"What do you think?" Ian Fleming asked me on one occasion. "Two films? Three? That should be about it, surely. Then the joke will be over. . . ."
We were sitting in the downstairs bar of one of those great old Stratocruisers that used to take an unbelievable 16 hours to fly from New York to London. And Fleming was talking about the contract he had just signed with producers Albert (Cubby) Broccoli and Harry Saltzman for them to make movies from his best-selling James Bond adventures.
I thought about that conversation the other day when I sat at lunch with Roger Moore, whose latest Bond, "A View to a Kill"--the 14th in the hit series, is to have its world premiere in San Francisco in 10 days' time. It is Moore's seventh appearance as Her Majesty's Secret Service agent 007.
(This, incidentally, is the first time a Bond movie has ever had its world premiere outside of London. It'll be held in San Francisco as a thank you to the city for all the help given the unit during filming there. A Royal London premiere with Prince Charles and Lady Diana will follow on June 12.)
Fleming died long before the Bond series really took off and he would, I know, have been amazed at its popularity. At one point, he had almost given up hope of anyone turning the books into movies. No producer, it seemed, could think of a way of transferring the stories to the screen. Then the Broccoli-Saltzman team came up with the idea of playing Bond tongue-in-cheek--and they were off.
"A View to a Kill" was never a Fleming book--his titles have long since run out--but Broccoli, now the sole producer of the series, has the right to invent new titles and new stories as he pleases. And this one, he boasts, may well be the best yet.
"I know the Bond fans look forward to these pictures," he says. "So it's a challenge to try to make each one more exciting than the one before."
Broccoli, who kept silent during all the fuss about the making of the rival Bond film--Jack Schwartzman's "Never Say Never Again," which brought back Sean Connery to the role--is much encouraged by the fact that his Bond, "Octopussy" with Roger Moore, easily outgrossed the Connery film. In fact, it outgrossed every Bond movie in the 22-year history of the series.
And the script of this one, by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, is crammed with invention--including the most expensive and exciting pre-title sequence of them all.
"It cost $1.5-million," said Moore, sitting back elegantly in a pink shirt and white slacks. "That's half a million more than it cost to film 'Dr. No.' And it's really exciting."
The movie opens in Siberia and shows Bond making his escape from the Russians by tearing off the runner from a wrecked snow skiddoo, surfing down the side of a mountain, across a lake and up the other side. The whole sequence lasts six minutes. Then Maurice Binder's ingenious Bond titles start rolling.
"It's nonstop action, this film," Moore said. "In fact, there are only about two scenes where I actually sit down. Even so, the film was less tiring to make than some--probably because we made it in comfortable places (Britain, France, Switzerland) where the temperatures are pleasant. When you have to leap about in a dinner jacket as Bond that's important. India (where "Octopussy" was filmed) nearly wiped me out with the heat."
Each time Moore finishes one of these movies there is much discussion about whether he will retire from the role. Stories start circulating that he is sick and tired of the whole Bond business and wants out. This time he is being rather cagey.
"The fact is, I retire after each one," he said blithely. "But I am always open to discussions about doing another. . . ."
Of course, it has proved less easy than many thought to replace Moore in the role, which he took over from Connery in 1973. Initially, critics thought he lacked the sharp edge to make the series work. However, since he became 007 the movies have gone from success to success.
Broccoli has never made a secret of the fact that he has tested others for the role. But plunging an unknown into the part at this stage could prove risky and he knows it. Audiences clearly like Moore--his triumph over Connery in the last film proved it--and he has managed to hold on to some of the character's initial mystique, although Fleming himself never saw his spy as a glamorous figure. "That's why I named him Bond," he said. "A very dull name."
Moore, whose tongue is never far out of his cheek, likes to say that as he has replaced so many actors, it should be easy to replace him.
"I replaced James Garner in 'Maverick,' " he says. "I replaced George Sanders in 'The Saint.' I seem to have replaced everyone at some time or another. So it can't be that hard to replace me. I'm sure Cubby has got a couple of good people hidden away in some cupboard, busy practicing karate chops."