The Golden Age of Bond: Creation of Cold War Popular Hero (1962-1965) Part II

Article excerpt

In 1961, when Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman first collaborated to transform the series of James Bond novels into feature-length cinematic productions, there was little indication that their efforts would ultimately spawn one of the most popular and financially successful movie series of all time. Although United Artist Motion Picture Company had agreed to support the creation of six James Bond adventures, its initial promotion of its fictional British secret agent was less than enthusiastic.(1) When Dr. No (1962), (2) the first of the Bond movies produced by Broccoli and Saltzman, was ready for release in the United States, United Artists gave the film neither an official premier nor much promotional fanfare. (3) Even so, when Dr. No, modestly budgeted at $1.1 million, earned $6.4 million dollars in American movie rentals, United Artists guaranteed the future of the Bond series and subsequently ensured the development of a Cold War popular hero. (4)

Over the next four years Bond movies were filmed and released in rapid succession, attracting great public interest in Great Britain (where the studio filming of the movies occurred) and the United States (especially from adolescents and young adults who represented the majority of Bond's dedicated movie audience during this period). (5) From Russia With Love (1963) was released on Memorial Day weekend in 1964, earning nearly $10 million in rentals at the box office. Less than eight months later, Goldfinger (1964) set a national record for ticket sales, earning over two million dollars in the first two weeks of its run; and eventually earning $23 million for United Artists. (7) Thunderball (1965),the last of the movies released in this initial flurry of Bond production, proved even more successful at the box office, bringing in rentals of $28.6 million.

As the box office figures suggest, the Bond series and the popularity of Bond as a public figure flourished during the early and mid-1960s. As Bond scholars Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott note:

   Apart from being the period in which Bond's popularity manifestly peaked,
   the early 1960s can also be counted as the moment of Bond in the sense that
   his popularity was unrivaled by that of any other cultural figure.
   Indeed,.in its taken-for-grantedness, the figure of Bond supplied an
   established point of reference to which a wide range of cultural practices
   referred themselves in order to establish their own cultural location and
   identity. Most obviously, Bond functioned as either an explicit or an
   implied point of reference for the rival spy-thrillers which flooded the
   bookstalls, the cinema and the television screens in both Britain and
   America - the novels of Len Deighton and the films derived from them, The
   Man from UNCLE, The Avengers, and so on. (8)

As the first cycle of feature length Bond movies swept into theaters in the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, West Germany, and Japan, Bond became "a known component of the cultural landscape," a household word amongst the movie-going public. (9)

THE DYNAMIC SUPERPOWER COMPETITION OF THE EARLY 1960S

While the Bond movies flourished at theaters, the beginning of the 1960s ushered in a period of intense competition and heightened tension between the Cold War Western alliance and the Socialist bloc. The strategic showdown in Europe, which had been the predominant concern of both the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s, remained important. As prospects for a negotiated settlement on German reunification became less likely, both superpowers sought to maintain the political coherence, economic viability and military preparedness of their respective European alliances.

In addition, in the early 1960s both the United States and the Soviet Union focused increasing attention on decolonization, nationalist revolutions and the accompanying political change occurring in the Third World. …