Time to take a break during the holidays — impossible during last year’s kerfuffle after the 2020 election — and hence the delay in publishing this piece on a legend who left us on Halloween 2020; and quite a bio he had — before and after his cinematic alter ego.
Those of us who remember seeing the early films realize how risqué they were for the time, and how comparatively tame they seem now. The series should have been canceled no later than after Roger Moore’s GQ-style 007. Connery made his last Bond film in 1983, Moore in 1985. Bond hanging up his Super-Spy spikes at 23 would have been plenty.
Nothing much has come along since. Bond has become an empty vessel into which anyone can be placed. How would Sir Ian react to the just-released LGBTQ 007? How many stunt-driven car chase scenes, how many ridiculously protracted digitally created fight scenes, do we need to see?
Yet much was added to Fleming’s characters early on, by the original actors playing supporting roles. “Q” (Desmond Llewelyn), MI6’s fictional acerbic armorer (2:39); Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), the trusty secretary with a crush (3:06) on 007; Bernard Lee, the formidable MI6 chief, “M.” The spy agency’s intrepid crew faces archvillains galore: Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) — who’d have thought that the sinister director of SMERSH (acronym for smiert shpionam — “death to spies”) was the lovely lass married in youth to composer Kurt Weill, who gave us the immortal tune, Mack the Knife? Lenya’s instrument for dispatching 007 to the hereafter was psychopathic killer Donovan “Red” Grant (Robert Shaw). Then came Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe), who cheated at cards and golf, losing to 007’s slicker cheating both times; and his thuggish bodyguard, karate-killer Oddjob (pro wrestler Harold Sakata), carved seemingly from granite, only to be electrocuted by 007 just in time to save Fort Knox; and for perennial menace, who could have topped Jaws (Richard Kiel), a worthy successor to earlier film Frankensteins.
All hail, Connery Bond belles: Ursula Andress, whose legendary Playboy pictorial and penchant for displaying her ample charms earned her the sobriquet, Arsula Undress; Daniella Bianchi, first runner-up to 1960’s Miss Universe; Honor Blackman, who had the honor of being the first Bond belle to flip 007 on his keister; Shirley Eaton, best known for her being painted a suffocating gold; and Lana Wood, whose “plentiful” charms (2:37) livened up a dice game. But their feminine charms extraordinaire.often did not include their actual voices. Incredibly, from 1962 to 1979 — Dr. No through Moonraker — many Bond-belle voices were voice-overs by German-born Nikki van der Zyl, including that of Brit Shirley Eaton. Van der Zyl’s voice was thought sexier than those for whom she dubbed.
Moore-era Bond femmes like Jane Seymour (Live and Let Die, 1973); Swedish-Polish Ford model Maud Adams — Octopussy, 1983 & The Man With the Golden Gun, 1974; Britt Ekland (also in TMWTGG), another sexy Swede, whose wedding night gift to husband Peter Sellers was a near-fatal coronary, offered audiences “Moore” of the sexy same. How many players — if any — from later Bond flicks match the cavalcade on these lists? Those of the later Bond flicks I passed idle time on nights in hotel rooms with limited video fare and inadequate light for reading.
Central to the success of Bond films was nonpareil set designer Ken Adam. He worked on all Connery Bond films save 1963’s From Russia With Love and 1983’s Never Say Never Again. He created the spectacular supertanker set (4:17) for 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, on the then-largest sound stage in the world. In 1965’s Thunderball, Adam’s underwater stagings (9:18) offered a technology showcase in small submersibles and the hydrofoil Disco Volante — “flying fish”). Adam was set designer for film classics Around the World in 80 Days (1956), Ben-Hur (1959) and Dr. Strangelove (1964). Work on Strangelove precluded his working on From Russia With Love. Besides his film work, the German-born Adam was one of three German expatriates to fly RAF combat missions in World War II.
No appraisal of the great era of Bond films would be complete without mention of the music. Two songs stand out above the rest: 1964’s Goldfinger, composed by John Barry, whose Bond music and conducting work spanned 26 years. With lyrics by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, it was sung memorably in the film’s opening title sequence (2:49) by Shirley Bassey, spiced up by the nude (though shadowed) image of Bond girl Margaret Nolan. The 1977 Marvin Hamlisch/Carol Bayer Sager jazz-rock “Nobody Does It Better,” in the title sequence (2:43) for The Spy Who Loved Me, showcased superstar Carly Simon’s nonpareil rendition.
Add four cool instrumentals. The world-famed James Bond 007 Theme was originally a song from a failed musical, composed by thespian Monty Norman; the tale of the tune (5:47) is a lulu. John Barry arranged and orchestrated the movie version (1:44). A second 007 theme offers a minor-key melody (2:19) for the gypsy camp battle in From Russia With Love, and adds a major-key melody (4:47) for an aerial panorama in 1967’s You Only Live Twice. Throw in 1964’s “Welcome to Miami” (1:33), that introduces Bond’s first encounter with Eaton while being massaged by bikini-clad Nolan. In 2011 the Palms aired a rousing tribute (9 min.) to the early films.
Gambling games figure prominently in several Connery/Bond films. Bond makes his gambling debut at the baccarat — chemin de fer — table in Dr. No: “Bond, James Bond.” Best game scene: the spectacular bridge game in Moonraker (1979) at the fictional Blades, with the 18th century Duke of Cumberland Hand — that fooled King George III, no less — leading villain Hugo Drax (played by Michel Lonsdale, who bore no resemblance to the physical description in Fleming’s novel) to ruin. Drax, a talented card cheat, thinks he has a grand slam in clubs, but against a diamond lead and a mistake by the dummy player, instead the defenders run 13 non-suit tricks in diamonds. Octopussy has Bond in India, facing off against Louis Jourdan in backgammon, winning big by getting hold of what he knows is the villain’s loaded dice — always comes up two sixes — by claiming “player’s privilege,” a rule that does not exist in the real-world game.
Add some choice selections from IMDb’s voluminous Bond-flick trivia collection. Start with From Russia With Love. Its Orient Express climactic fight scene was based upon a real 1950 episode: a Red agent assassinated his victim and tossed the body off of the celebrated train. The decoding machine that was the object of 007’s desire in that film — when he was not distracted by the honey-trap charms of Bianchi’s delectable Tatiana Romanova — was based upon the real-life World War II delivery of the Nazi “Enigma” cipher machine. Thought unbreakable, its code was broken at Bletchley Park. Ian Fleming, a WW-II intelligence officer, was involved on the intel side of the so-called “Ultra” secret, vital to the Allied victory. The retractable shoe toe-knife that Lenya’s Rosa Klebb tries to kill Bond with at the end was in real life an actual weapon employed by the Soviet KGB. In an 1961 interview, President Kennedy listed the book as one of his all-time favorites. This led the producers to make this the second Bond film. Screened at the White House Nov. 20, 1963, it was the last film JFK saw.
From You Only Live Twice came a case of truth stranger than fiction. Key Bond-film figures did, in a way, live twice. On March 5, 1966, during the filming in Japan, five key players were to board BOAC Flight 911 — a number designation that proved tragically apt — for Hong Kong and London: co-producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman; director Lewis Gilbert, who would later direct two more Bond films; Freddie Young, winner of three Academy cinematography awards; and set designer Ken Adam. But just before departure they were invited to a special ninja demonstration, to help plan the final fight scene inside Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s subterranean volcano lair. Minutes after takeoff, the Boeing 707 airliner they missed disintegrated upon crashing into Mt. Fuji.
And finally there is Fleming’s literary connection with legendary sci-fi novelist Jules Verne. Bond’s most durable antagonist, Blofeld, was inspired by Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Card-cheat Hugo Drax was drawn from Verne’s sci-fi inventor, the arch-villain Robur, whose flying machines appear in two of Verne’s lesser-known novels.
Enjoy Sir Sean’s TV guest stint (6:07) on What’s My Line? A perfect setting for a festival party would be the Côte d’Azur mountainside Bond-style mansion Connery built; at this writing it remains on the market.
Sir Sean was a larger-than-life superstar — the rare “man’s man” and “woman’s man.” The producers originally thought of casting Rex Harrison, romantic “sexy Rexy” of British stage and film; David Niven, epitome of highbrow British suave; and Richard Burton, legendary Shakespearean player, as 007. Harrison, a dashing romantic lead in his youth, had become middle-aged Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady; Niven, ever debonair, fared far better as the suave jewel thief in the original Pink Panther film (1963). Both were also much too old for plausible fight scenes. Burton, at 37 only five years older than Connery, was already well into alcohol-fueled decline. His spy persona was to be fixed in 1965’s gritty Cold War black & white The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Author John le Carré’s moral ambiguity went far towards both sides being equally immoral; Fleming’s hero harbored no such reservations in confronting supreme evil. Indeed, Sir Ian’s Cold War hero became openly allied with the Soviets in later films, teamed against the fictional S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, & Extortion).
The “man’s man” side of Sir Sean earns bonus points for literally stomping Johnny Stompanato, a top enforcer for L.A. Mafia kingpin Mickey Cohen, in a fracas. Seems tough-guy Stompanato decided Connery was having an affair with his main squeeze, 1940s sex symbol Lana Turner, then starring in a 1958 film with Connery as her lover. He confronted Connery and pulled a gun, only to be disarmed and decked by the future 007.
But what of 008? He’s first mentioned in 1964’s Goldfinger, when M delivers a stern warning to 007:
M: Gold? All over?
James Bond: She died of skin suffocation. It’s been known to happen to cabaret dancers. It’s all right as long as you leave a small bare patch at the base of the spine to allow the skin to breathe.
M: Someone obviously didn’t.
James Bond: And I know who.
M: This isn’t a personal vendetta, 007. It’s an assignment, like any other. And if you can’t treat it as such, coldly and objectively, 008 can replace you.
No one in Hollywood today comes close to the cinematic original 007. It is long past time to close up shop. Sir Sean, nobody did 007 better.
John C. Wohlstetter is author of Sleepwalking With the Bomb (Discovery Institute Press, 2d. ed., 2014).
Notice to Readers: The American Spectator and Spectator World are marks used by independent publishing companies that are not affiliated in any way. If you are looking for The Spectator World please click on the following link: https://spectatorworld.com/.