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Friday, October 5, 2012

Celebrating 50 Years of Bond

Written by Kirk Baird

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. No, the first James Bond film, released Oct. 5, 1962. The film, of course, starred Sean Connery, a handsome and masculine actor who only vaguely resembled what Bond creator Ian Fleming initially envisioned his British super spy to be: a slightly more dashing version of American jazz singer-musician Hoagy Carmichael.

There are 25 Bond films, including November’s Skyfall, as well as the 1967 007 parody Casino Royale starring David Niven, and 1983’s Never Say Never Again featuring the second return of Connery to the role, this time after more than a decade away. Incidentally, the latter two films are the only Bond movies not produced by Eon Productions, and therefore not considered by some to be part of the official franchise.

In popular culture a person’s preference of Bond actors has been a source of debate. Google “james bond actor poll” and you’ll find multiple solicitations. For many, it’s the first who remains the best.

Connery’s blend of tough and sexy, a womanizer with a penchant for guns, gadgets, shaken martinis, and survival set the template for all the actors to follow. The Scottish Connery played Bond through five films in six years, before Australian model-actor George Lazenby stepped in with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Lazenby, who played the secret agent only once before turning down additional Bond movies by choice, remains the forgotten 007 — some would suggest for good reason.

By 1971, Connery returned to Bond in Diamonds Are Forever and was paid handsomely for it, but producers went in a new direction with 1973’s Live and Let Die, casting Roger Moore as Bond. Moore was best known to audiences for his role as Simon Templar in the long-running BBC series The Saint. In fact, the show, which aired from 1962-1970, kept Moore out of the running as Connery’s original replacement in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

With Moore aboard, the film’s producers lightened the serious demeanor of the super agent, turning Bond into a debonair playboy with women and quips to spare, especially as he terminated a film’s chief villain and his henchmen.

Moore is also unfairly saddled with what is a notable shift in the quality of the Bond films themselves, as producers altered the more dramatic tone of the Connery movies, often in favor of riding current cinema trends. 1979’s Moonraker, largely considered the weakest film in the series (I wholeheartedly agree), was an obvious attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze with a silly-even-for-its-time space laser battle over Earth. Moore still stuck around for three more Bond outings, and a total of seven films through 12 years, the latter being a record for the series.

When the English Moore retired from the series at the age of 58, Timothy Dalton was brought in as the new 007 for 1987’s The Living Daylights. Dalton, by then 43, had originally been offered the role of James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but the British actor turned it down, feeling he was too young for the part at the age of 25. Perhaps by being older and wiser when he finally accepted the role, he brought a maturity and grit to the films that had been missing during the Moore years. In License to Kill, for instance, Bond resigns from the Secret Service to exact revenge against the drug dealer who seriously injured his CIA friend and killed his friend’s wife.

The deadly serious tone of Dalton’s film, while significantly closer to Fleming’s novels, was met with mixed reviews and good but not great audience reception. Dalton, who had signed on for three films, made two of them and then opted to leave the franchise after a lengthy hiatus between Bond movies.

Rumors had swirled about Pierce Brosnan joining the exclusive club for Bond actors after Moore stepped down. Brosnan, however, was contractually obligated to the NBC series Remington Steele, which essentially launched the Irish actor’s career, so Dalton was cast instead. With Dalton retired from Bond, Brosnan seized the opportunity with 1995’s GoldenEye, offering a 007 lighter in tone than Dalton’s, existing on the Bond continuum somewhere between Connery’s man’s man and Moore’s ladies’ man. He stayed with the franchise for four successful films. Most assumed he’d be back for a fifth Bond, but Brosnan ultimately retired from the role, just as rumors suggested producers were considering going younger (read: edgier) for the part.

After four years away from the screen, Bond returned in 2006 with Casino Royale and Daniel Craig in the role. It was indeed a grittier Bond that drew influences from the new and more violent super-agent Bourne series, with English actor Craig offering the most human 007 yet. Out were one-liners and in was raw physicality, including a torture scene with Bond tied naked to a chair and whipped from underneath. Audiences and critics welcomed the fresh approach to the aging series as well as the first blond Bond. Craig’s Casino Royale is the highest-grossing film in the franchise, with a nearly $595 million haul worldwide. 2008’s Quantum of Solace was nearly as successful.

While villains could never kill Bond, MGM nearly did, forcing the agent to take a hiatus as the studio sorted through its financial mess in 2010. With the studio’s money problems long resolved, Craig as Bond returns to U.S. theaters Nov. 6 in Skyfall, along with Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes at the helm and Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem as the film’s chief villain, Raoul Silva. It was also recently announced that Grammy-winning singer Adele would croon the film’s title song, scheduled for release today as part of the “James Bond Day” celebration. Late last year it was also announced that the 44-year-old Craig has signed on for five additional Bond films, which would make him the longest-running 007 with eight total James Bond movies.

Does your library need more Bond? Check out the Bond 50 box set, containing all 22 Bond films, on both DVD and Blu-ray.

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