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The Best of James Bond, Agent 007

(MGM-UA/Photofest)

Forty-five years after Dr. No, James Bond is respectable once more, with nine BAFTA nominations accruing to the lean, whip-smart and surprisingly soulful Casino Royale. A fine time, then, for the Aero to re-examine the series’ high tide, the years 1963 to 1969, when the success of the Bond movies and sales of Ian Fleming’s novels were matched only by that of the Beatles records as a fresh, uncobwebbed British cultural artifact turned record-breaking global economic phenomenon. As Beatlemania convulsed and delighted a suddenly wide-awake Britain throughout 1963, Ian Fleming and the Bond producers, Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, were having no less grand a time of it. The novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, published in the spring and marketed nationwide with life-size Bond cutouts, was ecstatically reviewed and was far and away the year’s best-seller (Fleming’s caustic wife, Ann, nicknamed him ThunderBeatle). The second Bond movie, From Russia With Love, was released in October and topped the 1963 British box-office figures. The next year, the franchise went global and solidified its identity with Goldfinger — the car, the girls, the supervillain, the gadgets: a template scarcely deviated from since. (Goldfinger should be the tent-post movie of this series: Its omission is mystifying.) In 1965, the year of the dullest early Bond movie, Thunderball, Fleming’s novels sold 27 million copies worldwide; at home they were the roaring engine of the British paperback revolution. And in late 1967, months before the Beatles made their first career flop (the TV movie Magical Mystery Tour), You Only Live Twice suggested that 007’s increasingly predictable antics might be losing their grip on audiences. But 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a creative rebirth akin to Abbey Road, and, like the novel, it has come to be highly regarded. It has emotional depth, one of the best villains (Telly Savalas — who knew?), the first ass-kicking, nonwallflower Bond girl (Diana Rigg — who didn’t?), breathtaking skiing sequences, vicious fights and, best of all, a tearjerker ending. Its example inspired the back-to-Fleming approach that so energized Casino Royale. The American Cinematheque’s revival, with all-new prints, is a rare chance to see these absurdly entertaining movies on the big screen, whose impact is still keenly felt, the way they should be seen. American Cinematheque at the Aero Theater; Thurs.-Sat., Feb. 1-3. (323) 466-FILM or www.americancinematheque.com.


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