Two fans of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 discuss the character in the novels compared to the films on the release of Thunderball in 1966

From the TVTimes for 5-11 February 1966

The whole fantastic, furious, frantic life of 007. It’s all there on Sunday in The Incredible World of James Bond which examines on the screen, the Bond women, Bond clothes. Bond enemies, Bond gadgets, the Bond way of life. Two authors, who take a very special view of Ian Fleming’s creation, explain themselves here. The first is

MAX CAULFIELD

who has seen, virtually from the inside, the rise of Bond — though he is still less than enthusiastic…

 

Ian Fleming

PEOPLE don’t believe me when I tell them I’m one of the few men in the world who knows what it’s like to be Goldfinger. But three times in my life I’ve run up against James Bond — and three times I’ve been worsted.

I first met the man 14 years ago.

He was a tall, slender, finely-drawn aristocrat with impeccable manners. He was calling himself Ian Fleming.

“Read your book,” said Bond-Fleming. “Thought it jolly fine.”

“I hear you’ve one coming out shortly,” I said.

“Oh, just a thriller,” said Bond-Fleming carelessly. “Not serious stuff like yours. ‘Casino Royale’.”

“Humph,” I said, no longer impressed. “Good title, anyway.”

“Sort of hobby,” said Bond-Fleming, slightly embarrassed I thought. He had been Deputy Director of Naval Intelligence during the war and was now foreign editor of a quality Sunday newspaper.

“A change from the boring business of newspapers?” I suggested.

“That’s about it,” said Bond-Fleming. “Don’t suppose it’ll do much. But you never know.”

It was a long time before I read a Bond book. Thrillers bore me — and the Bond saga proved no exception. I thought Bond a cardboard character and the plots had holes as big as chasms.

But at least I formed some definite ideas about Bond — he would be very similar to Bond-Fleming himself in education, intelligence and background.

So when I met a gentle American called Broccoli in a Soho restaurant one lunchtime, I believed myself to be an expert on Bond (Broccoli and his partner Saltzman had just bought the film rights to the Bond books).

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Cubby Broccoli spread several portraits of almost unknown actors on the table and I looked to see if I could pick a Bond. A dead loss. They all seemed stereotypes to me.

“Well, we’re not absolutely sure about this one yet,” conceded Cubby, showing me a picture of a square-faced actor. “But he’s the most promising and I think we’ll settle.”

“Wrong!” I yelled. “Absolutely wrong! He’s no more like James Bond than I am. Who is he, anyway?”

“Chap called Sean Connery,” said Cubby.

Broccoli and Saltzman are now millionaires. I, of course, am not.

Six months or so later I called on Bond-Connery at his Hampstead flat. I don’t think any of the Bond films had been released — but if they had, they hadn’t registered their present impact.

He’d been born and bred in an Edinburgh cold-water tenement. He’d run a milk-round at 17. He’d been discharged from the Navy with ulcers. He’d then been a lorry driver, coffin-polisher, beach life guard and footballer.

I couldn’t help but admire the big likeable chap for the way he had fought his way to success. Yet, in my opinion, he still remained unlike James Bond.

The story of how Bond-Connery became an actor was an incredible tale.

He was in London to take part in weight-lifting championships when a friend told him: “They’re looking for extras for ‘South Pacific’. Why don’t you have a go?”

At this time Bond-Connery’s total acting experience certainly wouldn’t have filled a cocoa tin. Once, he’d been allowed to carry a spear during Anna Neagle’s “Victoria Regina.”

But when the “South Pacific” producer asked him. “What have you done?” Bond-Connery didn’t have to lie — just manipulate the truth a little.

“Oh. my last appearance was with Anna Neagle in Scotland”, he said, failing to add that it was also his first. He got the job, and was away.

The sheer audacity of Bond-Connery took my breath away and I suddenly realised that he was, indeed, just the right man for the part.

Once again I’d been wrong about James Bond.

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Kingsley Amis… films will never take the place of the Bond books

…Then there is

KINGSLEY AMIS

who is a declared fan – with reservations

 

TO most people, James Bond means Sean Connery, and “The Adventures of 007” means the Saltzman-Broccoli films, those huge, expensive, powerful, ridiculous fantasies of sex, violence, gadgetry and high living.

To me, though, Bond is a character in fiction, and the films will never take the place of the Ian Fleming novels.

Connery is a limited, but competent actor, and particularly in the latest, “Thunderball”, he moves and walks with a kind of graceful power that is a delight to watch.

It is his face and voice that are wrong — wrong for the Bond of the books, who is a quieter, colder, more polished and urbane sort of person altogether.

Similarly with the films themselves. I enjoy them all right, but they have come to offer less and less in the way of any serious story or plot, more and more clowning, high jinks, reliance on gimmickry. Bond has become the Superman of the comics.

It’s great fun when at the beginning of “Thunderball” he escapes from a bunch of bad men by strapping on his U.S. Army one-man jet-pack and sailing over the wall. But this kind of thing, which goes on happening all through the film, means that tension, danger, real thrills have disappeared. In case of trouble, just press the button.

I would guess that “Thunderball” will be the last of the record-breaking Bond movies. The public knows that laughs are not too hard to come by, but thrills, genuine thrills, are a much tougher proposition, and so that much more to be sought after when they do turn up.

The next screen adventures to make large headlines will be adventures that really thrill and grip.

In the meantime, it’s back to the books for me. There, the world of James Bond is more vivid, varied and exciting.

Fleming knew that the villain who can successfully pretend not to be a villain is the most dangerous of all.

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There is a lot more in the novels. Brilliantly organised action writing about ordeals and escapes that call for quick thinking and ingenuity on Bond’s part, not just toughness.

Set-pieces about gambling and ski-ing and swimming and fast driving which convince even somebody like me (who hates them all in reality) that they are wonderful. Nature-descriptions that leave colour-film lagging behind.

And, of course, girls. It would be hard to think of anyone better qualified physically than Ursula Andress to play Honeychile in “Dr. No.”

But even she — because of the way the screenplay was written — had no chance to convey the emotional qualities of that character as she is portrayed in the novel: tough but tender, vulnerable but trusting, childish but intelligent and resourceful. There is more of the same in the other books.

If all I say is true, Fleming was no ordinary cloak-and-dagger author. No indeed. People who wonder and argue about the cult of Bond and of spy stories in general, who talk about the effect of the cold war on the contemporary consciousness, miss the obvious explanation.

The man who created the world of James Bond was one of the great popular writers of this century.

Categories: What we watched

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