The third group, and the newest on the scene, was Lowndes Productions. This was a company due to be set up by producers Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (perhaps named after Lowndes Cottage, where Saltzman had once lived in London).
The full story of how these three projects evolved and interacted with each other has never been told. Broccoli and Saltzman’s efforts to bring Bond to the screen have been very well documented, as they were the overall victors. In 2007, Robert Sellers published The Battle for Bond, which focused on Kevin McClory’s struggles to make a Bond film, with the attempts of Broccoli, Saltzman, Ratoff and Feldman reduced to side-players in that story. The attempts to film Casino Royale between 1954 and 1966 have yet to receive in-depth analysis. Despite the James Bond series being the most successful film franchise of all time and there being a mass of material about it, there is no full-length book or documentary that looks in total at the story of how Ian Fleming’s novels came to be filmed.
This is not such an analysis, but I hope to show with the use of archive material why it is worth looking in closer detail at all three of the projects. I think one notable gap in the current knowledge is precisely when the individual players in each found out about the others, how they found out, what they felt about the situation and how they reacted to it. In the 1950s and early ’60s, it would have been unimaginable that James Bond would go on to sustain global success for several decades and feature in over 20 feature films. Armed with today’s knowledge, it may seem that Ian Fleming sold the rights to his novels in an unwise way, but he didn’t realize how problematic it might be if films or TV programmes of his work were made by separate companies. Fleming did not write his novels as strictly sequential and interlinked stories: with a few exceptions, they worked well as standalone thrillers. This may have given him the impression that in selling the rights to different novels he was selling off entirely separate properties. But it was the glue that bound them all together – James Bond – that would become the most valuable asset to everyone involved.
When Fleming became involved in plans to make a Bond film with Kevin McClory and Ivar Bryce in 1959, he did not fully consider the implications of his having sold the rights to his first novel to Gregory Ratoff four years earlier. Instead, he promised McClory and Bryce the right to make the first full-length Bond feature film, with a treatment for it written by him.1
It seems unlikely that Ratoff would have been aware of this new deal, as it would have had a serious impact on his work on Casino Royale, which he was still trying to get made, in partnership with Twentieth Century-Fox. As I discussed in a previous article, in January 1956 The New York Times announced that Ratoff’s company would film Casino Royale in England, San Remo and Estoril, with the action of the novel transplanted to the Second World War. The same article revealed that Ian Fleming had himself written an adaptation of the novel, but that Ratoff intended to hire a well-known screenwriter instead.
Despite this, Fleming collaborated with McClory in his attempt to make a James Bond film, and they were both quoted in the Daily Express in connection with it. The Express had a close relationship with Fleming: it had been serializing the Bond novels since April 1956 and had been running comic strip adaptations of them since July 1958. On June 11 1959, the Express published an article titled ‘Who do you think fits the part of James Bond?’, which featured a friendly disagreement between McClory and Fleming as to who should be cast in the part:
‘James Bond, the tough action hero who has made £30,000 for author Ian Fleming in six best-sellers, is to be brought to the screen in a British film.
But last night author Ian Fleming was not satisfied with the star selected to play his hero: Trevor Howard. Which is likely to cause complications for producer Kevin McClory, who is keen for Howard to have the part…’2This was a more intriguing way of letting it be known that the film was forthcoming than a simple announcement. McClory gave the argument for Howard, who he felt looked as though he had ‘lived it up’ enough to be convincing as Bond. Fleming then provided the knock-down to this:
‘Howard is not my idea of Bond, not by a long way. It is nothing personal against him. I think he is a very fine actor. But don’t you think he’s a bit old to be Bond?’3Howard (pictured) was 43 at the time, and Fleming stated that Bond was in his early thirties, adding:
‘I wonder how many people who follow the James Bond strip in the Daily Express would see Howard as that character. Not many, I bet.’4Fleming said he felt that Peter Finch was ‘nearer to it’. When it was pointed out to him that Finch was just a year younger than Howard, he reconsidered, saying:
‘I would be happier if the part could be given to a young, unknown actor, with established stars playing the other roles.
Otherwise I am keen on the project. The film will not be an adaptation of one of my books. I am writing an original screenplay for it.’5
The article detailed some of the proposed films:
In July, The New York Times filled in some of the details:
They have been bought by English producer Harry Saltzman, who produced “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning”, and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.
“Actors are falling over themselves to play Bond,” Saltzman says. “Cary Grant, David Niven, Trevor Howard, James Mason, all are interested. But I want to use an unknown…”’11
‘WHOLESALE LOT: In the frenetic business of acquiring properties for the movies, it is standard procedure for a company to buy a book, play or script in competition with others. But it is extremely rare for a producer to snag practically all of an author’s works for filming. Such was the case the other day when the independent production team of Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli, in association with United Artists, bought no fewer than seven novels by Ian Fleming, British newspaper man, to be made under the Saltzman-Broccoli corporate banner of Lowndes Productions for U.A. release.’12Broccoli and Saltzman would soon settle on a different name for their company, Eon Productions, although Saltzman would later form his own production company called Lowndes independently of Broccoli, with which he made such films as The IPCRESS File and Battle of Britain. The article said that the first of the films would be filmed in England and the West Indies that autumn, that it was likely to be Dr No, and that they were in negotiations with Wolf Mankowitz to write the script.
It looked like James Bond was in a new set of hands, and that they held all the cards. But neither Charles Feldman or Kevin McClory would fold that easily...
Note: Since writing this article, I have unearthed Ben Hecht's 1964 drafts of Casino Royale. For more information on that, please go here.
1. pp25-26, The Battle for Bond, Robert Sellers (Tomahawk Press, 2008 edition).
2, 3, 4, 5. ‘Who do you think fits the part of James Bond?’ by John Lambert and Peter Evans, Daily Express, June 11 1959.
6. ‘The Rush To Cast James Bond’, Daily Express, June 15 1959.
7, 8. ‘Big American Film Plan For England’, The Times, June 28 1960.
9. ‘Hamilton Leads in ‘Act One’ Race’, The Los Angeles Times, July 7 1960.
10. pp86-87, Sellers.
11. ‘A Rush To Be James Bond’, Sydney Morning Herald, June 25 1961.
12. ‘Passing Picture Scene’ by A.H. Weiler, The New York Times, July 16 1961.
This is part of 007 In Depth, a series of articles on Ian Fleming and James Bond.