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 ~ 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 ~ 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.