Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The James Bond Films

The James Bond Films (aka 007)

The James Bond series of films is based on the wildly successful series of novels by British author Ian Fleming, which helped popularize the genre of espionage novels by creating a fictional intelligence agent whose adventures resembled those of swashbuckler films of the 30’s.

The novel Casino Royale was author Ian Fleming’s first, and introduced the world to his glamorous and amorous debonair spy, James Bond. He is given the code name 007, the double-ought series of agents being those with a license to kill in the line of duty. This novel largely revolves around the high-stakes casino card game of baccarat, in which two players go head-to-head like a duel, with money rather than blood at stake. This novel being more cerebral and involving less action and womanizing, it was not filmed until 2006 – more on this film follows below.

The first novel transferred to film was Doctor No, and made an international star out of little-known Sean Connery. Producer Albert Broccoli’s wife had noticed Connery in the film Darby O’Gill and the Little People and suggested to her husband that he would make a dashing and attractive spy. Broccoli wisely followed his wife’s advice, and Connery created a handsome and macho hero equally attractive to both genders. The film also introduced a bikin-clad Ursula Andress to the world and she became the archetype for the subsequent series of what are now called Bond Women.

The second film, From Russia With Love (1963), remains my favorite, as Bond is assigned to woo a secretary at a Russian embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, who has agreed to help the British obtain a Russian cryptology decoding machine, which she will turn over to Bond. To me, this is the most realistic of all the Bond films, and introduced the now famous props of spy gadgets that became a mainstay of later 007 films. In this film, it took the form of a briefcase that had disabling gas, hidden money, and weapons, all of which weren’t obvious to the unsuspecting examiner.

After a series of successful Bond films with Connery up through 1968, including the highly popular Goldfinger, he tired of being typecast and let his contract expire. A rather critically successful film was then made with unknown Australian actor George Lazenby, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). This film has some terrific action sequences in its favor, Telly Savalas as the evil villain, and a beautiful post-Avengers Diana Rigg as a Spanish count’s daughter, and who becomes Bond’s only onscreen wife to-date. The film-going public didn’t take to Lazenby in the role, however, and he was cast aside after just one film, which ironically remains superior to any starring the successors to Connery.

The studio, not willing to kill the golden goose, then cast a rather bland and unexceptional Roger Moore as Bond, after an exhaustive series of auditions, one of whom, Pierce Brosnan, was rejected only to be later hired as Moore’s successor. These films are forgettable compared to the Connery vehicles. When Moore became too old, the series was continued with Brosnan, with similar results: a few more un-stellar efforts with more action than plot, usually involving a typical Cold War enemy, some Russian with designs on wreaking havoc with nuclear missiles, or holding the world at ransom using weapons. These were not from novels written by Ian Fleming, which is one reason the plots are lame and stereotypical in comparison.

The series almost died out until the first novel, Casino Royale, was filmed in 2006 after the sudden revival of interest in high-stakes poker on tv. (The title had been previously used in a comedic satire starring David Niven and Woody Allen, but the story had nothing to do with the novel or the series).

Daniel Craig in Casino Royale

That first Bond novel, was devoid of gadgets and violence, and most of it revolved around the high stakes European casino card game baccarat, similar to blackjack in that the player’s goal is a point total that one can’t exceed. In this game a player becomes the bank, and goes against another player head-to-head, so it is the ultimate card game of machismo, much like a medieval duel, with wealth and not blood at stake. The studio re-wrote the story to include lots of action, and the rugged, everyman look of actor Daniel Craig revived the Bond series in popularity.

In fact, this spurred a renewal of interest in casino card games worldwide as the Bond series became popular with a new generation of fans. Those who wondered where Bond got his wealth, which was apparently far above the salary of a government employee, had apparently not read this novel, for his luxurious lifestyle is largely funded by his winnings at baccarat.

Like most games that combine chance and skill, such as the now popular Texas Holdem form of poker, it behooves the average player to first develop a strategy that employs the use of mathmatical odds. Baccarat is not for the novice for it is usually the highest stakes game in any casino. In the Casino Royale remake, Craig as Bond has his card duel with Danish actor Mads Mikkelson, in an intense showdown that will leave one of them financially scarred and with designs of vengence.

If you’re thinking of emulating Bond when playing in any casino games, I highly suggest you first educate yourself with strategies and techniques by reading a lot of baccarat strategy articles. Those who don’t will be at a disadvantage to those who have and those with more experience.

My capsule review of this excellent film is posted at 1000 Dvds to See, Casino Royale (2006)

It’s said that the debonair Bond is based on the real life of agent Sydney Reilly, an émigré from Russia to Ireland at the beginning of the 20th centlury, who created his persona before becoming a spy for England, achieving results for them in getting oil leases in Arabia, and stealing German battleship plans before World War I.

In the PBS miniseries, Reilly: Ace of Spies (1983), we see an international traveler of similar sophistication and a womanizer wherever he goes, often obtaining the affections of women like a bored countess, especially if it can help him gain intelligence needed by the British government. This series made an international star out of Sam Neill, who has gone on to have a fine film career.

If looks as if Jame Bond is here to stay, a superhero in the guise of an everyman, covert intelligence agent. He fuels the imagination of those of us stuck in mundane jobs in one locale as we envy anyone who gets employed to be a globe-trotting adventurer leaving a trail of dead villains and broken-hearted beauties in his wake.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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