THIS WAS THE SUMMER OF BOND. I think my son Shaun and I will always think of it that way somehow. But last weekend, the Summer of Bond came to an end — kind of fittingly really, since it was the weekend after Labor Day, a holiday which always kind of signals the end of summer. On Saturday night, Shaun and I watched Spectre, the 24th “official” James Bond film, ending a summer-long 007 marathon.
IT WAS ABOUT 8 years ago, I’d guess, when I splurged and bought the 50th Anniversary James Bond blu-ray box set with the intent to watch all of the films in order. I’d seen a bunch of them, but honestly, when you dig all the way back to the Connery and earlier Moore titles, I couldn’t remember which ones I had seen. Anyway, it was a perfect box — starting with 1962’s Dr. No and continuing all the way into the 2000s with all of the official Bond films. They even left a slot at the end to insert the disc for 2012’s Skyfall, which was to be released later that year. (You’d have to buy that separately, but still. The box was forward-thinking, aiming for completeness!)
And then… the set sat on my shelf for the next eight years. I kept looking at it (along with my equally cool Hitchcock box) and saying “I want to start that soon…” but never did. I knew it was a big undertaking… 24 movies? That’s a commitment.
This spring, I started joking with my 15-year-old son Shaun on weekends saying “hey, do you want to watch a Bond movie or an Italian Western tonight?” He always said “uh…no” … until one night in June. He was sitting on the couch on a Friday or Saturday night on his phone looking bored and it was close to midnight. I was about to head downstairs to watch something, so I said “hey… do you want to watch a Bond or an Italian Western tonight?”
Astonishingly… he said YES. Clearly, he was bored.
And then I had to make a decision… do I introduce him to Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars? Or Sean Connery? I decided Bond might be a little better for a midnight movie and the die was cast.
I popped in Dr. No, and the Summer of Bond began.
If you’ve never seen the original James Bond… well… it’s nothing like the series today. The year was 1962. Cars were big and boxy. Special effects? Minimal, because they all had to be real. No CGI.
Halfway through the film, I thought “there’s no way he’s going to want to continue watching the rest of these — they are just too dated.”
Amazingly — and I don’t even think it was because of Ursula Andress’s famous bikini scene — he said he enjoyed it, and yeah, he’d be up for another one.
The next night, we watched From Russia With Love. This one steps up the action and the intrigue quite a bit from the first, and we both really liked it.
Then the next weekend came Goldfinger, with a scene where a woman is literally smothered and left as a “warning” by being shellacked nearly nude in gold paint.
What a way to go?
I found the ending to that one a little too deus ex machina for my tastes, but Shaun really dug it. We flip-flopped on Thunderball, which he found confusing, but I really liked the fact that they went for a more labyrinthine spy plot.
We both were surprised at how much we liked the one George Lazenby Bond — 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (featuring the only “Mrs. Bond” so far in the series!)
We also both agreed that Connery’s one-off return for 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever did not live up to his earlier Bonds and thus were primed for the arrival of Roger Moore with Live and Let Die (1973).
Moore was the first Bond I ever saw at the theater — I remember my dad taking me to see Moonraker. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed the Moore era. I love ’70s action and grindhouse cinema, so the aesthetic of the era calls to me… and Moore was “my” Bond as a kid. His first outing as Bond is good, but he really hit is stride a couple movies later.
I was really bummed when we reached 1985’s A View To A Kill (with one of the series’ best theme songs from Duran Duran!) and the end of Moore’s 13-year reign as 007.
I remember liking the Timothy Dalton Bond films when I saw them in the theater in the ’80s, but set in the context of all the rest… The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill just don’t hold up. There are some great scenes, but Dalton just can’t pull off the “playboy” aspect of Bond. Perhaps that’s why the seduction scenes in his films are mercifully short. Every time he went to kiss a girl, I felt like he was going to eat her.
Not a good “hunky Romeo.”
The arrival of Pierce Brosnan in 1995’s GoldenEye rights Dalton’s wrongs though.
Brosnan is as believable a “playboy” as Moore was, and perhaps a more believable spy/hitman.
I love all the Brosnan Bond’s, and particularly his first and third, The World Is Not Enough, which features my favorite Bond theme song (sung by Garbage, who Shaun and I saw in concert a couple years ago).
When Daniel Craig arrived on the scene with 2006’s Casino Royale, the series took a new modern, grittier turn. I’m sure there are many fans of the Craig-era Bond’s who would dismiss the earlier films as schmaltzy. But the thing with Bond is that… each actor’s series of films is a reflection of its time. It was fascinating to watch the series evolve from Connery to Craig. Each actor played some aspects of the character better than others. Each decade showed advances in special effects and storyline complexity, not to mention changes in social mores. The way Connery simply grabbed and “took” a woman would never be done in a film made in the 2000s!
Craig plays the spy/hitman element of Bond probably the best of all the actors. He is a better romancer than Dalton, but not as good, in my mind, as Brosnan or Moore. Shaun says Craig is his favorite Bond, and I guess that’s not surprising; Craig started playing Bond a year after Shaun was born — these movies truly are contemporary for him.
Me? I am torn between Moore and Brosnan, but with a soft spot for Connery’s early formative films.
It’s impossible to pick a “favorite Bond” out of 24 films. There are so many good plots and sequences. Each actor had their highs and lows playing the character (except Lazenby… he only got the one shot!)
So I sat down yesterday and tried to pick out my Top 2 from each actor. Somewhere among those then, is my favorite of all time. I’d need to watch them all a couple more times to decide though, and that ain’t happening. Not this year anyway. The next Bond film I see is going to be No Time To Die, hopefully in theaters this November. Shaun and I are both primed and ready. He even plays Billie Eilish’s theme song on the piano (alongside renditions of Skyfall and the original theme music).
I’m bummed that our summer-long marathon is at an end, but at least we still do have one more to look forward to.
(OCTOBER UPDATE: We went ahead and watched the two “non-canon” Bond films that were produced due to an early licensing issue — the ’60s version of Casino Royale, and the comedic Thunderball-based Never Say Never Again, in which Connery returned to play Bond in the ’80s. The original Casino Royale is painful as a Bond film. Despite a star-studded cast, it’s wildly uneven and odd, and occasionally turns into what looks like a Benny Hill episode. Never Say Never was much better, though still not as good as any of the canon Bonds.)
In any case, here are my favorite films from each actor era (Shaun agrees with most, with the exception of the Connery ones).
2) Dr. No
1) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
1) The Spy Who Loved Me
2) The Man with the Golden Gun
1) The Living Daylights
2) Licence To Kill
2) The World is Not Enough
1) Casino Royale
That’s 11 of the 24 films… but honestly, if I was ranking my favorites, Timothy Dalton would not be in the top 10, so… knock his two out of that list, and you have my Bond Top 9!
And now, enough with Bonds past. The countdown to November has begun!