SCHWARTZMAN, JACK

Entry Source: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin


(July 22, 1932–June 22, 1994): American producer and former entertainment lawyer who produced Never Say Never Again in 1983. Only a tenacious industry veteran like Schwartzman could have faced the seemingly impossible task of realizing fellow producer Kevin McClory’s oft-postponed plans for a remake of Thunderball. Not only was the project an enormous creative challenge, but the project faced a potentially costly legal battle with Eon Productions and producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli.

McClory, who collaborated with author Ian Fleming and screenwriter Jack Whittingham on the original story for Thunderball, controlled the novel’s film rights, and his contract with Eon for the 1965 adaptation only prevented him from making a competing version for the next ten years. But from 1975 to 1981, Broccoli and a huge legal team had been fighting McClory’s attempts at a remake, determined to prevent any rival Bond movies from hitting the marketplace. At one point, thriller writer Len Deighton and Sean Connery were working on a screenplay titled Warhead, which would feature the return of Connery in his iconic role. But no studio was willing to take a chance on the project—until Jack Schwartzman stepped in.

Schwartzman knew about McClory’s pitch from when it was presented to and rejected by Lorimar, the company where he had worked as production executive. One year after Schwartzman left Lorimar to start his own company, Taliafilm (named after his wife, actress Talia Shire), he was contacted by an old friend, New York investment banker Philip Mengel, who was also McClory’s financial advisor. Mengel wondered whether Schwartzman was interested in meeting with his client. Schwartzman was. He felt that Lorimar had made a mistake in rejecting the project. Despite the legal entanglements, the prospect of Sean Connery returning to the part he had created twenty years before was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Schwartzman met with McClory and read through his materials, but the Warhead screenplay didn’t appeal to him. Instead, he persuaded McClory and Mengel to allow him to option the rights to the project and proceed with an entirely new screenplay. Thus was born Never Say Never Again, conceived as a remake of the Thunderball novel rather than the 1965 film. The story would also be updated to include the technology of the 1980s: B-1 bombers, cruise missiles, talking computers, and video games.

The first writer on the project was actually one of Schwartzman’s associates at Lorimar, Julian Plowden. Plowden took a crack at the material, then recommended a friend, writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., for the job. Semple wrote the shooting script, although writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were called up to add some comic elements to the final story and bridge some key scenes. They wrote the opening war game sequence and introduced the bumbling character of Nigel Small-Fawcett (Rowan Atkinson) from the British foreign office in Nassau, Bahamas. Schwartzman also received some help from his brother-in-law, director Francis Ford Coppola, who became a major collaborator on the project. Coppola, however, was never considered for the director’s job. That went straight to Irvin Kershner, who had recently completed The Empire Strikes Back.

With a finished script in hand and Sean Connery set to return as Bond (for $3 million, not the $5 million that was reported in the press), Schwartzman started casting the other roles. Having attended a prerelease screening of I, the Jury (1982), a Mickey Spillane mystery starring Armand Assante, Schwartzman selected costar Barbara Carrera to portray wicked SPECTRE assassin Fatima Blush. Director Kershner, who was then serving on the Academy Award committee for foreign film selection, found Klaus Maria Brandauer in the critically acclaimed Hungarian film Mephisto (1981) and recommended him for the part of main villain Maximilian Largo. For the part of Domino Petachi, Talia Shire suggested the actress wife of her own makeup man, Ron Britton: Kim Basinger, who had recently appeared as the prostitute (previously portrayed by Donna Reed) in the TV miniseries remake of From Here to Eternity (1979).

Despite a trememdous cast and an incredibly commercial property, the making of Never Say Never Again was something of a nightmare for Schwartzman. Weather problems delayed expensive underwater shooting in the Bahamas. Kershner’s indecisiveness caused further delays and confusion, particularly in the art department. The budget mushroomed to $36 million. “It was the first film I produced on my own,” Schwartzman remembered. “And I totally underestimated what I was getting into. There were substantial cost overruns, all of which came out of my own pocket—so, in effect, I paid the price of my own shortcomings.”[1]

Had he been given the job to do all over again, Schwartzman admitted, he would have made the same picture but spent the money more efficiently and developed better relationships with his team. He would have also jettisoned Michel Legrand’s musical score and hired a different composer. His original choice was up-and-comer James Horner, who would become one of America’s brightest composers. Unfortunately, Sean Connery rejected Horner and chose Legrand, whose disastrous score nearly spoiled the picture.

Despite his later second-guessing, Schwartzman did contribute many creative elements to the film. His business relationship with the brother of Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi helped secure the use of Khashoggi’s huge yacht Nabila for ten days of shooting. It was also Schwartzman’s idea to use a video game for the casino confrontation between Bond and Maximilian Largo. “Warner Brothers had given us a hundred Atari video arcade games for the casino sequence,” Schwartzman remembered. “It was logical for these very wealthy French charity guests to be playing video games. And I thought it would be terrific for Bond to play Largo on video. By now, baccarat and chemin de fer were passé in Bond movies—we wanted to update what Fleming had originally conceived.”[2] That sequence, built around a dangerous video game called Domination, is a highlight of the film.

While Schwartzman was busy shuttling between the film’s many locations in France and the Bahamas, he was bracing for legal push-back from producer Cubby Broccoli. All was quiet until Never Say Never Again was about to open worldwide. Eon Productions then petitioned the High Court of London to stop the release of the film. This time, however, Broccoli’s legal tactics failed. The judge simply asked, “Why did you wait until now?” The law was not about to stop Jack Schwartzman from releasing an already-completed film he’d spent $36 million to make. By waiting too long, Broccoli’s legal team undercut any chance of stopping the rival Bond. Warner Bros., which had US distribution rights to the film, opened it during the Columbus Day holiday, October 7–10, 1983. Opening-weekend gross was a solid $11 million. The film would go on to gross $160 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful Bond movies of all time.


[1] Jack Schwartzman, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, November 2, 1984.

[2] Ibid.