I’m Sorry, I Didn’t Catch Your Name…

Monday, August 29th, 2005, 9:11 pm

Bond. James Bond. For the last few weeks American Movie Classics has broadcast all of the Bond movies, though I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Pierce Brosnan entries. Connery to Lazenby to Connery to Moore to…Connery, to Moore, and then to Dalton. Brosnan revealed last week that Her Majesty’s Secret Service (or the Bond producers) no longer required his services, meaning every dark-haired actor in the UK will be practicing the four-steps-turn-and-fire move from the opening credits and trying to remember that the vodka martini is shaken, not stirred.

Right now I’m watching The Living Daylights, which is one of my three favorite Bond movies. I can’t say for sure which are my other 2 favorites. Well, one is easy–From Russia With Love, which would probably get my vote as the best of them all. So I have two at the top figured out. I haven’t seen the Brosnan movies enough times to accurately rate them, but the one with Halle Berry was pretty mediocre (her orange bikini notwithstanding). I liked GoldenEye, ludicrous as it got at the end, liked The World Is Not Enough, liked Judi Dench taking over as M. Talk about a tough boss. And I’d watch Michelle Yeoh eat a bowl of Rice Krispies if someone put it on film.

Anyway. It is pretty much accepted that Sean Connery WAS James Bond, and that Roger Moore was something of an abomination. And there’s something to that. Connery was suave, and debonair, but at times that’s ALL Moore was. Connery could tell you in detail why the brandy you were drinking was indifferent, but he could also put you down with a kidney punch then push you off a bridge. Especially in Moore’s later films, you had a hard time believing that the guy in the dinner jacket was capable of beating the crap out of someone. Which is a pity, because two of Moore’s films, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only, are films that sometimes appear in my top three. Especially the former, which introduced us to Jaws and his powder-blue size 86 double-breasted suit (if that suit didn’t win the costume design an Oscar it’s a travesty). It’s a tough call, who gave the better overall performance–Richard Kiel or Andre the Giant in The Princess Bride? I gotta go with Fezzik here.

The Spy Who Loved Me also starred the ludicrously beautiful Barbara Bach, who will always hold a special place in my heart because she’s the first woman I ever saw naked. Not in person, jackass–the movie Force Ten From Navarone was on, Ms. Bach was bathing, she stood up, and…well, I think my dad was too surprised himself to flip the channel. I was like eight years old. I still have a grudge against Ringo Starr. You don’t often hear about people who get to sell their soul to the Devil twice.

Force Ten From Navarone also starred Robert Shaw, who played the assassin in From Russia With Love, and gave us one of the greatest scenes in the Bondian oeuvre, when they’re on the train and Shaw has Connery kneeling on the floor, hands stuffed in his trouser pockets, and a silenced pistol pointed at his chest. The fight that follows is one that Moore could not have duplicated–and we know this because Moore had to fight in train compartments twice, duking it out with Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and with the guy with the artificial arm in Live and Let Die. Though I’ll concede it’s hard to have a fast-moving, flowing fight scene with a guy who’s 7-3 and you’re in a room that measures 8-by-6.

Live and Let Die is near the bottom of my list of Bond movies, though I’d have to say the worst of them all was A View to a Kill. Hey, I love Christopher Walken too, and there isn’t a piece of scenery in the whole movie without his teeth marks on it. But what makes the film truly wretched are the leading ladies. You put Grace Jones in the same movie as Walken, you’re just asking for it. But the scene where Jones opens the door to her bedroom, and the sixtyish Moore is waiting in bed for her…there isn’t a moment in The Shining as scary as that.

But that was just one moment of horror. Watching Tanya Roberts trying to “act” was like getting your fingernails removed, one by one by one. You watch her, and she’s a good-looking female, and the whole time you’re watching you’re thinking, “there’s no way English is her first language. Maybe her dialogue was dubbed…”. I think she played some kind of geological engineer…are you fucking kidding me? Though Roberts wasn’t the first Bond girl with a ludicrous resume. Denise Richards, who gives Roberts a run for her money on the low-wattage scale, played a nuclear physicist who couldn’t pronounce “nuclear”. Somewhat lost in the dimbulb shuffle is Lois Chiles of Moonraker, who is an astronaut/scientist/CIA agent who is so like a mannequin you half expect to see Woody Woodpecker appear, land on her shoulder, and start pecking away.

Compare Roberts, Richards, and Chiles to another Bond girl, Diana Rigg. Though it’s a bit odd calling one of the most accomplished stage actresses of her generation a “girl”. Rigg played opposite George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is a film some fans try to pretend was never made. Which is a pity, because it’s pretty good. The fight scenes are a bit bizarre–when Lazneby throws a punch he starts his fist around his ankles and finishes somewhere above the ceiling. Telly Savalas makes a good Blofeld, there’s a good ski chase, and a pretty good chase with Rigg doing the driving while 007. It’s also the only Bond film that doesn’t have a happy ending–no need to spoil it more than that.

Not that The Living Daylights doesn’t have a happy ending (did I mentione that I was gaga over Maryam D’Abo when I saw the flick in college?), but a big part of the film takes place in Afghanistan, with the help of a roving band of mujahadeen, and these days you can’t help but wonder how many of those guys are fighting our soldiers right now. The good guys become bad guys, and vice versa.

Which goes a way toward explaining why some of Moore’s films suffer when compared to Connery’s. In his films Connery battled SPECTRE, a plausibly evil organization with the resources to try to take over the world over and over again. Wheras Moore had to battle a seemingly endless collection of megalomaniacal businessmen trying to nuke and/or poison the planet. Dalton got to battle the Russians (in a manner of speaking) in The Living Daylights…man, it’s a pity he only made 2 movies, as the producers I guess waited for Pierce Brosnan to loosen up in the bullpen. It’s hard to argue that Dalton was the best Bond–he simply doesn’t have enough time wearing the Walthier PPK to merit the title–but after Moore’s cheekiness it was more than refreshing to have a Bond who was, well, a “professional”. Dalton’s Bond doesn’t quip like Moore, he’s much more human, he gets angry, he gets impatient–and he gets knocked down by a woman wielding a pillow.

Joe Don Baker plays a bad guy in The Living Daylights, but just 2 flicks later he plays Bond’s CIA contact. Charles Grey got knifed in the back in You Only Live Twice, but was reincarnated as Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever. And the ridiculously gorgeous Maud Adams tragically got herself killed in The Man With the Golden Gun before, blessedly, coming back as the epynomous Octopussy. I’m trying to think of other cast recycling, there must be others…

Well, how about Never Say Never Again, which was Thunderball recycled twenty years later. I don’t know what legal twists and turns took the rights away from the Broccoli family and allowed this one film to be made outside their control, but it’s a bizarre addition to the collection. On the face of it, this looks like it’d be an all-time train wreck. And as it’s nearly a scene-by-scene remake of Thunderball–even the names stay the same, the villain’s named Largo, the heroine Domino–you might be excused from asking why everyone in the country didn’t just chip in a buck and have it shipped to Connery’s house. And its disorienting watching a Bond films without those famous opening credits, without the Bond theme, and without the usual cast of supporting characters (no Moneypenny, no Q, and M is played as an upper-class-twit by the capable-of-more Edward Fox).

But there are some redeeming qualities. First of all, Connery plays Bond as an Agent-In-Winter–he’s mostly been teaching, he says, before he gets shipped off to the spa. Though he’s still capable of mixing it up–in the opening scene he swings down into a room, grabs a guy, and executes a head-butt the Junkyard Dog would’ve been proud of. Brandauer is a worthy villain, totally bonkers and such a ham he might’ve been garnished with pinapple rings. Kim Basinger is Kim Basinger–the scenes where she’s dancing are unintentionally hilarious, the scenes where she’s standing still make you believe in Intelligent Design. Barbara Carrera makes Christopher Walken look like Chris O’Donnell. And the film has perhaps the most disgusting onscreen kiss in history–after Brandauer reveals himself to be a homicidal wacko who killed her brother, he grabs Basinger and kisses her. She finally pushes herself away, and there’s this (literally) foot-long rope of saliva still connecting their lips. The director was either: 1. short of funds and couldn’t edit; 2. some sort of genius who know this at least would make folks remember the movie, or; 3. a complete sicko.

There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. Let me illustrate. In Goldfinger there’s a gorgeous female character named “Pussy Galore”. In Moonraker there’s a gorgeous female character named “Holly Goodhead”. Now, in both cases, you gotta be shittin’ me. Look, my name is “Eugene”, and that alone has caused me some pretty serious psycholgical trauma. How the hell could you get through life with a name like “Pussy Galore”?

Ah, but therein lies the genius. When we meet Ms. Galore, James Bond is just coming around after getting shot with a tranquilizer dart. He’s groggy, his eyes are coming into focus, and he sees this cool blonde looking down at him. He asks who she is. “My name is Pussy Galore,” she says, her voice all business. Now, remember–the last time Bond woke up from unconciousness, he was tied down spread-eagled while a laser threatened to bifurcate his frank. He comes to now and there’s this woman who says her name is Pussy Galore. Connery then says what I think is my favorite Bond line–his head lolls to the side, gives a lopsided smile, and says, “I must be dreaming”.

This is how we introduce the ludicrous and make it plausible. The audience is in on the joke–even James Bond doesn’t run into girls named Pussy Galore. But that’s her name, and she doesn’t look like she’d take kindly to any wisecracks about it. Contrast this to the scene when Roger Moore meets Holly Goodhead, he’s looking for the doctor who’s in charge and, upon meeting her, he’s inexplicably surprised that she’s female and says, with eyebrow raised, “A woman…”. Uh, the fact that she’s a woman isn’t the surprising part, Jimbo. It’s surprising that she’s a gorgeous woman named friggin’ “Goodhead”. And that she’s a scientist while apparently having an IQ of about 83.

OK, that’s enough for now. I realize now that I haven’t even talked about, well, 75% of the Bond films, maybe another time. Just felt like typing, and instead of doing the work I should be doing I wrote this nonsense.

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2 Responses to “I’m Sorry, I Didn’t Catch Your Name…”

  1. DuggleBogey Says:

    Two things:

    Fezzik may have given the better performance, but Kiel also appeared in the immortal classic: Happy Gilmore.

    And:

    Did you ever watch “That 70s Show?” There was a scene where Tanya Roberts character got remarried, and all of her bridesmaids were former Bond girls. They didn’t mention it in any way. It was just a wonderful inside joke for Bond fans.

  2. Rolo Says:

    Your blog is great. It’s hard to find blogs with good content and people talking about Halle Berry these days. I have a Halle Berry Exposed if you want to come check it out.

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