Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Kevin McClory and the Battle for Bond

If you are a hardened Bond fan or just a movie fan you will know that in 1983, a movie event happened – The Battle Of The Bonds! The summer of 1983 saw the release of not just a new 007 adventure – but two Bond Films: Octopussy (starring Roger Moore) and the return of Sean Connery to the role in Never Say Never Again.

You probably know that Never Say Never Again was a remake of Thunderball- not surprised or reading anything new? Well, how about the fact that Connery nearly returned as Bond sooner in 1977, and that there was nearly a second Thunderball remake in the late 1990's? How was this all nearly possible? Well, the battle between Bonds didn't start in 1983- and certainly didn’t end there- and it was all because of one man. Kevin McClory.

Kevin McClory
McClory was born June 8 1926 in Dublin, he began his film career in the 1950s as boom operator and location manager on The Cockleshell Heroes for Warwick Films. He went on to be John Huston's assistant on films including The African Queen (1951) and Moulin Rouge (1952). In 1956, he was an Assistant Director on Huston's version of Moby-Dick and Associate Producer and Second Unit Director on Mike Todd’s Around The World In 80 Days. A year later McClory wrote, produced and directed the film The Boy And The Bridge, which was co-financed by the heiress Josephine Hartford Bryce. It was his work friendship with Josephine Hartford Bryce that led him to meet Ian Fleming, a friend of Josephine’s husband Ivar.

In the summer of 1958 Fleming and his friend Ivar Bryce began talking about the possibility of a Bond film; in the autumn of 1958 Bryce introduced Fleming to Kevin McClory. It wasn't until May 1959 that Fleming, Bryce, McClory and Bryce's friend Ernest Cuneo first met to came up with a story outline which was based on an aeroplane full of celebrities and a female lead called Fatima Blush. McClory was fascinated by the underwater world and wanted to make a film that included it. Over the next few months, as the story changed, there were ten outlines, treatments and scripts. Titles included SPECTRE, James Bond of the Secret Service and Longitude 78 West.
Fleming first wanted to work alongside McClory, because of his film The Boy And The Bridge. which was the official British entry to the 1959 Venice Film Festival. However, when the film was released in July of that year, it flopped at the box office; Fleming became worried with McClory's ability. As a result of this in October 1959, with Fleming spending less time on the project, McClory introduced experienced screenwriter Jack Whittingham to the writing process.
Jack Whittingham
In November 1959, Fleming left to travel around the world on behalf of The Sunday Times; while he was travelling, Fleming met with McClory and Ivar Bryce in New York and McClory told Fleming that Whittingham had completed a full outline which was ready to shoot. Back in Britain in December 1959, Fleming met with McClory and Whittingham for a script conference; shortly afterwards, McClory and Whittingham sent Fleming a script- Longitude 78 West- which Fleming considered to be good, although he changed the title to Thunderball.
In January 1960, McClory visited Fleming's Jamaican home Goldeneye where Fleming explained his intention of delivering the screenplay to MCA with a recommendation from him and Bryce that McClory act as producer. Additionally, Fleming told McClory that if MCA rejected the film because of McClory's involvement, then McClory should either sell himself to MCA, back out of the deal or file suit in court.
First cover of Fleming's
novel Thunderball
From January to March 1960, Fleming wrote a novel version of Thunderball based on the screenplay written by himself, Whittingham and McClory. The book was released and McClory sued Fleming for plagiarism; the case lasted three weeks, during which time Fleming had a heart attack and- under advice from Ivar Bryce- they settled out of court. McClory gained the literary and film rights for the screenplay, while Fleming was given the rights to the novel, although it had to be recognised as being "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and the Author". On settlement, Fleming ultimately admitted '...that the novel reproduces a substantial part of the copyright material in the film scripts'. On 12 August 1964, nine months after the conclusion of the trial, Ian Fleming suffered a further heart attack and died at the age of 56. 
Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli's production company Eon Productions later made a deal with McClory for Thunderball to be made into a film in 1965. Under the deal, Eon licensed McClory's rights for a period of ten years and in return they assigned McClory would produce and he would have the rights to any further scripts and treatments. The film was directed by Terence Young with the screenplay re-written by Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins. McClory co-produced and even made an uncredited cameo in the film.
McClory's cameo in Thunderball
In 1974, with the ten years nearly up on that deal, Albert R. Broccoli was working for the first time without his longtime partner Harry Saltzman. The Man With the Golden Gun was released in the cinema, but film audiences had started to tire of the Bond character and the film was a critical flop. Once the rights to Thunderball had returned to Kevin McClory, he started to work on a new script in 1975 and obtained the help of the writer Len Deighton (creator of Harry Palmer). They completed their script and quickly announced that they would begin production on a new Bond film, entitled James Bond of the Secret Service.

MGM promptly filed an injuction against McClory to stop him from making a rival Bond film. Eon were successful on a claim that the title was too similar to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. McClory furthered this argument with his opinion that he alone had the rights to SPECTRE and Ernst Blofeld stating that Broccoli and company could not use it. Broccoli stated that McClory had no right to make a movie based on the original drafts as he didn't have Ian Fleming's permission. Due to lack of financial backing, McClory had to back down his claims.

Not one to be stopped, McClory simply changed the script’s name to Warhead. The late 1970's saw McClory and Deighton joined by a third contributor to the script: Sean Connery. The three of them continued to work on the project. Deighton sad of this time: “Kevin was something of an eccentric… I went on location recces with him to Tokyo, Okinawa and Florida. In New York I was arrested as I got off the plane but the NYPD detective who arrested me was a close friend of Kevin. To compensate for the joke, he had me made an honorary member of the NYPD.” The three men wrote a screenplay over three months, both in Ireland and at Connery’s home in Marbella.
A copy of the original script for Warhead was recently sold in auction, it went for $68,000. Here's a description of that document’s storyline: “Warhead featured Bond super-baddies SPECTRE’s most outlandish plan yet for world domination. Luring Russian and American planes and ships into the Bermuda Triangle, they steal a cache of nuclear weapons and commandeer the Statue of Liberty as a base from which to unleash a robot hammerhead shark armed with a nuclear bomb. As if that wasn’t crazy enough, RoboFish would be escorted by heat-seeking tiger sharks into the sewer system, swimming to the centre of the city before it went BOOM! (In one grisly scene, a team of SWAT soldiers meet up with the piscarian posse; Bond can only watch helplessly as mutilated limbs float out amid toilet paper and sewage.) Oh, and there was also an undersea HQ that rises out of the ocean and a black muscle-bound henchman named Bomba whom the script described as “making Muhammad Ali look like a fag.

The script circulated the studios, raising attention. McClory announced shooting would begin in February 1977; Paramount would back it to the sum of $22m. Rumours circulated that Orson Welles was to play arch-villain Blofeld and Richard Attenborough was to direct. The film was in pre-production, sets were being designed and the final drafts were being written. 
Concept artwork for the RoboFish in Warhead
However, with millions going into the project, Paramount would only make it if Connery was Bond. Connery agreed, “There was a certain amount of curiosity in me about the role, having been away from it so long.” It seemed he had protested too much – apparently he missed the old boy. At the time McClory told the press that Connery returning to Bond was like, “Muhammad Ali, when he’s at his most fit, when someone else is champion of the world, throwing his hat into the ring.” Eon Productions of course tried to stop the film through legal routes – the argument of what McClory owned the rights to was swung from side to side and into the press at the time. With an impending legal battle to get the film produced, Connery started to change his mind. “Before I put my nose into anything, I want to know it is legally bona fide,” said the actor in 1978. With this statement, Paramount got cold feet and withdrew; this tipped Connery and he pulled out. With that, Warhead was dead.

Jump to 1981. The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker are blockbusters and Bond is back on the right side of movie fans! Kevin McClory still has sole rights to Thunderball, SPECTRE and Blofeld. Eon Productions used a villain who looked very much like Blofeld in the opening sequence of For Your Eyes Only – but they never used the character name Blofeld and the character is not in the end credits either. At this point, McClory has spent the last seven years trying to find financial backing to go to court against Eon Productions, so he can remake Thunderball. This happened in the form of Jack Schwartzman of Warner Brothers. Schwartzman knew that McClory had the rights to do the film; his case just had to be presented correctly.  The British High Court ruled for Kevin McClory, stating that the Deed of Assignment dated December 31, 1963, gave McClory full rights to both the novel and original scripts to Thunderball. Thanks to the help of Warner Brothers' lawyers, McClory was finally free to begin production on his remake: Never Say Never Again.

The film’s title was a suggestion from Connery’s wife. She was referring to the press statement that Connery made in 1971 after completing Diamonds Are Forever- in which he said “never again!”. This was the summer that the Bonds did battle. Connery went head to head with Moore in Octopussy – both films were filmed and then released in 1983. Advertising for Never Say Never Again had posters and trailers with “Sean Connery IS James Bond” all over them, which was a statement of course reminding audiences that the original actor had returned. Connery last appeared as Bond twelve years previously in Diamonds Are Forever. The actor was 52 at the time – the plot actually added the element of Bond being older, facing aging and being brought back into action.

Both films were released and the public would decide. Octopussy was released in June and grossed $187,500,000;  Never Say Never Again managed a good second place grossing $160,000,000. Nevertheless, it made Warner Brothers money and also McClory had finally made his non-canon Bond movie. Here you would think McClory would be happy, and see this as finally a victory, having finally made the Bond film he wanted to make – a Bond film outside the canon, with his rights.

No. Not nearly enough. For the next few decades, rumours and one surprise announcement that led to years of more court battles still lay ahead of him! The first movement of this came in 1989; McClory announced that he would begin filming on “Warhead 8”, the second remake of Thunderball (which never materialized).  Then after a seven year hiatus- with Eon’s legal battles with MGM/UA and Timothy Dalton not returning for a planned third adventure, and a new Bond in the form of Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye in cinemas finally in 1995- Bond was back. Not just back, but a massive money-maker once again. Suddenly McClory was meeting studios and rumours were popping up between fans. Then the shocking announcement was made. Sony Pictures were going to back him.

On October 13 1997, just two months before the release of Tomorrow Never Dies, Columbia Pictures (a Sony Pictures Entertainment Company) announced a new association with producer/director Kevin McClory and his company Spectre Associates Inc. to make a series of new James Bond feature films. The first film of this new Bond franchise, to be produced by McClory, was expected to be released in1999. Titled Warhead 2000 AD. McClory told press at this announcement; "I had several choices of studios with whom to work.....but Sony Pictures and Columbia stood head and shoulders above the other studios in experience, unique production facilities, digital special effects and global distribution abilities. Plus, this is a great opportunity to join old friends John Calley, Gareth Wigan (co-vice chair, Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group) and Amy Pascal (president, Columbia Pictures) in propelling James Bond into the 21st century."

With this press announcement, and the backing of such a major player in Hollywood, court battles were obviously going to erupt once again and Eon began their fight. Injuction upon injunction happened and rumour after rumour began. Notably, Timothy Dalton was linked to play Bond and Patrick Stewart was tipped to play Blofeld. Director and producer team Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich (who made Independence Day) were in talks with Sony to make the first of the second franchise, while for a short period Connery himself was allegedly interested in returning to the tuxedo for one more time in the now titled Doomsday 2000, with a shoot date of 1999!
While there was a production office with McClory and a production team meeting people and developing this new series for Sony, there was of course a court war, which lasted between the announcement in 1998 and ended on March 30, 1999. Sony reached a settlement with MGM. Sony attorney David W. Steuber said at the time ‘Essentially... we have given up the universal right to make a James Bond picture’. Despite this fact, McClory alone appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals, but on May 11, 2001, the court upheld the original finding that McClory was not entitled to a share of the profits from the series.

For next few years a rumour would rear its head, especially by now we were in the age of the internet – movie rumour heaven and blogs! McClory had what is now seen as the final blow to the end of his lifelong fight to have his franchise – Sony Pictures bought out MGM and in doing so secured a deal, which meant that the next two Bond films would be distributed by Sony Pictures. This happened with the first two Craig adventures- in the end, Sony had a share of Bond.

McClory passed away on 20 November 2006, aged 80, four days after the UK release of Casino Royale. With MGM being bought out by Sony and losing their major box office draw, they nearly went bankrupt in the last few years, to the point that the shoot of Skyfall was abandoned and a deal was made with their sister company and owners Sony. Skyfall is the third film to be released by Sony and the twenty-fourth adventure will be too.

What of McClory's rights he won in court? Can someone make a Bond film if they owned these? Sony has those rights; as part of the development deal in 1997 he signed them over. As of now, Bond is completely over seen by Sony Pictures as of now. The likelihood of another non-canon 007 adventure looks unlikely..... but Never Say Never Again!


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