Friday, December 28, 2012

Best of Bond, the Blofeld films

The Best of Bond, Part 2

Continuing the series begun earlier. I’m not going to rehash all the plots. This is meant for people who have seen all the films.

I’m looking to judge these films by a number of criteria:

  • Bond – who the actor is, how good he is, and what he brings to the role
  • the Villain- starting with Dr. No, I judge the films on how compelling the villain is.
  • the Bond Women – some films have few, some have many, but I’m pretty sure all have at least one. The quality ranges from Denise Richards’s absurd nuclear physicist to, of course, Mrs. Bond herself, not to mention Pussy Galore
  • the Good Guys – M, Q, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter in his many incarnations and other sidekicks
  • the Henchmen on the other side like Jaws, Oddjob, and Nick-Nack.
  • the gadgets – not just judging how neat the gadgets are, but whether they were unwisely allowed to take over the film (as often happened with the later Roger Moore filims)
  • whatever else I happen to think of
I’m not concerned mainly with ordinal values but rather am going to assign a number between 0.0 and 10.0 to each.

Anyway, in Part 1 I addressed the first four Connery films. Part 2 concerns the three Blofeld films, You Only Live Twice, with Sean Connery, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, George Lazenby’s sole contribution to the series, and Diamonds Are Forever, featuring the return of Sean Connery.

Parts 3 & 4 will cover Roger Moore’s many films. Part 5 will cover Never Say Never Again and the two Dalton films, Part 6 will cover the four Brosnan films, and Part 7 will look at the three Daniel Craig films

And now we move on to

You Only Live Twice

You Only Live Twice is the last of the five classic Connery films that he did before leaving the series. It concerns Bond’s ongoing conflict with SPECTRE, and the first appearance of Blofeld.  In this film, Blofeld pursues his insane criminal ends from his fake volcano hideout in Japan. Since the film is set in Japan, much of the typical sexism of the early films is at its peak. In some ways the plot is very similar to Dr. No – bad guy in his secret hideout threatening space launches. Bond penetrates the secret hideout and improbably foils the plan by getting into a fistfight in the control room.

  • Bond: Sean Connery is at his peak still. Bizarrely, MI6 gives him a different set of eyebrows and that’s supposed to make a 6’2 ½” Scotsman look like he’s Japanese. 

Reportedly Connery was tired of playing Bond by the time this one was filmed. According to, the set was “chilly.” Bizarrely, United Artists was simultaneously producing a film called “Operation Kid Brother” featuring, believe it or not, Sean Connery’s younger brother Neil. It also featured many of Bond’s co-stars, including Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell.

  • Villain: Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He’s #1 in SPECTRE and Bond’s top nemesis in the various SPECTRE films. Played by the magnificent Donald Pleasance in a virtuoso performance. 
  • the women: there are two Japanese women: Aki and Kissy Suzuki. Aki works for Tiger Tanaka. Kissy is Bond’s bride “with a face like a pig,” as Tanaka describes her. (It’s a lie.) To be honest, I find it hard to keep the two straight.They have essentially the same personality and mostly defer to Bond and stay out of the way. 
  • good guys: Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn as Q. Tetsuro Tamba plays Tiger Tanaka, the chief of the Japanese security who works with Bond. Charles Gray is Henderson, MI-6’s contact in Japan. He doesn’t last long. Well, not in this film at least. Only Tanaka plays much of a role in this film.
  • henchmen – Two high-level SPECTRE flunkies are Helga Brandt and Mr. Osato. They fail at killing Bond (hence the title of the film). Brandt gets to sleep with the fishes – piranha in this case. 
  • gadgets – Q ships an autogyro (mini-helicopter) to Bond called “Little Nellie.” Little Nellie is one of the best things about the film. 

  • other – screenplay by Roald Dahl!! Part of the genre exchange program that sent Ian Fleming to write Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
On the whole, I’d give this film a 7.5. The action sequences are well done, especially the invasion of the volcano complex. But a good part of the film is running around Tokyo. The villains are inexplicably inefficient at killing Bond (not for the last time!) Brandt in particular, instead of shooting Bond, “traps” him in the back seat of a plane that she then sky-dives out of. The women are less interesting than those of most of the films. But Pleasance is one of the best villains, and Connery is still Connery. Critics give it a 71% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 6.9.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

The first Bond film without Sean Connery. Australian George Lazenby takes over the role. There are many great things about this film. Sadly, Lazenby is not one of them.  Telly Savalas is the second great actor to play Blofeld. He’s hatching a secret plot from his Alpine hideout that involves an army of supermodels distributing poisons around the world. Or something like that.

  • Bond: Dear me, Lazenby just isn’t Bond. He’s athletic enough. He does the action sequences well. But he doesn’t play the role quite with quite the same degree of gravitas that Connery does. He’s supposed to be in the affair of his life with Tracy (see below) but for some reason he’s sleeping with every third woman at Blofeld’s Alpine hideout. That hardly seems productive. I suppose I could blame the writers, but really, Lazenby doesn’t make me buy into his Bondness.

  • Villain: Telly Savalas takes over the role of Blofeld. He’s supposed to be French in this film, though Savalas doesn’t even bother to try any accent other than American On the whole, Savalas does the villain fairly well I prefer Donald Pleasance, but not by a lot.  
  • the women: Diana Rigg is Tracy, a.k.a. Mrs. Bond. Rigg is a class above most of the actresses who have played Bond women. Like Honor Blackman, she spent time as Patrick MacNee’s foil on The Avengers. Rigg was the original Mrs. Peel there, one of the best female characters in the history of TV. She has less to do as Tracy – an occasionally suicidal woman who hates life, holds men in contempt, and needs the right man to come along and provide her with the life she deserves. So even though she’s a strong character, he needs don’t stray from the boundaries proscribed by the patriarchy. I digress. Rigg is great. 
    • It’s a shame she didn’t have a better Bond to work with. Either Connery or Moore would have worked better with her than Lazenby, who’s a bit of a drip. Oh, and as I alluded to above there’s pretty much a harem at Blofeld’s hideout. Brainwashed babes who fool around with Bond in his ridiculous disguise as a genealogist.   

  • good guys: M, Moneypenny, and Q, as is the pattern here. Also there is Draco, Tracy’s dad, who plays a vital role as a billionaire businessman who thinks Bond is good enough for his daughter.  
  • henchmen: Not many to speak of – Blofeld has a large supply of dummy goons, but the most important is Irma Bunt, the matron of the brainwashed babes and, ultimately, the person who shoots Tracy when she and Blofeld try to ambush Bond on his wedding day. 
  • gadgets –Not really any that I can recall.  
  • the story. A better story than the previous two films, as the franchise decided to probe the psychological depths of Bond a bit more and didn’t simply have chase scenes and a silly huge hideout. They wanted a more realistic spy story. They succeed to a certain extent. 

  • Definitely mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I absolutely hate Lazenby as Bond. But aside from that, this is a well-made film with a good plot, tremendous role players as the villain and the romantic interest. The plot,while silly, isn’t as silly as many others, and it has the benefit of not being recycled.. I’ll give it a 7.1. Would be much higher with a better Bond. Critics give it a 81% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 6.8.

    Diamonds Are Forever

    The last appearance of Sean Connery in the main production line of Bond films. Looking back at Goldfinger, what do we have “It’s got a good story, a great villain, a powerful female, a great henchman, some gruesome death scenes, a Felix Leiter appearance, a great theme song sung by Shirley Bassey, and at least two of the most unforgettable quotes of all Bond films.” Well, Diamonds Are Forever has a great villain, a reasonable female, two great assassin characters, some good assassinations, a Felix Leiter appearance, a great theme song sung by Shirley Bassey, and several nice quotes which aren’t quite “unforgettable.” Diamonds Are Forever tracks Bond as he tries to round up the various levels of a drug smuggling pipeline. His main problem is that the head of the pipeline is systematically killing his various conduits as quickly as Bond can reach them. The film goes from Africa to Amsterdam and ends up in Las Vegas, where Blofeld has adopted the identity of reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte (a character obviously based on Howard Hughes).

    •  Bond. Connery is starting to look old. And he plays Bond in a lighter, campier way than we’re used to. Bond of the 70s didn’t take himself as seriously as the Cold War Bond of the 60s. This lightness is something that Roger Moore did better than Connnery. Still, Connery is very good here. 

    • Villain: Blofeld, in his third incarnation. Remember Henderson, who died in Japan two films earlier? Well apparently the producers like Charles Gray enough to make him Blofeld. Or two Blofelds (with two white cats) as it turned out. Although he’s not as creepy as Pleasance or as psychotic as Savalas, Gray does a decent enough job here.
    • the women: Jill St. John is Tiffany Case and Lana Wood (sister of Natalie) is Plenty O’Toole. Lana stays in the film long enough to get thrown into a pool. From about 25 stories up. Jill St. John is pretty good in this film, even though the filmmakers cannot quite decide whether she’s an intelligent adversary (as in the book) or a bimbo (which is what she ends up being).  

    • good guys: another Felix Leiter appearance, this time featuring Norman Burton.  Oh and of course, M, Q, and Moneypenny make their appearances.
    • henchmen: Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd play a pair of homosexual assassins who have countless witticisms that they deliver as they poison, blow up, shoot, and otherwise exterminate their victims. And then there are Bambi and Thumper, Willard Whyte’s jailers.

    It seems (to me at least) that Connery is letting his accent slip a bit back to his native Scot in this clip.
    • gadgets: Not many
    • space diamonds – The first appearance of a space laser that will re-appear in many a Bond film of the future.
    Diamonds Are Forever has its detractors. It’s a bit silly at points. Jill St. John doesn’t help the women’s movement much by being a ditz. On the other hand, it has a good cast, a decent story, Wint and Kidd, and Bambi and Thumper. Critics give it a 65% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 6.7. I give it a 7.9
    On the whole, an enjoyable film, though it takes a while to get started. It has some extremely silly moments, including Bond racing around the desert of Nevada in a moon buggy.

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