"Bond, James Bond." Familiar words to several generations of vicarious thrill seekers. It is hard to believe, but it has now been over forty years since filmgoers were first introduced to Sir Ian Fleming's master spy (Dr. No). Ironically, the man on Her Majesty's Secret Service has only once been played by an actual Englishman, Sir Roger Moore. The other official Bonds have been Scottish (Sir Sean Connery), Australian (George Lazenby), Welsh (Timothy Dalton) and most recently Irish (Pierce Brosnan).
While the next leading man has yet to be crowned, it is certain that from wherever he hails he will continue to have his martinis shaken and not stirred, have a bevy of beautiful women, and an arsenal of the latest high-tech toys with which to fight evil.
The world as Fleming knew it in the early 1950's, when he wrote the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, is quite a bit different than today. James Bond, however, remains a constant, having survived both the demise of the Cold War and, by and large, the demise of spy movies as a genre. The redoubtable cold warrior also survived the little known effort to turn the character's adventures into a television series in 1954, when Barry Nelson played "Jimmy" Bond in a pilot version of Casino Royale. Mercifully, the series was never picked up by CBS.
Still, there must be something captivating about that original novel, for in 1968 a spoof of Casino Royale was filmed with David Niven as Agent 007 coming out of retirement. The cast of this film alone warrants getting the video, if you can imagine a spy spoof that includes both Peter Sellers and Woody Allen! Interestingly, the first authentic movie version of Fleming's first novel has yet to be aired. The official Casino Royale is not set for release until 2006. Further Bond-worthy news abounds at The Premier James Bond Website, along with boxed DVD collections, interactive spy games, and collectible posters.
The Birth of James Bond
Analysis of these popular movies could take up several volumes. Is it the technology, the seductive women with the seductive names (what were the Bond Girls' parents thinking?), or the 1960's music that still sounds sensual and cool today that makes Bond a phenomenon? Or is it simply that we all wonder whether, somewhere, people still wear white dinner jackets for cocktails?
Fleming's own background could certainly cause one to wonder how much of an imprint his wealth and upbringing had on the development of the James Bond persona. Born into privilege in 1908, Ian Lancaster Fleming's fascination with larger than life characters had its roots on the home front. His adoration of his deceased father (killed during World War I when Fleming was only eight) bordered for a time on hero worship. As he grew older, however, the family pressures to emulate his father-as well as try to live up to the academic accomplishments of his older brother-became more than he could tolerate.
Unable to fit in with either the crowd at Eton or the cookie-cutter regimentation at the Sandhurst military academy, Fleming rebelled by seeking independence and his own identity in Austria. Flunking the foreign service exam, he turned his attention to journalism, then banking. Neither career, however, had the allure of being a spy, something which he discovered that he not only performed well but which attached him to Admiral John Godfrey, a top spy in-yes, you guessed it-Her Majesty's Service. It was during this time that his storytelling skills as a writer of secret missions, clandestine relationships, tantalizing codes, and exotic ports of call emerged. And yes, there were even forbidden trysts with an assortment of beautiful women, one of whom eventually became his wife.
That Agent 007 would make his worldwide debut when he did is not coincidental. The 1950's were a heyday for the kind of heroes who were once a trademark of the American West. Mysterious loners who were feared by other men, desired by all available females, and upholding a vanishing code of chivalry were welcome icons on silver screens across the country and around the world. Fleming's protagonist, of course, eschewed a frontier lifestyle in favor of posh hotels, ate caviar instead of grub, drove fast cars instead of fast horses, and, in a planet not yet unified by the Internet, brought the wonders of mysterious lands into everyone's circle of vicarious enjoyment.
Everybody seems to know James Bond wherever he goes, which does raise an issue about how "secret" an agent he can be, and everybody knows at the end of the movie Bond will remain incorruptible and defeat the bad guys. Along the way, there is plenty of action, the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, and the one with the most toys wins-which is inevitably Bond.
Ian Fleming's Legacy
The world, and to a certain extent Hollywood, has taken any deeper message out of the movies with the passage of time and the complex dynamics of our rapidly changing society. Ian Fleming has passed on, but the next generation of authors continues to provide plots for yet a new generation of Bond devotees. Fleming wrote 12 novels and 2 collections of short stories featuring Agent 007 before his death. Kingsley Amis (1), John Gardner (14 novels and 2 film novelizations), and Raymond Benson (6 novels and 3 novelizations) have kept the James Bond legend rolling on. These authors and their works can be found at Amazon along with plenty of links to other spy-related literature for the armchair secret agent.
New books and movies starring James Bond will continue to be produced, and in the hype before their opening, we will be reminded again and again of the history of this unique character.
Bond Beyond the Page
It is the nature of the original character created by Fleming that lends itself to no one definitive interpretation. Consequently, James Bond is not a composite of the various actors who have played him over the decades. Regardless of the film critic or watercooler debate over which Bond is better, each Bond brings a new perspective to the well known and yet still enigmatic super spy. In other words, the critical element of the leading man is not the actor, it is the essence of the character itself.
Like other characters developed through popular fiction before appearing on the screen, Bond shares the spotlight with Jack Ryan (Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears) and Harry Palmer (The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, Billion Dollar Brain) in roles whose strengths go beyond a script. The public knew these characters well before the first casting call, and even though Harry Palmer was the vehicle whereby we all got to know Michael Caine, a revival of that character would not want for competent actors. Conversely, while an engaging and successful movie, few remember Harry Tasker (True Lies), regardless of how good he looked in a white dinner jacket.
What makes James Bond unique, however, is that his character is beyond sequels and even beyond serials. Different actors, different writers, different times and events all still require the suave secret agent to foil some evil-doer's plot. Diamonds are certainly forever, but as a sustainable character, Agent 007 may well be, too.
Looking for a good movie to curl up with but can't decide which one? There's no shortage of choices to peruse at Internet Movie Database, a site that also allows you to look up filming locations, read cast bios, laugh at Bond bloopers, practice reciting debonair lines, and read what reviewers have had to say throughout the years about each film's storyline and acting.
Last but not least is this interesting bit of Bond trivia: Albert Broccoli, producer of Bond films ranging from Dr. No in 1962 to Goldeneye in 1996 (the year of his death) was also the driving force (so to speak) behind another film you'd never expect. It was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, adapted from a whimsical novel of the same name by none other than Ian Fleming.