Bond. James Bond.

Lately, I’ve been watching the James Bond movies for the first time in a while. With SPECTRE due out in November, and recent marathons on BBC America, El Rey, and Ion, I’ve been able to see most of the series again on DVR. (BTW, Ion, you really butchered Casino Royale. I know it’s basic cable, but yeesh! How many commercials can you cram in?) I missed Doctor No and Thunderball, as well as Octopussy and View to a Kill (and thank God for small favors.) But I also didn’t get to see the Dalton movies. And The Man With the Golden Gun is on a premium channel. (Really? I have to pay for that one? Why not ask for my money for something like From Russia With Love?) But I did get to see the rarely-aired On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. On this weekend’s agenda is License to Kill and Skyfall.

Periodically, I’ve ranked the Bonds from worst to first, partly because it’s so much fun to go through the series again. And of course, my list is different from lists in the past or even other people’s lists. Some people hate the Dalton movies or the Brosnan movies or think Roger Moore had no reason to play Bond or why did Lazenby listen to his idiot agent? (And his agent was an idiot.)

So how do I rank them?

First off, I’m only doing the EON movies. The 1967 Casino Royale is a spoof and barely worth mentioning, even if David Niven was Ian Fleming’s first choice as James Bond. Also, I don’t count the 1983 non-EON movie Never Say Never Again, which Kevin McClory made simply because he owned the rights to Blofeld and SPECTRE. (Sony has managed to get those rights back, hence, Daniel Craig’s next outing in November.)

Now off we go after the jump. (All photos EON/MGM/Sony)

Roger Moore and Tanya Roberts23.  A View to a Kill

It’s really too bad that Roger Moore did not stop at For Your Eyes Only. He might have gone out on top with three classic Bonds, one OK movie, and could write off Moonraker. But this Bond is the weakest of the lot, partly for having a 58-year-old Moore paired up with former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, 28 years his junior. Christopher Walken is wasted in this movie as Zorin, the rogue billionaire who wants to wipe out Silicon Valley. The movie’s one saving grace, no pun intended, is Grace Jones as May Day, Zorin’s hench woman and the scariest Bond girl ever. Jones is simply a force of nature that has to run her course in this one. This is one of the movies with Robert Brown as a forgettable M, and Lois Maxwell is way too old to be playing Moneypenny. One can’t blame the actors for this, however. Moore, who generally shrugs off the absurd elements with a cock of the eyebrow and a quip, is given too little to work with. Maybe it’s a good thing Dalton or Brosnan didn’t start their tenures until later.

Roger Moore in clown makeup22. Octopussy

The only reason they made this movie was because Sean Connery would do Kevin McClory’s Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again. Like Walken a couple years later, Louis Jourdan (who could easily play a French James Bond) is wasted as Kamal Khan while Moore just looks uncomfortable. There’s also the clown scenes with both the doomed 009 and Bond himself in disguise being chased by knife-wielding commie twins. It’s Robert Brown’s first turn as M, and you really miss Bernard Lee’s older, gruffer spymaster. You’re never really sure what Maude Adams’ character is in this one. She seems almost superfluous to the plot, which involves a renegade Soviet general trying to start World War III by blowing up an airbase in Germany. Walter Gotell, who plays frequent rival General Gogol, is the good guy in this movie, attempting to stop his mad colleague from leading the USSR into certain destruction. However, they did a much better job with this story in a movie that starred, ironically, Pierce Brosnan and one-time Bond hopeful Michael Caine. The Fourth Protocol.

Initially, Moore did not want to do this movie. Brosnan and Dalton were approached, and James Brolin was screen tested. I’ve seen Brolin’s screen test. It’s not bad, but I don’t think anyone could have gotten past that American accent after Connery’s Scottish accent and Moore and George Lazenby speaking BBC English. (Incidentally, Lazenby has an American accent as well these days.)

Holly Goodhead, Bond, and Jaws21. Moonraker

All right, I’ll stop picking on Moore. He had a longest tenure as Bond, and had he left in 1981 as he originally wanted, this would be the only blemish on his record. Following the triumph that was The Spy Who Loved Me, they were supposed to make For Your Eyes Only. But Star Wars exploded in 1977, and everyone was trying to grab some of that sweet, sweet scifi cash. EON wanted in on the action. So they took the plot of The Spy Who Loved Me, set it in space, and used the space shuttle as one of the chase vehicles. This movie is head and shoulders above the previous two on this list since most of the movie is chasing down Hugo Drax and finding out why he stole his own space shuttle from NASA (or rather the British, who were borrowing it.) Lois Chiles is a CIA-trained Bond girl who is not the helpless damsel. So we get a sexy Bond girl filling the role normally filled by Felix Leiter. It’s also Bernard Lee’s final turn as M, the actor having died during the shooting of For Your Eyes Only.

And let’s not forget Jaws, played by Richard Kiel, simultaneously the funniest and scariest henchman in Bond history. He seemingly comes out of nowhere in the first scene and, like the Coyote to Moore’s Roadrunner, manages to survive intact, minus his dignity.

Two things keep this movie at the bottom of my list. First, the space scenes. I would still have trouble with Daniel Craig storming the International Space Station, so imagine how silly it looks for 1979. Then there’s Hugo Drax, who seems to have people killed for the sole purpose of it being about 10 minutes since he’s had someone else killed. A couple of people are understandable, but Drax’s decision to kill Bond when his only reason for showing up is to say, “Hey, your space shuttle didn’t crash; it disappeared” is pretty stupid. Again, you have to blame EON for trying to cash in instead of doing what they do best.

Blofeld and cat

“And when Mr. Bigglesworth is angry, PEOPLE DIE!”

20. You Only Live Twice

What? You put a Connery movie at twenty? How dare you! At least make it Diamonds Are Forever. Hey, Diamonds has its flaws, but maybe I’m a snob. YOLT, like Moonraker later on, has one of my least favorite plot devices in all of Bonddom: The Satellite of Doom. If some of the action in space looked silly in 1979, it really looks silly in 1967. I could be biased, but years of bad Bond knockoffs, Get Smart, and Austin Powers have probably clouded my view since all of them trace their tropes back to YOLT. But what lets this movie start off the top 20 is Tiger Tanaka, Bond’s ally in Japan, and Bond girl Kissy Suzuki, who kicks a bit of ass on her own and looks great doing it. I read the book to You Only Live Twice, and I have to say I like Kissy better in the movie. But Connery looks bored in this one, and the hollowed-out volcano trope has probably been ruined for me.

There is a cool scene at the beginning where they fake Bond’s death. Two Hong Kong police officers find him “dead” in the apartment of a beautiful local girl and quip, “He would have wanted it that way.”

We also finally get to see Blofeld face-to-face as Donald Pleasance, playing the part as the cat-fondling role model for Mike Meyers’s Doctor Evil. And maybe that’s why I don’t think as highly of this movie as others do. It seems like Bond has already drifted into parody.

Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day19. Die Another Day

When you get higher in lower end of the pack, there’s usually one or two things that drag these movies down. Brosnan’s final outing as Bond has a great premise. Bond is captured by the North Koreans and tortured for about a year. (Naturally, North Korea did not care for being the Bond villain. Naturally, no one outside of Pyongyang really cared what North Korea thought.) As a result, he’s washed up and cast aside by a disappointed M. So Bond goes looking for the man who betrayed him, finding him in a gene therapy clinic in Cuba. There, he hooks up – literally – with Jinx, an NSA agent who, like Holly Goodhead, is both Bond girl and Felix Leiter surrogate. So what keeps this movie lower down? Is it the Satellite of Doom scenario? Actually, science fiction writer Tobias Buckell used Die Another Day‘s solar powered weapon premise to great effect in Arctic Rising, so this one actually flies. Is it the ice palace where Bond fights villain Gustav Graves? Well, no, they actually build those in Scandinavia and Canada. It’s actually Graves himself. We are supposed to believe that, in the year since Bond was captured, North Korea’s Colonel Moon has remade himself into a Richard Branson clone and is suddenly the richest man in the world.

And then there’s the invisible car. Neat concept, just not for Bond.

But it’s too bad this is the end of the original continuity because it’s John Cleese’s only turn as Q. (He was Q’s assistant in The World Is Not Enough.) We also lose Samantha Bond as a brassier, more involved Moneypenny, as well as Colin Salmon as Robertson, the Bill Tanner stand-in who became a rather interesting character himself. At least we get three more outings of Judi Dench as the newer, more maternal M.

Christopher Lee as Scaramanga18. The Man With the Golden Gun

I like a lot of the ideas in this movie. I like that they kept Scaramanga from the novel. I like Herve Villechaiz as pint-sized assassin Nick Nack. And he was a creepy little bastard in this one. And how can you not love Christopher Lee as a Bond villain? There’s even an in-joke with the man who played Dracula obsessed with sunning himself. (With that said, wouldn’t Lee’s frequent costar Peter Cushing have made a great Blofeld?) But Britt Ekland is dull as Mary Goodnight, and Roger Moore shows none of his usual spark in this one. Even Bernard Lee, the gruff yet grandfatherly M, looks bored. At least Desmond Llewellyn’s Q returns for this outing. I think this was a pretty good story in its own right, but, like The World Is Not Enough, it looks like it’d make a better novel than a movie. It’s loosely based on the Ian Fleming novel, but it takes a radically different turn, and there’s no assassination attempt on M that Fleming wrote and Kingsley Amis played upon in the first continuation novel. Really, what holds this movie down is execution.

Mr.Wint and Mr. Kidd17. Diamonds Are Forever

Lazenby quits, and EON wants Connery back. It opens with an angry Bond traveling the world to hunt down and kill Blofeld (played by Charles Gray, who remains my favorite Blofeld.) Bond only manages to kill off a couple of decoy doubles. M assigns Bond to find out about a diamond smuggling operation, which leads him to pose as Peter Franks, a known smuggler himself. The movie takes the original novel and inserts a (Wait for it….) Satellite of Doom™ and Blofeld. It’s really Connery’s weakest Bond for EON, but it’s still great fun to watch. There are some continuity problems within the movie, but the moments that make it are terrific. When Bond confronts the real Peter Franks outside Tiffany Case’s apartment, he fakes lifting Franks’s wallet and shows Case his Playboy Club membership card. “You just killed James Bond!” (Admit it. Moore and maybe Lazenby could pull that one off, but you’d never see it happen to Dalton, Brosnan, or Daniel Craig.) There’s also Q’s casual rigging of the slot machines at Circus Circus to supplement his public servant’s salary. Jimmy Dean plays a reclusive clone of Howard Hughes.  And Charles Gray is a bit “cheeky” as Blofeld. But Connery looks old and bored, though it’s great having him back.

Special mention needs to go to two of the best Bond henchmen ever created, the deadly couple Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd.

Timothy Dalton16. The Living Daylights

Timothy Dalton’s debut. Dalton will forever rank only behind Connery and Craig in my mind.  But his debut comes off as a well-made movie of the week. Dalton’s Bond is not Moore’s cheeky playboy. No, this Bond is the logical successor. He’s been doing this too long. He’s stressed. He’s ragged. He makes Connery’s Bond in his darker moods look well adjusted.

Dalton, to me, is the Bond from Casino Royale, not as intense as Daniel Craig, but definitely showing the strain of being a 00 for so many years.

There’s a lot I don’t like about this one. John Rhys-Davies is good as General Pushkin, but we have the forgettable Robert Brown as M and the equally forgettable Caroline Bliss as the new Moneypenny. Instead of Lois Maxwell’s flirtatious but maternal Moneypenny, we get a fawning damsel. Maryam d’Abo is dull as the Bond girl. The story, a conventional late Cold War spy thriller, is executed like a movie-of-the-week.

On the other hand, it’s not A View to a Kill.

Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh15. Tomorrow Never Dies

Brosnan’s second outing. The villain is part Rupert Murdoch, part Bill Gates, and part Joseph Pulitzer (directly referenced near the end of the movie.) I love this one for Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese equal to 007. Brosnan is brilliant as always in the role. Jonathan Pryce is delicious as Elliot Carver, a colossus in broadcasting and in sheer ego.

Why would I rank this below The World Is Not Enough?

Three reasons. First, Carver suffers from Hugo Drax syndrome, willing to kill people for monumentally trivial reasons. Second, Teri Hatcher came off as stiff as a Paris, not my favorite Bond girl. Finally, like a lot of the lesser Bonds, the action scenes tend to be a bit over the top.

On the other hand, the chemistry between Brosnan and Yeoh is terrific. Yeoh is, in fact, so good, I based a character on her. I also loved Bond’s BMW. While the chase scene in the parking garage is a bit much, the car is the star of that sequence.

Pierce Brosnan14. The World Is Not Enough

This one would make a better novel than it did a movie. The story is great – a tale of personal revenge against M. MI6 is literally blown up (and the real MI6 let EON use their headquarters for the exterior shots, which they do in the later Daniel Craig movies.) Brosnan is, as always, great as a wounded James Bond, with Samantha Bond as a sassier Moneypenny to keep him in check. Sophie Marceau is a complex and shrewd Bond girl who is not what she seems. Robbie Coltrane returns for his final turn as Bond’s Russian ally Zukovsky, who is most definitely not Hagrid from the Harry Potter series.

What spoils the movie is a few over-the-top action scenes and Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist. She’s too young, and her first scene is stripping out of a radiation suit.

The movie has an unintentionally poignant moment when we’re introduced to John Cleese as the new Q, dubbed R for this movie. Desmond Llewellyn’s announces his retirement and tells Bond “Always have an escape plan” before disappearing into the floor. It’s sad because Llewellyn, who played Q since From Russia With Love, died shortly after the movie’s release. Cleese proved to be a good foil for Brosnan’s Bond, but producers wisely chose to replace him with a new character in the Craig movies.

Bond jumps a boat in the bayou13. Live and Let Die

Roger Moore’s debut, and one of the coolest Bond themes ever. This used to be in my top 10, but it slips not because of any of the others, but the blaxploitation vibe kind of puts me off. But Moore steps in when Connery and Lazenby both refuse the role. His Bond is cheekier, more suave than Connery’s, more confident than Lazenby’s.

Despite the race angle, Live and Let Die is rather iconic among Bond films. Tee Hee, Kananga’s henchman with a pincher for a hand, is one of the best Bond villains to date. Kananga himself is almost likeable, a refreshing change from the mustache-twirling Blofeld of the previous three films. David Hedison is probably the best Felix Leiter of the original continuity (Feel free to argue for Jack Lord) and second maybe to Jeffrey Wright in the new continuity.

The other thing that keeps this out of the top 10 for me is the silly way Bond kills Kananga at the end, which is to blow him up like a balloon. It just looks silly.

But James Bond has returned, and Moore looks like he’s in it for the long haul.

Daniel Craig and Judi Dench12. Quantum of Solace

This movie picks up minutes after the end of Casino Royale. Because this movie is so dependent on Daniel Craig’s first outing, it almost doesn’t make sense without seeing the first one. We start with Bond in a classic car chase — cold opening, no less — his car getting banged up, even losing a door. When Bond arrives at the Italian hideout MI6 is using, surprise! It’s Mr. White in the trunk. During the interrogation, M’s own bodyguard turns out to be a traitor, working for the shadowy Quantum organization. Despite M’s misgivings that Bond is insane with rage over Vesper Lynd’s death, 007 is soon trailing the mysterious Dominic Green, whose environmental organization is a cover for Quantum’s activities. While the trailer for SPECTRE suggests that Quantum may itself be a front for the titular terrorist organization, QoS shows us an entity that makes the Blofeld of the sixties look like a playground bully at best.

This rates high because of its evolution of the rebooted Bond. His license to kill has racked him up an alarming body count, and M openly wonders if she made a mistake. Craig’s Bond is not Connery’s or Lazenby’s or Moore’s. He’s not the world weary Bond of the Dalton movies or the Brosnan Bond comfortable with his team. Jeffrey Wright returns as a conflicted Felix Leiter saddled with a sleazy partner in his CIA post in Bolivia.

But the plot is relatively murky, and that keeps this one out of the top 10. Still, you can’t have Skyfall or SPECTRE without Quantum of Solace. And one wonders if all this is leading Bond back to the beginning with either a remake of Doctor No, as with the EON films, or even revisiting Live and Let Die, the second Bond novel.

Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No11. Doctor No

If Skyfall hadn’t been as good, this would be in the top 10. It’s the first. It’s where Connery created the template for all future Bonds. Everyone, except Moore, based his performance on this Bond. And Moore needed to differentiate himself from Connery since only George Lazenby had taken over the role.

While I consider Hedison the best Felix Leiter in the original continuity, many consider Jack Lord to be the best, having created the role. Doctor No, like next two movies, were small films, short on special effects and elaborate gadgets. Bond is young and full of swagger, the Bond Craig’s version has yet to become.

Some of the elements are not established yet. Bernard Lee’s M is simply a grumpy old boss, and Q, here called Major Boothroyd, is played by another actor. (The Spy Who Loved Me establishes it’s the same character.) The exotic locale is Jamaica.

Timothy Dalton10. License to Kill

People either love this movie or hate it. I liked it because it brings the entire Bond series to a logical point for a hard reboot if necessary. If you don’t like Dalton, this is a bad movie, since its production values are, like The Living Daylights, on par with a movie of the week.

But to me, it makes the top 10 because it’s a personal Bond, one not seen since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Leiter, played once more by David Hedison, is horribly maimed in a revenge attack by South American drug lord Sanchez (a thin roman a clef for Manuel Noriega, who is a real-life Bond villain taken out by the older George Bush and Guns N’ Roses). Bond tells M to go screw himself and goes after Sanchez.

What would have made this better would have been the earlier introduction of Judi Dench as the new M or replacing Robert Brown with someone like Charles Gray or John Cleese or maybe even, dare I suggest it, Sylvester McCoy. Same with Moneypenny. Samantha Bond would have added some heft to the character, and there are a number of English actresses at the time who could have made her more than a fawning kitten crying over Bond back at Regent’s Park. That’s the downside.

On the upside, this is a gritty, in-your-face spy thriller with Dalton bringing the stressed, burning-out James Bond to his logical conclusion. It sets up Brosnan’s more self-assured but initially rudderless Bond quite nicely.

Plus Wayne Newton is hysterical as a pseudo-televangelist scamming bucks from gullible Americans to finance Sanchez’s operations. And Sanchez’s end? Well, this movie is yet another take on the novel Live and Let Die (Bond taking on narcotics dealers and avenging Leiter’s near death.) Sanchez’s death by immolation is the fate Kananga should have had at the end of Roger Moore’s version of the tale. Both movies are otherwise good, but License, despite being one of the cheap Bonds, does a better job retelling it. If it’s any consolation, Moore fans, Live and Let Die still has one of the coolest themes in Bond history. (The others are View to a KillDiamonds Are Forever, and Quantum of Solace.)

Bond and Jaws9. The Spy Who Loved Me

This is almost Moore’s best outing. To some people, it is the best of the Moore Bonds. It almost consistently ranks in people’s top 10. The basic plot is essentially the same as You Only Live Twice: Evil genius threatens to do damage to the world by stealing superpowers’ spaceships/submarines/space shuttles/all-powerful thingamajigs. Original drafts of this had Blofeld as the villain. Thanks a lot, Kevin McClory. Why couldn’t you just cash the damn check and spare us Never Say Never Again?

Anyway, Moore really hits his stride as the older, smoother, more confident Bond. Think of the original Bonds as a continuum. Connery’s Bond, like Craig’s is right now, the cocky young Bond, a bit too enamored with his 00 status. Lazenby is that Bond starting to question his place in MI6 and the world. Moore is more settled into his role as Britain’s blunt instrument. It’s even reflected in the ease with which he deals M and Defence Minister Sir Frederick Gray (even calling him Freddie in a casual chat about the situation.) Dalton is Bond getting burned out with Brosnan moving past that as he finds his role redefined in a post-Cold War world.

Spy is the perfect example of that, along with its intended follow-up, For Your Eyes Only. (And we shall forget Octopussy and A View to a Kill. In fact, let us never speak of them again. At least not in this blog.) He’s given the perfect mirror in Bond girl/opposite number in the Soviet Union, Major Anya Amasova (the aptly named KGB agent Triple X.) Unlike past Bond girls, she is Bond’s equal, a forerunner of Holly Goodhead, Melina Havelock, Natalya Simonova, Wai Lin, and Jinx. She’s almost a combination of Tiger Tanaka (tough foreign ally, and in this case, rival) and Kissy Suzuki (tough woman who nonetheless falls for Bond. Or is it the other way around?)

Stromberg is the stock evil genius, but a decent surrogate for Blofeld. Unlike Drax in the dreadful remake Moonraker, Stromberg’s habit of killing just about everyone connected to his scheme is more understandable. He’s eliminating evidence and besides, everyone will be dead when his plans come to fruition.

But its Jaws who is the perfect henchman for this movie. Richard Kiel plays the metal-mouthed thug to silent perfection (often painfully as the dental appliance to turn him into Jaws hurt his real teeth and gums.) Jaws is a scary villain when he’s stalking his prey and killing people, but he also provides just the right about of comic relief. When Bond and Amasova foil him, he shrugs it off by straightening his jacket and shambling off, embarrassed but ready to fight again. The best scene between his two appearances is in this one where, when Bond dumps him in a shark tank (Dr. Evil’s easily escapable situation where he’ll just assume his victims die), Jaws turns the tables on the sharks and bites one of them.

This is a big Bond and done much better than You Only Live TwiceDiamonds Are Forever, and Die Another Day.

Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean

007 with 006: One does not simply survive to the closing credits when one is played by Sean Bean

8. Goldeneye

Brosnan’s debut, and what a debut it is. There is a 6-year gap between License to Kill and Goldeneye in which Dalton’s contract expired and the Cold War ended. The Bond universe changes as well. Moneypenny is more of a foil than a crush/admirer. The new M is from a Jack Ryan state of mind, an analyst rather than a field agent like Bond and his clones. Judi Dench, more than Pierce Brosnan, defines this new Bond era and, in some ways, takes the role of head of MI6 back to a more parental role as played by the late Bernard Lee.

It’s somewhat a personal Bond, not as much as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Skyfall later on. 006 is presumed dead only to resurface as the mysterious Janus, a Russian gangster bent on destroying Britain for what they did to his Cossack forbears. Isabella Scorupco is terrific as the resourceful, if bewildered, Natalya Simonova. It’s also the first appearance of Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid from the Harry Potter series) as Bond’s reluctant ally, Zukovsky.  Coltrane is awesome in the role and more than makes up for the poorly cast Joe Don Baker as Wade. (Although I like Wade a lot better than Baker’s previous Bond role, a ridiculous arms dealer in The Living Daylights named Whitaker.) Really, since Hedison’s Leiter lost a leg below the knee, it would have been more logical to cast a new Leiter and tell the actor to limp while playing a desk-bound Leiter venturing out into the field. Fortunately, Wade disappears after Tomorrow Never Dies.

Sean Connery in jet pack7. Thunderball

This is the first really big Bond. Goldfinger was certainly the first over-the-top Bond and defined the series going forward (at least until the hard reboot with Daniel Craig.) Blofeld plays a more prominent role as head of SPECTRE (though he’s very much present in From Russia With Love) as the mastermind behind the theft of two nuclear weapons. Adolfo Celi is great as Blofeld’s “Number Two” (and the inspiration for Robert Wagner’s character in Austin Powers), Emilio Largo. Bond is at his horniest, cockiest, and best. While Goldfinger was a better movie for basically inventing the series, Thunderball has the best story. All the trappings of a big Bond movie are here but have yet to become cliche. It’s a story that could be transplanted to Jack Ryan (and in fact, probably was on Tom Clancy’s mind when he wrote The Sum of All Fears.)

In reality, this movie should have been followed by On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which could have allowed Lazenby or Moore or even Michael Caine (an early Bond hopeful) to assume the role. I don’t think Connery’s personality is suited for OHMSS, and following Fleming’s original Blofeld arc would have yielded a much better You Only Live Twice. (I know I’m in the minority, but it really is a weak movie that explains Connery’s frustration with the role.)

But Bond saves the world. And Connery’s interactions with the women, while sexist and a bit paternalistic, are spot on for the Mad Men era. SPECTRE makes an excellent third party in the Cold War, and casting it aside until the Craig era shows how the nature of East-West relations was a wise decision.

Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem6. Skyfall

The most personal of the Craig movies (at least until SPECTRE if the trailers are accurate). This really defines the relationship between Bond and Judi Dench’s M. It also completes Bond’s transition from rookie blunt instrument to the Connery-era Bond. Indeed, if the original movie or novel storyline (or some combination thereof) is followed, the rumored Idris Elba Bond would be terrific as the Connery-era Bond. (I think Bond should be played by a Scotsman, but Sony, if you’re going to get that part wrong, please, please, please do it with Elba. I’d pay to see him play Queen Elizabeth, I or II. Well, just I. II is asking too much of the former Stringer Bell/Detective Luther. Just a really great actor all around. Ya feel me?)

Javier Bardem shows us what might have happened if Dalton’s 007 had cracked under the strain instead of becoming the Brosnan Bond. And Bardem plays the traitorous Silva as a brilliant ham. It’s almost as though the old Bond became an effeminate renegade, lamenting the end of the Cold War and Q branch’s move away from gadgetry. It gives Craig one of the best lines in the history of the Bond movies. “It’s the latest from Q branch. It’s called ‘radio.'” Therein is the difference between the original continuity and the new one. Connery/Lazenby/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan is a male fantasy. Craig’s is a stressed-out pawn in the age of terrorism, with a stressed-out boss fighting for her professional life.

I was sad to see Judi Dench’s M die at the end of this. (You’ve had three years now. Your cries of “Spoiler!” are invalid.) On the other hand, Naomi Harris’s Eve Moneypenny puts all those flirtatious moments between her and Bond in the original continuity in a new perspective. (Just think, every time you see Lois Maxwell pining for Bond or Samantha Bond deflating Pierce Brosnan’s ego, just remember, Bond is likely turned on by a woman tough enough to have shot him.)

A special mention must go to Ben Whishaw as the new Q. Rather than replace the irreplaceable Desmond Llewellyn (though props must go to John Cleese for stepping up a movie early after Llewellyn’s death), EON wisely made Q a young computer hacker. Quite likely, it’ll give this incarnation of Q some longevity without having a Q push 90.

Roger Moore climbing a cliff5. For Your Eyes Only

Of all the Bonds Roger Moore did, this is a pure Cold War thriller. You could argue that about Octopussy, but Octopussy is so bad, I would not insult our former commie bastard rivals by praising it as such.

What’s amazing is this is a series of Bondian vignettes strung together much the way Caddyshack was shot with the ATAC system angle dubbed in at the end. But that’s what makes this work. ATAC, a box that can command Britain’s submarine nuclear arsenal, is the McGuffin that allows the writers to stretch out the original Fleming short story into a full-length movie. Props have to be given to Bond, who is played by a 54-year-old Roger Moore, for gracefully blocking the advances of the pubescent Bibi Dahl (played by baby-faced ice skater Lynn Holly Johnson.)

Eyes Only does what should have worked better in The World Is Not Enough, which is playing a shell game with the villain. We’re lead to believe that Kristatos, played by one-time Bond hopeful Julian Glover, is MI6’s man in Greece while Columbo, played by Fiddler on the Roof‘s Topol (also known as Flash Gordon‘s Hans Zarkov) is smuggling for the Soviets. Surprise! Columbo is being setup, and Kristatos is playing the Brits and the Soviets against each other.

For all the cheeky humor, especially in the Moore years, and the women and booze and explosions, the entire Bond series is summed up when Bond meets up with M’s Soviet counterpart, Walter Gottel’s General Gogol. Having retrieved the ATAC box only to be surrounded by KGB agents, Bond throws the box off a cliff and says, “Detente, General. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.” Gogol responds with laughter, acknowledging that he and Bond are mere pawns in a game both of them are getting tired of playing. That ending alone elevates For Your Eyes Only into the top 5 and to the top of Moore’s body of work in the series.

Moore should have stopped there, but I doubt that then-hopefuls Dalton, Brosnan, or James Brolin (who screen tested for Octopussy) would have been well-served by the two turkeys that followed. Fortunately, Moore had the history and credibility to weather Octopussy and A View to a KillFor Your Eyes Only, along with Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me, cement Moore’s claim to the role. Craig, had he been old enough, would have kicked Cubby Broccoli’s ass for giving him those other two scripts.

George Lazenby4. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Wait. You put a movie with a one-time Bond who really wasn’t an actor over nineteen other Bond flicks?

Save your outrage and go watch A View to a Kill again. Then tell me how great that was.

In reality, we finally have a Bond who looks like Bond from the books, is vulnerable and showing cracks from his profession, and ends up on a mission of revenge. If “[t]his never happened to the other fella,” it might be because Connery played Bond as cool and inpenetrable. Lazenby’s unease with the role works to his advantage. And the moments when he engages in humor (cracking a safe while reading a Playboy, “Hilly, you old devil!”), he seems relaxed.

This is not a knock on Connery, who likely will forever remain my top Bond actor. (I like Brosnan best, but rank him behind Connery, Craig, and Dalton. Hey, someone has to be in fourth.)

What makes this movie is Diana Rigg as Tracy, the woman who would be Mrs. Bond. She is the ultimate Bond girl, beginning as a suicidal damsel in distress only to become Bond’s rescuer and the love of Bond’s life. From Russia With LoveGoldfingerThunderball, and this movie parallel the novels most closely. Whereas SPECTRE was force fit into Doctor No for the screen, here, the plot is altered only somewhat for the big screen.

What sells Lazenby’s sole performance as James Bond is the final line. Tracy is murdered only minutes after they’re wed. Bond is in denial as a motorcycle cop rolls up on him. “It’s alright, you see,” he says, choking back tears. “She’s just resting. We have all the time in the world.”

Oh, friends and neighbors, you know that if Blofeld doesn’t die at the end of Diamonds Are Forever, something really bad is going to happen to him at the hands of Roger Moore, like maybe getting dumped down a smokestack. (Did I forget to mention that in my write-up of For Your Eyes Only? It directly references On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, right down to the visit to Tracy’s grave.) And it eventually resonates with Dalton’s Bond when the new Mrs. Leiter teases him about marriage, and Felix has to explain what happened to him.

All in all, a more personal Bond than even Skyfall.

The laser scene from Goldfinger

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”

3. Goldfinger

The most identifiable theme song, villain, and gadgetry in all of James Bond’s long and storied career. Auric Goldfinger is not a renegade Soviet big shot, not a flunky for Blofeld, or an insanely rich billionaire. Oh, he’s definitely rich. But he has only one motivation for wanting to attack Ft. Knox.

He loves gold.

Yes, this is a tale of excess, gratuitous violence, and even more gratuitous sex. If you doubt me, consider the main Bond girl in this movie is named “Pussy Galore.” And it’s so awesome to hear Connery’s Scottish voice purr “Pussy” whenever she shows up on screen. This is where Q moves to the forefront of the Bond series, outfitting the Aston-Martin with what’s later termed “all the usual refinements.” Leiter becomes Bond’s long-suffering sidekick, and Moneypenny’s crush is amped up a bit in this one.

Connery is at his swaggering, sensual best as Bond. Goldfinger elevates the Bond movies from a series of Cold War thrillers to icons of sixties era cool. It’s probably the one film that makes Bond himself an icon rather than just a well-known spy hero.

Bond faces down LeChiffre2. Casino Royale

This is Fleming’s first Bond, and it’s about damn time they made this into a movie. After Brosnan departed the role, EON decided to reboot the series and give it a more solid continuity.

This movie had a lot of controversy before it’s release. Some overzealous fans whined “No, Mr. Blonde, we expect you to dye!” There’s a similar cadre of Star Trek fans who risk a punch in the throat courtesy of me whenever a new JJ Trek movie comes out.

But Daniel Craig is rebooting Bond, and we see him at the beginning of his career as a 00. Judi Dench is back as an older, more experienced, and more politically beleaguered M. There’s no Moneypenny (whose origin is cleverly handled in Skyfall) and no Q yet, but Bill Tanner is back (missing, except for a forgettable appearance in the Roger Moore era, until the Brosnan years. )

Craig’s Bond has never killed until the unsettling opening sequence. He brutally kills the Prague station chief’s contact for selling British secrets in an ugly fight in the restroom, then kills the chief. When the chief points out that the second kill to become a 00 is easier, Craig quips, “Yes. Considerably,” showing no remorse for shooting his own colleague. This Bond has Connery’s swagger and Dalton’s rage. His 00 status is something he himself has trouble handling, killing an unarmed prisoner inside an embassy, recklessly getting a one-night stand killed when he gets her to point him at her terrorist husband’s plot. His only gadget is a defibrillator loaded into his car, and his Bond girl, MI6 accountant Vesper Lynd, resists his charm until he’s beaten to nearly to death.

Jeffrey Wright reinvents Felix Leiter as a rather dangerous ally, and Giovanni Giannini plays Mathis as one of the most interesting Bond allies ever. Never mind that Bond is led to believe Mathis betrayed him and turns him in.

The villain is LeChiffre, the original villain from the novel, is well-suited for the age of terrorism. Instead of being paymaster for SMERSH, Fleming’s original big bad organization, he is the money man for the world’s terrorists. And just as Doctor No revealed the existence of SPECTRE to Connery’s Bond and Lee’s M, so Craig’s Bond and Dench’s M (as well as Ralph Fiennes’s M) discover the existence of Quantum, which appears now to be a front for SPECTRE, if not an ally.

This is the most personal Bond since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And the tragic fate of Vesper becomes a source of unquenchable rage for Bond, not to be salved until he destroys Silva for killing M in Skyfall. (Oh, quit whining about spoilers. It’s been three years! It’s called Netflix. Order it.) Coupled with Quantum of Solace, it reinvents Bond as one long coherent narrative. But they have 50 years of touchstones to work with now.

It does make me fear for Jeffrey Wright’s leg if they finally revisit Live and Let Die again.

Sean Connery1. From Russia With Love

This movie is ranked at the best by most of the actors who have played James Bond. Lazenby and Dalton have said they referenced it in their portrayals. It’s Brosnan’s favorite, as well as Daniel Craig’s. It’s also Connery’s favorite turn as Bond. Before the cinematic James Bond came into being in Goldfinger, Connery was playing Ian Fleming’s Bond. It’s a Cold War thriller right up there with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Third Man. What does it say about a series that peaks a year into its 50+ year run? Well, it says they learned their lessons well. Q as we know him best shows up, played by Desmond Llewellyn, but his gadgets are low-key, almost like Ben Whishaw’s minus the car with “all the usual refinements.”

SPECTRE replaces the KGB’s SMERSH as the bad guy by making Rosa Klebb a defector to the terrorist organization. Bond’s interaction with M is a bit warmer, M shutting off a feed when Bond says, “Well, this one time, M and I were in Hong Kong and…” Miles, you old devil!

Robert Shaw plays Grant, an assassin almost programmed by SPECTRE to be every bit the killing machine as Jaws would be later on. Only there’s nothing comedic about Grant. In the novel, which this follows pretty closely even with SPECTRE inserted, Grant’s need to kill makes Jeffrey Dahmer look morbidly curious (though thankfully, Grant sticks with just shooting and stabbing people.) This is not explained in the movie, but the script and Shaw’s performance make it clear this guy gets off on murder. He can’t wait to kill Bond, his assignment, and he’s pretty keen on killing  Tatiana Romanova (played by Daniela Bianchi.)

Pedro Armendariz plays Ali Kerim Bey, a man after Bond’s own heart and the station chief for MI6 in Istanbul. Kerim Bey is every bit the ladies man Bond is, and loves getting one over on the Soviets. The book, written about a decade earlier, followed closely on NATO pushing the Soviets away from Turkey, and Turkey was still a thorn in Kruschev’s side in 1963. American missiles in the country had been a root cause in the Cuban Missile Crisis a year earlier.

Want a different take? Check out Van Allen Plexico’s White Rocket Podcast. This summer, he did six episodes where he and guest host John Ringer went through each era of Bond:

The early Sean Connery era

Connery and George Lazenby

The early Roger Moore era

Moore and Timothy Dalton

Pierce Brosnan

Daniel Craig

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