The name is Bond, James Bond -- not Mr. Solace
Who knew that he had a highbrow fan club including the likes of Kingsley Amis, W.H. Auden, Raymond Chandler and Anthony Burgess? Who knew that he was once described as looking like a "young Hoagy Carmichael?" Who knew that he wasn't even English, having a Scotsman as a father and a mother who was Swiss?
We're talking about James Bond, of course, the legendarily smooth-as-silk secret operative who's been a favorite big screen escapist fantasy for more than 40 years, and is arriving in theaters again this weekend via "Quantum of Solace," with Daniel Craig in his second turn as Bond. I thought I knew plenty about the whole Bond mystique and back story, but it turns out that I'd barely scratched the surface, as is evidenced by how much I learned from reading Allen Barra's delightful Bond essay in today's Wall Street Journal.
Also a consummate baseball fan -- his new book, due out in March, is called "Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee" -- Barra takes us along for a great ride through Bondland, tossing out arcane stats (there have been 20 previous films, not including a 1954 TV production of "Casino Royale"), nostalgia (in "Thunderball" Bond is envious of the CIA for "the excellence of their equipment") and juicy Bond quotes (from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," on his many amorous adventures: "I'm fed up with all these untidy, casual affairs that leave me with a bad conscience").
I mean, who knew JB even had a conscience? Even though the reviews of "Solace" have been lukewarm, Barra makes a persuasive case that Craig is the actor born to play Bond. You should read his whole piece, but here's the thrust of his point:
Forget the foppish Roger Moore or the bland Pierce Brosnan. Mr. Craig's Bond is the real thing, the "blunt instrument" described by Ian Fleming in an interview and repeated by Judi Dench's M in "Casino Royale." He isn't suave like Sean Connery or sensitive like Timothy Dalton; when a bartender asks Craig whether he wants his martini shaken or stirred, he snaps, in a line that drew chuckles from Bond fans everywhere: "Do I look like I give a damn?"
Photo of Daniel Craig in "Quantum of Solace" by Karen Ballard / Associated Press