A few years ago, as well as now, the internet was populated with blogs on the best to worst James Bond movies. All 23 of them. One major magazine which I’ll leave nameless included critical summaries on all of them, but once you got past #9, the critic started dumping insults on each title. Over the years, many critics have bashed half the titles, and some of them have unfairly received a bad rap. What’s the point of saying you love Bond if you’re going to trash half the titles? There’s one turkey in an entire franchise: you won’t find “The World is Not Enough” on this defense list.
Importantly, it must be reminded that Daniel Craig has turned 007 into a more hard-edged hero. But when it comes down to it, I happen to like prizing the cheeky ones from a quarter century ago especially. Before Skyfall comes out this Thursday, November 8th theaters everywhere, I would like to defend the ones that have gotten bad raps that also remain favorites of mine:
1. Moonraker (1979) – Roger Moore as Bond. An outer space adventure concocted to cash in on the “Star Wars”-esque adventure craze, it has accurate criticism of including some of the most ridiculous, impossible action scenes. Who cares when it’s fun to such a spectacular degree? Lois Chiles (as Dr. Goodhead, good golly what a name!) accused of no sexual charisma. Did critics miss the sophisticated sensuality about her? In addition to Michael Lonsdale (as villain Hugo Drax) and his Hitler-esque plan to create a master race, the movie features the jaw-dropping Richard Kiel (as Jaws). The best aerial-flying action of the entire series, excuses to bump around from Venice to Rio de Janeiro, and finally the mother of all space stations. It’s too awesome, shamelessly cheeky, to deserve such a bad rap. It’s one of my five favorites of the series altogether.
2. Octopussy (1983) – Roger Moore as Bond. Referred to as the India one, and Bond’s exploits take full advantage. Two women this time: Maud Adams (as the title heroine) and Kristina Wayborn (as Magda), both alluringly costumed in silks, jewels and high ankle strap high heels. Bond eventually chases Kamal Kahn (Louis Jourdan, smooth) to East Germany where he plans to set off a nuclear warhead at a circus. Bond fights twin knife-throwers, a man with a yo-yo saw, henchman Gobinda in a turban and with a sickle for a sword, and jungle animals. Bad rap says that Bond looks silly in a clown suit, which is overstating it – only for a couple of minutes, and integrated into the immediacy of the plot. Underrated for its acrobatic action, and while the climactic plane fight is too outrageous, I say it’s better for a movie to be airborne than earthbound.
3. Never Say Never Again (1983) – Sean Connery as Bond, after a 12-year hiatus from the role. The latest generation of 007 fans might not have heard of it, since it was made outside of the EON Albert Broccoli production company, thus, outside the official Bond canon. Kevin McClory, who had rights to the original Ian Fleming story (a remake of “Thunderball”), got it made under an independent company. Connery has as much sophisticated elán as ever before (see tango scene, masseuse scene). Barbara Carrera as possibly the most dangerous vamp in Bond history, Kim Basinger as the good girl who belongs to the suave Eurotrash Klaus Maria Brandeur (a posh villain) who is brandishing warheads. As punishment for deceit, Basinger is auctioned off to lascivious Arabs in a scene that is strangely arousing. I love the motorcycle chase, too.
4. Thunderball (1965) – Sean Connery as Bond. The first movie in which I ever saw a man using a jetpack. The fights involve underwater ballets and shark dodging in the Bahamas, but it’s the final out of control speedboats sequence that has got me wetting my pants. Scratch that. Claudine Auger, as the Bond babe, has got me wetting my pants. Is she the most underrated beauty in the entire Bond series, or what? I think it’s because her name is hard, if uncertain, to say, is why she is routinely not remembered. Multiple viewings of this nimble 1965 entry will change your opinion, and it resourcefully, adeptly uses the harpoon weapon. Adolfo Celi as the main villain; Molly Peters as the physiotherapist Patricia Fearing, the second hottest babe in the movie.
5. For Your Eyes Only (1981) – Roger Moore as Bond, getting serious this time by forfeiting outrageous space adventures and underwater adventures for a gritty adventure in Spain – although there are skiing and ice-skating assaults that slap of cliché, there is a tense mountain climbing finale. Julian Glover is not a larger-than-life villain, but instead a more realistic espionage traitor. Lynn-Holly Johnson is too girly-girl spazzy for a seasoned Bond (too daddy/daughter creepy), but the elegant Carole Bouquet is a more reasonable match as the worldlier Bond girl. Has a thrilling scene of the two tied and dragged over sea until they manage to escape and backfire their captors. It could have used an extra shameless scene of Bouquet toweling off.
6. License to Kill (1989) – Timothy Dalton as Bond, his second and final performance as 007. His license is revoked, which takes away nothing. He goes to battle South American drug lords (slimy scoundrels Robert Davi and henchman Benicio del Toro). Two Bond girls: Carey Lowell (good girl), Talisa Soto (bad girl), but I’m rooting for Bond to get the bad girl in bed. Less laughs, more unneeded cynicism (drugs! corruption! double agents! undercover blues!). But it has the tanker truck chase going down high mountain terrain at the finale, with rocket launchers discharging up and down the roadways. Exciting enough to get me to regard this sequence as one of the five greatest chase scenes in modern movie history. It is darker, but something here’s got me giddy.
7. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – George Lazenby as Bond, his only performance after Connery bailed (but bought back with money for ’71’s “Diamonds are Forever”). This is the elemental love story of the canon – Yes, Bond in love! With Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg)! – up until Craig’s “Casino Royale” re-wrote the game. Lazenby is often cold as steel, and frankly, the first hour has a kind of murky awfulness. I also had to read online plot synopses to assure if the plot was really what I thought it was, it’s so outlandish. But the action amazingly gets very crisp on the Swiss Alps, with dashing stunts and stunning bobsled action. Terry Savalas is great as Blofeld, I got riled up by him. A mixed bag, but the last hour must be appreciated.