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THE BATTLE
FOR BOND

 

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5: Amusingly, while the search for an actor to play Bond in McClory’s film continued Fleming’s agent, Lawrence Evans, got in on the act. But his suggestion was sheer lunacy. He advocated that a man be found whose real name was James Bond and he be groomed for the part. Then, so Evans’ logic went, wherever he went in the world he would be known as James Bond and become a valuable property. “I think this is an impossible but amusing idea,” Fleming wrote Bryce, “But I do think the idea of creating our own James Bond from an unknown and sign him up for ten years and have a very valuable human property on our hands to act in Bond television series etc, is an excellent one.” Not long after Evans’ absurd suggestion Bryce actually received three letters applying for the role of James Bond, sent by real James Bonds.

Ian Fleming 1908-1964

6: During my extensive research I read the two screen treatments for Thunderball written by Ian Fleming and the trio of scripts from Jack Whittingham, an experienced screenwriter brought in by McClory. All are fascinating in the evolution of the Thunderball story.

Fleming’s first script opens with Bond practising at a firing range. Watching him is the armourer who rebukes his choice of a Beretta as a weapon for being nice and light, in a ladies handbag. To which Bond reveals that he’s never missed with it yet. This exchange is remarkably similar to the one in the film of Dr. No.

Fleming’s grand scheme for his villains is nuclear blackmail, but he has them stealing a bomb from a secret rocket installation in, of all places, Shoeburyness, hardly very exotic. And not very probable either. It was McClory who suggested that the baddies hijack an aircraft in flight and steal the bomb that way. It took some persuasion to get Fleming to agree.

Fleming also planned to dramatically kill off Felix Leiter. During a reconnaissance of Largo’s yacht, Felix approaches in a speedboat, acting the tourist. Taking no chances Largo has him machine-gunned to death.

Jack Whittingham was also just as keen to see poor old Felix dead, in his script having him captured along with Domino as the two break into Largo’s beach house. Largo’s thugs throw Leiter into a swamp and as his head disappears under the surface, “Domino, who is sinking more slowly, screams with terror.” Whittingham wrote.

Later, Bond is thrown into the same swamp but manages to drag himself out, escaping the predatory gaze of hundreds of crabs encircling him.

Before the main action Whittingham’s script includes a bizarre short prologue that takes place in 1945. We see the famous White House in Washington and then former US President Harry Truman sitting at his desk in the oval office warning the audience about the nuclear peril. It was actually hoped that Truman himself could be persuaded to record the scene.

Whittingham’s scripts are quite dark and violent. Early on Largo kills an informant and has his body stripped and fed to sharks. There’s also the rather perverse notion that Largo is turned on by the thought of the dead man being ripped apart because he immediately demands sex from Domino, paying for it with money retrieved from the corpse.

In the climax Whittingham also has Domino set the atom bomb to explode as Largo attempts to escape in his yacht. She accuses him of murdering her brother. “I hope you rot in hell.” Largo just laughs and draws a gun. But Domino doesn’t care; she’s beyond any further hurt. Boom!! The screen is enveloped in a mushroom cloud. The End. What a great climax, the kind of Bond girl self-sacrifice that May Day would later execute in 1985’s A View To A Kill. And, with the possible exception of Bond’s dead wife over the rolling credits of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, would have been the most downbeat ending to any 007 film.

One interesting note, as in Fleming’s previous script the villains are the Mafia (not SPECTRE). At a Mafia meeting in Sicily, Whittingham stresses the point in his script that the audience should not see the Capo Mafiosi’s face. One wonders if this is where the idea came from not to reveal arch villain Blofeld’s identity until the fifth film in the Bond series?
 

CONTINUED...

© Robert Sellers, 2007. All rights reserved.

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