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.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Another entry for the Blog, James Blog-A-Thon at Lazy Eye Theatre.