James Bond still irresistible at 50

Sean Connery, in a scene from the 1963 film “From Russia With Love,” was a relatively unknown Scottish actor and former bodybuilder when he was cast as James Bond.

LONDON — It was a meeting of the two most famous British people on the planet: Queen Elizabeth II turned to her tuxedo-wearing guest and said, “Good evening, Mr. Bond.”

The pairing of these icons, the English monarch and the king of spies — in a film for the opening ceremony of the London Olympics — was a thrilling moment. It scarcely mattered that one of them was fictional.

Agent 007 is real to millions of moviegoers, and once again they will flock to see Bond battle for queen and country when his 23rd official screen adventure, “Skyfall,” opens this fall.

He’s come a long way in the 50 years since the release — on Oct. 5, 1962 — of a modestly budgeted spy movie called “Dr. No.” It introduced a dapper but deadly secret agent who wore Savile Row suits, drove an Aston Martin, liked his martinis shaken, not stirred, and announced himself as “Bond, James Bond.”

What’s the secret of his survival? Familiarity, says Roger Moore, who played Bond in seven films, more than any other actor. “It’s sort of like a bedtime story: As long as you don’t go too far away from the original, the child is happy,” Moore said. “The audience gets what it’s expecting: beautiful girls, actions, gadgets — there’s a formula.”

That fiendishly successful formula had modest beginnings. Two upstart producers, Canadian Harry Saltzman and American Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, acquired the rights to a series of novels by Ian Fleming, a former World War II intelligence officer who had created 007 as sort of a fantasy alter-ego.

Saltzman and Broccoli had a budget of just $1 million, but assembled an amazing team of talent. Sean Connery, a relatively unknown Scottish actor and former bodybuilder, was cast as Bond against the wishes of studio United Artists, which wanted an established star such as Cary Grant for the role.

Behind the scenes were artists like John Barry, composer of Bond’s pulse-quickening theme music; Maurice Binder, who created the gun-barrel title sequence; and designer Ken Adam, a former RAF fighter pilot whose futuristic sets gave the films their look of modernist cool.