Tom Pheby is both shaken and stirred.
If the media, critics and film industry are to be believed, 2015 is going to be a bumper year at your local multiplex. This could of course just be a ruse or a ploy to get bums back on cinema seats (which we know are as comfortable as having your genitals rubbed with a wire brush or plunging your head in a bucket of gravel - don't ask me how I know this!), but from the look of the movies on offer it's hard to argue against the statement.
Included in the mix is SPECTRE, the new Bond film, which has suffered a much publicised script leak, and, if we believe the negative chatter in the press, has raised concerns over its weak ending amongst some of the Hollywood executive fat cats. Daniel Craig returns once again as the gritty, testosterone fueled spy, who is currently making the most of various vistas around the globe as filming continues and the rewrites supposedly gather pace.
As the publicity machine ramps up and Bond is back in the papers once again, thoughts turn to the previous installments and the actors who have played 007. I find myself thinking "Who was the best Bond?" and "Which was the best Bond movie?". This sort of mindless nonsense suits the portion of my brain that normally troubles itself with nothing more taxing than "what to have for lunch?", or the slightly more difficult "what am I going to watch tonight?" So to have some Bond to reflect upon is a welcome distraction from the more mundane.
So who is my favourite Bond? Six to choose from, and for me I can make the process easier by taking George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton out of the frame. I know they each have their fans, but as far as I'm concerned they represent poor casting and inept performances. Their three Bond movies are parked firmly in my "don't watch in a hurry" pile of dust covered DVD's - the discs which see as much action as Perez Hilton's charm coach or Bruce Willis's hair dresser.
Lazenby suffers by virtue of "he wasn't Connery", and more importantly because he couldn't act! Dalton is discounted by way of his politically correct, watery creation combined with lily-livered scripts. His Bond didn't smoke, drink or have sex. Although this was considered necessary at the time it just made the character a lot less interesting and engaging. Back then I thought "whatever next?", Bond flower arranging or moonlighting as an Avon Rep advising women on blusher? It was too far a departure from the 25 years of Bond movies which had gone before him, and an ill advised change to suit the liberal film going public who normally stretch to a rowdy game of Jenga and a cheeky bag of Twiglets at the weekend.
So we are left with Sean Connery, the lip curling Scot who was once a milkman and established the blue print. Roger Moore who seemed to be so suave he craved a mirror to examine his own splendor, like a peacock with gymnastic eyebrows! Then there's Pierce Brosnan who eased his way through every diabolical deed with a hefty dollop of Celtic charm and devilish good looks. Which just leaves the earthy Daniel Craig, "the Blonde Bond" in the tight swimwear!
Let's look at the four remaining Bond's in order.
Connery, is according to many the nearest you'll ever get to Fleming's vision, and despite being a relative unknown back in 1962 he still managed to deliver a virtuoso performance and become a global sensation. Sadly he undid all that by making the disastrous 1983 independent Bond movie, Never Say Never Again, in which he just couldn't rekindle the fire and passion of his earlier, legitimate flicks . It just became an extremely limp rehash of Thunderball closing the door firmly on that chapter of his illustrious career.
Despite that soured memory, the image of Connery in a sharp suit, producing a silver cigarette case from a jacket pocket and announcing his name at the roulette table has become a precious piece of cinema history. His delivery of lines throughout his tenure still resonates with film historians and Bond fans alike. Quotes from that era are frequently used as an icebreaker by anyone wearing dinner jackets. Who can forget Connery strapped to a table, legs apart with a laser blazing towards his nether regions? Bond nervously inquiring " Do you expect me to talk?" to which Goldfinger replies "No Mr Bond, I expect you to die." This type of dialogue is typical of the early films and helped to make Connery so iconic in the role.
But it was his ability to play it straight, make it edgy and realistic that made him a star and one that would prove very difficult to replace, as Cubby Broccoli would soon find out. There were rumors of clashes between the two, Connery felt undervalued and loathed the promotional procession that followed each release. He felt that he was never well financially rewarded for his early work, which was used to generate tens of millions of dollars. This is something that has never changed in his opinion, right up to the present day.
Connery had established a steely reputation for negotiation and was known in showbiz circles for not suffering fools gladly, so it came as no surprise when, after locking horns with Broccoli, he decided to call it a day at the height of his fame. But after On Her Majesty's Secret Service bombed Cubby had to go cap in hand to his former star to ask him to rescue the floundering franchise. He returned for Diamonds Are Forever, but his star name came at a price, which was rumoured to be in the region of £1 million. This was a sum unheard of at the time, and once agreed Connery gave the majority of the proceeds to charity, to prove a point. Ouch, that must have hurt Cubbys chubby wallet! The film was a resounding success, and although Bond was older, plumper and had a degree of folical refurbishment, it seemed as if Connery had never been away.
Diamonds Are Forever proved to be Connery's last proper Bond. The divide between the Scot and Broccoli became even greater, and so not even the promise of astronomical sums of cash could tempt the star to put in another shift. With the benefit of hindsight Connery had just got too old for the part, and had outgrown the role, so we turn to our next Bond in contention, Roger Moore.
Moore who had already become a international success thanks to his starring role in Leslie Charteris' The Saint. He oozed unflappable Britishness and was so well turned out that even a tailors dummy may have declined an invitation to share the same set. Without being too unkind, Moore probably could have benefited from any acting tips that an average mannequin may impart on the off chance it might've enhanced his on screen performances.
Rubber Roge, as I like to refer to him, has made a career out of comfy acting. Any thoughts about him curbing his natural elasticated smarminess or playing the role with a sense of purpose were quickly dispatched the first time he gazed lovingly at himself down the glass of the rolling camera lens. It would seem that he, the director and producers plumped for a lighter, more frivolous Bond, full of postcard humour, quirky quips and pithy lines that distanced itself totally from the earlier versions. Initially in the transition stage, it seemed like a pleasant change, like a brief stay in Devon, but after a fashion it became predictable and tedious and more like a wet weekend in Blackpool .
Even the promise of exploding pens, amphibious sports cars, scantily clad females and the fascination of Roge working left and right eyebrows independently from each other soon wore thin. One particular Rubber Roge quip is especially embarrassing. After defeating Drax in Moonraker, Bond is trapped semi-naked on a spaceship with a besotted female called Goodhead. Q at mission control is asked what the spy is doing, and gets the reply "He's attempting re-entry!" Yes, I know, marginally funny for about two seconds, and then you realise that Sid James and Bernard Breslaw aren't on board and you're not watching a Carry On film.
As the Rubber Roge years went on the series lurched more and more into an uneasy and unedifying parody. If I had to choose from the wealth of blandness he provided, for his best of the worst it would probably be his debut outing, 1973's Live and Let Die. It was a fairly action packed extravaganza that stands up quite well over time, and it offered Moore the opportunity and challenge of trying to out act Jane 'Mahogany' Seymour. Someone who herself was once out-acted by a stuffed llama and a basket of exotic fruit. This new direction for Bond proved to be a resounding success, but it did try your patience at times to such a degree that you could only think of throwing the pair into the crocodile pit and watching them both stick in the reptiles throat.
Back then audiences were a little more forgiving or oblivious to the flaws, this whole era suffers from being aimed at a less
demanding audience and a less expectant market. I for one was extremely chuffed when Roge decided to hand back his weapon, pack away his light blue safari suit and put his eyebrows into storage, but, as discussed above, the knee jerk reaction to Rubber Roge's years was too drastic too soon, and so we would then have to wait until Pierce Brosnan adopted the role to marginally get back on track.
Brosnan, on paper at least, was a no brainer for Bond. Dark, rugged, handsome and with buckets of Irish charm. He understood what was required and gamely obliged. As time went on he became a fusion of Connery and Moore. He looked the part, sounded the part and had genuine presence. The action scenes were up to scratch and a number of the baddies performed their socks off. On the whole Brosnan acquitted himself extremely well, making the most of the
patchy scripts and stilted dialogue that would have had
Lawrence Olivier choking on his Hamlet (see what I did there?).
I really liked Brosnan's Bond, but during his era it did become noticeable that the franchise was flagging and in need of a rethink. Bond had nothing new to offer and just plodded on oblivious to its own short comings adding precious little to our cinematic lives, and delivering all the excitement of a Delia Smith cake recipe. When Die Another Day came along in 2002 the franchise was 40 years old.
How would they celebrate it? Get Madonna in! You had to open a window to
let the smell out. When she sang the theme tune, also entitled Die
another Day, perhaps she was referring to her acting career?
Of the four Bond's Brosnan made Goldeneye is most certainly the
standout film, with Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough on a par with each other... and by this time you can guess
which one comes in last!
Contracted for four movies, Brosnan originally agreed to return for a fifth, producers decided not to take him up on the offer. But if he hadn't already made his mind up to park the Aston Martin and traipse off to crucify an ABBA song in the truly ghastly Mamma Mia, it must have occurred to him or his agent that the boat had a rather large hole in it, big enough to take Bond, Brosnan and his career down with it. I say he got out at the right time, with the direction his Bond was going.
So the Bond series went for a much needed vacation, and whilst on holiday got an unexpected boost in the form of Jason Bourne. That was what we can now refer to as a game changer.
Broccoli's Daughter Barbara, who was now at the helm, was inspired by Robert Ludlum's character significantly enough to peel back the layers of Fleming's creation and start over. Essentially rebooting the franchise in 2006 with Casino Royale. To the amazement of many Daniel Craig was given the licence to kill, and from the moment he was announced as the new Bond you sensed the makers were chosing to ditch all the various elements that had strangled the series to death and attempt to re-established the framework of the character from the novels. It wasn't so much a new direction, more a complete overhaul which took the spy full circle prior to earning his double 0 status.
Craig, for his part, dishes out the ruthless looks. His Bond is a cold calculating killing machine, and is every inch the chiseled, dominant, dogged and stylish agent which we've come to expect. Gone are the suitcases of outlandish gadgets, but we retain the action (which is now bolder), the girls and the car chases. We see a vulnerable Bond, but not to the degree where he weeps at old movies or goes shopping for pastel coloured shirts. He's darker, more sinister and more relentless. Driven by passion and revenge and frequently unable to toe the line whilst out in the field.
The three most recent Films Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall are head and shoulders above the older movie in terms of plot. The action is on another level and is clearly aimed at a more sophisticated audience, but this doesn't mean my fondness for the older movies has diminished, quite the opposite.
As far as I'm concerned Daniel Craig has done enough with his Bond to narrowly become my favourite 007. Quantum of Solace is my favourite of his films to date. The opening scene resulting in a roof top scrap and scaffolding shoot out is magnificent, rivaling Bourne's fight to the finish with Desh in Ultimatum.
But as for my favourite Bond movie, I have to pick two, and they both come from Connery - From Russia With Love and Goldfinger. I don't just choose these for reasons of nostalgia, rather because they were complete pieces of cinema which still hold up incredibly well. They represent iconic cinema at its best, and although the world has changed dramatically since they first hit the big screen, I still look forward to seeing them either on DVD or Television. Guess I'm just a sucker for a great Bond.
So who is your favourite Bond? And which is your favourite Bond movie? Let us know in the comments below.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half
English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting
on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film
abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town
of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter
James Bond will return next Thursday...