For several weeks now Bond fans have been intrigued by a mysterious web article written by film historian Simon Bermuda. In it Mr. Bermuda claims to have seen an unfinished–and until now, forgotten–1956 version of Moonraker (a.k.a. ‘Hell Is Here‘) written and directed by Orson Wells. The film is said to star Dirk Bogarde as 007, Peter Lorre as henchman Willy Krebs, Brenda Bright as Gala Brand, and Welles himself as Sir Hugo Drax. The article claims 40 minutes of the film was recently discovered in the estate of the late Rank Organization producer Dayton Mace, along with the complete shooting script. It’s quite a story (complete with pictures!). Matters became even more curious when the respected James Bond website Dr. Shatterhand’s Botanical Garden featured the story on their main news page–on April 1st.
So is this a very elaborate hoax, or one of the most incredible pieces of lost James Bond and cinema history ever uncovered?
The answer is… neither.
Now Mr. Bermuda let’s CBn in on the story behind the story of “The Forgotten Bond Film.”
It began, simply, as a fun way of developing my web skills. My background is in fiction writing, and one thing I learned from my early reading of Ian Fleming is the technique of embroidering a rather far-fetched storyline with the right amount of authentic detail. The article certainly does have a strong basis in fact – the Rank Organization did hold the rights to Moonraker at this time – but also employs what you might call ‘creative extension of fact’. It’s also a kind of oblique form of film criticism.
When I finally got tired of tinkering around with the Moonraker article and seeking out suitable photo material, I put it on the web. Not in any serious attempt to pull the wool over people’s eyes, but to try and gauge how much interest there might be in this whole topic of alternate cinema history. (Maybe the spirit of Orson Welles led me to leave the reader to make of it what he or she would…)
I must admit that, although it’s been fascinating – and often flattering – to follow the various arguments on the web about the article’s veracity, I’m somewhat disappointed that people have tended to concentrate on the is-it-real issue, rather than its content. Ever since I first heard about the Rank Organization optioning the Moonraker rights back in the ’50s, I’ve tried to imagine the film that might have resulted. I do think Welles would have been a great choice as director – and an excellent Drax. And Dirk Bogarde, while perhaps not perfect casting for Bond, would have been a likely candidate, as he was Rank’s biggest star at the time, and 007’s screen image was not yet established.
So anyway, thanks for your interest in the article, and I hope I’ve made things a bit clearer. I really do wish I could send everyone DVDs of the rediscovered Welles Moonraker footage…
So here, in the spirit in which it was offered, is a tantalizing look at what might have been. The ultimate James Bond “what if?”