Marnie (1964, Alfred Hitchcock)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A con artist is rumbled by a businessman who then tries to help her with her psychological issues…

Much like its lead character, the movie Marnie is complex, fascinating and often admirable – but there’s also something very wrong. It’s the story of a damaged woman who’s a thief and a liar and has many deep-rooted problems stemming from a childhood trauma. But sadly it’s also the story of the man who attempts to ‘fix her’ via simplistic therapy and misogyny.

This project had a long gestation. Initially, Alfred Hitchcock planned it as his next production after Psycho (1960), but the script took a while to come into focus and eventually went through three writers. For the all-important title character, the director hoped for a huge casting coup: his former muse Grace Kelly, who’d retired from acting in 1955, was keen on a Hollywood comeback. It would have been an interesting role for her, one very different from her three previous Hitchcock characters. However, she then pulled out of the project, worried about how such a provocative movie would be taken in her new home of Monaco. Various other names were considered for the part – Marilyn Monroe, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Remick, Vera Miles and others – until, while filming The Birds in 1962, Hitchcock decided to cast its leading lady for a second time.

Tippi Hedren has always maintained that Marnie is her favourite of all her films – despite the fact she and Hitchcock fell out during filming – and it’s easy to see why. She gives a sensational performance, which is both dynamic and dangerous. She plays the eponymous Marnie Edgar, who drifts from town to town, gets jobs at high-flying firms, rips them off and does a runner. But when she shows up at a new company in Philadelphia, boss Mark Rutland (Sean Connery) recognises her from a previous encounter and twigs that she’s hiding something…

Connery was then two films into his original stint as James Bond, and he looks the part of a dashing movie star. But for some reason he doesn’t quite gel in this role. Maybe it’s the incongruous accent (to try to explain it away, the character is given a British father played by Alfred from the 1960s Batman TV show), maybe it’s his age (Connery was only 33), but he’s rather miscast as a Pennsylvanian widower from the American aristocracy. It also doesn’t help that the character is lumbered with a storyline that is at best naïve and at worst exceedingly sinister.

Marnie the movie is an attempt at some rigorous psychology. Its lead character has turned to crime in order to compensate for something lacking her life. She has a troubled, seemingly hollow relationship with her mother; she has a pathological hatred of men touching her; and she suffers from panic attacks when confronted with the colour red. The script holds back the reason for these issues until the final act when we learn that, as a child, she killed a pervert (Bruce Dern) who was attacking her prostitute mother.

But when Mark Rutland takes a shine to new employee Marnie, even though he’s worked out that she’s stolen from his company safe, he decides to help her. It’s presented mostly as curiosity and affection, but there’s more than a hint that he’s sexually attracted by the danger. And in 21st-century terms his help amounts to nothing less than abuse. He essentially blackmails her into starting a relationship with him and even marrying him. Then, on their honeymoon, while she cowers and shakes with fear, he rips off her nightdress and rapes her.

The first person to work Marnie up into a screenplay – Evan Hunter, who also wrote The Birds – was fired from the project when he left the rape scene out of his draft. It appears in the source material, a novel by the British writer Winston Graham, but Hunter argued that there’d be no way back for Mark as a character if he did something so despicable. Hitchcock disagreed. So did Hunter’s replacement, Jay Presson Allen, who gladly included it in her rewrite. (Disturbingly, given some of the accusations made about Hitchcock down the years, Hunter later said the rape scene had been the primary reason why the director had wanted to make the film. ‘When he sticks it in her,’ Hitch had told him, ‘I want that camera right on her face.’)

If that wasn’t bad enough – which it is – the film also has a ham-fisted approach to trauma therapy. Marnie is forced into a cathartic remembrance of what happened when she was a child… and then all is fine and she and Mark walk off into the sunset. Psychoanalysts scoff at this moment. So should we. Most Hitchcock films might get away with this kind of simplicity, but that’s because we understand the popcorn context. Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest is a cartoon character, a precursor of James Bond, so we don’t especially fret when his life is threatened or when he’s framed for murder. Margot Wendice is put through a horrifying time in Dial M for Murder – attacked in her home, forced to kill a man in self-defence, jailed despite her innocence – but she’s essentially a character in a Cluedo-style parlour game. She only exists for the 100 minutes she’s on screen.

Marnie Edgar, however, is a woman with a life, with baggage, and we feel for her desperately. She’s been severely damaged by the actions of one sexual pest and is now being groomed by another. Tippi Hedron deserved huge credit for making her so watchable and both strong and vulnerable at the same time.

But while its treatment of its lead character is antiquated and objectionable, much more impressive is the movie’s style. Early in his career, Alfred Hitchcock worked in the German film industry, where he directed his first full-length film, The Pleasure Garden (1925), and the buzz and innovation of Weimar Republic cinema had a lasting impression. ‘I worked there for many months,’ Hitch said in a 1960s interview. ‘And I was able to absorb a lot of the methods and style.’

In Marnie, as in many Hitchcock films, you can see the influence of German Expressionism, a style that dramatises stories, characters and settings in non-realistic ways. It uses lighting, set design, editing, costumes and all the other tools of filmmaking to turn subjective emotion into something that can be *seen* and which has a physical affect on the world of the fiction. (The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), for example, takes place on off-kilter, out-of-proportion sets in order to reflect the twisted story and the unbalanced characters.)

The most obvious piece of Expressionism in the present movie is the use of the colour red. Whenever she sees it, Marnie has a physical reaction. She pulls away, scared, at the sight of ink spilt on her blouse, for example, or the polka dots of a jockey’s silk. But it’s not just the acting that tells us she’s suffering: the screen becomes infused with a crimson wash. It’s not ‘literal’; it’s not actually happening in the diegetic world of the story. It’s Hitchcock using a cinematic device to *show* us her emotional state. (Not that every visual in Marnie is for art’s sake. The indoor sets for exterior scenes and the painfully dated backscreen projection for car journeys are most likely just down to Hitchcock’s dislike of location filming.)

There are other more trad, yet still tremendous, sequences in the film too. Marnie stealing from the Rutland & Co safe is a tension-sustainer of the highest order – complete with the absurd detail of her nearly being rumbled by a deaf cleaner – while the death of a beloved horse is genuinely moving and sees Hedren’s acting reach a fever pitch of emotion. The climactic flashback, which shows us Marnie’s violent experience as a child, is also very impressive – not least the fact that the scene begins with a disorientating zoom-in-and-track-out shot that seems to place the events inside a nightmare.

It’s an odd mixture of genres, this film – part psycho-drama, part perverted romance, part heist movie. The central storyline has many troubling issues, especially when viewed today in the era of #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein, but Tippi Hedren’s superb performance and the general flair of the filmmaking means it’s still worth seeing.

Eight men in a corridor out of 10

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003, Stephen Norrington)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: 1899 – London in April, Berlin in May, Kenya in June, and London, Paris, Venice, the open seas and Mongolia in July.

Faithful to the novel? This steampunk-influenced mash-up movie, which throws together various icons of 19th-century fiction, was based on a comic-book series by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. The film’s connection to Bram Stoker’s novel is the use of Mina Harker (played here by Peta Wilson), who joins the eponymous team of heroes. Her husband, Jonathan, has died and she’s now a vampire who can turn into a colony of bats yet seems okay with sunlight and can control her bloodlust. She also knows fellow League member Dorian Gray, with whom she shares a snog at one point; she feels betrayed when he’s revealed to be a baddie. Away from Stoker, the other key fictional creations being plundered are:

* Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery), the hero of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel King Soloman’s Mines and its sequels.

* M (Richard Roxburgh), who at first is presented as a Victorian equivalent of James Bond’s boss from Ian Fleming’s novels (1953 onwards) and their movie adaptations (1962 onwards). The character is later revealed to actually be Professor James Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’s arch-nemesis from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Final Problem (1893).

* Captain Nemo (Naseeruddin Shah) from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (1870) and The Mysterious Island (1874), two novels by Jules Verne.

* Rodney Skinner (Tony Curran), a character created for the film who’s said to have stolen the invisibility formula from the guy in HG Wells’s 1987 novella The Invisible Man.

* Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend) from Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

* Tom Sawyer (Shane West), who appeared in four Mark Twain novels between 1876 and 1896.

* Dr Henry Jekyll (Jason Flemyng) from Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novella.

* Phileas Fogg from Verne’s novel Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) is also mentioned.

Best performance: Oh, I don’t know. Tony Curran’s funny, I suppose.

Best bit: An info-dump scene 64 minutes in, which is heard by the characters as a gramophone recording – but which we see as period-quality, black-and-white footage with the baddies talking straight to camera.

Review: At first, you think this is going to be fun. A crack team of famous characters from different fictions is brought together to fight a common enemy in a swashbuckling, derring-do adventure. But the cliché-happy dialogue, affected performances and general lack of both nuance and oomph wear you down very quickly. On the upside, the sets and costumes are gorgeous – especially those connected to Nemo’s submarine – so just watch with the sound turned down.

Four “automobiles” out of 10

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

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Indiana Jones is hired by a businessman to track down the Holy Grail, a quest that brings him face-to-face with his father…

Seen before? Yes, loads of times. I first saw it at the cinema, aged 10: it was one of the highlights of my childhood. I can vividly remember the huge woofer of a laugh everyone gave to Sean Connery’s sarcastic “I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers!”

Best performance: Connery is just fantastic. His comic timing, especially in tandem with Harrison Ford, is a thing of joy. I’ve read that when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas came to cast Indiana Jones’s dad, they felt the only person suitable would be James Bond. They got it spot on. (Apparently, Connery ad-libbed the “She talks in her sleep” gag.)

Best scene/moment/sequence: There’s plenty of wonderful comic moments, great stunts, snappy dialogue and grisly touches. One highlight is an unrivalled run of gag-filled action in the desert: Dr Jones Snr is inside a tank, being held captive by Nazis, while Dr Jones Jnr is fighting them on top, around and hanging off the side of it. Both halves of the scene (inside and out) are inventive and exciting, and each wittily affects the other in haphazard ways.

Review: Another *corker*. There’s a deliberate return to many of Raiders of the Lost Ark’s successful elements – a lecture scene with gooey-eyed students looking up adoringly at Indy; Marcus Brody, who gets a lot to do; Sallah; Biblical mythology; the Nazis; a climax in a desert wilderness… But this is no pale copy or lazy retread. Firstly, a terrific 15-minute prologue gives us a perfectly cast River Phoenix as a young Indiana Jones (his fear of snakes, his scar, his hat, his skill with a rope – all explained). Then, of course, there’s Sean Connery, who’s constantly entertaining. The script is peppy, the action is fast-moving, the music is delightful, Ford is clearly having a ball, and the whole film is a riot from start to finish.

Ten Holy Grails out of 10.

Never Say Never Again (Irvin Kershner, 1983)

Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again was a rival production to the ongoing Eon series and, for tedious legal reasons to do with writer/producer Kevin McClory’s claim on its authorship, was a second adaptation of the novel Thunderball. So, while not part of the ‘canon’, it is an authorised James Bond movie… Nevertheless, it’s like a photocopy: recognisable and more or less adequate, but you do wish you had the original instead. It was directed by Irvin Kershner, who three years earlier had made The Empire Strikes Back – but this seriously lacks that film’s blockbuster sheen. Compared to the main series, NSNA just comes off a cheap and gloomy. Whereas Cubby Broccoli gave us glamour and quality, McClory can only provide overcast skies and stock footage. There are some pretty hefty coincidences and plot contrivances too – not least that the whole story is based on the notion that, as long as the US President looks into a retinal scanner, he or anyone close to him can then do whatever they like with the American nuclear arsenal. Having said all that, the film does have a knockabout charm, Sean Connery is great fun, the Bond girl’s not bad looking, and the two main baddies are quite entertaining. Six Tears of Allah out of 10.

Bond: Sean’s back – 12 years since he quit the official series for a second time, but a few years before his Untouchables/Last Crusade/Hunt for Red October renaissance.

Villains: Fatima Blush is a vampy and increasingly deranged SPECTRE agent who, early on, poses as a nurse, beats her patient up, then teases him with a flash of stocking. After he’s done some espionage for her, she kills him by throwing a snake into his car as he drives along. She’s my favourite thing about the whole film. Max Von Sydow plays Blofeld; there’s no attempt to hide his face. The chief bad guy is Maximillian Largo, played with Euro-charm twinkle and flashes of real menace by Klaus Maria Brandauer. He has a fascination with computer games, solely so he and Bond can play a tense one-to-one arcade game that gives its loser an electric shock.

Girls: The opening scene has a woman tied to a bed; when Bond frees her, she stabs him (it’s part of a Secret Service training op). As in Thunderball, the health farm has a physiotherapist who is easily seduced by 007. Valerie Leon plays a fisherwoman Bond picks up in Nassau. In France, he has a dull female helper and visits a health spa – there’s a doe-eyed receptionist, then James pretends to be a masseur in order to get close to Domino (and sneak a peek at her naked body). Domino is the movie’s female lead. When we first see her, she’s dancing in a leotard and leggings – Largo is perving at her through a two-way mirror (as, by extension, are we). She’s played by Kim Basinger, a bit insipidly but very pleasing-on-the-eye-ily.

Regulars: Aside from Bond, it’s a new cast, of course. Edward – or is it James? – Fox plays M. There are pointed references to his ‘illustrious predecessor’, surely a nod towards the main series. Pamela Salem appears as a dippy Miss Moneypenny. Blofeld, as mentioned, and his cat show up. This film’s Q, named Algernon for some reason, is much more working-class than Desmond Llewellyn’s take. And Sean gets his fifth different Felix Leiter: Bernie Casey, the first black actor to play the role.

Action: The opening scene sees Bond single-handedly storm a compound. He has a long brawl in a gymnasium with Pat Roach, who played tough guys in all the 1980s Indiana Jones movies. It spills out into the corridor and a crowd of people don’t notice because they’re watching boxing on a TV. The scene ends in a lab – Bond throws some liquid in Pat’s face and it turns out to be his own urine sample. There’s also Jack’s snake-related car crash, a motorbike chase through narrow Riviera streets, and the climactic battle in Largo’s base. On horseback, Bond rescues Domino from a slave auction, then somehow persuades the horse to jump off a 50-foot-high battlement into the sea. Like Thunderball, there’s lots of dull underwater stuff. The best ‘action’ scene in the film is Bond and Domino’s dramatic, choreographed dance routine at the casino.

Comedy: Good humour is mined from Bond’s advancing age. M advises against too much red meat, white bread and dry martinis. “Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir,” he says. The famous “From here?” gag about giving a urine sample is repeated from an episode of Porridge (its writers worked on the shooting script). “I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence,” says Q during his one scene. Rowan Atkinson appears as a buffoonish embassy official. Bond tricks a doorman into holding a ‘bomb’ absolutely still, otherwise it’ll go off – it’s actually his cigar case. In the final shot of the movie, Sean winks at the camera.

Music: Michel Legrand wrote the not-very-Bondian score. At one point, it goes all rapidly plucked double-bass and scat-scat jazz trumpet. The terrible theme song, performed by Lani Hall, plays over the opening scene (rather than an abstract title sequence).

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.

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.

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.