There are obviously much, much bigger things to be sad about, but one of the small frustrations of our current pandemic is that it has caused the delay of the (already much delayed) new James Bond movie. “No Time To Die,” the 25th “official” Bond release, was supposed to come out last weekend, and now it won’t be dropping until November -- barring unforeseen circumstances that could push it back even farther.
This is a bummer to me as a James Bond fan, but fortunately there are a wealth of good, bad and fun films about the British super-spy already out there for anyone’s enjoyment. In this issue’s Five to Try, I’ll be recommending one from each of the men who have played James Bond -- except for current Bond Daniel Craig, whose films you’re likely already familiar with if you wanted to see “No Time To Die” (and if you’re not, watch his “Casino Royale,” the best Bond movie).
A quick word of warning before we begin: Bond movies are very much of their time (or even behind the times) culturally, which means that several of the early films contain some extremely rocky moments regarding gender and race. I have tried to avoid the worst offenders in my list, but it’s impossible to discuss the James Bond canon without touching on the franchise’s poor treatment of those topics. The Connery and Moore eras in particular struggle with these issues, so be forewarned.
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
George Lazenby was only James Bond for one movie, but oh what a movie it was! I love “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” one of the best looking Bond movies ever and the film with the franchise’s best co-star: Bond’s fiance, Tracy (Diana Rigg).
The plot is relatively simple for a Bond film: to catch crime lord Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond must go undercover at a “health spa” run by the evil genius in the Swiss Alps. The brilliance is in the details: groundbreaking editing, stunning vistas, the “take no guff” gumption of Rigg, and Lazenby’s willingness to portray a Bond who’s vulnerable for once.
Though the film was not well loved by audiences when it debuted, it has steadily (and justly) gained a following over the last several years. The same cannot be said for the next film on my list, which is nonetheless still worth watching in its own special way.
2. Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Sean Connery was the original James Bond, but he left the role disillusioned after 1967’s “You Only Live Twice.” After Lazenby declined to do a follow-up film, the producers begged Connery to return, offering a sizable raise to do so. Connery did come back -- but only in body, not in spirit, offering a completely checked-out performance in a garish movie that suffers from wild tonal shifts. It’s a nightmare of a production, which is exactly why it’s so fun to watch.
Bond movies usually operate in one of three modes: legitimately good, middle-of-the-road boring, and hilariously bad, and “Diamonds Are Forever” falls squarely in the latter camp. Sure, there are better Connery Bond films, but you don’t need my recommendation to check out classics like “Goldfinger” or “From Russia With Love.” When you’ve finished with those, why not check out “Diamonds Are Forever,” in which Bond must stop a Vegas-bound Blofeld from ransoming the world with a diamond-powered satellite laser? You’ll be greeted by impossible physics, an insinuation that the US faked the moon landing, and Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, the funniest Bond villain henchmen in the franchise.
3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
If I was going to recommend an off-the-beaten-path Roger Moore Bond film, it would be better-than-its-reputation-suggests “The Man With The Golden Gun,” but there are a few too many backwards cultural mores for me to suggest it to a broad audience. Besides, Moore’s best Bond film really is his most famous, this iconic more-is-more approach to the franchise’s tropes and plots.
“The Spy Who Loves Me” follows Bond and a Soviet spy who gradually fall for each other as each tries to stop a madman who seeks to destroy the surface world and start a new underwater civilization. Everything you want in a Bond film is here: awesome gadgets (the underwater car!), a villainous lair, a gimmicky henchman, and one of the franchise’s best opening set-pieces and theme songs.
4. The Living Daylights (1987)
Timothy Dalton’s time as Bond was tragically brief, cut short as the producers battled about rights issues. However, his first of two films, “The Living Daylights,” is a stone-cold classic, one of the very best Bonds. In it, he must unravel a mystery involving a Russian triple-cross, the Soviet-Afghan war, arms dealers and drug smugglers, all while protecting a naive young cellist who’s been caught in the crossfire.
The action in this one is great, particularly the opening sequence and a climactic battle hanging off the back of a cargo plane, but the glue of the film is Dalton, who emanates a rough charisma and a sense of underlying humanity that’s often absent from other Bond actors. His era is often not fondly remembered -- due in part to the fact that his other Bond film, “License to Kill,” is terrible -- but “The Living Daylights” is a truly underrated part of the canon.
5. Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The consensus pick for the Pierce Brosnan Bond era is usually his opening film, the slick 90s actioner “GoldenEye.” However, I’ve always preferred his follow-up, about a media mogul who attempts to start World War III to goose his television ratings.
“Tomorrow Never Dies” is a goofy, often atonal film, interspersing extreme melodrama with sequences like Bond comedically driving his car by remote control. If you’re operating on its wavelength, the inconsistency can be fun, accompanied as it is by over-the-top of their time action sequences and Michelle Yeoh as one of the series’s best Bond girls. The real star, however, is Jonathan Pryce, who gives a delightfully unhinged performance as Bond’s media mogul enemy. Every scene he’s on screen is pure joy.
Ryan Howard writes about pop culture for The Forest Lake Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org