Bond Biographies! - Lewis Gilbert & John Glen

All My Flashbacks is the autobiography of the film director Lewis Gilbert and was published in 2010. Gilbert was born in 1920 and during a long career worked with everyone from Laurence Olivier to Alfred Hitchcock to Michael Caine. He directed Alfie, Educating Rita, The Admirable Crichton, Sink the Bismarck!, Reach for the Sky and, perhaps most famously of all, the James Bond films You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. In All My Flashbacks, Gilbert looks back at his eclectic roster of films, remembers some of the big stars he has worked with, his time in music hall as a youngster, his difficult childhood, his service in the RAF during the war, and much more besides. This is generally an interesting if undemanding read that will probably pique the interest of James Bond fans more than anyone given the important association that Gilbert had with the series. It's certainly why I picked the book up in the first place, not being a huge fan of things like Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine myself. Gilbert's work outside of Bond was rather spotty at times and there are a fair few films here I'd never actually heard of. He's very fond of talking about a 1971 romantic film he made called Friends which he even returned to for a 1974 sequel called Paul and Michelle but I'd never heard of either and don't recall ever seeing them aired on television.
It's slightly frustrating that Gilbert doesn't give nearly as much time to some of the World War 2 pictures he made in the sixties and there is barely a mention of a film he made in the seventies about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague called Operation Daybreak. I had no idea this film existed either so it might have been nice to hear a little more about it. While the chapters devoted to films are always interesting, Gilbert does have a habit (save for The Adventurers) of brushing the ones he clearly doesn't like under the carpet, which is perhaps understandable but it would be fun to read more about some of these ill-conceived projects at times. Gilbert directed over 40 films so you can forgive him some stinkers and a selective memory I suppose. There is probably a bit too much in the book about his family for my tastes, some of these chapters about relatives and the Gilbert family struggles becoming a bit tiresome despite some poignant sections. He had a difficult childhood as the son of vaudeville performers (frequently pressed into action himself) and had no consistent education. His father died of tuberculosis at the age of 34 and Gilbert became the breadwinner for the family. Gilbert's memories of long gone vaudeville days and life on the road are interesting on the whole.
The Bond stuff will probably be of most interest here though. Gilbert says he was reluctant to direct You Only Live Twice when he was first offered it. He was fresh from the critically acclaimed Alfie and it seemed slightly strange for him to be doing Bond (a bit like the fact that Sam Mendes is apparently going to do the next Bond film feels slightly odd) but Cubby Broccoli saw Gilbert as a safe pair of hands and someone who could hold together a big picture with a lot of technical detail after all his World War 2 films. You Only Live Twice was a gargantuan and bonkers production (it was the one with the hollowed out volcano base) but Gilbert tended to see Bond as something that had to be big and bold and larger than life. I've heard a story actually that Gilbert told Bond producer Michael G Wilson recently that Quantum of Solace was dreadful and not a Bond film! Anyway, Gilbert's recollections of making the film are very interesting, especially in relation to Sean Connery because Connery was sick to death of Bond by this point and nearly at the end of his tether.
Gilbert says Alfie only happened because his wife met a woman who was in a stage production of it and it was also a very cheap film to make. He does take time to talk about one of his duds though, The Adventurers, a 1970 adaption of a Harold Robbins novel about an obnoxious playboy. Gilbert says he wishes he hadn't bothered. What he should have done is direct the musical Oliver! instead, a film which Gilbert was offered but too busy to do. His return to Bondage for The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker is interesting even you might already be familiar with the production of these films. The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond for three years and the first to be produced by Cubby Broccoli alone after Harry Saltzman had got into financial trouble and sold his stake in the franchise. The Spy Who Loved me had to be a spectacular epic to prove Bond was back, especially after the lacklustre reception to The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974, and it was a roaring success. This was the film that finally established Roger Moore in the role and Gilbert explains they did this by introducing more humour and playing to his strengths. There was no point trying to make Roger Moore like Sean Connery.
The last chapters discuss Moonraker (another fun section for Bond fans) and a return to more low-key projects like Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine in the eighties. Gilbert only directed three more films after this but two of these are interesting enough to read about. Stepping Out because it starred Liza Minnelli in the lead role and then 1995's Haunted, an adaption of a famous novel by the horror writer James Herbert. On the whole, I quite enjoyed flipping through this but it's the sort of book you'd get out of the library or pick up in a bargain bookshop rather than pay too much for. James Bond fans will find more of interest here than most but it's a modest and unpretentious autobiography full of famous names and stories about the film industry. Nothing special but certainly not bad at all.

For My Eyes Only: My Life with James Bond is the biography of film director John Glen and was published in 2001. Glen directed all the eighties Bond films (For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill) and first began his long association with the series when he worked as an editor and second unit director on Peter Hunt's On Her Majesty's Secret Service in 1969. Glen remains somewhat unappreciated by James Bond fans these days despite directing more 007 films than anyone else but I've always thought he was underrated and certainly prefer him to the much more lauded Martin Campbell (GoldenEye and Casino Royale are terribly overrated in my book, especially the latter). Glen was born in Sunbury-on-Thames in 1932 and remembers growing up during the war and the early years in the British film industry here but the real bulk of the book is of course his time with the Bond series. Glen has a unique insight into what made Bond tick and last for so long and his thoughts are always interesting to ponder on. There are unpublished film stills and storyboard illustrations to go along with his recollections and although this is written in a fairly simple style and not exactly Proust I did enjoy the fact that Glen seems genuinely enthusiastic about Bond and grateful for having been given the oppurtunity to work on the series. You get the pleasant impression that if you were ever sitting next to Glen on a train he would happily chat about James Bond with you to pass the time.
There isn't any dirt dishing here and the focus is often on the producion of the films Glen was involved in but there is some very interesting behind the scenes stuff at times. Glen frequently talks about who they tested to play Bond and which actors just missed out on the role and this stuff is good fun. In fact, he says that when he directed his first Bond film For Your Eyes Only in 1981 his first task was to find a new Bond actor because Roger Moore wasn't expected to come back. Moore would play a reccurring game with producer Cubby Broccoli where he said he wasn't doing another and then return after a last minute deal was cut. When Moore finally did depart in 1985 they had to find a new James Bond for The Living Daylights and it was quite a palava according to Glen. Pierce Brosnan was originally cast and had even filmed the famous gun barrel intro sequence but he had to drop out when the producers of his US television series Remington Steel activated a new contract (a distraught Brosnan could have strangled them!). Cubby Broccoli wanted Timothy Dalton to do it but Dalton was busy with a play in the West End. Eventually they seemed to settle on New Zealand actor Sam Neil. Neil filmed screentests and was in pole position but Broccoli suddenly got cold feet on Neil and went back to Timothy Dalton again. Dalton's play, by chance, was now going to close and so he became Jamed Bond number four. This 'what if?' stuff is really enjoyable.
1983's Octopussy was pretty interesting on the casting front too. Once again Moore was playing hard to get and so an alternative was put in place - in this case the suave (and somewhat wooden) American actor James Brolin. Brolin did extensive screen tests as Bond (you can find them on youtube if you look) and had even started house hunting in London when the plugged was pulled on his 007 dream and Moore came back into the fold at the last minute again. Brolin did his test in an American accent but Glen said the idea was to get a general feel of him as Bond and then give him a voice coach later on. After second unit and editing duties on three previous Bonds Glen says it was a great honour when he was 'promoted' by Broccoli and allowed to direct a James Bond film himself. Glen plays tribte to Peter Hunt (director of On Her Majesty's Secret Service) in the book as someone he learned a great deal from and his memories of great Bond figures like Ken Adam, John Barry and Cubby Broccoli are always absorbing and enjoyable to read about. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the 'Alpine' Bond with extensive ski sequences and Glen's second unit duties on this spectacular film give him a wealth of stories and anecdotes to share in the book. Perhaps his finest hour though in this capacity was the pre title sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me where Bond skis off a mountain range into infinity before his Union Jack parachute opens. It was Glen who hiked up a mountain in Baffin Island with his film unit to capture this legendary stunt.
Glen says that he tried to make the Bond films more grounded when he took over and one can say he did this with For Your Eyes Only and the two Timothy Dalton films he helmed (Glen's Octopussy and A View To A Kill, while fun, are rather daft though it has to be said!). Glen's approach to Bond was that it had to be cheeky and audacious, larger than life. Panache is important. You can't imagine him directing po-faced miserablist fare like Quantum of Solace although his 1989 film Licence To Kill did split audiences and Bond fans with its harder edge and less fantastical trappings. This one had Timothy Dalton going after a drug kingpin who fed Felix Leiter to a shark but for each fan who enjoyed its less flippant approach to Bondage there was another who thought it came across like a humour free episode of Miami Vice. Glen makes it clear in the book that he believes the two Timothy Dalton films are his best work and is very proud them although he admits they were not the most successful entries in the series. Licence To Kill in particular suffered from a dreadful bargain basement advertising campaign in the United States and was slaughtered over there in a murderous 1989 blockbuster summer season that featured the likes of Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, Ghostbusters 2, Star Trek V, Honey I Shrunk the Kids and others. Is it a coincidence that since 1989 James Bond films have always been released in november? Probably not.
Glen didn't do an awful lot outside of Bond so this is a very Bond intensive book that fans of the series will like. Glen was a second unit director on Superman but endeed his career directing episodes of Gerry Anderson's Space Precinct after his 1992 film Christopher Columbus: The Discovery was savaged by the critics and the five people that ever actually watched it. It's especially nice to go back here to the era of Cubby Broccoli long before his awful daughter got her humourless politically correct mitts on the franchise. For My Eyes Only: My Life with James Bond is not the most demanding read but it's a likeable memoir by a likeable person and anyone interested in the James Bond films will find much of interest here.
- Jake


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