Bond’s world of cars, casinos and caviar was sexy, luxurious and colorful. Instead of a gray, shadowy figure, here was spy as glamorous jet-setter. The films turned Cold War anxiety into a thrill-ride from which the good guy always emerged triumphant.
Since then, Bond has survived showdowns with enemies from uber-villain Ernst Blofeld to steel-toothed assassin Jaws. Even more impressively, he has weathered the social revolution of the 1960s, financial woes and lawsuits, multiple changes of lead actor, the end of the Cold War and the dawn of the War on Terror.
“Dr. No” received mixed reviews — some positive, others dismissive. “Pure, escapist bunk,” sniffed Bosley Crowther of The New York Times. But audiences responded, and “From Russia With Love,” released the next year, was also a hit. By 1964’s “Goldfinger,” Bond was a phenomenon.
More than movies, these were experiences in which key elements were established, expected and anticipated. The locations that spanned the globe and headed into outer space; the gravity-defying stunt sequences; the rocket belts, car-submarines and other gadgets; the megalomaniacal villains and their sadistic henchmen — all quickly became part of the Bond brand.
Like its hero, the series has had many near-death experiences. Connery quit acrimoniously after six films. There was a long-running legal battle with screenwriter Kevin McClory over rights to the “Thunderball” script. The result was the unofficial Bond film “Never Say Never Again,” which saw 52-year-old Connery return after a decade away from the role.
Former model George Lazenby lasted just a single film — “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” from 1969, a dark-hued tale that ranks among many fans’ favorites. Moore took Bond in a lighter direction during the 1970s.
Audiences didn’t warm to Timothy Dalton’s tougher, meaner 1980s Bond, but Pierce Brosnan’s suave superagent — circling the globe in ever more futuristic vehicles, including an invisible car — fit with the optimistic post-Cold War era.
Just as 007’s clothes have evolved with changing fashions — from Connery’s lean ’60s suits to Moore’s flares to Craig’s Tom Ford formalwear — producers have tried to find Bonds to mirror the mood of the times.
The aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks brought a change of tone. Craig’s Bond, who made his debut in “Casino Royale” in 2006, is a darker, tougher spy who hearkens back to Fleming’s original, restoring sadism and self-loathing to Bond’s emotional arsenal.
The most recent threat to Bond was a production delay on “Skyfall” when studio MGM filed for bankruptcy in 2010.
But Agent 007 is in pretty good shape for 50. Will he last another half century?
Rye, the magazine editor, thinks so.
“Bond, like diamonds, is forever,” he said.