A story 50 years in the making: as with many stories we tell in this series, it concludes with an unhappy ending. Not for a studio, or the character of James Bond and his legacy, but one man. His name was McClory, Kevin McClory. This is his story about the James Bond that never made it to the big screen. Welcome to Warhead.
It’s 1959, and James Bond is just five books old. Yet the spy had made a mark in the mind of McClory, a maverick Irish producer. Having met the agent’s creator Ian Fleming, plans were drawn up to bring 007 to the screen. The ensuing script, penned by Jack Whittingham, was entitled Thunderball. The trio, confident in their product, entered the market with high hopes aiming for Alfred Hitchcock as director, and Richard Burton as the star.
‘Oh what could’ve been!’ you could cry, but the situation equates to you or I wishing to make a movie with Steven Spielberg. Kevin McClory’s stock was small, with his first film as producer, The Boy and The Bridge, flopping hard. Hitchcock went to make Psycho, and Fleming got cold feet.
What happened next was the first major error, though it actually ensured McClory’s relationship with Bond was only just beginning. Ian Fleming not only withdrew himself from Thunderball, but took the storyline as well, utilising it for the basis of his next novel. Problem is, he didn’t seek permission from McClory. The Irishman sued for plagiarism, resulting in one of the highest-profile media trials of the 1960s. The trial lasted just nine days, with the producer winning damages of £35,000, and his court costs of £52,000 from Fleming. Even better for the producer, with Bond now being a global cinematic sensation, McClory agreed to co-produce Thunderball with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Most important of all, McClory won the cinematic rights to Thunderball, but contractually could not exercise them for another 10 years.
And like that, McClory disappeared from the public’s eye. He knew his time in the sun would come, and so he waited, and waited, and waited. For nearly a decade, McClory disappeared from the entertainment world to prepare for his strike. The full details as to why Broccoli and Saltzman would agree to such a ludicrous deal is unclear – with no evidence highlighting any lack of faith in their product. As 1975 arrived, the Irishman began making his moves.
His action plan was an ambitious one:
Hire one of the leading thriller novelists of the era with experience in this area. That would be Len Deighton, the creator of Harry Palmer – who Michael Caine so perfectly captured in The Ipcress File. How? Bond, in McClory’s mind, was to be set in a traditional Cold War spy thriller, emulating the thrills and style of New Hollywood. Deighton was sold, and step one was complete.
Hire Sean Connery as 007. The Scot, by ’75, was a grumpy 45 year-old, and had recently declared, “I have always hated that damned James Bond. I’d like to kill him.” It had been four years since he hung up his Walther PPK following 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, and the man had almost zero interest in Bond.
Yet what McClory lacked in production skill, he made up for in business savviness. He knew there was just one way he could get Connery back: by giving the actor the power he never had under Broccoli. Connery would be allowed to heavily contribute to the script, and produce. The trick worked and Connery was back in the game – albeit behind the scenes.
After just a few months, crafted from within Ireland, and at Connery’s Marbella home, James Bond of the Secret Service was created. It didn’t last long, though; Eon producers put a stop to all that immediately, not least because the title was much too similar to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It was here that Warhead was born.
Before venturing further into the melee of this production, it’s worth taking stock of what Warhead actually was going to be. Recall the Bonds of old; this script heavily echoes their mad ambition. The main narrative involves Russian and American bombers being lured to the Bermuda Triangle, so that SPECTRE may steal their nuclear payloads and, from a secret base in the Statue of Liberty, launch an attack on New York. Ambitious? It only gets better.
Echoing The Spy Who Loved Me, SPECTRE here operates from an underwater base that rises to the surface. Fantastically there are robotic hammerhead sharks, armed with nuclear weapons, sent into the city’s sewers to wreak destruction as they explode. Kamikaze robotic hammerhead sharks? It’d be rude not to have them.
Bond’s central enemy is the musclebound henchman known as Bomba, whose strength is so obvious the script notes tastefully describe him as “making Muhammad Ali look like a fag.” Sadly for SPECTRE, but not the sharks, the film ends with Bond ripping open a control panel and stopping them, along with Bomba – 007 saves the day.
Amazingly, Paramount were overjoyed with it; in fact everyone was. Paramount put up the eccentric sum of $22m, shooting was fast-tracked for early 1977, and Sean Connery agreed to play Bond. Better yet, Orson Welles was set to play Blofeld, and the wondrous Richard Attenborough was to direct.
McClory was now closer than ever before, and he had even more aces up his sleeves to seal the deal. Eon’s latest offering, The Man With The Golden Gun, had performed terribly both critically and financially. With Cubby Broccoli now producing alone and trying to get The Spy Who Loved Me off the ground, McClory played his first card. He filed an injunction on the production, stating the film was too similar to Warhead.
Like his nuclear sharks above, McClory circled for the kill. McClory claimed he held the rights to SPECTRE, as he had created the organisation for his original 1959 Thunderball film. For those of you unaware, SPECTRE was present in Fleming’s later novels, and in all of Connery’s Bond pictures bar Goldfinger. In McClory’s eyes, and potentially the law’s, the Bond franchise had no right to use any content related to Blofeld and/or SPECTRE. Broccoli, terrified of the future ramifications, cut Blofeld and SPECTRE out of The Spy Who Loved Me. He went with the rather lukewarm villain Stromberg, and his very SPECTRE-like army instead.
With wind in his sails, McClory revelled in his ‘victory’. In nearly every public statement, he slated Broccoli and Eon for their lapse in remembering his legal right to remake Thunderball. Yet McClory’s blasé and open cockiness failed to endear him to all, as the legal battle had not yet been settled in his favour. This unsettlement had found a home within McClory’s biggest asset, Connery. Within weeks, the lack of legal clarity on the matter saw Connery pull out and the house of cards collapsed. With Connery out, the lawyers came in and the fire in this project went out. Warhead was dead, for about eight years.
Come 1983, the man finally got his Thunderball remake off the ground. It wasn’t Warhead though; that had been ditched, replaced by Never Say Never Again. Although it lost out critically and financially to the ‘official’ Roger Moore Bond of Octopussy, the financial success was enough for McClory to once again dream big. He was after a new separate series of Bond, and so he went back to waiting once more for Warhead.
In 1996, Kevin McClory announced: “I didn’t want to make another Bond film, but now that I’ve come this far, I’m enjoying it immensely. The film will be called Warhead 2000, and an actor has been chosen to play Bond. But we won’t announce it yet to keep the competition in the dark. No, it’s not Sean Connery; he’s too old for the part now, but he has said he would play the villain in a James Bond film if the price was right.”
Unsurprisingly this saga soon ended up in a courtroom. Again. Sony, siding with McClory, announced in its claim that the cinematic Bond character is not just separate from the secret agent of the books, but is partly McClory’s creation, and therefore co-owned by him. Their demand? A hefty slice of the estimated $3 billion the franchise had generated. MGM, Eon and the Broccoli family had none of this, and neither did the courts. The huge gap between McClory’s last assertion of his 007 rights virtually destroyed his case, and his claim was thrown out. The waiting was finally his comeuppance.
Despite McClory’s continued defiance – Timothy Dalton was set to come back as Bond this time (?!) – Warhead 2000 was eventually abandoned in 1999 after Sony settled out of court with MGM/United Artists, ceding any rights to James Bond. The greatest irony of this case was that Sony had to cede their long-held rights to Casino Royale – the film that reinvigorated the Bond franchise in 2006. After 40 years of obsession with Bond, what did Kevin McClory have to show for it? Type his name into Google, and you’ll see numerous articles of fans espousing their hatred of the man. The documentary Everything or Nothing further solidified McClory’s image as the perennial baddie.
There is no happy ending for our protagonist. Virtually bankrupt, Kevin McClory died peacefully in his home on 20 November 2006 – just four days after the release of Casino Royale.