It occurs to me that, when writing the entries in this series of posts, I’m being even less academic than usual. Words such as “cool” and “awesome” pop up with alarming frequency, and I make almost no mention of intelligent concepts of film analysis. However, this is James Bond we’re talking about. Particularly with the old ones, they weren’t catering to the analytical filmgoer. These are fun romps, pure and simple. It’s not till the Daniel Craig reboot that James Bond becomes a little more complex. But, let us dally no more! On with the show! Three final entries before we hit the top ten!
13. The Spy Who Loved Me
Three nuclear submarines go missing and it is up to James Bond to track them down. Along the way, he pairs up with a KGB agent and has an awesome time in a submersible Lotus Esprit. Can Bond find the submarines before the earth is turned into a nuclear wasteland?
Most people hold this up as the high point of Roger Moore’s reign. I’m inclined to disagree, but it is pretty spot on as the greatest of the Over The Top Bond Style. The first film in the “every other Bond film must have a ski sequence” mould, this one has the most famous one of the lot. To open with such a daring setpiece really sets the tone – you know this is going to be a big one!
The kidnap of nuclear submarines is a rather inventive plot device, well executed with convincing models and the best soundstage set of the series since the volcano base in You Only Live Twice – a giant dock containing three full-size nuclear submarines!
Also going for it is the fact that some of the action is set around the landmarks of Ancient Egypt, which aside from just being plain interesting also lends a foreboding sense of danger to the proceedings made even better by clever cinematography and shadowy lighting.
The cast, for once, is all decent. Curt Jurgens as villain Karl Stromberg is pretty creepy, and believable as an evil genius. Barbara Bach almost equals James Bond’s spying excellence as KGB agent Anya Amasova. But, stealing the show in his first of two appearances in the series is Richard Kiel as the metal-toothed Jaws, a henchman so popular he was brought back in the following film!
Because this was the film from which Moonraker stole all its ideas, it is naturally much better. Granted, the disco music score leaves much to be desired, but by and large this is one of the coolest and most enjoyable entries in the franchise.
Two atomic bombs go missing and it is up to James Bond and a very dull shop dummy masquerading as Felix Leiter to track them down!
When it was distributed in 1965, Thunderball became the highest grossing James Bond film then released. Hot on the tail of Goldfinger, it continues the high stakes atomic bomb blot theme but falls flat on its face in execution.
This is one film I really liked as a kid, but have discovered as time’s worn slowly on that Thunderball is just way, way, way too slow. Much like The World Is Not Enough years later, the film lumbers from setpiece to setpiece with little happening between. But, having said that, this film does it with more style, panache, and charm than The World Is Not Enough, so I’m happy to rank it much higher!
For starters, the filming locations are far superior. Throughout the first act, they manage to make a British country health farm interesting, with Bond engaging in a tit-for-tat with a SPECTRE operative; a sequence of events that is great fun. But this is not all. Perhaps I’m a snob, but I would rather look at the beautiful beaches and colourful reefs of Nassau and the Bahamas than the oil fields of Azerbaijan. Almost the entirety of Thunderball is set in the former locale, and it does very well out of it. The use of a junkanoo festival (organised and paid for by the producers) to mask a foot chase was a very clever idea, and film such that the organised chaos of the parade makes it an edge-of-your-seat scene, forty years before Casino Royale and its mind-boggling parkour.
The underwater sequences of Thunderball, whilst ground breaking at the time, are what give the film its unnecessary length, such that you could easily chop 30 minutes out of this film and lose absolutely no significant plot development. However, the music from John Barry(about which I have previously written) is magnificent, and that’s what keeps me engaged throughout what would otherwise be footage from The Blue Planet.
As for the case, Sean Connery doesn’t yet seem bored by his role, Adolfo Celi keeps it pulsing along nicely with his charming, well dressed villainy, and Claudine Auger is decent as Bond Girl Domino – granted, she doesn’t do much except look pretty and whimper a lot, but before the 1970s that is unfortunately all the producers expected from a supporting female character in this series. The limited amount of female characterisation goes into making Luciana Paluzzi as menacing as possible in her role as Fiona Volpe.
Alas, though, this film’s admittedly very well staged crash of a Vulcan bomber is a meta-referential plot device. A very exciting start, then a sudden stop followed by a bunch of action under the water. Still, this is far from the worst Connery outing and is pretty enjoyable on the whole.
James Bond intervenes in a dodgy card game and before long is thrown into another international intrigue, this time involving mysterious jeweller Auric Goldfinger. The eponymous Man With The Midas Touch [I just got that, incidentally] is obsessed with gold and will stop at nothing to make himself richer. Can James Bond work fast enough to blow Goldfinger’s evil plans wide open, or will Goldfinger be taking home the gold?
I know, I know – sacrilege, not including Goldfinger in my top 10. But, I have to be honest – I’ve just seen it too many times now, and it just isn’t staying fresh.
This is, however, one of the few films that manages to improve on the novel. Goldfinger’s scheme in the Fleming original is to empty Fort Knox of its gold, an undertaking that would take days. In the film he just wants to make it unusable and instead use the consequent inflation to his advantage – a surprisingly complex plot for an early Bond film.
Goldfinger is the film which cast the mould of the standard Bond formula – a brassy score; a couple of very attractive women, one of whom has questionable motivations but could be turned round; a giant extras-filled action sequence at the end which is then followed by a smaller scale showdown between Bond and the villain. As I wrote that sentence, I began to question exactly why I like Bond so much considering how deeply formulaic it actually is…and then I stopped thinking because that’s a dangerous train of thought to catch.
There is certainly something about this film that does make it desirable to watch over and over again. Sean Connery is in his element here, and he also has some great suits, too. Gert Frobe’s Goldfinger is the first larger than life villain of the series, which means he IS the cookie-cutter from which they created the rest of the evil guys in the canon – consequently his every scene is enjoyable.
The action is well choreographed, the music is bold and brash, and the theme song is the single most iconic of the series. The one trick with this film is not to watch it too often!