James Bond, agent 007 of Her Majesty's Secret Service. Adventure hero par excellence, ladies-man, tough guy and all-around bad motherfucker. Part law-enforcer, part school-bully, when the guy enters a room you just know that you're in the presence of the Alpha wolf. It has been said that women want him and that men want to be him. The guy looks good in whatever he wears, gets to play with the coolest (and most destructive) of toys, travels internationally on his government's tab, squares off against megalomaniacal assholes who seriously need killing, and on top of all that he gets more ass than a toilet seat. This is a hero who can't help but to fascinate.
First seeing the light of day in Ian Fleming's 1953 novel Casino Royale, James Bond was envisioned as a somewhat neurotic torpedo for the British government; more cop/investigator than the impossibly suave super-agent who later became a cultural benchmark. He was a very human protagonist, one who admitted fear in the face of almost-certainly lethal peril, and a man who suffered most severely for Queen and country (read most of the Fleming-penned novels to see what I mean, particularly Casino Royale — the infamous encounter between a carpet beater and Bond's dangling, naked nuts will scar you for life — and Live And Let Die). Fleming, having actually been a British secret agent, brought a tense realism to his hero's adventures and made him into a likeable sort who could suddenly become extremely cold and ruthless when the need arose. And the license to kill did not give him the government-sanctioned leave to dispatch folks willy-nilly; he could kill in the line of direct orders or self-defense only, and once his superiors had all the details of a work-related slaying they would use their influence to cover up the messy details.
With such a hero in place and the exotic adventures that he endured guaranteed to whet the appetite of a cold war audience, 007 was destined to be a success. In fact, no less a luminary than John F. Kennedy cited From Russia With Love as one of his favorite novels. That said, the movies inevitably happened, bringing a new level of sex and violence to the screen (although the violence couldn't hold a candle to the insane sadism of the novels), while at the same time altering Bond into a superhero. And while it's easy to look at the content in the Bond films as rather tame by today's jaded standards, keep in mind that these flicks were among the first major releases to include such naughty stuff. When Bond killed somebody it wasn't pretty, and when it looked like he was going to get some punani, you knew that he got some punani. Bond flicks were where moviegoers went for titillation before such stuff was co-opted by big-time Hollywood. (Interesting aside: there was a comedienne whose name eludes me who once remarked that she used to pray to find a boy during her teenage years who could unhook her bra with the ease that she just knew James Bond could.)
Anyhoo, background info now over with, I intend to go off on one of my fabled movie rants, this time devoting my energies (or wasting valuable time —both mine and yours — depending on your point of view) to the long-running James Bond film franchise. I'm sticking strictly to the official series and ignoring the insultingly wretched Casino Royale (1967) and the sadly superfluous Never Say Never Again (1983). So, without further semi-scholarly film-geekery...
EL BUNCHO RATES THE JAMES BOND FILMS: THE CLASSICS, THE PASSABLE AND THE DOWNRIGHT SUCK-AWFUL.
DR. NO (1962) Directed by Terence Young.
The film that started it all.
Sean Connery's first turn as 007 is a study in icy, nonchalant cool as Bond glides from one situation to the next with a sleepy-eyed, perpetually bored sneer on his face. However, other than the fact that this is the first James Bond movie, the film itself remains simply a taught and straightforward (if unremarkable) thriller with Connery's Bond as its saving grace. Oh, and Ursula Andress as Honey Rider is major league eye candy in that bikini (which I've heard on good authority was so smokin' that when Ray Charles was in the audience, he was heard to exclaim "God Damn!!!").
Notes: No theme song, but we get the definitive — and full-length — version of the immortal James Bond theme. Most of the main recurring characters are first seen here, namely Bond, Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) and M (Bernard Lee). Jack "Hawaii Five-O" Lord shows up as the CIA's frequent liaison for Bond, Felix Leiter. No gadgets, just guns and ass-whuppin' (unless you count the flame-throwing "dragon"). Eunice Gayson appears as Sylvia Trench, the only woman involved with Bond to appear twice. The soundtrack to this is one of the best to listen to at home, and is replete with cheesy early-'60's calypso and Jamaican dance music (including the infectious "Three Blind MIce" and "Kingston Calypso"), so check out the CD. In the source novel the Chinese/German villain (who has steel pincers for hands) meets his justly deserved fate when Bond uses a crane to bury him in several tons of bird shit (I swear to God!!!).
EL BUNCHO RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 - an interesting series opener.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) Directed by Terence Young.
James Bond is back, and the pieces begin to fall into place.
Considered by many (including yours truly) to be the best film in the series, the second Bond outing sticks rather closely to the events of the source novel (one of the very few of the films to do so) with glorious results. International super-criminal organization SPECTRE (the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) rears its ugly head for the first time and goes after 007 intent on revenge for the loss of Dr. No, who was apparently on their payroll (he worked for the Russians in the novel). The plan: lure 007 with the promise of a Russian decoding device delivered by a beautiful (and horny) Red agent into a situation that is not only an obvious trap, but one that will internationally disgrace the British secret service (it involves SPECTRE agents filming Bond and the enemy agent fucking their brains out through a two-way mirror).
This one is as serious as a heart attack (with a smattering of the humor that would later fist the series right in the ass, but far less obnoxious than it would become) and highlights include a great catfight in a gypsy encampment near Istanbul, Daniella Bianchi as the mouth-watering enemy agent Tatiana Romanova, Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb (perhaps cinema's most horrifying bulldyke), Pedro Armendariz as Ali Kerim-Bey — Istanbul's livelier version of M (a part performed as the actor was dying from radiation-induced cancer contracted while filming the John Wayne-as-Genghis Khan-epic The Conqueror, which was filmed at a former atomic test site. Armendariz committed suicide at the end of filming the Bond flick), and Robert Shaw as Donald "Red" Grant, an exceedingly unsavory SPECTRE recruit who engages Bond in the now-famous battle on the Orient Express.
Notes: we get the first attempt at the now-cliché credits & hot chicks sequences, but the theme song (sung by Matt Munro — who?) doesn't show up until the end. The frequently heard "007" instrumental piece makes its debut here during Bond's run-in with an enemy helicopter. Q (Desmond Llewlyn) shows up for the first time, along with one of the most impressive gadgets in the series: the attaché case (if you've seen the movie, you know what I mean. If not, I ain't sayin' nothin'...). Master villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld makes his first appearance in the series, stroking his fluffy kitty and never being seen above the lower ribcage. Eunice Gayson returns for the second (and final) time as the underappreciated romantic-interest Sylvia Trench. Also, Walter Gotell (who would turn up in later films as General Gogol) shows up as the friendly tour guide on SPECTRE Island.
EL BUNCHO RATING: 5 OUT OF 5- ONE OF THE CLASSICS.
GOLDFINGER (1964). Directed by Guy Hamilton.
This is the one that made your mother get as wet as a swamp.
The third 007 film set the formula for most of the subsequent entries, and went on to launch the worldwide James Bond craze of the mid-1960's. Everything about this one that must have seemed fresh when first seen is so embedded in popular consciousness that it's almost impossible to watch this now and truly get what the big deal was.
Bond runs afoul of Auric Goldfinger, a corpulent Teutonic prick who has an unusual scheme for controlling the world's gold economy, and much mayhem ensues. The villain who reveals his plan in graphic detail, the gimmick henchman (Harold Sakata as the badassed Oddjob), gadgets that veer straight into comic book territory (the marvelous Aston Martin DB 5, which seems well-equipped enough to overthrow most third-world countries), over-abundant one-liners and Bond's transformation into a virtually-unbeatable superman who is a master of every conceivable human activity all begin with this film. The unexpected mega-success of Goldfinger lead the producers to the obvious conclusion: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. For the next several entries in the series, this film was essentially remade with slight alterations. And don't let my tone turn you off: Goldfinger is one of the classic Bonds, and you owe it to yourself to check it out.
Notes: Goldfinger introduces the pre-credits mini-adventure sequence, this one having absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story (there was a teaser sequence in the previous film, but it was part of the story). The theme song — ass-kickingly belted out by Shirley Bassey — is one of the undisputed classics of cinema, and perhaps the definitive Bond tune. Honor Blackman makes movie history by getting away with playing a character named Pussy Galore (an overt lesbian in the source novel, Pussy is merely tomboyish in the movie until she has a literal role in the hay with 007). Designer Ken Adam's low ceiling/sloping walls sensibilities are greatly in evidence here, particularly in Goldfinger's rec room. Bond's CIA pal, Felix Leiter turns up again, this time played by Cec (pronounced "cease") Linder, who is the only actor to date to look like the character was described in the novels (prior to a limb-subtracting run-in with a shark in the novel Live And Let Die).
This film also features one of the great hero/villain exchanges in movie history. Bond, in the clutches of Goldfinger and nervously watching a laser beam slowly making its way to his family jewels, makes a pitiful attempt at bravado.
BOND: Do you expect me to talk?
GOLDFINGER:(amused) No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.
And let us not forget Goldfinger's other great bit of dialogue, directed at a group of mobsters who later end up with a serious case of death:
GOLDFINGER: Man has climbed Mount Everest. Gone to the bottom of the ocean. He has fired rockets to the moon. Split the atom. Achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor...except crime!
And he meant that shit!
EL BUNCHO RATING: 4 OUT OF 5- THE TEMPLATE FOR WHAT FOLLOWED.
THUNDERBALL (1965) Directed by Terence Young.
So how do you top the success of Goldfinger? You guessed it: excess.
The first Bond movie with a running time that passes the two-hour mark, Thunderball was also the first of the 007-as-spectacle films. Bigger budget, bigger action, more women... let's face it, just plain more of every Goddamned thing that people liked about Bond. Sadly, this one moves rather slowly, with only occasional signs of life, but it's still worth your time.
007 finds himself in Jamaica investigating the theft of two nuclear warheads that SPECTRE intends to use to extort £100,000,000 from those wacky Brits. My vote for the greatest of all Bond villains, Emilio Largo, is the head of this plot, and he steals the movie by virtue of sheer personality (he's a vicious, misogynistic asshole who enjoys whipping his mistress when she gets uppity). The other villain of note in this piece is Fiona Volpe, a thermonuclear redhead played by Luciana Paluzzi, who is such a badass that she fucks 007 and throws it back in his face (as he's captured by some of her goons) by stating that his much-lauded cocksmanship would never sway her from her loyalty to SPECTRE, and she sure as hell wasn't kidding.
As for our hero, Sean Connery was the most famous man on the planet by this time, and he clearly wasn't enjoying his stardom since he more or less sleepwalks through this film. And Claudine Auger (a former Miss France who actually beat out Raquel Welch for this role) sure fills out a swimsuit as the villain's mistress, but she's utterly boring otherwise.
Notes: Thunderball features a terrific opening sequence that is marred by the unwelcome presence of an improbably placed jet pack and too many bad one-liners (with more littered throughout the film). Very few gadgets, but the Aston Martin does turn up during the pre-credits sequence. Rik Van Nutter plays Felix Leiter this time around, and he comes off like a stoned surfer.
The shattering theme song is rendered by a then-unknown Tom Jones, and it gets my vote as the best of the lot.
EL BUNCHO RATING: 3 OUT OF 5- BLOATED, BUT WORTH CHECKING OUT.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) Directed by Lewis Gilbert.
The budget soars and Connery grows more apathetic.
007 must solve the mystery of who is hijacking space capsules and why. This adventure takes him to Japan, and serves as more of a sumptuous travelogue than anything else. The plot jumps around from set piece to set piece while barely engaging the audience, the villains aren't all that interesting — although we do finally get to see Blofeld face-to-face, and that's a total disappointment since he's scrawny, utterly without a trace of menace and on top of that, his head looks like a cracked boiled egg (Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, anyone?). There's also a ludicrous bit of business wherein Bond undergoes plastic surgery to make him look Japanese. Folks, let me tell you that Sean Connery simply does not even remotely resemble an Asian, even when given epicanthic-eye mascara and a slathering of shoe polish. And by the end, the only thing missing from the over-the-top climax is Jimi Hendrix in kabuki makeup playing the James Bond theme. Pointless excess, but eye candy nonetheless. After this, Sean Connery walked away from the series to greener pastures...TO BE CONTINUED.
Notes: this is the first film in the series that earns the description of "wicked fucking stupid," but it is redeemed by being a visual feast. The locations are beautiful and by the time the film is halfway over, you'll want to book a tour of Japan.
The two main Bond girls are played by regulars from the Godzilla movies, namely Akiko Wakabayashi (from Ghidrah-The Three-Headed Monster) and Mie Hama (from Monster Zero, King Kong Escapes and others, who possesses major league, grade A triple-foxhood), and are as dull as dishwater. Bond's contact in Japan, and their answer to M, is played by Tetsuro Tanba (of Female Slave Ship fame) in a lively performance.
You Only Live Twice may be the first Western film to feature ninja, who show up in abundance during the climax. The only other things that this film has going for it are Little Nellly (a miniature helicopter that rivals the Aston Martin for sheer destructive capability) and a truly beautiful themesong perfomed by the otherwise spectacularly untalented Nancy Sinatra ("These Boots Are Made For Walking" notwithstanding).
By this time, Connery was totally sick of the Bond thing, and reportedly began to act like a total douchebag to members of the press, his fans, random passersby, trees... While doing a press junket in Japan, Connery royally pissed off the Japanese public by stating that he did not find Japanese women to be attractive. Great way to promote the flick, genius!
EL BUNCHO RATING: 2 1/2 OUT OF 5- WATCH IT FOR THE TRAVELOGUE ASPECT.
ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) Directed by Peter Hunt.
Exit the Scotsman, enter the Aussie.
007 has been tracking Blofeld for two years and has found him living in Switzerland, posing as an altruistic allergist. Blofeld's real agenda: international dissemination of a virus that will render the world sterile. With the assistance of a likeable crime lord, Bond saves the day and also finds the time to fall in love with — and marry! — the crime lord's suicidal daughter. Sadly, as all seems right in Bond's world, tragedy rears its ugly head...
Exit Sean Connery, enter... George Lazenby??? Yes, Connery was replaced by an Australian former male fashion model with no previous acting experience. Not the best of ideas, but somehow not as bad as it could have been. Lazenby makes up for his lack of acting chops by being the best fighter out of all of the Bond actors; the blows he lands look like they slapped the taste out of the mouths of those on the receiving end. He's rather dashing too, and has a certain cool about him. Which only makes it infuriating to know that he took the poor advice of his agent — who felt that the success of Easy Rider and other such "youth" flicks spelled the imminent end of the Bond franchise — and bowed out in favor of greener pastures. Kreskin he ain't.
As for the other aspects of the film, this is a top-notch 007 outing in every way. Telly Savalas makes a great Blofeld, one who finally delivers on the menace promised in previous installments. He's suave, calculating, and every inch a worthy opponent for our hero. Diana Rigg shines as the tortured, self-destructive Tracy, the first of the Bond women with serious depth. It's easy to see why Bond falls for her, and she actually brings out a hitherto unseen tenderness in 007. She's a class act all the way. There's no theme song, but we do get an excellent instrumental during the titles. The vocal highlight is Louis Armstrong's touching "We Have All The Time In The World," used to great effect during the scenes of Bond and Tracy's courtship. Low on gadgets, high on action and plot, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a strong contender for the title of best Bond film ever made, and would have earned that honor if Sean Connery had stuck around.
EL BUNCHO RATING: 4 1/2 out of 5- minus half a point for the absence of Sean Connery, but a winner all the way. Do not miss this one.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) Directed by Guy Hamilton.
Who's the old, fat guy with the hairpiece? HOLY SHIT! It's Sean Connery!!!
After George Lazenby moved on to appear in such cinematic classics as the unwatchable kung fu time-waster Stoner and the John "Full House" Stamos-versus-megalomaniacial-hermaphrodite espionage howler Never Too Young To Die, the Bond producers managed to lure Sean Connery back into bondage with a paycheck of $1,250,000, 12.5 percent of the gross profits, $145,000 for every week that the film went over schedule, and a promise that United Artists would bankroll any two films of his choosing. Sure, Connery's presence guaranteed box office, but four years had passed since he last stepped in front of the camera as 007. He was now forty-one years old, somewhat overweight/bloated, graying and obviously in need of a decent toupee. Get ready, folks: James Bond is back, and now he's your dad!
007 is hot on the trail of smuggled diamonds which are being used as components for a gigantic orbital death ray, a plan masterminded by Blofeld (now played by Charles The Rocky Horror Picture Show Gray). Slightly-entertaining run-ins with Las Vegas mobsters, badass wrasslin' chicks and a pair of homosexual hitmen can't hide the fact that this film has a convoluted and rather boring story , and a distinctly Smokey and the Bandit flavor permeates the the proceedings. The usual explosive finale on an oil rig is anything but stirring, and feels as tired as Kunta Kinte after the bloodhound marathon. In short, this one is a serious loser.
Notes: Shirley Bassey's theme song - her voice is terrific, but listen to the lyrics to truly get how great this tune is. Gay hitmen Kidd and Wint are fun too, and they should have been more prominent throughout. But NOOOOOOOOOO...
EL BUNCHO RATING: 1 OUT OF 5- dumb, dumb, dumb and just plain bad. One of the few that I'll never sit through again.
JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN PART TWO: THE ROGER MOORE YEARS (whenever I get around to sitting through that cavalcade of almost total awfulness)