At the end of Goldfinger, Bond boards a jet to the White House for a meeting with the President. The film’s gloss would suggest a 007-Kennedy summit, but by the time it entered production JFK had been felled and Lyndon Johnson was cruising to election. Still, Kennedy and Bond are integral parts of ‘the dream life’ that J. Hoberman writes of in his book of the same name. One of its most interesting parallels is between the President and the spy. Like Bond, Kennedy operated in a vortex of sex, violence and intrigue, occasionally aided and abetted by Frank Sinatra; the three form a sort of post-war Alpha Male trifecta- the original Don Drapers, with existential angst carefully concealed.
An implication of all this is that Bond is really an American character; he might be ‘on her majesty’s secret service’, but culturally his values are located in the US. The notion isn’t that fanciful; when Bond was created in the 50s his impact was in how un-British Ian Fleming wrote him- a reaction against rationing, immigration, the welfare state and a crumbling Empire. Fleming’s racy prose had more in common with Raymond Chandler than the altogether more staid John Buchan, while two of the first four novels were set predominantly in the States. And of course, the first Bond adaptation was a CBS television production of Casino Royale in 1954, with Barry Nelson as crew-cut sporting ‘card sense’ Jimmy Bond of the CIA.
Much is made of this Trans-Atlantic transformation, but there’s really not a lot of difference between this Bond and the movie variant of the 1960s; certainly they share a wiseass sense of humour absent in Fleming. If anyone in the movies is a square, it’s the American Felix Leiter, played by seven different actors presumably chosen for their lack of personality. Bond’s own Americanness- sharp suits, fast cars, loose women- invalidates the need for a strong American character.
The most American-seeming Bond movie probably is Goldfinger. Not only is it partly set in the US (initially in Miami then later in a Kentucky mostly comprised of a stud farm, Fort Knox, and endless miles of freeway) but it is also suffused with cars and gadgets that can be operated at the push of a button, both for the ease of the user and with a deadly intent that draws to mind Eisenhower’s ‘military-industrial complex’. It is tempting to go too far with this reading, though; while Fleming occasionally decried the easy life, the film-makers understand how important that is to the appeal of the movie; so when Oddjob knocks out Bond right in front of his stylish fridge freezer, they’re not making a point about the perils of consumerism. The prevalence of labour-saving technology in the film positions Bond as a lifestyle icon, which is why the early films so successfully invaded the popular consciousness; you could buy Bond brand vodka, Bond brand dress shoes, Bond brand lunchboxes and Bond brand underpants. The nearest analogue for this total approach to consumerism would be Playboy, an enthusiastic early adopter of 007.
The next American-set Bond movie would be Diamonds Are Forever, released in the midst of the Nixon-era. Which is another time entirely…