Connery in Oscar In Memoriam

Sean Connery in From Russia With Love

Sean Connery, who died in October at the age of 90, was prominently featured in the “In Memoriam” segment of the 93rd Oscars.

The Scottish-born actor won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Untouchables. He had a long career that included being the first screen James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No. He played the character seven times, in six movies made by Eon Productions and 1983’s Never Say Never Again in 1983, which wasn’t part of the Eon series.

Connery was shown near the end of the segment in a still from Goldfinger.

Diana Rigg, who also died in 2020, was also part of the “In Memoriam” segment. Rigg was a versatile actress who appeared in films, television and the stage. Earlier this month, the U.K.’s BAFTA left Rigg out from the “In Memoriam” segment of its movie show. The organization said Rigg would be part of its television awards show later this year.

Rigg played Tracy, James Bond’s ill-fated bride in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. She was also famous for playing Emma Peel on The Avengers television show in the 1960s.

Others with Bond connections featured in the segment included Yaphet Kotto (Dr. Kanaga in Live And Let Die), director Michael Apted (The World Is Not Enough) and production designer Peter Lamont.

Also, after Chloe Zhoa won the Oscar for best director (Nomadand), the theme from Live And Let Die (1973) played.

UPDATE: Others included in the segment were veteran actor Max Von Sydow, whose many roles included Blofeld in Never Say Never Again; stunt driver and performer Remy Julienne; actor Earl Cameron, who appeared in Thunderball; and actress Helen McCrory, who appeared in Skyfall.

However, Honor Blackman, who died in August at the age of 95, wasn’t included. She played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger. Also not included was actress Tanya Roberts (A View to a Kill), who died in January at age 65.

UPDATE II (April 26): Also not making the cut was French actor Michael Lonsdale, who played Drax in Moonraker.

Here is the segment:

Yaphet Kotto, an appreciation

Yaphet Kotto in Live And Let Die

Early in his career, Yaphet Kotto (1939-2021) was working as an actor when “Old Hollywood” was holding on for dear life.

For example, he appeared in 5 Card Stud, a 1968 western starring Dean Martin and Robert Mitchum. It was produced by Hal Wallis, born in 1900 and as “Old Hollywood” as you could get. His credits included Casablanca as well as Martin and Lewis comedies. And this movie came out before the Wallis-produced True Grit.

Nevertheless, Kotto, not yet 30, more than held his own with his established fellow actors. Kotto’s character is killed but in his dying moments provides the clue needed to track down his killer.

Hollywood was about to change. And Yaphet Kotto would be part of the change.

Kotto made an impact, whether in films or on television shows. As news of his passing circulated, the actor was subject of numerous tributes on social media.

He was one of the most memorable villains in the James Bond film series. Kotto was Bond’s first Black primary adversary in Live And Let Die (1973). His Dr. Kananga led a double life, as the leader of a Caribbean nation who moonlights as an American criminal.

In his two identities, Kotto projected different personalities. Kananga was the seemingly dignified head of government for San Monique. Mr. Big was the street criminal.

It’s not until the second half of the movie, the audience gets to see Kananga’s true self. Kotto gets one of the best “villain speeches” in the series. He explains his plan is to provide free samples of heroin until the number of addicts in the U.S. has doubled.

Roger Moore, making his Bond debut, asks if that won’t upset certain “families” (i.e. the Mafia).

Kotto seizes the set-up line and runs with it.

He says those families will be driven out of their minds and “subsequently out of the business, leaving me and the telephone company as the only growing monopolies in this country for years to come.” Kotto’s delivery makes an impact.

Kotto had a long career. His IMDB.COM entry lists more than 90 credits. He appeared in a variety of genres, everything from science fiction to gritty crime dramas.

Among those paying tribute to Kotto were two film directors:

Yaphet Kotto dies

Yaphet Kotto with Roger Moore in Live And Let Die

Yaphet Kotto, who played the villain in the first Roger Moore James Bond movie, Live And Let Die, has died at 81, according to website Comicbook.com, which cited a post by Kotto’s official Facebook site.

Kotto played Dr. Kananga, prime minister of the fictional Caribbean island of San Monique. Kananga also impersonates American gangster Mr. Big, who operates out of Harlem in New York City. Kotto’s character, with both identities, opposes Moore’s Bond in his first 007 film outing.

All of that was a major change dreamed up by Tom Mankiewicz, the sole screenwriter for Live And Let Die.

In the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, Mankiewicz said he was approached by Eon Productions about what Ian Fleming novel he’d like to adapt. Mankiewicz was the second scribe on Eon’s Diamonds Are Forever, which featured the return of Sean Connery as James Bond. It was a hit and Eon wanted Mankiewicz back.

The screenwriter, in the documentary, quoted himself as saying he wanted to do Live And Let Die because it was edgier. The book was Fleming’s second Bond novel and featured Bond against Black villains in New York, Florida and the Caribbean.

Kotto had a long career. His credits included 1979’s Alien, Across 110th Street and a first-season Hawaii Five-O episode as a U.S. soldier suffering a head injury who thinks he’s back in Vietnam.

UPDATE (2 a.m., New York Time): Variety has a story about Kotto’s death that includes a confirmation from his agent.

A trivia note: Both Kotto and his Live And Let Die co-star, Julius W. Harris (Tee Hee), played Uganda President Idi Amin in competing productions about the 1976 Israeli raid at Entebbe. Harris appeared first (in a show produced on video tape) on ABC, while Kotto was on a filmed NBC production. The latter was directed by Irvin Kershner, who’d later helm The Empire Strikes Back and Never Say Never Again.

About that ‘Chairman Mao’ 007 villain wardrobe

UPDATE: @SuperThunderFan on Twitter reminds us that Dr. No had a similar look in the movie of the same name, not to mention Bond himself (of course, those were borrowed clothes) as well as Kamal Khan in Octopussy.

ORIGINAL POST: Is it asking too much for a little variety? Let’s consider, the “Chairman Mao” look appears to have originated with the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale.

The “dramatic reveal” (such as it is) is that Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen), the nephew of James Bond (David Niven), is the villain.

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Just a few months later, You Only Live Twice, the fifth 007 film produced by Eon Productions, debuted. It’s the first time we see Blofeld on screen. In his previous appearances (in From Russia With Love and Thunderball), Blofeld wore a suit. But not for this big reveal in the person of Donald Pleasence.

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This look for Blofeld would continue for the next two Eon films, including Charles Gray as Blofeld in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.

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Diamonds would be the final appearance by Blofeld in an Eon movie for a while. But, in 1973’s Live And Let Die, “Wardrobe by Blofeld” continued in the person of Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). And he had *nothing* to do with SPECTRE.

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A couple of movies later, Bond did battle with rich/crazy guy Karl Stromberg and…oh, for crying out loud, couldn’t he afford his own wardrobe?

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Well, The Spy Who Loved Me was a huge hit. Producer Albert R. Broccoli was ensured the resources for an even bigger hit with 1979’s Moonraker — except for a new wardrobe for his villain, embodied by Michael Londale’s Drax.

moonraker-drax

We’ll skip ahead many years (leaving aside the question about whether that guy in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only was Blofeld or not). It’s now 1997. It’s a new era.

So in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies….oh, for crying out loud! Apparently, Jonathan Pryce’s villainous media baron is cheap when it comes to clothes!

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OK, let’s go further forward to the 21st century. The franchise has been rebooted. Oh, there’s a new version of Blofeld? Almost certainly, there’s no way they’d copy that campy, goofy 1960s version. Right? Maybe not.

blofeld-waltz

If the producers need a Blofeld for Bond 25, and Christoph Waltz is unavailable, they should perhaps consider one of the performers in this video. Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis Jr. are no longer with us. But Regis Philbin is still going strong.

Live And Let Die, a reappraisal

We decided, after quite some time, to rewatch Live And Die. It was the debut of Roger Moore as James Bond but, in some ways, it’s more of a milestone than that. For some people, including Skyfall director Sam Mendes, it was the point of entry for a second generation of Bond fans to get addicted.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider Mendes’s own words at the Nov. 3 news conference Eon Productions held: “I vividly remember the first time I saw one of the Bond movies, which was Live And Let Die, and the effect it had on me.” Mendes was born in 1965, too late to catch the first wave of Bond films. For people of that age, their first 007 contact was the Roger Moore Bond of the early 1970s.

Given that, we thought we’d give it another view. First reaction: the Roger Moore 007 didn’t have the swagger, or seem to present the danger element, the way Sean Connery did. At times (mostly when 007 is dealing with African American gangster types early in the film), he’s like Lt. Columbo Bond, trying to lull his adversaries into complacency.

“Waste him?” Bond asks Solitaire (Jane Seymour) after Mr. Big orders his execution. “Is that a good thing?” Shortly thereafter, he’s forced from a door outside into a wall. “Thank you,” Bond says politely.

Later, when the odds have evened up a bit, Moore/Bond comes across as unflappable, rather than having the swagger of Connery/Bond. When he’s told that “Mrs. Bond” has already checked into his bungalow in San Monique, 007 registers concern for a second then cooly says, “Incurable romantic, Mrs. Bond.”

Live And Let Die definitely continues the trend begun in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, Connery’s farewell to the Eon Productions-made film series. Both films were directed by Guy Hamilton, with the final Diamonds script by Tom Mankiewicz (rewriting Richard Maibaum’s earlier drafts) and Mankiewicz working solo on Live And Let Die.

The humor in sequences such as the signature boat chase is even more over the top. Diamonds had some clueless law enforcement officers. Live And Let Die exceeds that with Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), a tabacco-chewing redneck (and clearly racist) sheriff. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, in the documentary Inside Live And Let Die, indicates he didn’t want humor to be at the expense of the African American villains, thus he invented other characters to be the butt of jokes. Also, the death of Live And Let Die’s villain, Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), is on the same level as a Tex Avery-directed cartoon.

The movie is also dated in that it was influenced by so-called “Blaxploitation” films (Shaft, Super Fly) of the early 1970s. That bothers some first-generation fans, who feel that Bond led the way in the ’60s. Then again, when Bond was rebooted with 2006’s Casino Royale and its sequel, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, they were influenced by Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon. That doesn’t bother supporters of those films.

Still, the boat chase is amazing, no computer generated special effects (which, of course, didn’t exist then), just real men using their brains guts and tricks such as hidden ramps. So is the stunt by crocodile farm owner Ross Kananga (Mankiewicz’s inspiration for the villain’s name), doubling Roger Moore, he really did risk death five times before finally successful running over the backs of alligators to safety.

Composer George Martin tends to get overlooked because the title song by Paul and Linda McCartney was so popular. After six consecutive John Barry scores, it was up to Martin to provide the film’s background music. Martin didn’t write the Live And Let Die song but was vital to its preparation and selling it to Eon. So, perhaps because he had a vested interest, he weaves the title song throughout the film very effectively while working within the Barry/Bond music templates. If that sounds easy, we suspect it wasn’t.

Finally, upon this viewing, Yaphet Kotto’s performance struck us as interesting. For the film’s first half, he’s dour and doesn’t say much. After it’s revealed he’s both Dr. Kananga and Mr. Big, he suddenly begins having fun with the role. He explains Kananga’s plot of flooding the U.S. with free heroin to drive out criminal competitors. “Man or woman, black or white, I don’t discriminate.” He then says once the plan is implemented, and the number of addicts has doubled, he’ll start charging for the heroin, leaving “myself and the phone company as the only going monopolies in this nation for years to come.”

A Live And Let Die fan

Live And Let Die isn’t a perfect film by any means. (It was mostly panned in a survey of editors on the former Her Majesty’s Secret Servant website (this post used to have a link but it’s gone dead so we removed it.) But you can see how it appealed to a new generation of fans. Sam Mendes doesn’t exactly have a reputation for directing light movies, so we suspect Skyfall won’t resemble Live And Let Die. But it is interesting, at least on some level, that he cites Live And Let Die as an influence.

Finally, it should be noted that Live And Let Die was the first 007 film to have a higher worldwide gross than 1965’s Thunderball, $161.8 million to $141.2 million Its U.S. box office, though, was below Diamonds Are Forever.

In sum, Live And Let Die is a movie that’s going to divide Bond fans. The first-generation fans throw their arms up in the air while, for the second generation, it’s a landmark to explain how they became interested in 007.

UPDATE: 007 Magazine e-mailed us that is has a back issue concerning Live And Let Die. So if you CLICK HERE you’ll see a selection of back issues of 007 Magazine Archive Files, and find the issue devoted to Live And Let Die.

A look at Tom Mankiewicz’s impact on 007 films

Tom Mankiewicz, a screenwriter who helped shaped film versions of James Bond and Superman, died over the weekend. Mankiewicz, 68, tends to generate widely varying fan reaction among followers of 007. To some, he contributed witty dialogue that enlivened the films he worked on. To others, he was one of the main reasons the Bond films entered a “Dark Age.”

CommanderBond put up THIS STORY ON AUG. 1 while the MI6 Web site ran THIS LONG OBIT ON AUG. 2. We won’t try to duplicate those efforts but we do want to note Mankiewicz did have a big impact. He was credited on three Bond movies: Diamonds Are Forever (taking over from Richard Maibaum, with both getting credit), Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun (where Mankiewicz started and Maibaum took over). And he did uncredited work on The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

First things first. Actors, including Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Clifton James are seen complimenting Mankiewicz’s dialogue in documenaries about the 007 films scripted by the writer. Here’s a sample from Diamonds:

Then again, Mankiewicz (presumbly reflecting the wishes of producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman) tended to push Bond in a more comic direction. James’s J.W. Pepper is one of the main examples of that in Live And Let Die. And Dr. Kananga’s demise in the same movie was probably the least dignified for a Bond villain:

Still, one doubts actor Yaphet Kotto complained too much. He got one of the better villain speeches earlier in the film where he said how his plans to give out free heroin samples to addicts would be “leaving me and the telephone companies as the only growing monopolies in this country for years to come.”

Regardless of which side of the fence, a fan falls on, Mankiewicz’s commentary track on Live And Let Die is interesting and provides insight to the screenwriting process. Mankiewicz definitely had a major impact on the series. Here is in a Writers Guild video discussing his overall career:

What if Godfrey Cambridge had played Fleming’s Mr. Big?

The 1973 James Bond film Live And Let Die is noteworthy because it was Roger Moore’s first 007 film and sported a catchy title song written and performed by Paul McCartney.

But it’s far from a faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel. In fact, bits from the namesake novel wouldn’t be used until 1981’s For Your Eyes Only and 1989’s Licence to Kill And the talented Yaphet Kotto doesn’t play Ian Fleming’s Mr. Big. He’s really playing the Dr. Kananga of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz.

So what would a film version of Fleming’s Mr. Big looked like? Well, we can look to the late Robert Culp, who wrote and directed a first-season episode of I Spy that featured an Oxford-educated Zulu who’s dealing industrial diamonds and stolen radioactive isotopes with Communist China. That villain was played by Godfrey Cambridge, who comes across as quite Flemingesque.

To see what we mean, you can go to Hulu.com or CLICK HERE to watch the episode. Or you can CLICK HERE. Cambridge doesn’t show up until the second half of the episode but he’s quite memorable. Cambridge died in 1976 while playing Idi Amin in a television production about the Israeli raid on Entebbe. His replacement? Julius W. Harris, who played Tee Hee in Live And Let Die.