“Bond, James Bond.” Six men have uttered that signature tagline on the big screen, beginning with Sean Connery in 1962’s “Dr. No” and continuing through Daniel Craig in the just-opened “Casino Royale.”
A creation of the Cold War transformed into cinematic fantasy, the 21 James Bond movies are the longest running, most successful franchise in movie history.
“I think the success of it is based on the fact that people want to see the fantasy — that this isn’t everyday life,” said Frank Rhodes, film booker for the Douglas Theater Co. and a Bond film aficionado. “People are always looking for a character that isn’t going to take any crap, like a John Wayne.”
Bond is a widely known cultural icon now, but when he hit the screen 44 years ago, that wasn’t the case.
“Back then, it was such a dramatic change for the movies,” Rhodes said. “It was such a different change for the hero. What really gelled and started things going wasn’t ‘Dr. No.’ so much. It was from ‘Russia With Love’ (in 1963) with the gimmicks — all the stuff in the briefcase. And all the locales drew people in.”
In terms of his cultural influence, Bond peaked in the early to mid ’60s when President John F. Kennedy was counted among those who identified with the suave super spy.
“No doubt James Bond will be garnering a healthy slice of our entertainment dollar for fiscal years to come,” writes Jim Trombetta in “James Bond: The Twilight of the Cool.” “Yet his appeal is like light continuing to reach us from a star that in reality faded long ago. First he became camp, and now he is nearly quaint. But once he was the very form and model of cool.
“Once his name was on everyone's lips. Once his movies were events that embodied the promise of wishes fulfilled. He was as big as The Beatles and merchandised just like them, in everything from tuxedos to lingerie.”
That merchandise even included a toy version of Bond’s infamous briefcase that contained a throwing knife, a camera that turned into a gun and business cards that were marked with the 007 insignia if viewed through a red filter, the perfect gift for the pint-sized spy of the ’60s.
Bond’s gadgets, while highly imagined, were an important part of connecting the character to the broad, middle-class audience, Trombetta points out in his essay, available at www.catalogofcool.com,
“Every time we recognized a quality brand, every time we put our hands on the steering wheel and our foot on the accelerator, every time we delicately lifted the tone arm of our belt-driven turntable, we shared in Bond's cool mastery,” Trombetta writes.
For a time, everything about Bond was cool — from his sexuality, which had men wanting to be him and women aspiring to be a “Bond girl” to the theme songs for the movies, which were released before the film, helping to build interest in the picture.
The success of the early Bond movies triggered a secret agent mania in pop culture that extended beyond movie-related merchandise.
Johnny Rivers had a 1966 hit with “Secret Agent Man,” a swinging number that had lyrics that were a Bond plot line:
“There's a man who leads a life of danger/
“To everyone he meets he stays a stranger/
“With every move he makes another chance he takes
“Odds are he won't live to see tomorrow
“Secret agent man, secret agent man/
“They've given you a number and taken away your name.”
On television, Robert Vaughan and David McCallum became suave British spies in the NBC series “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” that ran from 1964 to 1968. It even generated a silly spinoff, the short-lived “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E.” which aired in 1966-67.
Real cultural impact is most easily measured by parody, and Bond generated plenty of that.
Nebraska native James Coburn became a cooler-than-007 operative named Derek Flint in “Our Man Flint” and “In Like Flint,” and “Get Smart” skewered the genre every week on CBS from 1965 to 1970 with Don Adams playing agent Maxwell Smart and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99.
Countering Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” Nancy Sinatra hit with “The Last of the Secret Agents,” the theme song of a bad 1966 Bond parody starring Marty Allen. Its lyrics even name-dropped 007:
“He's an underwhelming kind of sleuth/
“He thinks James Bond is some kind of suit/
“He's farther back than also ran/
“But he's the last of the secret agents/
“And he's my man.”
Like any pop culture flareup, the Bond-inspired secret agents faded away at the end of the ’60s, swept out by the social turbulence of the era. By the mid ’70s, scandals at the CIA turned a different light on the world of espionage and the darker, more realistic novels of John le Carre had become the spy literary touchstone.
By that time, however, Bond was deeply established in the culture and as a Hollywood money-maker.
Sean Connery played Bond in five of the first six films, setting the standard for the character in classics such as “Goldfinger,” “Thunderball” and “You Only Live Twice.” George Lazenby replaced Connery in 1969’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” before the original 007 was pulled back into service for 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever.”
Roger Moore spent a dozen years playing Bond in seven movies. Then Timothy Dalton played the role in two late ’80s pictures. Pierce Brosnan became Bond in 1995’s “Golden Eye” and starred in four films, including 2002’s “Die Another Day,” which grossed $432 million worldwide, the most any Bond movie has ever earned.
Despite the box office success, Bond films became overly formulaic — a mix of high-flying action, campy humor, product placement and sexy females. The Broccoli family, which has produced all the Bond films, recognized that. So did many filmgoers, including Bond fans themselves.
That meant it was time to revamp the franchise. The vehicle for that was “Casino Royale,” the first novel in the Bond series, written by Ian Fleming in 1954.
“Casino Royale” had been made into a movie in 1967. But it wasn’t part of the real Bond series.
“They made it as a spoof, with David Niven, Woody Allen and Peter Sellers, because Broccoli didn’t have the rights to the novel,” Rhodes said. “It was a disaster.”
Because it hadn’t been made into a serious film, “Casino Royale” provided the perfect opportunity to return Bond to more of the character Fleming had envisioned.
The Eton-educated Fleming was a journalist before World War II. During the war, he became personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the British Admiralty, rising to the rank of Commander. After the war, he returned to journalism, becoming foreign manager of Kemsley Newspapers and relocating to Jamaica, where he built his house, called Goldeneye, and began writing novels about a British spy — Commander James Bond.
“Casino Royale” was the first of 14 Bond books which, by the time of Fleming’s death in 1964, had sold more than 40 million copies. Fleming wrote another book turned into a movie — the magical children’s story “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
The first 30 minutes of “Casino Royale” don’t have anything to do with the book. Because it is set in 2006, not 1954, the villains of the piece have been changed from Soviet agents fighting to bring Communism to Western Europe to shadowy international terrorists.
The setting of the heart of the movie moves from France of the book to Montenegro. But once Bond makes his way to the casino, the film largely follows the structure of Fleming’s novel.
“By virtue of the book, this film is more realistic and down to earth than any Bond movie we've seen in years,” “Casino Royale” director Martin Campbell told the Los Angeles Times.
There is still some upscale product placement in “Casino Royale” — a fancy Omega watch gets a big plug not only by being worn but in a line in the script.
There’s no arch villain in “Casino Royale.” Le Chiffre, Bond’s opponent at the poker table, is a smart, sadistic agent. But he’s nothing like the meglomaniacs who mounted armies and tried to take over the world in previous Bond pictures.
“Casino Royale” opens with some big action sequences. But after about a half hour, when it starts to follow the book, the over-the-top action largely disappears.
One of the major differences between the Bond of the books and the 007 of the screen is that the literary character was far more flawed and vulnerable than the cool movie version we’ve come to expect.
“We haven't seen Bond bloodied before,” Campbell told the L.A. Times. “But this is a tougher movie. When he fights, he bleeds and, emotionally, he can also get wounded. An idea that comes straight from the book is he finds some of the violence in his world ugly. He’s not comfortable with messy, brutal killings. We show Bond as a human being, who sometimes thinks with his heart instead of his head. He’s vulnerable, and he can be that way without being a wuss.”
Transforming Bond to a grittier, more realistic character fell to Daniel Craig, a 38-year-old English actor who had starred in “Munich” and “Road to Perdition” but was hardly a household name. Criticized when initially cast because he was blond and too working class to play 007, Craig has been receiving good notices for his performance.
“He worked,” Rhodes said. “He can only get better. Connery was the rugged, rugged Bond. That’s the reason they’re doing what they’re doing with Craig.”
“Casino Royale” opened on more than 4,000 screens Friday. That’s an indicator of the enduring appeal of James Bond. That size opening should mean that the picture will make $35 million or more on its opening weekend. In fact, some movie pundits are predicting a $50 million-plus opening.
That would likely make Bond the star of the holiday movie season, continuing four decades of movie success and cultural influence.
Reach L. Kent Wolgamott at 473-7244 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Bond movies
and their stars
“Dr. No,” Sean Connery, 1962
“From Russian With Love,” Sean Connery, 1963
“Goldfinger,” Sean Connery, 1964
“Thunderball,” Sean Connery, 1965
“You Only Live Twice,” Sean Connery, 1967
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” George Lazenby, 1969
“Diamonds Are Forever,” Sean Connery, 1971
“Live and Let Die,” Roger Moore, 1973
“The Man With The Golden Gun,” Roger Moore, 1974
“The Spy Who Loved Me,” Roger Moore, 1977
“Moonraker,” Roger Moore, 1979
“For Your Eyes Only,” Roger Moore, 1981
“Octopussy,” Roger Moore, 1983
“A View to a Kill,” Roger Moore, 1985
“The Living Daylights,” Timothy Dalton, 1987
“Licence to Kill,” Timothy Dalton, 1989
“Goldeneye,” Pierce Brosnan, 1995
“Tomorrow Never Dies,” Pierce Brosnan, 1997
“The World Is Not Enough,” Pierce Brosnan, 1999
“Die Another Day,” Pierce Brosnan, 2002
“Casino Royale,” Daniel Craig, 2006
* James Bond Books by Ian Fleming:
“Casino Royale,” 1953
“Live and Let Die,” 1954
“Diamonds Are Forever,” 1956
“From Russia with Love,” 1957
“Dr. No,” 1958
“For Your Eyes Only,”1960
“ Thunderball,” 1961
“ The Spy Who Loved Me,” 1962
“On Her Majesty's Secret Service,” 1963
“You Only Live Twice,” 1964
“ The Man with the Golden Gun,” 1965
“Octopussy” and “The Living Daylights,” 1966
* Movie spoofs and parodies of 007 include:
“Our Man Flint,” 1966
“In Like Flint,”1967
“Casino Royale,” 1967
“Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” 1997
“Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” 1999
“Austin Powers in Goldmember,” 2002