Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Goodnight Mr Bond

Review: The James Bond Films. Yes, all of them.

This is an attempt to write a review of every single James Bond film from memory. I was tempted to watch some of them again but thought that might be missing the point, such as it is. (N.B. Since writing this I have actually watched a number of them and was pleased/scared to find my plot descriptions were largely accurate. The one amendment I would make is that Moonraker is actually considerably worse than I remembered.)

Dr No

Based on one of the best books (not saying much admittedly) and, possibly, the only film to feature Sean Connery with his own hair. Set mostly in Jamaica, Bond spends a lot of time in a fetching terry towelling bathing gown/trunk combo. He also wears a trilby, although unfortunately not at the same time as the bathing gown/trunk combo. The book is casually racist about Jamaicans and the film features a terrible Uncle Tom caricature in Bond’s assistant Quarrel, only too happy to die for his honky master. Quarrel first appears in the books in the chronologically earlier Man With The Golden Gun, where his relationship with Bond is described as that between a Scottish Laird and his head gamekeeper. Which tells you most of what you need to know about Ian Fleming. More positively, Ursula Andress emerges from the sea with some shells. The ridiculous villain sets the tone for camp evil-ness that every subsequent film follows. He has no hands and channels a look somewhere between Chairman Mao and Joseph Stalin.

From Russia With Love

Widely regarded as the best Bond film ever, perhaps because it least resembles a Bond film and most resembles a quite good spy movie. Depending on where you stand this is either a) not really the point at all, or b) a blessed relief from the usual nonsense. Bond is sent to Istanbul (to the banks of The Bosphorous, as people invariably have it) to get hold of a Russian decoder machine type thing. This is obviously a trap and the bait is Russian KGB agent Tatiana Romanov. The scenes with her are oddly touching and smartly written with lots of double entendres and are by far the best bits of the film. There is also a strangely viscious protrayal of lesbianism in pointy toed villain Rosa Kleb who belongs in another, less plausible Bond film. .

There is an excellent unmasking of the villain by way of his ignorance of the correct wine to have with fish, and a fight with two gypsy girls. Which is nice. Bond sets the tone in this film for his habitual incompetence, constantly wandering into dangerous situations and getting everyone else shot. It ends with a slightly interminable boat/helicopter chase which most people prefer to forget when discussing the films merits. Other than that though, it’s really very good.


Bond hits the Motherlode with Goldfinger - everyone’s favourite movie (except My Mother, who professes to hate this and every Bond film every made. For some reason though she particularly hates this one, claiming both to be heartily sick of it and to have never watched it all the way through). It’s got everything in it you could possibly want including the scene where Bond emerges from the water in a wet suit with a duck strapped to his head. There is some witty banter with Pussy Galore (mostly minus the homophobic undertow of Fleming’s book - she was raped by her brothers as a child and as a consequence ‘turns’ lesbian. One look at Bond’s schlong though and like any good lesbian she turns back, presumably only revisiting for the sake of male titillation). Be that as it may, it’s a great movie. Connery looks super cool throughout, although his coolness is slightly illusional. In a telling detail, when Bond is tracking Goldfinger across the Alps, he is torn between jeopardising the mission by haring off after a woman in a sports car, or continuing on his way. He decides not to give chase, muttering “Discipline, 007, discipline” to himself. As Antony Burgess has pointed out, Bond’s hedonism is second to his sense of duty, marking him out as a product of the ‘50’s not the ‘60’s. Equally tellingly he makes a joke about hating the Beatles in this film. For all his cool wardrobe and ‘60’s’ glamour, Bond is a deeply reactionary establishment character.


A bit crap this one involving endless very boring underwater scenes (always hated underwater scenes, except ones featuring Jacques Cousteau). Features Bond looking silly in a jet pack. (Note: never put James Bond in a crash helmet, he always looks a knob - see every Roger Moore film). Like most Bond films the early bits of Thunderball are the best when very little is happening plot-wise and Bond is spending most of his time trying to seduce the nurses at a health farm.

This was re-made as Never Say Never Again, to no great note, except for some funny jokes about Sean Connery’s age and Kim Basinger acting very badly. In a thoroughly bathetic moment a supposedly high octane duel to the death is played out between Sean and the baddie on one of those table top space invader games that used to be in the lounges of cross channel ferries.

You Only Live Twice

Another excellent film, much mocked (rightly, it has to be said) for Sean Connery’s rubbish attempt at impersonating a Japanese person. This is unintentionally funny, but the film is also rather good and has an excellent theme tune and genuine all round groovy ‘60’s-ness. It revolves around a totally ridiculous plot by Spectre to capture American and Russian spacecraft in a bid to pit the superpowers against each other. For reasons I can’t recall this is sponsored by the Japanese. There is a long section towards the end of the film when virtually nothing happens for about twenty minutes. Also, of some note are Bond being “killed” at the beginning of the film and Bond flying a mini helicopter and, again, looking silly in a crash helmet. The volcano rocket base is probably the best Ken Adam set as well. Blofeld appears for the first time in a film and turns out to be Donald Pleasance. The film is, incidentally, far better than the terrible book which has Blofeld growing poisonous plants on an island and wearing a suit of armour.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Much underrated. I actually quite like George Lazenby and the film is, like From Russia With Love, a plausible thriller. Diana Rigg is splendid as his short-lived wife Tracey. Telly Savalas plays Blofeld, and Louis Armstrong sings We Have All The Time In The World. It’s a bit darker in places than normal Bond films although Bond does blow his cover as an academic bore by sleeping with all the women. Good skiing scenes and some particularly unconvincing blue screening. The mountain scenes were filmed in the Swiss resort of Wengen, just next to the Eiger where I once went on a skiing holiday myself don’t you know.

Diamonds Are Forever

Connery is back. A little older, with bigger side burns, but back all the same. This is the Las Vegas one, also featuring THE MOON BUGGY. Tiffany Case, starts off as a cool, smart criminal and ends up a dim bikini clad floozy and the plot is unspeakably rubbish. Very good start but it really runs out of steam and the final scene set on an oil rig (for some reason) is really dull. The ‘amusing’ homophobic running ‘joke’ of the two gay hitmen is just about the only connection back to Ian Fleming. There’s a good continuity fuck up when Bond roles a car onto two wheels in one scene and then emerges on the other two which exemplifies the slightly lazy-all-round approach of this film. For architecture bores some of the action takes place in a John Lautner designed house in LA.

Live and Let Die

Awesome. On so many levels. Roger Moore makes his debut, strolling camply down the streets of Harlem in black gloves and Crombi coat, looking more like he’s walking onto the set of Parkinson. This is the blaxploitation Bond, which also features the fabulous Wings Teem Toon (Sample lyric: "In this ever changing world, in which we live in") and some deep south voodoo shit man. Roger Moore is equipped with a magnetic watch (YES! A magnetic watch!) which he uses to undo a lady’s dress zip, mainly. Possibly the one film in which Roger Moore is technically young enough to play the character. Also, features a fabulous boat chase which – according to my 1980 copy of the Guinness Book of Records – had the world’s longest jump by speedboat, a bus, an exploding man and Jane Seymour. Quite probably, in reality, terrible, but I don't care. Largely unfantastic plot which involves heroin smuggling and Roger Moore in a range of terrible outfits. Best of these is his baby blue flares and blouson with low cut vest underneath. Features also some choice dilaogue: "there's a honky on your tail". Also introduces largely unamusing Dukes of Hazard-esque sherriff Coalpepper, who also appears to unfunnier effect in....

The Man With The Golden Gun

Dreadful book, dreadful film. Christopher Lee is Scaramanga, Brit Ekland is his girlfriend and Maud Adams makes the first of her two appearances as a Bond Girl (the other is the also utterly rubbish Octopussy – see below). Basically this is a film long duel, with Moore following Lee all the way to his Island hideaway where he is waited on by the dwarf from Fantasy Island. Lulu’s song is absolutely dreadful and I honestly can’t remember much more. Lee probably has a fiendish plan but it is so routinely generic that no one remembers what it was. Oh, and he has three nipples.

The Spy Who Loved Me

Huge when it came out this one I remember. It’s the one with the Lotus that turns into a submarine basically. The plot hinges on an underwater re-hash of You Only Live Twice with a megalomaniac stealing British and Russian nuclear subs – “Observe, Meester Bond, the instruments of Armegeddon” he says proudly when showing Rog around his sub stealing oil tanker. The bit with the Lotus always worried me because when it drives out of the water, Bond winds down the drivers side window to deposit a dead fish on the beach. Given that the car/sub would need to be, presumably, waterproof, I always wondered where this fish came from. The Teem Toon is sung by Carly Simon.


Features the pay off line: “I think he’s attempting re-entry Sir”. As the person ‘he’ is attempting re-entry with is called Dr Holly Goodhead, you could conclude that by this point the series has descended into a form of utterly puerile creaky old hornyness. For some this might be a good thing. The totally batty plot has Hugo Drax attempt to destroy the planet and start a new super race in space. Although to be fair this is no battier than Ian Fleming’s original and largely unrelated plot. The film also has Roger Moore looking silly in a space suit, and uses the Close Encounters theme tune in a slightly desperate attempt at being contemporary but which only reminds you of what a good film this isn’t. The Spy Who Loved Me’s pantomime villain, Jaws, returns only to become an unfunny and unlikely ally of Bond. The writers also see fit to give him a thoroughly unpleasant ‘romantic’ liaison with what appears to be a school girl.

Any pretence at making a ‘proper’ film – good script, quality actors, a point, any sense of plausible character/plot/idea development – has apparently entirely left minds of the people in charge by this point, as if the production team have jumped out of a moving vehicle, leaving it freewheeling vacantly down hill to its doom.

For Your Eyes Only

Distinguished in my eyes (only) for two reasons: 1. I remember going to see it when it came out at the Chelmsford Odeon with my family, an exceptional, unrepeated moment of familial bonding and 2. The playground rumour that the Bond girl had previously been a man. The latter apparently, is actually the true but for one of the Bond girls in Octopussy. Other than that I can’t remember much thing about it, except for the marvellous Sheena Easton song. Considered a return to the more serious films (relatively speaking) of the ‘60’s it was an attempt to get away from the insufferable fatuousness of Moonraker.


Total nonsense from beginning to end. An unfathomable plot (try reading it here. Someone has spent a great deal of time trying to write it down totally straight and it still makes no sense whatsoever), involving Faberge eggs, two villains, jewellery smuggling and a mad Russian general. A friend alerted me to an excellently vitriolic dismantling of the plot's many faults by the equally Bond obsessed Will Smith (which you should be able to find here). What else is there? Steven Berkoff! An all-woman circus! Roger Moore disguised as a clown! Indian tennis player V J Amritag fighting people off with a tennis racket! A bomb in a circus canon! A fight on the roof of a train! I’m making it sound good. Almost legendary in its lack of logic, continuity, sense, rhyme or reason, Octopussy is equal parts entertainingly dreadful and almost too boring to watch.

View to A Kill.

Not just the worst James Bond movie ever, but possibly one of the worst movies full stop. Roger Moore - looking increasingly like an elderly lady you might see pottering about the nursery slopes of St Moritz with his leathery tan, wispy rinsed hair and funny big glasses - waddles through a piss weak script that makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a strange post-modern assemblage held together only through the utterly formulaic assumptions of what happens in a Bond movie. Overall, it has the feel of a particularly low budget TV detective show, an impression encouraged by the presence of The Avenger’s Patrick McNee who forms an unfunny double act with Roger Moore. Christopher Walken does his Christopher Walker thing only worse than normal. Duran Duran sing the song and Simon Le Bon wears a beret in the video. Any glamour the Bond series might have had has leaked out into a puddle forming at the base of Roger’s patent leather shoes.

Some of it seems to be about horses. There is an interminable scene set with Bond creeping about a stable. Then it’s somehow about Nazi’s and then it’s about silicone valley. It’s hopeless. It has a hot air balloon in it. At one point Bond is bound in a car and pushed into a pond. Yes, a pond. What happened to the laser beams, the anti gravity machines, the piranha fish? Now its death by water boatmen? It ends up in the San Andreas Fault for reasons too rubbish to go into. Bond also gets to sleep with Grace Jones which, due to heir age differential, is probably one of the queasiest couplings ever seen on screen. He also fails to catch any villains or cotton on to anything that is going on. His by now ubiquitous detective technique is to get invited to the villains lair under some utterly fatuous cover, provoke the villain in some threadbare macho contest (shooting, poker, starting a bar b q), sleep with the villains mistress (usually with the villains tacit approval – all villains are perverts who like seeing their girlfriends get it on with sixty year olds), get caught and bound up and tortured and then escape in order to come back and blow the entire place up. Not great.

The Living Daylights/License to Kill

I’ve lumped these two together because I can’t actually tell them apart. There is some kind of villain with an iguana and Timothy Dalton looks serious throughout, especially as he loses his 00 license and goes rogue for a while, although they are still silly enough to feature him escaping down a ski slope in a cello case. He has an Aston Martin that goes on ski’s too. But the bad hair and the era and the tuxedo’s just don’t seem to match. In many ways the 1980’s might have been an excellent decade for James Bond with a revived sense of glamour and consumerism, but for all that they were also a decade of strikes, unemployment and social unrest and an effete assassin in a bow tie probably didn’t seem that relevant. Equally, an attempt to give Bond both gravitas and some semblance of social conscience didn’t wash either. Later, the franchise would recognise this dilemma by attempting to bring Bond up to date through an ironic acknowledgement of his sexist (although not racist – that would be too troubling) cold war era proclivities in the general irony-overload of the 1990’s.


This is quite good. Relatively. Pierce “Remington Steele” Brosnan is tremendously smug as Bond, Dame Judy “As Time Goes By” Dench overacts bearably as M, Samantha Bond injects a little life into hilarious desperate spinster figure Miss Moneypenny. It has an almost half decent plot with a twist. There is an enjoyably destructive tank chase through Prague and, probably for the first time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it’s not actually total rubbish. Geoffrey “Slam in the Lamb” Palmer is also in it, as is the chap from Foyle’s War, bringing an enjoyably Sunday tea-time feel to global events. On the downside there is a fair share of “If it wasn’t for this purple cummerbund I would have split my copious sides” clubby jokes such as a femme fatale character called Onja Onnatop (Women on top? Goodness gracious) and more product placement than any film can really bare and still be the film and not the advertising break. More anally, it has a car chase between Onnatop in her Ferrari F40 and Bond in a 1964 (Goldfinger) Aston Martin which upsets my brother because the performance disparity between the two vehicles would render the chase highly unlikely.

Tomorrow Never Dies

Features a plot for Jonathon Pryce to take over the broadcasting rights to the Archers. Not dastardly at all. There is a good joke – delivered by John Cleese as R (Q’s replacement) - about a sandwich.

The World Is Not Enough

Features a female character called Dr Christmas Jones, and concludes in Istanbul, at the end of the year. This is mainly, or actually exclusively, so that Bond can say: “Always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey”. Having maneuvered the plot, timeframe, location and, indeed, named one of the main characters something completely improbable in order to make this joke, I’m troubled that it’s so rubbish. I mean, as a joke, it just doesn’t work. It isn’t a neat reversal of a popular phrase. It almost is, but isn’t. If it was an off the cuff remark made on the spur of the moment, this could be forgivable. But it seems to have taken the entire scriptwriting team and the whole length of the movie to get to it. It upsets me greatly.

Die Another Day

Traditionally, the final outing for each Bond actor is the worst (Diamonds are Forever, View to A Kill). This doesn’t buck the trend. Mostly rubbish for the following reasons: Terrible cgi, an invisible car, Toby Stevens’ villain, Madonna (singing and acting), an ice palace which Bond enters under one of his habitually rubbish covers. Pierce Brosnan has also become too irritating and smug to be bearable.

Casino Royale

Quite good, but that's not really the point is it?

The plot stays relatively true to the book by not re-locating the action in space or inside a volvano. Although, it has to be said, staying true to the plot of the books is no guarantee of plausability. Anyway, Bond confronts a money launderer over a game of cards and wins. Other stuff happens. Daniel Craig is thuggishly plausible rather than camply ridiculous. There are no gadgets. The jokes are wooden. In a way, it doesn't matter. You really have seen it all by this point. The film is battling a bigger problem, which is the strange pointlessness of making any more James Bond films.

As others have pointed out, the books contain an interesting portrait of the post cold war era and are more interesting as social documents than as thrillers. The plots were always silly and never quite held together. The diligent, almost anal, cataloguing of consumer products and menus and hotels and places at a time when contemporary consumer culture was just beginning is more interesting. Fleming frequently breaks off from detailing a chase sequence to give an oddly detailed account of Bond's lunch. Frequently this isn't even a remarkable lunch (valuable plot time is taken up in Live and Let Die with Bond ordering chicken sandwiches) but Fleming pedantically tells us anyway. This reads like a 1950's travel brochure, but it's still interesting for that. If you can get past Fleming’s rampant misogyny, homophobia and racism and somewhat puerile world view (not easy) they can still be fun. Similarly, the films have a nostalgia and period glamour which is principally their appeal. Nobody watches them for plot development or suspense. Acutally, we watch them for the opposite of suspence. We watch them I would suggest for their certainty, for the utterly formulaic way they unfold, as familiar and in some ways as rubbish as christmas.

So, perhaps the series should, at this point, finally end. At the beginning, with the first book finally made into a film. There are no more books, and certainly no more plots, left. James Bond is, ultimately, one man’s puerile fantasy that, for a while, became everyone’s puerile fantasy. But we’ve all wasted far too much time on it. I’ve spent too much time on it certainly, just writing this. It belongs in the 1950’s and 60’s and possibly, the silly 1970’s. But not now. Not any more. Enough already. Goodnight Mr Bond.

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