Countdown to ‘Skyfall’ – A history of the James Bond film franchise

Sean Connery debuts as the quintessential James Bond in 'Dr. No'
Sean Connery debuts as the quintessential James Bond in ‘Dr. No’

October 5, 2012 was the 50th birthday of the big screen version of James Bond.  On that day in 1962, in the United Kingdom came the premiere of Dr. No, the first of 22 official films in the Bond franchise thus far.

As we count down to the November 12th premiere of Skyfall, the latest official Bond film, Tail Slate will be looking back at the history of the franchise.  The 22 Bond films from EON Productions to date have grossed over $5 billion worldwide, more than the Star Wars films although not quite as much as the Harry Potter series.

Today we take a look at the first films in the series, starting with Dr. No.

While it is the first film version of Ian Fleming’s hero, it was not the first book published.  That honor belongs to Casino Royale and in fact, Dr. No was the sixth book in the series.

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The late Harry Saltzman acquired the film rights to the novel but didn’t really want to make it.  The late Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli eventually convinced him to form a partnership where the duo would produce the Bond films.  They actually wanted to make Thunderball as the first film but there were legal issues to be resolved and so the choice was made to do Dr. No.

Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in the first James Bond fim, 'Dr. No'
Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in the first James Bond fim, ‘Dr. No’

Starring Sean Connery, considered by some to be the best James Bond, the film also included Ursula Andress as the first – and perhaps most well-known – Bond girl, “Honey Ryder.” The film stayed fairly true to the novel’s basic plot and most story points.  Bond’s 007 moniker means that he is licensed to kill, indicated by the famed “double-o” prefix.  Jack Lord was “Felix Leiter”, the CIA agent who would show up frequently in future Bond films, played almost always by a different actor.  Actress Eunice Gayson portrayed “Sylvia Trench”, another Bond girl who would go on to reprise her role in the next picture.

It was a smash hit, with critics and audiences alike, generating box office receipts in 1962/63 of almost $60 million dollars.  Plans to make another Bond film began almost immediately.  A bigger budget was approved and after reading that JFK considered From Russia With Love one of his favorite novels, the producing partnership decided that would be Bond film #2.  This even though in terms of how the books were published, From Russia With Love actually came out before Dr. No.

Daniela Bianchi in 'From Russia With Love'
Daniela Bianchi in ‘From Russia With Love’

From Russia With Love would continue the notion of organizations being behind the activities of the villains that James Bond would face off against on his missions.  This film featured a group known as SPECTRE, introduced in the first film, the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, and they had no allegiance to any government.  Connery would return as Bond, with Daniela Bianchi playing “Tatiana Romanova,” a Russian cypher clerk who is involved in a mission to discredit the British government. Meanwhile, SPECTRE steals a cryptographic device from the Russians and ransom it back to them.

Romanova is unaware of her role in the plan, as she’s been co-opted by SPECTRE member, “Colonel Klebb”, Lotte Lenya.  Martine Beswick joins the ranks of Bond girls in this film.  Pedro Armendariz portrays “Kerim Bey”, an operative of MI6 who helps Bond while he is in Istanbul.  Lastly, Robert Shaw is “Red Grant”, the man who tries to kill Bond on the Orient Express.

From Russia With Love was even more successful than its predecessor, grossing $79 million at the box office.  Of course a third movie would be made and this time the choice was Goldfinger, the 7th novel in the series written by Ian Fleming.  The choice had a lot to do with the fact that the legal battle over the rights to Thunderball was still raging in the court system.

Connery would return, with the main Bond girl being Honor Blackman as “Pussy Galore”. In the novel, Pussy was the leader of a criminal gang of lesbians but is ultimately seduced by Bond.  Her sexual orientation in the film is hinted at subtly, but the same thing happens in the end (no surprise, as Bond always gets the girl).  That includes the other Bond girl in the film, Shirley Eaton as “Jill Masterson”, who dies at the direction of the main villain, “Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

Harold Sakata is Oddjob in 'Goldfinger'
Harold Sakata is Oddjob in ‘Goldfinger’

We also get introduced to the first in a long line of henchmen of Bond villains. In Goldfinger its Harold Sakata as “Oddjob”. Oddjob is portrayed in the novel as Goldfinger’s Korean servant who doesn’t speak English but kills easily and often at his boss’ direction.  He is much the same on-screen.  Again, the plot is altered slightly, but most of the main elements are present.  Jack Lord was offered the chance to come back as “Felix Leiter,” but demanded better money, billing and a beefed-up role, so he was passed over in favor of Cec Linder.  Guy Hamilton directed, the first of four Bond films he would helm.

To be continued…

James Bond will return

Next time we will look at the fourth film in the Bond franchise, the long-awaited Thunderball, Bond in the Orient in You Only Live Twice, and then the first film featuring someone other than Sean Connery portraying 007.

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