Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Happy birthday, James Bond!

Forget all the publicity last fall about James Bond turning 50. That was hype for the movies, the first of which came out in 1962. Bond's REAL birthday -- his initial appearance in Ian Fleming's debut novel, "Casino Royale" -- came in spring 1953, which makes him 60.

The book reads a lot more like a precursor to John LeCarre's novels about weary, self-doubting spies than the macho adventures Fleming would later write. Bond sleeps with just one woman, whom he intends to marry. He's in one fistfight, which he loses. He cries. He's described as looking like American pop composer Hoagy Carmichael, pictured here.

His big triumph comes at the gambling table, where he breaks the porcine Le Chiffre with money lent to him by the American CIA, after he has lost the 20 million francs supplied by British intelligence. Later, he falls into Le Chiffre's trap and screams through a torture session. At the moment he's about to be executed, an agent from SMERSH saves his life by putting a bullet between his torturer's eyes. He spares Bond only because he hasn't been told to shoot anyone else. Yes, SMERSH, the Soviet Secret Service that Bond will try to destroy in subsequent books! (The name abbreviates Smyert Shpionam, or "smash spies.")

Bond talks this way: "It's not difficult to get a Double-O number, if you're prepared to kill people. That's all the meaning it has. It's nothing to be particularly proud of...It's a confusing business, but if it's one's profession, one does what one's told." By the end of the book, he's disgusted with his life and contemplates quitting the world of espionage, which he describes as "playing Red Indians." He doesn't harden until the last two pages, when something happens to stiffen his resolve.

Eventually, Fleming turned him into a car-smashing, bed-hopping manhunter, a slightly calmer version of the  guy we've come to know through the most popular franchise in movie history. But he began as a recognizable human being who acknowledged pain and fear and loneliness. Movies made about THAT guy wouldn't have grossed one-fiftieth of the total Bond has earned producers around the world, but I'd like to have seen them.


Tom Den said...

Happy Birthday James Bond :)
casino royale suit