1965: NYT Observer column declares 007 a bungler


Thanks to @3octaves on Twitter who referenced this column.

In early 1965, James Bond was big business. Goldfinger had been a huge hit the previous year. The next film installment, Thunderball, was in production. A double feature of the first two Bond films would be released to take advantage of Bondmania.

At The New York Times, the paper’s satiric Observer column offered a different take on April 15, 1965.

Columnist Russell Baker (1925-2019) said Bond was being analyzed by intellectuals “in terms of Freud, of Jung, of the Brothers Grimm and in one case, believe it or not, of Barry Goldwater.”

“This is a waste of good brainpower,” Baker continued. “The simple-minded truth about Bond is on the surface for everyone to see. Bond, quite simply, is a bungler.”

Wait, what?

In Goldfinger, Baker wrote, “Bond bumbles from disaster to disaster and avoids the death he so richly deserves only because his opponent, Auric Goldfinger, is even more grossly incompetent.”

Baker proceeds to examine the plot of the movie in detail, deploying a similar tone. As the column concludes, Baker summarizes Bond’s appeal. “We watch him with delight because, excepting his fatal charm with the cuties, he is one of us. He is no more qualified to handle Goldfinger than we are.”

Obviously, James Bond fans would disagree. And Baker’s column wasn’t intended to be taken seriously.

Still, reading the column is like revisiting a certain era. Baker, for example, refers to women as “cuties.” Baker won two Pulitzer Prizes (one for commentary, one for biography) and other major awards.