He’s been all over the world, fought all manner of villains, slid around fussy bureaucrats, won millions at poker and baccarat, and of course he’s bedded countless women. He’s James Bond, the ultimate secret agent, and he’s coming back to the movie screen in November. I’m confident it will be an enjoyable visit with a character who has transcended the bounds of fiction.
Spectre will be the 24th official Bond picture, the fourth to star Daniel Craig as 007. On imdb.com, the tagline is this: “A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.” We can be sure that the film will feature exotic locales, ingenious gadgets, a terrific car for Bond to drive and beautiful women for him to…interview. It will be fun.
The acronym stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion. SPECTRE first appeared in Ian Fleming’s novel Thunderball (1961) and the first Bond film, Dr. No, which hit the big screen the following year and started the epic film franchise. The organization owes allegiance to no nation; Fleming thought the Cold War might end by the time the book was published, so he felt it was better to have Bond face off against a new enemy rather than the Soviets. The original head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, made many appearances in the film series and was played by six different actors over the course of seven films, including Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas and Max von Sydow. In his first two film appearances, From Russia with Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965), only Blofeld’s voice is heard and only his hands and back of his head are seen; in those films, Eric Pohlmann supplied the voice and Anthony Dawson the rest. According to imdb.com’s post of the new film, there is no Blofeld in the cast. But we shall see.
The man who created Bond.
The man who created the most famous fictional secret agent of all was himself an intelligence officer. Ian Fleming (1908-64) worked for Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division during World War II, and although he never went into the field himself, he was responsible for the planning of several operations and the oversight of two British special operations teams, 30 Assault Unit and T-Force. He wrote his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, in 1952, and it was a best-seller, leading to eleven more novels, the last two published posthumously, along with two short-story collections. Since Fleming’s death at the age of 56, several other writers have kept Bond alive in print.
Fleming’s novels never did much in the U.S. until President John F. Kennedy, who had met the author in 1960, mentioned that the fifth novel in the series, From Russia with Love, was on his personal reading list. In 1961 Fleming sold the film rights to the novels and short stories to producer Harry Saltzman, and the first movie, Dr. No, soon followed. Fleming had suggested David Niven or Roger Moore for the lead role, but the producers looked elsewhere. It is said that Cary Grant and James Mason turned them down, so they found an unknown 32-year-old Scottish bodybuilder who had worked as a milkman and a coffin polisher. Sean Connery became an international superstar and played Bond in seven films.
Ironically enough, Fleming wasn’t enamored of Connery in the role at first, considering him too big (a muscular 6-2) and too, well, Scottish. But Fleming’s girlfriend convinced him Connery had the requisite sex appeal and Dr. No convinced the author she was right, so much so that in subsequent novels he re-booted Bond’s heritage as half-Scot, half-Swiss.
Connery stepped away from the role twice: the first time after You Only Live Twice (1967), yielding the role to George Lazenby for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and returning for Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. His final turn as Bond was 12 years later in Never Say Never Again, which was produced outside of EON Productions as the result of a legal battle between EON and one of the new producers, Kevin McClory. The film is a virtual remake of Thunderball, which was the fourth film in the series. McClory had collaborated with Fleming and another writer for the storyline of the novel upon which the movie was based. After that one, EON had firm control of the franchise, which it holds to this day.
Daniel Craig is the sixth actor to play Bond in the series and he has three more films to go before catching Roger Moore for the top spot. Also appearing as Bond, besides Lazenby, were Timothy Dalton (two films) and Pierce Brosnan (four). Ironically, Craig is the first true Englishman to play Bond, who was originally created by Fleming with a strictly-English heritage. Lazenby was Australian, Moore and Dalton from Wales, Brosnan originally from Ireland. When Craig first took on the role for 2006’s Casino Royale, there was some tut-tutting from Bondophiles because Craig was blonde, too short (5-10) and allegedly could not drive a car with a stick-shift (not true). But the movie was a hit and Craig was hailed for giving Bond a grittier tone than what we had seen in the earlier films.
The list of actors who turned down the Bond role is just as impressive as the list of those who didn’t. Among those who said no are some famous British actors: Terence Stamp, Michael Caine, Rex Harrison, Sean Bean (who played the villain in the first Brosnan film, GoldenEye), and Henry Cavill, who is now playing a far more powerful fictional character, Superman. Even though the Australian Lazenby got the role for one film, other non-Brits were denied a shot because of that very fact: Dick Van Dyke, Eric Braeden, Goran Visnjic, and perhaps most famously, Adam West of TV Batman fame, who said he was offered the role but said no because he believed the actor should be British.
The Bond Girl.
A staple of the novels and the film series has always been the “Bond Girl,” first played in Dr. No by the then-unknown 26-year-old Swiss actress Ursula Andress. The “unknown” disappeared quickly after the memorable scene when Andress walks out of the Caribbean surf in a white bikini. (A rather conservative one, by today’s standards, but in 1962 it was something else.) Andress later said she owed her career to the bikini. Due to her heavy Swiss-German accent, Andress’s lines in the film were dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl; you could win some trivia contests with that one. But it happened again in the next film, when Daniela Bianchi’s Italian accent was judged too thick by the producers. Like Andress, though, the rest of Bianchi (she was Miss World 1960 runner-up) was more than adequate.
For Spectre, the producers have included a Bond girl, of course, but this time she might more properly be called a “Bond woman.” Lucia Sciarra will be played by Italian actress Monica Bellucci, who will turn 51 shortly before the film’s release, four years older than Craig. She’s said that when the producers contacted her about taking a role in the film she thought it would be that of M, Bond’s supervisor at MI6, played in the four Brosnan and first three Craig films by Judy Dench, now 80. She’s also said that she has no trouble seducing Bond in the film; she told The Times of London, “True sexiness is in the mind, the imagination, not in the age of the body.”
By the last couple films in the Brosnan set, the movies had become somewhat formulaic. After an opening scene in which Bond has a spectacular escape from and/or pursuit of a minor villain, the opening credits run with stylized artistry and a theme song performed by a notable singer or band. (Artists have included Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner and Madonna.) Bad guys are at work somewhere, usually preparing a super-weapon for use against the West. M summons Bond into action, and after a stop to see gadget-master Q to be supplied with the latest tricks of the spy trade, Bond usually starts his mission with a visit to a fancy party or casino, immaculately turned out in a tuxedo or dinner jacket, ordering his signature martini. Somehow, even though his adversaries are part of a worldwide high-tech organization, nobody recognizes Bond as a British agent, even though he always introduces himself with his real name. After a series of fights and close calls, Bond is lured into a seemingly-impenetrable trap, from which he escapes, of course—they never simply shoot him, they must prove how clever they are by ensnaring him in complex and dangerous ways, such as strapping him to a table with a laser beam inching toward his crotch (Goldfinger), sealing him in a coffin about to be cremated (Diamonds are Forever) or stalking him in a hall of mirrors (The Man with the Golden Gun). Bond overcomes all obstacles and eventually bags the bad guy, sometimes with his trusty weapon of choice, a Walther PPK pistol. Bond’s designation as a “00” agent gives him a license to kill. Along the way are exotic locales, everywhere from under the sea (Thunderball) to outer space (Moonraker), women, car chases, fights (for a highly-trained secret agent, Bond had remarkably mediocre martial arts skills in the earlier films), more women, some snappy double-entendres and finally the denouement, with Bond celebrating his latest triumph at some luxurious getaway in the company of a Bond Girl.
The Bond car.
As if a guy would need one more reason to like Bond, he always has a fantastic car. In the first film it was an Aston-Martin DB5, and in Spectre he drives a new DB10. In between he’s been at the wheel of some memorable European and American cars.
Craig defines today’s Bond.
Brosnan did Bond very well, but to their credit the producers decided to take a different tack with Craig. They rebooted the series to show Bond early in his career with MI6. In Casino Royale, Bond has just been given his 00 status and M sets him on the trail of the mysterious Le Chiffre, a high-rolling financier of terrorists and insurgents, leading to a well-done showdown at a poker table in a Montenegro casino. In Quantum of Solace, Bond goes after the men responsible for the death of his beloved, Vesper Lynd, in the previous film. Craig’s Bond is more driven and cynical, relying less on gadgetry and more on brute force to get the job done. The athletic actor performs many of his own stunts in the films, sometimes resulting in injuries that delay production. In Skyfall’s opening sequence Bond dukes it out with the bad guy on top a moving train at about 30mph. That doesn’t sound very fast, but when you’re fighting on top of a train it’s plenty fast.
What I like about the Craig pictures is that they’re more realistic. Bond gets down and dirty in some godawful Third World holes and takes his lumps along with dishing them out. Although real-life espionage work is not as glamorous as the movies make it out to be, I think these films are closer to reality than the earlier versions. And really now, what man wouldn’t want to be Bond? He’s a man of action, can handle a gun and a souped-up sports car, wears great suits and knows his way around a casino, travels the world and cavorts with beautiful women. Every guy sitting in that movie theater identifies with Bond, even if only a little.
When I meet people and they ask me what I do, I tell them I write novels, train in the martial arts and work for the U.S. Government. Then they ask, “In what branch?” And sometimes I say, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” At that point my grin gives it away and I tell them the truth, always adding, “That’s my cover story, anyway.” And I order my martini–shaken, not stirred.