Just say yes to ‘No’
If you weren’t an arms dealer or a politician (pardon the redundancy), the Cold War was just one long, seemingly endless mess.
But being an upbeat lad with a perpetually sunny nature, I try to always see things in a positive light. So you’d expect I’d find something good in the Cold War … and I did. It was the spies.
Actually, it wasn’t the spies themselves — it was the books, films, and TV shows about them. I never met a spy, nor do I think I’d want to since I imagine they’re all sociopaths of one ilk or another, their only diff being whose side they’re on, at the time.
But to me the fictional spies were pals of sorts. And even if their mental compasses were out of whack, if not defunct, they were our pals, God love ’em.
Of course, the Big Kahuna of All Spies was Bond, James Bond.
First, it was the books that enthralled me. As a spy, Bond had it all — and ditto as a man. He was basically a stone-cold killer in a Henry Poole tuxedo. He drove a pre-war Bentley, smoked custom-made cigarettes with gold bands, and drank vodka martinis, “shaken, not stirred.” When he gambled, it was at the baccarat table, and of course he always won. I don’t know if any woman ever resisted him, but certainly no gorgeous one did — something all the more puzzling in light of his apparent disregard for or total ignorance of foreplay.
In short, Bond was the man all of us knew we could never be. Sadly, we didn’t know Bond was the man who could never exist in the first place. No matter, his books sold and were read nonstop. And why not? They were well-written, their author Ian Fleming having served in British naval intelligence during World War II and having gotten his writing chops as the foreign manager of a newspaper group that owned, among other papers, the Sunday Times. He was also a lifelong world traveler, so his settings were not only exotic but accurate. Among his fans were JFK, who rated From Russia With Love as his favorite book.
Actually, his books were spoofs on spy novels, his characters (including Bond) being caricatures rather than even remotely realistic. The settings were also fantastical, as were the technologies. Not that it mattered, since they fulfilled the major requirement of popular novels – they were eminently readable.
Once the books hit the silver screen in 1962, with “Dr. No,” James Bond became a household name, and a household face … and body. And well he would, since he was played by Sean Connery.
Solid gold Bond
OK, it’s nitty-gritty time. Yeah, I know a bunch of actors have played Bond, including Roger Moore, George Lazenby, Pierce Brosnan, Timothy Dalton and most recently Daniel Craig. And I also know everyone has at least one opinion about who the best Bond was/is/will be or whatevs, and they of course have a right to their opinion. But since they’re not writing this column, the irrefutable truth is Sean Connery is the James Bond. Period.
In Dr. No, Connery was lean, mean and drop-dead gorgeous. No other Bond ever measured up to him then; in fact, in his later films, he couldn’t measure up to his old self either: By “Never Say Never Again,” which he did at the not-so-tender age of 52, he was thick in the waist and long in the tooth, his Dr. No self a shadow of what he’d become. Which is why when I refer to Connery’s Bond, it’s early Bond.
To Russia With Love is considered by the critics (or at least by a bunch of them) the best Bond movie, and since I don’t know anything about movie criticism, I guess it may be. Certainly, I liked it a lot. But Dr. No left a greater impression because it was the first Bond movie I saw.
It had all the elements I loved about the books. First, of course, there was Bond – dashing, smashing, indomitable. Then there was Dr. No, a villain’s villain. He was a German-Chinese scientist who’d had prosthetic steel hands due either to an experiment gone wrong or amputation by some Tong thugs. I think he also had a glass eye or two. Evil as he was brilliant, he had an island near Jamaica where he’d installed an island of lackeys and some sort of nuclear thingabob that’d destroy U.S. missile flights…unless he was given gazillion dollars or some such.
The plot, as any eighth grader would’ve already guessed: Bond goes to the island, gets captured, escapes, kills the madman, blows up the island, and sails off into the sunset.
I left out two vital elements of the movie’s appeal. One is the scenery, which, filmed on location, was breathtaking – especially to some Adirondack kid whose only idea of an island paradise was Jones Beach.
The other element was more breathtaking. It was Bond’s romantic interest, Honey Ryder. She was played by Ursula Andress in a skimpy white bikini, with a big knife strapped on a belt wider than her bikini bottom. She made her film entrance, emerging from the surf, beyond gorgeous, a shipwrecked sailor’s dream come true.
And what, pray tell, brought her to that beach in the first place? Shell collecting. Yep, that’s the story, which would’ve pushed credulousness past the breaking point if anyone needed a reason why she was there. But believe me, no one I knew cared. Seeing her was enough (though she was such a knockout, seeing was still not believing).
I’ve no idea if she could actually act, and no one cared about that either. And, interestingly, it didn’t matter: Her accent was so strong, her voice was dubbed throughout. Perhaps less interestingly, in typical schoolboy fashion, all my friends referred to her as Ursula un-dress.
Over the years I’ve seen the old Bond movies and reread the books lots of times, and I’ve never tired of either. In fact, I enjoy them as much now as I did 50-plus years ago. And why is that? I’ve come up with a few possibilities.
One, they may be genuine works of art.
Two, I’m hopelessly lost in a fantasy world.
Or three (and most important): They’re exactly what they’re supposed to be — just a whole lot of fun.