Sunday, 17 November 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1089: A Legal War Ends, But A Mystery Lingers...

MGM and Danjaq/EON Productions, the partnership that controls James Bond's screen rights, have finally settled the 50 year long legal fight with the estate of Irish screenwriter Kevin McClory over the rights to Thunderball, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and his organization SPECTRE. It also marks the potential return of Blofeld and his minions after almost 40 years in franchise oblivion.

About damn time.

If you don't know the story, back in the late 1950s Ian Fleming wanted to write his own James Bond movie script. He formed an informal partnership with McClory and playwright and screenwriter named Jack Whittingham to write their own original James Bond script.

That script was titled Longitude 78 West. However, at some stage the project hit a wall, the partnership dissolved, and Fleming later used the material they created for the novel Thunderball.

That sparked the first lawsuit, and Fleming had to acknowledge McClory and Whittingham in the book.

When United Artists and EON Productions went to make a movie version in 1965 they made a deal with McClory and Whittingham, giving them cash, story credit, and McClory got a producer credit. In exchange UA/EON got the rights to all included in Thunderball, including Blofeld, SPECTRE, and the plot for 10 years, after that they revert to McClory.

McClory, Cinematic Man of Mystery
That's where the mystery begins for me.

As soon as McClory got the rights in the 1970s he immediately set to work selling the concept of remaking Thunderball to any and every studio willing to pay him.  

Most of the time these remakes usually fizzled in the development stage because while he may owned Thunderball, he didn't own James Bond, and the people who did weren't going to let any other studio have him without a fight.

However, McClory was able to license 1 remake of Thunderball, called Never Say Never Again for  TaliaFilm/PSO/Warner Bros, which marked Sean Connery's brief return to the role of 007 after a 12 year absence.

Then McClory tried to do it all over again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Just about every studio and major independent producer took a  crack at getting a piece of the 007 box office magic, using working titles like Warhead, Warhead 8, Warhead 2000 AD.

These attempts more lawsuits over the use of Bond, and more lawyers making money instead of artists making movies.

Eventually Columbia Pictures bought the rights from McClory and announced they were going to make their own Bond films.  MGM/Danjaq said "No way So-nay," and eventually won a case that any film based on the elements of Thunderball that McClory owned couldn't use Bond because his ass was theirs.

Columbia gave up, but over time the situation evolved. MGM ended up owning the rights to Never Say Never Again, and Columbia became a major shareholder and distributor for MGM. I'm pretty sure those events led to the recent settlement.

Now you're probably wondering what mystery seems to be bothering me.

Well, it's a question.

Why didn't McClory didn't make anything else?

In 1965 he was a former crewman turned filmmaker who had 1 pre-Thunderball credit that most people don't remember. After Thunderball he had story and producing credits on one of the biggest money-makers of the decade.

I'd like to know if he tried to use that success to sell anything that wasn't Thunderball derivative. I did some research of his life, and really couldn't find anything post-Thunderball that wasn't in some way a regurgitation of Thunderball under another title and the legal fights they'd always cause.

Did he try to sell something else, but was rebuffed for not being a Bond picture?

That's kind of hard to imagine. In the 1960s every studio wanted to put out Bond style action movies and make Bond level money, and most were willing to toss buckets of money to anyone remotely connected to the franchise.

Yet, I can't find any evidence of McClory getting involved in any of these other projects. 

Why did he repeatedly get involved in a legal quagmire with his attempted remakes instead of using the cachet he got from 007 to sell something that wouldn't put him in court?

If anyone has any real answers, please leave them in the comments.


  1. How did the non-Broccoli, non-MGM producers get the right to use Bond in "Never Say Never Again"? Why did they make an exception in their long legal battle against McCrory and the "Thunderball" elements?

    Also, SPECTRE and Blofeld are present in most of the Bond films in teh 60s and 70s- I guess what you are saying is that Blofeld and SPECRE are absent from any Bond film after the rights returned to McCrory. But wasn't he in some later ones-? I remember Telly Savalas played him once in the late 70s.

    Actually I think an attempt to revive Blodeld and SPECTRE are past their sell-by date- the Austin Powers movies showed that the Bond formula was never very far from self-parody, and that Blofeld, purportedly a supervillian, is not really that far from the comic Dr Evil. Given that the Daniel Craig reboot is more gritty and dark than eariler iterations, and that they have dispensed with or transformed many of the mroe outlandish elements of the folruma, I think they would not want to go back to the silliness of SPECTRE and BLofeld. Unless they ditched the grey Nehru jacket and reinvented him as a global cybercrimial or something like that.

  2. A British court gave permission for Never Say Never Again, but the lawsuits blocked the others just by adding too much to the development costs.

    Telly Savalas played Blofeld in 1969 in On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as Bond. The last MGM/Danjaq appearance was in the mid-1970s with Roger Moore in an opening scene that ends with Bond dropping a wheelchair bound Blofeld into an industrial smokestack.

    As for modernizing SPECTRE they could be retconned as a for-hire provider of covert criminal services and weaponry for everyone from gangs, to terrorist cells, to rogue nations. Blofeld could be reborn as a child of the Eastern Bloc, groomed since birth for the KGB, but orphaned by the end of the Cold War, who uses his training & intellect to reinvent himself as the man behind the mega-criminals.

  3. cincimaddog19/11/13 3:45 pm

    Could it be that McClory just never had any other ideas. His constant legal battles with MGM/Eon and the Fleming Estate are almost obsessive. His credits don't indicate any great creative genius. He only wrote 3 films, 2 of them based on the same story.

    This could be the story of a man who had one good idea and wanted to beat it to death. There don't seem to be many clear answers. Just suits filed involving the same characters.