Twitch in Bondage: The Spies Who Never Loved Us

Sean Smithson, Contributor
There have been a fairly large group of actors who have donned the tuxedo and strapped on the Walther PPK to play the iconic James Bond at this point.

The cinematic incarnation of the world's most suave secret agent is now turning half a century old, and all any fan need do is pick up the new Bond At 50 Blu-ray set to take a cohesive walk down memory lane with 007 in his many guises. That said, we are personally fans of the "What If...?" scenario, and in that spirit, we'd like to take a walk down a different memory lane, one that is an alternate universe, where we can catch glimpses of the also-rans ... the numerous Spies Who Never Loved Me, to paraphrase the title of this article.

The history of Bond coming to the screen is a book in itself, so this is going to be more of an overview of what could have been rather than a detailed account. We (myself, along with my co-conspirator for this piece Nate Allen) will, however, try to keep this jigsaw puzzle as linear as possible. Please, just remember this is a snack plate, and for anyone wanting to delve into an actor more deeply, we are linking their names to their IMDB listings. Dig around, discover more about the almost-were-Bonds that are new to you, and enjoy!
 
We'll start with the footnote in cinematic Bond lore that the first Bond production was on an American TV series called Climax! in 1954. One episode of that series was a presentation of Casino Royale in which "Jimmy" Bond was played by American actor Barry Nelson, who genre fans will remember as Stuart Ullman in Kubrick's The Shining, the man who interviews Jack Nicholson at the beginning of that film. This Bond was merely a blip on the secret, in-dash radar, but it helped generate interest throughout the remainder of the 1950s in making a cinematic Bond.

Rumors abound that Richard Burton was asked - really, begged - to play Bond in a 1959 film that was also to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The story goes that when both Hitch and Burton turned down the film, financing fell through and all was thought lost for Bond on film, until Albert Broccoli purchased the rights to all of the Bond novels in 1961. It is hard to imagine Burton playing James Bond, as even in his younger days, Sir Richard seemed crusty and curmudgeonly, but physically he would have looked perfect as Bond.

The first man to truly be considered, and creator/author Ian Fleming's first choice, was actor Richard Todd. One of Todd's first films was Hitchcock's Stage Fright, and he is also memorable in Chase A Crooked Shadow and The Dam Busters. Notable is the fact that Todd was a real life bad ass too, having been a Captain in the British Army's Airborne division, and parachuted into Normandy on D-Day! Whoa. That's 100% awesome right there. Sadly, scheduling conflicts kept Todd from taking the role in the initial Bond outing (which at that time was not determined to be Dr. No, FYI)

Next we have an actor who we just cannot imagine inhabiting the role, proper British or not. That would be Doctor Doolittle himself (no, not Eddie Murphy, sit down!) Rex Harrison, who was passed over in favor of Sean Connery. While the debut Bond film was readying for release, Harrison took a turn in the heist picture The Happy Thieves, in which he plays Jimmy Bourne (no relation to the LeCarre' character), a dapper thief out to steal a very valuable painting from a Spanish heiress. It's a film full of McGuffins and good fun, and Harrison is good in it.  But Bond he is not.

Rounding out the initial list of runner-ups, there is the far too skinny David Niven.  Are you kidding me? Eegad, while we like David Niven just fine, having to suspend that much belief is impossible. We're talking Transformers 2 level impossible. We don't see that slight little man being able to handle the recoil of a gun, much less handle business fist-to-fist. Dapper? Yes. Dangerous? No. At least not in a physical sense, though we could have taken Mr. Niven as a brainiac super villain type.  Niven did, however get to play Bond in the 1967 farce Casino Royale, which most Bond fans choose to ignore for good reason.  As an alternate Sir James Bond, Niven comes off fine playing the character not as a bad-ass with a mean streak, but a wise and crafty English gentleman nearing retirement.

Here is where, of course, Sean Connery steps in. Garnering the role after being seen by the producers in Darby O'Gill and the Little People. This is, again, an overly simplified version of events, and only the very basic facts of what happened.

When Connery decided it was time to take a break after You Only Live Twice, the search for Bond was on yet again. Australian unknown, and burgeoning ego-maniac, George Lazenby won the role after a screen test in which his pugilist skills won the producers over, but in the running before Lazenby was  British TV and stage actor Jeremy Brett who had recently starred as d'Artagnan in a BBC production of The Three Musketeers, and as Freddie Eynsford-Hill in My Fair Lady.

Then there was Simon MacCorkindale, who geeks like us will recognize from genre fare like Hammer's The Devil Rides Out, Jaws 3-D, The Sword and the Sorcerer and the BBC's Quatermass series. MacCorkindale was also in highbrow fare like I, Claudius and Jesus Of Nazareth. For our money this was the man that should have gotten the role. On Her Majesty's Secret Service would have been far the better for his inclusion.  As someone once said in a Bond interview, and we're paraphrasing, it was a shame that the first Bond film that needed a real actor was the first Bond film that didn't have a real actor. MacCorkindale would have nailed the complex emotions and depth that the story demanded.

Another genre stalwart who lost out to the unknown Aussie Lazenby, was John Richardson. With films like Bava's Black Sunday, Lenzi's Eyeball, Martino's Torso, and even the Hammer production She (with first Bond girl Ursula Andress no less), it may be selfish of us to say, but we're glad he lost out. Why? Because the Eurotrash genre flicks he later populated are far the better for his presence. Frankenstein 1980, fuck the world!

Little known Hans De Vries cycled through the audition process as well, hoping for an upgrade having already appeared (uncredited) in You Only Live Twice as a control room technician a couple of years prior. No harm no foul Hans, we'll always have you as, well, "Hans", in 1968's Western Shalako, starring ... wait for it ... Sean Connery! Oh the irony!

A couple of others who also were beaten out by Lazenby were actor/writer Robert Campbell, who penned the screenplay for Corman's adaption of Poe's Masque Of The Red Death and Teenage Caveman, as well as Anton Rogers, a stalwart known for British television with credits in shows like The Prisoner and The Saint (with future Bond, Roger Moore) as well as a memorable turn in 1970's Scrooge with Albert Finney, playing Tom Jenkins. Most notable however, is the offer sent to Michael Caine, who declined, seeing the danger of typecasting, and having just played secret agent Harry Palmer in Ken Russel's Billion Dollar Brain. Being huge Caine fans, this is intriguing to us; but man, oh man, are we ever thankful for Sir Michael's good judgment. We agree in that Bond just wasn't for him.


COMING INTO THE MOORE ERA...

In a surprising turn, The Prisoner and Danger Man star Patrick McGoohan was offered Bond in Live and Let Die, but turned down the role.  We think McGoohan would have been a fantastic Bond and the series would likely not have taken the humorous turn that it did with Moore ... for good or for ill.  McGoohan's serious and brooding performances in his two major TV series would have been on par with the Daniel Craig Bond.  Oddly, McGoohan also turned down the role of The Saint, which also went to Roger Moore!  We sincerely hope that Sir Roger sent Patrick an expensive fruit basket every year for Christmas to thank him.    

It was around this time as well that the eventual Bond-man, Timothy Dalton, cycled through the "maybe" list (and not for the first time) but smartly declined, thinking that Connery was too hard an act to follow. Admittedly, we're not Lazenby fans, and are thankful for Connery's return, albeit briefly, in Diamonds Are Forever after Lazenby made his departure (leaving the franchise in temporary limbo). This would be Connery's final turn in what is considered the official franchise run, making one more appearance in the somewhat questionable Never Say Never Again, which was for all intents and purposes a hackneyed remake of Thunderball.   

William Gaunt, mainly a television actor, was next in the long list of hopefuls. Probably best known to action enthusiasts as Richard Barret, one of the agents of NEMESIS in the late 60's British spy show The Champions, which could well be what landed him on the chopping block of names. Fitting the template of dark haired, cosmopolitan, and (for the time) suave, the magic just wasn't there in the producers' eyes. 

Ditto American actor John Gavin, who was in classics such as Psycho and Spartacus, and was actually signed to don the tux for Diamonds Are Forever, until the exemplary Connery decided to take the role back. We can just see Gavin now, kicking rocks after coming "this close." Way to break someone's  groove, Sean!  Gavin is probably the one person who came closest overall to playing Bond without it ever coming to fruition. Gavin then took his proverbial ball and went off to France to play OSS 117 in the duology Pas de Roses pour OSS 117 / No Roses for OSS 117 (Not to be confused with the parodies OSS 117: Lost In Rio and OSS 117: Nest of Spies). Small compensation for losing out on portraying the man with a license to kill, but hey, those movies kick ass and are well worth seeking out. To add salt to the wound, Gavin lost Bond the second time when he came close to doing Live and Let Die, but was passed over because he was not from the UK.

Damn, all this Euro-spy stuff gets really confusing. OK. Back to the, er, past that never happened...

Next are a couple of other serious genre figures.  First we have Simon Oates, who had the seriously cool Doomwatch film and television show in his recent past, as well as the wonderfully goofy and enjoyable UK sci-fi/action opus The Terrornauts. He did however play John Steed, the Avengers character immortalized by Patrick McNee, on the stage in a live production of the hip and swinging classic show.  Again, this whole Euro-spy thing gets downright incestuous when you start climbing the very unofficial family tree of Brit based secret agent men.

Later, after Moore had established himself, we also have the inimitable David Warbeck, who any self-respecting (it's all subjective people!) grind-hound should be very familiar with. A major player in genre fans' eyes, Warbeck appeared in films ranging from Leone's A Fistful Of Dynamite, to the Fulci directed uber-horror-classic The Beyond, and the Italio-war epic cheapy The Last Hunter. Warbeck is known to have said he was actually put on retainer by the producers in case Roger Moore did not work out. Other stories have him passed over, simply for not being lively enough on-screen. Either way, he would have made an interesting addition to the pantheon given his other work. Then again, had he landed the role of Bond, we may never have seen his stunning turn (again, subjectivity here!) in the Raiders of the Lost Ark knock offs, Ark of the Sun God and Hunters of the Golden Cobra! Say what thou will, those films straight up R-O-C-K.

It was also around this time - 1979 - that Timothy Dalton once again shirked the role, not appreciative of the humorous direction the films had taken with Moore in the lead. Got Diva? Just you wait and see Timothy ...

The 80's have now rolled around and the next slew starts with little known actor Lewis Collins.  Darned entertaining and manly in Who Dares Wins (aka The Final Option) apparently he was deemed "too aggressive" which is both curious, and if true, bad timing on the part of fate, because we think we can agree that the current incarnation of Bond is probably the most violent to date.  Lewis is a very intriguing idea as Bond; equally so as Patrick McGoohan.  Check Lewis out in the 80's action trash Code Name: Wild Geese and Commando Leopard, both by Italian exploitation god Antonio Marghereti. I use the word "trash" lovingly here, as both these films (as well as the aforementioned Warbeck war outings) are insanely fun. Or fun for the insane. Whatever.

We can digress here and mention that the European based low rent action directors must have been circling like vultures around the Bond casting offices, because it seems like every actor who failed to land the role ended up in many of the plethora of knock-off's that ensued. By no means are we talking down to these low budget wannabe's though, because we the voracious viewers, are the better for it.

Next, one Saint almost replaced another, when Ian Ogilvy, star of Return Of The Saint, came close to stepping into the role, and relieving Roger Moore of his duties. But alas, the man who costarred with two horror icons, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, respectively in The Sorcerers, and the amazing Witchfinder General, would not land the role, but we'll always have his readings of the Bond novels on audio book (Google search and Amazon.com are your friend!). Nor would Canadian born soap star Daniel Pilon, who those latch key kids who cut school and housewives may remember being in Ryan's Hope (RIP!), The Guiding Light, and Days Of Our Lives. I'll always love him from the very underrated cartoonish violence opera Shoot 'Em Up though, as the corrupt Senator Rutledge.

Rounding out the 80's hopefuls are eventual Bond Pierce Brosnan, who in a Tom Selleck/Indiana Jones-like turn, was denied the chance when NBC renewed his Remington Steel contract. Sam Neill, who had recently done a project called Riley, Ace Of Spies caught the producers' eyes, but, alas, third time is a charm, and Timothy Dalton, who had the luxury of turning down the role twice before (can you imagine?) finally surrendered to the chance and took on the role of 007.


THE NEW ERA BEGINS...

We leave the "Me" decade and enter into the Gen-X years, as the kids of the 70s and 80s grew up, so did the character of James Bond. Eschewing the overt humor, which began to be phased out with the Dalton films, the search for a more serious reading began. Ralph Fiennes crossed the desk, but lost out due to not being a bankable name at the time, as multiplex fame still loomed over the horizon with his faux arthouse turn in The English Patient

Then there was Paul McGann, who would instead end up jumping into the TARDIS as the eighth incarnation of Doctor Who. McGann had the brilliant Withnail And I, and Empire Of The Sun in his past, but that wasn't enough apparently to buy into the venerable franchise. Again, selfishly speaking, I'm all good with it because he would have probably become too famous to star opposite Idris Elba in the awesome BBC cop show Luther

Lambert Wilson, who seems a little bit too "kinder, gentler" to us was also cycled through, and even though he had the awesomely cheesy yet fun Sahara in his filmography, as well as the far more serious Belly Of An Architect, count yet one more disappointed thespian tossed into the recycle bin. The last of the 90's also-rans is Mark Frankel, who took a comedic turn in the little seen but very endearing Leon The Pig Farmer, and some experience as a dashing spy in the also funny (unintentionally mind you) Fox TV show Fortune Hunter, in which his character was an obvious homage to Bond.


BOND GETS DANGEROUSLY SERIOUS...

The last round of actors to come close basically need no illuminating. Pretty much all big names, it reads like a laundry list of who was "hot" at the time.

Jude Law, Eric Bana, Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom and Hugh Grant (these choices could have made male viewers feel empowered, though, like watching a Bond whose ass you could probably kick) Jason Statham (now we're talkin'!) and Joker-to-be Heath Ledger.

One I would have liked to have seen, Clive Owen, was foiled due to not being able to come to a satisfactory contractual agreement. Christian Bale nearly became "Franchise Man" as well, and had he been chosen over Daniel Craig, would have been in serious danger of being the new Harrison Ford.

Through the years as well, many A-listers just said "No" including such strange choices as Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Colin Farrell, Hugh Jackman, and even Sean's brother Neil Connery. We have a very difficult time swallowing the claim that Neil actually said "No," especially considering his coat tail riding in knock-off trash that was an obvious exploitation of his brother's success as the most well known spy of all. I mean this is the guy who went off and made a film called Operation: Kid Brother, OK?

It's been a long strange trip for Ian Fleming's classic character, and again, there is so much more to all of the stories than can be gone into here. It really is a book waiting to happen, but we hope you've enjoyed this cinematic laundry list of The Spies Who Never Loved Us. It's always kind of fun to pay the "What if...?" game as we said, and more than a little daunting to wrap our movie geek heads around. At least now we can all sally forth to see the upcoming Skyfall and have a hell of a lot of talk to mull over post-screening martinis.

Use this list with care, Twitchers, because it's OCD inducing. We're going to go wipe the pinwheels out of our eyes now...and comb the bullets out of our hair. Cheers! Time for a drink...

Around the Internet:
  • 005

    Henry Cavill also almost played James Bond in Casino Royale. Sam Worthington was considered as well; I'm glad we dodged that bullet

  • BlueKnyght

    Jason Isaacs, looks like he could pass up as 007. Don't you think???

  • Mark

    Just to let you know, David Niven was actually a commando in WW2. I kid you not...look it up.

  • tony

    Clive Owen definitely.He has the dangerous eyes and the boyish demeanor that made Connery so adept at playing Bond.

  • Adam West was considered as well

  • marv13

    Back in the 80's I wish someone would have made a Modesty Blaise movie with Lewis Collins as Willie Gavin and maybe Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only) as Modesty.

  • Jim

    John Payne bought the rights for one of the Bond Books,and planned to play Bond.But he wanted to buy rights to all the books. Ian Flemming would not agree to sell him rights to all.

  • Mike Smiles Noel

    U forgot Ewan McGregor. He was briefly considered before it went to Craig.

  • Assante

    Patrick McGowan would have given Seon Connery a run for the best Bond. Man,he was intense and great acting chops. The best scifi show ever is the Prisoner and he was great in it.

  • JOHNCOWBOYKILLER

    charlie hunnam from sons of anarchy would be a great replacement for daniel craig. as the next james bond.he's young,handsome,smart and british.

  • Spacejockeyking

    I think you need to proof-read your article again. "The Happy Thieves, in which he plays Jimmy Bourne (no relation to the LeCarre' character)... er, don't you mean Robert Ludlum? Also, Simon MacCorkindale was never in Hammer's The Devil Rides Out and was far too young to have been considered for OHMSS. Patrick McGoohan wasn't offered Bond in Live and Let Die, but in fact was approached for Dr No. You also state that David Warbeck is known to have said he was actually put on retainer by the producers in case Roger Moore did not work out, but in fact it was Michael Billington who was on the retainer who is not even mentioned in your article. Otherwise and interesting piece.

  • worth

    Simon MacCorkindale would have been 16 years old when On Her Majesty's Secret Service was made, so I doubt he was a contender for the role - at least until Moore stepped down.

    And Patrick McGoohan was one of the original contenders for the role in '61, not when Connery left.

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