Movie Article

James At 30

Robert Ludlum pays tribute to James Bond -- The author offers his thoughts on the action series that started a genre in a special essay for EW

''The name is Bond...James Bond.''

How wonderfully those words ignite out cinematic memories, whether spoken by the celebrated Sean Connery or the extremely underrated Roger Moore. They were a kind of magic carpet that let us all know that the man in the center of the bull's-eye was about to take us on a storytelling journey, through the cross and double cross, good boys and girls versus bad guys and vixens, murder and mayhem, virtue triumphing over (very practical) stupidity and (very impractical) evil.

Novelist Ian Fleming, James Bond's creator, may not be a world-class author any more than I am. But I submit that Fleming was a contemporary nexus, a vital connection, as well as a necessary contribution, that forced my generation of suspense writers to look deeper into the intrigues — political, geopolitical, and international — than we might have before he arrived in print. Fleming was a bridge over critical waters: He romanticized terrible inequities by obliterating them. But by doing so, he led those who followed him, followed in the wake of the extraordinary promotion and acceptance worldwide of the novels an the movies and eventually the videocassettes, to make those genuine inequities and intrigues perhaps — only perhaps — a touch more literary (a pretentious term, and certainly arguable).

Let's take a brief look at two examples: first, Goldfinger, the villain in the best-remembered of all the 007 movies. He was articulate, a modern intellectual possessed of enormous personal charm along with the social graces, yet he was violent, ruthless beast where money was concerned. Need I point to the recent Wall Street scandals and the values that their highly intelligent, so-charming perpetrators possessed? I don't have to. Oliver Stone encapsulated them all brilliantly in Gordon Gekko, played with equal brilliance by Michael Douglas in Wall Street.

Then there's SPECTRE, that venal organization that sought to corrupt world governments by bribery, blackmail, and the feat that goes with extraordinary resources. And does that really happen? Where do you want to start? Don't put me on the libel spit; pick up today's newspaper. Check the financial pages (who's indicted now?) and then — especially during election campaigns — take a crack at the political news (either political party).

By and large, Ian Fleming was responsible for wonderfully entertaining books and films. A reader or a moviegoer knew from the outset that the hero Bond — James Bond — would triumph over evil incarnate. What Fleming did was to exaggerate beyond credibility the forces of evil at the time of his writing. However, that was in the '50s and '60s. The '70s and '80s and (God forbid) the '90s make his incredulities seem run-of-mill realities. What are the sobriquets? Oh, yes: Watergate, Iran-contra, the savings and loans, BCCI? And that's in our own country. Check the multinationals and financial institutions in Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Shanghai (no less), and half the post-Eastern bloc. I have looked into all this, marginally, as a novelist looking for material, and I can tell you Ian Fleming was not far off the global mark. This world is rife with manipulations, political and financial, violent and less violent, yet violators all. Fleming made it fun, but in his entertainment, he opened the doors for far more serious inquiries.

Thirty years after the debut of James Bond, what does this daring, larger- than-life secret agent on the side of Good say to the adventure fans of today, most of whom know James Bond mainly through videos of the 007 films? Much the same thing as ''The Shadow'' in the old radio days. The terrible injustices of the past that enslaved so much of the world may be behind us, but don't be complacent, for evil still lurks in the hearts of men.

Originally posted Jun 19, 1994 Published in issue #123 Jun 19, 1992 Order article reprints
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