When Bond Battled Bond at the 1983 Box Office

Amazon
Amazon

In January 1976, film producer Kevin McClory took out a full-page ad in Variety that made an audacious claim. A new James Bond movie, James Bond of the Secret Service, was about to enter production under the supervision of Paradise Films.

It was not to star Roger Moore, the current Bond who had appeared in two films and was due for several more; nowhere did the ad mention EON, the longstanding production company of all the Bond films. It was as though someone were daring the Bond caretakers to take notice of a bootleg 007 project.

The ad was a calculated move taken by McClory, who had no involvement with EON but believed he had the legal right to make a Bond film as a result of events that had happened well over a decade prior. McClory’s aim was to write his own chapter in Bond history, with his secret weapon being the man who had originated the role onscreen and whose presence still loomed large over the franchise.

Although the ad didn’t mention it, McClory’s plan was to restore Sean Connery behind the wheel of the Aston Martin, an ambition that would eventually decide once and for all which Bond moviegoers preferred.

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Against the wishes of Bond creator Ian Fleming, Connery had been cast as the secret agent in 1962’s Dr. No. Projecting an air of charming menace, Connery’s performance was an immediate hit, winning over the author and kicking off one of the most durable Hollywood film franchises in history.

There would be four more films—From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967)—before the actor, bored with taking second place to the series’s increasing fetish for gadgets, left. EON recast with George Lazenby for one film, 1969's On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before enticing Connery back for one last appearance in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. Earning $1.2 million, Connery felt Diamonds helped excise the character from his career while adding to the funds of his charitable efforts.

That film was, as far as Connery was concerned, the end. But in 1975, McClory approached Connery with an intriguing story: In the early 1960s, McClory and Fleming had sat down to hash out potential story ideas for the burgeoning Bond film franchise. Fleming eventually used some of those ideas for the novel Thunderball, which was adapted into a 1965 Connery vehicle.

McClory argued in court that certain rights to Thunderball were owed to him; in an effort to get that film made, EON agreed, but mandated that McClory not attempt to use any of the elements of the story he helped conceive for a 10-year period. Thunderball was produced, and McClory was silent—for exactly 10 years.

When he was legally able, he began to pursue his rogue Bond project. Legally, it could only be a loose remake of Thunderball, but that was of little consequence. McClory knew the plot was secondary to a return by Connery to the role that had made him famous.

Connery was surprisingly open to the idea. For one, he understood his name above a Bond marquee meant at least as much as Moore was earning: a reported $4 million per picture. For another, he wouldn’t have to deal with Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, the producer of the Bond films and a man with whom he had had numerous business disagreements during his first tenure as the spy.

Still, Connery didn’t fully commit to a return. Instead, he worked with McClory and writer Len Deighton on a script under titles like Warhead and James Bond of the Secret Service. When pressed for details, McClory told press his revamped version of Thunderball would feature mechanical sharks and an assault on Wall Street via the New York sewer system, with Orson Welles as the villain. His Bond, he said, would be like “Star Wars underwater.”

When EON got wind of their efforts, the latitude they had displayed 10 years prior had evaporated. Bond was now firmly a pop culture cash machine, and they took to the courts to resist McClory’s efforts. In joint action with distributor United Artists and the Fleming estate, EON successfully scared off Paramount, which was collaborating with McClory on the project.

As the 1970s came to a close, Connery was showing signs of becoming frustrated by the legal wrangling.

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McClory’s salvation came in the form of Jack Schwartzman, a onetime tax attorney who wasn’t cowed by the litigation surrounding the project. So long as they colored inside the lines, sticking to the elements found in the Thunderball narrative, Schwartzman didn’t see any problem. He obtained the film rights from McClory, who was tired of the fighting and remained only loosely involved with the project; Connery was signed for a robust $5 million, with profit participation adding to his reward later on. Broccoli dropped most of his legal assault after Schwartzman promised him a share of the movie's grosses and to delay release by several months in order to avoid competing head-to-head with EON's Octopussy.

Never Say Never Again—a title suggested by Connery’s amused wife—began shooting in the fall of 1982 at London’s Elstree Studios, just a few miles down the road from where Roger Moore was shooting his Bond entry, Octopussy. The two reportedly had dinner together and compared shooting schedules; Moore would later say he never had a chance to catch Connery’s return onscreen.

Despite Connery’s early enthusiasm, script troubles and philosophical disagreements with director Irvin Kershner (The Empire Strikes Back) made for a stressful production. While promoting its release, Connery told press, “There was so much incompetence, ineptitude, and dissention” during the making of the film that “it could have disintegrated.”

While it wasn’t everything Connery had hoped for, Never Say Never Again performed very admirably when it opened in theaters October 7, 1983. The film grossed $55.4 million domestically, making it the 14th most successful film of the year. But the inevitable comparison to Moore’s Octopussy, which opened four months earlier, colored perception: Moore’s entry made $67.9 million, putting it in sixth place for the year.

Moore would play Bond just once more before retiring from the role in 1985. Connery made an unlikely return in 2005, lending his voice to a Bond video game. It would be as far as he was willing to go. Producers of 2012’s Skyfall didn’t even bother asking him about their idea to have him play a supporting role in the film as the Bond family’s onetime groundskeeper.

Schwartzman wouldn’t give up so easily. Insisting he somehow had the right to deliver another bootleg Bond in the 1980s, he tried to coerce Connery into a follow-up.

Connery was unmoved. “I’d be too old,” he told press in 1984.

But at 53, a reporter observed, he was three years younger than Moore. “He’s also too old,” Connery said.

Additional Sources:
Sean Connery, by Michael Feeney Callan

13 Great Rockumentaries Every Music (and Movie) Fan Should See

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

More people are watching documentaries these days, which likely means that more people are rocking their faces off with nonfiction. Far from Ken Burns’s soothing tones, these music-filled films demand amplification and an unseemly amount of perspiration.

Rock documentaries are tricky beasts. Though they often have the built-in advantage of following around famous people, they aren’t immune to boredom and eye-rolling faux depth. Keeping it simple by showcasing the music can be good, but it’s no way to be great. The best of the best manage to deliver a stellar soundscape, offer a backstage pass to the real humans who make it, and hold our ears even if we aren’t already devoted fans. If a little history gets made in the process, even better.

Grab a seat next to Penny Lane on the bus. Here are 13 of the best documentaries that every music—and film—fan should add to their Must Watch list.

1. WHAT’S HAPPENING! THE BEATLES IN THE U.S.A. (1964)

A singular piece of filmmaking where nonfiction talent met transcendent musical genius on the threshold of gargantuan stardom, this is the best Beatles documentary ever produced. Directed by legendary documentarians Albert and David Maysles, the film captures the band’s first frivolous jaunt through America, where they raised the screaming decibel level in The Ed Sullivan Show theater and goofed off in hotel rooms. It’s an explosion of youth before they changed music forever.

2. DON’T LOOK BACK (1967)

Another marriage of style, skill, and subject, Don't Look Back helped shape how the rockumentary genre could provide insights into the people who shape our popular culture. That so many iconic moments emerged from D.A. Pennebaker’s watershed work, which strolled with Bob Dylan through England in 1965, is a testament to the legendary musician's infinite magnetism. The cue cards, singing with Joan Baez in a hotel room on the edge of breaking up, the Mississippi voter registration rally, and on and on. Since it portrayed fame’s effect on the artist, the art, and the audience, most every other rock doc has been chasing its brilliance.

3. GIMME SHELTER (1970)

The rockumentary has evolved to be as diverse as the sonic landscape itself, which is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping can send up the current scene just like This Is Spinal Tap! did in the 1980s. Still, 1970 feels like the year that defined the rockumentary. Another Maysles joint, this profound doc captured The Rolling Stones touring at a time when they were one of the biggest bands in the world and only getting bigger. The music is powerful and immediate, and the film closes with their appearance at the Altamont Free Concert, which turned deadly when—after a day of skirmishes between concertgoers and the Hell’s Angels acting as security—a fan with a gun was stabbed to death when he tried to get on stage during “Under My Thumb.”

4. WOODSTOCK (1970)

The other 1970 film that helped define the genre allowed thousands to claim they’d been to the biggest concert event of the generation without actually going. If rock ‘n’ roll emerged from unruly teenage years into conflicted young adulthood in the 1960s, nothing stamped that image in henna ink better than Woodstock and the documentary that accompanied it. The bands that appear are legendary: Crosby, Stills & Nash; The Who; Joe Cocker singing The Beatles; Janis Joplin; Jimi Hendrix; and many more. It’s a fly-by of the three days of peace and music that you could play on repeat with summery ease.

5. ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS (1973)

Rock doc royalty D.A. Pennebaker captured David Bowie’s final performance in his red-domed sci-fi persona at London's Hammersmith Odeon with a flair that captures the frenetic energy of the room. The crowd is as much a part of the moment as the band is, as the camera places you in the middle of a transitional moment in music history. To see Bowie that close up now is a wonder. And, naturally, the music is out of this world.

6. THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION (1981)

Instead of following the famous, Penelope Spheeris’s debut dug its nails deep into the Los Angeles punk scene at the turn of the decade. Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and other bands your parents have never heard of perform mosh pit-sparking anthems and show off their living conditions like a grungy proto-version of MTV Cribs. There’s a purity here missing from most music docs—a chronicle of people whose passion far, far outweighs their paychecks, and a screening that led the LAPD to request that the movie never be shown in LA again.

7. SIGN "☮" THE TIMES (1987)

Having Prince at the center of your concert doc is a shortcut to ensuring it’s one of the best of all time. There’s the music, of course. Hits like “Little Red Corvette” and “U Got the Look,” and Sheila E. beating the hell out of her drum kit. There’s also The Purple One's inexhaustible energy and stage presence. As a bonus, the film jumps between concert footage and (instead of candid hotel conversations) a sci-fi narrative where we get to go to Prince Planet. It’s a rocky, disorienting experience that could have only been held so tightly together by a master showman.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (1991)

It might be hard to explain to a younger audience just how dominant Madonna was as an artist coming out of the 1980s or the kind of landmark event this film represented because of her status. The travelogue of her Blonde Ambition Tour was like peeking into the insane world of the ultra-famous—not least because Madonna was dating Warren Beatty at the time and part of the film involves her hanging out with Al Pacino, Lionel Richie, and more. There are threats that the Canadian police will arrest her for simulating masturbation in her show, the Pope trying to get the tour canceled in Italy, and a slightly awkward return home to see family. All par for the course for someone whose personal life was carved up for public consumption.

9. RHYME & REASON (1997)

An unparalleled look into the lyricism and lifestyle of rap musicians from the genre’s rise through its global domination of the 1990s, the concert and party footage is fantastic, and the number of interviews is staggering. Peter Spirer spoke with more than 80 rap and hip-hop artists to craft a snapshot of what life was like for a group of musicians who discovered their voices could echo across the world as well as those who followed after to even greater success. Instead of going deep on one person behind the music, it’s a historical document of the culture itself as seen through the eyes of those at its very center.

10. THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (2005)

For those who don’t know Daniel Johnston’s music, this doc is a crash course not only in its stripped-down, anti-folk vibes but the head it all comes spilling out of. Instead of romanticizing or ignoring his bipolar disorder, Jeff Feuerzeig’s movie engages with it directly, drawing beautiful gems from a troubled mind. An absolute masterpiece, it’s less a vision of a musician giving glimpses into his real life than it is a vision of a human being who makes music.

11. AWESOME; I F*CKIN’ SHOT THAT! (2006)

Rockumentaries follow two major formats: the raw concert doc that’s like a ticket to a show you couldn’t attend, and the profile where artists drop quotables in between performances. They’re safe and familiar, which is probably why the Beastie Boys gave both styles the middle finger in favor of a grand experiment. A year before YouTube launched, the rap trio gave 50 fans in their Madison Square Garden audience camcorders to capture the concert. The result is a genuine, fans’-eye-view of the experience, and a chaotic mashup of perspectives.

12. THE PUNK SINGER (2013)

It’s astonishing how much time and ground Sini Anderson’s portrait of Bikini Kill leader Kathleen Hanna covers. It’s so much that labeling her Bikini Kill’s leader is woefully reductive. Artist, pioneer, feminist, activist, and a dozen other titles swirl around Hanna’s sweat-covered brow as we get to know her both as an artist and as a person. It’s also a punk fever dream of riot grrrl greatness, featuring incendiary archival footage and excellent talks with members of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, and Julie Ruin, as well as Carrie Brownstein and the Beastie Boys’s Adam Horovitz (who is also Hanna’s husband).

13. JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015)

A fairly recent addition to the pantheon, Amy J. Berg’s doc is a stirring tour of archival footage of the gravel-throated songstress. Narrated by musician Cat Power, instead of losing perspective to the fog of history, a blend of modern conversations and ghosts from the past offer fresh eyes and ears to create a heartsick celebration of one of music history's most beloved artists, whose career was cut woefully short.

20 Memorable Elvis Presley Quotes

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

More than 40 years after his death, Elvis Presley remains a rock ‘n' roll icon and has yet to be ousted from his position as “The King.” Yet the Tupelo, Mississippi-born, Memphis, Tennessee-raised superstar never took his fame for granted, nor did he forget his roots. Here are 20 memorable quotes about Elvis’s life and legacy.

ON AMBITION

“Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine.”

ON MAINTAINING YOUR VALUES

“It's not how much you have that makes people look up to you, it's who you are.”

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same, but you leave 'em all over everything you do.”

ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY

“I happened to come along in the music business when there was no trend.”

“I've never written a song in my life. It's all a big hoax.”

“I don't know anything about music. In my line you don't have to.”

ON THE ARMY

“After a hard day of basic training, you could eat a rattlesnake.”

“The army teaches boys to think like men.”

ON TRUTH

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.”

ON THOSE LEGENDARY DANCE MOVES

“Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can't help but move to it. That's what happens to me. I can't help it.”

“Some people tap their feet, some people snap their fingers, and some people sway back and forth. I just sorta do 'em all together, I guess.”

ON KEEPING POSITIVE

“When things go wrong, don't go with them.”

ON STARDOM

“If you let your head get too big, it'll break your neck.”

“I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants.”

“The image is one thing and the human being is another. It's very hard to live up to an image, put it that way.”

“The Lord can give, and the Lord can take away. I might be herding sheep next year.”

ON LOVE

“Sad thing is, you can still love someone and be wrong for them.”

ON THE PITFALLS OF HOLLYWOOD

“I sure lost my musical direction in Hollywood. My songs were the same conveyer belt mass production, just like most of my movies were.”

ON GETTING OLDER

“Every time I think that I'm getting old, and gradually going to the grave, something else happens.”

ON LEAVING A LEGACY

“Do something worth remembering.”

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