Rating Bond’s pre-title sequences – Part 1

Posted: May 15, 2016 in James Bond
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The Pre-title sequences is a mainstay of the Bond franchise. A feature of almost every Bond film, a mini-movie (usually) sandwiched between the gun barrel opening and the title track. They’re an initial burst of action before we settle down to the film proper. Often they’re related to the film’s wider plot, but this isn’t always the case. On occasion they don’t even feature 007, but one thing is almost certain; someone dies, or at least appears too…

I’ve always been a big fan of the pre-title sequences, to the point where sometimes, if I have a free five or ten minutes, I might watch one at random. Like I say they’re usually a miniature movie, ideal for when you want a bit of adventure but are pushed for time.

What I’ve always wanted to do was watch them all in sequence, so here we are, a new series of blog postings where I’ll review each pre-title sequence in turn, rate them and finally rank them. I’m going to split them across three blogs. This first one will cover all the Connery films, plus Lazenby’s solo outing. Next I’ll cover Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton, and finally I’ll get onto Brosnan and Craig. By the end of the third blog I should have my definitive ranking of the whole lot of them…at least until Bond 25 comes out. Obviously these blogs will contain spoilers!

You may agree with me, you may violently disagree with me, but hopefully you’ll find this little journey of interest. And now, to coin a phrase from The Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning…

Dr No (1962)

Duration approx. 2:28

Relevance to the film: The death of Strangways necessitates Bond’s assignment to Jamaica, plus references to Crab Key and Dr No.

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The seem harmless enough

I know what you’re thinking, Dr No doesn’t have a pre-title sequence, and you’d be right. This is the only Bond film not to, but it seems a trifle unfair to exclude one film out of 24, so I’m going to cheat a little. I hope you won’t think it deceitful of me.

You see I think Dr No has a perfectly serviceable pre-title sequence. It’s just not, er, pre the titles. I am of course referring to the initial murder of MI6 agent Strangways and his secretary in Jamaica by a trio of assassins. Imagine if you will, the gun barrel has just ended, only this time instead of us leaping straight into the titles we hear the Caribbean inflected version of Three Blind Mice, and see three blind men walking down the road on their way to a date with death…

I actually think it would work, and you wouldn’t even need to do much editing. It has many of the qualities of a classic pre-title sequence. The trio of assassins with their fake blindness make for a quirky threat, and we then have two British agents horribly murdered even as they try to contact London, and finally we have one of the assassins rooting around in their filing cabinet, pulling out first a file marked Crab Key, and then a second file labelled Dr No….

…and, cue music.

When the titles end we fade back in to London and the other end of the rudely interrupted conversation. I think that works very well, and whilst the lack of 007 is a bit jarring in a pre-title sequence, this is made up for by the initial references to Dr No, and the seemingly innocuous trio who turn out to be quite murderous. So I’m going to award my contrived pre-title sequence a solid 6/10.

 

From Russia with Love (1963) 

Duration approx. 2:30

Relevance to the film: Introduces Red Grant as an adversary.

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Few people are aware of the Bond/ Weeping Angles crossover episode

And so onto the second Bond film, and the first pre-title sequence proper. It’s the dead of night and a dinner jacketed Bond is stalked through the garden of a country house by Robert Shaw’s Red Grant. Bond has the edge because he’s armed, but so it seems is Grant, and one garrotting later 007 is dead.

Or rather he isn’t, because lights flare into being and we suddenly realise this is a training exercise for SPECTRE (although we don’t know this at the time) and that the man we thought was Bond is some patsy in an extremely convincing mask.

I imagine that if you were sat there on opening night this would have been quite shocking—Bond’s killed in the first few minutes after all—but hindsight isn’t kind to this particular pre-title sequence. Yes it’s nicely staged for the most part, Connery is actually doing a nice turn as someone other than Bond, and it does show us how lethal Red Grant is (the first but not the last time a villain will turn up in a film before 007) but once you know the twist there’s little else to enjoy here, and it doesn’t even segue into the titles particularly well. Grant’s superior rips the fake Bond’s mask off and they just start walking back towards the house. There’s no explanation as to why Grant is hunting someone disguised as Bond, which is fine, we don’t have to have everything explained, but a pithy “Well done, Grant. Now for the real thing” might have helped somewhat.

So despite this being a top drawer Bond film, I’m giving this bit of it a below par 5/10.

 

Goldfinger (1964)

Duration approx. 4:20

Relevance to the film: Nothing apparent, this seems to be an unrelated mission.

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And that’s why Bond only takes showers

Its night time again and this time we appear to be in Central or South America. A duck swims up to the quayside, only it’s actually the camouflaged snorkel of 007 who clambers out of the water before using a grappling hook to infiltrate what looks like an oil refinery. Within a minute he’s incapacitated a guard and set explosives inside a Ken Adams’ designed villainous lair concealed within a silo.

By the time the explosives go off Bond is looking suave in a white tuxedo in a local bar. He’s advised not to go back to his hotel room, and that there’s a plane out of the country leaving in an hour. Before then he has some unfinished business, which because this is James Bond of course means a woman.

Before he can get very far with the attractive flamenco dancer he’s accosted by a cosh wielding thug. A short fight ensues that’s ended in spectacular fashion when a bathtub full of water meets an electric heater…

I’ll be honest here. I think Goldfinger is slightly overrated, but what you can’t deny is that it was the first iconic Bond film, the one that set the template for so many to follow, and the pre-title sequence is no exception. Hell it’s so iconic James Cameron and Arnie homage it in True Lies 30 odd years later.

It’s amazing to consider how much is packed into less than four and a half minutes. Bond’s duck disguise is amusing, and his infiltration of the heroin distribution centre thrilling, backed as it is by the 007 theme. Slipping off his wetsuit to reveal a Dinner Jacket is the epitome of cool, as is calmly enjoying a cigarette as his explosives detonate. He has time to romance a beautiful woman (or at least start to romance her) even going so far as to self-deprecatingly tell her that he always carries his Walther because he has an inferiority complex. As with many ladies who feature in pre-title sequences however, she’s a wrong-un, but thankfully Bond sees the thug reflected in her eyes and she ends up taking the brunt of his attack. A brutal fight ensues before the thug ends up in the bath, but with Bond’s PPK. Luckily there’s an electric heater in the room (isn’t this supposed to be the Caribbean or somewhere?) and before you know it the thug is dead and Bond gets to deliver an iconic pun. “Shocking, truly shocking.”

Really it’s hard to think what else they could have squeezed in here? It’s fun, thrilling, brutal and, in the end, darkly humorous. The quintessential Bond pre-title sequence, so it has to get 10/10.

 

Thunderball (1965)

Duration approx. 4:05

Relevance to the film: Tangential, Bouvar’s death is referenced by SPECTRE but that’s about it.

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To infinity and beyond!

Accompanied by a French agent Bond attends the funeral of Colonel Jacques Bouvar, a SPECTRE assassin who Bond very much wanted to kill himself, due to Bouvar killing two of his fellow agents. 007 is suspicious when Bouvar’s widow opens the car door herself and follows her back to a château where “she” is revealed as Bouvar. A brutal fight ensues and Bond ensures that Bouvar dies for real.

Armed men arrive so Bond makes a hasty exit via jet pack and his trusty DB5…

I’m not a huge fan of Thunderball, but in fairness the pre-title sequence does have its moments. The JB tease suggesting we’re at Bond’s funeral is a trifle cheeky given it was only two films ago that a film again started with the supposed “death” of Bond, but the joke isn’t overdone at least.

Bond working out that the SPECTRE agent is masquerading as his own widow because “she” doesn’t let someone open a door for her feels a little too resonant with Bond twigging Red Grant wasn’t who he appeared to be because of his taste in wine, but the sight of Bond punching out a grieving widow almost makes up for it (and would decades later inspire an amusing homage in the first –and best— Austin Powers’ film “She’s a man, baby!”) and 007’s fight with Bouvar is quite good.

His escape by jet pack probably looked cool in 1965, but the back projection is really obvious and it seems a ridiculous way to get in and out of the château, especially given how much noise and smoke it creates. We then get Bond’s DB5 suffering a spot of engine trouble necessitating the use of its bullet proof shield and oil cannons, which seems a trifle contrived so, if only for the widow punching and the fight, I’m grudgingly going to give it 6/10

 

 

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Duration approx. 5:20

Relevance to the film: Quite a bit given it starts with SPECTRE stealing an American spaceship.

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It’s behind you…

An American Gemini capsule is orbiting around the Earth. One of the astronauts ventures outside for an EVA, at which point mission control advise that there is an unidentified object on an intercept course with them. Suddenly another spacecraft appears, as the horrified astronaut out in space watches the front of the craft opens up and it proceeds to swallow the Gemini capsule whole. As the jaws of the intruder snap shut they cut the astronaut’s lifeline, leaving him drifting in space…

On Earth we’re privy to a summit meeting, which appears to be conducted inside a radar station somewhere in Alaska or Finland. The Americans claim the Soviets are responsible for the loss of the Gemini, the Russians claim innocence. Luckily the ever diplomatic Brits are on hand to suggest that maybe it wasn’t the USSR after all, because their tracking station thinks the intruder splashed down somewhere in the sea of Japan. Don’t worry, say the British, we have our best man looking into it.

Cut to Hong Kong where 007 is, or course, in bed with a woman. After a spot of casual racism (“why do Chinese girls taste different?”) Bond’s latest conquest flips the bed back into the wall with Bond still inside (maybe she didn’t like being compared to Peking duck, eh James?) and two men burst in with submachine guns and riddle the bed with bullets.

Later the police arrive to confirm Bond’s death. They don’t seem terribly upset about 007’s demise, and console themselves that at least he died on the job.

Yes, that’s right. It’s only the fifth Bond film, and for the third time (remembering that the first film didn’t even have one) the pre-title sequence teases us that Bond is dead. Seriously? I guess it wasn’t that noticeable when you were watching films years apart, but watching the sequences one after another it’s a little jarring.

At least this time it has a point in that it’s a ploy designed to give Bond free reign to investigate once everyone thinks he’s dead. Because of course if you want a man to keep a low profile it helps to plaster his picture all over the newspapers and point out he’s a British naval office…

…but I digress. This is actually quite a good pre-title sequence. Better than I remember. Any pretence at making gritty realistic spy dramas (if there ever was any pretence after From Russia with Love) is jettisoned immediately. We’re in space! The effects aren’t bad given the time, and the approach of the SPECTRE craft is quite eerie, accompanied by John Barry’s wonderful space score, and the death of the unfortunate astronaut is quite grisly. Really this sequence wouldn’t look out of place in an actual science fiction film.

The setting for the summit meeting is wonderful, even if the British seems surprisingly trusting of those dastardly Russians.

And then Connery finally shows up, make some innuendos and gets shot to death (he’s really dead this time, promise!). It’s an interesting scene even if the line about Chinese girls is a little wince inducing. Still, there’s a lot to like here, and at least the reveal that Bond isn’t dead waits until after the titles this time, so for me this sneaks a 7/10

 

 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Duration approx. 5.50

Relevance to the film: Bond meets the love of his life, the woman he’ll marry at the end of the film, so yeah, pretty relevant.

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My career can only go up from here!

In the Offices of Universal Exports Q is boring M with the latest in miniaturisation, radioactive fluff! M just wants to know where 007 is, but even Moneypenny has no idea.

Cut to somewhere in Europe where Bond is overtaken by a woman in a sports car. He initially gives chase before relaxing and opting instead to have a fag. A few moments later he comes across the woman’s car and spots her down on the beach. As he watches through the telescopic scope of his rifle, the woman kicks off her shoes and wades out to sea.

Bond immediately drives onto the beach before racing into the sea, preventing the woman from drowning herself. If he was expecting a thankyou he was mistaken, instead two thugs appear. One takes the woman away, the other plans to shoot Bond, until 007 gets the upper hand. After a fight Bond incapacitates the two men, however the woman has nabbed his car, using it to drive up to the road where she switches to her own vehicle and races away, leaving Bond holding her shoes and bemoaning that; “This never happened to the other fellow.”

And so begins the first Bond film without Connery, and also probably the most faithful to a book other than From Russia with Love. It’s clear from the off that the producers are keen to have us believe that this is still a Bond film. The first three people we see are M, Q and Moneypenny, it’s all about the familiar.

Even when Bond does show up we don’t see much of him, his silhouette from behind as he drives, his chin as he lights a cigarette, in fact we probably get a clearer look at Diana Rigg before we see Lazenby. We get a blink and you’ll miss him glimpse as he races from the car, but the first proper look is after he’s rescued Tracy. He looks down, smiles, and introduces himself the way only Bond can.

It’s a curious thing to say, but given this is the longest pre-title sequence to date it’s one of the least jam packed. There’s no infiltration of a drug baron’s lair, no jet packs and no orbital shenanigans, and yet in many ways it’s all the better for it. Playing the 007 theme over the top of the action helps, and is yet another signal that we can relax; this is still a Bond film.

The reveal of Lazenby is nicely done, the audience effectively see him properly the first time Tracy does. The arrival of the two thugs spoils the mood (although let’s be honest, she likely wouldn’t be too happy with him preventing her suicide even before her dad’s goons show up). In hindsight it’s a little odd that one of the men puts a knife to her throat given they’re obviously there to protect her, but I guess you can explain this away by saying the action is for Bond’s benefit rather than an explicit threat against Tracy.

The fight is great, moving as it does in and out of the sea, and its clear Lazenby does a lot of his own stunts, and boy can he throw a punch! There’s some proper haymakers going on there. Bond still gets no thanks though, the beautiful woman is gone and all he’s left with is her shoes, which is a nice Cinderella style touch.

And then there’s that line, probably the closest Bond has ever got to breaking the fourth wall, and how you feel about this pre-title sequence might come down to how you feel about the ‘other fellow’ line.

Yes it’s a touch obvious, but then a fair few things early on are, and you have to remember that this was a big deal. Nowadays, however people might feel about Dalton replacing Moore, Brosnan replacing Dalton, or Craig replacing Brosnan, they understand that Bond actors change, it’s the nature of the beast. But in 1969 it wasn’t, and so I think we can forgive them for lampshading the issue. Personally I love the line, but then I love OHMSS, and whilst Lazenby wasn’t necessarily the greatest actor in the world, he was the perfect Bond for this film; he’s vulnerable and fallible. He saves a woman’s life, fights off two armed thugs, but he doesn’t get the girl. Given how the film ends that moment is awfully prescient. There isn’t really anything I dislike about this one (ok maybe the overdoing it with the punch sound effects but that’s all) so I’ll go 9/10

 

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

Duration approx. 4.02

Relevance to the film: Bond tracks down Blofeld and believes he’s killed him.  It introduces us to the new Blofeld and the concept that he has doubles.

Diamonds-Are-Forever-Herringbone-Tweed-Half-Norfolk-Jacket

Interesting fact. Connery originally auditioned for the role of Mr Wint…

Interior, a Japanese house. Restful music plays before a man is thrown through a paper dividing wall. The man beating the unfortunate victim up demands to know where Blofeld is, and is directed to Cairo.

Cut to a casino where an Egyptian man in a fez is similarly roughed up. He directs Bond to a woman named Marie.

Marie is sunning herself by the pool and seems quite eager to make Bond’s acquaintance when he shows up, until he uses her bikini to start throttling her as he demands, yet again, to know where Ernst Stavro Blofeld is.

At a mystery location a group of doctors are discussing plastic surgery. The latest Blofeld barges in and demands that the procedure is done tonight. Later we witness the doctors lathering a man in mud before leaving him to rest in some kind of larva/mud bath. On the way out they meet another member of the surgical staff coming in and this man is given instructions to keep the temperature to a specific level.

The new arrival is of course 007, but the man in the mud bath is prepared and raises a gun. Bond pulls the cord above the bath and gallons of mud pour down on the man, drowning him. Bond pulls his head out but it isn’t Blofeld.

The head of SPECTRE shows up with two henchman and explains that the man in the mud bath would have looked like him, if Bond had given him a chance.

One of the guards attempts to relieve 007 of his PPK but finds a mini bear trap instead. With him out of the way Bond uses scalpels as throwing knives to defeat the other guard. Blofeld grabs a knife, but he’s no match for Bond, and in moments he’s strapped to a gurney and Bond pushes him into a pool of volcanic mud. “Welcome to hell, Blofeld,” he says just before Blofeld’s cat arrives to meow and show off its lovely diamond choker…

Bond is back, and Connery is back as Bond but this is a curious pre-title sequence. Maybe it’s the fact that this is the first 70s’ Bond film, maybe it’s the fact that Connery returns after someone else was Bond, maybe it’s because he looks a trifle older and, without wanting to be mean, a little heftier, and maybe it’s because there’s yet another new Blofeld, but it feels like there’s been a bit of a sea change in the franchise.

The notion of starting the film with Bond hunting for Blofeld makes perfect sense given how OHMSS ended. Bond should, quite rightly, be out for vengeance, and yet his hunt, and eventual confrontation with Blofeld, lack any emotional weight. Yes beating up a few blokes and strangling a woman shows his determination, but the events are neither brutal nor clinical enough to evoke a man avenging his dead wife. It doesn’t help that Connery is Bond and Charles Gray is now Blofeld, and when they meet there’s very little tension in the air. To be honest it feels like killing Blofeld is just another mission, which is a shame.

The lava/mud surgery setting is a little surreal and I’m not quite sure what it has to do with plastic surgery. Still it’s a little different at least and the notion of Blofeld using plastic surgery explains the physical changes, if not the fact that each Blofeld has had a radically different personality.

The fight is disappointing. It all feels sluggish. Bond’s combat roll is pointless, and the man in the mud bath would seem to have all the time in the world to shoot Bond. Bond despatches Blofeld’s guards with ease and there’s none of the brutality to mirror fights in OHMSS, Thunderball or Goldfinger. Oh, and after finally getting the notion of teasing us that Bond is dead out of their system the producers now switch to making us think Blofeld is!

It’s not terrible, but it is a little pedestrian and this isn’t helped by it having to follow on from the end of OHMSS 6/10

 

So that’s the end of part 1. So far I rank the pre-title sequences thusly, though this of course will change once we get onto parts 2 and 3.

  1. Goldfinger
  2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
  3. You Only Live Twice
  4. Thunderball
  5. Diamonds are Forever
  6. Dr No
  7. From Russia with Love

 

Paul Starkey’s review of Pre-title sequences will return when Moore and Dalton drop in!

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Comments
  1. Hmm. I’d probably plump for Dr No as my favourite – though the one remember most clearly, and dislike most, will be in your next roundup…

  2. […] Rating Bond’s pre-title sequences – Part 1 […]

  3. […] so here we are, the final part of my review of Bond pre-title sequence. Parts one and two are still […]

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