James Bond is reputed to be a producer’s franchise, but there’s no denying there’s a strong directorial imprint on the series as well.
The Bond helmers have each left their own lingering mark on the character, and on the pictures that followed.
In fact, Sean Connery admits that director Terence Young is responsible for inventing the onscreen persona of Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy when the franchise was launched with “Dr. No” (1962).
Young imbued Bond with his suave sensibilities and droll sense of humor and molded Connery in his own image.
“Terence’s contributions were enormous because he was always a great bon vivant,” Connery recalls. “He was very much up on the latest shirts and blazers and was very elegant himself — whether he had money or not — and all the clubs and that kind of establishment. [He] got me a rack of clothes and, as they say, could get me to look convincingly dangerous in the act of playing it. … And the humor was one element that was missing from the books of Fleming himself.”
When Guy Hamilton succeeded Young on “Goldfinger,” he helped engineer a new level of outlandish style and excitement. Bond hit the streets in his tricked-out Aston Martin DB5 and was armed with even more quips. The result was the first modern blockbuster and the template for future Bond films.
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“Bond was only as good as his villains and there was a great danger in him becoming Superman,” says Hamilton (who previously served as Carol Reed’s assistant on “The Third Man”). “Consequently, tension goes if you know he’s going to win every time.”
After Connery’s initial departure, editor-turned-director Peter Hunt stripped Bond of his excesses and explored his humanity in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the most personal and tragic 007 adventure. He also crucially played Svengali to George Lazenby, an Australian model with no previous acting experience.
“Peter liked the idea of having someone outside of the acting world so he could not only get him to do what he wanted but to also have a lot of praise for being able to pull it off with an unknown,” Lazenby says.
Although Lewis Gilbert got his first taste of Bond with Connery on “You Only Live Twice,” he didn’t leave his mark on the franchise until returning to direct Roger Moore’s third outing, “The Spy Who Loved Me.”
Gilbert’s more absurd approach liberated Moore and the star and helmer often improvised one-liners on set.
“He and I had more or less the same sense of humor, which is slightly off the wall,” Moore says. “We had a marvelous rapport.”
Martin Campbell had the honor of breaking in the two most recent Bonds, Pierce Brosnan (“GoldenEye”) and Daniel Craig (“Casino Royale”).
The first experience was like being on a high wire (“Pierce played it straighter, so it made it that much better,” Campbell says), and the second was a more introspective origin story. (“Bond’s past is important because he has difficulty dealing with the violence,” Campbell adds.)
However, Craig’s 007 is now fully formed in the upcoming “Skyfall,” which finds him reteamed with the Oscar-winning Sam Mendes, the most prestigious Bond director yet.
But unlike “Road to Perdition,” this is like being on a high wire in honor of the franchise’s 50th anniversary.
“I think it is still possible to make a big, entertaining, fabulous, glamorous movie and yet at the same time to say something about the world that we’re living in,” Mendes observed in his recent videoblog.
Bill Desowitz is the author of the forthcoming “James Bond Unmasked” (Spies), featuring interviews with all six Bond actors.