Recently, I have been perusing the Internet for articles and forums on EON Productions’ newest Bond flick, “CASINO ROYALE”. Naturally, I came across scores of articles and reviews on both the new and past Bond movies. I also checked several forums that focused upon the Bond franchise. The one topic that popped up without fail seemed to be the question of which actor portrayed the best James Bond.
The character of James Bond, Agent 007, has been portrayed by six actors for EON Productions and in two unofficial Bond films during the past 52 years. In 1954, American actor Barry Nelson portrayed the famous spy (as “Jimmy Bond”) in the CBS television production of “CASINO ROYALE” (the first of three adaptations of Ian Flemming’s first Bond novel). Eight years later in 1962, EON Productions – created by Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman – produced and released “DR. NO”, starring Sean Connery. Connery did four other Bond films before he temporarily gave up the role in 1968. A year earlier, Connery starred in his fourth Bond movie, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE”, while Columbia Pictures and Charles Feldman released a second version of “CASINO ROYALE”. This latter film spoof starred David Niven and he portrayed Bond as a retired superspy who is coerced into accepting command of MI6. Meanwhile, Australian model, George Lazenby, took up the Bond mantle in one film – “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”. Connery returned in 1971 for one last film before Roger Moore – formerly known as TV’s Simon Templar (aka “The Saint”) assumed the role of Bond for twelve years. Welsh actor, Timothy Dalton appeared in two Bond films in the late 1980s. Following a period of six years that saw no Bond films, Irish-born Pierce Brosnan portrayed the superspy in four movies from 1995 to 2002. Four years later, the blond-haired Daniel Craig became the eighth actor to portray Bond.
So, which actor portrayed the best James Bond? Most Bond fans have forgotten Barry Nelson’s 1954 performance. Aside from one memorable line, many recent critics have viewed his performance as bland and unforgettable. I found this to be regrettable, considering that I have seen Nelson in other characters in which he has projected a cynical yet humorous air. It is a shame that Nelson was prevented from injecting this style into his performance in “CASINO ROYALE”.
The year 1962 introduced the first actor to successfully portray Bond – namely Sean Connery. The Scottish-born actor seemed to be the popular choice for many as the best Bond in the entire franchise. Connery injected an air of machismo, light menace and sardonic humor. In many fans’ opinion, Connery was the perfect Bond . . . a man’s man. Although his attitude toward women boarded on sexism, Connery never took Bond’s sexist attitude to the level of rampant misogyny reflected in Fleming’s literary counterpart. And Connery’s Bond seemed to be a balanced mixture of his own rugged personality and the elegant sophistication introduced to him by his first (and possibly best) director, Terrence Young. Despite the popular regard for Connery, other fans have expressed their preference for other actors who have portrayed Bond. Someone on one of the Bond forums had suggested that the reason many viewed Connery as the best Bond, may be due to the fact that he was the first to make a success out of the role. I had expected many to reject this theory. To my surprise, others have considered it as possible. As I have earlier pointed out, Barry Nelson had failed to make a success from playing Bond. And there have been fans who have complained about Connery’s overt masculinity . . . and machismo, claiming that it bordered on sexism. When I learned about all of this, I had no idea that there were others who might prefer another actor as Bond, over Connery. The Scottish actor did portray Bond for one last time in 1983’s “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”, a Bond movie produced by one of the original authors of the “Thunderball” story idea, Jack Whittingham. However, many Bond fans consider this movie as a poor remake of the 1965 film.
David Niven, longtime Hollywood idol from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, became the third actor to portray James Bond. Unfortunately, his turn appeared in the 1967 spoof, “CASINO ROYALE” (the second version of Fleming’s first novel). I say unfortunately, because the movie is regarded as a jumbled and confusing travesty in the history of the Bond franchise . . . and it has overshadowed Niven’s witty and amusing portrayal of the super spy. Niven had been in his mid-50s around the time he filmed the 1967 spoof. And for a man his age, he did an excellent job of dealing with some of the film’s action sequences. He also managed to turn in a witty and elegant performance as the aging intelligence legend coerced by “M” and the latter’s American, French and Soviet counterparts to return to MI-6 and lead the investigation into the shenanigans of the infamous “Dr. Noah” (a hilarious Woody Allen). Niven, who is known for uttering one of the most wittiest comments in the history of the Academy Awards (think of a streaker), also managed to utter one of the wittiest lines in the history of all Bond movies. But no one remembers this, due to the low reputation of the 1967 spoof.
Australian model George Lazenby, has suffered from a low opinion of his acting abilities ever since his all too-brief tenure as James Bond. One strike against Lazenby seemed to be his lack of acting experience when he became EON Productions’ second actor to portray the super spy. He also had the bad luck to follow on the heels of Connery, following the latter’s refusal to do a sixth film. Even worse, Lazenby appeared in a Bond film – 1969’s “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” - that deviated from the Bond formula that had been established by “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE”, possessed a longer running time than its predecessors, hardly featured any gadgets and featured Bond in a serious relationship with the movie’s leading lady, portrayed by Diana Rigg. And unlike the previous Bond movies, “OHMSS” ended in tragedy. For the next decade or two, critics, Bond fans, and EON Productions heaped scorn upon Lazenby’s performance and the movie, itself. However, during the last ten to fifteen years, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” has come to be regarded as one of the finest Bond films in the franchise. And even Lazenby has enjoyed a revision of opinion by those who not only seemed impressed by his humanistic performance, but who have also expressed regret that he did not continued in the role in 1971’s “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”. There are those who still insist that “OHMSS” would have been better off with Connery in the lead. But it is not a general opinion.
After Connery did his last Bond film for EON Productions in 1971, Broccoli and Saltzman hired Roger Moore to assume the role of James Bond in “LIVE AND LET DIE”. Moore continued in the role for twelve years and in seven movies, ending with 1985’s “A VIEW TO A KILL”. Moore proved to be very popular with the fans. He brought a cheeky and light sense of humor and sophisticated interpretation to the role . Yet, he could also portray Bond as a deadly, cold-blooded and ruthless agent. In the twenty-one years since his last film, there has been a serious backlash against Moore. Many fans and critics have accused him of injecting too much humor and a cartoonish element to the Bond franchise, citing his fourth film – “MOONRAKER” – as a prime example. I have always found this accusation rather amazing. Looking back on the films before 1973, I have noticed that the franchise’s cartoonish element had first been established in 1964’s “GOLDFINGER” – a Connery film. And it continued in other Connery films like “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” and “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”. These same fans have also failed to notice Moore’s darker interpretation of Bond in movies like “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”, “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”, “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” and “OCTOPUSSY”. Despite the increasingly negative opinion of Moore as Bond, he still remains popular with a good number of fans.
Following Roger Moore’s departure from the franchise, EON Productions had hired Pierce Brosnan to assume the Bond mantle. Unfortunately for Brosnan, NBC Television forced him to finish his “Remington Steele” contract for one last season, making him unavailable. EON Productions then turned to Welsh-born Shakespearean actor, Timothy Dalton, to portray Bond. Dalton portrayed the British agent closer to Fleming’s literary interpretation than any of his predecessors – terse, ruthless, dry sense of humor and a great need for a psychiatrist. Fortunately, Dalton’s interpretation left out Fleming’s more misogynist portrayal of Bond. Dalton had the bad luck to follow Moore’s more humorous take on the role. Many die-hard Bond fans found it difficult to accept Dalton’s more serious take on the role, especially since it came upon the heels of Moore’s humorous Bond. Dalton only made two Bond films – 1987’s “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS” and 1989’s “LICENSE TO KILL”. After the latter’s release, EON Productions found itself immersed in another lawsuit over the much contested “Thunderball” story. By the time the smoke ended, EON Productions was ready to film a third movie with Dalton around 1993 or 1994. However, too many years had passed and Dalton – ready to put the Bond role behind him – rejected their offer. Since the release of films like “THE BOURNE IDENTITY”, the most recent Bond film and shows like “24” and “MI-5” (aka “Spooks”), Dalton’s take on Bond has become more appreciated.
Pierce Brosnan’s desire to portray James Bond finally came to fruition in the mid-1990s. He brought greater profit to the Bond franchise in four films – ranging from 1995’s “GOLDENEYE” to 2002’s “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. Many hailed the Irish-born actor as the best Bond since Connery and saving the Bond franchise. Fans and critics pointed out Brosnan’s interpretation of the secret agent as a mixture of Connery’s grittiness and Moore’s sophistication and humor. Some have even praised him for being able to portray Bond’s angst just as well as Dalton without being too serious. But despite the profit that EON Productions had earned from Brosnan’s films, many fans began to complain about their weak storylines in at least three of them. Some consider “GOLDENEYE” as the only Brosnan film worthy of acclaim. Others felt that “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” was his best film. And there are a few who are willing to give that honor to 1997’s “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”. Interestingly enough, 2002’s “DIE ANOTHER DAY” is considered to be Brosnan’s worst film – despite the fact that it earned more profit for EON Productions, until 2006’s “CASINO ROYALE”. And like Moore and Dalton, Brosnan has suffered a backlash from fans and critics since the end of his tenure as Bond. Many have complained that his “multi-faceted” portrayal of Bond was nothing more than a rehash of his predecessors’ styles without any development of his own. Others have accused him of being too generic or too much of a dandy. Despite this latest backlash, Brosnan still has his fans. And many of these fans believe that EON Productions should have never dumped him for the younger Daniel Craig.
The most recent actor to assume the mantle of James Bond is 41 year-old Daniel Craig. He is the first Bond actor who was born after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. He was the first actor to be born after the creation of the Bond franchise. He is the first Bond hired by EON Productions to stand under six feet tall. He is also the first Bond actor to sport blond hair. Barry Nelson was a redhead when he portrayed Bond and Roger Moore possessed light brown hair. But for some reason, many fans had objected to Craig’s blond locks, when he was first hired by EON Productions. Many fans also objected to his height – at 5’11”, he was the Bond actor who stood under six feet tall. And many objected to his rugged countenance that made Connery’s look like a GQ model. In the end, there were many fans, who were not simply ready for Brosnan to give up the role of James Bond. Craig endured criticism and ridicule on the Internet for his looks, his heights and the light injuries that he suffered during the production of “CASINO ROYALE” (the third version of Fleming’s story and EON Production’s first version). However, there were fans who had seen Craig in films like "ELIZABETH", "LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER", "THE ROAD TO PERDITION", "LAYER CAKE", "MUNICH" and "INFAMOUS". They believed that he had the presence and talent to make a credible Bond. More Bond fans began to accept this view following the release of the movie trailers for “CASINO ROYALE” in the late summer/early fall of 2006. But Craig finally won over the opinions of many fans and film critics following the movie’s release in mid-November 2006. Not only did the movie and Craig win rave reviews and a British Film Academy Award nomination, “CASINO ROYALE” became one of EON Productions’ biggest hits. Craig struck gold again in the 2008 follow-up, "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". But despite all of this success, there are fans who remain unimpressed by the movie. Like “OHMSS”, both “CASINO ROYALE” and "QUANTUM OF SOLACE" featured very few gadgets (perhaps one or two that seem very credible). The first movie featured the longest running time for a Bond film and a tragic romance with the film’s leading lady. The second featured the shortest running time in the franchise's history, a possible revenge tale and no romance for Bond with the leading lady. Also, Craig still seemed to go against the grain from what more traditionalist fans expect in a Bond film. At the moment, these disappointed fans seem very few at the moment. Only history will tell us how future fans will judge Craig’s tenure as James Bond.
Despite all of what I have written, the question of who was the best Bond still remains. I am going to make two things perfectly clear about my personal opinions. Until the 2006 release of “CASINO ROYALE”, I never had a “favorite” Bond. Thanks to Daniel Craig’s performance, I have finally found my favorite Bond. He seemed to combine the ruggedness of Connery, Lazenby’s humanity, Moore and Brosnan’s humor and Dalton’s angst neurosis without looking like some copy cat. For me, he has a well-rounded style that appealed to me on a personal level. Yet, I still remain a die-hard fan of the other actors who played Bond. Does this mean I believe that Craig was the “best” James Bond? No. Each actor had brought something to the role that made their performances very memorable. Even Nelson had a one-liner that many still remember to this day, fifty-two years later. Who was the “best” Bond? Who knows? In the end, it is all subjective and not a question that can be answered as a fact.