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.

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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.

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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.