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James Bond at 50

By Oscar Milde in Culture
Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 09:33:42 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

Fifty years have passed since Ian Fleming sat down at his typewriter and began to develop the most famous secret agent in the history of literature. One year later, a lucky British public first glimpsed James Bond standing alone by a roulette wheel (where else?) amid the elegant baroque of the casino at Royales-les-Eaux, observing the enemy.

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling -- a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension -- becomes unbearable, and the senses awake and revolt from it. James Bond suddenly knew that he was tired. He always knew when his body or his mind had had enough, and he always acted on the knowledge."

From the opening pages of Casino Royale, 007 had it all: the sophistication we envied, the danger we dreamed of, the girls we desired, the life we wanted. The fingerprints of Fleming's style -- an apparent worldliness, a precise sense of physical sensation, the urgency of the man alone -- were already there. By the time Fleming died in 1964, he'd created in 14 books a mythological hero, one of the greats of the century, for Bond is part Sherlock Holmes, part Indiana Jones. Though the Bond films will probably go on forever and a series of book sequels may well have gone on too long, we should celebrate his anniversary by looking back fondly at the original: the British secret agent licensed not only to kill, but virtually to print money. How, after all this time and tens of millions of copies sold, do Ian Fleming's novels measure up? Can an outdated book-Bond ever hope to withstand an up-to-date film-Bond?

There is a big difference, of course. The films, which started out as faithful adaptations of the books, became silly self-parodies. Film-Bond turned into a tuxedo-clad version of Superman, or perhaps even more aptly, of Batman.

Timothy Dalton's and Pierce Brosnan's occasional attempts to bring the film character back to the novels notwithstanding, book-Bond remains a more complex character, and his exploits are human and attainable. Eric Ambler, arguably the finest thriller writer ever, once said the he thought the Bond books "definitely deserve to be read as literature." Anthony Burgess went further, and named Goldfinger one of the 99 best English novels since 1939, describing Bond as "a patriotic lecher with a tinge of Scottish Puritanism in him, a gourmand and amateur of vodka martinis, a smoker of strong tobacco who does not lose his wind... against... megalomaniacs."

Who is James Bond? A civil servant, possibly born in November, 1924, he entered the employ of the Ministry of Defence at age 17, going to the Secret Service, MI6, after the war. He performs his duties, according to his superior, M, "with outstanding bravery and distinction," though "with a streak of the foolhardy." He likes his eggs boiled for precisely three-and-a-third minutes, and definitely smokes too much, a blend of Balkan and Turkish tobaccos custom-made for him. (At three packs a day, they must crowd his suitcase on long assignments.) He stands a little bit over six feet and weighs about 167 pounds; he lives in a comfortable flat in a cul-de-sac off the King's Road in Chelsea, on an income (mid-1950's) of 2,500 GBP a year (roughly equivalent in buying power to US$100,000 today). At least one woman notices a resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael, though it's hard to see this in "the dark, rather cruel good looks" or "the thin vertical scar down his right cheek" or "the hint of anger in his grey-blue eyes."

He is, however, emphatically not a spy: his job never involves stealing state secrets, blueprints for weapons, etc. (The closest he comes to traditional espionage is receiving a stolen Russian cipher machine in From Russia, With Love. He is a secret agent, a loaded gun sent out to enact the will of his government without being caught. His ancestors are neither the actual Sigmund Rosenblum ("Reilly, Ace of Spies" fame) or John Buchan's fictional Richard Hannay (The 39 Steps), but Sapper's Bulldog Drummond and Somerset Maugham's Ashenden.

Despite some tentative passages -- Fleming grew considerably as a writer in the first few books -- Casino Royale still stands up as one of the best 007 novels. Bond has been sent to the slightly faded French casino to win a 50 million-franc game of baccarat against Le Chiffre, a Soviet agent, French labor organizer and eventual victim of SMERSH, the Soviet organization for counter-espionage (Fleming's version of a section of the KGB under Beria; Fleming implicates SMERSH as the killer of Trotsky). The prose is uneven, but always vividly detailed: scene after scene are imprinted on the memory. Le Chiffre's "obscene" Benzedrine inhaler and the carpet beater which he uses to torture Bond's testicles. The precise gestures of the card games -- no one has bettered Fleming at conveying the mano a mano drama of "polite" competitions like golf, bridge, vingt-et-un. The two Bulgar assassins blown up by a camera bomb (based on an actual event from WWII). And cool, dark-haired Vesper Lynd, first of the Bond heroines, "with a touch of ironical disinterest which, to his annoyance, he found he would like to shatter roughly."

The book, published by Jonathan Cape with a first printing of 4750, was generally applauded by the British press and sold well enough for a second printing. The Listener hailed it as "supersonic John Buchan," and the Sunday Times called it "an extremely engaging affair," saying Fleming could become the best English thriller writer since Ambler if he could make his work more probable. The Spectator found it "lively, most ingenious in detail... except for a too ingeniously sadistic bout of brutality." A year later, when the novel came out in the US, it fared worse, and sales were poor. Anthony Boucher wrote, in the New York Times Book Review, that Fleming "pads the book out to novel length, leading to an ending which surprises no one but Bond himself." He did, however, admire the gambling scenes.

Thereafter, a new Bond book appeared each spring -- at the tail end of the British Empire and the beginning of the British welfare state. Bond would prove a welcome antidote to both conditions. An independent, powerful Everyman who sweats at the idea of his plane crashing, he is tied down to neither one setting nor to one woman, though he remains selflessly loyal and gallant towards the heroine of each novel. (The films' formula of three per adventure, with one discarded or dead, one definitely dead, and one in his arms at the end is a product of the screenwriters. Likewise with the gadgets. The only sophisticated toys in the books are Bond's Aston Martin in Goldfinger (much lower-profile than in the film) and Nash's lethal copy of Tolstoy in From Russia, With Love.)

So the world of the books is not that of John Le Carré, who crested the '60s 007 wave with his complex, heightened realism, nor of Ambler's cold, neutral political savvy. We are much closer to the romantic era of The Scarlet Pimpernel or even Gilbert & Sullivan. He is the last British hero burdened with the weighty myth of empire.

Fleming himself, well after success arrived in spades, defended his creation: "Bond is not a hero, nor is he depicted as being particularly likeable.... He's not a bad man, but he's ruthless and self-indulgent. He enjoys the fights -- he also enjoys the prizes.

"In fiction, people used to have blood in their veins. Nowadays, they have pond water. My books are just out of step. But then, so are the people who read them... intelligent, uninhibited adolescents of all ages, in trains, aeroplanes, and beds..."

As the poet Philip Larkin has pointed out, what strikes one first about the novels today is "their unambiguous archaic decency. So far from being orgies of sex and sadism, as some academics have protested, the books are nostalgic excursions.... England is always right, foreigners are always wrong.... Girls are treated with kindness and consideration, lust coming a decorous third. Life's virtues are courage and loyalty, and its good things an aristocracy of powerful cars, vintage wines, exclusive clubs, the old Times, the old five-pound note, the old Player's packet."

Indeed, the only double agent I can find is Vesper Lynd, who obliges the Secret Service and Bond by committing suicide ("The bitch is dead now.") Just as wogs begin in Calais, the villains are always foreign: Russians, Bulgars, Germans, Koreans, Mexicans, Corsicans, Chinese, Yugoslavs, Americans. And they are always memorable: Doctor No with his metal hands and a heart on the wrong side of his body. Auric Goldfinger with his flaming red hair and mania for gold. Blofeld with his clinical love of death in all its forms. Sir Hugo Drax with his country manners and cheating at cards. Some of these villains try to pass themselves off as British. They always fail.

When Ian Lancaster Fleming (1908 - 1964) built a simple house he called Goldeneye above a private cove near the tiny banana port of Oracabessa on Jamaica's north coast, he was hardly a writer. After a respectable war career in Naval Intelligence (his duties resembled M's more than 007's) he settled down to the London world of journalism, with the proviso that he be given two month's leave each winter. He would spend every winter at Goldeneye from 1946 until his death. "Would these books have been written if I was not in the gorgeous vacuum of a Jamaican holiday? I doubt it." It was on his seventh sojourn that Fleming conjured his secret agent, the man of action who was really a vicarious dream self.

Of Scots ancestry (like Bond), Fleming had been a top athlete on the playing fields of Eton (like Bond) but never graduated (ditto). Without his father around -- killed in WWI -- and outshone by his elder brother Peter (the explorer who wrote one of the great travel books of the Thirties, Brazilian Adventure), Ian had a reputation for women and cars by the time he dismissed himself from Sandhurst, England's West Point. In the Austrian Tyrol, then Munich and Geneva, he skied and played at being a young intellectual on the way to a career in the Foreign Office -- but failed the exam. He went to Moscow as Reuters correspondent. By 1933, he was back in London, as a stockbroker. He stayed there until the war.

Despite later claims made by Fleming, his career in Naval Intelligence, as assistant to Admiral Godfrey, was mainly administrative. A colleague recalled him in the war years as "a young fashionable man about town... fastidious about dress, which the old salts of the Admiralty viewed with scorn." After the war, he landed a plum job, as Foreign Manager for the Sunday Times.

The same fastidiousness flavors the novels; part of their success was the cultivated veneer of sophisticated knowledge. This was Fleming the journalist at work, going to experts for his information, for as many friends pointed out, it was hard to think of any subject on which he could be called an expert.

All this time, he was known for his philandering ways: he was far less protective of women than was Bond. His brother's success and his own past as something of a black sheep still followed him.

If he could not quite be a successful man of action, he would invent one. As John Pearson puts it in his perceptive biography of Fleming, "When [Bond] looks in the mirror, we see how closely Fleming identifies himself.... James Bond is Ian Fleming daydreaming in the third person." Pearson makes this point firmly: Bond is essentially "this odd man's weird obsession with himself."

When Fleming finally fell, it was for another man's wife, Lady Anne Rothermere. Soon Fleming was nicknamed "Lady Rothermere's fan" in Fleet Street circles; her husband was a newspaper magnate. And in late January, 1952, with ten weeks of Jamaican sunshine before marriage and the end of his bachelorhood, he sat down in front of a battered Royal typewriter and brought James Bond to life. Can it be a mere coincidence that just as Bond dreams of asking Vesper to marry him, she frees him by committing suicide?

Casino Royale, utterly unplanned, took Fleming barely two months to write. The hero's name was appropriated from "one of my Jamaican bibles, Birds of the West Indies by James Bond, an ornithological classic," he once wrote, "I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find. James Bond seemed perfect."

Casino Royale's immediate successors fared as well as the original: sales were moderate until, following the 1956 Suez Crisis, the visit of soon-to-be-resigned Prime Minister Anthony Eden to Goldeneye brought a flurry of attention in the UK, and the snowball began rolling. A similar exposure occurred in 1961, when President Kennedy named From Russia, With Love as one of his favorite books.

In our time, it's hard to see how the books could have shocked: they pall before the vindictive sadism of, say, Mickey Spillane, and Bond takes his fair share of the suffering. A list of 007's injuries would include nerve poisoning, having his genitals mangled, his hand carved up, his little finger broken, a shoulder gnawed by a barracuda, and his spine rubberized by a traction machine, plus assorted knife wounds, burns, and the odd bullet.

Unlike today's screen hero, when Bond gets hurt, he goes to the hospital. In the course of his adventures, he is hurt so repeatedly, it is a wonder he could please any woman, much less one as demanding as Pussy Galore, Solitaire Latrelle, Tiffany Case, Honeychile Rider, and Tatiana Romanova. The books' heroines are always integral to the plot, not a mere adjunct; several times they save Bond's life. Though beautiful, they usually have a qualifying flaw: a broken nose, a limp, a difficult past, which arouses Bond's sympathy along with his lust. (His behavior is invariably gallant and gentlemanly.) They are of a type: usually a "bird with one wing down," often semi-naked on first encounter, outdoor girls or elegant dressers, independent yet needful of Bond's protection, and aware that he is a man which they cannot hold. He is almost always either the first real man in their lives, or their last.

After the first seven books, Fleming began to "run out of puff." This was part ennui and part ill health. But it was no coincidence that the books' decline in energy commences around the time of the first Bond films. Fleming had dreamed of bestsellerdom; when fame came, it exhausted and rankled. In interviews, Fleming referred to Bond as "a cardboard dummy" or a "blunt instrument" and to his books as "piffle."

Fleming had long had his eye on the big film money, and for years offers came and went. Casino Royale was initially filmed as an hour-long American television program featuring an American secret agent named Jimmy Bond and his British associate Clarence Leiter. In 1961, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli formed EON Productions and acquired options on all but two of the books for a guaranteed payment of US$100,000 per film plus 5% of the producers' profits. It was, for them and Broccoli's heirs, a steal.

Shortly before Fleming's death, film-Bond began to replace book-Bond, in the powerful image of Sean Connery, as 007 became one of Britain's most successful exports of the '60s, rivaling the Beatles and the miniskirt. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of these movies, the most popular film series ever, and not just financially. In every man born after 1930, there almost surely exists some part of his psyche which wants to be James Bond.

Fleming died of his second heart attack in August, 1964, mere months before the release of Goldfinger, when the Bond boom exploded, and paperback sales multiplied many times over. It was estimated at his death that he had earned close to US$3 million from the books. The sale earlier that year of a controlling interest in his private company, Glidrose Publications, for a tenth that figure meant that his heirs would miss most of the really big money over the succeeding decades.

The Fleming empire tried to satisfy readers' lust for more Bond. By far the most successful sequel appeared in 1968. Colonel Sun by "Robert Markham" (really Kingsley Amis, a friend of Fleming's). Despite its success, no other Bond appeared until 1981, when Glidrose brought British mystery novelist John Gardner in to take up the mantle with Licence Renewed. This effort has been followed by, at this moment, 13 others by Gardner and an additional six by American Bond-phile Raymond Benson, and has overtaken Fleming, at least in shelf-space. One does not have to read far, though, to appreciate the original. Their Bond really is a cardboard dummy, and they owe more to the film tradition. Though Fleming's self-confessed goal was making money, his books don't read that way; Regrettably, Gardner's and Benson's do.

Often, the popular myth of a writer's life overshadows his work. Bond, however, has almost totally erased Fleming; it is through the films, rather than the books, that 007 saga provides a worldwide image of a man of action. (Perhaps, after a suitable time has passed, the films will have aged like Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes series, and we may live to see them nostalgically refilmed for future generations.) Still, the books have gone in and out of print in recent years (Penguin recently reissued them in the UK, with US trade paperbacks due later this year; Penguin's website will ship them anywhere in the world.)

What, in the end, makes book-Bond more compelling than film-Bond? Can it be simply that he is more like us, even while against overwhelming odds? That, like Sherlock Holmes, despite his many victories, he carries with him the possibility of failure? For the last word, let's turn to the man himself:

"Bond had always been a gambler.... He liked it that everything was one's own fault. There was only oneself to blame. Luck was a servant and not a master. Luck had to be accepted with a shrug or taken advantage of up to the hilt. But it had to be understood and recognized for what it was and not confused with a faulty appreciation of the odds, for, at gambling, the deadly sin is to mistake bad play for bad luck. And luck, in all its moods, had to be loved and not feared."

Useful Links

There are many sites devoted to Agent 007. Unfortunately most are devoted to the films. There are some, however that give the books their due.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Favorite James Bond novel?
o Casino Royale 6%
o Moonraker 8%
o From Russia, With Love 13%
o Goldfinger 6%
o Other Fleming 3%
o Something by another author (Amis, Wood, Gardner, or Benson) 3%
o There are Bond books? 32%
o Not a Bond fan 26%

Votes: 61
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Hoagy Carmichael
o Goldeneye
o Peter
o Birds of the West Indies
o Penguin's website
o Kimberly Last's site
o Her Majesty's Secret Servant
o alt.fan.ja mes-bond newsgroup
o Rhino's examination of the connections
o The Ian Fleming Foundation
o Also by Oscar Milde

Display: Sort:
James Bond at 50 | 55 comments (46 topical, 9 editorial, 2 hidden)
The Bond movies... (2.20 / 10) (#3)
by DeadBaby on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 04:32:43 PM EST

Are possibly the most boring, mind numbing non-sense I've ever seen. I've yet to actually make it through a Bond movie I'm proud to say.

I really don't understand what people see in them, maybe the first handful of times there was some charm to living out boy-hood fantasies about international espionage but once they started approaching the decade mark you'd think the viewing public would start to realize it was the same EXACT movie with slightly different plot elements.

Maybe the original writings were better but thanks to 20+ years of abuse from Hollywood they whole franchise is a joke just awaiting a bullet in the head (or a box office bomb) to end the madness.
"Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity -- in all this vastness -- there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us." - Carl Sagan

An interesting article (4.00 / 2) (#7)
by leviramsey on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 04:59:03 PM EST

...from a site linked to in the article can be found here. It's essentially Umberto Eco's take on the Bond formula.

[ Parent ]
The Formula (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by jmzero on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 05:31:06 PM EST

From the article you mention, the coveted Bond formula:

A. M moves and gives a task to Bond
B. Villain moves and appears to Bond (perhaps in vicarious form)
C. Bond moves and gives a first check to Villain or Villain gives first check to Bond
D. Woman moves and shows herself
E. Bond takes Woman (possesses her or begins her seduction)
F. Villain captures Bond (with or without Woman, or at different moments)
G. Villain tortures Bond (with or without Woman)
H. Bond beats Villain (kills him, or kills his representative or helps at their killing)
I. Bond, convalescing, enjoys Woman, whom he then loses

Which would you rather watch, the above or:

A. Person with secret, usually male, meets person of opposite sex.
B. Courting proceeds, secret holder lies.
C. Secret holder is found out, or admits truth.
D. Brief period of estrangement
E. Couple reunites.

Some of you might be tempted to say neither, but I have to say the latter is the much greater evil.  The former at least benefits in that it's possible to rearrange the order and there's a few more steps.

"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

Eco also notes (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by leviramsey on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 05:36:57 PM EST

that there's substantial rearrangement. Doctor No is the only one of the novels which follows an ABCDEFGHI plot. Goldfinger is, for example, BCDEACDFGDHEHI.

[ Parent ]
Bond has some great moments (4.75 / 4) (#8)
by jmzero on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 05:04:30 PM EST

Sometimes Bond has some really great moments.  I like the audacity of chasing a diving plane through the air and ending up in the cockpit just in time to pull up.  Similarly, there's something morbidly amusing about Bond choking a woman to death with her bikini top.  And what's more spectacular than 50 trillion "highly trained ninjas" rapelling down to the inside of a volcano, dying en masse?

Sometimes Bond is good simply because it's so bad.  Only in this franchise can Sean Connery be thought of as a good actor.  Remember Denise Richards in the part of "pouty, dazed automaton" a couple years ago?  Unforgettable.

Bond movies are, on average, certainly better than much action blockbuster fare - at least  they don't ask us to watch Tom Cruise trying out his new "Blue Steel" look.
"Let's not stir that bag of worms." - my lovely wife
[ Parent ]

Part of Bond's quality (5.00 / 4) (#10)
by Dave Madsen on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 05:16:06 PM EST

...stems from the attitude of the production crew. For the most part, Bond films are not done by greats of the cinema (an exception can be found in the areas of production design and music... John Barry, David Arnold, Ken Adam, and Peter Lamont are recognized masters of their fields), but they do tend to keep the same crew around. Large numbers of people have worked on 5, and a few appear in the credits for at least 10.

The Bond producers (mainly Cubby Broccoli) have always maintained an attitude that no one is bigger than Bond. Thus auteur directors are not considered for the job. This is why Spielberg didn't get to direct a film (he ended up doing Raiders of the Lost Ark after he was essentially told that there was no chance of him making a Bond film. It's highly unlikely that John Woo will ever direct a Bond film (he was a candidate at at least one point, though). The typical Bond director is a British (or at least Commonwealth; the producers are resistant to the idea of an American directing Bond) citizen who has done some lower key film work, possibly television, and is competent, but not exceptional. The writers are hired to essentially put the producers' basic idea on paper, and paid well, but not exceptionally so. The current writers, Purvis and Wade, though, are using Bond as a springboard to other things.

Writer, Kuro5hin.org
[ Parent ]
The books are unquestionably better (4.50 / 2) (#21)
by davidduncanscott on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 10:44:15 PM EST

Let me put it this way -- about the most complex gadget that I can recall (off the top of my head,anyway) from any of the books is a stilleto built into a woman's shoe. The "Bondmobile" was generally a pre-war Bentley, and he carried a little bitty Beretta through most of them (later changed to a Walther P38). No rocket-belts, no flying submarine cars, not even a lot of saving the world, really, just gun- and fist-fights and beautiful women and Dunhill lighters.

It's not great literature, but it's a pretty good read, and except for the names of the women (Pussy Galore? Kissy Suzuki?) I'll take any of the first five or so Bond novels over anything out of Robert Ludlum, and even the bad Bond is better than Clive Cussler (of course, moldy cereal boxes make better reading than Cussler.)

For a worse example of what movies do to books, get a barf bag and rent one of the Matt Helm movies, and then read one of those books.

Hollywood doesn't buy books. Hollywood buys titles.

[ Parent ]

The Bond films aren't as bad (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by leviramsey on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 11:27:41 PM EST

...as other book->movie adaptations. The Bond films continue to use elements from the novels in the plots (for instance, Drax's basic scheme of destroying London as a revenge for WWII, is updated to provide Trevelyan's scheme in Goldeneye (nuclear missile has been replaced by EMP satellite, and his nationality has been changed from German to Cossack). Even the upcoming Bond film, Die Another Day, will feature a scene at Blades, which, given the (since changed) Gala Brand bit, indicates to me that Moonraker's bridge game will be incorporated, only with fencing instead of bridge (bridge being a somewhat boring game).

The Bond producers have veered back and forth between being reasonably faithful to the books and not. SInce 1981, with maybe two exceptions (A View to a Kill and Tomorrow Never Dies), I'd say that the Bond of the films is recognizably the Bond of the books, though maybe slightly more promiscuous and with slightly more humor.

[ Parent ]
Simple (4.25 / 4) (#32)
by carbon on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 02:20:19 AM EST

James Bond movies are cool, beacuse James Bond is cool. That's all there is to it; there isn't supposed to be plot, there isn't supposed to be character depth, there isn't supposed to be subtle dialogue and theme.

It's supposed to be cool, and that's exactly what it does and why it's popular: emphasis and exploration of that single aspect of coolness. Bond is unruffled while doing the impossible, relied upon by everyone and relying upon nobody. If you don't agree or don't find that aim matches your taste (as you seem to be saying), then don't watch the movies. But merely understand it's not trying to be Casablanca or Forrest Gump or The Matrix or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon:

It's just cool, and that's all there is to it.

Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
an emblem of his coolness (3.00 / 1) (#35)
by johnny on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 07:29:27 AM EST

One of the movies starts with Bond on a waterscooter going at high speed to some formal evening affair. He's wearing an impeccably tailored tuxedo and his shiney black shoes are 1 inch above the water, bone dry.

It's funny that I don't even recall whether there was some gorgeous babe sitting behind him. As noted elsewhere, there are varieties of gorgeous babes in the Bond movies, and the one who appears in the opening scene is only an accessory anyway, so it makes sense that I don't recall whether she was there or not.

yr frn,
Get your free download of prizewinning novels Acts of the Apostles and Cheap Complex Devices.
[ Parent ]

Cool? (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by Bnonn on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 11:01:01 PM EST

    James Bond movies are cool, beacuse James Bond is cool.
I guess if you classify movies about a partially psychopathic man with apparently no conscience and a commandeering atttitude toward women spending huge amounts of money gallavanting around the world stopping--with the aid of laughably unscientific technology--ludicrous, one-dimensional villains who are always on the brink of destroying the free world, then sure, Bond is cool.

For those of you who didn't catch that, here's the previous sentence in list form:

  • Bond exhibits distinct psychopathic tendencies and seems to have no conscience
  • Bond treats women as objects that exist purely for his own pleasure
  • the technology and equipment in Bond is unscientific enough to merely demonstrate how ignorant the writers are
  • Bond is extravagant and wasteful with money that undoubtably isn't his
  • the villains are generally only a little worse than Bond himself, except Bond works for the "good guys". Additionally, the villains are shallow and formulaic
  • the plots, too, are shallow and formulaic, sometimes with transparent and pitiful attempts at "twists"
Sure, some of the action and fight scenes in Bond films are decent, and so are some of the babes. But you can get all those things in a real action movie that doesn't try to pretend to be something more, like Blade 2 or X-Men.

I'm sure I'll get massively modded down for this comment (if anyone even notices it in an oldish story), but I just don't see how Bond is cool. Some of the initial books were okay (though I don't like Fleming's writing style much), but even then the premise is still rather wonting.

[ Parent ]

Bond a psychopath? (none / 0) (#48)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 11:13:08 PM EST

I'm not sure I would place Bond in the psychopath category. Yes, he's paid to kill people. He generally doesn't enjoy it, though. It's part of the reason that he has nearly resigned on multiple occasions.

[ Parent ]
Incorrect (3.00 / 3) (#15)
by ennui on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 08:25:10 PM EST

James Bond is 72.

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
uh oh (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by Rhino in Rehab on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 08:32:51 PM EST

His birthday is August 25th. Doesn't that make him, right now, 71?

But the message Elmo seems to send out is that it is OK to never grow up, to always act like a screaming, annoying baby with a speach impediment. Hrm. - Grover
[ Parent ]
I can never remember the month (2.00 / 1) (#17)
by ennui on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 09:13:46 PM EST

I figure I was pretty close, though.

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
[ Parent ]
Hmm (3.00 / 1) (#18)
by Ken Pompadour on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 09:14:56 PM EST

This article must have been written 20 years ago if this is about "James Bond at 50." There's also no reference to any of the Pierce Brosnan flick. Sounds like copyright infringement.

...The target is countrymen, friends and family... they have to die too. - candid trhurler
[ Parent ]
Correction: (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by Ken Pompadour on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 09:15:23 PM EST

There is exactly one reference to Pierce Brosnan...

...The target is countrymen, friends and family... they have to die too. - candid trhurler
[ Parent ]
D'oh! (3.00 / 1) (#33)
by Scott Robinson on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 03:04:33 AM EST

It especially feels like copyright infringement given the last article posted by the author was voted down for the same problem.

Once again, take a look at his history.

I feel worse because I voted this up earlier today. I was sleepy then, I'm younger than that now.


[ Parent ]

Not so sure... (2.00 / 1) (#34)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 03:43:25 AM EST

Only one comment seems to allege that in the previous story's comments, by gazbo.

[ Parent ]
Umm... (1.00 / 3) (#20)
by LilDebbie on Mon Jul 15, 2002 at 10:35:42 PM EST

Bond is fascinating and all that, but do tell how this go onto the front page as opposed to the sections?

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

Umm..... (2.00 / 1) (#24)
by barnasan on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 12:12:12 AM EST

through the democratic process of member voting...??

[ Parent ]
To counter (none / 0) (#40)
by LilDebbie on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 06:56:03 PM EST

Given that there are a whopping 30 topical (31 including this one) comments on this article, this suggests there is little interest in Bond. Ergo, the democratic process failed in some way. THAT is why I question its place on the front page.

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
The number of comments... (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by barnasan on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 08:14:56 PM EST

is not a benchmark for the quality of an article. K5 is (luckily!) not a pure debating forum.

I found that this article is nicely written, and worth reading. Many of us grew up with Bond and it is a part of our culture by now. Sure, it's not as controversial as other topics with >700 comments, but it does deserve a front page article on its 50th birthday. Obviously many other readers thought like me.

I don't think the democratic process failed in any way - in fact the only times democracy fails is when it's bastardized like "well, even though people voted for it, it just CAN'T be that they are really interested in it. Let's overrule the decision".

If you don't care about it, very simple: don't click on the link.

[ Parent ]

Huh? (none / 0) (#45)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 08:16:24 PM EST

So the worth of a story is based on the number of comments it receives?

[ Parent ]
I don't think that this made the FP (none / 0) (#43)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 08:08:32 PM EST

And if it did, I think we have a Scoop bug.

122 +1's, of which 60 are FP. Doesn't Scoop require that at least 50% of the +1 votes be FP in order to post it to the FP?

[ Parent ]
That's not how it works exactly, but... (none / 0) (#46)
by LilDebbie on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 09:28:09 PM EST

according to rusty's guidelines, it's well below the front page cut-off. [take 5 times the number of front page votes, 4 times the section votes, 2 times the don't care, and 1 times the dump it, add them all together and divide by total votes. if this number is greater or equal to 4, post it to front page. by my calculations it's 3.5, enough for section only, but I could just be an idiot.]

My name is LilDebbie and I have a garden.
- hugin -

[ Parent ]
So.... (2.66 / 3) (#23)
by Sesquipundalian on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 12:06:15 AM EST

would it be possible to make a Bond film in which Bond loses at the end? (Not nescisarily killed or anything, just gets his ass kicked or the girl rejects him...

Money Penny ~ "It's not you James, it's me"

Bond ~ "You dumb whore!"

You know what I mean, have him cussing dejectedly at the end.

Did you know that gullible is not actually an english word?
Well, (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 12:14:26 AM EST

In the novel, Moonraker, the object of Bond's attraction is Gala Brand. After the mission, when Bond startsto put the moves on her, she reveals that she's married.

In a similar vein, Bond sort of loses at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service; after all, his wife is killed by Blofeld.

I've contemplated a Bond film where he completely fails at the end. Most likely, there would be some type of resolution in the next film of the series, though.

Possible spoiler, but the next Bond film will feature Bond being a POW in North Korea for an extended period of time.

[ Parent ]
Bond loses... (3.00 / 1) (#26)
by barnasan on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 12:14:47 AM EST

At the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Bond's wife is shot dead.

[ Parent ]
Beat you by 21 seconds... (none / 0) (#27)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 12:23:36 AM EST

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an odd one out among the Bond films. The hardcore fans generally love it, perhaps because it's the last of the Bond films to be essentially a straight port of the novel to the screen. It also has the most flawed portrayal of Bond, courtesy of George Lazenby.

That said, the supporting cast (Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, et al.) more than make up for Lazenby's deficiencies.

OHMSS was also, businesswise, a major fall-off from its predecesors (in inflation adjusted terms, it only grossed $293 million worldwide; well off its two immediate predecessors, who averaged $650 million apiece). Seeing this, the producers essentially tried to forget about the film. Tracy's murder was not acknowledged for eight years (though the pretitle of Diamonds Are Forever was written such that you could draw a conclusion about Bond seeking revenge from it), and has only been referenced obliquely in Brosnan's films.

[ Parent ]
Yeah but only because I posted the link... (3.00 / 1) (#28)
by barnasan on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 01:33:34 AM EST

I liked Lazenby, esp. his kilt (can this be the only time we see JB wearing one?).

I like all Bond actors in some ways (although Brosnan starts to lose his GoldenEye credits - the newer movies are pure crap IMO).

But, I can best identify with Connery and Lazenby (and to a lesser extent, Dalton), because they are GUYS.

Short, for me OHMSS is one of the best! The castle on the mountain full of hypnotized babes.... mhm..... ;-)

[ Parent ]

From Russia with Love (4.00 / 1) (#29)
by vyruss on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 01:34:30 AM EST

I've read the novel From Russia With Love, and Bond _DIES_ at the end :)

  • PRINT CHR$(147)

[ Parent ]
Yeah (4.00 / 2) (#30)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 02:04:02 AM EST

After the debacle that was Diamonds Are Forever (easily Fleming's worst), he started to think about killing Bond off, which he did at the end of FRWL. Of course, FRWL, on the strength of both quality and the visit by Anthony Eden, sold extremely well (at least in the UK) and Fleming decided there might be some money in doing another one.

He ended up essentially saying that Bond had just been knocked unconscious and was somewhat injured from the poison, but had survived. M sends him on the Doctor No mission basically as a simple mission (that's what it is at the start, at least) to allow Bond to recuperate.

[ Parent ]
Hows this for a "ripped from todays headlines (3.00 / 1) (#39)
by goatse on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 05:08:01 PM EST

..anti-terrorist global warming conshious bond losing story:

Bond tries to stop a made terrorist from blowing off the west (or is it east?) Antartic ice shealf (using nukes or something).  He fails.  Florida (and many other places) end up under 5 meters of water.

Ok, it dose not need to be bond, but that Ice shealf is just screaming for someone to make an action flick about it.  Talk about big catastrophic explosions.

[ Parent ]

For those thinking of reading the Bond novels... (4.80 / 5) (#31)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 02:19:25 AM EST

... the question of which to start reading first is an important one.

I would not recommend reading On Her Majesty's Secret Service or You Only Live Twice first, as they form parts 2 and 3 of a trilogy. In addition, OHMSS, YOLT, and The Man With The Golden Gun form a very loose trilogy, though one largely independent from Thunderball/OHMSS/YOLT.

In addition, Doctor No, From Russia, With Love and Diamonds Are Forever build on one another and on Moonraker.

The Spy Who Loved Me is an interesting way to start, as it's the most atypical of the Fleming novels, being told from the woman's perspective. Bond doesn't appear until about a third of the way in, but the descriptions of Bond are interesting, if only because of the new perspective.

The two collections of novellas and short stories, Octopussy & The Living Daylights and For Your Eyes Only are difficult to find, but could each provide a nice starting point, being shorter.

Live and Let Die is an excellent choice, but only if you can get around Flemings variably blatant racism (the basic concept is that the African race has produced its first master criminal, as it produces scientists, musicians, etc.). It is a product of when it was written (1953), though.

As for Goldfinger and Thunderball, neither is particularly good in my mind, though both are very close to the films.

Casino Royale may be the best place to start. You have the benefit of not having to worry about Bond's history (his two earlier missions, killing double agents in WWII are mentioned, but nowhere else). In addition, it's a fairly good story, though the last act almost feels like padding.

zerg (3.00 / 1) (#37)
by jeanlucpikachu on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 02:04:57 PM EST

50 Years of James Bond.

Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu AIM: jeanlucpikachu
An excellent article (2.00 / 1) (#38)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 02:51:05 PM EST

Thank you for posting the link...

[ Parent ]
Old Formulas Work Well (4.50 / 2) (#41)
by Mzilikazi on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 07:12:31 PM EST

The success of James Bond is due to a formula that also worked exceptionally well with the character Sherlock Holmes. The formula is even a cliche now: "Women want to be with him and men want to be like him."

In addition to the "guns, hot chicks, bad guys"* stuff for the guys, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond were both handsome, well-dressed single gentlemen, and whether in print or on the screen, could be enjoyed by women on a different level. (Obviously I'm drawing broad generalizations here, but keep in mind we're mostly dealing with the world before the 1970s...)


*I heard a comedian recently--can't remember his name--who was trying to explain why he didn't enjoy watching boring movies about relationships. Paraphrasing: "Men and women arguing about stupid shit, life being mostly boring and depressing, I've already got that. When I go to the movies, I want escapism, the things that aren't in my life. Guns, tits, and monsters."

That's a formula!? (none / 0) (#52)
by wnight on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 10:46:35 AM EST

The formula is that the character is handsome and successful? That's it? That sounds a little wrong. Formulas are usually the plot, as in, boy meets girl, etc.

It actually sounds more like an archetype. The "heroic" archetype to be specific.

The archetype is important, Woody Allen doesn't inspire lust and envy, but the plot is a big factor. Or perhaps the plot isn't, but it's just that it's really hard to draw a heroic archetype in a 9-5 office environment. :) The guns and tits, and proper handling of both, in Bond books/films are the main point, that Bond is good at dealing with it is the reason the story is a Bond story, instead of inventing a new character for each.

[ Parent ]

Bond - Cold Warrior (5.00 / 2) (#42)
by blacksqr on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 07:12:42 PM EST

The key to understanding James Bond's character and popularity (both book and film) is understanding that he was an expression of Cold War anxiety.  

The first sight of Bond in the first film is through an assassin's gun sights; and he is saved only by the fortuitous passing of some street musicians.  The source of his 'cool' is this ever-present sense of impending death, and the cynicism, the irony, the cruelty, the insistence on grabbing the pleasures and luxuries of the moment, as well as the incongruous sentimental patriotism are all outgrowths of the proximate awareness of nuclear annihilation.  This awareness was shared by everyone in his audiences, and the adaptations displayed by his personality offered his fans something of a handle for grappling with the times.

Like Sam Spade, James Bond felt the compulsion to order his life honestly in line with the reality of the danger and uncertainty of modern life, and like Spade it was this rigorously honest outlook that defined him, saved him and isolated him.  Bond formed no close attachments, laughed off attempts at intimacy, and his ruthlessness was commensurate with the  knowledge that everything imaginable was at stake in every move.

To see a fictional character understand these realities and respond with something other than paralysis was revelatory and invigorating in the 50's and 60's.

Comparative litterature... (none / 0) (#49)
by Pig Hogger on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 11:43:12 PM EST

It's interesting to compare national genres... The french counterpart of James Bond is undoubtely San-Antonio. Like in the british hero's adventures, there are plenty of women, violence, exotism and, more like in the Bond movies, a bit of science-fiction which never fails to pass french cartesian rigor, but which will never win any Nebula award...

The main differences, though, are that there are 174 San-Antonio novels, printed in more than 250 million copies, none of which have been brought to the silver screen (although a movie starring Jean-Paul Belmondo — of Casino Royale, the movie, fame — was made, depicting the daily life of the author, San-Antonio — a pseudonym of Frédéric Dard [1921-2000]).

Also, San-Antonio is not a lone hero, as he is flanked by two, then three acolytes who, despite their shortcomings (Alexandre-Benoît Bérurier is an untidy obese glutton, both of hearty country cuisine and obese women who doubles as a torture virtuoso; César Pinaud is a capable & competent gentleman cop always on the verge of becoming senile, forever burning his moustache with a malformed cigarette butt, but who eventually goes about in an inherited Rolls-Royce, and Jérémie Blanc who was nothing more than a street cleaner, but developped a good detective instinct) are extremely crucial to the stories.

There is no Miss Moneypenny, as the various Mademoiselle Zouzous are perfectly happy fellating Achille, the boss, hidden under his desk, while he briefs his subordinates. But sometimes, Achille takes a piece of the action and is seen somewhere else than behind his desk...

A major difference with James Bond, though, is that San-Antonio is a commissaire, first de police (a mere police chief), then spécial (of the secret services). So, a good proportion of the San-Antonio novels are (pretty good) detective stories. In later years, San-Antonio closely follows the french political scene, which explains several administrative upheavals that shake the french secret services administrative hierarchy...

Finally, the San-Antonio novels are memorable for their extremely hilarious writing style which fully uses the capabilities of argot (french slang), which is of a class of it's own, to such an extent that Frédéric Dard has been called the true heir of Rabelais.



Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing it's idiot

Very Interesting (none / 0) (#50)
by leviramsey on Tue Jul 16, 2002 at 11:59:43 PM EST

Especially that they haven't been made into movies. I would have thought that the French film subsidies would help.

Are they translated into English? I might be able to read them in French, but I haven't really exercised my skills in that language for three years.

[ Parent ]
San-Antonio (none / 0) (#55)
by Pig Hogger on Thu Jul 18, 2002 at 11:13:57 PM EST

Especially that they haven't been made into movies. I would have thought that the French film subsidies would help.

Most of the appeal of the San-Antonio books reside in the way they are written; the author often disgresses into philosophical debate, often in an hilarious way. This has no place in a movie.

Sex scenes are described in a terribly unexplicit way (like "the hungarian submarine", "the wheelbarrow in heat", "the mongolian ponytail", "the tunnel cleaners", "the minute-chicken", "the topmost clipper") that leaves much to the reader's imagination; filming that would turn quickly in a very ordinary porn flick, whereas the litterary description is a hilarious work of art...

Are they translated into English? I might be able to read them in French, but I haven't really exercised my skills in that language for three years.

They are full of totally untranslatable puns and word plays; they definitely would not translate well.


Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing it's idiot
[ Parent ]

3 1/2 minute egg (none / 0) (#51)
by jolly st nick on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 10:05:04 AM EST

If you want the equivalent of Bond's 3 1/2 minute egg, you have to cook it for four minutes, because the standard egg size got larger in the 1960s. This results in a set but not rubbery white and a runny but slightly thickened yolk. Somehow this seems right for the fussy but hedonistic Bond.

This article. (4.50 / 2) (#53)
by ennui on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 10:09:25 PM EST

At first I thought it was a great article about our favorite agent On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I was going to vote it down, but I figured Live and Let Die. I was like, Doctor No way am I going to vote this down, this guy might have posted it From Russia, With Love. I instead used my Goldfinger to Thunderball through the article, and I loved it. Makes me sorry You Only Live Twice. It amazed The Living Daylights out of me.

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
That was priceless (n/t) (none / 0) (#54)
by leviramsey on Wed Jul 17, 2002 at 10:10:57 PM EST

[ Parent ]
James Bond at 50 | 55 comments (46 topical, 9 editorial, 2 hidden)
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