Skip to main content

Oh, I travel... a sort of licensed troubleshooter.


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)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.

I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert.

Dr. Strangelove  or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (SPOILERS) Kubrick’s masterpiece satire of mutually-assured destruction. Or is it? Not the masterpiece bit, because that’s a given. Rather, is all it’s really about the threat of nuclear holocaust? While that’s obviously quite sufficient, all the director’s films are suggested to have, in popular alt-readings, something else going on under the hood, be it exposing the ways of Elite paedophilia ( Lolita , Eyes Wide Shut ), MKUltra programming ( A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket ), transhumanism and the threat of imminent AI overlords ( 2001: A Space Odyssey ), and most of the aforementioned and more besides (the all-purpose smorgasbord that is The Shining ). Even Barry Lyndon has been posited to exist in a post-reset-history world. Could Kubrick be talking about something else as well in Dr. Strangelove ?