You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967)

You Only Live Twice

Everything about this film says big, expansive, ambitious and epic; its sense of scale is astonishing. The pre-titles teaser takes place in outer space, while the bulk of the story is our first foray outside Europe or North America. And more than any of the previous films, this sets the template for a bonkers villain in a ridiculously overdramatic secret base with jumpsuited henchmen, Tannoy announcements and monorails. The sets, it has to be said, are extraordinary: M’s detailed wood-panelled office on board a naval destroyer, the strange golf-ball interior where the US, UK and Soviet bigwigs meet, Osato’s sleek offices, and of course the cavernous secret base inside a volcano (a 45-metre-tall, $1 million set built for real). Meanwhile, filming in real locations has been a genuine boon to this series – can you imagine if they’d done foreign countries on a back lot or in the studio?! – and here Japan is mined for every cliché going. We get bright, neon, commercialised Tokyo, a sumo match with thousands of extras, and even a ninja training camp. Admittedly, none of the guest characters is especially interesting and the story grinds to a standstill about an hour in, but this is still an enjoyable and likeable film. The screenplay is by Roald Dahl, one of the heroes of my childhood. Six hollow volcanoes out of 10.

Bond: For the first time in the series, we see Commander Bond in his naval uniform, while later in the movie he gets a dodgy Japanese makeover (they brush his hair forward and make his face look a bit Asian). “The things I do for England,” he says at one point – I wonder if Sean Connery liked that line.

Villains: Businessman Osato is initially presented as the Big Bad, but we soon learn he works for Blofeld. Posing at Osato’s confidential secretary is Miss Brandt, a Germanic redheaded ballbreaker who looks just fine in some aviation goggles.

Girls: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” Bond asks his pre-titles squeeze, Ling. Once the story’s underway, we meet Aki. She begins by coolly flirting with Bond and darting around Tokyo in a Toyota 2000GT. Later, Bond and Japanese secret service boss Tiger Tanaka get bathed and massaged by four sexy girls in bikinis (“In Japan, men always come first. Women come second,” says Tanaka. “I might just retire here,” quips Bond). Then Aki quietly replaces one of the masseuses and – despite only minor hints of attraction earlier on – offers herself to Bond on a plate. And they say these films are meant as wish fulfillment! After Aki dies, she’s replaced in the story by Kissy, who Bond has to pretend to marry for not very plausible reasons.

Regulars: Both Moneypenny and M are out in the South China Sea, on board a ship and wearing their naval dress. Bond calls her Penny, which happens in the books a fair bit but I think this is a film first. For the second movie running, Q goes into the field to deliver his gadgets (specifically one-man ’copter Little Nellie). And, as mentioned, Blofeld and his cat are back for a third movie – although, it’s over an hour before we’re told he’s behind it all. At first, the convention of hiding his face is maintained, but when Bond meets him so do we: and he’s a suitably deranged, scar-faced Donald Pleasance.

Action: During a fight with a heavy, Bond hits him with a sofa. There’s a novel conclusion to a car chase: one of them gets picked up by a giant magnet suspended from a helicopter and dropped into the sea. The Little Nellie sequence is very good. All hell breaks loose when dozens of ninjas attack Blofeld’s base.

Comedy: We get the best Bond/Moneypenny flirting scene yet (“How was the Chinese girl we set up for you?” “A few more minutes and I’d have found out…”). Charles Gray appears as Henderson, MI6’s man in Japan, and plays the scene with his usual fruity twinkle (“I get the vodka from the doorman at the Russian Embassy… [To himself] That’s not all I get…”).

Music: The incidental music is stunning. Sumptuous. Beautiful. Atmosphere and action are conveyed brilliantly, tension too in the splendid spaceship-jacking scene. After two strident and powerful title songs in a row, Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice is gentle, soothing and generally lovely.

People I’ve met: The first actor of the series I’ve met is the great, sadly late Ed Bishop – star of Captain Scarlet and UFO, who appears here briefly as flight controller. I interviewed him in 2003.

Casino Royale (John Huston, Kenneth Hughes, Val Guest, Robert Parrish and Joseph McGrath, 1967)

Casino Royale 1967

My Bond rewatch takes a sidestep this time, for the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale. It isn’t part of the Eon Productions series – but it is a legitimate adaptation of an Ian Fleming novel, so let’s give it a go… How so many talented people can contribute to such sludge is beyond me. This is a limp, flabby, disjointed, episodic, haphazard, scattergun, often perfunctory, almost always unfunny mess. Even without reading up on the filming’s history, it’s obvious the production was a nightmare: there are five credited directors, some key scenes are clearly missing, and the tone is all over the place. In the plus column, there are a handful of laughs, the Berlin scenes are a real treat (German Expressionist sets! Anna Quayle and a pre-fame Ronnie Corbett hamming it up!), and we get a few bonkers dream sequences. But on the whole, watching this simply makes me want to see the Austin Powers movies again. Three Orson Welles magic tricks out of 10.

Bond: David Niven plays the real – and now knighted – Sir James Bond. The ‘plot’ also involves several ersatz Bonds: Peter Sellers (aka baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble), Woody Allen (little more than a cameo as James’s nephew Jimmy) and Terence Cooper (who was seemingly added to the film when Sellers walked off the project halfway through). Niven and Sellers are both quite entertaining and seem to get the tone better than anyone else.

Villains: Orson Welles plays Le Chiffre. He sits behind a card table, performing magic tricks for no readily apparent reason and – frankly – taking the piss. From Charles Foster Kane to this: Welles wasn’t wrong when he once said, “I started at the top and worked my way down.”

Girls: There’s character-free 1960s totty everywhere. M’s Highland retreat is populated by a gaggle of seemingly nympo teenagers (actually undercover agents). We meet Moneypenny’s daughter (but not Moneypenny herself). A bevvy of beauties try to distract the Cooper-Bond in a training session. One of them is dressed as Ursula Andress from Dr. No – Andress herself plays Vesper Lynd. Bond’s daughter, Mata, features quite a lot. We get a few leather-suited car-wash attendants. Peter Sellers has the privilege of a scene with Miss Goodthighs (Jacqueline Bisset). And there’s an obscure and scantily clad character at the end called The Detainer. (Caroline Munro, who later takes your breath away in The Spy Who Loved Me, is an extra in one scene.)

Regulars: A moot point, given that this is not part of the ongoing series. But there are versions of M, Moneypenny and Q. Mathis, a character from the novel who will later be in two official Bond movies, crops up too. His first appearance is the film’s opening: an inexplicable one-gag scene with Peter Sellers that’s been tacked on the front for some reason.

Action: A few fights, obviously played for laughs – chiefly the epic and gleefully surreal final battle.

Comedy: Of course, the whole thing is one big joke. Sadly, much of it is painfully unfunny. The humour highlight is Bernard Cribbins as the taxi driver who takes Mata Bond from Whitehall to West Berlin: “That’ll be £482, 15 and ninepence…” The various illogical comedy cameos – Peter O’Toole, Stirling Moss, George Raft – get tiresome very quickly. A fucking UFO lands in Trafalgar Square.

Music: The one truly successful aspect of the whole endeavour. Burt Bacharach’s charismatic, light-touch score is a constant joy, while his song The Look of Love (sung by Dusty Springfield) outclasses everything we see on screen.

 

Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965)

Thunderball

For a long time, this has been my least favourite official Bond film. It has the outlandishness of Goldfinger – a jetpack! Sharks! The Disco Volante boat with its detaching hydrofoil! – but little of the class or sense of grandeur. And because it’s all larger-than-life, there’s no chance of any From Russia-style verisimilitude to create drama. The elements are there, but it’s all just a little tired. The plethora of underwater sequences is also a serious problem, dragging the film’s pace down to a crawl. On the plus side, the cast look like they’re having fun, the script has its fair share of droll one-liners, and the film’s colour scheme is beautiful – Bahaman blues pick out the warm water, the clear skies and various people’s costumes. Five health clinics out of 10.

Bond: His first meeting with bad guy Emilio Largo is great fun, with Bond dropping heavy hints over the baccarat table that he knows what’s going on.

Villains: Largo wears an eye patch and his SPECTRE code name is ‘Number 2’. Thoughts obviously turn to Robert Wagner in Austin Powers. His second-in-command is the cleavage-flaunting, motorbike-riding, speed-limit-threatening, bad-as-they-come Fiona Volpe. I’m in love.

Girls: Domino Derval, the black-and-white-clad Bond girl, is no Honor Blackman but is a step up from the others. She has some nice character moments to play, and in a nice twist she – rather than Bond – kills the bad guy. There’s also the health clinic’s Pat Fearing, who could give me physiotherapy any time she likes, and Paula Caplan, Bond’s spunky Nassau contact (played by one of the gypsies from From Russia With Love).

Regulars: Blofeld appears again, as does his cat. Again, we don’t see his face. For no readily apparent reason. (Were there plans to one day reveal he’s actually Bond in disguise or something?) Moneypenny returns. M is on fine exasperated form (“Now that we’re all here…” he says pointedly when Bond’s late for a briefing). Felix Leiter’s been recast for a second time: now it’s Rik Van Nutter’s turn to be not very memorable. And Q gets to go out in the field, putting on a colourful shirt and taking his gadgets to the Bahamas.

Action: As mentioned, there’s far, far too much slowly paced underwater stuff. In the film’s credit, there’s a tense chase through a colourful carnival and the climactic boat chase is energetically edited. Earlier, Bond has a pre-titles punch-up with a widow at a funeral…

Comedy: …who turns out to be a fella in a drag!

Music: Tom Jones’s title song is dramatic and effective, but was a late replacement. The DVD allows you to hear what was originally intended as the theme – Dionne Warwick’s Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (which is more laid-back). The title sequence was clearly designed to match the timing of this latter song! John Barry’s brilliant score is full of mystery and tension.

Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964)

Goldfinger

What strikes me most is just how many of the classic Bond moments, scenes and lines of dialogue are in this one film. The pre-titles sequence, with Bond wearing a tux under his wetsuit. Shirley Eaton covered in gold paint. Q’s laboratory and gadget show-and-tell. The Aston Martin DB5 with its ejector seat (“You’re joking?!”) and revolving number plates. Bond cheating at golf. Oddjob flinging his hat at a statue. Bond strapped to a table with a laser heading towards his crotch (“Do you expect me to talk?”). Fort Knox. The nuclear bomb and its counter stopping at ‘007’. Pussy Galore and her Flying Circus of beautiful pilots. Goldfinger getting sucked out of an aeroplane window (which is scientific bullshit, right?). It’s the movie that weekend afternoons on ITV were invented for. This one’s so much fun it practically turns and winks at us. It moves at a real lick, is never boring, and is tremendously entertaining. Eight bars of gold bullion out of 10.

Bond: He’s just freewheeling through the role now, is Connery. Seemingly effortless.

Villains: Auric Goldfinger is a cartoon villain, big and blustery. And his voice has been replaced by another actor’s (an oddly common occurrence in early Bonds), which doesn’t help with the suspension of disbelief. Chief henchman Oddjob, however, is a wonderfully eccentric creation.

Girls: Wow. The film’s full of them. There’s Bonita, the woman in whose eyes Bond sees the reflection of an approaching baddy (so uses her as a shield!). There’s Goldfinger’s cute handmaiden Mei-Lei. There’s Jill Masterson, of course, covered in paint; and her sister, Tilly, who’s a bit of an irrelevance (both in terms of her character and her role in the story). And, obviously, there’s Pussy Galore – easily, easily, the best female role in a Bond film so far. Honor Blackman has that killer combination of being able to act and being incredibly sexy, and she gives Pussy real depth. This is a woman with an agenda, with feelings, with reactions and opinions. And the fact Blackman was nearly 40 only adds to the confident, powerful performance: it’s the first time Bond has met an equal, rather than a simpering girl following his around. (I must also quickly mention Dink, who I’m incredibly fond of. She’s in the film for an entire 20 seconds, giving Bond a massage and then getting patronisingly slapped on the arse. But Margaret Nolan is daydream-inducingly attractive. A few years later, she was by some distance the best thing about Carry On Girls.)

Regulars: Felix Leiter’s been recast, and Cec Linder is much better than Jack Lord was in Dr. No. You buy his and Bond’s friendship easily. M and Moneypenny show up again, while we get the first proper appearance of Q (as he’s now called). It’s here that Q’s character is set – his weary impatience with Bond’s recklessness is a joy.

Action: There’s a good car chase filmed in and around Pinewood Studios, full of cute gags. The Fort Knox section features a big battle outside and Bond’s inventive fight with Oddjob inside.

Comedy: There’s a clear step up in humour here, reportedly at the urging of new director Guy Hamilton. “Shocking,” Bond deadpans after a henchman is electrocuted. His response to Pussy Galore introducing herself (“I must be dreaming…”) is fantastic. And meeting with a Bank of England bigwig, Bond out-snobs M with his knowledge of the vintage and quality of the brandy.

Music: Obviously, the theme song is an all-time great. The score is cracking too, especially when bold, brassy and bombastic. At one point, Bond says, “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963)

From Russia With Love

A Cold War spy thriller about stealing a decoding machine from the Soviet embassy in Istanbul? Now, *this* is my kind of Bond movie. Everything about this film oozes confidence, oozes panache, oozes style – the pre-titles sequence, the titles themselves (credits projected onto women’s bodies), the chess match, the location filming in Turkey, the scenes at the gypsy camp, Bond breaking into the embassy, and especially the 30-minute masterpiece of a sequence set on a train. They’ve taken what worked in Dr. No and doubled the levels of intrigue, sexiness, exoticism and danger. Nine red wines with fish out of 10.

Bond: He doesn’t actually show up until the 17-minute mark. Perhaps this is a nod to the book, in which (if memory serves) he’s absent for the first half. Sean Connery’s masterful droll humour is used well and often; but Bond also has moments of real menace, such as when he threatens, intimidates and strikes double-crossing Tatiana.

Villains: Nominally, Blofeld is the baddie (his first ‘appearance’). But, as in the last film, it’s the lieutenants who provide the entertainment – and what entertainment! Red Grant (pictured), Kronsteen and Rosa Klebb are all sinister, fascinating characters. Robert Shaw is so good as the tough and charismatic Red Grant, especially when masquerading as a friendly MI6 officer, that you can imagine him playing Bond himself. And Lotte Lenya’s performance as Klebb was so successful it became a cliché (see Frau Farbissina in the Austin Powers films).

Girls: The female lead is Tatiana Romanova, who like Honey Rider in Dr. No has rather obviously and distractingly been dubbed by a better actress (or maybe just one with better English). As well as Kerim Bay’s sexpot wife and two cat-fighting gypsies, we also get the return of Sylvia Trench from the previous film.

Regulars: Blofeld (and his cat, I suppose) are introduced. Moneypenny and M return, both classily at ease with the roles already. Major Boothroyd has been recast, but while Desmond Llewelyn is now in place, this underwritten armourer isn’t recognisably Q yet. And, as I said above, Sylvia’s back for one scene. She was dropped after this film, which is a shame. The series would have had an interestingly different flavour if Bond had always had a steady girlfriend back in London!

Action: The big battle at the gypsy camp is chaotic and well-staged, as is Bond being menaced by a helicopter. But the real highlight is Bond and Grant’s fight in the train carriage. It’s total cinema: light, smoke, sound and editing creating the danger just as ably as acting and choreography.

Comedy: There’s a great gag in M’s office. Lots of people are listening to a recording of Bond getting information out of Tatiana, when James starts to say, “Once, when I was with M in Tokyo…” and flustered M quickly turns the machine off.

Music: The James Bond Theme is used a few times, especially in an unintentionally comic scene where it seems that Bond is searching a hotel room looking for the orchestra. The score also debuts John Barry’s cracking 007 Theme cue, but Matt Monro’s title song is a bit insipid.

Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962)

Dr No

My in-order rewatch of all the James Bond movies begins well. Dr. No is fresh, urgent and witty stuff – and looks superb (especially the Caribbean locations and the arch, dramatic sets). Obviously and famously, it has one of the *the* great character introductions (pictured), and after that we get an engaging if simplistic detective plot. Directed with purpose and no fuss, the film does peter out a bit for its last half hour, but I enjoyed seeing it again very much. Seven mango trees out of 10.

Bond: Sean Connery is just terrific, right from the word go. Equally at home with seduction, sarcasm and sadism.

Villain: Dr No doesn’t appear until the 84-minute mark, and is hopelessly boring when he does. His various lackeys who try to hamper Bond earlier on are all more interesting.

Girls: Everyone goes on about Ursula Andress, but she’s really rather bland – and isn’t in the film’s first hour. Bond’s London squeeze, Sylvia Trench, is much better with just two scenes (and looks very sexy in just a man’s shirt playing golf).

Regulars: We meet Sylvia, Moneypenny, M, Major Boothroyd and Felix Leiter. The first three are all excellent; the last two rather dreary.

Action: Relatively little, given the film’s era. A couple of nice car chases and some punch-ups.

Comedy: “Make sure he doesn’t get away,” Bond says of a dead body: the birth of the tossed-off quip.

Music: It might be over-used as incidental music, but, my God, John Barry’s James Bond Theme is still an electrifyingly exciting piece of music.