James Bond: A fifty year retrospective
By Bryan C. Kuriawa
In early February 1952, former British intelligence officer Ian Fleming, attempting to distract himself from his upcoming wedding, began composing a spy novel, inspired by personal experience and his own imagination.
Within two years, the novel, “Casino Royale” had proved to be a bestseller, and CBS had adapted the piece to television with Barry Nelson as secret agent James Bond. By his untimely death in 1964, Fleming had composed 11 further Bond novels, and production had been completed on the feature film adaptation “Goldfinger”, with Sean Connery as the famed agent.
Sixty years after its literary inception and 50 since its first film version, “Dr. No”, James Bond remains an entertainment giant, rarely surpassed in terms of scope and success. With the 23rd Bond entry, “Skyfall”, in theaters, it seems proper that a brief overview may be done for those interested in the series as a whole.
Following Nelson’s portrayal on CBS’ “Climax!”, American producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman pursued the potential of a cinematic Bond adventure eight years later. After a long search, both producers settled on Sean Connery, an up and coming Scottish actor and former Mr. Universe contestant.
Despite protests from various sources, including creator Ian Fleming, Connery won over all critics with his performances in both “Dr. No” and “From Russia with Love”. His dark, gritty and occasionally sarcastic take became universally praised, with 1964’s “Goldfinger” catapulting him into international stardom.
After 1967’s “You Only Live Twice”, Connery left the role, sighting the production schedules and declining characterization as the reasons for his departure.
With the next Bond entry to be “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, both producers realized they were in desperate need of a new 007. During the same period, British actor David Niven, Fleming’s original choice, portrayed the actor in a campy parody, based in part on “Casino Royale “, without much critical success. Their answer came in the form of an Australian model living in England named George Lazenby.
Although Lazenby had no prior acting experience, both producers were impressed by his physical prowess and signed him on, with series editor turned director Peter Hunt to be his acting coach. In its final form, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” represents an excellent, yet largely underrated entry, which depicts a serious take on the character.
While Lazenby lacked the excitement of Connery, he made up for such shortcomings with a dark and realistic performance that depicts Bond at his most emotional and dynamic. Unfortunately, prior to completion, Lazenby, with encouragement from his manager, announced he would no longer be Bond, resulting in a modest box office success and critical panning for the actor.
After much negotiation, Sean Connery once more returned to Bond in 1971’s “Diamonds are Forever”, with a different eye on the role. Following the serious portrayal of Lazenby, Connery’s performance foreshadowed successor Roger Moore, with a lighthearted take in contrast to his own cynical nature.
Despite its success, Connery left the role, with television actor Moore arriving for 1973’s “Live and Let Die”. Moore’s portrayal of Bond differed radically from both Connery’s and Lazenby’s, playing the role in a light-hearted, yet sarcastic manner that genuinely benefitted the onscreen character.
In a decade when Bond would find himself traveling into outer space, Moore’s antics made such narratives seem logical. Occasionally Moore would have a darker moment or two, such as a scene in 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only”, where Bond kills an assassin by pushing him over a cliff. By 1985, with his age becoming more apparent, Moore resigned from the role.
In 1987, audiences at “The Living Daylights” found themselves a new, darker Bond in Welsh actor Timothy Dalton. Rereading Fleming’s original works as much as possible, Dalton in his two performances as the character proved to be excellent, with a gritty and often dead serious demeanor unseen in years.
Unfortunately, legal disputes following 1989’s “License to Kill” left the series in limbo until the mid ‘90’s, with Dalton leaving in 1994. The following year, Pierce Brosnan of television’s “Remington Steele” debuted in “Goldeneye,” continuing for three subsequent entries until 2002’s “Die Another Day”.
His take on the character largely varied per film with Brosnan maintaining a firm line between a serious or light-hearted portrayal, with certain entries highlighting either quality.
After a four-year absence, in 2006 Daniel Craig assumed the role of Bond in the series reboot, an adaptation of the first novel, “Casino Royale”. His portrayals of the character have been a darker look into the role, often being cold, yet occasionally emotionally developed.
Regardless of any factors, including the recent bankruptcy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Bond shall live and let live another day.