Photo by Brooke Estis Bleyl

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Dr. Yes


I  saw the first James Bond film, Dr. No, at the Hiram College Cinema not long after it came out in 1962, the year I graduated from high school.  I had never heard of James Bond (or Sean Connery) at the time, but there wasn't much else to do in Hiram for a frisky eighteen-year-old (or for frisky any-year-olds, for that matter), so Sunday nights in Hiram were movie nights.  (A confession: I first held hands with a girl in a Hiram movie--and some other things, too, which my customary shyness forbids me to disclose).

Hoppy, with horse, Topper
And Dr. No dazzled me.  The opening sequence.  The, uh, women.  The martial arts (I don't know that I'd ever seen anything like that before).  The double entendre.  The whole concept of international espionage.  James Bond was not like my earlier heroes--Wild Bill Hickock, Hopalong Cassidy, Wyatt Earp, Jim Bowie, Rin Tin Tin, et al.  He was something different.  And from the opening shots of Dr. No, I became Dr. Yes!

Afterwards, I saw every Bond film on the day of its release.  Then saw it again.  And when they started appearing on TV, I saw them again.  And on VHS.  And DVD.  And cable.  And streaming. Not sure why.  Probably just plain vicariousness.  Bond is competent in every way I'm not--and in many ways that I am.  So I must either hate him or admire him.  I chose the latter (easier on the blood pressure).

Timothy Dalton as 007
I think Connery is still my favorite Bond, although I have a sneaking fondness for Timothy Dalton, whose two Bond films (The Living Daylights, 1987) and Licence to Kill, 1989) suffered from bad writing and directing.  I'd seen Dalton on the West End with Vanessa Redgrave doing Antony and Cleopatra and The Taming of the Shrew.  The man can act.  I even kind of liked poor George Lazenby and his one appearance in the role--On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 1969), a film that--as I think I've noted here before--Joyce and I saw on our honeymoon, December 1969, in New Orleans.  The unfortunate part: Bond marries near the end of the film (to Diana Rigg), and as they're driving away in full connubial bliss, an assassin drives by, firing away, killing Bond's bride.  Joyce gave me The Look afterwards.  I think I gave one to myself, too.

I never cared for Roger Moore at all, and Pierce Brosnan I ... tolerated, principally because he was a major advance from Moore--though I never for a second believed any of Brosnan's martial displays.

I was prepared to like Daniel Craig, the latest Bond, before I saw him in that dazzlingly athletic chase, the opening sequence in his first appearance as Bond--Casino Royale, 2006.  There are no (or few?) words in that sequence, but it might as well have had subtitles that read: I am no Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan!  I am James Bond!  I'd seen Craig in a number of earlier, independent films, and I knew he had some qualities that a credible Bond needs: gravitas, bulk, acting chops.  And, of course, he looks good in a tux, the sine qua non for Bonds.

And so--given all the above--there's no doubt what we would be doing last night, the opening night of Skyfall, the new Bond.  I'd been a little disappointed in the previous one (Quantum of Solace, 2008), which suffered, I thought, from a condition called Wimpy Script-itis.  Skyfall is much better than that (I like the sort of back-to-the-basics stuff here--not much technological trickery; I like Craig), but I thought the principal goal of the Bad Guy (to kill M) seemed a little ... insubstantial ... for a Bond film.  Besides, how hard would it be, really, to kill Judi Dench, who's nearly ten years older than I am?  I think I'd be pretty easy to ace.

And speaking of old, one of the motifs in Skyfall is that Bond is getting older--losing a step.  Daniel Craig is 44, an advanced age, I guess, for a starting pitcher in MLB, a 00 agent in MI6, a vocalist in a boy band ...  Still, seems awfully young to me as I sit here on the footstep of dotage.

And here's another thought: This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Bond film.  On the way home last night, Joyce and I were remarking how our son, 40, has never known a world without Bond.

And neither, I realize now, has Daniel Craig.  And he's getting old!  Saints preserve us.

And 007.


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