Countdown to ‘Skyfall’ – A history of the James Bond film franchise Part 2

In Part II of “Countdown to Skyfall – A History of the James Bond Franchise” the details of that legal battle mentioned in Part I take center stage.

The initial attempt to bring James Bond to the big screen revolved around an original screenplay titled “Longitude 78 West,” based on an idea by 007 author Ian Fleming, Jack Whittingham and Kevin McClory.  Fleming liked it a lot, but changed the title to Thunderball.  Fleming used the screenplay to pen the novel of the same name and the legal battle began as Whittingham and McClory sued to prevent publication of the novel.

RELATED: See film posters for all the James Bond films

Claudine Auger in 'Thunderball'
Claudine Auger in ‘Thunderball’

The novel was published, but the legal action went forward and was ultimately settled.  In the settlement, McClory gained literary and film rights to the screenplay, while Fleming retained rights to the novel, although it must be credited as being “based on a screen treatment written by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and the author.”  Fleming died nine months after the legal action ended, on August 12, 1964.

Thusly, when Eon Productions set out to make the fourth Bond film by using the novel Thunderball, they had to include Kevin McClory in the process.  They hammered out a deal under which McClory agreed not to make a film based on the material he held the rights to for ten years following the release date of the Eon Production film.

Akiko Wakabayashi in 'You Only Live Twice'
Akiko Wakabayashi in ‘You Only Live Twice’

Claudine Auger played the main Bond girl as “Domino Derval,” although her voice had to be dubbed.  Adolfo Celi played the main villain, “Emilio Largo,” but his voice was also dubbed.  Martine Beswick returned in a small role, but as a different character than her role in From Russia With Love.  It was the fourth straight hit in the series, grossing $141 million on a budgeted cost of only $9 milliion.  The Bond films were now a major cash cow, and both the producers and the studios planned to milk it for all it was worth.

You Only Live Twice would become the fifth film in the series (despite being the 12th novel).  Set almost entirely in Japan, Sean Connery returned for the fifth and what was supposed to be his final time to portray Bond.  No Felix Leiter or CIA involvement, this time he was aided by “Tiger Tanaka” (Tetsuro Tamba), head of the Japanese Secret Service.  Akiko Wakabayashi was “Aki”, one of Tiger’s agents and Mie Hama played “Kissy Suzuki”, the two main Bond girls, although Bond also encountered Karin Dor as “Helga Brandt”, assistant to the 2nd ranked villain of “Osato” played  by Teru Shimada.

The main villain was “Ernst Stavro Blofeld”, head of SPECTRE. We’d seen him in From Russia With Love and Thunderball, but it isn’t until You Only Live Twice that the audience actually sees his face.  Donald Pleasance portrayed “Blofeld” in this film, but the role would be played by two other actors in future Bond films where he was the central villain, and then we would see him one last time at the start of a later film as a kind of inside “good-bye” to the character.

Donald Pleasance shows his face in 'You Only Live Twice'
Donald Pleasance shows his face in ‘You Only Live Twice’

This film was the first to make major departures from the original Fleming material.  The novel doesn’t involve spaceships being seized or a threat of world war.  In the novel, Bond is sent to Japan to kill a man that the Japanese want dead because he’s running a garden of death.  Bond recognizes the man as Blofeld and his female companion as Irma Bunt (who murdered Bond’s wife).

You Only Live Twice was another box office smash, grossing more than $111 million on a budget that was roughly the same as that of Thunderball.  Obviously the franchise had to continue but Sean Connery had said “enough”.  So who would Cubby Broccoli choose to assume the role of the British secret agent who kills whenever his government needs him to and loves every woman he gets a chance to?

Find out in Part III of “Countdown to Skyfall – A History of the James Bond Franchise.”

To be continued…

James Bond will return

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