Syd Cain, an appreciation

When the subject of James Bond movies comes up, Syd Cain isn’t one of the first names to come up. But Cain, who has passed away at the age of 93, is one of the unsung heroes of the long-running film series.

In Dr. No, the first 007 film, Cain had the title of art director and was essentially the deputy to production designer Ken Adam while not receiving a credit. In the John Cork-directed documentary Inside Dr. No, Cain described how he had to wade into a swamp in Jamaica and had to deal with leeches. Hardly glamorous.

When From Russia With Love went into production in 1963, the brilliant Adam was working on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. So it fell to Cain (this time receiving an art director credit) to be the primary designer of sets. In the documentary Inside From Russia With Love, Cain would call his set for a chess match, involving SPECTRE master planner Kronsteen, one of his favorites. The video below can’t be embedded but just glancing at it you can get a sense of Cain’s design work:

Cain returned to the series with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this time with the fancier title of production designer, the same title Adam had. That movie couldn’t boast of a volcano headquarters set a la Adam’s You Only Twice set of SPECTRE headquarters. But Cain’s sets for SPECTRE’s home base in Majesty’s were impressive in their own right (integrating actual locations and buildings in Switzerland).

Finally, he was the lead production designer of Roger Moore’s 007 debut, Live And Let Die (this time with the less-fancy title of supervising art director).

Ken Adam, rightfully, is hailed as the innovator of 007 art design with his seven Bond films which included the volcano set, Goldfinger’s Fort Knox sets, The Spy Who Loved Me’s Stromberg villain’s lair and others. Peter Lamont get kudos for longevity, designing sets for nine Bond movies (after also being one of Adam’s deputies), starting with 1981’s For Your Your Eyes Only and running through 2006’s Casino Royale. Also, both Adam and Lamont won Oscars for their non-007 work.

Cain didn’t get that kind of acclaim. But he was responsible for the look of two of the best Bond movies (From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) regardless of his on-screen credit. And he helped Adam in a major way on the first Bond film. On top of all that, his spy entertainment work includes The New Avengers, the 1970s continuation of The Avengers television series.

So, RIP, Mr. Cain. Heroes may go unsung, but they are heroes all the same.

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