Leader picture courtesy of mi6-hq.com

He’s a very British hero, popularly brought to life from book to silver screen thanks to an Anglo-American-Italian production collaboration. It is the story of Bond. James Bond. The latest, and 23rd release in the series, Skyfall, starring Daniel Craig - in his third outing as secret agent 007 - marks the 50th anniversary of the second most successful and longest-running film franchise in cinema history.

James Bond - Skyfall

Since the release of 1962’s Dr No, it is estimated that a staggering quarter of the world’s population has seen at least one Bond film. Considered as the populist ‘father’ of the spy genre, its cultural legacy has included films from Dean Martin’s Matt Helm ‘60s series and Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible, to the Austin Powers parody and Jean Dujardin’s comedic French Bond, ‘OSS’.

Though Bond is the creation of English author Ian Fleming, the success of the closely-linked film phenomenon is in most part due to the creative influence of the Broccoli family. Albert Romolo Broccoli, nicknamed Cubby, moved to London in the 1950s lured by the British government’s film subsidy for UK made productions with British cast and crew. Along with Harry Saltzman, Broccoli co-founded Danjaq, LLC and Eon Productions, grooming the Bond films into high-grossing spectaculars. Where his early co-producer Saltzman explored other creative options, Broccoli treated Bond as his full-time vocation.

Following Saltzman’s company exit, each Bond film until his death in 1996 would state ‘Albert R. Broccoli Presents’. He was recognised by the Queen for services to film with a CBE. His daughter from his second marriage, Barbara, together with her stepbrother Michael G. Wilson, grew up on the Bond movie sets and each worked their way up through the business. On their father’s death aged 87, they took the helm, their producing partnership cemented with first three box office hits Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies and The World is Not Enough.

Considered one of the entertainment industry’s most successful female producers, Barbara only ever conducts interviews with Michael. The two recently appeared in London to speak of the golden anniversary of their celluloid legacy. With Skyfall released a year late due to what Barbara describes as ‘MGM’s financial difficulties’ - the future of the franchise was uncertain until Sony stepped in and production resumed. ‘The reason we’re here today,’ Daniel Craig’s said on the subject ‘is because of these two producers…they made it happen, basically.’

Daniel Craig - James Bond
Daniel Craig, Venice - Picture courtesty of adelaidenow.com.au

Said Barbara: ‘We’re so delighted to have (Academy Award winning) director Sam Mendes direct Skyfall and be working again with Daniel Craig. We’ve a great script, an extraordinary cast and incredibly talented creative team for this latest James Bond adventure.’ Along with Michael, she agreed that from Casino Royale – Craig’s premiere - it was like starting over. ‘We started down a path and we’re sticking to that path, and Skyfall’s really the same kind of idea: an interesting story well written, with a great cast and plenty of action.’

Michael continued: ‘Back in the early days when Dr No was going to be released no-one really thought that we were going to get 50 years of Bond, let alone 23 pictures. At that time, United Artists had a deal with Cubby and Harry for four pictures, and even then they thought that was stretching it. But no-one contemplated this kind of success.’

They attribute the films’ worldwide popularity first to ‘what Ian Fleming originally created. The Bond character is so interesting and exciting and offers so many possibilities… Different unique actors can play the 007 role and each brings new excitement to it and a new interpretation of the same character.’ They also credit their ‘dedicated’ team and their own success as producers thanks to their father: ‘He made pictures for the public, to entertain.’

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson - picture courtesy of zimbio.com

What was said on the franchise’s 40 year anniversary still appears to hold true. As Michael then explained, ‘It is extremely hard when you are doing a series because you have a pre-existing fan base eagerly anticipating every film you make. We like to do it with an interesting storyline, with a new and exciting situation for Bond rather than with a bigger bang. I think the action sequences and the exciting car chases have been a hallmark of the James Bond films since Thunderball. The unique stunts, gadgets, gorgeous women and exotic settings are all things that the viewer comes to expect… We just try to offer those same elements at a level that keeps it fresh and exciting for the audience.’

Barbara always stresses that the format has to hold true to her father’s vision and that of original Bond author Ian Fleming. It is a delicate blend of trademark escapist fantasy and luxury while holding a mirror to changing times. Bond is still an officer in British Secret Intelligence or MI6, code number 007. Based on people he knew in his own World War II experience of espionage, author Ian Fleming said of his hero: ‘Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure – an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department.’

Adolfo Celi
On the right, Adolfo Celi - picture courtesy of ibnlive.in.com

The six incarnations of Bond so far span the ‘60s original Sean Connery through Roger Moore in the ‘70s, Pierce Brosnan in the ‘90s to today’s surprise ‘blonde Bond’ Daniel Craig. Though quintessentially British, there is always an intriguing international flavour to story elements. There are heinous villains: Italian American Robert Davi; Sicilian American Vincent Schiavelli as Dr Kaufman in Tomorrow Never Dies; eye-patch wearing Adolfo Celi as Thunderball’s Emilio Largo; Scaramanga and his golden gun played by acclaimed English actor (Italian on his mother’s side) Sir Christopher (Carandini) Lee. Equally, bewitching Bond girls flying the Italian flag past to present: Daniela Bianchi whose Italian was dubbed in 1963’s From Russia With Love; fans’ favourite Luciana Paluzzi from 1965’s Thunderball; Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Cigar Girl in The World is Not Enough and Caterina Murino: Solange in Casino Royale. Monica Bellucci was rumoured as first choice in Tomorrow Never Dies: a role played by US actress Teri Hatcher.

Caterina Murino and Daniel Craig
Caterina Murino and Daniel Craig - picture courtesy of toutlecine.com

Side by side with daredevil stunts, Bond films display innovative gadgets and convertable cars – the Aston Martin, especially – along luxury lifestyle touches: Bond’s preferred drink is the martini, ‘shaken, not stirred.’ As for sharp tailoring – Savile Row for Sean Connery to Italian brand Brioni for Pierce Brosnan.

Vital to the plot, exotic settings have often showcased Italian locations. Stand-outs include Venetian canal boats (From Russia with Love) and Ca’Rezzonico (Drax’s office in Moonraker); Piazza Venezia (For Your Eyes Only) and the Palazzo Pisani (Casino Royale finale); Locarno’s Verzasca Dam (bungee jump opening stunt in Goldeneye) to the Hotel Miramonti, Cortina d’Ampezzo, where Bond stayed, and most recently in Casino Royale, the panoramic Villa Del Balbianello, Lake Como, where Bond recently ‘recuperated’ lakeside.

Alongside the distinctive James Bond theme tune, an epic theme song per film often guarantees the singer global recognition. Where Skyfall will showcase Britain’s Adele – now a hit in Europe – past Italian related vocalists include Madonna (Die Another Day) to Nancy Sinatra’s haunting You Only Live Twice.

Villa Balbianello
Villa Balbianello, Lenno, Como

Of the films’ enduring appeal, Michael G. Wilson’s past thoughts remain: ‘Whenever we travel around the world, we’re amazed to see how many people are so excited and anxious in every country asking, when is the next James Bond film coming out? When you see that, it makes you happy and encourages Barbara and me to produce more Bond films and keep the tradition alive!’

According to the official James Bond website, the all-time favourite Bond film worldwide – including the UK and Italy - is Daniel Craig’s Casino Royale, 2006. When asked what makes a good James Bond film today, Craig – contracted to fulfil at least two more Bonds, responds, ‘Packing it with as much as you can. We wanted to make a classic Bond…as in something that will stand the test of time’. With critics already praising his latest adventure as a true 21st century version of Bond, Craig, - plus producers Barbara Broccoli and her brother Michael - can breathe a sigh of relief. An evolved Bond that bridges past to present, fantasy and reality, is no mean feat. Cubby would be proud. Fifty years on, mission accomplished, Mr Bond!

Skyfall opens throughout Europe and the US in November. Documentary Everything or Nothing: the Untold Story of 007 is showing at selected cinemas.
 


Official James Bond information site: www.007.com; fan’s site www.mi6-hq.com. www.themepartypeople.com has a ‘Bond, Bourne and Beyond’ tour inclusive of Bond film locations covering Venice, Cortina, Locarno, Lake Como and into Interlaken, Switzerland. www.taschen.com The James Bond Archives by Paul Duncan is a collector’s compendium detailing every Bond film in the 50 year series, made with full access to Eon Productions’ Bond archives. For more on the Broccolis, see ‘When the Snow Melts: The Autobiography of Cubby Broccoli’.