Well, it’s kind of a Bond week, so to complement (and possibly disagree) with my Tweet notes on each film, I’ve dug out my reviews of six Bond films that were published for the release of Casino Royale in 2006. It’s like some kind of 007 Legends, but only one of these made it into the game…
Dr No (1963)
Dir: Terence Young. 1962 USA, Britain, 105 mins
Cast: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, John Kitzmiller, Eunice Gayson.
AFTER MEETING the daunting challenge of casting James Bond with a young Scottish actor, cameras were set to roll on the film which was to kick-start a multi billion pound franchise from Ian Fleming’s novels.
With the first Bond book, Casino Royale, destined not to be officially adapted for forty years, the producing partnership of Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to adapt the sixth book of Ian Fleming’s Bond series, Dr No, mainly due to legal issues and its suitability for filming. The result is a fairly faithful adaptation of a fairly simple tale and an excellent choice for introducing Bond to the big screen.
Bond (Connery) is dispatched to Jamaica after the disappearance of a British agent who was investigating interference in the American space program. Aided by the CIA, Bond’s detective trail leads him – via superstition, fear and Honey Ryder (Andress) – to Dr No (Wiseman), an operative of the international crime syndicate, SPECTRE.
Filmed between Jamaica – where Fleming owned a house, GoldenEye – and Pinewood Studios – which was to become the franchise’s spiritual home – the film stretches its meagre budget to some impressive locales and Ken Adam’s impressive sets. Especially the control centre of the climax, in which lurks the titular, radiation maimed criminal. Here, Joseph Wiseman sets the pattern for Bond villains to follow, cutting a dapper and menacing figure despite not appearing onscreen for over an hour. In particular, No’s rather sinister prosthetic hand is demonstrated with a subtler touch than later films may have given it. Despite this, it is tempting to think of what might have been if Fleming’s original suggestion of Sid James had taken up villain duties.
As the first Bond girl, Ursula Andress has rightly become an icon thanks to one of the best entrances in film history. However, cast just before filming, she would never have expected to be spoofing herself just five years later in Casino Royale. Opposite her, Connery proved an excellent choice for Bond, cutting between the suave and ruthless elements of the script with ease and it’s no wonder he is still the Bond against which all others are measured.
Despite most of the boxes being checked, the formula would not be truly established until Goldfinger two years later, but as a pilot for one of the world’s largest film franchises, it’s remarkably consistent with what follows. A simple and effective adventure that more than justified a sequel.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Dir: Peter Hunt. 1969 USA, Britain, 136 mins
Cast: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Ilse Steppat, Gabriele Ferzetti
NOTORIOUS, YES. The black sheep, yes. But once you’ve got that out of the way, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a long way from You Only Live Twice, and potentially the high point of the whole series.
To start the new era, franchise producer’s Saltzman and Broccoli returned to books, crafting a close adaptation of the source book and wiping the slate clean. For the most part, this is a gentler, more epic film than Connery’s Bond entries, helped in part by Lazenby’s less bullying, persona.
When Telly Savalas’ super smooth Ernst Stavro Blofeld crafts a germ warfare plot that could kill millions, Bond must join with SPECTRE’s rival criminal organisation Union Corse, for – thanks to the series reboot – a fateful first meeting with his nemesis high in the Swiss Alps. Ironically as the super spy heads to Blofeld’s cover operation, an allergy clinic full of models, it seems his womanising ways are behind him. But can James Bond ever settle down in peace?
Well, maybe not, but OHMSS tries hard to show a new life for Bond, with romantic scenes set against a marvellous score, including ‘We have all the time in the world’ This is a tightly plotted, finely acted and beautifully filmed adventure, and it’s certainly beyond Lazenby’s rare woodenness to ruin that. The Australian’s only attempt at the role, on the back of hardly any acting experience, is in no way a disaster. The former model actually gets more character to play with than Connery received in any of his films. As the film opens, Bond has been trying and failing to locate Blofeld for two years, and is prepared to tender his resignation when removed the task. But there is intention to do more than just deepen Bond’s character.
Peter Hunt had worked on several Bond films before stepping up from being editor to the director’s chair, and the change from the previous five entries is noticeable. There is something quite European about the film despite being the only one with an Antipodean Bond. Hunt employs jump cuts among other techniques to create a highly artistic film, while the substance is ably supplied by a good cast. Rigg and Savalas in particular set a high standard for Bond girl and villain respectively. Lazenby and Rigg’s chemistry is crucial to the plot and they certainly rise to the occasion making for not only the most moving scene, but the finest ending of any film in the series.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service sets heights that the franchise was not near again for many years. It’s not surprising that the critical stock of the film rose significantly in the decade following its release, a fact acknowledged 12 years later when Roger Moore was to visit his wife’s grave in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Dir: Guy Hamilton. 1971 USA, Britain, 120 mins
Cast: Sean Connery, Charles Gray, Jill St. John, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Norman Burton, Desmond Llewelyn.
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER arrived like clockwork, two years after its predecessor On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But for the first time in the series’ history, it was clear a reboot was required. Bond box office had slipped from its early sixties height and once it became clear that Lazenby wouldn’t be returning, Connery’s return must have eased some pains, even at the expense of a world record salary.
Effectively, to get back to the good old days, the production team chose to copy it. The original Bond was back, so they looked to his finest hour – unarguably Goldfinger – even rehired that film’s director, Guy Hamilton, to recapture the magic. Given that they even sought to bring back Auric Goldfinger – or even his diamond obsessed brother – it is a mercy that one standout part of the film is Charles Gray’s ebullient Blofeld. That he is so vastly different from the villain’s previous incarnations is strange, but top marks must certainly go to his plastic surgeon
Sent to investigate the smuggling of diamonds from British mines in Africa, Bond infiltrates the trade, meeting the Amsterdam contact Tiffany Case (St John) on route, and helps her smuggle diamonds across the Atlantic. In Las Vegas it becomes clear that the spy’s old nemesis Blofeld (Gray) has seized a billionaire’s business and is using it as a cover to receive the diamonds he needs for a laser satellite weapon
Following the Lazenby lead, faithful and lovingly crafted adaptation, Diamonds Are Forever is a vastly different film, and a significant pointer for where the series would go during the Moore years. Space buggy chases, ‘decoys’ of the main villain and an oil rig finale, it could have been when the series jumped the shark, but it is mainly some excellent villains – particularly henchmen Wint and Kidd – and Connery that hold it together. Certainly, it would be hard to see Lazenby’s Bond in this world. In fact, the events of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are never even alluded to, the slate wiped clean.
Oddly, considering its ‘greatest hits’ Diamonds Are Forever is only film with just one main Bond girl, but a role that Jill St John copes well with the role. Initially part of the opposition to Bond, by the end sequence where Blofeld holds her captive she has retreated to screaming, useless comic relief.
What is noticeable about Diamonds Are Forever, is how quickly the 1970s hit the franchise. Just nine years after his debut, Connery is looking far older, though clearly glad to be back. But it’s the clothes, cars and style that suggest the franchise was throwing itself into its second decade, or at least showing it wasn’t just a product of the sixties: the seventies had arrived with a kiss kiss bang bang, and Diamonds are Forever arrested the slump with pure brute force.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1975)
Dir: Guy Hamilton. 1974 USA, Britain, 120 mins
Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, Bernard Lee, Soon Taik Oh, Richard Loo, Desmond Llewelyn.
ROGER MOORE’S second outing followed hot on the heels of his first, but while Live and Let Die delighted in reinventing Bond and breaking the formula, MWTGG serves up some of the worst points of the era.
This is a shame, as the idea behind it is irresistible. Bond receives a gold bullet with his number on it, the calling card of ex-KGB operative now gun for hire, Francisco Scaramanga; no-one can match him, no hitman can catch him with the single bullet in his golden gun. But it soon becomes clear that, while Bond faces the closest battle of his career, his nemesis has higher ambitions than the million a shot he currently commands.
The casting of Lee as Scaramanga is the films strong point. A cousin of Fleming, the author had suggested the British actor as Bond himself, but his fit with Bond nemesis was always the most irresistible. Here is the perfect anti-Bond, and the first villain to take precedence over the super spy in the opening sequence. Evenly matched, if not surpassing 007 as a sharp shooter, he is a mirror image – glimpses of his lifestyle, tastes for wine and gadgets suggest what Bond could have become in different circumstances.
But opposite Lee, Moore is a Bond at his most misogynistic and Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight is one of the most irritating Bond girls in the franchise’s history. If she’s the standard of agents M16 recruits its no wonder M is so grumpy, constantly telling Q to “shut up.”
As often in the Moore era, ‘bandwagon’ seems to be the keyword. But whereas Live and Let Die had carried its Blaxploitation with style and later Moonraker was to at least incorporate its Star Wars intentions into a plot, here the Eastern promise of Golden Gun’s martial arts stylings is squandered. Few Bond moments drop as low as Bond’s completely irrelevant trip to a Karate school, only to get left behind by his allies. The open road car chase does make a comeback after Live and Let Die’s city traffic dodging, but the less said about ‘that’ car stunt sound effects the better.
The film does look lovely for the most part, with suitably exotic locales. The M16 base hidden in broad sight in Hong Kong harbour is a particularly good idea and impressive set, but for the most part, The Man with the Golden Gun seems very much a waste of good ideas. Most unforgivably, it’s gadget light. Scaramanga gets the flying car, the lighter-kit golden gun and laser and Bond gets, well, just a third nipple. So balanced in favour of the villain is the film, that it makes the anticlimax all the more disappointing as Bond and Goodnight pratfall around Scaramanga’s base. Very much style over substance for long parts this is real popcorn Bond but at least it delivers a belter of theme song at the end.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Dir: Roger Spottiswoode. 1997 USA, Britain, 114 mins
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Jonathan Pryce, Michelle Yeoh, Judi Dench, Teri Hatcher, Ricky jay, Gotz Otto, Vincent Schiavelli, Desmond Llewelyn.
PROVING THAT nothing ages you like playing Bond, Brosnan was no longer the rather skinny, slight super spy of GoldenEye when he returned to the role in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.
Considering the previous film did such a good job of recasting Bond for the post Cold War world, it seemed a bit odd that the sequel grabbed the nineties with such abandon. Everything about TND should shout ‘dated’, but in fact is one of the strongest in the franchise. If you are looking for a straightforward, artfully constructed action film, look no further. Any doubts are quickly dispatched by the stunning pre-title sequence, where Bond saves the Royal Navy from nuclear disaster embarrassment, thanks to some sharp flying.
Following a lavish tech savvy title sequence, with Sheryl Crow’s understated theme song. The Pacific is dragged to the brink of war when the Chinese seem to launch a devastating attack on a Royal Naval frigate. But M16 quickly dispatch Bond (Brosnan) to see if it’s a coincidence that Elliot Carver’s (Pryce) Tomorrow newspaper carried the story front page, especially when he harbours ambitions in the Chinese territory. M (Dench) presumably hopes that, for once, 007’s previous relationship with Carver’s wife Paris (Teri Hatcher) will aid the mission. But, of course there are two sides to every story and Bond soon meets his match in Chinese agent Wai Lin (Yeoh). Can the two work together to find out who is really behind the attack and avert the imminent war?
Surfacing from one of the most problematic shoots the franchise has seen, the first two acts of TND are astonishing. The script tight – in fact Bond has far less dialogue here than any other film – and high quality action sequences stack on top of each other, all with the plot to carry it. But by the end – a raid on Carver’s stealth boat seems so far, so Spy who Loved Me.
Pryce’s Murdoch-lite may be an acquired taste, but he’s actually a great villain and just the megalomaniac the series demands. While his stealth boat sounds and looks rather silly, the idea of a powerful media network, here the Carver Media Group Network, manipulating a war for its own benefit seems less far fetched every day.
Improving on his already engaging performance in GoldenEye, Brosnan really comes into his own here. His is a ruthless Bond, without the bullying of Connery, and the best equipped Bond actor to cut between pun and stun. In fact, despite a plot far removed from the books, he puts a valid case for being the most faithful page-to-screen Bond yet.
On the Bond girl front, Tomorrow Never Dies provides a curious assortment. Teri Hatcher’s casting smacked of stunt at the time, and while a weak element her tragic figure is suitably cast, making a believable lover of both Bond and Carver. On the other side, Michelle Yeoh’s Wai Lin is certainly not the first woman to give Bond a run for his money, but unfortunately like most she inevitably needs saving by the end. Something that certainly cannot be said of the franchise at this point.
The World is Not Enough(1999)
Dir: Michael Apted. 1999 USA, Britain, 123 mins
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle, Judi Dench, Denise Richards, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn.
SURELY THE best start of any film in the franchise, The World is Not Enough’s pre-title sequence is breath-taking, well escaping its Cool Britannia roots as a boat chase on the Thames culminates at the Millennium Dome. That said, the repeated viewing it practically demands highlights that it is far too long, delaying the titles for almost fifteen minutes.
But the filmmaker’s had their reasons. The franchise’s return to connecting the pre-title sequences with the main plotline is continued as Bond (Brosnan) becomes an unwilling participant in an attack on M16 and the murder of one of M’s (Dench) oldest friends, the British oil mogul, Sir Robert King (Calder). Later, after an all-out title sequence, Bond is assigned to protect King’s orphaned heiress daughter Elektra (Marceau) from constant attempts on her life. However, this rather un-00 agent activity takes a turn for the complicated when Elektra’s one time kidnapper and the world’s most dangerous terrorist Renard (Carlyle) gains possession of a nuclear weapon and the future of oil supply to the west is placed in jeopardy. An ambitious, twisting plot then, but one that delivers on many levels.
The title’s acronym, TWINE, is apt. Surprisingly this film has a nasty little sadistic streak running though it. With torture, mutilation and degradation stringing the set pieces together. Here Bond occasionally wanders into completely deranged mode – maybe not surprising as he’s caught in the middle of other people’s games for most of the film. The ruthlessness Brosnan demonstrated with efficient effect in Tomorrow Never Dies has been upped to the next degree, and most of his puns are really not intended to be funny all. But, if you doubt the entertainment of Bond with an edge, you just have to look back at Octopussy.
Like Tomorrow Never Dies, TWINE displays willingness to subvert Bond archetypes. So many parts have been twisted from even the ‘reality’ of Bond’s world – the vertical submarine, the ‘car chase’ in the tunnel – the science fiction direction of its sequel, Die Another Day, is clearly signposted. Still, the filmmaker’s seem willing to take more risks with the formula, picking up some of Brosnan’s confidence – in a film he probably considered to be his mid point in the role.
The most science-fiction element here, Renard – a villain unable to feel pain thanks to a bullet working its way through his brain – is the film’s weakest point, as the character is criminally underused, a victim of a complicated plot. Probably the most criticism is levelled at Denise Richard’s Dr Christmas Jones. Yes, at last, a bond girl who is a rocket scientist. If this was an attempt to redefine the archetype, it fails badly and is a rather odd step back from Tomorrow Never Die’s Wai Lin.
Still, this is a truly great entry into the series, with the clear ambition to up the bar in every way, and represents the high point of the Brosnan era. GoldenEye may be a brilliant reboot and Tomorrow Never Dies the perfect Bond actioner, but The World Is Not Enough strives to have it all, and it really doesn’t miss that much.