Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Best of Bond

The Best of Bond, Part 1

In reponse to this article by Isaac Chotiner, which I feel is deeply flawed, I’ve compiled my ratings of all the Bond films, starting with Dr. No and ending with Skyfall. I’m not including the TV version of Casino Royale from the 1950s, nor the Peter Sellers send-up of the same story. Haven’t seen the former and the latter is simply of a different genre. I’m not going to rehash all the plots. This is meant for people who’ve 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. By way of calibration, 0.0 is reserved for unwatchable films like The Love Guru, while the 10.0 might only go to The Godfather. and Hot Tub Time Machine. Just seeing if you’re paying attention there.
Anyway, in Part 1 I’ll address the first four Connery films. Part 2 will do the other Connery films through Diamonds are Forever, as well as Lazenby’s sole contribution. Part 3 will cover Roger Moore’s many films. Maybe I’ll split that in half. 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

Without further ado, we jump in to

Dr. No

The film that launched the Bond franchise, Dr. No presented us with a hard character willing to use his license to kill as needed, and also to use his sexuality to compromise women working for the bad guys. Compared to the later films, Dr. No has a slow developing plot that ends up not being terribly ambitious. So, to the main point 

  • Bond: Sean Connery is still young and fresh here. Looks like the kind of guy who could win a knife fight when needed. As cool as Billy Dee Williams. Moderately heroic when the impulse strikes him. Smart, tough, resourceful, and aware. Very high marks. 
  • Dr. No, the villain. The prototype for the insane genius, complete with ludicrous hideout. It’s telling that nobody can remember the name of the actor. Middling grade. 
  • the women: there’s an affair in London before Bond flies to Jamaica, the woman working for Dr. No he diddles with after he catches her eavesdropping, but most importantly, there’s Ursula Andress as the improbably shell collector Honey Rider. Andress is iconic. High marks here. “Underneath the mango tree…” 
  • good guys: Bernard Lee as M, Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, a “quartermaster” that’s not Desmond Llewellyn in London. Good start there. In Jamaica, he meets Quarrel, who is excellent, but most importantly, he meets Jack Lord as Felix Leiter. Jack Lord is the best Felix Leiter, but he unfortunately has little to do in this film. If things had played out differently, I think Lord could have carried this role for several films. But he didn’t want to play second banana to Connery and instead pursued his own roles, which ended up giving us several wonderful years of Hawaii Five-O. 
  • henchmen – the Three Blind Mice are amusing. That’s about it. 
  • gadgets – none to speak of. The Quartermaster gives Bond his first Walther PPK, to replace a Beretta that had a bad habit of jamming. But nothing else. 
On the whole, I’d give this film a 7.7. Watchable occasionally, though it has some stretches where it gets a bit boring. And the ending is just silly, though it’s not the first time the Broccolis play the ‘Bond pushes a button in the control room and everything goes to hell!” card. Critics give it a 98% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 8.3.

From Russia With Love

A more ambitious film than Dr. No in many ways. The story is far more involved, and SPECTRE is introduced for the first time. (Dr. No was allegedly part of SPECTRE, but that hardly matters in the first film.) And we jump in.. 

  • Bond: Connery is at the top of his game here. Develops a great rapport with the Turkish section chief. Gets involved in a fight in a gypsy camp. Outwits SPECTRE, barely. Sexist and belittles Tatiana Romanova. One of the best presentations of Bond. 
  • SPECTRE is the villain here. I guess I’ll put Number One in charge, even though he stays off camera. This is the first appearance of Blofeld, although he’s not named. 
  • the women: Sylvia Trench makes a second appearance as Bond’s London girlfriend, but the real woman here is Tatiana Romanova, played by Daniela Bianchi. A good job, though she was played largely as a pretty face with not much going on upstairs. Not bad, but not up to the standard in the films before and after this one. 
  • good guys: M, Moneypenny, and the first appearance of Desmond Llewlyn as Q. But the chief buddy for Bond is the section head in Turkey, Kerim Bey. A very charismatic performance of a rather sexist character. 
  • henchmen: very strong performances by Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb and Robert Shaw as Grant, the assassin sent to kill Bond.Shaw was 36 when he did this film, and he still looks young. He aged quickly, and hard. But he’s a worthy adversary for Bond in this film, even if he doesn’t flex flex all of his acting chops. Sometimes the best acting jobs are when good actors stay inside a character instead of hamming it up. So Shaw is very good, but Lenya is the one who really owns this film from the Bad Guy side. Oh, and there’s some forgettable chess genius, but who cares about him? 
  • gadgets – Q gives Bond an attaché case that includes a knife, several gold sovereigns, and a booby trap. Not much, but it plays a vital role in the story. 
  • the story. There’s an actual espionage story here, and not the typical madman-in-a-hidden-fortress nonsense that so many Bond films ended up being. All of Bond’s activities in Istanbul and in Eastern Europe carry a real Cold War feeling to them that is missing in most Bond films. 

At this point, the series seems like it’s still taking itself seriously. Also, pretty exciting chase scenes towards the end. On the whole, an excellent film. I’ve gone through periods where I felt this was the best of all Bond films. It’s also one of the best as a standalone film. I’ll give it a 8.7.  Critics give it a 96% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 7.5.


The best. 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.

  •  Bond. Connery is still great. Possibly the most sexist of the Bond films, but Connery manages to carry this off with the sensibility of the era. 
  • Villain: Auric Goldfinger, played brilliantly by Gert Fröbe. What is there to say about Goldfinger? “He’s quite mad.” Here he is: 

  • the women: the Masterson sisters are compelling, each in her own way. But Jill gets a paint job and Tilly faces the wrath of Oddjob’s hat. Which of course leads us to Honor Blackman as the ludicrously named Pussy Galore 

  • Upon reflection, the seduction of Pussy Galore on Goldfinger’s Kentucky horse ranch would probably be viewed as rape by today’s standards. 
  • good guys: Bond is on his own most of this film. Cec Linder does little in a brief appearance as Felix Leiter. 
  • henchmen: Oddjob is one of the classic thugs. Kills people with his hat. I would say only Jaws passes Oddjob on the notoriety scale. 
  • gadgets: the most notable here is the Aston Martin that Bond drives through the Alps. Complete with ejection seat and other goodies. 
  • travel: Bond starts in Miami, goes back to London, then to Switzerland, and finally to Kentucky. The first film with Bond as a jet-setter.
Goldfinger set the parameters for Bond years for years to come. It was the first film to feature gadgets in a major way and the first to involve a lot of travel around the world. Great villain, great women, a ludicrous plot (make all the gold in Fort Knox radioactive!), and several gruesome deaths including a woman suffocated by gold paint and a man shot and then compressed by a auto compacter. I’m giving Goldfinger a 9.3.  Critics give it a 96% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 7.8.


Another great one. Thunderball features extended underwater action for the first time, and the first appearance of the “stolen nuclear bombs” plot device. Wikipedia tells me that Thunderball was the highest grossing Bond film of all time (adjusted for inflation, of course). 

  • Bond. Connery is still great. 
  • Villain: Emilio Largo, SPECTRE’s Number Two. (Number One remains off-screen.)Largo has the gravitas to be a proper villain but has the unfortunate task of following Goldfinger. 
  • Women: there are two of interest. Fiona Volpe is a baddie who alternates between trying to kill Bond and sleeping with him. After the sex, we are treated to the classic line “ My dear girl, don't flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don't think it gave me any pleasure, do you? “ Couldn’t find that one on Youtube, but you can see this great sequence: 

  • But Volpe is secondary to Domino, Largo’s mistress. Domino gets extra points because, unexpectedly, she’s the one who ends up killing Largo to avenger her brother’s death. 
  • good guys: Felix Leiter has a lot to do in this film, as he is in charge of getting the CIA divers into the underwater fight. We see our third actor take on the role, as Rik van Nutter. Some Bond experts think he’s the best Leiter. 
  • henchmen: none worth mentioning, other than Volpe. 
  • gadgets: well, there’s a lot of underwater gear. And of course, Q gives Bond an improbable underwater breather that looks like a pen. Actually, Bond uses a jet pack at the beginning of the film, but that’s not central to the plot.
Compared to the previous two films, nothing really stands out as a unique contribution to the series. But I give it a 7.8. Critics give it a 85% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and users give it an average rating of 7.0.

Update: slight tweak to Dr. No's rating, from 7.4 up to 7.7.

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