50 Years of James Bond: Part 1

Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?"
Goldfinger: "No, Mister Bond. I expect you to die."

I was born in the 80s so I have never really known a time without James Bond. He's become like King Arthur, Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes, an essential part of British culture and further proof that, as a nation, we are seriously lacking in great female fictional icons (this is why I like to think of the Harry Potter series as The Adventures of Hermione Granger and Those Two Idiots She Saves A Lot).

This year Her Majesty's favourite secret agent (she doesn't parachute into stadiums with just anyone, you know) is celebrating 50 years of cinematic adventures. The centrepiece of the celebration is the release of Skyfall, the 23rd entry in the franchise and third to feature Daniel Craig as 007. I'll be reviewing it next week (it would've been this week, but my local cinema was sold out, damn school holidays). Until then, I thought that now would as good a time as any to take a look back at the last 50 years of guns, girls and gadgets. Since there are 22 films to cover, this article will come in two parts. Part 1 will cover the 60s and 70s, while Part 2 will cover the 80s, 90s and now.

Dr. No (1962)


Even 50 years later, Dr. No stills looks great, thanks in part to Terrance Young's slick direction and Ken Adam's stunning sets (just look at that reactor room, nuclear power has never looked more stylish). But it doesn't really have much of a story. Bond just wanders around the Caribbean, avoiding assassin's bullets, before finally kicking the bad guy into a nuclear reactor and blowing everything up. And, for a series that would become famous for its stunt work, there is a distinctive lack of memorable set-pieces. As Bond, Sean Connery is charming, but ruthless. Even in those Savile Row suits, he is very much the blunt instrument of Fleming's novels. Joseph Wiseman's title character might not be the series' most thrilling villain, but he is the template for all of 007's future adversaries. Charming and sophisticated? Check. Distinctive physical feature? Check. Nehru jacket? Check. Never kills Bond when he has the chance? Check and mate.

From Russia With Love (1963)


Dr. No might've put Bond on the cinematic map, but it was the one-two punch of From Russia With Love and Goldfinger that ensured 007's cinematic legacy. Goldfinger might get all the attention, but From Russia with Love remains my favourite Bond adventure, the perfect mix of Cold War grit and Bond glamour. Powered by Connery's finest performance, FRWL is an exceptional, almost Hitchcockian spy thriller that sends 007 on a strange odyssey through the murky underworld of Cold War Istanbul and pits him against some of the series' finest villains: Robert Shaw's Red Grant, whose smackdown with 007 on the Orient Express is the stuff of legend, and Rosa Klebb (“She had her kicks”).

Goldfinger (1964)


Gooold-fin-geeerr!!!!!! He's the man, the man with the Midas touch. A spider's touch. Such a cold finger, beckons you to enter his web of sin. But don't go in. Golden words he will pour in your ear, but his lies can't disguise what you fear. For a golden girl knows when he's kissed her. It's the kiss of death…from Mister Gooold-fin-geeerr!!!!!! Pretty girl, beware of his heart of gold. This heart is cold. He loves only gold. Only gold. He loves gold. He loves only gold. Only gold. He loves goooooooooollllllldddddd!!!!!

I don't think I need to say anything else.

Thunderball (1965)


More than anything, Thunderball wants to be Goldfinger 2. With a budget nearly ten times the size of Dr. No's, it was billed as 'THE BIGGEST BOND OF THEM ALL'. This is an adventures that see Bond flying around on a jet pack like Buck Rogers, after all. But bigger does not automatically mean better (just ask anyone unfortunate enough to have seen a Michael Bay movie that isn't The Rock). Goldfinger perfected the Bond formula and Thunderball followed it to the letter, resulting in a film that has scale and style, but often feels dull and formulaic. Even the film's spectacular climactic underwater battle goes on longer than it should. Largo is a decidedly by-the-numbers Bond villain, one who is completely overshadowed by his henchwoman, Luciana Paluzzi's electrifying Fiona Volpe.

You Only Live Twice (1967)


Following on from the massive box office success of Goldfinger and Thunderball, the world was Bond's for the taking. And he took it. But the world is not enough for 007 (family motto). You Only Live Twice is the first film in the franchise to break free of Earth's gravity (if not its old fashioned views on female equality). This is the first instalment of what I like to call the Lewis Gilbert Trilogy, that also includes The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. They're all essentially the same film where Bond is sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a spacecraft/nuclear submarine/space shuttle and uncovers a plot to destroy life as we know it. All feature epic action scenes, stunning Ken Adam sets (check out Blofeld's volcano lair) and moments that make you wonder what they hell they were thinking (John Wayne in a kimono would be a more convincing Japanese fisherman than Sean Connery). Of the three, YOLT is clearly the best, if only because this is the film that finally brought Bond face to facial scar with the big cheese himself, Ernest Stavro Blofeld. We've seen glimpses of SPECTRE's head honcho in previous films, but now we get the world's most famous cat owner in all his slap headed, scar faced glory, brilliantly brought to life by Donald Pleasence.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)


How do you replace Sean Connery as James Bond? Simple, you cast an unknown Australian model with limited acting experience and have him star in the most character driven Bond film yet. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, nothing at all. But that is not how people felt at the time. For many years, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was cruelly dismissed as one of the worst films in the series. It's unforgivable crime was having the nerve to not star Sean Connery. But time has been more than kind to George Lazenby's sole venture as Britain's greatest secret agent. Now it is rightfully regarded as one of the absolute best Bond films ever made. Thanks to a great script and Peter Hunt's confident direction, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a triumph. He might be the weakest Bond, but Lazenby isn't a terrible Bond. He handles the actions scenes well and, more importantly, he doesn't embarrass himself when the script calls for him to do some actual acting (most notably that gut puncher of an ending).

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)


Tacky. That is a good way to describe Diamonds Are Forever. It is a film very much of its time - the 1970s. After the Lazenby experiment came to an abrupt end, the producers were able to lure Connery back with the promise of a massive paycheck (which he donated to charity). But Connery's heart clearly isn't in it anymore. He's here for the money and no other reason. Even so, with Connery back, the producers were desperate to recapture the magic (and high box office) of Goldfinger. Guy Hamilton was back in the director's chair. Dame Shirley returned to remind us that diamonds are forever, forever, forever... At one stage they were going to have Gert Frob come back as Goldfinger's twin brother. Instead we got Charles Grey's extremely camp Blofeld. Who would've guessed that the leader of SPECTRE was a cross-dresser?

Live and Let Die (1973)


The second coming of Saint Sean would prove to be short lived, and he would hand over his Walther PPK to the hardest working eyebrow in cinema, Sir Roger Moore. Rog isn't to everyone's taste, but since he was my first Bond I have always had a soft spot for him. As he had done when he played The Saint, Moore lets his eyebrow and stunt doubles do all the work. In a major contrast to Connery, Moore's Bond is light and more jokey. He did take the role somewhat seriously at first, but only to an extent.

Once a cinematic trendsetter, the Bond franchise now imitated rather than inspired. Live and Let Die was a clear attempt to cash in on Blaxploitation films like Shaft and features many clich├ęs of the genre (this is the one time anyone is ever likely to say "pimpmobile" in a Bond movie). This is also the only Bond film to have an element of the supernatural in the form of Geoffrey Holder's imposing Baron Samedi, leader of a Voodoo cult seemingly incapable of dying (who also has a rather unconventional method of avoiding paying for train tickets). After the volcano lairs, space lasers and megalomaniac super-villains of the previous films, the film's plot instead focuses on drug trafficking. There is a distinct TV budget feel to this one. It's almost as if, with a new leading man to break in, the producers were wary of splashing out the cash in case audiences didn't take to the new Bond.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1975)


TMWTGG promises to be a veritable clash of titans, as the world's most notorious womaniser (and occasional secret agent) is pitted against the world's most deadly assassin (played by the great Christopher Lee; that man was born to be a Bond villain). But halfway through, it forgets about that altogether and becomes a rather lousy Enter the Dragon cash-in. He might be able to do wondrous things with just one eyebrow, but Roger Moore is no Bruce Lee. When the film does finally bring Bond face to face with the man with three nipples, it's a major let down. Their final duel on Scaramanga's island home is a complete bore. TMWTGG would mark the end of an era as Harry Saltzman, who had co-produced every Bond film with Cubby Broccoli since Dr. No, left the series.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)


It's the Biggest. It's the Best. It's Bond. And Beyond. The crown jewel of the Roger Moore years, The Spy Who Loved Me is a glorious celebration of all things James Bond. What it might lack in originality (as I've already pointed out, it is a blatant remake of You Only Live Twice), it more than makes up for in crowd pleasing spectacle. And it is Alan Partridge's favourite. I can't think of any higher praise than that. As Carly Simon sang 'Nobody does it Better'.

Moonraker (1979)


The most bonkers Bond of them all, but not as bad as its reputation would suggest. Chasing some Star Wars sized box office, the producers decided to send 007 where no man had gone before. But Bond's outer space excursion is actually one of the film's more successful elements. Thanks to excellent effects work and John Barry's majestic score, Bond's journey into the final frontier contains moments of true wonder. Where the film falters is in its uneven tone. One moment a young woman is being chased to death by dobermans (still one of the series' darkest moments), the next 007 is racing through St. Mark's Square in a motorised gondola while a pigeon does a double take. And don't get me started on Jaws' falling in love. If they'd only restrained the silliness, Moonraker could've been one of the most enjoyable Bond films ever made.

To be continued...
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Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011. More Mark Greig.

15 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Wow, Mark -- what a terrific piece. You made me really think about my favorite Bond movies. I've seen them all, and Sean Connery has always been my favorite Bond (and Goldfinger probably my favorite of his Bond movies), but I'm also oddly fond of Live and Let Die. Maybe it was Jane Seymour and the crocodiles.

J.D. Balthazar said...

I loved this piece, I've always been a little fuzzy on which Bond movies goes where, and now I have a awesome reference page to go back too. I think I've seen about half of these movies, and I can't wait to read the second half this article because I've seen all of those.

PS. I've heard Skyfall is really good, like better than Casino Royale.

JimGfromWI said...

Since Bond first appeared a few years before I did - I'm a few years away from 50 and in no rush to get there - I've always loved the Bond movies, and the books. At one time I had every one of both - all the books by Fleming, and later Gardner, and all the movies on VHS. I have no idea where most of them have gone, but I wore out a lot of those old movies on video tape. I think my favorite Bond movie - of the ones listed here, my favorite of all time is a more recent one - is probably Goldfinger. It's the one I've watched the most, and I always come back to it. Although I also really like From Russia, with Love - which I think is the first Bond book I ever bought. Excellent recap of all the movies and I can't wait for part 2.

PlatinumRosebud said...

Love your piece, Mark.
I'm also greatly entertained by all the Bond movies.
They're the kind of films that holds your attention even after watching them so many times.
Starting when Daniel Craig took over the 007 nos, the Bond films has become quite physical.
Voila! Bond is doing a lot of running and hand to hand fighting. :)
Hence, making the movie more exciting and thrilling.
Let's not forget that being a "Bond Girl" has been somewhat of a privilege for those beautiful actresses that were fortunate to be part of the series.
One lucky actress is Maud Adams who was in Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy (playing the title role) and A View To A Kill (as an extra).

Jess Lynde said...

This was a very entertaining read! I can't wait to read Part II. Until Daniel Craig came along, Sean Connery was hands down my favorite Bond. But by bringing back the edge and ruthlessness, Craig is now giving him a run for his money! From Russia with Love is my favorite old school Bond film, probably followed by Goldfinger.

My favorite part of any Bond film is the opening credits. I always get a huge kick out of the song, the girls, and guns in silhouette. Sometimes the theme song is actually the best part of the movie! "From Russia with Love," "Goldfinger," "Live and Let Die," and "View to a Kill" are among my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic article! And it´s interesting to read your opinion to one of my dearest franchises.

My favourite will always be Goldfinger. Although I find all Bonds quite entertaining and like the different attitudes Bond had over the years.

I´m really looking forward to the second part.

ChrisB said...

I am not a huge Bond fan, but I do enjoy the movies. I tend to go see them, but then forget them. This one brought back all the ones I saw back in the day (yes, before you were born).

In just a little over six weeks time, I will hit the same milestone as Mr. Bond. Guess that makes us more kindred spirits than I knew.

Great article, Mark. I'm really looking forward to the next one.

celticmarc said...

GOLDFINGER

An epic. No. THE Epic.

The Aston Martin. Both the 1962 and the 2002 models.

(the late) John Barry. The (music) composer of most of the early films. Just to think about his amazing music, I have goose bumps.

Oh ya, and

GOLDFINGER.

These movies are a vibrant part of my youth; now, a vibrant part of my personal Mythology (i.e., all there is in my mind, but this is another story).

celticmarc said...

Mark,

a) LMAO about the H Potter comment. Let me imitate Ron's voice and tell you "oh, that's bloody hilarious mate !"

b) Dr No : Scandal !! Not a single word on Ursula Andress ??! Oops, watched bits of the movie recently, and although you do have good point, it has, just a bit, badly aged. But it showed the shape of things to come...

c) LOL for YOLT. The volcano set : oh my ! what a set !

d) OHMSS : Diana Rigg. My favourite Avenger (1965-68, people, NOT Joss Whedon's movie !) (just if case of any confusion)

e) DAF : Jill St-John. LOL Yes I know, we a have a theme here with me.

f) TMWTGG : watched some bits too recently and my eyes were rolling. But it is still J. Barry's music.

g) TSWLM : the submarine-car ! And Jaws ! (not the shark people !)

h) Moonraker : one of my faves. More Jaws ! Cable car crash !! And John Barry's space music is SUBLIME.

Although there were plenty of humour is the movies, it took a different turn with Roger Moore.

Overall, yes, great memories. Thanks Mark !

celticmarc said...

And now, this is purely bragging :


I have a beautiful 4 in model of the '62 Aston Martin (by Corgy toys) in my collection.

Roman said...

Great piece Mark. I've known Bond all my life, but I didn't become a big fan until this year, when I was able to watch every movie thanks to Encore's Bond movie month in July. My favorite Bond is Connery and my favorite Bond movie is Goldfinger. I can't wait for Skyfall, as I've heard so many great things already. I thought On Her Majesty's Secret Service could've been the best one, but Lazenby's awful performance prevented that.

Mark Greig said...

This is something I have been thinking about doing for a long time and I am glad everyone is enjoying it. I'll try to have part 2 up as possible.

Juliette said...

I love your description of Harry Potter Mark :)

We're a strange nation when it comes to gender politics - something I thought of during Skyfall, but that's a conversation for another day...

CrazyCris said...

Great post Mark! Bring on the 2nd half! :o)


Funny thing is... even though it's about Bond, my favourite line in your post was: "The Adventures of Hermione Granger and Those Two Idiots She Saves A Lot" ROFL!!!

As for Bond... I think I might be outgrowing him. And a, becoming more and more annoyed (or less and less patient) with the latent (sometimes obvious) mysogyny in these films... I was Skyfall on Thursday and was VERY disappointed! And actually bored during the first half of the movie! I know quality varies in Bond films, but I never thought I'd be bored! The first hald just seemed like moving from one action piece to another for me, with no rhyme or reason. Can't wait to read your review of it!

As for the others... I was introduced to Bond through Timothy Dalton. But my favourite Bond has always been Sean Connery, followed by Daniel Craig. I remember really liking "In Her Majesty's Secret Service" (dunno when I saw it).
I think I've seen maybe a bit more than half the Bonds (all the ones since the '80s, a few of the previous ones).

Anonymous said...

"The Adventures of Hermione Granger and Those Two Idiots She Saves A Lot" really is the best line EVER. Its not only British culture that lacks great female fictional icons

Great review! It made me want to watch all of them in order. I think from this ons, I remember most of Goldfinger and Live and Let Die. And you found the perfect word to describe Diamonds Are Forever: Tacky. Seriously, jackpot.