Bond-ed for Life ~ You Only Live Twice

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: Agent 007 and the Japanese secret service ninja force must find and stop the true culprit of a series of spacejackings before nuclear war is provoked.

Stars: Sean Connery, Donald Pleasence, Akiko Wakabayashi, Mie Hama, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Rated: PG

Running Length: 117 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: Bouncing back from the iffy Thunderball (which still was a phenomenal success), the producers of the Bond franchise brought in a new director, advertised that James Bond would die, and created some of the more impressive set pieces of Connery’s tenure as 007.  The result is a pleasing fifth film for James Bond but one that doesn’t linger in the memory any longer than it has to.

James Bond does indeed “die” in the movie…in fact, he’s a goner before the opening credits start to roll.  As Nancy Sinatra begins her song over Maurice Binder’s impressive designs, Bond has apparently been gunned down in a Murphy bed hit.  As we all know, thanks to decades filled with more sequels, Bond is merely faked his own death with the assistance of her majesty’s secret service.

You Only Live Twice is more notable now as the clear inspiration for Mike Myers spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.  From the swinging vibe of Bond’s animal instincts to the chrome domed look and outfit of his nemesis, Blofeld (a wickedly taut Pleasence pre Halloween and From Beyond the Grave) you can see where Myers drew some concepts from.   Never mind that Blofeld will take on several different looks throughout the series…but I’ve always found Pleasence’s take on the role to be the most naturalistic and threatening in tone.

Not that there is very much of threaten in the film as many of the situations, lovers (this was a real yawners for Bond girls), and one-liners seem old hat to Bond.  Connery looks checked out for much of the picture and it’s easy to see why he stepped away from the series for the next entry…maybe it was just an oversaturation with the world of Bond.  When released in 1967, Connery has been averaging one Bond film a year and it’s understandable that a certain staleness would set in.

Looking at the film now, it’s hard to swallow some of the more racist tones of the film.  Bond’s adventures lie mostly in Japan and at one point he has his features altered to look more Japanese (cringe!) and then has a faux marriage to a Japanese woman (double cringe!) to maintain his anonymity while searching for Blofeld’s volcano fortress.  Some of the themes of the picture would never be acceptable today so it’s best to just take these awkward moments as they come without holding too much against the series of Bond himself.

You Only Live Twice may not be a Bond film you’ll need to return to twice…but it does wind up bridging the gap nicely for the films that lay ahead.  I love the title track and much of the splendid production design.  With a droll villain that would inspire a totally different themed series and solid (if slightly uninspired) direction from new director Gilbert…it’s a fair entry to take in.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Thunderball

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond heads to The Bahamas to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo in an international extortion scheme.

Stars: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi

Director: Terence Young

Rated: PG

Running Length: 130 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:

With three films under his belt, Connery suited up for his fourth go ‘round with Bond and while some people feel like Thunderball is one of the classier films in the James Bond universe, I found the ride a tad bit bumpy and kinda lethargic.  I think that’s just an overall pacing problem with director Young’s style.  Returning to the series after Guy Hamilton’s phenomenal success with Goldfinger, I’m sure Young felt the pressure to deliver another Bond adventure that met those standards.

The problem is when you raise a bar so high it can be difficult for anything after it to live up.  It happens in films still today…as good as The Dark Knight Rises was, it did disappoint slightly when compared to The Dark Knight that came before it.  Both good films but when you hold them both up to the light one just shines a bit brighter.  Same is the case with Thunderball.

With Tom Jones cashing in on the title tune, the film does start off like a thunderball as it propels Bond back into the crosshairs of SPECTRE even as their scheme of stealing nuclear warheads begins to develop.  As main villain Largo, Celi is a hambone of evil sneers and it mostly works.  He’d be parodied in other films over the years but Celi meters his performance just on the edge of reasonable villainy without resorting to moustache twirling.

Our Bond girl here is Domino (Auger, Twitch of the Death Nerve) and she teams with Bond to take down SPECTRE and Largo for reasons of her own.  Along the way Bond also pairs up with one of our first evil Bond girls in the guise of Fiona (flame haired Paluzzi).  Paluzzi and Connery create a bit more spark than Auger can muster up but with both actresses being dubbed, it can be hard to get a sense for any natural chemistry.

That’s another problem these early films presented for me while watching them again.  Especially in the Connery Bond movies (and continuing into the Roger Moore years) many of the European stars that took on the villain or Bond girl roles were dubbed as their heavy accents were deemed too difficult to understand.  One woman ended up dubbing several of the Bond girls over time so it can come across to the ear that you are seeing the same performance over and over again.  Not that deep characterization was on the forefront of anyone’s mind for these classic Bond films, mind you, but it is a challenge at times.

So Thunderball may not land exactly on target but it still showcases some great underwater photography, a few laughably overzealous performances, and continues the trend of Bond winding up in some raft/lifeboat/capsule at the end with whatever woman lived to tell the tale.

*Interesting to note that Connery made a return to Bond and would remake this film as Never Say Never Again in 1983 when two studios were locked in a dispute over the Bond franchise*

Bond-ed for Life ~ Goldfinger

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: Investigating a gold magnate’s smuggling, James Bond uncovers a plot to contaminate the Fort Knox gold reserve.

Stars: Sean Connery, Gert Fröbe, Honor Blackman, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Director: Guy Hamilton

Rated: PG

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Arriving just eight months after From Russia with Love, Goldfinger was the film that would go on to become synonymous with the Bond brand, breaking box office records and firmly enshrining it’s star as the one and only Bond.

Goldfinger gleefully introduces us to so many of the Bond calling cards that would make 007 a household name over the last five decades. We have creative gadgets supplied to Bond by Q, suggestively named Bond Girls such as Pussy Galore (a lovely vixen-ish Blackman), and devious masterminds with plans of world domination.  Auric Goldfinger  (Fröbe) is a classic Bond villain who supplies the series with the first of many far-out schemes that could only sound plausible in the context of the series.

Under the guidance of new director Hamilton, Connery flexes his Bond muscles and looks to be having a ball with the one-liners and precarious situations he gets put into over the course of the film.  Though the most famous person in the movie may be the gold painted body of a woman (Shirley Eaton) unlucky enough to fall for Bond, Harold Sakata as Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob certainly gives her a run for her 24 karat money in a memorable turn.

Robert Brownjohn devises another clever title sequence set to possibly the most famous Bond tune to date.  Sung by Brit belter Shirely Bassey, the title track creates an unforgettable mood with its opening fanfare accompanied by John Barry’s classic orchestrations.

Though it’s big on ideas, the film can be occasionally short on the follow-through.  Several characters are introduced that seem to disappear – including one that inexplicably dies without much explanation.  There seems to be a lot of moving pieces to the picture and that it’s encapsulated in a film running under two hours is pretty amazing.  There’s a breezy zip to this picture that wasn’t present before – it’s a cinematic touch that would get further developed in future Bond entries.

It’s a no-brainer as to why this has become one of the touchstones of the spy genre – it’s simply everything a Bond movie should be – big, bold, Bassey…um…brassy.

Bond-ed for Life ~ From Russia with Love

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond willingly falls into an assassination ploy involving a naive Russian beauty in order to retrieve a Soviet encryption device that was stolen by SPECTRE.

Stars: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya, Daniela Bianchi

Director: Terence Young

Rated: PG

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:

The second Bond adventure, From Russia With Love, was released almost a year to the day that Dr. No landed on US shores introducing audiences to Britain’s top secret agent.  Working with largely the same team that helmed the first entry and with now dreams of a franchise becoming a reality this first sequel was produced with a bigger budget and featured a globe-hopping 007.

What works so well for this film is its casting of several key roles.  Connery brings Bond back with a slightly softer edge than was on display in Dr. No.  He’s more relaxed here, in fantastic shape, and hits all the right notes that help to make him the best Bond around. Connery’s work here was in service to paving the way for future installments in allowing some levity when Bond wasn’t fighting the bad guys. 

Speaking of bad guys, we have two legendary ones here.  German cabaret star Lenya makes a rare film appearance as the wicked double agent Rosa Klebb.   It’s here that we’re also introduced to SPECTRE, the organization whose minions would battle Bond in several movies yet to come.  Lenya takes her job very seriously, a wise choice considering that it would be easy to make the character cartoony.

The other smart casting move was Shaw as classic Bond baddie Grant.   Before he would go to battle with a great white shark in JAWS, Shaw was a buff blonde killer that famously goes head-to-head with Bond in a fantastic fight sequence set aboard a passenger train.  It’s in this fight where you get the feeling the film really hit a chord with its audience – returning director Young stages it brilliantly as he does several other action scenes set in Turkey and Venice.

The only casting bust here is Bianchi as Russian spy Tatiana Romanova.  With her voice clearly dubbed as many early Bond girls were, there’s not much a performance to be had.  She’s set-up to be a spy that is supposedly immune to personal connections but she’s not with Bond for five minutes before she’s hopping into bed with him.  This willy-nilly hay-rolling that Bond gets involved with can seem ludicrous to today’s audiences…but considering the accepted male/female roles of the age it does fit.

Matt Monro becomes the first singer to tackle a Bond theme song…but it’s interesting to note that though visual artist Robert Brownjohn designed a full length title sequence, the theme isn’t played over it as they would be for all other Bond films.  Instead, an instrumental track by long-time Bond orchestrator John Barry is used.

While a bit more genre-specific than its predecessor, the film does drag a teensy bit at times…but it always bounces back when the audience needs another thrill.  All said, From Russia with Love is a swell sequel that nicely sets the stage for Bond’s third outing.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Dr. No

The James Bond franchise is celebrating its 50th birthday this year and with the release of Skyfall I wanted to take a look back at the 22 (23 if you count the rogue Never Say Never Again, 24 if you count the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale) films that have come before it.  So sit back, grab your shaken-not-stirred martini and follow me on a trip down Bond memory lane.

The Facts:

Synopsis: James Bond’s investigation of a missing colleague in Jamaica leads him to the island of the mysterious Dr. No and a scheme to end the US space program.

Stars: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Bernard Lee

Director: Terence Young

Rated: PG

Running Length: 110 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  It all began in May of 1963 when the first Bond adventure was released.  For some reason, over the years Dr. No isn’t always mentioned in the same breath as some of the flashier entries that came after it and that’s too bad.  Dr. No is one of the stronger films in the Bond canon because no one making the film knew what they had brewing or could have imagined the impact the British agent would have in film history.

Though it lacks some of the elements that would come to represent a “Bond Film”, this is still an enjoyably respectable adventure film following 007 as he travels to Jamaica in search of answers to the whereabouts of an agent gone missing.  Taking full advantage of the exotic locales and beautiful bodies, we travel with Bond as he meets up with US colleague Felix Leiter (Hawaii 5-0’s Jack Lord who would be the first of several actors to play the character over the years),  Bond Girl Honey Ryder (Andress) and the mysterious Dr. No (Wiseman). 

Several indelible images are featured here starting with the now famous opening gun barrel logo.  Though it doesn’t have a theme song, per se, there is a short title sequence courtesy of Maurice Binder that hints at the work he’d produce in films to come.  And let’s not forget the shot of Andress emerging from the crystal clear ocean waters in her legendary bikini. 

Then there is Connery who is an absolute delight as Bond.  Whether exploring the gorgeous landscapes of the Caribbean paradise housing the island lair of Dr. No or bedding several game women he demonstrates a suave confidence that never works against him.  Though the character would lighten up over the years, in Dr. No Connery gives us a no-nonsense agent that shoots first and asks questions later. 

Director Young lets the film unfold in much the same way that a Bond novel would…providing enough necessary information to move the action along with ease.  Lacking some of the gargantuan effects and set-pieces that the series would come to be known for, Dr. No relies on some interesting plot developments and old-fashioned spy intrigue to propel it forward.  Any Bond fan needs to keep this one at the top of their list.