The Man with the Golden Gun

It’s funny, but I’ve noticed that apart from the first 3 Connery films, the Bond films never seem to have a decent “run” of quality pictures. Anything that manages to be half decent and entertaining gets slapped down by an absolute clunker of a follow-up. Case in point, The Man with the Golden Gun.

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

 

I’m not even sure how to start talking about this one. I’m going to lay on my nudie lady cards on the table and say straight off that I don’t like this one. Whilst Live and Let Die had its tongue in its cheek, MWTGG‘s tongue is fighting for mouthspace with about 50 cocks. The film pretty much goes full-on comedy with cartoony action, silly one-liners and a general sense of fucking around at the expense of the audience that undermines what could have been a great story.

“You’re that secret agent! That English secret agent! From England!”

James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent a golden bullet with his number on it, leading him to believe he is the next target of the world-infamous assassin, Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) aka “the man with the golden gun”. Bond starts following a trail that will lead him from Macau to Hong Kong as he tries to track down the world’s most expensive killer. I really like the concept behind the story. It’s a refreshing change of pace from “mad bastard tries to take over the world” card that is so often played in the Bond films. Roger Moore is fully in “uncle telling inappropriate jokes at a wedding” mode with about the same amount of success. I really like Christopher Lee as Scaramanga, it’s just a shame they don’t really give him enough to sink his teeth into. Scaramanga is probably the most obvious dark version of Bond the series has had. It’s a nice touch that Scaramanga is a fan of Bond’s- even going as far as having a life-sized waxwork of 007 in his funhouse. Bond lass du jour is Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), who is so similar to the equally useless Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever it’s slightly unnerving. Goodnight starts out all interesting an’ shit, even turning down Bond by refusing to be one of his “passing fancies”, but the very next scene she’s in a shorty-short nightie trying to suck face with him. All she does is get captured and fuck things up. Just like Ms.Case she gets taken to the baddie’s lair for the final act and spends the explosion-filled climax in a bikini. Thankfully, there is one character who I didn’t hate- Scaramanga’s hard-done-by girlfriend Andrea (Maud Adams). Adams gives a nicely understated performance and her death is one of the only things in the film that has any resonance whatsoever.

Before I work the cinematic ribs some more with my flurry of earth-shattering wordpunches, I will note a couple of things I like about the film. I love the design of MI6’s topsy-turvy secret headquarters inside the wreckage of the RMS Queen Elizabeth. I like this awesome corkscrew stunt. I also quite like Scaramanga’s fucked-up funhouse. Yeah, it’s cheesy, but it’s pretty creepy too. I like the sense that Scaramanga sharpens his mad killing skillz using it. The way the golden gun is assembled out of everyday things like a pen and a cigarette lighter is pretty clever. Christ, that’s really about it. I will say this for the film though, it’s impossible to be bored by it. It chops and changes location, sequence and characters so much it’s quite a pacy flick. That doesn’t make it any good, however. It just makes it energetically shit.

If you watched that stunt vid up in that them thar previous paragraph, you’ll have noticed quite a few of the things that are wrong with the film. God knows why, but J.W. Pepper (Clifton James) makes another hefty appearance in this film, to the delight of absolutely fucking nobody. All he does this time is call all the locals “pointy-headed” and “brown”. Also, there’s that ludicrous slide whistle accompanying that seriously impressive stunt, which sabotages its awesomeness almost entirely. Actually, let’s talk about the women a bit more. Something I wish they’d expanded a bit more on is Scaramanga’s relationship with the unfulfilled Andrea. She’s sick of being in a loveless relationship and only getting laid before Scaramanga’s next hit. She’s the one who sent the bullet to MI6 to get Bond to waste ol’ Mangie. There’s a damn creepy scene where she’s in bed all alluring like and Scaramanga floats in and starts caressing her with the golden gun. Brr. Actually, there’s quite a bit of gun sexualisation on display. If you can tear your senses away from Lulu’s terrible title track with abysmal lyrics during the opening titles, you’ll notice there’s a lot of gunbarrel handjobs going on. Goodnight is also terribly written, constantly wanting to bed Bond despite being treated like second-hand shit.

“Ours is the loneliest profession, Mr. Bond.”

The Man with the Golden Gun is just plain bad. It’s not the worst thing evarr and doesn’t begin to plumb the depths that Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever do, but it’s pretty fucking rotten. The thing that I can’t get over is the wasted potential. Lee is fantastic at playing villains and I really get the sense he’s trying to bust through the rest of the sodden mass that is the film. There’s so much odd crap in this film I haven’t even had time to mention the flying car or the fake third nipple, each of which would have usually had their own paragraph if there wasn’t such a deluge of shite to deal with. One to forget.

Live and Let Die

New day, new Bond.

Live and Let Die (1973)

With Connery’s tuxedo and toupée firmly hung up, it was time for Roger Moore to step up to the plate, fresh from TV spy stardom as Simon Templar in The Saint. Some people can’t stand Roger Moore as Bond, citing him as too jokey, but I think Moore’s great. Whilst I think that him treating the whole thing as one big joke can be a little irritating, I find that when he takes the role seriously, he’s fantastic. He’s pretty good here too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“I know who you are, what you are, and why you’ve come. You have made a mistake. You will not succeed.”

James Bond (Roger Moore) is sent to New York to investigate the murders of several British agents.He soon twigs there may be a link between druglord Mr. Big and diplomat Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto). Whilst snooping, Bond encounters Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a high priestess with the power to predict the future using tarot cards. To make matters weirder, Mr. Big also seems to have links with a voodoo priest by the name of Baron Samedi (Geoffrey Holder). Live and Let Die‘s a strange one. It’s pretty much a blaxploitation film starring the whitest hero imaginable. Plus, it doesn’t hold back when it comes to voodoo and the occult. This is probably the most experimental Bond has got and I can appreciate it for that. The story’s pretty decent, although it does come across as a “greatest hits” compilation at times, especially when the sharks come out of nowhere for the final showdown between Bond and Kananga.

Roger Moore leaves his own mark on Bond. He’s more of an English gentleman and significantly less vicious than Connery’s 007 was capable of being, but he’s lightyears ahead of Lazenby. I love Yaphet Kotto in this film. He’s erudite and measured but also incredibly cruel. He’s completely fearless when it comes to the Mr.Big persona too, cutting Bond’s famous introduction short by saying the immortal line: “Names is for tombstones, baby! Y’all take this honkey out and waste him! Now!” Jane Seymour gives a memorable turn as Solitaire, managing to come across as naive and sheltered without being weak and useless. She is also so ridiculously beautiful in this film I can’t even say her name out loud without sighing like a lovelorn 12 year old girl. David Hedison also finally gives us an interesting Felix Leiter. Scene stealer for me though was Geoffrey Holder’s Baron Samedi. I fucking love this guy. He’s like a cross between David Walliams and Ainsley Harriott.

There’s a fun energy here that was lacking in Diamonds Are Forever. Live and Let Die is certainly pretty camp at times (the aforementioned Baron Samedi embodying most of that camp) but it’s not painful to sit through. It’s actually really enjoyable. Bond has been rewritten to play to Moore’s strengths and at least to me, it works. OHMSS showed us the pitfalls of not playing to your actor’s forte and it shows here.The story’s pretty decent, although it does come dangerously close to retreading old ground at times. There are some brilliant scenes like the fantastic opening where we see an agent staking out a restaurant before a Dixieland funeral procession comes past. The agent asks who the funeral is for and is told it’s for him, before being stabbed in the side. It’s morbid and incredible memorable. The stunts are in a league of their own. This is were Bond films really started pushing the action barrier. There’s a well-executed bus chase and a still awesome boat chase around the bayou which features some incredible jumps. There’s also the super-famous bit where Bond uses several angry crocodiles as stepping stones to get to safety.

As for the bad, there are a couple of things. I’m really not a fan of Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James). He’s meant to be this dumb hick comic relief cop character, but he grated on every single one of my last nerves. He really isn’t as funny as the film thinks he is and we spend waay too long in his company during the boat sequence. Had he been used sparingly he might have been alright. One of his last lines to Bond is pretty entertaining. After finally catching up to Bond after the destructive chase, Pepper screams “What are you? Some kinda doomsday machine, boy?!”. Also, I fucking hate Kananga’s demise. It’s ridiculously cartoony and  spoils the ending for me. It’s a bad send-off to a great character. Talking of characters, we have the proto-Jaws in Tee-Hee (Julius Harris) who “unexpectedly” turns up when Bond and Solitaire are on the train home. The guy’s not bad, but I didn’t need another Red Grant style claustrophobic scrap to add to the sense of déjà vu I already had from previous scenes.  Also a quick mention of the first proper swear word in a Bond film. There had been a few mentions of “bitch” before, but I’m certain this is the first time “shit” has been uttered.

“Oh, a snake. I forgot, I should have told you. You should never go in there without a mongoose.”

It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I think Live and Let Die is great. It’s fucking strange, granted, but good all the same. To top it off, you have one of the best Bond title songs ever in the form of Paul McCartney and Wings’ song of the same name. It’s a shame the opening titles aren’t all that. Still, it’s a much-needed chaser to the offal and turd cocktail that was Diamonds are Forever.

Diamonds Are Forever

End of the Lazenby and Connery era, ladies and gents. After this review it’s all cocked eyebrows for the next week or so.

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

After On Her Majesty’s Secret Service didn’t do particularly well at the all-important box office, another rethink was needed. The Bond producers were apparently happy with Lazenby and offered him a seven picture deal. Lazenby’s agent, however, convinced him that Bond was a pop culture has-been and that he had no place in the go-go ’70s. On the strength of that, Lazers declined. So, it was back to square one in terms of casting Bond. They tempted Connery back with a then record amount of $1.25 million (about 7 million in 2012 money) and sweetened the deal by backing two films of Sean’s choice. With that, Connery was back in the tuxedo. Part of me (my fucking brain) wishes he hadn’t bothered.

“That’s quite a nice little nothing you’re almost wearing. I approve.”

Whilst investigating a diamond smuggling operation, James Bond (Sean Connery) finds out his arch-nemesis Blofeld (Charles Gray) is behind it all, planning to use the diamonds for some sort of deadly laser satellite thing. Bond enlists the help of smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St.John) to help him take the face shifting bastard down. The plot isn’t too bad, although it hops on a bus destined for WTFtown about halfway through. Connery doesn’t seem like his heart’s in it anymore (as it probably wasn’t) and it’s a shame this is his final (official, you goddamn pedants) time as Bond. You Only Live Twice was a great swansong, but oh well. Can’t be helped. Charles Gray (previously seen as Henderson, Bond’s contact in Tokyo in YOLT) gives a decent performance as Blofeld. Certainly more interesting than Kojak did. Jill St. John is lovely, but Tiffany Case has to be one of the most useless Bond women to date, constantly fucking things up left, right and centre. Her introduction is interesting, changing her hair colour and sexy attire to mess with Bond’s head, but she soon turns into a dumb bikini babe tottering around from scene to scene.

I don’t mind a bit of campness in the Bond films. Some of the classics have more than a little in them and that’s part of their charm. However, this is fucking ridiculous. Diamonds Are Forever is so ludicrously camp and unforgivably shit it’s embarrassing to watch. There is visual buffoonery (an elephant playing slots, getting a jackpot and celebrating being the one that sticks in my mind and craw the most), a character who’s a walking knob gag set-up in the shape of Plenty O’Toole (no, really) and all sorts of other japery that wouldn’t be out of place in a particularly bad Carry On… film. I genuinely had to fight myself from turning it off. My guess is that after OHMSS failed to endear itself to audiences with its darker tone, the producers felt they needed to dial down the serious aspects and make Bond light and fun again. Thing is, they threw moderation out the window and span the dial all the way round to “reprehensibly wacky”.

There are a couple of really ugly things about the film too. For starters, it looks rougher than an inside-out dog. I’m not sure this was down to budget constraints (maybe Connery’s astronomical fee meant less funding for the polish department) or whether the early ’70s were an awkward transitional period film technology-wise. Either way, it ain’t pretty. The second instance of ugliness comes from the script itself. The opening scene is meant to be really badass, with Bond going around beating people up and interrogating them as to the whereabouts of Blofeld. There are some unconvincing stage punches until he meets a bikini-clad woman lounging in the sun. They share some flirtatious banter before Bond whips off her bikini top and starts strangling her with it. What the shit. There’s also the duo of killers, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint (Putter Smith and Bruce Glover) who are portrayed as GAY and are therefore BAD. They’re weaksauce villains, but the film seems particularly spiteful towards them.

I’ve been wracking my brain to think of something I like about Diamonds Are Forever. There are a few small moments. I like the bit when Bond meets acrobatic duo Bambi & Thumper (Lola Larson and Trina Parks). The two are gymnastic bodyguards and flip and dropkick Bond all over the place. It’s fun to see Bond out of his depth, at least for a small while. There’s a bit where Bond is trapped in a coffin inside a crematorium oven which manages to be quite tense. I quite like the car chase as well, especially when Bond drives a Mustang on two wheels, but as with all the above examples, this joy is fleeting. Soon enough it’s back to “fnarr, fnarring” in my face.

“One is never too old to learn from a master, Mr. Kidd.”

If you bothered to read the paragraphs above, you will have gathered that I think Diamonds Are Forever is a terrible film. It’s hellbent on being the dumbest, campest thing out there and is so far away from good Bonding it’s almost laughable. Fucking dire(monds).

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Been looking forward to rewatching this one.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

With Connery vowing to not return as Bond after the insane media circus that was his life at the time finally got to him, the hunt for a new Bond was on. Over 400 actors were auditioned (including a young Timothy Dalton), but the part eventually went to Australian model George Lazenby, a man with very little previous experience, but semi-famous in Britain for his “Big Fry” ads. It was a risky move, but then a lot of things about OHMSS are pretty bold changes in direction.

“There’s always something formal about the point of a pistol.”

James Bond (George Lazenby) investigates Blofeld’s (Telly Savalas) new plan involving holding the world to ransom using chemical warfare. During the mission, Bond meets the troubled but beautiful Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (or Tracy for short), played by Diana Rigg. Bond and Tracy fall in love and the two start making plans for their future while Bond ensures there will be a future worth living. OHMSS is the black sheep of the Bond family (that’s the official Bond family, the two unofficial ones are treated like ginger-haired stepchildren). Lazenby has a tough job replacing Connery. He’s alright, but he struggles with the off the cuff quips and inherent charm that came naturally to Connery. Unhappily, the script seems littered with one-liners that even Sean would have a hard time with. Diana Rigg is fantastic as Tracy, giving us a much more complex and layered Bond girl than seen before. She can be aloof, bratty, vulnerable, independent and stubborn whilst simultaneously being completely endearing. It’s easy to see why 007 fell for her. Telly Savalas gives a pretty uninteresting turn as Blofeld. I prefer him as Kojak. Be on the lookout for a brief appearance by a young Joanna Lumley too.

I can’t help but feel OHMSS would have been better with Connery for the sake of continuity if nothing else. To introduce a new actor playing Bond and have the character have to deal with the emotional heft of (SPOILER, I guess, but it has been 43 years) finally settling down only to have his new bride murdered is the wrong move in my opinion. OHMSS is a film with an identity crisis. The film has a horrible habit of emphasising that this film is part of what’s come before. The (sub par, apart from the awesome Barry theme) opening titles feature pictures of Dr.No, Goldfinger and the like, along with Bond’s previous squeezes. There’s also a crushingly shit bit of fourth wall breaking where Tracy speeds away after a failed suicide attempt. Georgey Lazers says “This never happened to the other fellow!” and looks directly at camera. Cue titles and vomit. There’s even a bit where Bond has “quit” MI6 and is cleaning out his desk, coming across Honey Ryder’s knife, Red Grant’s garrote watch and his breathing apparatus from Thunderball, all with their respective musical cues. That’s not to mention the dwarf cleaner whistling “Goldfinger”. Rather than fun little nods, these strike me as desperate attempts to get the audience to accept Lazers as Bond, presumably so that they’ll feel something at the end.

So, things I like. The action scenes are pretty good. The hand-to-hand fighting is more vicious than we’ve seen before, for starters. There’s all the fun winter sports bits, including the series’ first ski-chase sequence which holds up pretty well, excluding the dodgy bluescreen work. Tracy is a great character. The photography of Switzerland is lovely. The Barry theme is one of his best. Plus, I like the love story between Bond and Tracy. It doesn’t feel forced and manages to quite affecting, especially with Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in the World” accompanying their courtship. Also, something I hadn’t noticed until now was Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) at the wedding. She’s happy for Bond but she’s completely heartbroken at the same time. Hats off to Maxwell in this scene, Moneypenny’s unrequited love is almost as devastating as the end.

Speaking of which, dat ending. It’s probably the biggest emotional punch the series has. I really think Lazenby does a great job here. The bit that always gets me are Bond’s last lines when the policeman shows up. Cradling Tracy’s lifeless body, Bond turns to him and says in a quiet but quaking voice: “It’s all right. It’s quite all right, really. She’s having a rest. We’ll be going on soon. There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.” Fuck. It’s devastating. Then the film just ends, credits rolling past the fatal bullet hole in the windscreen. It’s a hell of a brave move. Unfortunately, just after this, the triumphant Monty Norman theme comes in. Not sure why they wanted to wreck the mood like that, but whatever.

“This department is not concerned with your personal problems.”

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a weird one. On one hand, it’s got a decent plot, some good action and an emotional slant that other Bonds lack. On the other, Georgey Lazers ain’t all that great and the film is pretty plodding in parts. I can see why some Bondians love OHMSS, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

You Only Live Twice

Another day, another Bond #YOLT.

You Only Live Twice (1967)

 

You Only Live Twice was the first Bond film to be dramatically different from the source novel. The original book was all about Bond dealing with the death of his wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the culture shock of adapting to Japanese life. Obviously, OHMSS hadn’t been filmed yet, and previous screenwriter Richard Maibaum was unavailable, so the studio hired Roald Dahl (there aren’t too many people named “Roald”, but yes, the BFG fella) to pull several loose ideas into a single cohesive narrative. Where the novel was quite dark and brooding, the film is more frothy fun than anything else and divides opinion amongst Bond fans as to whether it’s great or a crusty old tossrag.

“As you can see, I am about to inaugurate a little war. In a matter of hours after America and Russia have annihilated each other. We shall see a new power dominating the world.”

After both Russian and American spacecraft go missing, each country does what came naturally during the Cold War: blame each other. With World War III looking extremely likely, the British government suspect foul play and send 007 (Sean Connery) to Japan to investigate. It soon becomes apparent that head of SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence) is behind it all, conducting his nefarious scheme from inside a hollowed-out volcano. With the world on the brink of war, it’s up to Bond and an army of ninjas (fuck yes) to stop him. Frothy and light-hearted it may be, but at least it pops along at a decent pace and is actually consistently enjoyable unlike Thunderball. Dahl’s screenplay is decent enough with the “outside aggressor trying to trick countries into warring” angle used in quite a few subsequent Bond flicks. Connery is fine, having had the whole Bond thing down two films ago. Bond has two significant love interests, Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi) and Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama), both of whom are great. I was disappointed when Aki buys the farm about halfway through, but Kissy has her charms too. Donald Pleasence gives an oft-parodied performance as the disfigured Blofeld. My favourite character has to be “Tiger” Tanaka, the Japanese equivalent of M. Played by Tetsuro Tamba, the guy’s a pleasure to watch. I smile every time he calls 007 “Bond-san”.

One of my goals when starting this foolhardy Bond review-a-thon was to pinpoint what traditions began where and I’m happy to say that the whole “Bond theme playing when Bond does cool shit” thing started with this one, during the highly inventive and unusual “Little Nellie” sequence where Bond takes on enemy helicopters in an armed-to-the-teeth autogyro of his own. I think this sequence sums up the film nicely. If you can’t get on board with the idea of 007 flying round killin’ dudes in something that looks like he picked it up from the Early Learning Centre, then the film’s silly charms will be wasted on you. If you like your Bond serious, look elsewhere.  The action is a marked improvement too, with a properly epic third act where Bond and a hundred ninjas rappel into the volcano lair. It’s old school action, with people having the tendency to fall of gangwalks or to be thrown into dramatic acrobatics by grenade blasts.

Despite this Bond being lighter in tone than previous entries, that doesn’t mean that the filmmaking process was taken any less seriously. A lot of people have commented that the film belongs to production designer Ken Adam, who created some astounding sets for the film, most famous of all being Blofeld’s volcano lair which is magnificent. The guy’s a genius. The cinematography is beautiful too, especially during the wedding sequence. Coupled with John Barry’s gorgeous score, it’s truly memorable and gets you square in the feels. It’s just a shame Robbie Williams lamed it up with his song “Millennium”, the smug bellend.

The film ain’t 100% brilliant though. There are a couple of characters and events that don’t really work. For instance, I understand faking Bond’s death, but did MI6 really have to go through the rigmarole of staging it as well? Couldn’t they have just passed along an obituary to the papers? I realise this would have made the pre-credits sequence duller than a thousand Thunderballs, but whatever. Also, I don’t really understand the point of the Helga Brandt character. She’s aptly played by Karin Dor, but she seems like a pale facsimile of Fiona Volpe from the previous film. There’s also a scene where she has Bond helpless and tied to a chair. Her orders were to kill him, but instead she frees him, sleeps with him (naturally) and feigns running away with him, leaving it up to the point where they’re flying home to betray him and parachute safely out of a nosediving plane. Doesn’t make a lick of sense. Having said that, this is a film where we’re meant to buy that a 6’2 Scotsman can be disguised as an Asian using a wig, a body wax and some eye prosthetics. I suppose you can’t examine these things too closely.

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.”

When I owned all the Bonds on VHS, You Only Live Twice was my most watched of the Connery era. I can see why. It’s escapist fun, pure and simple. It won’t be for everyone and there are better Bonds in the series, but I feel it’s been unfairly maligned.

Thunderball

Urgh, just for a minute there, I was having fun with this whole Bond thing.

Thunderball (1965)

I’m going to level with you straight away. I’ve never liked Thunderball. After the first three ever-improving Bonds, it’s a letdown. I pride myself on being able to see other points of view. I don’t have to agree with them, but I can respect them. However, I have no Christ-punching idea why Thunderball keeps turning up on “best of Bond” lists. No clue whatsoever.  It’s bloated, uncoordinated and criminally boring in places. Maybe it just gets a free pass because Connery’s in it.

“What exactly do you do?”
“Oh, I travel… a sort of licensed troubleshooter.”

After some pre-credits nonsense with a jetpack, James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent to the Bahamas to investigate the theft of two nuclear missiles. Turns out SPECTRE plan on using the weapons to hold the UK and U.S. to ransom, threatening to reduce a non-specific city in both to radioactive rubble. Bond starts becoming suspicious of the eyepatch wearing Largo (Adolfo Celi) and enraptured by his niece/prisoner/lover Domino (Claudine Auger). The plot’s alright. It’s rather a simple story overcomplicated with needless clutter. I’m sure I don’t need to comment on Connery any more, so I’ll skip to Auger’s Domino. I kinda like Domino. She’s not very interesting and doesn’t have much to do outside of waiting from Bond to free her from Largo’s tyranny, but she’s alright. She’s nowhere near the firecracker that “Pooshy” was in Goldfinger. Largo is pretty boring too. He’s well played by Celi, I just think SPECTRE’s second-in-command should be a bit more charismatic than this. Snatching something fun from the jaws of dull is Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), pretty much the only entertaining character in the film. Much like Red Grant in From Russia with Love, Volpe can be seen as a dark reflection of Bond, enjoying using her sexuality to get the better of her victims. Awesomely, she tends to have sex with people to pass the time until SPECTRE goons show up to take out her lover. She also manages to hit Bond right in the ego after the deed, pretty much the only woman in all 22 to do so. She’s like a black widow or praying mantis. She throws how uninteresting Domino is into sharp contrast.

I think the main problem with Thunderball is the pacing. Quite a lot of it takes place underwater, which really doesn’t help things, especially when the same dreamlike John Barry motif is used over and over again.There are a lot of scenes of characters just bouncing exposition off each other where a little character development would have gone a long way. Largo likes and owns sharks and he keeps his niece as a sexual prisoner. That’s basically all I could tell you about him and he’s the film’s main villain. The only underwater scene that actually works is the big undersea battle between armies of divers. It’s inventive and surprisingly vicious, especially with the liberal use of harpoon guns. The opening sequence where Bond fights a man in drag before jetpacking away is groan inducing. It’s just too silly, even for a Bond caper. There’s also more use of speeding up the film which reduces the potentially exciting ending sequence aboard the Disco Volante to a farcical glob of spunk. I get that there were technical limitations back in the ’60s, but I refuse to believe that this looked anything but naff even back then.

Anything good? A few things. Connery is still fun to watch as Bond. The aforementioned Volpe is great. The underwater battle is good. The big sets by Ken Adam are predictably good, with SPECTRE’s huge parlour and massive table really having the wow factor.The title sequence also screams classic Bond with its swimming silhouetted ladies and big Tom Jones song. There’s also one great bit where Bond and Domino are relaxing on the beach and are being stalked by a villain. After Domino’s warning, Bond picks up his nearby harpoon gun and spears him, pinning him to a tree. His kiss-off line?: “I think he got the point.” Cheesy, yes, but it made me chuckle. Oh- and grumpy old Q showing up in a loud Hawaiian shirt is worth a mention too.

“Try to be a little less than your frivolous self, 007.”

Thunderball isn’t great. All the elements of a good Bond adventure are here, but they never convincingly hang together. Plus, for a lot of the time, the film is really quite tedious to sit through. It’s not the worst Bond film ever as I’ve still got that to come (the prospect of having to rewatch it and say something more constructive than “it eats dicks” is daunting), but it definitely isn’t in the same league as the preceding flicks. It’s not bombastic enough to be fun like Goldfinger and it’s not a decent enough spy thriller to be like From Russia with Love. Pretty damn poor.

Goldfinger

It’s now time for not only one of the most famous Bond adventures, but probably one of the most famous films period. No pressure then…

Goldfinger (1964)

Let’s revisit the ’60s for a moment. The early 1960s to be precise. After the successful novels and two films, Bond was doing pretty well at the box office and Sean Connery was becoming well known. However, when Goldfinger came out in 1964 everything changed. The film was a gigantic hit, smashing records like a Hulk in a china shop. As a result, Bond became massive and Connery became a household name. Whilst the quality of the film was certainly a factor in terms of repeat viewings and hugely popular double-bill showings with Dr.No, there’s another possible reason. Goldfinger was the first Bond film to directly appeal to American audiences. Bond travelled to the States in this one, C.I.A. agent Felix Leiter had a bigger part and the villain’s dastardly scheme revolved around Fort Knox and crippling the American economy. The film also feels glitzier and more brazen than its two predecessors too. I think this element is key to understanding how the films took off from this point, both in terms of popularity and scale.

“Auric Goldfinger. Sounds like a French nail varnish.”

James Bond (Sean Connery) is drafted in to keep an eye on Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe, dubbed by Michael Collins). In doing so, Bond uncovers not only Goldfinger’s huge smuggling operation, but his plan concerning Fort Knox, America’s biggest gold depository. Along the way, Bond is introduced to Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata), a mute, brick shithouse of a man with a razor brimmed hat and his personal pilot, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). The story’s awesome and became the cheatsheet for many Bond films after this one. Again, Connery is great, this time giving 007 more of a humourous streak than seen before and a propensity for dry witticisms (something which was taken to the nth degree by Roger Moore). Gert Frobe is the fucking bomb in this film. His performance is so good, many people still don’t know he was dubbed. Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore is the first of Bond’s women to have a real independent character and even manages to resist Bond’s apparently irresistible charms.

Goldfinger contains so many iconic moments it’s ridiculous. There’s the fatal painting of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), Oddjob cutting off a statue’s head with his hat, Bond’s Aston Martin DB5 with all its gadgets and not forgetting that laser scene. All the aforementioned moments are timeless too. Whilst not as shocking as it was, the sight of a lifeless Shirley Eaton covered head to toe in gold paint is still very striking. It’s also a fantastic way to make Bond’s beef with Goldfinger personal, rather than just professional. The laser scene is still fantastic too. I forgot how well the character of Goldfinger was written. With the laser inching its way to an increasingly worried looking Bond’s groin. His response to Bond’s “Do you expect me to talk?” is one of my favourite Bond moments ever: “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!”. He also gets an amazing speech later about the progress of man surging forward in every area apart from crime.

Goldfinger was the film that set the formula that was to be followed for decades to come. Firstly, the title sequence actually has the title song, famously performed by Shirley “Lungs” Bassey. Whilst taking its cue from From Russia with Love‘s fun with projecting stuff on other stuff, it’s still visually interesting. Also, for the first time in the series we have Q (Desmond “Thug Life” Llewelyn) grumpily showing 007 his new toys and his fully loaded Aston Martin. The action’s more accomplished too. There’s a decent car chase where Bond gets to try out his gadgets like the in-built smokescreen and oil slick. The climactic smackdown between Bond and Oddjob is great too, if a bit tame by today’s ultra-violent standards.

Despite what the tiresome old farts in pubs tell you, Goldfinger is not a perfect film. Plot wise, the addition of Tilly Masterson (Tania Mallet) doesn’t really add anything. She’s only in the film for about ten minutes before her neck loses a fight with Oddjob’s hat anyway. Yeah, she may be included to give 007 another reason for taking down Goldfinger, but it’s superfluous. He’s already emotionally involved. There’s also a bit where Goldfinger is outlining his plan to knock over Fort Knox using very elaborate means like scale models, retractable floors and furniture that whirs into place at the flick of a switch. Thing is, Goldfinger gasses every last motherfucker in the room. I understand this scene was to explain the plan to Bond (who is hidden underneath the model Fort Knox) and therefore us as the audience, but it still makes no logical sense.

I hate to say it, but Bond comes across like a bit of a wanker in this one. First he attacks my iPod by saying that drinking improperly chilled Dom Perignon is “just as bad as listening to The Beatles without earmuffs!” Secondly, and more importantly, his treatment of women is questionable. I’m not going to make a thing of this as there are plenty of other angry corners of the ‘Net calling Bond a sexist pig. It’s quite noticeable in Goldfinger though. He dismisses Dink, a bikini wearing masseuse, when Felix comes along for reasons of “man talk” but not before slapping her arse. He also forces himself on “Pooshy” Galore. Luckily, Miss Galore is fine with it, but it’s still sexually aggressive. Also (and this is really nit-picky) but the film has a strange tendency to speed the film up. It’s especially obvious in the opening scene where Bond has a decoy seagull on his head whilst infiltrating a depot from the water. We see Bond take off the fake bird in fast-forward. It’s really odd. I can understand using it in the car sequence though. It can be forgiven for that.

“Choose your next witticism carefully Mr. Bond, it may be your last.”

Anyway, enough of the post-modern deconstruction stuff that I hate. Goldfinger is a fantastic film. There’s a very good reason why it was used as a template again and again. It gets the balance of humour, action, gadgets and all that fun spy stuff just right. Damn good.