This isn’t a singular film review, it’s a little statement about revisiting a handful of these old movies that I thought were such serious hard-core, man entertainment of the age. A kind of pile of those old men’s action magazines brought to film life. I spent a portion of my summer vacation revisiting From Russia With Love, Dr. No, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Man With the Golden Gun, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only. The earliest of these films have been part of my childhood, having been brought to the run-down cinema with the old man, in Cranston, RI, an old cinema that later used to run Bruce Lee films.
Of course, these old films are a formula, and I was amused with what it was I hadn’t noticed as a kid watching them. Firstly, we’re often treated to Bond in a bath or shower scene. The bathtub sequences are particularly amusing. Watching Connery lounge in a clawfoot tub while flipping through a magazine is delightfully hilarious, and when we’re also being shown (in Diamonds Are Forever) a pair of dangerous killer homosexuals (One played by Crispin Glover’s dad!) it does beg the question whom such sexuality is aimed at? Watching these films side by side, brings forth the repetitive agents of action storytelling, we get spiders and snakes dropped off in bath or bed sequences, we get Bond using hairspray as a flame thrower a couple of times. We get multiple sequences of searching rooms for bugs, like it’s an instructional. We get lots of skiing in multiple films. Along with lovely ladies being fed to fish, or dogs. And while those awful things happen while the ladies work for evil powerful men, we also have to witness Bond smacking the shit out of a few ladies without much call for it.
Then there’s the basic racism, or more exoticism I guess you’d say. Bond is meant to travel to far off lands and experience otherworldly cultures and customs. Dr. No is not a Chinese man. In Japan he’s shown a ninja training camp (without a lot of understanding of the point of ninjas), he’s then required to marry a Japanese woman, and the joke here is that they’re meant to be ugly as it’s just a business arrangement, but of course it being a bond film he gets coupled with a cutie, who almost immediately gets killed off. There’s a lengthy “gypsy” sequence in From Russian With Love that involves what later films might call a “cat fight” in which too lovelies go through a Star Trek style fight scene with their skirts tied up and panties showing. And while women often get treated in that haughty chauvinistic manner, there are exceptions to the grossness of the rule. In the MWTGG Bond is rescued by a team of martial arts sisters who take on a whole school of martial arts thugs. In the Lazenby bond from ’69 they had Diana Rigg and she didn’t portray a helpless beauty any more than Honor Blackman did as Pussy Galore (despite that hilariously ridiculous name). Pussy is a flier, and teaches lady fliers. She also can fight just like Bond. Also, Lazenby portrays a Bond with bigger feelings. He wars a bit with M (actually attempts to resign) and gives Moneypenny a bit more sweetness, and even rather loses his mind in the very downer ending. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is also fun for Joanna Lumley playing one of the Blofeld cuties at the mountaintop clinic (although she falls for the homosexual act, and doesn’t end up with the lovers). She gets one clear line. But it’s fun to see her as her Patsy character plays up her old Bond Girl background really well in Absolutely Fabulous.
Another cliche is the finale with Bond in a raft or boat or some other equal with the sweetheart lady of the film. In Dr. No he doesn’t even hold onto the tow rope as he’s got Ursula. In Thunderball however he immediately rigs up a rescue harness captured by an aircraft, presumably because he’s stuck with that bore Domino (just joking, I have no idea). Also in the finales, one of the henchmen ends up left to terrorize in a jump-scare fight sequence. We all remember the examples, in LandLD we get the Claw guy, in Golden Gun we get Nicknack with a knife, ignominiously captured in a suitcase. By the time you see Jaws (played by the great Richard Kiel) chewing up a shark–and that’s a great gag–you know he’s going to pop up later and require a special solution (in fact, in at least two of the films).
The main thing that I had not really noticed at all as a youngster watching these things was how much Bond survived by pure luck. He isn’t necessarily as skillful or prepared as he is purely lucky. Savalas as Blofeld just flat out misses him with firearms in a couple of sequences. He had the drop both times. He manages to con a sweetie to rescue him multiple times, and usually that sweetie winds up paying for it with her life which frankly gets tiresome. When he’s given the Austin with the smoke, oil, bulletproof screen, and ejection seat, he runs right through all the cool defenses in one sequence. It’s interesting as if you or I were Bond we’d be thinking: “well, maybe I should save this for when I really need it.” And then likely agonize about that right moment. But I suppose when you’re delivered anything you need any time you need it, you just burn through it. I’ve never been in that sort of situation so I can’t say. Bond also just survives some ridiculous situations. Poison, thumping to the head, plane crashes . . . I guess the old adage about preferring luck over skill is a solid one for Bond films.
So it turns out, Bond films are kitsch. They’ve always been ridiculous and silly damned kitsch it just took me too long to understand that. And as such, are tremendously enjoyable kitsch, if flawed in some aging manners that reflect the men’s fantasies of the era. Not least of which is being a damned careless killer! Come come Mr. Bond you get as much fulfillment out of killing as I do!” _ Scaramanga
Lastly, I wanted to say that Archer did a great spoof (overall Bond spoofing goes on) of the For Your Eyes Only Bond installment. Replete with the underaged girl throwing herself at Archer inexplicably. It’s hilarious.