Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part I)

2017 marks 55 years of James Bond on the movie screen.  To celebrate this momentous year, I am undertaking to review the entire oeuvre of Bond films, all 24 of them (at this juncture in history), two at a time.  These will appear on the 7th day of each month  (Bond's agent number being "007").  At the beginning of each entry I will give my personal ranking of each movie and of each movie's theme song.  (These are subjective rankings and do not necessarily agree with the view of the average Bond fan, so take it as you will).  I hope you enjoy them, nay, even look forward to the next installment.  As an added note, I am deeply indebted to Tom DeMichael, and his book James Bond FAQ,  for tidbits of information I with which I am peppering these entries.                                                                                                                                                                                                  -Quiggy










Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, was an ex-intelligence officer for Britain and based his character, James Bond, on his experiences in Naval Intelligence, as well as some of his own likes and dislikes.  Essentially Bond was Fleming, and vice-versa.  In 1953, Fleming published the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, and the legend was born.  Whether or not the legend would be remembered today had it not been for Hollywood calling is a matter of speculation.  It was a huge success in the UK, but outside the UK, sales were not so dramatic...

However, one thing is true.  Americans, who were blissfully unaware of a secret agent 007 just outside the door, so to speak, immediately made Fleming and his creation a huge hit after John F. Kennedy claimed that the book From Russia with Love was one of his favorites.  (It is a tribute to how popular Kennedy was as a President that his saying this made Bond a hit in the US.)  Thus a case could be made that Jack Kennedy was responsible for putting the whole Bond phenomenon into motion.

It wasn't long before Hollywood came (always knowing a good thing when they saw it).  Dr. No, which was actually the sixth Bond novel, became the first one to be translated to the big screen.  Many actors were considered for what was to become the iconic role of James Bond.  The part went to Sean Connery, a former runner-up in a Mr. Universe pageant, and an actor with some small roles.  It is on record that the suggestion to cast him as Bond came from producer Albert Broccoli's wife who saw him in Darby O'Gill and the Little People.  Connery almost turned it down because he foresaw that it would be a recurring role and was reluctant to be tied up in a series.  Fortunately for him and us, he did accept the role.

The first Bond novel chosen to be filmed was actually the 6th novel in the Fleming output, Dr. No.

Note: This was actually not the first representation of the James Bond character on film.  In 1954, the CBS TV show Climax! made its third episode center around the story of Casino Royale, but although this does count as a precursor to the Bond phenomenon as we know it, I don't think it really should count.  For one thing, they changed his name from "James" to "Jimmy", and for another they cast him with an American actor, Barry Nelson.  The most egregious thing about it was they changed him from a British Secret Service officer to a CIA operative, and made Felix, now called "Clarence",  Leiter, whom in the books was a CIA operative, into a British operative.  The saving grace of this TV episode was the casting of Peter Lorre as Bond villain Le Chiffre.  It won't kill you to watch it, but it is a pretty shoddy production.

Additional note:  Over the course of this series I will only be reviewing the legitimate Bond movies.  At some other time I may do a solo review of the Connery helmed semi-remake of Thunderball, the aptly named Never Say Never Again, but this series will not deal with it except in passing.  And if you ask real nice, I may do one of the Peter sellers spoof Casino Royale.  (On the other hand, if you ask real nice I can adopt an attitude of ignoring it... your choice...)

























Dr No (1962)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the movie: #13

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the theme song: #1  (It is the thing that defines a Bond movie after all...)

Best Bond Quote:  "I think they were on their way to a funeral." (referring to a hearse full of villians he just caused to crash)

Best Bond Villain Quote:  Dr. No:  "The successful criminal brain is always superior.  It has to be."

Best Weapon:  Walther PPK.  (I only include this category for the first movie just to be consistent, since I intend to add it to every movie..  But since Bond only exchanges his favorite Berretta for the Walther, there's no real cool weapon to note:  Unless you count his car.  But it was only used to run someone off the road, it wasn't actually a sophisticated weapon like some of the later movie cars.)

Three blind men tap their way across Kingston. Meanwhile Commander Strangways (Timothy Moxon) and three other friends are engaged in a card game, but Strangways has to break off to report in to HQ in London.  As he gets to his car, the three blind men (who are not so blind after all) kill him.  Shortly thereafter they also kill his secretary and make off with secret files marked "Crab Key" and Dr. No."

The movie cuts to a private gambling club in London where a man and a woman are facing off in a high stakes game of baccarat.  The women introduces herself to her opponent as "Trench.  Sylvia Trench."  To which her companion introduces himself as "Bond.  James Bond."  (That's right, folks, the first time Bond introduces himself in that iconic way is in response to a woman upstaging him by introducing HERSELF that way...) Sylvia Trench, by the way, was played by Eunice Gayson, who only had a chance at the part because it was turned down by none other than Lois Maxwell, who picked the role of Miss Moneypenny instead, and thus history was made.  The Trench character, which was going to be a recurring role, got ditched after the first two movies and Maxwell continued on for the next 22 years as Moneypenny.

Bond gets called into MI6 offices, where M (Bernard Lee) assigns him to find out was has happened to Strangways and his secretary.  (See, the "blind" men carried off the bodies, so no one knows what has happened for sure.)  He is also told that Strangways was investigating some mysterious goings-on for the Americans, that were interfering with attempted rocket launches from Cape Canaverel.  M makes Bond trade in his favorite Berreta for a Walther PPK, courtesy of Maj. Boothroyd (Peter Burton), the character who would eventually later become known as Q (although not with Burton in the role since he was unavailable to reprise the role in the second outing.)  

Bond catches a plane to Jamaica where he is picked up by a driver to take him to the Government House.  The car is followed by another car and Bond gives the driver orders to ditch the tail.  He then reveals he is on to the ruse; that the driver is an agent of Dr. No, not a government employee, but the driver commits suicide rather than talk.

Bond finds out two people might be able to help him in his quest.  One is Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), one of the three other companions present at the game from which Strangways disappeared.  The other is a ship's captain, Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), who had taken Strangways out on trips into the Carribbean.  When Bond goes to see Quarrel, he is accosted, but once his identity is revealed, he meets Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), a CIA operative.

Quarrel tells Bond that Strangways had been on Crab Key inspecting rocks and took some samples.  But when Bond goes to Prof. Dent, Dent tells him the rocks were worthless.  Bond is suspicious, and finds out the rocks were radioactive.  He makes a date with Dent's secretary, who lures him to her apartment.  Along the way, a hearse filled with the three "blind" men give chase, but Bond manages to help them get to their own funeral.

Dent's secretary, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), of course is surprised to see him and manages to try to delay him until Dent can show up, but Bond turns the tables on her and has her arrested before he arrives.  Bond then kills Dent after Dent had tried to kill him first.  Then Bond and Quarrel and Leiter go to check out Crab Key.  It is owned by a mysterious Chinese man named Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman) who is very secretive and has his island highly guarded.

On the island Bond meets up with a shell seeking woman in a bikini (and I feel cheated because when he finds her in the book she is naked...)  The women is Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress).  She and Bond are captured by Dr No's henchmen and taken to his secret lair.  It appears that all is lost for Bond, since he is beaten up and left in a cell, but you know that won't keep a good man like Bond down (at least not in the first movie of a series anyway...)

How Bond gets away and what he does to Dr. No's operation I will leave for you to find out for yourself.  This being the first of the series, they didn't have the budget to make it as exciting as it could have been, and Wiseman is not the best Bond villain ever, hence the #13 ranking.  But a completist couldn't pass it up without at least one viewing.






From Russia with Love (1963)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the movie: #7

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the theme song: #23

Best Bond Quote: "Yes, she had her kicks." (referring to Klebb and her poison dagger shoe.)

Best Bond Villain Quote: Blofeld:   "Let his death be a particularly unpleasant and humiliating one."

Best Weapon:  Gotta be the aforementioned dagger shoe.

Several firsts for the Bond movies came into the fray on this, the second outing.  At the beginning of the movie we are treated to three of them.  One: FRWL is the first to have a pre-credits sequence  This one not exactly involving Bond, as it turns out, but a look-alike who is destined to be the victim of our villain Don Grant in a training exercise.  Two:  It is the first to have a legitimate theme song written expressly for this movie.  Admittedly you don't get a version with lyrics until the end credits, but it still counts.  Third:   The titillating shadows sequences on which the opening credits were run was also a first.

As stated in the previous paragraph, the opening sequence involves someone who looks like Bond (but the audience is fooled until the very end of the sequence, I might add).  The faux Bond is being tailed through a courtyard by assassin Donald Grant (Robert Shaw), and is eventually killed by Grant.  It is then revealed that it was a training exercise and that Grant had been timed on his success.

Rosa Klebb (Lotta Lenye) comes on the scene looking for an assassin of Grant's caliber.  Unbeknownst to almost anyone, she has defected from Russia and is now working exclusively for SPECTRE.  This movie also has the first appearance of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of SPECTRE.  He assigns both Klebb (referred to as #3) and Kronnstein (Vladek Sheybal), a chess champion, (but also referred to as #5) to develop a plan to smuggle a Lektor decoding device out of Russia.

A complicated plan is initiated, in which a Russian secretary who works for Klebb (but does't know she is no longer a trusted comrade), will approach the British Secret Service with the ruse that she is planning to defect to the West, and will bring with her a Lektor device.  The ruse involves James Bond, because she will only turn the device over to him.

Meanwhile, back in M's office in MI6, M (Bernard Lee) briefs Bond on his mission.  Again we are treated to a couple of new traditions to the Bond story.  One: Q (Desmond Llewelyn) makes his first appearance, although he is credited as "Boothroyd", the same name used by the quartermaster in Dr. No.  Also we get to see the ingeniousness of the writers at work, as this is the first appearance of any trick weapons (in this case, among others, a trick valise that explodes tear gas if not opened properly.)

The trade-off is scheduled to happen in Istanbul, and a majority of the movie was shot on location.  In Istanbul Bond hooks up with his contact, Kerim Bey (Pedro Armandariz).  Bond and Bey spy on the Russian consolate, where Bey notes that one of the people in the room is Krilinku (Fred Haggerty), a thorn in Bey's side who has attempted to kill Bey twice, once by a bomb in his office, and later at a gypsy camp to which Bey has taken Bond.  Bey enlists Bond's help to kill Krilencu before the other can succeed in the same endeavor.

 Bond meets up with his contact, Tatiana Romanova (Daniella Bianchi), who appears in his room, ready for fun. They then arrange for a transfer of the Lektor device.  Bond is followed by a Russian agent, but the agent is killed by Grant, who, working for SPECTRE, has his agenda to see that the transfer is successful.  Meanwhile Tatiana has actually fallen in love with Bond and wants the transfer to the Brits of the device to succeed.

With the Lektor, Bond and Tatiana board a train with Bey, where they are followed by Grant.  Grant poses as a fellow British Secret Service agent, having actually killed the real agent, and  getting Bond to accept his ruse.  Eventually, after drugging Tatiana, Grant captures Bond and takes ownership of the Lektor, revealing himself to be an agent of SPECTRE.  In a grapple for supremacy on the train, Bond kills Grant, and he takes the Lektor and Tatiana and they jump from the train.

The final reel contains some decent material still.  A stolen truck in which Bond and Tatiana try to escape, a helicopter with SPECTRE agents tries to stop them, and a motorboat chase on the sea, and Klebb and her poisoned dagger shoe fill the final minutes of the film.  Bond, of course, succeeds (would it have been any other way?) and the credits roll with the vocal version of the theme song, sung by Matt Munro, at the end.



Well, folks, gotta fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  It's not an Aston-Martin, and I would gladly accept any castoffs from Bond, but it will have to do.

Quiggy


2 comments:

  1. Great, Quiggy, you are going to have a blast! Dr. No is the first and one of the best...gorgeous Ursula Andress in her bikini is almost enough to make me rethink my orientation....and in From Russia, Lotte Lenya is one of the all-time great Bond villainesses!

    A great start to your epic coverage of the long-running Bond series.
    -Chris

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    1. My favorites tend to be the Roger Moore Bonds, as will be apparent as the ranking of the movies continues. I didn't add a ranking for my favorite Bond girls. If I did I'd probably rank Honey Ryder (Andress) about #3. Eva Green in Casino Royale gets top honors there. (I'm not ashamed to admit that chest attributes probably heavily influences that list....)

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