The Forbidden 007 Commentaries Are Now Free For Your Perusal

Back in 1991, the mighty Criterion Collection licensed the rights from EON Productions to make special edition laserdiscs based on the first three theatrical Bond movies, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger. Today Criterion is known mostly for its superb Blu-Ray and DVD editions of classic Hollywood and foreign films like Hidden Fortress and Nashville (not to mention Scanners!), but back in the '80s and '90s they frequently released laserdiscs of big budget commercial movies like Close Encounters and Ghostbusters, letterboxed in the original aspect ratio and packed with special features. (Their spectacular Blade Runner set, released in 1987, was one of the bestselling laserdiscs of all time and may have rescued the format from an early obsolescence.) The Bond movies were both hugely popular and historically significant, making them a natural fit for the company.

As with most of Criterion's high-profile releases, these laserdiscs featured secondary audio commentaries by the original filmmakers — directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton, editor Peter Hunt, designer Ken Adam, and screenwriter Richard Maibaum, with critic Bruce Eder and movie historian and The James Bond Films author Steven Jay Rubin providing contextual commentary. This alone would have made the discs of great interest to 007 fans. However, in a move that surprised almost everybody, the discs were recalled shortly after their release over objections from Bond producer Albert Broccoli regarding the commentaries. The unsold discs were recalled and quickly became collector's items. But in this day and age, nothing stays hidden forever, and the offending commentary tracks have resurfaced at the James Bond 007 Dossier as MP3s.

So why were the tracks considered unacceptable? After all, most of the participants reappeared on the commentaries for the laserdiscs and DVDs released by MGM a few years later, many of which carried over into the Blu-Ray era. (Maibaum had died in the interim but was represented on the MGM discs by older interviews.) The general reason was that Criterion tended to value journalistic integrity over politesse. This fascinating 2012 entry from the HMSS Weblog sums up a lot of the possible objections. Hunt observed that Connery's sexual magnetism was such that he could "walk into a room and fuck anybody." Being men of a certain age and time, the filmmakers also infrequently make homophobic and sexist comments. But Broccoli was probably less put off by offensive language or attitudes than the lack of control over the content. Studios have been releasing DVDs with directors' commentaries for close to twenty years now, but there's often a lot of supervision and self-censorship involved. In the early '90s, this was a new concept, and the filmmakers felt free to talk about the movies with a great deal of candor — specifically, the egos involved, the growing budgets, Connery's weight, Fleming's alleged alcoholism, even observations about continuity errors and other flaws. Broccoli also probably objected to the presence of Rubin, who'd written his book without EON's permission or oversight. (Rubin turns up as a commenter in the HMSS article; his posts are definitely worth reading.)

Most of the "special editions" released by studios are inevitably about how great and wonderful the movies are, and how everybody involved in their making was a saint or a genius or both. These commentaries reveal that not to have always been the case, but that shouldn't detract from your enjoyment of the films themselves.

H/T to the great Blu-Ray/DVD website The Digital Bits for breaking this story. It's one of the oldest DVD sites on the 'net, and still the best. If you still buy movies on physical media you should check it out!