I've been a film buff since childhood, and I love writing about and reviewing my favorites.
There Can Be Only One!
1983 was one of the strangest years in the long history of the James Bond franchise. The thirteenth entry in the long running series of 007 films - Octopussy, starring then-current Bond Roger Moore - was released during the peak summer-blockbuster season, and then a second James Bond film hit multiplexes later that same year - Never Say Never Again, an independent production which featured Sean Connery making his long-awaited return as 007.
Most fans probably didn't even stop to ask how this strange set of circumstances came about; they simply rejoiced at being able to see their hero on the big screen twice in the same year. As it turned out, this Battle of the Bonds was the end result of a bizarre behind-the-scenes drama that had dragged on for nearly a quarter century.
How "Never" Came to Be
Ian Fleming created James Bond in the early 1950s, inspired by his experiences in the British Navy's Intelligence Division during World War II. By the end of that decade, the super-spy had appeared in a half dozen best selling novels and the character had begun to garner interest from filmmakers. The first Bond book to be filmed was 1953's Casino Royale, which was adapted in a 1954 episode of the U.S. adventure TV series Climax! In this one-hour version, "Jimmy Bond" (played by Barry Nelson) was an American agent who worked for "Combined Intelligence."
Still hoping that 007 could make the jump to the silver screen, Fleming began working with an Irish screenwriter and director named Kevin McClory in 1958 on a screenplay for Bond's potential feature film debut - an original action adventure awkwardly titled Longitude 78 West. The film script went through numerous title changes, drafts and re-writes over the next several years, but the project eventually fell apart. Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli's Eon Productions swooped in shortly afterwards to snap up the film rights to the Bond novels, and their series of films debuted in 1962 with Dr. No, starring Sean Connery. The rest, as they say, is history.
When Fleming later used the aborted Longitude script as the basis for his ninth James Bond novel, 1961's Thunderball, McClory sued him for breach-of-copyright grounds. McClory claimed that he had created most of the story elements in Thunderball, including the basic plot outline, numerous characters, and the name of the global criminal organization SPECTRE. London's High Court settled the matter after a lengthy battle, and decided that Fleming had indeed used McClory's concepts in the novel without giving him proper credit. By this time, Eon Productions' Dr. No was already a box office smash and sequels were being planned. The Court decreed that when Eon made a film version of Thunderball (which happened in 1965), McClory should receive an onscreen producer's credit. As the "owner" of the Thunderball story concepts, the court further decided that McClory was free to use those ideas to produce his own film version if he so desired - after ten years had passed.
As soon as that ten years was up, McClory began trying to mount his own competing Bond film based on his Thunderball ideas. None of the projects ever got off the ground due to difficulties in procuring financing - as well as legal challenges from Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli's Eon Productions. Since Eon's "legitimate" Bond series was a worldwide box office phenomenon by this point, Broccoli and Saltzman certainly weren't about to let anyone else horn in on their territory.
"Never Say Never Again" Trailer:
After numerous fits and starts, McClory's "alternate" Bond film finally began falling into place when the original 007 Sean Connery, came aboard. Connery's relationship with Broccoli and Saltzman had been rocky throughout his years as Bond, so agreeing to take part in a competing production may have been a subtle way of thumbing his nose at his old bosses. Once he came into the picture, the project finally found sufficient financing through a consortium of independent European production companies. Long time Bond film editor and one time director Peter Hunt (of 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service) was asked to helm Never Say Never Again, but he declined, saying he did not want to jeopardize his long working relationship with Eon. Therefore Irvin Kershner of The Empire Strikes Back fame was hired instead. The film's title was suggested by Connery's wife, Micheline, because her husband had famously told reporters that he would "never" play James Bond again after being lured back by a big pay day for 1971's Diamonds Are Forever.
When Never Say Never Again began filming in 1982, Connery was 52 years old - four years younger than Roger Moore, who was in the midst of filming his sixth Bond adventure, Octopussy, at the same time!
A new James Bond movie always gets a lot of press attention, so naturally the news of two dueling Bond pictures in the same year caused more hype than usual. The press tried their best to manufacture a "Roger vs. Sean" feud, but neither Moore nor Connery spoke ill of the other during interviews for their respective films. "Roger plays it his way, I play it mine," Connery said. "I don't want to make comparisons." He even suggested that he and Roger Moore pose for a photo together and issue a joint press statement to squash the rumors of a "rivalry" between the two men.
Kevin McClory had wanted to release Never Say Never Again on the same day as Octopussy, but the head-to-head battle never materialized. MGM/United Artists released Octopussy in June of 1983 while Warner Brothers opened Never Say Never Again in October.
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Comparing the two films.
I revisited both of the 1983 Bonds recently and found Roger Moore's Octopussy to be a fairly paint-by-numbers Bond adventure. A rogue Russian general (is there any other kind in a Bond movie?) wants to kick start World War III so that the Soviet Union can expand its territory into the rest of Europe. He's financing this plan by smuggling Faberge Eggs and other precious treasures out of Russia and selling them at auction. 007 becomes involved when a fellow double-0 who was investigating the general ends up dead. Bond travels to India and both East and West Germany in this globe trotting adventure, encountering the general's partner in the operation, the mysterious Octopussy (Maud Adams) and her private all-female army. Though I remember liking this film a lot during the '80s when it was a cable-TV staple, this time I found Octopussy to be overlong and needlessly complicated. The story could've actually been told without the Octopussy character; her sole purpose (aside from giving the movie its title) is to provide a love interest for Bond and eye candy via her butt kicking squad of warrior women. Roger Moore, who was starting to seriously show his age at this point, is game as usual but the film's tendency towards goofy comedy rather than action is distracting. When 007 slips into a gorilla suit to hide from East German border guards aboard a circus train, and later defuses a nuclear device while dressed as a clown, you can't help but feel a bit sorry for him. It was not a surprise when the next Bond film - 1985's A View To A Kill - was Moore's last outing as 007.
Meanwhile, McClory and Connery tried hard with Never Say Never Again but the film is never much more than a curiosity item. If you've seen Thunderball you already know the basic plot - Bond is sent to the Bahamas to recover two nuclear weapons stolen by SPECTRE - and It's fun to watch Connery play 007 as an agent who's older but still has his smug, self-satisfied cool. Compared to the 1965 film, though, Never Say Never Again feels much slower paced and looks quite dated even by '80s standards. A young Kim Basinger (in one of her earliest film roles) provides eye candy as the femme fatale Domino, but she's no match for former Miss France Claudine Auger, who played the same character in Thunderball.
Never lacks familiar 007 touchstones like the "gun barrel" opening sequence and Monty Norman's James Bond theme, and with different actors playing familiar characters like "M," "Q," Miss Moneypenny, etc., Never Say Never Again feels like a James Bond film from an alternate universe. It may have the right guy in the lead, but everything else seems a bit "off."
Who Won the Battle of the Bonds?
Film critics were kinder to Never Say Never Again than they were to Octopussy. Moore's film got mixed reviews but performed slightly better at the box office; its wordwide take was $187 million, compared to Never Say Never Again's $160 million.
Kevin McClory intended to continue making his own Bond films - during the 1990s he was supposedly planning a new movie called Warhead 2000 A.D., which would've starred yet another former Bond: the recently-ousted Timothy Dalton. This sparked yet another round of legal battles between Eon/United Artists and McClory, who by this time had the backing of Sony Pictures.
Kevin McClory died in 2006, four days after the release of Casino Royale - the first James Bond film to star Daniel Craig as 007, and the first released by Bond's new "home" at Columbia Pictures, who took over distribution of the series after United Artists' financial collapse. His passing signaled, at long last, that the Battle of the Bonds had come to an end.
© 2015 Keith Abt
Swanson on September 29, 2018:
Never say never again was a disgrace of a film.
I am not the biggest connery fan out there but i felt this movie ruined everything about connery being Bond.
Glad its not apart if the official series.
I would rather be locked in a room with Die Another Day endlessly playing then watch "Never say Never again" one more time
Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on July 29, 2017:
I'd love to read more comparisons of the Bond character. To me, it will always and only be Sean Connery, though I've enjoyed to more recent films where the character is not so two dimensional. (The character may have been - Connery never is!)
Robert Sacchi on May 24, 2017:
Yes, it is sad about Sir Roger Moore passing. Fortunately he left us a good legacy of film. Let's not forget his TV show, The Saint.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 24, 2017:
Was bummed to hear that Sir Roger Moore had passed. My fave Moore era flick is The Spy Who Loved Me. Thanks for resharing this post in memory.
But we still have Sean Connery with us!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 24, 2017:
Bumping in honor of Sir Roger Moore who passed away yesterday (5/23/17) at age of 89. R.I.P.!
Dianna Mendez on August 26, 2016:
I believe I have seen every Bond film every produced and my favorite Bond is still Sean. Moore did a decent job portraying Bond but never really captured the role for me. Thank you for the background information on these two films and the marketing aspect.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on August 25, 2016:
Bumping in honor of Sir Sean Connery's 86th birthday today!!
Denis Lubojanski from 7 Station Street, London on March 01, 2016:
As a fan of James Bond series, Pierce Brosnan will be my all time favorite. Ok, I know that Ian Flemming did say that Bond has blue eyes, but Brosnan is something different than others. He certainly got a spy look that girls will crash upon!
Robert Sacchi on September 17, 2015:
Good article on the films and background. I enjoyed both films. I liked Never Say Never Again, primarily because of Barbara Carrera's performance as Fatima. It seems Kevin McClory could have done better by coming up with different names, and numbers, and avoid the legal hassles.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 31, 2015:
Hi Janshares - glad you liked it. I was watching "Never Say Never Again" on SyFy yesterday as well, which is what prompted me to bump this oldie...haha.
The name of the Pierce/Halle Bond film you're looking for was "Die Another Day," from 2002. It was Pierce Brosnan's fourth and final turn as 007.
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on May 31, 2015:
This article caught my eye because I was just watching Bond films yesterday. They are always so much fun. Sean Connery will always be my favorite Bond. Thanks for the research and the amazing behind-the-scenes history. I never knew the intricacies involved in the "Battle of the Bonds." This was a well-presented read, Keith. I'm glad I stopped by, very entertaining. Voted up, useful, and interesting. Trivia please: What was the name of the Bond film with Pierce Bronson and Halle Berry as his Bond girl? Thanks!
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on May 30, 2015:
Bumping in honor of Bond creator Ian Fleming, who was born 107 years ago this week.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on March 09, 2015:
Thanks for the kind words!!
Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on March 09, 2015:
Great review. Thumbs up, Useful, Awesome, Interesting. Big fans in this household.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 26, 2015:
i like the new james bond although the old bond are sexy man too
Gene Poschman from San Francisco Bay Area on January 24, 2015:
I agree, too bad the Bosses at Eon didn't realize the Public would have approved highly of that ending, and might have led to a better box office.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 24, 2015:
Hi gposchman - thanks for stopping by. Interestingly enough I just finished reading a biography of Connery, which mentioned that a large chunk of his "Never Say Never Again" salary went to his Scottish charity. It also mentioned that he and Roger Moore had joked about Roger making a cameo at the end of "Never Say Never" - the idea would've been that as Sean walked away into the sunset he would've bumped into Roger and they would've given each other a sideways look, like "Where do I know that guy from?" That probably would've landed Roger in some hot water with his bosses at Eon, but it would've been a cool way to end the movie!
Gene Poschman from San Francisco Bay Area on January 24, 2015:
Great article, it was nice to reminisce about the time. There are two additional pieces of information about the two films. Sean Connery and Roger Moore were and as far as I no still good friends. When Sean was approached about Never Say Never, he touched base with Roger, who told him to go for it. Roger reasoned it would provide a huge amount of free publicity, which it did. Additionally Sean got a nice paycheck from Never Say Never, along with a donation for one of his favorite Scottish charities.
Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on January 24, 2015:
Hi PurvisBobbi44 and heidithorne... glad you enjoyed this look back at a very strange period in Bond history. Thanks for the support. Yes, I'm definitely stoked for SPECTRE in November 2015!
Barbara Purvis Hunter from Florida on January 24, 2015:
I love Bond movies and I especially loved Sean Connery. The new bond movies are great also with Craig. I just watched Skyfall again.
It lacks Sean Connery's sexy voice. He is 84 now and is still a hunk.
Thanks for writing this---I enjoyed it so much.
I will share on Twitter and put on my re-pin board at Pinterest.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on January 24, 2015:
As a Bond fan who got on board with the franchise in the 80s, I knew of these two flicks, but didn't remember that they both came out in the same year. And I'm glad they did Casino Royale (best of the Daniel Craig era so far). Voted up, awesome and interesting! Looking forward to SPECTRE in November?