My 30 favourite films


So, a few years ago – in order to complete an Empire magazine readers’ poll – I set about compiling my top 10 films. Narrowing them down that far was too tough, and I ended up with a shortlist of 30. Since that time, I’ve made one change: GoodFellas was reluctantly dropped for the most recent movie on the list.

I’ve added links to any films I’ve blogged about elsewhere on this site, whilst clips indicate my favourite five…

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)

WarGames (John Badham, 1983)

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985)

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1986)

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)

D.O.A. (Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, 1988)

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

The Hunt For Red October (John McTiernan, 1990)

JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)

Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)

Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

Licence to Kill

Nasty, brutal, violent and upsetting – this is something special. If your preferred brand of Bond is more lighthearted or gag-heavy, then look away now: I’m about to GUSH.

This is my favourite James Bond film of them all. The stakes aren’t world domination or stolen nuclear weapons – they’re *emotional*. Bond is out for revenge because his friends have been barbarically attacked, which gives the whole film weight and passion. The story is loosely based on 1961 Japanese movie Yojimba (no, I’ve never seen it either, but A Fistful of Dollars also used the same format) where one man brings down a large criminal organisation through guile and courage and determination. The beauty of the plot is really quite something: who knows what, when and how, is worked out with both clockwork precision and poetic panache. It’s a constantly evolving and moving-forward story where characters learn things and we learn things about them; and where things happen for reasons. “There’s more to this than your personal vendetta,” Bond gets told at one point – quite right: as well as the main thrust, there are a variety of nuanced subplots (Heller and the Stingers, the Hong Kong investigation, Sanchez’s massive drug deal). 10 cigarette lighters out of 10.

Bond: I once saw a review of this movie that claimed Timothy Dalton failed as James Bond because he played him as someone who gets upset when his friends are killed. This is why I think he *succeeded*. His anger and turmoil are palpable, but his plan to bring down drug baron Sanchez is cold and calculated: a fascinating combination. Dalton recognised that Bond is a killer, a murderer at times, not a detached playboy. This film, aptly given its emotional resonance, features the third reference to Bond’s late wife.

Villains: Franz Sanchez is our bad guy, a 1980s drug lord. He cuts out a guy’s heart, whips his girlfriend, offers and makes good on a $2 million bribe, feeds Felix Leiter to a shark, has a pet iguana and wears sandals and a cardigan. He’s played by Robert Davi. The previous year, he’d been one of two FBI agents in Die Hard who were both called Johnson – coincidentally, the other Agent Johnson, actor Grand L Bush, is also in Licence to Kill. Sanchez’s henchmen include sadistic Dario (Benicio Del Toro in an early role), creepy Milton Krest (a character from a Fleming story story played by Anthony Zerbe), slimy Wall Street twat Truman-Lodge and duplicitous heavy Colonel Heller.

Girls: The beautiful Talisa Soto plays Sanchez’s girlfriend, Lupe Lamora, and is very good in a role much better written than the usual ‘secondary Bond girl’ parts. Della Churchill, who marries Felix in the film’s opening, is played by Priscilla Barnes – she later appeared as a three-nippled fortune teller in Mallrats. The bank manager is Isthmus City has a very pretty assistant, while Sanchez hires a roomful of call girls to impress some businessmen. But the highlight is pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier, played by Carey Lowell. She is, frankly, the best Bond girl of the entire series. Yes, better even than Diana Rigg’s Tracy. She’s a confident, strong, capable, sassy and sophisticated woman who’s as sexy as fuck. She brings a shotgun to a meeting. She rescues Bond’s arse quite a few times. She swears. She hides a gun in her stockings. Best of all, she’s a protagonist: an active player in the story who has her own agenda and makes her own decisions. Every now and again, the Bond films have tried to make the female lead more of 007’s ‘equal’. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t – Pam Bouvier is knock-it-out-of-the-park, sing-it-from-the-hilltops, jump-up-and-down successful. I’ve been in love with her since I was 11 years old.

Regulars: David Hedison, easily the best Felix Leiter we’ve had, becomes the first actor to play the role twice. The believable friendship he and Dalton create is integral to the story – and what happens to Felix in this movie is vicious. M flies out to Florida to reprimand 007 (at Ernest Hemingway’s house for some reason). It’s an electric scene. “Oh, spare me the sentimental rubbish,” snaps M, which is possibly a deliberate mission statement for the series’s new direction. Bond tries resigning and his licence to kill is revoked. Bond hands over his weapon, but then legs it – he’s on his own now, isolated and a one-man army. Moneypenny gets just one short scene, wimpering at her desk as she worries about James: poor Caroline Bliss, who we won’t be seeing again! But whereas she’s barely featured, Q gets his most substantial role yet. He takes leave from MI6 so he can fly to Central America, pose as Bond’s uncle and help him out. He brings a suitcase of gadgets, which get shown off in the film’s most trad-Bond scene. Q and Pam then strike up a lovely double act, the two people who care about Bond but he won’t ‘let in’.

Action: There’s the opening skirmish as the DEA try to arrest Sanchez; it concludes with Bond dangling from a helicopter and tying a cord around Sanchez’s getaway plane in midair. Sanchez later escapes by engineering it so a police van drives into the sea, where divers are waiting to rescue him. Bond beats up a couple of goons at Krest’s warehouse, then coldly murders the traitor Killifer. Bond sneaks onto Krest’s boat and audaciously steals his payment for a drug deal after a scrap with some heavies and a water-ski stunt. Moments after Bond meets Pam, there’s one of 80s cinema’s classic barroom brawls (the movie becomes Road House for a couple of minutes). Bond’s attempt to assassinate Sanchez is interrupted by ninjas from the Hong Kong police – the capture him and are then overpowered by Sanchez’s men (a lovely example of the plotting: because Bond has been tied up, Sanchez assumes he is an enemy of his enemies). There’s also the chaos at the refinery, including Bond’s fight with Dario, followed by the epic tanker chase (one of the best action runs in all of Bond). By its end, James is cut, battered, bruised and wearing a ruined suit: this film has HURT.

Comedy: Often black. When Bond discovers shark-chewed Felix, the bad guys have left a note that says, ‘He disagreed with something that ate him.’ Wayne Newton – an easy-listening singer whose biggest hit was Danke Schoen, which I only know from Ferris Bueller – appears as fake TV evangelist Professor Joe and gets some smarmy laughs. Dalton is on fine irritable form: “I hope you don’t snore, Q,” he snarls when forced to share a bedroom; “Piss off,” he underplays to a tight-arsed agent who questions him. The look of contentment on a henchman’s face when Lupe talks to him is very funny. “What about the money, patrón?” asks a goon when some cash gets covered with blood. “Launder it,” is Sanchez’s deadpan reply. My favourite laugh in the film comes when a furious Pam learns Bond has slept with Lupe. “Don’t judge him too harshly, my dear,” says an avuncular Q. “Field operatives must use every means at their disposal to achieve their objectives.” Pam, arms crossed and seething, just snaps, “Bullshit!”

Music: John Barry had quit the series (due to either throat surgery or after a tiff with A-ha, depending on which source you read), so Michael Kamen was hired to score this one. He wrote the music for many fine 1980s movies – The Dead Zone, Brazil, Highlander, the Lethal Weapons, the Die Hards – as well as TV classic Edge of Darkness. Here he gives us a dark, brooding, dangerous score with a Latin feel at times. The theme tune is sung by Gladys Knight and is based on the famous horn phrase from Goldfinger.

Personal connection: In 1989, I went to the cinema (I think for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and saw a poster in the lobby promoting the upcoming Licence to Kill. I’d been very excited about the new Bond because of a behind-the-scenes programme I’d seen on ITV. I was therefore *gutted* when I realised it was a 15 certificate. I was 10, so wouldn’t be able to go.

The Living Daylights (John Glen, 1987)

The Living Daylights

Wow. This is fantastic. It’s an expertly structured adventure full of intrigue, double-crosses and plot twists, taking Ian Fleming’s best short story as the basis and also building on the promise of For Your Eyes Only. At first, we’re in a shadowy world of the KGB, the Cold War and defections across the Iron Curtain – but the movie then pulls an audacious trick when you realise that’s all subterfuge. This is a *thriller*, not a frivolous throwaway. The script doesn’t assume the audience is stupid: we’re expected to keep up with the plot and wonder what’ll happen next. There’s a real drive and momentum to the whole thing, and the silliness levels are vastly, vastly reduced. Only the lack of any decent female characters prevents it getting full marks. Nine key rings that beep when you whistle out of 10.

Bond: After Roger Moore retired, Pierce Brosnan was cast at the new James Bond – but then had to drop out when he couldn’t get free from a TV contract. Sam Neill also screen-tested for the part. Eventually Timothy Dalton – who’d been considered for the role as early as 1968 – won the job. He’s my favourite James Bond. He’s tough, arrogant, suave, a bit of a snob, easily irritable, and takes things personally – he’s a fascinating and plausible human being, not a super man secret agent who’s emotionally unaffected by the story.

Villains: We get a trio of them. Georgi Koskov (the charismatic Jeroen Krabbé) is a Russian general who stages a defection so he and his cohorts can make a fortune trading in drugs. His partner in crime is Brad Whittaker, a loon of a disgraced-soldier-turned-arms-dealer with a private army and delusions of grandeur – he’s played by Joe Don Baker, who a couple of years earlier had dazzled in Edge of Darkness (this is not the last time we’ll see him in a Bond movie). Finally, their personal assassin is the blond, athletic Necros (body: Andreas Wisnieswki, voice: Kerry Shale), who likes to listen to The Pretenders on his Walkman before strangling people with the headphone cord. (General Pushkin, played by John Rhys Davies, is set up by the bad guys as the film’s villain. It’s a shame this character wasn’t General Gogol as originally planned – the actor was ill and the story had to be rejigged – because it would have been even more interesting to have it be someone we’ve known for several movies.)

Girls: Sorry to be indelicate, but the first woman this new James Bond meets – a bored socialite lounging about on a yacht – might very well be the least attractive ‘Bond girl’ in the whole series. The film’s female lead is Kara Milovy, played by Maryam d’Abo. She’s a naive young woman with a Cassandra Trotter haircut who is manipulated by every single man in her life (including Bond). The performance is good enough, but it’s a real shame we don’t get a stronger female character: surely the wet and gullible Kara was dated even in 1987. Bond’s friend at the Czechoslovakia pipeline has a massive bust, which she uses to distract her boss. Whittaker’s North Africa holiday home is populated by clichéd bikini babes sitting round his pool. Pushkin’s wife (or mistress?), Rubavitch, is played by Virginia Hey from Mad Max 2. (As mentioned, Pushkin was originally going to series regular General Gogol. Gogol’s secretary in The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy was called Rublevitch – coincidence or was this going to be the same woman?) Two cuties kidnap Bond and take him at gunpoint to see Felix Leiter (why they do this rather than just ask him is not clear!): one of them is Catherine Rabett, who later played the lesbian Cissy Meldrum in You Rang, M’Lord?

Regulars: We might have a new, younger Bond – but it’s still the same M and Q. In the pre-titles sequence, the former has a wood-panelled office built into an aeroplane (and is then surprised when the papers on his desk go flying after the door has been opened). Q, meanwhile, gets to go out to Austria to help with Koskov’s ‘defection’ and also has a flash Whitehall workshop. One of the many gadgets in the lab is a boombox that fires rockets: “It’s something we’re making for the Americans,” he gleefully tells Bond. “It’s called a ghettoblaster!” Lois Maxwell has now retired from the role of Miss Moneypenny (she was 17 years older than Dalton, so the flirting would have been interesting). The part has been recast with Caroline Bliss. She’s rather nondescript in an underwritten role, and oddly doesn’t have any scenes at all with M (or indeed outside of Q’s lab). Sir Fredrick Gray appears again, as does Gogol very briefly. John Terry (24, Lost) is pretty wooden as a bland Felix Leiter: he and Bond have no chemistry at all.

Action: Bond and two other double-oh agents parachute onto Gibraltar in the opening sequence: it’s a training mission that goes very wrong. The action highlight is Bond (clearly actually Timothy Dalton) clinging onto the roof of a speeding jeep. Necros’s single-handed assault on MI6’s safe house is fantastic (he poses as a milkman to get past the security gate, then uses exploding milk bottles to cause havoc). There’s a good sequence featuring Bond’s gadget-heavy, winterised, B-reg Aston Martin V8 Vantage, followed by Bond and Kara sliding down a mountain while sitting in a cello case. Bond gets chased across Tangier rooftops, a scene which now feels very Bourne. There’s a quick fight with Soviet prison guards. The Mujahideen attacks an air base while Bond steals a cargo plane full of opium – Bond and Necros end up brawling while dangling out the back of the aircraft. Bond’s confrontation with Brad Whittaker at the climax is, remarkably, the only time the two characters meet.

Comedy: The bickering between Bond and MI6 contact Saunders is really nicely played by Dalton and Thomas Wheatley, and because of that Saunders’s death has a real punch. There are numerous examples of laconic humour in the movie… “Why didn’t you learn the violin?” Bond snaps when he and Kara struggle with her cello case. “We have an old saying too, Georgi,” he says to the bad guy. “And you’re full of it.” Later, after breaking out of their cells, Kara exclaims, ‘We’re free!” – Bond looks at her wearily and says, “We’re inside a Russian air force base in the middle of Afghanistan.” One of the few old-style ‘gags’ in the film is a moment where a shower block gets knocked over, revealing two naked soldiers.

Music: The score is John Barry’s final work on the series – and is an absolute doozy. It has an underlying electronic feel at times, but is still very James Bond-ish. (Barry gets a nice cameo at the end of the movie, playing a conductor.) A-ha’s title song is one of the series’s best. There are also a couple of specially written songs from The Pretenders in the film (which are also often quoted in the incidental music).

A View to a Kill (John Glen, 1985)

A View to a Kill

I need to declare an interest. This was the first Bond film I owned on VHS. It was an ex-rental copy with a photocopied sleeve bought from the local video shop in Ormskirk (I think the trailers were for Pale Rider and Spies Like Us). So I watched it A LOT as a kid. I know it has a bad reputation among some, and in the cold light of day I can see it’s not perfect, but I absolutely love it. And it’s not *just* the nostalgia factor – I do think it’s a lot of fun as a Bond movie. Its motifs of steroids, microchips, big business, environmental worries and Duran Duran mean it positively reeks of the 1980s (in a good way). The action’s very good and the comedy’s (mostly) kept in check. The music is superb, And, like all good Bonds, it has an underlying nasty streak. (The way the clumsy title is shoehorned into the dialogue is rather silly, though!) Eight Zorin airships out of 10.

Bond: This is the oldest any James Bond has been: Roger Moore was 57. I’ve really enjoyed rewatching his seven movies, and I’m very, very fond of three of them, but it was time for a change…

Villains: Max Zorin, a blonde, bonkers businessman with a Nazi-experiment past, is played by Christopher Walken – psychotic, unpredictable and terrifying, it’s the best performance of a Bond villain who’s completely off his rocker. His right-hand woman is the outrageous, arch and camp May Day (Grace Jones). She has fantastic, severe flashes of make-up across her face; she single-handedly restrains a bolting horse; and she forcefully climbs on top of Bond when they have a mid-film bunk-up. Other lackeys include Patrick Bauchau as slimy toad Scarpine and Willoughby Gray as monocled Nazi-doctor-on-the-run Carl Mortner.

Girls: In the pre-titles Arctic sequence, Bond has a sexy assistant piloting his getaway boat (“Call me James,” he says, unzipping her cold-weather gear. “It’s five days to Alaska.”) At Zorin’s French chateaux, we meet two lovely women who work for May Day: Jenny Flex played by Alison Doody and Pan Ho played by Papillon Soo Soo. Doody was – and remains, I think – the youngest ever ‘Bond girl’ (18) and later had a good role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Although I’ve never spotted her, Maud Adams from The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy is reportedly an extra in the scene filmed at San Francisco’s fish market. “Bond girl Fiona Fullerton”, as last year’s Strictly Come Dancing insisted on calling her, appears as KGB agent Pola Ivanova. The female lead is Stacey Sutton, played by former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts like she’s in a daytime soap. Despite being a poor performance, and the fact she’s introduced into the film by a screech of sexy saxophone, this was actually an admirable attempt at a believable woman with an everyday life and a history.

Regulars: Moneypenny, M and Q all get to tart up and have a day at the races with Bond in order to scope out Max Zorin. Sir Fredrick Gray is still the Minister of Defence. (That’s eight years now he’s held the post. In reality, there’d been four Ministers since 1977: Frederick Mulley, Francis Pym, John Nott and Michael Heseltine.) General Gogol appears again – one of his bodyguards is played by Grace Jones’s then boyfriend: He-Man himself, Dolph Lundgren. David Yip plays Chuck Lee, a CIA agent who’s Felix Leiter in all but name.

Action: The opening Arctic sequence features a helicopter, skiing, ski-dos, one-legged skiing, impromptu snowboarding, cut-in shots of Roger filmed back in the studio, and a submarine disguised as an iceberg. Bond pursues May Day up the Eiffel Tower. When she jumps off and parachutes to the ground, he races to the ground on top of a lift then steals a taxi to carry on the chase (the car gets ruined). Bond and his ally Tippett have a fight with two goons, one of whom is Big Ron from EastEnders. There’s a dramatic fight/chase on horseback. Bond and Stacey are attacked in her house – Bond has only a shotgun loaded with rock salt. The sequence with San Francisco City Hall on fire and the subsequent fire-truck chase are excellently staged. The stuff in Zorin’s mines is likewise great (the studio sets are as massive as they are convincing) – although, Bond and May Day’s dialogue gets very on-the-nose at times. We end with an airship crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge.

Comedy: A cover version of the Beach Boys’ California Girls is used when Bond surfs across the Arctic Sea: very silly. Seeing the regular cast at the horseracing is great fun, especially the punchline that Bond had been smart enough to bet on Zorin’s nag. Sir Godfrey Tippett (Patrick Macnee) poses as Bond’s chauffeur and the double act is played for as much droll humour as possible. The quips throughout the movie are mostly more successful – dryer, sharper – than in the facetious Octopussy. One especially made me chuckle. Pola Ivanova’s in a jacuzzi, and says “The bubbles tickle my… [hears the music Bond’s put on] Tchaikovsky!”

Music: First rank. The score from John Barry is just tremendous. Brassy, with wild electric guitars, it conveys tension and action equally well. Duran Duran’s title song is likewise sensational – one of the very best Bond songs, it combines mood, melody and urgency into one of the best pop tracks of the 1980s.

Octopussy (John Glen, 1983)


There’s certainly not much wrong with Octopussy. But then again, there’s not a huge amount about it that especially excites me either. Perhaps because there’s no ‘ticking clock’ for the first half of the film – Bond is investigating some smugglers because of nebulous rumours they might be raising money for the Soviets – there’s no real motor driving the story. We’re also, sadly, back to a very quip-heavy and flippant script – co-written by Flashman novelist George MacDonald Fraser. No situation or bad guy’s death can pass without some tiresome pun. Mitchell and Webb could easily have has this movie in mind for their Moneypenny’s friend sketch.

As we’re in India for a large clunk, we get cliché after cliché: snake-charmers, curry, a bed of nails, hot coals to be walked across, sahris, elephants… And, although it does all make sense, I found trying to keep track of which Fabergé egg was which distracting. It’s not a disaster, by any means, and at times very enjoyable. But it is one of the series’s weakest entries, I think. Six Miss Penelope Smallbones out of 10.

Bond: Bless him, Roger’s starting to look a bit long in the tooth now. (From 1979 to 1985, James Bond 007 was in his fifties. Before and since, he’s always been younger.) Before production, out-of-contract Moore said he didn’t want to do another one – so American actor James Brolin was courted and screen-tested. Brolin talks warmly of the experience on Octopussy’s DVD extras. But Rog then changed his mind and played Bond for a sixth time.

Villains: General Orlov is the main threat: a total fruitloop of a Russian agitator played, um, rather theatrically by Steven Berkoff. His ally is Afghan smuggler Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan, who was Dracula in my favourite adaptation of the novel). He has four main lieutenants: turban-headed Gobinda, who crushes some dice to powder when Bond out-cheats Khan at backgammon; nameless twins who know a lot of circus tricks; and sexy Magda, who flirts with and beds Bond with super-model elegance. Octopussy herself is played soft-spokenly and with sympathy by the striking Maud Adams (who was also in The Man With the Golden Gun).

Girls: Bond’s Hispanic helper in the not-related-to-the-main-story opening sequence flashes side-boob and legs to distract a goon. Moneypenny has been given a one-film assistant, a Slone Ranger called Penelope Smallbone – shame she has no personality. There’s also the cute girl in India who shows Bond to his hotel room. In Q’s lab, James childishly plays with a video camera, zooming in and out of a conveniently nearby cleavage. And, of course, there’s Octopussy’s all-female army.

Regulars: As mentioned, Moneypenny has a secretary herself now. The Minister of Defence appears again. General Gogol has a vital role in the story; his secretary returns too. Q’s lab is on tour again – this time, they’ve decamped to India (do all double-O agents get this back-up?) – while his assistant Smithers is back from the previous film. Most notably, we have a new M (actor Bernard Lee had died in 1981). There’s no acknowledgement on screen that this is a replacement so it could be simply a recasting of the same man – but he is now played by Robert Brown, who appeared as a navy bigwig in The Spy Who Loved Me (the kind of position from which an M could be promoted). He comes out to Berlin to brief Bond – would the real head of MI6 in 1983 escort one of his secret agents to within 20 yards of Checkpoint Charlie? Isn’t that asking to be rumbled?

Action: Bond uses a cool, fold-up mini-plane in the pre-titles. The resulting action includes some excellent model work. There’s a well-staged chase through downtown Dehli with Bond and the bad guys both in three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis. Bond is the prey in an Indian hunting sequence – he must tackle elephant, a tiger and a snake as well as blokes with rifles. Bond and Octopussy are attacked in her palace and one of the heavies ends up with an octopus attached to his face. Bond escapes some Russians in a car; the tyres are all shot off, so he drives onto a train track, chases after their train and jumps onto the last carriage. A good sequence follows in which 007’s on top of, hanging off the side of, and underneath a speeding train. During the climactic battle, Bond slides down a bannister, legs akimbo and firing a machine gun. Then he climbs on top of a plane as it takes off and hangs on for dear life.

Comedy: Lots. Too much, frankly, though some of it works well. Bond pulls into a petrol station in his mini-plane. “Fill her up please,” he smiles. There’s a nice moment in the auction scene when James bids on the Fabergé egg just to piss off Khan. MI6’s man in India (tennis star Vijay Amritraj) plays The James Bond Theme on his snake-chamer’s whistle to get 007’s attention. (As my friend Robert Dick points out, what’s odder: that he plays it, or that Bond recognises it?) During their post-coital scene, Magda says to Bond, “I need refilling.” He pauses and she holds up her empty glass. He has a similar reaction when he says of her tattoo, “Oh, that’s my little octopussy.” As mentioned, I think the surfeit of corny one-liners and silly gags gets quite tedious – see Bond telling a tiger to “Sit!” He later hides from some baddies by putting on a gorilla suit (him checking his watch when the bad guy specifies the time the bomb would go off made me laugh). Bond having to hitch-hike and then steal a car in order to get to the bomb in time is well mined for humour (and tension and frantic driving). There’s something pleasingly oddball about James Bond dressing up as a clown so he can sneak into a circus to tell people they’re in mortal danger. (Although, when you analyse it, he paused his mad-cap dash to the ticking time bomb in order to apply some pretty damn detailed clown make-up…)

Music: Rita Coolidge (no, me neither) sings the cheesy theme tune. It’s called All Time High: they baulked at a title song. Pulp’s 1997 cover version is much better. John Barry’s back on incidental-music duty.

People I’ve met: One of the Hooray Henrys who slow down as if to give hitch-hiking Bond a lift then drive off laughing before he can get in the car is played by my friend and former boss Gary Russell. We shared an office for four years and, every single day, I miss him.

For Your Eyes Only (John Glen, 1981)

For Your Eyes Only

Welcome to the 1980s. We have a new writing team, a new director, and a new sense of ambition. This was the first Bond movie to take its title from an Ian Fleming short story – they’d used up all the novels they had the rights to at the time. Ironic, then, that this has a sophistication of plotting and pacing we haven’t seen for a long while. There are agendas, double-crosses and secrets… It’s a film about characters pretending to be people they’re not… It’s a drama, a thriller, not a loosely connected series of set-pieces… In short, it’s my cup of tea. The whole thing is crisply directed by John Glen: no-nonsense but not po-faced, detailed and with momentum. I love it. (Having said all that, the film is topped and tailed by two of the silliest moments imaginable…) Nine Citroën 2CVs out of 10.

Bond: Bond puts flowers on Tracy’s grave – a nice reminder that this man has a past. We later get ski scenes, bobsleigh action and cable cars: all reminders of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. James’s short fling with Countess Lisl von Schlaf deliberately echoes Tracy as well, in its meet-cute, their costuming and the dramatic beach scene. A defining moment for the character is his vindictive murder of bad guy Locque, kicking his teetering car off a cliff.

Villains: Emile Locque is a mute Belgian gangster with octagonal glasses. His employer, Aristotle Kristatos, is played with menace by the great Julian Glover (Doctor Who, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). His main henchman is thick-necked East German biathlon Erick. Milos Columbo (the always likeable Topol) is smartly set up by the script as a red-herring bad guy, but soon becomes Bond’s ally.

Girls: The female lead is Melina Havelock, played by Carole Bouquet. She has a proper, active role in the story – a purpose, a drive – rather than being some totty that gets dragged along by 007. In an unshowy, understated way she’s one of the series’s best characters. She and Bond feel like a genuine team, equals in their quest. Bond infiltrates a Spanish villa full of pool-partying babes. A 22-year-old ice skater, Bibi Dahl (say it out loud), throws herself at 53-year-old Bond – at least he has the grace to resist. And, as mentioned, there’s Countess Lisl (Cassandra Harris, who was married to Pierce Brosnan). She plays a short but vital and effective role in the story.

Regulars: Blofeld (although not named as such) and his cat feature in the *bonkers* opening section. Quite what his cry of “I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!” is meant to mean seems to be have been forgotten by even the production team. The whole sequence appears to be some elaborate private joke. “M’s on leave,” we’re told, because Bernard Lee had died between movies and they didn’t want to recast the part so quickly. Stuffy chief of staff Tanner takes his place in the narrative. Q’s back in a Whitehall lab, and now has an assistant, Smithers. The wine-drinking extra who looks astounded by some Bondian action completes his hat-trick of movies. There are also return appearances from Sir Fredrick Gray, General Gogol, Gogol’s secretary and Moneypenny.

Action: There’s the opening helicopter sequence above Beckton Gas Works. Bond and Melina get chased through some woods, and then have the witty and fun Citroën 2CV scene. The skiing stuff is very good, especially when Bond is being hounded by heavies on motorbikes. He also gets attacked by ice-hockey players. The On Her Majesty’s-quoting scene on the beach is well staged. Columbo’s men storm one of Kristatos’s ships. We get the series’s best underwater stuff yet – shot beautifully, and directed, edited and scored for maximum tension. Bond and Melina being dragged through the sea, a scene taken from the book Live and Let Die, is brilliantly vicious. Bond’s climb up a huge rock face is nail-bitingly tense. After the cartoon excess of the last couple of films, the whole climax is admirably restrained, low-key and focused – though, the vital moment with General Gogol is rather inelegantly rushed.

Comedy: Bond’s reaction when he sees the Citroën is nicely played. There’s also Q’s over-enthusiast use of the identigraph machine (giving Locque a huge nose!). Generally, the humour is much better integrated into the story than the previous few movies: there’s wit rather than just ‘gags’. I love this character-based joke: “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned,” says Bond getting into a confessional booth. “That’s putting it mildly, 007,” answers Q, disguised as a priest. The film’s final moments are bewilderingly, flabbergastingly, sigh-inducingly risible: Janet Brown and John Wells appear as Margaret and Dennis Thatcher, in a scene that comes from an entirely different headspace from everything else.

Music: The incidental music by Bill Conti (Rocky, The Karate Kid) is just wonderful – flash, hip and energetic, it makes great use of punchy horns, rock guitar, mournful sax and slap bass. My favourite score since, aptly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The theme song is an excellent power ballad sung by Sheena Easton.

People I’ve met: No one I’ve met, but about a year ago I did see Charles Dance (minor henchman Claus) having a cuppa outside the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.