Green Room

RE: James Bond and the new sex appeal

posted at 3:23 pm on November 27, 2012 by

A couple thoughts on this thesis, which reminds me of how the misunderstood heroes of comic book movies and sought-after female leads of teen vampire fiction always end up looking coincidentally a whole lot like the writers of said movies and books. In this version, Richard Cohen objects to Daniel Craig’s muscular physique in “Skyfall,” preferring an older, softer sex appeal:

“Skyfall” is a lot of fun — don’t get me wrong — but it still says something about our culture that, in the autumn of my years, I do not like. To appreciate what I mean, contrast this new Bond to Roger O. Thornhill, the charmingly hapless advertising man played by Cary Grant in “North by Northwest.” Like Bond, Thornhill pulls off some amazing physical feats — his mad frantic escape from the crop duster, the traverse of Mount Rushmore — and like Bond he wears an expensive suit. Unlike Bond, though, when he takes it off we do not see some marbleized man, an ersatz creation of some trainer, but a fit man, effortlessly athletic and just as effortlessly sophisticated. Of course, he knows his martinis, but he also knows how to send out a suit for swift hotel cleaning. He is a man of the world. He is, in short, a man of a certain age — 55 at the time, to be more or less exact.

In “North by Northwest” and other movies, Grant — for all his good looks — represented the triumph of the sexual meritocracy — a sex appeal won by experience and savoir-faire, not delts and pecs and other such things that any kid can have.

First, I’m not sure there’s much of a change going on here. Sean Connery was an actual bodybuilder before he was Bond, famously placing in the Mr. Universe competition in the early 1950s. Granted, because bodybuilding was less mainstream and less extreme in the ’50s and ’60s, Connery debuted in “Dr. No” with a leaner look than Craig’s, but he’s still about seven percent body fat and likely a lot more defined than the average man of the time.

As for Grant, he’s certainly as suave and charming an actor as has ever graced the screen, but a symbol of sexual meritocracy? Grant escaped his given name and an unhappy childhood in Britain armed with his good looks and training on the vaudeville stage as, among other things, an acrobat— skills he later used to legendary effect in all those chase scenes and pratfalls. Though he brought much more to each part, stunning features and physical prowess were always part of Grant’s allure, even as he aged.

When Craig was cast to play Bond in “Casino Royale,” there was much public outcry about the actor falling a bit short in the stunning features area. He is not conventionally handsome— To me, he resembles nothing so much as a super-hot Mr. Potato Head.—but both his looks and his tougher physique reflect what producers were trying to do with the character— differentiate him from the suave and generally sunny Bond of old with a emotionally deeper, dangerous anti-hero. Ironically, it’s a return to the unpolished physicality and brogue that made Bond creator Ian Fleming unsure of Connery’s fitness to play the part. Connery acted his rough edges away for the character. Craig relies on his.

Second, I don’t think we’re in imminent danger of running short of older, male actors successfully wooing young actresses in films— another trend Cohen sees falling victim to Craig’s exaggerated pecs.

Gary Cooper in “High Noon” wins Grace Kelly by strength of character, not muscles. He was about 50, and Kelly was a mere 23.

Maybe the best example of the unmuscled hero is Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca.” Bogart was 15 years older than Ingrid Bergman and it did not matter at all. He had the experience, the confidence, the internal strength that can only come with age.

Don’t look now, but “Skyfall’s” Bond girl, Bérénice Marlohe is 12 years younger than Craig, and there are plenty of people who wouldn’t mind seeing such age gaps tighten up a bit every now and then or even go the other direction. Men may be required to keep on more muscle than in the past, but surely Cohen would allow than that they’re allowed to age far more easily in Hollywood than women are.

And, finally, someone’s going to have to keep me posted. Is exercise good or bad? It shifts so frequently. In this piece, Cohen piggybacks on a NYT piece deploring the —gasp!— the trend of young men weightlifting to gain muscle. Peter Suderman destroys that health scare handily, here. Back to Cohen:

This is all very sad news. Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held. That’s why Sean Connery was my kind of Bond. He was 53 when he made his last Bond film, “Never Say Never Again.” Women loved him because he was sophisticated and he could handle a maitre d’ as well as a commie assassin. Western civilization was saved not on account of his pecs but on account of his cleverness and experience.

I know the movie market skews young and kids want action, and I take it as a good thing that Daniel Craig’s Bond is older, world weary, and, in sports lingo, has slowed a step. But he still triumphs physically, not cleverly. He does not woo women; they just come on to him.

I’m not the most knowledgable connoisseur of the Bond franchise, but Bond has never been much of a wooer. His first-ever on-screen conquest showed up in his room half-naked for a round of putt-putt (literally and euphemistically) after exchanging three sentences with him. Bond’s sophistication matters, but Connery’s Bond relied so heavily on raw sexuality that it shaped public perception and parodies for decades to come. I remember hearing a funny story, perhaps apocryphal, about the original casting of Connery as Bond. Fleming was unsure of the choice, but his wife or girlfriend took one look at Connery and said, “Yeah, that guy’s got it.” I probably prefer the taller, leaner Bond and Connery’s angst-free portrayal, but I like Craig, too.

I’d say Craig’s Bond, who spent the entire second movie of his Bond hitch avenging the death of one woman with whom he’d had a meaningful relationship, has traded in some of his debonair for more depth. And, he got awesome abs as part of the upgrade. I’m not complaining.

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I keep expecting him to say “They’re always after me lucky charms.”

Flange on November 27, 2012 at 3:31 PM

Never could understand what people-men and women-saw in Sean Connery as James Bond. I like him much better now that he’s aged a bit. Now Daniel Craig, emerging from the surf in the blue swim trunks…mmm.

2L8 on November 27, 2012 at 3:41 PM

What’s really stupid is that Cohen bases his article on Bond movies, without apparently knowing much about Bond movies. He talks about Connery starring in “Never Say Never Again” at the age of 53, apparently unaware that the film was an unoffical “spoof” of a Bond movie, and that Connery ceased being the real Bond at age 41. Ironically, he could have furthered his point by talking about the older, slightly effeminate Roger Moore taking over the role from Connery (of course Roger Moore sucked as Bond, but that’s besides the point).

BuzzCrutcher on November 27, 2012 at 3:49 PM

Fleming’s Bond in the books is much more deadly than in the films (especially the Roger Moore flicks) – until Craig came along, it seems. But, yes, Craig seems to lack the debonair that said, when all’s said and done, life is for living and you enjoy it while you can.

My favorites, in order: Connery, Brosnan, Craig, Moore/Dalton, that other guy.

GWB on November 27, 2012 at 3:51 PM

Never could understand what people-men and women-saw in Sean Connery as James Bond. I like him much better now that he’s aged a bit. Now Daniel Craig, emerging from the surf in the blue swim trunks…mmm.

2L8 on November 27, 2012

My only issue with the Connery bond is he looked like he was wearing lip gloss in some of those early films. Other than that, very handsome. I find Craig attractive, but I can never quite figure out why. Ha.

Mary Katharine Ham on November 27, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Never could understand what people-men and women-saw in Sean Connery as James Bond. I like him much better now that he’s aged a bit. Now Daniel Craig, emerging from the surf in the blue swim trunks…mmm.

2L8 on November 27, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Really? He was terrific in the early Bonds. After Thunderball, he got bored with the role, but in Dr. No through Goldfinger, he’s the definitive Bond IMO. From Russia With Love is still my favorite entry in the series.

Doughboy on November 27, 2012 at 3:56 PM

Also, I believe Richard Cohen was one of the people who accused Dan Quayle of being unable to tell the difference between reality and fiction (Murphy Brown). And now Cohen is doing what he claimed Quayle was an idiot for doing.

Flange on November 27, 2012 at 4:00 PM

Meh. Sam Spade would smack Teen Emo-kid Bond around like this and then walk off with the girl. Which should be fine with Other-questioning Brooding-boy Bond, as he is into this these days.

whatcat on November 27, 2012 at 4:21 PM

Never liked the James Bond films.

terryannonline on November 27, 2012 at 4:27 PM

I am curious to know hot MKH knows Connery was a body building :-)

terryannonline on November 27, 2012 at 4:28 PM

hot

how

terryannonline on November 27, 2012 at 4:30 PM

but in Dr. No through Goldfinger, he’s the definitive Bond IMO.

Doughboy on November 27, 2012 at 3:56 PM

And, Dr. No is one of the movies that is closest to the books. One of the best Bond movies ever. (Though it gets hard to explain how Quarrel dies in the first Bond movie, but is alive in later ones; Dr. No isn’t the first book.)

GWB on November 27, 2012 at 4:38 PM

hot

how
terryannonline on November 27, 2012 at 4:30 PM

Freudian typo? :)

whatcat on November 27, 2012 at 4:39 PM

I find Craig attractive, but I can never quite figure out why. Ha.

Mary Katharine Ham on November 27, 2012 at 3:55 PM

Perhaps it’s a perverse attraction to short, pugnacious men. I suffer from this affliction.

I googled Daniel Craig’s height, and 5’10″ seems generous.

gatsbysgirlontheside on November 27, 2012 at 4:39 PM

And, Dr. No is one of the movies that is closest to the books. One of the best Bond movies ever. (Though it gets hard to explain how Quarrel dies in the first Bond movie, but is alive in later ones; Dr. No isn’t the first book.)

GWB on November 27, 2012 at 4:38 PM

He’s alive in the later movies? I thought that was Quarrel Jr. in Live and Let Die(the movie, not the book).

(Yes, I’m a Bond junkie in case it wasn’t obvious.)

Doughboy on November 27, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Freudian typo?

whatcat on November 27, 2012 at 4:39 PM

LOL! No.

terryannonline on November 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM

LOL! No.
terryannonline on November 27, 2012 at 4:47 PM

Just funnin’ ya, heh.

whatcat on November 27, 2012 at 4:54 PM

I’m not the most knowledgable connoisseur of the Bond franchise, but Bond has never been much of a wooer.

Perfectly put apart from the spelling :) I’m similarly afflicted.

lexhamfox on November 27, 2012 at 5:09 PM

What I liked about Casino Royale most was the lack of gadgets. Sure, there were some but Bond relied more on being a bass ass than gadgets to get the job done it seemed to me.

Yakko77 on November 27, 2012 at 5:34 PM

bass

Yakko77 on November 27, 2012 at 5:34 PM

bad

Yakko77 on November 27, 2012 at 5:51 PM

Skyfall is the first Bond movie I ever wanted to see on my own–not because all of my friends were going.

Daniel Craig is my favorite Bond, bar none.

And the muscles? Well, that’s just the icing on the hotcake.

Meryl Yourish on November 27, 2012 at 6:13 PM

The producers missed the boat when they didn’t cast Clive Owen. That is, if they wanted to return to the aesthetic of the books (which they didn’t, so I admit it’s a kind of a non sequitur).

Owen has the look closest to Fleming’s text — lean, dark, a “bit like Hoagy Carmichael.” Craig looks like a slab of Slavic beef — like one Bond’s enemies.

Fleming’s Bond was not particularly debonair or the lady killer he became in the films. It was Terence Young, the director of the first few Bond films and a bon vivant in his own right, who re-made Bond into the tailored and suave superhero.

I lost interest in the films after From Russia With Love, the last to even try to remain faithful to the books.

rrpjr on November 27, 2012 at 6:47 PM

I’ve never understood the appeal of Cary Grant in anything, ever. The guy reads as sleazy as they come, like a walking STD. Many a time I’ve thanked the movie gods that he passed on Roman Holiday, thereby avoiding the ruin of a great movie.

mrsknightley on November 27, 2012 at 6:58 PM

It’s the hairy chest, ladies. Admit it. You can’t keep your hands out of it.

faraway on November 27, 2012 at 7:08 PM

And this is blog-worthy why?

stukinIL4now on November 27, 2012 at 7:16 PM

“Bird never make nest in bare tree”

Greatlit on November 27, 2012 at 8:02 PM

And this is blog-worthy why?
stukinIL4now on November 27, 2012 at 7:16 PM

Since you read and commented on it, you’ve answered your own question.

whatcat on November 27, 2012 at 9:21 PM

To me, he resembles nothing so much as a super-hot Mr. Potato Head

Really. Craig’s got it going on. Three generations of women in my family swoon over the guy. Rachel Weisz is a lucky woman…

Firefly_76 on November 27, 2012 at 10:30 PM