I’m going to deviate from my usual Sunday Matinee postings and cover an entire series of films today. I grew up with James Bond, both on television and in the theater. I believe the first one I ever saw in the movies was The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), which would have been when I was eight years old.
I will be the first to admit that there is not a lot of deep philosophy in these movies, but damn they were a lot of fun. Nor are they anything like the original Ian Flemming stories, which irritates many purists (including one friend of mine who has never seen a Bond film and flat-out refuses to do so, ever, because he is such a fan of the stories). They are something of a product of their times, of course; we see Live and Let Die (1973) coming out at the height of the “blacksploitation” craze that gave us both Shaft and Blackula. Too, both The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) featured villains who were industrialists and businesssmen, echoing the general mistrust of big business that spiked in the later half of the 1970’s. The Russians are, somewhat surprisingly, almost never the real bad-guys. Even in From Russia With Love (1963) the real villain is SPECTRE.
The conventional wisdom is usually that, much like Doctor Who, your favorite Bond actor is the one you first saw. This is true in my case, as the first Bond film I ever remember seeing on television was You Only Live Twice (1967), and Sean Connery remains my favorite 007.
The plots, especially of the early films, are something of a mixed bag. Some of the actions that Bond takes are downright incomprehensible (such as in Goldfinger (1964), where Bond is supposed to pose as a would-be gold smuggler to get inside Goldfinger’s smuggling operation, but instead goes out of his way to antagonize him). Also, some of the bad guys’ plots are somewhat over-complicated at times (why, for instance, does SPECTRE bother with capturing American and Soviet spacecraft in You Only Live Twice, when they could have simply shot them down with a missile, achieving their same goal with a lot less trouble?).
For all their flaws, though, I still love the pre-Brosnan Bond films. The Pierce Brosnan films and later seem very different in tone and tenor, and tend to fall very flat to me, perhaps owing to the fact that they were all made after the fall of the Soviet Union, when the world was a very different place, and the place of Bond and MI6 wasn’t what it once was. They’re great fun if you don’t try to turn them into something they’re not, and I find them eminently re-watchable.
Plus, I like to try to find connections between the films that weren’t originally there, as a sort of game. For instance, it appears that Klaus Hergesheimer (from Diamonds Are Forever (1971)) originally had a job with NASA during You Only Live Twice. And while he was with Whyte Aerospace, he worked with Tom Carter from The Spy Who Loved Me, whose reserve USN commission was apparently activated to put him in command of the submarine.USS Wayne. And what the heck was Morton Slumber doing posing as an American diplomat? Was he a SPECTRE agent all along, or did they turn him later on and set him up at the mortuary? The intricacies abound.
Anyway, to finish off this little retrospective, I give you my own Top Ten Bond Films of All Time; many of these are based on how good the villain is (Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, for example, push Diamonds Are Forever over the top). Feel free to give your own list in the comments!
10. From Russia With Love – Connery
9. Dr. No – Connery
8. You Only Live Twice – Connery
7. Live and Let Die – Moore
6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Lazenby
5. Thunderball – Connery
4. The Man With the Golden Gun – Moore
3. Goldfinger – Connery
2. Moonraker – Moore
1. Diamonds Are Forever – Connery