Growing up in America, December was always a special month. Not only did we get to celebrate Christmas, but in the days leading up to the holiday, in some kind of quirky tradition, cable TV channels would play all the James Bond films ever made. I watched these classic movies every year with my family, marveling at the exotic locales and impossible situations in which James found himself. My favorites were the earlier films starring a young, dashing Sean Connery as 007, whose melodious voice could deliver a witty pun like no other.
As the world’s most famous spy, it’s only fitting that an entire exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC be dedicated to James Bond and the many villains who tried to take him down on the silver screen.
In each film, while James was distracted by suggestively-named women and martinis – shaken, not stirred – devious madmen would be wreaking havoc around the world. From Dr. No to Raoul Silva, these villains were often motivated by greed and revenge, and would use any means necessary to carry out their crazy schemes. Goldfinger wanted to destroy American gold reserves with an atomic bomb. Ernst Blofeld, Bond’s adversary over multiple films, tried to extort money from assorted international organizations in increasingly outlandish ways. Hugo Drax (Moonraker) was so deranged that he sought to kill everyone on Earth and create a new perfect society in outer space.
James was almost always caught by the bad guys he was trying to stop, and they thought up ever-more creative and invariably unsuccessful ways for him to die. Emilio Largo (Thunderball) counted on sharks to do his dirty work while Dr. Kananga (Live and Let Die) relied on crocodiles that James nimbly jumped over. Goldfinger attempted to cut James in half with a laser and Fransisco Scaramanga shot at James with a golden gun. Blofeld hoped “his death (would) be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one.” As expected, our quick-thinking hero always managed to escape just in the nick of time. By one reckoning, James Bond survived nearly 5,000 assassination attempts!
Often, henchmen were called in to take care of that pesky 007. For me, the most memorable was Jaws, the metal-mouthed giant who turned out to have a heart of gold. We first met Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me, when his skills were enlisted by a deranged Karl Stromberg, but it was Jaws’ role in Moonraker that I most remember. Hired out by Hugo Drax, Jaws bit through a steel cable that supported a car carrying James and Dr. Holly Goodhead high above Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil. By the end of the film, Jaws had fallen for a petite blonde named Dolly who later helped him save James and Holly from Drax.
Not all of the bad guys were men. James had plenty of female villains to spar with; May Day, Fatima Blush, Pussy Galore and Miranda Frost, just to name a few. One of the most unforgettable was Solitaire in Live and Let Die, played by a doe-eyed Jane Seymour. Solitaire was a tarot card reader under the employ of Kananga who exploited her powers for evil purposes. James seduced Solitaire by playing her own cards against her and thereby stripped away her powers.
The International Spy Museum exhibit is a collaboration with Eon Productions, the company responsible for most of the Bond films, and contains dozens of props, including costumes, weapons and set pieces. You can see everything from the venom-dipped blade hidden in Rosa Klebb’s shoe (From Russia with Love) to Raoul Silva’s cyanide-ravaged teeth (Skyfall). Ian Fleming’s golden typewriter, on which he wrote several of the original James Bond novels, is also on display.
In addition to the James Bond centerpiece, the Museum has a wealth of information on the world’s real life intelligence agencies, undercover operatives and the most notorious double agents. Detailed exhibits show how countries have cracked wartime codes, stolen state secrets and generally kept tabs on one another for centuries. Interactive displays, including identifying drop zones and detecting bugs, are sure to hold kids’ attention. The exhibits certainly kept me entertained!
International Spy Museum Address: 800 F Street NW, Washington, DC Admission Fee: US$21
What is your favorite James Bond film? Which actor made the best Bond? Who do you think is the most memorable villain?