Phrases long-time 007 fans will recognize instantly

Well, he did say, “Hit me.”

You can tell when long-time James Bond fans get together. They’re likely to say phrases that make no sense to the average person.

“Cai…Cai…CAIRO!” In the pre-titles sequence of Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond is hunting down Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Apparently in Japan (no doubt a sound stage at Pinewood Studios), 007 throws a would-be informant through a couple of paper walls.

Finally, Bond asks, “Where is Blofeld?” The informant says, “Cai…Cai…Cairo!” What makes the sequence is the informant’s mouth movements don’t remotely match the words he’s supposedly saying. For Bond fans, that’s part of the fun.

“Hit me.” In the next scene of Diamonds, we see a casino in Cairo. You can tell by the guys wearing a fez that This Must Be in The Middle East.

One is playing blackjack and says, “Hit me.” Cue Bond punching the guy out.

“Opening crater…Closing crater.” Those are the only lines that a lower-level SPECTRE employee we’ve dubbed “Crater Guy”  gets to utter in You Only Live Twice.

Crater Guy, well, opens the closes the door to SPECTRE’s volanco headquarters in the movie. He’s not a mastermind (Blofeld is). He’s not even a henchman (Hans is).

Crater Guy, no doubt, is a working stiff just trying to feed his family. Bond kills him but can’t kill Blofeld, the guy who started all this trouble. The blog suspects this could spur academic papers about how Bond tramples on the working class.

Clifton James as Sheriff J.W. Pepper in Live And Let Die

“You made a shocking mess of my hair, you sadistic brute!” That’s a line from SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi) in Thunderball after she’s made love with Bond.

Occasionally, when Bond fans get together, they come up with, eh, more colorful variations of the first half of the line. All spoken in an Italian accent (matching Paluzzi’s), of course.

“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine, boy?” That’s probably the most memorable line spoken by Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) in Live And Let Die.

Bond fans, in addition to that line, are known to utter other Pepperisms such as, “I got me a regular Ben Hur down here, doing 95 minimum.”

James passed away recently. Most obits referenced Live And Let quite a bit. That reflects how the New York-born actor stole the scenes he was in for the eighth James Bond film.

What’s at stake for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

After the “lost year” of 2016, Bond 25 appears to be actually getting into gear.

The New York Times reported that five studios (four established, one a newcomer) are bidding for a one-picture deal to distribute the next 007 film from Eon Productions.

However that bidding turns out, the stakes are still high for the 25th James Bond film.

SPECTRE was OK financially but didn’t grow the franchise

2012’s Skyfall was (pardon the pun) a quantum improvement over Quantum of Solace in terms of popular and critical reaction. Skyfall almost seemed like a return to the mid-1960s when Goldfinger made 007 a “thing.”

The 007 series followed up Goldfinger with Thunderball, which was even bigger.

The series followed up Skyfall with SPECTRE, which….wasn’t as big. In the U.S. market, SPECTRE sold the fewest theater tickets (23 million) of 007 movies released since 1995 (and the advent of the home video era).

SPECTRE brought back Blofeld but made him Bond’s “foster brother.” Shades of Austin Powers.

Because of information from the Sony hacks, we know other things that could have made it into the movie. M was a traitor. Tanner was a traitor. Bond watches Tanner commit suicide. Felix Leiter calls Moneypenny a “fox lady.”

Veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were summoned to perform triage. SPECTRE was no disaster at the box office, but it didn’t match Skyfall.

Where is this franchise going? At the end of SPECTRE, Bond (Daniel Craig) is driving off in the Aston Martin DB5 with Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). The car was seemingly destroyed in Skyfall, but the Eon crew can’t let go.

If Craig comes back, do we go off on another revenge story (as in Quantum of Solace)? If Seydoux is killed by Blofeld (a fan favorite scenario), does Bond fall apart yet again (as in Skyfall)?

Or does Bond 25 mostly ignore SPECTRE, similar to how Diamonds Are Forever for the most part didn’t reference On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? (There are references but very slight.)

In Bond 25, after things don’t work out with Madeline Swann, 007 asks to be reinstated to MI6.

Does Bond 25 cap its production budget? Or does it double down?

 SPECTRE had examples of ridiculous spending. A $36 million car chase (really, a car drive). The “largest explosion in motion picture history” that had no drama because Bond and Swann were well away and safe when it happened.

Does Eon Productions scale back? Or does it try to keep up with the Joneses, i.e. modern movie blockbusters?

We’re a long way off from a movie being filmed. Not a whole lot can happen until there’s a studio to actually release Bond 25. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which exited bankruptcy in 2010, doesn’t have the resources to finance a big-budget Bond on its own.

Here’s the thing. As of now, the Bond series doesn’t have direction. In the 21st century, successful franchises (think Disney’s Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm Ltd.) plan things out years ahead of time.

With Bond, it’s kind of, “Let’s see how it goes.”

For 55 years, since the release of Dr. No, that has worked out. Maybe it will again. Bond 25 will tell us a lot whether that’s still the case.

Should 007 aspire to be a $1B a film franchise?

Skyfall teaser poster

The motion picture industry has always been about money. Sometimes art mixed with money. Sometimes a message mixed with money. But money is always part of the equation.

When you’re dealing with money, round numbers are always nice. The current fixation is with $1 billion worldwide box office.

The James Bond film franchise met that standard (on an unadjusted basis) once with 2012’s Skyfall. It was a big deal at the time. The movie came out on Agent 007’s 50th anniversary and demonstrated the series can play with the “big boys.”

Since then the roster of movies with $1 billion global box office has expanded to 29. Skyfall is ranked 15th of those 29 films. The Fate of the Furious, which opened this weekend, the eighth film in the Fast and the Furious series, may end up making it an even 30. It’s certainly not going to stop there.

It’s gotten to the point that, for some franchise films, not making it to $1 billion comes across as a disappointment.

That was certainly the case with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That 2016 movie that was the first cinematic joint appearance of the three biggest DC Comics characters (Wonder Woman was in it, even if she didn’t figure in the title).

Though no one will admit it publicly, that was probably the case for SPECTRE, the most recent 007 film. You can’t help but wonder if Eon Productions and studios Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures thought something like, “If Skyfall made $1 billion, this movie will surely make $1.5 billion.” Certainly, some fans were talking like that before the movie came out in fall 2015.

Here’s a question to mull over: Should the Bond franchise actively be attempting to crank out $1 billion blockbusters?

Some fans will reply: “Of course!” If you adjusted for inflation, Thunderball would have a $1 billion-plus box office.

Still, today, to play in the $1 billion club, often requires a lot of money.

Skyfall’s estimated budget was $200 million, which was less than the $230 million or so Quantum of Solace.

An MGM memo that became public because of the 2014 Sony hacking, said SPECTRE’s spending was tracking to go well above $300 million. The final, unofficial estimate was $245 million, after various product placement and tax credits got factored in.

The production cost went up in part because Eon said the movie had the biggest explosion in motion picture history and a car chase sequence estimated to cost about 24 million British pounds, or $36 million at the time. “It’s one of those scenes that’s going to be very iconic,” SPECTRE co-star Dave Bautista said in a promotional video for the film.

Whether either sequence made that much of a difference is up for debate. But the increased cost isn’t. Only the accountants know the final figures.

The ante is going up to play in the $1 billion box office club. There’s speculation that Marvel’s third and fourth Avengers movies that are being filmed at the same time may cost a combined $1 billion (or $500 million each).

This stemmed from remarks by the top executive of Pinewood Studios Atlanta that the studio was home to the “largest film production ever.”  He didn’t specify, but the two Avengers movies are being filmed there.

Bringing this back to the world of James Bond: Should 007 try to keep up with this? Or is it time to re-evaluate, scale back and proceed in a different direction?

Unfortunately, no answers here. For the moment, there’s no studio to actually release Bond 25. Sony’s most recent two-picture deal expired with SPECTRE. But it’s something to keep in mind.

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.