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:
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…