Beyond Bond: The alternative world of 007
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When it came to saving the world, bedding the babes, breaking Q’s gadgets, James Bond was the man, even if his tongue-in cheek adventures are a long way from the very real spy world of John le Carre and Harry Palmer.
Although Eon productions owned the movie rights to the Ian Fleming novels, it hasn’t stopped film-makers from making a couple of unofficial Bond flicks as well as several interesting variations on the character. So here are some of the parodies, pastiches, parallels and strange oddities that make up this alternative world of 007!
Casino Royale (1954): Rediscovered after many years lost in the TV archives, this early adaptation of Fleming’s first novel was an episode of a popular American drama anthology series called Climax (1954-58). Unrecognisable from the subsequent films, it follows the original story quite closely. Starring American actor Barry Nelson as CIA agent “Card Sense” Jimmy Bond, it relies more on drama and dialogue than action. Casino Royale was broadcast live so many of the faults that came with early live television are glaringly obvious with cramped low budget sets, technical limitations, missed lines and stiff acting adding to its curiosity value. Although he acquits himself well enough, Nelson lacks the special charisma needed for a good 007. The end result may not be great but it remains a valuable piece of Bond memorabilia.
Carry On Spying (1964): With the Bond series in full swing it was a matter of time before the Carry On gang made their own lampoon of the spy genre. The plot, daft as it was, is actually sound enough for a proper 007 movie as MI6’s not-so-finest Desmond Simpkins (Kenneth Williams in fine nostril flaring mode) and three trainee agents pit their half-wits against The Society for the Extermination of Non-Conforming Humans (STENCH). It’s typically silly stuff that features a great moment when one of the trainees (Charles Hawtrey) introduces himself as Bind. “James?” asks Simpkins. “No, Charlie!” replies Bind. What makes this punch line interesting is that Charlie Bind would return to the cinema a decade later.
Our Man Flint (1966): Hollywood was now getting in on the Bond act with the Matt Helm movie series (1966-69) and TV’s The Man from U. N. C. L. E. (1964-68). But this effort is the ultimate of sixties cool with James Coburn in fine charismatic form as brilliant super-agent Derek Flint. Armed with an outstanding mind and a multi functioning lighter (Q take note!), Flint saves the world in grand style. Shame the sequel In Like Flint (1967) failed to repeat the winning formula. There is one scene were Flint briefly meets up with British agent 0008! The character is played by American actor Robert Gunner, who vaguely resembles Sean Connery. Best known as the astronaut who gets lobotomised in Planet of the Apes (1968), Gunner’s brief career consisted mainly of bit parts. Vanishing from the screens shortly after Planet of the Apes, he died in 1982.
Casino Royale (1967): More spoofing, and this time it's an unofficial film version of the novel in which Sir James Bond (David Niven) comes out of retirement to battle against arch enemies SMERSH. With several writers and directors involved, plus an eclectic cast that includes Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles and Woody Allen, it must have been more fun to make than it was to watch. In fact the whole thing is rather stupid considering the talent involved. As with many a big budget stinker he made in his later years, Niven maintains his dignity throughout and Allen (as his nephew Jimmy Bond) provides a few priceless moments.
Operation Kid Brother AKA OK Neil Connery (1967): Even though Sean Connery was finished with Bond it did not prevent the producers of this crazy Italian spoof from exploiting younger brother Neil. Stepping into the breach as plastic surgeon/hypnotist Dr Neil Connery (you read that correctly), he is surrounded by Bond veterans Bernard Lee (looking hung-over), Lois Maxwell (who has more to do here then she ever did as Moneypenny), Daniela Bianchi, Adolfo Celi and Anthony Dawson. Sporting a goatee beard and a dubbed American accent (his character is supposed to be Scottish); Dr Connery is called into service after his brother, a famous spy (h’mmm!), goes missing. This incoherent mess is bad enough to be funny (but not very), and Neil lacks the looks, presence and talent of Sir Sean. Following his bland turn in The Body Stealers (1969), Connery returned to Edinburgh to resume his career as a builder and occasional bit part actor. One can only wonder what Sir Sean thought about this!
No 1 of the Secret Service (1977): When Roger Moore became 007, the series quickly veered into seventies camp, and as such spoofing what had now become a spoof seemed pointless. Nicky Henson’s engaging turn as Agent Charles Bind (now where did I hear than name?) livens up this silly piece of cheap garbage. There is a Bond link with Geoffrey Keen in the M role, but otherwise this is a waste of time for all concerned.
Licensed to Love and Kill (1980): Believe it or not, No 1 of the Secret Service was successful enough to produce a thoroughly dreadful sequel. Replacing Henson as Bind is Gareth Hunt, who was a capable Bond type action man in The New Avengers (1976). Now starting to show his age, he walks through the role with no enthusiasm whatsoever, other than receiving his all important pay check (which can’t have been much judging by the film’s production values). Apparently a third film called Number One Gun (1990) starring Michael Howe as Bind remains unreleased. How thankful we are for small mercies!
Return of the Man from U. N. C. L. E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair (1983): The original TV series, Starring Robert Vaughan as Napoleon Solo and David McCallum as Ilya Kuryakin, was the very height of camp spy spoofs. It made about as much sense as Batman but at least it was fun! Several episodes were also edited together for a half dozen feature films. Looking older and heavier, Vaughan and McCallum still retain that wonderful chemistry, which is just as well because this one-off TV movie lacks the old spark of the series. For a nice in-joke, George Lazenby guest stars as an immaculately dressed British agent driving a car sporting the initials ‘J B’. I wonder what they stand for!
Never Say Never Again (1983): Released simultaneously with Octopussy (1983), this unofficial remake of Thunderball (1965) originated from a settlement of a lawsuit over the legal rights of Fleming’s novel. Once again Sean Connery assumes his star-making role, and he certainly shows Roger Moore that nobody does it better than him. This is much grittier and realistic than the recent Bonds, but on the whole the film has an air of pointlessness about it, and Connery, charming though he is, looks old and tired. At least it’s an improvement on his boring performance in Diamonds Are Forever (1971).
Johnny English (2003): The Austin Powers trilogy and Spy Hard (1996) more of less cornered the market in latter day spy spoofs, but this one is definitely more superior with Rowan Atkinson recreating his bumbling secret agent from the classic Barclaycard TV commercials. The plot itself wouldn’t look out of place in a proper Bond film (in fact, Bond writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade worked on the script) and Atkinson plays the whole thing completely straight – with hilarious results. The 007 link comes early on with Greg Wise doing an uncannily accurate Pierce Brosnan impression as Agent No 1. Interestingly enough, the long awaited sequel, Johnny English Reborn (2011), actually features Brosnan. James Bond working alongside Johnny English! Now that WOULD be something!
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