THREE GUYS AND… 007
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
“JAMES BOND 007 (1962 – 1969)”
written by Dominick Cappello
“Dr. No” (1962)
Directed by Terence Young & Starring Sean Connery.
Modern audiences may not fully appreciate the big screen debut of James Bond 007 upon their first viewing as it is more a detective story than an action/adventure movie for the first two thirds of its runtime. Myself, having grown up in the 1990s with Pierce Brosnan’s suave and romantic interpretation of the character, I was initially thrown by the rugged machismo that Sean Connery displayed in the 1960s. Sean Connery as Bond – more often than not – was a bit of a cold hearted bastard. “Dr. No” itself has a unique narrative, beginning as a straight forward detective story with James Bond 007 of the British Secret Service searching for a missing operative in Jamaica, which then delves into the realm of science-fiction with him being captured by a mad scientist in a secret underground lair. Along the way, 007 avoids perils and meets an array of femme fatales. All clichés now, but was unmatched at the time. “Dr. No” also has the heavy responsibility of setting up an entire universe for James Bond to exist in. Baccarat, martinis, flirting with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), his briefings with M (Bernard Lee), CIA liaison Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), and his arch rivals SPECTRE (The Special Executor for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, & Extortion) are all established in this film. Honey Ryder, the first “Bond Girl” played Ursula Andress, and Dr. Julius No, the first Bond Villain played Joseph Wiseman, deservedly have their places in cinema history. Ursula Andress’ introduction – emerging from the ocean in a white bikini – has been emulated several times, but there’s nothing quite like the original. And in my own humble opinion, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall) is an underrated villainess. But, the “dragon” was a bit hard to swallow and 007 could have held Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) in higher regard. “Fetch my shoes?” So, for anyone in my particular age group who was raised with video games, computer generated imagery, and short attention spans, please give “Dr. No” a chance and the respect it deserves. What other film could have spawned nineteen sequels before the “powers that be” decided to reboot the franchise 44 years later?
“From Russia With Love” (1963)
Directed by Terence Young & Starring Sean Connery.
“Dr. No” may have established the character for movie goers, but it was “From Russia With Love” which expanded on the format that all 007 adventures would adhere to. There was the first pre-title sequence, often referred to as a “teaser.” We get our first, albeit brief, glimpse of SPECTRE #1 – Ernst Stavro Blofled. Desmond Llewelyn makes his debut as Q the gadget master. John Barry, a brilliant composer, scores his first of eleven films in the series. Robert Shaw as Donald “Red” Grant is one of the great villains in the history of the franchise. A rare instance where you have an antagonist who is both a physical and intellectual match for 007. Colonel Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is also a rarity as a villainess in a true position of authority. Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova perhaps isn’t as heralded as Honey Ryder or Pussy Galore, but I think that she was quite good in the role (though I’m aware she was dubbed to hide her thick Italian accent). “From Russia With Love” has James Bond 007 being used as a pawn in a plot by SPECTRE to steal a decoding machine from the Russians with many superb sequences such as the cat fight and ensuing shoot out at the gypsy camp, the brutal fight to death between Bond and Grant on the train, and the perilous helicopter attack, which was a clear homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959). Besides the original source material from author Ian Fleming, much of the credit should go to director Terence Young, who mentored the ruggedly Scottish Sean Connery on how to effectively portray a proper English gentleman in both “Dr. No” and this film. “From Russia With Love” is a well crafted, first rate thriller and seems to be the hands down favorite of most film critics. Like “Dr. No,” modern audiences would probably find the first half of this film too tedious to stick around for the exciting climax, which is unfortunate. Hopefully, the 2005 video game adaptation, which featured Sean Connery’s third triumphant return to the role in the form of his likeness and voice-over, educated younger people on this classic.
Directed by Guy Hamilton & Starring Sean Connery.
Three times was surely the charm for 007 as “Goldfinger” became the franchise’s first blockbuster. Guy Hamilton had taken over directing duties from Terence Young. Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) and Odd-Job (Harold Sakata) are two of the most iconic antagonists in cinema history. The perfect templates for a megalomaniacal super-villain and his hard-hitting brute enforcer. Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore is probably the most famous Bond Girl of them all, which is ironic as she apparently finds the label “Bond Girl” to be demeaning. The title song performed by Shirley Bassey is most indicative of what a James Bond title song should encompass. Shirley Bassey would go on to perform the songs for both “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) and “Moonraker” (1979). James Bond 007 is ordered to spy on a treacherous smuggler of gold bullion, who plans an air-raid on Fort Knox. I’d list all of the memorable moments in this film, like the ones with the gadget laden Aston Martin DB5, but there are far too many. I’ll only mention the enduring image of Shirley Eaton painted from head to toe in gold. An image that was paid homage in “Quantum of Solace” (2008) with oil substituted for gold. “From Russia With Love” may be the critical darling, but “Goldfinger” is the fan favorite for a vast majority. Sean Connery was not as rough around the edges in his third outing. He had matured into the part. If I absolutely had to nitpick, I’d say that Pussy Galore was too easily wooed by 007’s charm. She’s “immune” for the longest time, but after just one roll in the hay, she immediately repents of her wicked ways. I wish there was a bit more insight as to why she ultimately betrayed Goldfinger. It would have been amazing if in some sort of triple-cross, she also tried to deceive 007. Again, that’s just me nitpicking. It was a near perfect action/adventure movie beyond that and the filmmakers never really progressed past this level of quality until the reboot, “Casino Royale” (2006). Most of the films to follow are blatant attempts to recreate the success of “Goldfinger.”
Directed by Terence Young & Starring Sean Connery.
Nuclear weapons and killer sharks… How can you go wrong? Though “Thunderball” is one of my favorites, I’ll admit that the film is somewhat slow paced considering its plot. Terence Young returns as director and he treats the material in a similar fashion to his earlier thrillers, “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” but this film is meant to be “Goldfinger” on the high seas, so the tempo should be faster. James Bond 007 searches for two nuclear warheads, hijacked by SPECTRE and hidden in shark infested waters. The hijacking of the Vulcan airplane and the beginning of the climatic frogman battle leaves James Bond off screen for a bit too long and 007 himself lingers for too long at the Shrublands clinic during the first act. Luciana Paluzzi as SPECTRE assassin Fiona Volpe is my favorite Bond Girl of the 1960s. Unlike Pussy Galore, she was still immune to 007’s charm even after he slept with her. “Well, you can’t win them all.” The chase sequence through the Junkanoo is exciting and the first time that James Bond is wounded by gunfire in the series. 007 also has some of his signature moments in this film. Domino (Claudine Auger) remarks to Bond, “What sharp little eyes you have.” Bond responds, “Wait ‘til you get to my teeth.” Later, Fiona is taking a bath and asks for some clothes to put on, so 007 hands her nothing but a pair of shoes. Who else but James Bond could get away with that? So, if you’re either an enthusiast of scuba diving and shark attack movies, then “Thunderball” is right up your alley. The title song by Tom Jones was even performed live by him at the American Film Institute tribute to Sean Connery. And though the runtime is about fifteen minutes too long, I still say that this film is a notch above the remake, “Never Say Never Again” (1983).
“Casino Royale” (1967)
Produced by Charles K. Feldman,
Starring David Niven, Peter Sellers, & Woody Allen.
Wow… This film is a jumbled mess. James Bond aficionados know the history. This second adaptation of the novel Casino Royale was not made by EON Productions. Producer Charles K. Feldman decided on a spoof in lieu of competing with the Sean Connery films. There were five different directors. Five!? Every sequence was directed by someone different, so nothing makes any sense. I’ll just try my best to make sense of the overall plot for those who have not had the misfortune of seeing it. David Niven is Sir James Bond, who is forced out of retirement so to recruit a new 007 (Peter Sellers) for a high-stakes game of baccarat against Le Chiffre (Orson Wells). Ursula Andress, the original Bond Girl, returns as the deceitful Vesper Lynd. Woody Allen is Jimmy Bond, the nephew of Sir James, whose alter ego is Dr. Noah, the true antagonist of the film. Do you get the joke? It’s Dr. Noah instead of Dr. No. Yeah, it’s not that funny. A bunch of decoys use the code name James Bond 007 and renowned filmmaker John Huston cameos as M. This “Casino Royale” is pretty lame except for the gorgeous Barbara Bouchet as the new Miss Moneypenny. At one point in this ridiculous farce, Sir James Bond actually crosses paths with The Frankenstein Monster. What the hell!? Though, to it’s credit, the famous Dusty Springfield song “The Look of Love” was written for this sham of a James Bond outing. This film’s real contribution to pop culture.
“You Only Live Twice” (1967)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert & Starring Sean Connery.
Welcome to Japan, Mr. Bond. Lewis Gilbert directs his first of three films in the series. SPECTRE #1 – Ernst Stavro Blofled is finally revealed in the form of Donald Pleasance and his hollowed out volcano lair would later become fodder for the “Austin Powers” films. James Bond 007 fakes his death, so he can travel to Japan and locate a hijacked space capsule before war erupts between the USA and the Soviet Union. Composer John Barry delivers a beautiful score and both of the Bond Girls (Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi) had co-starred in “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962). Awesome. But, the real story of this film is what allegedly went on behind the scenes. The Japanese media’s abrasive treatment of Sean Connery helped to convince the actor that it was time to resign from the part that made him famous. On screen, there was little of Ian Fleming’s source material. This began the tradition of the filmmakers taking the title and basic premise of an Ian Fleming story and then crafting their own yarn. Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches) received the screenplay credit, but apparently had little creative input in the finished product. With all the dubbing in this film, it now seems an appropriate time to praise the contributions of Nikki Van der Zyl, who has provided uncredited voice-over work for an impressive ten 007 films. Nikki Van der Zyl dubbed an array of Bond Girls from Ursula Andress to Jane Seymour. Quite a résumé. I have mixed feelings about the Little Nellie helicopter sequence. It’s fun and all, but I don’t like when James Bond relies solely on his gadgets. It makes it seem like anyone could be 007 as along as they remember the right switches to flip. Goodbye, Mr. Connery. Though, I have a feeling that we will meet again.
“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969)
Directed by Peter Hunt & Starring George Lazenby.
George Lazenby’s one and only brush with greatness. A male model with little acting experience had the daunting task of filling Sean Connery’s tuxedo. The legend goes that this film was a box office bomb and Mr. Lazenby was so inept in the part that he was immediately terminated, but the truth is that this film had decent box office returns and George Lazenby gave a surprisingly good performance despite of his inexperience. The alleged problem was that his fifteen minutes of fame went to his head and he became an instant prima donna, who publicly resigned from the role at the behest of his business advisors. George Lazenby shot himself in the foot before his career could take off. Putting the whole George Lazenby saga aside, this film directed by Peter Hunt is a high point in the series. James Bond 007 romances a countess and goes undercover in the Swiss Alps to apprehend the leader of SPECTRE. It’s almost like a finale for the 1960s era of James Bond. The title sequence displays images from the previous five films and there is scene where 007 packs up his office and some famous props from the previous films are showcased. James Bond even tosses his hat to Miss Moneypenny at the conclusion of the film as his way of saying goodbye. This film would’ve worked much better as swan song for Sean Connery than an introduction for George Lazenby. Telly Savalas takes over as Ernst Stavro Blofeld and I personally think that he was the best of all the Blofelds because he was the only one who was a physical match for 007. Setting the story at Christmas time also gives the movie an eerie atmosphere. George Lazenby’s greenness as an actor was only apparent to me in one crucial scene where he proposes marriage to Tracy (Dianna Rigg). I do like this scene. He just seemed a little stiff to me. That brings us to the controversial climax where James Bond is married and quickly widowed. It’s a heartbreaking scene that sticks out like a sore thumb because there was never as sentimental a moment in the series before or after until “Casino Royale” (2006). It was a brave choice on the part of the filmmakers to stay true to Ian Fleming and the original source material, but it was not a crowd pleasing decision. Luckily, “On Her Majesty‘s Secret Service” has gained in reputation over the years and director Peter Hunt has been vindicated. Goodbye, Mr. Lazenby. We hardly knew you. George Lazenby did, however, cameo as Agent J.B. in “The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (1983). For legal reason I’m sure, he could not be referred to as James Bond or 007, but it’s pretty obvious who he was because he was driving an Aston Martin and said “shaken, not stirred.” So, with “Octopussy” (1983) starring Roger Moore and “Never Say Never Again” (1983) starring Sean Connery, James Bond saw a lot of action in 1983.
– Dr. Rochester