Bond-ed for Life ~ The Man with the Golden Gun

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: Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to stop him.

Stars: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize

Director: Guy Hamilton

Rated: PG

Running Length: 125 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Moore’s second feature as Bond was released in Christmas of 1974…just a scant 18 months after Live and Let Die introduced the actor as the new 007.  While Live and Let Die seemed to be catered a bit to the blaxploitation films that were popular in the early 70’s, The Man with the Golden Gun has a style that is less about trying to fit in with other films and more concerned with the calling cards that made Bond the popular character he had become.

It’s all on display here.  A great title track sung by Lulu, beautiful Bond babes (Ekland and Adams are two of the best looking ones Bond ever sized up), a plot concerning global terrorism laid out by an evil mastermind (Lee) attended to by a colorful henchman (Villechaize).  These classic Bond elements stew together nicely thanks to a snappy script by Tom Mankiewicz and Richard Maibaum and unobtrusive direction from longtime Bond director Hamilton.

Moore is improved as well from his first outing…shaking off the introductory jitters and more confident in his assorted tweed jackets, leisure suits, and silky robes.  Moore’s uppercrust take on Bond parallels nicely with Lee’s refined villain Scaramanga and both actors give each other something to work with when they go gun-to-gun in a rousing if anti-climactic frenzied finale.

Over the course of these films the henchman can sometimes steal scenes away from the main villain and that’s no exception for diminutive Villechaize as Nick Nack.  We’re never quite sure what side he’s on – you get the sense he’s the kind of henchman that would turn on his boss should a better opportunity arise.  He’s featured a bit more prominently than other #2’s have been but the character is so oddly weird that you can’t help but enjoy his screen time.  Only a few years later he’d star in TV’s Fantasy Island…and I often forget that this came first.

This ninth James Bond film has always had a soft spot in my heart – I think it was one of the first of these films I saw when I was a child so I naturally have good memories of renting it and watching the action unfold.  I’m fairly certain it was Lee who led me to the film as I was a huge fan of his Dracula films and probably thought he would sink his teeth into Bond at one point.  Even if he doesn’t bare his fangs, a hilariously fake looking third nipple is on display and plays a key role in the plot.

This is one of the lighter Bond films that seems to go by in a flash.  I mentioned it before but it’s worth saying again that the theme song is one of my absolute favorites, as is the Bond girl of glamorous Adams.  While it may not be fully 24 karats good…it’s no fool’s gold.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Live and Let Die

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: 007 is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organization and a reliable psychic tarot card reader

Stars: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, David Hedison, Geoffrey Holder, Gloria Hendry

Director: Guy Hamilton

Rated: PG

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Though it had a small burst of rebirth with George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the Bond franchise took a wrong turn in Vegas with Sean Connery’s weak swan song of Diamonds are Forever.  In 1973 it was again time to look for a new Bond and with Connery’s blessing Moore became the next actor to be seen in the gun barrel opening shot.

Moore was a quaint choice for Bond in that he had the air of sophistication to him in an almost regal sense.  Where Connery had brute charm and Lazenby was energized by a playboy attitude, Moore’s Bond was a bit more of an English dandy than a gruff super spy.  Though Moore would get progressively hammier with each of the movies he headlined, Live and Let Die was a strong introduction to the next wave of Bond films.

Opening in theaters two years after Richard Roundtree brought Shaft to audiences and two weeks after Pam Grier showed The Man who was boss in Coffy, Live and Let Die has a decidedly early 70’s blaxploitation feel to it.  Though director Hamilton had already sat in the directing seat twice, I got the feeling he let his hair down a bit when returning for this globe-trotting jaunt that finds Bond escaping from reptiles, drug kingpins, voodoo curses, and psychic mystics.

Aided by a mysterious pre-credits sequence followed by Paul McCartney and Wings Oscar-nominated classic theme song, the film gets off to a quite nice start as 007 arrives in New York looking for clues in the death of several British agents.  It’s not long before he’s neck deep in trouble with a diplomat who may be more involved with the mysterious Mr. Big (no, not Mr. Carrie Bradshaw) than he lets on.

It was in Live and Let Die that Bond romanced his first black Bond girl (Hendry worthlessly playing a thankless role) and met up with another memorable love interest.  As Mr. Big’s tarot card reader Solitaire, Seymour looks wonderful in several gorgeous costumes and resists the charms of 007 just long enough to show she’s skews slightly feminist…only to chuck that angle out the window after a roll in the hay and becoming another helpless rag doll to the exploits of the film.

Kotto was six years from playing his memorable supporting role in Alien and his work here is efficient…though you’d be crazy not to spot the connection he has to the characters of Mr. Big and a United Nations diplomat.  In fun supporting roles, Geoffrey Holder is creepy as a voodoo priest and Julius Harris is agreeably menacing as the claw-handed Tee-Hee.

With its several well-staged stunt sequences, Live and Let Die was a strong start to Moore’s tenure as Bond.  More so than the film that preceded it, this picture allowed the secret agent to transition from a 60’s dapper spy to the 70’s wry secret agent Moore made him into.

Bond-ed for Life ~ Diamonds are Forever

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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: A diamond smuggling investigation leads James Bond to Las Vegas, where he uncovers an extortion plot headed by his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Stars: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Jimmy Dean

Director: Guy Hamilton

Rated: PG

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Though he had supposedly called it quits after You Only Live Twice, Connery was persuaded to come back to the franchise that helped make him a household name out of the goodness of his heart.  Oh wait…who am I kidding?  Producer Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli promised Connery an astronomical sum to return as James Bond for a sixth time…a decision made easier when replacement Bond George Lazenby’s agent tried to work out a larger payday for his client after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Broccoli figured, if I’m going to pay a large sum to someone, why not our proven star?  Though Lazenby was a solid Bond in an overall great picture, he didn’t connect with audiences as much as the producers would have liked.

So Lazenby and director Peter R. Hunt were out and Connery and returning director Hamilton (Goldfinger) were back in.  Though it was nice to see Connery back in the saddle, that homecoming warmth wears off pretty fast when you realize Diamonds are Forever is one goofy ride for our favorite secret agent.  Filled with a lot of hokey jokey material, a real dim bulb of a Bond girl (St. John) and a been-there-done-that villain vibe, it’s a shame that Connery would leave the Bond franchise in a middling film.  Money won out a decade later when Connery again returned to Bond in Never Say Never Again, a loose remake of Thunderball that was distributed by a different studio that held the rights to that story.

Back to Diamonds are Forever, though.  Following one of the more harried pre-credit sequences, the Shirley Bassey sung theme song rightly sits up there with some of the best themes created for the series.  After that, it’s a tough ride through a few continents as Bond hunts down some diamonds that are of interest to not just a few shady characters.

Winding up in Vegas and working with St. John’s Tiffany Case (a pun-ny name that I admit to just getting now) and flirting briefly with Lana Wood (Natalie’s younger sister) as Plenty O’Toole, Bond finds that he’s up against a familiar adversary intent on world domination.  The whole affair feels like a second-run Bond adventure that strains to make it all the way to the end of its two hour running time.

Connery looks a little out of sorts as he struggles for the majority of the film to get back into the swing of things.  Even his hairpiece seems out of place among the gaudy 1970 casino sets, hideous costumes, and some very strange supporting characters.  With erstwhile sausage magnate Dean showing up as a hickory flavored millionaire and Bruce Glover creepily paired with Putter Smith as evil Laurel and Hardy-type henchman, it’s just a strange concoction of elements that doesn’t make anyone a winner.

While St. John looks every bit the part of a Bond girl, she’s done in by a real idiotic script by Tom Mankiewicz and absent direction by Hamilton.  And why is it that whenever a villain kidnaps a Bond girl she is later found sunbathing without a care in the world?  Add a totally lame-o and very forced double ending and you have one of the more forgettable Bond films.

Bond-ed for Life ~ On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

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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 woos a mob boss’s daughter and goes undercover to uncover the true reason for Blofeld’s allergy research in the Swiss Alps that involves beautiful women from around the world.

Stars: George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Gabriele Ferzetti, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell

Director: Peter R. Hunt

Rated: PG

Running Length: 142 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  When Sean Connery decided to hang up his suit and turn in the keys to the Bond Aston Martin after five films, the producers of the James Bond franchise were faced with a difficult task.  Connery had so firmly put his stamp on Bond…could they recast the role in a way that would allow the series to live on while still aiming to please the Connery devotees?  The answer was a qualified yes. 

Though other actors were considered (including future Bonds Roger Moore and a too-young Timothy Dalton) the part went to Australian model Lazenby who bore more than a passing resemblance to Connery.  A more athletic looking secret agent, Lazenby fit the role quite nicely…though I found him slightly less filled with the bravura machismo that Connery exuded. 

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the absolute best Bond entries, in my opinion, because rather than feeling like another chapter in the same book of Bond stories the movie comes across as an entirely new novel.  The previous Bond movies had enjoyable material that would often leave loose ends flailing about but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a clear beginning, middle, and end and that makes for an enjoy able viewing experience.

I also felt the movie introduced us to our first real match for Bond.  Rigg is sensational as the daughter of a mostly benign crime lord that catches the eye of 007.  Headstrong, independent, and lively…Rigg makes Tracy into someone that we actually want to see Bond end up with.  Though she conveniently disappears during the middle half of the film, she makes a strong return for the final hour of action.

Directed by longtime Bond editor Hunt, I didn’t always enjoy some of the more common film techniques of the era employed here.  A few of the fight sequences are shot at a higher frame rate so it looks like you mistakenly sat on your fast forward button.  Also, some of Lazenby’s action sequences look a bit over rehearsed and that robs the scenes of some spontaneity.

Savalas becomes another actor taking a stab at bad guy Blofeld (after Donald Pleasence cut such a nice swath in You Only Live Twice) and he’s nicely restrained even ensconced in a neat little hideout in the Swiss Alps.  It’s a pity that gruff Ilse Steppat passed away a week after the film was released…her Irma Bunt is a wonderful addition to the wicked henchwoman gallery.

With plenty of elaborate action sequences and wonderful use of John Barry’s score (though it doesn’t have a theme song with lyrics, I’ve always appreciated the rich instrumental track that plays over the opening credits), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of my all time favorite Bond films.  In it we get to see a more personal side of Bond…and the risky ending pays off with repeated viewings.  Don’t be put off by Lazenby’s one appearance on Bond…it’s a mighty fine film and up there with the best.