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Bond to return with Daniel Craig, Sam Mendes

MGM, producers say film will bow Nov. 9, 2012

James Bond is out of limbo and MGM is back in business. What the storied studio does in the coming months with its signature property will reveal much about how it plans to proceed.

The Lion’s new toppers, Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum, joined Bond movie producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli in announcing Tuesday that the 23rd Bond movie will be released Nov. 9, 2012, with production starting late this year.

The no-frills greenlight announcement also made official Daniel Craig’s return for a third outing as 007, with Sam Mendes to direct a screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. MGM had already been working up plans for a 2012 yearlong commemoration of the golden anniversary of the first Bond pic, 1962’s “Doctor No,” and Mendes had long been rumored to be the leading candidate to helm.

But there’s still plenty that’s not clear — the title of the film, with fans hoping for something less murky than “Quantum of Solace”; specifics of the plot and locations; castings of the all-important female lead and villains; whether Judi Dench will return as spy chief M; and whether MGM will take on partners to finance what’s likely to be a budget of about $200 million.

Insiders believe MGM may turn again to Sony for co-financing, as it did on “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” — or sell off some of the major foreign territories.

A source close to the situation indicated that one of MGM’s likely next steps will be to choose a distribution partner.

“Bond” will do much to illuminate how Barber and Birnbaum intend to operate the studio, which had largely mothballed its production arm in recent years as it struggled to survive with a massive debt load.

MGM received a $500 million cash infusion three weeks ago, and it’s already agreed to swap the international distribution rights on the two “Hobbit” pics with Warner Bros. in exchange for Warner funding MGM’s half of the $265 million-$275 million production costs. MGM also signed a deal recently to ditch its luxurious digs at the MGM Tower and move to a less costly office in Beverly Hills.

Until Tuesday, MGM had not commented officially on the next Bond film in more than a year. It announced in June 2009 that “Frost/Nixon” scribe Peter Morgan was joining Purvis and Wade — who worked on “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” — to pen the script, but development stalled after MGM brought in turnaround specialist Stephen Cooper later that summer.

Tuesday’s announcement made no mention of Morgan. Logan’s a veteran of scripting tentpoles with credits including “Gladiator,” “Aviator” and “The Last Samurai” along with “Sweeney Todd.”

Wilson and Broccoli announced in April that development of the 23rd Bond movie was being suspended indefinitely due to MGM’s financial uncertainty.

The franchise has been the most durable in Hollywood, with Wilson and Broccoli succeeding their late father, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli.

“Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” each grossed nearly $600 million at the worldwide box office in their respective 2006 and 2008 releases.Craig’s currently shooting “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” directed by David Fincher, and will be seen next in Universal’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” directed by Jon Favreau.

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