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James Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Auric Goldfinger: No, Mr Bond - I expect you to die.
The phenomenon of James Bond originally began in 1952, when ex-British Intelligence officer Ian Fleming wrote a book called Casino Royale. This book, and its many sequels, featured a central character called James Bond, an amoral, deadly British spy with a liking for good food, fast cars, hand-rolled Russian cigarettes and beautiful women. The Bond books were certainly popular in the 1950s and '60s, but when film producers Albert R 'Cubby' Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided that here was a character ideal for adaptation to the cinema screen, no-one had any idea that their cinematic James Bond would eclipse his literary counterpart and still be saving the world 'for England' so many years later.
One False Start
The idea for a James Bond film was one that Ian Fleming had considered in the 1950s, as his books were starting to become popular. The character of Bond had already been played on US television by Barry Nelson, as 'Card-sense Jimmy Bond' in an Americanised, but otherwise faithful adaptation of Casino Royale. The first British actor to play Bond was Bob Holness, later to become famous as the host of teen-quiz Blockbusters, in a 1956 radio adaptation of Moonraker.
To produce a screenplay, Fleming teamed up with filmmaker Kevin McLory, and later with writer Jack Whittingham. Although the project never got anywhere, Fleming used their screenplay as the basis for his novel Thunderball, published in 1961. By this time Broccoli and Saltzman had purchased the rights to make a James Bond film and were planning to adapt the Thunderball screenplay. McLory, however, sued Fleming for plagiarism, and the legal battle meant that another script had to be written. As a replacement, the producers turned to one of Fleming's earlier works, 1958's Dr. No.
The Connery Years
Man: I admire your courage, Miss..?
Woman: Sylvia Trench. And I admire your luck, Mr..?
Man (Casually): Bond. James Bond.
- Dr. No
On 20 June, 1961, Saltzman and Broccoli met with the president of United Artists to discuss funding to allow their newly-formed production company 'Eon'1 to make a James Bond film. It took less than one hour for United Artists to give them $1 million.
Having secured their funding, Saltzman and Broccoli hired director Terence Young and the team relocated to Jamaica, home of Ian Fleming, to begin the pre-production. Two of the regular Bond actors made their debuts in Dr. No, with Bernard Lee playing Bond's boss 'M', and Lois Maxwell as his secretary, Miss Moneypenny. The part of the evil Dr Julius No was first offered to playwright, songwriter, wit and personal friend of Fleming, Noel Coward, who declined, the role going instead to Joseph Wiseman. The role of the first 'Bond girl' was given to then-unknown actress Ursula Andress2, which left the producers with only one major casting decision outstanding. Who would play James Bond himself? Although many actors were screentested, the part was eventually offered to one who refused to test - a young Scot named Sean Connery. Fleming was not impressed with this choice, feeling that Connery was too 'rough' to play his suave, sophisticated hero. However, Connery's performance in this and the subsequent films soon won him over, Fleming eventually commenting that it was difficult to see anyone else playing the role. Ironically, it was a problem that would come back to haunt the producers later on.
The story of Dr. No remains close to that of Fleming's novel. Bond is dispatched to Jamaica to discover who has killed Strangways, a British agent, and to gather information on whoever it is who is interfering with the US space programme by causing rockets to veer off-course and crash. Bond must discover who is behind the plot and stop it, as the Americans are soon to attempt to put a rocket in orbit about the moon3. In Jamaica, Bond acquires two allies: Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) - something of a ground-breaking role as a black man who was not only one of the good guys, but brave and loyal with it - and Honey Rider (Andress), who makes a living collecting and selling valuable sea shells. With their help, Bond locates the villain by the soon-to-become traditional method of being captured. Of course, he saves the girl and destroys the secret base just in time.
Dr. No also features some of the early hallmarks of the Bond films. The film begins with the classic 'gun barrel' sequence, designed by Maurice Binder, who also created the opening titles for this and every Bond film from Thunderball to Licence to Kill. Accompanying the opening titles is the famous 'James Bond Theme', officially composed by Monty Norman, with substantial contribution from John Barry. The villain is a member of SPECTRE4, a world-wide organisation of criminal masterminds, of whom more later. Dr. No also features the first appearance of Bond's friend and CIA contact, Felix Leiter, played on this occasion by Jack Lord.
When it was released in 1962, Dr. No was revolutionary in many ways. The film was rather violent for the times, while also infusing a certain amount of humour into the violence. Also novel for the times was the use of sex in the film, and the first appearance of Honey Rider, emerging from the sea in a white bikini, has become something of a cinematic icon. The extremely fast-paced direction and editing of the film was also an innovation, with director Young and editor Peter Hunt setting the standard for action films in the years to come.
From Russia With Love
Fleming's 1957 novel From Russia With Love was named by US president John F Kennedy as one of his top ten favourite books, and so Broccoli and Saltzman chose it as the sequel to Dr. No. Again, the film remains close to the original, although SMERSH5, the villainous organisation from the novels, was swapped for SPECTRE.
The film begins with SPECTRE plotting the downfall of Bond for his role in the defeat of Dr. No, and the audience sees the 'death' of 007. Fortunately, his body is revealed to be that of a double being used in a training exercise. Next, SPECTRE cook up a plan in which Tatiana Romanova (Daniella Bianchi), an unwitting Soviet embassy agent in Istanbul, will tempt British intelligence with a Soviet coding machine - a Lektor - but only if Bond arranges her defection. Bond and Tatiana steal the Lektor and escape on board the Orient Express, where Bond is stalked by SPECTRE assassin Donald 'Red' Grant (Robert Shaw). Bond eventually kills Grant and they escape to Venice, where Tatiana is forced to choose between her superior officer, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), or Bond. Naturally, she eventually makes the right choice.
There are almost as many Bond 'firsts' in From Russia With Love as there are in Dr. No. Most notably, the film sees the first appearance of Desmond Llewellyn as Bond's gadget supplier 'Q', although he is not referred to as such in this film. His only task here is to supply Bond with an attaché case containing, amongst other things, a throwing knife, ammunition and a tear-gas cannister. The film also introduces SPECTRE leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, though his face is not seen and he is referred to only as 'Number 1'.
Released in 1963, From Russia With Love was an even bigger success than Dr. No, receiving critical praise and large audiences. This firmly established the Bond franchise, and set the scene for the most famous Bond film of them all...
Q: You see the gear-lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you'll find a little red button. Whatever you do, don't touch it.
Bond: And why not?
Q: Because you'll release this section of the roof and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Woosh.
Bond: Ejector seat? You're joking!
Q: I never joke about my work, 007.
For 1964's Goldfinger, Broccoli and Saltzman brought in a new director, Guy Hamilton. The decision was made that the new film would introduce more humour into Bond, and would also begin to emphasise the hi-tech world in which James Bond lived. Goldfinger also marked the beginning of a move away from Fleming's original, realistic stories and into ever more fantastic territory.
The film begins with a pre-title sequence that is completely unrelated to the main film, but which does contain a scene in which Bond steps out of his diving suit wearing full evening dress6. After Shirley Bassey's classic rendition of the title song, Bond's initial assignment is to investigate billionaire Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) who is suspected of smuggling gold bullion. After tempting Goldfinger with a supposed trove of Nazi gold, Bond tracks him to his headquarters and is promptly captured. Discovering that Goldfinger is planning to detonate a nuclear bomb inside Fort Knox, thus massively increasing the price of his own gold, Bond attempts to get a message out, but is thwarted. Eventually, Bond wins over Goldfinger's personal pilot, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman), who changes the plan at the last minute. Bond is left inside Fort Knox and has to fight his way past Goldfinger's henchman, Oddjob (Harold Sakata), so that the bomb can be defused with only 007 seconds remaining.
Assisting Bond in his mission are sisters Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), who dies of skin suffocation after being covered in gold paint - a warning to Bond - and Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet), who is felled by Oddjob's razor-rimmed bowler hat. Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) also puts in an appearance. Most importantly, Goldfinger marks the beginning of the Bond-Q relationship proper, as a bored Bond irritates Q by not paying attention to his lecture about the Aston Martin DB5. Bond's trademark car is laden with weapons and gadgets and, of course, an ejector seat. Aston Martin were originally reluctant to lend them a car, but eventually agreed, on the understanding that it would be returned for them to use for publicity purposes. Both Bond and Aston Martin profited enormously from the arrangement.
Goldfinger was, for a while, the fastest grossing film of all time, eventually taking more than $125 million. Bond had gone from being a reasonably successful film character to being an enormous worldwide success.
Look up! Look down! Look out!
Here comes the biggest Bond of them all
- Advertising tagline
As mentioned earlier, the novel Thunderball was the subject of a legal battle between Ian Fleming and co-writer Kevin McLory. Eventually, Fleming was granted the rights to the novel, with the condition that the McLory and Whittingham would be credited as co-authors of the screenplay on which the book was based. The screen rights to Thunderball, however, were granted to McLory, who threatened to make a rival Bond film. Saltzman and Broccoli were concerned at the effect this would have on their box-office hero, and so an agreement was reached in which McLory would act as producer on the official version of the film.
After their absence from Goldfinger, SPECTRE have returned. Agent Number 2, Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi), has stolen two nuclear warheads by hijacking a British bomber during a training mission. Bond is dispatched to the Bahamas, where the bombs are believed to be hidden. With the help of Largo's mistress, Domino (Claudine Auger), Bond discovers that the bombs are being transported to Miami beach. He and a squad of US soldiers defeat SPECTRE in an underwater battle, leaving Bond to pursue Largo, who is eventually killed by Domino.
From the pre-credits sequence, in which Bond escapes his pursuers using a jet-pack, to the epic underwater battle sequence, Thunderball was the result of the producers' determination to follow Goldfinger with something spectacular. By now, Bond imitators were starting to appear and it was vital for the franchise that the original was still the best. Thunderball became one of the top grossing films of all time, but the new reliance on technology and stunts did not please everyone. Sean Connery in particular complained that the character was becoming less important than his gadgets. Despite this, he was persuaded to return for 'one more film'.
You Only Live Twice
The 1967 Bond film was originally to be On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as the novel You Only Live Twice follows directly on from the shocking ending of OHMSS. In the end, the majority of Fleming's novel was discarded by screenwriter Roald Dahl, who was hired to write a script in the same spectacular vein as Thunderball. Dahl kept only a few minor themes from Fleming's You Only Live Twice - the Japanese location and the return of SPECTRE.
The film begins with Bond's 'death' at the hands of gunmen and his burial at sea. This is, of course, simply a ruse, designed to throw unspecified bad guys off Bond's trail. This leaves Bond free to concentrate on his new mission - Soviet and US spacecraft are disappearing in orbit, each of the superpowers blaming each other. Bond is dispatched to Japan to investigate the possible source of the trouble. He teams up with 'Tiger' Tanake (Tetsuro Tamba) - head of the Japanese secret service - and his top agent, Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi). Discovering that SPECTRE is responsible for the missing spacecraft, Bond goes undercover as a Japanese fisherman and trains as a ninja. As part of his cover, Bond 'marries' another of Tiger's agents: Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama). They locate SPECTRE's base, hidden inside a volcano and, with the help of Tiger's ninja army, they prevent SPECTRE from starting World War III.
You Only Live Twice is equally as spectacular as Thunderball, with production designer Ken Adams' volcano set being one of the most impressive in the series. The film also includes an aerial battle, with Bond flying Q's latest toy, 'Little Nellie'7, a heavily-armed autogyro (a vehicle that looks a bit like an open-top helicopter but operates differently).
Fans of the 'Austin Powers' series of films can thank You Only Live Twice for finally providing cinema with the sight of its most instantly recognisable villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, SPECTRE Number 1, white cat owner and model for Mike Myers' Dr Evil. Donald Pleasence gives the definitive performance of Blofeld in this film, which his successors would never quite live up to.
At the box office, You Only Live Twice fared less well than Thunderball - perhaps because of the simultaneous release of the spoof Bond film Casino Royale - and many people felt that the spy-film genre had had its day. More importantly, Sean Connery finally decided that he'd had enough of the intrusive press reporting and arduous shooting schedules, and announced his retirement from the role. This left the producers with a very difficult decision - who could replace the man who, according to the posters for You Only Live Twice 'is James Bond'? Bond fans are still arguing over whether they got the decision right...
James Bond Will Return In...
The second part of this article, which looks at the story of the James Bond films from 1969 to 1979.
The third part, which covers the Bond story from 1981 to 1992.
The fourth part, which covers the Bond story from 1994 to 2002.
...and the fifth part, which takes the story from 2006 to the present day and looks at some of Bond's competitors and imitators.