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Tuesday
Nov202012

Building a Better James Bond

In 1973, two events caused me an epiphany. The first occurred one afternoon when my Mother bought home the complete set of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels which she had purchased from a local library's used book sale. With casual curiosity, I helped her line them up neatly, in sequence, on our family room bookshelf. I was thirteen at the time and hadn't given James Bond much thought. I knew of James Bond through a few branded lunch boxes I had seen and a plastic toy gun/rifle/briefcase set that a friend of mine received a few years previous as a Christmas present.

At the time, my families TV reception was limited to just three mainstream channels - CBS, NBC, and if you turned our antenna just right, a very snowy ABC. As Bond movies seemed to always run on ABC, my total exposure to the few Seam Connery Bond films , available for viewing at the time, was limited to a few very snowy minutes of Dr. No and Thunderball. For the most part, I was Bond ignorant.

The second event occurred a couple weeks later. While perusing a bin of discounted record albums at our local drug store, I came across the soundtrack for the first Roger Moore bond film, Live and Let Die. The movie-poster-like album cover looked very cool, a departure from the few snowy glimpses of the Sean Connery, black and white, films I had seen. The title song was by written and performed by Paul McCartney, a former Beatle. This was also a departure from the Shirley Bassey covers performed on earlier Bond films - very cool. As the album was discounted to $3.99, I decided to take a chance and buy it.

Upon arriving home, I immediately unwrapped the album and placed it on the turn table. It only took a few minutes of listening to McCartney's title track and the other New Orleans jazz flavored tracks to completely hook me. I carefully examined the liner notes and noticed they contained several images from the film including those of a young Rodger Moore and a very young and sexy Jane Seymour. I was intrigued by the images of Tarot Cards, of voodoo references and other action scenes shot on location on a Caribbean island, in Harlem, and in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I was hooked. I had to know more about Bond.

Watching the movies was out of the question for reasons previously mentioned. There was no HBO, Netflix, or Blockbuster in the early 1970s. But there were those books my Mother bought. The album hadn't completely finished when I started to finger the first of the thin, black, Ian Fleming novels which I had lined up so neatly a few weeks before. I carefully pulled number one, Casino Royale, from the shelf and began to read.

Casino Royale was a real departure from anything I had read before. It was detailed, action packed, violent, sexy, and very adult. This was no Hardy Boys Adventure story and Bond was no Fenton Hardy. What initially impressed me was the mood. The books take place, for the most part, in the 1950s post World War II era. The mood is dark and very serious. The West is immersed in the "Cold War" with the Soviet Union and "spying" is very dangerous and very serious business. But what really interested me was the Bond character. There was a disconnect between the few snowy minutes of the "wise cracking" and seemingly invincible Sean Connery I had seen on TV, and the guy in this book. This guy was darker and more serious. He drank heavily, he took drugs, he got beat up a lot, he got hurt, but most of all he was lonely. Bond lived "the high life" on the company credit card, but he paid a very high price.

As I read through the series a picture of Bond became more complete. Of corse he had lots of women. But his relationships were short by necessity - for the most part, sex only. He was tender with women, but for obvious reasons, didn't "open up" or get close. He was also a perennial "outsider" with regard to the British. He is not English. While his origins are unclear, his father was believed to be from Scotland, his mother from Switzerland. He is orphaned at the age of eleven when his parents die in a mountain climbing accident. Because of his Scottish heritage and his sometimes unorthodox methods, and in spite of his apparent success as a spy, the British elite that ran MI6 never seem to warm to him completely. He is constantly trying to "prove" himself. His origins are not in the "high society" he secretly yearns for, so he compensates by striving to know all things with regard to culture, fashion, and taste, often upstaging his British masters.

The "Book Bond" is no super hero. He's a flawed and damaged man prone to heavy drinking, chain smoking, sexual indulgences and gambling. He gets hurt a lot and several of his stories end with him in the hospital. In fighting situations, he seldom "over powers" his adversaries as much as he "out smarts" them, using common objects as weapons or devising tactical moves that lead to a winning combination.

One by one I finished every Fleming book in the series. Then, one day, a couple years after, my family got cable TV. Wow. Suddenly all the Bond movies I had been missing were available for the watching, without the copious amounts of "snow." One by one I watched each available Bond movie up to and including The Man With the Golden Gun.

At first I was elated just to have my new hero come to life. But I soon realized that to appeal to a broader audience, the Producers had "sold out" to some extent and made the "Movie Bond" a much more "lovable" character. This became a "splinter in my mind." Why had they changed him when the books were so good? Over the years, as one after another Bond movie was released with the same formula, and same departure from the "Book Bond," a personal resentment began to grow. Ian Fleming's Bond was getting lost and no one seemed to care. The gloom of the Cold War was being replaced with car chases and explosions. Action scenes were becoming more and more outlandish and super human. The character was becoming a shallow, shadow of his "Book Self."

What was I to do but continue to suffer through each sequential movie? Of corse I had to see them, even after the movie plots departed entirely from anything Ian Fleming ever imagined. Movie titles weren't even books anymore. The studios were resorting to using Fleming's short stories as main movie titles with no plot similarity except maybe the character names. It was like someone painted a frown on the Mona Lisa and no one seemed to notice.

Then one day while sitting in a theater watching coming attraction trailers, something wonderful happened. A trailer for a new Bond film began to run and it was in "black and white!" My heart raced. Was this the Ian Fleming "Book Bond" coming to the big screen for the first time? As the trailer continued, my excitement intensified as a chiseled Daniel Craig stared down an apparent villain with steely cold and ruthless eyes. Wow! This was it. Finally the public was ready for the real Bond.

As the movie's release date approached, my excitement grew. I told everyone I knew that this Bond "looked" different. This time there would be no "campy jokes" or super hero antics. This was going to be the "real" Bond, the serious Bond, the "Book Bond."

Well, needless to say, you can imagine my abject disappointment when a few short minutes into the "new" Casino Royale, Daniel Craig suddenly morphed into color and participated in the standard Bond "chase" opening, jumping from buildings and cranes. I felt violated. This was bullshit. Although I felt Daniel Craig was the closest Bond to the book character, the movie was a retread of the same old "super hero" formula. Where was SMERSH? Who were these African guys with all this cash? Why was M a woman for Christ sake? And Texas Holdem', Seriously? Don't these people know, or can't they remember, Bond plays baccarat and smokes ciggerates?

I write this in the aftermath of the latest Bond film, Skyfall. Of course I saw it. My wife has a thing for Daniel Craig. Doesn't every woman? It wasn't a bad film, it just wasn't a "Book Bond" film. Although, I must admit, I enjoyed the film, I continue to be disappointed that the Bond character departs from the books.

If Barbara Broccoli, or Michael G. Wilson the producers of the current Bond movies are reading, please consider the following suggestions.

  • Please make a retro Bond film.
  • Please film it in black and white. (the whole film)
  • Stay true to the Bond character. He's not a "wise cracking," super hero, he's a flawed and lonely man.
  • Stay true to the period, like the TV series Madmen, it should be chauvinistic, women are secretaries, not super spies or kung fu fighters. M is a man.
  • Make it dark. It's the Cold War and times are serious.
  • Remember that Bond plays baccarat and smokes a lot.
  • Bond doesn't have to "get the girl," and ride or float off into the sunset. Don't be afraid to make a tragedy.
  • You don't have to spend $200,000,000, a small budget will be fine because you don't need all the spectacular chases, action scenes, or explosions! The "mano-a-mano" scenes are always the best scenes anyway.
  • If you don't want to do the film yourself because you doubt it will make any money, sell the rights for one book, for one time only, to an independent studio. You may be surprised.

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