The “Reel” British Invasion: An Examination of the Legacy of the James Bond Films By Joe Roman LST 712 Spring 2010 On the eighth day of May, in the year 1963, the sanctity of American cinema was infiltrated by a British secret agent. The infiltration was unexpected and its effects were immediate. Even today, almost fifty years later, the impact of this secret agent’s presence on America’s silver screen is still being felt and continues to influence American popular culture.
So, who is this secret agent and how is it that his films have come to dominate American cinema? His name is Bond, James Bond, and in order to understand his history, it is important to understand that of his creator, Ian Fleming, as well. Ian Fleming created James Bond while on vacation in Jamaica in January of 1952. He stayed on an estate owned by the Bond family. On a nightstand in the room in which he slept was a field guide to birds of the Caribbean written by the proprieters’ son, an ornithologist named James Bond.
In an interview with Reader’s Digest, Fleming is credited as explaining his character’s name: “I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, ‘James Bond’ was much better than something more interesting, like ‘Peregrine Carruthers. ‘ Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure — an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department. ” (Lycett, 1995). An examination of Ian Fleming’s life prior to Bond’s creation sheds further light on the character’s creation.
Fleming served as the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy during World War II. He was first commissioned as a lieutenant, then as a lieutenant commander and finally a commander. His expertise led to him being given control of 30 Assault Unit and later T-Force, two British special commando units. His experiences within these units provided the background for his spy novels. The men he met would provide the inspiration for his most famous character, Commander James Bond: Agent 007 (Lycett, 1995 and Winder, 2006).
Prior to his military service, Fleming worked as a journalist and a stockbroker (Lycett, 1995). He didn’t publish his first novel, Casino Royale, until 1953, the same year Elizabeth II was crowned Queen. In it he introduced his character James Bond. He would go on to write 12 more Bond novels as well as 2 books of Bond short stories. In addition to the James Bond series, he wrote the children’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and two nonfiction books: Thrilling Cities and The Diamond Smugglers.
In April, 1953 when Casino Royale was first released in Great Britain, it was not much of a success. Reviews in The Times Literary Supplement and the Spectator were lukewarm and claimed that it was nothing more than an entertaining read. It did not attract the sales that the publisher, Jonathan Cape had hoped for (Lycett, 1995). The United States was even less welcoming at first. In fact, Casino Royale was rejected by three publishers before being picked up by the publishing company Macmillan (Chapman, 2000). Not even Macmillan could get the American public to care for the book.
Regardless of the setbacks, for the next three years, Fleming continued to write and put out three more Bond novels: Live and Let Die in 1954, Moonraker in 1955, and Diamonds Are Forever in 1956. During this same time period, inexpensive paperback books were being consumed by middle- and working-class readers who were enjoying a period of prosperity in Great Britain. Two of the major publishers of the cheap books were Penguin and Pan. In 1956, Pan published Casino Royale as a paperback. In competing with Penguin, they took advantage of the James Bond novels’ promise of intrigue, sex and violence (Chapman, 2000).
It worked and the James Bond phenomenon had begun. Readers began flocking to the affordable escapist adventures provided by Agent 007. This rapid rise in sales was spurred on by the running of a comic strip in 1957 based on From Russia with Love in the Daily Express newspaper. Two of Bond’s biggest fans were Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, owners of the production company, EON Films. They saw an opportunity to make money and bought the film rights to the James Bond character. They made the first Bond film for $950,000. 00 (Chapman, 2000). Dr.
No opened in London on October 5th, 1962 at the Pavilion Cinema in Piccadilly Circus. The story centered on a mad scientist on a tropical island in the Caribbean and his evil plot to destroy the U. S. with a carefully planned nuclear strike. Broccoli and Saltzman didn’t have high hopes for the success of the film (Chapman, 2000). Broccoli is quoted as saying to Saltzman, “Well, all we have to lose is $950,000. 00, Harry”. Something they didn’t plan for was the Cuban Missile Crisis which began unfolding just two weeks into the film’s release. And just like in Dr.
No, it involved a mad man (Fidel Castro, according to some critics), a tropical island in the Caribbean (Cuba), nuclear weapons (the missiles), and a plot to destroy the U. S. (okay, I took some liberties with that last one, but it could’ve happened). BANG! By the end of the year, Dr. No had become the second highest grossing British film (Chapman, 2000). Sales of Fleming’s novels went up like Soviet nuclear missiles! Dr. No’s sales alone went from 85,000 in 1961 to 232,000, 437,000, 530,000 and 476,000 in the next four years (Bennett and Wollacott, 1987). And, that was just in Great Britain.
Worldwide sales in 1965 alone, reached twenty-seven million. The opinions of fans and critics differed. One critic, journalist Paul Johnson, reviewed Dr. No in 1958. He called the book “nasty” and said it was “far more dangerous than pornography. ” He claimed it was “badly written to the point of incoherence” (New Statesmen from Sandbrook, 2005). Fortunately, not everyone agreed. World renowned British author, Kingsley Amis came out in Fleming’s defense. He would go on to not only be one of the biggest champions of Bond, but to have the honor of writing the first Bond novel following Fleming’s death of heart failure in 1964.
In his defense of Fleming, he went on to compare his books with the works of Jules Verne and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Amis, 1966). He wrote Colonel Sun under the pseudonym Robert Markham. Following Fleming’s death, his publisher had planned to produce a series of Bond novels by various authors all under the name Robert Markham. After Amis’s novel, however, their plans fell through (Lycett, 1995). He would go on to write two other books related to James Bond outside of the Bond novel continuum. While the future of the Bond books hung in the balance, the EON films were enjoying tremendous popularity. When Dr.
No reached American soil on the 8th of May, 1963, the American public forked over millions to see it. By the time it had run its course, it had earned over $16,000,000 at the box office (Chapman, 2000). By the year’s end, it had become the third highest grossing film in the U. S. , defeated only by two John Wayne films: The Longest Day and How the West Was Won (filmsite. org, 2010). By the time it had been viewed by moviegoers around the world, it had earned $59,000,000 (Chapman, 2000). The following year, due to the unexpected success of the first film, EON Films released the second Bond film, From Russia with Love.
It, too, would finish out the year at #3. The movies that beat it were Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, starring a who’s-who of Hollywood stars (filmsite. org, 2010). In 1964, EON Films released Goldfinger. Sadly, Ian Fleming would die of heart failure during production. He died just at the beginning of the phenomenon known as “Bondmania”. To release the Bond films on American soil, EON Films teamed up with United Artists. Unlike the first two films, United Artist decided to release Goldfinger as its major Christmas release.
When it opened on the 22nd of December of 1964, it had its premieres at prestigious theaters like Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood (Winder, 2006). One reporter wrote, “lines of eager ticket buyers formed for blocks on opening day and afterward, this enthusiastic reception being duplicated all over the country” (Chapman, 2000). “The success of Goldfinger was such that in New York one showing followed another day and night, and the management imposed an interval only to sweep away from the auditorium the remains of popcorn which had reached a depth of several inches,” wrote another (Chapman, 2000).
Goldfinger was the film that that established James Bond in America. American studios took notice. Spy-Fi fever had hit the U. S. and American filmmakers tried to capitalize on the popularity of the secret agent. Donald Hamilton had written a series of novels chronicling the adventures of another secret agent named Matt Helm. In Hamilton’s books, Matt Helm was a remorseless, no nonsense U. S. government operative. In the Seventies, ABC would produce a short-lived television series simply titled Matt Helm with Tony Franciosa playing Helm as a run-of-the-mill private investigator.
But at the height of “Bondmania” in the mid-sixties, Columbia Pictures had something else in mind. They produced four Matt Helm comedies, beginning in 1966 with The Silencers. The movies were made to spoof the spy craze and starred Dean Martin as a perpetually intoxicated American secret agent. They turned out to be a major hit and a fifth was planned but was never made (Biederman, 2004). As recently as 2008, Steven Spielberg has been rumored to be working on a new Matt Helm movie. An even more obvious parody of the James Bond character was Derek Flint. Twentieth Century Fox released Our Man Flint, also in 1966.
It starred James Coburn as Derek Flint, an agent for the super-secret spy organization known as Z. O. W. I. E (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage). The movie contains several references to the James Bond character including the Walther PPK (Bond’s preferred handgun) which is rejected by Flint and a fight scene with Agent 0008 (Bond was 007). The film was successful enough to spawn a sequel the following year titled In Like Flint (Biederman, 2004). Television studios were not blind to the success the spy-fi genre was experiencing on the silver screen.
In 1965, NBC ran a secret agent series called I Spy. It starred Robert Culp and Bill Cosby as secret agents working for the Pentagon. The series ran for three seasons. It was most recently made into a movie in 2002 starring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson in the lead roles (Biederman, 2004). NBC followed I Spy with Get Smart. Created by comedy legend Mel Brooks and writer Buck Henry, it follows the adventures of Maxwell Smart, a bumbling secret agent who works for a secret government agency known as CONTROL (not an acronym).
According to Buck Henry, the show was created to “capitalize on the two biggest things in entertainment today: James Bond and Inspector Clouseau,” Mel Brooks is quoted as saying, “It’s an insane combination of James bond and Mel Brooks’ comedy” (latimes. com, 2008). It was most recently made into a film in 2008 starring Steve Carell and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. NBC would soon conclude its affair with the spy-fi genre with The Man From U. N. C. L. E, a television series starring Robert Vaughn and David McCallum.
The two starred as agents for U. N. C. L. E. (United Network Command for Law and Enforcement). Due to lackluster viewership, it was cancelled in the middle of its third season (Biederman, 2004). While other American spy projects seemed to be meeting their ends, James Bond was going strong as EON Films continued to produce movie after movie starring Agent 007. All in all, EON Films has produced 22 movies starring James Bond. In addition, 1967 brought the world a James Bond spoof titled Casino Royale with David Niven portraying Sir James Bond.
Ironically, Niven was Ian Fleming’s first choice to play Bond (Chapman, 2000). EON Films, however, chose Sean Connery. An odd twist of fate and legal technicality found Connery portraying James Bond for the last time in Never Say Never Again. This movie is not considered an official James Bond film as it was not produced by EON Films. Released in 1983, it was the only time two Bond films were in theaters simultaneously as Roger Moore was starring as James Bond in EON Films’ production of Octopussy (Winder, 2006). Roger Moore is the third man to portray 007 in an EON Films production.
After Sean Connery’s five film run, George Lazenby was given the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. Connery returned to the role in 1973’s Diamonds Are Forever. From 1973 to 1985, Roger Moore continued as James Bond until the role was given to Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights. After two films starring Dalton, the role was given to Pierce Brosnan in 1995’s Goldeneye which was later made into a highly successful first-person-shooter video game on the Nintendo 64 gaming platform. In 2006, EON Films, partnered with MGM, took Bond in an entirely new direction.
It was decided that audiences wanted a less campy and more no-nonsense James Bond. Daniel Craig took up the role and for the first time, James Bond was James “blonde”! Controversy ensued, but if box office receipts are any indication, the audience didn’t mind as his became the highest grossing Bond film to date. In 2006, he starred in Casino Royale, which, unlike the earlier film of the same name, was actually based on Fleming’s first Bond novel. At the time, it made the James Bond Franchise the highest grossing film series of all time, even eclipsing the popular Star Wars films (guardian. o. uk). The record stood unchallenged until another mysterious character out of Great Britain surpassed it. As of 2007, the Harry Potter series has taken the lead with $4. 5 Billion compared to Bond’s $4. 4 billion (guardian. co. uk). The good news is that Bond has a chance to regain the title as Daniel Craig is currently slated to star in the as of yet unnamed 23rd installment of the James Bond franchise. Granted, there are two more Harry Potter films yet to be released, but, that will be all since the books are finished.
There is no end, however, in sight for the James Bond franchise. The influence James Bond has had on popular culture is certainly not limited to the books and films. One staple of all Bond films is the music. None of which is more important than the “James Bond Theme”, written by Monty Norman. The “dum-de-dum-dum” of the famous tune which is heard in all of the Bond films has been the inspiration for many other spy-fi projects. Even toddlers are familiar with the sound as evidenced by the opening sequence for the Disney Channel’s popular pre-school kids’ show Special Agent Oso.
The opening credits are accompanied by songs sung by well-known singers including Tina Turner, Sheryl Crow and Tom Jones. Paul and Linda McCartney had their Bond song performed with their band Wings, “Live and Let Die”, nominated for an Academy Award as did Bill Conti and Michael Leeson’s song “For Your Eyes Only” performed by Sheena Easton. She actually appeared in the title sequence singing the song. The only singer to actually appear as a character in the film is Madonna in Die Another Day. Duran Duran’s song, “A View to a Kill” from the film of the same name made it to number one on the U.
S. pop charts in 1985 (Chapman, 2000). James Bond has appeared in video games, comic books, and even as an action figure. Countless books, essays and articles have been written about him and songs have been sung in his honor. He’s starred in movies and on television. Ian Fleming’s secret agent has managed to infiltrate just about every aspect of the media in hundreds of languages in countries around the world. With no end in sight, is it any wonder that the American Film Institute has his most famous quotation recorded as the 22nd greatest in cinema history (afi. com 2010)?
And with another Bond film on the horizon, we can no doubt be sure that some time in the near future, we will once again be reintroduced to the man known as Agent 007 and will hear the immortal introduction of, “My name is Bond, James Bond. ” Bibliography All Time U. S. A. Top Box Office Leaders by Decade and Year (2010). Retrieved April 11, 2010, from http://www. filmsite. org/boxoffice2. html. Amis, Kingsley (1966). The James Bond Dossier. London, Jonathan Cape. Bennett, T. and Woollacott, J. (1987). Bond and Beyond: The Political Career of a Popular Hero. London. Benson, Raymond (1984).
The James Bond Bedside Companion. New York, Dodd, Mead and Company. Biederman, Danny (2004). The Incredible World of Spy-Fi. Chronicle Books, Llc. Chancellor, Henry (2005). James Bond: The Man and His World. London, John Murray. Chapman, James (2000). Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films. New York, Columbia University Press. “Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn” Tops AFI’s List of 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time (2010). Retrieved April 11, 2010 from http://www. afi. com/tvevents/100years/quotes. aspx. Harry Potter Becomes Highest Grossing Film Franchise (2007).
Retrieved April 11, 2010, fromhttp://www. guardian. co. uk/film/2007/sep/11/jkjoannekathleenrowling. Lycett, Andrew (1995). Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond. London: Turner Pub. “Q&A with Mel Brooks”. Los Angeles Times. May 19, 2008. Retrieved May 1, 2010 from http://www. latimes. com/entertainment/news/movies/la-et-brooks20-2008may20,0,4126646. story. Sandbrook, Dominic (2005). Never Had It So Good. London, Little Brown. Winder, Simon (2006). The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.