“You expect me to talk?” says a desperate James Bond, strapped
helplessly to a gurney, legs splayed, eyes on the powerful industrial laser
beam slowly approaching his privates. “No,
Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” replies Auric Goldfinger, his casually sadistic
That bantering exchange is one of the more memorable
in a cinematic series that now spans fifty years, its survival as improbable as
the many miraculous escapes of its mythic Cold War hero, British secret agent
Alas, poor Auric!
He is no longer with us. But 007
The release next week of Skyfall – the 23rd Bond film, featuring the sixth actor
in the role, Daniel Craig – is as eagerly anticipated by fans as the first one,
Dr. No, was half a century earlier,
and for which we stood in line in the rain half way to nowhere. Skyfall’s
box-office potential hardly needs help from favourable reviews, but in the
event they have been glowing.
Meanwhile, Sky television is celebrating – or
promoting – the event by devoting an entire channel to all the previous Bond
films, keeping us interested by showing them in apparently random order.
At seven o’clock you might thrill to the sardonic
suavity of the original 007, Sean Connery, considered by most to be the paragon
of Ian Fleming’s literary creation (though Fleming was not himself entirely
convinced). Then, after a hasty supper
we could settle in to admire the pretty, male-model looks of Irishman Pierce
Brosnan, sometimes called the ‘Designer Bond’, a buffed-up human accessory calculated
to complement the flash cars, the shamelessly sponsored gadgets and the five-star
hotels. And night owls could stay up to discover
– perhaps to their chagrin – that Bond had morphed into Roger Moore, the
insufferably bland pseudo-sophisticate who demeaned the role – in the name of
comedy, he claimed – with a contempt that could be excused only in an actor whose
technique extended beyond the occasional raising of a quizzical eyebrow.
At other times, in films scarcely worth mentioning, the
other two Bonds will appear: the wooden, conceited George Lazenby, whose one
hapless performance threatened to scupper the entire series, and the curiously
diffident Timothy Dalton, who looked good in black tie but always gave the
impression he would far rather be somewhere else, and mercifully disappeared
after just two outings.
The best of them all in my opinion is the incumbent,
Craig. In the splendid Casino Royale, with the help of a decent
script and a competent director, he set about reviving the series. If Skyfall
is half as good as the critics say it is (and despite the awful intervening
Quantum of Solace) he will have
succeeded. While replacing the
self-absorbed, self-parodying charms of Connery, Brosnan and Moore with grit
and guts, Craig’s ruthless streak gives way at times to occasional flashes of sentimentality,
a vulnerability that none of his predecessors would have dared to expose – or
known how to. Craig is unafraid to allow
his character to get bloodied and bruised, either physically or emotionally.
I am among those who found most of the Bond films,
certainly after the first three or four, tedious and poorly made, especially
those featuring the vapid Moore and the plastic Brosnan. And I was certainly of the view that they had
outlived their times, the Cold War decades that bred the Swinging Sixties and
the Cynical Seventies.
But then other ancient heroes keep coming back to a
cinema near you: Sherlock Holmes, from the late Victorian era, for a start. And what about Robin Hood, after all these
centuries, still doing battle with those cruel Norman interlopers?
Bond may survive yet.
And Craig is the man to keep him alive.