Reviews of all 21 Bond films* as politically incorrect as 007.
*up to Casino Royale
Dr. No (1962)
No, it’s not the A-Team in that flame-throwing heap of scrap-metal with a dragon’s face painted on it – it’s special effects in 1962! Still, I love it when a plan comes together…especially if it’s in Jamaica. The country holds a special place in my heart, as it did for Ian Fleming, who penned his novels there in his GoldenEye villa, just a few miles from where I got married. A lot of critics balk at the sexist depiction of the women in this and all subsequent Bond films, but the nails-on-a-chalkboard offensive moment for me is when Bond sends Jamaican counterpart Quarrel to “fetch my shoes.” Doctor, no he didn’t!
From Russia With Love (1963)
Back in the day, discreet videotaping of a couple having sex (Bond and Tatiana Romanova) required a giant mirror and a reel-to-reel film crew. These days Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton can throw something together quickly without even renting out Pinewood Studios. For cheap thrills in 1963, you had to head down to your local theater for a good girl-on-girl gypsy fight like the one in this film, a sort of 1960’s version of Jell-O wrestling. Plus, when can you say “garrote wire” more than once in a two-hour span? Thanks to Robert Shaw as strangle-happy heavy “Red” Grant, you’re afforded the luxury! Some people don’t realize that Shaw also played Quint in “Jaws.” OK, I am some people. My friend Brian had to tell me that. I’m gonna need a bigger brain.
With the exception of perhaps the “The Dirty Dozen,” this film contains the most hilarious background murmur sequence ever to occur outside a community theater. When Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) reveals an immense three-dimensional map beneath a trick pool table, the gangster extras offer such Academy-worthy dialogue as “What’s with that trick pool table?” and “What is this, some kind of fun house?” For more dialogue fun, note that Frobe spoke almost no English and had to have all of his lines dubbed, including the infamous “No, Mr. Bond – I expect you to die!” Re-watch this film and see if you agree that there’s an uncanny physical resemblance between Frobe and James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano).
Ever get so frustrated trying to figure out the lyrics to R.E.M.’s “Radio Free Europe” that you want to shoot Michael Stipe in the chest with a spear gun? Well, James Bond does it here! OK, so it’s not really the R.E.M. front man, but actor Philip Locke (Vargas) looks enough like Stipe that you’ll be able to experience the catharsis and get back to loving the band. Continuing the tradition of hiring actors for the key villain role who don’t speak English, Adolfo Celi (Largo) also had his lines dubbed. Were the budgets not big enough for these films? I guess not, because they even remade “Thunderball” a second time as “Never Say Never Again,” thanks to legal disputes over story rights with Ian Fleming collaborator Kevin McClory.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
“Why do Asian girls taste different than all other girls?” Perhaps a better question is “Why do you expect us to believe thick eyebrows make Sean Connery look Asian?” Or maybe even a third question: “Who cares?” In one of the quintessential Bond films, you get Donald Pleasence as the best Blofeld ever and the fodder (ninja camps, volcano hideouts, white cats) for 40 years of parody by Mike Myers and countless others. If you think Dr. Evil is hilarious and you never saw “You Only Live Twice,” rent this picture and find out what’s really so frickin’ funny about Austin Powers.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
When new Bond George Lazenby arrives at the ski lodge of Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas), the array of international beauties is so diverse, it looks like the producers of a Benetton ad and Sesame Street accidentally booked the same studio (minus the obligatory handicapped person). Alas, Bond still ends up with a girl as white as Savalas’ bald head. And though “Telly” is also an actual Sesame Street character, you’ll have to wait until “For Your Eyes Only” to see Blofeld in a wheelchair. Also of note in this film is the incredible rigmarole Bond goes through to steal copies of top secret documents, crane-hoisting a giant Xerox copier in a suitcase to an upper floor office. This is one of many instances of future technology envisioned in a Bond film that would later become commonplace reality. The theft is successful, as is the burglary of Roger Daltrey’s hair by Bond’s assistant, Campbell.
Diamonds are Forever (1971)
Bond lives twice again, both on-screen (with a phony burial at sea) and in real life, as Sean Connery returns for an encore. But it’s not just the good guys who reincarnate. Charles Gray, who appeared in You Only Live Twice as Mr. Henderson, is the new Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Add a side of sausage (Jimmy Dean plays Willard Whyte) and a cake with a bomb in it and you’ll barely have room for seconds. Plus, you know how I know you’re gay, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint? No, it doesn’t take “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”’s Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd to tell me. It’s because you mention that someone is “quite attractive…for a lady” and actually hold hands in one scene. Pretty groundbreaking stuff for 1971.
Live and Let Die (1973)
The opening sequence features the cheesiest fake cobra you’ve ever seen. Perhaps they should have had 7-Up “un-cola” guy Geoffrey Holder be the holder of the un-cobra, too, to make it more convincing, but he does just fine as voodoo priest Baron Samedi. Alternatively, the “yeah, riiiight” scene of Bond hopping, Pitfall-style, across three crocodiles actually happened. It was performed in Jamaica by stunt coordinator/croc farm owner Ross Kananga, who lost his balance (and almost a foot) during one take. At least they named the head villain after him. Samedi, Kananga and Tee Hee (think Dr. Hook) get top baddie billing in this film, but my favorite is Whisper, the vocally challenged and somehow adorably fat killer played by, appropriately enough, Earl Jolly Brown.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
“Why must I be a man in a suitcase?” This Police song would have been an appropriate theme for the movie, since Fantasy Island’s Herve Villechaize gets stuffed into an American Tourister, but the film already had a single-name singer on board – Lulu, who belts out “The Man With the Golden Gu-hun” so enthusiastically you almost feel like Shirley Bassey is back again. While the theme song and soundtrack are fantastic, the use of a goofy slide whistle to punctuate a miraculous car-jumps-bridge stunt is completely baffling. Modern filmgoers will recognize golden gunner Christopher Lee as Saruman in “The Lord of the Rings” and Count Dooku from the “Star Wars” films.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Bond uses his licence to kill in one of the most beautifully cold ways of the series – remember the tie slap after “Where’s Fekkesh?” This movie contains plenty of Roger Moore fluff, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by the first appearance of Jaws, an incredible opening (as in parachute-opening) sequence and Barbara Bach as a rrrowr-rrrowr-rrrussian spy. If you go back and look at anybody’s yearbook picture from 1977, you’re bound to laugh yourself silly, but somehow Bach looks just as gorgeous 30 years later. For silliness, you’ll have to settle for no less than four cartoonish uy-uy-uy headshake double takes by extras surprised to see Bond in extraordinary situations (e.g., driving a car out of the ocean).
The moon may not be made of cheese, but “Moonraker” certainly is. Jaws’ sappy love story has no teeth, metal or otherwise, and the outer-space fight scene makes the underwater battle in “Thunderball” look like “Saving Private Ryan.” Add a woman fleeing into the woods to escape vicious dogs (and running right by the golf cart she rode in on in the process) and you end up with less from Moore. “Never Say Never Again” is not an official Bond film, but if I had the choice to take one film out of the series, this would be it.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
For film nuts, here’s one of the two best pistachio sequences in movie history (the other being the scene in “Naked Gun” where Leslie Nielsen blocks himself into a stakeout car with too many shells). When I was 10, this film was on a pay movie channel named Spotlight every six hours or so. I watched it every time, then spent afternoons with my idiot friends by the pool trying to replicate the crossbow-bolt-in-the-back belly flop of villain Hector Gonzales. Our loyalty didn’t save Spotlight from folding in 1983, however. Those of you that remember the channel can see some of the classic Spotlight intro footage on YouTube, and those of you don’t remember Spotlight can tell Group A what the hell “YouTube” is.
Crotchety. No, I’m not talking about old-ass Roger Moore (55 during filming). I’m talking about multiple, memorable crotch scenes in which 1) Bond blows away a giant ornament at the bottom of a stone banister to save his Faberge eggs, and 2) the Octopussy girls setting a silver-screen record for camel-toes in red jumpsuits. Many critics complain about Moore’s “embarrassing” clown suit disguise, but it is no more emasculating than his rumpled face and hair while riding the G-force tester in “Moonraker” or being defeated by a back-stretching machine at a spa in “Thunderball.” This picture also features my vote for all-time low Bond theme (Rita Coolidge’s “All-Time High,” slightly edging out “Moonraker”), and a Yo-Yo with a saw blade that you’ll never see in a Duncan catalog.
A View to a Kill (1985)
A theme song by Duran Duran (a.k.a. Taylor Taylor Taylor), Christopher Walken in one of only 248 appearances as a despicable, smarmy villain, Grace Jones as a demolition woman and the best blimp scene ever. That is, until Harrison Ford delivered his famous “no ticket” line in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” starring former Bond Sean Connery as Indy’s dad. Oh, the humanity! Bond titles have always been interesting, but this is the first of a string of names that really seemed promotional without quite making any sense. Which is why I co-opted it for the title of this list.
The Living Daylights (1987)
Want to have the living daylights scared out of you? Try hanging on to a 900-pound loaded cargo net attached to the back of a Hercules jet at 120 miles per hour, like stuntmen B.J. Worth and Jake Lombard did for this film. Alternatively, try replacing Roger Moore as the new James Bond after 14 years. Timothy Dalton gets way too much criticism for his two outings as 007. The same critics who mocked Connery and Moore as fat and old in their later films are quick to assassinate the new guy. Yet if you go back and watch these two films, you’ll see Dalton doing exactly what Daniel Craig is being canonized for now – portraying Bond as the tarnished, human secret agent that appeared in Ian Fleming’s novels. The main thing that upsets me about this film is that Maryam D’Abo looks a lot like my old girlfriend. As for Joe Don Baker, I can’t appreciate him as a cocky villain unless Fletch is there to shatter a framed picture of him and Tommy Lasorda.
Licence to Kill (1989)
And a licence to spell “license” with a “c,” reminding us that this famous Bond chap is British, however enthusiastically the U.S. has embraced him. To continue my previous indignation, my fellow Americans are still up in arms over Timothy Dalton’s interpretation of Bond, whom many have labeled too boring or over-dramatic. I actually thought the classically trained Shakespearean actor was pretty good in both of his outings as James Bond, but then again, I live in a country that made Keanu Reeves a legend. What really upset me was the Leiter biter scene. Messing with Felix Leiter is like telling Miss Moneypenny she’s been downsized. A Pipless Gladys Knight does a fine job with the theme song, while Talisa Soto’s Lupe is just…fine.
This time around, Pierce Brosnan wasn’t under contract for “Remington Steele,” and thus was available to become the new Bond. What many people don’t remember is that this was also the first appearance of the new “M.” If you’re going to make a bold move like replacing Bernard Lee with a female leader, you’d better pick a winner, and the filmmakers wisely acquired Judi Dench. While Bond films are the quintessential serial movies, this installment also features a couple of 21st century trilogy stars: “The Lord of the Rings”’ Sean Bean (Boromir) and a pre-X-Men Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, a classic Bond girl double entendre.
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
What’s better than Yo-Yo from “Octopussy?” How about Yeoh-Yeoh? In an age where CGI and green screens rule, Bond films still try to do it for real. Michelle Yeoh (Wai Lin) is the female version of Jackie Chan. While Ziyi Zhang (or Zhang Ziyi, depending on which version you prefer) has taken center stage in America for the last decade as the female face of martial arts, Yeoh is the one actually doing most of her own stunts. I say most, because only a dummy would get on the back of a bike with stuntman Jean-Pierre Goy. And that’s exactly what they got – a mannequin of Yeoh – to accompany him on a 50-foot rooftop-to-rooftop motorcycle leap over a running helicopter.
The World is Not Enough (1999)
There are a lot of unrealistic moments in Bond films, but one of the most frequently cited is “Denise Richards as nuclear scientist.” Between this role and her ugly divorce from Charlie Sheen, Richards gets a lot of media flak. Please, people, can’t we be a little understanding? The woman made out on camera with Neve Campbell, for Pete’s sake! Now that’s some quality cinema! OK, if you really want to go the respected actress route, you’ve also got Sophie Marceau, who apparently is some kind of superstar in France, in addition to being the queen from “Braveheart,” one of the best movies ever. While we’re on “best ever,” check out the miniature speedboat in this film and tell me you don’t want one. As for Pierce Brosnan, he does the coolest “sprint with a determined face” since Robert Patrick as an alien policeman in “Terminator 2.”
Die Another Day (2002)
I’ve been to the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone) between North Korea and South Korea in real life, and I didn’t see Charles Manson there. Oh, wait, that’s not Chuck – it’s Pierce Brosnan in a prison camp, where the hairstylist is the guy who does the GEICO cavemen! Actually, this movie got North and South Korea to agree for once, in that they both hated how it depicted their countries. There was also ambivalence on the reinvention of the James Bond Theme, which in this installment gets a techno-rock makeover you either love or hate. Madonna, who also appears in the film, recorded the title track. If that’s not enough sexual energy for you, “It” girl Halle Berry also walks out of the ocean and orders a mojito. Take the “it” out of “mojito” and you’ve still got mojo. Take the Desmond Llewelyn (“Q”) out of James Bond, however, and you’ve got a teary eye. What better way to ease the pain than to Cleese the pain: Monty Python’s John Cleese replaces the late Llewelyn with great aplomb.
Casino Royale (2006)
To paraphrase one of my earlier articles, there’s an integrated rear spoiler on Bond’s Aston Martin DBS, but you won’t find one here. I’d rather have fellow fans appreciate the film for themselves than ruin it for them with critical plot details. Let’s just say that if you feel the movies have become too gadgety and formulaic in recent years, this is the one to bring you back. Sebastien Foucan’s stunts in the “free running” chase are truly breathtaking, as are a few tricky moments for Bond when breath is very hard to come by. “Casino Royale” reinvents the franchise and brings it back to its plot-oriented beginnings. Chris Cornell (formerly of Soundgarden) wails in the theme song, “You Know My Name.” If you didn’t know the name Daniel Craig before, you certainly will now. As Miss Moneypenny would say, “Welcome home, James.”