by ROBERT WALDMAN

Hard to believe that 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films. And what a ride it’s been. Some 22 films later the Bond films are still soaring high with the release of Skyfall. Longevity counts and this golden anniversary is fitting for the spy we all love. Nobody in their wildest dreams believed at the time the first scene was filmed that the movies would become the most successful and popular in film history. Let’s have some fun d and look back at the man, the myth and the marvellous maturity of a one of a kind phenomena.

Yes, phenomena is certainly the right word. At the height of their popularity James Bond seemed to be everywhere. The heyday of the films were the mid 1960s. It all began back in the 50s when British author Ian Fleming created James Bond. Fleming at the time was a bachelor with a background in espionage having been the assistant to the commander of British naval forces intelligence during World War 2, Admirnal Godfrey. With a passion for sports, gambling and travel Fleming further honed his skills as an adventurer during a stint working as the Russian correspondent for none other than Roy Thompson, the newspaper magnate. Then Fleming started writing the James Bond books in the early 50s at his estate in Jamaica called Goldeneye. The name James Bond actually came from a book on his desk written by American orinthologist James Bond named A Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies. Fleming wanted the most “common” name possible. Little did he know what he was about to create.

Once the books, beginning with Casino Royale got published originally in Britain by Jonathan Cape they become runaway successes. A film producer in England, Harry Saltzman from Canada bought the rights to the stories from Fleming. Desperate to find financing for the films and at a dead end Saltzman panicked fearing his option would run out. While this was happening another producer in Britain, Albert R. Broccoli, also wanted to make the Bond films. Through a mutual friend the two met, formed a partnership called Eon productions, and hence owned the rights to the 007 films. Now to get financing they went from studio to studio, finally securing backing to make the first Bond film from United Artists. Dr. No was the name of the first Bond movie.

Saltzman and Broccoli got their 1 million to make the film and then set about finding the team that would turn Fleming’s pages into box office gold. Initially they got Terrence Young to direct Dr. No and brought aboard screenwriter Richard Maibaum and production designer Ken Adam. These three people would contribute enormously to the series. Oh, they also hired a little known actor named Sean Connery. Their choice proved to be correct.

Audiences first meet Connery as Bond at a fashionable casino in London. It was instant magnetism and the actor caught on like wildfire. Dr. No was a huge success in Britain and elsewhere, prompting the producers to start doing the second film, From Russia With Love, considered by many to be the finest in the series. This film was an even bigger success followed up in 1964 by the Christmas smash Goldfinger. By now Bond was becoming as big as The Beatles, another British institution. To top it off film number four headed to the Bahamas for a 1965 Christmas release. Thunderball, made for 5 Million was an even bigger success. Now the Bond phenomena was global as the fad swept the world. Merchandise ti e-ins began with Bond and these two films in the 60s. There were toys, clothing, toiletries, games, jewelry and a host of other products to appeal to kids and consumers as the licensing arrangements proved lucrative for Eon Productions and everyone connected to the series with Connery’s likeness prominent on many items.

Trouble slowly developed during the 5th Bond film, You Only Live Twice, as Connery’s privacy was compromised on one too many occassions so he walked away from Bond,turing the role over to Australian model George Lazenby for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That 1969 film was only partially successful so the producers and United Artists lured Connery back with a huge sum – all of which he donated to his charity, the Scottish Educational Trust for Diamonds Are Forever, his swan song.

Enter Roger Moore who would play Bond for 6 outings beginning with Live and Let Die. Moore’s films were a touch lighter than those of his friend Connery but he too tired and was replaced by Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton for two darker tinged adventures in the late 1980s. Then due to financial troubles at MGM the Bond films were put on ice, only to be revived by Pierce Brosnan with the global smash Goldeneye. Now the Bond films were being run by Barbara Broccoli and her stepbrother tax layer and internationally repected photograph collector Michael G. Wilson. Like the original producers Broccoli and Saltzman the heirs to the Bond throne are doing a good job finessing the films through more complex world events. After Brosnan left the series Casino Royale appeared with the new 007 Daniel Craig who again has revived the series to it’s current success

Why the Bond films remain so popular comes down to one word: entertaining. Audiences always get full value for their hard-earned dollar when they see a James Bond film. They’re taken to exotic locations, get to meet beautiful girls, have a handsome actor to root who remains the underdog who must face off against some very bad people bent on world domination along the way.

Like the Italians used to say, Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang continues to provide thrills and chills and does so in a very entertaining way that people around the world enjoy. And, as the real James Bond used to say, ciao!

Oh, and let’s not forget the new 007 flick SKYFALL will be descending on movie theatres throughout B.C. on November 9 – and it’s also available in Imax. Critics who’ve already seen it say its outstanding – and well worth the wait!