Spectre – A Tribute to Ian Fleming
I had a rather drunken punt with a friend last night that the title of the next James Bond film would be ‘Risico’. I lost my bet, but I’m delighted that Bond 24 is titled Spectre as it is a fine tribute to Ian Fleming and the official EON film series. My gut instinct that it would be ‘Risico’ was rooted in the fact that the producers have tried to honour Fleming through the film title choices in recent years even though they are running low on his original titles. Goldeneye was the name of Fleming’s house in Jamaica, and The World Is Not Enough is referenced in Fleming’s novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as the family motto of Sir Thomas Bond, a supposed ancestor of the fictional spy. ‘Risico’ is a Fleming short story. As a title, it is a lot punchier than the other Fleming titles the Bond producers have yet to use such as ‘The Property of a Lady’ and ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’.
Spectre is a strong and brave title choice that would have been unthinkable ten or twenty years ago, as it goes to the heart of the biggest controversy there has ever been about the literary and film character James Bond — Kevin McClory’s titanic struggle with Ian Fleming and EON Productions regarding the rights to Thunderball. Spectre is the acronym of the Special Executive of Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, the wonderfully malevolent, much-parodied evil organisation with the enigmatic, cat-loving arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld as its leader. The mysterious organisation first appeared in the novel Thunderball, but Fleming had based the novel on a rejected screenplay he had co-written with the litigation-obsessed, wannabe celebrity McClory (there were other contributors but McClory is the key to this story). McClory sued Fleming successfully, and many commentators (see Stevan Riley’s excellent documentary Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 for chapter and verse on this) claim the stress led to Fleming’s untimely demise at the age of 56. Bond producers Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman did not want McClory producing his own rival Bond series so they made him sole producer of the film adaptation of Thunderball released in 1965. In the event, Thunderball still ranks as one of the most commercially successful Bond films of the series, and Broccoli and Saltzman must have thought McClory was satisfied. They were mistaken. Ten years after the release of Thunderball, the rights to the story reverted back to McClory. By this time Roger Moore was playing Bond in the EON series and former 007 star Sean Connery held a very public grudge against Cubby Broccoli. McClory lured Connery back to the role of Bond, possibly through the temptation of spiting Broccoli, in the Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again. And so in the summer of 1983, the famous ‘Battle of the Bonds’ occurred with Roger Moore and Sean Connery going to head to head in Octopussy and Never Say Never Again respectively. Spectre featured prominently in Never Say Never Again, but they have not been seen in the official series for years. Having made two film productions of Thunderball, it was really just the rights to Spectre and the Blofeld character that was the basis of McClory’s claim.
During the 1960s, McClory seemed unable or unwilling to hamper the importance of Spectre to the films. Spectre is mentioned briefly by Dr No in the first Bond film, and then forms a major part of the story in the follow-up From Russia with Love. In fact, of the six official Bond films starring Connery, Goldfinger is the only entry not to feature Spectre. Blofeld reappears and brutally murders Bond’s wife Tracy in George Lazenby’s only Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, once we get to the Roger Moore years, Spectre and Blofeld have all but disappeared. There were plans to bring back Spectre for Moore’s third appearance as Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me, but McClory put a stop to that by filing an injunction. EON’s riposte to this was to have an unnamed villain in the pre-credits sequence of For Your Eyes Only look and sound identical to Blofeld (bald, white cat, heavy European accent etc). In the sequence, Bond visits the grave of his beloved wife Tracy. Shortly thereafter, the Blofeldesque villain is killed off by being dropped from a helicopter into a massive chimney. Symbolically, it represented a shift in tone moving away from plots featuring the fantastical Spectre to a more realistic, gritty style. It was probably also Broccoli and EON’s attempt to kill off McClory’s artistic, if not legal, claim on the series. McClory made several more faltering attempts to make Bond films before his death in 2006. Everything I’ve read and learned about him suggests he was rather a tragic character. He seemed to have plenty of money, as he led a glamorous lifestyle, but he only really had one story to tell. Instead of moving on from Bond and making other films, he let the obsession consume him. It led to huge setbacks to the Bond films, and I’m in no doubt that it was detrimental to McClory himself. Now, thankfully, it’s all over.
It has been over thirty years since there has been even a hint of Spectre and Blofeld in a Bond film, but presumably that is about to change. I say presumably because at the press conference at Pinewood Studios this morning, no plot details were released with the title, but this feels too big to be some kind of metafictional MacGuffin. For the first time since EON wrestled back the rights to Casino Royale it will feel like the James Bond series has finally come home. There could be no finer tribute to Ian Fleming fifty years since his passing.
As for ‘Risico’, give it time. One day it will be the title of a Bond movie, and I’ll win my drunken punt.