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Roger Moore as James Bond 007 in Ian Fleming’s “Live and Let Die”

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The beginning of the Roger Moore era begins here. Roger Moore doesn’t have the greatest reputation as a Bond but he seems to have his fans.  They sure did make a bunch of these movies with him, I would hope for good reason.  Almost anything would be a welcome change after the last Connery.

The film starts with a series of assassinations. During a session of the United Nations, a white guy is killed by killer audio feedback. In the Caribbean, a white guy has been tied to a post and killed by a snake bite. And in New Orleans, a white spy is not-at-all-subtly staking out a club called Fillet of Soul when a funeral procession passes, “Who’s funeral is it?” he asks a bystander.

“Yours.” Stab, shove in casket.  Continue procession.  Cue credit sequence.

The theme music this time is by Paul McCartney and Wings. The song is exotic and brassy and perfect for a Bond film.   It’s a great song worthy of a former Beatle.  Of course, one cannot help but remember that Bond in Goldfinger made a point of taking a pot shot at the Beatles, quipping that they should only be listened to while wearing earmuffs.

The title sequence itself is delightfully sinister.  It includes the perquisite naked ladies but has a fire and skulls motif that gives the whole affair a black magic tone. It is a little unusual for James Bond but it is cool.

Our first glimpse of Moore comes as M and Moneypenny visit Bond at home. He is in bed with a young woman when they arrive. He is wearing a digital watch. Bond should never be seen wearing a digital watch. Bond should always be stylish never fashionable.  It is a bad start.

The tone of this sequence is one of light comedy, nicely masking the exposition. James hides the girl in a coat closet from M. Moneypenny finds the girl and helps Bond hide her. It’ s a dumb farce scene but goddamn if Lois Maxwell doesn’t give it some gravity. This is the first time she’s actually been face-to-face with Bond’s womanizing and you can see it kill her inside, even as she helps Bond with a smile and a wink.

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M exposits that the three men killed in the pre-credits were all agents of British Intelligence: Dawes, Hamilton, and Baines. Bond rather liked Baines. They shared the same bootmaker. Bond is being sent to investigate their deaths.

Stupid digital wristwatch aside, Moore as Bond looks a lot more respectable and gentlemanly than Bond has in the past few films. That is not to say that he actually is respectable or a gentleman. As soon as M finishes briefing him and departs, Bond uses his new magnetic wristwatch to unzip the closet girl’s dress. It is sexy in a fun, playful way as opposed to the normal Bond sex creepiness.

Bond’s assignment is to investigate Kananga,  a dictator ruling San Monique, a small fictional Caribbean nation. Kananga is played by Yaphet Koto with playful menace.    He is currently visiting the United Nations in New York, so that is Bond’s first stop.

In New York Bond liases with yet another new Felix Leiter. This one, played by David Hedison, is a minor revelation. There’s a chemistry between him and Bond that has always been absent before.  He comes across as Bond’s American best friend, which I think is supposed to be the point of the character, but has never quite landed up until now.

Before Bond can begin his investigation, someone driving what is described by Leiter as a “white pimpmobile” tries to assasinate Bond. This man shoots Bond’s driver in the head, leaving the car to crash. Bond manages to avoid serious injury and with the help of Felix, traces the car’s owner to a store dealing in voodoo paraphernalia.

Bond finds the pimpmobile parked near the voodoo store, and so he tails it by taxi.  However, it turns out that Bond’s taxi driver is part of a chain of seemingly ordinary black people throughout the city that are all tracking Bond’s movements. It seems as if every black person in New York is part of a monolithic criminal conspiracy and all their attention is now focused on James Bond.

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Bond arrives in Harlem, and enters a Fillet of Soul, the chain restaurant being staked out at the start of the film. He gets seated at a booth that is placed along a wall.  This booth swivels, fireplace-secret-door-style, into a hidden lair.  Once in the lair he is informed by Tee Hee Johnson, a tall, imposing man with a mechanical vise for a hand, that he is to be introduced to Mr. Big.

While waiting for Mr. Big, Bond meets Solitaire, a beautiful young tarot reader, played by Jane Seymore, who is utterly confident in her ability to divine the fortune from her tarot cards. Bond flirts with her briefly before Mr. Big sweeps in and tells his men to waste the honky. Bond smugly asks whether “waste” is a good thing.

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Bond is taken out back to be wasted, but he is saved by a black CIA agent, thus establishing that, in fact, not all black people are evil.

Bond now heads to San Monique. As he arrives, he passes Baron Samedi, a voodoo performer in facepaint and top hat, touted as “The man who cannot die”. Samedi puts on an exuberant and slightly sinister show.

This film has moved at a breakneck clip for a Bond film up until this point, but now things slow down enough to make room for some spy shit as Bond sweeps his room for bugs. A deadly snake is slipped into his room and his champagne is left for him by a large man who only speaks in a whisper. This is the assassin driver of the white pimpmobile.

After finding and dispatching the snake, Bond meets in his hotel room Rosie Carver, another black CIA agent who as part of her cover is posing as “Mrs. Bond.” She is a rookie field agent standing in sharp contrast to Bond’s years of experience. This subtly sells the idea that Moore-As-Bond is a veteran like the character, not a rookie like the actor.

Bond just sort of assumes that Carver will sleep with him. She rebufs his advances and then immediately gets frightened by a hat. It is then implied that she sleeps with Bond.

They meet up with Quarrel Junior. Remember Quarrel? James Bond’s other black friend? The guy in Dr. No who couldn’t tell the difference between a tank and a dragon who got killed with a flamethrower? Apparently he had a son who serves the exact same narrative purpose as his father.

Bond and Rosie hire Quarrel Jr. to take them to Katanga’s Island base. As they approach, Katanga asks Solitaire to give a reading about how this encounter will play out. The card she reads is “The Lovers” but she tells Katanga that what she sees is “Death.”

Katanga believes that Solitaire has the power but it is implied that deflowering her would depower her.   This film is treating her divination as being a real power, which is odd.  All of a sudden there exists magic within the world of James Bond. This wholly alters the tone of the proceedings. Even more than You Only Live Twice, this film abandons being an espionage thriller, transcending that limited genre, and creating something weirder and more interesting.

It turns out that Rosie is an agent of Katanga, attempting to set up Bond. Bond sees through her act which naturally does not stop him from sleeping with her in the jungle before confronting her regarding her duplicity.  However, she is killed by one of Katanga’s traps before she can tell Bond what she knows.

To perform reconnaissance on Katanga, Bond hang glides while smoking a cigar, pulled along by Quarrel’s boat. When he is ready to make his move, he lands, tearing off his pants to reveal a second pair of pants, while reversing his jacket so that he can be properly dressed for the occasion. It is sublimely ridiculous.

Bond makes his way into Katanga’s compound, where he finds Solitaire. He coerces her into sleeping with him. He tells her that the cards say that they must. What he does not tell her is that he has replaced her deck of cards with a deck that contains nothing but copies of “The Lovers”.

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After they make love, Solitaire is stunned and appalled at what she has done. She no longer has the power now that she is devirginated.   Her whole life has been destroyed. Bond uses this vulnerability to press her for information about Katanga.

Having had her life destroyed, Solitaire seems to have no real choice but to stick with Bond as he escapes the compound. Two pretty fun chase scenes later, Bond escapes San Monique but cannot quite hold onto Solitare, who get’s captured. This is a setback for Bond who had, in obtaining the  boss’s girl, gained  a useful bargaining chip.

Some time afterward, Bond and Felix end up at the New Orleans Filet of Soul. Bond asks to be seated closer to the stage to avoid a secret door booth.  He is obliged and they are front and center to watch a woman singing “Live and Let Die”, the film’s theme song.

Despite avoiding the booth, this table is also part of a secret passage, dropping Bond into a lower level when Felix leaves to make a phone call.

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Bond is clamped to a chair and interrogated by Mr. Big. The gangster wants to know if Bond has slept with Solitaire.   He learns the truth and in the course of the scene, reveals a secret of his own:  Mr. Big is Katanga in disguise! I feel foolish admitting it, but I genuinely didn’t see that coming!

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Katanga’s villainous plot is elegant in its simplicity: Give a bunch of people in America free heroin.

After Katanga learns the truth about Solitaire, Bond is taken by Tee Hee Johnson to a crocodile farm where heroin in processed. Johnson tells Bond that he loves the crocs despite having lost an arm to one.

Bond is then left alone in the farm on a tiny island surrounded by crocodile-filled swamp. He spies a metal canoe and uses his magno-watch to pull it to him. However, the canoe is firmly tied up!  The gimmick has failed.

Moving to plan “B”, Bond instead jumps on the body of one crocodile after another, Pitfall Harry-style, hopping his way to freedom. Then he burns the heroin shack to the ground before taking off on a speedboat and I kind of love this movie.

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Bond doesn’t make a clean escape. What follows is a truly spectacular car/boat chase that reels in J. W. Pepper, a racist redneck sheriff, blatantly inserted into the film to make the movie itself seem less racist.

The chase involves boats on rivers, cars on roads, swimming pools, boats jumping over cars, a boats moving on land, a weeding, boat-switching and car-switching, all culminating in a glorious fireball. It is one of the greatest chase scenes I have been fortunate enough to bear witness to.

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Bond and Felix jet back to San Monique, I think to burn their poppy fields? Or assassinate Katanga? I’m still not sure why British Intelligence gives a shit about the American drug trade. Fun as this all is, it seems a little small-potatoes for Bond.

At any rate, Bond arrives just as Solitaire is about to be murdered in the voodoo ritual seen at the start of the film, officiated by Baron Samedi. Bond starts shooting people. He seemingly shoots Samedi but what gets shot is apparently a lifelike Samedi mannequin. Bond frees Solitaire, and when Samedi resurfaces he kicks the voodoo man into a coffin full of venomous snakes.

While Bond distracts the bad guys, Leiter and Quarrel blow up some poppy fields. Bond and Solitaire run away from the angry voodoo horde, but end up running straight into Katanga. Having caputured Bond at home, Katanga takes pleasure in showing off his wonderful underground lair, complete with monorail and shark tank.

The two prisoners are tied above the shark tank but it isn’t long before Bond uses his watch’s buzzsaw to escape. He quickly turns the tables on Katanga, forcing him to eat a pellet of compressed air, which causes him to gruesomely and cartoonishly explode. It is a bit much.

Having assassinated the leader of a sovereign nation, Bond and Solitaire board a train. Presumably they have left San Monique but it isn’t clear. Aboard the train, Bond teaches Solitaire to play gin rummy.

Tee Hee Johnson boards the train looking to kill Bond. Bond shoves Solitaire into a foldout bed so that the men can trainfight. This is reminiscent of the amazing fight in From Russian With Love, but instead of beating the bad guy with savagery, he defeats him by disabling his robot arm. He then throws Johnson out of the train.

The danger has passed, but the film cuts away to Baron Samedi, perched on the edge of the train, alive and cackling. The end.

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I really enjoyed this film. I feel bad about liking it because whatever other charms it may possess, it is a movie wherein James Bond rapes a woman. It’s a heinous act in an otherwise light film, but eight films into the franchise, I am going into this flick assuming that Bond is a monster and a rapist. Even though the filmmakers do not understand that Bond is a bad guy, I certainly do, and I can enjoy the film as I can enjoy other stories about bad people. That doesn’t excuse the movie and other viewers might have a different experience.  Also it is not entirely un-racist.

With that guilty disclaimer out of the way, this is a hell of a movie.  It isn’t just enjoyable compared to the previous films in this oftentimes unpleasant franchise, it is is enjoyable in its own right. It creates a goofy, over-the-top, world that James Bond can almost make sense existing within, playful and absurd in largely the right ways.

It only took them eight tries to get the tone right on a James Bond film.  This is a good movie following seven ones that were not good.  Maybe this first Roger Moore film is the start of something new and exciting.

Sean Connery as James Bond 007 in Ian Fleming’s “Diamonds are Forever”

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The previous film ended with George Lazenby as Bond crying over his dead wife.  Lazenby is out and Connery is back in, but that wife-murder seems like an event that needs addressing.   And so the film starts with a montage of Bond torturing people in order to find Blofeld. The sequence is played broad, culminating in Bond ripping the bikini top off of a woman and strangling her with it, which is meant to be hilarious, not cruel and ugly. It is clear from the start that Bond-as-Human has been written off as a failed experiment. The filmmakers have returned to Bond-as-Hideous-Monster.  The problem is, the makers of the film seem to be chuckling along with his boys-will-be-boys antics.

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While Bond searches, Blofeld is arranging to create a surgically modified doppelganger of himself, a man that appears identical to him in all ways. Of course, Blofeld is now played by Charles Grey, a man with no neck, no facial scar, and plenty of hair, and who previously played a murdered good guy in You Only Live Twice. Maybe that guy was secretly a Blofeld doppelganger all along.

Before Blofeld can make his duplicate, Bond arrives and gleefully drowns him in some sludge. Blofeld’s kitty cat cries in distress. And it appears that anticlimatically, that is that. Bond has had his revenge and can move on from the previous film. At no point in this intro sequence is Tracy referenced.

The credits are super weird, prominently featuring Blofeld’s cat and of course diamonds. The song is good, sung by a returning Shirley Bassey, but it sounds weird to my 21st century ear due to the lack of Kanye West. Also, man, we have clearly left the 60’s behind and are now stuck in the 70’s.  By which I mean every aspect of this movie looks garish and ugly.

After the credits, we witness a diamond smuggling operation go bad. Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint are a pair of bizarre homosexual assassins who have started killing everyone involved in a particular operation. The filmmakers clearly think the notion of gay killers to be a self-evidently hilarious one.

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Bond has been tasked to investigate an increase in diamond smuggling which seems pretty penny ante for 007. He is sent to Holland to pose as a smuggler. There, he meets the eye-rollingly named Tiffany Case. Somehow that stupid pun name bothers me more than “Pussy Galore” or any of the others.

Bond kills the dude that he is pretending to be while Case watches, and then he swaps the corpse’s wallet for his own. She finds the only piece of ID the man has: James Bond’s Playboy Club membership card. “Oh my God! You just killed James Bond!” James Bond is so famous of an operative, random smugglers in Holland know of him.

Bond’s investigation leads him to Vegas on the same plane as Kidd and Wint. There are all sorts of unfocused, poorly-paced shenanigans that we are given no reason to care about, including a near-miss live cremation and a trip to the circus. At one point, gangsters throw a girl Bond has brought back to his room out of a window so that Case can sleep with him.

Bond’s goals during these antics are completely opaque. He seems to have no plan others than fuck with some random diamond smugglers and fuck some random women and see what happens. One thing that happens is that Bond seems to stumble upon the site where the moon landing was faked, leading to a protracted chase scene with Bond in a stupid-looking moon buggy.

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Eventually, Bond concludes that a millionaire named Willard Whyte is the key bad guy, although I honestly cannot follow why. Felix Leiter (yet again recast: this time older and grouchy) has not been convinced that Whyte is a criminal, so Bond sneaks into Whyte’s office at the top of a hotel/casino.  Er, or actually he sneaks into Whyte’s ridiculous super-bathroom, complete with telephone, closed-circut television, and computer.

Upon leaving the bathroom, what Bond discovers is Blofeld, alive and well and still Charles Grey. Actually there are two of them. One is a doppelganger but it is unclear which one is real! Apparently Bond murdered a duplicate earlier?

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Blofeld has been posing as Whyte although he looks like what we are apparently asked to believe he as always looked like, despite having access to ridiculously sophisticated face-change technology and despite being the most wanted criminal in the world. Instead he just apparently likes to make lots of copies of himself.

The Blofelds gloat that Bond cannot take action because he would not know which one of the two to kill. Bond responds by kicking Blofeld’s cat and shooting the Blofeld it runs toward in the head. It seems like a clever (albeit cruel) solution but after the the surviving Blofeld draws his gun on Bond a doppelganger cat saunters into the room.

Screenwriting nerds like to talk about “save the cat” moments, which are scenes where the hero performs an action that establishes the noble nature of the hero who might otherwise be unsympathetic to the audience. James Bond goes a different route.  The best scene in this movie is the one where the hero kicks a cat as part of gambit that fails.

Rather than shoot Bond, Blofeld gasses and delivers him to Kidd and Wint who take his body out to the desert and stick him in a large pipe while he sleeps. Bond survives this because it is not a death trap. It is an inconvenience.

Back in his hotel, Bond uses a Q-supplied voice change device to trick Blofeld via phone into revealing the location of the real Willard Whyte.  He turns out to be in his own summer home.

Bond arrives at the summer home to discover Bambi and Thumper, two female killer acrobats who clearly love their job. They kick Bond’s ass right up to the moment where Bond beats them in an act of truly pathetic filmmaking. The acrobats have the upper hand right until the end of the fight when they just sort of relent because Bond needs to win the fight, completely unearned. Bond wins because he is the white imperial alpha male. Bambi and Thumper lose not because they screw up or are outfought, but because the universe in which they live cannot allow them to live.

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Bond finds the real Willard Whyte who is, I guess, a good guy. While he attends to Whyte, Blofeld escapes the casino, dressed in drag for no good reason, while Q uses a gadget to cheat at the slots for no relevant plot reason.  This is not a movie concerned with reasons.

One hour and thirty five minutes into this film, the real plot of the movie, which up until now has ostensibly been about diamond smuggling is revealed. Blofeld has used Whyte’s resources and many many smuggled diamonds to construct a diamond-powered orbital death ray, capable of destroying all the world’s nuclear armament. Rather than ransoming the world, Blofeld is opting to auction nuclear supremacy to the highest bidder.

It is worth noting that there has been no reference to SPECTRE in the past two films.  Blofeld is now portrayed as a lone mastermind, with resources to be sure, but nothing approaching the scope of the organization he ran for the first five films, with no word of what happened to it. He also has lost his penchant for shooting unexpected people.   He’s been reduced to little more than a neckless jerk in a Nehru jacket.

Bond parachutes into Blofeld’s pretty sweet oil rig secret base and immediately surrenders to Blofeld’s men, because most of his endgame plans start with being captured by an enemy who doesn’t want to kill him but instead wants to hang out and gloat. Tiffany Case is lounging on the deck of the oil platform, for no adequately explored reason.

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Case, played by Jill St. John, has been a pretty large presence in this film, even though she has no real motivations, no real competencies, and randomly shifting alliances.  Despite all of this, St. John is easily the most likeable person in this movie, which peversely makes her seem even more out of place in this bleak, unpleasant film.  Her character has negligible effect on the plot and no real reason to be in the film.  She exists to wear ugly revealing clothing and have sex with Bond.

On the oil rig, there is a bit of nonsense where Bond and Case both swap out the tape that contains the codes that control the death ray activation codes with a fake, canceling out eachother’s efforts. In a real movie, the audience would be led to believe that they had failed to successfully swap them but that there had actually been a double-bluff. But in Diamonds Are Forever, the scheme just flat out fails.

A bunch of helicopters proceed to attack the base. Felix is onboard, so I guess they are CIA? Blofeld tries to escape in what appears to be a tiny submarine, but Bond lifts it with a crane and just starts fucking with the villain like a high school bully, swinging and banging the sub all around.  After a bunch of that, he and Case jump off of the rig shortly before the helicopters destroy it and also presumably Blofeld. The bit of business with the tapes was completely unnecessary, all that was needed was tho blow up Blofeld’s base with helicopters.

Later, as Bond and Case relax on a cruise ship, the two homosexual killers arrive posing as waiters. Kidd and Wint serve them a meal including a pastry with a bomb inside it, which Wint oh so cleverly calls “la bombe surprise.” Bond recognizes Wint’s terrible aftershave and and thus is able to ever so subtly defeat his gay assailants by setting one aflame and literally shoving a bomb up the ass of the other. This is the classy note that the film ends on.

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This movie is utter garbage. The plot is incoherent and stupid and the filmmaking is consistently lazy. It is a mean spirited and ugly film that leaves the viewer feeling like they need a bath afterward. Even the set dressing and costuming are unattractive and grungy.

This is Connery’s last canonical Bond appearance and I am ready to see him go.  The Bond of this film is a monster again, but he’s no longer the cool ruthless bastard of Dr. No or From Russia With Love anymore. He’s just a petty bully who gets to be cruel and smirk because the world is built to give him whatever he wants.

Ian Flemings’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” starring George Lazenby

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This is a strange beast of a movie, the first proper Bond film without Sean Connery.  While today we expect a new Bond every few goes, in 1969 this was a new and scary prospect.  Everything had to be reconsidered for this installment.

This film starts with familiar faces M and Moneypenny discussing the fact that Bond has gone missing. We then cut to Bond driving, but it is cleverly shot in such a way that we don’t yet see his face. He drives to a beach, where he spots a woman in the scope of a rifle that he keeps in his glove box. The woman is walking into the sea, the most dreamy of suicides.

Bond rushes to stop her. He carries her to the beach, and after reviving her, we at last see his face as he greets the woman. “Good morning. My name is Bond, James Bond.” Before this conversation can go any further, they are beset by three armed men, there for the lady. While Bond beats up the men, the woman runs away to her car, getting the hell out of there. Upon realizing he has been ditched, Bond quips “This never happened to the other fella.”

The whole open is pretty clever about telling us that they know that we know that this is new territory. It is playful, and it shows a self-awareness that I don’t consider typical for the franchise. This is not to say that it entirely works; the seemingly random suicide is confusing when the focus should be on the confusion of  what is up with the new guy.

The credits still have the standard gross naked lady silhouettes, but it also presents a montage of characters from the previous films, serving as an insecure reminder that this movie is still part of the larger series.  There are no lyrics to the opening score this time.  It’s pure John Barry and the John Barry orchestra. I dig the theme, it’s moody and decadent.

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After the credits, Bond follows the suicide lady to a hotel and its attached casino. He plays some baccarat, where he finds and assists suicide lady, who is named Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo, “Tracy” to her friends.

The Contessa seems to have a deathwish, which Bond keeps thwarting.  First, Bond covers her stake when she purposely loses a bet she cannot pay. Then he fights a dude in her room. Then, when he finds her in his room, she draws a gun on him.

Bond is unflapped by this display, after all she is only a woman. He disarms her, and then grills her for information. He slaps her hard when he doesn’t like an answer. “I can be a lot more persuasive than that,” he leers. Yuck. She explains that all she wants to do is sleep with Bond in order to settle her debt to him. Again, yuck.

When Bond wakes up after boning her, she is gone, having left the money she owed him on the nightstand. This does manage to make the sex less creepy.

Twenty minutes into the film and there is no villainous plot, no clear goal for the hero to pursue. When Bond gets held up at gunpoint again, I’m left to wonder what a James Bond movie with no villain would look like. What if the entire film was just a steady, aimless progression of sex, fights, car chases, and baccarat without a SPECTRE plot? Would the audience enjoy that? Would James Bond?

At any rate, Bond has been summoned by a European gangster named Draco. This guy is very hospitable as far as kidnappers go. He is also the Contessa’s father, and he has a proposition for Bond.

Draco has decided that he wants Bond to marry Tracy. As he puts it, “What she needs is a man to dominate her. To make love to her enough to make her love him.”  Vile as this notion is, as we have seen with Pussy Galore, it is sort of Bond’s specialty.

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Bond offers Draco a deal: He will marry Tracy if Draco can provide Bond with the location of Blofeld. Seriously, what the fuck?

Having made his deal, Bond slinks into the office, tossing a hat to remind us that he is James Bond. “Same old James, only more so!” Moneypenny exclaims as he grabs her ass. Bond’s flirting with Moneypenny seems to have turned cruel. It has degraded from two-way playful banter, to nothing more than an asshole leading-on a lovestruck fool who could do better.

In M’s office we learn that Bond has spent the past two years trying and failing to find Blofeld, and now he’s being pulled off of the case. Enraged, he resigns.  M ignores the resignation and gives Bond two weeks leave with which to find Blofeld.

Draco arranges for Bond and Tracy to re-meet. She is instantly suspicious and correctly assumes that her father has offered information to Bond in exchange for marrying her. She compels her father to provide that information freely to Bond, without obligation, and then she storms off.

Bond chases her, they embrace and have a montage depicting a lengthy courtship. Well, lengthy for Bond. The film has become an actual romance. This is a weird new place for a James Bond film.  I don’t believe sociopathic Sean Connery could have ever gone here.

Bond does eventually get to buisness and follow Draco’s lead. He does some spy shit, although for Lazenby, spy shit seems pretty laid back. Part of spying seems to be sitting around reading Playboy while a machine cracks a safe.

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What Bond discovers is confusing. Blofeld wants to con his way into becoming nobility and has been talking to a heraldry expert hoping to sell himself as “Count Bleuchamp.”   Bond decides to pose as this heraldry expert, Sir Hillary Bray, to get close to Blofeld.

This ruse gets Bond invited to Blofeld’s non-profit allergy clinic on the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps.  I’m not an expert in allergy clinics, but I don’t think most of them are on the top of mountains.  Or that they are normally full of armed guards.   Or that all the bedroom doors only open from the outside.  Also, at this particular clinic, all the clients are beautiful young women.

Once Bond arrives, he puts on a kilt. I do not know why.  Bond is not cool in this movie.  We’ve abandoned the style of the 60’s and entered the hideousness of the 70’s and James Bond in a kilt is the transition point.

Bond, in disguise as Hillary, is comically dull. He plays the character as gay, as unmasculine as possible.  It is supposed to be funny, but it seems a strange choice to make the new Bond spend a lot of time being as un-Bondlike as possible.

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Bond-as-Hillary eventually gets to meet Blofeld-as-Bleuchamp.  Blofeld has also been recast, this time played by with jovial menace by Telly Savalas.  Somehow, in the time between last film and this one, Blofeld has lost his wicked facial scar.

The two meet and neither show any sign of recognizing each other, despite having tried to kill each other at the end of the previous film. This almost makes meta-sense, as both men were played by different actors, neither of which look or act anything like the actor currently playing a character pretending not to be that character.

But no, really. Why doesn’t Blofeld recognize Bond? Since the film has gone to lengths to assure us that this is the same world as that of the previous films, it doesn’t make sense.  The best way to square this might be the fan notion that this is in fact a different “James Bond.” The idea that “James Bond” is a fake name given to successive agents within the film universe is fairly silly, and clearly nothing the filmmakers ever intended, but it seems to make more sense than what we’ve actually been presented with in this film.

At any rate, later that night, Bond breaks out of his room to bang a couple girls with allergies. So much for his romance with Tracy. By sleeping with these ladies, Bond learns that Blofeld is hypnotizing these women into not having allergies.

Blofeld eventually captures Bond, revealing that while he may not have recognized Bond as being a person that he had previously met and tried to kill, he saw right through his disguise as an expert in heraldry. So he might as well tell Bond his plan.

Blofeld is going to sterilize all life on Earth if a ransom is not paid. He will accomplish this by using hypnotized allergy-cured young women armed with cosmetic sets of death. I’m a guy that likes to use “dumb” as a superlative, and this is amongst the dumbest supervillain plots I have ever witnessed.  Unfortunately, there is no panache to the procedings. There is no sense that this is a sublimely ridiculous thing. It is played dully straight.

Things improve somewhat when the villains chase Bond down the mountain on skis. Bond spends the next 35 minutes of the movie trying to escape from Blofeld, which should be way too long, but actually really works well. First he climbs across a cable car cable, then he skis down the mountain, then he fights his way to a crowd. Attempting to blend in to the crowd, an ice skater abruptly stops in front of him.

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It is Tracy! Between the directing and the performance, it genuinely feels wonderful to see her at this moment. This is the first time a James Bond movie has caused me to feel genuine emotion, and I’d like to think it is the same for the character, that this is the first time James Bond has felt an emotion other than bloodlust or horniness.

Tracy gets him to her car, and amazingly, the pursuit continues, now a car chase. She drives like an action hero, driving apparently being the one non-sexual action trope a woman of this time and genre are allowed to do as well as men.

They hide in a barn. Bond declares his love and asks Tracy to marry him. He declares his intent to quit his job because “an agent shouldn’t care about anything but himself.”  And he means it.

Lazenby Bond is an actual human being. It is horribly disorienting. Tracy, performed by Diana Rigg of Avengers fame, is great. She completely sells herself as the one woman worthy of Bond’s love, but the esteem of James Bond should not hold any value at all. The core of the earlier Bond films has been that Bond is a monstrous sociopath.

The producers seem to have decided that if the franchise is going to outlive Connery, they need to explore new dimensions of Bond, flesh him out as a real character. It feels completely wrong, but it is a fascinating misfire.

In the morning, Blofeld and his goons chase Bond and Tracy some more, on skis again. There is a shocking, gruesome death as a henchman is pulped by a snow machine into pink mist, followed by a spectacular avalanche. Bond is left for dead as if he weren’t James Bond, while Tracy is captured by Blofeld.

Blofeld has decided to seduce Tracy for some reason. Probably because she is a countess, right? But that is never spelled out. Meanwhile, the U.N. Has decided to accede to Blofeld’s demands. Bond decides “fuck that” and calls Draco to form up a posse.

Bond and his gangster friends assault the mountain base with a helicopter in a truly great action piece while Tracy murders the hell out of some henchmen. Tracy is the first woman in one of these movies that seems to have the respect of the filmmakers. Which is sad, given that the two most important men in her life traded her like a commodity.

The gang blows up the base,  and Draco cold-cocks Tracy so they can escape without Bond. Meanwhile, Bond and Blofeld escape on foot, leading to Bond pursuing his quarry in a bobsled chase that is truly dumb. Blofeld is defeated in a way that appears non-fatal, but Bond seems to assume him dead.

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Some time later, Bond and Tracy get married. M, Moneypenny and Q are in attendance. Amidst the festivities there is a moment between Moneypenny and Bond where it is clear that Miss Moneypenny’s heart has been broken. And Bond gets it. All Bond can do is throw his hat at her one last time, and drive off. There is weight and honesty in this scene completely unbefitting of a Bond film. It is oddly affecting.

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So Bond and Tracy drive off, bantering like two newlyweds deeply in love, when Blofeld drives by and shoots Tracy dead.  In shock, Bond cradles his wife’s lifeless body in his arms and cries. The End.

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Holy shit. That’s a hell of an ending, dark, moving, and daringly unsatisfying (and problematic case of refrigerator syndrome).  I love it, and it makes me wish this movie had really gone for it. Against all logic, the love story angle worked, largely through the talent of Rigg. They came close to making a real, grounded James Bond movie. Unfortunately, the whole allergy-hypnotized women plot and other cartoonishness undercut the serious stuff they were doing.

This was Lazenby’s only appearance as Bond. His Bond is not at all cool.  He isn’t an unstoppable kill monster.  He’s just a guy in a film that tries to be more than it is able to be.  This wasn’t a great movie but it tried to do something different with Bond, and I like that, even if it didn’t work at all.

Five films into James Bond

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The James Bond movies are famously formulaic. Five films into the series, about to switch Bond actors, it does feel like the patterns have coalesced into a “Bond formula.” Sort of. What is going on in these movies?

The film will start with a weird stylized sequence in black and white, where Bond walks across a room seen through the barrel of a gun. Not the sights of the gun, the barrel. Bond will abruptly pivot and shoot the screen. The screen will turn red as the point-of-view character falls to the ground. There may or may not be a cold open preceding this sequence, but every one of these films has this bit of style.

Directors and writers will be fluid, but the music will be John Barry and the John Barry Orchestra, featuring variations of the James Bond theme created by Monty Norman. The set design will be Ken Adam. The main titles will be Maurice Binder, and yes I have watched so much James Bond that I now know the name of the person who designed the main titles to the James Bond movies, and yes that makes me barf on the inside.

The title credits will be weird. The theme song will be sung by a popular singer and the chorus will directly reference the title of the film, even if that leads to a song that makes me think that the bad guy of one of these movies is named “Thunderball.” Visually, the title will feature stylized imagery of beautiful, over-sexualized women, but each time out Binder will try to display them in a new and novel way. This worked well in Goldfinger but has been off-putting in all the others.

What about the plot of a James Bond film? For a franchise with some oddly specific rules, you can’t really pigeonhole a James Bond plot. Bond will uncover and foil a supervillainous scheme, but the specifics of the scheme to be foiled have varied wildly, from simply stealing a codebreaker to starting World War 3. The one constant is that these plots are never the work of a nation, but of a third party, typically SPECTRE. The Chinese and the Russians have been portrayed as enemies to Britain, but never quite direct aggressors.

The villains have typically been high-ranking SPECTRE operatives, overseen by Ernst Blofeld. Although he’s only been given a face in the most recent film, he has had a presence since From Russia With Love. The filmmakers built him up over several films, and he feels suitably large enough to serve as Bond’s Moriarty. He works because, he’s not just a generic mastermind, he has multiple weirdo tics. He forces a white cat to come with him wherever he goes, and he likes to make one person think they are going to be murdered for their failure, only to murder another person instead. He’s done that, like, five times in three films.

The other villains have been weird and grandiose in different ways. Dr. No had no hands. Rosa Klebb was a lesbian with a knife-boot. Goldfinger covered everything he owned and everything that he wished to murder with gold. Largo wore an eyepatch and named his super-yacht the Disco Volante. Some of these guys have proven to be more memorable than others. (Hint: The good ones had movies named after them.)

These bad guys will have sweet Ken Adams sets and from Goldfinger onward, the head villain has always had a mute head henchman, although only Oddjob of Goldfinger has been memorable in this role.

The villain will not murder James Bond when they have the chance. In three of the films, the villain has played host to James Bond as if he were an honored guest. In From Russia With Love, the villain repeatedly saved Bond’s life.

Four of the five movies end with Bond making out with a woman on a boat. Again, this is weirdly specific. After the boat, are the end credits, which all announce that James Bond will return in the following film. I hope this continues through the entire franchise, a fifty year chain of kept promises. Me, I’m still waiting for Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.

I had been lead to believe that gadgets were a bedrock of James Bond movies. And indeed, James Bond receives some new spy gear in every one of these films. However, despite a couple of scenes where Bond is seen clearly appreciating his new toys, Bond does not really seem like a man who needs complicated or clever ways to murder dudes when a gun or a garotte will do the trick.

I had also formed the impression, before watching these films, that the tricked-out Aston Martin from Goldfinger was a series mainstay, basically the Bondmobile. This turns out to not be the case. Bond doesn’t have a spy car in the two following films, although Aki in You Only Live Twice has an awesome one.

Bond spends a lot of time in warmer climes. There is a travelogue component to most of these films. Bond’s missions inevitably take him to exotic locales. Or Kentucky. A lot of time will be spent on soaking up local color. Unfortunately, this is really pretty dull in a post-globalization world. The exotic isn’t so exotic any more.

Bond has two catch-phrases. “Shaken, not Stirred.” and “Bond, James Bond.” are two of the most famous three-word phrases in all of pop culture. They are absurdly well-known. Watching these films, I have no idea why. They get said repeatedly, but they have no impact, no resonance. One would think that they would elicit reactons along the lines of “oh, fuck yes he is Bond James Bond! He is going to drink the shit out of that martini fuckers!” but they don’t. They don’t signify much, just a preference for a particular drink, and an ability to give one’s name when prompted.

Bond movies are equal parts sex and violence, and so there will always be lots of beautiful women. (Ostensibly so, at least. Most of them don’t really do it for me, but perhaps I reveal too much.) In any given film, Bond will sleep with several of them, at least one good guy one and one bad guy one, except for From Russia With Love, where his only real love interest is neutral. He will seduce them or allow them to seduce him, but there is nothing warm or romantic in any of this. The first four movies all had coercive sex, two of them having Bond outright rape a woman. All the sex in these movies is gross.

Bond does not have friends. Bond is a sociopath incapable of friendship. The closest he gets is his coworkers. In every film, Bond has to be briefed by M, flirted with by Moneypenny, and equipped by Q. There may or may not also be a random American dude in the mix that the audience is told is Felix Leiter. The repeated use of these characters is important. They give the movies an aspect of humanity that Bond himself lacks. I don’t even like M or Q but when they show up, they are a gasp of fresh air, providing warmth in an otherwise icy, cold universe.

Bond is often called a super-spy, and he did show some espionage bona fides in From Russia With Love and You Only Live Twice, but his forte is not stealth or deception.  His strengths are brutality and seduction. In fact, in three of these five films the villain’s plan was undone not by Bond, but by a woman that Bond has seduced to his cause.

Bond is considered to be a hero, but nothing he does in these movies is selfless.  Not only does he never has a “save the cat” moment, he never has a moral moment.  He is a murderer and a rapist and a petty golf cheat to boot.  Arguably his actions serve the greater good, or at least the good of Britain, but we are never given any reason to believe he gives the slightest shit about patriotism or other human beings.

Bond is a sophisticate.  He gets his suits from Saville Row and he wears them well.  He knows what temperature he likes his Bollinger Champaign and he knows how he likes his drinks mixed.  He confidently moves through this world of style and status, having learned all the correct shibboleths. .  However, despite these trappings of culture, his true nature is that of a monster who lives only to kill and mate. That animal aspect is always right below the surface, glinting in his eyes.

This man-monster is what I find compelling about the James Bond presented in these first films. The character exists as an argument that beneath all of our sophistication and culture, we are nothing more than ugly beasts. Bond is a black-hearted parody of humanity, a brilliant construction that I think is largely unintentional on the part of all parties involved in creating and presenting the character. If someone were to make a movie that treated Bond like the abomination that he is, it could be a hell of thing.

Sean Connery As James Bond 007 in Ian Fleming’s “You Only Live Twice”

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You Only Live Twice starts in Earth’s orbit, where a NASA space capsule is stolen by some sort of crazy pirate rocket. This rocket of evil is a hell of a thing, designed to open up and snatch up other spacecraft.  This first scene is far crazier than anything that has happened in the previous four films.  It’s pretty ridiculous, but the sort of ridiculous that I can get behind.

Naturally, the U.S. blames the Russians, but the Brits have tracked the rogue rocket to Japan, and so they think that it probably isn’t the Soviets. They inform their U.S. Allies that they have a man on the case.

That man is, of course, James Bond, who we first see in bed with a Chinese woman. After a few seconds of weird sex banter (“Why do Chinese women taste different?”), the woman abruptly slams the bed, which is a fold-out, into the wall, trapping Bond inside. This is the cue for two men with machine guns to run in and shoot the bed with many, many bullets. Bond is declared dead by the paramedics when they arrive. It is a totally jarring start, and an effective one. It also just so happens to be exactly what I wanted to see happen to James Bond after watching Goldfinger and Thunderball.

After the credits, we have Captain Bond’s funeral, a burial at sea. Of course, Bond is not actually dead, and this is all an overly complicated ruse.  For some reason, this ruse does not at any point involve a corpse double, and it Bond’s living body that is dumped into the drink.

Bond is smuggled onto a submarine by some divers. Once aboard the sub, Bond springs back into action, ready for some flirting and some exposition. Fortunately, this vessel has a ridiculous shipboard version of M’s inner and outer office, complete with coatrack. M and Moneypenny are both on board, acting as if this was business as usual, the only irregularity being the naval uniforms that they are wearing.

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(By the way, Bond was still wearing his hat during the shoot-the-camera intro which makes it seem like the last film’s hat shenanigans were just wasting everyone’s time.)

So, flirting, followed by briefing. The Moneypenny interplay again has an undercurrent of pathetic mooning on her part, which is a shame because Moneypenny clearly can do better than Bond. I like Moneypenny. I’d rather watch movies about her than Bond.  Alas.

Bond is sent to Japan to investigate the rogue rocket. As always, there is a bunch of early game spy shit, but this stuff is a cut above what the past films have had to offer. The action is more thrilling and the pacing is tighter. Bond actually seems clever and sneaky, as opposed to his normal odd mix of brutal and cultured. For the first time, a Bond film feels like a story about a superspy, not just a spy movie with some goofy crap added in. In You Only Live Twice, the goofy crap is woven into the very fabric of the film. The tone is consistent in a way the previous ones have not been, making for a stronger film.

Soon after he gets to Japan, there is a weird bit where neckless Charles Gray proffers Bond a martini “Stirred, not shaken, that’s right?”, which Bond tells him is perfect. But of course, that is not how James Bond enjoys his vodka martinis. Anyone who knows anything at all about James Bond knows that.

Why was this detail wrong? It seems unlikely although not, I suppose, impossible that this was an accident on the part of the filmmakers. Assuming it was an intentional mistake, why make it? My best guess is that it is intended as a deliberate “fuck you” to audience expectations, an attempt to keep the viewer off balance. If so, it had the desired effect.

After Charles Gray is abruptly murdered mid-exposition, Bond ends up liaising with a friendly gangster named Tiger Tanaka, which is a pretty great name. Tanaka has a bunch of cool Ken Adam set dressing, including a trap door leading to a hideout, and a separate hideout on a tricked out private train.  It is all pretty awesome.

And then the awesomeness screeches to a halt to make room for the creepy sexism. Tanaka invites Bond to his home, magnanimously commenting “consider my house yours, including all of my possessions.” They are then beset by a gaggle of young women in their underwear, who enthusiastically bathe the men, who smugly make jokes about the their superiority over women. I suddenly remember that I totally hate this Bond asshole.

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Over the course of several setpieces, one of Tanaka’s agents, a woman named Aki, sort of promotes herself to be Bond’s de facto partner. I’m sure Bond would not view her that way, what with female inferiority and all, and I’m not sure if the filmmakers would, either, but she’s a cool spy who holds her own alongside Bond and has more utility than I have grown to expect from women in these films.  She also has a sweet-ass car.  Until Aki, all the other non-furniture women in these movies have been bad guys, and that seems to have been by design. I would like to be able to say that these films are turning a corner, but Aki sleeps with Bond immediately after the creepy bath scene, so that seems premature.

After some more spy shit, there is a truly wonderful fight/chase scene with some beautiful aerial shots and some great stunt work. It isn’t a particularly clever or important scene, but damn, it is pretty to watch. There is some artfulness in Lewis Gilbert’s film direction, unlike his more workmanlike predecessors.

Shortly afterward,  Bond searches for the enemy base while piloting a tiny helicopter named “Little Nelly” and all the cool goes down in flames. (I know it is actually an autogyro not a helicopter but what it looks like is a helicopter built for a baby who is a helicopter pilot.) Bond looks just absolutely ridiculous in the thing. Tanaka makes fun of him pretty hard, so I think it is intentionally uncool. More expectation flipping? It is a weird misstep that ruins a helicopter battle, something that should be unruinable.

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Meanwhile, in Earth’s orbit, the pirate rocket steals another space capsule, this time a Russian one.  The film then follows the space brigands back to what is maybe the coolest looking secret base that I have ever seen, a Ken Adam masterpiece inside a hollowed out volcano. It has a helipad, it has a monorail, it has a piranha moat, and it has a launch pad for crime rockets. It is a glory to behold, staffed with henchmen in color-coded jumpsuits. And while we don’t see the face of the mastermind at the heart of all of this, we do see the cat he is holding. It is a cat that we have seen before. That is to say the role that the cat is playing is one that we have seen before, but they probably used a different cat for each movie. It is the cat belonging to the leader of SPECTRE is the point that I am making.

The mastermind’s plan is to keep stealing U.S. And Russian spacecraft until they start a war with each other. He is trying to start this war because China is paying him $100,000 to do so. I love that SPECTRE is so deep pocketed that at the height of the Space Race they have been able to develop a secret private space program that is more advanced than what either America or Russia have created, and that they use this technology for space crime. It is madness. Beautiful, beautiful madness.

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Bond has a rough idea of where this beautiful bad guy base is, but he needs backup to stage an assault. Fortunately, it turns out that Tiger Tanaka runs a school for ninjas. Of course he does. This movie might have horrible sexism and Little Nelly, but ninjas go a long way.  Tanaka’s ninjas are modern ninjas, equally adept at using swords and using guns that fire rocket bullets.

It is at this point that Bond, for reasons that aren’t at all clear to me, disguises himself as a Japanese man, in one of the most utterly unconvincing cases of ethnic drag ever to grace the cinema. This movie is full of weird details that baffle. Yellowface Bond begins a crash course in the way of the ninja.  Nevermind that they already have like fifty well-trained ninjas.

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Apparently SPECTRE have their own ninjas, because one accidentally kills Aki while aiming for Bond with the old poison-down-the-string-from-above-the-bed trick. Aki is almost immediately replaced with a different ally girl named Kissy Suzuki. It is possible that the overall grossness of the sexual politics of these movies has left me oversensitive, but it feels like Aki was killed for daring to be independent and she had to be replaced with someone more docile.  Yuck.

It is in this section where we finally have a Bond film staple that I thought might be omitted: A slow and dull section of the film that could easily be cut. This is the point in the film where Bond and his newly acquired army on ninjas should assault the volcano, but instead time is killed while Bond and his allies search for the entrance to the bad guy base.  The momentum drags to a halt for like ten minutes as Bond and Kissy search for the way in.

Eventually Bond finds the entrance, and sneaks inside using a suction cup ninja suit while Kissy goes back to get the rest of the ninjas. He finds the astro/cosmonauts who had crewed the stolen space capsules, who are being kept alive for some unexplored reason. Bond villains have a pathological need to take prisoners.

After freeing the good astronauts, Bond disguises himself as one of the evil astronauts and almost sneaks onto the crime rocket but he is found out by SPECTRE #1, who upon being face to face with Bond finally reveals his face to the audience. And so at long last he is no longer the faceless manipulator of SPECTRE, he is now Ernst Stavro Blofeld, enemy of James Bond. It’s a cool moment, well earned and well executed. Unfortunately, for this 21st century viewer, the moment is undercut by the fact that what he is revealed to look like is Dr. Evil. The filmmakers of this movie could not have anticipated that Austin Powers would ruin their moment, but nonetheless it is hard to take him seriously.

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What happens next is a five-year-old’s greatest dream come true: An epic battle between ninjas and astronauts inside a volcano. It’s a giant spectacle, stupid in the best possible way. In the chaos, Bond frees himself and fights his way to the control room where he arrives just in the nick of time to press the “exploder button” which averts World War III for reasons that aren’t worth exploring here.

Defeated, Blofeld blows up the installation, and now it is his turn to escape in the confusion. The ninjas swim to safety, while the freed cosmo/astronauts as well as all of the henchmen appear to perish. Bond and Kissy make out in a boat, but in one final subversion of expectations, M’s submarine surfaces directly beneath them, so they are unable to fuck. The end.

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This movie is a major tonal shift from what comes before. The earlier movies wanted to be cool, but You Only Live Twice is is a movie reveling in its own high weirdness. On this trip, James Bond ends up almost a non-presence. The filmmakers deflate his cool at every opportunity, and the whole affair is too light for his sadism to be allowed to surface. What remains of the character gets some fun action moments but ultimately he seems like the least interesting dude in the volcano.

I can’t really say that a boring hero is better than a detestable one, but I almost liked this movie.  It is pretty fun, although deeply marred by a few weird choices and some unfortunate sexual politics. Sadly, after the past few Bond flicks, it comes as a giant breath of fresh lack of rape. I fear I may be grading on a curve, but this is easily the best Bond thus far.

Sean Connery as James Bond 007 in Ian Fleming’s “Thunderball”

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Thunderball starts with a funeral. The coffin is labeled “JB” but this is a cheap fakeout that is  immediately abandoned. Bond is in attendance, and he is lamenting that he did not have the opportunity to kill the deceased himself.

It turns out that he is in luck, because the shrouded widow is the deceased, and is in fact, no lady at all. “I don’t think you should have opened that car door yourself,” Bond smugly suggests after punching the would-be corpse in the face. Bond beats the shit out of the man in drag before strangling him to death with a fireplace poker. He then makes his exit via jetpack.

It’s a baffling start. It’s too weird to take seriously, but too brutal to take lightly. Someone seemed really excited about the prospect of Bond beating a transvestite to death. I am not on board.

After the credits is a  meeting of the heads of SPECTRE, back after an absence in Goldfinger (unless maybe Goldfinger worked for SPECTRE?) As in From Russia With Love, the leader of the group’s face is obscured, but he is identifiable by the cat he strokes. After an obligatory killing of one of the board members reminds us that SPECTRE is villainous, the current #2 agent, an eypatched sophisticate named Largo begins to explain their plan, but the film cuts away to Bond before any actual plot advancement can occur.

Bond is at a spa, on vacation.  But intrigue follows him on vacation, and he recognizes a gang tattoo on a dude and starts snooping. Apparently, this fella is a member of a Chinese criminal tong.

After a bit of nosing around, Bond sexually assaults a nurse. She pushes him off of her and straps him to some sort of massage device. Once he’s strapped in, she quips “First time I’ve felt safe all day!” which is her hilarious joke about the fact that Bond has been aggressively pressuring her to sleep with him since his arrival. Ha.

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Having secured him to this weird spa machine, she leaves, promising to return in fifteen minutes. After she leaves, an unseen assailant sneaks in and turns the massage crank to full-bore. Bond is nearly, ah, massaged to death. The nurse returns and saves Bond, who expresses his gratitude by threatening to report her to her manager if she does not sleep with him.  She succumbs to his blackmail.

In the first two films, every woman who meets Bond wants to sleep with him.  In the next two, the world had gotten more complicated.  Suddenly there are women who don’t want to sleep with him.  Bond’s solution is literally to rape them until they change their mind.

This son of a bitch is the single most contemptible protagonist I think I have ever seen on film. He is a monster in a film made by people who cannot distinguish between sexual assault and being cute.   I hate this multiple rapist “hero” and would like to see him meet a violent end. Instead, I’m going to end up watching 19 more movies starring him living a charmed life.

Uhg. At any rate, after Bond rapes that girl, there is a very elaborate bit of business involving doublecrosses, murder, body doubles, scuba diving, a femme fatale with very large breasts, and some mediocre film editing. It’s an elaborate bit of SPECTRE skullduggery, both complicated and dull, that results in the theft of two atomic missiles.

By what appears to be total coincidence, part of this scheme just so happens to take place in the spa that Bond is visiting. Bond stumbles upon this plot by accident. He finds a dead body, and ends up fighting some SPECTRE agents without understanding who they are or what they are.

Everything that has happened in this movie so far could be cut. Everything the hero has done has made me hate him. Everything the villains have done have either been unrelated to the actions of the protagonist, or revolved around a really thin coincidence. And none of it has forwarded the plot more than could be accomplished with a line or two of exposition. That’s thirty-nine minutes that the film would be better off without.

Instead, it is almost forty minutes into the film when Bond gets around to flirting with Moneypenny in the office. Now, Bond’s thing in the earlier films has been to toss his hat onto the coat rack as he enters the office. In Thunderball, Bond goes to do this, but the coat rack has been moved, throwing him off balance. Later, when he goes to leave, there is no hat on the rack, which he comments upon before leaving, hatless.

This hat business is weird. I reckon by 1965 it was becoming unfashionable for Bond to wear a hat, but why did the filmmakers feel that they had to write themselves out of the coat rack tradition that they had created?  Why not just stop doing it?  Even this early in, these movies were becoming tied to their weirdly specific formulas.

In the midst of all this haberdashery, Bond gets called into a meeting so serious that all nine Double 0 agents attend, although we do not see the faces of the other eight. In the briefing, Bond learns that SPECTRE has stolen atomic bombs from a NATO plane and intends to blow up either a U.S. or British city if they are not given one hundred million pounds.

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Bond recognizes the pilot of the hijacked plane as being the corpse from his shenanigans the previous night, so Bond heads to Nassau to seduce this pilot’s sister. This nearly makes a sort of sense, as far as James Bond plans go.

Once in the Bahamas, Bond uses his spy training to meet the sister, Domino. She likes him, but has to go join her “guardian,” who turns out to be our eyepatched villain, Largo. That’s right, the sister of the dead guy that Bond found by complete accident turns out to be mistress of the guy who is holding the free world ransom. This is an odd movie. And by “odd” I mean terrible.

Bond’s first move is to hit on the bad guy’s girlfriend. His second move is to introduce himself to the bad guy in such a way that makes absolutely clear to the bad guy who Bond is and what Bond knows. He basically says “Hi, I’m James Bond. I know you work for SPECTRE and I plan on sleeping with your girlfriend.” only he does it through the language of baccarat innuendo. His third move is to hit on Domino some more.

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The movie then goes through the spy movie motions. A third Felix Leiter is on hand, this one the coolest so far (admittedly a low bar), coming off as an American version of Bond. I still don’t know why this guy keeps showing up because they never do anything interesting with him. Q is also begrudgingly in the field, giving Bond some gadgets, but they are largely straightforward ones.

Throughout, Largo tries to stay interesting but since he has already executed his plan, he has little to do but fume.  He feeds a henchman to a shark, which helps a little, but not much.

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Bond does some scuba stuff in a hideous orange-red wetsuit and some white short shorts. He looks less cool then he did when he had a duck strapped to his head in the previous film. There is a lot of underwater scenes in this film, and they are all so boring.

When Bond isn’t swimming he is sneaking and double talking and kidnapping and scouting and fighting and maybe this stuff was compelling fifty years ago, but that was a long time ago and today it isn’t very exciting or dramatic. Still, at at least things are happening and Bond isn’t raping anybody.

There is a remarkable moment during a bit where Bond is sneaking out of Largo’s compound. He climbs onto a roof… and he slips on the incline, and drops his gun. There is no real plot reason for this to happen, it is just a brief instance of fallibility from a character who doesn’t normally do fallible.   It’s neat but completely incongruous with the rest of this film.

Maintaining his strategy of not having to do any work whatsoever to find plot points, Bond randomly stumbles upon large-breasted SPECTRE assassin, Fiona Volpe on the side of the road. Volpe is cool. She doesn’t take shit from Largo or anyone else and she has fun toying with Bond.

Eventually, Volpe sleeps with Bond, who has spotted Volpe’s ring, which identifies her as a member of SPECTRE. They probably shouldn’t wear these rings. I’m not sure what she meant to gain by sleeping with him, because she pulls a gun on him shortly thereafter.  Maybe she was just curious about what all the fuss was about.  Whatever her reason, the carnal act does not endear Bond to her.  She mocks him, “But of course, I forgot your ego, Mr. Bond. James Bond, the one where he has to make love to a woman, and she starts to hear heavenly choirs singing. She repents, and turns to the side of right and virtue, but not this one!” Her point seems to be that the plot of Goldfinger was bullshit.

Soon after, Bond makes a break for it, and Volpe and several of her agents chase him through a wild nighttime parade. In a movie that has been largely worthless so far, it’s a pretty cool sequence. Bond gets shot – grazed? – in the leg, leaving a blood trail for his pursuers to follow as they search for him amongst the wild festivities. It is tense and cool.

Except… the scene culminates with Bond and Volpe dancing with one another as several goons draw closer. One of them takes his shot, but Bond uses Volpe as a human shield. All of which is fine and good, but the bad guys just leave after that. They’ve got him cornered, and he just got their boss killed. Why not take a second shot? It makes no sense.

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Tragically, there is more scuba. Scuba is so dull. Scuba means no dialogue, slow movement, and just not a lot happening. In theory, you can build a lot of tension in an underwater scene, but they never seem to work for me. Certainly not in this film.

As this film winds toward its conclusion, Bond gets around to informing Domino that her boyfriend murdered her brother.  He then sends her onto Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante to search for the bombs. She pretty much immediately gets caught by Largo, who ties her up her with the intent to torture her.

But before he can get to the torture, Bond and the Coast Guard attack Largo’s scuba goons in an underwater battle royal, which by virtue of its underwaterness, may be the dullest battle royal of all time. However, what it lacks in excitement, it makes up for by being very long.

The conflict ends with the Disco Volante’s saucer section separating, as the front of the ship splits off from the rear, becoming a hydrofoil, escaping from the Coast Guard with one of the bombs. Bond is on this section of the ship, as is Domino. She is freed from her bonds by what I believe is a previously unseen member of Largo’s crew, who has had a change of heart apparently.  He informs her that he has disabled the atom bomb, so no worries on that point.

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Bond fights Largo on the foil but loses! Largo is about to kill Bond but Domino kills Largo instead!  Good for her, but it makes Bond a bit useless as a protagonist.  Bond asks Domino who the Deus Ex is. She replies “I don’t know, but he helped me.”

Bond and Domino and Other Guy jump off of the ship just as it explodes. Bond and Domino find a life raft. I don’t know what happens to Other Guy. It looks like Bond and Domino are going to fuck in the life raft, but in a surprise twist, they are air-evacuated by a sky hook. The end.

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I haven’t loved any of the Bond movies so far, but this is the first one that has been outright terrible. Dull, confusing and unsatisfying, this movie presents a string of bizarre coincidences that pull a monster rapist protagonist from one end of the movie to the other with a lot of scuba diving along the way. I cannot understand why anyone would enjoy this movie on its face. It is so distorted and strange that it almost works as a dark satire of action movies as a genre. Almost.

Sean Connery as James Bond 007 in Ian Flemings’s Goldfinger

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This is the big one, the most beloved of the James Bond movies, the one that is universally referenced as the quintessence of James Bond. This one has a lot to live up to.  On the other hand I watched it as a teenage, and thought it was just completely boring, so I don’t know what to expect, going in.

The film starts with a famous cold open wherein Bond sneaks into a compound by snorkeling in, then removing his wet suit to reveal a tuxedo. What always seems left out in the many cultural references to this scene, is the part where Bond has a fake duck strapped to his head as he surfaces.

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Tuxedoed and de-ducked, Bond sets some explosives to a timer before entering a cabaret. As the explosives go off, he makes small talk with his contact, unfazed by the destruction on the outside. He is cool as can be.

He then returns to his hotel for some “unfinished business.” There is a beautiful woman waiting for him. They embrace and she asks him about his holstered gun. He comments that he wears it due to his inferiority complex. Before they can explore this psychoanalysis in more depth, an attacker that the woman has let in comes at Bond. He uses the lady as a human shield, then kills the dude. He makes a dumb quip as he exits.

Aside from the duck, it is a great opening.

Okay, let’s talk about the credits. These movies all have very stylized opening credits featuring faceless undulating women and guns. This was pretty dull in the last two films, but in Goldfinger, the design is quite striking. The women-as-set-dressing are gold against black with footage of the film projected onto their bodies. It is weird but striking, paired with an absolutely amazing theme song. The titular “Goldfinger”, composed by John Barry and performed by Shirley Bassey is a bold, vaguely menacing,  sexyish, very weird song, perfect for a James Bond film.

After the credits, Bond is chillin’ in Miami Beach with a girl named Dink when he is met by Felix Leiter, a minor character from the first film who is now played by a totally different actor. Bond dismisses Dink with a slap of her ass because there is “man talk” to be had. Bond is a creep.

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During the man talk they reminisce about that time they investigated Dr. No before Leiter gets down to business.  Leiter tells Bond that M back in London wants Bond to Investigate a man named Auric Goldfinger, a rich guy who is currently at Bond’s hotel, hustling gin rummy, poolside.  I think this is a coincidence?

Rather than merely investigating, Bond gets proactive and fucks with Goldfinger’s con. Bond effortlessly seduces Goldfinger’s accomplice, Jill Masterson away from Goldfinger and via radio blackmails the hustler into throwing his rummy game. Goldfinger complies, but he breaks his scorekeeping pencil in outrage!

Later, Bond and Jill banter and diss the Beatles. “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!” In the midst of this, Bond is suckerchopped by a shadowy brute with a bowler hat.

When he wakes, he discovers that Jill has been murdered by being painted gold. A death that is horrific as it is weird as it is nonsensical.

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Returning to the office with a signature hat toss, Bond and Moneypenny flirt and unlike the previous two films, it seems a little unbalanced, as if Moneypenny is chasing Bond.  Before it had seemed like banter between equals. Lame.

After the Moneypenny stuff, M briefs Bond. MI6 has tasked Bond with investigating Goldfinger because… er, he has a lot of gold bullion? It’s a dull, exposition-laden scene, but not much is actually made clear about what makes this guy worthy of an investigation. I’m left very confused about how gold trading actually works.

Having seen Moneypenny and M, Bond now visits Q, no longer just a guy handing Bond a Briefcase, but now the head of big fun R&D gadget center, full of cute visual gags. Bond is begrudgingly given an Aston Martin that is as tricked out as it is iconic.  As Q shows bond the car’s features, along with some other gadgets, he bitches about how Bond always breaks his equipment. All in all, it has been quite the evolution from a less-womanly in Dr. No to ejector seats a mere two films later.

Now that he is flirted, briefed and equipped, Bond is ready to begin his investigation.  To start with,, Bond arranges to have a chance meeting with Goldfinger on a golf course. Goldfinger’s caddy is named Oddjob, a mute Korean brute wearing a bowler hat.

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Bond tries to lure Goldfinger into some sort of gold deal but when Goldfinger starts cheating at golf, the espionage stuff takes a backseat as Bond has to outcheat the cheater. The film spends several minutes on these golfing antics. First rummy, now golf. It is all so weirdly petty and low stakes.

As Bond and Goldfinger settle their bets, Goldfinger menaces Bond by having Oddjob decapitate a statue with a flung hat. It’s a perplexing gimmick.   Was this as goofy to 60′s audiences as it seems today?  Was it scary?  Oddjob is right on the knife’s edge, balanced between cool and stupid.

After golf, Bond tails Goldfinger for a dull stretch, but eventually we get to have one of my favorite kinds of scenes. Were we see a character spying on another character, only to zoom back to reveal a third party watching the watchers. The third party in this case is Tilly Masterson, sister of Jill, the painted girl.

Bond and Tilly team up and they get swept up in a decent chase, letting Bond show off all his car’s new tricks.   The scene is ultimately disappointing however, as all the tricks avail to nothing. Bond still gets caught and Tilly gets hatted to death.

When Bond comes to, he is in a gorgeous Ken Adam set, tied to a table with a laser pointed at him. This is 1964, so lasers were cutting edge and exotic. Everyone knows this scene, right?

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“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!” Gert Frobe, the guy who plays Goldfinger gives a great line reading.  There’s a reason it is famous.

But immediately after that great moment, it all falls apart. Bond talks Goldfinger out of killing him using the thinnest of all possible bluffs.

Bond has overheard the phrase “Operation Grand Slam” used by Goldfinger. He tells Goldfinger that he knows all about Grand Slam, without giving any evidence that this is true. He further tells Goldfinger that if he were to die, another agent, 008 would be assigned to take over the investigation and that furthermore, 008 knows all about Grand Slam.  This is dumb.  His argument wouldn’t make sense even if it was factually accurate.  Nonetheless, instead of killing Bond or interrogating him, Goldfinger decides to keep him prisoner and knocks him unconscious.

Bond wakes up in a plane. He is now in the custody of a woman pilot named Pussy Galore, a name so childishly dumb, even Bond smirks when he hears it.

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Galore rebuffs Bond’s attempts at charm, something no woman has ever done before in these films.  She rightfully gets angry at his suggestion that she was hired for her looks. Galore is the captain of Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus, a company of lady pilots. Bond, who is used to solving all of his problems by sleeping with beautiful women, keeps trying to find an in with Galore, but she is confident and under no illusions about the company that she keeps.  She is cooler than Bond and she’s a hell of a lot more likeable than him.   I want to watch a spy movie starring her.

When they land, Goldfinger takes Bond to his compound in Kentucky, where he will be kept prisoner, nevermind why. Bond is thrown in a dungeon, and then Goldfinger assembles a large conference of gangsters into a giant transforming supervillain lair.  Goldfinger explains to these criminals his plan to rob Ft. Knox.

Meanwhile, Bond escapes from his cell by winning a game of peekaboo. He hides underneath Goldfinger’s scale model of Fort Knox and eavesdrops on the plan before immediately being recaptured by Galore.

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After Goldfinger explains his master plan, he gasses all the mobsters to death. In his giant super complex room created for the sole purpose of illustrating the details of a plan to people who don’t need to know them because they will be murdered. Also, the plan was a lie. No part of that sequence actually makes any sense at all.

Before being tossed back in a cell, Bond slips a message to Leiter and also a tracker into the pocket of the one gangster not being murdered in the murder room.  He doesn’t want in on Goldfinger’s phony plan, so he’s taking his gold and going home.  This threatens to actually forward the story, but instead Oddjob smashes uses a car crusher to crush the car that contains the note, the tracker, the gangster, and a million dollars worth of gold.

Now that all that murder is out of the way, Goldfinger and Bond have a chat over mint juleps while Bond works out Goldfinger’s real plan, which is to use an atom bomb to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox, thus skyrocketing the value of his own gold. Bond seems pretty impressed by Goldfinger’s ingenuity.

Shortly afterward, Bond forcibly rapes Pussy Galore.

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Really, he does. Bond is used to every woman he meets wanting to sleep with him. He meets one that doesn’t, and so he forces himself upon her first chance he gets. It is abhorrent, but the film plays it as if it is sexy.

The next day Goldfinger executes his plan. The Flying Circus gasses all the stationed troops around Knox and Goldfinger’s men break in. Goldfinger brings Bond along for some vague framejob reason. They open the vault, handcuff Bond to the bomb, and set the timer. It is at this point that all the gassed troops reveal that they had only been playing possum because they had been tipped off by Galore, who has switched sides after succumbing to the power of Bond’s sexing.

There is a big gun battle that Bond misses, because he is handcuffed to a bomb.

Bond gets free, ducks a bowler hat and hurls a gold bar at Oddjob’s chest. Smiling, dude just shrugs it off, judo chops an iron bar in half, tosses Bond around, but is tricked into being fatally electrocuted. Bond makes a dumb joke to nobody.

After killing Oddjob, Bond does not disable the bomb, but he does open the bomb casing, allowing an actual expert to disarm it.

Bond gets on a plane to visit the White House, only to discover that Goldfinger is on board, along with Galore. Goldfinger dies in the ensuing scuffle, the plane crashes, and Bond and Galore parachute to safety, where they fuck in the woods, this time apparently consensually. The end.

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I can’t believe I just watched what I watched. This is a movie that is resolved by having the hero rape a villain so that she becomes a good guy so that she tips off other good guys who save the day. If this is supposed to be the best of the James Bond movies, what the hell will future installments have to offer?

Ian Fleming’s “From Russia With Love” Starring Sean Connery as James Bond 007

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This film starts with James Bond being hunted and killed by a scary Robert Shaw. Of course, it is not actually James Bond that dies but a double wearing a mask. It appears that Shaw is learning how to hunt and kill the great white natural killing machine that is 007. This opening is little more than a fun way to disorient the audience, but when you think about it, it is one crazy-ass sequence. The notion that SPECTRE not only forces people to be live bait in their training exercises, but that they make these poor bastards wear absurdly realistic masks to create that touch of verisimilitude is dumb in a way that I kind of love.

After the credits, two SPECTRE bigwigs and their unseen cat-stroking leader hatch a scheme to kill James Bond while furthering their own goals. They want revenge for his killing Dr. No in the previous film and they also want a Russian cryptographic device. Their two-birded, low-stakes scheme hinges on the not-unreasonable supposition that all you need to do in order to catch a James Bond is to dangle a beautiful woman in front of him.

One of these three villains, Rosa Klebb, former SMERSH spymaster, current SPECTRE #3, and implied lesbian, has been helicoptered to SPECTRE Island, a henchmen training camp. She is escorted through the island past an array of absurdly evil training exercises, involving more live-dude targets. Eventually, she is presented with Robert Shaw’s character, named Grant. She looks him over, and then punches him once in the gut with brass knuckles. He does not flinch. Satisfied, she gives her approval, and promptly leaves the island, he business concluded. This is one of the greatest scenes of supervillainy I have ever seen.

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Klebb then goes to Russia, where she, pretending to still be a high ranking SMERSH agent, commands Tatiana Romanova , a beautiful cipher clerk, to pretend to defect to the west so that she can feed Bond false information. So, we have a Russian defector pretending to have not defected who is forcing a woman to pretend to defect but not to the terrorists that the real defector has defected to but rather to the West, ostensibly to help Russia but in actuality to steal from Russia. This is some Cold-ass War right here. Also, Klebb explicityl orders Romanova to sleep with Bond.

18 minutes into the film, we finally get to see James Bond Actual and he is on a picnic date with  Sylvia Trench, the baccarat woman from the previous film. First, the bad guys were mad at Bond for what he did in the previous film, now Bond is seen romancing the same woman twice. This movie has a lot of explicit continuity, something that runs counter to my expectations of what a Bond film is. I guess this is still a real movie, not yet a full-blown “Bond Movie”. It is kind of strange.

At any rate, we don’t spend much time with Miss Trench before Bond gets called into the office from his car phone. In the office, Bond gets to flirt with Moneypenny after tossing his hat onto a coat rack, and he gets an exposition dump which is totally redundant, since the SPECTRE schemers have already exposited all this stuff already.

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After the exposition, we meet Q, a series mainstay, although in this film, he is just the guy from Q Branch. He shows Bond a suitcase with hidden compartments and booby traps.  Bond is visibly impressed with all these gimmicks.  All this trick stuff seems totally novel and cool to him.

Bond flies off to Istanbul, where everything is so very very Cold War. Everywhere Bond goes it is all tails and mistrust and searching for bugs and dummy cars and code phrases. The good guys have installed a goddamned periscope in the Russian consulate for spying because that’s the sort of things good guys do during a Cold War. The movie is drenching us in paranoia, but it is all espionage travelogue. Nothing is actually forwarding the story, let alone the plot.

Eventually, the local station chief takes Bond to a gypsy camp to provide some local color. Bond is super-bored until two women have a vicious, ritual sexyfight over a man. For the first time in the movie, Bond perks up. Murderous sexytime hits his sweet spot.

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Before the sexyfight can conclude, a gun battle erupts for reasons that are not particularly clear. During the gun battle, Robert Shaw, lurking in the background, secretly shoots someone about to kill Bond from behind. After the dust has cleared, Bond, with the wisdom of King Solomon solves the sexyfight by sleeping with both women.

After the gypsy episode, there is more murdering and counter-murdering, which is a lot duller than it sounds. Eventually, Bond actually furthers his mission and meets Romanova. Within 60 seconds from their meeting, Bond transitions from having his gun drawn on her to making out with her. It’s super creepy, made creepier by the knowledge that she has been ordered to let Bond sleep with her on pain of death.

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Meanwhile, Shaw keeps killing people who want to kill Bond because while ultimately, he wants to kill Bond himself, he first needs the fake defector to finish her fake defection so that he can steal the cryptographic device that she is going to help Bond steal.

In a surprisingly brief scene, Bond and Romanova bomb a consulate and steal the device. This seems disappointingly easy and pretty morally questionable. In fact, nothing Bond has done so far this film has seemed at all heroic. From my post-Cold War, post-Women’s Lib vantage point, Bond seems decidedly a villain. Thus far, it has been nothing but murder, terrorism, theft, and quasi-rape.

Once Bond and Romanova have the device, they board a train and dick around with more espionage stuff and more sexytimes. This movie is so slow. The entire film could be edited down to about half an hour without losing anything of import, but in some weird way I enjoy soaking up this strange bygone Cold War flavor.  Or maybe I just like trains.

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Ninety minutes in, the movie shifts tone pretty hard when  Shaw presents himself as Bond’s contact on the train, having killed the real contact.  And with that, the movie actually become very tense and very cool. Shaw has proven himself to the audience to be a ruthless and capable killer, and Bond and Romanova are completely unaware of the danger he presents. It makes for great film, waiting to see how it plays out.

The charade is maintained for several scenes. Bond gets suspicious when Shaw orders red wine with fish, but not suspicious enough. Shaw eventually pulls a gun on Bond and gives a fun, contemptuous bad guy speech.

Shaw’s character is cool, cold and cruel. There are are very few differences between this man and James Bond. One of them is private sector and one is public, and one of them knows what wine to order with fish. I guess that’s supposed to be enough to make us root for Bond.

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Things look bad for Bond, but he tricks Shaw into setting off the booby trap on his brief case. It’s an old gag in an old movie but the way that Connery sells the deception makes for a fantastic little moment, one that leads directly into a delightfully savage brawl. Two beasts of men in tight quarters desperately try to kill the other with whatever they can get their hands on. Eventually Bond garrottes Shaw to death in a shockingly violent fashion.  It’s a great fight.

Unfathomably, there is then fifteen more minutes of Cold War stuff as Bond and Romanova finish their journey to the West. Bond fights a helicopter and engages in a high speed boat chase, both of which should be exciting and cool, but all this stuff seems a let down after the amazing train fight. Doesn’t the movie know it should be over?

It’s almost over.  After it appears that the danger has finally passed, Rosa Klebb, the newly promoted #2 villain in the world nearly defeats Bond by sneaking into his hotel room disguised as a maid and swiping the Lektor without a fight. It is hilarious.

But at the last minute Romanova spots her and chooses Bond over Russia, turning the fake defector into a real defector. Klebb tries to stab Bond with her shoe and Romanova shoots her. This should be a heroic act, but to me, she just comes off as a traitor to her people.

Afterward, Bond and Romanova fuck on a boat. The end.

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This is a weird movie. Neither Bond and Romanova show any signs of having morals or values of any sort. Bond likes killing and sex and Savile Row suits and Romanova likes James Bond.  The tone veers from dull to goofy to brutal and back with no sense of pace. The whole film is a big mess.

Yet for all of its flaws, there is some really interesting stuff in here.   I like the goofy villain stuff with Shaw at the beginning.  The sliver of the film where Bond and Shaw actually interact with each other is great.  And I can’t decided if the amorality of the protagonist is a strength or a weakness.  Hell, I can’t tell if the amorality is deliberate or not.  It is compelling and repellant at once.   Maybe this is the appeal of Bond.

Ian Flemings “Dr. No” Starring Sean Connery as James Bond 007

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I don’t really get James Bond.  The character is our culture’s exemplar of male cool but although I’ve seen a handful of Bond movies over the years I’ve always felt that there was something larger and weirder going on with this character, and I’ve never quite got it.  So I am going to watch all 23 James Bond movies and hopefully emerge from the process with a better understanding of this most iconic of characters.  First on the slate is Dr. No.

This is how Bond begins. The first time, out this isn’t a “Bond Movie”, it is a spy movie featuring a character named James Bond. When we first meet James Bond – and what an odd thing to do, meet James Bond for the first time – he is playing baccarat for high stakes and flirting with a beautiful woman with a suggestive name. He is then called away on urgent business. This scene does nothing to further the plot but shows us what this Bond fella does when he isn’t on the clock.

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We move on to the office, where he flirts with his boss’s secretary Miss Moneypenny before being briefed by M, his boss. Some spy dude was murdered in Jamaica and Bond is being sent to investigate. But before he leaves, M makes fun of his favorite gun and tells him he has to use a different one because the one he likes is for pussies. Bond is heartbroken. He really liked his Beretta.

Bond arrives in Jamaica where he proceeds to do generic spy stuff: putting hairs over doors, fighting enemy agents, conducting interrogations, that sort of thing. It is all a bit dull.

Eventually, he hooks up with CIA agent Felix Leiter and local ally Quarrel. They do more spy stuff. Not Super Spy stuff. It is all very procedural. Bond is exceedingly confident and cultured and every woman he meets is pointedly attracted to him, except for a black freelance spy that he and his new friends lightly torture for information.

The bad guys try to kill him by putting a tarantula in his bed, which is a bit silly.

Fifty minutes into what has been a fairly dull film, and I finally get a scene that provides a glimmering of understanding as to the appeal of James Bond. Some assassins try to run Bond off the road. When he realizes what is going on, he starts grinning evilly as he outmaneuvers them before running them off of the road leading to a fireball of death. He then cracks a dumb joke. This is something I can latch onto. This is a man who is only happy when he is killing. Is that who Bond is supposed to be? It isn’t heroic or likeable but it is potentially interesting.

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The next scene is also interesting. He visits a lady spy who after discovering that he isn’t dead, tries to seduce him in order to stall him until more assassins can arrive. Bond knows this is her plan but he sleeps with her anyways because he’s got time to kill while he waits for the next assassin. The scene is tense, cruel and a little gross.

When the assassin arrives, Bond disarms him and ultimately shoots him in cold blood. In three scenes, this film has become defined by sadism and it is pretty great.

Bond and Quarrel finally head out to the island where the bad guy lives. Quarrel doesn’t want to come to the island because he is an ignorant islander who believes that there is a dragon on the island. Upon arriving, Bond meets Honey Ryder, a beachcomber in an iconic bikini who has come to the villain’s island looking for shells.

This island portion of the film has shifted gears from a spy procedural to a Jonny Quest-lite adventure with plodding pacing. Along the way, for no real reason, Ryder tells the story of her being raped and the revenge she got on her rapist. Oh and also, she suspects that Dr. No killed her father. At no point in the film is there any follow up on this point.

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Eventually, they find the so-called dragon. It is revealed to be an armored tractor painted to look like a dragon. Quarrel is killed by it while Bond and Ryder are captured and taken to a crazy supervillain bunker where they are to be “guests”.

The villain invites them to dinner. As they head to meet their captor, Bond reassures Ryder by telling her “Of course I’m scared too.” This is, of course, a perfectly sane thing to say, but it flies in the face of everything I had believed James Bond to be. Also, the movie has been boooring since they came to the island.

They finally meet the eponymous Dr. No. A deadly calm madman with robot arms, a hilarious aquarium, and famous stolen art. As they talk, his backstory unfurls. He is a half-German, half-Chinese former treasurer of the Chinese Tongs and an expert in radiation.

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At this point Bond suggests that No let the girl go. No agrees, sending her away to be raped. “I’m sure the guards will amuse her.” No quips.

No goes on to reveal that the existence of a cabal of supercriminals, SPECTRE (The SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.), of which he is a member. It is on their behalf that he plans to disrupt American rocket missions with his atomic-powered radio beam, which will in some way further SPECTRE’s plans of global conquest.

No thinks he sees a common spirit in Bond (Probably because he loves to murder people?) but Bond is unimpressed. “World Domination. Same old dream,” Bond murmurs. A brilliant line in an a movie that has been utterly uninteresting for the past 40 minutes.

No realizes that his misread Bond, but doesn’t kill him for some reason, instead putting him in a prison cell with a giant ventilation shaft. Bond escapes his cell, stops No’s plans, kills No, and sets up a chain reaction that will eventually blow up the base, all without creating an ounce of drama or suspense.

Bond finds Ryder chained in rising water with her pants removed. They escape and fuck in a boat. Credits roll.

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So that was the first film in the most enduring film franchise of all time. A slightly weird, mostly dull cold war spy movie starring a very sophisticated Scotsman with sadistic tendencies. There are a few moments of brilliance but all in all, it is hard to see 50 years on what it is about this movie that would make it one of the largest cultural phenomenons of all time.