By Matthew Kresal
This past October saw celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the James Bond film series. The release of Dr. No in 1962 saw the start of a cinematic juggernaut going strong today, with audiences around the globe eager for news on who the seventh actor to play 007 will be. Not surprisingly, the Bond films are full of their own "what if?" moments, from a 1967 version of On Her Majesty's Secret Service to numerous actors who might have earned their on-screen license to kill if only things had gone differently (as detailed in a series on this blog by Ryan Fleming). Or, indeed, if circumstances had allowed Bond to come to the cinema screen earlier than he did.
Say in a 1956 film version of the previous year's Bond novel Moonraker? Starring Dirk Bogarde as 007 and directed by Orson Welles, who also played the villainous Sir Hugo Drax. In the spring of 2004, film historian Simon Bermuda released a vision of such a film on the web with The Forgotten Bond Film.
Built onto a GeoCities site (now archived on the Wayback Machine), The Forgotten Bond Film saw Bermuda offering an account of an abortive first 007 cinematic outing. One built off of the fact that before Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli ended up producing Bond films as Eon Productions, Bond creator Ian Fleming sold the film rights to the Moonraker novel to the Rank Organization. When Rank did nothing with the option, Moonraker would join all but two of the Bond novels (Casino Royale and Thunderball) in being sold to Eon. Eventually (and perhaps infamously), the novel became the very loose basis for the 1979 film starring Roger Moore as Bond that all but abandoned Fleming's post-war thriller for a Space Shuttle-era Star Wars-inspired romp. It wouldn't be until 2018 (and as a radio drama) that the novel would get a faithful period based adaptation.
What could have been in the mid-late 1950s was what Bermuda focused on with his site. Presented as a non-fiction account, Bermuda told the story of the ultimately unfinished film's making, beginning with actor/producer Ian Hunter and fictional London-based born producer Dayton Mace recruiting Welles for the project. From there, the cast offers up a mix of plausible names from Bogarde as Bond, Peter Lorre as Drax's henchman Krebs, to Stanley Baker and Patrick McGoohan in supporting roles. For female lead Gala Brand, Bermuda invented an up-and-coming actress, Brenda Bright, who, despite being Mace's mistress and a former stripper, was said to have given a solid performance. All the while, Welles was crafting a stylish thriller with many of his stylistic trademarks.
At least until production came to a screeching halt, that is. Ironically, caused not by Welles but by producer Mace insisting on filming a scene from the novel of a sunbathing Bond and Gala surviving an attempt on their lives with nudity that saw production halted in a conflict that pitted the director and studio against the producer. From there, Bermuda details the film's slide into obscurity and its rediscovery by Mace's granddaughter, along with the start of her efforts to present the film in some form decades after its abandonment.
The latter proved to be a masterstroke by Bermuda in the plausibility department. Especially given the incomplete nature of numerous Welles film projects, including his ultimate final film, The Other Side of the Wind, which took until 2018 (14 years after Bermuda's piece) to finally be completed and released due to several factors, including conflict with Welles' financiers. Adding to the authenticity were fictional interview snippets with one of the film's supporting actresses and its cinematographer, filling in details about the film's making.
The icing on the cake was the visuals Bermuda employed. From the introduction featuring a skilfully made lobby card for the film, the site featured a wealth of images seemingly taken from the shot portions of the film that Bermuda brought together from numerous sources. Take, for example, a screenshot of Bond's Bentley (the car he drove in Fleming's original novel) outside of Drax's base, accomplished by placing the Bentley into a shot from Hammer's Quatermass 2. The result was a convincing portrait of a film that might have been if only things had gone a little differently.
Perhaps too convincing. As visitors to the archived site can see, Bermuda presented The Forgotten Bond Film as a non-fiction piece, never once telling them that this was a piece of alternate history. The ultimate result was that, in Wellsian fashion, when the site came to the attention of Bond fans online, speculation as to whether the Welles Moonraker was a genuine film or a hoax. In the end, Bermuda would tell the CommanderBond.Net site that April that the piece was neither, just purely speculative, concluding that "I really do wish I could send everyone DVDs of the rediscovered Welles Moonraker footage…"
What remains, archived online and still talked about from time to time in Bond social media circles, is an intriguing piece of alternate film history. One that explores how the world's most famous secret agent might have come to the screen sooner at the hands of a legendary filmmaker. Or not, as the case may have been, in a film unseen until decades later.
Matthew Kresal is a fiction writer who has a (Sidewise Winning) story in the Alternate Australias Anthology by Sea Lion Press, and has also written a Sea Lion Press novel about Joe McCarthy.https://forum.sealionpress.co.uk/index.php?threads/doctor-who-unbound-doctor-of-war.5559/