This two part examination of James Bond looks at how Ian Fleming’s character has remained popular for over 50 years.
Since Dr No was released in 1962, James Bond has captivated the cinema going public and delivered a character that is synonymous with Britain and sophistication. Originally from the pen of author Ian Fleming, Bond was immortalized by Sean Connery, who delivered what many to believe the best portrayal of Fleming’s fictional killer.
The Bond films have been incredibly successful, with allegedly one third of the world’s population having viewed at least one of the spy’s exploits over the years.
When the first James Bond film was released, the world was a very different place: The cold war was in full swing, Beatlemania hadn’t yet exploded on the music scene and the thought of exotic locations was a pipe dream for many. In the 1960’s the life of James Bond was almost as far away as space travel (somethingeven Bond would get to experience, although not for another 16 years). James Bond was and still is a means of escaping – his adventures excite millions, and to quote the immortal line: “men want to be him and women want to be with him.”
Bond caused a “spy craze” in the 1960’s: Mission: Impossible, The Man from Uncle and Our Man Flint to name but a few. Even Sean Connery’s brother was hired to star in a cheap exploitation film: Operation Kid Brother. As the franchise grew in popularity it became more and more outlandish. However the quality of the productions only got better with each succeeding film. Featuring legendary characters such as Goldfinger, Oddjob, Blofeld and of course Pussy Galore, the Bond films permeated popular culture.
Throughout the 1960’s nobody could top Bond. Under Connery the franchise was a huge success – with Thunderball grossing a staggering $141 million in 1965! That’s an impressive sum today but mind boggling 43 years ago.
Connery however, grew tired of the role and the public scrutiny – and decided o quit the series. Faced with the loss of his star, Cubby Broccoli hired Australian model George Lazenby to strap on the Walther PPK in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film took a more grounded approach to the series, and it is seen by many to be one of the best films in the franchise. The film would have been made all the better if it had been Connery’s swan song (as had been originally planned) but alas that was not to be. Lazenby believed that the character of James Bond would die with the end of the 60’s and quit after just one film, vacating the iconic role and leaving producers with the problem of finding another yet new 007.
Connery was lured back with a staggering $1.25 million paycheck for Diamonds Are Forever, a tale based loosely on Howard Hughes residency in Las Vegas. Ditching any realism, the film was even more tongue in cheek and helped pave the way for the Roger Moore films for years to come. Live and Let Die was Moore’s introduction to Bond and he took a different approach to the character. More of a “lady killer” than a cold blooded killer, Moore played up the more ridiculous elements of the character, and delivered a James Bond that is loved my many yet loathed by some. This first Moore film owed a great deal to the blacksploitation films oft the time, by introducing Bond to Harlem and Voodoo.
Moore brought the Bond films through the 1970’s, a time when Hollywood was producing more serious films by younger maverick directors. 007 had the market cornered on action, with only the Irwin Allen disaster films coming close in spectacle. All that changed in 1977 with the release of Star Wars. If the world went spy crazy in the 60’s then it went space crazy on he 70’s following the release of George Lucas’ space epic. Using Fleming’s Moonraker novel as a launching pad, Bond finally became out of this world. While many now see the film as one of the weakest films in the series, it has to be noted that the film grossed an amazing $200 million in 1978 (that’s over $600MM in 2008 dollars!).
The birth of the 1980’s saw the return of Connery in Never Say Never Again – a play on what Connery had said when asked if he would return to the Bond character. The film was produced by Kevin McClory, a filmmaker who helped develop the story of Thunderball. Following a lengthy court battle McClory won remake rights to the film and managed to persuade Connery back with a hefty pay packet.
In Part 2 we’ll see how Bond survived the 1980’s and was re-Bourne in the 21st century.