Chitty Chitty Bond Bond
The Strange and Wonderful Connection Between a Magical Car and an International Super Spy
ONE of my fondest childhood memories is of going to my grandparents’ house in Cleveland for Thanksgiving and watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on TV. I love that movie. The amazing inventions of Professor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) intrigued me. The lavish sets and musical numbers mesmerized me. The child catcher scared me. And that remarkable car. It floats. It flies. It has some kind if magical intelligence and at times seems almost alive. It’s a great adventure story. Professor Potts must chase the henchmen of the evil Baron Bomburst across the globe to rescue his kidnapped father, ultimately leading a revolt against the Baron and freeing the imprisoned children of Vulgeria from the castle dungeon. Good stuff. Perhaps a bit campy and overly whimsical at times, but definitely a fun romp for a children’s movie.
As I grew up, my cinematic tastes expanded and matured somewhat. I discovered a British secret agent who took on incredible missions to save the world. The more I saw of him, the more I liked him. Cool. Suave. Unshakable. Lethal. A lady’s man with a wry sense of humor. James Bond was my kind of hero. I’ve faithfully followed the superspy franchise right up to today (Daniel Craig’s swan song in No Time To Die left me with mixed emotions that may become a blog article itself one day). Clearly, though, Bond’s greatest impact on me was in those early films, from Sean Connery into Roger Moore. The lavish sets. The Bond title songs. The gadgets. And as villain Auric Goldfinger once said, “That remarkable car.” …Wait. All this reminds me of something…
Anyway, when I had children of my own, I began introducing them to the movies I enjoyed as a kid, one of them being Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I remember watching the film one day with my girls, and when the scene on the ship came up that introduced Baron Bomburst, my jaw dropped. Underneath the royal navy hat, the crown, and the bushy mustache I saw Goldfinger. I couldn’t believe it. Baron Bomburst was Auric Goldfinger! Yes, indeed, Gert Frobe plays both characters. I’d never made the connection before. And then another face in the cast of characters popped. Desmond Llewelyn, the gadget master Q himself, plays the junkyard owner who sells Potts the dilapidated race car that becomes Chitty. Facepalm. Apparently, when I saw this movie as a kid before my Bond fondness had developed, I had no idea who these actors were, and my mind filed their images away in a memory location titled Periphery Character Actors of No Significance.
So, my girls fell in love with the movie, and I had the opportunity to watch it a few more times with them, and the more familiar I got with the film, the more lines of connection to my favorite superspy emerged. Now I’ll admit, I never paid much attention to the opening credits, and we usually skipped the end credits, so the incredible shared DNA between James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that I’m about to lay on you would have come together for me a lot quicker if I had been more observant. But then again, I did not get deep into the production aspect of the Bond films until later in my fandom, and key names would not have popped for me anyway. But I digress.
I always admired the sprawling sets in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Henceforth, CCBB), especially the interior of Bomburst’s castle, and something in them seemed familiar. It took re-watching a few original Bond films to realize why. Dr. No’s island lair, Blofeld’s hidden rocket base inside a volcano, and Goldfinger’s rumpus room and Fort Knox set were all designed by genius production designer Ken Adams. Guess what. Production designer on CCBB: Ken Adams. Not only did he design the sets, but he designed the magical, remarkable car too.
With the connections I’d uncovered so far, I went on a mission, not to save the world, but to discover why this charming children’s’ fantasy movie looked more and more like a James Bond film for kids. I finally studied the opening credits, and like a brick to the head I saw that CCBB was produced by none other than Albert R. Broccoli, the man behind the entire Bond franchise. A few moments later an even bigger brick hit me. I was watching Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The MI6 spymaster himself had written the novel this movie is based on. This all started to make sense now. Broccoli, who owned the rights to Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, had also acquired the rights to CCBB and went on to produce a film adaptation with his production company, utilizing the same talent pool he employed on the 007 movies. The final shoes to drop were the screenwriters on CCBB. The original screenplay was written by Roald Dahl (screenwriter of the Bond film You Only Live Twice), and additional dialogue was contributed by Richard Maibaum (screenwriter of several early Bond movies.)
Bottom line: The reason Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems like a James Bond movie for kids is because, well, that’s essentially what it was destined to be with all the players involved. Dick Van Dyke is even quoted as saying that being on set often felt like he was making a Bond picture.
And there you have it. The strange and wonderful connection between a magical car and an international super spy, and one man’s slow-witted realization of how these connections exist.
Until next time…