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The Old West Bond, James Bond

Bonded Westerns

By Henry C. Parke

Aside from his predecessor, Sherlock Holmes himself, there is no fictional character who is more quintessentially British than Ian Fleming’s master spy, James Bond. But the Western genre speaks to all people, not just Americans. At some time, at some level, everyone wants to be a cowboy; every actor wants to play a cowboy, and every actor who has played 007 – all of them Brits or quasi-Brits – has also saddled up on-screen.

Sean Connery, the movies’ first James Bond, took a break in 1968, between his fifth and sixth Bonds, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds are Forever, to costar with Brigitte Bardot in Louis L’Amour’s Shalako.

Asked by a reporter if he might do another Western, the handsome Scot replied, “I wouldn’t be averse to getting on a horse again. I really enjoyed it. When I was making the James Bond films, I always preferred outside and ‘on location’ to studio work.” The closest Connery ever got was in 1981’s Outland, an outer-space reworking of High Noon.

Aussie George Lazenby was issued a License to Kill only once, in 1968’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but in 1976, he appeared with Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson in an episode of The Quest, a short-lived series inspired by The Searchers. In 1993, he played Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew in the Civil War epic, Gettysburg.

Suave London-born Roger Moore was the third actor to take up the mantle of James Bond – after making his name as TV’s The Saint – with 1973’s Live and Let Die. But long before Bond, beginning in 1959, he rode the Warner Brother west in sixteen episodes of Maverick as James Garner’s English cousin, Beau. In 1961 he co-starred with Cheyenne star Clint Walker in Gold of the 7 Saints, sort of a Treasure of the Sierra Madre-Lite. But first, there was The Alaskans. “We made it all in California, in 120 degrees, wearing a parka. They taught me how to drive sled-dogs. They built this enormous stage at Warner Brothers; covered it with gypsum and salt, which looked like snow. They brought down a champion dog team from Sun Valley. They said, say mush. Now scattered all the way down this slope were pine trees, which were nailed to the stage. So I said, mush. They started off, and the lead dog stopped at the first pine tree: they didn’t know the snow wasn’t real, and the pine trees weren’t real.”

In 1978, nine years before he became Bond in The Living Daylights, Welsh-born Timothy Dalton starred as the charming but untrustworthy Oliver Seccombe in the James H. Michener epic mini-series Centennial. His skill at playing lovable scoundrels led him to play Rhett Butler in Scarlett, the 1994 miniseries follow-up to Gone With the Wind. In 2001 he portrayed famed detective Alan Pinkerton in American Outlaws.

Pierce Brosnan, who inherited the role of Bond with 1995’s GoldenEye, was always a fan of the Western genre. As he explained during the filming of 2006’s Seraphim Falls, “I grew up on the Western, in Ireland. The Western was very much part of the ritual of Saturday nights, going to the pictures. Clint Eastwood is iconic in that world. He was one of the reasons I wanted to be up there on the silver screen, so it’s always been part of my dreaming…to be in one. David Von Ancken, who wrote and directed, sent me the script of Seraphim Falls with Liam Neeson attached. And I said, yes, good opportunity. I had one of the best times of my life making this film.”

In addition to starring in two seasons as the founder of a Texas oil dynasty in The Son, in 1999 he starred for Richard Attenborough in the rarely seen true story, Grey Owl, as Englishman Archibald Belaney, who moved to Canada at 17, ran away and joined the Ojibwa, and became what the BBC describes as, “Canada’s great conservationist and imposter.”

Finally, Daniel Craig, who became Bond in 2006, starring in Casino Royale, can currently be seen in No Time to Die. When Cowboys and Aliens director Jon Favreau sent him the script, “I was really pleasantly surprised to read this sort of Western; the gag was in the title and not in the script. I phoned my agent back and said, a really great script. I’d love to see this movie, but I don’t know why you’re showing it to me. I’m from Liverpool, and I didn’t know much about being a cowboy.” It wasn’t actually his first time in the saddle; twice he’d guested as Lt. Hidalgo opposite Duncan Regehr in 1993’s Zorro series.

It’s also worth noting that British Bond villains ride the range as gladly as 007 does. Joseph Wiseman, Dr. No, starred in 1960’s The UnforgivenLawman, and Viva Zapata! A pre-Jaws Robert Shaw, assassin Donald ‘Red’ Grant in From Russia With Love, played a priest in A Town Called Hell, and the title character in Custer of the West. Sir Christopher Lee, an actual spy for England during World War II, who portrayed villain Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun and GoldenEye, played the gunsmith in Hannie Caulder, and The Grand Duke in two episodes of How the West Was Won. And Donald Pleasance, Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, appeared in The Hallelujah TrailWill PennySoldier BlueHearts of the WestDjango Strikes Again, and played sinister Sam Purchas in Centennial.

About Henry C. Parke

Brooklyn-born, L.A.-based screenwriter and wanna-be cowboy Henry C. Parke has been Film Editor for True West since 2015, and written Henry’s “Western Round-up,” the on-line report on Western film production, since 2010. His screenwriting credits include Speedtrap (1977) and Double Cross (1994). He’s the first writer welcomed into the Western Writers of America for his work in electronic media. He’s done audio commentary on a fistful of Spaghetti and domestic Westerns, and he’s got a saddle-bag full of Western scripts.

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