50 Years of James Bond

As a kid, I was fairly confident that “The Man With the Golden Gun” was the best of the Bond movies. It featured my favorite villain (peerless character actor Christopher Lee as Scaramanga), my favorite stunt (an Evel Knievel-style spinning car jump across a broken bridge) and two of the loveliest Bond girls of the entire franchise (Brett Ekland and Maud Adams). Scaramanga’s infamous golden gun outdid any of Bond’s gadgets, breaking apart into a working cigarette case, lighter, fountain pen and cuff link. And the film brought back J.W. Pepper, the Louisiana sheriff whom I considered every bit as hilarious as Bond found him annoying, and added a three-foot henchman in the form of future “Fantasy Island” star Herve Villechaize.

Needless to say, what enthralls a 13-year-old does not necessarily delight his three-decades-wiser counterpart. Just two movies into the Roger Moore oeuvre, it’s perfectly evident that the “Saint” star’s take on Bond was engineered to please a younger demographic than Sean Connery had, incorporating a certain adult-alienating silliness into a formula that had never taken itself entirely seriously. That formula had already taken a turn toward clever, gimmick-driven shenanigans under Guy Hamilton (who helmed “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Live and Let Die” and now this), but the change in actors seems to have amplified the comedy.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy revisiting “MWTGG”; it’s just that said enjoyment requires denying the increasingly problematic truth about Bond: As heroes go, 007 represents a bygone notion of the privileged white man taking what’s his and leaving destruction in his wake. Rewatching “MWTGG,” I can hear my father’s approving laughter echoing after each of the film’s egregious violations – violations against the dignity of women, the respect of foreigners, the laws of physics or the fine art of a well-crafted pun.

Observing this sensibility as a teenager clearly reinforced the idea that such behavior was not only acceptable, but potentially humorous as well. When junior British agent Mary Goodnight (Ekland) first picks up Bond at the airport, we accept that her principal function will be not to assist but to service. After all, the precedent is strong in this series (reinforced as recently as “Live and Let Die,” which featured Bond’s seduction of tyro CIA agent Rosie Carver), and Ekland encourages the sex-object notion by playing Goodnight as a blonde airhead eager to rekindle some previous flame with Bond.

Sure enough, the film’s greatest suspense sequence results when Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders (Adams, soon to be recycled as “Octopussy”), drops by Bond’s hotel at night, forcing Goodnight to hide in the closet: Will Andrea discover her hiding there? Will Goodnight clumsily call attention to herself? And which of the two ladies will Bond actually bed that night? As the film progresses, Goodnight becomes an even greater bimbo to the extent that, by the film’s finale, she’s running around Scaramanga’s lair in a bikini and accidentally bumping laser-activating buttons with her bottom.

In my memory, Barbara Bach made a more even match for Bond’s abilities in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” but I’m almost afraid to rewatch it for fear of discovering otherwise. It’s not the promiscuity that bothers me so much as the idea that the films’ females exist almost solely to be seduced. Even Moneypenny, that consummate professional, flirtatiously reminds us with each film that she would put her profession aside to consummate her crush on Bond.

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