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50 Years Of Bond, James Bond: A Declassified Retrospective by Scott Alminiana

October 5th was the 50th anniversary of iconic superspy James Bond’s debut on the big screen. Agent 007 made his first splash with 1962’s Dr. No, starring Sean Connery as the debonair secret agent. In honor of this birthday milestone, fans have had plenty to be excited for in 2012, culminating with the release of Skyfall this Friday, November 9th. But my personal highlight is already here: at the end of September, MGM released the amazing Blu-ray box set featuring all 22 previous films (it made for an awesome birthday gift, lemme tell ya). 

Probably the two best birthday presents. Ever.

Bond’s story starts even earlier than his 50 year history of films. The titular agent has had the starring role in everything from books to television and even radio. Listen up while I debrief you on the details!

Creating The Legacy

Author Ian Fleming was a Naval Intelligence Officer in the Royal Navy during World War II, and it was during this time that the idea first struck him to write a spy novel. This idea wouldn’t actually come to fruition until much later. It was 1952 when he wrote the first James Bond story, Casino Royale from his home (which he referred to as Goldeneye) in Jamaica. It took him just two months to write the novel and upon its release on April 13th, 1953, the world was first introduced to its most recognizable secret agent.

Fleming actually took the name for the character from American ornithologist James Bond, who had written the book Birds of the West Indies. Flemming was an avid bird watcher and quite obviously had been fond of the title. He was later quoted as saying “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, and ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers.’ … “It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born”.  The name may have been plain and dull sounding, but the character of course, was anything but.

Inspiration for Bond is said to have been based on numerous individuals Fleming had met during the war, as well as his brother Peter. All of these people were put into a pot and ‘shaken, not stirred’ until out came the man with a dull name and a license to kill… James Bond, 007.

The success of Casino Royale led to eleven more 007 novels as well as two short story collections published between 1953 and 1966. Fleming would later go on to write the children’s book Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which would later come to life on the big screen and star Dick Van Dyke. Sadly, Fleming passed away on August 12th, 1964, just as James Bond’s on-screen popularity began to skyrocket.

Bond. James Bond.

As I mentioned above, on October 5th, 1962 Sean Connery was introduced to audiences as James Bond in the Harry Saltzman and  Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli produced film, Dr. No. This would go on to be one of the most memorable and iconic cinematic introductions… ever.

 

While Dr. No may have been the big screen introduction of the character, it wasn’t Bond’s first time on video. In a 1954 episode of the anthology “movie of the week” series Climax!, “Jimmy Bond” was featured in the television adaptation of Casino Royale. Producers of the show Americanized the character to make him more appealing to  western audiences… and obviously, this was a terrible, terrible idea.

Producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli became interested in the film rights to the character in 1957 and was convinced it could become a successful franchise, but unfortunately his producing partner Irvin Allen didn’t feel the same way. Nonetheless, in 1958 Broccoli arranged a meeting with Ian Fleming, but due to his wife’s failing health he was unable to attend and Allen was sent in his place. The meeting took place at the breathtaking Les Ambassadors Club, the very setting of the scene embedded above. Unfortunately, to say that it didn’t go well would be a Golden Gun of an understatement. It has been said that during the meeting Irving told Fleming that his novels weren’t “good enough for television” let alone film. By 1961, Broccoli’s and Allen’s partnership was in the midst of coming to an end, and Broccoli again decided that he would try to acquire the rights. Of course at this point, Broccoli was too late.

A producer by the name of Harry Saltzman paid Fleming $50,000 for a six-month option on the film rights to the character. As his six months drew to a close, Saltzman was unable to secure the funding to make the film. It was during this time that Saltzman was introduced to Broccoli by a mutual acquaintance due to both producer’s interest in the character. Broccoli had the connections and Saltzman had the rights, so the latter suggested forming a partnership, giving birth to EON Productions (producers of every Bond film since) and its holding company, Danjaq, LLC (which holds the character copyright and trademarks).

So it seemed like the stars were aligning and Bond was finally on his way to the big-screen, but who would be the man to portray the classy spy? Producers originally were interested in Cary Grant, but abandoned the idea after learning that the actor would only commit to a single film, and not a multi-picture deal. Relatively unknown actor Sean Connery (can you believe it) was awarded the role after Broccoli  saw Connery in Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People. He was impressed with his ruggedness, while his wife was impressed with his sex appeal. While the producers were quickly sold on Connery, author Ian Flemming was not. He felt that Connery was unrefined and not what he had envisioned Bond to look like. His opinion on the matter however, would change before long.

From Connery to Craig: The Legacy of Bond

Many long running staples of the franchise were introduced upon the release of Dr. No: the famous gunbarrel opening, 007 himself, M (Bond’s superior officer), Miss Moneypenny (M’s faithful secretary with whom Bond has a long-standing flirtationship), Q (referred to as Major Boothroyd), exotic locales, Ken Adam’s amazing sets, menacing villains, and most importantly (and I can’t stress this enough) Bond girls.

A scantily clad Ursula Andress stepped out of that cool water as Honey Ryder, and right into the wet dreams of fanboys everywhere. With that scene the Bond girl was here to stay: over the course of 50 years, Bond has had more women than many people have in their lifetime. While the Bond girl is one of the many recurring themes in the series, they would be nothing if not for Bond himself. Sean Connery’s performance as the secret agent won over anxious fans and paved the way for the actor to return to the role on five separate occasions (six if you include the non EON film, but lets not get ahead of ourselves).

Connery would return in 1963’s From Russia With Love, which saw Bond face off against SPECTRE as they attempt to exact their revenge on him for the killing of Dr. No. This is widely considered to be one of the best films in the series and is notable for featuring Desmond Llwelyn in his first outing as Bond’s gadget man “Q” (a part Llwelyn would play seventeen times in all), and Robert Shaw (best known to fans as Quint in Jaws) as assassin Red Grant. The film was the first in the series to use a pre-title sequence, which would become another long standing tradition.

While From Russia With Love might be considered one of the best in the series, 1964’s Goldfinger is perhaps the most widely known. Connery of course, was back for a third performance, and this time he’d be equipped with the now famous Aston Martin DB 5 and accompanied by the haunting Shirley Bassey sung theme song. In Goldfinger, 007 faced off against the evil Auric Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob. Who could ever forget this memorable scene…

Connery would follow up the success of Goldfinger by returning for two more movies, 1965’s Thunderball and 1967’s You Only Live Twice. During the filming of You Only Live Twice, Connery announced that it would be his last portrayal of the super spy: feeling a lack of character development and growing tired of the repetitive plotlines, he opted to walk away from the role that made him a star. As it turns out however, it would not be the last time audiences would see him in Bond’s shoes.

With their leading man now gone, Saltzman and Broccoli began to search for a new James Bond. They initially chose Timothy Dalton, but he felt that he was too young for the part and declined. Upon seeing a commercial for Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Broccoli was struck by the starring man and immediately offered him a screen test. That man was Australian George Lazenby. Eager to impress the producers during his audition, he went to the same barber and tailor as Sean Connery had. This of course helped him look the part, and soon he would land the role as the new James Bond.

Lazenby would star as James Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which focused more on the character of Bond and the storyline than it did on gadgets. The film is notable being perhaps the most faithful to its source material, as well as having Bond get married (only for it to end tragically during the climax). It’s also notable for breaking the fourth wall during the pre-credit sequence: during the scene, Bond saves a girl from drowning only to have her run away from him. This leads him to say “This never happened to the other fellow,” an obvious reference to Connery.  OHMSS would be Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond, as he and his manager both felt that the character was out of touch with the more liberated audience of the 1970’s, and thus Lazenby walked away from the role.

With Bond moving into the 70’s without a leading man, the producers felt the franchise was in need of a drastic change. Many people felt that perhaps Bond should become more American. Batman himself, Adam West, was even considered for the role. Producers went to Hollywood to screen test actors and decided on John Gavin, perhaps best known for his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Distributor United Artists wanted Sean Connery to reprise the roll and convinced the producers to approach him. Connery was eventually lured back for one last time, in part by a hefty pay-day of £1.25 million (£20 million in 2012 pounds). United Artists also agreed to let him choose two films to star in and release. Connery took his fee and set up the Scottish International Education Trust. With the original Bond back, work began on Diamonds Are Forever. The film would see Bond track a diamond smuggling operation to Las Vegas and battle his arch-nemesis Blofeld. The film was released in 1971 as Bond ushered in a new decade and would be Sean Connery’s swan song in the EON Production series, but again it would not be his final appearance in the role that made him a star…

With the role of 007 now vacant again, producers once again set their sights on a new leading man. The idea of making Bond American was again briefly revisited with Burt Reynolds being considered to take on the role. Thankfully, the producers decided that Bond should remain British and they eventually decided on Roger Moore, who was known for his portrayal of Simon Templar in the 60’s TV show The Saint. Moore would make his first appearance as James Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die. In order to distinguish Moore’s Bond from Sean Connery it was decided that this new Bond would drink bourbon instead of the famous vodka martini and smoke cigars instead of cigarettes. The film would set the tone for Bond movies over the next decade, featuring a more comedic take as well as making the character more debonair and having its stories be even more outlandish (as if they weren’t already outlandish enough).

Roger Moore would go on to play James Bond a total of seven times, first returning in 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, a film that is regarded by fans to be one of the weakest in the series. It is notable for Christopher Lee (Count Dooku in the Star Wars prequels and Saruman in the Lord of The Rings trilogy) playing Scaramanga, the titular man with the golden gun, and Hervé Villechaize (later Tattoo on Fantasy Island) as Nick Nack. A piece of little-known trivia is that Christopher Lee is actually the cousin of Bond’s creator, Ian Fleming. Sadly, the film would be Harry Saltzman’s last as producer of the franchise. Due to financial difficulties, Saltzman sold his 50% share to United Artists in 1975, a move that would tie the franchise in a legal battle that ultimately ended with Cubby Broccoli being the sole producer of the series.

1977 saw the release of The Spy Who Loved Me which was Moore’s third outing as Bond and Broccoli’s first as sole producer. The film is notable for its pre-credit scene of Bond skiing off of a cliff and opening a Union Jack parachute as well as the Lotus Esprit that transforms into a submarine. It also featured the introduction of the steel-toothed evil henchmen Jaws. Many consider this film to be the best of the Moore series. At the film’s conclusion, the closing credits state, “James Bond will return in For Your Eyes Only” but the success of a certain film from a galaxy far, far away would change that.

Due the booming popularity of sci-fi films like Star Wars, Cubby Broccoli decided to make Moonraker the next film in the Bond franchise. And so the silly concept of Bond in space turned into a reality. This film is easily the most absurd and laughable in the series, with Bond involved in laser battles (in space of course) and having zero-gravity sex at the end of the film. Despite its ridiculous plot, Moonraker was praised for its special effects, even earning an Oscar nomination. The film also has an awesomely cool opening sequence with Bond involved in a mid-air fight in free fall as well as perhaps the most obscenely great name for a Bond girl, Dr. Holly Goodhead. The film would end up being actor Bernard Lee’s final performance in the role of ‘M’, bringing his total number of appearances in the franchise to eleven. Moonraker was released in 1979, closing out the franchise and the decade in campy fashion. Moonraker truly is a guilty pleasure for fans of the series… at least it is for me.

Bond returned to theaters in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, which saw the tone of the series revert to a more realistic and serious take than the previous film. The movie features a scene with Bond visiting the grave of his deceased wife, thus making this the first in the series to clearly establish continuity to past films. Broccoli’s stepson Michael G. Wilson, who was an executive producer on Moonraker, was brought on to collaborate on the script with long-time Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum. The collaboration proved to be successful and would continue for the series’ next four Bond titles.

1983 saw the release of not one, but two James Bond movies. There was EON Production’s Octopussy as well as rival Warner Bros. film Never Say Never Again which saw Sean Connery return as Bond after a twelve year hiatus, and was also a remake of  1965’s Thunderball. Octopussy starred Roger Moore as Bond, but prior to his committing to the picture it was unclear if he would be coming back for his sixth film. Producers screen-tested other actors for the role including James Brolin (father of Josh Brolin and husband of Barbra Streisand) prior to Moore officially signing on for another go as James Bond. The film opened four months prior to Never Say Never Again, the making of which is quite the story…

In 1960, prior to author Ian Fleming optioning the Bond film rights, he collaborated on a script called Longitude 78 West with Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham for a potential big-screen version of Bond. When it didn’t pan out, he turned the script into the novel that became Thunderball, and McClory and Whittingham sued Fleming for breach of copyright. The dispute was settled out of court with McClory gaining the literary and film rights for the screenplay, and Fleming maintaining the rights to the novel. When EON Productions made Thunderball in 1965 they made a deal with McClory that saw him credited as producer as well as a ‘story by’ credit for him and Whittingham. Part of their deal stated that he not make any further adaptations of the novel for ten years following the release of the film. Now, in the 1983, McClory finally got his chance to make the film and lured Connery back into the role with a $3 million payday ($7 million in 2012 dollars), a percentage of the profits, and casting and script approval. The film was directed by Irvin Kershner, director of The Empire Strikes Back. The year was dubbed ‘The Battle of the Bonds’ and proved that a double dose of 007 wasn’t a bad thing. It just also happens to be the year that I was born (hmm, maybe that explains why I’m such a Bond fan).

Roger Moore made his seventh and final appearance as James Bond at the age of 57 in 1985’s A View to a Kill. The film’s title song was sung by Duran Duran and saw Bond battling crazed Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken, as he tries to destroy Silicon Valley. This marked the last appearance of Roger Moore but was the first film in the series with Michael G. Wilson to be credit as a producer.

After twelve years with Moore as Bond it was time for a change. Some felt that the Bond of the 60’s and 70’s no longer reflected the dark and somber mood of the 1980’s. Many actors were screen tested for the part, including Sam Neil. Broccoli wanted Timothy Dalton for the part and had desired him ever since the late 60’s. Due to Dalton’s commitment to another film, he was not available, so the producers continued their search. They thought they had found their man in Pierce Brosnan, but unfortunately NBC would not let him out of his contract for the TV series Remington Steele. As fate would have it, at this point Dalton again became available and accepted the role. He starred in 1987’s The Living Daylights and again in 1989’s License to Kill. Both films were drastically darker than any previous title in the series. Dalton’s Bond was more dangerous and lethal than Moore’s comedic Bond had ever been.

1989’s License to Kill, which was the first film in the series to ever be rated PG-13 due to its extremely dark and violent tone, underperformed at the box office. As if matters weren’t bad, enough a legal dispute between MGM/United Artists and Danjaq (parent company of Eon Productions) would keep Bond out of theaters for six long years. During this time Dalton decided that too much time had passed and walked away from the role, once again leaving the shoes of James Bond vacant. Pierce Brosnan was cast in the role and filming commenced on the seventeenth film in the series.

GoldenEye, named after Ian Flemming’s home in Jamaica where he wrote all of the Bond novels, was released in 1995. With a title song by Tina Turner, fans were introduced to a new female ‘M’, played by Dame Judi Dench, and the film proved that 007 was back and better than ever. Sadly, this film would be Cubby Broccoli’s last Bond film. Due to his declining health during production, he acted only as a consulting producer and officially handed the reins over to his daughter Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilcon. Broccoli passed away seven months after the film’s release.

Brosnan would continue to play Bond for the remainder of the 90’s, first in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, and then in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. The latter would be Desmond Llewelyn’s last time playing ‘Q’, with his character announcing his retirement. Sadly, Llewelyn died shortly after the film’s release in a car accident. He played the character seventeen times in all.

Pierce Brosnan would make his fourth and final appearance as 007 in 2002’s Die Another Day, which was the twentieth film in the series as well as the 40th anniversary of Bond on-screen. The movie paid homage to the prior films in the series but was widely criticized for its rehashing of past plots as well as its heavy use of gadgets and special effects. Following the film’s release, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided that they wanted to take the film in a new and fresh direction, and thus decided to reboot the series.

A new Bond was needed for the new take on the franchise and producers chose Daniel Craig for the role. His casting outraged many and took the internet by storm. Campaigns and websites, such as craignotbond.com sprung up as many felt he wasn’t right for the part: he wasn’t tall enough, was blonde and wasn’t nearly charismatic enough. Personally, I never had a problem with his casting due to having seen him in the Matthew Vaughn directed Layer Cake. Needless to say, Craig proved all his naysayers wrong when he burst onto the screen in 2006’s Casino Royale.

Taking a cue from the Christopher Nolan film Batman Begins, producers brought Bond back to his roots and decided to tell his origin for the first time ever on screen. It was only fitting that they chose Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale to tell this origin story. The film was directed by Martin Campell, who had previously reinvigorated the franchise with GoldenEye, and was written by Paul Haggis (two-time Oscar winning screen writer of Million Dollar Baby and Crash), Robert Wade, and Neal Purvis and featured “You Know My Name” sung by Chris Cornell. It starts with Bond earning his ’00’ status and shows a younger, more raw and unrefined Bond than fans were used to.

Craig would return to the role in 2008’s Quantum of Solace, which was the first ever film in the series to be a direct sequel, as it picks up just minutes after the previous film’s conclusion. At only 106 minutes, it is also the shortest in the franchise. The previous film holds the record with a runtime of 144 minutes. Solace saw Bond seeking revenge for the death of his love Vesper Lynd. While the film was most definitely a hit, many felt that its quality wasn’t on par with Casino Royale.

Following the release of Quantum of Solace, Bond fans everywhere have been forced to wait four long years for our next 007 fix due to MGM’s financial trouble’s that resulted in the studio filing for bankruptcy. This long wait is finally over as the twenty-third film in the series, Skyfall, opens this Friday, November 9th. The film has already premiered overseas and has amassed a whopping $287 million dollars. Skyfall also holds a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So there you go, the history of not only film’s greatest spy, but my favorite super-hero. I, for one, can not wait until Friday. This year has indeed been a great year to be a fan of… Bond, James Bond. And it’s about to get better.

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