They say the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. If that’s the case, James Bond must be blushing. Perhaps more than any other cultural figure of the last century, 007 has been reproduced and retransmitted, proved and parodied. The character is both an icon and a punchline — sometimes at the same time. Forget, for a second, the immense franchise built on his back — the dozens of novels, movies and luxury merchandising tie-ins you’ve come to know and love. There’s also an underground Bond economy, one full of not-quite-right spinoffs and loving (we assume, anyway) international interpretations in just about every genre, from chop-socks to Blaxploitation to South Asian family dramas. Here’s where to look for your fix of Bond-ish gold:
The James Bond Dossier (1965)
Oddity Rating: 3/10
Kingsley Amis was the first writer to take on a Bond novel, Colonel Sun, after Ian Fleming died. But that wasn’t the first time Amis, a Booker prize-winning author, had tackled the International Man of Mystery. He’d already written two Bond-related books before Colonel Sun. The first, which came out right at the heart of mid-’60s Bond Mania, was The James Bond Dossier, Amis’s signal to literary snobs that it was possible to critically appreciate books that were wildly popular. While Fleming suggested that his own books were borderline “corn” or “piffle,” Amis offers a critical consideration of the books, isolating what makes the writing great and the escapism interesting. It was a best seller.
The Book of Bond, or Every Man His Own 007 (1965)
Oddity Rating: 6 / 10
The other Bond book that Amis wrote in 1965 was an instruction manual on How to Be a Better Bond. Written under the name Bill Tanner, this cleverly-designed book has a reversible cover to disguise it as a Bible. Inside are chapters on all the crucial 007 topics: Drink, Clothes, Gambling, Girls, and so on. The Smokes chapter features a country-based breakdown on what to smoke outside of England. (In the USA: “Chesterfield king-size. (You may accept a Lucky Strike if an F.B.I. man should offer you one.)”) In the Culture section, Amis’s own prejudices against stage drama sneak in: “If you’re caught in a theatre, explain you’re only there because the man you’re following is too.” Amis might seem to be generous in his portioning out of Bond vices, such as booze (“Your daily intake should stay around half a bottle of spirits. This is adequately devil-may-care without being sodden”), but it’s clear that he’s sticking pretty closely to Bond’s behaviour in the books. Gird your liver and lungs if you’re going to follow it to the letter—and try not to think about how people have essentially been re-writing this kind of guide for more than 50 years.
Oddity Rating: 8 / 10
Loxfinger is one of a few Bond parodies written by Sol Weinstein, a gag, sketch, and songwriter who was enlisted by Playboy to write some comedic counterbalances to the Bond novels that the magazine was serializing. Weinstein came up with Agent Oy-Oy Seven, the Israeli’s state’s own Bond. The jokes are goofy and delivered at a rattling pace, and his takeoff of Ian Fleming’s style is pretty accurate. It’s dated, sure, but part of the fun of original Bond stories is marinating in the ’50s and ’60s, and Weinstein’s old-timey gags hit that nostalgic sweet spot.
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Spy (2001)
Oddity Rating: 7 / 10
Mabel Maney’s 2001 novel is a winking play on the James Bond myth, starring the spy’s lesbian twin sister Jane. With James out of action, his bookstore-worker sister is called in to pose as her brother. In alliance with a team of makeup salesgirls-turned-secret agents, Jane Bond steps into her brother’s role as world-saver and woman-pleaser. San Francisco-based author Maney specializes in lesbian pulp, and does a great job of holding true to the exciting spirit of the novels while subverting macho conventions. But don’t worry: there’s still a lot of sex.
Black Samurai (1977)
Oddity Rating: 6 / 10
Black Samurai is a Blaxploitation riff on the Bond formula, and proof that every pulp genre and subculture wanted a superspy to call their own. It stars Enter the Dragon’s Jim Kelly and his excellent afro as Robert Sand, agent of D.R.A.G.O.N. Kelly’s karate skills are the real deal, and a welcome addition to the globetrotting spy formula. The hand-to-hand stuff is much more invigorating than the movie’s overlong jetpack sequence, but it’s a good chaser for Live and Let Die, which was set in Harlem and New Orleans.
For Y’ur Height Only (1981)
Oddity Rating: 10 / 10
The Phillipines were a hotspot of schlocky B-movie-making throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, most of them co-productions with low-budget American studios. This flick, however, is a purely local product, that gained ground with an international audience because of its hypnotic wackiness. It stars Filipino action star Weng Weng — real name: Ernesto de la Cruz, who was born with primordial dwarfism — as Agent 00, a three-foot-tall secret agent who is the only man able to stop the evil Mr. Giant from deploying a doomsday device known as “The N-Bomb.”
James Bond 777 (1971)
Oddity Rating: 10 / 10
South of India’s Bollywood headquarters in Mumbai are the Tollywood production studios in Hyderabad, ground zero for India’s slightly less-well-known Telugu film industry. James Bond 777 is a surreal, ’70s glimpse at this part of Indian cinema, a movie as weird as a David Lynch flick and as light as a classic Hollywood musical. Seeing as how India’s ties to Britain are fraught (to say the least), one might expect their take on Bond as to be satirical. But this is not a movie of subtleties. The movie is a bizarre mash-up of family revenge drama and a superspy vs. supervillain plot.
The Man from Hong Kong (1975)
Oddity Rating: 5 / 10
Pity George Lazenby, the one hit wonder of the Bond franchise. After starring in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby got booted from the role when Sean Connery agreed to come back for Diamonds are Forever. But Lazenby was able to capitalize on his affiliation with the Bond name by taking on various international ass-kicker roles. An Australian-Chinese co-production with martial arts choreography by Sammo Hung. No one falls or dies without first blackflipping a few times while on fire.