For secret agent, he’s very well known it has to be said and for 40 years Bond, James Bond that is, has been thrilling cinema audiences saving the world from the evil clutches of many a megalomaniac.
When the first James Bond film was released in 1962, cinema goers were instantly hooked, watching in awe as the effortlessly suave Sean Connery took on the metal-handed might of Dr No.
Since then the Bond films have been box office success after box office success, unwittingly changing the course of movie history while remaining an integral part of it.
Later this year we see the release of the 20th Bond film Die Another Day, a landmark that falls nicely in place with the 40th anniversary of the films and the 50th anniversary of Bond creator Ian Fleming writing the first James Bond adventure Casino Royale.
And with Die Another Day, the most successful franchise in film history shows no signs of fading away.
In Pierce Brosnan the film’s makers have an actor that audiences love seeing play this most famous of characters and, according to John Cork, the author of a new history of Bond called James Bond: The Legacy, the new film will “blow people away”.
So what is the secret of his success? How does this man who was so appealing to film goers in the 60s still hold that same appeal to each new generation?
“When Fleming, and later the filmmakers, first created Bond, they managed to create a new type of hero,” explains Cork. “He was a hero who embraced the post-war values of the West.
“But the genius of the Bond filmmakers, is the way they have subtly adjusted the character so that he’s stayed in tune with the times. Updating the stories, updating the technology and fine tuning the character so he’s on the pulse of popular culture.”
As well as retaining the ability to put bums on seats throughout its long history, the Bond franchise has passed on its magic formula to the many action films that have followed in its wake.
“Recently Peter Hunt, who was the editor of the first five Bond films and directed On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, passed away and he really changed the way that action films were edited,” says Cork.
“Up until then action films were generally very long movies, they were edited as if they were an epic. The Bond films changed that by using rapid cutting and time ellipses to make tight, efficient types of films. They created a really different look.
“Also Bond altered the way we watch films. Firstly, he took what were considered B-movies, things like Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes, and made them A films. The Bond films paved the way for studios to understand that they could come out with these types of popular movies and make them huge blockbusters.
“Beyond that, he also changed the way films were exhibited. Before, films didn’t play all over the country. They might play for a couple of weeks in London and then start moving out into the rest of the country. After Goldfinger, films would start to open nationwide very quickly. People began to understand that you could create media tension around a film and get huge audiences for it.”
Such is the impression Bond has made on cinema that some of the most memorable scenes from film history can be found in Bond films. From the first time Sean Connery uttered the words “Bond. James Bond - and a bikini-clad Ursula Andress emerged from the surf in Dr No - a scene which is homaged by Halle Berry in Die Another Day - the Bond franchise has been littered with classic cinematic moments.
The sight of actress Shirley Eaton lying dead on a bed covered in gold paint will always be a striking image, particularly after an urban myth sprung up claiming that Eaton had actually died on the shoot, due to being covered in paint.
But as the very much alive Eaton explains: “I had no paint on the front of me, and then I had two little cones on my breasts, for my own modesty. And tiny mini panties – what we call thongs today. The way director Guy Hamilton filmed it, in the foreground there’s a cushion on the sofa, and the edge of the cushion just covers the thong so I look totally naked.”
Many more classic moments can be mentioned, such as Blofeld and his cat making their first appearance in From Russia With Love, Bond’s 360 degree turn in a car as it drives over a river in The Man With The Golden Gun and Bond’s comment to Pussy Galore that he likes his martinis “shaken, not stirred”. But none are more memorable than those classic opening credits.
“The most striking thing about the Bond films has to be the opening image of looking down the gun barrel and seeing Bond turn and fire,” says Cork. “It’s such an arresting, wonderful, graphic image at the beginning of Dr No and of course it’s been used in every film since. That’s something that, for every Bond fan, makes their pulse quicken as they see those white dots appear across the screen.”
With his startling ability to avoid the fire of bullets, fight off any evil henchman and remain ageless, it seems that Bond’s retirement is a long way off. The fact that, just this summer, many spy films, including The Bourne Identity and XXX, have been released shows that the modern James Bond films are just as influential as their predecessors.
“If you look at the history of film-making, feature films are a little less than 100 years old and Bond has been part of that for 40 years with unparalleled success,” says Cork. “And as long as people value the types of things that the character of Bond embodies then Bond will have an audience.”