Day 793: Curious Bond-ities

originally published March 3, 2014

After three years of film studies classes, I have yet to find any university prof who will bestow more than a grunt upon the phenomenon of James Bond. I understand that – if ever there was a formula film genre, Bond takes the golden crown of convention. But they are fun conventions, and despite the volumes upon volumes of cinematic history and analysis I have devoured in search of my degree, none of it really matters when a movie aspires to nothing more than fun.

The more recent run of Bond-age has explored love and loss in James’ life, dipped into his childhood origins for a sprinkling of character depth, and of course the guy has had his balls whipped. But the consistent thrills within the 23 films are the babes, the beverages and the bevy of bodacious techy-trinkets. Twenty-three films is an impressive feat, despite the lack of temporal congruity or a unifying sense of narrative continuity. But so what?

We don’t need to know how the psychological damage of the laser beam scene in Goldfinger is going to impact Bond’s battle technique atop the Golden Gate Bridge in A View To A Kill. Sure, the Daniel Craig trilogy (destined to be a quadrilogy in 2015) has given us a few consistent arcs within the characters, but we all know that they’ll get tossed aside when Craig moves on and the next Bond takes over.

I’m voting for Idris Elba in that role, by the way. If Remington Steele can be a Bond, why not Stringer Bell?

As I mentioned, there are 23 Bond films in the official canon. If you want to be a completist, you’ll have to grab three additional films for your library. These ones won’t be found in the box set.

There’s the first James Bond film, released eight years prior to Dr. No. CBS paid Ian Fleming a whopping $1000 to adapt his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, into a one-hour television broadcast as part of their Climax! anthology series. The show aired on October 21, 1954. Remember two years ago when people were talking about the 50th anniversary of James Bond on film? Well, if we want to get really accurate, we’re actually at 60 years now.

Bond was played as an American agent by Barry Nelson, whom you might remember as the hotel manager who interviews Jack Nicholson at the beginning of The Shining. The villain, the notorious baccarat player known as Le Chiffre (played creepily by Mads Mikkelson in the 2006 film), was portrayed by the magnificently shifty Peter Lorre. This version I really want to see. It made little splash (though there was talk of a possible series), and remained lost to the ages until film historian Jim Schoenberger found an old kinescope recording of it in 1981.

Another non-canon Bond flick you won’t find in the box set is the 1967 adaptation of Casino Royale, starring David Niven as Bond, Orson Welles as Le Chiffre, and Woody Allen as Bond’s bungling nephew Jimmy. Peter Sellers also has a prominent role. It goes without saying this is the lone Bond comedy, a spoof of the novel and film series. The film plays like a typical 1960’s “zany” comedy with too many stars and not enough skill in the writers’ room. It has its moments, but if you track it down, bring a blanket. You’ll be dealing with a heap of douche-chills.

The movie received mostly heinous reviews from critics, though some praised it as a nonsensical psychedelic romp. Nevertheless, the film was ranked #13 in gross ticket sales for 1967, earning more than Cool Hand Luke and only about $2 million less than Best Picture winner In The Heat Of The Night. Orson Welles felt the film did well because of the naked tattooed lady on the poster. It was probably just the Bond name that drew people in.

By 1983, Sean Connery had not portrayed James Bond in twelve years. Roger Moore was six films into his seven-movie run in the role, so it raised a few eyebrows when Connery returned. Especially when it happened only four months after Moore’s Bond blockbuster, Octopussy. The story behind the making of Never Say Never Again is strange and convoluted. The film is based on Fleming’s 1961 novel Thunderball, which had already been made into a 1965 movie by that name – the fourth Bond movie, also with Connery in the lead role. But the novel underwent a complicated copyright infringement suit, and for whatever reason, some of the people involved felt it needed a cinematic reboot.

After making Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, Connery swore he’d “never again” play Bond. His wife told him, “Never say never again,” which became the title of this reboot. Since Eon Productions had nothing to do with the film’s creation, it is not included as a canon Bond movie, despite the impressive performance of Max von Sydow as the villain and Kim Bassinger as the obligatory Bond girl. The reviews were fairly kind, though despite Connery’s return to the role, it didn’t bring in the big Octopussy money.

The actors, the toys and the babes may change from movie to movie, but one of the consistent threads throughout the Bond universe is his drink. In the very first Bond novel, he requests his own beverage: a Vesper: three measures of Gordon’s dry gin, one of vodka (grain-based, not potato-based if possible), half a measure of Kina Lillet (a French aperitif wine), shaken with ice and finished with a thin slice of lemon peel.

On the screen, Bond orders a martini in the very first film, Dr. No. In Goldfinger (the third film), he utters the immortal instruction, “shaken, not stirred.” George Lazenby and Roger Moore both enjoyed the drink as Bond, though neither ordered it themselves. Timothy Dalton utters the line again in The Living Daylights, while Pierce Brosnan drinks the martini, again without having ordered it himself. Daniel Craig went old-school in the modern Casino Royale, telling a bartender how to make a proper Vespa.

Biochemists have spent some time digging into the inherent logic of shaking a martini in a cocktail shaker rather than stirring it. Researchers at the University of Western Ontario determined that a shaken martini possesses more antioxidants than one that has been stirred. Fleming himself – an avid imbiber of martinis, though he preferred gin to Bond’s choice of vodka – felt that stirring a drink reduced its flavor.

Some mixologists believe that shaking a gin martini ‘bruises’ the gin, leading to a slightly bitter taste in the final beverage. That said, shaking a vodka martini – especially one made from older, potato-based vodka, which was more common when the novels were written – disperses the oil in the drink, leading to a better flavor. Mostly I think the screenwriters liked the way the instruction sounded.

When Bond 24 makes its way to the screens next year, I’ll happily forego my film-snob training and park myself in a theater seat. Fun movies are simply fun – no amount of academia can puncture that balloon. Maybe I’ll sneak in a flask too. Something shaken, of course.

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