Shaken But Still Stirring: An Overview of Bond and a Review of Skyfall

“I shall not waste my days by trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
–From James Bond’s Obituary

Let me use my time to discuss the new Bond movie, Skyfall. I had promised Roy, Keeper of the Flame and this web site that I would write about James Bond in the comics (strips and books) and end with a review of Skyfall. That was before the storm known as Sandy knocked out my power, heat, phone and internet service for over two weeks. So let me concentrate on James Bond of the movies, with a new review on Skyfall and a promise to write about the comics of Bond in the very near future.

I saw Skyfall as an Imax, 4G video and a regular movie. (My house was blacked out, remember.) I’ll tell you about the differences in a moment.

I have been a fan of Ian Fleming and James Bond since November 1963. My friend Stuart Ratner loaned me the book Casino Royale, the first James Bond book Ian Fleming wrote. I was hooked. Before I saw my first Bond movie, Goldfinger, I had read all the books then in paperback that had been published. Published by Signet and they cost 50 cents each at the time. I had to save up money, $4.50, to buy the hardcover You Only Live Twice when it was released in April of 1964. The Man with the Golden Gun was published, posthumously, a year later. The first hardcover edition of Octopussy (1966) contained that short story and The Living Daylights The next edition added The Property of a Lady, and the final edition reprinted an interesting story from Fleming’s Thrilling Cities, 007 in New York.

I loved the movies, their stories, their music and most important, their Bond: Sean Connery. Connery was great, sophisticated, funny and tough, a great actor and a wonderful personality. But he did not play the James Bond of the books. That Bond was far less attractive, not so much sophisticated but a snob. The book Bond looked forward to retirement, wondered how many missions he had left and what his pension would be. If he had a sense of humor, it was a hard to find. Bond, and Fleming, was also a bit racist. About black people Bond would say that they all believed in Voodoo, but he wasn’t really kind to people born outside the United Kingdom (and even some parts of it.) The books were fun and compelling and with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, rather haunting.

Daniel Craig hits the bullseye of James Bond of the books, he is right on. I dismiss people who feel that an actor has to look just as they imagine the character; I feel that a good actor, like Craig, can convince you that he is Bond. Craig, shorter, thinner and less powerful than Connery gives Bond the vulnerability the character needs to show depth. Before Craig, Timothy Dalton gave some of these qualities to the character and I really enjoyed his interpretation. Sadly, due to many factors including troubled finances and a uncommon very violent plot to License to Kill, Dalton left the role. Let me mention something about that. Albert Broccoli, the Bond producer wrote in his autobiography, that after A View to a Kill he asked Roger Moore to announce that he was quitting the role. Moore had grown a bit too old and heavy to continue, but Broccoli did not want to embarrass him, so he asked Moore to resign. Roger Moore in his autobiography denies this, by the way. So I don’t know if Dalton left voluntarily or was asked to resign.

I feel that both George Lazenby and Pierce Bronson were cast to replace Sean Connery and play him, not James Bond. Bronson did a good job at that, even though his movies were very formula. George Lazenby committed professional suicide and cost the franchise millions of dollars by resigning. If you read the book, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you’d know that James Bond gets married. Then, in the next and final chapter, Tracy, his bride is killed by Blofeld. A great end for the book, but downer endings kill movies.

The producers set it up for OHMSS to end with their wedding and for the NEXT movie to open with Tracy’s death. By announcing he would not do a second movie, they had to tack on the sad ending. The movie did 25% less business than You Only Live Twice its predecessor. Lazenby wouldn’t promote the movie and talked badly against it. Of course, it ruined his career. OHMSS is a hard movie to evaluate. It was one of the best written and filmed, had the best Bond girl, Diana Rigg, a great actor as a villain, Telly Savalas, and a wonderful character actor, Gabriele Ferzetti playing a kind and friendly gangster who killed people. Yet Lazenby, who certainly looked the part of a Connery replacement, was not yet an actor. He was not convincing in many scenes, but showed potential in others. The film begins with a major flaw. Bond and Blofeld meet in You Only Live Twice, yet the two appear as strangers here. That doesn’t make sense in a movie that deliberately references every other Bond film.

The campy humor that was to dominate, at times, the entire Roger Moore run, really began in Connery’s last movie, Diamonds are Forever. Moore saw the character as more of a comic book hero than I did and played it that way. My favorite Moore movie was For Your Eyes Only, where he played it straight and showed what a good actor he was. This was Moore’s least favorite movie, by the way. Yet the Moore years, and it lightheartedness, got the franchise through an era that saw great changes in racial attitudes, woman’s roles and the collapse of the cold war. Maybe no one could have done it better.

  • Did you know? When Piece Bronson could not take the role of Bond because of his contract with NBC, Lazenby called up the producers and asked for the job?
  • Did you know? At the 50th anniversary of the Bond movies, Lazenby showed up and behaved. The producer, Barbara Broccoli, daughter of the original producer, said, “Congratulations George, you’ve grown up.”
  • Did you know? Although EON productions produced the 23 Bond movies we know, they did NOT produce Never Say Never Again…but they got a share of the profits. And now they own the movie.
  • Did You Know? Ian Fleming, in 1954, sold his rights to Casino Royale and Moonraker to CBS in hopes of making it a TV series. After CBS aired an Americanized “Jimmy” Bond and decided to go no further, Fleming bought the Moonraker rights back but not Casino Royale. He thought it was too violent and sadistic to be made into a movie.
  • Did you know? The rights battle continued until the early 2000s when Sony “traded” their rights to Casino Royale to MGM and EON for the rights to another movie. The movie rights MGM traded away? Spider-Man!!!! They both did OK!

It is difficult to briefly tell the story of Thunderball and Never Say Never Again, but let me try. Fleming failed to sell the Bond books to the movies and then hired Kevin McClory and Jack Whittenham, in 1959, to help write a screenplay which eventually became Thunderball. They were fearful that the Cold War would soon be over, so they gave Bond another villain: No, not SPECTRE but the Mafia! When the union broke up without results, Fleming took the screenplay and wrote the movel Thunderball and published under his own name.

McClory sued and his name and Whittingham’s were added to the book. When the movie was produced McClory, claimed ownership to Thunderball and threatened to do a competing movie, so EON made him the producer of this film. Contractually, he also would be allowed, ten years later, to make his own film, which he did. NSNA was released a little after Octopussy, but Octopussy did better at the box office.

Sony bought McClory’s rights and the rights to the 1968 Casino Royale and contended that they had the right to make their own series of Bond movies. MGM sued and won but reached an agreement with Sony. Note that since Casino Royale, Columbia Pictures, owned by Sony has been a partner in production and distribution.
(220 words. Not bad)

Let me break down the Bond movies by my ratings and see if you agree:

4 Stars:
Doctor No (Although if released today it is a 3 star movie)
From Russia with Love
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Worst James Bond, Best Bond Girl, great story and follows the book)
Casino Royale (Craig)

3.5 stars:
For Your Eyes Only
Die Another Day (A four star first hour followed by formula.)

3 stars:
You Only Live Twice
Diamonds are Forever (This is the movie that started the campy humor that grew under Moore’s era.)
The Spy Who Loved Me
The Living Daylights
License to Kill
Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough

2 stars:
Live and Let Die
Quantum of Solace
Never Say Never Again

1 star
A View to a Kill
The Man with the Golden Gun
Casino Royale (1968)

Skyfall in Imax has an incredible picture and soundtrack. The colors were brilliant, the details were incredible and the surround sound was all encasing. I held onto my chair when some aerial shots were shown and there was a fight scene in a skyscraper that was unbelievable. This was a wow!

It was then a disappointed to see the faded, less detailed and less surround 4G video of the movie and I fear this is the wave of the future. The movie was great, but the picture was never as colorful.

The regular film version of the movie was certainly not as good as the giant Imax picture, but was noticeably better than the 4G (I saw this and the 4G at the same multiplex). The Imax was certainly worth the extra few bucks.

Skyfall was a great James Bond. There is simply no formula here, no silly jokes, no overly sophisticated, invulnerable superman, they are really starting from scratch. Oh there is an occasional reference to something we all remember, but, with one exception, those are really not part of the movie.

Although you might think that by now the movies have nothing to do with the books, it is not so here. The movie beginning borrowing from the movie You Only Live Twice and continues by borrowing from the book, complete with M’s obituary of Bond. The middle very much represents the book of The Man with the Golden Gun, were a “broken” Bond goes after a killer.

The best part of this movie is the cast. Not just Craig as Bond, but Judy Dench, has her biggest role since “The World Is Not Enough. The highlight however is Javier Bardem as Silva. He is a totally believable, sadistic killer who gives life and a counterpoint to the movie. His goal is down to Earth, no taking over the planet, and it is actually up to you to decide whether he succeeds or not.

Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney have smaller roles, but are just perfect.

There is one ironic scene that I don’t think is a spoiler if I mention it, but gloss over this if you’d like. When Dench first appeared as M, she says to Bond, played by Pierce Brosnan,

M: You think I’m an accountant, a bean counter. More interested in my numbers than your instincts.
Bond: The thought had occurred to me.
M: Good, because I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War, whose boyish charms, though wasted on me, obviously appealed to that young woman I sent out to evaluate you.

Now, 17 years and seven movies later, M must explain to the British government why MI6 is NOT a relic of the Cold War and is still needed. And she gives a wonderful, direct speech.

Ok, Spoiler Alert!!!!!

You know, this may be considered the first Bond movie where the villain gets his way at the end. It is also the first Bond movie where the villain doesn’t die in hand to hand combat.

This is the broken James Bond that we say after his wife’s death in You Only Live Twice. Still broken M sends him after an assassin in The Man with the Golden Gun and that vulnerable is not what we have seen with Sean Connery or Pierce Bronson.

Bond’s relationship with M is complex and is the thread of the entire movie. But M is also the thread to the villain, Javier Bardem, and for the first time in a Bond movie I had some creepy understanding of his actions and what he wanted to achieve. Because he seemed real and did not have some abstract goal, but a concrete aim to kill and embarrass M, he was far more frightening.

For me the single best scene in the movie is when a tied up James Bond is approached by Silva. Bardem walks the length of a room, with no cuts, no special effects and just talks. We get to know the character very well and he just sends shivers up your spine. This was two great actors, but I never thought for a second they were acting. I felt I was eavesdropping (and might get caught).

The movie heavily references the obituary, written by M, in You Only Live twice. It references Bonds’ Scottish father (and perhaps Sean Connery) and his mother. It also displays the Bond coat of arms with the saying Orbis Non Sufficit,( The World is Not Enough) first mentioned in OHMSS. Until now, Bond has had no real backstory on screen. For the first time, a Bond movie gives us concrete details of his past when we discover that Skyfall is here he grew up.

The movie moves so quickly and so steadily that you don’t have time to ask the questions of things that don’t make sense:

  1. How did he survive the fall at the beginning?
  2. Why did he allow the man to be shot at the penthouse?
  3. This is not the Aston Martin of Goldfinger, how did it get guns and the other things? (That’s the one part I mentioned earlier)
  4. How come M, head of security has no security guarding her home?
  5. How come British parliament had virtually no security and the bad guys were able to enter so quickly?
  6. How did Silva arrange to tap MI6’s computers when he was out of the loop for over a decade?
  7. How did Silva arrange perfect drop off times, to the second, after his escape to get his clothes weapons etc?
  8. Why was Albert Finney at Skyfall at that exact moment? It was an empty building, needing no overseeing?

Dr. No Classics Illustrated

5 thoughts on “Shaken But Still Stirring: An Overview of Bond and a Review of Skyfall”

  1. Welcome back, Barry! I’m glad you and our other members who were affected by Sandy are starting to get back to normal, or at least a step closer to back to normal.

    I agree with the top part of your list, mostly. I didn’t like Die Another Day and would move that down, and I liked License to Kill more and would rate that higher. And as we’ve discussed, I like some of Moore’s Bonds more than you–I liked A View to a Kill more than 1 star and would move it up to the 3 star category, and I also like Live and Let Die which I know you don’t like (you disliked it so much it’s not even on your list!). There are also some Bonds I like for specific reasons even though they’re not generally great films. The Man with the Golden Gun fits into this category: where else can you see Saruman paired with Tattoo?

    Regarding the greater sophistication of the movie Bond versus the Fleming Bond, that seems to be Cary Grant’s indirect contribution to the genre via North by Northwest, which almost landed him the Bond role before Connery was selected as a substitute.

  2. Roy, leaving Live and Let Die out was an error, could you put that under 2 stars?

    While I agree with North by Northwest was a great inspiration for the film, I really believe the sophistication of Bond came from the director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love, Terence Young. He wanted the character that way. In fact, he had Connery get a very expensive suit and sleep in it to show that good suits don’t wrinkle.

    From A View To A Kill is, by many, concerned to be one of the worst. I disliked it on many grounds, but mostly because they copied many scenes from Goldfinger.

    Actually, I don’t think Cary Grant was ever really, seriously thought of for the role, although rumors persists. You see, Dr. No was a cheap motion picture and he would be too expensive. Grant was also 60 years old at the time and they wanted sequels. And someone who could get into fist fights.

  3. I updated it to put Live and Let Die in the 2-star category.

    Grant’s consideration for Bond is mentioned in multiple sources, including the “Inside Dr. No” documentary that is included with the 2006 DVD. According to that, Broccoli and Saltzman did seriously consider Grant, and the reason he did not get the role is because he was only willing to commit to a one-picture deal and the producers wanted a long-term franchise actor.

    I liked A View to a Kill because of the Duran Duran title sequence, Christopher Walken’s performance, and the humor, among other things, but mostly because I saw it with my best friend from high school.

    One other thing I meant to mention, I think the campy humor goes back earlier than Diamonds are Forever to Fleming’s proclivity for puns, which was incorporated into the Connery films very early. There’s a chapter of the Lie and Let Die novel titled “‘He Disagreed with Something That Ate Him'”. In Goldfinger after Felix Leiter asks what happened to Oddjob, Bond says, “He blew a fuse.”

  4. Good article. Thoroughly enjoyed it. I am in pretty-much agreement with your star ratings of the Bond films.

    For whatever reason (maybe I have no taste), I actually liked Timothy Dalton as Bond.

    And yes, I liked SkyFall. You had a list of 8 things that didn’t make sense. During the film those things caught my notice, but as you said, the movie moves fast, and ticket prices/popcorn being rather hihg, I didn’t want to waste precious movie-moments trying to question….I just rode along. I am with you, I’ll give it 4 stars.

    1. I liked Dalton’s Bond, too. I didn’t think he got the greatest scripts to work with, but I thought he had the character right. I felt similarly about Brosnan.

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