Our fascination with James Bond much rests on the films for they convey more of a vivid and immediate impression of him and his world than the Ian Fleming novels. While we credit the actors playing 007 or those who wrote his immortal quips or fashioned his ingenious devices, we omit those who visualised the whole thing — the directors. Especially the one who set the course of the character and the films.
It is Guy Hamilton who is credited with firming up that unique, but always believable, blend of adventure and pulsating action, sexual innuendo and tension, humour, often ironical or black, and the gizmos, which define the cinematic Bond for us (until the reboot into a darker mood with “Casino Royale”, 2006). Another facet was the witty, frequently facetious humor — even in midst of mortal peril for our hero.
And this was possible for Hamilton, whose 95th birth anniversary is on Saturday, as he was the only 007 director who underwent the sort of dangerous predicaments that Bond regularly finds himself in. A Royal Navy officer in World War II, he was once stranded in occupied France after a mission, and spent nearly a month dodging German soldiers or living among them while pretending to be a Frenchman before getting back to Britain.
“Guy was very much a James Bond character himself. He always knew what was believable and how far he could take audiences — and that was based on both his film-making experience and real wartime exploits,” said Roger Moore, who became the long-term Bond after Sean Connery, and had Hamilton as his director in his first two outings.
This combination not only helped Hamilton to achieve success with Bond, but his war movies like “The Battle of Britain” (1969) or his other espionage venture with “Funeral in Berlin”, the second “Harry Palmer” movie based on the Len Deighton novels.
Born in Paris, Mervyn Ian Guy Hamilton (1922-2016) was the son of a diplomat and lived most of this youth in France. He might have followed his father but was more interested in films, especially French cinema, and it was in a French studio where he had his first brush with cinema — as a clapper boy — in 1939. However, then came the war.
Returning to movies after the war, he was an assistant director on three films by renowned British filmmaker Carol Reed, including “The Third Man” (1949). It was Reed who looked on Hamilton as his protege, who got him his first film as director, “The Ringer” (1952), based on an Edgar Wallace mystery.
What made Hamilton’s name was “The Colditz Story” (1955), about the attempts of habitual Allied POWs escapees from a supposedly escape-proof German castle prison, and “The Devil’s Disciple” (1959) starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. He was offered the first James Bond film “Dr No” but declined then.
However, he came in for the third — “Goldfinger” (1964) — and made it the first Bond blockbuster. Raymond Benson, who would go on to pen a few Bond adventures, says in the “The James Bond Bedside Companion”, this differed from its predecessors in having a “tighter, wittier style without diminishing the level of suspense” and a “faster pace”.
There was a quite a big hiatus, for the next Hamilton helmed film was “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) — Sean Connery’s last in the role. Here, Benson says Hamilton brought the “same slick style” of “Goldfinger”, “but with a lighter touch”. His style would also be evident in the next two — “Live and Let Die” (1973) and “The Man with the Golden Gun” (1974) with Moore, before he finally bid adieu.
Hamilton’s record of directing the most Bond films — four — through the 1960s and 1970s was eclipsed the next decade by John Glen (five), but the latter’s oeuvre, from “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) to “Licence to Kill” (1989) is scarcely comparable.
His trick, as he said, was that, “A lot of 007’s appeal, let’s face it, stems from his doings with the ladies. So, find the ladies and we’ve won half the battle”, but also that “one of the rules with the Bond pictures is that you’re not allowed to have a leading lady who can act — because we can’t afford them.”
Though he went to direct two Agatha Christie adaptations and was offered the direction of both “Superman” (1978) and “Batman” (1990), it didn’t fructify for various reasons. Retiring in the late 1980s to the Spanish island of Majorca, he died on April 20, 2016.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])