Never Say Never: Casino Royale and the New James Bond

By robbiefreeling | REVERSEBLOG: the reverse shot blog April 29, 2009 at 8:53AM

Never Say Never: Casino Royale and the New James Bond
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Following the success of Casino Royale, an apocryphal story sprang up that Daniel Craig had requested the inclusion of a gay love scene in the next Bond outing, complete with full frontal nudity. Although the item was quickly squelched, as much by common sense as by Craig’s adamant publicist, its overtones nonetheless remain telling. Despite the evident absurdity, there was something peculiarly appropriate in its fabricated scenario. As not once in the rumor mill’s daisy chain was it ever suggested that Craig himself was homo- or bisexual—and as his bent performances in Love Is the Devil (1998) and Infamous (2006) rarely entered the picture—the story was clearly founded primarily upon Craig’s screen persona as Bond. This particular silly rumor thus helped to crystallize the quite complex layering process that had surrounded Craig ever since he had been announced for the role, and it testified as well to the seemingly impossible feat that Craig and the behind-camera collaborators had pulled off: to re-sexualize the figure of Bond, to make Bond himself a sexual object.

This claim might seem strange, as sex (and 007’s legendary potency) has always been one of the tentpoles of the Bond franchise—but has a single one of the films after the first Connery triumvirate actually qualified as sexy? The rough, dangerous, decidedly reactionary sexuality that Connery possessed in Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963)—nicely complemented by Ursula Andress’s blow-up doll voluptuousness and Daniela Bianchi’s good-girl-playing-bad innocence—was already being smoothed out by the time of his smirking seduction of Honor Blackman’s (coded) lesbian Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger (the one Bond girl moniker that will obviously live forever, despite the total lack of chemistry between the stars and the brevity of their onscreen time together). Before Connery (twice) exited the series, Bond’s rapacious sexuality was already part of the joke that the franchise sought to make of itself, his conquests reassuring trail markers rather than titillating encounters, all the more so once Roger Moore began his long sojourn in the role. Even when the producers tried to restore the character’s dangerous edge with the casting of Timothy Dalton, that danger was confined solely to his dispensing of violence; Dalton’s grim, angry incarnation of Bond more often viewed women as impediments to his brutal trade rather than as savory pleasures.

As many a commentator has noted, for all their de rigueur chases and explosions the Bond films are an essentially comforting phenomenon, a ritual whose pleasures are more ones of familiarity than excitement—which goes for the sex as well, the striking beauty of certain of the series’ female adornments aside. The half-hearted embrace of Pierce Brosnan was always couched in that same key of the familiar: he “looked” the part, after all, and thus assured the faithful that no surprises would be forthcoming. How different the initial reception to the announcement of Craig as Brosnan’s replacement, and how fascinating the terms in which that displeasure was expressed. The disparity between Craig’s irregular, rocky features and Brosnan’s men’s-catalogue-handsomeness invited a chorus of nasty comments, almost all of which called attention to Craig’s masculinity, or perceived lack thereof. The actor was lambasted for being too short, mocked for his (reported) inability to handle the vintage Aston-Martin’s stick shift, derided for breaking some teeth during a fight scene (a strange inversion of something that would seem rather to testify to his manly credentials).

Click here to read the rest of Andrew Tracy's essay on Casino Royale and the New James Bond, "Never Say Never."

And click here to read other selections from Reverse Shot's new symposium, Prop. 24: Defining a New Queer Cinema.

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