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posted: 10/26/2012 6:00 AM

After a half century, 007 still shaking up audiences and stirring passions

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  • Sean Connery stars in "Dr. No, " the first James Bond movie.

      Sean Connery stars in "Dr. No, " the first James Bond movie.

  • Roger Moore stars as James Bond (with Barbara Bach) in "The Spy Who Loved Me" from 1977.

      Roger Moore stars as James Bond (with Barbara Bach) in "The Spy Who Loved Me" from 1977.

  • Sean Connery plays James Bond for the second time in 1963's "From Russia With Love."

      Sean Connery plays James Bond for the second time in 1963's "From Russia With Love."

  • Pierce Brosnan took over the role of James Bond in "Tomorrow Never Dies" with co-star Michelle Yeoh.

      Pierce Brosnan took over the role of James Bond in "Tomorrow Never Dies" with co-star Michelle Yeoh.

  • Daniel Craig is the latest actor to step into the James Bond role. He made his 007 debut in "Casino Royale."

      Daniel Craig is the latest actor to step into the James Bond role. He made his 007 debut in "Casino Royale."

  • Daniel Craig is the latest actor to step into the James Bond role. He made his 007 debut in "Casino Royale" with Eva Green.

      Daniel Craig is the latest actor to step into the James Bond role. He made his 007 debut in "Casino Royale" with Eva Green.

  • British actor Roger Moore tied Sean Connery for playing James Bond in seven 007 adventures.

      British actor Roger Moore tied Sean Connery for playing James Bond in seven 007 adventures.

  • Video: Skyfall trailer

  • Video: DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER trailer

  • Video: GOLDFINGER TRAILER

  • Video: LIVE AND LET DIE TRAILER

  • Video: DR. NO trailer

 
 

The first James Bond movie hit theaters 50 years ago this month, and its impact has been sending tsunami-size ripples through entertainment and culture ever since.

"Dr. No" introduced Sean Connery introducing James Bond, Agent 007, a name and a number that have become synonymous with sex, violence, intrigue and spectacle.

Seven actors so far have played the infamous character, not counting the numerous Bonds running amok in the renegade 1967 spoof "Casino Royale." (Die-hard 007 fans know that Barry Nelson became the first actor to play an Americanized Bond in a TV anthology series. The better-known film Bonds were, of course, Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.)

So what's the appeal of this dapper secret agent, whose way with wine and women has captivated generations of fans regardless of what actor possessed 007's license to kill?

Let's go to Buffalo Grove resident Raymond Benson. He's written six authorized 007 novels, three 007 novelizations (books based on produced movie scripts) and three short stories, as well as the book, "The James Bond Bedside Companion."

"James Bond will forever be the Sherlock Holmes of the second half of the 20th century," Benson said. "Bond was at the right place at the right time in our history, and the filmmakers broke new ground in creating a completely new subgenre of the action-adventure film."

How so?

"In the 1960s, Britain's two biggest exports were the Beatles and Bond," Benson said. "The films themselves were unique, innovative and spared no expense in putting the budget on the screen and delivering thrills and spectacle to audiences.

"It didn't hurt that Sean Connery was a British hunk who proved to be extremely popular."

Older 007 fans will remember just how influential the movies based on Ian Fleming's literary hero were during the 1960s.

"Dr. No" (1962) established the character. "From Russia With Love" (1963) established the clever gimmicky weaponry (the tear gas attache case was a big hit).

But it wasn't until "Goldfinger" (1964) that 007 hit his global stride and made maximum impact on western entertainment.

Overnight, American television shows radically altered their concepts and scripts to accommodate spies, secret missions, hot women and diabolical villains.

Jethro Bodine of the popular comedy series "The Beverly Hillbillies" wore a cast-iron hat and armed his old jalopy with an ejector seat and an auto-firing double-barrel shotgun in preparation to become a "double-naught spy."

Programs such as "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and "My Favorite Martian" shoved aside their regular plots to concentrate on espionage stories and mysterious characters. Gene Barry's millionaire police sergeant in ABC's "Burke's Law" suddenly became "Amos Burke: Secret Agent."

Copycat shows such as "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." (with input from Fleming himself) and the British import "Secret Agent" starring Patrick McGoohan popped up on the tube. Saturday morning cartoons fell under the 007 influence as well, especially with the introduction of "Secret Squirrel."

On the silver screen, Bond parodies such as James Coburn's "Our Man Flint" movies and Dean Martin's silly Matt Helm spy adventures competed at the box office with dramatic movies such as "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold" and "The Ipcress File."

These were the glory days of 007 when the world could celebrate a macho, misogynistic, chain-smoking, upscale British version of Mike Hammer who preferred a "woman's gun" (a .25 caliber Beretta) to Dirty Harry armaments and would rather sip a smooth martini than chug whatever's on draft at the local bar. (Although with enough money, Heineken has apparently persuaded Bond to drink beer -- shaken and not stirred -- in the upcoming "Skyfall.")

During the height of the Cold War, moviegoers became captivated by Fleming's anti-hero who shot his way out of arguments and always nabbed the hottest women. FBI and CIA agents became the darlings of the fictional world.

Then it all changed.

Revelations about the unsavory actions of secret government operations soured the public on spies. Secret agents fell from grace and became symbols of elitists who considered themselves above the law in matters of "national security."

Suddenly, the coldblooded killer created by Connery -- he executes an unarmed man in "Dr. No," a shocking twist in 1962 -- seemed out of step with the times. He had to change to survive. And change he did.

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969) was the last "serious" 007 adventure. When Connery returned to the role in "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971), 007 morphed into a live-action cartoon, a virtual "Keystone Kops" with the good guys in white fedoras and the baddies twirling imaginary mustaches.

When Roger Moore signed up for the license to kill in "Live and Let Die" (1973), the transition was complete. Moore re-created Bond as a wisecracking British dandy who'd rather wear an ascot than a shoulder holster. His super spy was super funny. Bond the killer became Bond the buffoon.

Now, with Daniel Craig into his third outing as 007 in the upcoming "Skyfall," Fleming's goverment-sanctioned assassin has returned to its brutal, hard-edge roots. Craig's muscular, dead-serious approach to Bond is Connery: the sequel, but with Craig's own dedicated stamp on the character.

What will the post-Craig James Bond be?

A return to Moore's lighthearted fop? Or something darker and even more malevolent in a Judge Dredd mode? That will depend on the mood of the market.

The important thing is that James Bond will be with us for a long time. Count on it.

He will be entertaining our kids and their kids and their kids, because neither the smartest nor the strongest species endures. Only the ones who can adapt.

As local 007 expert Benson points out, "The Bond character became an archetype. And archetypes stick around."

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