Reviewing the First Seven Bond Films (Movies #375-381)

From top left to bottom right: Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig

I’m back and so is Bond

After having seen all six Star Wars films only this April, I was eager to try out another franchise I was particularly curious of: James Bond. My interest grew when I saw Skyfall (read my short review here) on IMAX, which was a delightful watch. It was also my #4 film of 2012 and I was among the group of people that felt it was deserving of its Academy Award wins (song and sound editing) and nomination (cinematography). But I also knew the franchise was 50 years old, which meant that 22 films stood in the way in my hope to complete the collection. So once I had copies, I just couldn’t resist checking them out immediately.

However, time is scarce and I don’t think I can commit to writing short individual reviews for each movie. And thus the reason for compiling them into sets. Nevertheless, I believe there’s still room for individual reviews in the future. As of now though, I’ll begin to explore the first seven films of 007, most of which were released in the 60’s: Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Diamonds Are Forever.

Poster of From Russia With Love, the second Bond film

A little bit of trivia: it’s interesting to note that Bond’s oldest escapades were released only a year apart, with Sean Connery playing the titular character back-to-back-to-back until the sixth outing, ‘Secret Service’, which was the lone movie George Lazenby starred in. Lazenby was eventually replaced by the former during ‘Diamonds’, which was the last time Connery reprised James until the arrival of the 1983 non-Eon production, Never Say Never Again. That’s a bit far from the timeline already though, so let’s head back.

Bond in the 60’s

The 1960s installments were a pleasant surprise for me. Usually I’m bothered by the outdated effects and technological constraints of older movies, but I didn’t have that sort of feeling this time. Perhaps I was distracted because I was entertained by the way they were made given the resources they had. I also enjoyed looking out for the recurring elements in Bond films: the stylish opening credits, the spotlight on bond while shooting his gun (and cueing the orchestra), the introduction of the Bond girls and villains, the close encounters of James and Miss Moneypenny, and the presentation of hi-tech gadgets by Q. All of those scenes seemed natural and witnessing how they did it the first time around caused me to smile quite a lot during my viewing experience. And they never seemed to get old, in the Connery era at least.

One of the franchise’s biggest flaws though, is its tendency to head towards implausibility. But the ridiculous aspect of Bond is something I’ve become accustomed to as time passed. Thankfully though, this problem was almost always saved by the charisma of 007 (with the exception of Lazenby, as I’m not really fond of his performance), the tongue-in-cheek dialogue and the unpredictability of how the story progresses – a positive by-product of its silliness. Sometimes the story becomes so unbelievable and stupid (You Only Live Twice), but they get away with it with the amount of entertainment they provide. Oh and of course, the women play a big part in my liking the films as well!

It’s also important to note that each film had its own theme and setting, which helps in trying to identify which stood out the most. I would personally recommend anyone to watch the old James Bond films, but you don’t necessarily have to see all of them as only a few happenings from previous entries are mentioned in the succeeding episodes.

The following is my individual ranking of the seven, based on suitable criteria I deemed appropriate, which I hope would aid you in determining which ones you should see. I’m not a big fan of spoiling a viewer’s experience, so if you’re interested to know the story, I leave it to your proficiency in using Google.

Ranking the First Seven Bond Films:

  1. 1.    From Russia With Love (1963) – B+
  2. 2.    Goldfinger (1964) – B
  3. 3.    You Only Live Twice (1967) – B
  4. 4.    Dr. No (1962) – B-
  5. 5.    Thunderball (1965) – C+
  6. 6.    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) – C
  7. 7.    Diamonds Are Forever (1971) – C

Criterion: Story, action, bond girls, bond villain, theme, acting, opening credits, and overall entertainment value

Notice how the films were ranked almost chronologically.  I attribute that partly from the novelty of the first few and the banality of some of the later features. It’s also because Lazenby’s ‘Secret Service’ and Connery’s sixth outing wasn’t as fresh and intriguing compared to my top choices. Here’s a breakdown of the best ones in each category:

A scene from the train sequence in From Russia With Love

Story: From Russia with Love (runners-up: Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) – In terms of cohesiveness and believability, nothing beats it. The ending of ‘Secret Service’ was quite unforgettable though.

Action: From Russia with Love (runners-up: Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice) – Worth watching for the train sequences alone, but I also had fun with the climaxes of the other contenders.

Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, the first ever Bond Girl

Bond Girl/s: Dr. No (runners-up: You Only Live Twice, Thunderball) – If I may borrow what my friend said to me: sales of two-piece bikinis shot up when people saw Ursula Andress in Dr. No. She’s the most beautiful Bond girl out of seven entries, putting even Claudine Auger (Thunderball) and the Japanese ladies in YOLT to shame.

Bond Villain: From Russia with Love (runners-up: Goldfinger, Dr. No) – It was ‘From Russia’ that I felt the presence of the villain the most. He gave Bond a very, very hard time.

Theme: You Only Live Twice (runners-up: Goldfinger, From Russia with Love) – Just because the integration of Japanese elements in a 007 film gives a different, interesting feel.

Acting: From Russia with Love (runners-up: Dr. No, Goldfinger) – I’ll tell you the worst acted movie as well: Diamonds Are Forever!

Screenshots from the opening credits of Dr. No, one of the best ones even after 23 outings

Opening Credits: Dr. No (runners-up: From Russia with Love, Goldfinger) – It’s simple, vibrant, and actually very inventive.

Overall Entertainment Value: From Russia with Love (runners-up: You Only Live Twice, Goldfinger) – As a whole, this one is simply the complete package, the epitome of a great James Bond film. It has great action, a compelling story, a worthy adversary, and memorable characters. Capped off with great direction, it took the then-young series to greater heights and raised the bar for future installments.

To summarize, here’s my take on Bonds 1-7 in a nutshell:

Dr. No: Kicks the franchise off with suave

From Russia with Love: A noteworthy chapter that improves on its predecessor in almost all aspects

Goldfinger: Features more characters and gadgets to entertain you, but the ending is a disappointment

Thunderball: New gimmicks, new women, new villain, but doesn’t really offer anything different

You Only Live Twice: Ridiculous and fun, just sit back, enjoy, and don’t take it so seriously

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: A lackluster offering saved by a dramatic ending

Diamonds Are Forever: The weakest of the first seven Bond films, and a sad goodbye for Connery

That’s it, thank you for sticking around and I hope I’ll be able to do this again for the next 16 entries!

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