I thought I'd finish up my appreciation of the James Bond movies with a look at what I consider to be the best examples of those series constants that make the 007 formula so durable. The last post covered the Bond Girls, so let's move on to the other important facets, beginning with:
Best Villain: Auric Goldfinger
Gert Frobe as Goldfinger is just the epitome of classy megalomaniac that Bond repeatedly finds himself up against. He's not the wittiest bad guy, to be sure (his best line, in answer to Bond's "You expect me to talk?" is the oft-quoted "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.") But he definitely seems the most iconic, and his plan (to essentially nuke Fort Knox and corner the gold market) is the first truly mad, audacious scheme of its kind in the series and would form the template for increasingly out-there plans for world domination to come.
Runners-up: Michael Lonsdale as the uber-droll Hugo Drax from Moonraker, Telly Savalas as the a deadly yet smooth Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and Christopher Lee as Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun.
Best Evil Henchman: Jaws
Though he borders on the edge of cartoonish in The Spy Who Loved Me and goes well beyond that in Moonraker, the enormous metal-mouthed thug is just such a fun idea for a baddie, and played with such alternating humor and menace by Richard Kiel, that he just edges out Harold Sakata's Oddjob (Goldfinger) and Michael Gothard's icy Locque (For Your Eyes Only).
Best Theme Song: the title theme from On Her Majesty's Secret Service
I'm eliminating the Bond theme from the competition, since a) it's one of the best pieces of film music ever, and therefore untouchable, and b) is really more of a recurring motif than a one-movie-only number (despite serving as the title theme to Dr. No). So that leaves the instrumental main titles to OHMSS, a wonderfully evocative, propulsive and dramatic number which also carries an interesting undercurrent of danger.
Runners-up: Shirley Bassey's lung-shredding rendition of "Goldfinger" and Wings' exciting "Live and Let Die."
Best Opening Titles: Casino Royale
As much as I love Maurice Binder's work in the earlier Bonds, Daniel Kleinmann's imaginative and beautifully-realized main titles design for Casino Royale, with its stylish blend of animation and silhouette morphing into live action, is for me the most memorable. Kleinmann's work on Goldeneye is also very impressive. Of the Binder titles, I like Goldfinger and OHMSS the best.
Best Location: Piz Gloria, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
The Bond series has brought so many amazing locations, places and exotic sights to movie screens over the past half-century, that it's hard to choose one that stands above the rest. But there's something that really gets to me about the remote aerie perched atop the icy alpine peak in OHMSS. Piz Gloria is a stunning location that also logically serves the story and on top of it all is a real, functioning place.
Runners-up: the many amazing Indian locations, including the City Palace in Rajasthan, that provide such a spectacular backdrop in Octopussy, the James Bond Islands near Thailand in The Man with the Golden Gun and what seems to be the prototypical Bondian location, the Bahamas (seen in Thunderball and Casino Royale.)
Best Set: Blofeld's volcano lair in You Only Live Twice
Legendary Bond set designer Ken Adams made so many wonderful sets for the series, but the one in YOLT truly takes the cake. It was his biggest and most involved construction, and its impact in the finished film can't be underestimated.
Runners-up: the space station sets for Moonraker...in fact, nearly every set in Moonraker is amazing.
Best Chase: the opening foot chase in Casino Royale
This enormously exciting pre-credits chase scene is a marvel of action movie conception and execution, and also offers an amusing contrast in styles between the nimble and balletic free runner terrorist and the brutal, efficient bulldozer pursuit techniques of Daniel Craig's Bond.
Runners-up: the tank chase in Goldeneye, the granddaddy of all Bond ski chases in OHMSS and the motorboat chase in Live and Let Die.
Best Fight Scene: fight on the Kobe docks from You Only Live Twice
So hard to choose among so many great fight scenes. It's tempting to go with the oft-cited train compartment smackdown in From Russia with Love - and that is great - but I'd like to highlight a less-discussed personal favorite, the exciting "Bond against overwhelming odds" battle on the Kobe docks in You Only Live Twice. Especially nice is the moment when the camera sweeps back, way back, to give a proper scale to the action. Great stuff.
Runners-up: The elevator fight in Diamonds Are Forever, the opening fight on the beach in OHMSS, and Connery's bruiser of a fracas with the big wrestler guy, also in YOLT.
Best Stunt: the ski parachute jump from The Spy Who Loved Me
Truly a breathtaking stunt in a series with no shortage of them. The camera is mounted way back as we see Bond swoop off the icy cliff, slowly start to freefall down the ravine, his skis flung aside, falling and falling with no music on the soundtrack, until finally, the Union Jack-adorned parachute pops open and he sails down safely to the triumphant chords of the James Bond theme. Classic.
Runners-up: the fabulous loop-the-loop car/bridge stunt in The Man with the Golden Gun (marred by that awful slide whistle sound effect, alas), the opening bungee jump off the dam in Goldeneye, and yet another, almost as incredible free-fall parachute stunt that opens Moonraker (again criminally damaged by a cartoony sound effect, as Jaws falls into the circus tent. The producers in the Moore era really didn't know when to leave well-enough alone.)
Best Pre-Titles Sequence: The World Is Not Enough
The longest pre-credits sequence in the series' history is for my money also the best, as first Bond battles his way free from a set-to in a bank in Bilbao, Spain, then returns to MI-5 headquarters in London, culminating in the fantastic, extended boat chase down the Thames that ends with Brosnan hanging by the proverbial thread atop the Millenium Dome.
Runners-up: the perfect little mini-movie that opens Goldfinger (which includes the priceless bit where 007 emerges from the water and unzips his wetsuit to reveal a perfectly pressed tuxedo beneath), Bond's fateful first encounter with future wife Tracy on the beach in OHMSS ("This never happened to the other feller.") and the aforementioned foot chase from Casino Royale.
Best Gadget: the mini-aqualung from Thunderball
As a scuba diver, this little device, as impossible as it is in reality, is just such a cool concept to me, and is so well-utilized in the massive underwater final battle in Thunderball, that it rises to the top of the clever and creative Bond gadget heap, just edging past such nifty doodads as the bazooka cigarette in YOLT and the pulse-controlled blowgun that features in the suspenseful centrifuge scene in Moonraker.
There you have it, my personal take on some of the best bits from 50 years and 22 films.
I hope you all celebrate the occasion by taking in one of your own favorite 007 films. And here's hoping the upcoming Skyfall will bring more classic moments for we fans to treasure. Frankly, I'm feeling pretty optimistic.
By the way, if you're thinking I left out "Best Bond Car," think again. How could it be anything else than the classic Aston-Martin DB5 (replete with machine guns, rear oil dispensers, rotating license plate, bulletproof shield and, of course, the infamous ejector seat)?
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