With 50 years of James Bond books, the attention given to Ian Fleming for his success, President John F. Kennedy mentioning publicly he was a fan of Fleming’s work, and dozens of movies, it’s no wonder Life Magazine covered Bond and Fleming so much over the years. This month Life Books chronicles the Bond jubilee year with a hardcover book and a condensed magazine version of that book, with its LIFE 50 Years of James Bond and LIFE 50 Years of James Bond–On the Run with 007 From Dr. No to Skyfall.
At 112 pages, the $12.99 softcover magazine probably gets you everything you’d want, but the 176-page hardcover edition delves further into Bond and Fleming, particularly into Fleming’s history and writing. And although it lists at $27.95, for an Amazon.com discounted price of $18.45 (as of the date of this article), you might as well spring for the hardcover version.
Written in Life Magazine’s traditional journalistic style, LIFE 50 Years of James Bond reads like the kind of souvenir book you might take away from some big event. It cover Bond films and even TV depictions of Bond, as well as spoofs like the David Niven version of Casino Royale and Mike Myers’ Austin Powers franchise. The editors of Life don’t pull any punches when they describe each film. If they thought it was a bomb they say so, and usually this tracks box office returns. But I have to admit I don’t really like writers telling me almost as a matter of fact that Timothy Dalton was not a good James Bond, quoting someone more than once that he “seemed to be performing under protest.” What does that sentence even mean? Anyway, as a fan of Dalton as Bond, I find commentary like that irksome.
If you skip the subjective commentary, there is a lot of fun and nostalgia to be found here. The photos are interesting, particularly about Fleming and his Jamaica Golden Eye estate. Speculation of what Fleming might think of later movies is interesting, as is trivia about the Bond girls (although even more would have been welcome).
Film trivia and curiosities abound here. No, the girl in gold from Goldfinger did not die of paint poisoning in real life. Yes, Roger Moore did realize he was too old to be playing Bond in his last roles. For the first time I was able to track the why Sean Connery starred in You Only Live Twice (1967) (a bit of a dud, they say), then left the series, to be followed by George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) (also a dud) only for Connery to return in Diamonds are Forever (1971). But that wasn’t all, Roger Moore then took over for six Bond films and Connery returned again in Never Say Never Again (1983), to be followed again by Moore in A View to a Kill (1985). This accounts for the odd ordering on your bookshelf if you filed these by actor instead of date. If you were paying attention during the movies’ releases you probably already knew this jumping around occurred, but it was new to me. It certainly provides another element to watch for the next time you watch a Bond marathon on cable TV.
All said, LIFE 50 Years of James Bond is a fun and nostalgic trip across a character’s development in a great franchise over a fifty year span.