This year is the 50th anniversary of the first James Bond movie, “Dr. No.”
It’s also time for another Bond movie, “Skyfall.”
The Wall Street Journal takes an exhaustive look at the Bond half-century, including all 22 Bond movies, the villains …
… the weapons …
… the vehicles (those last two are sometimes the same) …
… and, duh, all the Bond girls:
London’s Telegraph reports the results of a survey of the 22 Bond movie themes.
Their number one (based on measurements of radio, TV, live and online performances) matches my number one:
The author of most of the Bond novels, Ian Fleming, got a presidential boost when President John F. Kennedy told reporters he read the Bond novels. And then Dr. No hit the silver screen, and 007 has been an icon ever since. (Bond far outlived Fleming, who died in 1964, the year the second Bond movie, “From Russia with Love,” came out.)
The secret-agent genre has been popular since approximately 1907, the year Joseph Conrad published his novel The Secret Agent. The John Le Carre novels featuring George Smiley made apparent that the secret agent was vastly exaggerated, but that was never the point.
The formula — good guy, bad guy, girl, exotic setting, gadgets — well, how could you go wrong with that? It’s interesting that neither the actors who played the villains, nor the actresses who played the babes, were usually name actors at the time. (The few instances that wasn’t the case were probably Christopher Lee in “The Man with the Golden Gun” and Christopher Walken in “A View to a Kill,” along with Diana Rigg in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, ” and Halle Berry in “Die Another Day.” Of those four, “Golden Gun” probably gets the best ranking, which says something about the importance of story over casting.
Other than being a sports hero or a superhero, Bond might be the most popular male fantasy figure out there. Everyone with the XY chromosome would like to be able to face a deadly situation with
There are some great offscreen ironies in the movies, beginning with the actors who were preferred over the Bonds, or turned down the Bond role. Richard Burton rejected the role three times. Cary Grant wanted to do only one film, and James Mason wanted to do only two. Patrick McGoohan played “Danger Man,” “Secret Agent” and “The Prisoner,” but refused to play Bond because Bond was too promiscuous. Michael Caine could have been Bond for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” but he didn’t want to be typecast after having played anti-Bond Harry Palmer. Mel Gibson and Christopher Lambert weren’t British. Liam Neeson didn’t want to do action movies. (So what was “Taken”?)
Sean Connery won out over Rex Harrison and David Niven (who was Fleming’s personal choice). Timothy Dalton turned the role down twice before taking it for “The Living Daylights.” Ian Ogilvy, who played a TV adaptation of Simon Templar, “The Saint,” as Roger Moore had in the 1960s, was being considered until Moore returned. Pierce Brosnan was to replace Moore in 1986, but he couldn’t get out of “Remington Steele.” Alex O’Loughlin, now playing Steve McGarrett in “Hawaii Five-O,” was considered but lost out to Daniel Craig.
The general consensus is that Connery was the best Bond. He is certainly the Bond to which the others are compared. The additional irony is that Connery left after the first five movies, then came back for “Diamonds Are Forever,” in which he looked old. Connery was replaced by Roger Moore, who was six years … older. Moore had auditioned for Bond by playing “The Saint.”
Even though Moore had aged out of the role by “View to a Kill,” I identify more with Moore as Bond than Connery. Connery’s Bond was on ABC-TV Sunday nights. Moore’s Bond was in theaters. Two of the best soundtracks, “Live and Let Die,” and “The Spy Who Loved Me,” were Moore films.
Dalton appeared to be the Bond producers’ attempt to redo Connery’s Bond. Brosnan appeared to be the Bond producers’ attempt to redo Moore’s Bond. Craig’s Bond might be more like Fleming intended, but I’m not a fan because he lacks the urbane smoothness of the other Bonds.
“Live and Let Die” is my favorite, followed by “The Spy Who Loved Me.” The latter was the first Bond movie I saw in a theater. The former has the best combination of soundtrack …
… Bond Girl (Jane Seymour) …
… vehicle (note I didn’t write “car”) chase …
… and villain’s demise (the villain, played by Yaphet Kotto, blows up, you might say, in the end):