The Bond Films, part 2

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Continuing the series I started two years ago; better late than never.

You Only Live Twice

So Bond gets fake executed, buried at sea in Hong Kong, carried into a submarine, neatly but predictably requests permission to come aboard, then gets briefed on his mission.

…and is near-immediately dropped off in Japan. Hell, Royal Navy submarines move fast!

One thing that’s interesting about watching the Bond films is that you can spot geopolitical and other trends simply in the themes and locations that the films cover. Thus, the rise of postwar Japan as an industrial power explains Japan as the main setting for the film.

It actually starts pretty well and a real highlight is the delightful Akiko Wakabayashi as Bond’s love interest, Aki. This, funnily enough, is the source of my main gripe with the film. She’s a smart and capable spy herself, saves Bond’s life and falls in love with him. Then she dies taking poison meant for Bond – and he doesn’t seem to care. Never in the entire series is Bond ever a cad more than he is in this movie.

Tiger Tanaka is also a great character, but the slide that leads to his headquarters, and his secret train, are both so incredibly contrived that you can’t take them seriously.

And then there’s Bond disguised as a Japanese fisherman, and that long light sequence atop the volcano.

Don’t get me wrong. I genuinely liked the film. I just think it could very easily have been better.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

Famously George Lazenby’s only outing as Bond, and a film wrongly considered by many to be one of the best of the series. Actually, Lazenby isn’t nearly as deficient an actor as is commonly said, and we get something with him that we never had with Connery – at times, his Bond seems genuinely frightened.

Another intriguing detail is that during a lot of the film Bond clearly has an assistance who never seems to be named. According to Wikipedia he is Shaun Campbell. It’s after Campbell’s death and Bond’s flight that Bond is scared.

For me, a highlight of the film is seeing the Swiss locations. Having been several times to Lauterbrunnen Valley I certainly recognised it in the film. Blofield’s lair, called Schilthorn, is an absolute highlight of the Jungfrau region.

Weirdly, the thing about the movie that doesn’t work for me is the love story. After a bit of conflict Bond inexplicably falls in love with Tracy in about 90 seconds flat. And yes, I’m being serious.

And then the film is the love story and the mission story awkwardly pasted together, and it doesn’t really work. And it ends, well… badly.

Still, one bit of trivia that probably isn’t that well known: Gabriele Ferzetti, who plays Bond’s father-in-law, is the same actor who played the crippled rail magnate in Once Upon a Time in the West.

Diamonds Are Forever

This is the movie that Connery made a comeback for. It is unfortunately the one undeniable turkey among the Connery Bonds. I’m not saying it’s the worst Bond film made but it’s certainly down there.

It involves diamond smuggling, it’s set main in Las Vegas, it’s actually quite a dull film, and you won’t believe it’s as bad as it is. But it is. Even the henchman, a pair of gay assassins, are on the nose.

Can I think of anything good to say about the movie? Only the brief scene in Amsterdam when Bond pretends the man who tried to kill him was called James Bond. “You can’t just kill James Bond and get away with it,” says Tiffany Case. Amen to that.

Live and Let Die

Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond and pretty much a return to form for the series. Yes, this one is pretty good.

The Bond films reflect the social more of the times, and it’s no real surprise that Shaft was made two years earlier. We are now deep in the blaxploitation era and boy is that obvious. Felix Leiter is now black. Rather than an industrialist we now have a drug baron as our chief baddie. And for some reason there’s a strong voodoo element.

I suppose the film is an odd fish in that Q does not appear and gadget use is kept to a minimum but on the upside the speedboat chase is pretty darned good and even better, on both occasions where the villain tries to kill Bond in an unusually complicated way, it actually feels pretty natural.

Do I have anything bad to say about the film? Well, the complicated plot whereby one bad guy turns out to be another is pretty contrived. But overall it’s a pretty good effort. Heck, even the theme song is pretty good.

The Melancholy Roman