How fans view 007 movies as LEGO blocks

On Her Majesty's Secret Service poster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service poster

Fans treat the object of their affection like LEGO blocks. You can just move a few blocks from here to there without any other differences.

So it is with 007 films and 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

For years — decades, actually — Bond fans have debated the subject. The 007 film series produced its adaptations of Majesty’s and You Only Live Twice out of order.

Take out George Lazenby and put in Sean Connery? OHMSS would be a lot better is a common talking point.

Except, real life doesn’t necessarily work that way.

“If only they’d made OHMSS before YOLT…”

Except, you don’t get Peter Hunt as director. In turn, that means a ripple effect. You likely don’t get the most faithful adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, as the 1969 movie turned out to be.

Instead, you get You Only Live Twice except the character names and locations are changed.

Meanwhile, you have a greater chance of an underwater Aston Martin (in one of the script drafts before Hunt came aboard). You may even get Blofeld as a half-brother of Goldfinger.

All this isn’t speculation. Author Charles Helfenstein provides a summary of the various 1964-68 treatments and drafts for Majesty’s written by Richard Maibaum. Blofeld as Goldfinger’s half-brother was in a screenplay dated March 29, 1966, according to the book (pages 38-39).

In real life, making movies is more complicated. Change a major piece, such as the director, and there are ripple effects throughout the production.

Meanwhile, Eon Productions changed the order it filmed Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

With the novels, Russia came first. Dr. No came second. The movies reversed the order. Yet, few Bond fans complain about that.

Fan discussions about 007 movies are similar to debates among sports fans. Example: Which baseball team was better, the 1927 New York Yankees or the 1976 Cincinnati Reds?

For fan purposes, things would have been a lot better if Ian Fleming hadn’t sold off the rights to Casino Royale, his first novel, so quickly. In theory, if that had happened, Eon could have done Fleming’s novels in order.

Except, does anyone believe Sean Connery would have done a dozen Bond films?

Would Connery really have been satisfied doing that many 007 films in a little more than a decade? On the other hand, would fans have been satisfied with a Bond series of only six Connery movies starting with Casino Royale and ending with Dr. No?

Fans have their fantasies. Real life, though, is more complicated. Certainly, making movies is not like assembling LEGO blocks.

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.

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.

woody-allen-casino-royale-1967

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.

blofeld-yolt

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

blofeldsmiles

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.

lald-yahphet-kotto

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?

stromberg-tswlm

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!

tomorrow-never-dies-villain

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.

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.

Ken Adam to be honored by American Film Institute

Ken Adam

Ken Adam

Ken Adam, the long-time film production designer who died in March, is being honored by the American Film Institute with a film series that runs starting July 9 and into September.

AFI is showing a range of films reflecting Adam’s work, including all seven James Bond films he designed for producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman.

In addition, the series includes The Ipcress File, the first Harry Palmer film that was produced by Saltzman, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the children’s movie based on an Ian Fleming novel that Broccoli produced.

The movies are being shown at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The dates are as follows. The movies are shown at different times of day and for full details, CLICK HERE.

July 9, 11, 13: Dr. No (1962), the first James Bond film, where Adam’s sets made the movie look more expensive than it really was.

July 10, 12, 14: Goldfinger (1964). Adam, with no access to the interior of Fort Knox, created one from his imagination.

July 16, 20: Thunderball (1965). The Biggest Bond of All and Adam’s work was one of the reasons.

July 17: You Only Live Twice (1967), the first Bond film to toss out an Ian Fleming plot and substitute its own. Adam’s SPECTRE volcano headquarters set was a major highlight.

July 23, 26: Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

July 25: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

July 31: Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Michael Todd-produced film version of the Jules Verne novel starring David Niven, with various stars making cameo appearances.  Adam is credited as an art director and his name is spelled Adams. The movie’s associate producer was William Cameron Menzies, who helped pioneer the concept of a production designer responsible for the overall look of a film.

Aug. 6, 10: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Adam returned after a two-picture absence from the Bond series. His work included the interior of what’s supposed to be a tanker that swallows nuclear submarines.

Aug. 7, 9: Moonraker (1979), Adam’s farewell to the 007 series, where his contributions included a space station.

Aug. 13, 16: The Ipcress File (1965), Adam demonstrated he could handle a more realistic spy film.

Aug. 20, 24: Barry Lyndon (1975), Stanley Kubrick-directed film where Adam won an Academy Award.

Aug. 26, 30, Sept. 1: Night of the Demon (1957)

Aug. 27, 28, 30, Sept. 1: Gideon of Scotland Yard (1958)

Sept. 2, 3, 5: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Who better to design a flying car than Ken Adam?

Sept. 3, 6, 8: The Last of Shiela (1973)

Ken Adam's "war room" set from Dr. Strangelove

Ken Adam’s “war room” set from Dr. Strangelove

Sept. 9, 10, 12, 13, 14: Dr. Strangelove (1964): Adam passed on the second Bond film, From Russia With Love, to work with Kubrick on the nuclear war satire. Adam’s biggest contribution was the War Room set, which has inspired production designers and art directors ever since.

Sept. 10: The Madness of King George, which resulted in Adam’s second Academy Award.

 

007 and the peak of movie poster art

Arguably, that would be 1967’s You Only Live Twice, which featured multiple memorable images.

The masterpiece was this image, which wasn’t even the primary piece of art for the film. Sean Connery’s tuxedo-clad James Bond improbably is using his feet to support himself while Tiger Tanaka’s ninjas raid SPECTRE’s volcano headquarters.

You Only Live Twice art

You Only Live Twice art

Depending on the format of the poster, the main poster images featured Connery/Bond in Little Nellie above the SPECTRE base, or Connery/Bond with Japanese women. Some posters managed to combine both.

YOLT skinny poster

You don’t get that kind of art these days with movies, which digitally manipulate photographs and don’t utilize lush illustrations. The entertainment website Birth.Movies.Death took to Twitter, reminding its followers about the You Only Live Twice art.

Civil War is like You Only Live Twice, the book and film

Spectacle phase of Captain America: Civil War

Spectacle phase of Captain America: Civil War

No real spoilers, but your mileage may vary.

To use a James Bond reference, imagine a movie that had both the sprawling spectacle of You Only Live Twice, the movie, plus the personal elements of Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice novel.

That’s what you get with Captain America: Civil War.

The film, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and scripted by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, goes through a progression:

–More or less standard super heroics with serious undertones.

–Expansion to a spectacle phase, fueled by the introduction of Spider-Man into the proceedings.

–A surprisingly personal climax, which ties up plot threads dating back to when Marvel started producing its own movies eight years ago.

With You Only Live Twice, there has been a half-century fan debate whether Fleming’s 1964 novel could actually be filmed versus a disappointment of fans of the novel there wasn’t an actual attempt.

Civil War walks a similar tightrope with style. Marvel is drawing upon multiple stories (but especially a 2006-2007 story line that crossed over various titles), rather than a single novel. So perhaps it’s not the fairest comparison.

Regardless, Civil War traverses that tightrope in style. Truth be told, the Spy Commander was wondering whether Marvel could maintain its momentum heading into its “Phase III.”

As it turns out, Civil War launches Phase III into new territory.

Civil War has the equivalent of two 007 pre-title sequences, one a short period piece, the other a more elaborate one set in the present day. In the latter, there have been some collateral casualties, spurring a move among United Nations members to rein in the Avengers, the team led by Cap (Chris Evans).

Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is in favor but Cap isn’t convinced.

So far, so good. Along the way, the audience meets a new character, T’Challa, the Black Panther, who becomes the ruler of the advanced African nation of Wakanda after his father his killed during a terrorist attack during a U.N. ceremony.

As a result, a big conflict breaks out, with the two heroes recruiting allies. It’s here where the latest Spider-Man (Tom Holland) makes an appearance and he immediately ramps things up. The scene where Tony Stark recruits a teenage Peter Parker is one of the highlights of the film.

The major fight, as impressive as it is, only sets up the climax, where we get into intense personal conflict (albeit with super heroics) delivered with a wallop.

One criticism of the movie (from Los Angeles Times and NPR reviewer Kenneth Turan) is that it’s harder for viewers who aren’t hard-core Marvel fans to get up to speed. Perhaps so.

Still, the Russo brothers get the audience’s attention from the beginning. By the end of the two-and-a-half hour movie, Marvel fans will be especially pleased but there’s something for everyone. To again use a 007 reference, it’s like seeing Thunderball or You Only Live Twice (or later film) as your first James Bond film. It’s easy enough to get up to speed.

One more thing: There are *two* scenes in the end titles. The first wraps up things from Civil War, the latter sets up a future Marvel production. The very last image of the end titles utilizes a page from the playbook of the early Bond films, something the 2011 Thor and Captain America movies did as well.

GRADE: A