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James Bond: The Legacy

Review written by Derek Shiekhi

As good as some of the James Bond novels are, I think it’s impossible to pick one that would properly commemorate the 10th anniversary of a website dedicated to the discussion of the world’s greatest secret agent in both literary and cinematic form. No, not even the best Fleming novel can properly celebrate Universal Exports’ decade-long commitment to Bond fandom. The perfect book for this occasion was written by Bond veterans John Cork and Bruce Scivally: James Bond: The Legacy.

Bond Legacy Book I must admit when I received this book for Christmas, I thought, “What have you gotten yourself into?!” The task seemed daunting – hundreds of pages, each more than a foot in length chronicling all 20 of the official movies and even the unofficial film efforts. I started to question my devotion. Would I really be able to reach the summit of this mountain of information? The answer is “Yes.” As I got deeper and deeper into its pages, I discovered that reading The Legacy was more of a downhill run; after a while you can’t put it down.

As you would expect from any book written about the icon that is James Bond, there is a wealth of behind-the-scenes facts and little-known inside stories. Cork and Scivally do not disappoint. One story I found particularly mind-blowing was that of George Lazenby’s journey to becoming James Bond; the coincidence of the suit and car he bought and the person sitting behind him while he was getting his hair cut to look just like Sean Connery’s is amazing.

Before I read this book, I already knew a great deal about the James Bond movies and the phenomena of Goldfinger and Thunderball. After reading this, I developed a much stronger grasp of just how monumental 1960s Spymania was. Once I moved on to the post-spy-craze movies, I felt like a kid learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I kept hoping that James Bond would once again reach larger-than-life status. To my surprise, I learned something I never knew before: the 1990s were the renaissance of Spymania. To make the already enjoyable reading even easier, there are plenty of large, sometimes full-page, color photos. Whether they were taken from behind-the-scenes or in publicity shoots, they’re all priceless to die-hard Bond fans in their own special ways.

Ultimately, I feel the most interesting part of this book and the most impressive feat of the filmmakers is how they were able to use what was happening in the times of each movie and weave those events into entertaining films that were at their cores hybrids of various Fleming novel and short story plots. The vision, dedication, and faith of the leaders and crews of these movies is awe-inspiring.

While this may be a daunting book to read if only because of its size, you owe it to yourself to pick it up (with both hands) and dive in. If you’re a greenhorn Bond fan, you’ll soon become an expert on many things 007. If you’re a well-read Bond aficionado like me, you’ll soon learn how little you knew before.

Review written by Mark Rhodes

The impact that Ian Fleming's James Bond has had on popular culture is immense. One recent publication tries to encapsulize the baroque History of 007: James Bond, The Legacy (Abrams) writtten by John Cork and Bruce Scivally is an attempt to take a complete look at the Bond myth in all of its forms: literary, commercial, artistic and of course, cinematic. Among the most interesting aspects of the book are the interesting passages concerning Fleming. Most revalatory is the idea that the well-know Cambridge spies Guy Burgess and Daniel Maclean had strong connections to Fleming and may have inspired him (at least indirectly) to write his first Bond opus, Casino Royale.

In addition to this, the book chronicles the real and fictional forerunners of the Bond myth: Real life legendary spies such as Sidney Reilly, and Karl Schulmeister, the espionage films of Hitchcock (especially 1934's The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps and Foreign Correspondent). The usual trivia is chronicled (From Russia With Love was on a list of JFK's ten favorite novels).

Most notably, the book explores why the 007 myth resonated so completely in the decade of the 1960's. Bond has certainly had some ups and downs during the 40 years since Dr. No made a young Scot named Sean Connery an instant cinematic legend. The book hints that sputnik, US forays into space, and, the increasing influence of Playboy Magazine helped Bond be a part of the Zeitgeist as he has never been since. Indeed, the book makes a strong argument that the series peaked as early as 1964 with the release of Goldfinger. The authors theorize that Goldfinger, though the third film in the series became the standard by which all later Bonds were measured. Indeed, the deconstruction of the brilliant pre-credits sequence in Goldfinger shows how the Bondian elements of gadgets, sex, violence, sophistication, striking set design and exotic locale combine to render the Bond film a near abstraction.

Naturally, much of the book is concerned with the kind of arcane trivia which is so dear to Bond fans. For instance, when Bond's gun was updated from a Walther PPK to a Walther P99 in 97's Tomorrow Never Dies there was an immediate shortage reported by gun stores.

Most interesting, however, are the chronicles of the films in the series which "failed." The section concerning the history of On Her Majesty's Secret Service is especially interesting since it chronicles a genuine attempt to break with the already formulaic Bond pictures. At the point that the film was made, there was no sense that the public would accept another actor as a portrayer of Bond. So, the authors hint, the filmmakers were interested in downsizing Bond (for lack of a better way to put it) so as to eliminate, or at least limit comparisons between Connery and Bond. The result of this was the most unusual, and probably least popular of the Bond sagas. The film made money, but a combination of bad publicity and mixed reviews basically forced Lazenby out and made United Artists reluctant to ever truly tamper with the Bond formula again.

The spotty track record of another short-term Bond, Timothy Dalton is equally interesting. The authors hint that Dalton's physically graceful yet tempremental persona fit more readily the physical and emotional makeup of Ian Fleming's literary Bond than all the other Bonds, including Connery. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Dalton never approached the popularity of his predecessor, Roger Moore, or his successor, Pierce Brosnan.

The authors also track the way that the Bond series has adapted to technology, politics and culture which has been crucial to keeping the series intersting and fresh. Moonraker (1979) they theorize connected both with the advancing space shuttle technology as well as the popularity of such sci-fi epics as Star Wars. GoldenEye (1995) made much about the end of the Cold War and The Living Daylights (1987) ended up reflecting fear about the AIDS crisis by presenting the world with a monogamous 007.

Despite a deluge of information, trivoa, quotes and images, the authors are too much the fans to fully answer some of the interesting questions raised by the film series such as: Why did the public readily accept Roger Moore as Bond, despite the fact he appeared to be such a polar opposite of Connery? Why hasn't the series been able to obtain the services of really great directors who have expressed interest in working on this series (ie Tarrantino, Spielberg, etc)?

Despite sidestepping these, and other thorny questions, James Bond The Legacy gives the man his due as a great literary myth, cinema legend and cultural icon. Let's face it, after 40 years the man deserves it.

Review written by Mark Rhodes

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