JAMES BOND: No Stranger to Adversity

NO TIME TO DIE still James Bond 2021

With the recent death of Sean Connery, and Daniel Craig’s turn ending as the legendary character (whose own retirement is rumored), the Bond franchise could be seeing its biggest revolution to date.  While it’s doubtful the character of Bond himself actually will call it quits, fans are growing restless for the outcome, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the latest film, NO TIME TO DIE (2021), to push its release date twice.  However, the 007 franchise is no stranger to conflict or adversity; originally a book series by Ian Fleming, then a modest American television show CASINO ROYALE (1954), in which “Jimmy” Bond works for the C.I.A., to the franchise fans know today, beginning with DR.NO (1962) and Sean Connery as 007.  Since 1962, there have been seven different Bonds, and around twenty-seven or twenty-five films (depending who you ask), making it one of the longest-running and most robust film franchises in history.  In this time, the series has gone from a campy espionage parody to a dramatic and playful tribute to its roots, now proving itself to be malleable within changing social context.

To say the 007 franchise has a complex history is to say the least. Fleming’s character was inspired by several men he served with in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in WW2.  While the author has always claimed the special agent was named after an ornithological expert, reports from the BBC in April 2019 speculate the inspiration for the name was that of an actual person, James Charles Bond, “who served under naval commander Fleming in the SOE.”  There’s no doubt that the character’s deep roots in secrecy and political espionage fuel much of the franchise’s appeal, but it’s also much of the series’ willingness to play or suspend disbelief that has also given it a certain charm.  That charm can be given almost exclusive credit to Sean Connery’s portrayal of the agent in early days.  Unflinching proof of this could be the failed original American TV series, CASINO ROYALE in 1954.  James “Jimmy” Bond was portrayed by well-respected television and stage actor, Barry Nelson, now remembered, as well, for his role as Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980). The series also featured Peter Lorre as LeChiffre and Linda Christian as Valerie Mathis.  Despite the well revered cast, the series failed to impress critics and audiences, with many under the impression that Bond was miscast.  Nelson would go on to continue his successful career, while Bond would return to his “English” roots.  In his 2012 book, The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies, Dave Thomson says of Connery’s contribution, “Only Connery had insolent touch and tone.  He was upper-class British, if you liked, but he was saucy Scottish, too.”

While Connery was the first successful face of Bond, it was the producers, Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, and the many writers that would build the universe 007 so easily infiltrated and flaunted within.  Kevin McClory would collaborate with Fleming on many of the franchise’s scripts, despite the multiple lawsuits that they would pursue against one another.  Thomson suggests that McClory, however, is the main driving force behind 007’s newfound success and style, writing, “But it was Kevin McClory who had the idea of reappraising the books as espionage parody, with the sex and violence done in an insolent tongue-in-cheek manner.  The pictures had double entendres instead of real dialogue…”  Recent Bond films, especially that of Sam MendesSKYFALL (2012), returned to an “insolent, tongue-in-cheek manner” with Craig’s suave, cheeky delivery, but the films feel the farthest from parody than any others in the franchise.  Fans witness the return of many of 007’s favourite tools, like his classic Aston Martin and beloved berretta and tracker, but the tone is different; these placements are more loving homage, than parody. 

THUNDERBALL James Bond

What’s interesting to note is that nearly every single Bond film has been produced by a Broccoli family member, with the exception of two films, which are non- Eon productions and often face scrutiny as to their place within the universe: CASINO ROYALE (1967) and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983).  Unsurprisingly, each has a mildly dramatic story behind it, the CASINO ROYALE script passing between hands until finally gaining enough funding for production, but also being a patchwork of several directors, including Woody Allen among others, and Val Guest taking main credit.  Produced under Columbia Pictures and featuring David Niven as Bond during Connery’s tenure, CASINO ROYALE is often not considered part of the universe.  NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN’s history is much more complicated.  In simplest terms, McClory and Jack Whittingham had written the script with Fleming years prior, and the project got shelved due to costs.  Fleming turned it into the novel, Thunderball, without crediting McClory or Whittingham.  In 1963, McClory took Fleming to court and won;  Eon productions would let McClory produce the film THUNDERBALL (1965), but work on no other adaptations or versions of the work for a decade after the film was released.  By 1983, McClory had produced and released “essentially a THUNDERBALL remake,” according to Decider.com.  Connery even signed on to reprise the role of Bond for a final time, after having retired from the role since DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER in 1971.  Due to the obvious copyright and production reasons, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN has often been considered an outsider to the franchise despite its critical acclaim.  MGM even faced a lawsuit in 2017 over a boxed DVD set advertising “all the Bond films together for the first time,” which not surprisingly excluded both CASINO ROYALE and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.

Of the actors that would go on to portray the special agent, four would stand out as the main players: Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.  Moore played the agent more than any other actor, with seven films under his belt (although tying with Connery if NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is considered), many of which to high acclaim, including MOONRAKER (1979), a favourite among many.  Moore is remembered for bringing a further sense of humor to the character, with more one-liners and a stockpile of campy mini-gadgets.  Moore would also be set against Connery in the “Battle of the Bonds” when OCTOPUSSY (1983) was released the same year as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN.  Brosnan would be known for his suavity and smooth sophistication more than any other, and would be given much credit for reviving the franchise as it started to fail, with GOLDENEYE (1995) becoming the most successful installment since MOONRAKER.  Not only does the film debut Brosnan’s tenure within the franchise, but also that of Barabara Broccoli’s (Albert Broccoli’s daughter) turn as producer.  It is also worth noting the Goldeneye 007 game for the N64 is considered one of the best games for the console and holds a dear spot in many nostalgic gamers’ hearts.  Brosnan solidified 007’s place in the ’90s and would also carry him into the 21st century, with his final turn as the character in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002) marking the franchise’s 40th anniversary.  The selection of the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Daniel Craig bristled many when it was first revealed, but his performance in CASINO ROYALE (2006) would quickly silence many of his toughest critics, with Roger Ebert even giving the film a complete four stars and led to him dubbing Craig as “The Gold Bond.”  Craig reinvented the face and personality of Bond, no doubt, but it is also the quieter ways in which the franchise has seen a revival that excites classic Bond fans.

SKYFALL promo James Bond

SKYFALL astonished both fans and critics with its sophisticated script and reverence for the franchise- as it should, marking 007’s 50th anniversary- and is considered by many to be one of the best films in the franchise’s entire history.  SKYFALL not only reinvigorated the franchise, reviving both Q and Moneypenny, but also delved into its history.  Fans were able to peek into Bond’s childhood and M’s past, and only just so, but the outcome proved successful, and the franchise saw the return of classic Bond crime syndicate, S.P.E.C.T.R.E. in its next installment, SPECTRE (2015).  While the film didn’t receive quite as much critical acclaim as its successor, it’s widely acknowledged that the Craig tenure has been incredibly successful.  NO TIME TO DIE was originally slated for release in April 2020, and due to the Covid-19 pandemic was pushed to November 2020, and pushed again to April 2021.  Fans will have to wait a little longer to learn the outcome of the character.

Aside from the many changing faces of Bond, there is one key element that remains steadfast throughout the franchise: the Broccolis.  Albert Broccoli signed on Canadian producer, Harry Saltzman to create the Bond franchise; the two of them would produce every Eon- production from DR. NO in 1962 to THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN in 1974.  Broccoli would then produce THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977 to OCTOPUSSY in 1983, on his own; his daughter, Barabara, however was present within the franchise at the age of seventeen, working in publicity for THE SPY WHO LOVED ME to various jobs throughout the franchise until becoming co-producer of Eon in 1990.  Albert would then partner with his stepson Michael G. Wilson, as co-producer at Eon and went on to make  films, A VIEW TO KILL (1985) to A LICENSE TO KILL (1989).  However, Wilson had been present within the franchise consistently since THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and even worked on GODFINGER in 1964; he also managed to executive produce a handful of others, including MOONRAKER.  Following A LICENSE TO KILL, Albert Broccoli stepped down, and now leaves the franchise in the capable hands of Barabra Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson.  The pair have produced every Bond film together since GOLDENEYE, and have showcased their unrelenting ability to evolve the character as the times demand.

As the Broccoli/ Wilson team ventures forward into 007’s future, fans should have little to fear.  It’s clear that the team has literally grown up within the franchise and understand it better than any others could.  They’ve time and again revolutionized the character through bold choices and have reinvented him within his social context time and again.  As Craig ends his time, and fans witness the passing of the first (and some still say best) Bond, and the character’s  seeming conclusion gets pushed further, uncertainty is sure to loom, but if the franchise’s history has taught anything, it’s that 007 is no stranger to adversity.  And will come out on top.

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