Never say never. Connery shouted it from every rooftop he could find during and after the production of You Only Live Twice. When Eon came begging him back he took a page from SPECTRE’s playbook and extorted the largest amount of money anyone had ever received for a lead role up to that time, officially beginning our modern Lead Actor Salary Arms Race. The number 1.25 million is thrown around a lot in the attendant literature, though I’ve heard conflicting reports as to whether that’s in pounds or dollars.
Either way, it was a healthy chunk of change at a time of worldwide economic upheival. Connery, to his credit, used that cash to establish The Scottish International Education Trust, which still puts money in the hands of artistic Scots to this very day. He also got United Artists to back his friend Sidney Lumet’s movie The Offense, which everyone should go out and see. It’s unquestionably better than Diamonds Are Forever. Continue reading Diamonds Are Forever (1971)→
To this day I wish Connery had stuck around for one last swan song. Bond fans could’ve avoided a whole lot of heartache…
But then again, maybe not. I like Connery, but not the bored, sick-of-it-all self-parody he became by the time he filmed You Only Live Twice. So I might as well confess: I’m one of those people who actually like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I won’t dare call it “the best Bond film ev-ahr” when we’ve still got sixteen of these damned things to go…but I will stick my neck out far enough to call it the best film since Goldfinger. Halfway through, I guessed they had to work through two films worth of same-y-feeling crap before anything good escaped the pipeline.
Turns out that’s truer than I’d like it to be. OHMSS (as it’s reverently known) was originally meant to follow Goldfinger. Returning series screenwriter Richard Maibaum stated pecking out the script, an adaption of Fleming’s tenth Bond novel, while the film rights to Thunderball were still up in the judicial air. After Thunderball hit, the warm Swiss summer of 1966 made most of OHMSS’ Big Ticket action sequences prohibitively expensive (if not outright life-threatening). Production relocated to Japan and re-purposed everything for You Only Live Twice. When that did even better than Thunderball, OHMSS finally saw daylight…after a two-year search for the Next James Bond. Continue reading On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)→
And now we get to talk about Sequelitis. You’d expect the fifth Bond movie to bear some resemblance to its predecessors, but You Only Live Twice can’t seem to help calling attention to its heritage. Personally, I blame Roald Dahl. He should’ve turned this project down from the start. He and Ian Fleming were apparently good friends in real life, but their writing styles couldn’t be further from each other if you placed them on opposites sides of the cosmos. Dahl hated the novel that shares this film’s title and, twenty-one years after the film premiered, flat-out admitted to Starlog magazine “I didn’t know what the hell Bond was going to do.” Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman answered by giving him The Formula, whole and (more or less) complete by 1966, at the latest.
As Dahl defined The Formula would go on to define this series:
“Bond has three women through the film: If I remember rightly, the first gets killed, the second gets killed and the third gets a fond embrace during the closing sequence. And that’s the formula. They found it’s cast-iron. So, you have to kill two of them off after he has screwed them a few times. And there is great emphasis on funny gadgets and love-making.”
With this information, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became the author what is essentially Dr. No 2: In Japan. You can tell how many people actually bother to read Dahl’s work by whether or not they call this film “silly.” Sorry, Charlie, but compared to The Chocolate Factory (published the same year as this film’s eponymous novel) and especially compared to The GlassElevator, this is Roald Dahl phoning it in after he’s taken a fist-full of horse tranquilizers. And he still managed to create one of the most influential films of the series, large portions of which have become fertile ground for parody, satire and knowing reference. So I come not to bury this fifth Bond film, but to lament what could have been…and argue that, as “silly” as things get in this picture, they could’ve stood to get a whole lot “sillier.” There might be more to recommend. Continue reading You Only Live Twice (1967)→
Way back in my Halloween 4 review I half-joked that, in the vast multiverse of franchise films, only Star Trek and Godzilla have managed to field strong fourth entries. I was immediately “well, actually”-ed by friend of the site David Lee Ingersoll‘s contention that Thunderball “isn’t bad.” Shopping this critique around, I realized Thunderball divides quite a few Bond fans…though nowhere near as much as some Roger Moore movies I could, and will eventually, mention.
I should’ve expected this. Now that we’re on Film Number Four, we can see the full scope of Bond’s world. From this point on, we’ll have plenty of time to consider all its wonderfully disparate elements and decide which we’d prefer to see…as opposed to what we’re actually watching. Because what we’re watching will increasingly serve to remind us of other, better, James Bond films. And why shouldn’t it? Goldfinger made a ton of money, so why not give the people more of that? Making this film knowing in their guts that it would be a hit must’ve felt like a license to supply heroin to William S. Burroughs. Especially since the bones of this script were already four years old by the time cameras rolled. Continue reading Thunderball (1965)→
“Sir, I’m aware of my shortcomings. But I’m prepared to continue this assignment in the manner you suggest…if I knew what it was about. Sir.“
And so we come to the production model: James Bond v. 3.0 Alpha. Current series producer Michael G. Wilson has said they start off every film trying to make the next From Russia with Love (only to end up, more often than not, with “the next Thunderball“), and while there’s truth to this, Bond’s second outing isn’t nearly as influential as his third. A more accurate assessment might read, “They start out each film trying to make the next Goldfinger” because Goldfinger carved the Bond Template in stone, no matter the producer’s frequent assurances that they’ve “updated” the character for each generation.
This is the first film that starts off with a “true” pre-credit sequence: Bond in Mexico, taking care of some heroin smugglers by bombing their supply of Nitro. (Every good drug kingpin knows its best to keep the nitro within easy walking distance of the production facilities.) Back at the hotel, Bond’s girl of the night asks why he always carries a gun. Bond straight-up admits “I have a slight inferiority complex.” Only slight, James? You’re British and it’s the 60s – your country’s still recovering from WWII. Military bases the world over are either closing down or being taken over by those Ugly Americas with their machine guns. The sun’s setting on the British Empire for the first time in four hundred years, and you, Mr. Bond – a walking example of Hefnerian overcompensation – you’re talking about “slight” inferiority complexes? Continue reading Goldfinger (1964)→
With Dr. No, Bond producers Harry Slatzman and Albert Brocoli turned one million dollars into sixty. The collision of good casting and good direction, along with enough sex appeal for most genders and orientations to get at least something out of the deal, created a sustained fusion reaction between the Cold War Era spy thriller and the kind of pulp adventures not seen (by self-conscious adults, scared their friends might think their entertainment “childish”) since before the Second World War made everyone so serious.
The studio that backed Dr. No, United Artists, called for a sequel by October, 1963, handling EON Productions a whopping two million dollars to get the job done. Is it any surprise From Russia with Love went with the Bigger Is Better and More is More philosophy that’s characterized Hollywood sequels from the very beginning? No. What’s surprising is that it worked so well, when conventional wisdom would have it sequels inherently suck. Yet this remains many people’s favorite James Bond films, including Sean Connery’s, Daniel Craig’s and Timothy Dalton’s. Who am I to snark at it?