Riding the Bond Reissue Bandwagon

The 60th Anniversary celebration of the James Bond phenomenon in British cinemas that has been running for a few months now sent me back to examine the extent of the James Bond Reissue Double Bill.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, the Dr No (1962)/From Russia with Love (1963) revival in 1965 kicked off the biggest-ever demand for a screen character, one of whom the public never seemed to grow tired, certainly for the next decade until the first of the series were sold to television. Prior to United Artists’ approach with the Bonds, unless a picture had Oscar-driven box office power it would not even be considered for revival for around seven years, considered a generation in audience terms.

In Britain, the movies were guaranteed circuit releases on the Odeon chain. However, contrary to the approach in the United States, the movies were not thrown back into circulation right away and it wasn’t until three years later that the next double bill – Goldfinger (1964)/Thunderball (1965) – put in an appearance. But thereafter, there was no stopping the Bond bandwagon. In 1969 You Only Live Twice (1967) went out with either From Russia with Love or Dr No (cinemas could choose their preferred pairing).

In 1970, United Artists took a break from the Sean Connery reissue business by concentrating on the studio’s other big male star Clint Eastwood, doubling up For A Few Dollars More (1965) with A Fistful of Dollars (1964).  But by 1971 it experimented with playing Connery and Eastwood together, first pairing You Only Live Twice/A Fistful of Dollars and later the same year Goldfinger/For a Few Dollars More. But in 1972 the studio reverted to type with Thunderball/Dr No and the following year Diamonds Are Forever (1971)/From Russia with Love.

In 1974 it was You Only Live Twice/Thunderball and  few months later Dr No/Goldfinger. Come 1975 it was time for two of the later offerings to enter the revival business – Live and Let Die (1973) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) followed at the end of the year by The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and Live and Let Die. The next year brought a programme change – Diamonds Are Forever teamed up with new Bond Roger Moore in the non-Bond adventure Gold (1974).

In 1977, for the first time in nearly a decade the Bond reissue was absent from British cinemas although the following year saw a re-teaming of Live and let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. But that pretty much spelled the end of the annual James Bond double bill, television by now too quickly eating up new product.

The British approach was almost conservative compared to the way the Bond revivals were handled in the US. After the sensational performance of Dr No/From Russia with Love in 1965 U.S. exhibitors had to wait only a year for Goldfinger/Dr No. United Artists showed little restraint, following a policy of “play them till they drop,” and launching the Connery/Eastwood combo in 1968 with You Only Live Twice/The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967) plus a straightforward Connery item Thunderball/From Russia with Love the same year followed by Goldfinger/Dr No in 1969.

In the U.S. the year of the missing Bond reissue was 1970. But in 1971 United Artists reissued two Bond dualers six months apart. First out was Thunderball/You Only Live Twice and then Dr No/From Russia with Love. Ahead of the television premiere of Goldfinger in September 1972, UA brought back Goldfinger/From Russia with Love and then the triple bill (“Spend a Night with James Bond!”) of Goldinger/Dr No/From Russia with Love plus a double bill of Thunderball/You Only Live Twice, the last program incidentally knocking up a colossal gross of $122,000 – equivalent to $853,000 now – from 14 houses in New York in its opening week.

But the bonanza came to an end when television ponied up $17.5 million – equivalent to $126 million today – for the first seven pictures in the series. And this was before residuals kicked in from VHS, television resale and syndication, DVD, cable and streaming. Even when the MCU can guarantee billion-dollar revenues from many of its movies it’s doubtful if any one of its blockbusters made as much money as the best of the Bonds in their lifetime, much of that extra revenue coming from the way the revivals proved the enduring popularity of the series.  

SOURCES: Allen Eyles, Odeon Cinemas 2: From J. Arthur Rank to the Multiplex (Cinema Theatre Association, 2005) p211-220; Brian Hannan, Coming Back to a Theater Near You (McFarland, 2016) p147-151, 175-177, 227.

Crossplot (1969) ***

Roger Moore – in his first movie in seven years – almost auditioning for James Bond with his lothario instinct, light touch for dialogue, a nice side-line in double takes, and enough action to show that even in his early 40s he was still nimble enough. Not in the Charade (1963) or Arabesque (1966) league and over-reliant on the Swinging Sixties and other “Tourist Britain” clichés and a plot that takes far too long to get going, it takes all the actor’s charm to make it watchable.

After one of his staff Warren (Dudley Sutton) switches the photo of a model in his portfolio, ad-man Gary (Roger Moore) finds himself on the trail of Marla (Claudia Lange), a sometime fugitive hiding out on a houseboat. Meet-cute is prompted when she pushes him into the Thames. On leaving he is knocked out and framed on a dope charge and once he manages to get her into the photographic studio Warren attempts to throw her off the roof, the would-be killer himself eliminated by his boss Ruddock (Francis Matthews) who in a marvelous piece of quick-thinking throws his gun to Gary who instinctively catches it, further implicating himself.

After going all round the houses (including a stately home), evading pursuit via an antique car race and a wedding, Gary finally gets to the bottom of why Marla is in such danger – she overheard a conversation between her aunt Joe (Martha Hyer) and Ruddock. Only problem is – she can’t remember it. And it takes even more time for Gary to figure it out, (not realizing, how could he,  that the clue is in the title, in fact two clues in a crossword puzzle). You can imagine how it goes from then.

This poster takes the easy route by trying to sell the picture on the back of “The Saint.”

On the plus side is mostly Roger Moore. “I come from a long line of hippopotamuses,” isn’t the sort of line you can deliver without some skill. But Moore’s performance lifts what is for the most part  a shaggy dog story, and he’s game enough to do all the running and fighting required, even the heavy lifting (of his eyebrows), to keep the story moving. It’s far from as funny as it thinks and not as funny as it needs to be, but there are still some good stabs at humour, a pistol held to Gary’s head discovered to be a toy gun, Gary turning the tables in a shower on Marla, telling the bride that her groom is a bigamist, and a running joke about the Marla being perennially hungry.  

The politics barely touches on the conspiracy aspects that Hollywood would have pounced upon and made a better fist of, although the idea that Britain could be undermined by civil strife was not far off the mark for the times. It needed some smarter thinking, though, for that element to work.

A much better attempt at selling a thriller with scenes from the film,
including the toy pistol pointed at Roger Moore’s head.

The rest of the cast are game enough. Claudie Lang (The Gatling Gun, 1968) is no Sophia Loren or Audrey Hepburn but nobody is pretending she is and she just about gets away with the dumb model approach. Martha Hyer (The Chase, 1966) delivers a glamorous villain and the suave Francis Matthews (Rasputin: The Mad Monk, 1966) her ideal match.

There’s quite a supporting cast: Veronica Carlsen (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968), Gabrielle Drake (Suburban Wives, 1972), Dave Prowse (Star Wars, 1977),  Bernard Lee (You Only Live Twice, 1967), Alexis Tanner (The Ernie Game, 1967), Ursula Howells (BBC’s The Forsyte Saga, 1967) and Dudley Sutton (Rotten to the Core, 1965).

If Alvin Rakoff (The Comedy Man, 1964) is in charge of the material he doesn’t have enough material to work with. He does enough to keep it on course but would have benefitted from a a tighter screenplay from Leigh Vance (The Frightened City, 1961). Both had done better in the past, but it is easy to be seduced by the romantic thriller format, almost a mini-genre in itself, assuming it is easier to pull off than it looks. The likes of Alfred Hitchcock (North by Northwest, 1959) and Stanley Donen (Charade) made it look easy but they had the advantage of big stars in Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn who possessed the ability to make the lightest confection work.

The Sins of Rachel Cade (1961) ***

In her first top-billed role Angie Dickinson (Jessica, 1962) delivers a strong performance as an American nurse/missionary in the Belgian Congo at the start of the Second World War. The usual Hollywood trope of “heathens” needing to be educated by imperialists – from The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) and The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) through to The Nun’s Story (1959) – was to some extent turned on its head here.

Just as Rachel Cade (Angie Dickinson) arrives at a hospital in a small village, resident Dr Bikel  (Douglas Spencer) dies. Not only does the hospital have no patients, the local Belgian commissioner Col Derod (Peter Finch) wants her to leave, believing her presence will act as provocation to the local high priest Kalanumu (Juano Hernandez) and witch doctor Muwango (Woody Strode). After standing up to all three, Rachel embarks on refurbishment of the hospital aided by assistant Kulu (Errol John).

Patients remain non-existent until she cures a small boy of appendicitis, as a result of which Muwango places a curse on her that she will lose her Protestant faith and promises the local god will take his revenge on anyone who supports her. Of course, her skills are not infinite and not only is there another boy who dies in her care but she cannot cure – and does not attempt to cure – the infertile third wife of the local chief.

While she warms to her patients and they to her, she cannot come to terms with their acceptance of incest (if a husband is called away, his brother must make love to his wife), polygamy, vaginal mutilation, the sexuality of their dancing and the fact that sin does not exist in their culture. Meanwhile, she distrusts the visions seen by the most convinced of her converts, Kulu.    

When the sexually repressed Rachel rejects Derod’s advances in favour of the  dashing but money-oriented Dr Paul Winton (Roger Moore), thus violating her own teachings, she becomes enmeshed by the principles she holds so dearly and which the Africans refute. A twist in the tale pivots the picture on whom she will marry, the sensible Derod, the cavalier Winton, or retain her own independence in defiance of the standards of the time.  

A battle of the hierarchies – the female nurse and her supporters versus male supremacy – maintains the tension but underneath is a philosophical struggle between the two faiths. The Christian religion which boasts of forgiveness is in the end unforgiving of those who break its moral code, while the African religion does not force onto its believers such ludicrous rules. On top of that is Rachel’s acceptance of her own passion, the realization that love cannot be restrained by commandment, and that men are more likely to betray her.

The reality of imperialist rule is not underplayed but since this predates the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya in the 1950s that precipitated widespread rebellion and Derod can call on soldiers for protection in the Belgian colony and is in fact a generally tolerant (though at times patronising) overseer, political issues remain in the background.

Angie Dickinson gets the movie star build-up in this British trade advertisement.

Director Gordon Douglas (Claudelle Inglish, 1961) keeps the focus on the transition of the naïve American while not ignoring nor appearing to ridicule the rituals and beliefs of the tribe – although a cynic might consider that the sexuality of the dancing, while repellant to Rachel, might be included more with an eye to attracting an audience. Overall, it appears an honest even-sided presentation, with the high priest getting the better of Rachel in arguments over the frailties of Christianity. Angie Dickinson brings conviction to a role that sees her start out a shade saintly until brought back down to earth by human weakness. Peter Finch, by coincidence the leading man to Audrey Hepburn role in The Nun’s Story, fills out his normal stoic screen personality with touches of grief. Roger Moore (Vendetta for the Saint, 1969) had not yet mastered the art of the raised eyebrow and so brought a more rounded performance to his role and is entirely believable as the lover with the mercenary streak.

The pick of the supporting parts is Mary Wickes (Sister Act, 1992) as Derod’s wisecracking housekeeper. Woody Strode (The Professionals, 1966), Scatman Crothers (The Shining, 1980),  Juano Hernandez (The Pawnbroker, 1964) and Errol John (The Nun’s Story)  provide stiff opposition for the incomers.  Edward Anhalt (The Satan Bug, 1965) based his screenplay on the bestseller by Charles Mercer.

CATCH-UP: Featured in the Blog so far are the following Angie Dickinson pictures: Ocean’s 11 (1960), A Fever in the Blood (1961), Jessica (1962), The Chase (1966), Cast a Giant Shadow (1966) and Point Blank (1967).

Vendetta for The Saint (1969) ***

This big-screen version of small-screen hero is as pleasant a diversion as you can get. Nostalgia pretty much gives it a free pass and in any case the action, which punctuates the drama at regular intervals, was always going to be budget-restricted. Despite being in almost constant danger the insouciance of gentleman thief Simon Templar dictates that the pace is no more than languid.

As the title suggests, we’re in Mafia country, Templar (Roger Moore) drawn into a Cosa Nostra succession scenario as the result of a casual encounter with former bank clerk Houston (Fulton Mackay) later found dead. Houston has cast doubts on the real identity of  Mafia Don Destiamo (Ian Hendry) one of several contenders to become the next Mafia overlord. Templar sneaks into Destiamo’s world by pursuing his niece Gina (Rosemary Dexter). Although outwardly respectable, Destiamo a bit too fond of using his cigar as a weapon of disfigurement, threatening his blonde English moll Lily (Aimi McDonald) in this fashion.

Part of Templar’s attraction is that although he has a nefarious side he is happy to walk those mean streets and has a strict moral code. And he moves in such elevated circles that he has a nodding acquaintance with dying Mafia chieftain Don Pasquale (Finlay Currie) who has yet to pick his successor.

The other part of his attraction is that he’s played with such suaveness by Roger Moore. For a good chunk of the time someone is trying to knife him, shoot him, blow him up, capture him, jab him with a truth serum, and generally trying to stop him. In fending off such attacks, or out-smarting the villains, there’s rarely a hair out of place. It’s not so much devil-may-care as devil-is-wasting-his-time with such an imperturbable fellow.

Although the action is pretty straightforward, Templar is not above a clever ruse – jamming a bus in a gateway preventing his pursuers continuing the chase – nor an old one such as tying sheets together to climb out of a window. While Malta stands in for Italy, the locations still look authentic enough, ancient stone buildings, the occasional horse pulling a cart. When the action/drama eases up, there’s always pleasant scenery.

Following MGM’s success in stitching together into a movie two episodes of The Man From U.N.C/L.E. television series (an idea of course the studio had pinched from Walt Disney’s cinematic re-presentation of Davy Crockett episodes) it was no surprise that ATV, then under the control of future movie mogul Sir Lew Grade (Raise the Titanic, 1980), decided to adopt the same idea. Although The Saint had been showing on British television since 1962, by the end of its run in 1969 it had stepped up to bigger budgets, 35mm and color. Given each episode lasted around 50 minutes, it was relatively simple to devise a two-part program shown over consecutive weeks on ITV in Britain and then release it throughout the rest of the world as a feature film. The first such project was The Fiction Makers (1968) followed by Vendetta for the Saint.

Roger Moore’s movie career had been in limbo since Romulus and the Sabines (1961) and there’s no doubt that his performance as Simon Templar and later in another glossier British television series The Persuaders (1971-1972) made him a candidate for James Bond. While his interpretation of Templar, especially the wry delivery, does bear some similarities to his incarnation as 007, that only holds true as long as you set aside the year’s supply of Brylcreem dumped on his hair, the shoulder-padded shoulders and the fact that he had not yet perfected his trademark move, the raising of the single eyebrow.

While no match for the quips prevalent in James Bond, Canadian screenwriter Harry W. Junkin – best known for his television work, his only other movies being a similar melding of television episodes of The Persuaders – and John Kruse (Hell Drivers, 1957) – had some neat one-liners. Despite the obvious limitations, director Jim O’Connelly (Berserk, 1967) does a decent enough job.

But Moore carries the show. Ian Hendry (The Hill, 1965) makes a passable villain but not a passable Italian. In general, not surprisingly since most characters were played by British actors, the accents are all over the place though Moore, courtesy of squiring Luisa Mattioli (later his wife) managed to deliver his Italian lines in an acceptable accent. Otherwise the only one who comes close is Rosemary Dexter (The Shoes of the Fisherman, 1968) and that’s because she was Italian. Worth checking out in the supporting cast are Finlay Currie (Ben Hur, 1959) and Fulton Mackay (BBC series Porridge, 1974-1977).

You can find a lot wrong with this without looking very hard but if you switch off your over-critical faculties you will be pleasantly surprised.

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