james bond lawsuit

Completion is often an important facet of one’s fandom: you have all of The Beatles’ studio albums on your iPod, or sitting on your shelf is every novel Virginia Woolf ever wrote, or you own multiple versions Cinema Paradiso. But what if you planned to have everything and you didn’t get what you thought you were paying for?

That’s the core issue of a class action lawsuit brought against MGM Studios and 20th Century Fox by plaintiff Mary Johnson of Washington, who bought the Bond 50: Celebrating Five Decades of Bond DVD box set, and filed the complaint when she realized the set did not include the 1967 film Casino Royale (the one with Woody Allen – yes, you read that correctly) and 1983’s Never Say Never Again. It’s a matter of whether this is necessarily false advertising, as there’s legal precedent for why these films weren’t included. But should these films be included in Bond box sets in the future? And do their very existence say about the 007 series in general?

A Brief History of Casino Royale ’67

I’m still not quite sure if my Bond education was an unusual one, but I grew up understanding that the 1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again were asterisks in James Bond history: films that weren’t officially “canon” as it were, as they, formally, diverted from the conventions and tropes that had become an established part of the franchise. More logistically, they weren’t produced by EON Productions, the company, started by producers Albert R. Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, that has made all of the James Bond films since the beginning, starting with 1962’s Dr. No.

Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, had sold the rights to the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1955 – an earlier rights deal to CBS resulted in the telefilm Casino Royale in 1954 as part of their Climax! series – to Gregory Ratoff, but the rights were then sold to Charles K. Feldman by Ratoff’s widow,  making it legally difficult for Broccoli and Saltzman to make their version of Casino Royale without Feldman as a creative partner and producer. Legal issues also halted them from making Thunderball as the first Bond film. They moved to adapt the sixth Bond novel instead, Dr. No.

In years following the success of the James Bond series, two things occurred: many a knockoff and parody of 007 was produced and Feldman, who had worked on films like The Seven-Year Itch and What’s New Pussycat?, still sought to make his adaptation of the first Bond book. The option to make a straight-up Bond movie was out of the question, partially because it didn’t make sense to compete on the exact same turf and partially because getting Sean Connery (who had at that point a five film tenure as Bond) was a no go. Instead, he decided to make a Bond parody, with five directors (John Houston, Kenneth Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish, and Joseph McGrath) and three writers (Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, and Michael Sayers), numerous contributors (including Billy Wilder and Ben Hecht), and an enormous cast including David Niven, Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, and many Bond alumni like Ursula Andress, Vladek Sheybal, and Caroline Munroe. The movie is a mess. It is often rightfully acknowledged as such.

A Brief History of Never Say Never Again

The exclusion of Never Say Never Again also stems from legal issues, as Fleming had been working on a screenplay with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham in the early 1960s, at that time titled Longitude 78 West. Fleming abandoned the script and turned it into the Bond novel Thunderball, published in 1961, without crediting either McClory or Whittingham. For this, breaching copyright, Fleming was taken to court, settling in 1963. EON made a deal with McClory, letting him produce Thunderball as a film in 1965, with no other adaptations of that book to be made for ten years following the film’s release that year.

This gave time for McClory to stew, beginning work on another adaptation in the mid-1970s called Warhead, with Len Deighton and Sean Connery also working on the script. The film continued to be developed throughout the ‘70s, during which Roger Moore had taken over the “official” role of Bond, and EON continued to try to block it. Though Connery had declared he would never revisit the role of 007 again after Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, he would ultimately return for this film, which would finally get its release in 1983, with the title courtesy of Connery’s wife, Micheline.

Distribution Issues

Both Casino Royale ’67 and Never Say Never Again competed against EON-produced Bond movies the years they were released: You Only Live Twice and Octopussy, respectively. In the franchise’s fifty-five year history, the baton of who owns the rights to finance and distribute the films has been passed several times. United Artists initially were the sole distributors until For Your Eyes Only in 1981, when MGM absorbed UA. MGM handled all of the Bond films by themselves from Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 to Die Another Day in 2002. And MGM and Columbia Pictures have shared distribution rights since Casino Royale in 2006, with Columbia’s parent company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, saving MGM from near bankruptcy in 2005. Currently, there’s a bidding war over who will distribute the next Bond film, but it’s much of these transferences of power which have kept the 1967 Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again from being included in box sets.

Both Casino Royale ’67 and Never Say Never Again weren’t distributed or produced by anyone that had ownership over Bond in the first place; the former was distributed by Columbia and the latter by Warner Bros. It wasn’t until 1989 and 1997 that either film had its distribution rights purchased by MGM. An ongoing legal battle with the McClory estate, which prevented especially the latter film from being included in collected box sets, was settled in November 2013, too late for the release of the Bond 50 set in September 2012.

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