And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Never Say Never Again (1983)
"Die! Die! Why won't you DIE!"

“Die! Die! Why won’t you DIE?!”

Once more with feeling…

In 1958, Ian Fleming was hard at work adapting his bestselling Bond novels to the silver screen. After a disastrous relationship with the CBS anthology show Climax birthed a forgotten adaption of Casino Royale, Fleming teamed with producer Kevin McClory and screenwriter Jack Whittingham to develop an original Bond adventure. When that fell apart in 1961, Fleming took his toys home and turned them into the ninth Bond novel, Thunderball…without crediting McClory or Whittingham. They promptly  and quite rightly sued, beginning a legal battle so protracted it prevented Thunderball from being the first Bond film. McClory and Whittingham eventually won the right to have their names attached to the story and any movies resulting from it, as we saw in Thunderball‘s opening credits. McClory also retained the rights to remake Thunderball after either ten or twelve (sources vary) years. 

So far, so good. But after Thunderball paved the way for three more Bond adventures, McClory started demanding rights, not just to the story he worked on, but to every idea developed for that story – including SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. That’s why Bond’s “Arch Nemesis” basically disappeared from the series with Sean Connery, after Diamonds Are Forever. 

Having finally rebuilt what he always viewed as his toy collection, McClory set out to remake Thunderball with a little help from Orion Pictures…a company that would go on to release some of the most influential films of the the 1980s (The Terminator, RoboCop, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) and 90s (Silence of the Lambs, Dances with Wolves, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey), until its sale to MGM in ’98. Of course, Orion also let fly some of the stinkiest crap those decades had to offer, so this film really could’ve gone either way…but it eventually went to crap. Continue reading

Advertisements


Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
"What, me worry?"

“What, me worry?”

Never say never. Connery shouted it from every rooftop he could find during and after the production of You Only Live Twice. When Eon came begging him back he took a page from SPECTRE’s playbook and extorted the largest amount of money anyone had ever received for a lead role up to that time, officially beginning our modern lead actor Salary Arms Race. The number 1.25 million is thrown around a lot in the attendant literature, though I’ve heard conflicting reports as to whether that’s in pounds or dollars.

Either way, it was a healthy chunk of change at a time of worldwide economic upheivals. Connery, to his credit, used that cash to establish The Scottish International Education Trust, which still puts money in the hands of artistic Scots to this very day. He also got United Artists to back his friend Sidney Lumet’s movie The Offense, which everyone should go out and see. It’s unquestionably better than Diamonds Are Forever. Continue reading



You Only Live Twice (1967)
When in doubt, with a henchman knocked out at your feet, turn to booze. (This message brought to you by the booze council.)

When in doubt, with a henchman knocked out at your feet, turn to booze. (This message brought to you by the booze council.)

And now we get to talk about Sequelitis. You’d expect the fifth Bond movie to bear some resemblance to its predecessors, but You Only Live Twice can’t seem to help but call attention to its heritage. Personally, I blame Roald Dahl. He should’ve turned this project down from the start. He and Ian Fleming were good friends but their writing styles couldn’t be further from each other if you placed them on opposites sides of the cosmos. He hated the novel that share’s this film’s title and, twenty-one years after the film premiered, Dahl flat-out admitted to Starlog magazine, “I didn’t know what the hell Bond was going to do.” Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman answered with The Formula. As Dahl defined it:

 “Bond has three women through the film: If I remember rightly, the first gets killed, the second gets killed and the third gets a fond embrace during the closing sequence. And that’s the formula. They found it’s cast-iron. So, you have to kill two of them off after he has screwed them a few times. And there is great emphasis on funny gadgets and love-making.”

With this information, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became the author  what is essentially Dr. No 2: In Japan. You can tell how many people actually bother to read Dahl’s work by whether or not they call this film “silly.” Sorry, Charlie, but compared to The Chocolate Factory (published the same year as this film’s eponymous novel) and especially compared to The Glass Elevator, this is Roald Dahl on horse tranquilizers. And he still managed to create one of the most influential films of the series, large portions of which have become fertile ground for parody, satire and knowing reference. So I come not to bury this fifth Bond film, but to lament what could have been…and argue that, as “silly” as things get in this picture, they could’ve stood to get a whole lot “sillier.” There might be more to recommend. Continue reading



Thunderball (1965)

“Well…can’t win them all.”

With special guest star: Dr. Peyton Westlake! (I wish.)

With special guest star: Dr. Peyton Westlake! (I wish. Wouldn’t *that* crossover be awesome?)

Way back in my Halloween 4 review I half-joked that, in the vast multiverse of franchise films, only Star Trek and Godzilla have managed to field strong fourth entries. I was immediately “well, actually”-ed by friend of the site David Lee Ingersoll‘s contention that Thunderball “isn’t bad.” Shopping this critique around, I realized Thunderball divides quite a few Bond fans…though nowhere near as much as some Roger Moore movies I could, and will eventually, mention.

I should’ve expected this. Now that we’re on Film Number Four, we can see the full scope of Bond’s world. From this point on, we’ll have plenty of time to consider all its wonderfully disparate elements and decide which we’d prefer to see…as opposed to what we’re actually watching. Because what we’re watching will increasingly serve to remind us of other, better, James Bond films. And why shouldn’t it? Goldfinger made a ton of money, so why not give the people  more of that? Making this film and knowing in their guts that it would be a hit must’ve felt like a license to supply heroin to William S. Burroughs. Especially since the bones of this script were already four years old by the time cameras rolled. Continue reading



Goldfinger (1964)

“Sir, I’m aware of my shortcomings. But I’m prepared to continue this assignment in the manner you suggest…if I knew what it was about. Sir.

"Now...what were you saying about 'Napoleon Complexes'?"

“Now…what were you saying about ‘Napoleon Complexes’?”

And so we come to the production model: James Bond v. 3.0 Alpha. Current series producer Michael G. Wilson has said they start off every film trying to make the next From Russia with Love (only to end up, more often than not, with “the next Thunderball”), and while there’s truth to this, Bond’s second outing isn’t nearly as influential as his third. A more accurate assessment might read, “They start out each film trying to make the next Goldfinger” because Goldfinger carved the Bond Template in stone, no matter the producer’s frequent assurances that they’ve “updated” the character for each generation.

This is the first film that starts off with a “true” pre-credit sequence: Bond in Mexico, taking care of some heroin smugglers by bombing their supply of Nitro. (Every good drug kingpin knows its best keep the nitro within easy walking distance of the production facilities.) Back at the hotel, Bond’s girl of the night asks why he always carries a gun. Bond straight-up admits “I have a slight inferiority complex.” Only slight, James? You’re British and it’s the 60s – your country’s still recovering from WWII. Military bases the world over are either closing down or being taken over by those Ugly Americas with their machine guns. The sun’s setting on the British Empire for the first time in four hundred years, and you, Mr. Bond – a walking example of Hefnerian overcompensation – you’re talking about “slight” inferiority complexes? Continue reading



From Russia with Love (1963)
The Parents Television Council began stalking Bond early on, fearing he might encourage children to become globe-trotting secret agents. Who SMOKE!

The Parents Television Council began stalking Bond early on, fearing he might encourage children to become globe-trotting secret agents. Who SMOKE!

With Dr. NoBond producers Harry Slatzman and Albert Brocoli turned one million dollars into sixty. The collision of good casting and good direction, along with enough sex appeal for most genders and orientations to get at least something out of the deal, created a sustained fusion reaction between the Cold War Era spy thriller and the kind of pulp adventures not seen (by self-conscious adults, scared their friends might think their entertainment “childish”) since before the Second World War made everyone so serious.

The studio that backed Dr. No, United Artists, called for a sequel by October, 1963, handling EON Productions a whopping two million dollars to get the job done. Is it any surprise From Russia with Love went with the Bigger Is Better and More is More philosophy that’s characterized Hollywood sequels from the very beginning? No. What’s surprising is that it worked so well, when conventional wisdom would have it sequels inherently suck. Yet this remains many people’s favorite James Bond films, including Sean Connery’s, Daniel Craig’s and Timothy Dalton’s. Who am I to snark at it?

Continue reading



Dr. No (1962)
"Why, yes, I am awesome. Thank you for noticing."

“Why, yes, I am awesome. Thank you for noticing.”

Grab your nearest bottle of Lafite Rothschild ’62 because, on top of everything else going on and despite the apparent superiority of the Rothschild 63, this year – 2012 – marks  the fiftieth anniversary of James Bond’s debut on film.

Not that this is Bond’s true film debut. Oh, no. The story of his cinematic birth wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if it were. In 1954, a TV movie version of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale, premiered on the CBS anthology series Climax! to…pretty pathetic results, really. Far as I’m concerned, the best thing about that Casino Royale was its score, written by a twenty-five year-old ex-typist named Jerry Goldsmith.

It sounds like Fleming always wanted to export his secret agent superhero to flickering image-based mediums. But Fleming, like a lot of other writers at the dawn of the TV era, inked a lot of bad deals with a lot of shady operators who preferred squatting on film rights to actually making movies. One of these was the Canadian producer Harry Saltzman, a man of (up ’til then) modest success who hoped to make it big…and saw his chance when his screenwriter friend Wolf Mankowitz introduced him to American producer Albert R. Broccoli. Know as “Cubby” to his friends.

Together, Saltzman and Broccoli formed the holding company Danjaq (a portmanteau of their wives’ first names) as a storehouse of Bond’s trademarks. Danjaq’s subsidiary, EON Productions, would do the work of actually making films. Thunderball was to be the first, since it began life specifically as a screenplay…but Fleming grew impatient and eventually turn it into the ninth Bond novel…without crediting his co-screenwriters. This situation quickly escalated into a lawsuit, forcing Saltzman and Broccoli to change course. They chose the sixth in the series, Dr. No, for adaption, and here we are, fifty years later. Continue reading