Have Yourself A Merry Little James Bond Christmas
If you can’t think of sufficient reason to buy Thunderball yet again on video, here is one. The new DVD includes an NBC special not seen (at least by me) since the original broadcast date of November 26, 1965. Watching it again this week evoked happy memories of The James Bond Christmas Of 1965, a holiday phenomenon that ensnared a nation of pubescent boys anxious to Man Up and Be Like Bond. My mother sat in the den as The Incredible World Of James Bond played that Friday night, and peeked disapprovingly over her reading glasses as the documentary reviewed several bawdy scenes from the first three 007's. I was assured then and there that no such adult films would be in my offing, but how could she have known of clandestine encounters I’d already had with that mighty trio, or my steely determination to catch Thunderball upon its forthcoming engagement at the Liberty? They say forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest, and James Bond was nothing if not ambrosia to this sixth-grader.
My cousin and I had surreptitiously ventured forth to see Goldfinger the previous March. It seemed unnecessary to burden Mother with niggling details of my after-school plans for that day. Suffice to say she was already well aware of Goldfinger’s cheeky reputation, so much so as to see for herself, a thing I discovered to my horror as we departed the 3:00 show. I’d no more have expected my mother and aunt at a screening of Goldfinger than if they’d shown up for the double-feature of The Gorgon and Curse Of The Mummy’s Tomb, but a child’s life is filled with such surprises, and I was reassured by their apparent unawareness that we'd been in the auditorium only minutes before their arrival. Indeed, there was an almost Bondian satisfaction in our ongoing subterfuge at the supper table as they loudly declared that neither of us would ever be exposed to such fare. I needn’t emphasize the playground capital one derived from having seen Goldfinger. It was a rite of passage into exotic adulthood that seemed to hold out the promise of naked girls in bed, car chases (where you didn’t get hurt), sudden and violent fisticuffs (where you didn’t get hurt), and especially naked girls in bed. I’ve no doubt that scene with 007 and the laser beam awakened nascent castration anxieties among any number of my youthful peers, but nothing could have prepared us for the seismic reaction to a simple introductory line --- My name is Pussy Galore. We simply couldn’t believe it. Someone might just as well have detonated a cherry bomb in the auditorium. It was almost as good as that unexpected nude scene in The She-Beast that would take our breath away a couple of years later. We’d never again be as satisfied with the benign inanities of Son Of Flubber and its progeny. Having had such red meat as Bond introduced into one’s diet, how do you then go back? It was now imperative that I see Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and United Artists, perhaps sensing my anguish, re-issued both on a combo that summer. I suspect this is when most of us saw these for the first time, as Goldfinger was where Bond-mania really got rolling. To again checkmate my mother’s edict, I waited until an afternoon when she’d gone to visit relatives and asked my father’s permission to go, as he was largely indifferent to the Liberty’s bill of fare. By then, of course, drums were beating for the next 007, and it promised to be the Biggest Bond Of All …
Life magazine had a page size photo of Sean Connery bashing a woman in the face (though it turns out to be a man). NBC had its special. Best of all, Sears was out with their Christmas Wish-Book, generously salted with Bond toys and accessories. This stuff wasn’t cheap (see their ads), so no way could you have it all. I chose the attaché case. Leaving it closed and pristine that yuletide morning would today enable me to realize thirty-five hundred dollars for its sale, though as things turned out, the hinges were off that plastic valise within days of my opening same. Its contents proved more durable (I carried the billfold to school once or twice). Why would Santa bring the attaché case, yet forbid me to see the movies? Someone gave my brother a bottle of 007 after-shave. I seized that shortly after the bell rung on 1966, and have preserved it since. The acrid scent retains its pungency after forty-one years, and may yet deliver on its promise to attract Pussy (as in Galore). There was the infamous Gilbert James Bond Road Race set which pitted the Aston-Martin against a variety of pursuers --- only the thing wouldn’t work --- and Sears was faced with massive returns and complaints. Indeed, the seller’s own race to get these toys ready for Christmas had left them curbside. Action figures were less given to such complications, providing none of us (or a younger sibling) found a way of swallowing the model of Largo’s Disco Volante. Exhibitors were meanwhile angling for whatever Bond features they could book. The correspondence shown here reflects the plight of a West Virginia showman vying for a Goldfinger date in January 1966. He also mentions Thunderball as a good prospect because of the Christmas toys. Would it be going out of line to ask for them? The booker’s reply is telling. Goldfinger was pulled altogether in the Fall of 1965, and couldn’t be had (UA didn’t want it competing with the new Bond). Thunderball was available at 70% with a minimum one week’s engagement (the theatre in question was only open on weekends), and note that even on these terms, the booker was doubtful he could get a playdate before March (the pic had opened in December of 1965).
James Bond would be a near constant presence for sixties dwellers. We never tired of watching him. Imitators could not approach the grandeur of Bond. I tolerated Matt Helm in Murderer’s Row, but walked out on The Wrecking Crew. Those Man From U.N.C.L.E "features" were a curiosity --- how could Metro be so brazen as to tender these TV paste-ups in exchange for our admission dollar? Derek Flint operated amidst fleabag trappings put to shame by opulent sets designed by Ken Adam for 007. Spoofs weren’t funny because they looked cheap. Euro attempts imported by American-International betrayed their origins with obvious dubbing and hacksaw editing. Their Spy In Your Eye toplined an exhausted Dana Andrews as its super-spy (and recovered $257,000 in domestic rentals as opposed to Thunderball’s $26.9 million). You had only yourself to blame for paying to see A Man Called Dagger, wherein Jan Murray was bent upon world domination. My adolescent head swirled with images of would-be Bonds, whose numbers approached those of counterfeit Men With No Names spawned by the impact of Sergio Leone’s westerns. The only thing worse were biker movies, so nasty and unpleasant as to be near impossible to sit through. You appreciated the Bond re-issue programs all the more after a year or so’s diet of the phonies. I could always depend on five or six guys going with me from school to see the Dr. No/Goldfinger duo, and later From Russia With Love/Thunderball. These tandem bills played unabated through the seventies. Being as none of us had dates during first collegiate months away from home, I drove a carload of freshman boys down to Charlotte for the Thunderball/You Only Live Twice combo at the old Tryon Mall Theatre (largest screen in NC!) in 1972. Having attended my thirtieth-year reunion recently, I encountered one of the group that joined me on that expedition, and asked if he remembered. He did, and vividly. Interesting how you can form friendships with a shared passion for movies (especially James Bond movies). Speaking of dates, I dragged a singularly unenthusiastic one to see Thunderball make a last theatrical stand as 1981 drive-in support for Mommie Dearest (talk about an unpleasant show!). By this time, the Bonds had been playing television for going on ten years, and those fossilized 35mm prints were seeing their final days of service. Loyal unto the end, I stuck by them to their wheezing twenty-five dollar flat rental finish. These once-glorious Technicolor originals are now so many guitar picks, but 007 lives on via DVD collections that at least approximate the quality of what we saw first-run, and are well worth the investment in all four volumes.