The Spy We Loved, by Bob Connally

5 Oct

It’s been a year and a half of waiting since No Time to Die’s original release date but as October 8 approaches, James Bond fans eagerly await the final entry of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. My relationship to the Bond franchise is a bit of an odd one. I have seen every film in the series and there’s nothing quite like when one of these movies really connects. But for me, there are far more mediocre or outright bad Bond movies than good ones. So why do I get excited every time a new one is about to come out? Because I know how entertaining they can be when they get it right. So with that, let’s take a trip through every single James Bond movie in preparation for No Time to Die.

Dr. No (1962): Directed by Terence Young, this is a strong film that establishes Sean Connery in the role of James Bond. Many of what would become the franchise’s tropes appear out of the gate. By today’s standards for not just the franchise but for action movies in general, it moves a bit slowly but it’s not boring. (We’ll get to boring a little later.) Overall, a more than solid start to the series.

From Russia with Love (1963): Connery and Young both return as star and director, respectively, and the result is still quite possibly the best James Bond film ever made. There’s a confidence that’s been earned after Dr. No. A sense that everyone involved is at the top of their game. Connery gives Bond greater depth, the action sequences are stronger, the supporting characters are more interesting and unlike what was to come, it isn’t beholden to the “Bond formula.” This is a classy early ’60s Cold War thriller. The brutal train fight between Bond and Hall of Fame henchman Red Grant (Robert Shaw) holds up today as an excellent action scene. As someone with a deep fascination with the Cold War, this one scratches that itch more than any other movie in the series. This is also the first movie to feature Bond’s eventual nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, though his face is never seen.

Goldfinger (1964): When I saw Captain America’s notebook of cultural highlights to catch up on, I thought, “I want to be in charge of that.” For whatever reason, the first thing that occurred to me was that James Bond should be added to it, and look, Steve Rogers is a busy man. He can’t watch all of these. So what’s the one movie to show Steve for him to understand what James Bond is all about? Well, it’s Goldfinger. For better or worse, this is the one that really solidified the formula. It might be the most referenced and parodied movie in the series but that’s because it’s also one of the best. Connery is completely locked in and director Guy Hamilton picks up the baton and runs with it. Villain (Gert Frobe as Auric Goldfinger), henchman (Harold Sakata as Oddjob), and Bond girl (Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore) are all top tier here and the Aston Martin would cement its place in the minds of audiences as the definitive James Bond car. Iconic is a word that has become misused in recent years but virtually every moment of this film truly is iconic. On your left, Cap. I’ve got a blu-ray for you to borrow.

Thunderball (1965): Terence Young returns to the director’s chair here and sadly the result is not nearly as good as his two earlier efforts. This is a movie that is positively obsessed with showing off that it can film underwater. Remember when I said we’d get to boring a little later? Well, here we are. Even Sean Connery flying around on a jetpack can’t breathe much life into this one. The underwater photography is just there for its own sake and it takes up nearly a quarter of the film’s 130-minute run time. While certainly far from the worst Bond movie, it may be the dullest.

You Only Live Twice (1967): I’ve only seen this one once and it’s been between 15 and 20 years. What I mainly remember is realizing how much of Austin Powers is taken specifically from this movie. Connery is becoming disenchanted with the franchise by this point too (which involves real-life issues with producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli which is too deep a rabbit hole to go down here). Donald Pleasance co-stars as Blofeld, whose face had never been shown before. The best thing about You Only Live Twice is Nancy Sinatra’s theme song of the same name.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969): The unthinkable has happened. James Bond has been recast. 

Well, is it Michael Caine? 


It’s not Albert Finney, is it? 


Well, is it… Well, who is it? 

George Lazenby. 

Who or what is a George Lazenby?

Why, he’s an Australian model with absolutely no acting experience but who lied about that in his audition and got the role.

…No, really. Who is he?… Who – who is he?!

Directed by Peter Hunt who had previously worked as an editor and second unit director on four Bond films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a change of pace for the series in ways that go beyond the recasting of the main character. While most of the Bond tropes are still there, we get a different side of Bond himself. While Lazenby is decidedly not a great actor, he shines in the film’s many action sequences and he brings an emotional vulnerability that is rarely called for from Bond but is essential to this particular story. It was the first (and until Casino Royale only) time that James Bond fell in love. Tracy di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) proves to be more than Bond’s match and the film soars whenever she’s on-screen.

Running 142 minutes, the early part of the film is strong but the middle portion plods along a bit as Bond goes undercover at a food allergy clinic run by Blofeld (played this time by Telly Savalas). However, the final 50 minutes of the movie are probably my favorite bit of the entire franchise. From Bond’s desperate escape from the clinic all the way to the tragic ending, Hunt takes us on a wild ride while Rigg carries the film on her shoulders. The ice road car chase in which Tracy saves an exhausted James from a small army is as thrilling and fun as these movies get. Rigg’s boundless charisma more than makes up for any shortcomings Lazenby has as well.
Whether you’ve actually seen On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or not, Bond fans know how this movie ends. Tracy is murdered by Blofeld and henchwoman Irma Bunt mere moments after James and Tracy’s wedding. I’ve often imagined an alternate universe where Bond is killed rather than Tracy and instead of Diamonds Are Forever we get a film about Tracy systematically taking down SPECTRE and getting her revenge on Blofeld, with some off-the-books assistance from M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny. Then, rather than 12 years of Roger Moore hamming it up, Diana Rigg’s Tracy Bond becomes an agent serving queen and country. That was obviously never going to happen but it’s fun to think about. Anyone who’s watched even an episode of The Avengers (not Marvel) knows Rigg was a bonafide action star and I have to think a series of Tracy Bond adventures starring her would have been far, far better than what we got over the next couple of decades. Buckle up, everyone. The road is about to get rough.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971): Connery returns, though given how miserable he clearly is here one has to wonder why. Looking at it in the context of what was to follow it’s apparent that this was the proto-Roger Moore Bond movie. This film leans into silliness far more than any of the earlier movies and tonally it just doesn’t work with Connery. Directed by Goldfinger helmer Guy Hamilton, this movie is probably best remembered for one of the most obvious continuity errors in cinema history in which Bond drives a car on its side through an incredibly narrow alley and comes out the other end on its opposite side. The attempted fix only calls more attention to it. But we’re still 8 years away from the most bizarre moment in franchise history.

Live and Let Die (1973): Roger Moore’s Bond has never been for me. In fairness to Moore, he fits what the films of his era are going for. But what those movies are going for is pure camp. I enjoy plenty of silly movies but I almost never like campy ones. Besides fully embracing this goofier tone, Live and Let Die also marks a shift that has been a sad reality of the franchise ever since. In the early days of the series, James Bond movies were ahead of the curve and set the trends. In 1973, they started to follow trends. Putting James Bond in a ’70s blaxploitation movie is such an inexplicable choice and it all ends in Yaphet Kotto’s villain deflating comically like a balloon. This movie not only has its defenders but ardent fans who consider it among the best of the entire series. To each their own, but I’ll never understand it.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974): “Nick Nack!…TABASCO!” Thanks to the glorious James Bonding podcast hosted by Matt Gourley and Matt Mira, I will forever remember Christopher Lee shouting this line and it will always make me laugh. There isn’t much more to say about Moore’s second outing as Bond. It’s not quite as dreadful as Live and Let Die (Christopher Lee is fun to watch at least) but it’s hardly a significant improvement either.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): Easily the best movie of the Moore era, it’s still only about a 6 out of 10. Not bad but not quite good either. The fact that the Bond girl this time around is a KGB agent (played by Barbara Bach) and that the Soviets are so central to the film’s story is nice. It’s strange how often these movies dance around that during the Cold War but they certainly don’t here. My real recommendation however is to watch the season 2 episode of the brilliant I’m Alan Partridge titled “Never Say Alan Again.” Steve Coogan’s Alan re-enacting this film’s opening is one of the funniest things ever put on television. “STOP GETTING BOND WRONG!”

Moonraker (1979): Director Lewis Gilbert: You know, I’m pretty happy with the scene where Bond’s boat reveals a hoverboat beneath it so that it can go on land and go through the streets of Venice, but…
Editor John Glen: But… It needs something more.
Gilbert: Exactly.
Glen: Have I got the thing for you!
Gilbert: Is it stock footage of a pigeon that we can manipulate to make it look like it’s doing a double-take?
Glen: You know it is, baby!

I promised earlier that we hadn’t gotten to the most bizarre moment in franchise history but there it is. A pigeon double take.
Everything about this movie is embarrassing. Continuing the ’70s Bond tradition of following trends, two years after Star Wars, James Bond is in space. No matter how outlandish these movies had gotten before, they’d never gone off the rails quite like this. Moonraker is the low point. For now.

For Your Eyes Only (1981): In an attempt to bring things back down to earth, literally and figuratively, For Your Eyes Only is best enjoyed as the movie that an entire episode of Archer would pay tribute to about 30 years later. Outside of that, not much is terribly memorable about it, though Topol is a lot of fun as the best Bond buddy since From Russia with Love’s Kerim Bey.

Octopussy (1983): This was the last movie in the series I finally got around to watching for the first time. Having long heard it was one of the absolute worst of the franchise, I put it off quite a while. To my surprise, it’s actually not as terrible as I had expected it to be. It’s not good certainly, but it’s by no means the worst. Yes, it’s the one where Bond disguises himself as a clown during the film’s climax. That’s where these movies are these days.

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