NOBODY ever arrives late for the start of a James Bond film. With box office receipts over five decades showing the equivalent of half the world’s population have thrilled to 007’s exploits in cinemas from Alaska to Christchurch, any true fan knows well the most eye-popping sequence is always right at the beginning.
While this heart-pounding minute has morphed and transformed over the decades, even the first film, Dr No — released 50 years ago on Oct 5, 1962, set the tone for a very different kind of hero manufactured for a new generation.
The first of 23 films, a franchise unequalled by anything else Hollywood has ever produced, it introduced a movie-going world weary of the conservative 1950s to the sun-kissed beaches of Jamaica, clever gadgets programmed to maim, a villain who lived underwater, and enough scantily-clad female flesh to set hearts racing.
Through it all strode the man himself, James Bond, an agent licensed to thrill, kill and cavort like no screen hero ever before. It was the ultimate bachelor fantasy — stylish, racy and progressive — set to the music of a dry vodka martini, “shaken not stirred.”
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Dr No and in anticipation of the worldwide release of the 23rd James Bond adventure, Skyfall, Oct 5 has been designated Global James Bond Day, with a 24-hour series of events for Bond fans around the world.
The activities include a live international charity auction; a global survey to discover the favourite Bond film by country; a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and an exhibition, Designing 007: 50 Years of Bond Style, in Toronto.
Ian Fleming, veteran of numerous covert operations with British naval intelligence during the Second World War, said: “James Bond is the author’s pillow fantasy. It’s very much like the Walter Mitty syndrome — the feverish dream of what he might have been: bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It’s what you’d expect of an adolescent mind, which I happen to possess.” Fleming, who wrote many of the novels at his Jamaican hideaway, Goldeneye, took 007’s name from the ornithologist author of Exotic Birds of the West Indies. “I remember thinking it was the dullest name I’d ever heard, so I appropriated it. It went from being the dullest name in the world to the most exciting one.” It didn’t hurt sales one bit that the US President, John F Kennedy, declared the Bond novels to be amongst his favourite bedtime reading in the White House.
Costing over $1 million to make — a record at the time — Dr No went on to make 20-times its cost when a public ravenous for fantasy queued down the street to experience the exploits of a hero every man wanted to be and every woman wanted to be with. Dressed in Saville Row suits and clutching his trusty Walther PPK pistol, Bond dodged deadly tarantulas, grappled with giant fire-breathing dragons and took on a trio of assassins called the ‘three blind mice’. Then he met Honey Ryder, played by Ursula Andress, a temptress rising from the sea in a white bikini, and setting the carnally cool image that dozens of Bond girls would follow in the decades ahead.
The name was always an important part of the game for Bond girls — with double entendres like Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead and Xenia Onatopp making teenagers giggle and adults chuckle.
Whether stroking a snow-white moggie, or feeding their pet piranhas on a diet of human flesh, the baddies were always as captivating as they were camp. To add a dollop of realism to the fantasy, many of the Bond themes were designed to play into popular concerns of each decade — the space race, the energy crisis, nuclear confrontation, women’s liberation, and drugs. While Bond was banned in Russia and China until relatively recently, Oleg Gordievsky, the head of the KGB station in London before defecting in 1985, claimed part of his job was to fly bootleg copies of the films direct to the Kremlin as soon as they were released. He was also detailed by his bosses at the Supreme Soviet to obtain the secret devices used by Bond in the films.
Daniel Craig is back as Bond in the latest film — this time with his loyalty to M tested as MI6 itself comes under attack. Yet, while the films have become more muscular and action-packed since Pierce Brosnan and Craig took on the mantle, Bond movies remain relatively free of gratuitous violence and gore. And unlike most heroes out there today, 007 will never utter the F word. The John McClanes and Jason Bournes may corner a certain segment of the action man market, but few ever come close to the sophistication and essential Britishness of the man with a licence to kill.
As the theme music builds and the gun barrel tracks the dancing girls between the white dots, you know you’re in for a thrill ride like nothing else.
George Hook, Newstalk
“Without a doubt, Sean Connery has to be the best Bond of them all. I’ve read Ian Fleming’s books many times, and would have to say Connery best represents the hero as originally intended by him.”
John Creedon, host of RTE’s John Creedon Show
“The one I liked best was David Niven in the very first Casino Royale back in 1967.
He had a sense of playfulness about him, a glint in the eye mixed with that essential Britishness so important to the role. I never really went for Connery or Moore, or even our own Pierce Brosnan. They never did it for me.”
Nick Munier, presenter Masterchef Ireland and owner of Pichet
“It had to be Sean Connery as he could crack a joke, crack a skull and flip a bra clip all at the same time.”
An aviatrix-dominatrix and captain of Goldfinger’s all-girl pilot squad, Honor Blackman gave 007 a mature sexiness. At 38, she was the oldest Bond girl.
Plenty O’Toole/Diamonds Are Forever
Lana Wood leans across the roulette table and introduces herself to a distracted Bond. “Hi, I’m Plenty.” He gazes down upon her bounteous bosom and replies: “But of course you are.”
Major Anya Amasova/The Spy Who Loved Me
Barbara Bach played a KGB agent looking to avenge her dead lover — but falls in love with 007 herself. They end up in an escape pod stocked with a bed and a bottle of champagne.
Jinx/Die Another Day
Halle Berry, right, rises from the sea just like Ursula Andress decades before — another agent who teams up with Bond before getting into some deep water.
Solitaire/Live And Let Die
Jane Seymour was a slave to Dr Kananga until Roger Moore used his Rolex saw to cut through the ropes before they became lunch for sharks.