Well, over the last month I’ve made a stab at watching the Bonds as part of a challenge on another forum. So far, I’ve watched them all chronologically up to Moonraker (Gilbert, 1979), plus Never Say Never Again (Kershner, 1983) which I watched just after Thunderball (Young, 1965) since the one is a remake of the other.
Here are my ramblings on how it’s gone:
Dr. No (Young, 1962)
DUH-DUP, DA-DAH DAP!
MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM, MMM-MMM,
DUNG DUG-A-DUNG-DUNG, DUNG-DUNG-DUNG-DUNG DUG-A-DUNG-DUNG
DUNG-DUNG-DUNG-DUNG DUG-A-DUNG-DUNG, DUNG-DUNG-DUNG-DUNG DUG-A-DUNG-DUNG
DAH DAH DAH DA-DAAAAH, DAH DAH DAAAH!
“Bond, stop tonguing Moneypenny’s earhole and find out what’s happened to our man in Kingston… oh, he was close to rumbling a no-handed megalomaniac in a relatively poorly-defended island fortress, trying to topple over space rockets for shits & giggles (and some outfit he mentions in passing called SPECTRE or somesuch. Doubt we’ll ever be hearing from those again). Aaand… you’ve blown him up. Bravo Bond, take a short break to f*ck Ursula Andress in her boat (that’s the literal AND Cockney rhyming slang versions). Twice.”
DUNG DUG-A-DUNG-DUNG, DUNG-DUNG-DUNG-DUNG DUG-A-DUNG-DUNG etc.
It took me three goes, but I got through it. And tbh, it’s really rather good. I love that sumptuous sixties Technicolor quality, Connery was affable and even vulnerable (as well as being suitably quick witted, eager to kill and riddled with sex addiction issues), and the plot wasn’t littered with unnecessary over-complication. Are they all this fundamentally simple at their core, beneath their shaken-not-stirred-now-pay-attention-Bond frippery? If so, I’ve been operating under a grave misapprehension.
Yes, it took me three goes, but I’m watching them very late at night. But so far, so (surprisingly) good.
From Russia With Love (Young, 1963):
"That’s right, Bond. I’m not Nash. I’m Robert Shaw from off of Jaws, codename: Badly Bleachblonde. And we were only keeping you alive long enough for you to deliver us the Lektor encryption device. And now that you have, you’re expendable. And now that you’re expendable, and I have you unarmed and on your knees, with a silenced pistol aimed point-blank at your massive eyebrows, I’m going to tell you everything. You heard me Bond, everything. I don’t work for SMERSH. I work for SPECTRE. That girl in there? She thinks she’s bending you over for the Soviets, but we’re bending her over just as she’s bending you over. Double bond, Bend - I mean, double bend, Bond. Yes. You see, her boss also works for SPECTRE. How did SMERSH ever think they’d keep hold of their soldiers with a sh*tty acronym like that? See here Bond - an incriminating roll of film of you donkey-punching that silly bitch in there. And here, a threatening blackmail letter from her to you. And - hang on, I’m not done yet - I’ve jotted down the address of SPECTRE’s head office in Hemel Hempstead, with an accompanying hastily-sketched map of how to reach it by bus, train and pedestrian footpath. I’ve written it all on the back of a Polaroid of the SPECTRE front gate. Look, there’s our leader, known only as “Number One” - although his name’s Ernst Blofeld, he runs Abra-Kebabra on Dagenham Heathway - standing outside, waving. And now, Bond, I’m just going to open this obviously booby-trapped British Intelligence briefcase…"
Only took me one go, this one. Hooray! It’s strange, this is clearly a superior film to its predecessor, but I still think I personally prefer the more raw and less fully-formed charms of Dr. No. Or maybe I prefer the colourful shirts and Mango songs of the first film over tense steam train journeys across the Balkans. Things are taking shape though now. The concept of the Bond Girl was of course already up and running (and I’m afraid Tatiana Romanova doesn’t come anywhere close to Honey Ryder), but we’ve got Q and his gadgets now, although that briefcase was more like a pre-schooler’s impression of what a spy’s briefcase should be. "An ordinary briefcase, Bond, but inside - and here’s the clever part - there’s a fcking big sniper rifle. Ingenious, hmm?" And the plot itself, whilst still not needlessly convoluted by any stretch, was pretty silly. Connery though is better here than he was in the first movie, and he was pretty bloody good then. The quips and one-liners come thick and fast here yet we still buy into Bond as a dangerous, double-hard b4stard. Silly catchphrases and funny lines are of course a staple of the action hero pic but it’s actually pretty difficult to ride that line without it coming across as… well, sht, but Connery can really do it. At this point, I’m very confident that I will complete the Connery era (incorporating the Lazenby pic), but I fear that the switch to Roger Double-Old-Pension Moore: Licensed to qualify for sheltered accomodation, may be too much for me. We’ll see when we get there, I guess.
So far, STILL so good.
Goldfinger (Hamilton, 1964)
Thunderball (Young, 1965)
Bond: Oh, hello!
Patricia: Haven’t you had enough exercise for one evening??
Bond: Ah, it’s funny you should say that…
Now, we’re really into some James Bond action now. A tricked out Aston Martin DB5 (and you needn’t be a Bond fan to fcking adore that car), revolving pool tables/control panels, swimming pools full of sharks, jet-packs - yes, it’s all gone rather mental. Starting to get a bit overengineered now, but they’re still a lot of fun, for the time being. I would imagine that Auric Goldfinger’s weird obsession with gold could easily be viewed as bloody daft really, but as someone who has watched over 150 spaghetti westerns, an antagonist’s almost carnal lust for gold is positively commonplace (and of course, Goldfinger pre-dates many of those spags). Anyway, really enjoyed Goldfinger whilst not particularly taking to Auric himself (or Oddjob for that matter. That hat thing is silly. Not “good” silly, just silly), and I was dismayed to find the Bond Girl concept still in decline; Pussy Galore is a magnificent name, but Honor Blackman just simply isn’t all that imho. The Masterson sisters were better but all too brief. A very sumptuous, attractive movie though. The sets were all almost as sexy as that car. But Thunderball - ah, now here’s the first Bond sequel that, for me, finally tops Dr. No as the best of the bunch so far, even though it is by far the most over the top and convoluted, traits that I believe will sink my interest in the franchise down the line when handled by inferior craftsmen than star Sean Connery and director Terence Young, back for his third of the first four Bond movies (and his last). Almost as lavish as the previous three movies put together with ever-increasing gadgetry and a star who, incredibly, still seems to be getting better in the role, although James does appear to be moving slowly from “cheeky sex-addicted chappie” to “Actual sex-pest: Keep well clear”, imho. Largo is a better villain than Goldfinger even though I couldn’t shift the thought of Robert Wagner’s turn as Number Two in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, which is desperately unfair since Wagner’s character is nought but a direct parody of Adolfo Celi’s Largo. Also, The Bond Girl concept hits a big spike (Best Rik Mayall impression: Yes, in my TROUSERS!) with virtually every girl in Thunderball being eminently fckable, particularly Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona, Molly Peters as Patricia (both almost as good as Honey Ryder) and Claudine Auger as Domino (as good, if not even better than Honey Ryder, if that’s possible). And the early scene in the health spa with Bond strapped to some Godawful stretching device was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment.
Next, I’m briefly going to abandon the production order to watch one of the “B4stard” Bonds: Never Say Never Again (Kirshner, 1983), which I understand is a remake of Thunderball with poor old Sean doing it all over again at 53 having done it all once at 35. Never say “Never again”, indeed. If I ever get as far as Daniel Craig’s debut in Casino Royale (Campbell, 2006), I shall then watch the other Casino Royale (Hughes/Huston/McGrath/Parrish/Guest/Talmadge, 1967). IF I get that far.
Never Say Never Again (Kershner, 1983)
A queer one this, for sure. I assumed that, since I quite enjoyed Thunderball, I’d get on with this just fine but actually, seeing that good movie lurking beneath the garish slap of this one made it all the more frustrating to watch. Lots of 80’s films have rightly earned classic status over time and yet still typify “the decade that style forgot”, mostly because the ones we recall the best are the ones packed with all the coolest things from that time. Never Say Never Again though, well it appears to be a catalogue of all of the worst excesses of the 80s. Instead of being a cool product of its time, it seems to be an already outdated concept trying desperately to keep up with what was new or current at the time. A duffer, far too late to the party. Like BA Robertson presenting Top of the Pops. All of the women bar Kim Basinger looked like either David Bowie, Patsy Stone or Steve Strange, all caked in makeup. All of the male characters surrounding Bond were unfunny “comedy” f*ckbums, with Rowan Atkinson in particular standing out, doing that character; you know, it’s the only character he can do. Pat “Bomber” Roach certainly had the physique for a Bond villain henchman but I couldn’t look at him without expecting him to say something like, “Okay Dennis, Bomber’s away” in the wide Bristolian accent of his Auf Wiedersehen, Pet character. Ironically, prior to viewing I assumed that the biggest disasters in this movie would be the aforementioned Ms. Basinger and Sean Connery, all bloated and saggy and deluding nobody but himself. But in fact, Connery was still the best thing on the screen, wisely choosing to react to the swooning females around him with appreciable bemusement, as though he too understands that no one’s buying it. That’s how it felt to me, anyway. And Kim Basinger, a sex symbol from back in the day who tbh I never especially rated, is actually very sexy in this. And I never knew she was quite that limber!
So, Never Say Never Again? Well, never say never, but… probably never again. Normal service will be resumed next with You Only Live Twice.
You Only Live Twice (Gilbert, 1967).
Oh. See, this is the movie I feared they all were. It’s all of the excesses of the world of James Bond piled on top of the overcomplicated story which makes little sense on the face of it and is out-and-out stupid looked at any closer (I mean, I guess that’s true of all of them, but the previous movies kept me interested enough not to want to pick away at the holes). I liked the Japanese setting, I liked the styling of Blofeld’s volcano lair*, and that was it really. Oh, the ninjas. It’s hard to dislike an army of ninjas.
My big concern now is that although I didn’t like this one, I feel that there is far, far worse to come in the Moore and Brosnan eras.
Which contractors do you call in if you want something like that? “We’ll need stairs up to the top of the volcano there, spaceship launch/landing combo pad over there, the collapsible footbridge over a piranha pool just there, with the mini-monorail just behind it over there.” That smug cnt on Grand Designs would have a field day.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Hunt, 1969)
Ah, now this is much more like it. Definitely the best of the bunch so far. The gadgets and silliness pared right back, revealing a terrific story underneath. I thought George Lazenby was really rather good. He’s not as good as Sean Connery but I think it’s possible to miss Connery’s performance whilst still extolling the virtues of Mr. Lazenby. Loved the “This never happened to the other fellow” acknowledgement; I think it was smart that they got that out of the way up front. The story held me from start to finish, there were a bevvy of beauties (Angela Scoular, the actress who played Ruby - the curly-haired chicken-fearing one of Blofeld’s “Angels of Death” - was at one time married to Leslie Phillips. She sadly took her own life aged 65 by drinking bleach), Lazenby’s Bond was a tough fcker who looked good in the fight scenes but was also vulnerable and even scared at times, Telly Savalas was a way better Blofeld IMHO than Donald Pleasance (though that may be because Pleasance’s version has been so parodied over the years), Diana Rigg was gorgeous, hitting #1 in the Bond Girl charts with a bullet (literally), and the entire thing came packaged with the best Bond title track yethttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8XNBpIkQpU and Louis Armstrong’s fantastic We Have All the Time in the World, which I didn’t even know was a Bond song.
Absolutely renewed my vigour for the Bonds to come, this. So good, I want to watch the Bond films I’ve already seen again. I won’t though, not yet. Diamonds are Forever this evening for sure, and I might even crash straight into the Moore era immediately afterwards.
*Savalas was preferable to Pleasance for me but, despite Blofeld’s considerable evil means in OHMSS, I felt kind-of sorry for him; his Alpine hypno-spa still seemed like a hell of a climbdown from his volcano rocket base. Poor Blofeld.
Diamonds are Forever (Hamilton, 1971)
Live and Let Die (Hamilton, 1973)
Well, I said goodbye to Sean Connery and hello to “The Rog” in one sitting. And whilst I agree that Diamonds are Forever represented Sean Connery’s weakest effort individually (excluding NSNA), I think I preferred this movie to You Only Live Twice. Yet another Blofeld, though? They can’t settle, can they? And even though his “space lazers” scheme felt once again more ambitious (ie increasingly fcking sillier) in scope, the poor sod feels miles away from the threatening and shadowy “SPECTRE Number One” he used to be. Now he’s just some smarmy pillock in a nehru suit who’s number Commander Bond very much has. Lana Wood was quite sexy as Plenty O’Toole (!) and Jill St. John was very sexy as Tiffany Case. Hated the theme tune. In fact, I hated the Goldfinger theme as well. I know the Bassey numbers are iconic and arguably the tunes which people most easily associate with Bond but they’re… well, crap. An incredibly American movie, this one. Pressure from United Artists maybe? I’m not complaining, btw. I fcking loved that Mach 1 Mustang.
At least it felt like a Bond film though…
So, Live and Let Die. Or, Bond’s Gonna Git You, Sucka!, Sweet Jimmy’s Baadasssss Song, 007 the Hard Way or Super Spy TNT to give it one of its alternative titles. Probably. Without wanting to come across as having dropped a wildly racist pun, this is an incredibly colourful Bond pic, but there was some good and some bad in here. Firstly, watching Rog’s debut so quickly after having completed the entire Connery Bond canon, it’s clear that Rog is nowhere near up to the task of following in the old Anglo-hating Scotland-dodger’s footsteps. That’s bad (or, as they might say on the set of Live and Let Die: Dat’s baaaaaaaaad, honky!). Also, LaLD is infused with an injection of humour so large it threatens to turn the whole thing into an utter farce. Dat’s baaaaaaad too, mutha fcka! But, Rog’s bemused/suave approach greatly suits the new, lighter approach to the character. Dat’s aaaall good, my brutha! The entire Blaxploitation vibe made me feel towards the material the way I felt about NSNA, in that I felt that the filmmakers were just using their franchise to keep up with (what was at the time) current trends instead of setting the trends as I suspect they did back in the Dr. No/From Russia With Love days. Dat’s baaaaaad! Still, any film which gives Yaphet Kotto an airing deserves kudos. Dat’s aaaall good! Also, the tailoring on some of those Harlem and N’Oarlins stereotypes was admittedly specfckingtacular; outfits I would wear myself in an instant. And the henchmen really came into their own on this one: Whisper, Tee-Hee and Baron Samedi, all superb. Double-good, brutha (I’m going to stop doing that, now)!
But what was with the proto-Buford T Justice/Rosco P Coltrane sheriff? Fck me, I half expected the General Lee to crash into view, hotly pursued by Clint Eastwood & Clyde the Orang-Utan, and Burt Reynolds & Dom DeLuise. I mean, I know Live and Let Die predates these numerous 70s/80s hee-haws but we don’t expect (or want) them in a Bond film, do we? And the Bond girls, whilst good, weren’t as good as they’ve been in recent movies. Gloria Hendry couldn’t. Stop. OVERACTING! And her characterisation of Rosie Carver just came off as annoying as a result, and Jane Seymour got sexier as she got older but here as Solitaire… well, she was sexy, sort-of, but was really a bit too childlike and helpless, even as an early twentysomething, to truly stir the loins. And her relationship with a twice-her-age Bond just made old Rog look fcking creepy.
Still, I enjoyed Live and Let Die as the piece of fluff it undoubtedly is, even if it didn’t feel especially Bond-like until close to the end when we got to Kananga’s underground shark-tank-heavy lair. I think, throughout this Roger Moore phase, I need to alter my approach to these movies and see them more as kissing cousins to the Ealing comedies of the fifties or maybe the Carry On… films than as genuinely taut (if occasionally outrageous) spy thrillers/action blockbusters.
What’s next? (checks) Ooh, Christopher Lee!