Thursday, November 13, 2008

The James Bond That Never Was

Another entry for the Blog, James Blog-A-Thon at Lazy Eye Theatre.

This is a long, long tale about the "great" lost Bond project.

Ian Fleming had been trying to get some kind of visual adaptation of James Bond off the ground for years. Casino Royale was adapted for television in 1954, just a year after it was published (under the publisher's title, You Asked for It), but I've heard in more than one source that Casino Royale was only written as a novel based on a screenplay Fleming wanted to write (and some of the other novels are based, apparently, on finished and half-written film treatments). While writing the novels, Fleming continued to look for opportunities to turn his character to film.

In 1958, Fleming joined together with Ivar Bryce, Ernest Cuneo, and Kevin McClory under the banner Xanadu Productions and began collaborating on ideas (even drafts) for a possible film or television series featuring 007. McClory, who had been the assistant director on Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days, pushed for something with vast underwater scenes that could make use of Todd-AO cameras. The idea that came up was Thunderball. McClory had directed a film called The Boy and the Bridge, which crashed at the box office. It cooled Fleming substantially on working with McClory, who had hoped to produce, maybe even direct Thunderball. It also made financing very hard to secure.

The villains in the story were SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Terror, Revolution, and Espionage), an evil, secret spy organization headed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Accounts differ as to who created SPECTRE; Cuneo and Bryce said McClory did, Fleming biographer John Cork said Fleming did. McClory had come up with the story, but Fleming dumped SPECTRE in favor of the Mafia. He added the characters of Largo and Domino. Then in 1959, Xanadu hired Jack Whittingham to take McClory's story and Fleming's two drafts of the script to turn it all into a usable screenplay. Fleming worked with him for two years on the screenplay; McClory's contributions are unclear, but he is said to have been involved in the process. After the two years, Xanadu dissolved. Ernest Cuneo sold his rights in Thunderball to Ivar Bryce (supposedly for the princely sum of a dollar).

Fleming, who was always recycling such ideas for the novels, took the draft screenplay and basically novelized it for the ninth James Bond book, in which he reinstated SPECTRE and Blofeld. He failed to give McClory or Whittingham credit, and they sued him in 1961. Fleming settled out of court at Bryce's behest; Fleming, only in his early fifties, had suffered one heart attack already, and the stress of the court case wasn't helping (Fleming died of a second heart attack in 1964). All future versions of the novel were credited "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming." Whittingham had assigned his script rights to McClory, who was given cinematic rights and all rights to the Thunderball story, plot, and characters (including SPECTRE, Blofeld, and nine additional plot treatments and outlines).

The legal rumblings were what made Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli decide to make Dr. No first instead of Thunderball, their first choice. EON Productions would later have to make a deal with McClory in order to produce the film (he had been shopping it around as an alternative Bond movie to other studios, but there were no takers), giving him a producer's credit and basically leasing the rights to SPECTRE, Blofeld, and the story for ten years. After the ten years were up, McClory would be free to remake the film if he wanted. EON, meanwhile, got to use SPECTRE and Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever.

That was all background. Sorry.

Cut ahead to 1976, and Kevin McClory again wanted to make his own James Bond movie, James Bond of the Secret Service, with the same basic plot as Thunderball. The title eventually changed to Warhead. McClory wrote a new treatment with Sean Connery, who had left the Bond series in some part because he hated the silliness and overreliance on technology, gadgetry, and gimmickry of the Bond series. The idea for Connery was to bring back what was so great about the original Bond movies and do away with the silliness of the Roger Moore films. Connery had so much fun working on the script that he agreed to play Bond again; they wanted Orson Welles to play Blofeld. Len Deighton was brought in to write the screenplay.

How serious the plot really sounds is pretty relative; ironically, it was the humor and gadgetry that had driven Connery away from the series (aside from the constant press intrusion into his private life), but Warhead has a lot of both. Connery and McClory's plot saw Blofeld living under the sea in what he called an Aquapolis. SPECTRE is behind the Bermuda Triangle disappearances; they're going to steal nuclear weapons from sunken submarines to blackmail the UN into giving SPECTRE control over the seas (because Blofeld is worried about the levels of pollution being pumped into the sea by developing nations). Blofeld has a fleet of airplanes based under the ocean. They plan to attack New York by sending sharks through the sewer system to blow up the New York Stock Exchange. They use robot sharks (with nuclear weapons hidden inside) to take over the Statue of Liberty and turn Ellis Island into a troop base. Bond's cleaning woman in an undercover SPECTRE agent; talk about lapsed security!

(McClory had apparently hired Sean Connery to work on the story because, he felt, Connery would know best what worked and what didn't in a Bond movie. Personally, I find Connery's story sense to be terrible, and even a cursory look at his filmography bears that out. I always keep in mind the justification he had for taking the lead in the awful, awful, awful League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a decision he later denounced: that he had been offered The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, turned them down because neither made sense to him, and seen those series make a ton of money; when offered League, he took it even though it didn't make sense to him because he wanted to cash in. Too bad about how that worked out.)

Lawsuits delayed the project. First, McClory filed an injunction when he found out that Albert R. Broccoli was going to use SPECTRE in The Spy Who Loved Me. Then United Artists sued McClory over Warhead. McClory was unable to finance a defense and couldn't fight the injunction. Connery left the project; his involvement had been conditional on there being no legal trouble with the film. No other studio wanted to get involved in a legal battle with UA, EON, and the Fleming Estate. Why the injunction over a story McClory already owned? There's at least one claim that McClory and Connery had managed to find out specific plot details of The Spy Who Loved Me and incorporated them into their own treatment.

McClory reasserted his rights in the 1980s and won a decision against United Artists with help from producer Jack Schwartzman and Warner Bros. The decision stipulated that the project must be based on the original scripts and the novel. No new plot elements could be added, and the words "Thunderball," "James Bond," and "007" could not be used in the title. The film produced by Schwartzman and McClory produced in 1983 was Never Say Never Again, a winking reference to Connery's one-time assertion that he would never play James Bond again. The script was by Lorenzo Semple Jr. It was released the same year as Octopussy, the new "official" James Bond film. Both were successful.

McClory planned to do the film again in the 1990s, Warhead 2000 A.D., with Timothy Dalton as Bond. Sony even announced they would be doing their own Bond series in 1997, with Warhead as the first entry. They were gang-sued by MGM and Danjaq (the parent company of EON), and that was the end of that. As part of the settlement, this third version of Thunderball was abandoned. McClory claimed to still own the film rights to Thunderball, but MGM and EON said those rights had expired. (Another part of the settlement was that MGM give up their partial rights to Spider-Man; the same year, MGM acquired the Orion Pictures library, giving them ownership of Never Say Never Again; ironically, though, Sony now owns the James Bond films, as they and Comcast led a consortium that acquired MGM in 2005 -- production and control of the series still rests with EON). McClory even tried to sue MGM for $3 billion, claiming that he had created the cinematic version of James Bond and was owed the money.

Kevin McClory died in 2006, just after the release of Sony's first Bond picture, Casino Royale. It is still undecided who owns the Thunderball material he claimed ownership of. But it does leave an idea for what can be done with the new Bond series if (when?) they decide to get less realistic again.


flasputnik said...

Let me get this straight.... So, Kevin McClory is the guy behind the gimmick laden kitsch formula that made Bond into a perfect 60's phenom?
I was always wondering who it was that wrecked, and at the same time, saved James Bond. Having read the books at an early age I always found a sharp disconnect between Fleming and the movies, both of which I loved.

Anonymous said...

Even James Bond could do with a little help from Mr. T. I mean, who couldn’t?

James Bond, Fast cars, Hot women, Evil bad guys, Martinis, and Mr. T…

Check this out:

Chance said...

Sean Connery may have a certain screen presence, and he may even be a nice guy, but he appears from everything I've read to have an ant brain.

"The script was all, 'hobbits, hobbits,' so I turned it down." Yeah, like Star Wars was all, "wookies, wookies."

SamuraiFrog said...

Flasputnik: I almost get the sense that Bond just wasn't meant to survive the sixties. They get so lame right away in 1971. But I wonder if they'd stuck closer to Fleming if the series would even have been so popular.

Anonymous: Who couldn't, indeed?

Chance: He just doesn't make exceptional career choices.

Douglas McEwan said...

The detailed account of the McClory Saga was interesting. I've read many accounts of it over the years, but it's such a confused tale of egos and greed that I can't stay on top of it.

DR NO opened in Los Angeles on Memorial Day weekend, 1963. It wasn't even featured, but was the lower half of a double bill with DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS. On Memorial Day, the day after my 13th birthday, I went to that double feature, excited to see DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, which I'd been waiting months for, and had read the book. I'd never heard of James Bond, Ian Fleming or Dr. No apart from two shots of Dr. No's "Mad Lab" in Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine.

I'm sure you realize what a disappointment DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS was (Although I loved the Triffids themselves.), but DR. NO blew me away. I was sort of midway through puberty at the time, and Connery's palpable sex appeal sort of shot me through the rest of puberty right there in the theater. (Somehow I did not recognize Connery from DARBY O'GILL, which I had seen four years earlier to the day.)

Two days later I bought a paperback copy of Dr. No. and read it in two days. By Christmas I had read all the Bond books in print, and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE was in my Christmas stocking.

Because I read the whole book series before FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE came out, I was always invested in Fleming's version of the character. (I read YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE in hardcover as soon as it came out. It's still a favorite of mine, for it's extreme weirdness.) and read THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN when it was serialized in Playboy.

So when, with YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, the movies went out on their own, I didn't like it. When Roger Moore started playing Bond, I was in college, and I HATED him. He wasn't sexy, and he wasn't Bond. I remember in the early scenes of LIVE AND LET DIE we have a scene in Bond's apartment, and his kitchen was full of gadgets. Fleming's Bond would never have lived there. Plus he's hiding a girl in his closet from M, like a bedroom farce. Excuse me? If Fleming weren't already dead, that scene would have killed him. (And WHY is he hiding the girl? M has dropped in without even phoning first. I would think M would expect there to be a girl there.)

In the reviews of the new Bond film (which only takes its title from Fleming's story. The plot is all new.), critic after critic tsk-tsks the new Bond seriousness, saying how Bond is supposed to be a fun character fighting silly cartoon menaces, quipping, and enjoying a martini and a girl. Makes me want to scream. Have they read Fleming? They seem to take the character as being defined by Roger Moore, when it was defined by Fleming. Post-literate idiots who never even consider reading the books.

I have been reerading some of the novels over the last couple years, and am delighted at how well they hold up, despite the hopelessly misogynist attitudes. I think the films missed a bet. They should have followed up CASINO ROYALE by doing LIVE AND LET DIE. They could remake the whole series, in the proper order, and do them right this time, but they went another way, and the reviews are punishing. (Though the film is already in profit, and shows every sign of being a big hit.)

When folks were complaining that Daniel Craig was "Too blonde" or, even more insane, "Too ugly" for Bond, I was disgusted. He is playing a character I recognize as Fleming's Bond.

SamuraiFrog said...

Seeing the Connery Bond movies were just a revelation to me. I really thought I hated James Bond, but look at what I had to grow up with: I was 7 when OCTOPUSSY came out and 9 when A VIEW TO A KILL came out. All of my friends loved them and I was just so bored with those movies. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS didn't help. When I saw the Connery movies as a teenager... now THOSE were movies. That led me into reading the Fleming novels. I started at the beginning with CASINO ROYALE and moved on in their order. I think they do hold up. CASINO ROYALE, LIVE AND LET DIE, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and the last three novels are ones I especially go back to. In fact, with QUANTUM coming out, I have the urge to reread a few of them. They don't take very long, but they're rewarding.

A lot of people I know my own age still love Roger Moore. They grew up with him and find the Connery films slow and dull (I guess, being Moore fans, they're confused by the wit, suspense, and sophistication of Connery). A friend of man, a huge Bond fan, put the difference this way: "If Sean Connery's Bond were in a bar and confronted by a group of thugs, he'd kill anyone he had to and use women as human shields in order to get out alive. If Roger Moore's Bond were in the same situation, he'd calmly let himself get captured and then escape. Which one is more exciting?"

I've seen where QUANTUM OF SOLACE is getting mixed reviews, but people I know who've seen it say it's even better than CASINO ROYALE. I really don't want another Roger Moore. I liked Pierce Brosnan, but having seen Daniel Craig I really see Brosnan more as a compromise between people who wanted the toughness of Connery and the humor of Moore. Daniel Craig is great; he's a single-minded thug who doesn't have time for quips and girls and martinis. A weapon created by MI6 launched out into the world. That's much more exciting, much more interesting, and much sexier. This is the first Bond since George Lazenby who really feels dangerous, and the first since Connery who seems like a killer.

I was hoping they'd just remake the series with LIVE AND LET DIE, too. There's still time to do that, if they want. In the post I wrote about Kevin McClory, I wondered if his over-the-top robot-shark-and-underwater-city plot would get made now he's dead and the Bond series has restarted itself. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm just thinking the silliness is going to creep in sooner or later. It doesn't have to be that way. They need to keep Bond Bond this time.

Douglas McEwan said...

I think the Bond novels are perfect teenage boy reading. You're young enough to buy into them as plausible, when they aren't really, and they aren't written down for young readers, and so encourages more adult reading standards. I read them at just the right age. As an adult, I read the giant squid scene in Dr. No for instance, and laugh at how absurdly over-the-top it is.

I saw an interview with Fleming once (He was still alive when I started reading him), in which he said that his job was making readers turn the page. At that, he was great.

Reading them now I find the sexual attitudes adolescent in the worst sense, the snobbery appalling and yet quaint, and the style eminently readable. They move like gangbusters, and I find that the more over-the-top they are, the more I enjoy them. Dr. No, Goldfinger, and You Only Live Twice are the ones I now enjoy the most. (I have no intention
of re-reading DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, or THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, all of which I didn't much like the first time through, and I'm afraid that if I re-read LIVE AND LET DIE, the 1950s snobbish racism will make my skin crawl.)

Understand, I have nothing against Roger Moore as a person or an actor; I just couldn't stand his version of James Bond.

I was in my 40s when Brosnan, whom I already didn't like much as an actor, came in. I was disappointed that Dalton didn't continue in the role. I had been against casting Brosnan when he almost got the role a few years before. Anthony Hamilton was also considered for the part at that time, and I thought he'd have been great. I knew he was secretly gay (I'd met him, and had seen him make out with his equally-gorgeous boy friend right in front of me), and the idea of a secretly gay Bond strongly appealed to me, plus he had the toughness, and was far sexier than Brosnan on the best day of his life.

I discussed that possibility with Martine Beswicke at the time, as she had just played a super villainess (The Black Widow, not to be confused with the Batman villianess THE BLACK WIDOW played by Tallulah Bankhead) opposite Hamilton on his TV series COVER UP. (He replaced Jon-Eric Hexam after Hexam accidentally killed himself on the COVER UP set. If you don't remember COVER UP, it was a spy series about international runway models who were really secret-super-agents, and it was every bit as stupid as it sounds.) Martine felt Hamilton didn't have the chops for Bond. In any event, Dalton got Bond, Hamilton got a short-lived Australian TV redo of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, and died of AIDS not long after.

I can't follow the Brosnan films. I can never remember which title goes with which film, and they don't even seem to have stories or plots, just disjointed incidents strung together. I liked making Judy Dench (always referred to in Tallulah's blog as "Sir Judy Dench") M. At first I found Samantha Bond bland as Moneypenny (And Lois Maxwell had always got extra points for showing up in LOLITA and THE HAUNTING), but then I saw her in some other roles, and I realized that she was a really interesting actress, too good for the blandly-written Moneypenny role.

I liked that they tried toughening up Bond somewhat during Brosnan, but solid story constuction is gone. Say GOLDFINGER, and one instantly says "Billionaire raids Fort Knox." Say FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and you think Russia (SPECTRE in the film) sets Bond up for a sex scandal/murder on the Orient Express. Say Dr. No and you think Fleming's attempt to out Sax Rohmer Sax Rohmer. (Doctor No was such a bald rip-off of Fu Manchu.) Say THUNDERBALL and you think nuclear blackmail and underwater battles.

Say THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH you think Bond - ah- goes somewhere and does stuff. Does that have Jonathon Pryce as an insane media mogul or the bad guy who can't feel pain? Is that the one where M is kidnapped or the one where Boromir is pissed off about something or other? Or are they all in same one? I know Bond drives a tank through St. Petersburg in one of them. What was Boromir trying to do? I know DIE ANOTHER DAY is the one where the bad guy is Maggie Smith's son.

They're a confusing mess, one long, incoherent movie.

CASINO ROYALE was the first Bond film since I was in my 20s that I was excited in advance about, and the first since OHMSS where the film didn't disappoint my expectations.

Of course, the worst Bond movie ever made, bar none, is the first CASINO ROYALE, with Peter Sellers and the entire Screen Actor's Guild. It's really three or four different movies stapled together, and isn't remotely coherent. It's a particularly 1960s type of idiotic "Comic" nightmare of a film. Characters and plot threads come and go with no set-ups or pay-offs, and it's full of gags that aren't funny. Peter Sellers is the star, and yet he just vanishes from the film arbitrarily. (Fired or quit? Accounts vary.) Yet it has a good score, and one great song, THE LOOK OF LOVE, came out of it. The DVD is worth having simply because it includes the TV CASINO ROYALE with the odd American "Jimmy Bond of the CIA", and Peter Lorre wonderful as the first-ever Bond villain.

GOLDFINGER sort of ruined the Bonds. It was such a huge success, that they decided bigger was better, and started ramping them up. Then THUNDERBALL cemented the Bonds as giant action pictures, and suddenly a small, weird tale about Blofeld living in a Japanese Palace with a suicide's paradise garden was inadaquate, and a giant, utterly absurd plot was whipped up, (Rockets flying into and out of a huge hollow volcano? I'm supposed to believe that?) and the series was doomed. From then on, they were just imitating NORTH BY NORTHWEST, without Hitchcock's taste.

I read a critical essay once that compared the crop duster scene in NBN with the helicopter attack in FRWL. It pointed out that, quite aside from the fact that Hitchcock's sequence was better shot and constructed, in NBN there was reason to be concerned. Roger Thornhill was a man being awakened from a dull existence that had been killing his soul, and by living through an abusurdist nightmare of dangerous experiences, was
rediscovering himself, and re-acquiring self-worth and values, and falling in love in the process, with a woman whose soul also needed saving. There was a real souls, as well as lives, at stake.

In FRWL, a cypher of a man who would be no different at the end of the movie than at the begining is subjected to one more meaningless dangerous incident that there is no doubt he will escape (Thus no suspense), so there's simply no reason to care or be involved. (Mind you, this critic, writing before the Moore films were even made, had only contempt for the whole Bond series.)

NORTH BY NORTHWEST was the whole reason they tried to get Cary Grant for the role of Bond, a man already older than Moore was when he quit the role. Grant showed more smarts than they did when he refused it.

Some critics of the new Bond film are saying that they are distorting the films to appeal to the Bourne Identity audiences. Aside from the irony that Fleming is a far more readable writer than Ludlum, what would be wrong with that? The Bourne films are good.

BTW, Eunice Gayson, who plays Sylvia Trench, the half-dressed apartment golfer in DR NO and the punting girl in FRWL, the first-ever recipient of "Bond, James Bond", was also the heroine in Hammer's THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN. There were a LOT of Hammer/Bond crossover performers.