaction from “the copyright police”). There’s another YouTube video with a sampling of Bernstein’s wonderful score.

 

U.N.C.L.E. and catching lightning in a bottle

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

The original U.N.C.L.E.s, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum

We were reminded how this month is the 50th anniversary of The Beatles meeting Robert Vaughn, the star of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

The gathering reflected how U.N.C.L.E., for a time in the 1960s, was a very big deal. 

It was the Fab Four who requested the meeting. They were fans of the show and wanted to see the actor.

Vaughn was busy simultaneously being the lead in a U.S. television series and studying for a Ph.D. But the meeting took place anyway.

U.N.C.L.E.’s history is very much one of ups and downs. It almost got canceled in its first season. It enjoyed its best ratings in its second season (1965-66).

In fact, James Bond films actually benefited from U.N.C.L.E. Two 007 television specials, The Incredible World of James Bond and Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond (made to promote Thunderball and You Only Live Twice), aired in U.N.C.L.E.’s time slot on NBC.

But by January 1968, U.N.C.L.E. was canceled as its ratings plunged.

For the most part, U.N.C.L.E. was like catching lightning in a bottle — bright and powerful. For enthusiasts (including the Spy Commander, it should be noted), the light still shines bright. To the broader population, not so much. The same applies to other ’60s spy entertainment such as The Wild Wild West, I Spy and other shows.

In the 21st century, the “lightning in a bottle” shows still are fondly remembered by the original fan base. Trying to interest younger viewers remains a challenge. A year ago this month, a new movie version of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. didn’t find an audience even as the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series was a hit.

So it goes. Nevertheless, those who were along for the ride originally still have their memories.

Ken Adam to be honored by American Film Institute

Ken Adam

Ken Adam

Ken Adam, the long-time film production designer who died in March, is being honored by the American Film Institute with a film series that runs starting July 9 and into September.

AFI is showing a range of films reflecting Adam’s work, including all seven James Bond films he designed for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

In addition, the series includes The Ipcress File, the first Harry Palmer film that was produced by Saltzman, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the children’s movie based on an Ian Fleming novel that Broccoli produced.

The movies are being shown at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The dates are as follows. The movies are shown at different times of day and for full details, CLICK HERE.

July 9, 11, 13: Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond film, where Adam’s sets made the movie look more expensive than it really was.

July 10, 12, 14: Goldfinger (1964). Adam, with no access to the interior of Fort Knox, created one from his imagination.

July 16, 20: Thunderball (1965). The Biggest Bond of All and Adam’s work was one of the reasons.

July 17: You Only Live Twice (1967), the first Bond film to toss out an Ian Fleming plot and substitute its own. Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set was a major highlight.

July 23, 26: Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

July 25: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

July 31: Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Michael Todd-produced film version of the Jules Verne novel starring David Niven, with various stars making cameo appearances.  Adam is credited as an art director and his name is spelled Adams. The movie’s associate producer was William Cameron Menzies, who helped pioneer the concept of a production designer responsible for the overall look of a film.

Aug. 6, 10: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Adam returned after a two-picture absence from the Bond series. His work included the interior of what’s supposed to be a tanker that swallows nuclear submarines.

Aug. 7, 9: Moonraker (1979), Adam’s farewell to the 007 series, where his contributions included a space station.

Aug. 13, 16: The Ipcress File (1965), Adam demonstrated he could handle a more realistic spy film.

Aug. 20, 24: Barry Lyndon (1975), Stanley Kubrick-directed film where Adam won an Academy Award.

Aug. 26, 30, Sept. 1: Night of the Demon (1957)

Aug. 27, 28, 30, Sept. 1: Gideon of Scotland Yard (1958)

Sept. 2, 3, 5: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Who better to design a flying car than Ken Adam?

Sept. 3, 6, 8: The Last of Shiela (1973)

Ken Adam's "war room" set from Dr. Strangelove

Ken Adam’s “war room” set from Dr. Strangelove

Sept. 9, 10, 12, 13, 14: Dr. Strangelove (1964): Adam passed on the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, to work with Kubrick on the nuclear war satire. Adam’s biggest contribution was the War Room set, which has inspired production designers and art directors ever since.

Sept. 10: The Madness of King George, which resulted in Adam’s second Academy Award.

 

Michael Cimino and the art vs. commerce conflict

Heaven's Gate poster

Heaven’s Gate poster

Director Michael Cimino died over the weekend at the age of 77, as noted in obituaries by various outlets, including the Los Angeles Times. In death, as in life, Cimino was a reminder of the age old movie conflict of art vs. commerce.

Cimino’s third movie, 1980’s Heaven’s Gate, lost a lot of money for United Artists. The director, coming off an Oscar for The Deer Hunter, had a lot of clout. He used it, with Heaven’s Gate running over budget and over schedule as the perfectionist director pursued his vision of a Western that addressed broader social issues.

The project lost so much that UA’s parent firm, Transamerica Corp., threw in the towel and sold off the studio. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, itself a financially struggling entity. That had a big impact on the James Bond franchise, beginning an era of tension between MGM and Eon Productions.

With Cimino’s passing, memories broke into two camps.

The first was that of unjustly punished artist, whose career never recovered. (This article in The Guardian is an example.)

Second, that an of an out-of-control director who helped wreck a studio, a view popularized by Final Cut, the 1985 book by the late Steven Bach, one of the UA executives unable to bring Cimino’s spending under control.

What this debate overlooks is Cimino and Heaven’s Gate were just one of a long line of directors whose projects got caught up in art vs. commerce. It wasn’t even the first time for United Artists.

In 1965, UA, then headed by Arthur Krim and his lieutenants (the same bunch smart enough to do a deal to get 007 films made), were in the same boat as their eventual successors at UA were with Cimino.

In ’65, UA was backing another perfectionist director, George Stevens. The main difference between Stevens and Cimino is that the former had a long track record, including such films as Gunga Din, Giant and The Diary of Anne Frank.

No matter. Stevens was far over budget and over schedule on The Greatest Story Ever Told, the director’s film about Jesus Christ. Ex-UA executive David Picker goes into detail in his 2013 memoir Musts, Maybe and Nevers how studio management couldn’t bring Stevens under control.

Greatest Story bombed big time for UA, coming out as audience interest in Biblical movies faded. The Krim management group, however had a life line: Thunderball (released at the peak of 1960s Bondmania) and movies featuring The Beatles (which had low budgets and high profits).

While UA made it through the crisis, the same couldn’t be said of Stevens. He’d only make one more film, 1970’s The Only Game in Town.

20th Century Fox faced a similar crisis a couple of years earlier with Cleopatra. It actually was popular at the box office, but its mammoth budget meant a lot of red ink.

Fox leaned on its television division, headed by William Self, to recover from the financial crisis. The TV unit was able to sell small-screen versions of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, 12 O’Clock High and Peyton Place in time for the 1964-65 season.

Meanwhile, like Stevens, Cleopatra director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s career also suffered after his big flop. Going further back, the likes of D.W. Griffith and Erich Von Stroheim, among others, ran into the art vs. commerce buzzsaw.

In short, Cimino wasn’t unique. He was, however, a colorful example of a conflict that continues to shape the film industry.

The 007 film dilemma in 3 minutes

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As the James Bond film franchise decides what to do next, it faces a bit of a dilemma:

Should it continue to seek more critical respect (Casino Royale and Skyfall) or should it embrace its roots, the way SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film, did?

The last two Bond films were directed by an auteur, Sam Mendes.

In 2012, Eon Productions co-boss Barbara Broccoli told ComingSoon.Net that the franchise didn’t hire journeymen directors: “(W)e’ve never been one to hire directors for hire. We always wanted someone who was a great director in their own right and a storyteller.”

Yet, in the first four movies of the series — which generated some of the most memorable scenes for the franchise — were directed by journeymen Terence Young and Guy Hamilton. Young, in particular, dealt with cost and schedule overruns on Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

Young even had part of his Dr. No fee impounded until costs were recouped at the box office because of the overruns. Bond was a much more modest undertaking in those days.

2012 also saw something that summarizes the divide between respect and tradition.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversayr of the Bond films. So Tom Jones appeared to perform the title song to Thunderball, the fourth 007 film.

The audiences was full of artistes. Yet they seemed to be having as good a time as audiences did in 1965 when Thunderball first came out.

On some occasions, respect and tradition can coincide. Something to keep in mind as Bond 25 undergoes its journey in development. Here’s Sir Tom in 2012: