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What has changed in 60 years of James Bond

Silke Wünsch
October 5, 2022

In 1962, a martini-drinking womanizer saved the world from a villain for the first time in "Dr. No." Much has changed since the initial film. From the role of Bond girls to 007's machismo: Here are a few dated aspects.

Still from 'Dr No': James Bond smoking and holding a gun.
James Bond (Sean Connery) casually waits for his opponentImage: CAP/PLF Image/Capital Pictures/picture alliance

On October 5, 1962, the movie "Dr. No" premiered in London. It was the first in a long and successful series based on the spy novels by author Ian Fleming.

Playing the leading role, Agent 007, was an unknown actor: Sean Connery.

In the film, we are first introduced to his character as he sits in a casino across from an attractive woman who is about to gamble away her fortune. When she asks 007 his name, the camera pans to Bond lighting a cigarette. With a smoldering look in his eye, he utters the legendary words: "Bond, James Bond."

Shortly thereafter in the film, 007 receives an assignment to fly to Jamaica and investigate the murder of another M16 agent. He eventually tracks down a Chinese-German criminal scientist who is bent on destroying the US space program and achieving world domination. It's not a matter of East or West, Dr. No tells Bond when he asks, both are just points of a compass, one as stupid as the other.

In principle, this story is the basis of all of 25 James Bond films. Whether the villain is Dr. No, Blofeld, Goldfinger or Le Chiffre, they all aim for one thing: world domination. But to do so, they have to get past James Bond whose gunfire and wild chase scenes inevitably spoil their plans.

Actress Ursula Andress in a bathingsuit next to James Bond played by Sean Connery.
Bond girls were typically portrayed as ditzy blondes with little to sayImage: IFTN/United Archives/IMAGO

A machismo problem

Although many fan forums consider "Dr. No" to be one of the best Bond films, the movie would never be made in the same way today.

Firstly, one could write entire books about the omnipresent sexism and machismo that the character James Bond has displayed over the decades.

Certainly there would have to be a thick chapter dedicated to the women in his films, who are typically portrayed as naive, willingly flinging themselves into Bond's arms, seeking protection. Sometimes they are sophisticated female antagonists who lose control at the thought of hopping into bed with the secret agent.

Whether friend of foe, each film had at least one Bond girl — and often more: a total of 60 love interests have appeared in the films. Their names, like "Honey" or "Pussy Galore" would never be acceptable today. In more recent decades, female roles in Bond films have changed — as has Bond himself.

In the last five films in which Daniel Craig has played Bond, he is seen as a man who is tough on the outside and soft on the inside — and who is not always lucky with women.

Aside from the portrayal of women on screen, there are also plenty of other details in "Dr. No" that haven't quite stood the test of time.

Sean Connery embraces Ursula Andress in the water in the 1962 film.
The first bond girl was named Honey Ryder, a name which would likely be considered sexist by today's standardsImage: Everett Collection/picture alliance

Questionable lifestyle choices

Another sign of the zeitgeist in the 1962 film is that everyone smokes, which is a no-no by today's Hollywood standards. Cigarettes are found everywhere in the old film, from the casino to the hotel bar — and even the bedroom.

Smoking was commonplace in the US in the 1970s, so naturally this came across on the silver screen. In the 1970s TV series "Space: 1999" people were even depicted smoking on the moon, but by the 2000s, smoking was largely banned in many parts of the world due to its health risks.

Why doesn't James Bond drive a Ferrari?

One can also note in "Dr. No" that few people are wearing seat belts. When Bond drives off in his sports car to visit a woman, he is followed and a chase scene ensues. Bond, notably, is not wearing a seat belt.

His pursuers eventually drive off a slope and die, of course — after all, they aren't wearing seat belts either and cars didn't have airbags at the time. The vehicle explodes, prompting 007 to say, "They were obviously in a hurry to get to their own funeral."

A poster for Dr. No featuring women in various states of undress and James Bond with a gun.
Even such artwork associated with the original Bond film would never be deemed appropriate in this day and ageImage: Everett Collection/picture alliance

Why are all secretaries women?

In the older Bond films, all secretaries and receptionists are played by women, which in the 1960s, were considered standard female jobs.

Whether redheaded, blonde or brunette, secretaries are Bond's favorite targets for womanizing and they are all susceptible to his charms.

Throughout most Bond films, the agent has a romantic tension with Moneypenny, his boss's secretary, something which was not described in the original books.

In the 2012 film "Skyfall" Moneypenny is given a first name: Eve, and we finally learn her backstory. In this film, she is no longer a hopeless secretary in love, but a top-trained agent who accidentally shoots Bond and is reassigned to desk duty as punishment.

In any case, today Moneypenny's job title today would probably be "Office Manager" or "Executive Assistant" rather than "Secretary."

A still of Sean Connery hugging Moneypenny from the original film.
It wasn't until the 2012 film that we finally learn something about Bond's boss's secretary, MoneypennyImage: CAP/MFS Image/Capital Pictures/picture alliance

Inappropriate casting

In the film, Dr. No tells James Bond that he is the child of a British missionary and a Chinese woman from an upstanding family. However, the character is portrayed by Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman who is wearing makeup to make his eyes look more "Asian."

While it used to be the norm in such movies to have East Asian characters played by white actors, today these cases of "yellowface" are frowned upon — just as it would be to wear blackface, putting black makeup on one's skin to portray a Black person.

If there was a "Dr. No" remake in the future, a Chinese actor would be more likely to play this role.

A close up of Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No from the film.
White actor Joseph Wiseman was made to look Asian with makeupImage: Everett Collection/picture alliance

Colonial heritage

In the film, Black Jamaicans call white Englishmen "captain."

When the film was shot, Jamaica was still a British crown colony. It did not gain independence until August 1962, two months before "Dr. No" was released. They are still treated like second-class citizens in terms of language used in the film.

In the German dubbed version, for example, Black Jamaicans are addressed as "natives," language which is considered highly discriminatory today.

And there's one last change to be made: In the British Embassy in Jamaica there's a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth.

In the next James Bond movie — should there be one — a picture of King Charles III would hang in its place.

This article was translated from German by Sarah Hucal.