I've been a huge fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels since I was in junior high. Of course, prior to that I loved watching the movies as they were replayed on television. At the time, they were all the Connery films and the first two Moore pix, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun.
But the first time I read Fleming's original novel, I believe it was Dr. No, I was blown away! The character and story seemed so much different then the invincible, gadget heavy, overly promiscuous secret agent of the films. The character in the novels was much more human, and vulnerable. He wasn't the blockbuster 'superhero' but a deep cover secret agent up to his neck in cold war espionage.
Out of the 22 Bond films produced (with six actors playing the lead) only a mere five followed Fleming's novels; From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The rest were lifted in title and character only with screenwriters taking the stories into their own directions (with mixed results).
These five novels were adapted into film in almost the exact order that Fleming wrote them and with only minor changes to the stories, with the exception of Dr. No and From Russia being reversed. These five films are often thought of the pinnacle of the Bond 'franchise' and indeed they are.
What if these were the only Bond films made? What if we reversed Dr. No and From Russia With Love and place them in the order that the books were released? What I think we end up with is a very human character and a thrilling short and sweat franchise that builds up to an appropriate climax.
These 5 films, in the order they were released as novels, complete a full story arc of the Bond character and also fixes some continuity errors in the films (while adding a few). It displays an agent with human weaknesses and emotions and a villain that builds over the five films as well. Also, director Terrence Young would be director on three of the five films while Peter Hunt would edit all of films and direct OHMSS. Also, screenwriter Richard Miabaum would adapt all of the related books to film. All this helped unify this five film series.
So getting past the minor issues with reversing Dr. No and FRWL we come in as spectators in the middle of Bond's career in the order of the novels. The first four novels; Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker and Diamonds Are Forever; though great cold war spy thrillers themselves, built up to the middle novels where you get the grandiose villains of Dr. No, Goldfinger and SPECTRE.
So we start with the movie....
From Russia With Love
Our intro to James Bond as he is the victim of an assignation attempt, fights for his life (the hand to hand with Robert Shaw is one of the best fight scenes ever) and nearly dies at the end of the film (as in the novel though the reader actually doesn't know if he survives). The only gadget is a fancy brief case. This film will introduce the Bond character (quite late into the film) as well as SPECTRE and it's leader Blofeld (and his infamous white cat). Bond must be a bad-ass if this organization would want him out of the way. We're coming into the middle of the character's story, remember. Think if it as Episode IV: A New Hope. Here Bond still believes that he is fighting his cold-war rivals SMERSH, which will fit well with the plot of stealing the Russian Lektor, but is introduced to SPECTRE . It shows SPECTRE to be a international organization. Also, the late John Barry completes the entire score for this film and along with the infamous pre-credit sequence solidifies the Bond film right from the start. And the exotic European locations fill out the foundation of a Bond story. Minor continuity issues would involve SPECTRE's mention of Dr. No and his defeat at the hands of 007 but one could look at it as a precursor to the next film in the 'series'. SPECTRE want's Bond out of the way so that their operation with Dr. No can go on without a hitch. The other is Sylvia Trench, a woman whom Bond 'met' in the film Dr. No and is seemingly having a long term relationship with at the beginning of FRWL. Trench mentioned Bond's trip to Jamaica.
SPECTRE's first big plot with the series' first colorful villain Dr. No, mechanical hands and all. Bond comes out of this story beat to hell and tattered in rags but, of course, with Honey Rider in his arms. No gadgets at all - man vs man. Dr. No will again introduce Bond to SPECTRE. Famous for being the only Bond film without a pre-credit sequence, placing this movie second may prove to have an abrupt bump after the more polished FRWL. Minor continuity issue would involve Sylvia Trench, mentioned above, whom Bond 'meets' for the first time in the casino at the beginning of the film. A minor re-edit at the beginning to add the typical Bond walk barrel shot and the scene involving the Three Blind Mice assassins killing Strangways and his secretary would serve well as the pre-credit sequence. From there the movie can roll without a hitch.
Of course the first two films can be viewed in their original release order but there's something about watching FRWL first that makes the beginning of the series quite intriguing.
Of these five films, it is here that the Bond character reaches his heroic peak and would also be the only film to not directly involve SPECTRE which gives some breath to the series and builds the return of the SPECTRE threat into the final two films (as they recover from their failure Dr. No?). Though he fights for his life against the colorful Oddjob and Goldfinger, the plot consisting of creating economic chaos by irradiating the gold in Fort Knox is still human is scale. Here, however, Bond comes out unscathed and smelling like roses.
Here we begin the two part conclusion to the series. SPECTRE reaches it's full potential of a world-wide blackmailing terrorist threat with the abduction of two nuclear weapons. Bond actually gets shot and bleeds running for his life from Largo's agents in a memorable scene filmed during the Junkanoo celebration in Nassau. Again, less myth and a more human character in the midst of a world threatening plot though it is pretty spectacular. All this brings us to….
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The finale of this five film Bond series (skipping the film You Only Live Twice). Again, SPECTRE is involved and Bond comes face to face with it's leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, for the first time (as does the viewer). But the key here is that Bond falls in love and actually marries giving more depth to some of his romantic entanglements in the earlier films. Of course we all know that this doesn't end well and thus ends the series on a very human level. Major continuity issue solved, however. In the movie You Only Live Twice, which came out in 1967, two years before OHMSS, Bond meets Blofeld face to face for the first time. In that continuity, though Bond has already met Blofeld, in this film they act as if meeting for the first time staying true to the novel but disrupting the film continuity. Removing YOLT from this 5 film series fixes that continuity problem. Also, this would be the only time that anyone sees Blofeld. No issues with multiple actors playing this villain (Donald Pleasence and Charles Grey) but, of course, we have George Lazenby replacing Connery as Bond.
This would be the end of the series as no Bond film again ever truly tackles a Fleming novel nor brings a sense of vulnerability to this 'super' agent. Nor does a film ever touch upon the death of his wife with the brief exception of a small scene in For Your Eyes Only where Moore places flowers upon the grave of his beloved. Other than that, Bond becomes the super-hero.
These five adaptive films, in the order that they were written in, present a story arc of a thrilling spy facing real death and real life.
I think it would be a fun exercise to watch these five films in this order which I'm currently in the process of doing.. If you're a true Ian Fleming James Bond fan I think you might enjoy it too.