Friday, December 08, 2006

The Most Bondian Moments # 1-4

Here's a break down of the most Bondian films (in order) and the most Bondian moments in those films. For some of these movies, the difficulty was in picking just one Bondian moment (Goldfinger and Thunderball are crawling with them) while for others it was a challenge just finding one Bondian moment in the entire film (I'm looking at you, A View To A Kill). Here we go:

1. Goldfinger

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
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.
Loved it.
3. Thunderball
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
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.


Anonymous said...

Kudos on FRWL. I remember someone comparing that fight scene to the shower in PSYCHO in terms of how effectively staged and organized it is.

Plus, you know, 12 years before JAWS and Robert Shaw asserts himself as le badass superieur.

Great list.

Anonymous said...

You know...I've always regarded Thunderball as one of the most utterly forgettable of Bond films--I even thought the 80's remake, Never Say Never Again, was a bit better, despite the fact that Connery was about a hundred years old already. I don't know...maybe I need to see it again. You've piqued my curiosity.

The Red Grant/Bond fight scene in FRWL is probably the thing for which the word "awesome" was invented. I agree with the Canadians. About that, anyway--not with their big government policies.

I've got a nomination for a Bondian moment. On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond kills a guy, then as he's leaving the room, not only stops to taste some caviar, but also comments to himself on the type and origin.

McGone said...

Hey Uncle Dave, are you going to do a "Most UNBondian Moments" list? Because I want to nominate the scene in LICENCE TO KILL when Bond meets Carey Lowell's character at a trashy bar. She orders a Budweiser... with a lime.

He says, "Same thing."

Dammit, I want to punch Timothy Dalton in the throat every time I think about it. I'm sure the scene was there to show that Bond's alcoholism was so sophisticated that it could adapt to any culture and location, but Come. On! Why didn't he just order a Zima?

Anonymous said...

Dude, #4 should be #1. And I'd reference the fight in the bank elevator in Maximum Risk, with Jean Claude Van Damme, as an obvious, and decent, homage.

Anonymous said...

I have long maintained that "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" is highly underrated. Because, yeah, Lazenby's kind of crap...but there's a knock-down drag-out fistfight on a flurking bobsled at the end, and that's totally kickass.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm definitely with you on the Casino Royale .. it was as funny as it was important to the scene

Anonymous said...

In GF he added the carnation later, it wasn't there under the wetsuit. Yeah, that mattered a lot...

As for Lazenby, I think he somehow tried to evoke Connery's coolness, but he obviously failed. I mean, come on! Also, one of the worst films of the series has to be DAF, despite Connery-Barry-Adam; it's either pure camp, or trash, depending how harsh you are.

Anonymous said...

I'm so torn. I love Dave's Long Box but I despise Bond with every fibre of my being. Should I read on, enjoying the gentle comedy, or turn away in disgust?!

Anonymous said...

There are parts of Licence to Kill I like- "COMPLIMENTS OF SHARKY!!"- but I'd argue the entire film's plot is un-Bondian. It seems too much of a sop to the explodo drug cop thrillers of the 80s and seems too... small scale. Dalton's performance is probably the best thing in it.

Well, that and Anthony Zerbe exploding.

Anonymous said...

Great list. There is a great line out of Thunderball that is very Bondian. When Bond meets the Thunderball baddie they are poolside and about to engage in skeet shooting. Bond picks up a shotgun made for a female.

Bond: "Ah a lady's shotgun."
Thunderball baddie asks: "Mr. Bond, you know alot about guns?"
Bond: "No. I know alot about women."

The Doc said...

Oh, From Russia With Love. My favourite Bond movie ever (and no, I haven't seen Casino Royale yet), mainly because of that fight scene. That fight is incredibly awesome. (Also: I'm Canadian.)

Anonymous said...

So, ok. I'd vote for "That last hand almost killed me" as the Bondian moment of the poker scene in Casino Royale.

The great Bondian piece of the fight with Robert Shaw is only partially that Bond demonstrates his ability to fuck your shit up. It's also that he says, "Red wine with fish. I should have known." The best Bondian moments are *always* about the combination of the rough and the smooth.

Phillip said...

I'm pretty sure that martini description is in the original novel, but the copycat drinks orders are not. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

I not-so-coincidentally happen to be reading the Casino Royale novel and the drink description is exactly out of the novel (sans the me, toos). He spends the next chapter or so trying to come up with a name for it...

running42k said...

It's the love of hockey that makes us Canadians good with fist fighting. Hockey and the line ups at Tim Hortons.

Anonymous said...

We can only fist-fight on skates. The Brits are the pros.

Parker said...

From Russia With Love's fight scenes is one of my all time favorites as well, and according to this Sean Connery book I have, Connery actually got hurt during it and was pretty mad after the scene was done. So I'm thinking surly Shaw wasn't pulling punches. I also like at the beginning when Bond is actually out doing his job, assassinating someone (which of course gets interrupted).

K.Fox, Jr. said...

that scene from casino royale came straight from the book, with a small alteration. here's how it goes in the book:

Bond: Two parts Gordons, one part vodka, a half part of Kina Lillet.

I can't reemmber if the other characters wanted it also, but i think so.

Kick a, man, kick a.

Anonymous said...

Great list!
I'm going to have to rewatch the movies now.

Anonymous said...

Shaw actually doesn't get killed with his own garrote; he's busily trying to strangle Connery with it, when Connery manages to pop loose a hidden knife from his briefcase, and sticks it into Shaw's neck.

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