License to Thrill : A Cultural History of the James Bond Films

As for the identity of the actor who was the best Bond, "License" takes no liberties, giving even the "athletic" George Lazenby and the "dark" characterizations of Timothy Dalton their due.

As for the identity of the actor who was the best Bond, “License” takes no liberties, giving even the “athletic” George Lazenby and the “dark” characterizations of Timothy Dalton their due.

The franchise’s effects on other films are also examined. Producers Albert “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman began with Bond when TV was changing Hollywood’s attitudes toward big-money projects. By the early ’60s, studios saw green not just in Westerns or musicals or epics, but in thrillers and action fare, too. In that sense, the franchise made the world safe for films like “Star Wars” and “Jaws.”

Chapman also examines the freakish success of the series, despite comparatively weak numbers in the U.S. — no mean feat for any film, much less 19 of them.

On the other hand, Chapman’s comprehensiveness weighs the book down. His picture-by-picture breakdown of source material, plot, politics, critical reaction and box office is exhausting in its detail. At one point, four pages are devoted to a 1954 TV version of “Casino Royale” in which Bond became American agent “Jimmy Bond” because, “it is the first Bond ‘film’ (albeit a telefilm).”

And the conclusions drawn from this progression of facts are sometimes tenuous. Auteurists will doubtless feel shaken and stirred at the assertion that seven-time Bond set designer Ken Adam “enjoyed creating a visual world which is as distinctive in its own way as the cinema of German Expressionism.”

Nevertheless, “License to Thrill” does Her Majesty’s secret servant and the rest of us a favor, extensively investigating the interplay between the film industry, the public mood and the ongoing development of “the most popular and enduring series in motion picture history.”

It’s certainly enough to justify Chapman’s time in writing the book, and ours in reading it.

License to Thrill : A Cultural History of the James Bond Films

Production: BY JAMES CHAPMAN (COLUMBIA U. PRESS; 336 PGS.; $ 27.95) James Chapman's clear obsession with all things "Bondian" lends weight to his argument that the franchise's unparalleled 19-film, multibillion-dollar run reflects not just a formula or simple "entertainment value," but a plasticity to changes in world politics and culture that keep Bond virile. The varying influence of Ian Fleming's source novels and Saturday matinee cliffhangers is explored in this context, as is 007's screen development from snob to swinger to safari-suited wisecracker to Thatcherite to Batman-like brooder to consumerist action hero.

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