Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

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And so we come to the final Bond film of the 60s, and a somewhat unique beast given its atypical length (until Casino Royale this was the longest Bond film by far) unconventional structure (certainly in comparison to most of the franchise) and of course, most notably, the fact that it’s the one and only time George Lazenby straps on the Walther PPK.

If I’m asked to name my favourite Bond film, OHMSS tends to trip automatically off my tongue, but it had been a few years since I’d seen it so, as with each film in this re-watch, I did have a little trepidation going in, would it live up to my lofty expectations, or would it appear I’ve been labouring under a false belief all these years.

Let’s cut to the chase, I bloody love it!

It really is a top-drawer film, a proper film in so many ways, and it’s interesting to compare it to the mishmash that was You Only Live Twice. The script here is far stronger, which helps enormously, and by all accounts this is the Bond flick that adheres most directly to the book (which I really must read again). Peter Hunt’s direction also helps. One can’t help feeling that he’s choosing to direct a film, not a Bond film, and I wonder if the franchise could do with trying that again some time.

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Given it’s his one and only film, let’s talk Lazenby. Old George gets a rough time from critics, he’s wooden, he can’t act, he’s a joke. In all honestly Lazenby could be considered one of the weakest elements of the film, yet also, conversely, maybe it’s strongest asset. In the end however good Rigg is (and we’ll come onto Dame Diana shortly) this film succeeds because of that final scene, and the fact that George sells it in a way many another Bond actor might not have. It’s even more evident after so recently watching YOLT, but just imagine Connery in that final scene. I shudder at the very thought. It’d be like Austin Powers at the start of The Spy who Shagged Me “Way hey, I’m single again!”.

Lazenby won’t ever win a best Bond contest, but he was the perfect Bond for the perfect Bond film. His inexperience and vulnerability make this film work, and sure, he wouldn’t have been half as good in something like Goldfinger, but in OHMSS he’s spot on, and I really wish he’d done one more film, and that the producers had decided to focus on Bond getting revenge rather than the half hearted attempt Connery makes during Diamond’s pre title sequence (but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

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I do love a happy ending…

Lazenby certainly has the look, and it’s amazing to consider he was just 28 when this was made! And really I don’t think he’s that terrible an actor all things considered, and he potentially could have grown into the role. He has the physicality, and convinces in the action scenes, but also the romantic ones. He and Diana Rigg may or may not have hated each other during filming, but onscreen at least they effortlessly play the part of two people madly in love, and however much Diana may have been carrying George at time in those scenes, it really does take two to tango, so I think he deserves some credit.

Yes his delivery of some lines is a little ropey, and he doesn’t have the witty delivery of Connery (or Moore or Brosnan) but he arguably gives one of the greatest bits of the franchise when he’s cradling Tracy’s head in his lap.

tracy3So let’s talk Tracy. Oh my, if OHMSS is my default fave Bond film, then Diana Rigg is my default fave Bond girl, and let’s be clear here, she more as likely always will be. Beautiful and determined, ethereal yet steely, Diana Rigg is nothing short of magnificent, and after all the, let’s be honest, insipid Bond girls we’ve had up to now (excepting Fiona Volpe of course) Tracy is a breath of fresh air. This is a character with true agency, a damaged soul who, lest we forget, when we first meet is trying to kill herself. She’s a risk taker, a woman who, as her father says, has burned the life out of herself by living too fast. This is a woman who gambles with money she doesn’t have and then pays her debt in Bond’s bed, which is her decision, unlike certain other 007’s Lazenby does give her the option of not paying her debt in this fashion. Yes, you could argue she’s a damsel in distress who needs Bond to save her, but I think that’s a flawed assertion. What rises Tracy way above the average is that she chooses to let Bond save her. He doesn’t just rescue her, she lets him rescue her.

And of course she’s quite capable of looking after herself, she skis as well as Bond, drives as well as Bond, and is pretty handy in a fight as well, just see how she despatches Gunther late on—and interesting to note that the Bond theme that started playing when the attack on Piz Gloria began, cuts out just as she kills him, almost like she was 007 (now there’s a thought to rile an awful lot of fans!)

She’s also quite capable of turning on the charm, and the scene where she quotes James Elroy Flecker to beguile Blofeld is so joyous I think I could watch it on a loop all day.

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“Who loves ya baby!”

Ah, Blofeld. Savalas is an interesting choice, the very antithesis of Pleasance, and not remotely like Charles Grey who’ll be up next, but if he perhaps isn’t an urbane foe, he does at least make for an intimidating one. You can’t imagine Donald Pleasance or Grey in a bobsleigh after all. He’s not the best Blofeld, but he might well be the most dangerous. His grand scheme is bonkers, and it’s nice that even he acknowledges that his price is ridiculous!

As Tracy’s father Draco Gabriele Ferzetti has the kind of easy charm that places Draco on a par with Kerim Bey or Tiger.

Ilse Steppat is wonderful as Irma Bunt, albeit there are shades of Rosa Kleb to the character. I hadn’t realised that she sadly died just a few days after the film’s release. She was only 52.

Tragedy would also befall another cast member, albeit later in life. I won’t go into Angela Scoular’s demise here, but I will say that Ruby Bartlett was a joy, can you imagine a Lancashire gal like that turning up in a Bond film these days?

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This certainly never happened to the other fella!

There are some other famous faces in amongst Blofeld’s angels of death of course. Catherine Schell would go on to play Maya in Space 1999, and before eventually winding up as Patsy in Ab Fab,  Joanna Lumley would of course follow in Diana Rigg’s boots by being in the (New) Avengers.

The recurring characters get a few nice moments, in particular Lois Maxwell plays nicely against Lazenby, and there’s a nice moment between her and M (such a shame Maxwell didn’t get the job as M, imagine that dynamic when Bond came in for his assignment!) Q’s wedding day advice to Bond is quite amusing as well.

The action scenes are top notch here, although you do have to wait a while, 007 doesn’t kill anyone until we’re 90 minutes in. This gives the film room to breath of course, and allows for the courtship of Bond and Tracy, Casino Royale will attempt the same thing, only slightly less successfully as it will be squeezed in near the end.

Eventually we get ski chases, and car chases, helicopter attacks and Lazenby sliding along the curling track firing a submachine gun, and we get that bobsleigh chase as well. Not to mention Bond’s escape from the cable car control room is quite hairy as well.

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Bond also gets to do some actual spying, breaking into Gumbold’s office and his safe before making off with his copy of playboy, and then going under cover as Sir Hilary Bray.

And okay, here’s where we get one of the film’s several contrivances. Why doesn’t Blofeld recognise James?  I mean they have met, that both men look different doesn’t negate the fact that technically they’re the same men they were in YOLT. Maybe 007’s had plastic surgery (an idea that didn’t make the final script) maybe Blofeld banged his head when he was escaping that exploding volcano or maybe, like Lois Lane, Ernst Stavro is easily fooled by a pair of glasses?

In the end it doesn’t spoil the film one iota, and nor does the convenience of Bond happening to bump into Tracy at the ice rink.

I’ve said this is my favourite film, and features my favourite Bond girl, but it also features my favourite Bond tune. No, not We have all the time in the world, though Louis Armstrong’s song is a doozy. I’m referring to John Barry’s instrumental. A wonderfully evocative and exciting track that still gets my heart pumping to this day, and yes I even like it better than the James Bond theme!

You can quibble about the producer’s decision to hark back to the previous films all day—scenes from the past films play over the titles, when Bond is considering resigning his draw is full of all manner of props from other films (though how he got Honey’s knife off her I’ll never know) and we even get a man whistling Goldfinger as he cleans Draco’s office—and you can be annoyed at Bond breaking the fourth wall for the one and only time, but I really don’t care, and Bond’s “This never happened to the other fellow,” like the title track, never fails to make me smile.

A Bond film like no other, with a Bond girl like no other and, most importantly of all, an ending that knocks the stuffing out of you, OHMSS really is magnificent.

Now on to the seventies and the return of a familiar face…

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You Only Live Twice (1967)

Posted: May 21, 2019 in James Bond
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“You can watch it all on TV, every Bank Holiday Monday.”

So here we are with the penultimate (official) Connery Bond film. It’s been two years since Thunderball, and SPECTRE have graduated from stealing nuclear bombs to stealing entire spaceships as they plot to create war between the USA and the Soviet Union. Luckily the British believe someone else is to blame, and suspect that someone is in Japan. After faking 007’s death to give him room to manoeuvre, Bond’s despatched to Japan, a country where men come first, and a film Mike Myers got far too many jokes out of…

There was a time when, if asked about my favourite Connery film, I might actually have said this one. In hindsight I can see why; hollowed out volcanos, a great Blofeld, Little Nellie, spaceships! It’s just that watching it now its flaws are all too clear. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable Bond film, it just means it’s one you’re better off not thinking about in too much detail.

Really it’s the plotting that lets it down. Let’s set aside for a moment the notion that somehow war between America and the Soviets would leave China and the rest of the world untouched, set aside how rockets can take off without anyone noticing, especially given that Bond seems to be in the vicinity around the time of one launch. The big question is, why go to the trouble of building a spaceship that eats other spaceships, why not just blow the other craft up? It’s not like anyone is going up there to search for clues.

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There are other annoyances, why for instance does Helga Brandt, who let’s not forget has Bond tied up and at her mercy, release him, just so they can then get in a plane that she can bail out of to leave him to die? It makes zero sense. It isn’t like they’re that worried about linking Bond with Osato Industries. I mean, a car full of goons tries to perforate 007 immediately after he walks out of the company’s headquarters. Couldn’t they at least wait for him to walk around the corner?

It feels almost blasphemous to say this, but the blame must surely lie with the screenwriter, the late, great Roald Dahl.

nellieGaping plot holes wider than the mouth of a volcano aside, there are some great set pieces here. Bond’s ‘death’ and funeral are great, as is his meeting with M aboard the submarine. It’s great to see Bond in navel uniform (and special mention to how gorgeous Lois Maxwell looks in uniform too). Bond’s fight atop the buildings of Kobe docks is wonderfully staged, and shot, especially the aerial filming. It does seem like following on from Thunderball being the film with all the scuba divers, You Only Live Twice is the film with all the helicopters! From Tanaka’s magnet carrying chopper (mad but fun) to Little Nellie and Bond’s dogfight with four bigshots, and then there’s the helicopter heading in and out of the volcano. Throw in the aerial filming and the producers must have got a job lot!

Let’s talk more about the dogfight. Little Nellie is wonderful, and it’s nice to see Bond return a vehicle in one piece (mostly) for once. By modern standards it might be a bit static, but I still love it.

And no discussion of set pieces would be complete without mention of Tanaka’s ninja attack! The modern Bond films seem to have dispensed with the small war finale, which is a shame, and this one is a doozy, made all the better by the set Ken Adam and his team put together. No CGI back then so that’s a hell of a set!

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Cast wise You Only Live Twice does well in some departments, and poorly in others. Pleasence is wonderful as Blofeld (and for me still the definitive Ernst Stavro) but his reveal is late on in the film, shame we didn’t get more of him. Still it is delicious when he tells the Chinese agent who accuses him is extortion that “Extortion is my business.” I mean seriously guys, it’s the E in the organisation’s name! As an aside on SPECTRE working practices, yet again people don’t get much of a warning, straight to the piranha tank for you, Miss Brandt!

As Tiger, Tetsurō Tamba is great, recalling Kerim Bey in From Russia with Love.

176On the Bond girl front things aren’t so strong. Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki is good (and I love the way she refers to Bond as Zero-Zero) aside from the fact that she curiously throws herself at Bond with no preamble, it’s like we were missing some scenes that suggested more of a connection between them. Still, she’s capable and her acting isn’t bad. Shame she gets murdered. Double shame that Connery can’t be arsed to get that cut up about it. I’m so glad he isn’t around for the next film.

Aki’s replacement as Bond girl is Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki (yes that’s her name!) who’s something of a wet fish if you ask me, not that she’s given much to work with. That leaves Karin Dor as Brandt. It’s clear what the producers were going for; if a villainous European redhead had proven so successful last time out, why reinvent the wheel. Oh dear. Dor does her best, but sadly Brandt isn’t a patch on Fiona Volpe.

And then there’s Connery. You can tell he’s fed up by now, he just doesn’t seem to be putting the effort in, though he isn’t helped by the script. Expressing practically no emotion at the death of Aki is unforgivable though. I’m not suggesting he break down in floods of tears, but he barely waits a minute before talking to Tiger about his upcoming wedding!

Ah the wedding, which brings us (not so) neatly onto a discussion of sexism and racism. Women don’t get treated especially well here, and did Tiger really just refer to a woman as sexiful? On the plus side Bond doesn’t lie on top of anyone till she gives in or blackmails anyone into sex so maybe that’s an improvement.

Culturally in many ways the film isn’t as bad as you might imagine. The wedding, and Sumo scenes are both treated with some semblance of respect, and on the whole Japan isn’t viewed as being backward and Tiger and his people are portrayed as smart and competent. It’s just shame that we then get Bond’s transformation into a Japanese man, which is about as convincing as Gary Johnston’s transformation into an Arab in Team America. Bond looks less like a Japanese fisherman than a guy off to infiltrate the Romulan Empire, he just needs pointed ears.

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John Barry’s score is great, mixing western and eastern themes, though Nancy Sinatra’s title track is a tad forgettable. The space effects are nicely done and still hold up today, and kudos for perhaps one of the grisliest deaths in the franchise as an astronaut is left to die alone in orbit; shudder. Talking of astronauts, I wonder what did happen to those two cosmonauts and the other American astronaut? Also what was Bond going to do if he had been able to get into the rocket? You get the feeling he hadn’t thought this through. Oh well, guess some other 007 will have to be the first (and only) Bond in space!

On the ‘not them again front’, Burt Kwok is back, and spot Ed Straker and Scott Tracy (Ed Bishop and the recently departed Shane Rimmer, both of whom turned up in multiple Bond films) and if you look closely one of the Russian mission control guys is a certain German Colonel from Allo Allo.

Perhaps the best WTF is this though. Remember the girl who promises Bond a very special duck in the pre title sequence, well the actress, Tsai Chin, is one of the poker players in Casino Royale!

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There’s a lot to enjoy in YOLT, but more care should have been taken with the story. YOLT seems a curious book to try and adapt given it follows on directly from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (apparently OHMSS was planed to be the next film after Thunderball but they had trouble finding a snowy setting so decided to squeeze another one in first. As I’ve already said, I’m glad about this because I firmly believe a Connery version of OHMSS would have been nowhere near as affecting as the one we’ve got.)

Still, Bond in uniform, Little Nellie, the focus on Japan, Blofeld’s reveal, space rockets, and did I mention a fricken hollowed out volcano? This is fun, it’s just not a great film in the Bond pantheon.

Anyway James Bond will return, but he might look a trifle different…

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Thunderball (1965)

Posted: May 3, 2019 in James Bond
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And we’re onto the fourth Bond film, hurrah! I possibly need to pick the pace up a little, still although a lot has been announced about Bond #25, it still doesn’t have a title, so I figure I still have quite a bit of time!

Maybe I was a bit lax because I wasn’t looking forward to this one. Oh, sure, there was a time when I loved it (a long time ago) but the last couple of times I’d seen it I remember being underwhelmed. So, has my opinion changed?

Irritatingly, yes and no. There’s actually a lot to like here, and yet the whole never quite lives up to the sum of its parts for some reason.

SPECTRE steal two nuclear bombs and threaten to blow up a British or American city unless the UK government pay £100 million (note to Mike Myers, see that joke really wasn’t even funny now was it? Because even in 1965 Dr Evil would have asked for more than one million dollars.) All 00 agents are assigned to find the bombs and Bond deftly avoids a posting to Canada (seriously, M?) by suggesting his time might be better spent chasing young women in the Bahamas, and as crazy as it sounds, he’s actually right!

After a drab pre title sequence when Bond punches out a man dressed as a woman (yes, ok Myers you can have that one) the film picks up the pace. It’s always nice to see 007 doing some detective work, and whilst recuperating at a health spa he becomes rightly suspicious of Count Lippe and a mysteriously bandaged patient. Sure, Bond’s investigations are a tad clunky, and I don’t think either he or Lippe do well in the undercover stakes, but it is always nice to see 007 using his brains.

The theft of the atom bombs is superb, from the reveal that poor old Major Derval has been copied, to Angelo’s takeover and crash landing of the plane underwater, closely followed by Angelo paying the price for being a greedy so and so, in a scene that still gives me the shivers.

And what’s 007 doing while the Vulcan’s being nicked? Oh, just blackmailing a woman into sex by threatening to get her the sack, you know, the usual…ok, you could argue that Patricia just assumes he could get her the sack, but it isn’t like James disabuses her of this notion. Minus marks, 007, must try harder.

largo_gunHaving seen the dead Derval, Bond’s lead is his sister Domino who’s the mistress (any pretence of ward is quickly dispensed with) of Emilio Largo, a man with an eyepatch and a liking for white dinner jackets who’s also known as Number 2 in SPECTRE (ok Myers, but this really is the last one!). Adolfo Celi is a forceful and sadistic presence, very different from Goldfinger, even if his eyepatch screams villain. He’s dubbed (as actors so often were in these early Bond films) because although his English was very good, his accent was, apparently a trifle thick.

As Domino, Claudine Auger is a so-so Bond girl, pretty but somewhat vapid for the most part, although fair play, she does get a bit of agency in the end by being the one to off Largo, but not a great Bond girl.

Unlike the film’s femme fatale. As Fiona Volpe, Luciana Paluzzi is amazing. Gorgeous, vicious, smart, ruthless, commanding and with a swagger many male villains would give their prosthetic claws for. From killing Count Lippe (seriously, does no one in SPECTRE ever just get a warning? See the guy electrocuted in his chair earlier) to literally driving Bond to distraction, she has agency in abundance, and for perhaps the first time a woman calls 007 out on the preposterousness of his reputation. “Bond, James Bond, who only has to make love to a woman and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing.” Not that Fiona switches sides after a shag, no siree, this girl, this woman, is not for turning, and whether that quote is a sly did at Pussy or not, arguably Fiona Volpe is the best Bond girl so far. Even if she does end up dying in 007’s arms.

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Bond has a fair few gadgets here, even if many of them are shoehorned into the pre-title sequence. The jet pack probably looked amazing at the time but now seems ridiculous, though it’s nice to see the tricked out DB5 getting another airing. Other than this Bond’s got a mini rebreather which comes in handy more than once (a pleasant rarity for a Bond film), a Geiger counter in a watch and a camera, an underwater jet pack and a tracking device he has to swallow. It’s always fun to see Q out in the field and here’s the first occurrence. We get our third Felix into the bargain as well, though I quite like Rik Van Nutter’s dishevelled take on the role, and he at least looks more like Jack Lord than the last guy!

tb-beach-pink1-e1426555103685Let’s talk Connery though, is it me or does he seem to be phoning it in a little more? Maybe not all the time, but he definitely doesn’t quite have the presence he’s had before, though there are some nice scenes, and his “Wait till you see my teeth” line is wonderfully delivered. I suppose we can’t blame him for getting a trifle tired of the role, this was his fourth Bond film in as many years (remember that Daniel Craig will end up with a six-year break between films!) At least he’ll get a bit of a breather before the next film in the series.

As stated, the theft of the Vulcan is fantastic, and the 00 briefing scene is wonderfully staged as well, as is Bond hiding out in the carnival. So why does Thunderball leave me a little cold?

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Maybe it’s the action scenes, most specifically the underwater action scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I can tell this was a big deal back in 1965, and the underwater filming is clearly impressive, except it feels like the producers thought it was so impressive that we needed to see as much of it as possible! Connery seems to spend a third of the film underwater, and whilst the final underwater battle starts well, it doesn’t half go on a bit. Really, once you’ve seen one guy get harpooned underwater you’ve seen them all, and the fact they’re underwater ensures everyone seems to be moving slowly, all of which combines to turn what should be a tense and exciting battle into something that just drags.

Perhaps to compensate, once Bond and Largo are fighting it out on the boat, the camera is speeded up, presumably to add to the tension, though it just seems plain silly. The pick up via sky hook equipped plane s a wonderfully surreal final shot however (and it’s a real thing).

On a final note it’s interesting that we get Tom Jones singing Thunderball rather than Shirley Bassey’s Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang when the producers baulked at not having the title of the film in the song lyrics. Quick fun fact, Jones supposedly held that final note so long he fainted!

One last fun fact, Martine Beswick makes her second appearance in a Bond film having been one of the gypsy gals in From Russia With Love.

Do I hate Thunderball? No, because there’s much to like here, notably the Vulcan scenes and every second Fiona Volpe’s on screen, and in small doses the underwater stuff is genuinely impressive, I just can’t help feeling this is a film that could have easily lost five or ten minutes in the editing room and been better for it. Decent enough but probably the weakest in the franchise so far.

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Goldfinger (1964)

Posted: April 5, 2019 in James Bond
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And so we’re onto the third Bond film. Worth noting that back then they made three of them in less time than there’s currently been between Spectre and Bond #25…

But I digress. Time for 007 to take on a simple smuggling case that turns out to involve plans for the worlds greatest bank robbery, well, maybe not a robbery…

Ask a cross section of Bond fans, be they rabid or occasional, to name their top three Bond films and chances are Goldfinger will probably feature in a large number of rankings. To this day it’s an iconic film, the epitome of the franchise, but is it actually any good?

To be honest it’d been a few years since I’d seen it in its entirety, and I’d got it into my head that it was a film that wasn’t nearly as good as its reputation suggested.

How wrong can a guy be?

Sure it has a few creaky moments, and one altogether distasteful element, but I’ll get onto that. For now let’s just say that it is iconic, a film that laid the groundwork of much that was to follow, and however good Dr No and From Russia With Love were, this is the film that cemented Bond as a powerhouse, and it introduced elements that resonate to this day.

In many ways it’s the very antithesis of FRWL, sure we’re not in the realms of hollowed out volcanos just yet, but Goldfinger isn’t remotely the gritty spy thriller FRWL was, it’s more fantastical then what came before, but a tad more grounded than what might follow.

Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is a doozy, and it set the bar really high in terms of a miniature movie in its own right. Bond infiltrates a secret base, blows it up, gets the girl, gets betrayed by the girl, kills an assassin and even has time for a pithy one liner, all in less time that it took Daniel Craig to walk to a hotel in the pre title sequence of Spectre. That Connery plays it with effortless cool is the icing on the cake. Frankly there are possibly whole Bond films less exciting than Goldfinger’s pre-title sequence is.

Not that what follows is dull, although you might be forgiven for remembering the film being more action packed than it is, and pacing wise there’s nothing formulaic about this Bond film, for starters 007 spends pretty much half the film as Goldfinger’s prisoner, which I’m pretty sure isn’t something we’ve seen since (though rumours suggest Bond #25 may try and emulate this.)

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“Make Gold Great Again!”

Ah, Auric Goldfinger, the titular villain is larger than life in every sense of the word. In many ways  something of a buffoon, a cheating blowhard in love with the sound of his own voice, and once you throw the love of gold and golf into the equation it’s disturbing how reminiscent he is of a certain American President. And yet, despite this, he’s also quite clearly very dangerous, and not a fool either, and whilst you can credit Michael Collin’s dubbing for part of the appeal, it’s  Gert Fröbe’s physicality and mannerisms that really sell the character. He also has a natty line in bestowing imaginative ends on his enemies. See poor Mr Solo (nice little Bond-Fleming-Man from U.N.C.L.E in-joke there) crushed in the scrapyard, or one of the most iconic deaths meted out in the entire franchise, when Shirley Eaton’s poor Jill Masterson pays the price for betraying Goldfinger by winding up suffocated under a coat of gold paint. Whether that would actually kill you hardly matters, the image was seared into history, to such an extend that the producers tried, with far less success, to emulate it in 2008 by covering Gemma Arterton in oil. And of course, Jill’s sister, Tilly meets a grisly end courtesy of Odd Job’s steel rimmed hat (sad that Tania Mallet died just a few days ago).

And whilst Goldfinger doesn’t actually kill James, he comes pretty close, and his method has a delicious irony to it. Let’s be honest, Connery strapped to a metal bed as a laser beam creeps ever closer to his family jewels is almost as memorable as poor Jill’s golden death. Much like when he was facing certain death in FRWL Connery sweats fear, again he’s desperate, trying anything he can to escape. Goldfinger isn’t interested, and as exchanges go there’s few better in the franchise than “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.”

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But then Bond wriggles his way out of ending up a Damien Hirst sculpture by mentioning Operation Grand Slam. Goldfinger, correctly, intuits that Bond merely overheard the phrase and has no idea what it means, but can he afford to take the chance? The Chinese agent working with Goldfinger (and yes that is Burt Kwouk) clearly feels they need to keep him alive. Yes, it might seem ridiculous that Goldfinger chooses not to kill Bond, but watching the film again it’s clearly a shrewd move. With Bond still very much alive, 008 won’t be despatched to investigate, especially with Felix Leiter (three films in and onto our second Felix) foolishly believing Bond has everything under control, in reality it’s Goldfinger who has the situation firmly under control, or at least he thinks he does.

He hasn’t counted on 007’s sheer animal magnetism however…oh dear.

Let’s talk about Pussy.

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In so many ways Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is the best Bond girl to date, and unless memory really doesn’t serve me well, will remain so until another star of the Avengers arrives on the scene in 1969 (but I’m getting ahead of myself).

You could argue she isn’t as drop dead beautiful as Andress or Bianchi, but she’s still gorgeous and, more importantly, she has presence, she can act, and the character has agency, well, up to a point. Pussy is Goldfinger’s trusted ally, a woman who’s formed her own flying circus composed entirely of sexy women pilots (you don’t think she might prefer women to blokes do you?) she’s also got no time for 007’s bullshit.

Until she does.

Whilst it isn’t as explicit as it may be in the book that Pussy is a lesbian, it’s clearly inferred. Even if she isn’t gay, Bond effectively forcing himself on her is distasteful enough, that his seduction “straightens” her out just makes things so much worse, and it’s a shame that this has to serve as the reason she betrays Goldfinger, rather than Bond appealing to her better nature. There’s a certain amount of misogyny I can tolerate in the franchise, this moment crosses the line.

For whatever reason, Pussy betrays Goldfinger (cats are notoriously fickle) and his plan to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox comes unglued.

It’s interesting to note how uninvolved Bond is in all of this, he isn’t even able to defuse the atomic bomb in the end, he has to rely on one of Felix’s men. He does get revenge for both Jill and Tilly however, by killing Oddjob.

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I take my hat off you you, sir

Ah, Oddjob, another high flyer in the pantheon of henchmen. Weightlifter come wrestler Harold Sakata might be near mute, but he’s a powerful presence, with an unmistakable silhouette—in fact the first time we see him it’s only his shadow—and whether he’s throwing his deadly hat, or crushing golf balls with his bare hands, he’s a dangerous foe, at least until 007 electrocutes him; not so fun fact, Sakata burned his hand during that scene, yet refused to let go, what a pro.

We’re in less exotic climes this time, with much of the film taking place in England and Kentucky, with a stop off in scenic Switzerland, and at times there’s a leisurely pace to the film, and not in a bad way. Can you imagine a modern Bond film spending so long on a game of golf? Can you imagine a modern Bond even playing golf?

Ken Adams outdoes himself yet again with the set design, be it Goldfinger’s Kentuckian lair, or Fort Knox itself, and whilst the franchise dallied with gadgets in the last film, here we get a clear sign of what’s to come with the tricked out Aston Martin DB5; machine guns, oil slicks, scythes, rotating number plates, oh and it also comes with an ejector seat. “You must be joking,” says Bond in Q’s lab.

Hah this is nothing, wait till we give you an invisible car…

One final fun fact before I hit my conclusion, the devious dancer in the pre-title sequence was also Kerim Bey’s mistress!

Goldfinger isn’t perfect, Bond is a little inert at times, and a few things don’t quite hang together (why would Goldfinger explain his plan to rob Fort Knox in so much detail to the Mafia guys when he’s about to murder them?) And of course, there’s the scene in the barn.

But despite its flaws it’s a rightfully iconic film that embodies pretty much everything about the franchise. A great pre-title sequence, a wonderful villain with an equally memorable henchman, a diabolical, and slightly left field, plot, the first Bond girl who’s more than two dimensional, a gadget laden Aston Martin, Sean Connery at the top of his game ( and he really is great in this) and I nearly forgot, one of the best damn title songs of them all sung by my dad’s favourite singer, Miss Shirley Bassey!

I know I’ve thrown the ‘I’ word around a lot, but damn it’s well earned here. A top-notch Bond film.

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From Russia With Love (1963)

Posted: March 15, 2019 in James Bond
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And so my epic re-watch of every Bond film, in order, reaches the dizzy heights of, er, the second film. It’s fine, I have all the time in the world…

Anyway, Bond’s off to Istanbul, not Constantinople, to see a girl about a cipher machine.

There is a common nostalgia amongst some fans for the halcyon days when Bond films were realistic, gritty thrillers, before all the more fantastical elements that clearly arrived with that Roger bloke. Anyone with even a passing understanding of the franchise knows this is something of a fallacy, some of Connery’s films are the most fantastical of all (hollowed-out volcano anyone, a madman with metal hands and his own nuclear reactor?). That being said, of course some Bond films are gritty, and precious few are as grounded as From Russia with Love.

Yes, there’s an evil genius with a nefarious plan, but as diabolical schemes go it’s relatively tame. He doesn’t want to blow up Fort Knox, or start World War 3, he just wants to steal a Russian cipher machine so he can sell it back to the Soviets, oh and maybe get revenge for Dr No into the bargain by killing 007.

In many ways FRWL is the direct opposite of Dr No, there the titular villain doesn’t show up until near the end, whereas here we meet a whole host of characters before we see James Bond. Okay, Connery’s in the pre title sequence, but he isn’t Bond, it’s a feint, our boy doesn’t actually rock up for real until over fifteen minutes into the film, by which time we’ve met Red Grant, Kronsteen, Rosa Klebb, Blofeld, Blofeld’s cat, and even Tatiana! Off the top of my head the only other Bond films that come close are Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun, but in neither case do we wait so long for 007.

Not that we’re bored without him, from Kronsteen’s gloriously staged chess game, to the violent delights of SPECTRE island and Klebb’s creepy recruitment of Tatiana, there’s plenty going on. If anything the pace of the film slows dramatically after Bond finally appears.

I don’t have anything against slow burn films, quite the reverse at times, but it has to be said that at times FRWL feels a little too slow. Like Dr No this feels like a film in conflict with itself, at once yearning to break the mould, yet at the same time beholden to the good old days. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and it hasn’t dated as badly as some Bonds will, but for me it isn’t quite the classic many claim it to be.

Which doesn’t mean it isn’t very, very good.

After exotic Jamaica, this time we’re heading for exotic Turkey, which gives the film a very different feel, and makes it feel like a Cold War thriller in a way Dr No never quite managed.

There’s interesting things at play right from the off, take Bond locating the bugs and forcing the hotel staff to move him to another room, initially this shows us Bond’s competence, but in actuallity he’s merely a pawn moving precisely as Kronsteen had predicted.

Not that 007 is some dupe, he and M are well aware this is a trap, it’s just a trap they’re willing to walk into in hopes of getting their hands on a Lektor (which it has to be said feels like a quaint McGuffin even in 1963). The only thing MI6 don’t realise is that the trap hasn’t been set by the Russians.

There’s some wonderful scenery in Istanbul, in particular the flooded catacombs Kerim Bey uses to spy on the Russians.

DI-From-Russia-With-Love-16Ah Kerim Bey, one of many of Bond allies but one who stands out more than most. There’s something a little disingenuous about getting a Mexican to play a Turk, but Pedro Armendáriz plays him so well that you hardly care. Bey arrives fully formed; noble, hedonistic, brave, intelligent, a man playing a great game in Turkey, they follow us, we follow them as his son tells Bond. Armendáriz injects so much life into the performance that it’s hard to get your head around the fact that he was terminally ill, and would kill himself before the film finished shooting.

He and Connery bounce well off each other, and again Connery is good. Manly yet playful, dangerous yet noble. For the second film in a row he expresses some distaste at violence meted out to women, though he show no compunction is meting it out himself (insert your own Connery commentary here) and when he threatens to leave Tatiana behind, you kinda think he might.

Again there’s nuance I didn’t expect to find, and a genuine sense of mortality. Just check out the look on Bond’s face as he finds himself on the wrong end of Red Grant’s gun. He imagines he’s going to die and is scrabbling around in desperation for any way to survive.

Two films in and my slight disdain in Connery’s Bond is wavering.

Of course it helps if you have a good adversary, and if Kerim Bey is an exemplary ally, then Red Grant is an exemplary villain, even if technically he’s a henchman.

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“You’ll never guess how much these shoes cose, Bond.”

If Connery moves like a tiger, then Grant is a cobra, a cold-blooded snake with only one thought in mind; his mission. Robert Shaw is amazing, marrying an imposing physique with raw menace and genuine acting talent, and however cold he might be, there’s a broiling rage behind those eyes, Grant has a chip on his shoulder, and though it isn’t as obvious here as in the book, Shaw imbues his performance with it. Grant detests Bond, and not just because he killed Dr No.

What’s most disturbing about Red Grant these days of course, is how much he looks like Daniel Craig!

As Rosa Klebb, Lotte Lenya is almost as iconic as Grant, a brutal, Machiavellian villain and one of the franchise’s finest she utterly convinces as a Russian officer turned Spectre #3, her natural aura of command never in doubt, even when surrounded by burley men on all sides. She even convinces as a meek cleaning lady, and you have to admire the way she eyes up both Grant and Tatiana.

f3wkOANYRwmzt8ATIl2hbRvF3hwAh Tatiana. Much like Ursula Andress Daniela Bianchi is incredibly beautiful, much like Andress she’s dubbed, and much like Honey Tatiana doesn’t get much to do except be manipulated or placed in peril. Yes, there’s a smidgen of agency at the end when she betrays Klebb, but it’s too little, far too late.

Vladek Sheybal is wonderfully arrogant as Kronsteen, and Lee and Maxwell are always reliable. We get Desmond Llewelyn’s first appearance as Q (though not explicitly named) and Eunice Grayson’s last as Sylvia Trench. Then there’s Walter Gotell as a Spectre agent, Gotell will go on to play General Gogol in several Moore films, and Dalton’s debut. As an interesting side note the body (if not the voice) of Blofeld belongs to Anthony Dawson, i.e. Professor Dent. Damn, this franchise is incestuous!

Now onto the gadgets. The fully stocked briefcase with its knife, gold coins and teargas bomb, is a nice prop, and manages to be both slightly ridiculous, yet also incredibly practical, and whilst woefully underpowered, Bond’s collapsible sniper rifle is cool too.

In terms of action it’s a mixed bag. It would be disingenuous to start with anything other than Connery and Shaw’s brawl in the train carriage. Even decades later it stands up as one of the best fights in the series, in part because its so brutal, with neither man willing to give any quarter, but the lead up shouldn’t be overlooked, the whole scene between Shaw and Connery is magnificent.

And it isn’t the only iconic brawl, kudos to Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick for their vicious gypsy wrestling match. The attack on the gypsy camp is well handled too, with Bond coolly striding through the mayhem despatching bad guys with ease, watched over by Grant’s angel of death.

Bond vs a Spectre helicopter is decent enough, but references North by Northwest a little too closely. I’d always believed Bond cribbing from other films was something that came later, but here they are, doing it in the second film; though if you’re going to crib from anyone it might as well be Hitchcock.

Sadly, the films becomes a bit of a slog at the end, with one set piece too many. The boat chase never really gets my blood pumping, it seems unnecessary and, frankly, a trifle slow. It also overshadows Klebb and Bond’s final confrontation; going straight from the helicopter chase to Venice might have been better.

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“You know this film isn’t half bad.”

The final scenes on the gondola are a trifle strange, and the less said about Bond’s curious wave the better, but little detracts from what is a film that’s more consistent than Dr No and remains one of the highlights of the series, and works just ss well as a chess game of a Cold War thriller as it does a Bond movie.

Dr No (1962)

Posted: February 28, 2019 in James Bond
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“I am smoking a fag.”

Directed by Terence Young

With Spectre over three years behind us now, Bond #25 still over a year away, and in a desperate attempt to revive my frankly flagging James Bond mojo, I’ve set myself the task of watching and reviewing every Bond film, in order, before the next film debuts.

Given that Bond#25 shouldn’t hit our screens until at least April 2020 this should give me plenty of time to go through the 24 canon films (no original Casino Royale or Never Say Never Again unless I finish early) and so long as I’m watching a film every two to three weeks I should make it!

Be warned, much as I love the franchise I expect to ridicule as often as I laud the films!

And so, as Julie Andrews sang, we start at the very beginning, a very good place to start, with Dr No, that sees 007 despatched to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of MI6 head of station, the wonderfully named Strangways, and his secretary. Once there 007 will become embroiled in a plot by the sinister Dr No to topple American rockets using radio waves.

Now it’s been a while since I last watched Dr No, and my view had always been that it was a film of two halves, one better than the other. Overall this view hasn’t changed, except insofar as those two halves have switched. You see, when I was younger it was the secret base, the atomic power and the madman with the metal hands that excited me. Now, however, I find more to enjoy in the first half of the film, and Bond’s investigation of Strangways’ disappearance, and it strikes me that we don’t see Bond acting as a detective nearly often enough, and whilst he’s clearly identified as having a licence to kill, it’s interesting that people are more concerned with him as an investigator. Honey exclaims that she’s never met a detective before, and even Dr No refers to him as just a policeman.

It’s also nice to see Bond indulging in some actual tradecraft; see as he dusts the locks of his briefcase with talcum powder, and places a hair across the door so that if anyone comes snooping, he’ll know. Not that he doesn’t make use of his licence to kill of course, just see the cold-blooded way he despatches Professor Dent—although this really does seem a trifle short-sighted, Dent was out of bullets and 007 still needed information, so killing him was a bit rash. What was it Judi Dench said in Casino Royale about blunt instruments?

dr no2It’s interesting how many Bondian elements will first appear here. The gun barrel, the James Bond theme, the meeting with M, being armed by Q (sort of given Major Boothroyd is Q, even if he’s not named as such) the flirting with Moneypenny, the flirting with anything in a skirt if we’re honest, and Bond is identified as a gambler and a ladies man before we learn he has a licence to kill, and by my reckoning he sleeps with three women here (albeit off camera, it was 1962) Sylvia Trench (so far the only Bond girl to return as the same character unless Moneypenny counts) Miss Taro and Honey—well ok, it only looks like he’s going to but does anyone imagine they didn’t? Even with the CIA and a bunch of Royal Marines watching?

Oddly once Bond goes over the Crab Key things get less interesting. Perhaps in part because whilst at the time Dr No’s ploy seemed fantastical, these days it’s quite mundane (and it’s never quite clear why he’s doing it, to prove a point? Because someone is paying SPECTRE?) and it also doesn’t help that Dr Evil wears that radiation suit decades later, you’ve got a lot to answer for, Mike Myers (but we’ll get to that properly when I review Spectre).

What can’t be denied is that Ken Adams’ sets are glorious, even before you consider that Dr No was made on quite a tight budget. I doubt you’d be able to make a film that looked this good now for the modern equivalent of a million dollars.

I guess the real trouble is that not much happens in those wonderful sets. Bond and Honey get decontaminated, in a scene that goes on way too long, before settling in for a snoozy nap, and then, finally, our titular villain appears and sets a dangerous precedent by explaining his whole plan to 007. Bond escapes from his cell with consummate ease, and thwarts No’s plan quite easily as well, and notice how none of No’s goons try and take any kind of revenge once Crab Key starts exploding, well I guess they have other things on their minds.

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“That’s Dr No, I didn’t spend three years at evil medical school to be Mr.”

Wiseman does a decent job, but he’s never really given the material or the screen time to make enough of an impression, though you have to admit that he ticks an awful lot of Bond villain boxes in a short amount of time; sinister foreigner, check, disfigured in some way, check, charming and urbane, check, completely immoral, check, genius, check, bit of a nutter, check…

All this and a big aquarium!

Of course no discussion of a Bond film is complete without discussion of the Bond girl (and yes I know it should be Bond woman, but no I’m not going to call them that) and setting aside the delightfully forward and ingenious Ms Trench, and femme fatale Miss Taro, that sobriquet really belongs to Ursula Andress’ Honey Ryder (with vocal assistance from Nikki van der Zyl and the singing voice of Diana Coupland from Bless this House!)

Dr-No-616.jpgNow for many Andress is seen as the iconic Bond girl, it’s all about that bikini apparently. Well let me shatter all your illusions (well most of them) because she’s not a great Bond girl. Yes she’s beautiful (and call me weird but I find her sexier the more clothes she puts on) but that’s about it. She talks tough, with mention of getting revenge on her rapist, and she wields a big knife, but she has zero agency and is no help to Bond whatsoever aside from acting as a damsel in distress for him to rescue then seduce. Contentious opinion #1; Britt Eklund’s Mary Goodnight is a way better Bond girl than Honey is!

As M and Moneypenny it’s hard to disaggregate the performances of Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell here from all their other appearances, they seem right at home from the off. Jack Lord makes for a decent Felix, and though he’s poorly served in the end, John Kitzmiller’s Quarrel does ably assist Bond for the most part, and as a side note, I’m pretty sure there’s some interracial dancing going on at one of the bars, which is nice to see in a film of this era.

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That really just leaves Connery doesn’t it? Now contentious opinion #2, anyone who’s read my blog before will know I’m not always the greatest fan of Sean, but fair dos he’s superb here. He slides into James Bond’s skin with ease and makes 007 a fully formed character right from the off, there’s also some nuance and some downright vulnerability that’ll be lost once he starts phoning it in, but here; he makes an excellent Bond in what is, overall, a perfectly decent, if a touch old fashioned, film.

One final note. Say what you like about Pussy Galore, Holly Goodhead or Xenia Onatopp, I’m pretty sure Puss Feller has dibs on being one of the most ludicrous names in the franchise!

Sir Roger Moore

Posted: June 11, 2017 in James Bond
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There’s something I hoped I’d never see, even though I knew it was an absolute inevitability. We have finally lost a Bond. Sir Roger Moore, the third man to officially play the part, passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 89.

I know some feel it churlish to feel grief for the death of someone you’ve never met, especially someone who reached a ripe old age—a good innings as the saying goes—and yet it did hit me hard. I read something last year that tried to make sense of why we feel grief when celebrities die and the notion struck a chord with me. For many of us the people we see in films or on television, or even whose music we listen to, are constants in our lives, like a lighthouse we drive by every day, or a favourite building we pass on the way to work, and it’s always jarring when something you’ve grown accustomed to isn’t there anymore. When the light goes down or that building’s demolished.

I knew Roger Moore wasn’t going to be around forever, and yet there was a curious familiarity about the man, a sense that he was an impermeable facet of our world; as if he’d always been here and always would.

His age helped. That so many of his contemporaries passed away long before him only added to this façade of immortality. Sometimes I felt sorry for him, it must be sad to live so long and see so many friends and colleagues suddenly vanish from your world.

I won’t ramble on for ages about what I thought of him as Bond, my feelings are captured here in a blog I wrote a couple of years ago and they haven’t really changed. He was underrated as 007, and that’s a crime. I re-watched Live and Let Die not long after he passed away and it really is impressive how comfortable he is in the role right from the get go. There’s a lightness to his performance that feels natural, compare him to Lazenby who often seemed like a rabbit in headlights.

Of course it helps that even back in 1973 Sir Roger was a veteran. After some initial modelling and TV work he was signed by MGM to a seven year contract, and as such was in Hollywood during the the decline of the studio system. He wasn’t a success there and MGM released him after just two years.

It was after this that he found success on television, and Roger soon became a bona fide star of the small screen. Initially in the tv show Ivanhoe but—after some stints in American western shows—he took on the role that really made his name: Simon Templar; The Saint.

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He played the character created by Leslie Charteris for six seasons and over a hundred episodes, and if it wasn’t for a certain other role it’s possible The Saint would have always been what he was best known for but, after a couple of films and The Persuaders tv show which he co-starred with Tony Curtis, he was offered the part of Bond.

I haven’t watched nearly enough episodes of The Saint, an omission I plan to correct as soon as I find a tv channel showing it (and I also need to watch The Man Who Haunted Himself, widely regarded as Roger’s best acting role). For me though Sir Roger Moore is Bond, but it isn’t only Bond I love him for. During his tenure he made many other films, and amongst them are The Wild Geese, which I always cite as my second favourite war movie, and The Cannonball Run. Two polar opposite roles.

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As Shawn Fynn in The Wild Geese, he channels the light hearted, boyish bravado that served him well as Templar and Bond, yet with a slightly harder edge. In contrast in The Cannonball Run he was Seymour Goldfarb, a millionaire heir who so idolised Roger Moore that he had surgery to look like him! Never let it be said that Roger Moore ever hesitated to take the piss out of himself. Just one more reason to mourn his death.

By all accounts he was a joy to work with, professional and not at all up himself—I’ve read various reports that suggest he ate and drank with the crew on every film he was in, and there’s also this joyous anecdote that’s been doing the rounds since his death.

Finally we shouldn’t underestimate his charitable work with UNICEF, he’d been impressed by Audrey Hepburn’s work with the charity and he became a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF in 1991. He also did good work on behalf of PETA.

At the end of the day he likely wasn’t perfect, he was a human being after all and no one is without flaws, but it does strike me that, as human beings go, the world might be a slightly better place if we were all a bit more like Sir Roger Moore.

Farewell Sir, you’re gone but you’ll never be forgotten!

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