Guest Blogger: Tom DeMichael is the author of James Bond FAQ, which will be released from Applause Books in February 2013.
OK, my last post featured my five “favorite” James Bond films. Along the way, I tried to explain the difference between “favorite” and “best.” Put succinctly – “favorite” is emotionally-based and “best” is based on logical analysis and measurable qualities. Of course, both categories can be argued and wrestled with – much like 007 going for Goldfinger’s golden gun.
The “best” Bond films entail so many factors for consideration, with cumulative totals sending them to the top of the list. For the sake of clarity, let’s take the following factors into account.
- Performance – Simply stated, actors and actresses that convince the viewer that they are really who they are in the world of Bond. From Sean Connery and Honor Blackman to Daniel Craig and Eva Green, these folks bring the goods.
- Story/script – The portion of that world that rolls out on the screen for somewhere around two hours. It’s where the viewers are taken, the action the viewers see (including all those wonderful gadgets,) the words they hear coming from the mouths of the performers and, ultimately, how the viewers feel when they leave the theater. Long-time contributor Richard Maibaum, the team of Purvis, Wade, and Logan, and many others brought Bond to life.
- Direction – The bus driver for the aforementioned cinematic trip, creating the vision by translating the written word. Think Guy Hamilton, Lewis Gilbert, John Glen, or Sam Mendes, among others.
- Cinematography and production design – How the film looks – set design, camera movement, and lighting, creating the richness of the projected image, visually influencing the emotions of the viewers. Crafted by Ken Adam, Peter Lamont, Ted Moore, David Tattersall and more.
- Music score – Another component of the emotional impact, enhancing the thrills, suspense, humor, and other facets of the story. Courtesy of greats like John Barry, Marvin Hamlisch, and David Arnold.
- The myriad of sets, props, special effects, makeup, costuming, and other technical aspects in the movie that fill the screen (and consume the budget) to make the flick most memorable.
While anyone can have “favorites,” choosing “bests” might require a more experienced person, possessing the background and knowledge to separate emotion from the facts. Then, who am I to say what’s “best?” For the record, I have written about the film world for more than twenty years, publishing in books and magazines (including the upcoming James Bond FAQ for Applause Theater and Cinema Books,) as well as being a former college major in TV/film, a technician for broadcast television, and a makeup artist for stage, film, and live performance. As actor Walter Brennan used to say in his 1960’s TV show, The Guns of Will Sonnett – “No brag, just fact.”
That said, I offer the following five films as the “best” Bond films in the last fifty years, understanding fully that – despite the above-stated qualifiers – your results may differ. And that’s OK…
Number five: Licence to Kill
With a non-Communist story based on drug trafficking, and plot points taken from Fleming’s Live and Let Die novel and The Hildebrand Rarity short story, this film focused on the conflict between Bond’s coldness in his job and loyalty to his friends. Timothy Dalton and Robert Davi turned in great performances as hero and villain, while John Glen delivered a gritty film – the best of his five Bond directions.
Number four: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Forget that George Lazenby was not an actor and had the thankless task of picking up the baton from Sean Connery. OHMSS told the story that Ian Fleming had written – Bond falling in love and getting married, only to lose one of the few things that ever had value in his life. Telly Savalas – pre-Kojak and lollipops – brought a determined Blofeld to the screen, sans fright makeup. Diana Rigg played Tracy, Bond’s betrothed, as a free spirit tamed by 007. Editor-turned-director Peter R. Hunt told this story very well.
Number three: From Russia With Love
Only the second film in the series, From Russia With Love was pure espionage, with few gadgets and great performances by Connery, Robert Shaw, Pedro Armendariz (dying of cancer while shooting his scenes,) and Lotte Lenya. The story stayed close to its roots as written by Ian Fleming, while spanning Europe and visiting cities like Istanbul and Venice. The action on the Orient Express was great, with Bond and Red Grant viciously fighting to the death. The movie was pure Cold War stuff.
Number two: Casino Royale
With stories, people, and direction having strayed during the Brosnan days (although still very entertaining films,) 2006’s Casino Royale brought everything back to basics – action, suspense, and three-dimensional characters. The film’s look ranged from harsh (007’s opening and brutal brawl in the washroom) to lush (scenes in the casino and the Bahamas.) Daniel Craig and Mads Mikkelsen were tops in playing their parts and director Martin Campbell kept the action moving. Casino Royale told a great story, breathing new life into a franchise that had begun to look a bit ragged.
Number one: Goldfinger
Perhaps the stars (celestial, not theatrical) were in alignment for this one – everything clicked, presenting the essence of the character of James Bond and his world. With Fleming’s novel as a guide, ruthless and unique characters like Goldfinger, Oddjob, and Pussy Galore were brought to life (German actor Gert Fröbe can thank actor Michael Collins for dubbing the voice of the villain.) Connery hit his stride as 007, the gadgets opened everyone’s eyes, and director Guy Hamilton continued to shape the characters first handled by Terence Young. Production designer Ken Adam’s set of Fort Knox was impressive – considering the US government denied him any access to view the facility (Can you blame them? Someone may have taken a free sample at the end of the tour.) Composer John Barry built the suspense with brass better than anyone, especially during the sequences of Goldfinger’s invasion of the gold depository.
If anyone can only see one Bond film, it should be Goldfinger.
There’s plenty more to the world of 007 to consider, so come on back…
James Bond FAQ is a book that takes on the iconic cinema franchise that’s lasted for so many years. Sometimes serious as SPECTRE, sometimes quirkier than Q, but always informative, this FAQ takes the reader behind-the-scenes, as well as in front of the silver screen. Everyone’s included: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig; little-known facts about TV’s first shot at 007, the same Bond story that was made into two different films; whatever happened to those wonderful cars and gizmos that thrilled everyone; plus much more. It’s a book for the casual, as well as hardcore, James Bond fan. James Bond FAQ is filled with biographies, synopses, production stories, and images and illustrations seldom seen in print, leaving little else to be said about the world’s favorite secret agent.