As Ian Fleming was writing his first James Bond novel, I, too, was gestating – in the womb of my mother. So, in that sense the world’s most famous spy and I are approximately the same age, in addition to sharing the more obvious traits such as our selfless desire to save the world, our magnetic attraction to danger, and our ceaseless urge to mate.
This month will see the release of the twenty-fourth film in the Eon Productions James Bond series, and the fourth to feature Daniel Craig impersonating me. I mean impersonating Bond. Wow, see how confused I get? Can you blame me?
Thank you. Nice to be on the same page.
In addition to the Eon canon, there’s the 1967 Columbia farce/desecration, Casino Royale, the 1983 Warner Brothers Never Say Never Again with Sean Connery (who looks better here than he did in his last Eon film 12 years earlier, though this movie still bites); the live CBS television adaptation of Casino Royale in the fifties, starring Barry Nelson as an American Bond (?!); Roger Moore portraying James Bond on a British television comedy sketch many years before he took over the role in the series; and George Lazenby of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, once again as Bond in an episode of that ugly “new” reboot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (the episode was titled “Diamonds Aren’t Forever”; and at the end we find out what actually happened to the title character of Goldfinger after he’d been sucked out of that plane back in 1964!)
The first actor movie audiences ever saw on the screen as Bond wasn’t Sean Connery and it certainly wasn’t me. It would make a pretty nifty trivia question: the first glimpse of James Bond is in that gun-barrel walk-and-shoot logo, variations of which opened every film for the first 40 years of the series. So who was Bond at the openings of Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger? It was Sean Connery’s stunt double/action co-ordinator Bob Simmons, that’s who, and whose status here as an imposter is glaringly obvious on the Blu-ray editions of the films.
(A sidebar moment here, please, about Blu-ray discs. Too often, too much detail is simply far too much. Cheap sets look even cheaper, wigs become far more noticeable, and in general artifice becomes truly glaring. And it can be severely unflattering to reality as well; Sean Connery seems to have been experiencing some bad skin problems throughout much of Goldfinger, for example.)
A popular feature of the films has always been the theme songs, as well as John Barry’s musical scores for most of the early classics. The song “Goldfinger” was the first to cause a stir on the American pop charts and many memorable, hummable tunes were to follow. Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice,” which I still hold in especially high esteem for her perfectly measured performance, and Mr. Barry’s gorgeous melody (the intro of which he morphed into the “Midnight Cowboy” theme two years later) .Forgive me if I blaspheme, and I admire Paul McCartney more than you and your parents combined so bite me, but I never really liked the song “Live and Let Die.” My favorite Bond song of them all comes from a film I pretty much loathe, Octopussy, and it’s called “All Time High,” music by John Barry, lyrics by Tim Rice, performed by Rita Coolidge. God, what a beautiful shot to the heart!
I generally call the Roger Moore films the “James Bond Comedies,” although in truth the comedies actually began with Connery’s last Eon production, the messy Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. That one had a great car chase in Las Vegas and very little else of quality, but it was still better than the series’ nadir, Roger Moore’s second yuck fest, The Man With the Golden Gun. These, of course, are entirely my opinions, but being my opinions they are entirely and empirically correct. Shall I go on? Daniel Craig’s James Bond plays Texas Hold ‘Em (!), not baccarat or chemin de fer and just happens to carry a crucial defibrillator in his car’s glove compartment (shades of Batman’s utility belt in the old TV series!) Plus, he looks kinda funny.
Timothy Dalton was a terrific Bond but was mortally wounded by two extremely substandard scripts. Pierce Brosnan was earnest amid a lot of assembly line, soulless excitement. Let me salve the hurt here by declaring truthfully that even the worst Bond films are more entertaining than just about anything else going on out there.
The best James Bond films? Goldfinger is perfect and eternal, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is Ian Fleming’s greatest novel brought to sublime life. Lazenby is perfectly satisfactory and all other aspects are infused with the kind of care and skill and value that, when mixed together at this level, can only explode into Art.
True story: In 1987, Tom Jones came to town for a two-night stop at Copley Symphony Hall. Thanks to the very generous George Varga of the San Diego Union, I was able to attend both shows. And thanks to the wonderful Leslie O’Neal of the Union, I was granted a private audience with Mr. Jones after the first night’s show. (Oh, good golly, there’s a Country Dick moment here: years later, Dan McClain told me it was the best concert he’d ever seen.) Now, in 1965, Tom Jones had sung the theme song to the fourth Bond film, Thunderball, and I told him I was sorry he hadn’t included it in the set list of his current tour (a video of which was released as Tom Jones Live at This Moment). He looked a bit concerned for a few seconds, pausing as if he were trying to remember something. “Ah, it’s been quite a long time,” he said, adding, “Yes, that was a good one.” Wanting to show him I meant business, I just said it: “You should put it back in your shows.” Lo and behold, in all the shows Tom Jones has done in San Diego since then (including the Del Mar Fair, Humphrey’s, House of Blues, You-Name-It), “Thunderball” has been prominently featured. Happenstance or the Power of the Hose? Just saving the world again, a little at a time….