Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...

Before Bond: The Long Road To Bring 007 To The Big Screen

Photo of Oliver Lyttelton By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist October 5, 2012 at 12:00PM

50 years ago today on October 5th, 1963, "Dr. No," a fairly low-budget, modest spy thriller starring a Scottish actor known for the Disney film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," was released in the U.K. The film was an immediate success, taking £840,000 in its first two weeks, and ending up the fifth most successful film of the year in Britain. It continued to be a hit across the world, not least in the U.S., where it received the approval of John F. Kennedy and had seen the source novels by Ian Fleming become bestsellers. Ultimately, the film made nearly $60 million worldwide.
1

Thunderball
5. Thunderball
In the same year as the CBS series became a possibility, Fleming started to get attention from elsewhere in Hollywood. Producer Gregory Ratoff bought the film rights to "Casino Royale" in March 1958, although it mostly languished quietly, although according to Todd McCarthy's biography, Howard Hawks considered making it with Cary Grant as Bond.

Instead, Fleming decided to take 007's filmic destiny into his own hands, teaming up with friends Ivar Bryce, Ernest Cuneo and Irish writer/director Kevin McClory to found Xanadu Productions, with the purpose of coming up with an original Bond tale for the silver screen. An outline for the film -- the mooted titles for which included "SPECTRE," "James Bond Of The Secret Service" and "Longitude 78 West" -- came together quickly, involving the hijacking of a plane full of celebrities (it changed in subsequent drafts, when writer Jack Whittingham was brought on). But when McClory's film "The Boy And The Bridge" was released to mediocre reviews, Fleming became disillusioned and drew away from the project.

Still, he eventually approved a draft at the end of 1959, and said he'd take it to MCA. Nothing materialized, and the following year, Fleming wrote a novelization of the unfilmed script, which was to be released the following year. When McClory read an advance copy in March 1961, he launched a legal action to stop publication. It made it to bookstores regardless, but the case came to court in November 1963. Fleming had a heart attack during the case, and was persuaded to settle out of court, with McClory winning literary and film rights to "Thunderball," which came to screens in 1965 (the reason that unofficial Sean Connery-starring entry "Never Say Never Again," a remake of "Thunderball" came to pass, and McClory tried to get a third version, "Warhead," set up at Sony in the 1990s with Liam Neeson mooted to play Bond and Roland Emmerich directing). Fleming died nine months after the case was wrapped up.

Dr. No
6. "Dr. No"
Long before the "Thunderball" legal wranglings were nominally wrapped up (lawsuits would fly back and forth for the next thirty years), Bond had finally made it to the big screen. Producer Harry Saltzman had picked up the rights to most of the Bond books in the late 1950s, but had no real intention of doing anything with them at first. It was only when Cubby Broccoli approached him wanting to buy the rights that things moved forward: the two agreed to form a partnership to get the film made, setting up a pair of companies, Danjaq (which controlled the rights) and Eon (which made the films).

The pair initially wanted to make "Thunderball" as the first film, but the legal troubles forced them to look at "Dr. No," Fleming's 1958 novel, which had grown out of his "Commander Jamaica" script -- problematic rocket testing at Cape Canaveral having made it unexpectedly topical. The duo hired Richard Maibaum (the forgotten creator of the Bond franchise, who would go on to write on almost all of the films until his death in 1991, and essentially created the formula for the movies) and his friend Wolf Mankowitz to write a script. The first draft, which turned the titular villain into a monkey, was rejected, but after Mankowitz left the project (he'd later ask for his credit to be removed after viewing rushes for the film), the script came into shape thanks to doctoring from spy novelist Berkely Mather and Johanna Harwood.

At that point, they begun to seek out directors, with Guy Green ("The Angry Silence,"), Guy Hamilton (who'd go on to direct four Bond movies, including "Goldfinger"), Val Guest ("The Day The Earth Caught Fire") and Ken Hughes ("Chitty Chitty Bang Bang") among the directors who turned the film down. Terence Young ("Too Hot To Handle") eventually got the job and would go on to direct the next two installments as well.

But finding a director was always going to be easy compared to finding someone to fill Bond's tuxedo. Cary Grant was again mooted, along with "The Prisoner" star Patrick McGoohan, David Niven (who'd later play the part in "Casino Royale") and Richard Johnson ("The Haunting"), while Fleming himself was said to favor real-life war hero Richard Todd ("The Dam Busters," "Saint Joan"). When a public contest failed to turn up a viable candidate (the acting talents of the winner, model Peter Anthony, were said to be questionable), the producers turned to Scottish actor Sean Connery, who'd starred a few years earlier in Disney film "Darby O'Gill and the Little People."

With Bond in place, things were almost there -- Ursula Andress was cast as the first Bond girl, Honey Ryder, after Julie Christie was deemed to be not "voluptuous" enough. Filming got underway in Jamaica in January 1962 before heading to what would become the traditional home of the Bond films, Pinewood Studios, on a relatively meager budget of $1 million (production designer Ken Adams had only £20,000 to work with), and the film wrapped at the end of March. Barely six months later, the film was in theaters.

This article is related to: Skyfall, Features


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates