James Bond is, in a word, timeless. An enduring symbol of effortless cool, irresistible sexual appeal, extreme intelligence, style, sophistication and class, it’s not surprising that the actors who’ve played him have had some mighty big (and chic) shoes to fill. But when looking back at our cinematic Bonds (all six of them, from 1962 to 2008), one realizes that the famed double agent is also symbolic of his era -- making him a little trickier to cast once the need arrives. Like his drink, being Bond is a tall order.
Our current Bond, Daniel Craig (who took over for Pierce Brosnan), learned this lesson the hard, but ultimately successful, way. When word of his casting was finalized in 2005, Bond fans and mean-spirited tabloids went ballistic. Attacking him over his appearance, his background, his hair and even his ability to handle an Aston Martin (apparently he couldn’t drive a stick), the naysayers were proven wrong when the action-packed, whip-smart Casino Royale (directed by Martin Campbell) was unveiled to a doubting public. Not only was the picture a gritty good time but one of the best Bond films ever made. And Daniel Craig was, indeed fantastic. The perfect Bond for his time, Craig triumphantly continues with his upcoming mouthful, Quantum of Solace. But were all of our Bonds, even the less popular super spies, quintessential of their era? Surveying them through time, we heartily say yes.
The Swinging ‘60s Gentleman Spy: Sean Connery (1962-1967; 1971 and 1983)
Scottish-born, smooth operator Sean Connery is still considered the perfect representation of all things Bond. The best looking, the best speaking, the most charming, the most stylish – you name it, Connery’s got it. But when first cast in 1962’s Dr. No, even he had his detractors, namely and most importantly, Ian Fleming -- the novelist who created Bond. But once audiences saw the curiously accented, arch-browed Connery state his name as “Bond, James Bond,” they fell under his spell. During a strange cinematic era that gave us wholesome hits like My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins, and dark, challenging classics like Dr. Strangelove and The Manchurian Candidate – James Bond movies were, for a while, the perfect tonic. Bond’s sexy ‘60s gals (notably goddesses like Ursula Andress and Honor Blackman), were acceptably violent and sexually active (no way is this Bond not going to sleep with, ahem, Pussy Galore). Connery’s Bond would have no problem navigating his way through one of Hugh Hefner’s hep-cat Playboy parties and a bell-bottomed love-in (though he’d find the time to mock all the long-haired hippies, one would presume, while nabbing all of their girlfriends). James Bond at Woodstock? We would have loved to have seen that.
The Art-House Bond: George Lazenby (1969)
It seems kind of perfect that just as society (and cinema) was experiencing such a strong cultural shift by 1969, so was James Bond. With more cynical, darker subject matter on screens (Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider and Bonnie and Clyde) and the peace and love of the 1960s growing more sinister (Altamont, in particular), Australian-born George Lazenby was an especially brooding Bond. Taking over for Connery, the star of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is perhaps the most controversial Bond in the history of the franchise and one who inspires extreme responses (some detest him, while others think he’s the most interesting and true to Ian Fleming’s source material). More stoic and haunted than Connery, newbie (and ex male model) Lazenby was a blend of art-house sensibility and settled-down romance. This is the Bond, after all, who gets married. But in the end, audiences didn’t necessarily want to think during a Bond picture. This need for escape helped usher in our cheekiest Bond yet -- Roger Moore.
The Mid-Life Crisis Bond: Roger Moore (1973-1985)
OK, so maybe it’s a bit harsh, but there is something a little divorced about Roger Moore’s older, sleazier Bond -- which is one of the reasons why many of us like him so much. Making a decided distinction not to ape Connery, Moore smoked cigars, drank Bourbon and generally appeared a little more ruffled, a little more bemused, a little sweatier than the smooth operator of yore. Moore was for those who didn’t experience the youth movement of the 1960s. Representing men who may have felt they missed out on something and are now making up for lost time, Moore was perfectly, at times ridiculously, the Ice Storm generation Bond. And he absolutely belongs to the ‘70s and early ‘80s– from his puffier hair to his turtleneck sweaters to his flared suits. And hey, he did manage to snag one of most iconic, emotional Bond tunes every sung – Carly Simon’s power ballad “Nobody Does it Better” (from The Spy Who Loved Me) . Aw, that makes us misty for Moore and…brown turtleneck sweaters.
The Politically Correct Bond: Timothy Dalton (1987-1989)
When Moore exited the by now-stale, somewhat ridiculous (but still lovable, darn it) franchise, the Bond movies, very briefly, veered towards the serious – again (didn’t they learn anything from George Lazenby?). Enter classically trained, Welsh-born Timothy Dalton, an impressive actor of stage and screen who made his film debut opposite Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Coming into the Bond scene after already turning down the role more than once, Dalton and company made 007 moody alright and more in line with Fleming’s tough novels, but also a little more effeminate. Though The Living Daylights and License to Kill were grittier, even a bit grim, and Dalton is a gorgeous, intriguing class act, both pictures reflected the late-‘80s PC sexual attitudes and trend toward female equality. Admirable, but Dalton failed to connect with audiences. People wanted their Bond continually bedding babes, not avenging their deaths.
Re-Boot Bond: Pierce Brosnan (1995-2004)
It had been six years since we’d even seen a martini shaken, not stirred, and we were definitely thirsty for a tall, cool glass of revamped Bond. Brosnan (who had been approached in ’84 but declined because of Remington Steele) was the perfect refresher – charming, sexy, smart, un-ruffled and carnal enough to recall our favorite Bonds – Connery and Moore – while re-igniting the franchise with his sassy appeal. Intentionally or un-intentionally, this Bond was something of a hybrid of Connery and Moore, which worked perfectly for different generations of Bond fans. And the smiling Irishman’s Bond films carried a little more awareness of his iconography, combining almost Tarantino-like self-reference (think Halle Berry’s ode to Ursula Andress’ Dr. No bikini entrance in Die Another Day) with old-fashioned, solid action movie-making. Essentially, Brosnan’s Bond said, “Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And he was absolutely right. Of course, this only made his replacement the risky, argumentative choice that he was.
Bold New Blonde Bond (2006-?)
As mentioned earlier, Daniel Craig -- he of the ruddier complexion, gloomier demeanor, grittier disposition and blonder hair – was a major gamble for the brand of Bond. The star of serious pictures like Sylvia and Munich could have potentially become another Lazenby or Dalton – a series fun-sucker. But as witnessed in Casino Royale and (fingers crossed) Quantum of Solace, Craig is the ideal Bond to take us through the 2000s (so far). Perhaps influenced by material ranging from the Transporter series to Guy Ritchie’s crime movies to the wonderfully smart and thoughtful Bourne films, Craig’s Bond is a brilliant mixture of true grit and exciting cool. And though we love our Connerys, Moores and Brosnans (and, for this writer anyway, even our Lazenbys and Daltons) the time was right for a real Bond. Now let’s see how long our blonde, bona fide Bond will last. Will he live more than twice?
Kim Morgan is a film writer whose work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, MSN Movies, LA Weekly and Salon. She served as DVD critic on Tech TV's "The Screen Savers," has appeared as a film critic on AMC's "The Movie Club," and as guest host on "Ebert & Roeper."
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