There Is A Man Called Bond

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"Unfortunately I misjudged you, you are just a stupid police man... " When Joseph Wise's Dr. No character dismissed Sean Connery's James Bond with these words in October 1962, he also targeted the risky task that producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had taken on in trying to bring Ian Fleming's wildly popular 007 to the screen. Along with director Terrence Young and Connery, the Eon Productions team succeeded beyond all expectations, catapulting Fleming's character into not only the biggest screen franchise in history but a pop icon of the first degree.


Thanks in great part to a US paperback deal (brokered by Mickey Spillane whose Mike Hammer also broke the codes of hero-making), Fleming's tough but urbane secret agent had become an international sensation by 1962. (Like Spillane and other hero makers such as Edgar Burroughs), Fleming had created Bond in large as a measure of desperation and of good but faded family , he had not distinguished himself in school or military service. He had shown himself capable enough in naval intelligence work to draft the memos on which the US 's Office of Strategic Services were organized.

Fleming wrote Casino Royale in 1953, in a last ditch attempt to pull himself from a shabby lower-tier gentility. Elegant and lurid by turns, full of high-tension gambling, over-the-top consumer fetishism, sexy dames with a difference and treacherous Russians it was a quick success. Sequels like Live and Let Die and Moonraker sustained the buzz. For a British public reeling from the Philby/Maclean spy scandals, 007 provided a much needed bandage for national pride. Bond would right the boat, kick out the rotten buggers and screw the Russians, and get the girls to boot! Bond books were compulsive page turners, intelligent and often just a little dirty too. American president John Kennedy was known to be a fan.

Bond had emerged as something new in thriller fiction, the most popular British character since Sherlock Holmes, rendering the Nayland Smiths and Bulldog Drummonds of the early 20th century obsolete and like Holmes, Bond possessed sharp wits and uncommon determination. Bond was steeped in the traditions of empire but assigned to the crosshairs of a Cold War where old rules did not apply and heroes set their own standards. The novels made Fleming a success but he spent lavishly and needing more, he saw the movies as Bond's next move. First attempts , like a 1955 tele-film of Casino Royale featuring Peter Lorre as SMERSH paymaster Le Chiffre, did not lead to expected film deals and a troubled joint-effort with Kevin McClory left him with a legal mess and discouragement. Cubby Broccoli had been interested in the Bond films for years and in 1961 he and new partner Harry Saltzman finally made a deal to film Dr. No, Fleming's cheeky poaching of Fu Manchu . Fleming wasn't convinced Connery was the right man to play 007. Connery was just getting feature film work and did not know if the Bond role would work out or not mainly because he was offered a return engagement as a villain in a new series of Tarzan films. Connery said he would "keep the offer in mind" pending uncertain prospects for a 'private-eye' role he'd just landed.

Broccoli and Salzman did not have ample resources to begin with, but they invested their wisely. Dr. No was set in Fleming's beloved Jamaica, naturally colorful, full of shantytown grit and gorgeous beaches,, beautifully shot by Ted Moore. Ken Adam's modernist set designs for Dr. No's atomic lair contrasted with authentic location shots to dazzling futuristic effect. Ursula Andress's 'Honeychile Ryder' surpassingly fulfilled Fleming's specifications for a tall, slim, athletic, incredibly beautiful and resourceful (tho slightly wounded) Bond heroine. Her emergence from the sea took the world's breath away and, with a fairly modest budget but great talent and teamwork, the film of Dr. No proved Bond to be considerably more than a stupid policeman. Their timing was propitious. Not only did they benefit from the culture waves of the Beatles first record released the same day , they also anticipated the dangers of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which broke two weeks later. The Eon team tweaked Fleming's plot to make American missile launches Dr. No's target. They sidestepped touchy issues of the West-Soviet standoff by cribbing the idea of a organized crime and terrorism cartel, SPECTRE, from Fleming's project with McClory. James Bond emerged as a no-nonsense secret agent, possessed of sly wit, physical dynamism and adroit confidence. No pawn of superpower shenanigans, Bond could save England and the rest of the world from the bumbling of 'the powers that were' and 'the bad guys in waiting.'

Ursula Andress's 'Honeychile Ryder' surpassingly fulfilled Fleming's specifications for a tall, slim, athletic, incredibly beautiful and resourceful (tho slightly wounded) Bond heroine
Dr. No was the first chapter of an core canon featuring Connery. From Russia With Love was still modestly budgeted but even more adeptly executed. The John Barry score is immaculately woven through the narrative, cementing the essential role music was already becoming in the Bond films. FRWL borrowed visual tricks shamelessly from Hitchcock and actually did them justice. The plot deviated from the novel by playing SMERSH and SPECTRE off of each other, while Bond threaded his way through a certain trap (in the novel, KGB/SPECTRE agent Rosa Klebb's stiletto boot does connect with Bond who then sinks to the floor ominously; Fleming considered using this device as a way to extricate himself from Bond's shadow.) In the movie, Kleb is shot first and Bond smiles and says "well, she's had her kicks!" The bait of a Russian cipher machine hinted at the edgy technology that would become integral to the Bond films. FRWL elevated Bond into the top echelon of not only secret agents but also classic screen heroes. "Pay Attention, 007" - FRWL certainly topped out Fleming's basic parameters.

The next installment Goldfinger, Guy Hamilton was brought in to direct. Hamilton had been assistant director on Carol Reed's The Third Man and knew how to deliver a hardboiled spy tale. But even the novel Goldfinger had pushed the reality envelope,. Broccoli and Saltzman began the turn to camp, making Bond a bit of a parody. Connery was superb at balancing fun-pokes at the character and steely intent, playing foil to the deadly absurdity of Gert Frobe's title character and Harold Sakata's Oddjob, a karate leviathan with a razor-edged bowler hat. Connery also shared the screen with marvelous toys like a 'nuclear device', a super-laser and an Aston Martin that almost stole the show (the DB-5 glides like a champion on Swiss mountain roads and skulks nonchalantly after shredding the tyres on Tilly Masterston's Mustang) Goldfinger brought Bond's popularity to boil.

With Thunderball, Broccoli and Saltzman had to keep watch on an increasingly volatile mix. Audiences demanded the most sensational latest, while Connery was growing more impatient with an increasingly cartoonish role. The novel's plot to hijack NATO nuclear warheads was salvaged from the failed proposal with McClory; securing film rights proved costly and incomplete. Thunderball stuns visually and sonically, with Barry composing whole suites that are as important as any other element and Terrence Young directed again with second unit work by top rank underwater expert, Ricou Browning. The cast is sublime and script witty, but the pace in Thunderball grows ragged and in trying to outdo themselves constantly, the team set Bond on a treadmill he'd avoided so far with an extended underwater chase sequence that locked the series into a climactic gambit creating troubles that still effect the series. Nevertheless, Thunderball is epic.

Any one of these first four films can be convincingly defended as the best but the bar was now set too high for Fleming's conception to easily handle. As 1965's You Only Live Twice showed, Bond himself was becoming a bit of a stupid super-policeman. Broccoli and Saltzman took giant steps away from one of Fleming's best novels, a slim, terse finale to the SPECTRE/Blofeld trilogy begun with Thunderball and continued through the near-epic On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The title haiku is lost as is Blofeld's grotesque garden of death, with only the ninjas and a few other fragments kept to battle SPECTRE's spaceship stealing volcano operation and in straying so far from Fleming's vision, the filmmakers lost some of the character. Recapturing Bond's original conception would prove an elusive quest that produced outstanding efforts along the way.

All Bond films are beautifully shot and scored but You Only Live Twice is the first to feel a bit tired, (especially Connery who departed forthwith). Enough maf gic remained to vindicate the Bond films as still the most creative movie franchise on earth. The core canon and its coda ensured that Bond was a character Eon and would keep alive and well, with a few missteps, for the next fifty years but losing Connery was another step away from the basic Bond. "Eon's first replacement George Lazenby did a fine job in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, a film Bond aficionados often rank at the top but audiences did not respond and Eon had to look elsewhere. Connery made a one-shot return in Diamonds Are Forever, a quite decent Bond film, but heavier on comedy than suspense. Harry Salzman would depart after The Man With the Golden Gun, taking his sharp instinct for suspense with him and leaving Ian Fleming's James Bond in the hands of the Broccoli family for the duration.

George Lazenby did a fine job in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
In 1974's Live and Let Die, Roger Moore, intended as Connery's successor after YOLT , played Bond as aloof straight man to increasingly comic proceedings. Perpetual chases, though spectacularly staged and shot, led thin plots astray. Classic sequences vied for screen time with scenes that could've been outtakes from Smokey And the Bandit. Excellently cast villains, like Yaphet Kotto in Live and Let Die , Christopher Lee in The Man With the Golden Gun, and Curt Jurgens in The Spy Who Loved Me, could bounce easily through Moore's Bond. Unlike Live and Let Die and Golden Gun, which lamely attempted to mine the blaxploitation and martial arts genres, The Spy Who Loved Me benefited from Bond's natural company - Russians.

Unlike Connery's Bond, who took more digs at his character, Moore's sublimely confident version was more likely to turn barbs on their sender... too bad they didn't cast Jackie Gleason as Drax in Moonraker, he could've given Bond a run for his money! Pedestrian space shuttle laser shootouts and the return of steel-toothed Odd-job wannabe Jaws made many Bond fans shake their heads yet the mysterious glory of Bond endured, even with Moore's most polyester Bond, disco scores and dawdling stories. Moore's serene Bond was meant as a fun goof on the character, a tool to front a grand meld technical excellence and production values and there was certainly plenty more fun to be had with 007. Certain elements remained consistent to sustain the mythos. Technological McGuffins - a solar reactor, submersible fortresses, the ever-reliable nerve gas - tweaked the leading edge. Bernard Lee's M, Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny and Desmond Llewellyn remained impeccable. Trademarks included opening scenes to snap eyes wide open, gorgeous animated titles, scenes of elegance, exotic locations and high-style slumming. Fleming's shorter fiction provided story elements from the inner temple of Bondism. Theme songs rose deservedly to the top. John Barry still contributed the best scores. 007 was alive and well, but his biggest challenges were his own familiarity and legend.

Barbara Brocolli and her husband, Michael Wilson, who had been involved with Eon since his teenaged days on Dr. No were now major shapers of Bond's direction. An attempted rollback to more contained storylines , tempered with more modest gadgetry, For Your Eyes Only, signalled a retreat. One bright moment lampooned Margaret Thatcher's husband as a witless dotard but mainly there's just a lot of snow and parkas. The relative ordinariness of the results convinced the Broccolli family to go big and return Bond to the front lines of heroic cinema. Octopussy brought together the best of the Bond mythos into probably the best of the Moore films. Classic Bond girls, bad as well as good and always welcome to Bond, a hilariously refined and malign Louis Jourdan, and the MI6 home-team support Moore at his sharpest. Barry music, locations in India and Berlin (!!!), ninja bellydancers and some new toys like a mini-jet give Bond plenty of room to get the kicks he thought Rosa Kleb had. Best of all, a gang of good old fashioned Soviet Union Russians steal the show and try to blow up West Berlin with a little nuclear warhead. All in all, Cold War nirvana. The bliss of Octopussy did not sustain easily. A View to a Kill stumbled, despite another perfect Barry score, Russians, airships, quality babes and good cast, including a too short bit with Patrick McNee (tv's John Steed). Moore was long ready to leave and a new actor had to be found to play James Bond. The Broccollis chose Timothy Dalton, a veteran actor who had the modest humor, Celtic looks, and understated demeanor of Fleming's descriptions, which Moore never had.

Dalton's first effort, The Living Daylights succeeded admirably, again with prime ingredients of rogue Soviets, Barry music and more vintage Hitchcock-ish type visuals. Daylights dialed the stakes back from world domination to focus better on the inter-personal stories but not all of it fit together, a problem that would grow worse with License to Kill, in which almost nothing fit together. License is the nadir, an abyss of Miami Vice rejects, car wrecks, generic babes, Wayne Newton, disposable music and dope tropes, that almost left 007 on the mythic battlefield. Beset by legal woes and studio closings, Eon ground to a halt and Dalton departed, James Bond sat in limbo for five years.

Eon, now very much in Michael Wilson's hands, finally set it house in order. In 1995, Bond returned in the person of Pierce Brosnan, also very much in Fleming's original mold. As a sign of the times, Judi Dench took over as M with Samantha Bond as a Moneypenny who, though enthralled secretly , took no lip whatsoever from 007. Goldeneye was the first post-Cold War James Bond film, but brought the Russians back to affirm the hero's roots. Brosnan showed a sense of humour that could take some ribbing, but he also had the most serious streak to 007 since Dr. No and the often stately pace of Moore-era films quickened considerably. Goldeneye not only had to position James Bond in a new political environment, it also had to deal with a technological surge that made traditional Bond toys seem quaint and for the most part, it all worked. On the downside, the frenetic plot also hit glacial passages, crying for an editor like John Glen to trim things into coherence. Bond had returned and in great form, taking care of business with a genuine feel for the character where he spends a lot of time dodging explosions.



The franchise was now committed to an action genre where spectacle usually trumped plot. The new 007 films, polished as ever, tried to secure the audience's attention with breakneck action and story lines that dazzled audiences but were not always the most interesting movies of their season, as the core canon had been. Follow-up efforts Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough were worthy additions to the catalogue yet seemed to try too hard to prove themselves. Once more Eon decided to go for broke and prove Bond champion of all screen contenders. Die Another Day took a nostalgic, and brutal, return to the Cold War as Bond was captured by the North Koreans and freed by suspicious means, he goes toe to toe with M and has to thread his way through Red Chinese, Cuban and even Icelandic dangers. The technology bubble reaches its maximum here, both onscreen and in how the interminable action scenes are realized when one of the greatest optical/mechanical effects teams on earth resorted to computer animation allow Bond to surf into North Korea, obviously the bank had been broken. Brosnan's Bond could do no more and a new Bond had to be found.

Daniel Craig became James Bond in 1996's remake of Casino Royale. Not quite in Fleming's physical specs and perhaps not even in manner, Craig is a very good actor a and fit enough to tackle scenes even with even more extreme action than the Brosnan series. Bond is again a policemen at the start, though hardly stupid. We watch Craig earns his 00 number and drive away in a battleship grey Aston Martin DFB-5. Dench continues as M with a very internet-based command. Bond gets a side-kick again, Matheiu, as in the original novel. Bond works well with an accomplice and even better with bad girls, found amply in Casino Royale.

Somewhat generic super-terrorists displaced the Russians of Fleming's novel but much is kept. Casino Royale renewed the Bond mythos and brought it forward. Hints appear of a new SPECTRER-like syndicate. Quantum of Solace bore pitifully little resemblance to its namesake, Fleming's barely Bond side-story that could have been fun gruel but instead we get hints of the new syndicate, more Mathieu, and endless running, hence Bond is more often just a running policeman, which doesn't really do much for the Bond character or the plot. Daniel Craig portrays a very insightful and determined secret agent, but he is often too remote, beyond even Fleming's original conception and I'm still not sure Craig is really 007, James Bond, though he generally upholds the mantle with distinction. I don't know if the Eon team is sure where the character is headed and I have yet to see Skyfall but it's teasers show us that they are again going for big game. Bond's film world, the cosmos created in the 007 movies, is about to be turned head over heels. For better or worse, Daniel Craig is James Bond in Skyfall and I can't wait to see what happens next.

©  Words - Richard Williamson  - PhD in Diplomatic History, US-Soviet Relations, Berlin Crisis
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Read 3250 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 16:25
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