The Man with the Golden Anniversary
By Dante on October 5th, 2012
“Bond. James Bond.”
Those two sentences are so iconic, so indelible that the instantly conjure images of fast cars, impossible gadgets, beautiful (and dangerous) femme fatales, evil villains, and debonair spies. And while James Bond began his life in Ian Fleming’s potboiler novels, the Bond the world is most famiar with is decidedly a creation of the movies.
The cinematic Bond is celebrating his 50th birthday this week. The first movie, Dr. No, hit theaters on October 4, 1962, with Sean Connery giving life to the quintessential Western Cold War hero. (Connery would play Bond four more times.) Over the next five decades, 22 more films (with the latest, Skyfall, set for a Christmas 2012 release) would hit theaters and five other actors flashing 007′s license to kill: George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.
Fleming wrote a total of 12 Bond novels (and two collections of short stories) from 1953-1966. Other authors picked up the literary Bond after Fleming’s death, and 007 has appeared in 20 more books and a handful of short stories. (The most recent book was released in 2002.) There was also a series of young James Bond books, which began in 2005, as a sort of YA entry point for the character.
Fleming’s books were popular in their day — nine books and one short story collection had been written by 1962 — but the movies are where James Bond found his audience. Besides the 23 canonical Bond films, there has been an unauthorized Bond remake (of Thunderball, and with Connery, no less) called Never Say Never Again (released in 1983), and Casino Royale, which was made into an official Bond film in 2006, first made it to theaters as a mod spoof (released in 1967) with David Niven, Woody Allen, and Orson Welles, among many, many others. (Side note: Casino Royale has been adapted three times. A parody in 1967, a “real” Bond in 2006, and as a TV movie in 1954 with an American Bond called Jimmy Bond.) Movie Bond has also, of course, launched innumerable parodies (Austin Powers being the most famous), TV shows, toys, watches, cars, and countless other cultural ephemera.
All of this begs the question: Why does Bond endure? The series asked itself that question in 1995′s GoldenEye, when M (Judi Dench) calls Bond (Brosnan) a “misogynistic dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War.” Indeed, the character has had trouble adapting to its times. (Moonraker, anyone?) Cold War Bond’s careless treatment of women has no place in the 21st century, and the series listed for almost 20 years in hammy insignificance (the later Moore films) and overly-contrived, double-entendre-laden globetrotting adventures (most of Brosnan’s films). The new films, with Craig, have split the Bond faithful, but to me the series has become relevant again by losing the outdated, offensive parts of the character and accentuating the stuff that works: he’s stoic, but not without feeling; professional, but not a robotic killing machine; a leader, but not afraid to question authority. Plus he has cool cars, cool clothes, and cool gadgets.
But everyone — regardless if you watch the films or not — has an opinion on them, why the work (or don’t), and who made the best Bond.
I remember trying to watch these Bond marathons on cable TV when I was growing up. They began with the Connery films, but I’d inevitably turn it on in the middle of a Moore film. And I hated them. They were so creaky and terrible that it was painful for me to watch them. I had a better time with Brosnan’s films, but the Craig Bond movies just feel right. The tone is spot-on, the stories are global yet oddly intimate, and Craig is a character actor in a leading man’s role, which, to me, is great.
What say you, OOM readers? Who’s your favorite Bond? Why do you think the character has lasted as long as he is? And how should he evolve into the next 50 years? Let us know in the comments!
Photo: Dr. No. 1962. Great Britain. Directed by Terence Young. Pictured: Sean Connery. Image courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art.
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