Big turning points in the James Bond movie franchise

Feature Michael Reed 21 Feb 2014 - 05:56

We take a look at some potential turning points that could have altered the Bond legacy significantly...

007 lists resurrection amongst his hobbies, but speculation is our game today. Your own ideal fantasy James Bond film probably depends on what sort of Bond you're into. If you like serious Bond, you probably consider it a crying shame that Timothy Dalton didn't get to make at least one more film. A fair proportion of the fandom consider Never Say Never Again to be one of the worst of the series, so for them, rolling the dice on a 1976 production with a different actor and a more exciting script would have been worth it.

Furthermore, a Sony Pictures produced rival film with, say, Liam Neeson in the late 1990s could have been fascinating. How about Connery returning to the role in his 60s? All of these possibilities were up for grabs at one time or another.

Let's dream a little. Had any of the following actually come to fruition, then the James Bond franchise as we know it would have been a very different beast...

The first James Bond

Cary Grant was the early favourite for Doctor No

The Scenario: A different initial Bond actor. A different initial Fleming adaptation.

Likelihood: Eminently possible, Mr Bond.

The-then relatively unknown actor, Sean Connery was the eventual choice as the first cinematic James Bond, but before that, many established actors had been mooted. The mix of international espionage with diabolical cold war villains and a romantic sub plot is reminiscent of some of the Hitchcock canon, and it's perhaps for this reason that Cary Grant had been an early choice.

Grant didn't want to do it because he didn't want to get tied to a potential series of films, but if he had, screen Bond would have been a different character. Grant was suave, and a ladies' man, but his delivery of humour was playful and self-effacing. By comparison, a joke from Connery's Bond is warfare concealed, a sparing manoeuvre designed to test out the man he would have to kill. And the audience knew that kill he would, when the time came.

Many of the other actors who were considered would have doubtlessly taken the character in a different direction. Stars like David Niven, Rod Taylor and Dirk Bogarde are amongst the greats, but like Grant, in a sense, they would have been safe choices. Patrick McGoohan, an established TV spy in Danger Man, was mooted and would have been interesting choice, but he was apparently put off by the promiscuity.

Before Dr No there had been earlier attempts to make a theatrical James Bond film. The most well known project is Thunderball, and we'll get into that further on. By the time Dr No did begin production, Fleming had eight published Bond novels under his belt.

While writing Moonraker in 1954, Fleming had imagined it as a potential film. Although it is a tale of rocketry, it's a surprisingly 'down to earth' Bond novel compared to the the 1979 film that shares only a name, a character and a few basic concepts with the book. Considered as a straight adaptation, the fact that it involves no international travel at all probably took it out of the running. The rights towards Casino Royale were already contentious, but any of the other novels were probably fair game.

See this Wikipedia entry for an exhaustive (and long) list of mooted James Bond actors.

Thunderball

The Scenarios: An earlier Thunderball remake. Different Never Say Never Again actor/script.

Likelihood: Probably would have happened if not for the legal stubbornness of EON Productions.

The Thunderball story begins in 1958, and it's probably one of the longest and most drawn out legal disputes in film history. Long story short: Rather than being adapted from a novel, Thunderball was created as a script by Fleming along with Kevin McClory, a film maker, and Jack Whittingham, an experienced script writer. So, Thunderball was to be the first James Bond film.

However, the script was regarded as too expensive to produce. Ian Fleming then turned it into a novel, without asking the permission of his co-authors, and ultimately, the rights to the original Thunderball script became fragmented. This meant that when EON Productions wanted to make a Thunderball film, they had to do a deal with McClory, and this won him the right to make his own adaptation of Thunderball after ten years. I mean, this Bondmania thing would have burnt out by then anyway, right?

In 1976 McClory announced that he would produce his Thunderball remake. Despite the continual, but ultimately unsuccessful, legal harassment by EON productions, the film eventually materialised as Never Say Never Again (1983) with the casting coup of Connery returning to the role as the star. The film met with a mixed critical and fan response, and like all areas of Bond fandom, it's either a travesty or a high point depending on who you ask. However, it was a financial success, thanks in part to the public interest in seeing a Connery film running up against Octopussy, a Roger Moore film.

At different points in its development, the film had been called Warhead or James Bond of The Secret Service, and initially, other actors had been considered for the role. Indeed, Connery initially took on a creative role in the production before relenting and agreeing to squeeze into the tuxedo once again.

The initial script, that Connery helped to write, sounds fascinatingly eccentric, involving as it did the Bermuda triangle and an attack on New York City by killer robotic sharks armed with nuclear bombs. You've got to remember that this was years before sharks with friggin' laser beams were commonplace. Unfortunately, this early, highly imaginative version of the film was constantly hamstrung because McClory's production was not allowed to significantly deviate from the original Thunderball story.

It's a project that could have taken a few different turns, particularly if it had gone into production in the 1970s. The conjecture about other actors, such as George Lazenby, playing the lead role is probably overstated as obtaining the funding would have been an uphill struggle if not for Connery's involvement. Although Connery looked extremely fit, it might have been more interesting if his suggestion of appearing without his wiggy and as an older man had been followed.

Warhead 2000

The Scenario: A second Thunderball Remake, possibly more.

Likelihood: If the courtroom had smiled on McClory once again, it's may well have happened.

Kevin McClory's interpretation of his agreement with EON and the Fleming estate was that he would have the right to remake Thunderball again in 1993. In addition, he began to assert that since Thunderball introduced elements that are present in all of the official Bond films, he may even have had the right to make further Bond movies. Sony Pictures were on board with him and willing to put up the money, and the legal to and fro continued until the end of the decade.

We know what the story of this second remake (possibly entitled Warhead 2000) would have been, but some of the casting rumours are interesting and have at least some verifiable substance to them. In the 1980s it seemed certain that Pierce Brosnan would have taken over from Roger Moore, but he had missed out due to his contractual obligation to American TV show Remington Steele. Maybe he could have been the new rival James Bond?

Liam Neeson was mooted at one point. This rumour became increasingly persistent towards the latter half of the 1990s. This must have seemed an odd choice at the time, but now we've seen him in films like Taken and we know that he can karate chop someone in the throat when he needs to. Even Connery was considered at one point. He was well into his 60s, but it could have amounted to a fascinating counterpoint to the Brosnan films of the 1990s.

An American Bond?

"Brolin. James Brolin".

The Scenario: Every man in Britain throwing his pipe onto the floor.

Likelihood: [Shudders then puts the kettle on while looking at picture of HRH Queen Elizabeth II]

“A travesty!”, you may cry, but an American Bond has been under consideration at various stages. It's hard to imagine now, but remember that George Lazenby is an Australian, which makes the whole thing seem like less of a leap. And in fact fellow Australian, Hugh Jackman, has confirmed that he turned down the role which would have seen him take over as the star of Casino Royale rather than Daniel Craig. Once you've said one non-Brit can do it...

Bear in mind that there was some initial outcry when British actor Christian Bale was given the role of Batman, and yet, he came to be accepted as an excellent choice by fans. Funnily enough, 60s Batman Adam West was one of the Americans who auditioned for the role of Diamonds Are Forever-era Bond.

Search around and you can find some quite well made screen tests of James Brolin as James Bond. In one scene, he recreates a scene from From Russia With Love. This one even features Maud Adams who would have been his co-star in Octopussy. The next scene involves a fight sequence. It's obvious from the quality of these tests, that the producers were well on the way to giving the man the job. The most surprisingly aspect is that he doesn't even attempt a British accent.

Timothy Dalton

The Scenario: Dalton takes over sooner.

Likelihood: Auditions. Schedules. Contracts. They all could have worked out differently.

“It's very important to make the man believable so that you can stretch the fantasy. Whether people like this kind of Bond is another question.” - Timothy Dalton

In 1986, Timothy Dalton took over as Bond, a role which he had a been offered and either turned down or missed out on at various times from the late 60s onward. This means that he could have succeeded Sean Connery instead of George Lazenby for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He was in the running for a while to take over from Roger Moore's stab at 'serious Bond', for For Your Eyes Only (1981), and he could have cropped up at any point after that. Octopussy was Moore in his element, but A View To A Kill with Dalton? Interesting.

A classically trained stage actor, Dalton turned to the novels for his inspiration in order to deliver a hard-edged portrayal. These days, Dalton fandom is experiencing a renaissance, in part, because of the popularity of Daniel Crag's similarly serious take on Bond. However, at the time of release, the two Dalton Bond films performed below expectations. The Living Daylights (1987) saddled him with a rocket powered car that fired lasers out of the side, and Licence To Kill (1989) was a step too far into the shadows for the audiences of the time. Arguably, as good as Dalton was, he never had a truly great film. But it could have gone quite differently...

Property Of A Lady

The Scenario: Complicated - a third or fourth Dalton film to send the man out on a high.

Likelihood: It was going to happen, if not for arguments about the rights.

Following Licence To Kill, the (ahem) spectre of various legal disagreements once again cast a shadow over the official James Bond franchise. As the disputes raged on, no Bond movies were made between 1989 and 1995, and by that point, Timothy Dalton had become fed up and he opted not to do it any more. His contract had run out in 1993, the projected year of his fourth film. Any student of cinematic Bond knows that the series lurches from one side of the road to the other like Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so the next film might have hit upon a better balance between dour seriousness and light-hearted fantasy than Dalton's first two did.

The hypothetical third Dalton film exists on a continuum of continually evolving treatments and scripts. The starting point is a 17 page treatment that fans sometimes refer to as Property Of A Lady. The information that exists suggests that Bond 17, to be released in 1991, would have featured a lighter tone along with a female villain and possibly some science fiction elements. Much of the action would have taken place in Hong Kong.

From here on, things get a bit crazy. It seems that Bond would have had to do battle with robotic adversaries. Disney's Imagineering department had been commissioned to produce some designs for the robots. Would this have been the kick in the pants that the series needed, or would it have been a reactionary step too far and Dalton's own Moonraker/Die Another Day?

As the delays came and went, the script continued to evolve as the writing team was continually changed and various full scripts were produced and then superseded. It seems that things had begun to come back down to earth for these later revisions, while retaining a strong nemesis character and a technological backdrop, both celebrated aspects of the franchise.

The 1993 version of the script probably featured Bond teaming up with a female security expert/cat burglar to defeat an industrialist plotting to interfere with the British handover of Hong Kong. Anthony Hopkins (who had worked with Dalton before) might have appeared as an older 00 who turns the tables on Bond. Eventually, the script added an opening sequence involving an explosion at a chemical factory and a new boss who had no love for the 00 section. Production was slated to start in 1994, but by then, Dalton had left the role. It's not quite correct to say that GoldenEye was written for Dalton, but GoldenEye definitely evolved from a finished script that had been written for him.

So, the content of the third Dalton film would have depended on when it was made, which in turn depended on the legal situation. The 1991 film sounds like it would have been rather a frivolous film that might have seen Dalton lost amongst the technological aspects and the humour. The 1993/4 film would have been a bit like GoldenEye for what could well have been Timothy Dalton's crowning achievement in the role. In either case, who knows what the fourth one would have ended up like? Chances are, due to the delay between films, we still could have got some Brosnan movies after 1995.

Brosnan's Fifth

The Scenario: Brosnan stays on for an extra film, Casino Royale.

Likelihood: Brosnan wanted it to happen, as did a very special director.

Pierce Brosnan is perhaps the best balanced Bond and very much a man of his time. He's a dab hand with a one-liner and he can deal with the techno-terrorism of the post communist era, and yet, he probably moisturises before bed when he's in a dry climate. He gave good Bond. Unfortunately, his fourth movie, Die Another Day (2002), is commonly regarded as the weakest of the official series. It has bad CGI. It has a muddled, implausible plot. Er, Roger Moore said that it seemed a bit silly and unrealistic.

As a good Bond, Brosnan deserved good send off, and for a while, it looked like it might happen. In interviews, Quentin Tarantino made it clear that he was extremely enthusiastic about directing a James Bond movie. At different times Tarantino had differing ambitions for the project. Shortly after Die Another Day was released, he met up with Brosnan and the two got on famously. The rights to Fleming's first novel Casino Royale were sold early on which led to a 1954 TV adaptation and a 1967 spoof starring Woody Allen.

Tarantino went as far attempting to purchase the rights for himself. At various times, he was willing to become the official Bond director or to produce a rival Bond either starring Brosnan or a younger actor. Even more weirdly (and intriguingly), he also had an interest in setting it in the 1960s, either with or without Brosnan.

As for his take? Although the eventual 2006 film is a typical James Bond film of sumptuous cinematic scope, the book, Fleming's first Bond novel, is staged on a relatively small scale within the Casino and surrounding area. In the early novels, James Bond himself is a humourless government agent whose mind never strays from women, gambling, fast cars and the job at hand. This fits in with Tarantino's reported plan to make a back to basics Bond.

Tarantino would have had to answer to either EON or other major backers, and stylistically, (as was the case with Jackie Brown and Reservoir Dogs) he can play things pretty straight when he wants. Our guess is that, however it ended up, in terms of casting and settings, we would have seen given a gritty 70s style thriller along the lines something like The French Connection. It sounds utterly kick-ass, and yet, it's a difficult scenario to wish for, because the official EON production starring Daniel Craig is widely regarded as a success on most levels.

So, what's your dream Bond production scenario? Have we missed an important turning point that could have radically changed the series? Let us know in the comments below.

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