The Sean Connery Years, Rich Paschall
If you remember the very beginnings of the James Bond movies, then you have to admit it. When you hear that often used introduction, you immediately hear in your head the iconic music which has been a staple of so many Bond movies. James Bond, Sean Connery and that music are forever intertwined.
James Bond was created by writer Ian Fleming in 1953 in the novel, Casino Royale. He wrote a dozen novels and two short story collections. The character was adapted for television, movies, comic strips and video games. Connery set the bar high as the first James Bond in the films.
Since the first novel, Casino Royale, had been sold for a UK television production, and later a spoof starring David Niven (1967), the first movie had to start elsewhere. Interestingly, it is the 6th novel, Dr. No, that is the basis for the first James Bond feature film (1962).
The film shows us a suave and debonair James Bond, while Fleming had not initially seen Bond as that type of character. He envisioned his hero as a dull sort of guy to which things happened. As the movies have shown, Bond stood up to whatever challenge he faced. He was not dull.
Dr. No not only introduces us to Bond, but it also introduces an organization, SPECTRE, that will be the evil nemesis in many of the Bond films. In the story, a British agent is killed in Jamaica and Bond is sent there to investigate the circumstance. It leads him on to an island where Dr. No is planning an evil plot to destroy a USA Mercury space launch. Yes, it is the early 1960s so this all makes sense somehow.
Connery gives a commanding performance as the British Naval Commander and “00” secret agent with a “License to Kill.” It may be fair to say that without this strong start, the movie series may never have become what it is today. Some of the sexist lines and double entendres featured in the early films, would never make it to the screen today, however. The charm and wit of the central character have remained a feature throughout, even if some of the clever quips have been abandoned. Dr. No gets high marks for adventure and intrigue, especially for the cold war era in which it was made.
Nothing highlighted the Cold War spy era like From Russia With Love (1963). The second Bond film was based on the 5th Fleming novel. The plot to steal a cryptographic device may seem terribly amusing now, but was high drama then. Bond is sent off to another exotic locale, this time Istanbul, to take the “Lektor” device and avoid capture. Again SPECTRE is the enemy, a beautiful girl is caught up in the intrigue, and chase scenes and suspense are en vogue. This is a worthy second entry to the film series. The first two films were directed by Terrence Young.
Most critics will agree that the third Bond film, based on the seventh Fleming novel, is among the best of the Bond films. This time Guy Hamilton is brought in to direct as Bond is off to investigate the activities of Auric Goldfinger, a gold smuggler and suspected financier of terror. Goldfinger (1964) contains a rather fantastic plot involving the robbery of Fort Knox. The double meaning dialog is on full display as Bond (Sean Connery) tries to seduce Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore, in order to defeat the evil plan. The villain’s henchman, Oddjob, becomes a film classic for his derby hat with the rim of steel blade.
Terrence Young is back to direct the 4th Bond film and Sean Connery is back again as the hero of Thunderball (1965). They are given a budget more than double Goldfinger and you would think this would bring great benefit to the production. Sadly, it does not.
Based on the ninth Fleming novel, the atomic age thriller finds Bond in search of two stolen atomic bombs taken by SPECTRE. They are to be ransomed back to the Western World or the countries will pay the ultimate price of having the bombs hit strategic targets. It is a race against the clock which includes exotic locales and another gorgeous “Bond girl.” Every film features a woman who just happens to get caught up in the intrigue.
The film spends too much time on chase scenes. While the back drop of the Bahamas may have seemed to liven up the chase, the mere length and pacing of these sequences points out the need to find a film editor. The climactic battle in the water may have worked had it not been excessively long. When you wonder if the darn thing will ever end, you know some of this mess should have been left on the cutting room floor. The Bond mission is successful, he ends up with the girl, and the movie finally ends after 130 minutes.
The story itself was under legal battles shortly after the publication of the 1961 novel of Thunderball. Fleming was taken to court over ownership of the story. Two others had co-authored a script for the story years earlier with Fleming. It did not sell and Fleming used it as the basis of his novel. An out of court settlement was reached that led to plans of a rival Bond production years later and more court battles. Could another studio actually take a Bond story and produce a one time rival Bond film? They did it using the same story. How could they possibly make such a thing successful?
More on the Connery years next week, and the making of a second Thunderball.