“Bond. James Bond.” That line of introduction has been spoken by six actors in 24 films over the last 50 years in what is a genuine cinematic and cultural phenomenon: The most successful and enduring film franchise ever.
The story behind that is told in the documentary Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007. The title is a wee bit hyperbolic: No state secrets, so to speak, are spilled in its history of the Bond movie franchise. But its behind-the-scenes look at how the silver screen spy with a license to kill serving in Her Majesty’s Secret Service has continued to enchant moviegoers is nonetheless a fascinating and revelatory tale.
It all began with a dozen novels by Ian Fleming, the first of which, Casino Royale, was published in 1953. They are documents of a bygone Cold War consciousness that hang on a framework of good versus evil that count among the books’ fans Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, among many others, including myself in my latter days as a youngster into my early teens. (I chuckle today at how what were considered quite racy love scenes that tickled my libido as I hit puberty are in fact rather prim compared to what’s considered highly sexual today.)
The film follows how producers Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman launched the franchise in 1962 with the movie of Dr. No, casting the then largely unknown Sean Connery as Bond. (I don’t count the 1967 Bond parody movie of Casino Royale among the total of 24 above). In its own way, the story of the series has its own dramatic elements that may not rival the plots of the Bond books and films yet is still a rather gripping tale as told in this documentary.
The tensions that grew between Connery and the producers as the movies became successful is a part of the tale, as is the legal battle Broccoli and Satzman and their company Eon Productions had with producer Kevin McClory, who had collaborated with Fleming on adapting Bond for the movies prior to Eon. The scrap eventually won McClory the rights to produce 1963’s Never Say Never Again (a remake of Thunderball), in which Connery returned to the role he made famous after a dozen years.
Another fascinating wrinkle in the story is how Saltzman’s financial troubles led to Broccoli buying his share of the rights. The footnote of actor George Lazenby playing Bond for only one movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, nonetheless bristles with how potent the Bond iconography had become by that time.
The Bond movies were so central to 1960s culture that they spawned a plethora of movie and TV knock-offs and parodies like the Matt Helm films starring Dean Martin, the Flint movies with James Coburn and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy and Get Smart. And later, of course, the Austin Powers films by Mike Myers (which, even if Myers is a Bond fan from his youth like I am, I find rather wretched and stupid).
At the core of the documentary is how “The Franchise,” as it has become known, has morphed over the years through the actors playing Bond, from serious drama to more light and even comedic, and of course all the advanced and sometimes fantastical gadgets and weapons.
Broccoli’s daughter Barbara took over the Bond series after his passing. And in what I consider perhaps the most significant turn of events, retooled and relaunched Bond in 2006 with Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig, restoring the dramatic heft of the spy and the series with what is now three of what are the best movies in the series.
The films have earned some $6 billion over the years, which when adjusted for inflation make it the highest grossing series ever. The lines “Bond. James Bond” and his martini order “Shaken not stirred” are etched into the pop cultural lexicon. The spy remains a primary symbol of postwar modernity, yielding such superb recent TV shows as MI-5, Homeland and The Americans and the resonant recent films of John LeCarré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Zero Dark Thirty.
The success of Bond was a major force in making the spy an iconographic figure of the times we live in. “Everything or Nothing” may not engage in the analysis of why that is and how it represents the notions of good and evil, heroism, geopolitics and so much more – all that may only become fully evident in the future – but it’s still a superb look at the inside story of how James Bond, the silver screen spy, became and remains one of the best-known fictional characters on the planet and still highly appealing to moviegoers worldwide.
Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2013
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