December Issue 2008

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 15 years ago

For most people, there is only one James Bond. Sean Connery, the Scottish actor who has come to embody the suaveness and sense of danger always associated with Bond, was extremely fortunate to even get the role. The then-unknown actor was perched at the bottom of a long list of actors the producers were considering, including Cary Grant, David Niven and Rex Harrison. It didn’t help Connery that he was already bald; not the best look for a character with oodles of sex appeal. But after all the other actors were rejected for being “poofs,” Connery, donning a toupee, got the part. He ended up acting in six Bond movies (as well as the unofficial Never Say Never Again in 1983), including Dr No, the first film in the franchise. Dr No quickly established all the trademark Bond quirks, from his iconic introduction (“The name is Bond. James Bond”), his drink of choice (dry martini, shaken not stirred) as well the ubiquitous Bond girls and villains.

Connery’s stint as Bond is considered the lodestone by which all subsequent portrayals are measured. With his perfect, clipped delivery, Connery managed to give an air of menace and charm, often at the same time. Unfortunately, just five movies in, he tired of Bond, claiming it didn’t challenge him as an actor.

As a replacement, Australian actor George Lazenby was drafted for the disastrous On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Timothy Dalton, who would take up the role nearly two decades later, was considered but eventually rejected for being too young. Exceptionally vulgar, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, featured Lazenby in ridiculous costumes, making references to Connery and talking directly to the audience. It only took this one movie for the producers to realise their mistake, and Connery was brought back for Diamonds Are Forever, after which he quit again.

The next Bond, Roger Moore, was both the longest-serving and the most controversial of the six actors to take up the role. He recently described the character as “a lover and a giggler,” leaving fans of the show aghast. Among the many sacrileges committed by Moore, he never drank shaken not stirred martinis, smoked cigars instead of cigarettes and deadpanned his way through seven films, most of which were commercial failures, withMoonraker and Octopussy being considered the worst ever Bond movies. The most lasting legacy of Moore’s run was the countless Bond spoofs and homages he inspired, including one by Punjabi actor Sultan Rahi in Mr 303, where, in one scene he asks for a cup of tea, “stirred but not shaken.” This causes the women around him to go wild with excitement.

In another casting nightmare that echoed the replacement of Connery, the producers, after a long search, settled on Welsh actor Pierce Brosnan, before he was forced to pull out due to contractual obligations that kept him on his television show, Remington Steele. Instead, Timothy Dalton was recruited to play 007. In a radical reinvention of the series, the puns, double entendres and goofiness of Bond was replaced by realism and angst. Audiences didn’t take to the new Bond, who only lasted for two poorly received movies.

With the commercial failure of License to Kill, Bond went on a six-year hiatus, when many feared that the series might finally have died. Pierce Brosnan suddenly became available and was cast for the role. The return of 007 inGoldeneye was considered something of a triumph. Although his subsequent movies failed to meet expectations, Brosnan himself was considered the best Bond since Connery.

After Brosnan decided to expand his acting repertoire after Die Another Day, British actor Daniel Craig took on the role in Casino Royale, certainly the greatest Bond movie in decades. Ultra-violent, and with a Bond who actually goes through real emotions and experiences something of a mid-life crisis.

With Daniel Craig now attached to playing for the foreseeable future, 007 isn’t likely to fade from the screen anytime soon. Fifty years after he first hit the screens, James Bond is as relevant as ever.

Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.