My James Bond Retrospective: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Connery had clearly grown weary of playing the role of James Bond. While production of You Only Live Twice was going on, Broccoli and Saltzman were already searching for a replacement. While Connery was ready to be replaced, and the producers were ready to replace him, it would appear audiences weren’t quite ready for a new face yet.

In any case, a new Bond appeared in the form of unknown George Lazenby. Lazenby was a model from Australia. Rumor has it that Lazenby, with no previous acting experience, walked straight into Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman’s office, looked them straight in the eye, and said, “You’ve found your man.” However he got the part, he seemed to impress the film’s director Peter Hunt, who, upon hearing that Lazenby had never acted before, exclaimed, “You tell me you can’t act? You fooled two of the most ruthless guys I’ve ever met in my life. You’re an actor!”

The film debuted on December 18, 1969, at the Odeon Leicester Square in London. Lazenby showed up to the premiere with long hair and a beard, a look which had been disputed by Broccoli and Saltzman who both wanted Lazenby to look more like Bond at the premiere. Lazenby refused, believing Bond to be out of date. He had also opted out of playing Bond in the seventh film during production of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, forcing the producers to scramble for another replacement on fairly short notice.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service stood in pretty stark contrast from the films that had preceded it in a number of ways. Of course, there was the actor playing 007, but in addition the film shed much of the gadgetry, humor, and spectacle that had characterized the prior two films (Thunderball and You Only Live Twice) in favor of a more serious tone and a more personal story.

The film starts with several shots of Bond driving a new Aston Martin DBS. His face is mostly in shadow, but we are afforded several glimpses that tell us this is most certainly James Bond. The tuxedo, the cigarette, the suave little mannerisms—this driver is most certainly our man.

Bond follows a car onto a beach and (presumably) rescues the main girl of the film from a watery grave only to find himself caught up in a fight with a couple of thugs who clearly want her (and him by the looks of things) dead.

This opening fight is poorly choreographed and edited, relying on cheap tricks like speeding up the film to hide pacing issues. Lighting seems to be a problem here as well, and it’s pretty clear the scene was shot in daylight with a higher f-stop in order to give the impression of darkness. Not a terrible gag, and it’s fairly commonly used in films of this era, but it’s still a bit annoying.

Bond then breaks the fourth wall and walks away from the character for a moment, and in that brief instant we get to see George Lazenby apart from his James Bond persona. “This never happened to the other fellow,” he states, solidifying for the audience that this was a new Bond. Another cheap trick and a seemingly desperate plea to get audiences to feel okay with the fact that Sean Connery was no longer playing Bond.

What follows is a title sequence that again feels like an attempt to connect this new Bond with the old Bond. The sequence shows a number of scenes from all the previous five films depicting Bond girls and Bond villains of the past. It’s as if the filmmakers are worried that people are going to forget that this is James Bond. I felt like they were constantly trying to remind me that I was watching a 007 movie, despite the absence of Sean Connery.

Now, I harped on the opening sequence quite a bit because it stands out from the rest of the film in a negative way. Because as much as the pre-title and title sequences did a great job at turning me off from this film, I found that I just couldn’t hate it. While Lazenby’s performance is far from excellent, the film as a whole (aside from the opening sequence) stands out as one of the finer moments in the Bond films (and my personal favorite thus far). It’s as if the producers understood that the films were getting a bit out of hand with the campiness and gadgetry and decided to get back to the basics.

Bond himself is treated with much more respect, and while it’s evident that Lazenby is uncomfortable in the role (or at least, not as comfortable as Connery had become by the time he reached Goldfinger), he still comes across as a convincing Bond.

We are soon reintroduced to the woman from the beach, one Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo, or Tracy, for short. Tracy proves to be a point of intrigue for Bond, and after some time we discover that she is the daughter of a man named Marc-Ange Draco—the head of the European crime syndicate Unione Corse. Draco tries to convince Bond to “tame” his daughter, and after an awkward exchange, Bond agrees to pursue the countess as long as Draco helps Bond locate Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

What follows is an often overlooked moment in Bond history: James Bond tenders his resignation. MI6, specifically M himself, has Bond so upset that he decides to give up his job as Agent 007. It wouldn’t be the last time Bond decides to step away from her Majesty’s secret service, but it’s perhaps the most understated as Miss Moneypenny intervenes and prevents 007 from leaving permanently.

After beginning a whirlwind romance with Tracy, Bond follows some information from Draco that leads him to discover that Blofeld has been corresponding with a Sir Hilary Bray, a genealogist at the College of Arms in London. Apparently, Blofeld is trying to secure the title of “Comte Balthazar de Bleuchamp.”

This romance isn’t to be missed. It’s the first time we see Bond falling in love with a woman and probably the first time we see a woman truly falling in love with Bond. Their friendship and romance is portrayed in a very convincing manner, and I found myself really rooting for these two. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have believed the auteurs were actually going to domesticate James Bond; the romance was that believable.

Bond meets with Sir Hilary and discusses a charade in which Bond will masquerade as the genealogist during a visit to Blofeld’s lair in the Swiss Alps. But before he heads out, we are given a glimpse at the Bond coat of arms and family motto: “Orbis non sufficit,” translated “The world is not enough,” a phrase which would come into play again in about 30 years from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Several exciting ski chases, car chases, and bobsleigh chases later, Bond and his friends from Draco’s organization storm Blofeld’s lair in the Swiss Alps, rescue the girl, and save the day.

Okay, so perhaps I shouldn’t have glossed over the chase sequences. After all, the ski chases in this movie were the first in the Bond franchises. Actually, the action in this film was so thrilling and the stunt work so awe-inspiring I had to pause for a minute to regain my bearings. Remember, there was no digital work here. Just a guy jumping off a cliff.

The film is perhaps my favorite in the franchise thus far (remember, I’m reviewing them in order of release date, so when I say “favorite thus far,” I’m referring to my retrospective; therefore, “thus far” includes Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). While Lazenby doesn’t deliver the finest performance of Bond so far (I’d reserve that for Connery in Goldfinger), the screenplay is by far the most convincing of the series, and the supporting cast is as excellent as possible. Telly Savalas delivers a marvelous performance as Blofeld (which was a huge relief after the blunderful portrayal of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice), Lois Maxwell is excellent yet again, and Diana Rigg is my favorite Bond girl to date. She’s beautiful, strong, and deliberate. The character of Tracy doesn’t fall for Bond immediately, but unlike other Bond girls who don’t fall for Bond right away, her eventual feelings for him don’t appear suddenly and unnaturally; rather, she grows fond of him through a slowly developing friendship and romance. Stellar performance and fitting for the Bond girl in this storyline.

SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly suggest watching it before continuing on. You’ve been warned.

The end of the movie was one I didn’t see coming the first time I saw On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I also hadn’t yet seen For Your Eyes Only before seeing this film, so the question about Bond’s wife had never crossed my mind. Even in this second viewing I was no less startled by the ending. Every time the two characters were on screen together I kept saying to myself, “I wish they’d keep her alive. I know it’ll ruin Bond, but I can’t watch her die.”

What follows is one of the most shocking and poignant moments in all of Bond history.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a gem in what was quickly becoming a tired franchise. Easily one of the finest Bond films, the movie often gets a bad rap for Lazenby’s awkward performance. The poor reputation extended even to me, and I found myself actually wanting to dislike this film. Which is telling because as the film progressed I found myself enjoying it more and more.

I would’ve loved to see Lazenby return to the series, but history had other plans for James Bond, and in the meantime, audiences were treated to the brief return of the man who first uttered the phrase, “Bond, James Bond,” on the big screen…

Next up, Diamonds Are Forever.

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My James Bond Retrospective: You Only Live Twice.

It wasn’t long before Sean Connery grew tired of his role as James Bond. The disenfranchised actor became bored with the role, began to fear the potential typecasting that would occur, and felt overworked by all the promotional work he had to do in conjunction with the films. Broccoli and Saltzman convinced Connery to stick around for another film, but began their search for a replacement in the meantime.

None of this would stop the James Bond engine from rolling along, as the film grossed over $111 million worldwide. Bond Mania had spread across the world, including Japan, where You Only Live Twice was filmed. Fans had swarmed the locations where filming was taking place, making work difficult for the actors and the film crew.

You Only Live Twice is the first Bond film directed by Lewis Gilbert, who would go on to direct two more Bond films—1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and 1979’s Moonraker.

The film starts off in outer space, where an American spacecraft and a Soviet spacecraft are captured by another spacecraft of unknown origins. Both governments blame the other, but the British government suspects that something else is going on.

Before they send 007 in, he fakes his own death in Hong Kong in order to gain “more elbow room,” as M puts it. I’m not so sure it really contributes to the plot of the movie and did more to confuse me than anything else.

The rest of the movie is essentially a rehash of From Russia with Love except that it takes place almost exclusively in Japan. Unfortunately, the film has none of the charm found in From Russia with Love. Connery is clearly bored with the role, and his performance in this film shows it. He’s a bit awkward and comes across as clumsy and unintelligent. Hardly befitting of James Bond.

Thunderball stretches the plausibility of the Bond universe (as if the universe wasn’t already implausible enough). The film was entirely too playful and foolish to be enjoyable, and the plot was too confusing to follow. I really wanted to enjoy this film as it finally formally introduced us to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of SPECTRE (and who was formerly known to audiences only as “Number 1”).

I don’t have a whole lot of positive stuff to say about this movie. Bond was less than convincing as a character. The Bond girls were terrifically unbelievable, and none of them stood out as terribly beautiful or even well written as a character. The plot was weak and confusing, and it did little more than rehash the same basic story found in From Russia with Love. SPECTRE does something to upset two governments and tries to pit them against each other. Except this time it’s between the United States and Russia instead of between the United Kingdom and Russia.

There was an awful lot of racism thrown throughout the movie. While I am half Japanese, which could make me hypersensitive to a lot of the racial stereotyping that takes place in this movie particularly, I found much of it to be less offensive than simply stupid. From Tanaka’s ninja training school to the Japanese bathhouse, there was an abundance of terribly executed stereotypes that made me feel bad for the filmmakers. They look like idiots for the way they portray the Japanese culture. If there’s one thing positive about this film, it’s that they cast Japanese actors to play Japanese characters. Not as common a practice as one might hope. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Koreans or even Chinese playing characters in film and TV who are supposed to be Japanese.

Another thing that plagued this film was the overabundance of gadgetry. Bond uses some newfangled gadget in nearly every scene. And the focus of the film seems to be on all his cool toys. On more than one occasion I found myself daydreaming through significant chunks of the film. It failed to reel me in, and I grew weary of the films constant tomfoolery. It felt like one misstep after another.

The production as a whole was a bit sloppy. There were half a dozen miscuts throughout the film. The screenplay was pretty weak. Characters were too one-dimensional to be believable. There are no standout Bond girls worth mentioning (Helga Brandt, played by Karin Dor, was intriguing, but I wonder if that’s because she was the only girl in this movie who wasn’t Japanese). Blofeld’s reveal is a dud, which is disappointing because his appearance has been teased since From Russia with Love (and Dr. No if you consider the mention of SPECTRE as a lead into the potential reveal of the man in charge of it all).

All in all, this is perhaps the weakest Bond film so far. Until now, the Bond films have ranged from mildly enjoyable (Thunderball) to adventurous and exciting (Goldfinger). This is the first time I’ve felt a Bond film was almost completely inept.

The one enjoyable aspect of this film was Lois Maxwell’s Moneypenny. This was perhaps her finest appearance as the character, but it was muddied by a terrible film overall.

It’s unfortunate that Connery’s final outing as Bond (the first of three “final outings”) was such a fizzle. But by the time this film was finished, I felt like I was finished with Connery as Bond, which is sad because all four of his previous performances were spot on. But now it’s clearly time for a change…

Next up, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

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My James Bond retrospective: a cultural analysis.

I’m taking a quick break from looking at each of the individual films and looking at the series as a whole, specifically from my perspective as a Christian. Bond, as a cultural icon, has withstood more than almost any other characters in pop culture history and managed to remain relevant to the contemporary trends within culture.

With every film, we are given a view at how Hollywood viewed the culture around it (or how culture informed and influenced Hollywood). As the series evolved, so did many of the characters and icons, including Bond himself. Bond goes from manipulating and objectifying women (watch Thunderball) to working for one (see Goldeneye). As society’s attitude towards women changed, so did Bond’s.

To a degree.

Bond was always the upper-class defender. He represents a club that’s just for men. An aromatic and flavorful Scotch, powerful and expensive cars, beautiful and alluring women (who never say no), finely tailored suits—they are all pieces of this club for which Bond stands. And the cultural power he wields is enormous. Just look at the box-office intake.

Even in his less-than-stellar outings (think Octopussy or Die Another Day), he proves that he can get men across the world to buy into his product—a life without consequences. He drinks at an incredible rate without liver problems, hangovers, or even getting drunk (save one scene in Quantum of Solace). He has sex with multiple women in each film without getting anyone pregnant, having performance issues, or even an STD.

Zero consequences.

But the underlying two-pronged message that this sends to men is both confusing and conflicted. At the same time Bond says that sex is everything and that sex is nothing. Do everything in your power to have sex, but you know what, sex doesn’t really matter all that much. You are both its slave and its master.

And it has affected generations of men who have been overtaken by pornography and casual sex thinking they can kick the habit whenever they want. But there are consequences, physical and emotional, but also spiritual.

Anytime we allow something to gain power over us, it’s obsession. We yearn for it. We do everything in our power to obtain it. And in doing so, we rob it of whatever true power it really had.

Take sex, for example. When it becomes the object of our affection, it consumes us, and we do whatever we can to obtain it. In my case, that would include the ease of pornography. In my sin, I’ve fallen for the lie that there aren’t any consequences. A friend of mine didn’t struggle so much with pornography as I did, but he spent every night trying to sleep with a new girl. And he was often successful.

But both of us robbed sex of the power that God had intended for it to have. Sex is a physical representation of the spiritual unity of a man and his wife. It has powerful implications with regards to openness, vulnerability, the protection of each other’s lives and interests, and the beauty of love in its most unveiled form here on earth.

Unfortunately for Bond, his flippancy with sex gives him no lasting joy, no community, and no one to trust with his life. For men across the world, this translates into an exaltation of individualism and the lack of necessity for open and honest community. Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and plow through life on your own. No one will help you. You’re alone.

The implicit lie is that you’ll never feel alone. You will. God wired you for community, and by doing this by yourself you’re robbing yourself of the joy of a loving and vulnerable relationship with people you can trust.

Look at Bond. In his pursuit of sex, he misses out on meaningful connection with people. He will never feel the empowerment of a woman’s loving and uplifting words or the power behind her heart’s true rejoicing in him. Physical touch cannot replace those things. Physical nakedness is no substitute for spiritual vulnerability. And in that sense he is weakened by his own perceived strength.

In Casino Royale we get a glimpse at an open and vulnerable Bond as he falls in love with Vesper Lynd, the film’s leading lady. Many have said that his attitude towards women and frivolity with sex stem from the trauma he experienced at the end of the story. It’s possible, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. Vesper even says to him, “You’ve got your armour back up.” While he denies that he has any armor left, I give Vesper more credibility here. More often than not, we fail to see the barriers that we put up, and the women in our lives are the ones that point them out to us. Vesper saw something in Bond that he was unwilling to admit: he will never let anyone close.

Bond is a physical manifestation of the desires that lie within men all over the world. We want to be rich, powerful, and physically strong. But I think he manifests the holes in our desires as well. If we were to live as Bond does, we’d be sacrificing so much on the altar of the prospect of a zero-consequence lifestyle. After all, even without the physical and emotional consequences, there are more far-reaching consequences to living as Bond does. And while we may be envious of him and his ability to do what he does, if he were real, I’m sure he’d be envious of our ability to live life to the fullest.

I’ll get back to my James Bond retrospective soon. For now, if you haven’t read what I’ve posted so far, you can start by clicking here.

My James Bond retrospective: Thunderball.

Before Harry Saltzman bought the rights to James Bond from Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, Fleming had unsuccessfully attempted to sell James Bond to a number of film producers to get the novels turned into movies.

In 1958, Fleming met a man named Kevin McClory, and in 1959 they began working on a James Bond script that would launch the character’s movie career. The script was called Thunderball. This script was where SPECTRE was created and the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld was introduced. As McClory and Jack Whittingham were finishing up the script, Fleming sent a draft of the script to his agent, and in 1961, the same year that Saltzman bought the rights to James Bond, Thunderball was published as a novel.

Kevin McClory

McClory and Whittingham filed a lawsuit against Fleming, and in December of 1963, the court ruled that Fleming sell the film copyright of Thunderball to Kevin McClory. Fleming was also ordered to acknowledge McClory in all future editions of Thunderball.

Saltzman and Albert Broccoli had intended to use Thunderball as their first Bond film, but because of the legal dispute, they were unable to. Then, in 1965, Paradise Film Productions, McClory’s company, granted EON Productions permission to use the Thunderball script for one film only. After ten years, the rights would return to Paradise Film Productions so that McClory could make future Bond films if he so desired.

With the rights to Thunderball now in hand, Saltzman and Broccoli set out to create the Bond adventure they had originally wanted to when they first began making Bond films.

The film begins at the funeral of Colonel Jacques Bouvar who also happens to be a member of SPECTRE, the organization out of which Dr. No (Dr. No) and Colonel Rosa Klebb (From Russia with Love) were working. Bond notices something unusual about Bouvar’s widow, so he investigates only to discover that Bouvar is indeed alive, just disguised as his wife. Bond subdues and kills Bouvar, escaping with a jetpack and his trademark Aston Martin DB5.

Knowing that Terence Young had returned to direct this Bond outing made me groan a little. While Dr. No wasn’t a terrible film, it wasn’t great either, and it suffered from poor pacing, loose editing, and an overly complex recounting of a fairly simple plot. The same could be said of From Russia with Love. Goldfinger was a breath of fresh air in a way, providing a tightly knit adventure that was well shot and polished like a Bond film should be.

Unfortunately all my fears about Terence Young being in charge again came to fruition, only this time his poor filming is inexcusable. He was gifted with a much larger budget than he had with the first two Bond adventures, so this should have been a much better film.

Once again, there are pacing issues. The film is exceedingly talky and the first hour is unmanageably slow. Something I’ve noticed about all three of Young’s Bond films is that there are often extraneous shots that too much time is spent on. Scenes tend to drag on because Young cuts away from the action to show something completely unrelated to what’s taking place. Worse yet, he dwells on it for several seconds. Seconds that feel like minutes. He also has a tendency to speed up the film when things are moving a bit too slowly. Frankly, this effect looks unprofessional and desperate.

One scene that I actually really enjoyed was the conference meeting involving a number (pun not intended) of SPECTRE agents and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (though he’s still simply known as “Number 1” in this film). Unfortunately, this one scene alone wasn’t enough to make this a good film for me.

Felix Leiter also makes a return, this time played by Rik Van Nutter. While it was nice seeing a depiction of Leiter that appeared to match Bond’s age and athleticism, Van Nutter portrays him as a bit of a tool, and it seems like the screenwriters threw him in there for some small comic relief. Cheap and unfortunate because I really like the character.

The rest of the acting isn’t too shabby, however, and Connery is really looking comfortable in his role as 007. The addition of a couple Bond girls who don’t fall in love with Bond is also a nice touch, but Fiona’s willingness to have sex with Bond still stretches the limits of plausibility.

Then again, this is a Bond movie. Since when should plausibility play into things?

I liked both of the main Bond girls in Thunderball, but I’d have to give the performance cake to Luciana Paluzzi for her role as the villainess Fiona Volpe. Unfortunately, she comes of as a bit explanatory and is clearly alluding to Pussy Galore from Goldfinger when she tells Bond that she won’t turn over to the good side just because he’s had sex with her.

The primary Bond girl, Dominique “Domino” Derval (played by Claudine Auger), is executed very well. While Auger is a bit stiff as an actress, her character is written so well that I find her extremely believable. I’m not sold on Auger’s performance, but she is certainly beautiful, and she’s not a terrible actress. I think she did a fine job with the scene where she discovers that her brother has been killed, but I’m not too keen on the screenwriters giving her the final kill of the villain Largo.

Before long we’re treated to a huge underwater battle scene that very quickly turns into the most bizarre and painfully dull fight scene yet in a Bond film. I wanted to like this scene, but I couldn’t get past how poorly edited it was. The action was so bad that they had to speed things up multiple times in this scene. And I kept asking myself, Why didn’t they just cut this scene shorter and faster? There was certainly no need to dwell on each shot for so long, and to make things worse, they would cut away to a random drifting sea creature or rock that contributed nothing to the scene.

Like Dr. No and From Russia with Love, Thunderball ends too abruptly and doesn’t give the audience the satisfaction of understanding the movement of the plot. I realize that I’m being harsher on this film than I was on the first two, despite those two exhibiting the same flaws. The reason is that I’m convinced that these types of mistakes (sloppy action, loose editing, unintelligible plot devices, talky screenwriting) should be gone by now. Thankfully, Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball are the only films in the Bond series directed by Terence Young. Yes, I know he created the franchise, and much of who Bond has become is attributed to him, but I’d much rather see Goldfinger again than have to deal with his poorly paced films.

While Young might not be back, Bond certainly will be. For that I might be thankful, depending on how the next film turns out…

Next up, You Only Live Twice.

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My James Bond retrospective: Goldfinger.

Right on the heels of the previous film comes yet another Bond adventure, this time with Guy Hamilton taking the chair as director. Harry Saltzman and “Cubby” Broccoli return to guide the franchise, and James Bond films begin to take on a personality of their own. Many of the established pieces of 007 lore are put into place with Goldfinger, and when this film hit theaters in 1964, the whole world is stricken with “Bond Mania.”

With the immense success of the first two films, a ton of pressure was on Saltzman and Broccoli to deliver with this third film. Because of their track record, the film was billed as bigger and better than either of the first two, and it was time EON Productions proved they had what it took. After all, they now had a budget that was equal to the budgets of both Dr. No and From Russia with Love combined.

And so, in September of 1964 (January 1965 here in the States), we met Goldfinger.

They say, “the third time’s the charm,” and in the case of James Bond, that couldn’t ring more true. While From Russia with Love had pacing issues, Goldfinger moved at a much more satisfying clip. The film editing felt tighter, the acting appeared stronger, and the plot was more cohesive.

The pre-title sequence has little to do with the film as a whole, but features Bond being betrayed by a woman while on a mission in Latin America and uttering the famous line, “Shocking. Positively shocking,” after electrocuting a man in a bathtub. Clever. And characteristic of this slightly more lighthearted film. He then heads to Miami and the opening titles roll.

Several Bond staples appear for the first time throughout this film. There’s the sexual innuendo embedded in a character’s name (although I would hardly call the name “Pussy” an innuendo). There’s the silver birch Aston Martin DB5. And then there’s Bond’s trip to Q Branch where he meets with Q, who was introduced as Major Boothroyd in From Russia with Love.

The film established the trajectory for the Bond franchise. Guy Hamilton created something new within the mold of what Terence Young had done in the previous two films, and it was superb. The introduction, “Bond. James Bond,” returns (albeit not nearly as debonair as in Dr. No), and in so many ways this film just works. There’s some mystery surrounding what’s going on and what Goldfinger is up to, and unlike in From Russia with Love, the audience isn’t let in on the secret, maintaining some suspense throughout the film until Goldfinger unveils his diabolical plan. The murder of Jill Masterson (played by Shirley Eaton) is chilling, and when her dead body was revealed, I caught myself gasping internally even though I knew exactly what I was about to see. The filmmaking is that good. The scene is iconic and synonymous with James Bond (despite its scientific inaccuracy, but hey, this is Bond). Even if you haven’t seen Goldfinger you’re likely quite familiar with the eerie image of a dead girl covered in gold paint.

We soon meet Tilly Masterson, Jill’s sister, who’s seeking revenge for her sister’s death by killing Goldfinger. To be honest, I’d have to say that I liked her character a lot and was disappointed to discover that she wouldn’t have more than just a few minutes of screen time. She was headstrong and knew exactly what she wanted. She wasn’t too good with a rifle though, which is suspicious because she had her initials engraved in her rifle case. Ah well, the writers had to reveal her identity somehow.

After Tilly’s demise, we see quite possibly the most recognizable scene in all of Bond film history. Goldfinger captures Bond and places him on a table where he gives him a demonstration of his new laser. (Here’s a fun fact: this is the first time a laser beam is shown in film.) The most memorable bit of Bond-film dialogue takes place here.

Shortly thereafter we’re introduced to Pussy Galore, played by Honor Blackman (who, incidentally, is the first Bond girl to have an established acting career prior to her role in a Bond movie). She’s a tough girl who resists Bond’s advances through most of the movie and presents more of a challenge to Bond than he may have bargained for. Sexy, determined, and dangerous, Pussy Galore is the most attention grabbing Bond girl yet. And she shows off almost no skin throughout the whole movie. How about that?

If there’s something bad to say about this film it’s that it sends the the Bond franchise down a road that I think it should not have traveled. Dr. No and From Russia with Love were simple spy thrillers. No gimmicks, no gadgets, and no games. While Goldfinger steers clear of camp, it doesn’t avoid nodding in that direction, leading subsequent Bond films down that road, culminating in films like Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker and Die Another Day. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. For now, Bond is a British spy, gadgets be damned.

And, like the end credits said, “James Bond will return…”

Next up, Thunderball.

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My James Bond retrospective: From Russia with Love.

After the immense success of 007’s first big-screen adventure, Dr. No, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman return to send Bond on yet another mission. From Russia with Love hit theaters just a year after Dr. No and featured Sean Connery reprising his role as the unflappable James Bond 007.

Naturally, following up a good film with a successful sequel is always difficult to do, but the team at EON Productions was up to the challenge. Once again, Terence Young took the helm and directed this feature, and much of the crew from Dr. No were present for this second go-around at a James Bond story.

From Russia with Love starts off with a scene from what appears to be a training facility where “James Bond” is killed by one of the villains of the movie, Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw. (We quickly discover that it wasn’t Bond at all, but a double wearing a mask to look like Bond. Naturally.) We are then taken to Venice where we see a chess match between Kronsteen and MacAdams (a scene that recreates the Spassky-Bronstein match of 1960). Kronsteen and Rosa Klebb (the movie’s other primary villain, played by Lotte Lenya) have a meeting with the shadowy figure Ernst Stavro Blofeld, simply known as “Number 1” in this film. Through a bit of dialogue we discover that SPECTRE, the private organization that Dr. No mentioned in the previous film, is planning to steal a Lektor cryptographic device from the Soviets and that they intend to pit the Russians and the British against each other.

We get another glimpse at Red Grant for a few minutes before we are introduced to the lovely Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi, a Russian spy who has unwittingly been enlisted into SPECTRE’s plot to steal the Lektor. Bianchi’s performance is excellent in this film, though I couldn’t help but feel the romance between her character and Bond was a bit forced. I was never certain whether she was really in love with Bond like she said or whether that was all an act as she had alluded to at the beginning of the film. Perhaps that was the filmmaker’s intention. While she was a much stronger character than Honey Ryder in Dr. No, she didn’t stand out the same way Ryder did.

More than fifteen minutes into the film, Bond makes his appearance, once again with Sylvia Trench. I like this character and I found myself wanting to explore the flirtation between her and Bond a bit more. Eunice Gayson plays the character well, but she’s a bit less tantalizing than she was in her first appearance.

Lois Maxwell and Bernard Lee reprise their roles as Miss Moneypenny and M, respectively, and it’s exciting to see them continue to flesh out their characters. New to the franchise in this film is the quartermaster Major Boothroyd from Q Branch, played by Desmond Llewelyn. It’s a very small role, but we get our first glimpse of the character that would soon become Q, a mainstay of the Bond films for almost their entire lifetime.

It’s fascinating to see the evolution of the franchise. Certain elements that become synonymous with these films are still not quite in place, but you can see how they’re being introduced. Interestingly enough, Bond never utters the phrase, “Bond. James Bond.” It makes me wonder if the filmmakers even knew how important that phrase was to the character when he first spoke the words in Dr. No.

All in all, From Russia with Love was a good film, but I found that it was rather dull in several places. Even more talky than Dr. No, but without the sweeping cinematography of that film. Ted Moore certainly didn’t outdo himself this time around.

The film was a bit darker in tone than the first one while still retaining some lightheartedness. There were even some jokes that were thrown in there to keep the humor going. Unfortunately, the plot is too complex for its own good. The film ends up resorting to an inordinate amount of dialogue to explain what’s happening. There are several unusual cuts throughout the film, and I found myself scratching my head on many occasions while watching the movie.

Another thing that bothered me a little bit was the way the music was employed. There were scenes that just shouldn’t have bothered with a soundtrack, but the music was overwhelming the scene. An example of this is the scene where Bond is checking to see if his hotel room has been bugged. The theme composed by Monty Norman and John Barry is blaring in the foreground, taking away from the atmosphere created by the scene.

From Russia with Love is widely regarded as the best of the series, but I’m a bit puzzled as to why. It’s a good film, don’t get me wrong. I definitely enjoyed it, but as far as the film being the best of the series, I’m not convinced of that. It could possibly be among the top 5, certainly top 10, but I wouldn’t call it the best.

The film did include one of the grittiest fight scenes of the series, however; and for that it should be commended.

From Russia with Love is a worthy successor to Dr. No, and should certainly be regarded as one of the finer films of the franchise. Its darker tones, gritty realism, and superb acting all make it a film worth returning to. However, the best is yet to come…

Next up, Goldfinger.

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My James Bond retrospective: Dr. No.

Fifty years ago, Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli began what is arguably the most lucrative franchise in film history. Little did they know what would come of their endeavors, but the road to this first 007 adventure on the big screen was not an easy one. Fraught with problems from the time Broccoli first attempted to purchase the rights to James Bond, it seemed the film would never see the light of day.

But this isn’t a history of the 007 productions, so let’s move on ahead, shall we?

Here’s a quick caveat: I’ll be limiting my journey through the James Bond films to only the films made by EON Productions. That means I won’t be writing about the 1954 episode of Climax! called “Casino Royale,” starring Barry Nelson as American secret agent Jimmy Bond. I also won’t be writing about the 1967 parody film Casino Royale. And I probably won’t write about the 1983 film Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery as James Bond, but we’ll see about that when we get to the 80s.

For now, let us travel back to 1962.

Dr. No, the first of Eon Productions’ James Bond films, takes us on an adventure like few others of the time. In the opening scenes we discover that John Strangways, head of MI6 Section J has been murdered in Jamaica. Soon his secretary, Mary Prescott, is also murdered while radioing in to MI6 in London from Strangways’ office in Kingston.

From here we’re introduced to none other than James Bond, MI6 operative 007, a superspy with a license to kill. Suave, sophisticated, and deadly, 007 carries a heavy hand and an enormous amount of sexual prowess. Portrayed by then-unknown Sean Connery, Bond has a weight and seriousness about him while maintaining a certain level of playfulness betraying his love for what he does. Despite this, Connery’s performance is mainly somber; rarely does he crack a joke in this film, and when he does, it’s quickly dismissed and the story continues.

Every scene is brilliantly shot and is characteristic of the beautiful work done by cinematographer Ted Moore and director Terence Young (who is also credited with creating the many personality traits that Connery employs in his portrayal of Bond).

Our introduction to Bond in this movie is iconic. Polished and gallant, the first utterance of the phrase, “Bond. James Bond,” releases with such poise that the demand for its return is enormous. Interestingly enough, Bond doesn’t introduce himself like this of his own impetus. Sylvia Trench introduces herself as “Trench. Sylvia Trench,” to which Bond replies with his legendary phrase.

The film carries a fairly simple story which is unfortunately somewhat difficult to follow. I’m not sure if it’s a product of the time or that it’s unusually talky, using dialogue as a primary vehicle to carry the plot, but after multiple viewings, I still have some trouble figuring out exactly what’s taking place while Bond is in Dr. No’s lair. That doesn’t take away from the viewing experience, however, which is a testament to just how good the positive aspects of the film are.

Speaking of Dr. No’s lair, after Bond and his trusty sidekick Quarrel arrive on the island, Bond has a chance encounter with Honey Ryder (played by Ursula Andress), the beauty of the film. Another iconic moment in film history: as Ryder steps onto the beach in her white bikini and knife singing “Under the Mango Tree” James looks on in wonder.

Dr. No introduces us to a number of characters that would become members of the James Bond family: M, played by Bernard Lee; Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell; and Felix Leiter, played this time by Jack Lord. There are quite a few elements that have yet to be established (and probably won’t be until 1964), but as far as Bond films go, Dr. No certainly sets the precedent and turns out to be a difficult act to follow.

The film remains among my favorite despite the talkiness and lack of action (in comparison to the other 007 films). Sean Connery plays an excellent Bond, the set-pieces are magnificent, and the cinematography is spot on. Lead on, 007, and audiences will follow.

Next up, From Russia with Love.

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