Capitalizing on the 50th anniversary of James Bond movies as well as promoting the upcoming release “Skyfall,” Epix makes 007 the centerpiece of its free-preview weekend, garnishing a film marathon with a splendid documentary chronicling the colorful, larger-than-life personalities who brought the superspy to the screen. Cleverly visualized by writer-director Stevan Riley through creative use of Bond clips, it’s an affectionate, sometimes-cheeky account of a character that has durably spanned a half-century of movie history, along with shifting world events that by all rights could have rendered this Cold War relic obsolete.
Several of those occupying what amount to chapters in Riley’s 98-minute film (which will receive a theatrical release in the U.K.) would frankly make interesting single-subject topics all their own, from Bond author Ian Fleming to producer/impresarios Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Throw in George Lazenby, whose lone outing as Bond replacing Sean Connery provided a fleeting stab at fame; and Pierce Brosnan, who had the coveted role, lost it at the last minute when NBC picked up his series “Remington Steele,” and eventually reclaimed it, and there’s almost too much meat here for a single serving.
As is, Riley methodically documents Bond’s cinematic history and the various machinations surrounding it, including Broccoli’s alienation of Connery (who is heard off-camera but not interviewed on it); Kevin McClory’s litigation tying up rights to “Thunderball;” and the character’s evolution in the “post-Sean” era, from the silly camp take featuring Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton’s determination to make the spy tough and nasty again — and the backlash his portrayal elicited.
For admirers or mere students of the series, the most interesting tidbits are front-loaded: how the studio pushed for a known star, such as Cary Grant or James Mason, to play Bond; how the Cuban Missile Crisis, and John F. Kennedy’s endorsement of the books, assisted the theatrical debut of “Dr. No;” and how sudden fame and constant attention gradually wore on Connery (somewhat understandably, given footage of him being practically mauled in Japan during production of “You Only Live Twice”).
In its various facets, “Everything or Nothing” (a title derived from the name given Broccoli and Saltzman’s partnership, EON Prods.) represents a fascinating primer on the movie business, a historical document of the swingin’ ’60s and a case study regarding the alchemy associated with cinematic success. In Bond’s case, that included hiring the right director to launch the series, Terence Young, as well as key contributors like composer John Barry, main-title guru Maurice Binder and designer Ken Adam, who — in an interview — describes the process as being “like having an orgasm.”
“Everything or Nothing” isn’t quite that good, perhaps, but the experience should leave Bond aficionados feeling stirred, not shaken.