Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bond Bios: Bond

(Disclaimer: I actually wrote and posted this a while ago on my blog. I decided to bring it back with some edits and updates to make it more consistent with the other Bond Bios I wrote. Also, I hadn't seen Quantum of Solace back then.)

James Bond has been played by six actors over the course of 22 official EON produced films. He has been parodied and copied countless times, and has inspired more characters and concepts than any one blogger could even begin to contemplate. He is quite possibly the greatest and most iconic character in film history. He has probably appeared in more films than any other character except for Jesus Christ and Santa Clause, but Bond's appearances have probably been a lot more exciting.

He was created by Ian Fleming for the 1953 novel Casino Royale, and appeared in about a dozen more novels and short story collections. After Fleming passed away, the role of Bond chronicler was handed over to other writers who wrote dozens and dozens of other novels and short stories. Ian Fleming is a wonderful writer whose stories are full of action, intrigue, not to mention a masterful use of the English language, but I'm a fan of Bond from the movies far more than I am of the novels, although they are absolutely splendid in their own right. But today we are going to talk about the Bond I grew up with: The Bond of the silver screen.

When I originally wrote this post, I structured it as a ranking of each Bond in terms of overall quality, charisma, and impact, but I no longer car to look at them that way. I actually think James Bond fans have been lucky in that all of the leading men who played the part have been fantastic. That isn't to say they've all been in fantastic films... and that's what I think it comes down to. The question of which Bond was "best" is a false one, in my opinion. I don't exclusively watch films by any one of the six actors, since all of them have been in some that were good and some that were terrible (except for Lazenby, who was only in one... and it was awesome!). They were all good in their own ways, and every one deserves respect for their appearance as the ultimate movie hero.

Sean Connery

Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
Diamonds Are Forever
Never Say Never Again

In the minds of most people, Sean Connery is James Bond, while all others are just trying to fill his shoes. And, for the most part, they're right. Connery is a wonderful actor and his charm can't be denied. The character Ian Fleming created was no doubt a stroke of brilliance on his part, but it's hard to believe the series would have taken hold of the world in such a way without casting the perfect actor in the leading role. And Sean Connery was the perfect actor. He was amazing, and when at his best, his films were some of the best in the series.

But, out of the seven films in which he appeared as James Bond, only three are actually great, in my opinion. But that's ok because they actually aren't just great, they're amazing.

Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and GoldFinger are brilliant films by any account, with perfect scripts, great direction, and wonderful, charming performances by Connery. When people think of the James Bond films, whether intentionally or not, they're thinking of these three (the three first).

But after that, the series went downhill. Thunderball wasn't bad, it was just a little boring. But what film wouldn't be boring after GoldFinger, arguably the very best Bond film of all. Then came You Only Live Twice, which was goofy fun, but it also started the series toward camp and over the top silliness. Diamonds are Forever was even worse, containing a bland performance by a Connery who had to be coaxed back into the franchise after he had retired and been replaced by another actor. But, even at their worst, Connery's lesser films are worth watching because he's always so good. And that doesn't just go for for his Bond films, but for all of his films in general.

And then, over ten years later, he returned for the non EON (and, thus, non cannon) Never Say Never Again. An entertaining, if mindless, action film, but hardly the finest hour for either Connery or Bond. Let's NEVER SAY anything about this film (N)EVER AGAIN.

Bottomline, Sean Connery is handsome, athletic looking, charming, funny, and a great actor. He's the only Bond actor to have won an Oscar, though not for a Bond film. More importantly, he's everybody's favorite Bond. Even the people (like me), who might prefer some of the other actors have to agree that he was the original and the best. After becoming world famous as James Bond, Connery went on to become, more or less, the biggest movie star ever.

George Lazenby

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

History has not been kind to George Lazenby, the long forgotten second James Bond. The Australian model-turned-actor only starred as Bond in one film, but it's one of the absolute best of the series, and maybe my all-time favorite. But, as likable as Lazenby is, this is a great film because the script and story and direction and action sequences are fantastic. Lazenby is ok, but this movie would've been amazing had Sean Connery agreed to star.

But how was Lazenby? To be honest, I like George Lazenby and think he deserved better. Had he not quit from the series (because he honestly thought it was holding back his career, if you can believe that), I think he would've improved and received a far better judgment from history. But as his only film indicates... he was ok. He was definitely the weakest actor who ever played Bond, but he's also pretty charming and likable in his own way. He's very good at the physical stuff, and his comic timing makes him well suited for the one liners, but he's pretty wooden when he's doing anything else.

The highlight of the film is the middle section when he's going undercover at Bloefeld's hideout. When I first saw this film, I was blown away by Lazenby's performance. His entire voice and inflection changed completely when he went undercover as a posh, British professor. But, years later, I learned that a different actor actually dubbed over his lines for that entire section of the film. So that pretty much explains why his performance in that section of the film was so great.

But, still, I like Lazenby. He wasn't a great actor, but he was a pretty good Bond. I wish he had made some more films, but the one in which he appeared was brilliant. His acting career after retiring as Bond didn't amount to much. His most notable role (at least for me) was as Jor-El on the Superboy TV series. I loved that show as a kid, and to think that James Bond was the father of Superman is mind-blowing. He was set to star opposite Bruce Lee in some big film trilogy, but Lee died before the films ever got made. That would've been amazing. I mean... maybe.

Interesting tidbit: Lazenby kind of played James Bond again, in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. made for tv movie in 1983. He shows up looking just like James Bond, but he is only referred to as "J.B." He also appeared in a similar role (this time referred to as "James") in an episode of the New Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled "Diamonds Aren't Forever." I haven't seen that one, but it sounds awesome.

Roger Moore

Live and Let Die
The Man With the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View to a Kill

While Roger Moore and Sean Connery have both technically played James Bone seven times, Moore gets the career win because Never Say Never Again doesn't really count as a part of the EON series of films. And it sucked. But it was still better than Moonraker. Or maybe not. Once the series gets that bad, it's hard to decide which of the films are the absolutle worst of the worst. But to be sure, many of Moore's films are on that list.

But still, Moore was a great James Bond. It's a true testament to his talents, and his charm, that he was able to keep the series alive and financially successful over the course of seven fairly mediocre films. While some of Moore's films are my very favorites (like Golden Gun, Octopussy, and For Your Eyes Only), they're all actually pretty mediocre when compared to films like Goldfinger or From Russia With Love.

And Moonraker, Live and Let Die, and (ugh) A View to a Kill are pretty bad.

Moore will always have a place in my heart, however, because he was James Bond when I was born. In fact, while A View to a Kill wasn't the first Bond film I saw, it was the first I saw in the theatre. And I loved it! The opening ski chase was off the hook, and the rest was just incredibly silly and cool and fun. But, rewatching it again as an adult, it sucks. It's just a terrible, terrible movie. Tanya Roberts is so bad, the plot about an evil microchip salesman was laughable, and Chris Walken hammed it up in his of his all-time worst performances (long before he turned hamming it up in bad movies into an art form). Oh, and the scene where James Bond actually had sex with Grace Jones was the absolute low point in the series.

But he was still a really good actor, incredibly handsome, funny, and a convincing physical presence. He was also the first Bond who was actually English. He was classy. I also think he was the best at being genuinely funny. I liked the guy. Connery's performance helped to create the character in the public conscious , but Moore's kept it alive and relevant for over ten years.

Timothy Dalton

The Living Daylights
License to Kill

Like George Lazenby before him, Dalton has the distinction of never appearing in a bad Bond film, though a lot of people will argue with that claim. But Lazenby got off lucky by being forgotten. Tim Dalton is almost universally hated.

But he's my personal favorite.

After Moore's almost cartoonish entries in the series, the powers that be decided to go darker with the character. That resulted in casting Tim Dalton, who brought an almost Shakespearan air to the character. In my opinion, he's probably the finest classically trained actor who's ever played the part. But most people found him a little too dark and maybe a little too dry. I will admit that he doesn't quite have the charm of, well, all of the other actors in the series, he was closer to the character in the books than we had yet seen. But people didn't want the character from the books. They wanted Sean Connery or Roger Moore.

Another thing a lot of people will tell you is that Dalton's films were bad, but I would disagree with that as well. The Living Daylights is one of the best spy thrillers of all time, even if it doesn't really feel entirely like a James Bond picture. And Licence to Kill is just an awesome action movie, with Robert Davi as one of the best Bond villians of all time.

Another reason why these two films failed to register all that much with the public is how the late 80s saw the appearance of a kinder, gentler James Bond. The character went darker, true, but he also became somewhat... monogamous. And where's the fun in that? However, even though most people think he was a failure as Bond, the Living Daylights was a massive hit, even though License to Kill wasn't quite as successful.

But if you want to watch a couple of well written, action-packed thrillers, you can't go wrong with Dalton's two entries in the series. But they maybe aren't as much "fun" as some of the others. But I love them.

Pierce Brosnan

Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough
Die Another Day

Who doesn't love Pierce Brosnan? He's a wonderful, talented, effortlessly charming actor. Riding high off of the success of the much loved detective series Remington Steele, Brosnan had more good will coming into the series than any other actor in history. It was generally accepted as fact that he was the perfect actor to play the part. And he would've been... if only his movies hadn't sucked so bad.

Well, maybe it's not fair to judge the Brosnan films against the earlier films, since by that time the Soviet Union had collapsed, long time producer Albert Broccoli had died, and the cold war had come to an end. How then to make relevant a character that, at his very essence, was a product of the 1960s? Well, had I been in charge, I would've made all of the Bond films period pieces that took place in the late 50s/early 60s. But I wasn't asked so they just completely changed the character, making him a product of the 90s.

And therein lies the problem. They just weren't making James Bond movies anymore. With each new actor, the series was that much different than the character that came before. By this point, we were so removed from the original character that he may as well have been a completely different character with a completely different name.

Anyway, I hate these movies. They're almost unwatchable, in my opinion. They are perfectly competent action movies, but they aren't James Bond movies. And Pierce Brosnan's charm and undeniable action talent did nothing to save them. He was better as Remington Steele.

Daniel Craig

Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace

After the era of Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig (and his first film Casino Royale), appeared as something of a revelation. The first Bond film that was actually based on one of Fleming's original novels in over 25 years, Royale was a reboot for the franchise that attempted to bring the character back to his roots. Gone are Q, the silly gadgets, and outlandish plots and dumb one liners.

And it worked to smashing success. It's one of the best films in the entire series, but not quite my favorite. Afterall, I like Q, the the silly gadgets, and some of the dumb one liners. With the Craig films, they managed to finally find a tone (and acting performance) that combined the dark realism of the Dalton films and the over the top action sequences of the Brosnan films.

So it was a great film. But how was Daniel Craig?

He was amazing! In just one film, he somehow managed to combine all of the best traits of every actor who came before him. To be honest, I was actually a fan of him even before he was announced as Bond, so when I heard he got the part, I knew this latest chapter in the series would be good.

Quantum of Solace -- Craig's second Bond film, and, so far, the last in the series -- was less successful than Casino Royale, but it was still an engaging film, if not really that much of a stand out in the overall series. However, Daniel Craig is a an excellent actor who made a smashing James Bond. He's not my favorite, but I hope he makes a few more movies and is able to warm up and grow into the role.


Charles said...

Nice write up. Glad you stick up for Lazenby and OHMSS. I've written a book on the Making of OHMSS which you might enjoy. <a href="></a>

Donald said...

Hell yeah, I'm interested. That sounds awesome. I'll have to pick up a copy.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

"His entire voice and inflection changed completely when he went undercover as a posh, British professor. But, years later, I learned that a different actor actually dubbed over his lines for that entire section of the film."

That blew my mind.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Oh yeah--and I just read your e-mail soliciting ideas, but I guess you came up with some on your own! I'm surprised, though, that you haven't done anything about the Bond girls. Top five maybe?

Donald said...

I thought about doing some kind of list of the Bond girls, if only to have an excuse to post pictures of pretty girls. But there are way too many of them and it would be way too much work.

I'll consider a top five maybe. If I can think of five favorites.

Donald said...

So I was just doing some research on the whole Bong Girls thing, and I came across a website that pointed out how Vesper Lynn's name is a pun on West Berlin. I never got that. Am I dumb or was that just the most subtle joke ever?

Donald said...

Lynd, rather.

Justin Garrett Blum said...

ha! No, I had no idea. Maybe I'm dumb, too.