Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig, Connie Mason (uncredited)

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: Never Say Never Again (1983)

Also known as: Bond No. 1 (India), Warhead (working title)
Release Date: October 6th, 1983 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr., Dick Clement (uncredited), Ian La Frenais (uncredited)
Based on: Thuderball by Ian Fleming
Music by: Michel Legrand
Cast: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie Casey, Alec McCowen, Edward Fox, Rowan Atkinson, Pat Roach, Anthony Sharp, Gavan O’Herlihy

Taliafilm, Producers Sales Organization, Warner Bros., 134 Minutes (original), 121 Minutes (edited)

Review:

“Still here, Moneypenny? You should be in bed.” – James Bond, “James, we both should be!” – Miss Moneypenny

Never Say Never Again is probably the James Bond movie that I’ve seen the least. It actually isn’t canon and doesn’t fit in with the overall franchise like the other pictures that starred Connery.

In 1983, Roger Moore was James Bond and this was a picture that came out to compete against Roger Moore’s Octopussy. But let me explain the story behind this strange, one-off James Bond flick.

The ownership of the filming rights of the Thunderball novel came under dispute. Kevin McClory was one of the men responsible for getting James Bond on the big screen. He would also be one of the writers of the Thunderball film and produced that film alongside Eon, the studio that has made every official Bond picture. Because of his strong involvement and funding of Thunderball, McClory was able to maintain the filming rights of the Thunderball novel after a legal dispute. So Never Say Never Again is actually a remake of Thunderball with some pretty big changes.

Sean Connery came back to the role of Bond, even though he said he’d never play the character again. The title Never Say Never Again is actually a joke, as it was what his wife said to him when he told her he was going to do the movie. Oddly enough, the producers didn’t think that they could get Connery again and actually intended for this to be a vehicle to bring George Lazenby back to the role, as his sole James Bond film is still one of the very best. But obviously, McClory benefited more from signing on Connery.

The film also landed a top notch director in Irvin Kershner, who had just come off of his magnum opus, The Empire Strikes Back.

However, in regards to the film’s composer, an offer was made to John Barry but he declined out of respect for Eon Productions due to his long tenure creating the music for the real James Bond franchise. Sadly, the music in Never Say Never Again is really weird and nowhere near the quality of what Barry could have orchestrated. The score is like a jazzy disco hybrid that feels like it’s five years too late to the party in 1983.

On the plus side, this film benefited from the performances of Klaus Maria Brandauer, as this film’s Largo, and Max von Sydow, as the most famous Bond baddie, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Both of these guys were great and McClory did plan to do more films after this one but they never came to be. It would have been great seeing Bond actually come to face to face with Sydow’s Blofeld.

We also get Kim Basinger, as the main Bond girl of the picture, and Bernie Casey as Felix Leiter, Bond’s greatest ally. I liked Basinger in anything back in the ’80s when she was in her prime and frankly, one of the hottest women on the planet. I was crushing on her hard between this, Batman and My Stepmother Is An Alien. As far as Casey, that guy is always a great addition to any cast.

Being that this was an ’80s Bond film, it couldn’t not have some silliness in it.

For instance, the scene where the evil lady pulls up next to a guy driving and throws a snake on him, causing him to crash and die, only for her to go back, collect the snake and then set off a bomb that was already wired to the car is absolutely stupid. She could have just blown up the damn car. It’s one of those things you just laugh off though because it’s James Bond in the ’80s.

Then there is the terrible looking scene where Bond and Kim Basinger are on a horse and they jump off of an extremely high wall at a coastal castle and safely land in the ocean, as the horse, somehow unscathed, swims to safety. Not only was the situation unbelievable but the sequence was incredibly cringe worthy and the effects come off as silly.

They also had to throw in a gratuitous video game scene because apparently Bond is a gamer in the ’80s and because video games were all the rage back then. I’m surprised they didn’t suck Bond into a computer for a TRON-styled sequence.

Apart from cheesy shit, there is also weird stuff that just doesn’t seem to fit the Bond vibe. I already mentioned the terrible score but in addition to that, the opening credits sequence was bizarre and nothing like the beginning of a Bond movie should be. Really, there is supposed to be a cold open, a mission accomplished and then it transitions into super stylized credits with a fantastic song. Never Say Never Again starts and feels like a mid-’80s B-level action flick from Cannon Films.

All things considered, good and bad, I do still like this movie. It may have worked better, however, as a Bond style vehicle for Connery and not as an attempt to just cash in on McClory owning the rights to one friggin’ book that already had a movie based on it (and a much better one at that).

McClory planned sequels and more Thunderball remakes at different times but none of them got off the ground and it is probably for the best. The rights have since been given back to Eon and now they own this movie along with the rest of the Bond library.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: ’80s Bond movies, which starred Roger Moore not Connery. But yeah, this pairs better with the later Moore movies than it does the ’60s and early ’70s Connery ones.

Film Review: Thunderball (1965)

Release Date: December 9th, 1965 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ian Fleming
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Philip Stone

Eon Productions, United Artists, 130 Minutes

Review:

“My dear girl, don’t flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure, do you?” – James Bond

After Guy Hamilton directed Goldfinger and took the Bond film franchise away from focusing on SPECTRE, Terence Young came back to direct the fourth film and made SPECTRE a focal point once again. And I’m glad because as much as I like Goldfinger, I’d rather see Connery’s Bond duking it out with Blofeld’s minions on a grand stage. Auric Goldfinger just seemed like a chump when compared to a high ranking SPECTRE agent.

This chapter in the franchise also feels a bit like a call back to the original film, Dr. No. Mainly just in aesthetic and geography though, as this film’s big finale takes place in the Bahamas, which draws some similarities to Dr. No‘s Jamaica sequences.

Also, the villain in this is Emilio Largo, one of the all-time greatest Bond villains of all-time. See, I said “all-time” twice to solidify the point. In fact, I ranked him third on a list where I did a countdown of James Bond baddies. The only villains I ranked higher were Blofeld (obviously) and Francisco Scaramanga because c’mon man, that’s Christopher Lee. Largo is just perfect as a top SPECTRE operative and “Number 2” to Blofeld, who Bond would finally face in the film after this.

In a lot of ways, this sets up the big Bond vs. Blofeld showdown that was coming in You Only Live Twice while also being a culmination of the events that started in Dr. No and From Russia With Love. This is a vital chapter in the Connery era, as it acts as a bridge linking the important SPECTRE plot points. Plus, it’s just damn good.

While this Bond film is tropical and beautiful, it also has a grittiness to it. It feels more real than the previous outing. Granted, that’s a bit undone by the hokey speed boat finale but the technology to make that sequence less cheesy, didn’t exist yet. And really, that whole stopping the super speedy boat from crashing is really my only complaint about the film.

I love Connery’s James Bond. I also love Largo, as I have already pointed out. The scenes that the two share together really take this film to a different level though. Red Grant was good in From Russia With Love and Dr. Julius No was solid in Dr. No. But there is just something larger and more threatening about Largo. Sure, he can’t physically match Bond like Red Grant but he effectively uses other tools and plays to his strengths.

Underwater sequences in movies usually suck, let’s be honest. But the ones in this film just work and there’s a lot of underwater stuff. Plus, you get to see Bond literally swimming with sharks and I mean “literally” in the grammatically correct way and I’m not using “sharks” as a metaphor. I mean actual sharks.

Thunderball is better than just being a popcorn movie set in majestic scenery. If you ever wanted to pick a handful of Bond movies to have a mini marathon with, than this should definitely be in that handful.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: Goldfinger (1964)

Release Date: September 17th, 1964 (London premiere)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Paul Dehn, Berkely Mather (uncredited)
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, Gert Fröbe, Shirley Eaton, Harold Sakata, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Man has climbed Mount Everest, gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the Moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor… except crime!” – Auric Goldfinger

A lot of lifelong James Bond fans that I talk to, consider Goldfinger to be their all-time favorite film in the franchise. While I love it, it isn’t my favorite or even my favorite of the Connery pictures. I rank it behind From Russia With LoveDr. No and Thunderball but let’s be honest, all the Connery films were solid. Yes, even Diamonds Are Forever.

I think the thing that makes this film stand out, is that it feels different than the other pictures from the Connery era. At least, it feels different to me.

Goldfinger is a bit more confined. Sure, Bond travels the world but a big chunk of this film takes place in the United States, which is far from exotic, at least to a guy from the United States. The nicest place in the film is the Swiss Alps but the movie doesn’t spend a great deal of time there. There is Miami, then the London office of MI-6, then the Switzerland stuff and then back to the United States for Auric Goldfinger’s big raid on Fort Knox.

This isn’t what I would call a smaller film but everything just seems less grand overall. In fact, the Fort Knox heist seems a bit below Bond’s pay grade. While I like Goldfinger tremendously as a villain, this film lacks the extra gravitas you get when SPECTRE is present onscreen. Goldfinger was certainly a decent foil but he is sort of a bumbling man baby that Bond had no problems with outsmarting from the outset of the film. I feel like Bond could have dealt with Goldfinger in the first twenty minutes of the story and been done with it, if he wasn’t just trying to frolic with the fancy ladies. This seemed more like a story where Bond was on vacation, got kind of bored and just stumbled upon a quick and easy caper to occupy his downtime.

I guess Oddjob was a formidable henchman but he could have also been easily dispatched with a gut shot from Bond’s Walther PPK. Sure, he’s a big dude with a razor sharp hat but a nice shot to the tummy would have taken the mute Korean bear down. Bond needs to stash more tiny pistols on his person.

Goldfinger, as much as it probably seems like I am knocking it, just makes me feel like we checked in with James Bond on an off day. The villain had charisma and personality but I feel like the bayou sheriff from the Roger Moore Bond films could have beaten Goldfinger accidentally.

I do like the cinematography and the film’s style and visual tone. I also love the Aston Martin DB5. However, the film seemed generally less gadget-y than a typical Bond picture. Although, the car had some cool features that were completely ripped off for the Spy Hunter video game in the ’80s.

I just don’t agree with the popular opinion on this one. It’s a good Bond movie but it is definitely not in the upper echelon. When watched within the context of all the Connery films, it seems like filler and a forced break away from the larger SPECTRE story arc.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: From Russia With Love (1963)

Release Date: October 10th, 1963 (London premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Daniela Bianchi, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn

Eon Productions, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“Siamese fighting fish, fascinating creatures. Brave but of the whole stupid. Yes they’re stupid. Except for the occasional one such as we have here who lets the other two fight. While he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted that he cannot defend himself, and then like SPECTRE… he strikes!” – Blofeld

After the huge success of Dr. No, Eon Productions didn’t waste any time in fast tracking a sequel. While that usually results in shoddy results, what we actually got was one of the best James Bond films of all-time and my personal favorite out of the Connery pictures.

This also serves to establish SPECTRE as a much bigger threat than you might realize that they were when watching Dr. No. Blofeld makes an appearance here and he employs two of his best agents (and two of the best Bond villains ever) Rosa Klebb, SPECTRE’s “Number 3”, and Donald “Red” Grant, an incredibly talented and deadly assassin, who really is the evil counterpart to James Bond and the first time we’ve seen this sort of character.

What I really like about the Connery Bond pictures, especially the earliest ones, is that they had a seriousness about them. Sure, they were also playful, as Bond movies should be, but they also knew how to balance it really well. Bond doesn’t yet feel invincible and with the opening scene in this picture, where we see how astute Grant is at killing, the danger in this film feels much more real. I think the very dark opening, regardless of its narrative swerve did a lot in foreshadowing the tone of the rest of the picture.

This movie has a real grittiness to it. However, that grittiness started to dissipate with each new Bond film after this one. A grittiness that is mostly non-existent in the era of Roger Moore.

Part of that is due to the fight scenes. This has some of the best cinematic face offs that you will see from the 1960s. The confrontation between Bond and Grant on the train is almost strenuous to watch because it has a real sense of authenticity to it. It’s might vs. might, skill vs. skill, as two well trained men with deadly hands try to kill one another.

Also, Bond still has all of the elements that made him cool and tough in the first film but it’s at a whole different level here. Dr. No was the trial run and now, by film two, Connery seems more comfortable and familiar with the territory. And the best part, is that this was before the character started to become watered down and cliche. Connery’s Bond has a certain panache and gravitas and the writers weren’t trying to purposefully maximize it or fine tune it yet. Connery just put it out there, carried the film and it was all natural. Or at least it felt that way.

And while you don’t need a lot of money to make a good picture, this film had double the budget of its predecessor and it shows. All the on location stuff was great and even though I love the beauty of Jamaica, the Turkey scenes in this are majestic and made the scale of this film come across as much more epic.

From Russia With Love isn’t just one of the greatest James Bond films, it is one of the absolute best in the entire spy thriller genre.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.