He rides around in an Aston-Martin automobile with optional seat ejector. He sports a fancy wristwatch with poisoned darts. He straps a flying jet pack to his shoulders to escape his foes. He carries a gas-spewing briefcase, which he uses to fight villains with steel teeth. He dodges bowler hats with deadly metal headbands.
Oh, and his name is Bond.
What is it about James Bond that attracts movie audiences so? Here we are, 50 years since the first feature-length Bond flick, Dr. No (1962), made cinematic history with then-unknown Scottish actor, Sean Connery, in the part that made him an international sensation.
As the dog days of summer drag on interminably into balmy autumn, we approach yet another in the long line of action-adventure fables featuring the intriguingly numbered 007.
The latest entry in the series — number 21, by the official count — is titled Skyfall, set for a November 2012 release. It stars British-born Daniel Craig, who, in 2005, was raked over the internet coals (not a bad torture device, eh, Mr. Bond?) by fans and protesters alike for the producers’ poor choice of candidate to reenact England’s ace of spies. Craig was not the first to be received in such an indelicate manner.
The dashing Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, 1987; Licence to Kill, 1989), playing a more deadly serious Bond than audiences were willing to sit still for, lasted all of two pictures. He had a much better track record than Connery’s first replacement, former model George Lazenby. After completing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, Lazenby’s wooden performance, and zero-sum sex appeal, were rewarded with his being permanently dropped from the role.
In 1995, Eon Productions reverted to their original choice to go with Irishman Pierce Brosnan, of the hit TV series Remington Steele. Since his “hit” went off the air in the late 1980s, Brosnan had been floundering as a leading man in such clunkers as The Deceivers and The Lawnmower Man, and as the hapless boyfriend in the Robin Williams vehicle, Mrs. Doubtfire. He eventually got to play the role that many in the film industry felt should have been his all along, after the aging Roger Moore, Connery’s second and longest-lasting replacement, stepped down in 1986.
But after four successful sojourns in the part (GoldenEye, 1995; Tomorrow Never Dies, 1997; The World is Not Enough, 1999; Die Another Day, 2002), the owners of the Bond franchise decided Brosnan was getting a bit long in the tooth (he was in his early 50s) to be 007. Soon afterwards, Brosnan relinquished the role to the steely-eyed Craig, who went on to star in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale, as well as in Quantum of Solace (2008).
Will the latest torchbearer for author Ian Fleming’s globetrotting, troubleshooting secret agent be the last of that distinguished line? Don’t bet on it! Fleming penned some fourteen or so Bond stories, in addition to other writers who contributed a number of features for other publications — presumably, enough works to keep the legend alive for additional screen showings.
But in all that time, what have we learned about the character Fleming created? What is it that we find so fascinating about James Bond that has kept up our interest in him for over five decades?
Is it his license to kill, the fact that he can kill with total impunity? Take a look at our own fascination with killers in general. The O.J. Simpson and Laci Peterson cases, for example, were proof enough of our voyeuristic tendencies to view killers, whether proven or otherwise, and their acts of aggression with an almost religious reverence. The one who can kill at will without fear of reprisal is indeed a person to be feared and, to some extent, respected.
But do we fear and respect Bond? Do we go to the movie theater out of fear and respect for this man? Considering the current cost of going to the local multiplex, it’s a pretty steep price to pay for fear and respect.
Perhaps what we feel is admiration for his control over his destiny and for his possession of the elusive secret of life and death. We seem to savor the times Bond has had to use that formidable arsenal of his against dastardly fiends, who seem intent upon either conquering the world or destroying it — their exact motives having been jumbled somewhat by the screenwriters.
Would we still admire him if he appeared in a New York City subway station and suddenly opened fire on an unsuspecting booth attendant, after standing on an interminable line to purchase a few random Metrocards? He has a license for that gun, you know. I wonder what we would think… Maybe we would break into applause.
Is it his way with women? Surely, Bond is a charming enough rogue in his own right without that license to kill. The fact that he has been permanently “neutered,” which prevents him from ever impregnating any of those long-legged lasses he’s so often taken to bed, appears to be a skill we might find fascinating.
But what kind of a role model is Bond for today’s young males? Looking at the filmed record of his sexual exploits, in only one movie has 007 ever gotten married (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and that marriage didn’t last the duration of the picture: his wife was killed in the end — a divorce would have proved far less dramatic. There was only one film in 20 that showed Bond in any kind of a relationship that even approached monogamy (The Living Daylights).
Is it normal, then, for our fantasy hero to sleep with every woman he meets, whether she’s a femme fatale or a simple snack between meals? Is it acceptable for us to acknowledge that since he can never father a child by any of his conquests, it will be “perfectly fine” for him to continue on his merry way; to flaunt responsibility for his actions to the winds, without regard to the social consequences?
This is definitely not a modernist viewpoint. Since he’s been so busy in the boudoir, how come Bond never sees an urologist? Surely, with all that nocturnal activity down there sooner or later the pipes are bound to get clogged up. Shouldn’t he take better care of the one part of his equipment that can’t be replaced by another actor? Do we even care if he does? I like to think we do.
Is it his macho swagger? In his first foray as Bond, Sean Connery displayed a bumper crop of machismo, along with other facets of the character’s personality — arrogance, cruelty, greed, lasciviousness, vanity — not always evident in later films. He also had the hairiest chest of any Bond actor around.
But then, isn’t Connery Scottish? Don’t Scottish men have less chest hair than, say, Italian men? What would an Italian Bond look like? Choose any nationality and ask whether we measure our fascination with this fellow by the number of curlicues we can draw on his right pectoral muscle? Could this have something to do with his appeal?
What about the other Bonds who were more bare-chested – Daniel Craig among them? Does not having chest hair decrease our fascination for him? If we had known that Ian Fleming originally conceived James Bond as a cross between songwriter Hoagy Carmichael and singer Frank Sinatra (with a scar running down his cheek, no less), would that have changed our view of his creation?
Would we shudder to learn that, of all people, Woody Allen once played Jimmy Bond, 007’s bumbling nephew, in 1967’s Casino Royale? I don’t think fans bothered to notice that Woody even had a chest, much less one with mattes of hair over it. (Move over, Austin Powers!)
How about those amazing gadgets? In almost every Bond flick we are treated to a dizzying display of technological toys and pre-Star Wars inventions, used as a leg up on his various nemeses – the majority of whom have clandestine ties to the mysterious “other side.”
That “other side” was once known as the Soviet Union. Indeed, Bond was a figment of the Cold War mentality; he was a British subject created by a British subject for the perpetuation and dissemination of the ideal democratic (read: British) way of life. Wasn’t there a fellow named Superman who did the same thing over here?
We citizens of the former British colonies needed all the help we could get in combating the Evil Empire. But now that the Evil Empire is no more, of what use are all those gadgets? Could they serve a more peaceful purpose? Do we know of any business executives who could use a gas-spewing briefcase? I could probably name a few politicians who’d be wise to carry one around when visiting their constituencies.
We do desire that Aston-Martin, though, and we all envy Bond’s ability to manipulate those inventions and do whatever he commands of them. By this, he gains dominance over his environment and continues to exude his control over it. Now that’s something to admire!!
Finally, are we fascinated by his dangerous adventures? In every one of his films Bond recklessly risks life and limb in a perilous pursuit of… what, exactly? Yes, we know he intends to stop Goldfinger from blowing up Fort Knox (Goldfinger, 1964); we know he has to demolish Blofeld’s secret volcano fortress before Blofeld blows up the globe (You Only Live Twice, 1967); and we know he has to put a dent in the drug trade by beating up those nasty old Harlem crime lords (Live And Let Die, 1973). But why does he do it?
If Bond was originally drawn to be so cruel as to treat his women as sex objects, while displaying a ravenous disdain for them; if he dispatches his enemies with a blink of his eyetooth, why should he care about the state of the world in general? Why should he save the U.S. from total annihilation or the British Isles, for that matter? All for Her Majesty’s sake?? Why should such an apparently unfeeling, uncaring man want to make a difference in this world? For all we know, he could blow up the Earth himself. Who could stop him? Who would dare to…?
Looking again at the filmed record, Bond has managed to sustain an enviable string of narrow escapes, near brushes with death, and split-second survivals to an astounding degree for a human being. We can really admire that!!!
James Bond has completely endeared himself to our psyche. He seems to represent man in all stages of life: crawling on all fours, walking on two legs, kicking his opponents in the groin, and running away from them. Man inventing his toys – nay, using them — to thwart his enemies, and then disposing them at will. Man acting like God.
Could Bond represent all that we dared to dream about in our youth, yet were never able to attain in our boring, humdrum lives? Could he be acting out those daydreams we had as children, dreams that were later shattered by the reality we had to face as grown-ups?
Could he be primal man — the guileless fool? The last pure innocent before the world became corrupted by sin? Adam before Eve — Adam with Eve, having the time of his life in Paradise, while carving up the Serpent for lunch… with a nuclear-powered carving knife, of course. It wouldn’t be Bond without it. ¤
Copyright © 2012 by Josmar F. Lopes