When the James Bond film franchise kicked off in 1962, there was nothing to indicate it would still be going strong almost a half-century later. The suave leading men, foxy women, nasty villains, and fancy gadgets have a lot to do with that, but there’s another element that may go unnoticed. That is the sleek futuristic look that the series had in the start and continues to have to this day. No one is more responsible for that than the great Ken Adam, production designer extraordinaire.
Adam was an architecture student who was influenced by the Bauhaus style of design, with its smooth, soaring modern lines. He was also into the arts and was a devotee of the great German Expressionist films, such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. These two loves came together in his work, and the Adam style emerged pretty much fully-formed in the first Bond film, Dr. No. This film had a distinctive and sexy look – Smooth concrete and chrome coupled with classical touches, and the series has never really wavered from Adams’ original vision.
The look of Dr No caught the eye of one Stanley Kubrick, and the first collaboration between the two was to produce Adams grand signature – The War Room from Dr. Strangelove. Strangelove is an unusual film from the standpoint of production design, because it purposely combines the realistic (The siege of the Army base) with the overblown (The War Room and the interior of the bomber). The huge circular table (below) that is the centerpiece of the War Room was a kernel of an idea from Adam that Kubrick expanded upon with his own ideas for lighting and atmosphere, and gave back to Adam. Along with Slim Pickens’ ride on the A-Bomb, it is the central image from Dr. Strangelove. It is iconic, pure and simple.
When Adam hooked up with Kubrick for the second time, it was the Production Designer’s version of a kid being given the keys to the candy store. That was 1975, and Kubrick’s lush production of the Thackeray novel Barry Lyndon (above). Kubrick insisted on filming the whole thing on location and having the utmost in historical accuracy, in terms of sets and architecture. Adam believed that the whole thing could have been reproduced in studio, but predictably enough lost the argument to Kubrick. The result, cobbled together from sites in Ireland, England, and Germany, is absolutely gorgeous to behold. See it, if you haven't already.