That’s right; I’m reviewing all things Bondy!
But wait, you might declare, Bond ain’t SF! Um, actually, yes he is. Think about it: gadgets, outer space stuff, rockets, cool transformer cars, and schemes to destroy the planet. That’s SF, folks!
I’m going to – like a fine laser beam – focus on comparing the books with the movies with the actors with the angles with the times with the . . . you’re right, I lost focus. More of a microwave oven beam. Beam-ish? I promise to drink lots of Jim Beam while writing this. But let’s see where all this rambling takes us, shall we? I guarantee some of your expectations will prove to be little more than myth, and others mythters.
In undertaking this endeavor, I felt it obsequious (you’ll want to look that word up) to stick to the Bond created by Ian Fleming, and not venture into the dozens of novels or short stories that several authors have written post-Fleming. Yes, we will stay focused on the REAL James Bond, as his creator meant him to be, at least, until we can’t anymore because, after all, that would be insane!
The Bond that Mr. Fleming wrote about had dark hair and blue eyes, was a little over six feet tall. That means Daniel Craig was a mistake because he’s blond. But let’s not discard Mr. Craig over that because that would be blond profiling and would be wrong.
To illustrate this, consider four Bond tropes:
- His drink of choice, the famous “vodka martini – shaken, not stirred.” In reality, Bond drank everything. Beer, champagne, wine, vodka neat, whiskey; you name it, he’d drink it. The classic drink is a myth. Oh yes, he did order it once in the books, but that’s it. The main point to Bond’s character is that he was a working alcoholic. I actually tried one of his vodka quirks. On one occasion he ordered it neat, and then shook some black pepper into it for flavor. It tasted like raw vodka with pepper in it. Not all that. Craig drinks all of them, and doesn’t care how you feel about Heineken.
- Cars, the famous Aston Martin DB-5. Actually, he only drove this once. As a spy, he often reported into the “Stations” set up in various countries by the Foreign Office. These stations were small offices with a managing officer and another spy-flunky used for menial work and to have a token good guy get killed. Think Star Trek Redshirt Guy, only with a suit and a strange accent. When Bond reported into these stations, he would drive whatever pool car they had available. Once it was the famous Aston Martin. His personal car was a big V-12 Bentley Town car. It was not bullet proof, but was a hefty chunk of steel. It didn’t have any gadgetry, or rockets, but it did know how to get north of 100 mph when required. Craig has even driven a FORD, fergodsakes!
- Weapons, the Walter PPK handgun. In reality, he did like this gun, but had to be forced to use it in Dr. No because all the service agents were being upgraded to it. In the four books that preceded this one, he used a Beretta 318, which he dearly loved, as this is the weapon he had used during his military service. He didn’t even have a gun often, but could turn anything available into a weapon. While we’re on this subject, let’s look at his “License to Kill,” which is what the Double-0 designated. What this meant was that, if the job required it, he was officially approved by the British government to assassinate whomever the mission designated. The government might disavow any involvement, but he would get a private commendation or medal. Craig presents himself as an assassin more than the others did.
- Girls! Did Bond actually get all the girls? Only the ones he wanted to get. In Moonraker, the “Bond Girl” (with the unfortunate moniker of Dr. Holly Goodhead) was engaged to an English bobby policeman. So she was off limits as far as he was concerned. Not because she was engaged, but because she was engaged to a cop, or fellow officer, in his mind. His moral scruples went only as far as his country was concerned. In the course of the novel, both get all their clothes flensed off their bodies by being in the rocket chamber when it lifted off, but they found overalls to wear to protect her reputation. Craig is the only Bond who doesn’t necessarily even want the girl.
And while we’re on this subject, let’s talk about sex and nudity. In the novels, he managed to get naked in every one, even if alone in the shower or sleeping in the nude. Many of the Bond girls were naked also. The famous Honey Ryder in Dr. No (played in a white bikini by Ursula Andress) was originally completely naked and seemed unaware that she was naked when first meeting Bond. She was kind of like Eve, the innocent diver woman, unaware of her nudity. It was From Russia, With Love that brought full blown sex into the literary narrative. In that novel, the sex is fairly explicit, even having the Girl – Tatiana Romanova – nude, spreading her legs and inviting him to join her.
In short, an interesting point is that all of these would have been rated R for sex, nudity, and violence if they attempted to stay true to the novels. There was a lot of creative monkeying around with the stories to get the PG or PG-13 rating they ended up with.
But the monkeying around didn’t stop there. Scenes were chopped out of one movie, and found themselves bewilderingly in another movie. For instance, in For Your Eyes Only, Bond and the girl, Melina Havelock, are dragged through the ocean over coral and sharks and both are mostly clothed. But this didn’t happen in the novel. No, it happened in Live and Let Die, and Bond was wearing boxers, while Solitaire (Jane Seymour in the movie) was completely nude. Since this was Roger Moore’s first Bond role, he looked bewildered. Jane Seymour just looked pretty. Both were clothed.
See? We ended up getting into the movies anyway!
Worst monkeying of all goes to The Spy Who Loved Me. This novel is written in the first person by the Bond Girl – Vivienne Michel – who is trying to get a hotel business up and running in Virginia when gangsters take over. Bond checks in as a guest on his way home from Thunderball, saves the girl, kills the mob, etc. The movie version of this involves an encryption devise, a Russian spy named Triple X (the gorgeous Barbara Bach), and preventing a nuclear strike. The book and the novel have nothing to do with each other except a title. NOTHING! As far as movies go, this was the first one to become more overtly sexual in nature.
One of the highlights from all of these is the accidental ways Bond escapes serious injury. In the novels, almost every one ends up with him being in the hospital convalescing from his injuries. He gets burned, beaten, shot, beaten, stabbed, beaten, strangled, did I mention beaten? Apparently Bond was not such a great fighter.
The very first Bond book was Casino Royale. The very first Bond film was . . . drum roll, please . . . Casino Royale! Didn’t see that coming, did you? Most people think Dr. No was the first movie made, but no. An episode of the dramatic anthology series Climax!, which was a one-hour presentation of various stories, 1954’s Casino Royale was the first screen adaptation of a James Bond novel and stars Barry Nelson as 007 and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Peter Lorre set the standard for Bond villains, evil, charming, slimy, etc. Barry Nel – WHO?
In fact, Casino Royale has been made THREE times, more than any other Bond movie. In 1967, David Niven played an aged, retired Bond in a spoof. Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen and the great Peter Sellers were along for the ride, with Peter Sellers playing Evelyn Tremble aka James Bond, 007 (yes, two Bonds for the price of one!). This satire begins psychedelically and ends outrageously psychedelically, almost defying explanation or coherence. This also set the standard for many Bond movies: to start out with a coherent mission and end in a messy mud puddle of incoherence.
By the way, the only other Bond movie that has been remade (to date) is Thunderball. After many years away from the role because he had said he would NEVER play Bond again, Sean Connery reprised the role in a Warner Bros production called Never Say Never Again, making the joke on him. It was a more updated version of Thunderball with Kim Basinger as Domino Largo. It should be noted that Klaus Maria Brandauer plays the deliriously great villain, Maximilian Largo. This is worth it just for him.
Let’s list the actors to play Bond, and rank them! Yes, yes, I know, you will disagree. Good for you! America, free speech, and all that.
Barry Nelson, Sean Connery, David Niven, Peter Sellers, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all contributed to the legend that is James Bond, 007. Nine of them!
Barry Nelson’s Casino Royale Bond was okay, but weak on action. After all, it was the dull 50’s and everything came in either black or white, so they chose both colors to make this one. David Niven and Peter Sellers were great, but that wasn’t a real Bond movie, but a satire. So, we’ll take those three out of contention, largely because most people don’t know anything about them.
Connery seems to be the quintessential Bond, but honestly, that’s only because he is the original one that people remember. He had too many accidental wins to get the real Bond feel. He looked like the real Bond, and could be as calculating, but mostly took advantage of sudden and fortuitous events to ultimately win the day.
George Lazenby wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a MUST see Bond film. His opening line is a hoot. Then, in both the novel and the film, gets married but loses his wife to an assassination. This pivotal event affects the character like no other, revealing more personal details than ever presented earlier.
Roger Moore played him far too silly.
Timothy Dalton was a serious Bond, and more of a spy. Actually, he was pretty good, but he failed to elicit enough humor, which Bond did have.
Pierce Brosnan was also good, and I liked that his Bond wasn’t afraid to hit a woman, because the real Bond did it often. But he was far too polished. Bond could dress up nice, but most people understood he could get rough in a hurry. Brosnan just looks so dang neat!
Daniel Craig’s Bond is the closest. He doesn’t look like him, but his sardonic humor and thug-like attitude is pure Bond. Too, Craig gets it that Bond used women, used weapons, and used anyone and anything at hand. However, too much of Craig is personal vendettas.
And – SHOCK – the films with Craig are just awful. There, I said it. Someone had to. It’s not his fault, but the Director and Producers seem to want to make some sort of art house films, and that is not what Bond is. I recently watched Spectre, and have no idea what that was about. It ended in a chaotic mess. Dramatic music, loud action, incomprehensible dialogue. Life is short and I want my 2-1/2 hours back.
So, ranking in order: Brosnan (neatness will be overlooked), Craig, Connery, Dalton, Lazenby, and Moore. The hardest ones are Connery, Dalton, and Lazenby. You could rearrange all three of them and I’d likely say, “Mmm, I see your point.” Connery gets third place just because – he is James Bond, after all, right? Most of you are mad I didn’t list him first.
(Addendum 8 March 2017: Just watched a Mission Impossible movie, and realized Tom Cruise is doing a pretty good Bond these days.)
Actors take a love/hate attitude toward playing the character. They all want to, because their egos tell them only THEY can invest something new and different into the iconic role. Then they all don’t want to anymore, because – really – this character is far too big for all of them, let alone one. It ends up claiming their careers, and they want to branch out as actors. Go back over that list of actors. You can probably name something different they did, but I’ll bet their names conjure up their role as Bond first. Bond makes careers and then breaks careers.
You know why? Because Bond has a multiple personality disorder. He’s nuts, dangerous, and doesn’t make much sense.
That’s what I like about him.
21 November 2016