The sequence before the credits in Goldfinger established an enduring tradition for Bond films. From this point on, each movie began with an action-packed vignette that was often only superficially related to the film’s plot. Other action films followed suit, and these days it’s common to see a pre-credit action sequence in films. Such is the power of Goldfinger. In the beginning of the movie Bond swims in a wetsuit into an oil refinery and plants explosive charges inside a secret drug laboratory. He peels away his wetsuit to reveal an immaculate white tuxedo with a red carnation – a perfect moment that visually describes James Bond. The moment is spoiled when he walks into a casino and roars, “Who let the dogs out?!” in his Sean Connery voice, which seems really out of character.
No, wait. That’s the version of Goldfinger that plays only in my mind. My private mental version runs about 5 minutes shorter, plus it has the zombie pirates from John Carpenter’s The Fog and Sammy Davis Jr as Felix Leiter.
Needless to say, my mental version rules.
2. Casino Royale
2. Casino Royale
Often the most Bondian moments in James Bond films are low-key, not explosive and spectacular. Casino Royale has a brief bit of dialogue that really rang true and seemed so very Bondian. During the centerpiece poker game at the eponymous gambling establishment, a waiter asks Bond if he'd like a drink. The exchange goes something like this:
Bond: Dry Martini.
Waiter: Oui, monsieur.
Bond: Wait... three measures of Gordon's; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.
Waiter: Yes, sir.
Other Gambler: You know, I'll have one of those.
Another Gambler: So will I.
Felix Leiter: My friend, bring me one as well, keep the fruit.
Le Chiffre: [annoyed] That's it? Hmm? Anyone want to play poker now?
That scene is a subtle little piece of social one-upsmanship that briefly establishes Bond as the alpha dog at the table and irritates Bond's opponent, Le Chiffre. There are plenty of moments of Bondian ass-kicking and great acting in Casino Royale to choose from, but for me that one little bit of dialogue really sells the character.
Communist critics of Thunderball have complained that the movie is too long and spends too much time underwater. Even director Terence Young admits there is probably one too many SCUBA scenes in this most virile of all Bond films. I grudgingly agree, but nothing can diminish the diamond-like brilliance of that final underwater battle scene between dozens of US Navy and SPECTRE frogmen. That shit rocks.
In today's digital age, when there is very little that can't be brought to life on screen through computer effects, it's difficult sometimes to appreciate the virtues or challenges of staging practical special effects and stunts. I know in my heart that something is wrong with the children today when the Burly Brawl from The Matrix Reloaded can rank as one of the greatest fight scenes ever. Back in The Day, before you could cheat with computers, film makers had to work within the realms of the possible and use all manner of optical and practical illusions in order to get the desired effect. There's a lot to be said for old-school analog ingenuity.
Which brings us to Thunderball. The cats who made that movie had to do shit the old fashioned way. The script calls for a huge undersea battle, so damn it, they had to stage and film a big-ass undersea battle using a small army of stuntmen and camera operators in SCUBA gear. Even if you're not one of those film geeks who analyzes movies, you have got to appreciate the technical and artistic challenges of bringing a scene like that to life. To me, one of the things that makes the underwater warfare scenes in Thunderball work so well is that part of me knows that what I am watching on the screen is at once totally fake and very very real.
4. From Russia With Love
4. From Russia With Love
The highlight of this film is the showdown on The Orient Express between James Bond and SPECTRE assassin Donald "Red" Grant, widely regarded as one of the best fist fights in motion picture history. Well, widely regarded by me and most Canadians, according to polls. Canadians know about fist fighting, which is becoming a lost art here in the States where we just shoot people instead of socking them.
In From Russia With Love, the invincible Red Grant is tasked by SPECTRE with killing James Bond and stealing the LEKTOR decoding device, the McGuffin at the center of the plot. Grant kills Bond's contact and takes his place, meeting Bond and his Russian squeeze Tatiana on the train. Bond has his suspicions about his chatty contact (What cultured Brit would order red wine with fish?) but Grant gets the drop on Bond, pulling a gun on him in a tight train cabin.
As Grant explains, he intends to kill Bond, and painfully. Bond is screwed, so he asks for a final cigarette. The answer is no. What if Bond pays him fifty gold sovereigns? Ah, now Grant is interested. Bond tells the killer how to retrieve the gold from his briefcase - the case designed by Q Branch. When Grant opens the case he gets a face full of tear gas, and Bond attacks.
The brutal fight scene that follows is deftly choreographed and edited, and it helps that Connery and Shaw seem evenly matched, physically speaking. They pummel and tear at each other ferociously in the tiny cabin until Bond manages to strangle Grant with his own garotte.
This ranks as a Bondian moment because it illustrates what a dangerous character Bond is. He will fuck your shit up. When Bond gets in a fight, he's not just going to rough you up a little - he will kill you with his bare hands.