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Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Where 007 Loomed Large

Bond Bombshells Bursting All Over

What occasions were new James Bonds! I’m aboard again for 007 as result of generous reader Stephen Sistilli sharing with me a terrific array of Bond ads and imagery for when Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever opened in Philadelphia. I should have grown up there, but wait, 007 was magic wherever he landed, and could put any venue at equal standing with a largest palace where excitement for freshest Bond was at 60’s peak. First to Thunderball, here bidding a street-full to enter, them and their winter coats. Guess laps were loaded with same in such a packed house, for with no empty seats beside you, where else to lay outer wear except across your knees? This is how I remember Thunderball as well, a frosty February (1966) morning at the Liberty, anticipation ramped high, thanks to a LIFE magazine cover, Bond toys of just-previous Christmas, a primetime 007 special on NBC. Wonder how long the wait was for tickets in Philadelphia. I walked right in for getting downtown early, but North Wilkesboro was no Philadelphia. James Bond drew adults because his was a daring new kind of adventure. My mother and aunt had gone to see Goldfinger in March 1965, a same evening after I had just been to the afternoon show. Future Bonds would be forbidden to me as result of that day, but Thunderball, coming to us nearly a year later, was that much time for memory of JB depredations to fade. Thank providence, for I could not have endured a miss of Thunderball.

Then came You Only Live Twice in 1967, waters muddied by a Bond poseur named Casino Royale that tried crashing parties. It’s for that reason ads read Sean Connery IS James Bond. I would lie at night and listen to non-stop YOLT ads on a bedside radio. Fever was further fueled by intermittent double-features of past Bonds. Note that Philly’s Fox ran YOLT continuous from Midnight to Midnight, a 24-hour haul. You’d think it was wartime and crowds were still pouring in from shifts at the defense plant. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service played both sides of two-screen the “Duke” and “Duchess,” brand new to Philadelphia. “The name came from the owner’s dog’s name,” recalls Stephen Sistilli, “It was the first twin theatre built in the area. I saw OHMSS there when it opened and still remember the smell of the new carpets and the pumped-up sound system.”

Stephen says Diamonds Are Forever at left was “a rare color ad” as run by the Philadelphia Inquirer. 007’s newest (December 1971) was again at the Duke & Duchess, each auditorium with 460 rocking chair seats. I could be wrong, but I believe Winston-Salem’s Thruway Theatre, where I saw Diamonds Are Forever that same month, also had rocking seats. It wouldn’t be long before multi-cinemas, at least in my area, devolved to cracker boxes. Bally was still strong in Philadelphia at least, as our Thruway did not have massive cut-outs sitting atop the marquee as here in evidence at the Duke & Duchess. Also note display art of Connery as Bond, his elbow resting on a knee and holding the luger, imagery going all the way back to Euro posters for Dr. No. Whatever the merits of Diamonds Are Forever, it ended an era of James Bond films as events, or at least suspended it for so long as Roger Moore, off television and lacking Connery’s gravitas, played the character. The Duke & Duchess Theatres were demolished in 1987 to put in a hotel and shopping mall complex.


Blogger Unknown said...

I liked Roger Moore as The Saint, thought he made a great James Bond tho completely different from Sean Connery's Bond. Still enjoy his films. great post.

6:24 PM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

THUNDERBALL in February of 1966 was my first Bond. I saw it, as I did the rest of the 60's Bonds, at the Loews here in Richmond on their giant "panoramic" screen. Needless to say it made quite an impressive on a small town 12 year old. Connery will always be Bond for me. Never cared for Moore, Lazenby might have worked out OK... it seems like he kinda screwed himself out of that deal, Timothy Dalton is a fine actor but too heavy handed for Bond and his films lacked humor, I liked Brosnan even if his Bonds got progressively sillier. I do like Craig though he has made two great Bonds (CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL) and two that kinda stunk.
Hard though unless you lived in the 1960's for people to understand what an incredible phenomenon Bond was.

10:06 PM  
Blogger coolcatdaddy said...

I was a wee toddler when the Connery Bonds were originally released, so they were the big anticipated TV movie showings when I was a kid.

I wish that one of the arthouse/revival theaters in the area would screen at least "Goldfinger", "From Russia With Love", and "Thunderball" as part of their "retro" film showings since I've never seen them on a big screen. But "retro" to these folks seems to be 80s blockbusters and cheesy horror flicks that I saw when I was in college.

6:34 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Was a little late climbing on the Bond wagon. While classmates and even siblings went nuts over 007 movies (and books!) I was content with TV imitations. Finally caught up under unusual circumstances: I saw GOLDFINGER sometime around 1968 at an unadvertised 16mm screening at a community center. The place was packed with teens and someone had slipped a local collector 50 bucks to run his black market print. Even at the time, I had enough experience to realize his print looked every bit as good (maybe better) than a lot of the rental stuff that popped up at church basement shows. As excited as I was with the movie, I was even more intrigued with the idea that somebody in my hometown could have a basement full of recent feature films.

Didn't see Bond in a theater until the 1970 reissue double feature THUNDERBALL and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Big screen, big show! Have caught the majority of subsequent entries in a movie house ever since.

9:33 AM  
Blogger DBenson said...

The Bond phenomenon was a critical juncture of the times and one's own closeness to puberty. It was Playboy magazine come to life, with plush women and plush lifestyles showcased with equal glamor. It was a world where the hero lived large and scored regularly -- no teases or fakeouts, and minimal consequences. Heck, he didn't even have to get married at the end -- powerful stuff for adolescent males. The impossibly beautiful quickies of the first few reels never caused Complications, comic or otherwise. If anything they had the mortality rate of redshirts on Star Trek. And even the grubbiest third-world alleys somehow had class, teeming not with vagrants but with slick professional assassins. In a few years' time the pimply masses who lusted after Bond girls and Bond toys had other sources for both, thanks the the loosening of censorship everywhere, classmates in miniskirts and an explosion in slightly more grownup and much more attainable toys (remember your first little stereo with detachable speakers?). The Bond films stopped being wicked daydream fodder and became outright movie fantasies, like the outsized roadshows that once rolled out every Christmas.

2:43 PM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

I agree with DBenson---it did have a lot to do with the era and the films certainly were an adjunct to Playboy magazine....and being an adolescent at that point was a factor. I always thought the Bond films combined three things: Sex, violence, and technology. All three are simultaneously in play in the famous scene in GOLDFINGER where Connery was strapped to a table and a laser beam was aimed at his groin. But key elements they smartly retained for years were jazzy scores by John Barry, the brilliant production of Ken Adam, and those wild title sequences mostly created by Maurice Binder. T

10:58 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

The only early Bond I saw in a theater was THUNDERBALL, at age 9. But for me the apex of Bond theatricals was THE SPY WHO LOVED ME with Roger Moore. It was the perfect summer movie. I was still young enough at 21 to be caught up with it, even after having just seen STAR WARS. I still watch Bond movies, though the last one that really impressed me was 2006's CASINO ROYALE, and to a lesser extent SKYFALL. When I'm 80 will there still be Bond movies? Talk about a lifetime cinema companion!

3:32 PM  
Blogger Michael Johnson said...

The Connery films sure left an imprint on me. I must've seen Goldfinger at least five times at my local theater. I saw the touring 007 Aston Martin tricked out spy car (made exclusively for promotional use and never in the movies) at the local Sears, promoting the film and the Gilbert METAL aston Martin toy Sears was selling. At age ten in 1966 I formed The James Bond Club with the local neighborhood boys and we sat around in felt hats with our booby trapped plastic suitcases and traded Bond cards. I recently had lunch with my brother and realized the Bond influence is everlasting. He was wearing a replica of Sean Connery's Slazenger golf sweater from Goldfinger. Cheaper than an Aston Martin.

11:34 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...


I was on travel for work last week. Because of little spare time and limited computer access/time, I didn’t get to your site until this weekend.

Loved the article on for for two reasons-1. I am a big Bond fan and 2.-I was born and raised in Philadelphia. Saw many films in the theaters mentioned.

Question for you-Based on your comments on Thunderball-did you see and if so what was your opinion of the 1980’s remake-Never Say Never Again?

Joe from Virginia Beach

John replies:

Greetings Joe --- I saw "Never Say Never Again" when it came out ... posted a Greenbriar column here in 2017:

8:55 AM  
Blogger Lionel Braithwaite said...

@coolcatdaddy, my national Cineplex chain here in Canada (I live in Toronto) shows old movies at one of the multiplexes (Yonge-Dundas Theater) in the downtown core, some of them from the 1960's ( and the city also has a society that shows old movies on film (its name escapes me for the moment.)

12:20 AM  

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