With news of British actor Daniel Craig taking up the James Bond mantle, there again has again been talk about revamping the 007 image. Entertainment Weekly came out with a list of progressive suggestions, among them having Bond be less of a playboy, have "actual relationships," play poker instead of baccarat because it's trendy, give him a sidekick and choose sanctions over his Walther PPK.
OK, so we're kidding about that last one. But this was all tried before in Timothy Dalton's ill-fated premiere as Bond in 1987's The Living Daylights. (Some could even make the argument it was also attempted in 1969 with George Lazenby in the dreadful On Her Majesty's Secret Service, in which we get to watch a moon-eyed man with a license to kill fret about wedding centerpieces and whether the napkins are the right color.)
In Daylights, Dalton was a kinder, gentler James Bond. The villians were downgraded from monomaniacal geniuses intent on ruling the world, or at least destabilize the economies of the West, to a Russian double-agent and a gun-runner. Fans hated it. (Not that things improved with the passage of time, as Bond's enemy in 1997's Tomorrow Never Dies was Ted Turner.)
The Bond women suffered an even worse fate. Once the stuff of legend, with the bodies of goddesses, often just as strong-willed as our hero and possessing names such as Honey Ryder and Pussy Galore, 007 had only one romantic interest now, a cello player named Kara Milovy. Mi-lovy? That's barely a worthwhile double-entendre, and it's more romantic than naughty.
Seeing Dalton and Maryam d'Abo holding hands and riding a Ferris wheel was the nadir of my Bond experiences, and I've had a lot of them.
I've been watching James in one incarnation or another since I was 11 or 12. That was about the time my parents felt I was old enough to stay at home alone without a babysitter. And it was the time a local television station began running the whole Bond series, from Dr. No onward in chronological order. The movies came on right around the hour I would start feeling nervous about being alone. If memory serves, it was about 10 p.m.
Those stories of a dashing, fearless spy saving the world from supervillians and bedding exotic women were my security blanket as I passed my small milestone of independence. Combined with the frisson of staying up past my bedtime, watching Bond karate chop Dr. No, stop Goldfinger's atom-bomb timer at the 007-minute mark and dodge that wacko Russian agent with the poison-tipped shoes made me forget about how big and empty the house was, and how close and dark the nearby woods were. (From Russia with Love's Gypsy cat-fight, of course, had its own frisson and joined my mental card catalog right after "Green Slave Girl, Star Trek.") To this day, seeing the old United Artists logo slowly spin into view with its '60s theme music gives me a reassuring feeling, even when not immediately followed by Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme."
So here's a suggestion for Entertainment Weekly, Daniel Craig and director Martin "GoldenEye" Campbell: Don't make Bond a wimp.
If anything, the world has gotten more dangerous since James first flew into Kingston, Jamaica, in Dr. No in 1962. Brutal terrorists the world over behead civilians and even children. Suicidal maniacs think nothing of detonating bombs in markets and outside of cafes. Rogue states work to amass weapons of mass destruction, from nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran to Iraq's old stockpiles of cyclosarin.
Clearly, if there was any time when we could use a secret agent on our side who is merciless with his foes, a Lothario when it suits his purposes, and knows when to say "banco" at the baccarat table, this is it. And if he happens to have an Aston Martin with a chilled bottle of champagne and an ejector seat, more power to him.
Martin Stein prefers his vodka martinis up with a twist. E-mail him at