Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Bond Age (Part III)

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







By 1967, Connery was getting tired of the Bond thing, worried that he might be getting close to being typecast.  After filming You Only Live Twice, he bowed out of the series.  This led to a frantic search for a replacement.  The producers set out to find a newcomer, much like Connery had been before he landed the role.  Among some of the potential possibilities was John Richardson and Anthony Rogers, but the role went to George Lazenby, an Australian (???!!!).

In the lexicon of Bond history, most people rank George Lazenby's Bond as the worst of the lot.  I have to admit, it would have been hard to follow Connery who had already made the role a household name.  You couldn't find a harder job to do.  So don't blame Lazenby too much, but that said, he just didn't exude the panache and charisma that we had come to expect from Bond.  Which made it not too surprising when he didn't show up in the next Bond entry.
























You Only Live Twice (1967)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #10

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song: #22

Best Bond Quote:  (After being told by Moneypenny that he is late, having supposedly just been killed and buried at sea)  "We corpses have no sense of timing".

Best Bond Villain Quote:  Blofeld:  "Give him his cigarettes.  It won't be the nicotine that kills you, Mr. Bond."

Best Weapon:  The electronic safe cracker.  I could use one of those when I forget the combination to my locker.

Sean Connery returns once again as Bond, and, after an opening sequence in which an American spaceship is hijacked, Bond gets killed, even before the opening credits...  After the opening credits, Bond is buried at sea.  The End.

Or it would have been, except Bond is not really dead.  Divers bring the wrapped body aboard a submarine and unwrap the body, and there is Bond just as alive as ever.  M and Miss Moneypenny are also aboard the submarine, a sort of field office for MI6.  M is there because how else would Bond get his new assignment.  As to why they needed Miss Moneypenny, well, what would a Bond movie be without the sexually deprived repartee between Bond and the ever unrequited love affair between him and Moneypenny?

Bond gets clued in on the situation.  The Americans are blaming the Russians for the hijacking of their spacecraft.  The spacecraft that did the hijacking, however, landed somewhere in the sea of Japan, and of course, the Russians are claiming to be innocent of the deed.  Bond is sent to Japan to find out what he can.  And I'm here to tell you, even if he found out in the first 15 minutes, it was worth it.  Japanese women are the most beautiful women on Earth.  (and this from an Anglo-Saxon without an ounce of Oriental blood...)

After meeting his contact in Tokyo, Henderson (Charles Gray. who apparently has the nine lives of a cat, fittingly, since he was cast as Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever), who is murdered before he has a chance to spill any useful information, Bond manages to catch a ride with the assailants to Osato Chemicals.  IT turns out Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada) is one of Blofeld's men and has some secret documents hidden in his safe, which Bond gets by using his pocket electronic safecracker.  (Why do these dimbulb criminals always keep incriminating evidence in their safes?  Hasn't anybody ever heard of not leaving a trail?)

Bond has Q deliver "Little Nellie" which turns out to be a mini-helicopter, which Bond uses to scope out an island suspected of being the secret hideaway of the criminals, but finds nothing but volcanos.  So Bond goes undercover (even more undercover than he already is, I mean), posing, with the help of makeup, as a Japanese fisherman, married to a native island girl, who is also a secret agent, Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama).

Meanwhile the bad guys capture a Russian spaceship, and of course, the Russians blame the Americans.  The Americans deny it, and counter with the threat of repercussions  if their next ship launch is sabotaged.  Someone seems to be trying to get a full-scale war going between the Americans and the Russians.  Bond suspects his old nemesis SPECTRE is behind it all, and of course he is mostly right.  Blofeld meets with agents from Red China who stand to benefit most from an all-out war between the two super-powers.  But he isn't doing it for altruistic reasons for the Red Chinese.  He demands a boatload of money for his endeavors.

Bond and company find out that the "crater lake" on the island is fake, and tries to infiltrate the secret hideaway of Blofeld (Donald Pleasance), eventually meeting up with him face-to-face (for the first time in the ongoing series).  As usually, Bond is captured, and as usual, Bond gets away, helping the Americans and the Russians to narrowly avoid going to war in the process.

This one is a pretty good entry in the oeuvre, as you noticed in my ranking, even if I didn't particularly care for the Nancy Sinatra version of the theme song.







On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Movie: #21

Quiggy's Personal Ranking of the Theme Song:  #9 (for the instrumental opening, not the Louis Armstrong love theme, which I really don't count, since it only briefly appears in the middle of the movie.)

Best Bond Quote: (In response to Bunt's asking if something is wrong, after being fondled by one of the female patients) "I just feel a slight stiffness coming on."

Best Bond Villain Quote: Blofeld:  "Respectable baronets from the College of Heralds do not seduce female patients in clinics".(Somehow I think Blofeld's advice is wasted on Bond...)

Best Weapon:  There is nothing really new in this film.  Even the electronic safe cracker, which was pocket size in You Only Live Twice pales by comparison since this one requires a winch to get it into the office where Bond needs it.

Just in case you didn't know this was another James Bond movie, the producers and writers spent every effort to let you know.  In the opening sequence, the new incarnation of James Bond (George Lazenby) tries to save a girl from committing suicide by drowning and fends of an attack by unknown assailants.  Instead of being grateful the girl drives off as Bond quips "this never happened to the other guy..."

And then during the opening credits sequences we are inundated with some scenes from the previous five Bond films, in which Lazenby was not cast as Bond, but since they are just clips of previous villains and Bond girls and femme fatales, you aren't even aware that it was not him  (unless of course, you had seen the previous five films...)  But the producers apparently just wanted to make sure you knew it was a Bond film and not some cheapjack knockoff, I guess.

Lazenby has been vilified as the worst James Bond of the series, and much of that is probably due to the script as anything else.  Of course, Lazenby decided to make it only one Bond movie, since I guess he really didn't like his experiences.  (Note:  I always thought it was because of his poor performance that the producers threw a bunch of money at Sean Connery to come back to the series, but according my book, mentioned in the header of this post, Lazenby declined to continue in the role on his own.)

The sad part of the movie, however is not the fact that Lazenby was not the great successor to Connery that most people hoped.  It's not even that the plot was pretty tame and somewhat ridiculous as far as Bond plots go.  My opinion is that the worst thing about the movie is that Telly Savalas was cast as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Not that Savalas was not good in the role.  Just that he had to play a role in the movie.  Savalas was a great actor, whether he was playing a lollipop sucking detective good guy in Kojak, or a psychotic killer with a misplaced sense of morals as Maggott in The Dirty Dozen.

Savalas was the second actor to essay Blofeld on the screen, following Donald Pleasance's performance in You Only Live Twice. (I don't actually count the previous Blofeld's since you only really saw his cat, and the actor who played him was not even credited.)  The omnipresent pet cat of Blofeld's only makes a very brief appearance in one scene.  This shouldn't deter you from the performance of Savalas, however, but until the scene, it could have been any villain, and it would have been a lapse to me.

Bond becomes interested in Teresa (Diana Rigg), who is the daughter of Marco Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), a Mafia don in the French Mafia.  Draco tries to bribe Bond into romancing his daughter with the dowry of a million dollars, which Bond counters to include information on the whereabouts of Blofeld.  When Teresa finds out about this she demands that her father give him the information without including her in the deal.

Bond ends up romancing Teresa anyway, and the two fall in love.  Meanwhile Bond discovers that Blofeld has a rehab center for allergies in the Swiss Alps.  Of course, Blofeld's intentions are not truly altruistic.  He is conditioning his patients, all women, to be unwitting carriers of a plague that will sterilize entire species (plants, animals humans) unless the world pays a ransom, (the less than stellar evil plot I previously referenced).  Bond gains access to the center through the auspices of a genealogical institute which Blofeld has hired to prove he is a descendant of a dynasty called the de Bleuchamps (supposedly the French variation of Blofeld).

Since Bond has previously met Blofeld face to face in You Only Live Twice, it is curious that Blofeld does not recognize Bond right away.  He is accepted by Blofeld in his guise as Sir Hillary Bray, the genealogist sent to work with Blofeld to determine the authenticity of his claim.  But because Bond tries to woo a couple of the female patients, Blofeld and his right hand woman, Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat), determine his true identity.

Bond escapes the clutches of Blofeld, but in the ensuing actions, his lover Teresa is kidnapped by Blofeld.  Because MI6 relieves him of his position in the efforts to capture Blofeld, and the world governments have decided to acquiesce to Blofeld's extortion demands, Bond has to rely on help from Draco to save Teresa.

The Bond entry this time has all the requisite action and intrigue you come to expect from a Bond movie, but I have to admit Lazenby did nothing for me as Bond.  He just doesn't have the cachet that Connery did, nor does he have the humor that my favorite Bond, Roger Moore, had.  Savalas' Blofeld helps keep this one from being the worst Bond on my personal list, however.

Well, folks, that ends this entry.  Enjoy a martini while you wait for next month.

Quiggy




2 comments:

  1. The George Lazenby doesn't seem that terrible to me, I kind of like the film--the wonderful Diana Rigg is worth the price of admission. But the film and Lazenby really flopped and the producers desperately went back to Connery for one more film before signing the classy, suave Roger Moore, who played it longer than anyone, I believe...
    Need to see both of these again soon.
    - C

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You and I are of one accord on Roger Moore. As you will see as the blog series goes on, many of Moore's Bonds are in my top 10 of the series. Thanks for reading.

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