Happy Birthday, Timothy Dalton

We have a special blog today in celebration of Timothy Dalton’s birthday.

Tom DeMichaelGuest Blogger: Tom DeMichael, author of James Bond FAQ.

The 007 Film Formula…

Consider, if you will, the number one fast-food purveyor in the world. You know which one – golden arches, billions sold, meals that make kids happy – yeah, THAT one. What is it that makes them so successful?

Of course, there are a number of reasons and just a reminder – this isn’t a business blog. But consider one of the main reasons: They have a formula that works. They make sure that the sandwich you buy in any of the twenty-five Portland, Oregon locations is just like the one you buy in any of the six locations in Portland, Maine. As a consumer, you know what to expect; you know what you’re getting when you walk in.

The same can be true for the James Bond film franchise across the last fifty years. Certainly, there have been major changes (for the positive) in the latest films (Skyfall, while offering a welcome throwback to the solid action and character-based films from the beginning of the series, is the most recent retooling of the 007 flicks.) But, just like the aforementioned fast-food chain, much of the success across the last five decades can be credited to an established formula: a “Bond formula.”

Some scholars point to a set of rules originally established by author Ian Fleming in many of his 007 stories – similarities in villains, women, plots, predicaments – all which led the reader to a satisfying literary experience. Likewise, the movies discovered what worked and stuck to it.

Without overdoing it, (and while not always in the same order,) take a look at the following events found in most Bond films:

The gun-barrel sequence: Consider this to be the movie equivalent of the yellow semicircles that the above-mentioned fast-food purveyor has used to brand their company. Created at the last  minute by Maurice Binder, the gun barrel sequence has appeared in every Eon Productions-produced Bond film – although not always at the beginning. Casino Royale, in 2006, incorporated a brief gun barrel view as Bond fires his pistol at a bad guy in a public restroom. The following two flicks – Quantum of Solace and Skyfall – placed the familiar opening at the end.

The pre-credits scene: A mini-film of sorts, as Bond encounters some sort of conflict, wrestles with it, and comes to a resolution – usually in the form of some sort of fantastic escape to safety. (Except for Dr. No. Being the first in the series, there was no pre-credits scene.) There have been variations, especially since the retooling of the Daniel Craig films, but Bond’s mission to destroy a Latin American radar system and his escape in a miniature jet during the opening minutes of Octopussy are perfect examples, complete with wry witticism. When the jet ran low on fuel, 007 merely landed it at a gas station, calmly instructing the attendant to “Fill it up, please.” Cue the theme song…

Opening credits: Whether delivered by Maurice Binder, Robert Brownjohn, Daniel Kleinman, or MK12, the opening credits over the theme song clearly convinced the viewer that “this MUST be a James Bond film.” While a previous blog entry covered the story of the 007 credits, suffice to say that the “formula” called for writhing female forms, bold colors and pools of lights, and signature icons from the franchise.

Bond receives his mission: Originally set in the office of Universal Exports – the cover for MI6 – 007 dallied with Miss Moneypenny, was rudely interrupted by M and ushered into the private and plush quarters of Bond’s boss. When that got old, the location of M’s briefing went mobile – a British sub in You Only Live Twice, even at Bond’s apartment in Live and Let Die.

Bond’s visit to the Quartermaster: With orders in hand, Bond visited Q – usually deep in his lab – to receive an assortment of gadgets and goodies to keep him out of peril. Occasionally, Q got out and joined Bond in the field – like in Octopussy and Licence to Kill. Of course, Major Boothroyd was totally intolerant of Bond’s lack of respect for the hours of hard work behind every item, invariably chiding, “Now – Pay attention, 007!”

Bond heads out on his mission: Keeping his Frequent Flyer miles current, Bond more often than not found himself at an airport – either leaving for or arriving at his destination. Whether at Miami International, LAX, Heathrow, McCarran International, Palisadoes International, JFK, or another airfield, 007 knew that commercial jets were “the only way to fly.”

Bond connects with an ally (often the “sacrificial lamb”): Male or female, this character often provides Bond with a valuable bit of information, access to the villain (as they are sometimes in cahoots with him,) or other service – then usually gets bumped off by the bad guy. Picture Quarrel, Kerim Bey, the Mastersons – Jill AND Tilly, Aki, Plenty O’Toole (drowned by Wint and Kidd, who mistook her for Tiffany Case in a scene not seen in Diamonds Are Forever,) Rosie Carver, Andrea Anders, Corinne Dufour, Vijay, Sir Godfrey, Saunders, Sharkey, Paris Carver, Solange, Agent Fields, among others. Gone, but not forgotten.

Bond meets up with an associate/bodyguard of the villain: Sometimes a female, but often a large, brawny man possessing superhuman strength – Professor Dent in Dr. No was hardly an imposing brutish specimen, but the tarantula he placed in Bond’s bedsheets was no lightweight. Soon, figures like Oddjob, Hans, Tee-Hee, Jaws, Zao, even Xenia Onatopp and others, flexed their formidable physical skills to give 007 a real run for his quid. In some cases, this person was combined with the role of “sacrificial lamb” – May Day, for example.

The “Bond Girl” is introduced: Sometimes more than one (minor “Bond Girls” were often combined with the “sacrificial lamb,” such as Aki, Plenty O’Toole, Andrea Anders, Paris Carver, and others,) they were always easy on the eyes. The Bond Girl actresses were often international beauties (Ursula Andress – Swiss, Daniela Bianchi – Italian, Claudine Auger, Carole Bouquet, Sophie Marceau, Eva Green, and Bérénice Marlohe – French, Mie Hama – Japanese, Britt Ekland and Maud Adams – Swedish, Famke Janssen – Dutch.) Early on in the series, the Bond Girl was usually portrayed as helpless and unable to cope with conflict without 007’s assistance (although Honey Ryder and Pussy Galore stood out as women capable of handling themselves well within the world of 1960’s men.) Fortunately, time recognized woman’s ability to stand up on her own two (albeit shapely) legs, as strong and independent characters like Dr. Holly Goodhead (despite the double-entendre name,) Octopussy, Pam Bouvier, Jinx Johnson, and Camille Montes, among others.

Bond engages the villain in a game or sport: This allows 007 and his foe to come face-to-face and size each other up, where they both realize their opponent is no pushover. Golfing with Goldfinger, poker and skeet with Largo, Tarot cards with Kananga, baccarat with Kristatos, backgammon with Kamal Khan, horse racing with Max Zorin, blackjack at Sanchez’ casino, fencing with Gustav Graves, Texas Hold’ Em with LeChiffre, etc. Win or lose, the game was afoot.

The villain’s lair: Where money is no object – Doctor No had his bauxite processing plant – a cover for his expansive nuclear-powered control center that fiddled with rocket launches at Cape Canaveral. Goldfinger outlined his plan to knock off Fort Knox in a cavernous conference room – complete with pool table/control panel, a mechanical bucking bronco, and a huge detailed model of the gold depository and surrounding landscape (a model that, in reality, is now on display at the Patton Museum as part of the REAL Fort Knox in Kentucky.) Blofeld had his marvelous and vast volcanic headquarters in You Only Live Twice, loaded with rocket pad, a monorail, and more soldiers and ninjas than one could ever imagine. There’s more and more, all the way to Gustav Graves’ Ice Palace in Die Another Day. No matter, these hangouts were the place to hang out.

Bond’s death-defying labor: Once again, the very first film established the need for Bond to go through hell in order to get to heaven. Dr. No found 007 crawling through the searing heat of the villain’s ceiling duct work in search of escape, only to be nearly drowned in a rush of water in the same conduits. Whether it was a swim with man-eating sharks in Thunderball, a bobsled race with Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a brief stroll along the backs of jaw-snapping alligators in Live and Let Die, or a last-minute jolt from a portable defibrillator in Casino Royale – among many others – Bond was always challenged to look death square in the eye. Inevitably, it was always death that blinked.

Final confrontation: (with spectacular demise of villain and his command center.) Face-to-face with the antagonist, 007 always had the last word as his opponent bit the dust. Rosa Klebb “had her kicks;” Goldfinger wound up “playing his golden harp;” Mr. Wint “left with his tails between his legs;” Kananga had “an inflated opinion of himself;” Gustav Graves thought it was “Time to face destiny,” while Bond reminded him it was “Time to face gravity.” Despite the glib remarks, 007 and good always prevailed, as Bond and the Bond girl escaped (where their attempt at a well-earned romantic tryst was always interrupted.)

Reassurance that James Bond Will Return: The first dozen Broccoli/Saltzman films all finished with a tease that the series would continue – although they weren’t always accurate. The end of The Spy Who Loved Me promised viewers that For Your Eyes Only would be next. But the success of Star Wars in movie theaters prompted the Bond producers to reconsider and make Moonraker – with its spaceflight theme – the follow-up film. For a while, the tease for Bond’s return was omitted from the end of the Bond films. Skyfall, in 2012, while not mentioning a specific title, did promise that “James Bond Will Return…” Just like the good old days.

Lewis Gilbert, director of three Bond films – You Only Live Twice in 1967, The Spy Who Loved Me in 1977, and Moonraker in 1979 – acknowledged the existence of such a formula, saying: “I think that part of the charm of the Bond picture [is] you know what you’re going to get… You can change it slightly, but it’s very well laid down, the Law of Bond, and people want you to abide by it.”

Heaven forbid one should break the “Law” and receive a ticket from the movie police.

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: The Best Bond Film

Tom DeMichaelGuest 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.