James Bond has been outwitting bad guys and bedding the ladies onscreen for half a century, and even as the films’ tones, quality and lead actors fluctuated the character of Bond has remained an icon of cinema. Six actors have played him across twenty two films, and there are folks who champion each and every one of them. The key to calling a favorite seems to depend on which ones you saw first and at what age as well as your individual constitution for puns, crazy action sequences, talkative villains and films ending with lifeboats floating at sea.
For the record, before digging into this set and watching all 22 films Daniel Craig was my favorite Bond and Casino Royale my favorite Bond movie. But also for the record? I quickly came to realize I had only seen a fraction of the Bond films.
One of 2012’s biggest and most anticipated Blu-ray sets is Bond 50 which celebrates fifty years of Bond with special feature-filled Blu-rays for each film. Most have already seen HD releases, but the set includes Blu debuts of You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.
The set breaks the 22 films into two halves, twelve from 1962-1981 and ten 1983-2012, each in their own sturdy book. Due to the sheer volume of material this Disc Spotlight will be broken into two halves as well. Keep reading for a look at 1962’s Dr. No through 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, and check back next week for a look at 1983’s Octopussy through 2008’s Quantum of Solace.
Watching the Bond movies in order, many for the first time, is an enlightening experience. It’s fascinating to see the ebb and flow of Bond’s cinematic trademarks as they’re created, enjoyed, over-used and occasionally dropped. Even more interesting is seeing the clear distinctions between the actors playing Bond that in turn shape the character slightly in one direction or the other. Sean Connery, for example, incorporates his personal opinion on how it’s okay to slap a woman and makes it an integral part of his Bond…
The first twelve films of the set are covered below, and in addition to a quick overview/review I’ve rated each on the quality of the four elements that matter most: villain, girls, gadgets and action.
Dr. No (1962)
Villain – 7, Girls – 7, Gadgets – 2, Action – 6
“I can assure you, my intentions are strictly honorable.”
An agent’s disappearance sends Bond (Connery) to Jamaica and the island of the ironically optimistic Dr. No who’s planning to de-fund NASA (and probably PBS too) permanently. Bond’s debut gives birth to a few of the franchise’s standbys including his martini preference, an appearance by CIA Agent Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), a memorable villain in Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) and humorously named but sexy as hell ladies like Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress). Missing in this first installment though is a big opening action scene with Bond escaping some baddies followed followed by a vocal theme.
They couldn’t really have hoped for a better screen debut for Bond as this movie is a success on just about every front. The onscreen murder of a female character in the beginning sets a tone (and one of the series’ edgier motifs) that would carry through the much of the series. Wiseman’s portrayal of the titular villain carries just the right degree of serious menace, and the Bond girl phenomenon gets off to a brilliantly beautiful start with Andress’ ocean exit. Zena Marshall has a bit tougher time of things as the Chinese Miss Taro since, you know, she’s not Asian. (We should be thankful they didn’t cast John Wayne or Tony Randall I guess.) Connery presents Bond’s capable but erratic persona well with a styled control, but his ladies man label starts off a bit rough as it’s 50 minutes before he touches a girl… and he’s pretty creepy about it.
From Russia With Love (1963)
Villain – 4, Girls – 5, Gadgets – 5, Action – 5
“She should have kept her mouth shut.”
Bond (Connery) inserts himself into a mission involving a Russian beauty and a hot Soviet encryption device currently in the nefarious hands of SPECTRE. The franchise’s sophomore effort is the first to add a proper Bond title sequence using naked women as projector screens. This is not a bad thing. Desmond Llewelyn makes his first appearance as the humorous gadget-maker, Q, a role he would reprise 18 more times until his death in 1999. The film also introduces Ernst Blofeld as Bond’s most persistent nemesis who would return in various form five more times. Also returning is director Terence Young who follows his strong Bond debut with another excellent entry.
This film has a slighter pace than Dr. No even as it ups the scope and ante, but slighter shouldn’t be mistaken for slow or boring. Helicopters, harems and shoe knives all come into play her and help keep the excitement level high enough. The knock down drag out girl fight doesn’t hurt either. The script works well to make the film feel as much of a drama as an action movie, and the sexual innuendo adds spice when needed. Tatiana (Daniela Bianchi) is no Honey though.
Villain – 4, Girls – 4, Gadgets – 5, Action – 5
“Do you expect me to talk?”
“No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die.”
Bond (Connery) goes undercover to investigate a smuggling ring headed up by a gold magnate, and he discovers a plan to steal the contents of the Fort Knox gold reserve. Or does he? (I won’t keep you in suspense as the plan is actually far more realistic than trying to lug away all those tons of gold bars.) The idea of Bond as chick-magnet is fully in play here as the film gets right to the girl action, but it also reminds us of the emotional detachment that makes him unafraid to use her as a tool. The series’ first memorable henchman appears here in the form of Oddjob (Harold Sakata) as well as the first truly outrageously named female lead in Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).
This is the first dud of the series even if no one else seems to notice. You can’t introduce your lead villain wearing shorts and expect him to carry any kind of weight or menace later in the film, and just as ridiculous on the wardrobe front is Bond’s terry-cloth romper. Seriously, the girls would never again give him the time of day. And speaking of the girls, why does no one care that Bond essentially rapes a lesbian in a barn? (That’s not a euphemism either.) It had to be offensive even in 1964 didn’t it? It’s not all bad news though as there’s some solid car action to be found, but any way you slice it this is a questionable debut for director Guy Hamilton.
Villain – 6, Girls – 6, Gadgets – 6, Action – 6
“Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.”
SPECTRE agent Emilio Largo (Adolfo Celi) steals two nuclear warheads with plans to threaten and extort the world, so Bond (Connery) heads to The Bahamas to steal them back. Some interesting gadgets come into play here, and many of them are incorporated into the car in fiendishly clever ways. Even more important, the villain is wonderfully evil and the ladies are plentiful, beautiful and fun. Credit should in part at least be given to returning director Young who brings back the energy and style of the first two Bond’s for this fourth film.
After the misstep that was Goldfinger the series gets back on track with this exciting entry filled with fantastic action sequences, ravishing women and grand cinematography above and below the ocean’s surface. It starts off with a great opening fight culminating in the introduction of a jet pack escape, and the end clash is an epic underwater battle with multiple players on both sides. Bond’s back to his sexual predator ways though which makes an exercise scene where he’s forced to yell for help that much more enjoyable. Seriously, Bond’s a dick.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Villain – 6, Girls – 7, Gadgets – 5, Action – 6
“Oh the things I do for England.”
Bond (Connery) joins forces with the Japanese secret service (and secret ninja force!) to stop the culprits behind a series of hijackings in space with plans to trigger a nuclear war. Bond in Japan plays right into my wheelhouse, and when you combine that with a healthy dose of ninja action, the return of Blofeld and some brilliant production design from Ken Adam the film becomes one of the series’ more entertaining and impressive entries. It also has fresh blood in the director’s chair with the arrival of Lewis Gilbert.
But then they go and turn Bond Japanese… as if any amount of makeup and hair dye could make Connery look Asian. Of course we know from Zena Marshall’s appearance in Dr. No that the filmmaker’s aren’t all that interested in looking convincing when it comes to fake Asians. Thankfully, his yellow-face facade is short-lived (and conspicuously unnecessary to boot), and the film gets back to basics with a large scale battle in the villain’s lair complete with brawls, explosions and a Japanese woman running around in her bikini.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Villain – 5, Girls – 5, Gadgets – 3, Action – 5
“This never happened to the other fellow.”
Bond (George Lazenby) goes undercover(s) in the Swiss Alps in the hopes of discovering what Blofeld is doing with a bevy of beautiful women in a mountain fortress. Lazenby’s debut (and swan song) is an odd entry for several reasons, but after a mildly comical opening that sees him address the camera directly with the quote above the ice is broken and he moves comfortably into 007’s shoes. It’s also the first entry to do something truly dramatic with the Bond character. Director Peter R. Hunt makes his first and last Bond film too, making him one of the rare early Bond directors to only get one shot.
In the context of the series and all its trappings this is often viewed as a lesser installment. It’s not entirely Lazenby’s doing as the real culprit is Bond’s falling in love and marrying the exotically named Tracy (Diana Rigg). If Lazenby’s presence was shaking the franchise up then Bond getting married was stirring it into an unrecognizable concoction. Yet the movie never relies solely on that shift and instead does a strong job with the supporting players and action scenes including a stellar ski chase that still holds up today and a casually entertaining performance by Telly Savalas as Blofeld. Lazenby’s also a better fighter than Connery although the occasional sped-up scene obscures the fact. In the end it makes for a slightly better stand alone action/adventure than it does a Bond film, but perceptions be damned it’s a movie worth seeing regardless.