Kirk Kerkorian, mogul who affected 007 films, dies

Kirk Kerkorian

Kirk Kerkorian

Kirk Kerkorian, a business mogul whose ownership of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer affected the James Bond film series, died Monday night at 98, according to obituaries in THE NEW YORK TIMES and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

Kerkorian bought and sold MGM three times between 1969 and 2004, according to the Journal’s obit. During his first stint as MGM’s owner, the studio acquired United Artists in 1981.

UA was the original studio that released the James Bond films produced by Eon Productions. UA ended up controlling half the franchise when Eon co-founder Harry Saltzman sold out in 1975 because of personal financial problems.

Eon’s relationship with MGM wasn’t as close as the one it enjoyed with UA. For one thing, MGM always seemed to be in the middle of financial restructurings that adversely affected the 007 film series.

Ted Turner bought MGM in the mid-1980s, a deal financed with debt, and ended up selling the studio back to Kerkorian while Turner kept MGM’s film library for his cable networks. That library ended up with Time Warner, the parent company of Warner Bros., after it acquired Turner’s company in the 1990s.

Kerkorian sold MGM again in 1990, this time to Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti. Eon in 1991 filed a lawsuit, objecting to television rights sales for the Bond films conducted under Parretti.

The lawsuit was a major reason the six-year hiatus for 007 movies between 1989 and 1995. A settlement was reached in 1993 (CLICK HERE to view a story with details).

Still, the hiatus was a contributing factor to the end of Timothy Dalton’s two-picture reign as 007.

John Calley, a new UA executive, reportedly wanted to replace Dalton. Dalton announced he was leaving the role, paving the way for Pierce Brosnan to start a four-picture run as Bond from 1995 to 2002.

Kerkorian became MGM’s owner yet again in 1996, purchasing the studio from Credit Lyonnais, which had seized MGM from Parretti after a loan default.

Kerkorian sold MGM one last time in 2005, this time to a group that included Sony. But the group’s finances crumbled and MGM went into bankruptcy in 2010, a factor in the four-year gap between Bond movies from 2008 to 2012. This time, however, Daniel Craig remained in place as Bond after MGM exited bankruptcy and 007 production resumed with 2012’s Skyfall.

Blast from the past: The Spy Who Loved Me (1975)

Bond collector Gary Firuta forwarded the following trade advertisement dated May 1975 in a publication called Cinema TV Today. It’s for The Spy Who Loved Me.

Of interest is that Harry Saltzman is still onboard at Eon Productions along with Albert R. Broccoli. Both are listed as presenting the movie. Also, at the time of the advertisement, Guy Hamilton was still slated to be director — with a 1976 release date.

Finally, in the 1975 ad, it says, “Ian Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me.” In the film, it said Roger Moore was playing “Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 in The Spy Who Loved Me.” The final film with “Ian Fleming’s” affixed to the title was Moonraker.

There would be many twists and turns between this advertisement and the release of the movie in the summer of 1977. The biggest twist would be Saltzman’s exit from Eon, selling out his interest to United Artists, a development that still affects the franchise today. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picked up UA’s interest in 007 when it acquired UA in 1981. Hamilton would also exit the project, to be replaced by Lewis Gilbert.

UPDATE: Back in September 2011, we had a post about THE ORIGINAL POSTER for The Spy Who Loved Me and how it differed from the final version.


MI6 Confidential features Armstrong, Picker in new issue

David Picker

David Picker

MI Confidential is out with A NEW ISSUE that, among things, includes features on stuntman/second unit director Vic Armstrong and former United Artists executive David V. Picker.

Armstrong worked on the 007 film series in such films as You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He was interviewed for John Cork-directed documentaries about those movies, providing some behind-the-scenes perspective about how stunts were performed. From 1997-2002, Armstrong assumed the helm as stunt coordinator and second unit director for three Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan.

Picker was among the UA executives who reached a deal in 1961 with producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to get the 007 film series started. His memoirs were published last year, including A CHAPTER ON THE BOND FILM SERIES.

Also included in the issue are stories about Lana Wood and her experiences filming Diamonds Are Forever and Ian Fleming’s taste in cars.

The price for MI Confidential No. 25 is 7 British pounds, $11 or 8.50 euros. For more information about the contents or to order, CLICK HERE.

Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary: 007’s sacrificial lamb


Normally, we’d have waited to do a post about The Man With The Golden Gun’s 40th anniversary. But with this week’s passing of co-director of photography Oswald Morris, this is as good a time to examine the ninth James Bond film.

Let’s face it: Golden Gun doesn’t get a lot of love among James Bond fans or even professionals. 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.

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.” The 1974 film is a way for the makers of 007 films to establish they’re really talking candidly, that not every Bond film has been an unqualified success.

The latter point is true enough. 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.

This is not to argue that Golden Gun is the best offering in the Eon Production series. Rather, in many ways, it’s the runt of the litter that everybody likes 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 exactly demanding candor. But the statement is true. It has not one, but two Oscar winning directors of photography (Morris and Ted Moore); it has a score by a five-time Oscar winner (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’s never going to get much love in the 007 community.

Wilson & Broccoli, an appreciation

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the co-bosses of Eon Productions, are scheduled to get an award from the Producers Guild on Jan. 19. The half-siblings this week were featured in a write-up on previewing the event.

Evaluations of second-generation business leaders (and running the Bond franchise qualifies as a business) can vary. Occasionally, the second-generation outshines the first (think Thomas Watson Jr. of IBM). Sometimes, the second generation’s ambitions are frustrated by the first (think Edsel Ford). Sometimes, the second generation can make its own mark that’s simply different than the first (think Richard D. Zanuck).

In any case, it can be a balancing act. In the case of the 007 franchise, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli was a co-founder and a showman. His stepson and daughter succeeded him in the 1990s but had entirely different styles.

Wilson and Broccoli’s main accomplishment may have been to deal with changing executive regimes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman initially had the support of a firmly entrenched group of executives at United Artists, including Arthur Krim, Robert Benjamin and David Picker. That began to change in the 1970s (and after Saltzman departed the series). MGM acquired UA in the early ’80s and changes in the executive suite accelerated.

Also, Wilson and Broccoli were handed the reins in the midst of a six-year hiatus that might have killed the series. In the 21st century, MGM went through bankruptcy, another time of uncertainty.

Wilson and Broccoli may not have the publicity flair that Albert R. Broccoli had. Wilson has his P.T. Barnum moments, where his statements don’t always square with each other. Barbara Broccoli can rely on a few catch phrases such as “the money’s on the screen.”

Still, the pair remain in charge of the Bond franchise, which will result in the start of production of Bond 24 later this year.

Our modest proposal for a James Bond-related movie

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

Ian Fleming, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli

This weekend in the U.S., Saving Mr. Banks, a telling of the behind-the-scenes turmoil during the making of 1964’s Mary Poppins, is out. Generally, movie makers love to make movies about their industry. So why not a movie based on how James Bond made it to the screen?

There certainly were moments of drama that occurred before 007 made it to the screen in 1962’s Dr. No. The meeting where Irving Allen, then the partner of Albert R. Broccoli, ridicules the Bond novels to Ian Fleming’s face. The ticking clock as Harry Saltzman strained to make a deal with a studio before his six-month option on the bulk of the 007 novels expired. How the producers and United Artists wrangled about who to cast to play Fleming’s gentleman agent with a license to kill.

Such a project likely would face complications. It’d be easiest for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in partnership with Sony. Saving Mr. Banks was released by Walt Disney Co., which meant it was no problem to use clips from Mary Poppins in a sequence about the movie’s world premier. However, an MGM-Sony combo would need to proceed cautiously, not wanting to alienate Eon Productions, which actually produces the 007 movies.

One possible vehicle to do a “being the scenes of 007” movie would be to acquire the screen rights of one-time United Artists executive David V. Picker’s memoir, which includes a chapter on the Bond movies and how they came to be. One possible scenario for a movie would be show how things came to be through Picker’s eyes.

Don’t hold your breath for such a movie (or even TV movie). But it would have the potential to be an entertaining film.

RE-POST: From Russia With Love’s 50th: legacy

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Sean Connery in a From Russia With Love publicity still

Originally published Sept. 18, the last of a four-part series. Reprinted today, the actual anniversary.

From Russia With Love, the second James Bond film, remains different from any 007 adventure since.

It’s the closest the Bond series had to a straight espionage thriller. The “McGuffin” is a decoding machine. That’s important in the world of spying but the stakes would be much larger in future 007 adventures: the fate of the U.S. gold supply, recovering two atomic bombs, preventing nuclear war, etc.

From Russia With Love includes memorable set pieces such as the gypsy camp fight between Bulgarians working for the Soviets and the gypsies working for MI6’s Kerim Bey as well as Bond dodging a helicopter. But they’re not the same scope compared with what would be seen in future 007 films. No underwater fights. No giant magnets snatching cars from a highway. No death-dealing satellites. Even when Bond movies such as For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights tried to have From Russia With Love-like moments, they still had larger action sequences.

From Russia With Love is by no means a small, “indie” film. It’s just different compared with what producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, and their successors, would offer in future 007 installments. Perhaps that’s why some fans keep coming back to view From Russia With Love again and again.

From Russia With Love also introduced stylistic changes to the Bond series, particularly with the beginning of the 007 pre-credits sequence. It also had an actual title song, unlike Dr. No. However, the main titles used an instrumental version (plus an arrangement of the James Bond Theme). The vocal, performed by Matt Monro, is briefly heard during the film and isn’t played in its entirety until the end titles. Finally, the movie was the first time Eon Productions revealed the title of the next 007 adventure in the end titles.

From Russia With Love also demonstrated that Dr. No wasn’t a fluke. If Sean Connery as Bond had been a diamond in the rough in Dr. No, he was now fully polished in his second turn as Bond. At the box office, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit with audiences than Dr. No.

The 1963 007 outing proved once and for all the judgment of Broccoli and Saltzman — the odd couple forced by circumstances to join forces — that Bond had major commercial potential. The likes of Irving Allen (Broccoli’s former partner who hated Ian Fleming’s novels) and Columbia Pictures (which had the chance to finance Dr. No only to see United Artists do the deal) had egg on their faces.

Nearly a half-century later, From Russia With Love is often in the conversation among fans (particularly older ones) as among the best of the Bond films. It also ensured the series would continue — though nobody realized how big things would get.

THE END…NOT QUITE THE END…JAMES BOND will return in the next Ian Fleming thriller “GOLDFINGER.”


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