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Topic: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Here’s the next chapter on the James Bond films that were never made, cancelled and abandoned- this time focusing on Alfred Hitchcock's early involvement with the screen James Bond...



In 1958, Ian Fleming began to seriously consider the possibility of developing a film project based on the character of James Bond. With this goal in mind, Fleming met with his friend Ivar Bryce and Irish writer-director Kevin McClory, who had then recently taken charge of production on the film The Boy and the Bridge, heavily touted as the official British entry in the 1959 Venice Film Festival. McClory was personally tipped to win a coveted Best Director trophy when the picture opened later that year. Together the trio established an informal working partnership, Xanadu Productions, and started to compose ideas for an original storyline, which would eventually morph into the essential plot structure of Thunderball. By December 1959, having recruited the experienced screenwriter Jack Whittingham as a safe pair of hands to shape some of McClory’s original concepts, and with the additional creative talents of Fleming's friend and prominent lawyer Ernest Cuneo (to whom the novel Thunderball would ultimately be dedicated), Fleming deemed the finished script satisfactory and set about trying to move forwards with the final production in early 1960.


Originally, Fleming had earmarked McClory himself to direct the film, based on his previous involvement with The Boy and the Bridge. However, that earlier effort defied expectations to prove a critical and financial flop upon its debut in Venice in July 1959, leaving McClory’s star rapidly on the wane and Fleming now increasingly cautious about securing the youthful Irishman’s services in the director’s chair. In addition, the author held concerns that McClory was ill-suited to the demanding rigours of such an expensive blockbuster, worries not exactly soothed by McClory’s ambiguously casual attitudes towards the huge production costs such a film was likely to incur, with his reported declaration that: “They’ll let us have it (the USS Indianapolis) for a few days...”


Clearly, with Fleming losing faith in his partners’ abilities and McClory’s vision spiralling out of control, there was now a risk of the entire project collapsing. As Robert Sellers’ comprehensive book The Battle For Bond (2007) reveals, in 1960 Fleming sent a telegram to Eric Ambler, and through him was able to contact Alfred Hitchcock with a view to hiring the successful director to work on the floundering Thunderball project. Hitchcock was at that stage reaching the height of his powers, famed for expertly crafted suspense thrillers such as North by Northwest in 1959. Other contributions to his filmography, such as 1955’s To Catch a Thief with its suave playboys and glamourous French Riviera locales, hint at more than a passing affinity with the style and setting of James Bond’s world. After Fleming’s initial approach to Hitchcock, however, events took an unfortunate turn. Hitchcock, despite showing mild curiosity at first, vetoed Fleming’s offer a few months later, closing the door firmly on any further interaction with the universe of 007 and his despairing creator. It remains unclear exactly why Hitchcock refused to direct a Bond adventure, though it is possible to speculate. Perhaps Hitchcock was trying to avoid any risk of being called on to helm a sequel, leading to the director being permanently tied to a growing franchise against his wishes? It is also plausible that Hitchcock simply had no interest in directing a grand globetrotting escapade at that point; his next film, 1960’s Psycho, would blend psychological horrors in an intimate, small-scale environment, a cinematic venture as far from the light comic fantasy of Bond as it is possible to get.


That brief window in mid-1960 formed the whole of Hitchcock’s personal connections with the screen James Bond. With Hitchcock stepping back from the project, Fleming abandoned his hopes of casting ‘big name’ actors such as Richard Burton as 007. The author’s earlier nerves over allowing McClory to direct the film remained, with Fleming bemoaning in a letter to his friend Bryce that: “Show biz is a ghastly biz…nor, of course, do I want the first James Bond film to be botched…”   Jack Whittingham left the scene too, having been compensated with a £5,000 fee for his efforts, while Fleming retreated to his Jamaica home, Goldeneye, to pen a novel incorporating many of the scripted plot ideas. Ultimately, Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball stands as one of the most tantalising and  sought-after lost Bond films…




Any other thoughts on Hitchcock’s entanglement with 007? Would his style have meshed well with what we now know as ‘the cinematic Bond’? What do others think?

Last edited by SpectreOfDefeat (8th Jul 2020 15:33)

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Thanks for that, SoD. Quick point- it wasn't James Stewart ("Vertigo", "Rear Window") who was in Fleming's mind but Stewart Granger- whose real name was James Stewart (hence the confusion).
Also, perhaps a word or two about Fleming and Bryce's friend Ernie Cuneo and his involvement could be added?

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

Any other thoughts on Hitchcock’s entanglement with 007? Would his style have meshed well with what we now know as ‘the cinematic Bond’? What do others think?

It clearly would as they arguably took what he did in North By Northwest as a template(!), but it's hard to see Thunderball as the one he'd have done best as the story isn't terribly thrilling or hugely tense: I wonder if he just wasn't very interested in the script. FRWL, maybe, as the relationship between Bond and Tatania is a bit more interesting.

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

"Thanks for that, SoD. Quick point- it wasn't James Stewart ("Vertigo", "Rear Window") who was in Fleming's mind but Stewart Granger- whose real name was James Stewart (hence the confusion)."

Oops- got my wires crossed regarding Hitchcock films there. Happy to be corrected on that point.



"Also, perhaps a word or two about Fleming and Bryce's friend Ernie Cuneo and his involvement could be added?"

Duly noted- added a passage about Cuneo to proceedings...
Wikipedia claims that Cuneo came up with all the basic ideas for Thunderball, elsewhere on the Internet McClory disagrees. Its a little difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff here, admittedly. I do wonder why Fleming chose McClory to handle Bond, on the strength of a festival indie film that hadn't even been released yet... seems like a poor decision in hindsight...any other thoughts on this topic?

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

SpectreOfDefeat wrote:

It remains unclear exactly why Hitchcock refused to direct a Bond adventure, though it is possible to speculate. Perhaps Hitchcock was trying to avoid any risk of being called on to helm a sequel, leading to the director being permanently tied to a growing franchise against his wishes? It is also plausible that Hitchcock simply had no interest in directing a grand globetrotting escapade at that point

I would love for there to be a Hitchcock James Bond film.
But I don't think Hitchcock ever did a straight adaptation of a book, even though most of his films were based on books. He would buy the rights for a book with a good idea and/or title, then change almost everything to tell the sort of story he wanted to tell. So we would probably have seen a film that deviated wildly from what Fleming wrote, years before YOLT.

I agree Thunderball would be an especially odd choice for Hitchcock, FRWL much closer to his interests

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

I'd love it if Hitchcock made Casino Royale in the style of Notorious. Notorious has much of the style and mood of the CR novel.

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Yes, agreed! Keep the main 3 stars as "Notorious": Cary Grant as Bond, Ingrid Bergman as Vesper, Claude Rains as Le Chiffre. Plus Louis Calhern as M.

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Yes. I think it would have been a wonderful movie.

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Haven't seen "Notorious" yet, but based on the strength of his very Bond-like character in To Catch a Thief, Cary Grant could definitely have made a fine 007 at that point.


Worth mentioning also that Cary Grant was actually considered to play Bond for Eon in Dr. No....

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Barbel wrote:

Yes, agreed! Keep the main 3 stars as "Notorious": Cary Grant as Bond, Ingrid Bergman as Vesper, Claude Rains as Le Chiffre. Plus Louis Calhern as M.


Ooh lovely stuff.

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

Fleming's biographer John Pearson gives an alternative account as to who came up with Hitch as a Director. In August '59, just after The Boy and the Bridge had met a cool reception, Fleming had lunch with his agent, Laurence Evans at MCA, who told him that 'big name stars might not be too anxious to be produced and directed by a young man [McClory] with only one film to his name, and a film that has not found favour with the critics'. It was, according to Pearson, Evans who suggested Hitchcock alongside Anthony Asquith as a producer, with McClory as a 'number two man'.

Interestingly, Sometime towards the end of '59, Fleming sent a letter to Ivan Bryce critiquing North by Northwest. He said he had enjoyed the film enormously, but complained that "the master of suspense" had tended to throw away the plot by adding touches of comedy. Preferring to keep jokes at a minimum, Fleming hoped that the future Bond films would be told "with a straight face" and with "a desperate sense of urgency".

Would Hitch have been the perfect Director of the first Bond film? It would certainly have been an idealised Hollywood version, and with the lighter, comedic touches which would come to the Bond films a few years later. It's also likely, however, that he would have railroaded the first film, changing elements to suit his own vision, then on completion moved on to other projects leaving Bond's cinematic future uncertain.

"How was your lamb?" "Skewered. One sympathises."

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Re: Lost Bond Films: Alfred Hitchcock’s Thunderball

In terms of Hitccock's style it would have fit better with Fleming if he filmed one of his novels a decade earlier (before they were written - I know), in the  late 1940's. Especially "Rope" and "Notorious" are tight suspence thrillers without jokes. I decided to re-watch Notorious last night. While the plots of Notorious and CR are very different there are clear simuarities beyond the tone. We have a cynical secret agent who can be swayed by love, a beautiful woman with a past and a sense of doom about her and a villan who is himself trying not to be killed by his masters. "Notorious " is one of Hitchcock's best in my opinion.