SEAN CONNERY IS AGENT 007
A journeyman producer is having a Thunderball of a time as he re-assigns the "original" James Bond to active duty On Her Majesty's Secret Service for a controversial new mission.
By STEVE SWIRES
As super agent James Bond, Sean Connery has defeated many of the world's most dangerous villains. Soon, he will face his most formidable foe — James Bond, in the person of his friend, fellow actor Roger Moore. This bizarre battle of the Bonds is the explosive result of the almost simultaneous release of two different 007 adventures: Moore's Octopussy, from veteran Bond custodian Albert "Cubby" Broccoli (see page 56); and Never Say Never Again, from producer Jack Schwartzman, in which Connery returns to his best-known role for the first time in 12 years.
For his part, Schwartzman expresses no animosity towards his competition. "I hope Octopussy is an extraordinary film, because that will help us — and vice versa," he says, relaxing in his Los Angeles home, where he has taken a break from overseas production to attend the birth of a new son by his actress wife Talia Shire. "There'll be an enormous awareness in the marketplace, and substantial publicity and advertising for both pictures. I don't intend to compete by putting their movie down in favor of my own, and I hope they feel the same way."
Would that it were so. In fact, Broccoli and his associates have vigorously waged a longtime legal war to prevent any alternate 007 epic from reaching the screen. Their initial adversary was producer Kevin McClory, whose involvement with James Bond extends back to 1958. At that time, he joined with Bond author Ian Fleming and screenwriter Jack Whittingham in the creation of a film script entitled Thunderball, but he was subsequently unable to raise financing for its production. Subsequently, Fleming incorporated much of that material in his eighth Bond novel, also called Thunderball.
According to Schwartzman, "McClory, Fleming and Whittingham developed 10 separate works—including screenplays and treatments—but nothing came of them. After Thunderball was published, McClory sued Fleming, on the basis that portions of the book were derivative of material they had jointly developed. That lawsuit was settled by granting the motion picture rights to Thunderball and the copyright to all the other material to Kevin McClory.
"He then entered into an agreement with Broccoli and Harry Saltzman to do the film version of Thunderball, which McClory produced and Broccoli and Saltzman executive produced. As a part of that deal, McClory agreed that, for a period of 10 years, he would not make any other movie based on the film rights and copyrights he owned. That period expired in 1975, and from then on, he was free to make another James Bond movie."
McClory proceeded to develop a screenplay entitled Warhead, which he wrote in collaboration with Sean Connery and British espionage novelist Len (The Ipcress File) Deighton, as a vehicle for Connery's return to the role that made him world famous. Unfortunately, due to legal action brought against him by Broccoli and company, McClory was once again unable to raise the financing necessary for production.
"Money runs away from lawsuits," Schwartzman charges. "Broccoli and United Artists alleged a number of causes for legal action. Additionally, in a separate action, the Fleming Estate sued McClory. They never denied he had certain rights, but they alleged that the movie he intended to make was outside the scope of his rights. Consequently, when somebody casts that kind of cloud over a project, it's not an easy matter to obtain the financing required to make a movie of such magnitude."
That Schwartzman succeedèd where McClory failed is a testament to his 20 years of experience as an entertainment lawyer specializing in motion picture finance and distribution. It was as executive vice-president of Lorimar Productions, for whom he served as executive producer of Being There, that he first encountered the 007 project.
"McClory presented a Bond film starring Connery to Lorimar," Schwartzman recalls. "One of my responsibilities was to survey and evaluate it, giving Lorimar a recommendation whether or not they should do it. I recommended they should, but, for various reasons, they couldn't come to terms. Several months passed, and in early 1981, I left Lorimar and embarked on a career as an independent producer.
"Out of the blue, I received a phone call from an investment banker friend of mine in New York, who was McClory's financial advisor. He asked if I was interested in getting involved with a Bond movie based on certain rights his client had. I told him I had already
done my homework on it and was very interested. After months of negotiation, McClory and I came to an agreement whereby I acquired from him the right to make a film based on the rights he owned.
"Before I consummated the deal with McClory, I discussed the project with Sean Connery. I got his understanding that if I could put the elements together, he would be interested in playing Bond again. By that point, the frustration of McClory not being able to get the movie made had finally reached Sean, and he had washed his hands of it. But when I told him I was in a position to get the rights to do the picture, his interest was rekindled."
Before beginning the development process, Schwartzman also approached one of Albert Broccoli's representatives. "When I first got the rights, I told Broccoli's attorney what my intentions were," he reveals. "I offered Broccoli the opportunity to present the picture, as he had done with Thunderball. He wasn't interested, however, so I went my own way. Subsequently, Broccoli, United Artists and the Fleming Estate added me to the McClory litigation, and are maintaining the same legal actions against me. They're suing to enjoin the film's release, and in the alternative, to collect damages."
Due to these legal entanglements, Schwartzman feels he's uniquely qualified to supervise such a complicated project. "The challenge and intrigue were enormous, so it was irresistible," he states. "Essentially, all the experiences, relationships and tools I have acquired during my entire legal career were brought into play. It's sort of a microcosm of my professional life."
And when the government unexpectedly provided an omen, he knew his fate as a producer was sealed. "The week my wife and I were deciding whether or not to get involved in this project, and were arguing the pros and cons and financial risks attendant to it, we received a notice from the Post Office. Our zip code of 90024 had been changed to 90077," he laughs. "We looked at each other and said: 'There's no choice now, is there?'"
Plotting a 'Thunderball'
Actually, the choices were only just beginning. First, Jack Schwartzman had to decide on an approach to the subject matter. "We're playing James Bond at Connery's real age, 53," he discloses. "I think we're closer to the character as written by Ian Fleming than the other interpretations have been. I hope the audience finds that approach acceptable — I think it's terrific."
For legal reasons, Schwartzman was obligated to remain reasonably faithful to his source material. To simplify matters, he deliberately did not purchase Warhead. "I just acquired McClory's underlying rights," he explains. "I didn't want the Warhead script. At the time I made my deal, it was the subject of the litigation, and I didn't want to be tarred with the same brush.
"I had to develop a whole new screenplay. Since the litigation existed, I knew what the parameters were regarding what we could and could not do. Therefore, we tailored a script that I feel confident is well within the rights I acquired.
"The story is essentially the same as Thunderball. Spectre hijacks-several Cruise missiles. They plant them strategically and send out an extortion message demanding a vast sum of money. Bond is brought into the situation. By following his instincts and whatever clues are available, he becomes the focal point in the search for the nuclear warheads."
In Schwartzman's opinion, such a storyline isn't as farfetched now as it was at the time of Thunderball. "Back then, nuclear terrorism wasn't exactly front page news," he points out, "because it wasn't a real issue in the world. But in rereading the novel, I realized this was a very contemporary subject.
"I remembered that during the Jimmy Carter/Ronald Reagan debates, Carter had warned that the next President might one day be confronted by a terrorist group having access to nuclear weapons, planting them in some city and then making threats. So, the idea of making this movie became one of greater significance than just entertainment, in that we have a story which deals with a real potential problem that this country may face this year or later."
Schwartzman financed the development of the screenplay himself. To write it, he hired Lorenzo Semple, Jr., whose previous genre efforts include Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong and Flash Gordon. Schwartzman says Semple was selected because, "He was diverse enough to have written both Batman and Three Days of the Condor. I was hoping to come up with a film which would be somewhere in the middle of those two.
"Lorenzo knows how to write suspense and he also has
a certain sense of humor, which I felt was attractive to my concept of the picture. Compared to other writers, he was enormously qualified—and he has turned out to be the absolutely right choice. If you look at his credits, he's a rather unique guy, and a very brilliant man."
Nevertheless, many fantasy film fans resent the "camp" treatment Semple has brought to his genre assignments. "I don't think you should necessarily fault the writer for that style," Schwartzman argues. "The producer certainly gave him the approach required. In this case, I told Lorenzo what I wanted, and he wrote it. The fans can come after me if they don't like this movie, but they shouldn't take the writer apart. He only interprets what the producer and/or director tells him to do."
After fashioning a script treatment which met with Connery's approval, Schwartzman set about securing financing. "I went around the world, meeting with distributors in each of the major countries," he recounts. "I made distribution deals with them in their markets. I obtained from them certain guarantees, which I then used as a collateral package to acquire bank financing."
Despite the litigation he faces, Schwartzman's investors and distributors haven't abandoned him. "It's nothing that wasn't contemplated or which they weren't apprised of in the beginning," he acknowledges. "I was very up front with everybody, and enunciated what I thought the problems would be. There have been no major surprises, and nobody is running scared.
"There's been no conscious effort to duplicate Thunderball."
"On the merits, Broccoli, UA and the Fleming Estate have no case. I have to do what I'm doing, because I feel totally within my rights. I'm not intimidated by the litigation, or by the amount of time and money it may take. I took this project on fully determined to see it through, and that's the way it will be."
Schwartzman doesn't expect the litigation to continue much longer. "There will be a hearing on the case—hopefully sooner, rather than later—and then it'll be behind us."
Selecting Cast and crew
Sean Connery's contract also guaranteed him approval of the director and principal cast members. To direct, Schwartzman hired Irvin Kershner, after Connery's first choice, Richard (Superman) Donner, turned the offer down. "Of the directors available, I felt Kersh was a good choice," he comments. "I know him quite well, because he was a client of mine for a number of years.
"At the time I made my selection, he was involved with The Ninja, which looked like it was falling apart. After a number of meetings between Sean and me, and later between Sean and Kersh, we agreed it was the right move to make. Particularly after seeing The Empire Strikes Back, I felt sanguine that Kersh could handle such a large film. I just hope he brings me the same results — then it'll be Schwartzman Strikes Back!"
In assembling his cast, the producer sought actors who would be appropriate for their roles, rather than simple box office attractions. Playing the villain Emilio Largo is acclaimed Austrian actor Klaus Maria Brandauer. "That was an exciting piece of casting," Schwartzman believes. "In Mephisto, he gave one the greatest performances I have ever seen. The villain is an important ingredient in a Bond movie, and Brandauer is a really unique villain. He's a consummate actor—one of the best in Europe—and a terrific adversary for Bond. Largo is very much like Fleming wrote him — realistic, rather than a caricature."
For the villainess, Fatima Blush, Schwartzman selected Barbara Carrera. "She gives the perfomance of her life," he declares. "I saw her in I, The Jury, and there she was. It was as plain as day that she fit the style of the character very well in terms of her look and movement. Fatima is a coldblooded killer, the head of the Spectre assassination branch. She's a black widow, and Barbara is perfect as that type of woman."
In contrast, the heroine, Domino, is portrayed by blonde Kim (Mother Lode) Basinger. "Domino is Largo's girlfriend," Schwartzman relates. "She's the person Bond goes after because she's Largo's Achilles heel. We wanted somebody who moved well and looked great, and who wasn't overexposed. Kim had the right look, and I had seen enough film on her to believe that she could handle the role. After looking at 50 actresses, she was the one who came out on top."
Max von Sydow, seen recently in Flash Gordon and Conan, is cast as Bond's frequent nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of Spectre. "In the novel, Blofeld is a very articulate, dedicated terrorist, and extremely serious," Schwartzman observes. "To a great
extent, Max is an actor who can personify that kind of part."
As M, Bond's superior, Schwartzman chose Edward (The Day of the Jackal) Fox, an actor younger than Connery—thereby eliminating the character's father-figure aspect. "We're dealing with 1983," he emphasizes, 'which is a post-Watergate age. We saw M as a character who had evolved into a computer-oriented official, the kind of person who might be running British Intelligence today. We justify this change on the basis that it's consistent with the contemporary environment of those agencies."
An even more significant alteration has been made in the depiction of Felix Leiter, Bond's longtime CIA ally, here played by Bemie (The Man Who Fell to Earth) Casey.
"We wrote the script without anyone in mind for the role," Schwartzman remarks. "When we were casting, Sean mentioned he had always wanted Leiter to be played by a black actor, so we decided to cast that way.
"Leiter isn't written as an Uncle Tom. He could have been played by a Caucasian as well as by a black. We just thought the idea of him being a black man would be exciting. There's nothing in the novel which describes Leiter as white. If he was described that way in another book, so be it. I don't own the rights to that book."
Also making brief appearances are British actress Pamela Salem as Bond's eternal lady-in-waiting Miss Moneypenny, and noted character actor Alec McCowen as the armorer Q. Naturally, though, Schwartzman's highest praise is reserved for his star.
"Sean Connery looks sensational as James Bond," he claims. "He spent months getting into shape. I don't think the fans will be disappointed. I hope they'll be as thrilled as I was. The first time Sean came on the set was a great moment. He even received an instantaneous round of applause from the crew. I sat there and thought: 'Even with all the travail, it's been worth it.' And when I finally saw him on film, I knew it had all been justified.
"He's reclaiming his character, in a sense. From his standpoint, he knows there's a substantial amount riding on this picture, professionally as well as financially. He approached the movie with enormous enthusiasm, and with the dedication that any producer would want to see from an actor."
Another attraction will be the elaborate action sequences audiences have come to expect from Bond extravaganzas. In this case, Schwartzman expects the stunts won't be entirely gratuitous. "We rely heavily on story, character and performance," he feels. "We do have a certain amount of action, but it's appropriate for the movie. It's not designed to be breathtakingly spectacular, just a stunt which is incidental to the story.
"For example, we have some exciting fight scenes, a motorcycle car chase, an underwater shark attack on Bond inside a derelict boat, and a horse chase inside a fortress. But these are all wholly integrated into the story. There are reasons why they happen. They're not stunts done for the sole sake of having stunts."
Although his deal with Kevin McClory gives him the right to make another Bond movie, "I doubt I'll exercise that option," he concedes. "I don't think Sean is interested in doing another one, and I wouldn't be interested in doing one without him. This motion picture has consumed a large part of my life and energy, and there are other things I would rather do with my time than repeat myself."
Indeed, he has already begun independently pursuing several other projects. Chief among them is a film version of Alfred Bester's SF classic The Stars, My Destination, which Schwartzman considers "one of the 10 best science-fiction novels ever written." Lorenzo Semple, Jr. has already completed the screenplay, and John Carpenter has been signed to a development deal as the film's director.
Jack Schwartzman's immediate future, however, is fully occupied with finishing Never Say Never Again for a summer 1983 release, to possibly follow Octopussy into theaters in July. Reflecting on the trials and tribulations of returning the real James Bond to the screen, Jack wants to make one final thing perfectly clear. "We're dealing with this as a first time interpretation of the material," he insists. "There's been no conscious effort to duplicate Thunderball. We're not remaking that film — we're making another version of the same novel.
"I believe you can watch Thunderball one day and Never Say Never Again the next day, and have two different experiences. If you analyze them both, you'll see we've given you the same story but with a different dressing— and, I hope, in a very clever fashion."
[Source: STARLOG #71 (June 1983) P16-19,69]