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007/50: Ten of the best ~ James Bond’s golden moments on the silver screen

October 5, 2012

It was fifty years ago today: for a full half-century the cinematic James Bond has thrilled and spilled, excited and entertained and, yes, shaken and stirred the world, none more so than this iconic, Union Jack-tastic moment from the pre-title sequence of The Spy Who Loved Me

Happy ‘James Bond Day’! Yes, that’s right, peeps, today officially marks the fiftieth anniversary of the official Eon Productions James Bond film series. Half a century ago this very day, the very first 007 movie produced by Albert R Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, Dr No, premiered at the Odeon Leicester Square cinema in London – and the rest, as they like so often to say, is history. And, boy, what a history it’s been.

So, as a sort of mid-match goal rush in this blog’s golden anniversary celebrations of Blighty’s finest, this post celebrates this day in a way better than any other my wee bonce could come up with – to compile a list of the ten greatest moments from the (thus far) 22-film series. Just one stipulation: as there’s more than a score of Bond flicks in existence now and thus methinks the following list shouldn’t reflect just their greatness but also their breadth, none of the following moments come from the same Eon effort.

And so, with that, let’s together and each and every one of us, slip on that Walther PPK-carrying shoulder holster, put on that black tux jacket, tie that bow-tie and, as we admire ourselves in the mirror in front of us, mockingly cock an eyebrow, thoughtfully put a finger to our mouths or simply pout our lips (whether we resemble Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig, that is). Or, if we don’t look much like any of them, indulge in this following list regardless and wallow in fifty years of marvellous Bondness. Cue John Barry…

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Bond’s introduction ~ Dr No (1962)

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Setting the scene: Following the bumping off of an MI6 operative and his secretary in Jamaica, one of the service’s ’00’ agents is sought out to visit MI6’s chief M in order to look into the matter. A lowly Intelligence charlie finds him in salubrious West End casino ‘Le Cercle’, where he’s embroiled in a game of Chemin de Fer with a beautiful brunette who’s just about to introduce herself – in turn, inviting him to introduce himself…

So good because: It’s the first time the world clapped eyes on Eon’s Bond in the shape of the original Sean Connery and also the first time he uttered the immortal line ‘Bond, James Bond’. He’s dressed in an immaculate black tux and bow-tie, gambling at a casino and looking incredibly cool as he lights a pre-PC non-friendly cigarette. This is the cinematic 007’s first moment and it may never have been topped. Maybe not.

Strange but true: Sylvia Trench (Eunice Gayson), a character intended as a frustrated female interest for Bond whom never got around to bagging him because he always had to rush off on a mission, was dropped after only the second film From Russia With Love (1963).

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The ejector seat ~ Goldfinger (1964)

(From 4:00 onwards)

Setting the scene: Having staked out villain Auric Goldfinger’s Switzerland HQ, Bond is spotted by his goons and flees in his Q-Department-altered Aston Martin DB5. A chase ensues, in which 007 deploys several of the car’s ‘optional extras’, but leaves the best for last – its passenger ejector seat. Captured by the minions, he’s forced by one who gets in the car – with a gun trained on him – to drive back to the base, only at the most opportune moment to rid himself of the chap and attempt to escape once more…

So good because: Surely the ultimate Bond vehicle/ gadget moment, the DB5’s ejector seat is arguably, more than any other of its fantastic features, the attribute that entered it into 007 lore – and the one that everyone rightly remembers. Funny, ridiculous and genius all at the same time, it’s one of the iconic moments in the iconic Bond film.

Strange but true: The DB5 was, of course, mass-produced in miniature by UK toy car manufacturer Corgi, going on to shift millions of units over the decades – yet, with stunning shortsightedness, they failed to get the item into toy shops in time for Christmas ’64 when its demand would surely have been astronomical.

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“I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld” ~ You Only Live Twice (1967)

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Setting the scene: Locating a base hidden in a volcano on an idyllic Japanese island, from which a literal mouth-opening space rocket has swallowed both US and USSR spacecrafts in order to try and provoke nuclear war between the two superpowers, James Bond clandestinely enters the volcano, but is caught when he poses as an astronaut boarding the hostile space rocket, aiming to sabotage its final, defining flight. He’s then brought face-to-face with the evil genius who’s masterminded the incredible scheme…

So good because: As the head of the criminal organisation that dominated the ’60s Bond flicks (SPECTRE – Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), Ernst Stavro Blofeld was ultimately behind all – except  one – of the devious plans of that decade’s movies, yet had always been a shadowy presence; the camera only ever showing his torso and hands as he stroked his white Persian pussycat. Finally, though, as the signature villain in You Only Live Twice, Bond and the audience at last saw his face – and it being Donald Plesance’s fantastically scarred, unnervingly childlike visage, it’s an awesome one.

Strange but true: Plesance (an instant iconic villain – years later, his appearance was shamelessly stolen for Austin Powers‘ Dr Evil) wasn’t actually the first choice for Blofeld. He was parachuted into the role at the eleventh hour when the already cast Czech thesp Jan Werich fell ill.

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“We have all the time in the world” ~ OHMSS (1969)

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Setting the scene: By the end of a mission that’s seen him best his nemesis Blofeld (yet again) and meet the love of his life (or at least the last love of his life – see bottom moment), Bond’s got his girl in a way more profoundly than ever before – he and she have got married. On their way away from the wedding and presumably to their honeymoon location, Bond and his bride Tracy are bantering like urbane, loved-up newlyweds and stop momentarily to remove all the flowers from their vehicle. At which point, another car speeds past them and we hear machine gunfire…

So good because: Pre- (and maybe post-) Casino Royale (2006), this was easily the most moving and emotionally satisfying moment in big-screen Bond’s history. It helps that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is such a good film, ensuring Bond and Tracy’s romance is a believable one that genuinely pulls us in, thus, this unapologetically visceral twist of an ending hits us like a thunderbolt. It’s the ultimate ending to a Bond film because it’s unquestionably the best.

Strange but true: Two takes were filmed of Lazenby delivering the final lines; one in which he shed tears and one in which he didn’t. Ultimately, the tearless take was chosen, as director Peter Hunt decided James Bond shouldn’t cry. Hunt maintains, though, that Lazenby aced them both.

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Jumping the crocodiles ~ Live And Let Die (1973)

(From 2:20 onwards)

Setting the scene: Having been captured in New Orleans by villain of the piece Mr Big, Bond is transported by the heroin king to his Louisiana Bayou drug development plant, conveniently located on a crocodile farm; convenient because it’s easy to dispose of opponents here (‘Trespassers will be eaten!’). Having been given a tour of the crocs’ habitat during feeding time by hook-for-hand henchman Tee Hee, 007 suddenly finds himself stranded on a little island in a lake occupied by hundreds of the sharp-toothed prehistoric hunters – for Tee Hee has retracted the bridge from the mainland and buggered off…

So good because: The absolute classic ‘how will he get out of this?’ moment from a Bond movie, this one’s utter genius in both its creation and execution. Simple but stunningly brilliant, it’s a cunning stunt, indeed, involving 007 put in a genuinely adrenalin-inducing perilous situation and his resolving it in a manner only he would attempt and pull off with such ease. Just as well really – those are clearly very hungry crocodiles.

Strange but true: The man who performed this extraordinary stunt, Ross Kananga, owned the crocodile farm on which it was filmed. So grateful were the filmmakers for his contribution (in one take he got his shoe caught in the teeth of one of the crocs; proof of how easily it could have gone disastrously wrong), they named the villain’s real identity after him: Dr Kananga.

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The Union Jack parachute jump ~ The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

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Setting the scene: Having received a spooled message from his sleek new digital watch informing him he must get out of the Austrian Alps for a briefing with M, a banana-yellow skisuit-clad Bond bids farewell to his chalet dolly bird and takes to the slopes outside. Only he quickly realises he’s being pursued by a troupe of menacingly black-clad Soviet operatives. Performing one or two flash manoeuvres to keep ahead of them (including shooting one with his firing ski-pole while going backwards), 007’s full escape will only be complete if he skis off the edge of a cliff – but wouldn’t that be suicide…?

So good because: Perhaps the most recalled stunt in all Bondom, this effort by the legendary Rick Sylvester purportedly caused audiences all over the world to jump to their feet in applause for its audacity, tongue-in-cheek patriotism and all-round entertainment. It’s probably the most iconic moment in James Bond’s half-century on the big screen.

Strange but true: Despite painstakingly ensuring safety procedures were followed (including waiting for the wind to be exactly right), Rick Sylvester’s leap, which actually took place off Mount Asgard on Canada’s Baffin Island, almost went disastrously wrong when, as he released one of his skis, it clipped the just opening parachute; had it done so with more force, it almost certainly would have prevented the chute from the opening – it can be seen in the filmed footage.

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“I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir” ~ Moonraker (1979)

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Setting the scene: Bond and his lovely CIA-agent-cum-astronaut cohort Dr Holly Goodhead have just the saved the world’s human population from instant wipe-out thanks to destroying big bad space craft manufacturer Hugo Drax’s globe-like containers of toxic nerve gas he’d released into the Earth’s atmosphere. So, aboard Drax’s sole remaining space shuttle, they’re now indulging in some how’s-your-father in their well deserved down-time. Only a ‘genius’ back at Houston’s NASA has chosen this exact moment, by way of celebration, to relay images of them both (yes, engaging in weightless coital activity) to both The White House and Buckingham Palace. Bond’s superiors, not least M, look on disgusted. ‘My God, what’s Bond doing?’ demands Minister of Defence Frederick Gray; inspecting the shuttle’s position on a monitor, Q delivers an unforgettable answer…

So good because: Surely the most fondly recalled saucy innuendo kiss-off to a Bond film, this line is probably also the perfect example of the double entendre in the Eon series. It’s short, simple and utterly satisfying – just like a shag in space with Holly Goodhead, no doubt. And it’s made even better by Bond, realising he’s being filmed live when he looks up into a camera lens just before switching it off, shows absolutely no shame at being caught out, merely the flick of a knowing, almost proud smile instead. What a lad.

Strange but true: This was M actor Bernard Lee’s last Bond film moment; he died just as filming began on the next movie For Your Eyes Only (1981). As a mark of respect for his passing and contribution to the series, that film’s script was altered so the character didn’t appear, claiming he was on leave. M would return in Octopussy (1983) played by Robert Brown.

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The best pre-title sequence ~ GoldenEye (1995)

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Setting the scene: It’s 1986 and James Bond (looking distinctly unlike either Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton, but let’s not worry about that right now), is tasked with destroying a Soviet chemical weapons facility in deepest, darkest Russia. Once he’s broken in, having effectively bungee-jumped down to the bottom of a dam, he teams up with MI6 colleague Alec Trevelyan – or 006 – to place timed explosives on the weapon canisters, but Trevelyan is soon caught and held at gunpoint by the facility chief, Colonel Ourumov, who’s backed up a horde of troops. Bond is given the choice to give up or see his fellow agent killed – his mission or his friend…?

So good because: Mostly because of the awesome, awesome Union Jack parachute stunt above, The Spy Who Loved Me‘s pre-title sequence is often claimed the best of the series, but I’d argue this one tops it. Why? Because it’s got everything: a bungee-jump stunt; a a pair of ’00’s buddy-buddying up on a mission; a cruel, ruthless baddie; lots of gun-play and exchange of whip-crack dialogue; a sprint on foot and then on a motorbike to reach an escaping plane; an outrageous second stunt where the bike goes over a cliff after the pilot-less plane and, of course, the eventual blowing up of a villains’ lair. One of the most thoroughly satisfying sequences of the entire series and, thus, the perfect introduction of a brand new Bond actor (Pierce Brosnan) after 007’s six years away from the silver screen.

Strange but true: The final stunt of the sequence, in which a free-falling Bond manages to catch up with a seemingly free-falling plane has been the stuff of controversy for years. However, many posit what’s presented on-screen, although looking like pure fantasy, is quite credible because a free-falling human’s terminal velocity would be greater than a plane that’s free-falling but accumulating drag as it also has wings, therefore 007 could catch up with the plane.

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The hotel room scene ~ Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)

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Setting the scene: A British warship has been downed in Chinese waters by a hostile enemy and, not suspecting the Chinese but an unknown guilty party, Bond is sent to monitor media tycoon Elliot Carver (as his corporation dubiously managed to get exclusive footage of the event) at the Hamburg launch of his new TV channel. Having run into old flame Paris at the party, who’s now married to Carver, an off-the-clock 007 is moodily sitting alone in his hotel room, when someone appears in his doorway – Paris…

So good because: Arguably for the first – certainly the most effective – time in decades, Bond’s psychosis is explored in this scene, tapping perfectly into the acidie (melancholy-inducing nature) of what he does for a living and, thus, who he is that became an important part of his characterisation in creator Ian Fleming’s later novels. In his down-time, tux jacket off, bow-tie untied and quaffing shots from a vodka bottle as he silently broods on his re-acquaintance with a woman he loved but had to let go, she reappears and when asks him the question, he’s disarmingly honest about why he let her go. Then they share a passionate snog. But, of course.

Strange but true: When working on her scenes as Paris Carver for Tomorrow Never Dies, Teri Hatcher was actually pregnant. Well designed costumes and clever filming techniques were employed to hide her belly’s slight bump.

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Bond ‘becomes’ Bond ~ Casino Royale (2006)

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Setting the scene: Having only just earned his ’00’ stripes, James Bond is tasked with ensuring poker ace Le Chiffre doesn’t raise a huge sum of money to get him out of a hole with the criminal organisation he works for (Quantum) by beating him at Montenegro’s Casino Royale in, er, a poker game. Good for Bond then that he’s a poker ace himself and does the business. Unfortunately though, post-poker, a vengeful Le Chiffre almost does the business on him and his British Treasury liaison Vesper Lynd. Doubly unfortunately, when both survive the baddie’s torturing them, 007 discovers Vesper has been double-crossing him all along – she’s been blackmailed by Quantum to deliver the money on a plate whatever happens in the poker game, or it’ll murder her previous lover. In a Venice-set finale, Vesper sacrifices herself, but the money’s taken anyway by a mysterious figure named Mr White, whose mobile number, though, Vesper leaves for 007 to find. Heartbroken Bond may be, but ‘the bitch is dead’ and the mission goes on – he seeks out White and the money…

So good because: This scene isn’t just a thoroughly satisfying resolution to an excellent Bond film, but also a thoroughly satisfying final act in this well documented ‘reboot’ Eon effort that ‘reveals’ how James Bond became James Bond – in short, this scene showcases Bond becoming Bond. How? He finally gets the better of an opponent in a fantastic suit, with a bloody big gun and a confident swagger that only an ‘arrived’ 007 could possess. He’s been through hell to get here (he’s lost the first love of his life – long before losing Tracy, if that’s still to happen in this timeline, that is), but without that, he couldn’t become Bond. And, of course, sealing the deal is this new oh-so dynamic 007 (Daniel Craig) delivering the ‘Bond, James Bond’ line for the first time – and, in this flick at least, the audience hearing The James Bond Theme in full for the first time. Oh yes.

Strange but true: The next film in the series – and Casino Royale‘s effective sequel – Quantum Of Solace (2008) was also intended to conclude with a scene in which Bond tracks down Mr White, but this time put him out of his misery. Perhaps deciding the scene would have robbed that film of the emotional impact its directly preceding scene delivered (007 facing down Vesper’s ‘fake’ boyfriend) and would have been too similar an ending to Royale‘s, it was filmed but dropped from the final edit – thus, leaving the door open for Mr White to (ahem) die another day.

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