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The best and the worst of Bond, James Bond

by Matthew Price Published: November 12, 2012

Agent 007 has had his ups and downs on the big screen.

In conjunction with the “Skyfall” film opening, The Oklahoman’s entertainment writers looked at the best and worst James Bond films in the franchise’s 50-year history.  This article ran in the Friday editions of The Oklahoman.  James Bond, the special agent of the British spy agency MI6, has a license to kill and has been played by the actors Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig in the now 23 official Bond movies.

Staff Writers

In its first 10 days of overseas release, before it had a chance to rake in a single U.S. dollar, “Skyfall” executed a massive foreign currency haul, raking in the equivalent of $287 million. Considering the previous James Bond film, “Quantum of Solace,” took a full month to reach its final international tally of $417 million, “Skyfall” is on track to become the most successful 007 entry in the series’ 50-year history.

To fully appreciate this 23rd official Bond film (don’t count the ridiculously spoofy 1967 version of “Casino Royale” or the misguided 1983 “Thunderball” remake, “Never Say Never Again”), we each selected our best and worst entries in the series, from 1962′s “Dr. No” through 2008′s “Solace.”

George Lang‘s picks

Best: “Goldfinger” (1964)

No other entry in the series established expectations of James Bond-ness quite like director Guy Hamilton’s “Goldfinger,” from the cracking script full of iconic lines (“No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die!”) to the bizarre death of Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) from “skin suffocation,” or being painted with gold from head to toe. Gert Frobe’s Auric Goldfinger never developed the cultural cache of the cat-stroking Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but his menacing tone and unforgettable death by cabin pressure makes him a hall of famer. Connery consolidated his cool in “Goldfinger,” and while ridiculously named Bond girls are an expected trope, this film scored an early high/low point with Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore.

Worst: “Moonraker” (1979)

Just barely based on an actual Ian Fleming novel, “Moonraker” is a monument to “me too!” contrivance in which the series went sci-fi to cash in on “Star Wars” and brought back Jaws (Richard Kiel) from “The Spy Who Loved Me” because of, well, “Jaws.” All of this made “Moonraker” the most commercially successful Bond film until 1995′s “GoldenEye,” but the “007 in space” idea was a little too bonkers even for ’70s-era Bond. Roger Moore was deep into self-parody by “Moonraker,” proving that he did not have to be in orbit to achieve zero gravity.

Matthew Price’s picks:

Best: “Casino Royale” (2006)

While Bond could never have existed without Connery’s darkly suave portrayal, Daniel Craig proved a bulldog of a special agent in “Casino Royale,” an adaptation of the first 007 novel by Ian Fleming. After the more gadgety Pierce Brosnan era, Craig’s James Bond brings the series closer to Fleming’s original character while at the same time updating him for a post-Cold War society.

Worst: “A View to A Kill” (1985)

Duran Duran’s theme song is about the best thing this miscast and mishandled 14th film in the Bond series has going for it. The aging Roger Moore doesn’t have much chemistry with either the villainous Grace Jones or the unconvincing Tanya Roberts. Christopher Walken’s oddball performance as a computer magnate trying to destroy California helps a bit, but overall this film feels more like an extended “Saturday Night Live” parody of James Bond than the real thing.

Brandy McDonnell’s picks:

Best: “From Russia with Love” (1963)

James Bond is at his super-spy best in the second film in the long-running franchise, which all too often strays from its espionage roots. With the villainous terrorist cell SPECTRE simultaneously seeking a Soviet decoding machine and revenge against Bond for disposing of their agent Dr. No, 007 (the incomparable Sean Connery) is drawn into a twisty Cold War plot involving naïve but comely Russian clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), tough and crafty rival agent Red Grant (Robert Shaw) and lethal assassin Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), who gets her kicks courtesy a poisoned dagger in her boot. The film marks the debut of composer John Barry’s peerless score, solidifies Connery’s status as the best of the Bonds (only Daniel Craig can even compete) and taught me to always choose white wine with fish.

Worst: “Die Another Day” (2002)

Pierce Brosnan’s last outing as Bond starts with such promise, as the MI6 agent is betrayed, captured and tortured in a North Korean prison. Released more than a year later as part of an exchange, Bond sets out to uncover who betrayed him.

Unfortunately, the ridiculously gadget-happy mission leads our hero to an ice palace, an invisible car and a deadly … solar satellite. Not even Halle Berry’s co-starring turn as a skilled NSA agent who can flat rock an Ursula Andress bikini homage could distract from the hinky plot, mind-numbing explosions and overused CGI. “Die Another Day” was so over-the-top that even Roger Moore, who played the first Bond in space, thought it went too far.

Of course, even bad films have their place in the James Bond universe, with the excesses of “Die Another Day” leading to a reboot of the series with the stunning Daniel Craig 007 debut in 2006′s “Casino Royale.”

Gene Triplett‘s picks:

Best: “Goldfinger” (1964)

After two excellent efforts at creating and building upon a screen version of Ian Fleming’s superspy, — “Dr. No” (1962), and “From Russia With Love” (1963, the last movie President John F. Kennedy, a Bond fan, ever saw!) — they finally got it all right, cinematically speaking, with “Goldfinger.” The third installment in the “official” series perfected the big-screen formular of gadgets (the tricky Aston-Martin DB5), great score (by John Barry, theme sung by Shirley Bassey), gorgeous “Bond Girls” (Honor Blackman and Shirley Eaton) gripping action sequences (Bond’s death match with Oddjob), and global menace(Gert Frobe in the title role, the quintessential Bond nemesis. This was the first epic Bond and one of the very best thrillers of the ’60s .

Worst: “A View to a Kill” (1985)

If we were venturing outside the official Eon Productions-owned Bond franchise, an easy target would be the 1954 Americanized live TV version of “Casino Royale” starring San Francisco native Barry Nelson as “Jimmy” Bond and a very sweaty Peter Lorre as the villainous Le Chiffre. It was a one-off episode of the CBS anthology series “Climax!,” and it was laughably clumsy and cheaply produced even for those formative years of the medium.

Still, it’s more fun to watch than most of the Roger Moore vehicles, particularly his off-key swan song, “A View to a Kill.” Moore — the other “Blond Bond” before Daniel Craig — lacked the dark and dangerous personna of a Sean Connery, a Timothy Dalton or Craig, and his constant spouting of bad puns was singularly unfunny.

But now he was becoming a caricature of himself and looking very long in the tooth to boot. Recording artist Grace Jones displayed an irritating lack of talent for playing an evil henchwoman, and while Christopher Walken was sometimes a hoot to behold as an over-the-top master criminal bent on destroying Silicon Valley, the film was badly weakened by its fading star. Even Moore was appalled at the film’s excessive violence and that fact that he was, in his own words, “about 400 years too old for the part” by that time.

by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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