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Fifty Years of Bond

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The film industry’s favorite spy doesn’t appear to be slowing down or losing his appeal.

By James Jeffrey, Photo ©2011 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

An argument can be made that no three words from a movie are better known than the understated introduction given by the eponymous hero: “Bond. James Bond.” Such recognition is the result of the immensely successful and long-running James Bond film series, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, coinciding with the release of the 23rd installment, the enigmatically named Skyfall.

The legendary film franchise began back in 1962 with the release of Dr. No and has seen the super spy codenamed “007” and licensed to kill tackle more villains than you’d dare, save the world more times than you’d care and make love to more beautiful women than is fair. It’s the highest-grossing film series when adjusted for inflation: $12 billion at 2011 prices. Cinemas packed out with audiences to watch Daniel Craig in Skyfall do battle against a cyber-terrorist bearing a grudge against MI6—the abbreviation for Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service—indicate cinema goers are not yet tiring of the quixotic brand.

But Bond has actually been around longer than 50 years, as the films are based on Ian Fleming’s earlier books. Fleming was 42 years old when he built his house, Goldeneye, in Jamaica, where he wrote the Bond novels at a rate of about one a year, beginning with the first, Casino Royale, published in 1953. By the time of his death in 1964, Fleming’s 14 Bond adventures—12 novels and two short-story collections—had sold more than 40 million copies and the James Bond cult was internationally established.

There appears to be enough villainy and beautiful women out there to keep this secret agent in business for a long time yet, with numerous authors writing continuation novels. American authors have included Raymond Benson, who wrote six novels from 1996 to 2002, and Jeffrey Deaver, who wrote Carte Blanche in 2011. British writer Sebastian Faulks was commissioned to write Devil May Care, released May 28, 2008, the 100th anniversary of Fleming’s death.

Compared with the film series as a whole, the novels tend to be darker, containing more explicit violence, torture and sex. Much of their tension comes from being written during the Cold War, hence Russia occupies the adversarial role with its feared SMERSH organization (an acronym of Russian words meaning “death to spies”) at the center of many a plot to destroy the West. Later, Fleming made Bond’s arch nemeses more apolitical in the form of a global terrorist network called Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion (SPECTRE). It made little difference to Bond—his life and those of many others were still on the line.

Fleming lived to see only three of the films made. Earlier ones such as Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) have more in common with the novels than later films, which increasingly departed in terms of plot, often only sharing titles, a few events, locations and characters. The high-octane 2008 film Quantum of Solace shares little with the same-named short story from the 1961 For Your Eyes Only collection, which comprises a simple tale about a failed marriage, regaled to Bond at the end of a dinner party.

As the series developed, films tended to contain more high-tech gadgets and humor in an attempt to appear more contemporary and cater to a family-entertainment sector. Since Daniel Craig donned his tuxedo, the films have gone back to the novels’ roots in terms of tone and mood, as well as the physicality of Bond’s job and the pain that goes with it. Craig gets cut, bruised, battered, even strapped naked to a chair in Casino Royale (2006) and whipped where no man would want to be whipped. (The novel’s scene is even worse.)

Of the actors to play Bond, admittedly Craig’s appearance is most dissimilar to the novels’ Bond, who is lean, black-haired with a faint scar across his right cheek—but he’s arguably closest in temperament, going about his job ruthlessly and emotionlessly with the cold, hard stare of a killer when need be. Skyfall is Craig’s third outing as Bond. Both Sean Connery and Roger Moore played Bond seven times, although one of Connery’s films, Never Say Never Again (1983), wasn’t part of the official film series.

George Lazenby, an Australian and the only non-British actor to play Bond, only performed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Timothy Dalton occupied the role for two films, and Pierce Brosnan managed four. A 1967 version of Casino Royale starring David Niven is the one other non-official Bond film made, meaning there are 25 Bond films in total involving seven actors, though purists count only 23 films and six actors.

Much of Bond’s character and tastes—fast cars, and fine cigarettes, food and drink—are drawn from Ian Fleming’s preferences. Fleming was born in 1908 and educated at Eton, one of England’s most prestigious schools. In 1931, having failed to get an appointment in the British Foreign Office, he joined Reuters News Agency. The outbreak of World War II resulted in him becoming personal assistant to the director of Naval intelligence at the Admiralty, who was a likely influence for the character M. Fleming rose from the rank of lieutenant to commander—the same rank Bond holds.

Fleming’s wartime experiences provided him with first-hand knowledge of secret operations, and during the 1950s in Jamaica, he would drink late in to the night with war heroes such as Geoffrey Gordon-Creed. Hearing their tales of daring-do and intrigue behind enemy lines fuelled Fleming’s imagination and inspired his writing genius, without which we’d have no Bond. (Visit the official ianfleming.com website to learn more about the man behind the legend.)

With two more films planned for 2014 and 2016, it appears Bond’s service for queen and country isn’t going to let up soon. The films’ current producers are Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, daughter and stepson of Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who, along with Harry Saltzman, formed Eon Productions in 1961, which remains responsible for the series. A 100th anniversary seems a push, but you never know with James Bond; he’s come through some tough assignments and overcome the odds before.

Who’s Who in the Films?

Although James Bond takes center stage in the books and films, he’s always surrounded by an enthralling supporting cast of characters, including villains hell-bent on world domination, irresistible beauties bearing delectable names and other members of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Before each adventure, Bond usually meets M, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6), in his office overlooking London’s St. James’s Street.

M provides Bond with an outline of his mission that invariably takes him from England’s gray, overcast weather to the brilliant sunshine of foreign climes, albeit where extreme danger is close at hand. M’s secretary, Miss Moneypenny, brings an unexpected frisson to MI6’s drab offices, due to her increasing sexual chemistry with Bond during the films’ trajectory. But she’s often left looking wistful as Bond departs the office, heading, as she knows, to meet a danger he might not return from.

Often enough, Bond only survives thanks to gadgets from Q, who heads MI6’s research-and-development division. In the films, he is usually seen trying to explain to Bond how to trigger an exploding pen or showing him around a new Aston Martin car, explaining how to fire the missile system housed behind the headlights or operate the passenger ejector seat, and often finishing with a line the audience knows is in vain: “Try not to break this one, 007.”

A secret agent’s life might be a lonely one were it not for the fact Bond always meets women who beguile him, as well as readers and audiences. In From Russia with Love (book: 1957, film: 1963), Bond ends up with the raven-haired Tatiana Romanova in a train cabin crossing the Russian steppe, and in Live and Let Die (book: 1954, film: 1973), the enigmatic fortune-teller Solitaire enchants him amid Harlem’s criminal underworld. A number of American actresses have played Bond girls, including Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and more recently, Halle Berry as Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson in Die Another Day (2002).

Throughout all the films and books, only one woman, Teresa di Vicenzo, manages to marry Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (book: 1963, film: 1969). That union is short-lived when she is gunned down by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the global terrorist organization SPECTRE and with whom Bond does battle in a number of films. For, unfortunately, as sure as there is a beautiful woman on Bond’s arm, there is also a homicidal maniac who wants him dead and sets one of his henchmen to do his bidding.

The more than 7-foot-tall colossus called Jaws became the best known, first appearing in Moonraker (1979), using his razor-sharp metal teeth to dispatch victims. Considering Bond had to deal with all the above and more, it’s not surprising he likes a drink. Although best known for his signature shaken-not-stirred martini, in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, he orders something different: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel.” Bond names it a Vesper after falling for the story’s heroine, Vesper Lynd, of course.

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