Friday, November 18, 2011
The evolution of 007 on screen: Sean Connery raised the bar, the others tried to live up to it[Reveal] Spoiler:CONNERY AS BOND: The real-life Sean Connery was nothing like the sophisticated snob that Ian Fleming had conjured up — but then, he re-invented Bond on screen
One of the consequences of the regular airing of James Bond films on movie channels is that younger viewers are confused by the parade of Bonds. Many people do not realise that Dr No, the first Bond movie, was made in 1962, long before many of its current viewers were born and that an assortment of actors have taken stabs at the role starting with Sean Connery (the original Bond who returned for an unofficial outing after he had abandoned the official series) and then including George Lazenby (bet you had forgotten him!), Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now, Daniel Craig.
And that list excludes Barry Nelson, who was actually the very first Bond, essaying the role in a TV version of Casino Royale and the various actors who played versions of James Bond in the spoof Casino Royale, also made in opposition to the official series.
For people of my generation, there is only one Bond, the actor who created the role on screen and re-invented the character, taking him far beyond the Bond of the books. The real-life Sean Connery was nothing like the sophisticated snob that Ian Fleming had conjured up.
When he was cast as Bond, Fleming was appalled. Not only was Connery a Scottish bodybuilder, he was also balding (he wore a wig throughout).
Fortunately for us, Fleming did not have cast approval and Connery got the role. But he was so unused to the lifestyle he portrayed on screen that Terence Young, the director of Dr No, told him to sleep every night in a tailored suit so that he had some idea of what it felt like to wear good clothes and did not seem awkward when he had to wear them on screen.
It is a good thing that most people don’t remember Fleming’s original Bond novels. The Bond of the books is emphatically not Connery. When Fleming was asked whom he would cast as his hero, he opted for David Niven. When this suggestion was turned down, he asked for Cary Grant.
This time it was Grant who turned the role down (Dr No was a small-budget movie). Throughout the Bond search, Fleming kept coming up with bizarre suggestions: Trevor Howard, Stewart Granger and Michael Redgrave. (Of his choices, only Richard Burton makes a certain amount of sense. He would have made a different kind of Bond but he may have pulled it off — though it is hard to imagine Burton hitting anyone outside of a bar room brawl.)
When Connery, who hated the Bond character, gave up the role, Fleming was dead and the producers were on their own. They thought of various unsuitable actors including Adam West (the TV Batman), Ian Ogilvy (who later played The Saint on TV) and Antony Rogers (not to worry if you don’t know who he is — he has been long forgotten). There was one good choice though and that was Timothy Dalton, who turned the part down, saying that, at 23, he was too young to be typecast and much too young to play Bond anyway.
Eventually, the producers decided that they wanted a newcomer and so, a previously little-known Australian male model called George Lazenby replaced Connery as Bond. The tragedy is that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the one Bond film that Lazenby starred in, is actually quite a good movie. But because Lazenby makes such an odd Bond, the film is no more than a historical curiosity.
Having replaced Connery, Lazenby was himself replaced — by Connery.
The actor returned as Bond for one final outing in Diamonds Are Forever. When he refused to sign up for any new Bond films, the producers changed tack and hired Roger Moore, best-known for playing The Saint on TV. While Connery brought an air of roughness and menace to the character, Moore played Bond as a smoothie.
LAZENBY AS BOND: Because George Lazenby made such an odd Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is no more than a historical curiosity
Some years ago, Moore was in India and I asked him about his stint as Bond. His view was that the scripts were so laughable that the only way to play Bond was to treat the whole thing as a send-up and not take it too seriously. Moore was also surprisingly open about his lack of acting ability. I quoted the old joke about him having only two expressions — left eyebrow raised and right eyebrow raised — and he laughed good-naturedly. At that stage, Daniel Craig had just been asked to play Bond and I asked Moore what he thought of the casting.
“Well, why not?” he replied. “He is an actor. I wasn’t.”
CRAIG AS BOND: Daniel Craig was made to bulk up so much for the role that he is less James Bond and more a bouncer standing outside a Tom Ford store
When Moore, who is roughly the same age as Connery, finally gave up the role (about five years later than he should have), Timothy Dalton agreed to play Bond. Though this is a minority view, I think that Dalton’s Bond in The Living Daylights, is the best, better even than Connery in many respects. Unfortunately, his second Bond film (Licence To Kill) was so bad that it sunk the franchise and there were no Bond films for many years. (During the Moore years, Connery had returned as Bond in Never Say Never Again, a film that was outside the official series and which demonstrated why stars should never return to roles they have made famous unless they are determined to disappoint their fans.)
When James Bond returned, it was in the shape that most of us know him today — as Pierce Brosnan. I have no strong views about Brosnan’s Bond. But even Brosnan’s greatest fans will admit that he lacked the air of menace that Connery brought to the role and played 007 as a slightly violent smoothie.
The casting of Daniel Craig is supposed to mark a return to the Bond of the Connery days. I like Craig as an actor but in my view he is no James Bond. Besides, the producers made him bulk up so much for the role that he is less James Bond and more a bouncer standing outside a Tom Ford store.
But then, these are personal prejudices. What the Bond succession proves is that like Sherlock Holmes, Superman, Tarzan or Batman, James Bond is timeless. Actors may come and go, but the legend of 007 will outlast them all.
Fifty years from now, when our children have entered late middle age, Bond will still be around. And there will be new debates about the greatest Bond of all time.
(Vir Sanghvi is a celebrated Indian journalist, television personality, author and lifestyle writer. To follow Vir’s other writings, visit www.virsanghvi.com.)
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