Cue the music. What can you say about a franchise that has lasted over fifty years and is still going strong; maybe even getting better? A franchise that never once delivered anything but the most exciting action sequences, the most marvelous locations, and the coolest one liners in film history? At the time of course there was only one James Bond and he was Sean Connery. The first film, Dr. No, had debuted in 1962 and the legacy was born. I caught the fever with number three, Goldfinger as did the rest of the world. Now we might have gone to see Dr. No or From Russia With Love at the theater – maybe Don remembers better than I, but I remember going to see Goldfinger as my first Bond experience.
Don and I were both reared on the golden ages of both television and movies (ok maybe a rebirth or yet another golden age of movies). The fictional characters that we loved so much became part of our everyday lives; we emulated them, copied them, channeled them. They in large part helped us get through the traumas of everyday life as a kid. Now there is a school of thought that says that is an unhealthy way of living – relying on fictional characters, so far removed from what our everyday lives to help us cope. But we were doing the same thing that generations before us had, but they did it with books.This was just another medium, and as enjoyable. What impressionable young boy didn’twant to be James West, Napoleon Solo, Kelly Robinson, The Man With No Name or yes James Bond? If any guy today would say he didn’t, he would either by lying or I wouldn’t want to know him anyway so who cares? It was the age of cool; music, TV,movies; cool was in. Dorky was out. Square was out. Cool was in. And there was no one cooler than Mr. Bond. Heck, even the villains were cool; witness the scene where strapped to a table with a laser burning through the table, heading for Bond’s crotch,Bond asks Auric Goldfinger
“What do you expect me to do?.. talk?”“No Mr. Bond…..I expect you to die.”
C’mon … what a line!
Coolness was everywhere in those films. From the steely gaze of Joseph Wiseman as Dr.No, to the forced class of Grant, the killer Robert Shaw portrays in From Russia With Love, to Gert Frobe’s (quite a name there by itself) Auric Goldfinger and beyond. It was to be a few more years before we met Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasance) in You Only Live Twice, easily the best bad guy name in film history.
Back then a movie opening was a real theatric event. One of my favorite memories is going to see Goldfinger as a family in January of 1965. The sidewalks in front of the theater was cordened off like a night club; Barkers dressed in tuxedos told you where to stand- You have tickets, over here. You need tickets, over there. Huge cardboard placards of the film’s stars were up on the marquee, way larger than life to be seen for blocksaround. Limousines arrived and discharged women in minks and guys in suits; we allthought they were movie stars but they probably were just industry bigwigs with theirgirlfriends, not their wives. The distinctive James Bond theme blared from huge amps set up at the ticket booth. We dressed up to go see a movie then, especially when it was“uptown”. It was an event, a real landmark in your young life. I waited in line, lost in the crowd imagining of what to come. Don would be by my side, being his way of cool.Mom would be looking as she always did when she went out, dressed with class and style, Dad would be in his suit, and Dad always looked good in a suit. Just a typical family waiting in line to see a movie. And we weren’t unique. The line was full of well dressed families, in part probably due to what we were all going to see. A few years later,I would wait in line for Easy Rider or Barbarella and let me tell you, the dress code was way different. We eventually were shuffled in to get our seats, the excitement rising with each moment. Then there weren’t three hours of previews before you saw the feature film. Maybe one, maybe a short, then the focus was on what you came for, not what they wanted you to see in three months.
The screen went black. Those wonderful circles of light, an eye following- yes JamesBond, who turns and fires at the camera, and red oozes down from the top of the screen.
The opening sequence, Bon breaking into a secure facility, planting a bomb, changing from a wet suit to his white tuxedo underneath; a night club; he lights a cigarette, checks his watch and hears the explosion; he meets with a contact, enters a hotel room with a beautiful woman in the bathtub, nonchalant and debonair, he makes love to her but she is no good; he sees his assailant in her eyes, dispatches him in the bathtub with an electric fan after a good fight; “Simply shocking” he says as the bad guy expires electrocuted.
And then waaahh waahhh waaahhh… Goldfinger.. Shirley Bassey’s voice! I was transported to a different world than I had known up until that time…the world of cool…but not just cool for cools sake. This was cool and right; cool while dispatching the Evil Masterminds of the world, cool protecting Queen and Country. I was on board for life. It didn’t get more intoxicating than that to a little kid. And truth be told, I am still in love with it all.
There is a book , maybe ten years old now, maybe more, titled something like “How James Bond saved the British Empire”. It talked about how Britain, beaten down and dependent upon stronger nations like the US after World War II regained its nationalpride in great part due to the literary and film creation of 007. It showed the Empire wasn’t dead and as long as there were defenders like Bond, it never would be. I believe it.It makes sense. Because I know what he meant for me. And yes at this old age, still does.
Truly, nobody does it better.