Art director Peter Murton debates which came first, Bond or the gimmicks in an article published in the Journal of the Society of Film and Television Arts: No 24, Summer 1966; “Spies on the Screen”.
Which came first, Bond or the Gimmicks? In all fairness we have to admit that “gimmicks” have been with us longer, but we think we have given, through the James Bond movies, a completely new conception to personal devices designed either to give Bond himself an edge over potentially stronger enemies or a better chance of survival in impossible situations. Our aim was to use absolutely authentic equipment and adapt it to our own particular use, bringing to bear all the sophistication and knowledge of miniaturisation that our minds and research could develop.
This authentic approach was the basis of all the Bond gimmicks. Gone were the imaginary ray guns and purely fantasy props of the early science fiction films, and in their place contemporary engineering and electronic feasibilities arrived. One of the greatest post-war gimmicks, applying in this case to crime, were the beautifully engineered special tools and gadgets in Rififi. Each item was designed for a specific purpose and used just for that one purpose only. This one-gimmick-for-one-job has been standard procedure so far in the Bond pictures.
One of the first and most successful of the Bond gimmicks was the special attaché case as supplied by “M” in From Russia with Love. This, from the designer’s point of view, was a very straightforward exercise in concealing a given number of self-preservation items into one ordinary black leather attaché case. Several factors had to be borne in mind, the final thing had to be practical, robust and have what we have always insisted on – a very high degree of finish.
From this has stemmed an ever-growing and at times much more expensive list of creations, such as the Bond Aston Martin, underwater submarines and lazer beam equipment, etc. Every item is based on fact with design and imagination as the wrapping. Such minute items as the tiny “homing” device inserted in the special heel of Bond’s shoe was at the time stretching reality to conform to the same advanced thinking of several scientists who were, as we know now, about to break through to micro circuits and the condensed equipment of today.
Every gimmick, whether large or small, is treated with the same design care that goes into our film settings and. If possible, follows the trend of those sets in relation to materials and colour co-ordination.
The average man in the street now demands from the film-makers a remarkably high degree of realism and finish to the gimmicks and props used for filming, and this in fact compels us to use new materials and find other applications for existing ones to gain the effects that are required. It is now becoming a fact that it is cheaper and easier to use real materials for our devices than to try to mock up to look like it, due to the ever increasing cost of labour. This use of metal and plastic in its right context directs our design into authentic avenues of development and again bears on the design and gives that “right for the job” look and feel to the gimmick. We have found that it gives the actor a certain confidence if we provide a device which looks right and feels as though it had definite job to do and would do it in real life.
Gimmicks have become synonymous with James Bond and have added another facet to his character. The successful gimmicks are the ones that engender audience participation by letting them in on the secret quite early in the story and presenting situations when Bond can use the gimmicks to great advantage against his enemies. A wonderfully tense example of this was the ejector seat in the Aston Martin in Goldfinger; everyone knew it was there and ready for use except the unfortunate Korean occupying the seat.
I have mentioned so far what could be termed “hand gimmicks” or ones that are personal to Bond but there are also the ones that appear as part of the general set design. These are generally more difficult to incorporate into the realistic concept we try to maintain throughout. I think that this is mainly due to the fact that set gimmicks tend to be supplementary to the action, whereas the personal gimmick has a specific part to play. Take the Stud Farm H.Q. of Goldfinger, there we had a multiplicity of things happening all at once to convert the Rumpus Room into the efficient Ops.
Room of Goldfinger. Floors sliding back, models coming up, bars turning round to provide lecture hall type seating, giant cinema screens appearing out of stone walls. Upon analysis, all these are considerably larger than life to match the scale of the operation.
That gives us two distinct types of gimmick to design – on the one hand the completely authentic device tempered with intelligent guessing and on the other the purely designed visual gimmick that comes through as part of the set design and completely supplementary to it. Both offer a challenge to the ingenuity of our own design team headed by Ken Adam. As a mark of our success, the gimmicking that now seems to be standard q equipment of every agent worth his trench style raincoat has now reached a point where one wonders how they ever managed without it all.