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As an appendix to London Calling! KEVIN HARPER takes a look at the studio responsible for bringing James Bond to the big screen, and examines some of the other films and spin-offs distributed by United Artists that screened with the 007 titles in London and across the UK.

Dr. No/Deadly Duo ODEON Liverpool

Founded in 1919 by renowned silent film director D. W. Griffith; along with actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and her husband Douglas Fairbanks, United Artists operated on the principle that allowed artistes to control their own interests, rather than being dependent upon commercial studios. Throughout its history, United Artists functioned exclusively as a distribution company for independent producers and was also a financier of foreign film projects. It never operated a traditional working studio, or owned cinemas like Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox or Paramount.

Although United Artists were productive throughout the golden age of Hollywood, they were not particularly profitable. It was perhaps the collapse of the traditional studio system that led to United Artists becoming one of the major players in the cinematic marketplace. Lawyers-turned-producers Arthur B. Krim and Robert Benjamin approached Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin in 1950, with a proposal to allow them to take over United Artists for ten years. If profitable in one of the next three years, they would then have the option to acquire half the company by the end of the ten years and take full control. The gamble paid off, and under the leadership of Krim and Benjamin UA turned a profit within six months, and bought out Pickford and Chaplin to own the company outright in 1955. Acting primarily as bankers for independent productions, among their first successes were The African Queen (1951) and Moulin Rouge (1952), both directed by John Huston. The Oscar-winning Western High Noon (1952) starring Gary Cooper was another substantial hit, leading to other successful collaborations with producer Stanley Kramer.

The late 1950s saw United Artists have more critical and commercial hits with modest films such as Marty starring Ernest Borgnine; which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival, and Best Picture Oscar in 1955. Although not a box-office hit at the time of its release, 12 Angry Men (1957) starring Henry Fonda was another critical triumph, and continued UA's tradition of collaborating with well-known actors recently freed from studio contracts, and seeking to produce or direct their own films. First-time director Sidney Lumet had begun his career on television, the medium which was by now having a significant impact on box-office revenue.  Burt Lancaster was another of the actors who benefited from a relationship with United Artists, and in 1957 starred in, and produced, the critically acclaimed Sweet Smell Of Success directed by Alexander Mackendrick. United Artists were also responsible for funding and distributing the early films of Robert Aldrich and Stanley Kubrick. By 1958, United Artists were making annual profits of $3-million, primarily because they did not have the significant physical studio overheads which hampered the other major players in Hollywood. By the early 1960s many mainstream studios had fallen into decline, with some acquired by multi-corporation conglomerates. United Artists continued to prosper, winning eleven Academy Awards, including five for Best Picture, and adding successful relationships with Walter Mirisch (and his brothers Marvin and Harold Mirisch), who was then producing the films of writer/director Billy Wilder. In 1961, United Artists released West Side Story, which won a record ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

United Artists Logos 1967-1982

ABOVE: (Left) The short-lived United Artists logo attached to the start of all films distributed by the studio in 1967/68 following their acquisition by the Transamerica Company. (Right) The more familiar animated Transamerica logo, variations of which were used from 1969-82. For many James Bond fans, seeing the new animated rising ‘T’ was an integral part of the cinema-going experience in the 1970s, and as iconic as the trademark gunbarrel opening. The ovoid colour logo was attached to US prints of You Only Live Twice (1967); whilst all James Bond films from On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) to For Your Eyes Only (1981) opened with the blue Transamerica logo. Very much a product of their time, the logos are generally replaced on the commercially released DVDs, Blu-rays and digital releases of the films with more up-to-date distributor branding.

Although United Artists has been bought, sold and merged many times over the past century, they remained an independent studio until April 1967, when 98% of the company was acquired by the Transamerica Corporation. Despite the re-branding, United Artists still continued to produce critical and commercial hits including the groundbreaking Best Picture Oscar winner In The Heat Of The Night (1967), and Midnight Cowboy (1969) - the first ‘X’ rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Transamerica chose Arnold Picker (1913-1989) and his nephew David Picker (1931-2019) to run the company until 1970, when Arthur Krim (1910-1994) and Robert Benjamin (1909-1979) were re-instated following spectacular losses of $35-million. Although United Artists had moved with the times, the decline in cinema attendance continued unabated until it reached an all-time low in 1970. A decade earlier David Picker, then an upcoming executive at United Artists, had backed UK based producers Harry Saltzman & Albert R. Broccoli, and signed off on the deal to fund and distribute their first James Bond film Dr. No (1962). Always with an eye on the international market, other successful projects backed by David Picker in this period included the Pink Panther series starring Peter Sellers, which began in 1963; and Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, which made a star of Clint Eastwood in A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), For A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966) - all released in the US and UK in 1967-68. Several James Bond films would later be reissued in the UK in the 1970s on double-bills with titles from both franchises.

Arnold and David Picker - Astor Cinema New York 1967

ABOVE: United Artists executive David Picker (right) with his uncle Arnold Picker in front of the Astor cinema on New York's Times Square. The block-long billboard was 260-feet wide by 60-feet tall and dominated the Broadway skyline above the Astor and Victoria Theatres months before the opening of You Only Live Twice (1967). The title of the film was made up of yellow neon letters mounted with a 10-foot head of Sean Connery which travelled back and forth over the billboard background between the theatres, moving the full distance in 16 seconds, and then holding for 10 seconds. The iconic Frank McCarthy/Robert McGinnis artwork was displayed within the huge ‘007’. You Only Live Twice opened at both cinemas on June 13, 1967 - the day after its London premiere.

United Artists continued to support new talent in the 1970s, including Milos Forman, who directed One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in 1975, which won the Best Picture Oscar and was UA's highest-grossing film that year, taking a staggering $163-million at the box-office. Sylvester Stallone (whose 1976 Rocky won the Best Picture Oscar), and Woody Allen (Best Picture for Annie Hall in 1977, and UA's 3rd Best Picture Oscar in a row) also benefited from the support of United Artists. In 1975 as a result of personal financial difficulties, James Bond co-producer Harry Saltzman sold 50% of his shares in Danjaq (the holding company responsible for the copyright and trademarks to the characters, elements, and other material related to James Bond on screen) to United Artists for an estimated £20-million. Partner Albert R. Broccoli felt that Saltzman should have offered the shares to him first, and the resulting acrimonious split brought to an end their producing relationship, and initiated the complicated rights issues that surround the James Bond series. Danjaq and MGM (who merged with Amazon in May 2021) are currently co-owners of the rights to make James Bond films. It was actor Topol who suggested to Albert R. Broccoli that he should invite his former partner Harry Saltzman to the World Premiere of For Your Eyes Only in 1981, where the pair were reunited for the first time in several years. Saltzman attended the event with his children Hilary (1962-2019) and Christopher, and was one of his first public appearances following the death of his wife Jacqueline in 1980.

Albert R. Broccoli & Harry Satzman with Roger Moore on the set of Live And Let Die (1973)

In 1978 Arthur Krim and Robert Benjamin (along with several other UA executives) had walked out over a dispute involving administrative expenses. The incoming new leadership agreed to back Heaven's Gate, a project of director Michael Cimino, which vastly overran its budget, ultimately costing $44-million. Cimino's epic Western only recouped $3.5-million at the box-office, and United Artists recorded another major loss for the year due almost entirely to the failure of Heaven's Gate (1980). The studio was put up for sale and acquired by Kirk Kerkorian's Tracinda Corporation, who purchased the company in 1981. Kerkorian had also acquired Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1969. In acquiring United Artists, MGM merged the company into a new corporate entity, MGM/UA Entertainment Company. There were many more mergers and sales of United Artists over the following three decades, and in 2019 (100 years after it was founded) MGM re-launched the brand as a production and distribution company. At the time of writing United Artists will be responsible for the US distribution of the long-awaited 25th James Bond film No Time To Die (2021) starring Daniel Craig in his fifth and final outing as 007.

Dr. No Advert blocks

United Artists had their London office in Wardour Street, a five-minute walk away from the London Pavilion on Piccadilly Circus. The London Pavilion was a former music hall and theatre built in 1859, and converted into a cinema in 1934. The London Pavilion was then operated by United Artists as their flagship venue to premiere films distributed by the company in the UK until its closure in 1981. Dr. No opened at the London Pavilion on Friday October 5, 1962, and two days later at over 100 cinemas across the country. In those days new films outside the West End always opened on Sundays. In early 1983 the opening day for new films on general release in the UK changed to Thursday. This coincided with an overhaul of the ratings system by the British Board of Film Censors [British Board of Film Classification from 1984], and the introduction of new certificates. The move to Friday openings happened at the end of 1983, and remains so to this day. Dr. No therefore played exclusively at the London Pavilion for only two days before going on general release. On its original release Dr. No was supported in most venues (including the London Pavilion engagement) by Deadly Duo (1961), a now largely-forgotten 70-minute black-and-white American mystery-drama starring Craig Hill. This programme was not a double-bill as we are now used to the term. The cinema-going experience at the time usually consisted of a shorter second feature which played before the advertisements, and trailers in support of the main film.

The two titles on any programme were generally unconnected, but more often than not both films would be controlled by the same distributor, which in the case of the James Bond films was United Artists. It was not unusual for patrons to arrive during the middle of either film, and then remain until the performance reached the point at which they came in. With little control over audience behaviour (although people were generally better behaved in public places in the 1960s & 1970s!), there was nothing to stop ticket-holders remaining seated and watching the main feature again! Supporting features were dropped in later years, and generally replaced by short film subjects or documentaries and travelogues, in order that cinemas could fit in more screenings of the main feature each day and therefore maximise profits.

Deadly Duo (1961)

The first James Bond film played at around 100 provincial cinemas up and down the country in its opening week. Four of the London Odeon's played Dr. No from Tuesday October 9, 1962; whilst a handful of South coast resorts including Torquay opened the film two days later. Films playing at coastal resorts usually changed over on a Thursday (in line with London's West End) giving holidaymakers two different choices of programme during their week or fortnights’ seaside vacation. Dr. No played in North East London from Sunday October 14, 1962, and in South London cinemas a week later. With many larger suburban cinemas such as the 2,128-seat Odeon Streatham still playing the popular musical South Pacific (1958) [which had been playing in London for an amazing five years], the smaller venues which showed the Bond film could be more flexible, and hold it over for a second week if required in order to cope with public demand. Although supported by Deadly Duo in most locations, Dr. No was also paired with other second features (also distributed by United Artists) during its initial release.

Dr. No ODEON Torquay

The Odeon Chester had first played Dr. No for one week from Sunday October 28, 1962; but when the film returned for a second week from Sunday December 9th it was supported by Noose For A Gunman (1960), a 69-minute black-and-white Western starring Jim Davis (1909-1981), who would later become well-known for playing Jock Ewing in the first four seasons of the long-running hit US TV series Dallas (1978-1981). The same week saw Dr. No paired with The Walking Target (1960) at the Arcadia Cinema in Colwyn Bay. Running just 75-minutes, this crime drama had earlier supported the 1961 UK release of I Aim At The Stars (1960) starring Curt Jurgens as German rocket-scientist Wernher von Braun. The 1962 US B-film Incident In An Alley, based on a short story by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, which supported Dr. No at the Odeon Coventry for seven-days from Sunday November 11, 1962, had also been the second feature to Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three (1961) starring James Cagney when released in the UK earlier in 1962. All three films were the work of Edward L. Cahn (1899-1963), an American director of Polish ancestry. Cahn had begun his career in the cutting rooms of Universal, eventually becoming one of the studio's top editors, and responsible for the last-minute re-cuts of the prestigious Oscar-winning war drama All Quiet On The Western Front (1930).

In early 1963 Dr. No moved out to second-run cinemas, but made a return to some larger cities just two months after it had originally played. After spending two weeks at the 2,670-seat Odeon in Liverpool from Sunday October 7, 1962, Dr. No then transferred to the 1,805-seat Rialto, and 2,100-seat Hippodrome cinemas for a further week. On Sunday January 13, 1963 the first James Bond film then returned to the city to play for a record-breaking four weeks at the 620-seat Scala cinema on Liverpool's Lime Street, still supported by Deadly Duo. Although cinema attendance in general was still on the decline, with just under 400-million admissions in 1962, the lowest annual figure the industry had ever recorded; the tremendous success of Dr. No meant that the film was still playing across the UK until May 1963, by which time it was now receiving a limited release in the USA. Birmingham also saw Dr. No quickly return for a second engagement in the city. After playing for two weeks at the Odeon, New Street from Sunday October 7th, Dr. No then screened for another week at the 1,400-seat Futurist cinema from Sunday March 10, 1963.

Dr. No Liverpool/Birmingham advert blocks

Under the conditions of the Sunday Entertainments Act (1932) opening time was widely restricted to 4.30pm in England, and a percentage of individual cinema profits for that day were paid to the Cinematograph Fund (which ultimately became the British Film Institute). This meant that the first day a new film opened it usually only played for one or two performances. Sunday opening was not usually allowed in Scotland or Ireland, so films normally played from Monday to Saturday. Dr. No therefore played at the 2,784-seat Odeon Renfield Street, Glasgow for two weeks from Monday October 8, 1962, then transferring to the 4,368-seat Green's Playhouse (also on Renfield Street) for another six days from Monday October 22, 1962. Opened in 1927, Green's Playhouse was believed to be the largest cinema ever built in Europe. It stopped showing films in June 1973, and was later renamed the Apollo Theatre, becoming Glasgow's leading music venue until its closure on June 16, 1985.

Dr. No Irish quad crown posters

When Dr. No first played in the Republic of Ireland in October 1962, the quad-crown poster provided to cinemas by the National Screen Service was censored to cover much of the exposed female flesh depicted in Mitchell Hooks’ artwork. This was achieved by using a thick marker pen (or sometimes poster paint) over the original art. The Ursula Andress figure often ended up with a long dress covering her bikini, and the other girls were similarly altered. The Irish Film Censor's Office also objected to the depiction of firearms on posters, so the additional credit next to Sean Connery's name stating ‘as 007’ was also removed as it contained a small graphic of a gun. Note also in the poster above how the addition of a dress to the Ursula Andress figure also makes Bond's silenced gun less prominent. Similar censorship was also applied to late 1960s re-issue posters, although less female flesh has been covered up on the example above. As this was all done by hand when the posters arrived in Ireland no two were identical, and consequently these are some of the hardest to find nowadays. The practice continued well into the 1970s and numerous James Bond and other film posters were ‘doctored’ in this way. Dr. No first played at the large 2,900-seat Savoy cinema in Dublin for two weeks commencing Friday October 12, 1962. Opened in 1929, the Savoy is the oldest operational cinema in Ireland, and became the first-run venue for all subsequent James Bond films. Converted to two screens in 1969; with a third added in 1975, the cinema currently boasts 13 screens, although the overall seating capacity is now much reduced.

Dr. No Northern Ireland 1963

Dr. No didn't reach Northern Ireland until Easter of 1963, when it finally opened at the 1,800-seat Odeon in Belfast on Monday April 15th. The film played for two weeks and then returned by popular demand to play another two weeks at the smaller 850-seat Regent cinema. On Monday May 25, 1963 Dr. No then played at the 1,400-seat Stadium cinema for six days, and also concurrently at the Capitol cinema and Lisburn Picture House. After a short break Dr. No returned to Northern Ireland once more to play for six days from Monday June 3, 1963 at the 2,250-seat Tonic cinema in Bangor, and concurrently at the 1,380-seat Broadway cinema on the Fall's Road in Belfast. The first James Bond film proved very popular with cinema audiences in Northern Ireland, despite them having to wait six months to see it. Subsequent films in the series would often play in Northern Ireland long before they went on general release on the UK mainland.

Dr. No/Doctor Blood's Coffin Essoldo Newcastle

ABOVE: (left) A Newspaper advertisement announcing the return of Dr. No to Newcastle on Sunday June 9, 1963 at the Essoldo Cinema, Westgate Road. Built in 1938 as the flagship of the Essoldo circuit, the 2,200-seat cinema was owned by Sol Sheckman (1893-1963) a Tyneside entrepreneur whose empire rivalled that of his main competitor The Rank Organisation, who operated the Odeon and Gaumont cinemas. Many have wondered where the name ‘Essoldo’ came from – the ES came from Sheckman's wife Esther; SOL came from himself; and DO from his daughter Dorothy. Many of the Essoldo cinemas such as the Newcastle, Westgate (right) rivalled the Odeon style with their art-deco neon  gaudiness. The cinema became part of the ABC chain in 1974, then Cannon who closed it in 1990. The building was demolished in 1991.

Although Dr. No had played at the Odeon Newcastle for two weeks from Sunday October 7, 1962, the film returned to play another week at the 1,600-seat Pavilion Cinema from Sunday October 21, 1962. This cinema was operated by the Rank Organisation and generally reserved for ‘Roadshow’ presentations in the North-East due to its 70mm capabilities and stereo sound equipment. Dr. No returned to the city again and played at another large ‘Roadshow’ cinema, the 2,200-seat Essoldo Newcastle. Opening on Sunday June 9, 1963 this time supported by another United Artists film Doctor Blood's Coffin (1961). Although Bond films were double-billed in later years with other United Artists films from different franchises (including Clint Eastwood westerns and a Pink Panther film), Doctor Blood's Coffin was an unusual choice to say the least. This may even have been a joke on the part of the booking manager to get two ‘Doctors’ on the same bill! As the supporting film was awarded an ‘X’ certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, this meant that at the time audience members needed to be at least 16 years old to be admitted. The 92-minute sub-Hammer zombie horror film was directed by Canadian Sidney J. Furie, whose most notable film would be The Ipcress File (1965), starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer, and produced by Harry Saltzman.


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