I was six years old when Dr No was aired on UK television in October 1975 – the first appearance of James Bond on the small screen. I was seven when From Russia with Love and Goldfinger were shown. Chances are one of those was my first meeting with 007. I was smitten, although I can’t put my finger on the reason why. It was likely due to a combination of factors. The cars. The exotic locations. The fights with the henchmen. The banter with the baddie. Not the women though… not then. Like any healthy young chap, I’d cover my eyes when there was any kissing and cuddling nonsense going on. And the music. What music. John Barry was a genius. And then there was the way the films began. That terrific gun barrel sequence and the accompanying assault of brass.
Having written about my favourite 007 novels recently, I thought it only right I should turn my attention to the films. So here are my top 5 cinematic Bonds.
5. Licence to Kill (1989)
I want my Bond to be like the bastard in the books. Mean, thuggish; a guy who looks capable of very nasty behaviour. Pierce Brosnan caught my attention in Goldeneye (which loiters just outside my top 5), but he was always a little too smug, and he looked as if he’d overdone it with the hairspray. Roger Moore? Roger Less, in my view. He played 007 as a clown (literally in Octopussy) and seems so uncomfortable in his skin. I didn’t believe in him at all, and hated the double-takes and the sheer buffoonery (the gondola through Venice in Moonraker, the Beach Boys music as he surfs across snow in A View to a Kill, and the Tarzan cry in Octopussy – the nadir). If I was to have to nominate one Moore Bond it would be The Man with the Golden Gun. But only for Christopher Lee and a cracking score. No. Connery had that cruelty, along with the glibness. Daniel Craig has it in spades. And so did Timothy Dalton, perhaps the finest actor to be in possession of the Double-O licence. Dalton was the right man at the wrong time.
The Living Daylights was a major return to form after Roger Moore creaked his way through A View to a Kill. And, as Dalton insisted, this was a return to the books. He played it straight: here was a Bond to believe in, and to fear. However, Joe Don Baker, though an excellent actor, was a rather pallid villain, and the cello case ride across the Austrian border seemed like something Dalton’s predecessor would have done.
Dalton made the role his own with Licence to Kill, which sees 007 stripped of his Double-O privileges when he takes off on a revenge mission against Robert Davi’s ruthless drugs baron, Franz Sanchez. Benicio del Toro is menacing in an early screen role. Unfortunately, due to a number of problems (failing box office clout in the face of hits of the day including the Die Hard franchise, Lethal Weapon, Batman and Indiana Jones‘ third outing; MGM’s sale resulting in legal wrangling over TV rights), it would be six years before 007 returned to the big screen, and by then Dalton had moved on.
4. Goldfinger (1964)
The last of the great Connery Bonds. A brilliant film with a strong female lead (albeit with a dubious name), an engaging villain and an imposing henchman. One of the best John Barry scores. And a genius plot: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe) intends to detonate a nuclear device inside Fort Knox to irradiate the US gold supply, thus driving up the value of his own stock. Some great lines: “Auric Goldfinger? Sounds like a French nail varnish.” And one of the most iconic scenes in movie history: Shirley Eaton’s character Jill Masterson on a hotel bed, coated in gold paint.
3. Casino Royale (2006)
A much-needed reboot after the dreadful Die Another Day. Daniel Craig’s Bond crashed on to the screen like a bristling bull, a face and physique meant for dirty work: you believed this guy could kill with his bare hands. SMERSH paymaster Le Chiffre (brilliantly portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen) has embezzled his employer’s funds, and is in a bit of a panic to make it all back on the poker table; 007 is there to make sure he doesn’t. It’s a simple plot, and a welcome break from the quest for world-domination. There’s no underground lair to blow up, which is nice. And in Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, there is a confident, sassy foil for a change, who brooks no nonsense from our randy English spy.
2. From Russia with Love (1963)
A tense pre-credit sequence introduces us to Red Grant, played by Robert Shaw, a KGB thug who provides 007 with one of his toughest challenges. James Bond willingly walks into a honeytrap set by the Soviets, who want this pest of a secret agent killed. The potential prize is a Lektor code-breaking machine. The film is studded with great set pieces, including a gunfight at a gypsy settlement and a showdown on board the Orient Express, one of the most brutal in Bond history. Along with Grant, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) is a memorably nasty villain.
1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The best theme tune bar none. An absolute pulse-pounding classic. I spent far too long wishing Sean Connery had been in this film, but after a lot of thought, I don’t think it would have been as good without George Lazenby. He infused the film with an uncertainty, a vulnerability that Connery did not possess. If he had been persuaded to stick around for this, mightn’t he have phoned in a performance, as he did in Diamonds Are Forever? Telly Savalas plays Ernst Stavro Blofeld, hiding out in Switzerland and trying to claim for himself a title of nobility. Bond, disguised as a genealogist from the London College of Arms, flies in to ostensibly check Blofeld’s credentials and unveils a plot to distribute biological warfare ingredients around the world. Diana Rigg provides steely support as Tracy.