Friday, August 5, 2011

The Man With The Golden Touch : How The BOND Films Conquered The World - Sinclair McKay

 I am a Bond fan through and through. I've been hooked since my first Bond film For Your Eyes Only way back in 1982. There has been an absolute plethora of books published on the Bond phenomenon, of which I have read the grand total of none! I have been slowly reading my way through Ian Fleming's novels, and before this year had only read From Russia With Love. So this book instantly appealed when I flicked through last week. For some time now I've wanted to read a history of the Bond films and this book,whilst flawed, is a very good critical appreciation of the longest running film franchise of all time.

 By flawed I mean what Sinclair McKay has written here is a hybrid of critic and fan. At first I didn't like his approach as he interspersed his own opinions with factual data. The research he has put in is fabulous and very entertainingly put across in his breezy chatty style, but it then turns around and adds his own take on things. I just found it skewed the book somewhat, and gritted my teeth between the good of the book and McKay's opinions.

 What in essence McKay has produced is not a making of the films book, but an exploration of the themes and impact the films have had on pop-culture. He contrast and compares the films to their source material, namely Ian Fleming's novels, and in the process goes further back looking into the literary influences on Fleming himself. But his main thrust is the films themselves, and he divides his attentions between the films absurd excesses, stylish thrills, the elaborate sets, scripts, actors and individual performances, the Bond girls, the scores and title songs, and the famous title sequences.

 But whilst he does this he goes into how the family run production company kept Bond going in the face of changing sexual and geo-political changes. He shows how so often Bond seemed to be a dinosaur, and yet bounced back time and again. He devotes a separate chapter to each film and, exploring each ones behind the scenes details . I'm no Bond expert but there was nothing shockingly revelatory here, but the history of each film is fascinating. Just the sheer logistics involved in a Bond film is mind boggling. In fact it is so huge McKay points out that even as one Bond film is being made the next one is in pre-production!! But one thing really came through, and that was the Bond set is a happy one with everyone loving the experience.

 So what the reader gets is a book that details each films production history, costs etc, but set against the climate of the times politically, sexually, financially, and pop-culturally. Also at no times are the six actors who have played Bond over looked, and each one is examined in superb detail. It is just an incredible achievement when you finish the book, to see how Eon Productions have kept Bond alive for over 50 years, and constantly fresh and relevant.

 There is the obvious look at the competition which the reader only marvels at. Bond so often looked dead and buried and yet fought back and prevailed. They have all come and gone, the likes of Tom Cruise's Mission Impossible, Matt Damon's Bourne, Austin Powers. And television series like Mission Impossible, The Avengers, Get Smart, The Man From Uncle,  etc, all owe their existence to Bond. Its whole impact on the world of entertainment is just immeasurable, and no matter if you are a Bond fan or not, that impact cannot be ignored or sneezed at. Even leviathans like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter have not come close to Bond.

  McKay states it is estimated that half of the world's population has seen at least one Bond film in their life time. Mull that over in your mind...HALF!! That statistic says it all when you consider the whole Bond phenomenon. The book finishes with the end of Casino Royale, but does go into pre-production facts of Quantum of Solace. But whilst I praise so much of McKay's book ( and it is worth praising ), he annoyingly adds his own personal criticisms, which somewhat belittle his fine work.

 It is so odd because he is obviously a Bond aficionado, but he comes up with so many deprecations that you wonder how this can be so. First he calls Thunderball 'spectacularly boring', The Moonraker novel,' silly', the song For your Eyes only the worst Bond song, and attacks Pierce Brosnan's running style. He is a Roger Moore fan, and reading between the lines, if he had his way Moore will still be Bond! Nothing wrong with having a favorite Bond, but you have to accept logical changes ( he does make the lovely comparison with Doctor Who, the only other character who has successfully gone through numerous actor changes ). I'm not sure why he feels the need to defend Moore, as I loved him even though he wasn't my favorite Bond. I mean everyone has opinions etc, but I just can't understand why he needed to print his in a book dedicated to how, and why, the Bond films have been so successful. If you listen to his criticisms then it would seem as if they were all crap, and had no right to succeed at all!

 So it is an oxymoronic book! Superb in one detail but then immediately it is all undone. But even because of this the book is a definite must read. It is well written and researched, with McKay clearly and comprehensively stating, how and why Bond conquered the cinematic world just by simply rolling with the punches. But if only he'd kept his personal thoughts out of it as it skews the book somewhat, and the reader goes through bouts of awe and teeth gritting! But I will say this, overall McKay keeps it light and breezy, and he does replicate the Bond films with this style in being both serious and humorous.

 McKay then shows unquestionably how the Bond films conquered the world. So his book succeeds in its purpose, and even with its annoying flaws I still highly recommend this book. It will more than satisfy any Bond aficionado. But I also think any film/cinema aficionado should read this as the Bond franchise is a juggernaut that has swept the competition before it. Read it and you can only be in awe at how it has managed this in an industry that can be incredibly fickle.

9/10 from me.

The challengers have come and gone. So here are the  faces who have destroyed the opposition for over 50 years!!
 I have been reading the Ian Fleming novels over the last month or so in the order he wrote them.

 Click here for my reviews of them:


  1. It is!! A good read that is approachable by all. The book is crammed full of lots of interesting inforamtion. I couldn't put it down!

  2. I think I'll approach this cautiously. It's always frustrating when an author can't choose between an objective well-researched presentation of the facts and an opinion-based analysis of the films. It might have been better if he'd split the book into two sections - one dealing with the facts and charting the global phenomenon of the Bond franchise and the other analysing the series film by film.

    I'll be enthusiastically checking out your reviews of the original Fleming novels. They were reissued in the UK as a highly collectible series of hardbacks a few years ago, with new (but pleasingly retro) cover art. I bought the lot (spending more than Mrs F would have liked!) - I got up to 'Goldfinger' which, while a cracking story, is very homophobic. I know that the books were written in a different era and attitudes weren't as reconstructed back then, but 'Goldfinger' stuck in my craw a little bit with Fleming's constant belittling of "sissies" and "ponces".

    Still, I need to set some time aside to read the rest of them - I think there's six or seven more in the series. Look forward to comparing notes as you post the remaining reviews of the books.

  3. He has actually devided the book up by each individual film. And he analysises each one well. But it is that putting in of his personal opinions that don't work. I do recommend it though and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I give it 9/10 for the good he does in it.
    Are the covers you have with the girls on white backgrounds? They are fantastic covers! I'm quite shocked at Fleming! He was a real prick, as you say Goldfinger is homopohpic. But he was also deeply sexist, misogynist, anti-American cars and food wise, well anti everything/one not British, racist, anti-Black, etc, etc, etc. The books are an encloypeadia of hate!
    I've just finished The Spy Who Loved Me and it is misogynist beyond belief. He virtually plays out his own private rape fantasies and it is rather dis-tasteful. At one stage Bond shags the girl and she says 'All woman like semi-rape'!!!!! I couldn't believe it but that is Fleming all over.
    The novels have dated terribly,and are of inconsistent quality, but still worth reading. I can't get over how much the film and novel Bond differ so much.