Tuesday, October 1, 2013



The other day someone asked me,
"Who is your favorite James Bond?"
And without hesitation, I replied,
"George Lazenby!"

I've been asked that question many times in the past and my answer has never wavered.
George Lazenby is the best actor to portray James Bond.
Because he is the closest physically and temperamentally to the literary character of James Bond.
For me that is the benchmark.  Of the six men to play Bond, Lazenby is the closest physically to Bond (the only omission being that the literary Bond has a scar on his cheek).  James Bond is a tall man with a a strong jaw and cold grey eyes and a rather cruel expression most of the time.  He's good-looking but he's not a debonair gentlemen (like Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan).  Timothy Dalton was a cross between Moore and Brosnan who had the cruel expression (in many movies, Dalton has actually played a villain) but wasn't quite tall enough to be Bond.  Sean Connery was close with a great deal of physicality but Connery always seemed a bit more Scottish than English to me and I never thought Connery was very good looking (and I mean that in a purely hetero way, don't get it twisted).
Lazenby put the whole package together.  He's not overly good-looking but still has a great look with a cast-iron jaw and a cold expression when needed (Lazenby actually slaps Diana Rigg's character in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, the only movie in which he played Bond).  
Also, Lazenby stars in the best James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
And with that said, I've decided to rank the Top Ten James Bond movies and provide a short discussion concerning my reasons for their rankings.
So, without further ado...

1.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service
George Lazenby's only outing as James Bond in the best James Bond movie.  This movie is very close to the book and just when you think you understand James Bond, this movie breaks all the rules.  Bond actually gets married in this movie!!!  But it ends in tragedy (no spoilers, go watch the movie).  But the sad outcome aside, their is a lot of time in this movie given over to romance but it never feels overblown or melodramatic as Bond continues to search for Blofeld (brilliantly played by Telly Savalas) throughout (the romance even grows out of his search for Blofeld).  The plot is plausible and very similar to the book (the only real change from the book is that in the novel, Blofeld only targets England whereas in the movie he targets the world).
Also, Bond actually goes undercover in this movie as a slightly effeminate academic and is barely recognizable as Bond.
Diana Rigg is radiant as Tracy and a strong enough character to be Bond's equal but then she becomes vulnerable and you can't help but almost fall in love with her yourself.  (One change from the book is that Blofeld kidnaps Tracy giving Bond added incentive to take down Blofeld.  This doesn't happen in the book and its one of the book's chief criticisms that the two plots, Bond's romance and his confrontation with Blofeld, don't gel in the book and that the book tends to fragment a bit).
The sidekick in the movie is Bond's future father-in-law, Marc-Ange Draco, the head of the Unione Course which is the Corsican Mafia and he joins Bond on the final assault on Blofeld's headquarters in the Alps, Piz Gloria.  In fact, Draco is a great impetus to the whole plot and in the book, you meet Draco right away and then the beginning of the story is told in flashback.
Also, I have to mention the great score for the movie by John Barry and contrary to formula, this is the only Bond movie with an instrumental credit sequence.  Great faith in the composer for this movie.
Unquestionably, the best James Bond movie.

2.  Goldfinger
Yep, the classic.  Easy pick.
The Bond formula is established.  Sean Connery in his best performance as Bond.  Fairly close to the book but with one big change - in the book, Goldfinger does intend to rob Fort Knox but in the movie he intends to nuke the gold in Fort Knox so that the value of his gold will increase through the roof.
All the elements of the Bond formula are in place (except perhaps for Bond's sidekick, even though a horribly miscast Felix Leiter is in the movie).  Gert Frobe as Goldfinger is delicious (even though his voice was dubbed for the movie by another actor) and his superhuman henchmen Oddjob is classic.  There are two sacrificial lambs in the movie, the Masterson sisters followed by the very strong Bond-girl, Pussy Galore played wonderfully well (but not overbearingly) by Honor Blackman.  It all builds to a huge climax in which the question has to be asked - Does Bond save the day? (no spoilers, go watch the movie), then followed by the final showdown with the villain that plays out fairly well and Bond kissing the girl.
There is also a great Bond-M sequence in the movie which highlights the correct relationship between the two characters and the most classic Q sequence which introduces the signature Bond car, the Aston Martin DB5.
If you've never read the book, I would definitely recommend it but Goldfinger is one of the must-see James Bond movies and could be ranked as #1 on this list except for my personal preference for George Lazenby over Sean Connery as Bond.

3.  Thunderball
The fourth James Bond film and fourth for Sean Connery.  A great plot where Bond's main nemesis, the crime organization SPECTRE hijack nuclear bombs and blackmail the world.  This movie is also very close to the book as the book began its life as a screenplay but then was converted into a novel.
The Bond formula is present in full force but with a slight twist as the femme fatale is introduced in the person of Fiona Volpe.  Her scenes with Bond are pure gold.
The sacrificial lamb, Bond-girl, sidekick, and villain with henchmen are all here.
M and Q have great scenes with Bond and it all concludes with a thrilling climax that is resolved by - no spoilers - GO WATCH THE MOVIE.
The villain, Emilio Largo is one of the great villains of the series played with relish by Adolpho Celli.
Claudine Auger is arguably the most beautiful of all the Bond-girls and simply jumps off the screen.
There is great underwater action and another great score by John Barry.
All good.

4.  From Russia With Love
Perhaps the best pure espionage story of the whole James Bond oeuvre, FRWL is a great movie adaption of the novel (the one big change is that in the novel the villainess organization is SMERSH, the Cold-War Soviet spy assassination arm of the KGB, in the movie SMERSH is mentioned but the villainy is perpetrated by SPECTRE (with an unseen Blofeld petting his white cat for the first time).
The Bond formula is well on the way to being established with a few incipient ingredients such as the superstrong henchmen as the main villain, Robert Shaw as Red Grant.
FRWL features one of the great sidekicks of the entire series in Kerim Bay, the head of station I - Istanbul.
The Bond-girl is the absolutely delectable Daniela Bianchi as Titania Romanova, who is caught up in this scheme to murder Bond and is a true damsel in distress, but as a Russian defector, the whole Cold War setting of the story is enhanced.
Some say FRWL is the best James Bond book and as a personal favorite of President Kennedy went a long way to popularize Bond with American audiences.
Definitely one of the best Bond movies.

5.  Dr. No
The first James Bond movie.
The novel of Dr. No was published a year before Goldfinger and shares some elements with the latter novel, the most important being the iconic villain which the book is named after.
The movie carries over the charismatic villain, Dr. No played chillingly by Joseph Wiseman but many of the elements of the book are slightly altered for the movie (including the way in which the Dr. No is killed - in the book it is classic, in the movie not so much).
But who can forget the Bond-girl in this movie?  Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder comes out of the ocean in that white bikini and millions of young boys hit puberty at that instant (but it pales to the book in which Honeychile Ryder emerges from the ocean completely naked but with a flaw to her perfection in that her nose was broken in the past and did not heal correctly and when she sees Bond, her hands cover her breasts and her nose, instead of that other region that you would normally expect a naked woman to cover, Bond doesn't mind).
The sidekick is Quarrel and Felix Leiter is also in the movie.  Quarrel is also the sacrificial lamb.
The scene with M is, perhaps, the best of series.  Now there is something interesting here concerning this classic scene with M where Bond gets his Walther PPK for the first time.  Bond is ordered to take up the new gun because his gun jammed in his holster during his last assignment.  M mentions this in the movie but this event takes place in the novel of From Russia With Love which was written and published right before Dr. No, so M is talking about an event from the previous Bond novel that will become the next movie in the series.
The plot of the movie is a bit nebulous but its really about the conflict between Bond and Dr. No and the clash of these two personalities.
A good movie that started it all.

6.  For Your Eyes Only
Except for a silly pre-credit sequence, this movie is Roger Moore's best outing as James Bond.  Moore is not my favorite but in this movie he pulls it together and gets a bit gritty in his portrayal of Bond.
Like From Russia With Love, FYEO is a good old-fashioned espionage tale that combines elements of two Bond short stories which is why its one of the best Bond movies.  It is a testament to the screenwriters that two very different stories could be combined in such a seamless way.
FYEO also features another one of Bond's great sidekicks in Columbo played by Topol and a great Bond-girl played by the exotic Carole Bouquet.  There is the requisite villain with henchmen and some outstanding action sequences in the film.
One of the things missing from this film though is John Barry as composer which would have just enhanced an already good movie.
A good Bond film which was the first Bond film that I saw in theatres so, perhaps, that may have something to do with my fondness for it.

7. The Living Daylights
Timothy Dalton steps into the role of Bond and it begs the question, Roger who?
Dalton brought an intensity and seriousness to the role that hadn't been seen since Lazenby in this very unique and action-packed Bond film.
The basis for the movie is the short story of the same name and basically the short story is portrayed in the movie but then the writers started extrapolating from the short story and came up with the answer to the question of what happens after the events of the short story and that's the movie.
The sniper of the short story (which is a woman) becomes the Bond-girl and the defector of the short story becomes the villain (along with requisite superstrong henchman).
John Barry is back scoring the film which only enhances its standing IMHO and as I said before there are some great action sequences in the film.
A solid beginning to what I hoped would be a long tenure for Dalton but alas it was not to be.

8.  Licence to Kill
Timothy Dalton's second and final outing as James Bond and it may be even better than his first.
In this movie the Bond formula is tweaked a bit as Bond actually resigns from the Secret Service and goes rogue to avenge the mutilation of his old buddy, Felix Leiter.
There are all kinds of references to the Bond novels in this movie (especially Live and Let Die) even though this movie is a completely original script.  I mentioned that Felix Leiter is mutilated in this film by being fed to some sharks which is an event which takes place in the novel, Live and Let Die.  Also, Milton Krest (the name of a character from the Bond short story, The Hildebrand Rarity) smuggles drugs in a similar way to how Mr. Big in Live and Let Die smuggles old pirate coins (GO READ THE IAN FLEMING BOOKS).
Sanchez is the baddie played with relish by Robert Davi along with henchmen Benecio Del Toro.
Interestingly, in this movie the sidekick is Q and the scene with M at Hemingway's house is very good("A Farewell to Arms" - Bond says after he resigns and M tells him his Licence to Kill is revoked).
As an interesting sidenote, the big rumor following this movie was that the producers of the Bond films were going to begin making the John Gardner continuation novels into movies following this one and the first Gardner novel is named Licence Renewed and the original name of this film was going to be Licence Revoked but the producers thought American audiences would not understand the word "revoked" so they changed the title to the more generic Licence to Kill.  So we could have had Licence Revoked followed by Licence Renewed which explains why exactly Bond resigned in this movie and why M used that phrase in their scene together.  However, the rights to the Bond films got bogged down in Hollywood studio hell following this movie and Bond would not appear on the big screen for 6 years, but more on that in just a minute.
But back to this Bond adventure.
There are actually two Bond-girls in this movie and neither of them are femme fatales, they are true Bond-girls one being the damsel in distress and the other being the strong resourceful type that helps Bond in his vengeance.
All in all, a good Bond movie that doesn't deserve the rep of killing the franchise that it sometimes gets.

9. Goldeneye
Pierce Brosnan finally becomes James Bond and a new era begins with promise but then collapses into some of the worst Bond movies ever but Goldeneye is not too bad.
However, one bad thing about this movie is the introduction of the female M played by Judi Dench.  This was a bad decision as the character and Brosnan (and later Daniel Craig) never gelled with my take on who M should be and her relationship with Bond.  She insults him continually even calling him "a relic of the Cold War".  It just didn't work for me.
That being said, there are some good things in this film with an interesting plot concerning former agent 006 played by Sean Bean with femme fatale Famke Jensen as Xenia Onatopp (probably the best femme fatale since Thunderball).
The Bond-girl is played by Izabella Scorupco (definitely one of the most beautiful actresses to ever play a Bond-girl) and there is a great scene with her and Brosnan on a beach where she questions how he does what he does and comments that it keeps him alone (GO WATCH THE MOVIE)
The plot may be a little science fiction with EMP satellites and stealth helicopters but it all comes together fairly well for Brosnan's best movie.

10.  Skyfall
Now first of all, I hate reboots.
Let me say that again so I'm clearly understood.
The reboot of the James Bond franchise which ushered in Daniel Craig as Bond in Casino Royale was highly acclaimed but it then produced the disaster known as Quantum of Solace so the producers were forced to sort of reboot the reboot which is where Skyfall exists.
In Skyfall, Daniel Craig plays a slightly washed-up or jaded Bond who is mistakenly shot by a fellow agent and only returns to protect M from assassination (inexplicably, Judi Dench carried over to the Craig movies and is just as bad in her characterization as she was in the Brosnan movies) but thankfully the villain, Javier Bardem (as the first gay or bisexual Bond villain) accomplishes his goal of killing off M and at the end of the movie we get a new M played by Voldemort himself (Ralph Fiennes).
Q is introduced in this movie as a computer expert instead of a gadget guru and Moneypenny is also introduced (she could even be classified as the Bond-girl in this movie because the other woman in the film is the sacrificial lamb).
By the end of the movie all the elements are in place and the foundation is finally laid in the Bond universe for further adventures and movies.  I wish this had been the reboot film instead of Casino Royale (and we all can thankfully just forget Quantum of Solace ever existed) because its a solid film that even delves into Bond's childhood.
Perhaps the only drawback in this movie is that the DB5 is shot up to hell in this movie which kind of upset me but maybe Bond has insurance and we will see it again in future films.
Now with this film as the foundation, I'm actually looking forward to future Bond films and can only hope to add to this list as time goes on.

I should also mention a couple of films that are on the outside looking in.  The first is the Roger Moore epic The Spy Who Loved Me which many claim as Moore's best.  However, Spy is really just a remake of another ok Bond film, Sean Connery's You Only Live Twice which features an iconic performance by Donald Pleasance as Blofeld onscreen for the first time (but still with the white cat).

All the rest of the movies can only be classified as BAD or at best, silly fun such as The Man With the Golden Gun which is not a good movie but is easily watchable.   A particular low-point of the franchise are the remaining Brosnan films which are so bad as to be almost unwatchable (particularly The World is Not Enough and Die Another Day) and the travesty that is Craig's Quantum of Solace.

If you really want to get to know Bond, you must read the original novels by Ian Fleming and then maybe try the continuation novels by Kingsley Amis, John Gardner and Raymond Benson.  That is where the real James Bond can be found and you will be a fan for life after sampling the literary James Bond and understand why George Lazenby is the best actor to ever play James Bond.

1 comment:

  1. I'd flip flop your Bond films numbers one and two and put GOLDFINGER first, followed by OHMSS. I have a huge sentimental attachment to GOLDFINGER as it was the first Bond film I ever saw and the last film I ever saw with my dad before he died.

    As for actors, I rate them like so: Connery, Craig, Lazenby, Dalton, Brosnan and Moore.