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Television Review
The Men Who Made Bond
From the Wall Street Journal of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 21:45:15 EST
Daniel Craig as James Bond.
Daniel Craig as James Bond. MGM

So many men have been intimately involved in the James Bond movie franchise over the years that it’s difficult to keep track of them all. The Christmas Eve showing on the EPIX premium channel of “Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007” is an excellent refresher course on the mainstream feature-films franchise, with something for every Bond fan. With its many sidebars—into the personality quirks and stalking experiences of Sean Connery ; the towering sexual ambition of one-off Bond George Lazenby ; and the partnership of American impresarios Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman —the documentary is crammed to overflowing with sparkling tidbits.

It begins with Ian Fleming, the deskbound World War II British naval intelligence officer who borrowed the name of his hero from the author of a book on birds. While there is some archival footage of Fleming, the most interesting revelations come from friends and family members. These include a distant cousin (and the villain Scaramanga in 1974’s “The Man with the Golden Gun”), the actor Christopher Lee. Mr. Lee explains how Fleming worked through his postwar depression and associated torments by inventing a secret agent who could be a more dashing version of himself, “the perfect protector of the helpless and the innocent against evil” in the Cold War.

Sean Connery as James Bond.
Sean Connery as James Bond. MGM

We also get insights into Fleming and his times from Blanche Blackwell, identified as a companion of the budding author, who recalls: “The first time I met him, he came up to me and said, ‘I hope you’re not a lesbian.’ And I was kissed . . . passionately.”

The heart of the film is the story of how the movies got made. Despite Fleming’s success in the 1950s with the Bond novels, his desire for them to be turned into movies was repeatedly frustrated. Then Saltzman and Broccoli were introduced to each other, discovered a mutual obsession with filming the books, and eventually formed their Eon (for Everything or Nothing) production company. Sadly, by this time, Fleming had hit rock bottom, often drunk and smoking packs a day. “Ashtrays absolutely overflowing with cigarette stubs,” his stepdaughter Fionn Morgan recalls, “and these very large bottles of pills that he gobbled down because of terrible headaches.”

In 1961, after Columbia turned them down, Saltzman and Broccoli approached United Artists and got the $1 million they asked for to make ”Dr. No,” their first Bond film. David Picker, who was at UA then and championed the project, seems still amazed at how stupid some studios can be: “It staggers to me this day that Columbia passed.”

United Artists was wrong about one thing, though. When the unknown Scottish actor Sean Connery was proposed as the first James Bond, the studio balked and pressed for someone with American star power. Yet as we’re told here, once women were shown Mr. Connery’s screen test, his prospects brightened considerably. “Is he sexy?” a doubtful Saltzman asked his wife, who just looked at him: “Are you kidding?”

Roger Moore as James Bond.
Roger Moore as James Bond. MGM

So, as someone notes amusingly, “Here you had this hunk, this very ballsy masculine British actor—which is almost a contradiction in terms.” Mr. Connery was an instant hit, although he came to hate fame and the loss of privacy. “I get some real head cases that come around,” he says in an archival recording. The film mentions an incident in Japan where the actor was seated on a restroom toilet and looked up to see a photographer with his camera leaning over the stall. “Sean was furious,” we’re told.

We also learn about the battles over money, and what some call Mr. Connery’s sense of being exploited, that led to him quitting the franchise after making 1967’s “You Only Live Twice.” Says Roger Moore, who became the third Bond, “I don't know if it’s part of the Scots mentality, but Sean seems to hold on to a grudge.” Mr. Moore also recalls that Broccoli never understood Mr. Connery’s rage against him, thinking: “I found this guy and gave him a job that made him a very rich man—and he resents me. Why?”

To hear George Lazenby describe how he became the second Bond, he was propelled by an overwhelming urge to sleep with as many woman as humanly possible—although Mr. Lazenby describes it much more colorfully. A model who had never acted, he cooked up a plan to audition that included Mr. Connery’s barber and tailor, and then barging into the Eon production offices, leaning against a door and languidly saying to Saltzman: “I heard you’re looking for James Bond?”

Since Mr. Lazenby was a top male model when he was cast in 1968, the producers feared he was gay, he says, and sent a women up to his apartment as a test, which he passed. They also wanted to know if he could fight. Oh yes, replied the man who was raised in the Australian bush, where, he says, “Every Friday night you’d be punching somebody, just for fun.” (How and why Mr. Lazenby quickly tanked his 007 career is another lively tale, but you will have to watch to find out.)

Other Bonds also make appearances, including Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. We hear about the decline and death of Fleming, and the yearslong torture by lawsuit that he, Broccoli and Saltzman were subjected to. While many of the stories in this 2012 film are amusing, it is a work tinged with sorrow.

Most touching perhaps in all of this is the way fate eventually cast a shadow over both of the producers who brought James Bond to cinematic life. One of Saltzman’s children recounts how, as their father’s fortune began to drain away, he was forced to take back for resale the jewels he had lavished on his beloved wife (and Bond film actress) Jacqueline. How painful for him it must have been to hear her say, as she handed back to her husband a sparkling 69-carat ring: “Diamonds aren’t forever.”

Fortunately the Bond films now are in the hands of what might be called the ultimate Bond girl. She’s co-producer (with her half brother and screenwriter Michael G. Wilson ) Barbara Broccoli, daughter of “Cubby” and a keeper of the franchise flame that EPIX will be fanning with various Bond movies almost all day Dec. 24 and 25.



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