25 October 2007

Guest: Bond, James Bond (1964-1965)

1964 - Goldfinger - Right out of the gate, director Guy Hamilton shows us that he isn’t quite as talented as director Terence Young. Thin plot isn’t something that can look like it was shot on MGM’s backlot, which this entry looks consistency like it does (with such liberal use of projection screen cutaways, it’s no wonder green screen is as widely used as it is today; why even go to locations anymore). Look at it in the wrong way and it all falls apart, and I guess I’m looking at it the wrong way. Who’s idea was it to frame an opposite angle of Goldfinger in a way that makes it look like Bond can see him from the binoculars? Honestly, that’s insane.

Technical aspects do improve in other areas. There’s a nicely timed helicopter shot circling around a hotel and zooming in on a swimmer jumping off a high dive, an effective cutaway of a random soldier flying out of the Aston Marten DB-5 via ejector seat, and a genuinely suspenseful laser slab torture sequence.

Not fifteen minutes in and Bond uses his animal magnetism no less than four times on the way to sloppily meeting the movie’s villain. Bond is clumsy throughout, his survival dependent not on his skill but everyone else’s lack thereof. Turns out his biggest weakness (besides inordinate amounts of Pussy Galore and a high-powered laser to the junk) is a mirror. Pullin the ol’ elevator in the floor trick to get out of a jail cell, now that’s some good spy work, jack. I fear these are the origins of the sit-com type setups, ones that permeate the Roger Moore films and signify that a lead actor change is extremely nigh. Also, did Bond just badmouth the Beatles? Yes, yes he did.

For such a famous car, the Aston Martin DB-5’s debut was disappointing, certainly no trick suitcase. Bond uses most of the car’s tricks in one blow and then it’s all over. Thanks for pioneering the ejector seat, you may now go home.

Compared to the last two, little actually transpires; opening credits, villain introduction, obligatory briefing, golf game, action scene, beginning of third act/all information given, climax. Sprinkle one-liners throughout, and boom, there’s the movie. No better example exists for the Bond formula, but better executions certainly do. Yes, the final showdown at Fort Knox is very nice, however, I am simply not invested. Bond barely makes it through alive and I barely make it through without turning on the subtitles and pressing fast-forward. Why this is the most widely seen film in the series is beyond me.

And what a poor casting choice for Felix Leiter. What happened to the dreamboat?

"You can turn off the charm. I’m immune." (5.0/10)
d. Guy Hamilton

1965 - Thunderball - After taking a break from the series to direct a non-Bond picture (snob), Terence Young makes a triumphant return, reminding us how it’s done.

They must have gotten my complaints back in ‘65; Thunderball doesn’t skimp on the plot. It’s forty-five minutes of setup before Bond officially gets his assignment. The entire British Secret Service is involved this time. OO Agents are everywhere, helping to uncover SPECTRE’s newest sinister scheme: hijack a nuclear warhead and hold the world hostage. It’s personal, and it’s also better than ever.

What results is a near-perfect balance of Bond picking his battles versus directly saving the day. No scale tipping here, everyone gets their fair share of success and failure. This is probably the best example of imperceptible flow, villain’s scenes coming in just when they are needed, motives on the table and in the open, while remaining mysterious enough to be interesting. A superb return to form for everyone. This is what being a spy is all about. Did Bond just punch a woman in the face? Ye- well, kinda.

Young takes the entire series to school, never-minding the adrenaline and instead wrapping his hand around the heart of the pacing and never unclenching the fist. Bond is quick, but he has to be because the moment he lets up, he’s dead. This is proved at the very beginning when he put through a slightly comical but somewhat disturbing torture sequence. He doesn’t appear to get over this slipup, his wrath continuing for most of the picture. Don’t do that you never do that to Bond again, random henchman.

The spear jihad at the climax is just about the most spectacular action sequence ever. People get harpooned! It’s underwater! It’s epic, dammit!

Connery’s finest hour as 007.

"This bed feels like a cage. All these bars. Do you think I’ll be… safe?" (7.0/10)
d. Terence Young