It’s no secret that despite generally being seen as the ultimate on-screen James Bond, Sean Connery had a rocky relationship with the character that made his career. Landing the role of 007 proved to be a double-edged sword for the actor, who at various points has seemed to resent his association with the franchise. Most infamously, he was heard to remark — per The Hollywood Reporter — that he had “always hated that damn James Bond” and would “like to kill him.”
Initially caught off-guard by the level of fame that came with portraying the English super-spy, Connery would, over time, soften on Bond. By the time IndieWire spoke to him in 2020, he was, as the outlet noted, “full of pride,” when talking about his most famous role — emphasizing how the films’ “refreshing” style resonated with audiences in the ’60s. Bond’s impeccable style, combined with his strength and wit made for an irresistible product. But it was, according to Connery at least, the wit that was a particularly crucial element.
Director Terrence Young oversaw the first Bond film, 1962’s “Dr. No,” as well as “From Russia with Love” and “Thunderball.” And he took it upon himself to inject much of his own sensibility into the character of 007. Aside from teaching Connery — who’d come from a working-class background in Edinburgh — how to dress and comport himself in a suitably refined manner, he also helped the young actor play up the humor element, which proved to be all-important when it came to making the James Bond franchise the most enduring in cinema history.
James Bond Started As A Humorless Killer
What would James Bond be without his one-liners? 1965’s “Thunderball” had 007 harpooning Vargas (Phillip Locke) before delivering the line, “I think he got the point.” And the Roger Moore era would see the sexual innuendos reach a fever pitch. Even when Bond went through the gritty reboot process with 2006’s “Casino Royale,” Daniel Craig’s tortured bruiser was shown returning to the eponymous casino’s poker table and remarking, “That last hand almost killed me.” For 60 years, quips have been a central part of the Bond formula — as famous as the series’ gadgets and Bond girls.
But the wit, even at its driest, was never actually present in the original Ian Fleming novels. Anthony Horowitz, one of the authors to write official James Bond novels following Fleming’s death, noted in a 2008 piece for The Telegraph that in all the stories, 007 “has no sense of humor, telling only one joke in all 14 books (in ‘Goldfinger’ — and it isn’t very funny).” That was something both Sean Connery and Terrence Young noticed some 45 years prior when they came to work on “Dr. No.”
As Connery told the BBC, “Strangely enough there’s a lack of humor in Fleming’s writing,” before going on to reveal that he saw the author as “very bright, very erudite, and a real snob.” Luckily, it seems Connery and Young bonded over a “similar sense of humor,” which they worked into “Dr. No” and all their subsequent collaborations, bringing the lightest touch of tongue-in-cheek levity to proceedings so as to not overshadow Bond’s intimidating presence.
It Was About More Than Making Bond Funny
When he came on board as Bond, Sean Connery had only ever read three of the original James Bond novels: “Thunderball,” “Live and Let Die,” and “From Russia with Love.” And when he met Ian Fleming in person, he raised the point of the books’ lack of humor, only for the writer to react with surprise. As Connery revealed in a 1967 interview, “When I mentioned the business of humor [Fleming] was quite surprised because he felt he was quite humorous. He was, as a man, humorous in himself, but in writing the character of Bond, he wasn’t.”
But Fleming had previously acknowledged that he’d deliberately set out to write Bond as a somewhat humorless character. Telling The New Yorker, “When I wrote the first [James Bond book], in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened…” Perhaps he saw himself as relaxing that particular rule over the course of the novels, but Connery and Terrence Young certainly didn’t think so.
And what made the humor element so crucial wasn’t just that it made Bond funny and therefore likable, it was that it made the violence more palatable. As Connery went on to say in that 1967 interview, the way he saw it was that audiences “could acknowledge and accept the violence if it had a humorous quality.” Which, in the ’60s, was an important consideration, especially since censors were much stricter in the mid-20th century than they are today. In that way, the humor ironically played a fairly utilitarian role — something which the more austere, practical James Bond of the novels would surely have been impressed by.
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/Film – Sean Connery Felt Ian Fleming’s Novels Missed A Key Ingredient Of James Bond
Author: Joe Roberts
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March 12, 2023