The new 007 adventure SKYFALL opens this Friday and is expected to be a big hit. The advance word on it is superb and it’s already earning big bucks overseas. Some are even saying it’s one of the best Bond films of all time. That excites a big Bond fan like me. I’d love nothing more than to see it join the upper echelon of the series.
Of course everyone knows that GOLDFINGER, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE or THE SPY WHO LOVED ME are some of the high points in the 50-year old franchise. And there’s been a lot of ink and bytes devoted to picking the crème de la creme of Bond these past months. So I’m going to take a slightly different tack. I’m going to single out the best of Bond that you don’t even know about - the underrated, the forgotten, the overlooked. That which is among the very best of the world of Bond, in my humble opinion.
MOST UNDERRATED BOND
This 1973 film LIVE AND LET DIE was written for Sean Connery after his return to the series in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER a few years earlier. But Connery balked and the role went to Roger Moore instead. It was a tough film, even controversial in its way with its blaxploitation leanings, but Moore ran with it, despite being more suited towards the lighter tone of his later outings. He’s suave, witty and handsome as always here, but he’s also cold, brutal and steely when required. The movie is suspenseful and scary with its voodoo undertones. It has a sinister duel villain turn by Yaphet Kotto. Jane Seymour in her film debut makes for an indelibly sexy, classy and yet extremely vulnerable ‘Bond girl’, and one that is more than window dressing as her fortune teller role drives the villain’s deeds. And it has that angry theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings (“You gotta give the other fella hellllll…”) It’s a serious Bond film. It's still a lot of fun, but it's never too silly or frivolous. For all those reasons, I think it’s one of the very best of all.
MOST UNDERRATED BOND
I love Daniel Craig’s brutishness. I will be forever grateful to Pierce Brosnan for bringing the franchise back from the dead with his hard-edged and sly portrayal. And, of course, Connery’s supremacy is unquestioned. But why are people glossing over Roger Moore on the lists of best Bonds? He was not only in the most Bond pictures (7) but he was in as many terrific ones as Connery. By my estimate, Connery had three greats – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), GOLDFINGER (1964) and THUNDERBALL (1965), and so did Moore - LIVE AND LET DIE (1973), THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981). Moore also gave the Bond character his own flavor - lighter, more urbane and always veddy, veddy British. Sir Roger is a great Bond, and second only to Sir Sean.
MOST UNDERRATED BOND
Scaramanga, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), is the darker side of Bond and that’s exactly the way Christopher Lee plays him. He’s an assassin who’s second to none, disciplined, cordial, great with the ladies, and a natty dresser. And he can’t miss when he shoots his Midas touched weapon. Unfortunately, Scaramanga gets forgotten because the movie isn’t considered top-tier Bond, but it’s much better than its reputation and Lee’s cool as a cucumber villain is one reason why.
MOST UNDERRATED BOND
Why do so many critics and lists put Ursula Andress on top? (Ahem!) Because of that white bikini? Granted, it’s awesome, but her role in DR. NO is largely window dressing. (Gorgeous window dressing, I grant you.) But the best Bond girls drive the story: Tracy (Diana Rigg) in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) was so important to the narrative, Bond married her! And Jane Seymour was as important a character as the villain in LIVE AND LET DIE. When Seymour’s character of Solitaire sleeps with Bond it’s a key plot point, not just there for titillation. And both Rigg and Seymour were theatrically trained actresses and that helped bring a great deal of depth to their roles. In later years, the Bond films forgot to cast such top drawer women in the leads, instead opting to fill the Bond girl roles with attractive yet shallow models like Denise Richards and Tanya Roberts. They were pretty, yes. Pretty unfortunate, even more so.
MOST UNDERRATED BOND SONG
Few Bond film themes are ballads. The slowest of all the Bond themes is one that has virtually none of the bombast of an orchestral brass section or Shirley Bassey-type vocalizations. It’s the theme “Nobody Does It Better” from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, and the breezy Carly Simon croons it. Nothing will ever top the theme from GOLDFINGER but this one is right up there.
MOST UNDERRATED ACTION SEQUENCE
Daniel Craig running up walls and through them in the opening scene of CASINO ROYALE (2006) may be the best action scene in the series. There’s no green screen and its realness gives it an immediacy few others have. But another one that is played pretty real is in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY when Roger Moore and Carol Bouquet are dragged behind a boat as shark bait. That’s really them twisting in a number of the underwater shots, and how they escape from certain death is not only believable, it’s exciting and fun.
MOST UNDERRATED TITLE
No one can top Maurice Binder’s credit sequences, but Daniel Kleiman picked up the mantel brilliantly with GOLDENEYE (1995). His credit sequence there was an elaborately staged montage with leggy models walking on the barrels of guns while Russia’s hierarchical statues crash around them. It’s incredibly dramatic and set the template for the future Bond titles as Kleiman now keeps coming back for more. I can’t wait to see what he does with SKYFALL.
After Bourne and Batman, there was concern that Bond couldn’t compete anymore. Obviously it has, and will continue to do so, as Craig has made the role his own. And they can always reboot the franchise as a Cold War saga, going back to the Ian Fleming origins in the 1950’s. Imagine what a Michael Fassbender could do in the role, with a “Mad Men” cut to his suit and his droll delivery. Or imagine Idris Elba as the first African-American Bond. That rumor has been around for a while now, so we’ll see what happens next.
But no matter, Bond is big. And will continue to be the spy who loved me. And we all love him. Check out some of Bond's unsung best that I've showcased here and I think you’ll love him even more. After all, nobody does it better.