Evolution of the United Artists logo on 007 films

United Artists logo from 1983

United Artists is a forgotten studio today despite an illustrious history. It was founded in 1919 by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith.

For James Bond fans, it was the studio that gave life to the cinematic 007. In 1961, UA, by then led by Arthur Krim, bought into the pitch by independent producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. For two decades, UA financed the 007 movies.

Under Krim’s leadership, UA invested in other film properties, including The Magnificent Seven, West Side Story, In the Heat of the Night and movies starring The Beatles. Under Krim, UA acted more like a bank than a true studio, financing various independent producers. UA didn’t have actual studio facilities.

For first-generation 007 film fans, the UA logo (or lack thereof) was part of the theater experience. What follows is a look at what theater goers would see. Still other UA logos were devised for home video and television showings.

1962-1965: For the first four 007 films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball), there was no UA logo. Just a black screen before the gunbarrel logo. Some fans look on those days fondly. Without a logo, it build up the anticipation for the gunnbarrel.

1967: Transamerica, an insurance and financial conglomerate, bought UA in 1967 while keeping Krim and his crew in charge.

The first Bond film with a UA logo was You Only Live Twice, the fifth entry in the Eon series. United Artists was identified as “a Transamerica company.” There was no music with the logo.

1969-1979: Tranamerica devised a stylized “T” logo that was incorporated with the United Artists logo.

Long-running UA logo under Transamerica ownership.

Theater goers would see the “T” logo come together, followed by the words, “United Artists, Entertainment From Transamerica Corporation.” There was still no music accompanying the logo.

This logo would run a full decade as far as the 007 series was concerned, beginning with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and running through 1979’s Moonraker.

However, behind the scenes, UA was undergoing challenges. Krim and his executives exited UA in the late 1970s, starting a new operation, Orion Pictures.

Various executives were promoted to replace them. That group (financially, at least) made a bet on director Michael Cimino and his movie Heaven’s Gate. It was a huge bomb. Would lead to….

UA logo, 1981

1981: Transamerica had enough with the unpredictable film business. The company sold off UA. The buyer was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a studio weaker than its glory days of the 1930s-1950s.

When For Your Eyes Only came out, there was a UA logo without mention of Transamerica. Just “United Artists,” with white letters on a black background.

1980s MGM/UA logo

In 1983, MGM was now billing itself as MGM/UA Entertainment Co. That year, UA-branded films (including the 007 adventure Octopussy). were followed by “United Artists Presents.”

With A View To a Kill, things were simplified, with just the MGM/UA logo.

UA logo, late 1980s

However, toward the latter part of the 1980s, a new stylized UA logo following a new MGM/UA logo (without MGM’s Leo the Lion in it).

Music accompanied the MGM/UA logo. When it switched to the UA logo there would be a “swoosh” sound effect.

This would be seen in 1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence to Kill. What’s more, it shows up on some television versions of 007 films.

However, another shakeup was in store.

MGM in the early 1990s was in financial turmoil after it changed hands and called itself MGM-Pathe. French bank Credit Lyonnais took over MGM in 1991. Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, also sued MGM following an MGM sale of television rights to the 007 film series that Danjaq/Eon felt undervalued the movies.

UA logo in 1995

It wouldn’t be until 1995 things were sorted out where the Bond film series could resume with GoldenEye. (The bank would eventually sell MGM to Kirk Kerkorian, a previous owner of the studio.)

A new United Artists logo debuted with the words, “United Artists Pictures Inc.” Lights came together to form the words “United Artists.”

UA logo 1997

When 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies was released, the logo was tweaked slightly to say, “United Artists, An MGM Company.”

What’s more, versions of this logo were also used in home video releases of Bond films in the late 1990s. They were attached to the early 007 movies without logo and replaced UA-Transamerica logos in other movies.

And then, as far as Bond was concerned, it was over.

MGM 1999 logo used with The World Is Not Enough

Starting with 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, Bond movies were now marketed under the main MGM brand name. That film included a version of the familiar MGM logo noting the studio’s 75th anniversary with the words, “A legacy of excellence.”

From this point forward, the only reminder of the UA days for Bond would be deep in the titles in the copyright notice where United Artists Corp. would be listed as one of the copyright holders.

Footnote: MGM revived the United Artists brand, cutting a 2006 deal with Tom Cruise’s production company. That resulted in the 2008 movie Valkyrie.

Footnote II: Orion Pictures, the outfit founded by the former UA executives, is part of MGM.

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Celebrating 35 years of Eon-MGM dysfunction

Barbara Broccoli

Barbara Broccoli

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the uneasy alliance between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After all this time, the relationship doesn’t appear to be getting any easier.

In 1981, MGM acquired United Artists after insurance conglomerate Transamerica Corp. threw up its hands, opting to get rid of UA and exit the movie business. UA had just dropped a big flop, Heaven’s Gate. Transamerica, which acquired UA in 1967, had enough.

Eon (and its parent company Danjaq) had a reasonably warm relationship with UA.

United Artists simply released the first nine Bond films made by Eon. The studio (which coughed up the money to actually make the movies) occasionally influenced the films. Most famously, it was UA that insisted on bringing Sean Connery back to play 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But for the most part, Eon had a pretty long leash.

The two sides grew closer after UA bought out Harry Saltzman’s stake in the 007 franchise in 1975 when the Danjaq-Eon co-founder ran into financial trouble. Still, UA executives thought a lot about Eon chief Albert R. Broccoli, including maintaining an office for him at UA headquarters in New York.

When MGM bought UA, things changed. The 2015 book Some Kind of Hero by Matthew Field and Ajay Chowdhury goes into some detail about this. Budgets tightened, as did studio oversight. There was a Danjaq-Eon lawsuit when MGM ownership changed at one point, a catalyst in the 1989-1995 hiatus in 007 film production.

Even after the lawsuit was settled, there was tension. Things were never as warm between Eon and MGM as when Broccoli and Saltzman cut their first deal with UA in 1961.

It didn’t help that MGM was long past its prime even in 1981, when it first got into the Bond business. By that point, MGM simply didn’t have the resources as other major studios.

By the mid-2000s, MGM was barely a studio. Sony Pictures actually released the last four James Bond movies, starting with 2006’s Casino Royale. Sony’s Columbia Pictures logo appeared with MGM’s Leo the Lion logo at the start of 007 films.

After a 2010 bankruptcy, MGM was mostly a television company, making series for cable channels. It financed a few movies annually, but released none of them. MGM cut deals with other studios to co-finance them, with the partner studios actually releasing them.

While in bankruptcy, MGM produced a business plan saying it would ramp up 007 film production to every other year. That may have helped get bankruptcy court approval. But Barbara Broccoli, current co-boss of Eon, made clear in 2012 she had no plans to make Bond films that quickly.

MGM chief Gary Barber

MGM chief Gary Barber

Gary Barber, who became MGM chief during the bankruptcy, backed off. These days he doesn’t even mention that bankruptcy court business plan. Earlier this year, he said 007 films would come out on a “three-to-four-year cycle.”

Occasionally, on investor conference calls, Barber refers to “our partners at Danjaq.” Barbara Broccoli, meanwhile, doesn’t talk about MGM much.

Barber is trying to demonstrate that MGM is a viable company beyond James Bond. In part, that’s because MGM wants to sell stock to the public in three to five years.

This weekend, however, MGM got a reality check. Its Ben-Hur remake (released by Paramount) flopped badly. MGM only makes a few movies a year, so any flop is more painful compared with major studios.

For now, Eon/Danjaq and MGM are more or less in the same place they were 35 years ago.

MGM needs Eon to make James Bond films, still the studio’s biggest asset. Meanwhile, Barbara Broccoli wants to make dramas that have nothing to do with James Bond.

At the same time, Eon/Danjaq can’t make James Bond films without doing business with MGM, as much as Eon/Danjaq might like to do so.

It’s a cliche, but true. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

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.