Launches the Hugely Popular James Bond Series Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Dr. No began a long series of adventure films about British secret agent James Bond and touched off an international craze for spy stories and films.

Summary of Event

The October 5, 1962, release of Dr. No in London marked the first film appearance of Ian Fleming’s superagent James Bond. Produced by Eon Productions Eon Productions for United Artists United Artists , the film was seen as a risky venture (in fact, “Eon” stood for “everything or nothing”). The box-office success of spy movies had not been proven, and Dr. No was unlike any previous adventure movie. Sean Connery, the picture’s star, was a relative unknown, and the movie had a budget of only one million dollars, a modest amount in light of the ambitiousness of the script. As it turned out, Dr. No was highly successful, earning double its production cost in Great Britain alone and doing even better in the United States. The film was successful enough to be followed by a 1963 sequel, From Russia with Love, From Russia with Love (Young) which was superior to Dr. No both artistically and at the box office. With this second triumph, the James Bond series was well on its way to a memorable run, spanning decades and, with the benefit of bigger and bigger operating budgets, generating huge profits. Dr. No (Young)[Doctor No (Young)] James Bond (fictional character) Cold War;popular representations Motion-picture adaptations[Motion picture adaptations];Dr. No[Doctor No] [kw]Dr. No Launches the Hugely Popular James Bond Series (Oct. 5, 1962) [kw]James Bond Series, Dr. No Launches the Hugely Popular (Oct. 5, 1962) Dr. No (Young)[Doctor No (Young)] James Bond (fictional character) Cold War;popular representations Motion-picture adaptations[Motion picture adaptations];Dr. No[Doctor No] [g]Europe;Oct. 5, 1962: Dr. No Launches the Hugely Popular James Bond Series[07360] [g]United Kingdom;Oct. 5, 1962: Dr. No Launches the Hugely Popular James Bond Series[07360] [c]Motion pictures and video;Oct. 5, 1962: Dr. No Launches the Hugely Popular James Bond Series[07360] [c]Cold War;Oct. 5, 1962: Dr. No Launches the Hugely Popular James Bond Series[07360] Fleming, Ian Broccoli, Albert R. Saltzman, Harry Connery, Sean Young, Terence Maibaum, Richard Barry, John

The ingredients of this success were many, beginning with the raw materials provided by Fleming’s novels. Fleming, a journalist and former Navy intelligence officer, produced his first Bond novel, Casino Royale, Casino Royale (Fleming) in 1953. Eleven more novels and two short-story collections would follow during the next decade and a half. What distinguished the books was their mixture of adult fantasy (featuring large doses of sex and violence and a superspy outwitting menacing supervillains) with grim realism about espionage and covert operations, politics, human nature, and moral values. After all, Bond’s “double-00” rating, 007, signified that he was licensed to kill, a circumstance the books presented as a necessity to the triumph of good over evil. This mixture, together with Fleming’s storytelling ability, made the series successful, particularly in Great Britain.

The translation of the Bond series into the medium of motion pictures was the brainchild of Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli. Broccoli, a longtime veteran of the film business, had missed out on a deal to buy film rights to most of the Bond stories in 1958, when his partner in the deal backed out. In 1961, another opportunity to bring Bond to the screen fell into his lap, when an assistant to Harry Saltzman, who had bought the rights to most of the stories, asked for Broccoli’s help in arranging a film deal with a major studio.

Broccoli went into partnership with Saltzman and struck a deal with United Artists to make Dr. No and five more Bond films (provided the first was profitable). It was Broccoli who put together the crew and cast of Dr. No and who remained the most important constant in the Eon-produced Bond series. (Casino Royale, 1967, and Never Say Never Again, 1983, were produced by other companies.) Actors, directors, and other personnel came and went. Gate receipts and the Cold War ebbed and flowed. Saltzman sold his shares of Eon to United Artists in 1975, but Broccoli continued to work on the Bond films, bringing a modicum of consistency and continuity to the series.

The young man Broccoli selected to direct Dr. No was Terence Young. Though he directed only two more Bond films, Young is generally given credit for establishing the overall tenor, pace, and high quality of the series. He did so with important contributions from film editor Peter Hunt Hunt, Peter , production designer Ken Adam Adam, Ken , and main title designer Maurice Binder Binder, Maurice . Young also is credited with preparing Sean Connery for what was a rather unfamiliar role.

The man most responsible for translating the Bond stories into workable screenplays was Richard Maibaum, who wrote or cowrote most of the Eon-produced Bond scripts. Maibaum’s most conspicuous contribution was the addition of humor to the Bond equation. While Fleming’s novels are deadly serious, Maibaum included occasional comic relief without jeopardizing the urgency or drama of Fleming’s stories. These changes of pace kept the series from becoming pretentious or grim, but the series never descended into pure camp, though the humor became more pronounced after Roger Moore took over the role of Bond.

Musical scores have also played a significant role in making the Bond films work. John Barry wrote the scores for eleven of the films, including From Russia with Love, Goldfinger (1964), You Only Live Twice (1967), and The Living Daylights (1987), all of which are as lovely to listen to as they are exciting to watch. Barry is also variously given credit for composing or arranging the catchy “James Bond Theme” that introduces all the Eon productions. Barry’s ability to capture the mood of the moment in music has played a key role in preserving the series’s balance between humor and drama.

Sean Connery, the man first selected to play Bond, had never played a similar role. Nevertheless, Connery managed to bring a credibility and depth to the Bond character without which the film series might never have survived. While Young helped him to assume Bond’s somewhat aristocratic bearing, Connery brought substantial natural talent to his role, including an ability to portray both Bond’s violent and his comic sides credibly.

When Connery grew unhappy with his work as Bond after five films, he was replaced by George Lazenby Lazenby, George , a move that turned out to be one of Broccoli’s mistakes. Lazenby was a model, not an actor. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Hunt)[On Her Majestys Secret Service] (1969), Lazenby’s only Bond film, was relatively unsuccessful, and Lazenby, having spurned a long-term contract, was let go. Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever Diamonds Are Forever (Hamilton) (1971) before departing the role a second time. Broccoli and company replaced him with Roger Moore Moore, Roger , a veteran actor, for 1973’s Live and Let Die, Live and Let Die (Hamilton) and Moore went on to star as Bond in seven films.

Though marred by occasionally indifferent scripts, the Moore films continued the Bond tradition quite ably. Moore played a more humorous Bond, but he proved capable of handling the series’s more serious moments. By the time Moore left the series, he had successfully escaped Connery’s shadow, though he had certainly not eclipsed him. Timothy Dalton Dalton, Timothy , who replaced Moore in the series beginning with The Living Daylights, returned to a more Connery-like balance of humor and seriousness, and his performances were critically acclaimed by most observers. Pierce Brosnan Brosnan, Pierce took over the James Bond role in 1995 with Golden Eye and starred in three subsequent Bond films: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Die Another Day (2002).

In 2005, it was announced that Daniel Craig would assume the role of James Bond in the series’s next film and that he would bring a more working-class sensibility to the role of the traditionally worldly, high-society superspy. Indeed, his first film, Casino Royale Casino Royale (Campbell) (2006), was a prequel to the others. It told of an initially unsophisticated Bond’s promotion to “double-0” status and of his need to become more worldly in order to move in the global, cosmopolitan circles his new rank required.

Supporting actors important to the series have included Bernard Lee as M (Bond’s boss for the first half of the series), Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny (M’s secretary), and Desmond Llewelyn as Q (the dispenser of clever Bond gadgets and weapons). Beginning with the Pierce Brosnan films, renowned stage and film actor Judi Dench Dench, Judi assumed the role of M, in an attempt to lend a postfeminist sensibility to the films. After Llewelyn died in 1999, John Cleese similarly updated the part of Q. Throughout the series’s run, numerous stars have appeared in the roles of guest villains and female leads.

Significance

The most immediately apparent impact of the Bond series was the creation of an international legion of fans devoted to the adventures of 007. As a result, even the less successful Bond movies brought in a sizable financial return. In addition to creating this lucrative Bond industry, the series also launched Sean Connery’s career. Along with fame came opportunities for Connery to act in a broad range of feature films, an indication of the considerable ability he brought to the Bond role—an ability so expansive that Connery escaped being typecast.

The Bond series also created a worldwide mania for spy films and helped inspire a new generation of fantastic adventure films. Following Dr. No, spy movies of varying quality and seriousness were made in the dozens all over the world. Notable among the many Bond takeoffs were the non-Broccoli production of Casino Royale; The Liquidator (1966), starring Rod Taylor as a reluctant Bond-like agent; the Flint series starring James Coburn; the Matt Helm series, featuring a rather sleepy-looking Dean Martin; and even Woody Allen’s spoof What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966). Such espionage-oriented television series as I Spy, Get Smart, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. all were spawned by the success of 007, as were more serious films such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Quiller Memorandum (1966), and The Russia House (1990)—the last of which marked a return by Connery to the spy genre in a role very different from that of James Bond.

The Bond series also helped inspire numerous popular adventure films involving fantastic heroes, futuristic technology, memorable stunts and special effects, the characteristic Bond mixture of danger and humor, creative editing, and huge budgets. Both the Indiana Jones series, the third installment of which included a key role for Connery, and the Star Wars series were in many respects heirs to the Bond legacy.

Sales of Fleming’s books jumped dramatically in the wake of the Bond films’ success; after Fleming died in 1964, first Kingsley Amis and then John Gardner took over the series, producing numerous Bond novels that continued to be vigorous sellers. In addition, other spy series flourished, and related books such as Tom Clancy’s techno-thrillers attracted millions of readers. (Fittingly enough, when the film version of Clancy’s Hunt for Red October was released in 1990, it, too, starred Connery.)

The Bond series has also been alleged to have had an impact on the values of its fans and of society at large; whether this impact has been positive or not has been the subject of vigorous debate. Critics of the Bond character have contended that he is a violent, sexist, and snobbish role model who has contributed to increased permissiveness in sexual conduct. Supporters argue that, in displaying commitment to duty and to convictions, Bond is a symbol of active engagement in a world that all too often breeds apathy.

Even such controversy testifies to the success of the Bond films, which, despite occasional misfires, have managed to keep fans coming back for more. In the light of the decades-long span of the series and the high number of films it contains, this maintenance of popular and critical appeal stands as a significant achievement. Dr. No (Young)[Doctor No (Young)] James Bond (fictional character) Cold War;popular representations Motion-picture adaptations[Motion picture adaptations];Dr. No[Doctor No]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Amis, Kingsley. The James Bond Dossier. New York: New American Library, 1965. Amis, a well-known British humorist and man of letters, wrote this book in order to defend the Bond character as depicted in the Fleming novels. Concludes with a handy reference guide to Fleming’s Bond novels. (After Fleming’s death, Amis wrote 1968’s Colonel Sun: A James Bond Adventure, a moderately successful Bond novel.)
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boyd, Ann S. The Devil with James Bond! Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1967. Boyd interprets the Bond character as a modern-day knight slaying contemporary dragons, argues that Fleming meant his character to be a symbol of action in opposition to apathy, and likens Bond to clergyman Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred for openly opposing the Nazi regime during World War II.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chancellor, Henry. James Bond—the Man and His World: The Official Companion to Ian Fleming’s Creation. London: John Murray, 2005. Authorized description of the diegetic world created by Ian Fleming, its settings, politics, technology, and the characters with whom Bond interacts. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pearson, John. The Life of Ian Fleming. London: Jonathan Cape, 1966. An authoritative biography that remains the standard work for Fleming scholars. Pearson’s research is augmented by his personal acquaintance with Fleming. Informative and well written.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pfeiffer, Lee, and Dave Worrall. The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007. New York: HarperEntertainment, 1999. A fan’s delight, full of excellent illustrations (many in color) and interesting gossip. Includes sections on each movie through The World Is Not Enough, as well as Bond’s influence on popular culture, the Fleming books, and the non-franchise films (the first Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rosenberg, Bruce A., and Ann Harleman Stewart. Ian Fleming. Boston: Twayne, 1989. A scholarly analysis of Fleming’s life and work by two Brown University professors. Draws interesting links between Fleming’s often harsh youth, his adult quirks, and the Bond series. Includes a helpful bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rubin, Steven Jay. The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1990. Rubin, who also wrote The James Bond Films: A Behind-the-Scenes History (1981), has collected as many pertinent facts about the Bond film series as one could possibly hope to find in one place. Highly readable, gossipy, and easy to use, with occasional photographs. Includes discussion of the non-Eon productions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sauerberg, Lars Ole. Secret Agents in Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1984. Focusing on the work of Fleming, John le Carré, and Len Deighton, Sauerberg distinguishes the essential elements of formula spy fiction. According to Sauerberg, Fleming had the least literary talent of the three but had a very sure grasp of the formula, which explains his ability to draw millions of readers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Starkey, Lycurgus Monroe. James Bond’s World of Values. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1966. A Methodist minister and professor of church history, Starkey offers a vigorous critique of the Bond character’s womanizing, violence, snobbery, hedonism, and elevation of patriotism to the level of an absolute. The book serves as an interesting counterpoint to those by Amis and Boyd cited above.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Van Dover, J. Kenneth. Murder in the Millions. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984. With something less than reverence, Van Dover looks at the popular appeal of Fleming, Erle Stanley Gardner (the creator of Perry Mason), and Mickey Spillane (the creator of Mike Hammer). Van Dover also sees knight-like qualities in Bond, but he argues that such qualities are largely irrelevant in real life.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Winder, Simon. The Man Who Saved Britain. London: Picador, 2006. Sociopolitical analysis of James Bond’s relationship to British national identity, politics, and culture.

The Maltese Falcon Establishes a New Style for Crime Films

Hollywood Studio System Is Transformed

Ealing Comedies Mark a High Point in British Film

Marilyn Monroe Climbs to Stardom

Dean Becomes a Legend in Rebel Without a Cause

Psycho Becomes Hitchcock’s Most Famous Film

Categories: History Content