After a break of some weeks, JAMES BOND IS BACK. Yes readers, it’s time for the second last instalment in my series of five. Please, enjoy.
10. Diamonds Are Forever
James Bond is BACK and more kickass than ever before! 007 heads off on an international pursuit of diamond thieves that eventually takes him to Las Vegas and beyond! He must beat the clock before a giant space laser destroys civilisation!
Connery’s swansong in the official series is nothing short of one big ball of fun. For the first time since Goldfinger, Sean Connery seems to be enjoying himself in his role! Diamonds Are Forever is a very cartoony movie, but it certainly lightens the tone after the heavy ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The music’s good, the action credible, the car chases thrilling. And now, I’m going to finish this little entry with what I like most about Diamonds Are Forever: the script Those who know me well will understand exactly why I like this one so much.
Which is paid off much later with,
9. Die Another Day
James Bond gets caught in North Korea whilst policing the world. After his release, he races from the blazing heat of Cuba to the freezing glaciers of Iceland in his pursuit of the people who betrayed him. Also, he has to prevent World War Three.
So, perhaps even more controversial than leaving Goldfinger out of the top 10 is putting Die Another Day in the top 22. But, I love this movie. It takes a lot of disbelief suspension, but what a ride.
For starters, the surfing scene with which the film opens is captivating. It’s preposterous, but super cool. I’m one of those people who will probably never surf, but love watching people do it, so this scene suits me fine. It’s followed by a heap of post-Cold War intrigue in the heart of North Korea, followed by a brilliant chase atop hovercraft.
James Bond being caught and tortured is new ground for the series, and it lends a gritty realism to the film – which, for better or worse, is erased by the time James Bond reaches Cuba and meets the interminably irritating Jinx, played by Halle Berry at her wooden best. Berry lets the film down with her bored and stilted delivery of what are (admittedly) dreadful lines anyway. She just comes across as clumsily sleazy as opposed to the intended sexy.
After lots of action and explosions, we finally reach London, where we discover that the music supervisor really likes The Clash. It’s not long before there’s a swordfight between James Bond and the mysterious, recently knighted diamond entrepreneur Sir Gustav Graves – and why not?! This is possibly the best and most outrageous fight in the entire run of classic James Bond. Eventually, the action moves to Iceland, where 007 arrives in his soon-to-be invisible Aston Martin. This car cops a lot of stick, but come on, this is the series that sent its lead character to space armed with a laser gun and space shuttle – there’s not really much else which can top that!
I’m running out of words now, so I shall say only this – aside from Halle Berry’s appalling performance, there’s a lot to love in this film. Suspend your disbelief and you’ll be fine – Die Another Day was a great way to end the classic series.
8. Dr. No
James Bond tells us he’s from the 20th century by using a full stop next to an abbreviation, before beginning a multi-billion-dollar phenomenon by dealing a savage blow to the operations of the mysterious SPECTRE organisation. Dr No is scaring superstitious Jamaicans and murdering British operatives, and it’s up to James Bond to get to the bottom of it.
This is the one that started it all. None of the standard conventions are here yet – no puns, no pre-titles sequence, a different style of music…and yet it’s still a triumph of espionage drama.
It establishes Bond as a fast living, deadly but charming man of action, and has a bit of expository dialogue to give us a glimpse of the dangerous life he leads, all within the first 10 minutes or so of his time on screen.
Being 1962, we don’t get bored by an origin story; instead, we’re dropped right in it! Bond hits Jamaica, gets kidnapped, causes the death of a chauffeur, and a hearse full of mercenaries, swaggers around the colonial governor’s HQ, and cringemakingily orders around his black sidekick.
In many ways, Dr. No is more reminiscent of low-key spy dramas of the 1950s and early 1960s. The Doctor himself (No, not Who) is quite toned down, and is not nearly as freaky as in the novel. His plot is also quite different from that of the novel – this is the first of those real-world-issue Bond films, and so Doctor No is trying to ruin the US space program before it’s even got off the ground. In the book, he’s just a sadistic jerk who mines guano.
According to this film (and I suspect it’s pretty on-point) there was a lot of old-school tie, “Oh, hawhawhaw, Hyphenated-Surname, you old rogue,” kind of fun in pre-independence Jamaica.
In this way, it forms an interesting time capsule of the dying days of colonialism and the cementing of the United States as a global power. In some scenes, James Bond almost defers to his super cool CIA colleague, Felix Leiter (shoehorned into this film without a presence in the novel), which is probably the producers reassuring the American audience that their presence in the background is definitely acknowledged.
There’s a small hint of the spectacle to come in the series during the final showdown in Dr No’s atomic reactor, but for the most part this is a down to earth but gripping spy movie.
James Bond remembers the Cold War is a serious business and heads to India in search of diabolical villains who are faking Faberge eggs and trying to start a nuclear war.
This is hands down the best Roger Moore James Bond film – even better than The Spy Who Loved Me. The opening plays out in typical Moore fashion (and the music, alas, sounds like it’s being played by a very tired orchestra being led by an equally tired conductor). Bond sneaks into an airbase disguised as a Colonel who looks inexplicably like him – all he has to do is don a false moustache – and then there’s some excitement involving a small plane, followed by a pretty corny opening song.
Therereafter, though, the film takes on the air of a pretty serious spy caper. We see a clown fleeing for his life through a forest, which, far from being as stupid as it sounds, is filmed and edited very tightly, which lends the sequence a menacing, almost surreal or post-modern quality.
Further on we see a fairly faithful adaptation of Fleming’s short story “The Property of a Lady” (concerning a jewellery auction being manipulated by KGB operatives), before Bond jets off to India in pursuit of jewellery forgers. The scenes in India are quite a lot of fun, but rather like parts of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom two years later, there’s an unhealthy serving of cultural insensitivity.
This all sounds rather disjointed, but it’s all due to the machinations of an insane Soviet Politburo member, General Orlov, who’s going against the General Secretary’s explicit orders not to start a nuclear war. It must be said, his plan is pretty ingenious though – cause everyone to think an American warhead was detonated accidentally inside an American airbase in West Germany, cause the hippies to go crazy, get all the nukes taken out of Western Europe, and then march in through Germany and Czechoslovakia! Steven Berkoff, stage actor, excels in this role. He is well balanced by Walter Gotell in the best and most serious of his five turns as General Gogol, head of the KGB.
The last act sees a very thrilling fight aboard the Octopussy Circus train, followed by action inside the same circus. Bond dons a clown suit, but again, it’s not ridiculous (well, maybe a little), but it’s necessary to the plot!
Perhaps my only major criticism of Octopussy is that it suffers the same problem as the other post-Moonraker Bond films. It wants to be serious but it can’t let go of the campy clichés that define the Roger Moore era. But, for the most part, this film is very watchable. After From Russia With Love, this is the best of the Cold War-focused Bond films and a riveting ride from start to end.
6. Licence To Kill
James Bond goes rogue and heads to South America to avenge the fate of his friends, Felix Leiter and his bride. There, he takes on a drug empire single handedly, and consequences be damned should anyone get in his way.
The second thing I ever wrote for this blog was called “Licence to Kill: a forgotten classic?” My opinion in the intervening two years has changed little.
Despite the fact that it’s not actually based on a Fleming original, Timothy Dalton’s characterisation of James Bond is as close to the books as the film series has ever come.
Since I’ve already written over a thousand words on the subject, I shall leave Licence To Kill here. But please, don’t disregard this film. It’s excellent.