The Man With The Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974)

The Man With The Golden Gun

This is one of the Bond films I know least well. It’s very much a join-the-dots plot, Bond following clue to lead to informer, and exposition is poorly handled. There’s a big info-dump 40 minutes in that gives us the context of a struggle over a new energy source, then further inelegant scenes after 60 and 90 minutes where Scaramanga spells out his plan. Not that this is unique in a Bond movie, but it all feels a bit mechanical. There’s fun to be had with Scaramanga, though: Christopher Lee plays up his suave charm, highlighting that he and Bond are two sides of the same coin. It’s entertaining enough stuff, but on the whole, the sparkle of the previous few films is missing. The best thing about the whole movie may be the tremendous studio sets of the half-sunken RMS Queen Elizabeth – all the walls and floors on a slant. Seven superfluous papillae out of 10.

Bond: He’s so Roger Moore. I can’t think of anyone who’s more Roger Moore-ish, frankly. (Having said that, there’s a terrifically cruel Connery-esque scene when he twists a girl’s arm to get information.) His habit of smoking big fat cigars continues.

Villains: Scaramanga keeps the film afloat. He has a third nipple, he treats Bond like his best mate, he potters around his secluded hideaway in a tracksuit, he strokes his phallic golden gun all over Maud Adams… Christopher Lee has some CV: Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Fu Manchu, Rasputin, Lord Summerisle, Count Dooku, Saruman, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow’s Commandant Alexandrei Nikolaivich Rakov, and an entertaining Bond villain. Not bad going. Scaramanga’s bodyguard is the 3’11” Nick Nack, who Bond defeats in the closing moments of the film by locking him in a suitcase.

Girls: The most interesting woman in the film is Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s mistress, played by icy cool Scandi-strumpet Maud Adams. There’s also Saida, a Beirut belly dancer with a spent golden bullet in her belly button; Chew Mee (geddit?!), a cute girl swimming naked in a villain’s swimming pool; and the two martial-art-savvy schoolgirl nieces of Lieutenant Hip. The main Bond girl is Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland). Apparently an MI6 operative, she’s essentially the film’s comic relief. Inexperienced and inept, she’s there to get into trouble and show off her figure. It’s a refreshing change when – over drinks and with John Barry’s score swelling – she knocks back Bond’s presumptive advances. However, in the very next scene, she turns up in his bedroom with a wide-on.

Regulars: M, Q (back after one film off) and Moneypenny go out to the Far East to brief Bond. M has a Chief of Staff – though unnamed, he’s presumably meant to be book character Tanner, who will be in later movies. Sheriff Pepper returns from Live and Let Die. He’s on holiday with his wife and gets caught up in the action: a back-by-public-demand cameo, one assumes.

Action: Bond has a brawl in the belly dancer’s dressing room, which knocks a mirror and reveals the camera crew! In short order, 007 has a fight with two sumo wrestlers, is tended to by geisha girls, has to take part in a scene from Enter the Dragon, and gets helped in a mass punch-up by two schoolgirl-uniformed ass-kicking karate experts. (They weren’t worried about cliché in 1974, were they?) There’s a good car chase – both Bond and Scaramanga in AMCs for product-placement reasons – which ends with a famous and fantastic 360-degree car twist.

Comedy: Lots of quips, mostly successful. “Who’d pay $1 million to have me killed?” asks Bond. “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors…” suggests M. Scaramanga’s melodramatic story about his favourite elephant is a hoot. And we get another classic ‘Bond shows up M’ scene. I’ll quote it in full:

M: “What do you know about a man called Scaramanga, 007?”

Bond: “Scaramanga? Oh, yes! The man with the golden gun. Born in a circus. Father, the ringmaster, possibly Cuban. Mother, English, a snake charmer. He was a spectacular trick-shot artist by the time he was 10 and a local Rio gunman at 15. The KGB recruited him there and trained him in Europe, where he became an overworked, underpaid assassin. He went independent in the late 50s. Current price: $1 million a hit. No photograph on file. But he does have one distinguishing feature, however. A superfluous papilla.”

M: “A what?”

Bond: “A mammary gland. A third nipple, sir. He always uses a golden bullet, hence ‘’man with the golden gun’. Present domicile unknown. l think that’s all. Why, sir?”

Music: The title song – a bouncy, poppy, boring effort from Lulu – is quoted comically in the score during the pre-titles scene. The incidental music itself is classic John Barry.

Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973)

Live and Let Die

Another great one. There’s more lively, confident dialogue from Tom Mankiewicz, while this was Guy Hamilton’s third Bond as director (all at least partly set in the US, incidentally). Together, these two men have taken a laughably racist novel and turned it into a hip, Blaxploitation-tinged, thoroughly entertaining action thriller. But there’s also a menace below the quips and stunts: the iconography of voodoo, the occult and death – coffins, funeral, skulls, gravestones – runs through the movie. It’s very visually striking generally, in fact: costumes, sets and lighting are always interesting and conveying story information. Nine tarot cards out of 10.

Bond: He’s now played by Roger Moore, who if you believe the contemporary hype was wanted by the producers for both Dr No and On Her Majesty’s (Moore denies this, I think). When we first see him, he’s in bed with a buxom beauty, and he later cons a naive virgin into sleeping with him. But this is a different take on the character from before – smoother, more arch, less brutal. If Connery represented the 1960s, provincial, working-class man-done-good, Roger Moore is all 1970s, old-money, soft-focus glamour – I bet he flew on Concorde a lot, drank Campari and soda, and smelt of Old Spice.

Villains: Yaphet Kotto appears as both villain Dr Kanaga and his New York gangster alter ego, Mr Big (“Names is for tombstones, baby!”). Is it seriously meant to be a plot twist that they’re the same person? His henchmen include Tee Hee and his mechanical arm, the bonkers Baron Samedi (who seemingly returns from the dead), and the almost inaudible giant Whisper.

Girls: Bond’s opening-scene squeeze, Miss Caruso, is a cute Italian agent who hides in his wardrobe then has her dress unzipped by a magnet. The main Bond girl is played by Jane Seymour, who gives a very plain performance as Solitaire – the blandest female lead since Honey Ryder. However, she can lay claim to the first to (inadvertently) show her breast. I honestly can’t believe I’d never spotted this before this viewing: http://vimeo.com/63517813 For the middle section of the movie, Bond teams up with Rosie Carver, seemingly a sweetly inept CIA agent who’s actually working for Kanaga.

Regulars: Oddly, Q is absent. He is mentioned, though, and the gadget quota is very high: we get Bond’s magnetic watch, a car phone hidden in a cigarette lighter, a bug detector and a Morse-code machine disguised as a coat brush. M comes to Bond’s flat, as does Moneypenny, at 5.48am to brief him for his mission. It’s a great scene, full of withering looks from M and farce-like diversions as Bond tries to hide the Italian totty he’s had over for the night. For the fifth time in five films, we have a new Felix Leiter – and finally they get it right. David Hedison has an easy-going likeability in a thankless role. We also meet Sheriff JW Pepper, an over-the-top, larger-than-life, tobacco-chewing cartoon character who’ll be in the next movie too.

Action: Bond’s driver gets shot while on the freeway, leading to a short burst of carnage. Bond goes hang gliding. Fleeing Kanaga’s men in a battered old double-decker bus, he drives under a low bridge with iconic results. To escape a croc-infested island, Bond runs across the backs of three crocodiles – this stunt is the start of a 13-minute action run that features fire, explosions, speedboats, cars, bayous, jumps, crashes, cops, and boats crossing lawns, landing in swimming pools and cutting through weddings. The film’s final scene has the series’s second train-carriage punch-up (Bond besting Tee Hee).

Comedy: The bad guys like companies with punning names (Fillet of Soul, Oh Cult Voodoo Shop). In a Harlem bar, Bond specifies no ice in his drink. “That’s extra, man,” he’s told. A sequence where Bond commandeers a small aircraft that contains a learner pilot, then drives it round the airport being chased by bad guys and getting its wings knocked off, is rather silly. (“Holy shit,” the trainee says: our first proper swearing.) An even bigger harbinger of where the series is heading is JW Pepper.

Music: A New Orleans jazz funeral is featured a couple of times. The theme song by Paul and Linda McCartney is rightly thought by many to be one of the series’s very best (and even gets a diegetic performance in a bar). Paul’s old pal George Martin wrote the incidental music (John Barry took a film off because of tax reasons, I think). It’s funky and spiky and great fun, but is strangely short – there are huge chunks of action that go unscored.

Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton, 1971)

Diamonds Are Forever

There’s immediately a lighter tone to this. The dialogue throughout is snappy and witty, and the storytelling is economical and enjoyable. New writer Tom Mankiewicz gives us a script that pops and fizzes along, while director Guy Hamilton brings back the comic style he used so successfully in Goldfinger. And early example is the scene of Bond being briefed about his mission – it’s crosscut with shots of the jewel smugglers at work, and is very deftly handled. The whole film has a swagger, a confidence, and the two hours pass by very entertainingly. This is breezy, escapist Bond at its best. Nine moonbuggies out of 10.

Bond: Sean Connery was tempted back for a one-off appearance (his fee was $1.2 million, an astronomical figure, which he donated to a trust) and is perfectly at ease with the comic script. Some critics have said he seems bored in this film. Not a bit of it. Before Connery agreed to do the film, another actor – American John Gavin – was signed to play James Bond and had to be paid off.

Villains: For the third movie running, Blofeld is the main bad guy. He’s been recast yet again: this time he’s Charles Gray (who was in You Only Live Twice, of course). He’s great fun, playing it arch and a bit camp (at one point, he drags up to sneak out of a hotel). At the start of the film, Bond is hunting down Blofeld – but whether this is for revenge for Tracy’s death or a continuation of Connery’s last appearance isn’t made clear (James doesn’t seem especially widower-y, so maybe the idea was that we should discount On Her Majesty’s). Willard Whyte, a spoof of Howard Hughes, is set up a red-herring bad guy, while there are also two villainous double acts. Cheerfully sadistic couple Mr Kidd and Mr Wint crop up throughout the movie, bumping people off and smiling at each other (the former is played by Putter Smith, a jazz bassist who played on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling). And Bond meets acrobatic pair Bambi and Thumper, who seem to sit around in leotards on the off-chance someone comes round for a fight.

Girls: The pre-titles sequence features Bond whipping a bra off of girl by a swimming pool, and we get a flash of boob (the series’s first, I think). The movie’s female lead is Tiffany Case, a fantastic, sassy American played with charm and humour by Jill St John. In her first scene, she leaves the room to switch her blonde wig to a brunette one. “And which do you prefer?” she asks Bond. “Oh, providing the collars and cuffs match…” he says. She is a breath of fresh air, giving the film a believable human in amongst the spies, scientists and psychos. She also looks terrific in a bikini. During the casino section, we also meet Plenty O’Toole (“Named after your father perhaps…”) played by Lana Wood (pictured). She gets thrown out of a very high window and lands in the hotel swimming pool. “Exceptionally fine shot,” says Bond. The lead thrower deadpans, “I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”

Regulars: Blofeld’s back, of course. His cat wears a diamond necklace. Moneypenny poses as a customs official. Q comes out to Las Vegas and uses a gadget to cheat at the one-armed bandits. Felix has been recast again and is played here by Norman Burton – again, an actor makes little impression with this part. M gets a retread of the Goldfinger scene where Bond out-snobs him in front of an expert. Asked what he knows about diamonds, Bond nonchalantly says, “Well, hardest substance found in nature. They cut glass, suggest marriage. I suppose they’ve replaced a dog as a girl’s best friend, and that’s about it.”

Action: It’s often tongue-in-cheek. There’s a claustrophic punch-up in a lift. Bond escapes Blofeld’s research facility on a moonbuggy. (Why? Best not to question it.) Bond and Tiffany get chased by the cops through Vegas – and the scene involves the famous car-tilts-onto-two-wheels stunt with its silly insert shot to explain why the Ford Mustang goes into an alley on its right wheels and exits on its left. There’s also Bond’s scrap with Bambi and Thumper, and the assault on the oil rig (which is oddly devoid of music at times).

Comedy: Lots. Tiffany’s “You just killed James Bond!” is a joy. When Felix says of a corpse, “I know you put the diamonds in the body, but where?”, Bond replies, “Alimentary, Dr Leiter.” Sammy Davies Jnr is in a deleted scene available on the DVD. Tiffany jokingly refers to Bond as Superman – Tom Mankiewicz went on to write the first two Superman movies. The best sight gag in the film is during the battle at the end: Tiffany nervously fires a machine gun, and the recoil tips her backwards.

Music: The theme song is famously seductive (Shirley Bassey returns – another link to Goldfinger) and the score has a laidback, 1970s cocktail-bar charm.

People I’ve met: Ed Bishop appears again, and gets a scene with James Bond.

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.”