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Bond ... James Bond

04 March, 2005

It's 1964 and I am 9 years old. It's a sunny, Saturday afternoon and I am at the Victoria Theater in downtown Tamaqua with my best friend, Bert. Bert is one of those kids who can't stop moving. Drumming, shaking, talking, he is in constant motion away from something. His mother died at an early age and his father raises him alone. He has a much older sister who lives away from home, and a housekeeper. He lives in the block down from my grandparents' house, and my mom clearly doesn't like him. He's not the sharpest tool in the shed. Across the street from him lives Teddy, Bert's best friend. Teddy doesn't have a dad for some reason and lives with his mom and his grandparents. He's an only child. His life being that way, he's spoiled rotten. There's a shed behind his grandparents' first floor apartment, and Teddy keeps his comics and toys there. One day, soon, my brother, Rick, will buy all his comics from him. But Teddy has one thing I really covet: the James Bond attache case. It has the telescoping rifle, the hidden (rubber) knife in the top of the case, everything from the movies. I really, really want that damn thing.

       I knew of James Bond before I actually saw one of his movies. I had heard about Dr. No and From Russia With Love. I had seen the paperback books with the large type and small illustration covers that my grandfather read. They didn't interest me. But the James Bond toys in the Sears "Wishbook" did. For some reason, my parents would totally allow me to get Man From U.N.C.L.E toys and guns, but no James Bond ones. James Bond was part of an adult world I wasn't allowed into.

       But there I was at the Vic on a summer afternoon. It was a ritual: going to Moser's newsstand and looking at comics, and then the Saturday matinee at the Victoria. Today it is Sean Connery as Ian Fleming's James Bond 007 in Goldfinger. The movie starts with a circle moving across the screen. Oh! It's the sight of a gun. There's a man walking into it. He's wearing a hat. He turns. He sees us! He shoots at us! Blood spills down the screen...

       And I was gone. Sucked into a world I didn't know existed. The adult world of James Bond.

       I have a theory that your favorite James Bond actor is the one you first encountered as a child. I got into a huge argument at work one day with a woman who insisted From A View To A Kill was the GREATEST JAMES BOND MOVIE EVER. Roger Moore was the greatest James Bond. AND the movie had Grace Jones. Those 2 things made it so great.

       I stopped arguing. It's all opinion. You can't convince someone their opinion is wrong, because it isn't. It's their opinion. Even if you want to strangle them right then and there, it's their opinion, and God bless 'em...they're entitled to it.

       Sean Connery IS James Bond to me. I loved Goldfinger, every blessed minute of it and still do. It is the quintessential Bond movie to me. Some people think it's the moment the Bond franchise jumped the shark. The minute Connery got out of the water with that bird on top of his wetsuit, and peeled said suit off to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo jacket underneath, the whole series took on an entirely different persona. They're probably right. It was pretty much downhill from Goldfinger on.

       Dr. No and From Russia With Love were fairly straight spy movies. FRWL is better than Dr. No, but partially because it had a bigger budget. These movies still hold up wonderfully today. Thunderball was big and different when it first came out, but seems a bit tired now. The innovative (for its time) underwater photography and action scenes seem slow and boring today. The last real Connery Bond film, You Only Live Twice, is my second most-favorite. It had it all: the mega-villain (the first time we see Ernst Stavro Blofeld), the gigantic secret hideway, the gadgets (Little Nellie, for one), those adorable Japanese women, the big finish. The entire movie was like a remake of Dr. No, but on an epic scale. It had NOTHING to do with the Fleming novel, other than it took place in Japan and had Tanaka and Kissie in it. Everything else was DEFINITELY downhill from there. Connery's last "real" Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, is as wretched as the original novel, one of Fleming's worst.

       A lot of people think the movie in between Connery's last 2 outings as the official Bond is the best Bond of all, but I could never warm to the used car salesman Bond, George Lazenby. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a good flick, and Diana Rigg is wonderful as Mrs. James Bond. But what's up with Blofeld? The producers couldn't get Donald Pleasance back? He couldn't have been that high-priced.

       I never bought Roger Moore as Bond. He looked nothing like Fleming's description and the Moore movies themselves were too jokey. Multiple sharks were jumped with the introduction of Richard Kiel as Jaws and the Southern sheriff character. Live and Let Die is half-decent, everything else sucks. Timothy Dalton LOOKED the part of Bond, but the 2 movies he did are so tired, so badly written, with uninspired villains and plotlines, that they were doomed for failure no matter who starred as 007.

       The series restarted in 1995 with Pierce Brosnan as Bond, in a role he was slated to take over when Dalton did, but couldn't, due to his contractual obligation to the Remington Steele TV series. Goldeneye is a wonderful film, and a lot of that is due to director Martin Campbell. I liked the second Brosnan Bond film, Tomorrow Never Dies, also. But the third is abysmal and the fourth, with it's Halle Berry and Madonna stunt-casting, incredibly flawed. If you could take both of them out of that film, you'd have a decent Bond flick.

       Casino Royale is the next film, #21 in the series, and Martin Campbell is once again signed to direct. The Broccoli family has a tradition of using the same directors, which was broken with the Brosnan films, which had a different one for each. It's a shame that the Broccolis still have such a tight rein on the franchise. Both Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino have expressed interest in directing a Bond film, but the family will never allow that. Their tight grasp on the filmic Bond has stifled it for many years, in fact, ever since co-producer Harry Saltzman sold out to Cubby Broccoli. Especially annoying is the early recasting of characters like Blofeld and CIA agent Felix Leiter. I don't know if Saltzman and Broccoli didn't want to pay each actor more for each film, of if having consistent Bonds, Moneypennys and Ms were enough for them. Either way it's incredibly annoying.

       Who will be the new James Bond, the sixth? On the Oscar red carpet, Clive Owen claimed that he's not even been approached to play 007. He's perfect for Bond, as many agree, but he's too smart to go down that road. I think Owen looks at himself as essentially a character actor, not a movie star. I think if he does indeed end up doing it, it will end up being for one or two films only.

       Casino Royale is an interesting choice for the next film. It's going to be a hard film to make, at least if they stick with the book. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this long look at James Bond as he pertains to ME, I long for a period-piece Bond movie, but I doubt they'll do it. They'll just keep updating him. Lee Tamahori, the last director to helm a Bond movie, stated his theory that the James Bond name is like the 007 number...it keeps being passed from agent to agent. That's a neat explanation as to how these guys keep changing on us. But the Broccoli family never picked up on that entirely logical thought. In the last film they showed a lot of "artifacts" from previous films in John Cleese's lab, and Brosnan acted like he knew them all. That's a big mistake, but I'm descending into total geekdom here, so I'll stop.

       My memories of Bond go all the way back 40 years. My love of the character has grown as I discovered Ian Fleming's original novels, and the comic strip adaptations. I eagerly await Casino Royale, the movie, no matter who stars in it. I am in Bondage for life, I guess, and I will always get a silent little shiver each time I hear that music and hear an actor introduce himself as "Bond...James Bond."

© 2005 Gary G. Sassaman - www.innocentbystander.typepad.com


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Nice article, thanks for that!

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