By Craig Henderson

Real James Bond fans know you can't begin to cover the five-decade Bond phenomenon in less than an hour, but realistically the occasional one-hour TV special is all we're going to get. The best of the various Bond specials is still the first, The Incredible World of James Bond, produced by documentary mogul David L. Wolper back in 1965. After decades in the vault, that finally appeared on laser disc a few years ago. It would be nice to see a DVD release.

In the meantime, the latest 007 retrospective is The James Bond Story, which debuted in January on American Movie Classics and is now on DVD from Winstar TV & Video.

The Program

The show was not produced by MGM or Eon Productions, but obviously enjoyed their cooperation. Still, it's not a complete hagiography of the official Bond film series. Some of the ups and downs over the decades are actually pointed out, and narrator Miranda Richardson is even allowed to mention Never Say Never Again (of course MGM now controls that film; no mention of Casino Royale though).

Eon not only provided extensive film clips and some behind-the-scenes material, it also provided current Bond honcho Michael G. Wilson for a lengthy interview that's interspersed throughout the program. Wilson has been with the series long enough to offer some interesting insights, but his constant presence is in stark contrast to that of Cubby Broccoli, Bond film godfather for more than 30 years, and Wilson's stepfather. Broccoli appears — finally — toward the end of the show in a very brief clip that looks like it's from the 60s. And Harry Saltzman, Cubby's erstwhile partner and co-founder of the franchise, is seen nowhere, nor is he even mentioned. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that.

Quite a few other interviews are packed into the program, some new, some not (and some of the latter has been seen in the supplemental material on the Bond movies special edition DVDs). All five leads talk about playing Bond: Sean Connery in a British television interview from several years ago; Timothy Dalton in publicity material from The Living Daylights; Pierce Brosnan in his standard take on the character. Both Roger Moore, objecting to the violence in director John Glen's attempts to turn the films back toward true adventure, and George Lazenby, complaining that he didn't get a fair shake because his Bond had to break up and cry at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, appear in new footage.

Others interviewed include dear old Desmond Llewelyn, leading ladies Maud Adams and Jane Seymour, directors John Glen, Lewis Gilbert, Michael Apted (who helmed the latest film, The World Is Not Enough) and Terence Young, who established the series with Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Thunderball (seen in an old filmed interview that's also on the special edition Bond DVDs).

Eventually the program gets around to Ian Fleming himself, who is only Bond's creator after all, seen wandering around Goldeneye, his house in Jamaica. Andrew Lycett, Fleming's recent biographer, also is heard from.

One particularly annoying interview subject is screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz. He worked on only three consecutive films of the 19 extant — Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun. His contribution to the Bond series was the introduction of juvenile, puerile comedy in place of the style and wit we'd enjoyed in the 60s films. Yet he pops up throughout the program, pontificating on Bond screenwriting technique.

Unfortunately, Richard Maibaum, the true writing talent behind the Bond films, died in 1991. Footage of him talking about his Bond scripts does exist, but whether or not it could be easily or affordably obtained is another question. Of course, Mankiewicz or Wilson could graciously acknowledge Maibaum's inestimable contribution to the success of the Bond films. But like Saltzman, Maibaum is completely ignored.


Well, there's not much to say. When AMC ran the show it had a slight widescreen look. The widescreen effect is more pronounced on the DVD. And of course the picture is sharper than a cablecast picture (especially a VHS recording of a cablecast picture).

Extras are modest, to say the least. There are 20 Bond trivia questions. Ho hum. The most interesting thing about them is the wacky answers. One claims Fleming wanted Christopher Lee to play Dr. No in 1967 (1967? And the program says Fleming wanted his friend Noel Coward to play Dr. No). Another says Connery was cast after Fleming's wife saw him in Darby O'Gill and the Little People (we all know it was Broccoli's wife).

Then there are the filmographies of the five Bond stars. Bet you didn't know Roger Moore appeared in such Hollywood classics as Shadow of the Thin Man in 1941 and the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical The Barkleys of Broadway. Or that he made his film debut in 1937 (when he was nine years old). Apparently some other actor's credits at MGM from the late 30s through the early 50s have been appended to Moore's by whoever did the sloppy research for these “special features.”

There are no foreign language tracks. There's not even a booklet inside the case. No, all you're getting here is a better looking and better sounding recording of the show that ran on AMC. If that's worth 20 bucks to you, or you missed taping the show, then by all means buy this disk.