On golden Bond: 50 years of sexy espionage

MANILA, Philippines - James Bond was not supposed to have lasted this long.

This British spy has overwhelmed many evil geniuses, their hundreds of henchmen and an array of duplicitous babes he had socked, shot or slept with in the last 5 decades, true. 

But if left to naysayers, the fictional character turned international brand itself was not supposed to have lived past the 20th century, either. 

Not so great expectations

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Sean Connery as James Bond in 1967. Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Sean Connery as James Bond in 1967.

Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

Initially a product of the immediate post-second World War and Cold War eras and of a 1960s that was still enamored with bigger-is-better movie extravaganzas, James Bond (with license-to-kill code number 007) was not expected to remain relevant amid the political and cinematic grit of the ’70s. 

George Lazenby, who had inherited the theatrical 007 mantle from the first and quintessential Bond, Sean Connery, was said to have relinquished the dashing hero’s realm of guns, goons and girls after just one go — 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service — following his and his talent agent’s mutual assessment that the secret agent would soon be obsolete. 

Thanks largely to the comparatively cheeky turn of Roger Moore as the surreptitious gent as well as a penchant for riding the trend of the times (e.g., blaxploitation through Live and Let Die, post-Star Wars sci-fi via Moonraker), James Bond did manage to cruise across what we Filipinos were living through as the Martial Law decade. 

With the changes in cinematic taste from the disco age to the glam-rock times, and with the Soviet Union later on disintegrating, observers mused that the sharp-dressed manhandler had run out of perceivable enemies or was theatrically archaic. 

Thanks in part, however, to the more serious post-Moore turns by Shakespearean thespian Timothy Dalton and then by Remington Steele star Pierce Brosnan multiplied by the universal desire for heightened gunfights and explosions, Bond remained a box-office staple. 

The Bond franchise has also had its share of behind-the-scenes issues — some artistic, others financial, with legal implications all around. 

Most recent of these was the 2010 bankruptcy of film studio/franchise piggy bank Metro Goldwyn Mayer, which then endangered production on what was to be the 50th-anniversary Bond flick, Skyfall

Yet here we are, beholding Skyfall’s rollout in Philippine cinemas, amid worldwide retrospectives and attention to the fella who prefers his vodka martini shaken, not stirred.

Fleming novels turned feisty films

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. James Bond creators already imagined cars that can go underwater in 1977. Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. James Bond creators already imagined cars that can go underwater in 1977.

Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

At first the product of naval intelligence officer turned novelist Ian Fleming’s flaming imagination and dealings with his wartime colleagues, James Bond went on to debut on celluloid via Dr. No on October 5, 1962. 

By then the secret agent had already been in the (reading) public’s eye for 9 years, starting with Fleming’s 1953 novel Casino Royale, the first of what would be the author’s 14 Bond books in all (i.e., 13 novels and one collection of short stories). 

By the time Dr. No became an instant blockbuster, Fleming had already published 10 Bond tomes, with Dr. No itself having come out in print in 1958.

All of Fleming’s Bond tales went on to be adapted via the big-screen franchise — not necessarily faithfully and not necessarily in the books’ chronological order of release. 

When that run out, the Bond books and films went their separate ways, so to speak: the post-Fleming novels have been standalone stories, while the post-’80s Bond movies (with the exception of 2006’s Casino Royale) essayed original storylines. 

While Fleming’s books had been successes, it is via the movies that James Bond truly flourished. 

The man with many “signatures”

LIVE AND LET DIE. A 'flying' speedboat in the 1973 Bond film. Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

LIVE AND LET DIE. A 'flying' speedboat in the 1973 Bond film.

Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

Thanks to cinema’s sight-and-sound power and greater capacity for aesthetic touchstones, the 007 series’ narrative, creative and stylistic possibilities got realized to the hilt. 

Many of the franchise’s storytelling and sensory elements were not just entertaining but also iconic and influential, be it in the sensibilities of double-0 fans or in the parallel movies, TV shows and pop literature that had trailed its heels. 

Some of those signature elements would not get established until the second or 3rd Bond flick — From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, respectively — but Dr. No was already rife with many of them. 

These include the gun-barrel peek at the walking-then-shooting Bond; the Monty Newman-written, John Barry-orchestrated theme music that married grandiose brass and surf-rock guitar; the stylized, graphic-design intro, the Bond villain, the Bond vamps, and the catchy self-introduction “Bond, James Bond.”

Now showing: a cottage industry

LICENSE TO KILL. Timothy Dalton as James Bond in 1989. Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

LICENSE TO KILL. Timothy Dalton as James Bond in 1989.

Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

Bond movies have alternated between being passing fancies and fan favorites, between engaging pop fare and dismal throwaways, but they have hit a nerve with millions of moviegoers worldwide, their craving for more Bond-age after the end credits roll satiated with glee by the producers’ business savvy. 

This has led to soundtrack albums, more books of fiction, a comic strip and home videos, as well as spikes in the sales of Smirnoff, tailor-made suits, fancy cars and even the skimpy bikini — the latter in the wake of Ursula Andress’ fleshy, out-of-the-deep-blue entrance in Dr. No.

Even Bond-like movies became a trend (until settling into action-movie standard status). 

These have ranged from off-shoots of the franchise’s brawn legacy that leaned towards either end of the macho scale, to satirical takes that essentially upped the antics of what was already a nutty concept. 

The Philippines’ king of comedy, the recently departed Dolphy, himself had about half a dozen Bond spoofs circa 1965, including Genghis Bond: Agent 1-2-3, Dr. Yes and a trio of Dolpinger films — and these well before the much-ballyhooed parody-adaptation of Casino Royale starring David Niven and Peter Sellers in 1967.

Alive and shooting

GOLDFINGER. A bowler hat that can slice in 1964. Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

GOLDFINGER. A bowler hat that can slice in 1964.

Image from the James Bond 007 Facebook page

Decades hence, James Bond is alive and well in the global consciousness, and the movie franchise in his name remains the Guinness record holder as cinema’s longest-running. 

Its central figure is officially a golden boy since his big-screen introduction and now nearly marks his diamond jubilee as a literary creation. 

Thanks to the ongoing, Daniel Craig-led reboot that has shed the series’ cartoonish trappings, Bond could well last to his hundredth year, 2062.

But all the tie-ins, merchandise and other by-products aside, Bond’s very resilience ― both as a movie protagonist and as a fictitious character amid thousands of make-believe heroes ― appears to be the secret to the secret agent’s enduring popularity. 

Say what we will about the business shrewdness of the producers who have greenlit the Bondfest inside and outside moviehouses, but there is an admirable, inspiring tenacity to James Bond that has made him a compelling idol worth following through hell and high — sometimes boiling — water. 

His confident gait and suavity may seem irrelevant in a world where humility and modesty are championed, yet these are not ornaments so much as components of a virtual armor, one that can protect its bearer against the wiles of a mad criminal mind or the charms of a double-crossing temptress. 

‘Skyfall.’ Is. Very. Good.

NEW WORLD, OLD FRIENDS. Daniel Craig as James Bond and an Aston Martin DB5. Image from Columbia Pictures

NEW WORLD, OLD FRIENDS. Daniel Craig as James Bond and an Aston Martin DB5.

Image from Columbia Pictures

Skyfall, helmed by Oscar-winning American Beauty director Sam Mendes, pulls these off and more. 

A valuable cast of swell-to-superb actors topbills this 2012 bonanza, including Javier Bardem in a serio-looney turn that might make you go, “Mommy. Was. Very. Bad.” for days on end. 

They, writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, magnificent cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Mendes were clearly aware of maintaining a deft balance between homage to 007 tradition and 21st-century timeliness, while avoiding the potential for outdatedness that now typifies early Bond filmography. 

Sure, James the indefatigable will predictably win out in the end ― a thrill-reducing fate that he shares with another British literary hero, Harry Potter (whose own film franchise is the highest-grossing of all time, with Bond’s in the best man, runner-up spot). 

But with Skyfall, Mendes manages to accentuate with both tasteful subtlety and high-jinks overtness the role Bond has played to countless viewers: a valiant combatant who will work hard to get the job done, in the process pitting his relatively ordinary human strengths against his extraordinary missions and their nut-case proprietors, fitting himself into hairline crevices or making-do with the barest essentials, such as atop or in the path of a moving passenger train, under a moving elevator or amid a densely populated Turkish bazaar — all in the pursuit of an assignment rendered, as Craig says in Skyfall, “with pleasure.”

British cinema and Hollywood themselves would like nothing more than the pleasure of sustaining James Bond —

— Who would always Live and Let Die or Die Another Day and keep punching The Living Daylights out of the Goldfingers, Octopussys or any Man with the Golden Gun...

— While keeping his GoldenEye out for any View to a Kill and ever ready for even the unlikeliest groundswell or Skyfall

Real-life may eventually claim the generations of handlers and viewers of the lucrative 007 franchise, but in the eternal realm of cinema, James Bond is forever. - Rappler.com