Ian Fleming rose from a journalism career in the early '30s to become the creator of British secret service agent James Bond, among the most successful "franchise" characters in movie history. And in addition to creating the character of Bond -- from modest beginnings in a novel that sold only a few thousand copies in the mid-'50s -- Fleming's imagination also devised certain kinds of conflicts and scenarios that became standard to the thriller and espionage genres, in movies as well as literature, in the decades to follow, and which have endured long past Fleming's death in 1964. The James Bond character itself went on to spawn a string of books, movies, and merchandise tie-ins that have attracted audiences in the hundreds of millions, generated billions of dollars in revenue, and yielded the longest-running movie series in history, 45 years and counting.
Ian Lancaster Fleming was born in 1908, in Mayfair, London, to Valentine Fleming, the son of a wealthy Scottish financier, and Evelyn Ste Croix Fleming. Ian was the second of four sons (and also had an illegitimate half sister, Amaryllis Fleming), and was educated at Durnford School, Dorset; Eton College; and the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Valentine Fleming, a member of Parliament who joined the military in 1914 with the rank of major, was killed in action in May 1917 during a German bombing raid at Picardy, France. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order, and his obituary was written by Winston Churchill.
Ian Fleming was unhappy at Sandhurst and left without completing his education. He seemed destined for a career in the foreign service, and studied French and German extensively in Austria and Switzerland, but found his first employment with Reuters, the international news service, which included a stint reporting from Moscow in 1933. Fleming's introduction to intelligence work came in 1939, with the start of the Second World War, when he was commissioned as the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the head of British Naval Intelligence. Over the next six years, he was involved in the planning and execution of numerous espionage and intelligence operations, and also formed a group called 30AU (for "Assault Unit"), specializing in espionage and intelligence gathering in enemy-controlled territory.
Although Fleming was involved with espionage work throughout the nearly six years of the war, his personal experience in the field was severely limited. He embellished his personal wartime activities with stories and claims -- especially regarding his own training as an agent, and encounters with Axis agents -- that could not be substantiated, and which have since been relegated by most biographers to the category of creative hyperbole. But there were some personal and career consequences from his travels on behalf of the government -- it was while on an assignment for British Naval Intelligence in 1942 that Fleming first visited Jamaica, and it was then that he decided he would make his home there once the war was over. He also developed many important personal and professional contacts during this period, with figures such as Sir William Stephenson (the British spymaster known by the code name "Intrepid") and Ernest Cuneo, who was to play a vital role in American espionage and counterintelligence. Additionally, as an adjunct to his work for the British government, Fleming also co-wrote the charter for the American Central Intelligence Agency.
After the war, he resumed his journalism career and built his house, called Goldeneye, in Jamaica. In early 1952, while at Goldeneye, Fleming decided to try his hand at writing fiction, and turned to his wartime experience and his personal fascination with espionage and counterintelligence work as the basis for his writing. The result was the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in April of the following year. In that book, Fleming introduced his dangerous-yet-debonair intelligence agent, code-named "007," in a mission to destroy a Soviet operative named Le Chiffre through an intense round of gambling at a French casino. The James Bond introduced in that novel was cool, cruel, and shockingly efficient in his work, as well as something of a hedonist in his interests in women and gambling; and, as revealed in the second half of the book, he also has a very narrow view of his work and the Cold War, on whose quietest (and potentially most dangerous) front he is fighting. Most biographers have identified the qualities ascribed to Bond as Fleming's own idealized conception of himself, as he would like to have seen himself had he been a field agent. Indeed, during the year in which Casino Royale was first published, Fleming turned 45, which he referred to elsewhere as the mandatory retirement age for men in the "double O" section.
More striking and seemingly more relevant at the time was the book's violence, and the vivid depictions of its consequences. Some of the events described -- such as the deadly premature detonation of a bomb intended for the hero, Bond's torture by Le Chiffre, and the introduction of the SMERSH assassin and his handiwork -- were startling at the time in their detail, energy, and mere presence in a novel intended as a serious reading experience for adults. This book also introduced the character who would become Bond's most trusted inter-service/international colleague, Texas-born CIA operative Felix Leiter; René Mathis, Bond's friend and colleague from the French counterintelligence agency the Deuxième Bureau; the first in a succession of remarkably named female protagonists, Vesper Lynd; and a trio of enemy operatives whose sadism and cruelty essentially served as justification and balance to Bond's most dangerous attributes. All of these elements would become standard features in subsequent books.
Critics at the time didn't give too much notice to the book or its author, except to praise Fleming's descriptive passages and his ability to explain the game of baccarat so that anyone could follow it; the rest of the story, especially the violence, was the sort of writing that wasn't taken too seriously by reviewers of the day. In later years, this book -- among the darkest of the Bond novels (with no moments of humor at all) -- would be compared, in terms of its sex and violence, with the Mike Hammer novel I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane from the same era. Fleming's sensibilities were more sophisticated than Spillane's, to be sure, but at the center of the book were hard men who saw the world in a certain way, who were fully capable of disposing of duplicitous women with scarcely a second look, as embodied by their respective finales. Indeed, the final line of Casino Royale is a startling match for the closing line of Spillane's I, the Jury in its callousness and inherent brutality.
As literary works, Casino Royale and the books that followed were descendants of a subgenre of adventure fiction that had an especially rich history in England, embodied by authors such as Dornford Yates, John Buchan, and H.C. "Sapper" McNeile. All three had captured the imaginations of readers between the two World Wars, and Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps and two of McNeille's Bulldog Drummond novels had become the bases for three distinguished big-screen incarnations, the adaptation of Buchan's book directed by Alfred Hitchcock, no less. Although it seemed singularly unlikely at the time, Casino Royale marked the beginning of a popular-culture phenomenon that would eclipse those antecedents and models. The book didn't sell in huge numbers, but it was good enough to attract the interest of the Russian-born actor/producer/director Gregory Ratoff, who paid the princely sum of 1,000 dollars for the screen rights to Casino Royale. He, in turn, produced it for the American CBS network, on their anthology series Climax!, with Barry Nelson cast as American agent "Jimmy" Bond and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. It wasn't too impressive as a live television production (preserved only on kinescope), apart from Lorre's work, and didn't create too many ripples.
The sale and the production were more than enough, along with what encouragement he got from the readers he did acquire, for Fleming to do a second Bond novel, Live and Let Die (1954). This book had greater sweep, taking readers from a trip out of Midtown to Harlem in New York, and on a train ride to south Florida, and finally to the British Crown Colony in Jamaica. The book also introduced two characters who would figure to varying degrees in a subsequent adventure, Kingston station chief John Strangways, and the Cayman Islands fisherman Quarrel. The book also put its villain, the crime kingpin (and secret Moscow-run operative) Mr. Big, much closer to the center of the action than its predecessor, in a far more detailed portrait -- but that aspect and the particular story that Fleming chose to tell also became a problem in selling (and even printing) the book in the United States. Mr. Big was African-American, and his African-American gang was based in Harlem, and a lot of the power that he wielded -- across the country, in Fleming's depiction -- derived from his ability to scare other African-Americans with his use of voodoo. Additionally, in the context of the book, no articulate, educated African-Americans were depicted or even glimpsed; at best, African-Americans were depicted as simple but honest, but just as often as dangerous and criminal. All of this was being written as the civil rights movement in America was starting to gather some momentum, as cases such as Brown v. Board of Education made their way through the legal system. Coming from England, and disconnected from the realities of life in the United States for most African-Americans, Fleming probably had no inkling that he was doing anything controversial in what he was writing in 1953; nonetheless, he ended up employing expressions, ideas, and sensibilities that were highly racist. Additionally, woven into the narrative of the book is the tacit acceptance of the notion -- embraced by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and many others in the conservative political establishment of the time -- that the civil rights movement and the people espousing it were either consciously or unknowingly fronting the activities of the Soviet Union against the United States.
Somewhat less controversial was the greater violence and sex that ran through the pages of Live and Let Die than those of its predecessor, amid travel passages about the United States and Jamaica, and a bracing narrative style that are still spellbinding more than a half-century later. Felix Leiter made a return appearance, and the book also introduced a far more complex female character in the guise of the mysterious Solitaire, a beautifully drawn, enigmatic heroine who was also one of the more fiercely sexual female figures to be found in fiction of the period. And the denouement, involving the planned seaborne torture/murder of the hero and heroine and a ticking limpet mine, was a piece of classic suspense that was highly cinematic for a literary work (indeed, the intended fate for Bond and Solitaire was later incorporated very effectively into the screen adaptation of For Your Eyes Only).
Fleming fully hit his stride with his next novel, Moonraker (1955), which also brought the character into a then cutting-edge story involving ballistic missile defense, a plot to destroy London with a nuclear weapon, and a story that included the hero racing a missile countdown to avert disaster. The imagery was so up-to-date that it was ahead of the curve, and this was the book (though it was not filmed officially, and then not terribly well, for more than two decades) that informed not only much of the James Bond movie franchise's content for decades to come, but also the shape of most nuclear-age thrillers, literary as well as cinematic. But beyond specific plot points and descriptions, the book -- which did suffer from a few too many improbable coincidences, especially in the denouement -- was also brilliantly structured, giving us glimpses of Bond's routine office duties, and his secretary,Louella Ponsonby, before plunging us into what, at first, seems like a side diversion -- the agent's personal intervention on behalf of his agency chief, M, to find and deal with a high-end card cheat at the latter's club. But, as with the opening segments of the movies Goldfinger and A View to a Kill, the seemingly insignificant and needless cheating at a game will have a definite connection to the main plotline. It was also in this book that Bond meets a new kind of heroine in Gala Brand, a Scotland Yard Special Branch operative working undercover, who is not only highly competent but confident, and never in over her head. Predictably, he does "get the girl" in one sense, but also manages to lose her.
As a journalist as well as an author, Fleming was ever aware of topical, contemporary subjects as the basis for his work, and he was apparently fascinated by the Kefauver Commission Report on Organized Crime, which served as the background for his fourth book. Diamonds Are Forever (1956) dealt with diamond smugglers and sent Bond back to America, but this time instead of SMERSH, or Moscow's espionage establishment, or vengeful ex-Nazis, he came up against organized crime -- actually, literally, two mob siblings running the smuggling operation, which took Bond across the Atlantic and the country, from New York City and Saratoga to Nevada, and put him back in the company of his friend Felix Leiter. The book also introduced a new kind of heroine in Tiffany Case, a sexually traumatized member of the operation, whose psychological history is highly relevant to Bond's approach to her.
Fleming had made a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, in 1955, and decided to make use of his observations as the setting for a major part of his new book the following year. Having mastered the thriller form as he knew it, however, in From Russia With Love (1957), Fleming decided to try a new approach and took his work in a new direction. This was something of an experimental book, a James Bond novel that scarcely has Bond in it for the first third. The agent doesn't even come in on the action until chapter 11. From Russia With Love -- which, today, is widely considered the best of the novels, and was certainly, in light of later events, the most important of them -- was a huge success, yet it nearly ended the franchise, for at the end it seems as though Bond has been killed. Fleming did, indeed, consider killing off his hero, but found that the audience he'd built up wouldn't stand for it, and he was forced to bring 007 back in the next book, Doctor No (1958), which brought Bond to Jamaica on what seems initially like a routine missing-persons case involving Strangways, who was introduced in Live and Let Die. The book sold well, but it lacked the careful balance of vivid settings and action that characterized the previous five novels, and didn't have the same level of inventiveness and inspiration.
Although it had its faults as a novel, Doctor No and the books that followed are considered by many fans to represent the second, more sophisticated cycle of Bond novels, a major step up from the first four, certainly, in style, with From Russia With Love bridging the two groups of books. The plots of Goldfinger (1959) and Thunderball (1961) were more ambitious, involving villains with outsized plans for robbery, conquest, or extortion, and the writing took on a new boldness and scope as well. They also had descriptive passages that were as spellbinding as the violence and sex -- one of the ironies of Fleming's talent was that had he not directed his attention to authoring these thrillers, he could have been one of the great travel writers of his era. (As it was, he did write a small handful of nonfiction books, including The Diamond Smugglers.)
By this time, there was some serious interest on the parts of several producers in bringing the Bond stories to the big screen. The rights to Casino Royale had already been sold, and eventually ended up in the hands of agent-turned-producer Charles K. Feldman, but the subsequent books were also attracting attention. The novels all had highly cinematic elements, and scenes and characters that cried out for realization on the screen. The main problem was that the novels were so violent and so fiercely sexual that the cinema -- still weighted down with censorship considerations -- wasn't ready for them. It was questionable how far any filmmaker could go in depicting the material from the novels, or if Bond would still be Bond if he were toned down. Fleming got involved in trying generate a James Bond screenplay, to have been produced through a company formed by Fleming, Ivar Bryce, Ernest Cuneo, and Kevin McClory. That work, eventually titled "Thunderball," kicked around for a couple of years without ever being filmed, and eventually the author ended up selling the rights to all of the novels (except for Casino Royale) to producers Harry Saltzman and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli. That deal was complicated by the fact that Fleming had written a novel based on the unproduced "Thunderball" screenplay, co-authored by him, McClory, and Jack Whittingham, and but had never gotten permission to do the adaptation from his partners and co-producers, or the other screenwriters; this led to decades of on-again/off-again litigation that only ended in the early 21st century.
The books were selling increasingly well as the 1950s gave way to the early '60s, in England and, to a lesser degree, in America, where the Bond novels were still something of a cult phenomenon. And in the United States, the James Bond character was a particularly appealing hero to a newly identified category of young adult male, educated but virile (at least, in his own perceptions), and looking for adventure, both in life and in their reading. Hugh Hefner had already successfully marketed a new magazine called Playboy to this audience and, with it, a perception of sexual freedom that -- although it was at odds with how law and the political establishment saw these matters -- redefined the acceptable behavior of men and women. The Fleming books fit in perfectly with the sensibilities of that audience; his relative sophistication and the richness of his writing and, especially, the descriptions, having separated him from such rivals as Spillane. The Bond novels were slowly expanding from cult interest in America, and then, in one fell swoop, their popularity exploded in early 1961. In an article published soon after he took office, the charismatic new president, John F. Kennedy, revealed that From Russia With Love was among his favorite novels.
These should have been triumphant days for the author, but instead Fleming found himself caught up in a lawsuit over his newest book, Thunderball. He had based the story on the unused screenplay that he, Kevin McClory, and Jack Whittingham had worked on earlier, but he had never gotten the permission of his co-authors to adapt their work. In the months leading up to the Kennedy article, he was defending himself and his right to publish his newest book in court, an event that would contribute to the deterioration of his health and reportedly leading to his first heart attack. But to the public, and to his existing audience, 1961 seemed like a heady time for James Bond and his creator -- in the wake of the Kennedy revelation, demand for the paperback editions of the older novels soared, and Thunderball, which was published despite McClory's legal action, roared off the shelves.
This new burst of sales and the vast expansion of the potential audience coincided with a loosening of standards in the movie business. Faced with increasing competition from television, and also the changing sensibilities of the public, the studios found themselves pressed to open up previous taboo subjects and loosen their self-imposed censorship in order to keep attracting people to movie theaters. It would still require some finessing of the censors on both sides of the Atlantic, but by the middle of 1961 it seemed that the movie world was finally ready for James Bond. It had been Saltzman and Broccoli's intention to start the James Bond movies with Thunderball, but the litigation over the book and the rights to the screenplay thwarted them. Ultimately, the screen rights to Thunderball ended up in the hands of screenplay co-author Kevin McClory -- along with the rights to use certain characters originated in the screenplay -- a fact that would greatly complicate the planned release schedule by Saltzman and Broccoli.
Instead, Dr. No was chosen as the source for the first film. With Sean Connery chosen to play Bond and Terence Young directing, Dr. No was shot for one million dollars, using extensive Jamaican locations and a lot of clever creativity and production ingenuity to cut costs to the bone. The production in Jamaica made it especially close to Fleming on a personal level -- parts of the picture were shot very close to Goldeneye, so much so that during the filming of one scene with Connery and female lead Ursula Andress, the author and his good friend Noël Coward (whom Fleming had suggested for the role of Dr. No) came tramping through the forest right into the middle of the shoot. The screenplay went through several incarnations and ultimately involved three credited writers (most notable among them veteran writer/producer Richard Maibaum, who would have a hand in most of the Bond screenplays across the next 30 years). Felix Leiter was introduced here, in the guise of actor Jack Lord, and instead of pincers, the villain Dr. No was depicted as having super-strong mechanical hands; also, instead of having had his hands cut off by the Tong society from which he stole, No's condition was explained as a by-product of his work with nuclear power -- the book's denouement was even re-conceived to involve an atomic pile going out of control. Dr. No was released in 1962 and was a success -- not an enormous hit, but easily earning back several times its million-dollar investment and eliciting a hugely positive response from the people who did see it.
The next movie was From Russia With Love (1963), directed by Terence Young and produced on a more lavish budget with what, in later years, amounted to a near-all-star cast including (in addition to Connery) Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendáriz, and Robert Shaw. It became a much bigger hit -- although still no blockbuster -- and is also generally considered the best of the Bond films. Fleming had considered David Niven as his ideal choice to play James Bond, but after seeing From Russia With Love, he was entirely happy with Connery in the role; and unlike Dr. No, which was altered in some of its key details, From Russia With Love was very close to the novel in its plot and characterizations.
For the third movie, however -- based on the 1959 novel Goldfinger -- the producers took a somewhat different approach. The first two Bond movies had been actor- and character-driven, with visual highlights confined to some futuristic or exotic sets, with a few great stunts and explosions to punctuate the action. But for Goldfinger (1964), directed by Guy Hamilton (who took over when Terence Young quit over creative and financial differences), the focus shifted decisively to gadgets and pacing, spiced by an ever-increasing quota of double-entendre repartee and smirky one-liners from the hero, rather than portrayals and motivations. The editing became even more briskly paced, and the movie, on its release, seemed almost like a wild-and-woolly theme-park ride, especially compared to the two prior movies. It had been possible to watch Dr. No and From Russia With Love as serious movies and serviceable thrillers at face value, but seeing Goldfinger and its various bravura segments -- the car chase through the villain's factory complex, the Fort Knox model and robbery presentation (and mass slaughter of the hoods in the audience), the raid on the gold depository, and the spectacle of the hero handcuffed to an armed nuclear device with a ticking timer -- one had the distinct feeling of one's leg being pulled. And audiences loved it. Goldfinger was an immensely popular film, one of the top box-office draws not only of that year but of the entire decade. It so expanded the audience for the Bond adventures that the two preceding movies were reissued together and earned even more money than they had on their original releases.
The popularity of Goldfinger (which was so great that theaters serving college and university audiences scheduled round-the-clock showings) led to a craze for spy and espionage films that ran for the rest of the decade, and spilled over into television. Ironically, the most popular such vehicle in the latter medium, the series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which went on the air in the second half of 1964 on NBC, had been partly an Ian Fleming creation as well. During the early '60s, the author had worked with the producers of the series, developing characters and concepts, until Saltzman and Broccoli called a halt to his involvement, based on their contract with him. The only two elements of the final series specifically attributable to Fleming were the name of the hero, Napoleon Solo (portrayed by Robert Vaughn), and the name of a female character, April Dancer, that would figure later in the series' production history. But there were also such rival series from other hands as I Spy; a distaff series called Honey West with Anne Francis (which was, itself, derived from a series of paperback novels); the period satire The Wild Wild West; and the parody Get Smart. One already successful police show, Burke's Law, starring Gene Barry, was retooled as a spy show called Amos Burke, Secret Agent. Even The Beverly Hillbillies got many months of mileage out of an ongoing storyline in which the character Jethro (Max Baer Jr.) tries to become a "double-nought spy."
Meanwhile, in movies, the myriad Bond variants and rivals that came along filled theaters for years afterward. The best of them came from producer Harry Saltzman himself, who, separate from the Bond movies, secured the rights to a series of books by author Len Deighton depicting a far more cerebral brand of British agent, which were brought to the screen in the guise of bespectacled Harry Palmer, portrayed by Michael Caine, in The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain (the latter directed by Ken Russell). But there were also the Matt Helm movies, based on the books by Donald Hamilton, starring Dean Martin and produced by Broccoli's ex-producing partner Irving Allen, who had balked at involving himself with the Bond movies six years earlier; and the distaff screen Bond variant Modesty Blaise (1966), directed by Joseph Losey, no less. On a much more serious level, John Le Carré's book The Spy Who Came in From the Cold was brought to the screen by director Martin Ritt in 1965, in a superb movie that was also so intense and downbeat that it repelled people who -- having seen the Bond movies -- thought that spy films should be fun. And Casino Royale finally showed up as a gargantuan, intermittently funny spoof in 1967 from producer Charles K. Feldman. But as late as the 1980s and '90s, Fleming's books and the early movies adapted from them were still the standard reference points for espionage films and literature.
Ian Fleming never lived to see Goldfinger, much less the spy movie craze that followed in its wake. He had been experiencing increasing health problems, mostly owing to a bad heart, for several years, and his drinking and smoking did nothing to improve his prospects for a long life. Indeed, he seemed driven to muscle his way past whatever infirmities he was experiencing, which only hastened his end. And the sudden influx of income from the films enabled him to burn the candle at both ends that much more quickly, even as he branched into new areas of endeavor. In 1964, he had sold another of his stories for a film, which became Terence Young's anti-drug drama The Poppy Is Also a Flower (1966). He passed away in August 1964, a few months before the release of Goldfinger, which, ironically enough, became the movie whose success would make him a household name.
The pull of the Bond movies and the James Bond character was especially strong among younger filmgoers, and even pre-teens. Spy-oriented toys started to fill the shelves of stores, and programs with heavy juvenile viewerships began adding espionage references and subplots to certain episodes. There were trading cards, comic books, and all other manner of paraphernalia generated to cash in on this feeding frenzy, which completely eclipsed whatever audience remained for Westerns among younger viewers.
The following year, Saltzman, Broccoli, and McClory came to a temporary truce over the latter's rights to Thunderball: Saltzman and Broccoli's Eon Productions would make the film, with McClory credited as producer and Terence Young back in the director's chair. It became the top-grossing movie in the series' first decade, and set the standard for all but one of the movies to follow, in terms of outsized sets, stunts, and plots. But Connery's increasing unhappiness with the role and the films came to a head with the next movie, You Only Live Twice (1967), which also marked a major departure from Fleming's work. The first three Bond features, done while the author was alive, all hewed very closely to their original books in terms of story, characters, and settings, and Thunderball, because of its origins as a screenplay and the legal limitations on what McClory could do with the rights he held, was also close to what had appeared on the printed page.
But because of the nature of the two most successful Bond movies -- Goldfinger and Thunderball, which were both splashy, glitzy, heavily gadget- and effects-oriented movies, and loaded with provocative one-liners -- the producers recognized that audiences now expected a certain kind of movie when they paid to see a James Bond picture. In both movies, Bond had prevented catastrophic events involving nuclear weapons and plots by world-sized villains with appropriately large-scale plans. And the plot of You Only Live Twice, sending Bond up against the head of a mysterious drug and suicide cult in Japan, just would not impress audiences expecting to find the fate of the world in the balance. Additionally, that book was also hooked around events in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which had been intended as the fourth movie, before Thunderball bumped it out of its place in line. As a result, for the first time, the producers engaged in a very extensive rewrite of the original story, replacing the drug-and-suicide cult with a plan by SPECTRE to foment world war by hijacking American and Soviet space capsules from orbit; the story, by Roald Dahl, owed a bit to a 1939 thriller called Q Planes, but it translated well to the 1960s, even though it had nothing to do with the book.
With Connery's departure from the role, the producers chose George Lazenby to take on the part of James Bond for the next movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). Regarded as the best of the Fleming novels, it became the most serious of the movies. It stands separate from the rest of the series as the closest realization of Fleming's vision of the character -- that separateness from the series entries before and after is almost an irony, as the film contains one scene in which Lazenby's Bond nostalgically recalls his prior film adventures. The longest of the Bond movies, it was also the one -- along with From Russia With Love -- that was closest to the book from which it was adapted, and was the last time that the producers would hew at all closely to Fleming's work.
In the decades since, thanks to the Bond movies (and also, to a lesser degree, the film and stage adaptations of his children's book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), Fleming's name has been kept alive for generations, associated with action, adventure, and excitement on the screen and the printed page, and there have been countless reprints of his dozen Bond novels, as well as new stories about the character, most notably by Kingsley Amis and John Gardner. Fleming likely would have been as astonished as anyone that the James Bond franchise was still going strong in 2007, 55 years after he wrote the first of the books. The world, of course, did move on following his death, but his hero and the film depictions of his exploits have proved astonishingly durable, due in part to the fact that the screenwriters and producers have been able to freely adapt his work, and to jettison the elements of his books that were the weakest, including his somewhat coarse sensibilities about women, and also his primitive and simplistic ideas about lesbian women; his racial sensibilities, which were of a piece with his class and his era; and his political ideas, which were locked to the Cold War and also to pre-World War II Europe. In 1973, the producers showed their consummate skill as filmmakers by adapting Live and Let Die -- the most problematic of the novels because of its racial subject matter -- by tailoring its story to the sensibilities of the black exploitation market; in the process, they also introduced the "new" screen James Bond in Roger Moore, playing a sufficiently benign portrayal so that the movie raised no eyebrows with its racial conflicts.
Much more problematic were the near-total reshaping of the stories from the books after 1969. It simply wouldn't work to try and pull audiences into theaters to watch James Bond investigate a diamond-smuggling ring, as the plot of the book Diamonds Are Forever had him doing -- thus, in the movie, the diamond-smuggling operation that Bond is investigating is merely a detail in the villain's plan to take over the world. Conversely with the huge size and scope of the Bond screenplays, the complexity of the scripts disappeared -- the first two Bond movies, Dr. No and, especially, From Russia With Love (and, to a degree, On Her Majesty's Secret Service) each had a plot that played like a chess game, but the later movies were closer to checkers in their simplicity. By the 1980s, it was clear to longtime fans and filmgoers that the Fleming contribution to the movies was frequently reduced to just a title and a few provocatively named characters. And in one instance, The Spy Who Loved Me, Fleming had it put into the original contract with Saltzman and Broccoli that they would have to devise a new plot to go with that adaptation; the most unusual of the Bond novels, and the most experimental of them all, it told its story from a woman's point-of-view. But the 2006 version of Casino Royale seemed to return to something of Fleming's original; and the fact that the early Bond movies with Sean Connery can still draw sell-out audiences into theaters after decades of television showings and home-video releases also is indicative of Fleming's continued popularity as an author, and the vitality of his work.
~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide