I suppose I’ll get around to seeing Spectre, the new James Bond film, but probably not until it reaches my television screen.
The reviews have been favourable enough, but the days when a new Bond release got me tingling with anticipation are long gone. I’m not sure they ever existed. If they did, the last such tremble would have been for Goldfinger, which, after occasional viewings on television, I still find entertaining. Or perhaps Thunderball, which strikes me now even if it didn’t at the time it came out, as pretty poor.
I think the Bond franchise went to seed around that time. Yes, even before the much-admired Sean Connery had quit the title role. His last ‘authorized’ appearance as 007 – ‘authorized meaning that it came under the umbrella of the Cubby Broccoli-Harry Saltzman franchise, blessed by Ian Fleming – was in Diamonds Are Forever, which may rank as the worst Bond of the entire series. After that, which Connery said ‘never again’, before returning in ‘Never Say Never Again’, which was made by a maverick producer whose name, like the film, has receded from memory.
Broccoli-Saltzman had dragged Connery back for Diamonds in desperation, having meanwhile put the entire franchise at risk by hiring George Lazenby, who, in his only appearance as Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) achieved a feat that many had said was impossible: he made Roger Moore look animated.
Moore at the time was a tiring, and tiresome, forty-something veteran of half a dozen television series, all of them forgettable except for their effortless risibility. (Remember Ivanhoe?) Inexplicably, he had often been mentioned as a candidate for the Bond role. In truth, his sculpted male-model looks were perfect for it, so long as one overlooked a non-acting style that comprised a permanently quizzical expression, moderated from time to time by the raising and lowering of eyebrows. Moore may have been inanimate to the point of being fossilized but after the Lazenby disaster the producers needed a safe pair of hands.
If a more vapid leading man of the cinema than Moore comes to mind, please let me know. Gregory Peck might do.
Many of us thought he would wreck the franchise. In this, inexplicably, he failed. Not for want of trying. Far from wrecking the franchise, Moore’s wooden insignificance actually contrived to sustain it over seven pictures. My theory is that the 007 character by then was merely a minor cog in a vast enterprise in which the acting performances were scarcely noticed amid the gorgeous locations, the spectacular sets, the preposterous plot-lines, the chases and fiery explosions – not to mention the procession of voluptuous babes.
By the time Moore’s face muscles, not to mention the rest of him, had atrophied completely in A View to a Kill, critics sounded almost relieved in predicting the death of the franchise.
But, to borrow from one of the Bond film titles, Tomorrow Never Dies. Timothy Dalton, a refugee from classical English theatre, had a brief run-out but gave the distinct impression that he considered the material below his talents; or above them, it was hard to tell. So when market research suggested that he was never going to set female hearts aflutter, the Bond producers reverted to form by turning once more to television for the eponymous hero. Pierce Brosnon was rescued from Remington Steele, a paint-by-the-numbers private eye series. Brosnon’s principal contribution to the ever-mutating Bond persona, over four films – each of them more forgettable than the previous one – was to replace Moore’s errant eyebrows with an endlessly pursed lip. Occasionally, to be fair, it curled.
So we come to the latest Bond, Daniel Craig. He is far and away the best of them. And the best of the Bond films was Casino Royale, his first in the part. The one that followed, Skyfall, may be the next best, although it has a dark psychological sub-plot, and in the final scene kills off one of Bond’s colleagues.
Craig is dashing but vulnerable, more a blue-collar roughneck than his predecessors, and far more complex. He is an altogether different kind of Bond from the others. A welcome change, I would say, although I’m guessing that Ian Fleming would probably not have approved.
But who cares now? From an aesthetic point of view, terminating the whole Bond show down is long overdue, and Craig’s performances have provided the star turn that normally provides the excuse for bringing the curtain down.
Tomorrow does die. I, for one, will not be sad.
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