Beginning August 8th and running through the end of the month, those fortunate enough to subscribe to AMC can watch “The Complete James Bond Marathon” with a James Bond film from the period 1962 – 1989 screening every weeknight. Included in the mix is the wonderful documentary “Bond Girls are Forever” hosted by Bond Girl, Maryam d’Abo.
The marathon begins with the classic that started the series, Dr. No, and concludes with 1989’s Licence to Kill, which means that it features four actors portraying the legendary British Secret Service agent. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton. Obviously, this leaves out Pierce Brosnan and the Bond films in which he has starred, and of course, Never Say Never Again, but no matter. The movies that AMC is showing are a treasure trove for Bondophiles and we will enjoy several weeks of treats.
Whenever you get more than one fan of the Bond series together in one place, the discussion almost invariably becomes, “Who was the best Bond?” I will not try to answer that question here, but leave that to you, the reader, to determine for yourselves by watching the films during the rest of the month.
Sean Connery portrayed the suave, smooth, super-spy in Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds are Forever. By far the most famous and successful of these is Goldfinger, featuring this very well-known exchange between Connery’s Bond and Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger:
Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”
Goldfinger: “No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!”
It’s gross sales in the U.S. in 1964 was $51 million, and worldwide it grossed $124.9 million dollars, a huge success.
After You Only Live Twice, Sean Connery said he would not portray Bond again, and the producers turned to a relatively unknown actor named George Lazenby to portray the spy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, based on Ian Fleming’s first and probably best novel featuring the super-sleuth. Was it a success or a failure? You be the judge. The producers considered it a failure in spite of its success at the box office. On a budget of $7 million, it produced worldwide grosses of $82 million, clearly a profitable movie. Yet, the producers dropped Lazenby and begged Connery to return. They did more than beg. They offered him $1.25 million and 12.5 percent of the gross in order to get him to do the film. He accepted, and the result was Diamonds are Forever, which broke Hollywood’s then existing record for box office gross for a three day weekend release and ultimately raked in $116 million worldwide.
They say that everyone has his price, but even the offer of $5.5 million in 1972 was not enough to entice Sean Connery to play Bond one more time, so the producers turned to Roger Moore to take on the role in Live and Let Die. This new film was different in several ways, not including its new star. Live and Let Die was the first Bond film since From Russia With Love that did not co-star Desmond Llewelyn as “Q”. It was an effort to try to get away from “gadgets,” an effort that failed horribly. Angry fans wrote in and demanded the return of Q and he was back with the next Bond film, The Man With the Golden Gun.
This was also the first Bond film where the super-heroic spy wasn’t out to save the world. This time the plot involved drugs. David Hedison, who played “Felix Leiter” in Live and Let Die would reprise the role in Licence to Kill, becoming the only person to play the role of Leiter more than once. There is also a plot device from the Fleming novel Live and Let Die that gets used in Licence to Kill, further tying the two movies together.
Moore was a different Bond than either Connery or Lazenby, giving the role his own style, and he was consistent in that style in the next few films, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, Octopussyand A View to a Kill.
In 1983, when Octopussy was going to come out, it faced unique competition. As the result of a legal battle, one of the producers of Thunderball, Kevin McClory had won the right to make a Bond film that wasn’t associated with the owner of the Bond franchise, Albert “Cubby” Broccoli. Harry Saltzman had owned part of the franchise, but had been forced to sell his interest to United Artists in 1975 because of financial pressures. McClory’s court victory allowed him to make a Bond film, but it had to be a remake of Thunderball, and not a new, derivative Bond film. So he signed Connery for his remake and made Never Say Never Again, the title of which came from a comment made by Connery’s wife. After he said he would never play Bond again, his wife reportedly said, “Never Say Never Again”. How prophetic.
So, not one, but two Bond films came out in 1983, and in the end, Roger Moore’s Bond and Octopussy won the battle of the box office, out-earning Never Say Never Again in the theaters worldwide $187.5 million to $160 million. That, in spite of the fact that Octopussy was made on a budget of $27.5 million, versus a budget of $36 million for Never Say Never Again.
A View to a Kill was Moore’s final appearance in the role and he is rumored to have said that he decided to end his run as the character when he realized that his co-star, Tanya Roberts, had a mother that was younger than he was. A View to a Kill was also the final Bond film for one of the staples of the series, Lois Maxwell, who had originated the role of “Moneypenny” and performed it in a total of 14 Bond films. It was the only Bond film to have the title song hit the #1 spot on the pop charts in the U.S., although Paul McCartney’s theme for Live and Let Die came close at #2. It was also the first Bond film to star an actor who had previously won an Academy Award, that of course being Christopher Walken as “Max Zorin”.
A View to a Kill was also the first Bond film to indicate at the end that James Bond would return in another film but not name the film, and that caused speculation that the franchise might end.
However, the speculation was in error. Twenty-five years after the release of Dr. No, Timothy Dalton took on the role of James Bond in The Living Daylights, the first of only two Bond films he would star in. This was the last film in which the story had major thematic elements taken from material written by Ian Fleming. The Living Daylights was a short story written by Ian Fleming as part of a collection known as, “Octopussy and the Living Daylights.”
Licence to Kill had originally been titled Licence Revoked, but that title was too close to the title of a new Bond novel written by John Gardner that had the title Licence Renewed, and thus the title changed. Once again Bond is chasing a drug lord instead of trying to save the world, and this time the motivation is revenge. It is the darkest of the Bond films of this era and Dalton the darkest of the Bonds thus far.
Almost an entire month of Bond films, a treat for any Bondophile. Enjoy it.