Article by Robert Rakison
In 2015 Matthew Field’s and Ajay Chowdhury’s “Some Kind of Hero: The Remarkable Story of the James Bond Films” was published by The History Press. On July 2nd, a revised and updated paperback edition is being issued which, we’re told, will include new chapters on Spectre, the upcoming Bond 25 and a commemoration of Sir Roger Moore.
This is a massive scholarly effort to re-appraise and assess the JB films in a different, more literary, way than previously. For Some Kind Of Hero, Matthew and Ajay conducted more than 120 interviews with the actors and behind the camera teams. Their reference bibliography extends to more than 120 books too, from the obscure (David Watkin’s “Why Is There Only One Word For Thesaurus?”) to all of Sir Roger’s books.
The gossip; ups and downs of the road to each of the films and the choices for the actors and the behind the camera team; the brief descriptions of the films intertwined with anecdotes; the genesis of the script; the music; the credits; the financing; the takings; the premieres; how the Broccoli family film making shifted from Cubby; the detail is endless and you really feel you’re there as a real fly on the wall.
All those interviews have paid off and you’re on the franchise roller coaster, for every single film and every twist and turn. The sheer scale of the book is almost impossible to grasp with 606 pages of enthralling very readable text (plus some good photos, but not in coffee table format) and a further circa 100 pages of acknowledgements, notes, bibliography and index.
Others have had tilts at assessing the films, though most are coffee table books of glossy photos from the films, publicity, marketing, etc, with little real effort to delve deeper, or as Matthew and Ajay have done, get right under the skin of each production with tremendous insights.
There are a few which are in the second division. John Cork & Bruce Scivally’s “James Bond: The Legacy” (2002); and Paul Duncan’s “The James Bond Archives” (2012) in glossy coffee table format, with great photos, have good in-depth texts. Alan Barnes & Marcus Hearn’s “Kiss Kiss Bang! Bang!: The Unofficial JB Film Companion” (1997) – with newer editions, and not to be confused with Mike Ripley’s recent book, also “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” which is a survey of British thrillers starting with “Casino Royale“ (1953). Also Robert Sellers’ “The Battle For Bond” (2007), the detailed story of the Thunderball fight, is interesting.
SKOH talks about Fleming’s wish to have JB televised or filmed, even though Fleming died in 1964, before the third film Goldfinger was completed, showing how the books became the films and the literary Bond morphed into the movie Bond and became part of our zeitgeist; deals with the Broccoli/Saltzman partnership then bust-up; the McClory/Whittingham/Fleming litigation over Thunderball, and the genesis of its bastard child Never Say Never Again (with an initial script by Len Deighton that was discarded); George Lazenby’s one film including debunking the Garlic Incident (Lazenby has written the Foreword for SKOH); and more, much more.
The section on Fleming, the birth of Bond and the efforts to take the books to TV or films is excellent, with many anecdotes, including pitching film mogul Sir Alexander Korda for the as yet unwritten Live And Let Die.
In correspondence with a friend in 1952, months before Casino Royale was published in 1953 he said “What I want is not a publisher but a “factory” that will shift this opus of mine like ‘Gone with the Naked and the Dead’ [sic]. I am not being vain about this book but simply trying to squeeze the last dirty cent out of it”. Such prescience!
In 1959 Fleming wrote to his friend Ivan Bryce about Paul Dehn* rejecting doing the screenplay for the embryonic Thunderball using the immortal words “he says….this bang, bang, kiss, kiss, stuff is not for him”
[*Paul Dehn of course, did go on to write the screenplay for Goldfinger. He must have changed his mind quickly after Dr. No!]
When filming Dr No became a reality, Terence Young was chosen to do the screenplay. Fleming said “So they’ve decided on you to f..k up my work”. Young replied, with hubris, “…Ian, I don’t think anything you’ve written is immortal as yet. Whereas the last picture I made won the Grand Prix at Venice. Now, let’s start level.” At the wrap party Fleming told Lois Maxwell “When I wrote the part of Miss Moneypenny, I had, in my mind’s eye, a tall elegant woman with the most kiss-able lips in the world. And you are precisely that.”
The stories go on and on, though sadly after 1964, Fleming’s involvement stopped. There are too many to mention, but I can’t resist Judi Dench’s reaction to being written out in Skyfall “[M] started off sort of the same age as Pierce Brosnan, now she’s Daniel Craig’s grandmother practically”.
So it’s high time to properly assess Some Kind Of Hero’s place amongst the plethora of books on the James Bond films that have preceded it. Make no mistake, in the pantheon of film and literary critic and fan books about the James Bond phenomenon, this is at the pinnacle – it’s Zeus, with the rest mostly nymphs and satyrs. It is the films’ bible.”
The second edition of SOME KIND OF HERO will be released on July 2nd by The History Press.
MATTHEW FIELD & AJAY CHOWDHURY are the authors of Some Kind of Hero (THP, 2015), the first book to explore the history of the making of the James Bond films. FIELD is on the board of the Ian Fleming Foundation and is a freelance film journalist and entertainment PR executive.