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Pictures, Prose, and Secret-Agent Style
on November 15, 1996
Analyses of James Bond seem to fall into two categories: analytical or anecdotal. The former is the most common -- generally consisting of a look into such quantitative topics as what kind of cigarettes he smokes, how he prepares his martinis, and other easily categorized trivia. But such an analysis -- while thoroughly enjoyable -- never seems to answer the larger question that looms in everyone's mind: "Just why is this guy so cool?"
"Dressed to Kill: James Bond, The Suited Hero" does an admirable job of handling this question. Half a collection of essays, and half a picture-laden coffee table book, "Dressed to Kill" purports to examine the way 007 attires himself and how this has both borrowed from the heroes of the past and contributed to the heroes of the present.
Four essays on Bond are sprinkled throughout the book, written by authors like Jay McIrnery and Nick Sullivan. The essays range from rambling expositions of a boy's love for the hero his parents forbade him to watch, to an almost scholarly look at Bond's dressing habits and how this has contributed to the character.
But the real stars are the pictures. Compiled within "Dressed to Kill" is perhaps the best collection of Bond pictures this side of Cubby Brocolli's personal photo album. The pictures range from Dr. No to GoldenEye, from publicity stills to advertising copy, from black-and-white to color, and they neatly explain the mystique of 007 at a level that the essays never reach. The pictures have been culled from the EON Picture Archive and other collections, and each includes a knowledgeable quote explaining just what 007 is wearing and why.
While Bond receives star billing, the book does try to expand the examination to "the suited hero" in general. Non-bond pictures include such figures as James Coburn as Our Man Flint, Alan Ladd (he had his suits tailored to make him look taller), Humprhey Bogart from Casablanca (the predecessor to Bond's "tuxedo in the midst of chaos" look), and such anti-suits as Bruce Willis from Die Hard and Harrison Ford from Indiana Jones. In discussing the latter two, and Hollywood's eschewing of the suit, Neil Norman writes:
"At the same time, a curious thing happened. The suit wouldn't die. It simply transferred its allegiance from hero to villain. Paul Freeman's villainous Frenchman Belloq, in Raiders, confronted Indy in an immaculate linen suit. And the moment that Alan Rickman strode on to the screen to do battle Bruce Willis's slobbily attired cop hero, villainy meant tailoring sharp enough to slash your wrists on."
In and around the essays are picture-filled asides devoted to topics like Bond's three-piece suits, his sport coats, his naval style, and his tuxedo bow ties:
"The width remains fairly constant while the depth rises and falls, beginning with Sean Connery's `Slim Jims' up to Roger Moore's velvet high of 1974, and gradually shrinking back down to Timothy Dalton's restrained 1987 version, before deepening yet again for GoldenEye."
"Dressed to Kill" is a wonderful celebration of everyone's favorite secret agent. If you can't tell an Armani from a Brioni, or if you can't tell in which film Bond's "lightweight suit, whose cut, along with the curled trilby hat, gives him the look of a traveling businessman," then it's time for you to give up your underwear and T-shirt look just long enough to get to a bookstore.
(Deane Barker is the forum manager for The World of James Bond on The Microsoft Network