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The Best of Bond – The First Ten


The first 10 Bond films arrived over a span of 15 years, yet it has taken 35 years for the next 13 to appear. To mark my revisiting of the series here’s how I rank them.

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Lazenby’s solo outing is also the best Bond by some distance. Don’t listen to those claiming it would have been even better with Connery; could you imagine that heartbreaking final scene, the romance with Tracy (Diana Rigg), Bond vulnerable and alone, with the Scottish titan? Lazenby fits the material perfectly. And Peter Hunt directs with a flair and energy that still impresses. Topping it off is John Barry’s most glorious Bond score and the most beautiful song (We Have All the Time in the World). (10/10)


2. Diamonds are Forever

Connery’s return for big bucks is ironically the smallest scale outing since From Russia with Love. The consequence is an emphasis on character and humour. If Connery is greying and less-than-svelte, he seems to be enjoying himself in a way that was absent on his last two Bonds. The supporting cast is memorably larger than life, including Charles Gray as the best Blofeld and gay hit men Mr. Wint and Mr Kidd. In theory, you’d expect the Yankophile tendencies to maroon the series but the Las Vegas seediness lends Bond a tawdry invigoration. And Jill St. John’s brash Tiffany Case could easily have been all wrong, but she makes her most appealing. (10/10)


3. Goldfinger

The one that fans and public alike extol as a benchmark for quality in the series. Certainly, the gift that is Gert Froebe (albeit dubbed) makes for a scene-stealing villain (escorted by the soon-to-be-obligatory distinctive henchman) and Connery is still putting in some effort; Honor Blackman makes for a believably equal and opposite sparring partner. So how to countenance the raves with lack of action and Bond being locked up for half the running time? That it works, basically, but to try and make it a template would be asking for trouble (notably, the planned return of Froebe as Goldfinger’s brother never happened). (9/10)


4. The Spy Who Loved Me

Very much in the mold of the modern Bond film; set piece leads to set piece leads to set piece. In that respect, picking up from where the overblown mid-‘60s Connerys left off. But with a new weapon in the arsenal; overt humour. Jaws is an imposing but pronouncedly comedic villain, Moore gets whole scenes based on his schoolboy wit and there is a lightness of touch that felt fresh even in a series that had often gone quite broad up until that point. Marvin Hamlisch gives a Bond-goes-disco score, while Lewis Gilbert is completely on board with the goofy tone. But comes as unstuck with the climax as he did in You Only Live Twice. (8/10)


5. From Russia with Love

The second Bond, and the last time (for a while at least) that a tight budget would dictate content. The result is as economical and crisp as a Bond film gets. Robert Shaw is the ultimate brawny match for Connery’s brawny 007, and having him shadow the British spy, one step ahead, until the train dust-up is a smart move that puts our agent on a back foot. The fight itself is enthrallingly visceral. (8/10)


6. Live and Let Die

Roger Moore’s debut, embracing Blaxploitation movies and dressing 007 in some very ‘70s fashions. It’s the incongruity, in part, that makes the whole so appealing. Very formulaic in some respects, quite unusual in others (the supernatural element). Jane Seymour is very pretty, but easily the least autonomous Bond girl up to this point. Moore’s penchant for adlibs (“Butter hook”) works better than some of the scripted laughs (the character of Sheriff Pepper is one, overlong gag). McCartney’s theme song is marvelously overblown. (8/10)


7. The Man with the Golden Gun

Ever-so-slightly run-of-the-mill (wheel on Pepper again, why don’t you?), but boosted by a charming and sophisticated performance from Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland’s inept eye candy turn as Agent Goodnight. Bond is in fantasyland by this point, with cartoonish henchmen (Nick Nack), flying cars (both literally, and in terms of impressive stunt work) and an exotic, hi-tech, island paradise. Lulu’s theme song is akin to being beaten about the head with a breezeblock. (7/10)


8. Dr. No

Connery’s debut is more satisfying in the opening stages, when it more resembles a traditional spy picture, than when we are introduced to the titular character and his typically extravagant lair. The crippled super villain is a requirement from the off, and his affliction (and name) are more memorable than the character Joseph Wiseman is asked to play. (6/10)


9. Thunderball

The first time the series really falls prey to the more-is-more approach. A series of set pieces (some tiresomely elongated; see the underwater climax) in search of an involving plot, Thunderball is frequently very nice to look at but little else. The result is as loud and empty as Tom Jones’ title song. But it was a massive hit, and so dictated the approach of many future installments, alas. And gave Kevin McClory a protractedly disputed stake in Bond (Never Say Never Again). (5/10)


10. You Only Live Twice

A sluggish, set-driven mess. Connery would clearly rather be anywhere else, and is ridiculously turned Japanese. Lewis Gilbert is all-at-sea, there’s scant humour to be mined and only Donald Pleasance makes much impression out of the guest cast (and even then, he’s more memorable in light of Dr. Evil than for any particular wit). It looks like a very tired series with little life left in it at this point. A good thing change was in the air… (4/10)

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