“Shocking! Positively shocking!”
Sit in enough waiting rooms and eventually you’ll find something good, or at least half-way interesting, to read among the periodicals left for those waylaid there. That happened last week when I picked up issue # 1170, the November 22, 2012 edition of Rolling Stone magazine in one of those purgatories. Couldn’t exactly overlook it as it had Daniel Craig’s face plastered up close on the cover.
To be expected, surely, what with November’s release of Skyfall. Another cover story write-up, a good one for sure, on the current actor playing this iconic movie character. Yet, what motivated me to write something once again on OO7 was its follow-up article:
Now, having spent 47 out of the last 50 years with the character of James Bond in my movie-watching experience, I caught my first back in ’65, this always catches my eye. But not for what you’d think. You see, looking back and coming up with a definitive list (in some order) for all of them has been something I’ve avoided these decades like the plague. Oh, sure, like all Bond fans, I have my favorites (and those
Since I’ve spent a good portion of my life with them all (at least twice for each), they’re almost like family to me. And ranking family members, out loud, just causes all sorts of consternation (and uncomfortable holiday get-togethers). Yet, here I was reading another one, by a noted film critic, and I agreeing with some notables and vehemently at odds with others. See what this engenders? I guess it’s a culmination of the build-up to this year’s release of the official 23rd film in this movie series.
Good friend Ruth over at Flixchatter, in fact, generously had me over on her film site back in October in a discussion with our colleague Ted on the enduring appeal of James Bond. Then, Daniel over at his fine blog had the entire series ranked in early November with his article: PG Cooper: The James Bond Films Ranked. Our movie confederate, the shaken-not-stirred Fogs, published his shortly thereafter with The FMR Ranking of Bond Films. All 23 From Worst to First — he did do the non-canon Never Say Never Again in a separate series post, by the way.
Plus, my guest contributor, Ronan from Belfast’s Filmplicity, recently named the latest the Best Bond Yet. So, you can see the need to chime in at long last. For better or worse, I’m carrying out my ranking on the 50th anniversary of the venerable James Bond movie series. And having watched Skyfall for a second time last weekend, I feel more comfortable where to place that entry now, too.
Inasmuch his article was the final instigator (and we eerily match up in the our Top Six), I’ll parry off of Peter Traver’s list. The easy part in the endeavor was the ones at opposite ends of spectrum for grading purposes. The hardest proved to be finding a place for all those in the middle. So, I worked my way in. I’m fully aware few will agree entirely with my inventory. As James famously responded to the first Bond girl I ever fell for:
“I must be dreaming.”
- From Russia With Love
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Casino Royale
- Dr. No
- You Only Live Twice
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- Die Another Day
- Live and Let Die
- For Your Eyes Only
- Never Say Never Again
- The Man with the Golden Gun
- A View to a Kill
- Diamonds Are Forever
- The World is Never Enough
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- The Living Daylights
- Licence to Kill
- Quantum of Solace
1. Peter Travers nailed it: “This is the time capsule Bond movie, the one that explains to future generations why we’ve been obsessed for 50 years and counting with British agent 007. In his third go-round in the role, Sean Connery is danger and sexual swagger incarnate, wearing a tux under his wetsuit and ordering a martini “shaken, not stirred.” Indelible images include Shirley Eaton’s death by gilded body paint, Honor Blackman’s innuendo as flygirl Pussy Galore, Harold Sakata’s lethal aim as the hat-throwing Oddjob and Gert Frobe’s master villainy as Auric Goldfinger (he’s out to rob Fort Knox). “Do you expect me to talk?” an anxious Bond asks after Goldfinger straps him to a table with a laser heading right to his crotch. “No, Mr. Bond,” comes the classic reply. “I expect you die.” And how about the gadget-loaded Aston-Martin, the Shirley Bassey title song, and the stylish way director Guy Hamilton delivers the whole Bond package?“
2. The rare sequel, From Russia With Love, that proved to be better than the original (Dr. No). I agree with the film critic that it is one of “the most raw of the series.” It also introduced the unique pre-titles sequence to the franchise, with a certain someone getting garroted so unexpectedly. I’m still astonished this one didn’t make my friend John Kenneth Muir’s Top Five: James Bond Pre-Title Sequences. Not surprisingly, however, it’s Connery and Craig’s favorite. Travers: “Connery takes on the evil SPECTRE, foils former KGB agent Rosa Kleb (the great Lotte Lenya gets her kicks as a killer lesbian with a poisonous blade in the tip of her shoe), and still has time to make time with a hottie Soviet defector (Daniela Bianchi). Director Terence Young tops himself with a punchfest on the Orient Express between Bond and Red Grant (a bottle-blonde Robert Shaw) which is one of the great fight scenes in any movie.“
3. I’m sure this selection will drive my friend Fogs nuts, given his rating (but at least Ruth is on my side :-)). OHMSS also represents my largest shift ratings-wise of any film in the course of the OO7 series*. While Lazenby is not anywhere close to a favorite in the James Bond role, the man did have a pretty impossible task of following Sean Connery, I have to give it to him for what he pulled off (even in later interviews, George is pretty self-effacing and honest about his mistakes in the production). Still, this remains my absolute favorite story of the entire series, and it has my all-time favorite Bond girl in Diana Rigg. This one inaugurated the high-athletic stunt work to the series. Travers: “Still, the special effects take a backseat to the final moment between Bond and his doomed bride, set against Louis Armstrong’s ironic ballad, “We Have All the Time in the World.” This film is the most romantically resonant in the series.“
4. Again, Peter hit the mark: “The only Bond to rival best-in-show Connery is rugged, jug-eared Daniel Craig, a Brit livewire who reinvigorated the series for a new century.” Good thing, too, given how producers left the franchise in tatters previously (and one of my biggest disagreements with this critic). “Casino Royale was the first of Fleming’s Bond series, making it the ideal place to start the wheel spinning anew. Director Martin Campbell acts like the other Bond movies never existed. We’re back at square one, only the time is now, the fantasy is limited and the story is anchored in reality.” Fogs summed it perfectly: “All of these elements blended together perfectly to create an unforgettable Bond movie. A darker, more physical Bond. A return to practical effects. The first script based on an Ian Fleming novel in decades. A great Bond villain and a world-class leading lady.“.
5. I’m on a similar wavelength with Ronan: “With the benefit of some 22 previous interpretations of a tried and tested formula Mendes takes full advantage, on the fiftieth anniversary of Ian Flemming’s original creation, to celebrate fifty years of Bond with an unashamedly sentimental nod to the glory days of 007, as he boldly speculates on the next fifty years, bringing the franchise back to its humble beginnings.” Skyfall also brings the most unanticipated Bond girl in the whole series, as portrayed by the ultimate and only ‘Dame’ in the history of the franchise. Travers: “Judi Dench as M, Bond’s boss, lets go with the emotional power she held back in the lightweight Pierce Brosnan films. Bond cries. You might too. This time it really is personal.” This isn’t your dad’s Bond film. It’s mum’s. Unless resurrected, it’s also the sixth and last time we’ll ever see the celebrated Ashton Martin DB-5, sadly.
6. “Bond, James Bond.” One of the best intros in cinema, ever. As well, if you’ve ever seen Sean Connery sweat, in earnest, this had to be it. If he never had to work with another of them, the morbidly-scared-of-spiders actor would have been thrilled. Travers: “… Sean Connery started the 007 march into film legend. Shot on the cheap, the film spawned a $5 billion franchise. Connery, first seen through a gun barrel, eases into the role, making hash of the evil Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). He even sings “Underneath the Mango Tree” in the Jamaica scene in which Ursula Andress, as the first and the ultimate Bond girl Honey Ryder, emerges from the water gathering shells in a white bikini. JFK, a Bond fan, requested a private screening at the White House.” The next two films may have surpassed it, but as a film adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel, let alone as a character début, this film deserves its high standing among Bond fans.†
7. We’re close with this one. Travers: “The fourth Bond film benefitted from its biggest budget yet, and the special effects deserved the Oscar they won. Connery again exudes the charm and charisma to rise above the new influx of gimmicks that threatened to weaken the series until the Daniel Craig years. The underwater battles, as 007 races to the Bahamas to snatch a sunken nuclear bomb from the clutches of SPECTRE baddie Largo (Adolfo Celi) and his sizzling mistress, Domino (Claudine Auger), are excitingly staged. Tom Jones thunders through the title song, but what you can’t forget is Bond in Largo’s shark pool.” Even though it’s JKM’s least favorite Connery Bond, and followed the series’ best, Thunderball got a lot of things right. The first female henchman for one. Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), who could stand her ground in every scene with Connery. Complaints: a tad too long and having killed off Fiona way too early.
8. This was one of the prime motivators for me to finally rank them in total. I couldn’t disagree more with Travers: “Drab in the extreme. Timothy Dalton’s second and wheezing, final turn as 007 was barely recognizable as a Bond film. Robert Davi was a livewire as drug lord Franz Sanchez, but Dalton’s pursuit of him played like a substandard episode of a TV cop show. License became the lowest grossing Bond movie ever. For six years, Bond disappeared from movie screens.“ This one is easily my favorite Timothy Dalton Bond flick. Dalton didn’t get much in scripts, or much of a chance to develop the character, for the Bond series, which is sad. But, this one had some teeth. And as John Kenneth Muir rightly said in his review, Licence to Kill was “the prototype for 21st century Bond” that came in with Daniel Craig (and not to be minimized, the post-9/11 world). The first “edgier, broodier, more determined” James Bond.
9. This one gets picked on, some. Travers: “From the Eastern flavor of the opening theme, hauntingly sung by Nancy Sinatra, to the Japanese setting, the fifth film is the Bond series just gets better and cooler with age. The tasty script by Roald Dahl junks most of the Fleming novel, spinning its own witty Cold War fantasy. Connery’s Bond finally gets to confront SPECTRE’s arch-villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, previously unseen but now played to the creepy hilt by Donald Pleasance.“ Even though the film is argued over as one of the lesser Connery ‘Bonds’ (Tony Dayoub in his review rightly points out: “… it goes off the rails with the introduction of Connery made up as a Japanese fisherman.“), You Only Live Twice retained some notable aspects. Two of which were Blofeld’s Volcano headquarters, #1 in JKM’s Top Bond Villain HQs, along with a stellar climatic set piece that beat them all in action and scale.
10. Though I have it two slots lower than Peter Travers’, his thoughts capture why it ranks in the top-tier: “Of the seven times the limp Roger Moore tried to fill Bond’s tux, Spy was his shining two hours. His opening ski jump off a cliff is spectacular. Congrats to the stunt man. Bond battles an evil shipping magnate (Curt Jergens) who steals nuclear submarines and threatens to blow up the world. He also boffs a ravishing Russian agent (Barbara Bach, wife of Ringo Starr). Gadgets abound, especially a Lotus sports car that transforms into a submarine. But the scene-stealer is 7’2″ Richard Kiel as Jaws, a shark-eating man with steel teeth. Carly Simon made a hit of the title tune, singing “nobody does it better.” Did she never see Connery play the role for keeps?” The best Roger Moore Bond film, like ever, squeezes into my Top Ten. It says how enjoyable the film is, even though Moore occupies the lower tier for me in the OO7 role.
11. My fourth best actor as Bond. Travers: “Pierce Brosnan had all the expressive vigor of a hood ornament in his début as Bond. But the opening scene is a kick as 007 bungee-jumps into a Russia weapon facility. Sean Bean rocks as duplicitous agent 006. And Famke Janssen crushes it as Xenia Onatopp (really!), the first Bond girl with castrating thighs. It’s exciting when Bond runs after a small plane heading straight for a cliff: he leaps, climbs in and steers it to safety in the nick of time. It ain’t Shakespeare, but that’s some stunt.” He seems to catch more grief these days, but Brosnan is almost a forgotten man. And his entrance as OO7 remains one of the most memorable. As said, Sean Bean and Famke Janssen really rocked as world-class evil-doers. Goldeneye‘s secret weapon wasn’t even its gadgets. It was Judi Dench beginning her wonderful reign as ‘M’, and making you all but forget about Bernard Lee.
12. Another match-up with Rolling Stone: “An attempt, only partially successful, to get real with the Bond films again. As Roger Moore’s aging Bond tries to locate a missile defense system, director John Glen puts focus on the revenge plot cooked up against a Greek tycoon (Julian Glover) by a woman (Carole Bouquet) out to get even for the murder of her parents. Bouquet deserved the role for her legs only. There’s a very high per capita rate of nearly nude females.” Though I enjoyed FYEO almost as much of the poster (btw, that’s not Bouquet’s lower limbs pictured in the famous image – they belonged to then 22-year old New York model Joyce Bartle), it’s only the second best Roger Moore stint. Still, with over-the-top action pieces kept to minimum, a decent supporting cast, and one of the best songs in the series, by that noted lass Sheena Easton, kept it in the top half of the franchise, barely.
13. I do agree with Ted and Ruth that Dalton was “closer to what Fleming had written on the novels.” Travers didn’t see it that way, though: “After seven jokey Roger Moore takes on Bond, it came as a relief when Timothy Dalton debuted in the role. Dalton had training in classical theater; he had pedigree, looks, class. But as Bond he was – face it – dull as dirt. The film, with 007 taking down a renegade Russian General (Jeroen Krabbe), is also utterly humorless. Too much spoofing is bad (see Moore), none is deadly (see Dalton).” Some argue this, Dalton’s début film, was better than Brosnan’s première. They’re close, but The Living Daylight‘s below-grade villain (a wasted Joe Don Baker), henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) and Bond girl (Maryam d’Abo as Kara), do the film no favors. It only remains watchable for the most underrated Bond there was, however. Long live Timothy Dalton.
14. I hoped for better in Brosnan’s second outing, but it wasn’t a total disaster, either. Travers saw it differently: “There were no more Ian Fleming novels and titles to plunder, so Tomorrow was created from spare parts as Brosnan’s Bond tries to stop Jonathan Pryce’s media mogul from starting World War III. Oh please. The product placement was egregious. Brosnan sporting a tux by Brioni of Rome ($3,800) and wielding a cell phone by Ericsson ($299). As a 1999 video game, Tomorrow was dissed by Game Revolution as “empty and shallow.” The tired-out movie that preceded it was considerably worse.” Producers did Pierce no favor here in selling Bond. Nonetheless, he looked and acted more comfortable in the role (others have done worse). Add to this one of the best Bond girls of the later era, Michelle Yeoh (Teri Hatcher wasn’t bad, either, just not around for long) and it had some good OO7 moments between them.
15. I’ve modulated on this film for more years than I care to admit. Travers: “After skipping out on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Connery was tempted back into Bond uniform with a then-record $1.25 million salary. And despite the Bond girl presence of Jill St. John as Tiffany Case and Lana Wood as Plenty O’Toole, he looks bored going through the motions of the diamond-smuggling plot. Connery’s lowest point.” If I had my druthers, Sean Connery would have stayed through OHMSS and left Diamond Are Forever to Lazenby. Yet, I have a soft spot for this problematic OO7 film. Sean was long-in-the-tooth and Jill St. John was lacking as a Bond girl. But, Charles Gray as Blofed wasn’t bad, it had a decent mix of comedic and violent sense as directed by Guy Hamilton, and Shirley Bassey’s splendid return to the Bond theme was a triumph (it’s my favorite song for the whole series). Plus, it’s Connery… as James freaking Bond!
16. The last actor début vehicle lands here with me. Travers: “OK, maybe I’m being generous because the title song by Paul McCartney and Wings is arguably the hardest-rocking in the series. It was Roger Moore’s intro as Bond, and he seems in shape to do more than raise his eyebrow. Shaft and Superfly had made blaxpoitation the hot thing, so Bond is shipped off to the Caribbean where he takes on voodoo and a drug kingpin (Yaphet Kotto) and gets it on with a black CIA agent (Gloria Hendry). There’s more heat in Bond’s relationship with Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a psychic who always makes the top 10 when Bond girls are rated.” The Moore-era began and producers seemingly set the series on reactionary footing to whatever trends were occurring around them. Sadly swinging the franchise to other’s vogues rather than setting those themselves. Genre-vets Yaphet Kotto and Gloria Hendry gave LaLD a must-needed umph, though.
17. The film Roger should have retired on, but didn’t. You-know-who’s appraisal: “This is the one where Moore’s Bond yells like Tarzan, swings through the trees and ends up in a clown costume. Need I say more?” If there is one Moore-era Bond that I have an unexpected modicum of affection towards, it is this late-entry. Octopussy shouldn’t work at all for me, a Connery-man. It’s Roger Moore, and he’s too old for this. What Peter said all counts. But, its Cold War storyline and the support cast pull me in every time I tee this up. Steven Berkoff’s performance as an insane Soviet general with a hunger for power is quite good. Of course no half-way decent OO7 flick is without its Bond villain and Louis Jourdan offered style and polish. Kabir Bedi was almost invincible and the Meyer brothers as deadly twin brothers with advanced knife-throwing skill were worthy henchmen. It’s also the best of Maude Adams’ Bond girl stints.
18. No one is perfect. Travers: “After Daniel Craig created a terrific millennial Bond in Casino Royale, this fiasco of a follow-up damn near left him for dead. Even the new theme song, “Another Way to Die,” sung by Jack White and Alicia Keys, sucks. Fans were rightly pissed until Skyfall rode to the rescue. Blame Marc Forster, an indie director (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) with no flair for action, for absurdly overcompensating. Bond comes down with a serious case of Jason Bourne penis envy, leaping across rooftops from Bolivia to Haiti to shut down an agency of traitorous MI6 agents. Losing itself in incoherent flash, Quantum ignores the poison eating at Bond’s insides. Killer mistake.” True, but not to the degree that QoS is the worst Bond (as Peter thinks). Bad action sets and poor editing bring it down some. Still, its quiet scenes, especially between Craig and Olga Kurylenko, were worth noting.
19. Though higher-ranked than mine, he’s right again: “I’m told this film is a bastard that shouldn’t be counted as a real Bond film since it didn’t come from Eon Productions like the others. Bull. If a movie stars Sean Connery as 007, it’s a Bond film. End of story. Connery, then 53, hadn’t played Bond in 12 years. But he hadn’t lost a bit of his flair and physical grace. Even his hairpiece is Oscar caliber. The plot is a direct lift from Thunderball, in which a SPECTRE operative (a superb Klaus Maria Brandeur) snatches two nuclear weapons. Kim Basinger’s Domino and Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Bush are all you could ask for in decorative distractions. After years of gadgets, Never benefits from the attention director Irvin Kirshner (The Empire Strikes Back) pays to actors over effects.” Though a remake of Bond 4, having Connery back paid some dividends. Carrera as Fatima Blush was an entertaining hoot — skip Kim here, though.
20. This will be the absolute last time I’ll match up with Rolling Stone’s film critic. Travers: “Yes, this is the Bond film in which Brosnan hooks up with Denise Richards in the role of a nuclear physicist. ‘Nuf said.” And Pierce Brosnan’s Bond career started off so good, too. Still, The World is Not Enough can lay claim to something none of the other films had. A spectacular scheme to effect the world’s economy? Been there, done that. Another alluring girl for our protagonist to protect (Sophie Marceau)? Check and double-check. No, the thing that sets this one apart (spoiler-warning) was that this Bond girl was behind it all as the female villain (not the evil underling) in the series — Robert Carlyle’s Renard masqueraded as the mastermind, but was actually the henchman. A clever change-up for the franchise. Too bad for the ridiculousness of its set action pieces and, criminy, Doctor Christmas Jones!
21. From the height of the Roger Moore stretch to stagger in with this? Travers: “It’s James Bond in space. Just what wasn’t needed to redeem the Roger Moore films from unforgivable fluffball irrelevance.” Moonraker is not without its positives, however. Michael Lonsdale abides as one of my series favorite Bond Villains and Richard Kiel registers like few before as the henchman Jaws in the rare return stint for a OO7 bad guy (he, in fact, tops Fogs’ Top TenTen Villain Henchmen). Heck, even Toshirô Suga had his moments and Shirley Bassey saved the theme song. Still, Lois Childs as the inanely named Dr. Holly Goodhead (!) (forever corralling her to the lower tier of Bond girls) and the producers trying to cash in on the Star Wars success with this script proved too much to overcome in the end. Plus, you never saw someone like Red Grant gladly turning around to help our man Bond.
22. I only differed with Peter by eight places for this one. Travers: “Roger Moore already seemed winded in his second outing as Bond. And the film’s comedic approach to martial arts justly wrankled true 007 afficionados. Compensation comes in the form of Christopher Lee’s delicious take on evil as Scaramanga and Herve Villechaize’s verve as Nick Nack, Scaramanga’s dwarf manservant.” The film’s strength was the Lee and Villechaize tandem. However, they couldn’t overcome the weak Bond girl (Britt Ekland) and The Man with the Golden Gun‘s primary complaints. The contemporary and clumsy attempts to take advantage of the kung fu-exploitation craze (at that era’s height) and the solidification of the Roger Moore effect on the character. It also heralded the first of the early sub-standard theme songs. The title track by Scottish singer Lulu fit the new Bond sensibility perfectly, unfortunately.
23. Even with what’s next, this was the most surprising and jaw-dropping entry on Traver’s list. And it made his Top Ten!: “The fourth, last and best of the Bond movies with Pierce Brosnan – he looks like he has a stick up his ass in the other three – is full of wild stunts that are no substitute for the Connery cool, but will do in pinch when all you want is a blast of pure escapism.” While Halle Berry is far from the worst Bond girl, and Brosnan displayed more grit than before, as the commemorative 20th film, it paled as a celebratory OO7 story. It is the anti-Skyfall ten years later. As my blogging colleague Will tweeted, “Die Another Day was the rightful death of a formula long exhausted.” While we’re at it, Travers: “Madonna wrote and sang the title song and does a cameo as a fencing instructor that won her a well-earned Razzie as Worst Supporting Actress.” Right, but you forgot to mention her Bond theme song remains the all-time worst.
24. Where to begin with this one? Peter at least gets it partially right: “Roger Moore’s farewell to Bond couldn’t come soon enough. What’s good? A mesmeric, bottle-blond Christopher Walken as Max Zorin, hellbent on global domination as a product of Nazi experiments,
Grace Jones’ zowie star as his henchman, and Duran Duran’s title song. Otherwise, I’m out. Even Moore, then 57, later admitted, “I was only about 400 years too old for the part.”” Travers got 2 out of 3. IMO, Walken just doesn’t work as the Bond villain of the piece — like he didn’t in ‘Batman Returns’. There I said it. Add to this the all-time worst Bond girl in Tanya Roberts (“Oh, James!”), an implausible scheme, poorly plotted at that, which tried to be relevant (and failed), it all amounted to the worst OO7 film in the entire 50-year canon. If it wasn’t James Bond, the most successful film series in the world, A View to a Kill would have killed any other movie franchise as a result.
† ’Dr. No’s best line, and the most chilling end of questioning, ever (followed by two in the chest and one in the back):
“That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”