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August 03, 2005

Secret History of the British Secret Service

The Real Reason Bond Battled SPECTRE (And Why He Stopped Battling SPECTRE)

Just in case anyone cares. The Colussus writes:

My understanding is that the Broccoli/Saltzman team, working in the early 60s, were so freaked out by the Cuban Missile crisis that they wanted to back off the East vs. West divide and provide some escapist fare. I don't think they did it because they sympathized with the commies or were trying to argue for moral equivalence per se -- neither of them were traditional Hollywood leftist types. If they had been, I'm sure our man Jimmy Stewart would have managed to rat them out or performed a barehanded strangulation on them. :-)

Okay, I have little doubt that it was the desire to avoid the "reactionary" politics of Fleming's books (where SMERSH, a Russian counterespionage unit, was usually the bad guy, at least in the beginning of the series) and replace SMERSH with a less political villain. An organization that everyone could agree was bad 'n stuff, because they just wanted to take over, extort, and/or destroy the world.

Here's about how SPECTRE came to be, and why it disappeared from the films. Wikipedia has info on this, but here's my version.

Fleming's books were only marginally successful when they first came out. He considered killing off Bond, but was told not to by a friend, and one of my favorite authors, Raymond Chandler, who thought this British Secret Service hero might have a bit of life and commercial potential in him yet. (Actually, at the end of From Russia With Love, Bond is poisoned and seems to die. I think this might have been where Fleming was debating whether or not to just leave the guy on the slab. But, thanks to Chandler's intervention, James Bond Would Return.)

Fleming tried to get Hollywood interested in Bond, but no offers came. So he began to pen an original Bond screenplay, with the assistance of a man named Kevin McClory. That screenplay was called 78 Degrees Longitude South or something like that.

The screenplay was never sold. Later, John F. Kennedy mentioned that he was currently reading From Russia With Love, which caused the Bond books to go flying off the shelves, and the Salzberg/Brocolli team at EON bought the movie rights. Dr. No was made as the first Bond film, I think maybe because at the time that was the most recent book. (A little trivia: Bond is identified as working for MI-6 in the film, but apparently at that time the British were maintaining that was forbidden to say under the Official Secrets Act, so the line was redubbed to "MI-7," and you can notice the lip-flap flub when M says this.)

Now, Fleming still has this old incomplete script lying around. Much of the script is reworked into a novel, which is called, eventually, Thunderball. Including an idea that the Fleming/McClory partnership had created (it's disputed whose idea it was): that there should be a big, apolitical villainous organization out there blackmailing NATO with nuclear weapons, and that it should be called SPECTRE, and headed by a mysterious Eastern European named Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Fleming, however, fails to give McClory any credit when Thunderball comes out as a book, and no money, either. This provokes a threat of a lawsuit. Later editions of the book are co-credited to McClory and a third man who also helped with the old script (whose name escapes me, but it doesn't matter, because he drops out of the story).

Years and years pass and McClory is still pretty pissed off. SPECTRE was intended to be the villainous organaization in The Spy Who Loved Me, but McClory threatens legal action and TSPWLM script wars end with SPECTRE being dropped as a villain. Blofeld is replaced by some guy with webbed hands named Kronbourg or something.

This legal cloud hangs over the Bond franchise and United Artists/MGM for a while. Eventually, a deal is reached: SPECTRE can no longer be mentioned in any Bond film; McClory will get credit and some back payments for Thunderball; and he has the right, at some point, to produce a re-make of Thunderball.

Ever notice that Never Say Never Again didn't have the Bond opening, the Bond music, the usual Bond characters (M, Q, etc.), and seemed suspiciously similar in plotline to Thunderball? Well, that was McClory's remake of Thunderball, made not with the EON/UA/MGM people but with a competing studio. (Later on, MGM would buy NSNA and add it to its Bond library.)

Now there were even lawsuits over Never Say Never Again-- how far can you deviate from the original script and still call it a "remake"? Now it was EON/UA/MGM threatening legal action if this "remake" departed too far from Thunderball and became a free-standing, original (competing-franchise) Bond picture.

Eventually that was all worked out too, and the story is pretty much just Thunderball with a black Felix Leiter and a couple of changes in location.

No longer able to use Blofeld or SPECTRE as villains, the EON people dispensed with someone who looks like Blofeld (but, for legal reasons, is never identified as Blofeld) at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only. He was dispatched quickly and almost as a joke after being an implacable and ruthless Bond foe for ten movies, just because of legal considerations.

Bond could never truly vanquish Blofeld, but eventually the lawyers did.

Hmmm... maybe Kerry & Clinton had the right ideas about how to deal with Osama bin Ladin after all.

007 Says "Shut Up And Stop Carrying On Like a Jerkoff:" It's Secret Service Serendipity as Cathy Seipp digs up a very dry Roger Moore slam on a misbehaving actor that leaves him shaken if not stirred.

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posted by Ace at 07:52 PM

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