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007/50: The Bondathon reviews (1960s #1)

August 21, 2012

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You may know this autumn marks the golden anniversary of Blighty’s finest, James Bond, on the silver screen (what you didn’t? Have you never visited this blog before? Ho-de-ho). Yes, and it may prove a rather crazy idea – in fact, I’m already beginning to form the opinion it may well be a bloody stupid one too – but leading up to the anniversary itself (October 5) and the release of the latest Skyfall (October 26), I’ve embarked on a chronological ‘Bondathon’, which to the unititated (read: sane people) is a ‘Bond movie marathon’; wasting copious amounts of time watching all the Bond movies one after the other. Yes, all 22 of them. And yet this one, just to be thorough, will comprise 24, including as it will both the ‘unofficial’/ non-Eon flicks that are the Casino Royale spoof (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983). But not just that. Oh no. I’ll also be reviewing each and every one of them on this very blog.

But not just that. Yes, in a very Jimmy Cricket manner, there’s more. The reviews themselves will be properly comprehensive, being that they’ll consist of 10 categories, the inclusion of which tend to define a Bond film as a Bond film (‘Plot‘, ‘Bond‘, ‘Girls‘, ‘Villains‘, ‘Action‘, ‘Humour‘, ‘Music‘, ‘Locations‘, ‘Gadgets‘ and ‘Style‘), each of which will be rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100 – which ensures all 24 films can be properly ranked. Note: there’ll also be an ‘Adjuster‘ for each film’s rating (plus or minus five points) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film. Confused? You soon will be. Am I nuts? To quote George Lazenby’s 007, indubitably.

Anyhoo, without further ado, let’s get the Aston Martin DB5 on the road and tyre-slash our way through the flicks that deserve it and elevate the others to heaven via the ejector seat. Or something like that. Up first, the first four Bond flicks, of course…

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Directed by: Terence Young; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather – adapted from the novel by Ian Fleming (1958); Starring: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord, Bernard Lee, Anthony Dawson, John Kitzmiller, Zena Marshall, Eunice Gayson and Lois Maxwell; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 109 minutes; Colour; Released: October 5 1962; Worldwide box-office: $59.6m (inflation adjusted: $440.8m ~ 18/24*)

denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com

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In this, the very first Eon Bond film, the plot sees the villain of the piece jamming radio signals of US space rockets and deliberately sending them off course. Not particularly bad, you might think, but this is 1962 and it’s the height of the Cold War. The antogonist aims to stoke up serious tensions between the Yanks and the Ruskkies then, all for the selfish gain of his evil overlord Ernst Stavro Blofeld – not referenced by name in this film – who’s the head of criminal organisation SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). It’s fantasy for sure, but with the Cuban Missile Crisis just days away after Dr No opened, the tensions were very much real. Our man Bond is hot on the trail after the murders of two UK civil servants, who’d learnt more than was good for them, brings him to Jamaica, the villain’s locale of choice.

Make no mistake, the big screen Bond was born here; Sean Connery’s opening portrayal set the template for all others to come. And enthusiasts of latest 007 Daniel Craig’s take on the role, will find much that’s familiar here. Bond’s an oh-so confident, consummate professional Brit abroad, better dressed than everyone else, showing fast wits and possessing an air of danger and heaps of masculine allure. And, later, he turns out to be both a sympathetic gentleman when it comes to a damsel-in-distress and a ruthless killer when needs must. Connery’s first Bond means business with bells on; it’s his straightest, hardest performance – and it’s rarely been topped in the series.

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An utter icon, Ursula Andress’s Honey Ryder can not only lay claim to being the first of the great Bond Girls, but also delivering the most well recalled moment of the entire movie when she emerges Venus-like from the sea wearing that bikini. Her mixture of enormous sex appeal and sweet naïveté is hard to resist and she makes a decent companion for Bond, despite lacking the sass and smarts of later hook-ups. The film’s other girls number only two, though – Zena Marshall’s duplicitous sexy secretary Miss Taro and, the first Bond Girl of them all, Eunice Gayson’s Sylvia Trench, whom it’s suggested possesses just as big an appetite for sex as she does for playing golf indoors. Fore!

If ever there’s a Bond film that’s front-loaded – or, rather, er, back-loaded – when it comes to villains, then it’s Dr No. The titular character’s minions are useless. Professor Dent is a cowardly underling (the tarantula he leaves in Bond’s bed offers far more menace) while Miss Taro offers such an obvious honey trap she deservedly suffers true Bond villain ignominy – she gets arrested. But, although stretching until the film’s last third, the wait for Dr No himself is well worth it. So impressive is Joseph Wiseman’s villain, he was the total prototype for the majority of Bond baddies to come. Sporting a physical deformity (metal hands), outlining a barmy scheme, boasting an incredible lair, admonishing 007 (“You’re just a stupid policeman”), wearing a beige nehru jacket (a Blofeld favourite) and laying on lashings of hubris… it’s all here.

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Action isn’t exactly Dr No‘s forte. Aside from Bond’s all too brief confrontation with the villain, the former beating up a would-be assassin and a car chase (which features – surely even in the ’60s – some very dodgy back-projection and results in the pursuing vehicle rolling down a hill and inexplicably exploding), the most memorable action comes in the slightly bizarre but intriguing sequence when 007 escapes from his cell in Dr No’s lair via ventilation tubes and goes through hell – burning heat, gushing water and disorientation owing to, er, weird noises. In this respect, Dr No is very much the cinematic Bond in gestation – and it shows.

One of the Bond movie memes most successfully established in Dr No is the 007 one-liner following a potentially distasteful murder or death: a bunch of baddies fatally crash their hearse (‘They were on their way to a funeral”); a chap notices a cyanide pill-popping goon lying dead in the back of a car (“Make sure he doesn’t get away”). Dr No also scores in the humour stakes thanks to Bond’s sardonic wit, not least in his chiding the villain (“Tell me, does the toppling of American missiles really make up for having no hands?”), and the visual gag of him discovering Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington – it had famously been stolen from the National Gallery the previous year – is top stuff (see image above). However, the reliance on Cayman Islander sidekick Quarrel as light-relief thanks to racial stereotyping sits uneasily nowadays, to say the least. Thankfully, such casual racism would rarely be seen again in the series.

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On the one hand, you could say Dr No‘s score suffers because it’s mostly old-fashioned, underwhelming fare put together by composer Monty Norman; on the other hand, you could say its music is a crucial touchstone in film scoring for introducing the stone-cold classic James Bond Theme to an unsuspecting world – the tune that, like 007 himself, would leave it shaken and stirred forever after. Co-written by Norman and rising jazz musician John Barry (who would go on to fight over its legal ownership for decades), the theme features prominently, underscoring our hero’s cool-as-a-frozen-solid-cucumber persona. Mind you, credit should go to Norman for his deft choice of using Jamaican music scene-inspired tunes, including Kingston Calypso, Under The Mango Tree and the fine Jamaican Rock (click on the image above to hear the latter) to add to the overall atmosphere.

As far as Bond film locations go, it doesn’t get much more Fleming – or, if you prefer, ‘pure’ – than Jamaica. After all, this was the setting of three of his novels (Dr No itself, Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun) and where he lived for half the year while he wrote all the novels. Given this is the early ’60s too, the Jamaica Dr No delivers is old-school; colonialism happily holds sway and Bond (for all his unflappability) constantly fans himself and complains about mosquitoes. What it does lack, though, is what would become a near prerequisite of future series settings: glamour – the exoticism comes from the grubbiness of locals’ locales (ally Puss-Feller’s bar, for instance) rather than a gorgeous vista that makes the viewer green with envy.

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Q, the legendary gadget supplier, isn’t Q here, he’s Major Boothroyd – and M doesn’t even refer to him by name (merely as ‘armourer’). Indeed, the most important of the gadgets – if you can call it one – which ‘armourer’ supplies 007 with in this film is the Walther PPK pistol. Why? Because, with its delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window, this would become Bond’s signature gun. The only ‘other’ gadget of note in this movie is a geiger counter that 007 uses to verify whether rocks supposedly found on the island of Crab Key (the site of Dr No’s lair) are radioactive and, thus, the possible location for the nuclear-fuelled missile ‘toppling’ that’s going on. Clunky and box-shaped, it’s not a very sexy thing – unlike today’s geiger counters, which look like iPods.

With Connery’s oh-so confident incarnation kicking-off here, so too does the iconic look of Bond – the tuxedo in the casino, the perfectly fitted Saville Row suit and the sipping a vodka Martini. And its augmenting by the original and still best arrangement of The James Bond Theme makes for a simple, yet unbeatable combo of cool. Almost as important in the style stakes, the fantastical, nay fantastic look of the interiors (which, again, would quickly become a series staple) starts here with Ken Adams’ sets for Dr No’s lair, including the eerie, cell-like conference room (see image above) and the villain’s private quarters – they’re like a how-the-hell-does-that-work? happy marriage of Mid-Century Modern and surrealism.

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Adjuster: +5

Bond movies are notorious for their thrills and spills, but as outlined above, Dr No‘s hardly loaded with the latter (nor is it high in the gadget quotient); its much better at delivering the thrills. Essentially a detective story set in the colourful Caribbean and with an explosive ending, it’s one of the tightest, simplest and, in many ways, most effective entries in the series.

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Best bit and best line: Bond’s introduction ~ “I admire your courage, Miss?”/ “Trench, Sylvia Trench”/ “I admire your luck, Mr?”/ “Bond, James Bond”

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Directed by: Terence Young; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood – adapted from the novel by Ian Fleming (1957); Starring Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Vladek Sheybal, Walter Gotell, Eunice Gayson, Aliza Gur, Martine Beswick, Nadja Regin, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 115 minutes; Colour; Released: October 11 1963; Worldwide box-office: $78.9m (inflation adjusted: $576.3m ~ 10/24*)

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For many Fleming fans, this is their Bond film, and much of that is really down to its plot. It’s brilliant and it’s pure Fleming. In the novel, the KGB cook up a devious, despicable plan (thanks to the mind of a Soviet chess star) to stitch James Bond up like a kipper: a beautiful Istanbul-based Ruskkie girl claims she’s fallen in love with with him and will, if he meets her, defect with a Lektor code-breaking machine (which, like a WWII Enigma machine is highly valuable in the Cold War spy game). So Bond schleps to Istanbul, unknowing a ruthless assassin is waiting to off him (after 007 and the girl have copulated and the act’s been caught on film, that is), while making it look like suicide, stealing back the Lektor and leaving the film on Bond’s body, thereby totally discrediting him. Two alterations are made for the film: the Soviets are actually working for SPECTRE and the plan’s partly in revenge for Bond and MI6’s defeat of Dr No. Clever.

Quite simply, Connery’s effort here is the first flawless Bond portrayal. He’s still the effortlessly cool man abroad, the shag-magnet for every woman he meets, the cold-blooded killer when necessary and he’s sharper and wittier than a quartet of spades, but given the outstanding plot, things threaten to go tits up for Blighty’s finest with alarming regularity (especially during his train-bound flee across Eastern Europe with girl and Lektor), allowing Connery the chance to really show his acting chops, not least in his scenes opposite Robert Shaw (more of him below). Cool, dangerous, sexy, sardonic, heroic and truly tested – what more could you want in a 007?

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There’s arguably more to Daniela Bianchi’s Tatiana Romanova than Honey Ryder, but unlike the latter she’s not among the great Bond Girls. Why? Well, she’s a bit dull. Bianchi certainly looks good – especially under a sheet wearing only a black neck-choker – and the voice artist who dubs her, Nikki van der Zyl, sounds fine (she also dubbed Dr No‘s Ursula Andress and would do the same for You Only Live Twice‘s Mie Hama), but ultimately Tania’s a one-note innocent; a pawn in SPECTRE’s game and a damsel-in-distress for Bond. The other girls this film are Aliza Gur and Martine Beswick’s fighting gypsy camp girls Vida and Zora, whose bout certainly excites (yes, in that way), but their time is very limited. And Eunice Gayson’s Sylvia Trench returns, but this would be her last appearance; presumably the producers realised there already was another unfulfilled-girl-at-home for Bond in the shape of Moneypenny, so why have two?

Conversely, Russia is crammed full of villains and to a, well, villain, they’re practically all perfect. There’s so many of them, it’s hard to say who exactly is the ‘main’ baddie, but let’s start with the clear chief, SPECTRE’s head honcho Ernst Stavro Blofeld in his very first appearance in the series. Or at least the first appearance of his signature white Persian pussy cat, nibbling on the ‘stupid’ Siamese fighting fish he feeds it. Next up is one-time opera soprano Lotte Lenya’s monstrous SMERSH-defector (and possible lesbian) Rosa Klebb with her fatally poisonous shoe spikes. Then there’s the Czech chess grandmaster whose plan is enacted, Vladek Sheybal’s boggle-eyed Kronsteen. And, finally and best of all, Robert Shaw’s assassin par excellence, the blond bombshell of brilliant bad-assery that is Donald ‘Red’ Grant. Beat them, Bond! (Yes, he does)

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You might think that with such a strong story, Russia isn’t the most action-packed Bond film and you’d be right, so why the 8/10? Because it possesses arguably the best fight in the entire 007 canon. ‘Bond versus Grant’ is a full-on, all-out, blue light-dawbed, sometimes sound effect-enhanced, no-holds-barred brawl in a train carriage compartment. It’s so visceral that it comes as something of a shock given it both appears in a PG-rated ‘family friendly’ flick from the early ’60s and alongside the comparatively pedestrian action to be found elsewhere in this flick. That includes a gypsy camp battle set-piece halfway through the movie and a speedboat chase in the finale, the latter of which (as a Bond film action climax) has always disappointed me, must admit.

Wit is the order of the day in Russia. From his reaction to a goon being shot after emerging through a poster of a film star’s face (“She should have kept her mouth shut”) to his fine remark after Klebb’s demise (“She’s had her kicks”), Bond’s sardonic delivery is on top form. Yet it’s the presence of Istanbul ally Kerim Bey (impeccably portrayed by Pedro Armendariz) that provides the most memorable moments of Russia‘s humour. A perfect foil to 007’s suavity, this always upbeat, knowing and eccentric MI6 operative offers fine by-play with Bond and genuine pathos come his an untimely demise. Special mention too should go to the scene in which M and Moneypenny listen to the recorded details of the Lektor (see image above) – just what did 007 and his boss get up to in Tokyo? Sadly we’ll never know…

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The first Bond film to be properly scored by the legend that was John Barry, Russia‘s music certainly benefits from his efforts. Punctuating moments of action and suspense with slightly overly dramatic bursts of brass and orchestra (which would soon develop into the Bond sound), Barry’s score also introduces into the world of 007, er, 007 – the fine 007 march, that is. There’s also the first Bond title theme, Matt Monro’s nice ballad (co-written by Lionel ‘Oliver!‘ Bart), but best of all is this flick’s take on the Bond Theme itself, the marvellosuly monikered James Bond With Bongos (click on the above image to hear it).

Such an emperor of locations is Istanbul, this flick’s primary locale, Bond has visited it twice since (in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and he’ll do so again this autumn in new effort Skyfall). You simply can’t go wrong with the Saint Sophia Mosque-boasting metropolis; on the one hand Asian exotic, on the other European cosmopolitan, it looks and sounds fascinating, dramatic and utterly seductive. As its patron saint – in Bond terms – Kerim Bey points out too it’s espionage underbelly is appealingly complex and dirty. Plus, let’s not forget, there’s a funky gypsy camp just outside – although clearly that sequence was all filmed back at Pinewood. Venice (another Bond location favourite) also features, but none of the cast actually went there for filming.

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Although Russia sees Bond furnished with his fair share of gadgets, they’re hardly the sexiest. Most come inside a gadget itself, an attaché case that, when opened incorrectly, releases tear gas. Its contents number a telephone bug detector, a hidden knife, a folding rifle and, er, fifty gold sovereigns. Bond also uses a tape recorder hidden in a bulky camera. Frankly, though, you know a Bond film’s a rum-do in terms of gadgets when the coolest (i.e. the most memorable) ones belong to the opponents – who can forget Klebb’s aforementioned poison-spiked shoe and Red Grant’s watch that boasts a garotting wire by which he strangles his victims? Answer: nobody.

Connery in Anthony Sinclair throughout? Check. The exotic highs and grubby lows of Istanbul? Check. A platinum blond anti-Bond assassin? Check. A sojourn in a gypsy camp complete with a belly dancer? Check. And a glimpse at SPECTRE goons training (or, in the words of Mike Myers in Wayne’s World, ‘guys doing James Bond stuff’)? Check. The only blot on Russia’s oh-so coolly subtle style quotient is 007 wearing a tugboat captain’s cap during the Adriatic Sea-set climax (dreadful choice, but he’s been through a hell of a lot by that point, admittedly).

Adjuster: +4

With a terrific script that stays true to Fleming, canny direction and excellent casting and performances, From Russia With Love is a triumph of a Bond film. Many efforts in the series feature top sequences; this one segues from one to the next practically its entire running time. Yes, its gadgets aren’t outstanding, but given its delivery in almost every other department it deserves an ‘adjustment’ of four more points – anything less just wouldn’t be kulturny.

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Best bit: Bond and Grant finally fight it out

Best line: “Red wine with fish – well, that should have told me something”

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Directed by: Guy Hamilton; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn – adapted from the novel by Ian Fleming (1959); Starring: Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe, Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Cec Linder, Martin Benson, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell and Margaret Nolan; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/USA; Running time: 110 minutes; Colour; Released: September 17 1964; Worldwide box-office: $124.9m (inflation adjusted: $912.3m ~ 2/24*)

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Fleming purists will tell you it was with Goldfinger that the fantasy began to out-muscle the conceivable in the films – and yet, ironically its plot is very close to that of Fleming’s novel. Fearing tycoon Auric Goldfinger is smuggling copious amounts of gold out of the UK, the Bank of England enlists MI6’s services. Bond, having botched his first Miami-based observation of  his target (by seducing his mistress, resulting in her death via full-body-painting), meets him again for a sparring game of golf and then tails him to a Swiss base where, by being captured and transported to the rogue’s stud farm in Kentucky, he learns the depths of his villainy: Operation Grand Slam. Teaming up with Chinese communists, Goldfinger plans to detonate a nuclear device inside America’s gold reserve Fort Knox, contaminating its contents for the best part of a century, thereby crippling the West’s finances, establishing China as the predominant economic power (er, hello 2012!) and making his own gold astronomically valuable. Barmy but brilliant.

The irresistibility of Connery’s Bond in Goldfinger is not down to his sex-appeal and screen magnetism; although, as ever, they both play an important part. Instead, I’d argue it’s down to something his take on the role had yet to demonstrate: his terrific capacity for light comedy. With this flick’s heightened fantasy and higher number of comic predicaments, he glides through it all as smoothly as the vodka Martini goes down that he quaffs from a golden glass on Goldfinger’s jet. Enjoying his wittiest one-liners so far, yet seemingly accepting all the gadgets the script supplies him, the actor appears to relax, delivering a 007 whom, despite his serious moments (Jill and Tilly’s deaths, for instance), blithely cruises through his mission, sure everything will turn out fine in the end. For right or wrong, Connery wouldn’t be this good in the role again.

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For me, the irony of Pussy Galore is that in spite of her unquestionably iconic moniker, she may be the least memorable of the Bond Girls this movie. The most memorable is surely Shirley Eaton’s Jill Masterson. The sight of her covered in gold paint, which unrealistically has killed her, is utterly unforgettable, of course, but so too is Bond’s first glimpse of her, lying face down on a sun-lounger, dressed only in black underwear. And yet, like her avenging sister Tilly (played by lovely Tania Mallet), Jill is hardly a well rounded character. Both really exist to become this flick’s ‘sacrificial lambs’. Pussy Galore herself, although Honor Blackman inhabits her with judo-kicking conceivability, is also underwritten; a hard-hearted if sexy lesbian pilot whom 007 turns very easily. There’s also Nadja Regin (who appeared in Russia) as the opening sequence bathing girl and Margaret Nolan as Dink (the ‘golden girl’ in the titles), whom suffers Bond’s ‘man talk’ gag.

Despite featuring a gang of embarassingly cartoonish American gangsters in the stud farm gamesroom scene, Goldfinger scores big when it comes to villains thanks to its two heavy hitters: basically they’re both cast-iron classics. Who can forget Auric Goldfinger? In Fleming’s novel he’s an ugly bear of a redheaded man; in the film, his exterior as a charming, likeable rogue belies the ruthlessly evil, madcap megalomaniac he really is – and the terrific Gert  Fröbe (with a fine vocal dubbing performance by Michael Collins) captures the character brilliantly. And who can forget Oddjob? Russia‘s Red Grant is, yes, surely a better all-round character, but former weightlifter and wrestler Harold Sakata’s silent-but-deadly, square-shaped heavy with his bizarre accoutrement (a steel-rimmed bowler hat) would become, like so many things in this film, a terrific template for so many of the henchmen that followed him in the series.

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Perhaps oddly for such a fondly recalled Bond film, Goldfinger is far from the most action-packed. One of its most eternally popular sequences is certainly all about action, though: the car chase around Goldfinger’s Swiss factory buildings involving Bond’s gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5. Although stop-and-start and thus not as fast-paced as it might be, it’s one of the highlights of the film, no question (in a movie of many highlights), allowing 007 to show all his ingenuity, all of the car’s horsepower and all of its toys as he attempts to out-run, out-fox and generally try to escape from his opponent’s minions. The only other real action sequences are the opening fight (with the goon’s classic electrocuted-in-the-bath demise) and Bond’s showdown with Oddjob inside Fort Knox while US troops raid the outside, which to be fair is mostly played for laughs to demonstrate how indestructible the grinning villain is until our hero uses his nous to defeat him.

Being it’s maybe the wittiest of all Bond films, Goldfinger is easily one of the funniest – humour is the order of the day pretty much throughout.  As mentioned, 007 gets to deliver some of his most delicious lines of the series (when Oddjob doesn’t open a door for Pussy: “Manners, Oddjob, I thought you always took your hat off to a lady”; on Goldfinger’s horse: “Certainly better bred than the owner”; on his car’s ability to track targets: “Ingenious, and useful too – allow a man to stop off for a quick one en route”). It’s also replete with some of the series’ best visual gags, what with the little old lady who stops baking to operate the Swiss factory’s gate only to turn out to be a machine gun-toting first line of defence and, of course, the nuclear bomb’s timer in the finale stopping exactly on ‘007’. The oh-so appealing facet of the Bond films laughing at themselves, which would run throughout the rest of the series, properly began here.

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Goldfinger‘s score may not be cinematic Bond music at very best, but it’s damn close. And the reason why is because if in Russia John Barry’s ‘Bond sound’ was in its genesis, in Goldfinger it properly matures. Accompanying the on-screen action with smooth saxophones, blaring brass, soaring strings and shimmering harps, it’s a masterclass in a more-is-more score enhancing a more-is-more movie (listen to the ebullient Oddjob’s Pressing Engagement by clicking on the above image). And that, of course, isn’t even to mention the (fittingly) gold disc-attaining title song written by Barry, with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, and performed unforgettably by Shirley Bassey. It was the hit that made Bassey’s career and the tune that made the Bond title song; every subsequent one would be an event – and most live in its shadow.

This flick’s a little let down by its locations. Dr No has Jamaica; Russia has Istanbul; what does Goldfinger have? Er, Switzerland in spring/ summer and Kentucky. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with Switzerland (mostly the Alpine Furka Pass) as a Bond film locale; it’s pretty, even picturesque  thanks to Ted Moore’s excellent cinematography. However, it’s hardly exotic, thus rather bland. And Kentucky? well, sure, it’s the state in which Fort Knox resides so Bond has to dip into it at some point, but there must be more exciting places 007 could have visited in mid-’60s America? Like Miami, say. Wait, he goes there after the title sequence, doesn’t he? Er no, it’s back-projection-o-rama – none of the cast actually did. Ho-hum.

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That age-old tradition of Bond setting off on a mission after seeing Q like a freebie-toting presenter of The Gadget Show starts here, folks. Yes, the head of Q-Section becomes a real character for the first time in Goldfinger and he and Bond get off to the best (or worst) possible start; the latter irritably putting up with the former’s workman-like pride in the seemingly ridiculous alterations he’s made to his new motor, the oh-so iconic Aston Martin DB5, and irritating the former as he ‘jokes about his work’. But those alterations prove far from ridiculous when he gets out into the field. Not only are the DB5’s revolving number plates, tyre-slashers, oil slicks, rear bulletproof shield, machine guns mounted from behind the front indicators and, yes, that ejector seat all invaluable, collectively they ensure the DB5 is easily the coolest of all the gadgets in the Bond canon. 007 also has a couple of tracking homers; one that’s magnetic, so it’s attachable to opponents’ vehicles, and a dinky one that fits in the sliding heel of his shoe.

Frankly, any Bond film that contains the moment Sean Connery, dressed in that white dinner jacket with that red carnation, checks his watch seconds before he nonchalantly endures the explosion he’s created would have to score highly in the style stakes, but Goldfinger‘s style doesn’t peak with this pre-titles moment, it arguably kicks-off with it. Of all the series’ movies, this one probably gets the wizard combination of look and sound as right as can be. Barry’s music perfectly underscores the cool, sophisticated, sleek treats on-screen, including Ken Adam’s outlandishly wonderful interiors (Fort Knox is utterly to die for, as is the baddie’s room in which a pre-tuxedoed Bond sets the explosives in the pre-title sequence) and the film’s practically perfect costume choices (yes, really, even Connery’s pale blue towelling robe in Miami).

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Adjuster: -1

Surely the most iconic of all Bond films, Goldfinger is an absolute, bona fide classic of the series – and properly set the formula that every subsequent one has variously adhered to and divulged from. But it’s not perfect. For me, although boasting an excellent setting, the Fort Knox finale oddly disappoints; it’s just not as thrilling as it might be. Perhaps if Goldfinger could have surrendered its otherwise marvellous self-mockery here (and upped the action ante elsewhere), it’d be the series’ true 24-carat entry.

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Best bit: The triple combo that is the climax of the car chase, followed by the laser-table sequence, seguing into Bond meeting Pussy

Best line: “My name is Pussy Galore”/ “I must be dreaming”

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Read why Goldfinger is one of the ultimate movies of the 1960s here

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Directed by: Terence Young; Produced by: Kevin McClory (Presenters: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli); Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and John Hopkins – adapted from the Ian Fleming novel (1961), itself based on a script by Fleming, McClory and Jack Whittingham; Starring: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Martine Beswick, Guy Doleman, Philip Locke, Desmond Llewelyn, Molly Peters and Lois Maxwell; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/USA; Running time: 130 minutes; Colour; Released: December 29 1965; Worldwide box-office: $141.2m (inflation adjusted: $1,014.9m ~ 1/24*)

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Thunderball‘s plot is big, brash fantasy, but very Fleming-faithful. Through a plan cooked up by its ‘Number 2’ Emilio Largo, SPECTRE – back again – sets about stealing two nuclear warheads via a NATO Vulcan bomber. Enlisting a fall-guy who’s had plastic surgery to assume the identity of bumped-off pilot Francois Derval, the criminal organisation sabotages a test flight of the Vulcan, crash-landing it in the Caribbean just off the coast of The Bahamas. Here Largo and his goons, murdering the fake Derval, hide the jet and its warheads, ensuring the UK Government can be held ransom to the tune of £100m in cut diamonds – a major UK or US city will be destroyed with the bombs unless it pays up. All the ’00’s including Bond are put on the case (‘Operation Thunderball’), yet fortuitously 007 has a lead: he was at the clinic where Derval was offed and the operative had his face done, in which case he pursues Derval’s sister Domino – in The Bahamas…

It’s no secret that after three films Connery was growing tired of playing Bond. Not that it shows enormously here, but all the same, the 007 of Thunderball is not that of the previous film and certainly not that of the first two. More reliant on gadgets and less on his own wits, which thanks to the script seem strangely to take a backseat for the middle third of the movie where our hero appears content, well, to bugger around a bit in The Bahamas before getting a wiggle on to find the missing warheads, he spends a hell of a lot of time getting wet. Connery himself is game, for sure – and up to the mark sardonically, especially in the early Shrublands Clinic scenes – but while his Bond this time definitely delivers the muscle, he somehow lacks the spark of before.

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Recalled by many as quality Bond totty, Thunderball‘s girls are not all outstanding; specifically – and unfortunately – the leading female character: Claudine Auger’s Domino. A former Miss France, Auger looks the part and, like Connery, she literally spends a lot of time wet, but unlike Connery, she’s figuratively wet too. Tossed this way and that by the men around her, she suffers perhaps more than anyone else in the film from being under-written thanks to the script’s flaws. The rest of the ‘Thunderbirds’ do live up to that moniker, mind. There’s former model Molly Peters’ spunky nurse Pat Fearing and Martine Beswick’s gives-as-good-as-she-gets (until ending up the flick’s ‘sacrificial lamb’) Bahamian MI6 contact Paula Caplan. Both are also gorgeous. As is the film’s best character, Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona Volpe. More on her below…

The casting of Adolfo Celi as bad guy Emilio Largo is a mixed blessing. He looks terrific (cruelly handsome with his black eye-patch and physically imposing, along with the requisite glamour and vulagrity of a tycoon-turned-evil), but owing to his Italian tones he can’t make work the tepid and sometimes inept lines the script offers him, ensuring Largo – not one of Fleming’s best antagonists to start with really – comes off as a bit of a B-movie baddie. The evil Emilio is joined by a dismembered Blofeld (as in Russia, merely a voice and hand stroking a white cat), Guy Doleman’s charming but lightweight UK SPECTRE agent Count Lippe and Philip Locke’s Vargas, who given his pointlessness is rather ironically skewered by Bond’s harpoon bolt (“I think he got the point”). But then there’s Fiona. Yup, she’s so damn good she probably raises this film’s Girls and Villains scores by two points each. Incredibly sexy and sultry, very cunning and dangerous and an utterly ravishing redhead, Volpe the Voluptuous is surely the series’ best ever villainess.

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Its underwater action scenes are Thunderball‘s biggest flaw. You can imagine the pre-production meetings: let’s have Bond constantly grapple with goons in the sea and have a unit of black-clad baddies face-off against US frogmen in orange wetsuits in a huge harpoon battle surrounded by sharks! It’ll be awesome! Sadly, it’s not. Unlike on Fleming’s written page, on-screen underwater action is really slow. And, given the script sets much of the movie’s action beneath the waves, it’s a big problem. To off-set it, in a surprising mis-step, overly blunt, even crude editing is applied to these sequences (as well as more oddly in one or two other scenes, such as the pre-titles fight, while the film is sped-up an unforgivably high number of times – not least during Bond and Largo’s desperate final face-off). Disappointing.

More successful is this film’s humour. Its script may not zing with the one-liners of Goldfinger, but those it offers are ably delivered by (mostly) Connery, while his interactions with nurse Pat (sexy and sassy) and Paula (sardonic – this time from the girl) are very good value, as is the fast developing meme of Q demonstrating his wares to a bored, playful 007 – and, in a first, out in the field. Other highlights include Bond hitting a widow just returned from a funeral, whom he works out is the widow’s supposedly deceased husband (an enemy assassin) because ‘she’ opened the car door instead of waiting for it to be opened for ‘her’. Inexcusable in the ’60s that, obviously.

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Its music often may be one of its stronger elements, but Thunderball‘s John Barry-penned score simply isn’t up to the quality of the previous two flicks’. It’s at its best – like the film itself – when setting mood. An example is Dance With Domino/ Bond’s Apartment (click the above image to hear it); the first half of which is slow, smooth and lilting, almost sad, but fits perfectly with the cool that Bond adds to the high-living Nassau world he encounters, while the second half sets suspense through an equally slow, but eerie  theme (which seems to echo the other-worldly drift of the sea). At its worst, though, the score goes crazy at moments when the underwater action doesn’t thrill enough in an effort to up the ante. Not classic stuff. Tom Jones’ Barry-written theme, with lyrics by Don Black, is fine – although the turned-down effort from Dionne Warwick, Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (orchestral versions of which feature in the film), is better.

For many, The Bahamas (and its capital Nassau in particular) is one of the classic Bond film locations – and it’s hard to disagree with that. After all, not only like Dr No‘s Jamaica does it offer (especially back in the day when foreign climes were less easily reached) the colour and mild exoticism of the Caribbean, but it also delivers the glamorous, rarefied jet-setter atmosphere of a Monte Carlo or a St. Mortitz. Other locales include Paris (seen very briefly as the setting for SPECTRE’s HQ) and the Château d’Anet (which, not far from Paris, features in the pre-title sequence). The Shrublands Clinic exteriors were shot in Buckinghamshire, which while not very Bondian do add an old-world English charm to proceedings.

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When it comes to gadgets – and, well, the wider film itself – Thunderball‘s tone is set right from the off when Bond throws on his conveniently placed Bell Texton jet-pack and flies away from his pursuers. It’s cool, no question, even if the mop-top haircut-style helmet 007 has to wear when using it is not. A more practical and better gadget though is the natty mini-breather he can use if he has to abandon conventional underwater breathing equipment at any point (which, naturally, he does). In fact, it’s a gadget-and-a-half. Bond also uses a swallowable homer pill, an underwater camera with infra-red film and in-built geiger counter, as well as an underwater propulsion unit, which boasts spear guns and searchlights, but perhaps the less said about that one the better.

In many ways, Thunderball sums up mid-’60s style. The faraway paradise with its aspirational affluence that is The Bahamas is beautiful (especially in the bold tones of Technicolor caught in oh-so wide Panavision) and, frankly, still very inviting a fantasy destination today, not least with the added appeal of Connery and his ‘Thunderbirds’. Talking of whom, the swimsuits and ballgowns of the female talent are pretty unforgettable, especially Volpe the Voluptuous’s striking blue dress and boa combo. And, being this is the mid-’60s, the technology is starkly cool and almost crazily ambitious; especially Largo’s Disco Volante yacht, which splits away from its outer shell to become a high-powered hydrofoil – reminiscent of something that might be used by those other Thunderbirds (1964-66), the ones dreamt up by Gerry Anderson, that is.

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Thunderball sets the ‘the fourth Bond movie mis-step’ trend. It’s simply too big for its – and director Terence Young’s – boots. The latter said that, contrasted with those of his previous efforts Dr No and Russia, its budget was so large that the spare real crab left over from dining scenes was offered to the crew, but as archetypal Brits they just wanted fish and chips. In The Bahamas. Which kind of sums things up. It has its moments (most of them involving Fiona), but a slow tone, crazy editing and boring underwater scenes threaten to sink it. Not that the public of the day cared – released at the height of mid-’60s ‘Bondmania’, it made an absolute mint.

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Best bit: Fiona’s scrub in the tub

Best line: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead”

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Rankings

(All scores out of 100)

1. From Russia With Love (1963) ~ 88

2. Goldfinger (1964) ~ 85

3. Dr No (1962) ~ 74

4. Thunderball (1965) ~ 70

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The James Bond reviews will return… 

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. dragonsky permalink
    August 23, 2012 11:58 pm

    Great stuff :). I’m looking forward to reading all of your reviews. Btw do you plan on reviewing CR and NSNA?

    • August 24, 2012 11:40 pm

      Thanks for your comment, dragonsky – glad you’re enjoying the reviews.

      And, yes, I am viewing and reviewing both the spoof Casino Royale and Never Say Never Again (mentioned it in the introduction at the top of the post, in fact)… 😉

      • dragonsky permalink
        August 24, 2012 11:59 pm

        😀 I haven’t read the reviews when I wrote the comment 🙂 That is why i said I’m looking forward to reading them 🙂 It

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