Page 1 | Page 2 >> | Part Two: Page 3 >> | Page 4 >>
Part One: By Walt Opie
British writer Ian Fleming died at the relatively young age of fifty-six on August 12, 1964. However, he left us a legacy that is still very much alive-the James Bond franchise. Undoubtedly the most popular fictional character ever to emerge out of the British Isles (with a nod to Sherlock Holmes), Bond is largely known as the focus of a series of blockbuster movies, but he originally appeared in a number of novels with the very same intriguing titles as many of their celluloid counterparts (though they sometimes stray far from Fleming's original stories): Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Doctor No and Goldfinger, to name a few.
Similar to the written tales, the James Bond films have always been a triumph of style over substance, as Bond's frequent black tie attire would seem to attest. Bond, a.k.a. Agent 007, will never win any humanitarian awards for his brand of public service-which in many ways is part of his charm. He isn't bound by the usual rules of civilized society. In fact, as a member of the British Secret Service, he officially carries a "License to Kill." He also drives only the sportiest of cars (e.g. the Aston Martin DB5), dresses impeccably, enjoys "a certain way with the ladies," and-perhaps most importantly-boasts an uncanny knack for getting himself into and out of harm's way. Bond breathes that rarefied air most of us can only dream about; he is above the law and beyond reproach (despite the occasional scolding from his boss, M).
The Bond Formula
The best Bond films tend to stick to the formula their built-in audience expects, without feeling too formulaic. They typically include the following elements:
Casting someone as James Bond has always posed quite a challenge for filmmakers. The man chosen for the role has to be absolutely perfect in every way, with the right mix of danger, coolness under pressure and dashing good looks, lest the film's box office numbers go flat. The first actor to portray Bond on film was at the time a fairly unknown Scot named Sean Connery, whose only previous identifiable film had been in Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959). Connery made the role of Bond his - or, as one movie poster later put it, "Connery is Bond" - and the rest, as they say, is Hollywood history.
- A catchy theme song sung in a sultry voice;
- exotic international locations spanning the globe, from Jamaica to Morocco to Japan;
- lengthy underwater, airborne or snowbound action sequences (or all three);
- dynamic car or boat chases (usually both);
- casino gambling (he prefers baccarat and likes to introduce himself at the table as "Bond, James Bond");
- the latest in tricky spy gadgets, a majority of them quite deadly, "loaned out" to him with impatience by a man in a white lab coat known only as Q (or R);
- the drinking of tasteful alcohol (insisting that his vodka martini be "shaken, not stirred");
- ultra-enticing women, often with outlandishly suggestive names like Honey Ryder or Pussy Galore;
- and, of course, megalomaniacal villains who can't kill Bond unless it involves an elaborate, time-wasting method that gives the hero time to miraculously finagle his way out of it (not unlike Batman in the sixties TV series).
Each main villain typically has a more psychotic and dangerous henchman, preferably with a memorable nickname like Oddjob or Jaws, who does the dirty work and nearly gets the better of Bond, always to nail-biting effect.
|Casino Royale Sidebar: Before even the first film, there had been a 1954 American TV production of Casino Royale, in which the character was called "Jimmy Bond"-thus making now-obscure Barry Nelson the first actor to play Bond. Casino Royale was later also made infamously into a spoof starring David Niven as Bond. Producer Charles Feldman held the film rights to the book, and approached Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman with a proposition to produce a serious film version starring Sean Connery as Agent 007, but was turned down. With the success of What's New, Pussycat?, Feldman decided to change tack and make a spoof, adding Woody Allen, Peter Sellers and... Ursula Andress to the cast. The film was a hit then, but an embarrassment now.
Connery became an international superstar and the measuring stick for every subsequent actor who has taken on the part. The five additional players to grace the role of Bond to date are: Australia's own George Lazenby (who only portrayed him once before bowing out), Roger Moore (seven films), Timothy Dalton (two), Pierce Brosnan (five) and now Daniel Craig (one and counting). Ian Fleming once stated that Cary Grant was his ideal actor for the role (and Alfred Hitchcock was once almost the series' first director), and initially Fleming expressed disdain at the casting of Connery. He later admitted, though, that Connery had won him over completely with his portrayal of the British agent.
However, it appears that the real force behind the glamorous screen image of Bond, or "Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" as an Italian journalist once dubbed him, was the original director of the series, Terrence Young, who helmed three out of the first four films, including Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965).
Young took the thirty-one-year-old, rough-edged Connery (who was from a working class Scottish family) and taught him how to be more debonair-fashioned largely on Young's own tastes and ladies' man lifestyle. He even took Connery to his own personal tailor and suggested he actually sleep in his expensive new suit to help him get a good feel for the clothes. The internationally savvy Young, who was British but had been born in Shanghai, was also known for his "casual elegance" and a "tongue-in-cheek" sense of humor, both of which became quintessential Bond trademarks. In fact, Dr. No became the prototype for all future Bond films, and one would have to give Young much of the credit for why 007 became such an on-screen icon (which is not meant as a slight to Fleming-he did invent Bond, after all). Young just fleshed out the secret agent with a perfect blend of humor and style.
Dr. No (1962)
This is the one that started it all, with Connery as 007 and the first great super-villain of the series, Dr. No (a slightly bland but menacing enough Joseph Wiseman). When Honey Ryder (Swiss beauty Ursula Andress) unforgettably emerges from the sea in a clinging white bikini carrying a bag of conch shells, Bond barely raises an eyebrow. He also doesn't hesitate to make contact with her, even though he is trespassing on a mysterious island called Crab Key owned by a criminal scientist (Dr. No) who is harboring a secret nuclear laboratory. I suppose Bond senses immediately and instinctively that Honey is an innocent in all of this, and of course he is dead right. Watch out for the "fire-breathing dragon" on the island, not to mention a hairy tarantula that crawls into bed with Bond in his motel room at one point (turns out Connery is terrified of spiders, too-and the stuntman who filmed the scene, Bob Simmons, later stated that it was the scariest stunt he had ever performed).
Probably due to its low budget of roughly $1 million, Dr. No is stripped-down early Bond, without a lot of the over-the-top stunts and gadgets (the only "special" gadget Bond receives is his now-famous handgun, the Walther PPK). Instead, Agent 007 manages to survive this story based solely on his wits and quick reflexes. Production designer Ken Adam, who did many of the sets for the early Bond films, worked miracles creating futuristic sets on such a limited budget.
The film was largely shot in Jamaica, where writer Ian Fleming owned a home (called Goldeneye). Dapper Terrence Young directed. Jack Lord, who would later find fame on TV's Hawaii Five-O, played American CIA agent Felix Leiter. He almost reprised his role in Goldfinger, but producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (who had partnered with Harry Saltzman to form Eon Productions, which produced almost all subsequent Bond pictures, other than the renegade Never Say Never Again in 1983) was concerned that Lord would steal some of the limelight away from Bond, so Cec Linder was cast in the part for Goldfinger instead. The original Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), M's secretary, makes her first appearance, along with Bernard Lee as Bond's boss M.
Dr. No is required viewing for any serious Bond fan.
Most Shocking Moment: Bond shoots a would-be assassin in the back, though he knows the assassin's gun is out of bullets.
From Russia With Love (1963)
The second Bond film, again directed by Terrence Young, sends 007 to Istanbul to track down a Russian LEKTOR decoding device (aided by a young Russian cipher clerk, played by former Miss Universe contestant Daniela Bianchi). Connery, as always, is more than up for the task at hand, and he shows his suave side here more than in Dr. No. The actor has also stated publicly that this was his favorite film in the series. Without a doubt this is one of the most entertaining Bond movies ever made, largely thanks to engaging evil villain performances by both Lotte Lenya as the masochistic Rosa Klebb, and the inimitable Robert Shaw as the killer Donald "Red" Grant, whose current assignment is to retrieve the decoder and eliminate Bond. Shaw and Connery have a high-octane fight scene aboard the Orient Express (largely doing their own stunts), and exchange choice banter throughout:
James Bond: Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.
Red Grant: You may know the right wines, but you're the one on your knees. How does it feel, old man?
We are treated to the first real Bond gadget-a fully loaded attaché case, complete with a trick lock that releases a spring-loaded dagger. This was also the initial introduction of Desmond Llewelyn as Q, the head gadget-dispenser for the British Secret Service (who occupied the role for a record sixteen more Bond films until his death in 1999). Three former beauty pageant contestants have parts in this film, including Bianchi as Tatiana, as well as Martine Beswick and Aliza Gur as the two gypsy girls involved in a catfight over a man. The helicopter scene in this film was inspired by Hitchcock's famous crop duster airplane scene in North by Northwest. At one point during filming, a helicopter blade came close enough to almost kill Connery.
Most Memorable Scene: Rosa Klebb steps up behind Shaw's Red Grant as he stands at attention and lands a fist of brass knuckles right into his rib cage, just to see if he's in good shape.
The Bond series continued to hit its stride with the release of Goldfinger, directed by Guy Hamilton, who would go on to direct three more in the series (Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun). Critic Roger Ebert wrote that this was the best of the Bond films, and many other reviewers also agree that this film has become the true blueprint for every Bond film made since (although it could be argued that Thunderball has really become the more accurate model-for better and for worse).
The story starts out with great promise, and nearly pulls it off, except for dragging markedly after the climax. Connery's Bond is pitted against one of the most believable bad guys in cinema history, Auric Goldfinger (played by German actor Gert Frobe, whose voice had to be dubbed due to his heavy accent). AFI later chose Goldfinger as one of the top fifty movie villains of all time (he ranked in at number forty-nine). Incidentally, his name came from one of Fleming's next-door neighbors in Hampstead, an architect named Erno Goldfinger whose design style annoyed Fleming. When the real Goldfinger contested the use of his name, Fleming allegedly joked that he would change the name to "Goldprick" instead. They settled out of court.
Bond and "friend" Oddjob
The film boasts a great theme song performed by Shirley Bassey; a terrific overall set-up (Goldfinger loves for everything to be cast in eighteen-carat gold, including his Rolls Royce); and amazing set designs by Ken Adam. Honor Blackman is quite winning as Goldfinger's personal pilot, Pussy Galore ("I must be dreaming," Bond says when she tells him her name). There are several terrific gadgets, including the original Aston Martin DB5 complete with extras like built-in machine guns and front and rear bulletproof protection screens. Unforgettable Korean henchman Oddjob (played by Hawaiian pro wrestler Harold Sakata) throws his deadly steel-rimmed hat around like a buzzsaw boomerang.
The film opens with Bond shocking a bad guy to death in a bathtub. Soon 007 is sent to Miami where he is asked to keep an eye on Goldfinger. That leads to the death of the beautiful Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) by asphyxiation when her naked body is completely covered in gold paint-perhaps the single most enduring image in all of Bond. Things only escalate from there, with Bond eventually uncovering Goldfinger's scheme (known as "Operation Grand Slam") to take over Fort Knox and detonate a small atomic bomb inside in order to drive the price of gold up overseas. And, in one of the series' most remembered moments, Bond is captured and nearly cut in half with a giant industrial-strength laser beam. He utters, "Do you expect me to talk?" To which Goldfinger replies, "No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!"
Another Memorable Sequence: The golf match between Bond and Goldfinger is right up there with parts of Caddyshack, and truly a blast to watch Bond outwitting his opponent by beating him at his own game.
Filmed largely in the Bahamas, Thunderball is probably best known for its spectacular underwater scenes. Several of Bond's best gadgets in the film come in handy in the water, including what is called a "rebreather" device that allows him to breathe for a short time underwater. Terrence Young returned to direct after Guy Hamilton turned it down to pursue other options. It has been said that, after inflation is taken into account, this is the highest-grossing Bond film ever made.
All of the usual Bond elements are present, including M, Q, Moneypenny, CIA agent Felix Leiter, SPECTRE agents, spectacular set designs by Ken Adam, deadly and gorgeous women (Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Volpe), a great villain in Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) who even wears a black eye-patch to make him appear more sinister, and a stunning love interest with a wonderful name-Domino (Claudine Auger) -- which rolls off Connery's tongue quite nicely. Due to Auger's heavy French accent, the same woman (Monica Van Der Syl) who dubbed Ursula Andress' lines in Dr. No was also used to dub Domino's voice. (To make things even more convoluted, Raquel Welch was first cast as Domino before she backed out to make Fantastic Voyage, co-starring Donald Pleasence, who one year later would play the villain Blofeld in You Only Live Twice.)
Most Memorable Scene: Bond inside the shark pool at Largo's mansion, of course! (Apparently some of Connery's frightened reaction shots are real, as the live sharks really did get too close for comfort.)
Note: Due to a legal battle between the producers and scriptwriter Kevin McClory, Thunderball was later remade as an "unofficial" Bond film in 1983 under the title Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery again starring as Bond. The new title came from a conversation Connery apparently had with his wife after making Diamonds Are Forever and saying he would never play Bond again. Her reply was that he should never say never again. That film featured the first African-American actor to step into the role of Felix Leiter (Bernie Casey). It was also the first feature for Rowan Atkinson (a.k.a. "Mr. Bean")-who played a rather bumbling British agent named Nigel Small-Fawcett. Kim Basinger also makes an appearance as the new Domino.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
This time Bond (Connery) travels to Japan, where nearly the entire film takes place (similar to the original Fleming novel). Bond undergoes ninja training so he will be better prepared to take on the mastermind behind SPECTRE-Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Pleasence, at right). This is Blofeld's first appearance in a Bond film, although he was referenced several times before (also known as "Number One"). Blofeld, with completely shaved head, monocle, and the white cat in his lap, was clearly the inspiration for the Mike Myers character "Dr. Evil" in his Austin Powers spoofs.
Lewis Gilbert, who had just made the successful film Alfie starring Michael Caine, agreed to direct only after much persuading from producers Saltzman and Broccoli. It is also interesting to note that the screenplay was by children's book author Roald Dahl (who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach).
While You Only Live Twice is not top-flight Bond, it's still quite entertaining and has a certain cool 1960s sensibility, largely thanks to more first-rate set designs by Ken Adam, including an underground lair in a dormant volcano.
Most Memorable Character: Bond's new best friend, Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), who is head of the Japanese Secret Service.
Page 1 | Page 2 >> | Part Two: Page 3 >> | Page 4 >>