Friday, 30 October 2015

Now pay attention 007

To celebrate this week's release of the film Spectre, I thought I'd share some facts about the smooth-talking, fast-driving, sharp-shooting, fictional British Secret Service agent, James Bond.

Since his introduction over 60 years ago in Ian Fleming's 1953 book Casino Royale, the character has lived in the British collective consciousness as the national hero we never had. Yet thanks to Eon Productions' stream of official movies, his appeal is unquestionably global. People all over the world have been watching Bond's exploits ever since the first Sean Connery film, Dr. No, was released over half a century ago, in 1962.

Here are three facts (to add to the thousands that already appear in newspapers, magazines and online), that I'm rather hoping will be obscure enough not to be common knowledge, yet engaging enough to be interesting:

1. Casino Royale (2006) with Daniel Craig is the third Bond movie with that title.
The previous Casino Royale was the relatively well-known 1967‭ psychedelic ‬spoof with David Niven as Bond‭, also starring Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress. The film largely eschews the plot of the book and instead sees Bond take over MI6 after the death of M, where he then orders every agent‭ ‬renamed James Bond‭ ‬in an effort to confuse his enemies.‬

But before that (and before even Dr.No), Bond's first ever on-screen adventure was made by the CBS Television Network in America, airing in 1954, just a year after Fleming wrote the book. It was the third episode of Climax!, an anthology series that presented different characters in different stories every episode, and was an hour-long television adaptation of Fleming's original novel. Bond and Leiter's nationalities were flipped, so Bond, played by Barry Nelson, was an American known as Jimmy, working for the Combined Intelligence Agency, while Leiter was a British Secret Service agent, with his first name changed from Felix to Clarence.

2. The story Thunderball has also been turned into a film more than once.

Okay, so most people with a passing interest in Bond know that the 1965 film Thunderball was remade in 1983 as Never Say Never Again. But they might not know that the real-life legal battle behind both films spanned over 5 decades and eventually paved the way for the most recently released Bond film, Spectre.

The story is a fascinating glimpse at the legal forces at work over the franchise, and even suggests the idea that Ian Fleming's literary Bond, in Fleming's own words 'an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened', was a very different character to the near invincible cinematic Bond, who may owe more of his super-spy persona to writer Kevin McClory.

In a dumbed-down nutshell McClory, Fleming and fellow writer, Jack Whittingham, wrote the original draft to Thunderball in 1961. Ian Fleming adapted the screenplay as a book, but never sought McClory and Whittingham's permission. A legal battle ensued, which essentially meant the Thunderball movie was shelved. Elements from the story were then incorporated into a replacement film, Dr. No, including the introduction of shadowy, criminal organisation, SPECTRE. McClory argued that much of the subsequent movie series was therefore based on the more fantastical Bond from his original movie script and was, at least partly, his intellectual property.

After years of legal battles, he was granted the opportunity to make his own version, which was released by Sony Pictures, almost head to head with MGM's Octopussy, in what quickly became known as the 'Battle of the Bonds'. ‬It saw Sean Connery come out of Bond retirement (to play Bond coming out of retirement) with the title a tongue-in-cheek reference to‭ ‬the fact that he'd vowed‭, ‬after filming Diamonds Are Forever‭, to‭ 'never again' ‬play Bond.

McClory then made several attempts to set up a rival Bond franchise with Sony, all to no avail. Sony eventually bought MGM, McClory passed away, and in 2013 the rights to Thunderball, Blofeld and the organisation SPECTRE passed from the McClory estate to MGM and the Eon Productions holding company, Danjaq, finally clearing the path for the production of the film released this week.

You can see a fuller version of this story over at Universal Exports here.

Thunderball bonus ball extra fact: According to Tony Nourmand in his book James Bond Movie Posters, in the controversial Italian promotional image for Thunderball, artist Averardo Ciriello originally drew Bond completely naked. The artwork was eventually used, but with added shorts to offer a shred of decency.

Even in the adapted version of Averardo Ciriello's poster, the 007 gun logo reveals its full meaning 

3. George Lazenby, who famously only had one shot at Bond, the 1969 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, actually reprised the role over a decade later.
In the very early days of American TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ian Fleming was called in to help write. Although he wasn't involved for long, he was responsible, among other things, for coming up with the name of the lead character, Robert Vaugn's Napoleon Solo. In the 1983 TV reunion movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair, as a nod to Fleming's involvement, George Lazenby played a character only ever referred to as JB, driving a gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 and spouting lines like 'shaken, not stirred'.

You can see a clip from The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. featuring George Lazenby as JB on YouTube here.

Secrecy is an overrated attribute for secret agents

Bonus fact: In a nod to another British spy series, the film also featured Patrick Macnee, the former Avenger, John Steed. He played the new head of U.N.C.L.E. and Napoleon Solo's boss, but less than two years later Macnee completed the connection by appearing in a bona fide Bond film. This time he played Sir Godfrey Tibbet, Bond's advisor, assistant and driver in the 1985 film A View To A Kill. Macnee was the third main member of The Avengers cast to have had major roles in both franchises. The first two being Honor Blackman and Dianna Rigg, who starred as Cathy Gale and Emma Peel in The Avengers. Blackman later played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and Rigg went on to take the part of Bond's doomed bride, Tracy, in the official George Lazenby film On Her Majesty's Secret Service. According to The Avengers Forever website there are also about eighty other actors who had parts in both franchises, including Joanna Lumley who appeared, albeit briefly, in on Her Majesty's Secret Service, before becoming leading character Purdey in The New Avengers, and Sean Connery himself who eventually made the leap when he was the bad guy in the much-maligned 1998 movie version of The Avengers.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating! I didn't know any of this! Looking forward to seeing Spectre even more now