Most of the kids who piled into Seattle’s Paramount Theater in the Spring of 1962 on the opening weekend of “Dr. No” had already seen Sean Connery three years earlier, playing the romantic lead in “Darby O’ Gill and the Little People.” Those who missed that movie were sure to have seen its 30 minute version on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in 1960. I remember the movie, but not the television version. But while watching “Dr. No,” I had no memory of having seen Connery before. Neither, I suppose, had any of the other kids in the theater. But he must have been in our heads somewhere.
For many, even those who were not yet born when the first James Bond movie was released to theaters, Sean Connery is and will always remain the real James Bond. Yet, having just re-read “Dr. No,” I found little similarity between Ian Fleming’s 007 and Connery’s portrayal of the character. Connery’s Bond has staked out his claim in our conciousness through a big bang of cinematic alchemy that had nothing to do with British spies, who had always been something of a bore when they popped up in war movies.
Unlike other heroes of pulp fiction, James Bond has no interior life to keep him consistent from adventure to adventure. There are some superficial qualities, such as his cavalier attitude toward women, who alternately attract and bore him, his pickiness in how a vodka martini should be prepared, and an almost superhuman ability to endure pain and escape terminal situations, but he lacks the interior monologue of a Mike Hammer of Philip Marlowe. No matter who plays Hammer, the character is always the same. Bond’s character, however, is in large part determined by the identification of the viewer with the actor playing the role.
Music can play a large part in character identification, and The James Bond Theme, although featured in many different arrangements throughout the fifty-plus years of Bond in the movies, is associated in its purest form with Sean Connery. The theme music heightens the viewers identification with the character even when listened to outside of the context of the movie. It is not uncommon for the mere recollection of the music to ignite an emotive memory of what it feels like to be James Bond. And that James Bond is not the character on screen, but the one in the audience.
And so, when a person claims that Connery is the real James Bond, might they not themselves be answering that eternal question, “Who are you?” when echoing , in their own voice, the classic response, “Bond. James Bond.”
Next: Roger Moore as James Bond