Thursday, January 1, 2015

Bond: the Beginning

I've been a fan of the Bond films for many years. My first one was in 1973 Live and Let Die, the first Roger Moore Bond film (this may explain why for many years my favourite Bond was Moore. Sean Connery always looked like he needed a shave and Moore had the look that he could get into a knock 'em down, drag 'em out fistfight and come out of it with his hair still in place and the creases in his trousers still knife edge sharp. I felt that Pierce Brosnan had both Connery's edge combined with Moore's urbanity, so he overtook all that went before him for a few films). The Bond films became a bonding thing with my father. We generally went to the films together and this may be why I have such affection for them.

Last year, my wife and I watched a bunch of Disney cartoons and I blogged it here. My wife mentioned that prior to the Brosnan's she hadn't seen many of the Bond films, and offered to watch them with me. I'll blog the experience here. I should note here that while I've seen the films many times I haven't ever read the books, so when referencing them I may make the odd mistake.

Before embarking on a viewing of the Bond films some background has to be set down.

Any story involving James Bond’s transition from written page to screen begins with the author Ian Fleming.

Bond’s creator Ian Fleming worked as the assistant of Rear Admiral John Godfrey the Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy during WW II, and was heavily involved in the planning of missions and as a liaison between his organization and others like the SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) and the SOE (Special Operations Executive). Following the war Fleming became a journalist, and was permitted three months holiday every winter, which he spent in Jamaica, where he had a property he called Goldeneye after a war time mission that he was personally involved in.

Fleming’s brother Peter was a successful novelist, and Ian had often stated an ambition to write a book. It was something he did during one winter in Jamaica at Goldeneye in 1952, and the result was Casino Royale, the first novel featuring Fleming’s superspy James Bond Agent 007.

The book was a success, and Fleming would go on to write 12 more novels and 2 short story collections (the final 2 published posthumously), he also wrote a children’s novel about a magical car called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

From very early on people recognized the cinematic potential of the Bond books. In 1954, the CBS television series Climax Mystery Theater adapted the book as an episode. 

Barry Nelson was cast as Bond, although I believe he was American and called Jimmy Bond. The casting of Peter Lorre as the villain Le Chiffre was a bit of a masterstroke, though. It wasn’t particularly successful, but the seed had been planted in both the mind of Fleming and others, most tellingly the filmmaker Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.

As early as 1958 Ian Fleming worked on a Bond film script with Irish filmmaker Kevin McClory. Fleming became disenchanted with the project and left it partway through. He later altered what he’d been working on and published it as Thunderball. Both Kevin McClory and the third writing partner, screenwriter Jack Whttingham, took legal action against Fleming. It was settled out of court. The rights went to Fleming, but he had to state that the novel was based on a screen treatment written by McClory, Whittingham and Fleming. The whole incident later caused some major problems for Eon when they filmed Thunderball, but I’ll get to that when I watch the film.

Without Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli I doubt that many people would have ever heard of James Bond as a screen hero. Broccoli always believed that the novels would make excellent films. He and his partner at the time, Irving Allen, did have a meeting with Fleming in 1957 to discuss the possibility of filming the books, unfortunately Allen didn’t share his partner’s enthusiasm and it did not go well. At one point Allen told Fleming that his books weren’t even good enough for television, in a reference to the Climax Mystery Theater episode of Casino Royale.

Fast forward to the early 60’s. Broccoli and Allen had dissolved their partnership in Warwick Films and were working on solo projects. Broccoli was clearly disenchanted with what he was doing at the time, and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz asked him what he actually wanted to do, and offered to try and write it. Broccoli said he wanted to make the Bond books as films, but didn’t have the rights, and didn’t know who did. As luck would have it, Mankowitz knew a Canadian producer called Harry Saltzman, who did hold the rights, and introduced the two men. They got along well, formed a company called Danjaq (comprised of the first 3 letters of each of the men’s wives, Dana Broccoli and Jaqueline Saltzman) and started to work on making the Bond novels into films.

Despite having the rights and the ideas they still needed capital, and that came in the form of David Picker, the President of United Artists, he had also been alerted to the potential of the Bond novels as films, and believed that they could be a good earner (Picker didn’t always get things right though, he did pass on Star Wars, and was often reminded of it by George Lucas). He agreed to tip $1,000,000 dollars into it.

The die had been cast. Bond had conquered literature, radio and comics, now it was the turn of the silver screen to fall under the spy’s spell.
Note: I'd also like to point out here that the films I'm covering will only be official Eon productions, so that lets out 1967's spoof version of Casino Royale and Kevin McClory's 1983 remake of Thunderball in Never Say Never Again.

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