Spearguns and Sharks - The Battle for Bond

battle for bond sellers

The Battle for Bond was written by Robert Sellers and first published in 2007. This is a fascinating and important book about the origins of and legal battles over the cinematic James Bond and had something of a battle itself when the Ian Fleming Estate tried to prevent its publication. The book examines the theory that the screen James Bond character established by Sean Connery was not a creation of Fleming (for his literary Bond was stuffier and more dated) or Cubby Broccoli/Harry Saltzman but writer Jack Whittingham and maverick Irish film producer Kevin McClory - who both collaborated with Fleming on an aborted James Bond film in the fifties. The film never went into production but all hell broke loose when Fleming, in an act of incredible stupidity or incredible arrogance depending on your point of view, used the film screenplay as the basis for his Thunderball novel without telling Whittingham or McClory. The stress of the court case that followed is widely believed to have hastened Fleming to his grave from another heart attack and the victorious McClory was left with legal rights to make his own Bond film based on Thunderball.

McClory would be a thorn in the side of the Broccoli family for decades to come, infuriating them by making Never Say Never Again in 1983 and constantly threatening rival Bond projects or a 007 series of his own, triggering endless legal disputes. Even up to a few years before his death McClory was planning a new Bond film with Sony in the nineties, leading once again to more court battles with MGM and the Broccoli empire. Who was the enigmatic McClory and why was he so obsessed with James Bond? What would the fifties Bond film he was planning have been like? How close did McClory come to making his planned seventies Bond epic 'Warhead'? Why was Never Say Never Again such a troubled production? Why did Fleming and Broccoli/Saltzman appear to underestimate McClory at crucial moments? All of this and much more is discussed in The Battle for Bond.

This is a must read for anyone interested in the James Bond series and full of fascinating revelations, quotes and stories. The author explains at the start that Thunderball is his favourite ever film and he wanted to write about it in a way that avoided a simple 'making of' type book. He accomplishes this by telling us the Kevin McClory story in addition to paying an affectionate and detailed tribute to Thunderball in all of its aquatic wide screen glory. The McClory story is fascinating. He got a foothold in films working with John Huston and had a dream to bring James Bond to the screen for the first time in the 1950s. His partner was Ivor Bryce, a wealthy businessman seduced by the glamour of the film industry. McClory beavered away and brought in writer Jack Whittingham to work on ideas he'd discussed with Fleming. But McClory and Whittingham didn't think much of Fleming's screenwriting and also thought Bond should be less 'starchy' with more humour. The fantasy world of Fleming should have more logic and the sadism and torture had to go. McClory commissioned spectacular art to show what a Bond film should look like (reproduced in the book) too, the art evoking the imagery of the films that Broccoli and Saltzman would make with Sean Connery in the next decade.

kevin mclory james bond
Kevin McClory (far right) celebrates after victory in court

There are many entertaining details about the plans for the 50s Bond film that never was. Fleming wanted David Niven or Richard Burton to play Bond and Alfred Hitchcock was actively pursued to direct (they were even prepared to let James Stewart play Bond if Hitchcock wanted). Hitchcock was interested but eventually went off to make Psycho instead. Then Bryce and Fleming started to get cold feet about McClory, feeling he was inexperienced and hopeless with money and accounts. The author draws on some fascinating documents and papers supplied by Jack Whittingham's daughter for the book. When McClory took Fleming to court for using their screenplay for his Thunderball novel, Whittingham only appeared as a witness because he feared being wiped out if they lost the case. Whittingham's daughter is less than impressed with McClory in the book and feels he never repayed her father's loyalty or shared the money. McClory was someone of great personal charm (who
could apparently name Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley MacLaine as ex-flames) but someone who was motivated by power and money rather than any tremendously noble instincts. It's suggested in the book that Bryce and Fleming underestimated McClory because they were the establishment and he was the outsider. It's probably part of the reason too why McClory was so determined to put one over on them.

Another theme is how McClory became bitter at the success Broccoli and Saltzman had with Bond because it should have been him. It's as good an explanation as any for why McClory apparently died broke after squandering fortunes on numerous court cases over James Bond. There is a lot of entertaining stuff in the book besides the McClory v Fleming battle with many anecdotes and stories. Terence Young directing a carnival scene for Thunderball with a styrofoam cup of champagne (which he complains is too warm!) and being told on the first Bond picture Dr No 'So, you're the man they've chosen to f*** up my work?' by Ian Fleming! Julie Christie auditioning for Thunderball in a pair of jeans and being rejected because her bust is too small to be a Bond girl! The Thunderball section is very good and a revealing insight into just how much Sean Connery hated making these films. He loathed the long hours and constant attention, the author saying Connery called 007 his Frankenstein's Monster' and would roll his eyes when he was frequently asked to sign autographs 'James Bond' rather than his real name. He seemed to dislike Broccoli and Saltzman too on the evidence here, Connery never feeling that the pair shared the profits as much as they should have done. The author tells us that inflation adjusted, Thunderball would have made over $450 million in the United States alone today, the Connery Bonds dwarfing the current Bond series both onscreen and off.

The Battle for Bond also looks at the aborted Thunderball remake McClory had planned in the seventies with Blofeld, robotic sharks and all sorts of mayhem, and offers an interesting section on the troubled production of Never Say Never Again. Interestingly, McClory is absent for this section as the film was handed over to Jack Schwartzman to produce. Schwartzman was out of his depth though and fell out with Sean Connery, who he was 'terrified' of. Some nice stuff here from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais who worked on the film as writers (they reveal no one thought the film would ever be released because of the legal rumblings coming from the Broccoli camp) and the late Irvin Kershner. Kershner is quoted a lot and says he had no interest in Bond but directed the film because Connery was an old friend. There were endless compromises and production troubles and Kershner said it could have been at least '60%' better than it was.

The Battle for Bond is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the James Bond series and contains many fascinating revelations and facts that were new to me. I'd always got the impression, for example, that McClory had invented SPECTRE and Blofeld but the book states this was in fact an invention of Fleming. My edition of this has 'The Book They Tried To Ban!' on the cover and it clearly got a bit of extra publicity although I'm not completely sure why the Fleming Estate got so worked up over the book. Presumably it was something to do with the quotes from some of his letters. This is a really interesting book for Bond fans though with the only slight flaw of describing entire scenes from Thunderball a bit too much at times. The behind the scenes stuff and anecdotes are excellent though and there are some interesting photographs - including design art for the 50s Bond film that never was and Warhead. On the whole, The Battle For Bond is recommended and a fascinating read at times.

- Jake



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