Shaken, Not Stirred

The first Bond movie, Dr. No, was released in 1962… before my mother was born. There have been 6 actors, 11 directors, and countless numbers of baddies over its 23 film, half-century life span.

So why is James Bond so incredibly popular? Partially, it stems from the fascination with the spy industry and partly, from the time period in which the Bond novels were written. Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel was published in 1953; the same year as the death of Joseph Stalin, the rise of Khruhschev as leader of the Soviet Union, the end of the Korean War, the uprising in East Germany, and an escalation in the arms race between the US and the USSR.

The iconic image of the Cold War is a spy… whether they be KGB (formally established in 1954), MI6 (‘officially’ established in 1909), or CIA (established by Truman, officially, in 1947 as the sequel to the OSS). The idea of intelligence collection, secret services and spy agencies captured the imagination, and became as awe inspiring as Sputnik and ICBMs… at least in Europe.

Unfortunately, as with many things, the Americans were too busy accusing people of communism and having hearings to be all that interested in Europe’s affairs… and truthfully in anything that seemed secretive or ‘unAmerican’ (Captain America ring a bell?). The American citizenry knew that the CIA existed, but they were to be feared, not awed. The Space Race held the imagination of 10 year old boys, and astronauts became household names, but no one talked about the spy industry [except Hitchcock, and they’re all classified as thrillers] . Ian Flemings novels did well in America, but the first Bond film, Dr. No, was not a huge success in the states. What Americans lacked in imagination, the British easily made up for. The second instalment of Bond was filmed in Britain, and marketed toward a European audience, and as such, Fleming’s novels have become an iconic piece of British culture.

To prove just how much of a British icon Bond has become, director Danny Boyle, in possibly one of the most memorable parts of the 2012 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremony, featured Bond escorting Her Royal Majesty the Queen, by helicopter, to the ceremony.

While today’s intelligence agents only make the news when they desperately mess up, or are found dead, the idea of communist era spies is still a piece of world history that enflames the imagination. Today, of course, Russian spies have been replaced with Middle Eastern spies (or Chinese or North Korean), including the most recent Bond films… but the entire spy genre stems from the secret dalliances at a time when the world possessed enough ordinances to blow up the earth several times over. And James Bond shall remain, forever, the most iconic spy in film history.

[Fleming’s novels are not the only Cold War era spy novels to made into film: John le Carré and Robert Ludlum have both had several of their novels turned into motion pictures]


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