[A brief – but entirely warranted – respite from the political maelstrom upon us.]
“In the glass, the grey-blue eyes looked back at him with the extra light they held when his mind was focused on a problem that interested him. The lean, hard face had a hungry, competitive edge to it. There was something swift and intent in the way he ran his fingers along his jaw and in the impatient stroke of the hairbrush to put back the comma of black hair that fell down an inch above his right eyebrow. It crossed his mind that, with the fading of his sunburn, the scar down the right cheek that had shown so white was beginning to be less prominent …”
“And what could the casual observer think of him, ‘Commander James Bond, C.M.G., R.N.V.S.R.,’ also ‘something at the Ministry of Defence, the rather saturnine young man in his middle thirties sitting opposite the Admiral? Something a bit cold and dangerous in that face. Looks pretty fit. May have been attached to Templar in Malaya. Or Nairobi. Mau Mau work. Tough-looking customer. Doesn’t look like the kind of chap one usually sees in Blades.”
“Bond knew that there was something alien and un-English about himself …”
Moonraker, 1955: Ian Fleming
Put aside that in today’s world, James Bond’s womanizing was profane and his drinking habits gargantuan (in the books – unlike the films — 007, despite regular vodka martinis, drank a wide range of different beverages, including Dom Perignon champagne, scotch highballs, sake, and Red Stripe beer); to many young men coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s — which included me – the British Secret Service Agent with the “Licence to Kill” brought to life in 13 books by Ian Fleming between 1953 and 1965 (the last published posthumously) was the epitome of duty, elegance, worldliness and working class grit. He provided our first inside look at countries such as France, Turkey, Switzerland, Japan and the Bahamas.
I suspect that those of us who view James Bond primarily through Mr. Fleming’s works – rather than through what I consider for the most part to be special effects films — are a shrinking number. For those that developed a mental picture of 007 through the novels, Sir Sean Connery, who just passed away, was James Bond come to life – in the same way that Al Pacino was Michael Corleone of the Godfather novel and, in an earlier era, Clark Gable was Rhett Butler rising from the pages of Gone with the Wind. As Bond, Mr. Connery perfectly projected the written character’s blend of suavity, courage, toughness, and resilience. The only places where Sir Sean’s portrayal deviated from the written character was with the double-entendre dialog, which was a movieland construct; the written Bond was a working agent who considered himself expendable and, world-wise though he was, didn’t engage in witty repartee. And … Mr. Connery had brown eyes :). Of Sir Sean’s successors as Bond, Daniel Craig has come the closest to Mr. Connery’s standard, because Mr. Craig captures the written Bond’s essence – the working class grit – but unlike Mr. Connery, Mr. Craig doesn’t look like Bond and his tuxedo always figuratively seems a bit ill-fit. Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, both distinguished actors and otherwise favorites of mine, made fine Bond fops but failed to credibly project the seriousness of the character. Only Mr. Connery had it all.
As the testaments to Sir Sean, recounting his many roles, have rolled in over the last couple of days, for me two beside Bond stand out: learned scholar Dr. Henry Jones, the father of Harrison Ford’s Dr. Henry (“Indiana”) Jones, Jr., in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; and British Agent John Mason in The Rock, a role in which Mr. Connery in many ways combined his James Bond and Henry Jones personas.
Sir Sean was one of those actors for me that when you hear of his/her passing, you feel genuine regret.
Requiescat in Pace.