Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Okay, this is another Bond film about which I probably part ways with most James Bond fans, because I absolutely love Diamonds Are Forever, even more than Thunderball.  If it weren’t for Daniel Craig’s movies, this would probably be my all-time favorite James Bond film.  That doesn't mean it's a great film, it just means it's a personal favorite.  This is, by far, the funniest Bond of them all, and I spend the whole movie laughing, in the best way possible.

This film is intrinsically tied up with family memories as well.  It's not just my favorite, but my sister's and my parents love it too.  We watched this one on video an awful lot growing up, mostly because it was so amusing.  It's the only Bond film we quote on a regular basis.  Nearly daily.  And not just a couple lines, but tons of dialogue from it.  It is SOOO quotable.  I can't say that about any other Bond film.  Oh, there's usually a few one-liners from any given film, but the entire movie isn't quotable the way this one is!  "Would you settle for a tulip?"

I particularly admire the extremely effective intro to the problem at hand.  While Bond and M listen to a verbal explanation of how the diamond industry works, we see what’s really going on visually.  Scenes like that just makes me bounce with writerly joy.  It’s such a great way to streamline the story.  We’re also immediately introduced to Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, this movie’s hilarious henchmen who single-handedly take out half a dozen people and nearly kill Bond three times, while talking in nothing but wisecracks the whole time.  “Heartwarming, Mr. Kidd.”  “A glowing tribute, Mr. Wint.”  They’re here from start to finish, and every time they’re around, I start laughing just anticipating what they’re going to say.  They’re perfectly cast too.  Putter Smith and Brian Glover are like the least likely looking bad guys and that just makes them even funnier.  Okay, maybe not Brian Glover.  He looks kind of creepy.  But Putter Smith just looks like a used car salesman or something.  Together, they're just priceless.

A big part of what I love so much about this movie, and what I find hilarious, is how often Bond pretends to be someone else throughout the film.  He pretends to be Peter Franks, pretends to be an Amsterdamer, complete with accent and lines my family quote all the time:  “I speak English!  Who... is your floor?”  He pretends to be a grieving brother.  He pretends to be Klaus Hergersheimer...  It’s too funny.  Bond rarely puts on an act, particularly not a whole string of them in the same movie.  He usually just goes in and does the job, or when he does impersonate someone, it's usually someone serious, like a businessman.  Except in this movie.  Connery seems to be enjoying his turns in Bond's different disguises way too much, and that enthusiasm is infectious.  I think this is the only Bond movie I start grinning just thinking about it.

Then there’s all the other crazy and awesome characters in this movie.  Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd I already talked about.  But there’s Morton Slumber, and Shady Tree, and Jimmy Dean as Willard Whyte (“Baa-ah-ha-ah?  I don’t have anything in Baa-ah-ha-ah!”  Actually any time he opens his mouth, he’s funny.  “Burt Saxby?  Tell him he’s fired!”)  Bruce Cabot plays Burt Saxby!  Marc Lawrence plays a henchman (“I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”)!  These guys are just so distinctive and so great.

Now, let’s get the things I don’t like out of the way...  Plenty O’Toole.  Bambi and Thumper.  The car chase with the cops (although I do like the way the sheriff approaches the car looking all grim and serious and Bond just reverses the car and peals away.  But the rest of the chase?  I’m really not fond of when cops are portrayed as stupid, and I'm not overly fond of chases that really don't do anything but show off stunts.

But besides those few moments, everything else is just plain, awesome fun.  “I was just out walking my rat, when I seem to have lost my way.”  “Your troubles are all behind you now.”  "Weren't you a blonde when I came in?"  "You just killed James Bond!"  Why yes, the dialogue is one of the biggest selling points of this movie.

Our Bond girl this time out is Tiffany Case.  I used to think I just tolerated Jill St. John as Tiffany Case, but I've come to realize she’s quite perfect in this particular movie and I love her here.  I can't imagine anyone else in the role, and she fits with the general tone of Diamonds Are Forever.  Same with the Las Vegas setting.  Not a place I like, but it fits this movie.  Bond climbing around the outside of the Whyte House makes me cringe.  Not so fond of the heights!

I also quite like Charles Gray as Blofeld.  He also fits in well with this movie.  None of the other Blofeld actors would work here.  Well, Telly Savalas might have worked.  I'm always amused when Blofeld escapes from under the CIA's nose by dressing up as a woman, carrying his cat, and walking right out.  Hee.

Favorite parts:  Bond impersonating Klaus Hergersheimer, and the real guy coming in to the lab after Bond leaves.  Bond nonchalantly stepping on top of the outside elevator to ride it up.  Bond using Blofeld's mini submarine to destroy the place.  The fight in the elevator with Peter Franks.  The "brain trust."  Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd.  Tiffany Case's last dress/robe outfit.  The fact that none of the construction crew notices an unconscious man in the tubing they are laying.  Q cheating at the slot matchines, but only really interested in seeing how well his gadget works.  Bond bored stiff while listening to M read off info about the diamonds in the case. Bond pretending to make out with a non-existent partner.

Music:  Great, particularly love the “driving into Las Vegas” theme.
Theme song:  Fabulous
Credit sequence:  Cool... has a cat with a diamond necklace!
Bond girl:  Really like her
Bad guys:  Like Blofeld, and the henchmen are spectacularly funny
Felix:  I like this Felix.
Overall personal rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Friday, February 15, 2013

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

So, where You Only Live Twice let me down since the last time I saw it, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has gone the other direction.  I remember when I was young, we sort of scoffed at it.  Maybe now we’re just used to Bond being played by many different actors.  Anyway around, George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond is a quite enjoyable film, and I think he does a fine job in the role.  What I like in a Bond, he provides.  He’s got the right arrogance, the right confidence, the right physicality.  Is he Sean Connery?  Of course not, but he’s a credible Bond, aided by a solid script, with solid direction, possibly the best John Barry music of the entire series, fabulous scenery, and some of the best action sequences in all of Bond.

And so, yeah, I really like this one nowadays.  I love the Bond/M/Moneypenny dynamic that just gets stronger with each film, regardless of the actor playing Bond.  I can’t say enough for Bernard Lee’s work as M.  He’s the only character who isn’t intimidated or outwardly impressed by Bond.  He is the only one who can take Bond down a peg with a mere look, and yet backs him implicitly when anyone but himself questions Bond.  And in this movie, there’s the great sequence where Bond angrily dictates his resignation memo to Moneypenny, only to have her quietly change it to a leave of absence request before she passes it to M.  Great scene.  Throw in Q, and those four have just about the best “office” relationship ever.  And I love that Bond actually has an office in this film.  With a desk and files and everything.

As opposed to the You Only Live Twice rather sedate Blofeld, Telly Savalas’s version is quite amazing.  This is not a villain who sits back and pets his cat and lets others do his dirty work.  This guy is right in the thick of things!  I mean, when Bond escapes from Piz Gloria?  Sure, he sends his men after him, but that isn’t enough for him.  He jumps on his own skis and pursues – at night, over dangerous terrain with precipices, etc.  He sets off avalanches, he tries to escape Bond at the end in a bobsled!  This is one seriously active Blofeld, and it quite fun.  This is a return to Largo’s style of bad guy, and I love it.  His obsession with his name/title, and his plans with his hypnotized/programmed girls are a bit daft, but I suspect he probably could have pulled it off.

I also really like Draco, Tracy’s father played by Gabriele Ferzetti, who Bond turns to for manpower and tactical support when he can’t get the same officially from M.

And then there’s Tracy, played by Diana Rigg.  She’s beautiful, a bit troubled, strong-willed, and more than holds her own in a fight with one of Blofeld’s bad guys in the end fight.  She really is a good match for Bond.  She’s got the right vulnerability to make him feel needed, but she’s independent enough to stand by him as a partner.  They save each other’s lives in this movie more than once.  I love the scene where she skates up to him, and the camera pans upwards.  Of course, if Bond finds the perfect mate, he’s not going to be allowed to keep her, and I admit I can get teary at the end when Blofeld takes his revenge.  I love Lazenby’s reaction to Tracy's death, and how he sells it.  It works for me.  Add on Louis Armstrong's end title song, "We Have All the Time in the World," and it's a very sad ending.

Favorite parts:  Bond’s angry, violent reaction to British agent Campbell’s death.  That’s the human side of Bond I just love seeing, and that moment is my favorite part of the whole movie.  Of course, I’m also extremely fond of Campbell, (even if Campbell is too impatient and brings his demise upon himself), so Bond’s reaction is my reaction.

Other favorite parts: Cable car!  Bobsled chase!  Amazing ski chases!  The “Escape from Piz Gloria” cue, my favorite John Barry Bond action cue of them all, out of a whole series of great Bond scores.  Bond in a kilt.  The wedding at the end and Tracy’s lovely dress.  Moneypenny’s tears at the wedding, and Bond throwing her his hat.  Draco making up stories on the radio to cover their helicopter approach to Piz Gloria.  The gorgeous mountain scenery.  “This never happened to the other fella.”

Music:  Awesome
Theme song:  Love it – instrumental and works great
Credit sequence:  okay
Bond girl:  I love Tracy, and I also love that I always start out not particularly liking her, and she wins me over every time.
Bad guys:  I always have a bit of a hard time remembering he’s Blofeld and not Telly Savalas.  But he makes up for it for by jumping into things.
Overall personal rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 10, 2013

You Only Live Twice (1967)

Oh dear.  I used to love this movie growing up.  I used to think it was one of my favorites.  Boy, does it not hold up!  I couldn’t believe how cheesy this one was.  Not that there aren’t quite a few things I still love about it, but overall?  This is the first Bond that feels quite dated.  All the space stuff just looks... well, not good.  I’m usually quite okay with outdated and cheesy special effects.  I tend to think of the intent, not how it was actually filmed.  But this time... I couldn’t escape the bad space effects.  Or the fact that when Blofeld’s base blows up it somehow causes the volcano that housed it to erupt.  Spare me.

Besides that, I found I have a lot of issues with this one, the primary issue being the lack of a good bad guy.  Oh, I love Blofeld in general, but he doesn’t do anything in this movie.  He sits around, he gives orders, he escapes...  There’s just no meat there.  Too bad because I’m quite fond of Donald Pleasance, but the script does him no favors.  And the rest of the bad guys are either anonymous assassins, or Osato, who is so not threatening and isn’t funny, either.  And none of them can get the job done.  Helga is a Fiona wannabe who lacks Fiona’s cold efficiency.  I personally wouldn’t trust Helga to get anything done.  Blofeld seems to think the same thing, as he sends her to her death in a pool full of piranha.  This film’s plot runs a bit amuck with a series of chases that don’t really do anything to advance the plot.  They're there more as cool, look-what-we-can-do moments, rather than doing anything to move the plot forward.  The plot about stealing American and Russian manned spacecrafts to start a war between them doesn't particularly grab me.

Things I do like.  Tanaka and Aki.  I love both characters immensely.  I love Tanaka’s private train, the ninja training camp, how they deal with cars full of bad guys chasing the good guys, etc.  I love the Japanese setting in general. 

 And I love the gigantic volcano crater set.  Holy smoke that set is huge.  And very cool.  In the beginning, when Blofeld’s spaceship captures the first space capsule, bad effects or not, it has always freaked me out how the astronaut floating around outside dies when his air hose is cut.  Gads.

Favorite parts:  Bond running along the roof by the docks, fighting off bad guys, while the camera pulls way back to circle and show the whole scene.  That’s one of my favorite moments out of all of the James Bond movies put together.  Little Nellie.  Bond getting dumped down the floor slide by Aki.  The pre-credits scene where Bond is “killed.”  A submarine!

Music:  great
Theme song:  one of my favorites
Credit sequence:  okay.  I had forgotten about the hot lava/volcano background.  Kind of cool.
Bond girl:  I adore Aki.  Her death really hurts.  Kissy never makes much impression on me, other than the fact that Bond trusts her to get from the volcano base back to Tanaka – swimming a pretty large distance to do so.  Go Kissy!
Bad guys:  Meh.  Blofeld doesn’t have enough to do, the rest are lacking in menace or serious threat
Overall personal rating:  3 out of 5 stars (which is higher than it deserves. I'm giving it an extra point for sentimental value and the fact John Barry's score is so fantastic.  A good score always elevates even a bad movie)

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Thunderball (1965)

And now we hit my favorite Bond so far.  I love this movie.  LOVE.  I love just about everything about it, from the plot to the actors to the music to the locations.  This movie hits all the right notes for me.

This movie stays focused for me.  We find out from the beginning what the bad guys intend, and it sticks with that straight through.  I love Largo as our main bad guy, as played by Adolfo Celi.  He’s much more menacing than the villains who came before, and he’s got the right elegant charm too.  He’s got everything a proper Bond villain needs – good henchmen, a lovely expensive place, a fantastic yacht, an “unusual” way to get rid of people (dump them in the shark pool!), a solid plan, and he’s willing to get his hands dirty.  His main henchman, Vargas (played by Philip Locke), always reminds me of a skinnier version of Robert J. Wilke.

Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona is my favorite bad Bond girl.  She’s beautiful, she’s tough, she’s smart.  She is, in many ways, the female equivalent of Bond.  She uses whatever means necessary to do her job, and she does her job well.  And she neither turns on her boss nor aids Bond.  I had the privilege of meeting Ms. Paluzzi a couple years ago, and we got to chat.  I have a signed picture of her as Fiona that I treasure.

At the same time, Domino (Claudine Auger) is also one of my favorite good Bond girls.  She’s smart, pretty, and has her own inner strength, and she’s the one who ends up taking out Largo at the end.

I also love Bond’s helper, Paula, who takes her own life rather than betray Bond.

And then there’s Felix.  Even my own family shakes their collective heads at me, but I adore this Felix, played by Rik Nutter.  He’s my favorite of them all.  I can’t exactly tell you why, either.  Maybe cuz he’s the best-looking of the Felixes (my opinion only).  Maybe it's the prematurely grey hair.  Maybe because he can fly a helicopter.  Maybe it’s just the Hawaiian shirts.  I have no idea, I just know he makes me smile, and I think I have always had a bit of a crush on him.  (My sister swears my love of Hawaiian shirts on guys came from this movie, LOL!)

I have never thought of this as a particularly humorous Bond film, but this re-watch made me realize just how many funny lines there are in it.  I don’t think I quite realized it before, but that is also one of the things that draws me so much to this film.  The humor.

Favorite parts:  Bond having lunch with Largo at Palmyra.  I am a sucker for scenes where the hero and villain meet and still behave honorably and like gentlemen even though they know they’re going to try to kill each other the next chance they get.  Cranky Q (in a Hawaiian shirt!  Have I mentioned I love Hawaiian shirts?).  Any scene underwater.  Any scene with Fiona.  Any scene with Felix.  Bond’s jet pack.  The crazy ending where the plane yanks them into the air (and Bond manages to hold on to Domino somehow... right, but I love it anyway).

Really, there isn't anything I dislike about this film.  This is a darn near perfect James Bond film for me.

Music:  love it
Theme song:  one of my favorites
Credit sequence:  love it
Bond girls:  love them
Bad guys:  love them
Overall personal rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Goldfinger (1964)

It’s with Goldfinger, that, to me, the Bond series really starts feeling like it’s found its stride.  It always surprises me how short this movie is, under two hours.  I usually forget what happens in the pre-credit sequence of this one.  This is because, for an unknown reason, the video we had of this movie growing up (taped off television) started with the main title, which is one of my favorite of the Bond main title sequences.  The theme song, so famous now, and deservedly so.  I love the images from the previous movies shown on the gold-painted girl.  Really cool.

The humor – a key point for me – is much stronger in this film, with quite a bit of funny dialogue.  The repartee between Moneypenny and Bond – always a highlight – is spot on.  And the priceless look Bond has when Q tells him he needs an hour to show him all the ins and outs of the Aston Martin.  The “pressing engagement.”

And, of course, the lovely Aston Martin, with its full array of weaponry, defenses, and ejector seat.  Oh how I love that car!  There’s a reason when, in the newest Bond, Skyfall, the audience cheers when the garage opens and there’s the Aston Martin (at least they did in my theater!).  It’s a beautiful little car loaded with awesome gadgets.

Goldfinger is a great bad guy, cold, calculating, but also rather harmless-looking – which just makes him more dangerous, and he has the perfect loyal henchman:  Oddjob.  Oddjob is willing to give his life to see his boss's plan succeeds.  I love how Goldfinger explains one version of his plan to a roomful of men, convinces them of the awesomeness of said plan – then kills them all with deadly nerve gas.  Hah!  Now that’s a great egotistical, classic Bond film bad guy.  The real plan is quite awesome, and I love the scene when Bond figures it out, and Goldfinger smiles on, encouragingly.  I love this movie for the sheer simplicity of what Goldfinger intends to do:  make the US gold supply radioactive so that his own gold becomes worth a fortune.  It's quite brilliant.

Pussy Galore, as played by Honor Blackman, is quite lovely and cool, very unruffled, very capable.  However, I never understand why she switches sides.  It happens so suddenly, with no explanation.  There she is, telling Goldfinger how she intends to spend her cut of the money, and then BAM!  She just up and betrays her boss.  That abrupt change of heart bugs me every time I see the movie.  Like really bugs me.  Betrayal is a huge deal for me (for either side), and this betrayal of Goldfinger's trust seems unjustified.  It's that plot failure that keeps me from rating this movie higher.

Other than the beautiful scenery driving around Europe, the locations in this film are very non-exotic.  Miami, Fort Knox, Tennessee… Not that that’s bad, it’s just rather boring after Jamaica and Istanbul in the previous two films.

Favorite parts:  the golf match.  Bond’s anger over Jill’s death in front of M.  Bond and Q.  "No, Mr. Bond.  I expect you to die."  Bond scruffy when he wakes up on the plane.  Bond's peek-a-boo match in his jail cell with the guard.

I really like this movie, and I think it’s one of the best Bonds; however, it’s not one of my top five favorites.

Music: Great
Theme song:  One of the best.
Credit sequence:  Great
Bond girls:  Pussy is cool, but... bugs me.  I like Jill Masterson a lot.  Tilly isn’t there long enough to make much of an impression.
Bad guys:  Excellent
Felix:  I’m quite fine with this Felix.
Overall personal rating: 4 out of 5 stars