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Are the James Bond films anti-American?

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#1 Jim


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Posted 13 November 2011 - 06:44 PM

Recalling some of the criticism of Quantum of Solace and (amongst other criticisms) its depiction of the Gregory Beam character and what he represents, I wondered how far off a general theme propounded in the Bond films over the years it really was. Looking back, not really the most overwhelmingly positive depictions. Evidently Bond is an idealised and stylised Briton - although not too far off the mark; we all dress like that and everyone has an Aston Martin - and it's his show so he's front of house, but, still...

Dr No: Oblivious to what is going on in their own back yard, despite the fact it's their own interests at stake; alternatively too lazy to bother investigating it themselves, highly incidental players here. Admittedly there may be a jurisdictional point in the last days of Empire but, at best, they provide mild exposition which could have been done by a series of other means, distanced and either dis- or uninterested and then sail to an unnecessary rescue too late in the day to provide anything of any impact. One wonders what the subtext of that is. On the other hand, shrewd enough to have someone else do the running and tarantula-bothering and potentially suffering for them and their rockets will then fly, so they win in the end. Hmm.

From Russia with Love: It's all about Yurp and Yurpeans; accordingly, nothing to do with them.

Goldfinger: Oh dear. At best junk food-fed spectators, at worst borderline decrepit buffoons. Anonymous cannon-fodder come the conclusion although, lest we forget, the ones who actually turn the bomb off. Looked at that way, although the surface depiction is as a bolus of hopeless and fumbling amateurs who cannot do the things done by the lovely stylish Brit, they're the ones who actually thwart the plan, not Mr Wonderful, who has women beaten up, causes the death of two sisters, cheats at golf, gets himself captured, cures a lesbian and hardly fights fair when he puts a billion volts through Oddjob. Even Goldfinger's death is an accident. James Bond - he's rubbish. Quite a positive depiction of the Americans, ultimately.

Thunderball: Oh dear, part the deux. Cannon fodder again, or at least speargun fodder. Again, tremedously unconcerned about some real bad poo going down in their immediate vicinity and preferring instead to indulge in some bromance, or be Bond's amusingly shirted pet. Ultimately necessary to retrieve one of the bombs, one acknowledges, but otherwise utterly ineffectual. Wearing dark sunglasses at night in a casino does rather puts them at odds with the properly attired Brit; the oafs can't even dress properly.

You Only Live Twice: Warmongering loonies with an abundance of radio telescopes and space rockets and Shane Rimmers who are just stoopid when they don't believe the British theory / fact about Japan, the British not being armed with radio telescopes and space rockets and Shane Rimmers but with a bored fatty, a toy helicopter and Noel Coward. The British are great. The Americans have to rely on them. It's not very subtle. Codeword is imminent, and the codeword is "indolence".

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Can't be bothered, save that Blofeld chooses to impersonate one and therefore is doomed to fail simply through that unwise lifestyle selection.

Diamonds are Forever: Oh dear, the third. A collection of grotesques, homosexuals and Shane Rimmers, and universally shrill or annoying or annoyed or all three at the same time. Government representatives largely anonymous. Aiming to outdo Bond in the body mass index department, generally foolish, waiting around for Bond to save them from whatever it is that is going on. Again, the alternative reading is that they are quite happy to let Bond do the running/waddling about and they still get to have Washington DC preserved without any effort on their own part. Cool. Additionally, when not either emerging or going into the lavatory, a bit noisy. Cannon-fodder once again.

Live and Let Die: Casually unbothered by criminality taking place right under their noses, or too stupid to notice it or, once again, waiting for Bond to turn up and get the scars and risk his life and save America so that British resources are spent doing so. Leiter appears to be quite senior in this one and one suspects he's done so by claiming the credit, the venal little creep. J Dubya Pep-Uh is an unnecessary caricature - the Bond films have been having a go for over a decade by this point.

The Man with the Golden Gun: Gangsters. And fat racist idiots. Accordingly, highly uncouth when compared to the urbane Scaramanga and the adventurously sport-jacketed Bond.

The Spy who Loved Me: Some Shane Rimming. Cannon-fodder once more and so grateful to Bond for New York not being nuked that they fire on him whilst he's trying to rescue the girl. Well, she is a commie. Still, bit ungrateful, really. Perhaps Bond knows too much - i.e. that the Americans are fundamentally useless and need saving every second film or so. Possibly do save Bond's life on this occasion, but only so they can try to torpedo him five minutes later. Possibly more threat to Bond than anyone else in the film.

Moonraker: Space-laser fodder, and too stupid to notice that Space Hitler is operating out of California. Quite happy to sacrifice their own men to a sealed-in death in a space station. Cold hearted rotters. Run away rather than help Bond shoot down the poison globes, although this is presumably because the globes were probably aimed at Yurp or A-Rabs.

For Your Eyes Only: Still in a bit of a huff with Bond for not letting the poison globes drop on the A-Rabs, they decide to leave Bond to it (no difference there, then). Ultimately not terribly bothered. Yurpeans and their yurpean problems.

Octopussy: Circus-attending buffoons who deserve to be nuked. Hang on, here comes James Bond. Phew! Bit close there.

A View to a Kill: Hanging around waiting for Bond to save them again despite Britain being under no obvious threat itself. Expendable and a bit dim, as attracted to the sight of a balloon as they would be to someone holding up a shiny coin; dimwits. If a nation is exemplified by those who police it, this is a nation of clowns. Perhaps that is why Bond had to dress up as one in the previous film; empathy. Did he disguise himself as a member of the circus or as a US Serviceman? Discuss.

The Living Daylights: Of no purpose whatsoever, Bond does not require their assistance in any way and his life is ultimately saved by the head of the KGB. Quite extraordinarily unimportant here, it's mystifying why they even bother appearing save as filler. Not even sufficiently unimportant to be cannon-fodder. A complete irrelevance.

Licence to Kill: Witless by-the-book procedure jockeys, callously unbothered by the feeding of one of their own to a fish, or the loss of their own limbs and drunken wife, and quite willing to take a back seat once more on a local threat and let Bond sort it out for them so they can doubtless go in and install their own guy in due course. Marvellously cynical. Utterly horrid.

GoldenEye: Fat layabouts of marginal value, poorly dressed and popping up in Russia and Cuba as if they own them. Which they probably do.

Tomorrow Never Dies: See above, save for replacing Russia and Cuba with Vietnam; which they probably don't.

The World is not Enough: At least their noocleer scientists are hot.

Die Another Day: Either of mystifyingly unclear motive or belligerent hawks, albeit possessing a princely one missile only. Uncertain what they would actually have done had Bond not done his duty to someone else's President.

Casino Royale: Bit crap at cards but at least they have money. This is about as positive depiction of American government operatives as there has ever been.

Quantum of Solace: A pretty unpleasant character, believing himself a manipulator of Yurpeans and wetbacks, is instead himself manipulated by the same. Another operative is shown to disapprove of this, provides Bond with some sensible life-saving assistance for once, and wins out in the end. Contrary to popular belief this is a substantially more positive depiction of effective US action, and showing us an ostensibly good-guy American character who is not a bit of an idiot, than any previous depiction. And as such, totally out of step for the Bond series. So ultimately the criticism holds - Quantum of Solace does seems to want to make a point about the American government and it's a different point to the ones the series has tended to make.

#2 DamnCoffee



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Posted 13 November 2011 - 06:50 PM

I don't think the Bond movies mean to be as Anti-American as you have greatly pointed out. Brilliant post!

I just think that they try to make Bond be this suave, brilliant British agent, and they can't really have Americans, or anyone else for that matter, appear to be more intelligent than him. The Bond films, particularly the new ones, take the angle of Bond appearing to be this lose cannon, but in the end being right all along. I just think that they're trying, maybe a little bit too hard, not to undermine the character.

#3 Chief of SIS

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 07:25 PM

Though I will provide a longer retort at a later time, I must say your quite right Jim. I have long been critical of this notion. However, to say it's merely a Bond thing, it's not. Film in general has been critical and bleak in its portrayal of the American Intelligence Services. While an individual protagonist character within the CIA may have strong character traits, the organization or the people that are supposed to represent the ideology of the intelligence services in films usually are portrayed as the shady, morally corrupted characters. The most surprising is how American films are so self-critical. Here's a run down of some TV/Movie examples off the top of my head:


Bourne Ultimatum: The new Treadstone program is as dirty as can be and is heavily CIA supported all the way up to

Safe House: The movie isn't even out yet but watch the trailer.

Chuck: Check out this season.

Clear and Present Danger: Though the film resides in a grey area and Patriot Games is quite pro-CIA.

Shooter: Though not the CIA, it's the government

Rendition: See title

Red: Old CIA vs. New CIA

#4 Guy Haines

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 08:12 PM

Concerning TLD - one of the villains is unmistakably American. Moreover, I recall a review in "Time" magazine, no less, comparing Brad Whitaker with real life CIA rogue agent Edwin P. Wilson - a man who sold arms and ammunition to the late, unlamented Colonel Gaddhafi, was based in Tripoli, and ran a small group of ex-special forces/CIA types. The review also found some vague similarities between the villains scheme and the Iran/Contra plot.

Then there's LTK. The villain is a central American drug lord, but look at some of the hired help. A disgraced Wall Street whizz-kid. An ex-Green Beret. And an alcoholic marine biologist. In LTK it seems only a Florida keys fisherman (killed too early) and a female Army pilot are of any help to Bond.

I don't think, however, that the Bond films are intentionally anti-American - just that as Bond happens to be British, and the hero, the films do not allow for characters from another country to somehow be his equal. It would be so if Bond was portrayed as an American, as he could easily have been if the producers had been so minded.

Also, in the two Craig movies, Felix Leiter has not come across, to me at least, as the man who says "you're so right, James" ( as he did in Thunderball) - it's clear Bond needs him in CR, and Felix makes that clear as well, and in QoS there's a bit of needling between the two in the bar-room scene before Leiter delivers the goods regarding Greene's whereabouts. Reflecting, I think, a more realistic view of the balance of power between British and US intelligence services. After all, do they look as if they need the money? ;)

(Five years on from CR, like us Brits, probably yes!)

#5 David Schofield

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Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:01 PM

Probably no more than in Fleming.

Leiter is a complete idiot, constantly getting into trouble and needing rescuing by Bond. His sole skill seems to be being able to talk down to people, particuarly the socially inferior barmen. Bond, on the other hand, saves the world and knows how to handle himself with all types.

What's Fleming's Bond quote on teh subject? "America has progressed from infancy to sinility without going through a period of maturity"?

Seems IF liked America and things American. But not Americans?

Same with EON: they like the movie industry (American), loads of cash as a result of infettered capitalism (American) yet dislike America... even though they are American and represent the drive and ambition of American which is to be so admired...

#6 TCK



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Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:30 PM

"America has progressed from infancy to sinility without going through a period of maturity"?

But it is correct, isn't it ? It's not an insult to American people, but do admit nonetheless that USA doesn't have an history as Europe has. This is a recurring debate and a shared idea here in Europe but it shouldn't be taken as a offense to your country.

#7 Tarl_Cabot



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Posted 13 November 2011 - 09:54 PM

I suppose Bond is a wee bit anti-American...I'm not offended since we yanks have earned our pot shots. Interesting thread Jim...one thing is certain: Bond doesn't belong in the hopelessly un-exotic USA.

And... we have Bourne now as the anti-Bond franchise and made by a lefty brit...oh the irony... ;)

#8 freemo


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Posted 13 November 2011 - 11:34 PM

Anti-American, or just very, very pro-British?

Particulary YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, which wastes no time. Right from the summit in the pre-title scene with the British rep, the voice of caution and reason, sitting literally between the Russian and the American. "Everybody knows we are a peace-loving people" says the Russian, in a way that makes you want to bomb them right then and there (not that I really needed any further motivation, but for those of you who do, here it is). "Peace-loving people my foot", is obviously what we're meant to think. At least the American is more upfront, if brash, aggressive and paranoid, with his talk of "war" and "absolute control of space, for military purposes".

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN is the exception, with its cynical depiction of Britain and British Intelligence. The offices are grey and drab (the spare-no-expense secret panels revealing giant maps on the wall are long gone), Ms Office in particular void of its once grand furnishing. Most of the people are bureaucrats, bean-counters, or witless halfwits ("witless halfwits", Freemo? Can't decide whether the glass is half empty or completely empty), an American general remarks that if British Intelligence knows about the hijacking then it's a given that the Kremlin must know too, etc.

Q now works in an underfunded, junk-filled storeroom/basement with no heating or air-conditioning, would be off to the CIA "like a shot" if they made him an offer, and recounts to Bond the story of a Russian defector going though melancholy over his new life in Britian. His sinus condition is also surely a metaphor for the health of Britain / MI6 as a whole.

#9 Harmsway



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Posted 14 November 2011 - 12:19 AM

Splendid, Jim. Gave me a good chuckle.

And Freemo, that's a very interesting point about NSNA and how it breaks with the portrayal of American and British competency in the EON films.

#10 Skudor



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Posted 14 November 2011 - 01:40 PM

I guess a big part of this is the ultimate dilemma of Bond being a British agent in an era when Britain, arguably, doesn't matter half as much as during Fleming's WWII days. So the American allies are needed to provide that cover - especially during the cold war they were The West vs. the USSR Enemy - they are necessary in many of the stories because Britain on its own would make the plots even less believable. So they have to be there, but obviously cannot be allowed upstage Bond.

Perhaps this is a bit different in the new post Iraq2 and Afganistan world where Britain has been involved (even if only as a bit player), thus demonstrating itself to be a world player with some international reach and intent.

#11 SecretAgentFan



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Posted 14 November 2011 - 02:49 PM

Interesting point, Jim - and I think you are right insofar as the formula of a British super spy applies who just has to be superior to any other national agency. It´s probably a colonialism-attitude... but in a Bond film I do find it very entertaining and fun. Besides, the cliché American definitely is too loud, insisting on being stronger, solving problems with violence while the cliché Brit is more sophisticated and clever.

Thank God, I don´t watch or read Bond for informing me about the true state of the world.

#12 Lachesis



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Posted 14 November 2011 - 03:46 PM

I think there is an inevitable and justifeid (given the source...and the fact that I am British ^^) bias toward the British but as for the view on other countires I don't think its biassed any more against the Americans than any other nationality, indeed the villians of the piece are rarely from the USA and cover a wide gamut of the planet, more often than not Bond's allies are British and American joint forces particularly for the climaxes notably GF, TB, YOLT, DAF, TSWLM, MR, GE (if after the event) etc so in effect they are more generously portrayed than pretty much any other nationality except the British.

What distinguishes Bond from the generic actioner is really his status, he's not generally persoanlly invested (well ok the emo trend seems to always cospire to make it personal these days but...), the 00 units real modus operandi is lethal force when other options cannot be indulged and so Bond becomes an antagonist and to be villified in this role there is an idealised morality that ensures his operations are 'right'. This is where the concept of escapist adventure has to be be embraced and not indulge excessive realism lest we take it all as political commentary and end up making Bond like everyone else.

A subtle response to Bond's 'British' status is seen in how many villians outside Bond are either played by British actors or else played by Americans doing British accents ^^. There is quite a parade of hulking American physical specimens annihilating suave, psudo intellectual European baddies that just happen to speak perfect 'Queens English' after all so I think Hollywood has done more than enough to address any 'percieved' bias.

Edited by Lachesis, 14 November 2011 - 03:46 PM.

#13 DaveBond21



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Posted 15 November 2011 - 12:50 AM

Fantastic post, Jim. Very amusing!

Chief of SIS - the British are also portrayed very badly in movies, in particular the English in Braveheart, and in The Patriot, Rob Roy, Tank Girl, The Lion King, Last Action Hero, Superman I & II, Indiana Jones 4, Three Men and a Little Lady and the Hurt Locker. There are countless British bad guys in movies where the whole basis is making sure that the baddie is unmistakenly British. Then there are the movies where the British heroes are replaced with American ones, altering history as in "U-571", and even Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves has an American good guy and a British baddie!

The Bond movies have their anti-British moments:-

Bond in Goldeneye - "Not exactly our finest hour". Only a movie about a British hero would include references to dubious moments in British history when dealing with the Lienz Cossacks.

Falco in DAD - "You think I'd leave this in the hands of the British?"


#14 doublenoughtspy


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Posted 15 November 2011 - 01:38 AM

Interesting comments and thread Jim.

Don't forget that in TLD Americans can't even make their own gadgets - Q has to make the Ghetto Blaster for them.

A couple things to consider:

Every James Bond film (including CR 67 & NSNA) has been produced by Americans. (Yes, I know Saltzman was Canadian, so we'll say North Americans.)

23 James Bond films (including CR 67 & NSNA and Skyfall) have had a credited American writer. The only 2 Bond films not to have a credited American writer are Moonraker & Die Another Day. (Though Tom Mankiewicz claims he did script work on Moonraker. I have no idea if DAD had any American script doctors.)

Regarding L&LD: Mankiewicz has said that he put in JW Pepper so he would have a bad white character - so it wouldn't seem like he was only making fun of black people.

Regarding the increasing girth of Americans in the early films - I believe it was John Brosnan who pointed out that the Leiters got older and fatter to make the older and fatter Connery look better in comparison.

I think Van Nutter's turn in Thunderball is the nadir - CIA's finest gets punched in the gut and later whines "Gosh James, What do we do now????" He has all the sophistication of a Scooby Doo cartoon.

#15 Righty007



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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:19 AM

I think Van Nutter's turn in Thunderball is the nadir ... He has all the sophistication of a Scooby Doo cartoon.


#16 Matt_13



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Posted 15 November 2011 - 02:42 AM

Well that was hilarious. Nice one as usual Jim. :tup: :D

#17 Pussfeller



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Posted 15 November 2011 - 04:50 AM

In the American mind, James Bond is like Winston Churchill: an honorary American who has the right to kick our [censored] for our own good.

In all my life, I've never heard an American express the idea that Bond might be anti-American. Far from it. I have always had the impression that the Bond series is unusually pro-American by the standards of British popular culture. It's interesting to imagine what Bond would be like if it were truly a British project rather than the work of American expatriates working in Britain and employing British talent.

In the first place, the United States is peripheral to the world of Bond, so its portrayal will never be all that consequential. Bond is always shown to be above petty Cold War politics. Both the American and Soviet governments are rigid, self-serious foils to Bond's good-humored underdog pragmatism. This is clever because it flatters (1) Americans, who imagine themselves to be the perennial saviors of the world, and (2) Britons, who fancy themselves a race of underpaid sophisticates (not always without justification).

Most of the truly unflattering American characters (i.e. the mafiosi in Goldfinger, J. W. Pepper, the yuppie in LTK) are stereotypes that first appeared in the American media, in which circumstance they could hardly have represented the entire country. The gangsters in Goldfinger aren't Americans, they're slimy guidos who would otherwise be contrasted with all-American WASP decency; Truman-Lodge isn't American, he's a fey yuppie who would otherwise be contrasted with all-American blue-collar masculinity; J. W. Pepper isn't American, he's a primeval redneck who would otherwise be contrasted with all-American rebellious hipness. In an American context, all these characters would be contrasted with other, more prototypical, more "essential" Americans. And Bond, as an honorary American, is simply stepping into that preexisting role.

When the Bond series has featured characters who stand in for the entire United States, these representations have been blandly positive or, if negative, have been pointedly compensated by some other, unambiguously positive American presence. Take QOS. Gregg Beam is a tool, but eventually he's fired and Leiter is promoted. The Americans are shown to behave responsibly, "having exhausted all other possibilities". I wouldn't expect an American film to be any more complimentary than that.

A better question is why Bond never finds himself working against American interests. It's not as if British and American interests are, and have always been, perfectly aligned. But when Bond works against American characters, it's only because they themselves are working against their national interests, by perfidy or incompetence.

#18 Jim


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Posted 15 November 2011 - 08:20 AM

Take QOS. Gregg Beam is a tool, but eventually he's fired and Leiter is promoted. The Americans are shown to behave responsibly, "having exhausted all other possibilities". I wouldn't expect an American film to be any more complimentary than that.

Quite. The criticisms of Quantum of Solace (and it's not above criticism by any means) that tended to make play of the Beam character being evidence of some anti-Americanism seem to miss the point of the character entirely; that the (pre-2006) film Felix Leiter remains employed despite being a monument to colossal ignorance is more of an indictment.

#19 The Shark

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Posted 15 November 2011 - 11:09 AM

Great thread.

Although I have thrown in "anti-Americanism" in regard to QOS in the past, I really mean Anti-imperialism. The real culprit here is Bond himself in the La Paz bar scene with Leiter. Bond's off the cuff comment about the yanks "carving the place up", and what South America would do without "coke and communism."

Greg Beam's just a bad egg, but Bond is pointing the finger at America's foreign policy in general. A trendy, mainstream stance for sure, but not one typical for Bond. A character that many have interpreted as Western Imperialism™ in temporal form.