It’s late November in the year 2020. Nobody has seen James Bond in eons. No Time to Die? More like “No time to release on Netflix”. COME ON.
In between my constant fugue states in which I rewatch all of the James Bond films, which I’ve been known to do, I picked up a new release: “The Lost Adventures of James Bond” by Mark Edlitz.
Edlitz has written a prior book based on Bond and it’s immediately obvious when starting this one that he actively cares about the every facet of its history. As a Bond fan, it’s always fresh to hear or converse with another Bond fan, and Edlitz here hits the ground running with an extensive knowledge and appreciation for the world’s greatest gentleman spy.
The book showcases Edlitz’s research into the murky waters of Bond beyond the hits the general public knows. We know the books, we know the films, but what about the films that almost went into production? What about the niche books or television shows that people store in the attics of their mind?
That pitch is strong, and the cover features a bold Timothy Dalton. The main marketed features for the book are the first ones you read: the Timothy Dalton films that never went into production. From there we broaden our horizons to lost films from other Bond actors, then we switch over to other forms of media. We learn about children’s television, actor performances, commercials, lost Bond themes, and forgotten novels.
Naturally, this means the pitch wavers in a hit-or-miss fashion. I’m sorry, finding out about the Bond origin film is more interesting than the production details of any James Bond Jr. story. It’s the nature of this sort of beast, but Edlitz works well with the material he’s given.
Speaking of material, the book is really separated into sections within each different proposal: a synopsis based on as much material Edlitz can find if the subject is truly “lost”, an interview with someone close or closest to the project, and he also offers a supplementary cultural context and analysis about the production or how the media fits into the larger mythical narrative of Bond as a franchise. This, too, is dependent largely on the project being discussed. Some projects are completed but forgotten to time, some projects are scripts never produced, some were merely minor treatments or outlines or even just serious flirtations with the possibility of a project.
Edlitz tries to ground expectations wherever he can, and yet still lets you fly to the moon. The synopses often try to actively incorporate quotes wherever possible while remaining flavorful and still firmly Edlitz’s own summary. When he summarizes an outline or script, it can be a tad dry or convoluted. I sympathize here: when I wrote my Bond reviews I wrote summaries to accompany every single story. It’s hard to write these things. There’s ridiculous names, fifty locations, and a dozen different fake organizations that mean nothing in every film. If the story itself is convoluted or wacky (which these are), it’s an achievement to untie the story at all. It’s hard to keep track of it yourself, much less summarize it in a succinct and enjoyable way. For the most part, he succeeds.
Where Edlitz shines the most is obvious: the interviews. He gets fantastic sources that are often the writers or creators themselves (including major talents such as John Landis) and on top of that his interview style is engaging. It’s minimal, very direct, but also very personable. The additional layer of being an obvious Bond fan plays into it as well. Some artists participated in their projects only for the sake of a paycheck. Some were proud of what they did, others preferred to talk about what breakfast they had the day they crunched out the material (also a very Bond thing to do). In any case, Edlitz lets the interviewee breathe and answer the way they want. In the best cases, you’ll see two Bond fans deeply familiar with the franchise discuss back and forth about what makes the films special and why they care. These sorts of conversations between artists are sure to sort of understand the direction of these lost projects further beyond a mere summary. We see the mentality of the artist towards the project, and towards Bond.
And aside from the actual Bond history, a lot of the book is really a tribute to unsung craftsmen. You could watch the credits screen of From Russia With Love (1963) and note all of those contributors, but there’s something to be said about preserving the testament and history of insignificant projects, because their significance is still truly underrated. In each case, there’s something to learn regarding the production process, from marketing to producing to music making or executive decisions regarding toylines and storybooks. Bond is a monolithic machine that every contributor within merely operates under ready to pass to the next cog, and Edlitz sought to acknowledge every cog for their contribution. This is admirable, even when the final result may appear inconsistent.
Edlitz’s context and analysis stays strong throughout, and routinely he’ll be recalling post-Fleming novels or small callbacks from one film to another to bring further understanding to specific creative decisions. As an interviewer, he’ll be sure to ask questions regarding specific rumors heard or specific decisions. Many artists sought to have different directions for Bond, and this may be where the promise of the forgotten lies: the book reveals stories about Cubby Broccoli (the main producer behind the entire Bond film franchise historically) and his hold over Bond’s image after the passing of Sir Ian Fleming (the creator of James Bond). The doorway of imagination and obscurity allows these treatments to be uniquely different from the homogenized films. If they reached a higher audience with more money behind them, it’s almost certain details would be changed to be more uniform, so hearing these unique stories is special in their own way. These stories broaden perspective of what Bond could’ve been, or could be in the future. The small projects nobody cares about? Those are where the creative risks to Bond can truly be made, or those are the places where we can see what Bond actually means to the world. Bond doesn’t seem to drink as many shaken martinis anymore, but he seems to drink more Heineken than ever. What does this commercial tell us? Edlitz is able to navigate between these ideas within each segment.
I’d be disappointed in myself without acknowledging the visual element either: Edlitz enlists the help of artists to craft portrayals of the famous Bond actors in these films and also utilizes source images so the reader fully understands the visual direction each project goes for. This material goes a long way and is well appreciated.
The book remains an engaging read throughout, and showcases that perhaps the best way to experience the fantasy of Bond is through the fantasies of what could have been. That’s how I fantasize about being a brilliantly handsome super spy at least.