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June 2024
2min read

James Bond

Has anyone ever adequately explained how a British secret agent became an American cultural idol? Well, for one thing, Bond wasn’t English; his creator, Ian Fleming, made clear to us at the outset that Bond was the product of a Scots father and a Swiss mother. Brought to life by Scan Connery, Bond seemed both deadlier and more ingratiating than the traditional English Bulldog Drummond type of hero while at the same time more sophisticated than American private eyes.

For another thing, unlike Fleming’s first Bond novels, Bond movies didn’t exploit the fears of the Cold War so much as divert us from them. As early as From Russia With Love (1963), the film plot was rewritten so that the real struggle was not between the free world and the communist bloc but between all the world’s intelligence agencies and technology-crazed pirates capitalizing on the ideological rift between East and West.

Shorn of the colonialist trappings that would have made him anathema in the sixties, Scan Connery’s James Bond became the movies’ first truly international hero. It’s been more than 40 years since the inaugural Bond feature film, Dr. No , was released, and in truth most of them haven’t been particularly distinguished. But the newly released Bond collection on DVD and the opening of the latest Bond film, Die Another Day , give us a chance to go back and re-evaluate some of the lesser-known gems.

You Only Live Twice (1967).

This is one of the better-known Bonds because of Connery’s presence, but it’s the least known of the first five, after Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love, Goldfinger (1964), and Thunderball (1965). It may be the best of the Connery Bonds, which of course makes it the best of the Bond movies, period. Roald Dahl wrote the witty screenplay, and Donald Pleasence made his debut as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond’s most enduring foe. Nancy Sinatra sang the lovely title song—for my money the last Bond theme worth remembering—and Scan Connery seemed to be having more fun as Bond than before or since. One important factor in the film’s enjoyability was that the gadgets— particularly the gyrocopter Little Nellie , which disassembled into a giant suitcase —were more ingenious than contrived.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

The most underrated of the Bond films. The Australian George Lazenby was an acquired taste as Bond, but not at all bad once you grew accustomed to him. The great Diana Rigg is often called the best “Bond girl,” but the real secret to her appeal in the role is that she was the best Bond woman.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

There’s no point arguing about it, but to original Bond fans Roger Moore (the only Englishman ever to play Bond) could never be the real thing. At best he was the Saint with an expense account. But if you opt for any of the Roger Moore Bonds, this is the one, with a sensational opening ski sequence and Barbara Bach as one of the most fetching Bond girls.

License to Kill (1989).

This wasn’t so much the most underrated Bond film as the most ignored. The Welshman Timothy Dalton was a superb choice for Bond, and if this entry was somewhat low in pyrotechnics, so much the better. The title is ironic. Bond, out of favor with Her Majesty’s Secret Service, is bent on per- sonal revenge, and for the first time in the series he appears somewhat vulnerable— in this case, appealingly so. Robert Davi, as a Latin American drug lord, is the first believable Bond villain since Robert Shaw’s Grant in From Russia With Love , while Carey Lowell is terrific as the first postfeminist Bond girl. The finale, a chase down a winding mountain road in 16-wheel semis, may be the most sensational ending to any Bond film.

GoldenEye (1995).

The first of the Bond films with the Irishman Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye isn’t so much a film as a collection of well-executed set pieces beginning with an opening escape where Bond drives off a cliff on a motorcycle in pursuit of a plunging aircraft—well, you’ll just have to see it. Though too big and noisy, the film does have things to recommend it, including Dame Judi Dench as the new M and Famke Janssen as an assassin who crushes her victims to death with her thighs. Well, we all have to go sometime.

Allen Barra

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