The Bond Films, part 1

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Probably everyone has something trashy that they like. Among many things like that for me is the James Bond film series.

Several years ago a colleague revealed that he had the DVDs of all the films up to the Pierce Brosnan era, and was happy to lend them to me. Having had the ambition to watch them in order I proceeded to do so, one or two discs at a time.

I suppose I should say at this point that I’ve seen all the films since Goldeneye at the cinema. Oh, and that one day I’d like to watch all of Alfred Hitchcock’s films in order.

Anyway, because I was very busy with other things it took me the best part of 18 months to get through everything. Here are my thoughts:

Dr. No

Quite a tight, spare film, and boy does the action start fast. What’s interesting is that while a few of the elements of the series are already in place, most are not. The film really does stand on its own. It’s clear that a sequel was already planned but I doubt that anybody anticipated how successful the franchise would be.

Bond doesn’t do much killing in the movie and when he has to kill a guard it’s with clear reluctance.

The plot is slightly ropey. An hour of the movie goes by as Bond and his companions try to avoid capture, then are captured anyway.

The scriptwriters clearly didn’t know much about radioactivity, seeing as how Bond and Honey Ryder are able to wash it off. And blowing up an entire island, and causing a nuclear reactor meltdown, just to stop a rocket launch being sabotaged? In what universe does that make sense?

My other criticism of a film is the glaring continuity error at the end. It is established early in the film that Quarrel is an important character in his own right and a colleague to both Bond and Felix Leiter. Yet when Bond and Honey Ryder are reunited with Leiter at the end, nobody thinks to mention that Quarrel isn’t there. He has been killed but Leiter can’t know that and doesn’t ask about him.

From Russia With Love

In reality this has one of the most obviously silly plots of any of the early films, the title referring to the Russian intelligence officer who has been told to fall in love with Bond by looking at his photograph.

It’s worth saying of this film: Bond spends most of it being completely outmanoeuvred.

Still, I liked the use of the Hagia Sophia as a location, the early 1960s background details, and Desmond Llewelyn’s first appearance as Q. As with Dr. No it’s clear that the series is still finding its feet. Indeed, with Q’s appearance we can see in hindsight that in each movie the filmmakers are experimenting with new elements. The ones that work are kept for the future.

For my money, Robert Shaw’s baddie isn’t nearly as good as his role in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. On the other hand, the train fight is famous in the Bond canon for its brutality, and the final dispatch of Rosa Kleb at the film’s end remains memorable. “She’s had her kicks” indeed.


A cracking good movie, and at one time the highest grossing film of all time.

It’s fair to say I like Goldfinger. As with Dr. No it’s clear that the filmmakers didn’t really understand how radioactivity works, and as in the books it’s also pretty clear that Ian Fleming didn’t really understand homosexuality.

But almost everything else goes right. The pacing is good, even including a scene where Bond beats Goldfinger in a game of golf. It’s nigh-on impossible to conceive of such a scene in later films.

And Bond is still a compassionate figure. He is distraught when Tilly Masterson is killed by Oddjob.  And then we have the fun and games of Bond’s gadget-packed car, a first for the series.

You can see why the film did so well at the box office. It’s the best in the series.


The first three Bond films show a clear evolution in both style and storytelling. Dr. No isn’t a bad film. From Russia With Love is better. Goldfinger is better again. So I had high hopes for Thunderball.

Alas, the magic of Goldfinger didn’t find its way into this film. The pre-title sequence is one of the best of the series, though I can’t for the life of me understand why Bond spent time putting on a helmet before using a jetpack.

And then? This is the first film of the series with sadistic villains inflicting violence for the pleasure of it. The way I see it, that doesn’t reflect the bad guys so much as it reflects the scriptwriters. Yes, the tone is darker for this film. No, I’m not sure that that’s an improvement.

But that’s not the most obvious flaw in the film, which is the pacing. The movie simply goes on for too long, with some crucial scenes actually dragging. The underwater fight scene towards the end is probably the worst example.

The final battle scene in the boat is just lame and also gives an example of everything that went wrong with the film. There’s a doctor who helps our heroine, Domino, escape from the bad guys.  Just before the boat crashes, that doctor is thrown to presumed safety and then is literally never mentioned again. That’s just carelessness.

This is not to say that it’s a bad film altogether, simply that it isn’t as good as the first three.

To be continued…

The Melancholy Roman


Advertised on the side of a bus…

Being a long-standing lover of Indian cinema, it was inevitable that I would eventually write a blog post about it.

Let’s qualify that. When I say I’m a long-standing fan, I’m not talking about Satyajit Roy’s Apu trilogy. I haven’t seen any of those films. Nor am I talking about Deepa Mehta’s trilogy of Fire, Earth and Water. Nor do I refer to Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, or Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, epic though that was.

No, I’m talking about full-on Bollywood. Those cheesy, melodramatic, cliched, three hour film spectacles complete with song-and-dance sequences.

I love them.

Which gets me to Padmavati.

The actress Deepika Padukone’s breakthrough role was, of course, 2007’s Om Shanti Om. As with 2008’s Rab Ne Bada Di Jodi, I cynically suspected that Shah Rukh Khan had decided to appear alongside a newcomer to ensure that his own star was not eclipsed.

Cynical me. Both Padukone, and Rab Ne Bada Di Jodi’s lead actress Anushka Sharma, are now established as film stars in their own right. Indeed, Padukone is one of Indian cinema’s biggest box office draws. And like Priyanka Chopra before her, she is trying to cross over into Hollywood and become an even bigger star.

Chopra tried it with the Baywatch movie and the Quantico tv series, and as far as I can tell it hasn’t really worked. Padukone has tried it with the film xXx: Return of Xander Cage and it doesn’t seem to have worked for her, either. Both women are very talented but they’re competing against other women who are also very talented.

But enough of that. The controversy of the moment is Padukone’s latest film, Padmavati. A firebrand Hindu nationalist politician, Suraj Pal Amu, made hay, offering 100,000,000 rupees to have Padukone beheaded. That amount of money is roughly equivalent to US$1.5 million.

Which goes to show that religious populism and politicians can happen everywhere. I’ll spare you examples of Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists doing the same but examples are easy enough to find. Politicians in pursuit of power can be nasty pieces of work. There’s nothing new under the sun (as the Bible says).

Still, the so called controversy has been enough to have the release of Padmavati delayed in India so I was intrigued to have a bus go past with the advertising you see in the picture at the top of this post. That Padmavati had been filmed in 3D was itself a minor revelation. But a 1 December release date? I realised that the date had passed, that I had free time, and that I wanted to see the film!

I was baffled when I checked online and my local cinema wasn’t showing it. I was further baffled when there appeared to be no cinema in the whole of London showing it. And then I found the explanation.

Presumably for PR reasons, the film producers have decided not to let the film be shown anywhere in the world before it is released in India. Perhaps the publicity means the film will be a hit when it is finally released. I hope so. And heck, I hope it’s a really good film. But right now I just want to watch it and it’s frustrating that it’s being delayed for political reasons.

But sometimes, life is like that.

55 days later…

The Central Board of Film Classification in India made five recommendations for changes to the film. One was that the title be changed to Padmaavat, to emphasise the fact that the film is fictional. It was finally released in cinemas on 25 January.

I saw it on 28 January and here’s the truth of it: it’s just not very good. The fears of the hardline Hindu nationalists that the film might feature a secret romantic scene between Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh? Completely unfounded. Heck, one of the plot points is that Singh’s Alauddin Khilji never quite sees Padukone’s Padmavati.

More to the point, despite lavish production values and a three hour running time, none of Padukone, Singh, or Shahid Kapoor as Ratan Singh, are given much to do. Padmavati is beautiful and smart, Alauddin is a psychopath, and Ratan Singh is handsome, deeply honourable and not very smart. And that’s about it.

Now, I’m not totally averse to films that tell us nothing about their main characters – Lawrence of Arabia told us almost nothing about the titular Lawrence in four hours, and I love that film – but a bit of depth would have been handy. Just generally, the film lacks soul.

And then there’s the ending. The film ends with Padmavati and a bunch of other women committing jauhar, which is sati done en masse. Despite the best efforts of the director who I think was trying to make it look romantic, it is horrifying. We really don’t need multiple slow motion shots of Padukone moving purposely towards the fire. Nonetheless, that’s what we get.

The Melancholy Roman