Saturday, September 22, 2012

James Bond Countdown to Skyfall Part 1

I've been reading a blog site lately that I enjoy immensely. You can find Fog's Movie Reviews on the links to the right of these posts. Dan appears to be as big a Bond fan as I am although I have the years on him to make a case for my preeminence. Over the last year he has had a series of posts on the 007 films, ranking them as CLASSIC, CHEESE, or CRAP. We've disagreed on a few of them but more often than not he sees things the way I do. I thought that in celebration of the upcoming release of Skyfall, the next James Bond adventure in a fifty year screen career, I'd do some Bond posts as well.

The original Movie A Day project featured three posts on Bond films from the seventies. I also did a Robert Shaw film festival and posted on From Russia with Love. Finally, another blogger that I follow closely, has been posting his reviews of the movies in his collection alphabetically (My Movies My Words, also on the right hand set of links) and when he wrote about Goldfinger, well I had to get in on the action. One of the great things about the internet is that I have been able to find others who share my passion for films, especially the films featuring the greatest gentleman spy in all literature.

In an attempt to do something a bit different, I decided I would do a ranking of the James Bond films myself, but with a slight twist. I'm going to rank the films of each actor who has portrayed Bond separately from the other actor's films. Then at the end of the process, I may attempt some other ranking games and offer anyone interested an opportunity to participate in some on-line polling of films, actors, villains, gadgets, theme songs and Bond Girls. This seems pretty ambitious to me, but I hope to keep myself occupied and engaged while waiting for November 9th.  Anyone who knows a Bond fan should send them to these posts so that they can play along.

We'll begin with the actor's who have portrayed Bond the least and move to those who had the good fortune to be 007 for seven films each

George Lazenby

This is easy because Lazenby only played 007 in one film, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", so his best effort and his worst are represented in one movie.

Lazenby gets a bad rap from most Bond fans, because he was an amateurish actor in his first role, but even more importantly, it appears to most fans that he was indifferent to being  007. He made it easy for the producers to find reasons to dump him and he acted as if he was happy to walk away from the role. The truth in my opinion is that he was a moderately successful replacement for Connery, and had he had a chance to grow in the part he might have been a big star and made some great Bond films.

The role of James Bond in OHMSS is maybe the most complex personal story of any Bond plot. Frustrated at his lack of support in his search for Blofeld and the remains of SPECTRE, he actually tries to resign and it only the intervention of Moneypenny that keeps him on the job. He has made contact with a woman that fits his personal profile for attractiveness. Bond has always been a sucker for a wounded bird that he can protect and nurture. Tracy presents him with a personal challenge rather than a professional one, and that is one of the changes in the tone of the film that I think most Bond fans dislike. Ultimately the two paths do cross and Tracy is embroiled in the spy game mostly by accident.

When I first saw OHMSS as a kid, I noticed how the fight sequences seemed to have been sped up ever so slightly. I'm sure the purpose was to make the fights seem more energetic, but I thought it was one of the weaknesses of the film. It takes you out of the reality of the situation and reminds you of the film making. Lazenby gets some great opportunities to flirt with a dozen women at Blofeld's mountain top fortress, but he can't pull of the sly innuendo and Double entendré the way Connery could. Just about everyone else in the film is a better actor than the lead and that makes his flaws more noticable, but not necessarily fatal.

There are some strengths in this film that should be listed. To begin, Diana Rigg was a better actress than any of the previous Bond girls and she had a better part to perform in. The primary setting in the Alps, is a spectacular change from the other exotic locales that had been used before. Skiing becomes a skill that Bond uses many times after this in his film adventures, but this movie set the standard for good chase sequences in the snow. I liked the tension in the scene where Bond breaks into a solicitors office in Switzerland, has a photocopier delivered to him and escapes with a centerfold just before the lawyer returns. The safecracking equipment and photocopier that were needed in this film are the basis of the problem Bond was faced with. The equipment was large, it had to be smuggled in and it had to be sophisticated. In later films Bond would have a wristwatch or cell phone with the same capabilities. Those tools are cool but then you don't get the realistic suspense that we had in this scene.

The other weaknesses in the film include a lack of a great title song. The Louis Armstrong song in the film is nice. It uses a line that I choke up on because it was something I used in the memorial service for my best friend, "We have all the time in the world". Of course we never do and at the end of the movie the tone of the song is much more somber. The end of OHMSS is also a downer, another thing that people object to.  I do love the opening music but there isn't a song to go with it so it is not as memorable as it could be.

It does include on of the best one liners in the series, it takes you out of the movie for a second but it is worth it.  


Unknown said...

First off, thanks for the linkage! I appreciate that :D I was glad you stumbled upon that series and caught up with it, I look forward to this next month (or so) talking Bond. Now you've got me thinking about ways to cross promote... maybe turn it all into a blogathon of some sorts.

In the meantime. Glad you got this one out of the way first. I'll defer to your added wisdom due to your advanced age (LOL!!!) SIR... but if you'll allow me...

This movie stinks.

You cant gloss over the Lazenby effect. He IS James Bond, and he's no good at it. That's primary. You use the phrase "Not necessarily fatal". I differ. It is fatal.

Secondly though, even though its in the books, or what have you... the romance is very out of place with our modern perception of Bond. The pacing of the movie is terrible (Even though it does have excellent action scenes at points. Having Bond spend half a movie falling in love stands out like a sore thumb within the context of the other films in the series. And not in a good way...

I could go on, its jerring to see Savalas replace Pleasance, and isnt a change for the better IMO... There's a bunch of things.

We'll have to agree to disagree on this one bub. It's near the bottom of my list.

Still looking forward to the rest of the month here though! :D

Richard Kirkham said...

So, You still aren't convinced? ha! I certainly don't think it's the best (except of the Lazenby canon). I have seen some defend it much more vigorously than me. I get the points you are making, the movie has some different elements to it that make it stand out from the pack, to you in a bad way, but others like a change up now and then. I'll take my turn on Quantum