Friday, March 16, 2018

Worst to Best: James Bond Performances

It probably goes without saying, but let's say it anyways: there is no more important an element of a Bond film than the fellow playing James Bond.  There have only been a handful of men who have been hired for the job over the half a century (and more) that Bond has existed, and while they've (almost) all played the same role, they've done so with varying approaches.  It is, I firmly believe, a large part of what has kept the franchise evergreen.

Today, I present to you my choices for the best, worst, and middlemost of them all.

Spoiler alert: I love every single actor who has played 007 in the main series of films.  Do I have a favorite?  Yes: Sean Connery.  Do I have a second favorite?  Yes; five of them, in fact.  You'll see that I have some definite criticisms for a few of these performances, but I love Connery, and Lazenby, and Moore, and Dalton, and Brosnan, and Craig.  And I will quite possibly love the next guy, whoever that may end up being.

Let's begin at the bottom, with:


#27 -- David Niven in Casino Royale (1967)




I thought we might begin with a bit of titillation.


Heh.

It's difficult to know whether I've made the correct call in placing Niven in the rock-bottom position.  I mean, good lord, he IS David Niven, after all; and having him be at the bottom of any list is iffy at best.

I went with it because in the end, it's hard to say he's actually playing James Bond here.  Yes, yes; in a technical sense, he is indeed playing a character named "James Bond."  And not a character who has been assigned that as a code name (such as Peter Sellers in this very film), nor a different man altogether whose name simply happens also to be James Bond (such as the titular James Bond Jr of the cartoon [which is not considered here]).
 
No, this is intended to be THE James Bond ... it's just that the joke of the film is that "the" James Bond is a very different fellow than what we think him to be.  So he's not Sean Connery.  He's not even the Bond of Ian Fleming's novels.  He's a stuttering, insecure fellow most of the time; yet also, weirdly, kind of a superman as well.

As with almost everything about Casino Royale, it's a bunch of nonsense.  You can't say Niven gives a poor performance; I'm not sure King Arthur himself could have turned in a truly great one playing the role detailed in this screenplay, so the fact that Niven doesn't is not a knock against him.

Instead, imagine how terrible it would have been without an actor of Niven's caliber.


#26 -- Barry Nelson in Climax! (1954)


 
  
I'm guessing that even in 2018 there are plenty of Bond fans who have no idea this exists.  Well, for the benefit of those just now finding out about it, Climax! was an American television series that ran on CBS from 1954-58.  The episodes were live performances, which was not atypical for the times.

Anyways, the third-ever episode to air was an adaptation of Casino Royale, and it starred Barry Nelson as James Bond.  This Bond was a rather different character than the Bond of Ian Fleming's novel: he was an American, and was an agent of something called "Combined Intelligence."  Lest this cause you to begin seething in anger, let's bear in mind that nobody knew who the hell James Bond was at this point; only two of Fleming's novels had even been published, so "James Bond" simply was not an established brand.

Regardless, Barry Nelson plays the role in a rather perfunctory manner.  It was live television, and this was essentially just pulp fiction; it's hard to expect a whole lot more.  But he's not bad; he's kind of cool, and kind of suave, and does at least convey a bit of Bond's desperation when things begin going south toward the end of the story.

There's more of what we think of as "James Bond" here than in David Niven's Casino Royale.  Niven's is the superior performance by far, objectively-speaking.  But THIS, I would argue, is the superior James Bond performance.

Not by much.


#25 -- Daniel Craig in Spectre (2015)




Because I am old and grumpy, I loathe the phrase "hot-take" that I hear all you kiddie podcasters using these days.  But that doesn't mean I won't serve up an occasional hot-take of my own, and so here is a scorching one: the worst James Bond performance of them all among the actual Bond films is Daniel Craig's disgruntled and lethargic one in Spectre.

Anyone who is familiar with my thoughts on the Bond series likely knows how I feel about this movie.  (Hint: not well.)  And rather than attempt to find anything new to say about this movie's Bond, I'm going to excerpt some sections from my review of the film:

I don't like James Bond in this movie.  I don't like what he does, I don't like why he does it, and I don't like how he does it.  I can't honestly say that I don't like Daniel Craig in the movie . . . except, yeah, I can.  I don't think he gives a bad performance; no, I think he gives one that has moments of greatness and moments of indifference.  But overall, I think he's okay.

I just don't think he's actually playing James Bond at this point.  Based on some of his comments to the press, I don't know that he has any actual interest in playing that version of James Bond (or, perhaps, ANY version of James Bond).

I'd been viewing his era's Bond films as a progression.  In Casino Royale, he's (as is point-blank stated) a blunt instrument who must learn how to work with some finesse; he never quite manages it, but completes the process in Quantum of Solace.  The implication of Skyfall is that he's become the traditional sort of Bond between films, but that we haven't seen it; then, he receives a bit of a setback as the result of the near-death experience he has at the beginning of the movie, which he sees as a betrayal by M.  The rest of the film then becomes a narrative about Bond working out his feelings about M (which really means his feelings about his job and his country).  Silva is a dark echo of his worst feelings, and he has to resolve them by killing them.  In doing so, he's put in a position to (again) return to being the James Bond of old.

So what does Spectre do with this narrative?  It insists that he would be so loyal to Dench's M that he would go off on a lamely unspecific crusade for her, effectively betraying Fiennes' M (which really means he's betraying his job and his country) in the process.  All that might be fine if the movie did anything interesting with this.  After all, Skyfall is arguably a step backward from the progression of Quantum of Solace; but it was a good movie, and I'll forgive a movie a few blunders if they are made for good reasons.

Spectre, on the other hand, turns James Bond into an idiot.  Worse than that: a dangerous idiot. 

These are not thoughts I should be having about James Bond.  I should be watching the movie wishing I had lived my life in a better fashion so that maybe some day I could hope I might be half the man he is.
Something that does feel true to the character but nevertheless didn't work for me: Bond's seduction of Lucia Sciarra.  For me, this scene gets very close to being rape.  People occasionally talk about Bond being rapey, but I've never agreed.  The two most notable examples are Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and the nurse in Thunderball.  In Thunderball, there is clearly sexual chemistry and desire between Bond and the nurse from the outset, but it's stymied by her professionalism.  When he sees a chance to vault under those guards, he does so; but there is NOTHING there implying anything other than willing (if reluctant) participation.  With Pussy Galore, I think it's arguably the same, but I will grant you that there is much more room for claiming rape; I don't see it that way, especially within the context of the era, but if you do see it that way I'm not hugely inclined to disagree with you.

With Lucia, I think we're supposed to find what happens sexy.  I don't.  She seems like a distraught, drunk, and possibly unbalanced woman who is scared to death of this murderer inside her house.  I don't want to be James in that sequence, and that's a damned strange thing to say about a scene in which 007 is putting the golden gun to Monica Belucci.  It's also worth asking: doesn't James need to get to the meeting?  Should he be bothering with coitus at a time like that?

There are a few good moments sprinkled here and there:

  • Craig is terrific during the Dia de los Muertos sequence.  His body language while Bond is wearing the skeleton suit is fantastic; you can practically feel his excitement at playing Bond in a way nobody else ever has.
  • M reads Bond the riot act after Mexico City, and tells him the extent of personal effort it's going to take to untangle the mess he's made.  "You're right sir," says Bond; "you have got a tricky day ahead."  This Bond is a complete asshole, which I resent when he's being an asshole to M or Q or Moneypenny.  However, if he does it with sufficient panache -- as he does in this moment -- then I can at least live with it.
  • When Q injects him with the smart-blood, he gives a startled-but-gruff cry of "Christ!"  Very funny.
  • "How can you talk like this?" says Lucia in response to having been implicitly threatened by Bond after the funeral.  "Can't you see I'm grieving?"  "No," Bond says in a "I know you're not grieving, and now you know I know you're not grieving" tone of voice; he's wonderful at little things like this that have some actual subtlety to them.
  • Craig is great in the moment when Bond, having ejected from the car, lands on the streets of Rome and saunters on about his not-even-vaguely-merry way.  That's my 007.
  • "I'd recognize you anywhere," he tells Madeleine to show he hasn't lost his memories.  I don't like the scene, but I like that moment; it's the only thing in it that works, and it works well.
  • Bond has been captured, and is cuffed with a sack thrown over his head but STILL manages to take out the baddies and get loose.  THAT'S my 007.
  
Does any of that make up for the fact that this version of James Bond is a loathsome, careless, maniac?  Not for me.

And here's where things start to get ugly: for my money, this is the worst James Bond performance of them all.  Craig has not suddenly turned into a bad actor, but he does seem to have suddenly lost his grip on what makes Bond cool.  Much of this is due to the writing, which is abysmal.  But for me, the fact is that in this movie, I don't like James Bond.  That's never happened before.  This guy is gross, he's negligent, he's inefficient, he's careless, and he's stupid.  I could buy any or all of that if the plot accommodated it; it doesn't.
There were a lot of reports around the time of this movie's release about Craig being fed up with the role; and indeed, just a week prior to the time this post is being published, a new tabloid rumor went around that he'd turned down a massive payday for two further films.

I'm shocked to be saying this, and I bet anyone who read my reviews of his first three films is shocked to hear it: but I hope Daniel Craig is done.  He looks throughout the entirety of Spectre as if he'd rather be doing anything else; for example, slitting his wrists, which is what he's suggested in interviews that he'd rather do than a fifth film.  Looks to me like he didn't even want to do the fourth one.  Well, pal, don't let the door hit you in your perfectly-formed arse.  Who needs you?  
I certainly don't, if this is what you're going to do with the role. 
 
And there you have it.  I stand by every word.  I'd love to think I'll change my mind about the film one of these days; but there is no sign of it on the horizon, and boy oh boy do I hope the next film in the series washes the taste of this one out of my mouth.


#24 -- Pierce Brosnan in The World Is Not Enough (1999)




More excerpts from posts past:

[I]t is hard to hold this movie against Brosnan.  He tries his best, but the mix of seriousness and silliness simply has no chance of working.  One example: in the briefing at MI6's Scottish headquarters, Brosnan is great in the moment when he expresses anger at Tanner toward being excluded from the operation investigating King's death.  It's a good, fiery moment, and we cut from this to . . . Bond screwing  a hot doctor so that she will give him a medical clearance.

That's pretty tacky under most circumstances, but there's something about the juxtaposition which makes it doubly problematic.  Brosnan has a lot of moments in which it's clear that he wants us to think of Bond as a human, complete with flaws, quirks, problems, and concerns.  But then the movie continually delivers moments where Bond behaves as goofily as Roger Moore ever did.  Brosnan is good in either mode; he's not good at melding the two into a cohesive performance.  He managed it in GoldenEye; he failed utterly in Tomorrow Never Dies, and he fails even more here.

Case in point: during the pre-credits sequence, Bond injures his shoulder during a fall.  That injured shoulder pops up numerous times during the rest of the film (including during at least two sex scenes).  Bond with a nagging physical injury is fairly new ground for the series, and it might have been good ground to cover if the movie actually covered it.  Instead, it mostly ignores it; Bond does all sorts of crazy, Batman-esque crap, but then every once in a while grimaces, usually only once the superhuman-esque feat is accomplished.  In other words, the shoulder doesn't prevent Bond from doing anything; it's there only to serve as window dressing.  It's sillier and more problematic than simply having Bond BE a semi-superhuman; at least Moore's Bond films were consistent, and could be engaged with on their own terms.

Another example of Brosnan's performance succeeding and failing simultaneously comes during the resolution of the ski scene.  It's essentially just a big, goofy action scene, and it culminates in Bond using his Q-Branch-gifted jacket as an inflatable avalanche-guard.  That's as silly an idea as just about anything from Bond circa 1971, which is fine by me.  Thing is, inside the jacket, Elektra freaks out and Bond calms her down, and the way Brosnan and Marceau play the scene you'd think they were in Schindler's List or something.  Nobody wants ice cream inside their baked potatoes, y'all; some things just don't go together.

Sean Connery would have used this as an excuse to get laid.  So would Roger Moore, although he'd have been so busy spouting one-liners that he might not have gotten around to the fucking.  George Lazenby would have had the good sense to quit the series before being put in this position.  I'm not sure I know what Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig would do in this situation; I could see Dalton getting it as badly wrong as Brosnan does, but I suspect Craig would have found a way to avoid the whole scenario somehow.  I feel as if his Bond would have no time for the Elektra Kings of the world.

It's not all bad news.  My favorite Brosnan joke of the movie comes when he meets Dr. Christmas Jones, and she warns him not to make any jokes, because she's heard them all before.  "I don't know any doctor jokes," he says in his Russian accent.  Great!  Love it!  It's a lame joke, but there are layers to the lameness, and when you peel them all away, what you find is that it's not lame at all; it's kind of wonderful.  This is a joke of the sort Connery's Bond might have played, and Brosnan sells it as well as I can imagine Connery doing.  Not a bad compliment, that.  I also have to confess that the (ahem) climactic joke about Christmas only coming once a year still cracks me up.  That's a great Moore-esque line, and it makes me wonder why everyone involved didn't just decide to go full-bore Moore with this movie.  They clearly wanted to.  Hell, the movie even ends with Q -- or "R," I guess -- accidentally helping M catch Bond in mind-coitus.  There are, what, like, four of Rog's movies that end that way?

Just commit, damn it.  Be the one thing, or be the other thing.  Failing that, be better at mixing the two.  But, again, let's not fault Brosnan too much.  This failing -- if you admit it is one -- is much the fault (if not moreso) of the producers, director, screenwriters, and editor.  Brosnan should only shoulder so much of the blame, and I remain convinced that he was a fundamentally good 007 who was let down severely by weak material.  But we're judging Bond here, not merely Brosnan; and this is arguably one of THE weakest of all Bond performances.

All that said, I still have a positive flash in my brain when the thoughts "Pierce Brosnan" and "The World Is Not Enough" occur to me in close proximity.  Not that that means everything; but it doesn't mean nothing, either.


#23 -- Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)




I'm inclined to give you the short version of my argument here: Brosnan is not able -- possibly due to shoddy direction and/or editing, possibly due to the sheer failures of the screenplay, possibly due to his own shortcomings as an actor (and probably due to a combination of all of the above) -- to put together a consistent performance in this film.  He would (as we've already seen) have the same struggle in the next 007 film, as well.

I am ranking this one ahead of TWINE because I think there are more great moments from Brosnan here than there; but really, it's a toss-up.


#22 -- Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever (1971)




I was tempted to place this performance a bit higher on the list; after all, I think Connery brings more to the film than the film brings to him, and I think you can also make a VERY persuasive claim that the Roger Moore era of Bond films began with this one.  As it turns out, Connery was pretty good at being in that type of Bond film; all he had to do was make no effort to conceal the fact that he was there only to cash a paycheck, and deliver the lines as they were written.

That said, he does seem to at least be amusing himself at times, and if nothing else it is a consistent performance; for that reason, he earns higher marks than some of the performances beneath him on this list.

Side-note -- I'd planned to use the following screencap:




I did not begin using Blu-rays for my screencapping until Tomorrow Never Dies, however, so I thought what I could do for all of the pre-TND films was locate an image I liked from my DVD 'caps and then hunt up those moments on Blu-ray and give them an upgrade for this post.

Here's what I found on the Blu-ray for this film:




Isn't that weird?  And lest you assume that the Blu-ray is an atrocious transfer, let me assure you that it is not: it looks gorgeous.  Nope, I think that the color-timing here was altered very purposefully so that Connery's palpable look of disinterest was wiped out.  (For the record: it's not just Connery's palpable disinterest, it's also Bond's.)

That's my hypothesis, at least.


#21 -- Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice (1967)




You might recall that earlier, I said Sean Connery is my favorite James Bond.  And so he is, but this does not prevent me from recognizing that he gave two of the worst Bond performances.

Of those, I think You Only Live Twice is probably preferable to Diamonds Are Forever ... but could easily have flip-flopped the two.  After all, while Connery's disinterest is equally palpable in both, an argument could be made that that disinterest is more appropriate to the proceedings in the fundamentally silly Diamonds Are ForeverYou Only Live Twice, on the other hand, is intended to be a more or less serious film.  Or if not serious, per se, then at least not patently ridiculous.

And yet, James Bond gets race-change surgery in this film.  No shit, y'all; it's true.

The bottom line for me is that compared to the first four times Connery played Bond, this is a quantum-leap downward in quality.  Is Connery himself to blame?  Perhaps; it was well-publicized at the time that he wanted out of the role, and perhaps he didn't feel obliged not to let it show.

It's also possible that director Lewis Gilbert was not as gifted as the directors who had preceded him.  I'd argue that this is as close to a fact as can be true of objective things like taste in cinema; this is nowhere close to as good a film as the first four had been.

And nowhere is it more evident than in the performance given by its star.


#20 -- Roger Moore in A View to a Kill (1985)


 

I think this was probably the nadir of Moore's tenure as Bond, at least terms of his performance.  (As for the movie itself, I prefer it to at least a couple of other Moores.)  He's not bad; I still get a kick out of seeing him in the role, it's just that he really was too old for the part by this point, and it's a little sad to see him and everyone around him pretending it's not the case.

He gives it his all, though, and I will forever have a soft spot for that effort.  Let's turn to the You Only Blog Twice archives for an expansion of that sentiment:

When the movie came out on May 24, 1985, I was about two months away from turning eleven years old.  I remember my parents taking me to see the movie when it came out.  School was out for the summer; my cousin and his family went to the movie with us.  We all went back to my house after the movie, and the grownups made homemade ice cream on the patio while us kids ran around in the back yard, pretending we were 007.

It's a nice memory.  I come back to it every so often, and it seems to live in my brain in a way that things I did literally yesterday do not.  Nothing special about that; that's everybody's life to some degree, or so I imagine.  But it does make me wonder if I would, without that memory, be as kind to A View to a Kill as I'm likely to be during this review.

Here's where I come down on the issue: I think that, yes, I would be.  I've got similarly fond memories for certain other Bond movies I don't like very much, so why -- if my opinions are taintable to that degree -- do I not make similar allowances for, say, You Only Live Twice?  It'd probably take a psychologist with the mental equivalent of a hammer and chisel -- if not a sledgehammer -- to answer that question fully, so if one happens to be reading this and feels like making me (and my tolerance/intolerance for the Bond series) a case study, get in touch and we'll hammer out the details.

Otherwise, I'll boil it down simply: I'm still entertained by A View to a Kill, whereas I am not by You Only Live Twice.  The latter has its merits, but is also hampered somewhat by a bored performance from Sean Connery.  Now, he is still '60s Sean Connery, so it's still an interesting screen presence regardless of his seeming indifference toward the role; but that indifference takes me out of the movie at various key moments.

Roger Moore in A View to a Kill, on the other hand, still seems engaged by what he's doing.  He's having fun here, just as he did in Octopussy two years earlier, and while I don't think he's got as much good material to play, I think he does well with what he has.

I've harped on Moore's advancing age for -- what? -- the last three or so reviews of his Bond films, and I imagine that some of you are tired of reading it.  We won't rehash it much here, except to emphasize that Moore himself had been aware for half a decade or more, and had tried to give the role up to a younger man.  But his 007 was extremely popular, and there were just as many people who'd have been happy to see him play Bond for another movie or two as there were people who wished he hung the tux and the Walther up two films previously.  The seriousness -- and the serious success -- of Daniel Craig's take on the character has obscured this fact for most of the people who didn't live through the era, but it's important to remember: lots of people loved Moore in the role.

Lots of people still do, including yours truly.  So, yes, obviously, the age was an issue, and watching A View to a Kill in 2013, during an era of decidedly different James Bond films, brings the fact home.  But so what?  Fuck's sake, it was a different era!  In many, many ways.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Quite the opposite, in fact; one of the ongoing charms the Bond series hold for me is that when you sit down and watch the whole thing front-to-back, you are literally taking an expedited spin through a half a century of history.  It changes, it stays the same, it changes some more, and it points both backward and forward simultaneously.

A big part of that is that in 1985, a ten-year-old boy could go see a movie in which a 57-year-old man dangled from a zeppelin over the Golden Gate Bridge, and then cavort around the backyard in the early summer pretending that he, too, was badass enough to do the things that James Bond did.  I didn't care then that he was old enough to be my grandfather, and if I didn't care then, I don't know why I should care all that much three decades later.

I've said little specifically about Moore's performance here, but there are two elements of it that I do want to point out, the first being the excellent chemistry he has with Patrick Macnee.

The two had worked together before (including 1976's Sherlock Holmes in New York, in which Moore plays Holmes and Macnee Watson), so undoubtedly that familiarity plays into their chemistry here.  I still laugh every time at the moment in which Macnee's Tibbett is laden down with an astonishing number of suitcases, and Moore's Bond offers to help...only to pluck a mere umbrella from the top of the pile.  I watched the movie four times in preparation for this review, and I laughed all four times when that moment came around.  Moore might not be the only person in history who could have played it, but of all the Bonds, he is clearly the best-suited to pull it off that well.

I also like the way Moore plays Bond's relationship with Stacy.  It has, I think, a fairly clear arc that runs throughout the movie.  At their initial meeting -- pictured above -- Bond obviously intends to try to use his dick to get to the bottom of things, the way he always does.  Stacy shoots him down flat.  Later, after he has saved her from some of Zorin's goons at her house, she -- exhausted -- passes out on top of the covers in bed.  After the fracas, he's cooked her dinner and shared two bottles of wine, and he's clearly anticipating a bit of nooky.  He sees that she's opted instead to drift off to slumberland, and pulls the covers up over her. 

From this point on, his attitude toward Stacy is the attitude of a man who knows he ain't gettin' in them drawers; he accepts it, but with the occasional moment of poutiness, such as the one he gives when studiously trying not to look at her ass while it rests on top of a bunch of explosives.  The subtext, for me, is that of a man who is slowly coming to the (forced) realization that he's no longer the cocksman he once was.  He seems a little bummed out, a little disgusted with himself, and a little offended, all at once.

Did Moore layer his performance with all of this purposefully, or am I reading things into the movie that are not there?  It's a good question; neither answer would surprise me.

Either way, the movie drops the ball a bit by having Stacy throw Bond a sympathy fuck at the end of the movie.  Although I suppose if you got saved by a badass grandpa-type who literally swung from a zeppelin to keep you alive, you might be inclined to reward him with coitus, too. 

So yeah, sure; not the ideal Bond performance in some ways, but a valiant effort.


#19 -- Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only (1981)


 

The deal with For Your Eyes Only (a movie I love, to be clear) is that it's a would-be rebound from the excesses of Moonraker (another movie I love).  The producers felt the pendulum had swung too far toward silliness, so they swung it back in the other direction and made a fundamentally serious movie that only has moments of silliness.

The problem with that is that it's a screenplay which is better suited to a Sean Connery approach; it does not take all that much advantage of what Roger Moore brought to the table.  But at the same time, its core of seriousness is all too often assigned to the supporting characters to play.  Moore himself is perfectly fine as a dramatic actor, and he has moments throughout the Bond series where he demonstrates it capably.  (We'll get to at least two of those in upcoming entries on this list.)  He even gets a few here.

So my question -- asked some thirty-seven years after the fact -- about that is this: why not actually give Moore some real material to play here?  As is, he simply seems stranded, and vastly too old to be palling around with at least two of the film's Bond girls.  Here, they LOOK like girls, and Roger Moore looks like the president of a bank; it's not a great combination.

Still, he's got some good moments, and Bond kicking Locque off the cliff is one of the most cold-blooded of all 007 moments.  Moore sells it every bit as capably as any of his counterparts might have done.


#18 -- Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again (1983)




Some people love this movie; I know.  I get that.

I am not one of them.  It's one of the few Bond movies -- assuming you count it as such (and I do) -- that actually pisses me off a little bit.  Sometimes, a lot.

I'm not sure any of that can be pinned on Sean Connery, though.  Not as an actor.  As a producer, sure; without him, this movie would not have been made, I'd wager.  So he's to blame in that sense.  But his actual performance is fine.  There's little inspiration in it; he's doing essentially the same shtick here as he did in Diamonds Are Forever; I think he's doing it at a slightly higher level this time, but in the end, that's really all it is.

What makes it interesting for me is that the movie actually does some work to dramatize the fact that James Bond is aging.  Connery's performance is 100% onboard with that approach, and so there's a core of honesty to it that you don't get in, say, For Your Eyes Only.  But despite the age thing, Connery is still sprightly and charismatic and convincing as a guy who just might have a shot with a lass like Kim Basinger.


#17 -- Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill (1989)




Here's what I said about this performance in days of yore:

I like Timothy Dalton's take on James Bond a lot, as I made abundantly clear in my review of The Living Daylights.  And I think he's pretty good in Licence to Kill, too, but nowhere near AS good.  The tone of the movie was supposedly tailored to suit his style, i.e., darker and more realistic.  Maybe that's true, but there are numerous scenes in which he seems a bit ill at ease, almost as though he's being weighed down by the material.

That's true of the entire movie, by the way, even the few scenes that take place prior to the attack on Felix and Della (for example, the above screencap from the wedding, in which Bond looks annoyed to even be alive).  Dalton is doing his very best to put across a fully-formed character, one who is as complex as any he might have played during his stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company.  The aim was to show that Ian Fleming's character was that complex a creation.

Thing is, I'm not sure that's actually the case.  And if it is, it isn't inherently the case; such qualities need to be nurtured; they are not automatically present thanks to the increase in darkness and "realism."  The core idea of how to do that -- Bond goes on an unsanctioned manhunt as revenge against the people who harmed one of his best friends -- works.  Unfortunately, the screenplay itself fails to take advantage of the idea; it's far too simple-minded for that.  Here is a movie in which Bond is risking his job, and his life, to avenge a friend; and yet, all he does the entire movie is push away one friend after another: he is vaguely rude to Della, he continually tries to get Pam to go away, and he accepted Q's help only with the utmost reluctance.  Shouldn't Bond be leaning on Pam, and especially on Q?

Put simply, the screenplay fails to properly take advantage of its own conceits.  In the face of that, what chance does Dalton stand?  He's trying to play a symphony using a washboard and a Casio; it just can't be done.

But he does the best he can, and it's about as good as anyone could have done under the circumstances.  If you want a look at what a better version of the same movie with the same actor could have been like, consider the moment after Sanchez's death, when Bond leans against a rock.  You can see Dalton mentally gathering himself, and something happens inside James Bond.  We are not privy to it, but we see it happen, and it makes a certain kind of sense despite the fact that we are not privy to it.  I read it as Bond suddenly remembering that despite his having achieved his goal, Felix is still maimed, and Della is still dead; he's gotten his vengeance, but what good has it done, really?

It's a great moment, and if there had been more like it, this might be a great movie.  And Dalton might be more revered than he is today.  As is, though, this was his last run at 007, and for a great many people, it did not work.  Time has been kind to the movie, and it has its followers.  Still, it's hard not to be a little wistful for what might have been.

I still wish we'd gotten a third Dalton film, and maybe even a fourth, fifth, etc.  I'd love to know how they'd have turned out.


#16 -- Roger Moore in Octopussy (1983)




Old-man Moore was in full effect in his sixth outing as 007, but boy is there a lot to like from his performance.  His comic timing may have never been better; just watch him during the grossout dinner scene, for example.

And as for the clown sequence...?  That moment has been pointed to and laughed at by many a critic who thinks they are being clever by pointing out that Roger Moore is such a lousy Bond that he eventually literally turned the character into a clown.  Thing is, Moore is fabulous in that scene; he -- because he is a good actor -- plays the scene with complete seriousness.  I mean, why wouldn't he?  Bond is trying to stop a motherfucking atomic bomb from exploding.  If the scene had been played for laughs, it would have actually BEEN the disaster uninformed critics take it to be; instead, Moore gives the scene tension and suspense and the only sense in which the performance in those moments is winking at the audience is by NOT winking at the audience.

Take THAT, every other Bond actor!  Not a single one of you could have played this scene at the level Moore does.


#15 -- Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day (2002)




Past Bryant explained this one better than Present Bryant could hope to.  (Both of us like to think that Future Bryant could blow even Past Bryant out of the water, but he has not weighed in as of press time.)  Here goes:

Brosnan is back to fine form in Die Another Day, and gives what is easily his second-best performance as Bond.  Not only that, I think it's a good performance, period.  In a bad movie, one might reasonably argue; but a good performance nonetheless.
  
Part of the reason it succeeds where the previous two failed is that the screenplay -- ridiculous though it may be -- does not bounce all over the place tonally.  It begins in a relatively serious fashion, takes a few scenes to slowly transition into a goofier and more cartoonish style, and then stays there for the rest of the runtime.  In every single scene he's in, Brosnan gives a performance that is appropriate to the tone the writers and director are crafting; and as the film progresses, it makes a coherent effort to keep Bond's character arc logical and consistent.  Yeah, sure, there's a lot of stupid bullshit in the plot; but none of it impacts what's going on with Bond.
  
This was not immediately apparent to me.  I watched the movie something like seven times in preparation for writing this post, and the first couple of times I thought Brosnan was just as crap as the rest of the movie was.  But as I worked through the commentary tracks and took notes on various things, I began to notice that he was actually doing very good work.
  
By the end of the process, I'd come to the conclusion that whatever problems the movie has, Pierce Brosnan is not one of them.  I think it's a genuinely good Bond performance, and it makes me happy to now be back in the camp of feeling as if Brosnan was a strong 007 at least as often as not.
  
A few specific moments I like:
  
  • In the opening scene, when he takes Van Bierks' sunglasses, he gets an assholeish "I win!" grin on his face that is uniquely Brosnan-esque.
  • "Saved by the bell...," he quips after Moon falls to his supposed death.  You can tell he doesn't really think much of the line, but has decided to try and sell it with a good old-fashioned college try.  The joke then kind of becomes a "listen at this shitty joke" moment.  Works for me.
  • When the General tells the much-tortured Bond that he doesn't approve of what his underlings have been doing, Bond motions toward the Scorpion Lady and says, "Tell it to the concierge."  It isn't much of a joke, really, but Brosnan -- again -- manages to turn it into something.  This time, he makes it a matter not of being funny. but merely of being willing to joke at all.  It's like he's saying, "Look, I don't have a funny joke, but I've got a joke, and any joke is better than no joke.  So fuck you, jack; here's my unfunny joke.  Torture me into being unfunny, but you won't shut me up."  It shouldn't work at all, and maybe you think it doesn't; but it works for me.
  • When Bond is about to walk across the bridge as part of the prisoner exchange, but doesn't know that's what is happening and thinks he is about to be executed, Brosnan does a fantastic job of making it clear that Bond isn't too happy about the fact that he's about to die, but is nevertheless determined not to break.  Brosnan tried during all of his movies to work in moments for Bond to be relatably human; this is one of the most subtle and effective of them all.
  • Perhaps one of the great I'm-the-coolest-motherfucker-you-ever-even-heard-of moments in the entire series comes when Bond, clad only in rumpled pajamas and looking like one of Rob Zombie's roadies, goes strolling into what one presumes to be the finest hotel in Hong Kong and gets himself a room based purely on confidence.  There are a couple of other Bonds I can imagine pulling this scene off; but I'm not sure any of them would top how Brosnan does it.
  • During the fight with Zao at the clinic, an MRI machine becomes activated and grabs Bond's revolver (along with everything other metallic object nearby).  A few moments later, Bond deactivates it, grabs the revolver as it falls off the machine, and fires it.  That's slick as hell.
  • The scene itself is odd, but Brosnan is terrific in the "virtual reality" scene in which he experiences Q's new target practice simulator.  The scene is obviously designed to make one think of first-person-shooter games, which the Bond franchise had a rather large part in popularizing during Brosnan's era.  I don't know how to explain this, but the way Brosnan plays the scene really sells the idea of it being video-game-esque.  Something about the sharp, precise movements he makes, and the lack of hesitancy with which he dispatches his foes.  In plot and logic terms, it's a dopey scene; but in terms of its execution, I think it's one of the movie's standout scenes.  Brosnan is great here.
  • The movie was the twentieth in the series, and so everyone involved decided to pay many, many homages to other Bond films.  One such scene involves Bond and Q wandering around an old Q Branch storage room, in which one can see various gadgets from Bond films past.  At one point, Bond picks up Rosa Klebb's knife-laden shoe from From Russia With Love, gives it a sniff, and grimaces.  Droll and crass at the same time.
  • Say what you will about the invisible car, but I think Brosnan's reaction to it is pretty great.  When Q finally uncloaks it (as it were), Brosnan has a look of incredulity on his face which almost immediately turns into delight.  "Oh, very good...," he says, deeply impressed.  Now, look; I agree with the entire world that saddling 007 with an invisible car was perhaps several steps too far.  BUT, within the logic of the series itself, if Bond were presented with an actual, functional invisible car, then he would unquestionably think it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.  That's what Brosnan conveys in this moment.  Think what you will about it being a dumb and super-unrealistic plot point; within the context of the movie itself, Brosnan's reaction is not only appropriate, but kind of perfect.
  • The only time in the movie when Brosnan really goes into his super-serious mode is when Miranda Frost reveals herself to be the traitor who earned him fourteen months in North Korean military prison.  His reactions are excellent during this scene, and his seriousness is totally earned; we understand the reasons for it, and if we haven't totally given up on the movie by this point -- a big "if," that -- then we are 100% with Bond in these moments.
  • The car-chase across the frozen lake is dopey, but there is at least one terrific moment in it: Zao fires a rocket which causes Bond's car to flip over onto its roof; the car continues on its path on sheer momentum, and Bond opens the roof and fires the ejector seat, which flips the car back onto its wheels.  Chase continueth.  That's some James Bond shit right there; Brosnan plays it as though Bond is the coolest motherfucker to ever walk the face of the planet.  And who knows?  Maybe he is.

Any fan of Spectre is likely furious by now for any number of reasons, but ranking Brosnan's performance in ostensibly-the-worst-Bond-movie Die Another Day over ANY Craig performance must surely be atop that pile of shrieking complaints.

Sorry, y'all.  Brosnan is really rather magnificent in this movie.  Say what you will about the movie, but Brosnan is working as hard as he can possibly work to make the whole thing float.  You measure his investment and energy here against Craig's lack of same in Spectre, and there is ZERO comparison: Pierce for the win, by a mile.

It's not merely a good Bond performance; it gets damn close to being a great one.


#14 -- Roger Moore in Moonraker (1979)




Moonraker is an undeniably silly film.  And that's the thing: it IS undeniably silly, which means that the critics who approach it as anything but that are missing the point entirely.  And if you're going to approach it as a fundamentally silly bit of entertainment, I think you surely have to conclude that as that, it is a pinata of fun.  And it's Roger Moore who busts that fuckin' pinata open and lets all the children of Earth enjoy the candies that spill out.

Well, that metaphor got away from me a bit, but you know what I mean, I think.

This movie doesn't work without Roger Moore starring in it.  (You might not think it works WITH him starring in it; fair enough, but we here at You Only Blog Twice feel differently and are proud of it.)  He takes it juuuuuuuuuust seriously enough that it allows us to believe that Hugo Drax is formidable and needs to be stopped; but mostly, he's focused on simply bringing his wit and his charm to every scene he is in.  And for the most part, he does precisely that.  He's got a number of terrific line readings, he's got a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step the whole way through; he's got a determination that never flags.

As much as I enjoy his final three films, this was probably the one Moore ought to have gone out on; his age had finally begun to show, and while it had not quite turned into a liability yet, things were clearly trending in that direction.

And what better way for this marvelous man to go out than circling the Earth in a literal spaceship, too distracted by pussy to even be awed by the majesty of this pale blue dot we all call home?  "I think he's attempting re-entry!" Q famously quips.

He'd earned it.


#13 -- Roger Moore in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)




A peek behind the curtain at the manner by which I arrived at these rankings: I began by consulting my reviews of the individual films and making a list of all the performances, complete with the Double-0 ratings I awarded at that time.  Then, I ranked them using those ratings.

I felt no need to rigorously follow that list, though, and have made on-the-fly adjustments as seemed correct in the moment.  That said, I am honoring my (unscientific and inherently ludicrous) ratings to some degree.  For example, when I see that I awarded Moore's performance in The Man With the Golden Gun a 005, whereas some of his other performances scored a point lower, I am inclined to roll with it, despite the fact that nothing in this film leaps out of my memory the way, say, A View to a Kill does.

Let's see what Past Bryant had to say:

I think his performance here is quite good, possibly even better than in Live and Let Die.  This, in some ways, is a very different sort of film to that; it's hard to see the forest for the trees, when the trees in this instance equate to midgets and redneck sheriffs and lasers and kung fu, but this is actually a much more serious movie tonally than Live and Let Die.  Moore modulated his performance accordingly, and while he certainly plays his share of light moments, he also plays much of the movie very seriously.  For comparison, in Live and Let Die he never seems to be taking much of anything seriously, and for that film, it was the right call, since that movie's goals are really to be nothing more than a pure romp.
It's different in this movie, and Moore nails it.  The result might have been very different. 
A few individual scenes stand out for me.  For one, I like the fistfight he has in the belly-dancer's dressing-room in the Beirut scene.  Moore doesn't get into all that many dustups in comparison to the other Bonds, and this seems to be because the filmmakers correctly realized that it just didn't fit his style.  But that isn't to say he isn't good at it; he is (not as good as Connery or even Lazenby, perhaps, but good nonetheless).  Here, he plays it with a mildly light touch, and Bond almost seems, once it is all over, to be ashamed to have gotten himself involved in something so crass as a brawl.  That style of secret agent might not be every fan's cup of tea, and I'd for Bond to be that way in every iteration, but here, I love it.
Moore is also very good in the scene in which he tracks down Lazar, the manufacturer of Scaramanga's golden bullets.  
  
He is ruthless in this scene, and while he's not AS good as Connery would have been playing the same scene, he acquits himself quite nicely.  He's also very good in the dialogue-free scene in which he is tracking Scaramanga outside the Bottoms Up club in Hong Kong.  This is one of the rare times -- possibly the only time -- in Moore's films in which Bond seems like what he undoubtedly must be from time to time: a predator stalking his prey.
You've also got to love the scene at the kung fu school.  Moore seemingly does all of his own fighting here, and while there are a few individual moments in which it is plain that his opponents (the actors, I mean, as opposed to the characters) are restraining themselves, on the whole Moore does quite well.  I love the moment in which the one guy bows to him before the fight begins, and Bond just kicks him and the face and knocks him out.  That's a hilariously unclassy bit of business, and it's still funny years later.
  
lso still funny, at least as far as I'm concerned: Moore's bit of business in which he mocks J.W. Pepper's accent.  This happens right before the big auto stunt, and Pepper says something along the lines of "You're not about to...?"  Bond's reply: "I shore am, boy!"  Moore is the ONLY Bond who would have been able to sell this moment, and he sells it like a champ.
The only false notes from Moore in the film come in the scene in which he smacks Maud Adams' character around.  The scene makes sense from a storytelling standpoint: Bond thinks an assassin -- a highly capable one -- is trying to kill him, and Anders is the woman who is apparently in charge of bringing the assassin the golden bullets he will use to get the job done.  She is a direct line to Scaramanga.  Bond is a ruthless professional killer.  Why should he balk at hitting a woman, or nearly breaking her arm, or (frankly) doing worse if needs be?  The logical -- if perhaps not the moral -- answer is that he shouldn't.
Here, though, it comes close to failing totally.  Moore does his best, but he simply doesn't seem to have that particular stripe of ruthlessness in him.  And Maud Adams seems genuinely terrified by him; her good performance both helps and hurts the scene in that way.
But the scene is over relatively quickly, and ultimately does not harm the film much.
That mild false note excepted, Roger Moore is very good in this movie.

Do those thoughts hold up?  I suppose they do, but part of me wonders if I haven't overvalued his work here as a result of ageism toward some of his later roles.

But we're going with it!


#12 -- Roger Moore in Live and Let Die (1973)




An immense weight was on Roger Moore's performance in this movie.  He wasn't the first non-Connery 007; he was the second, so he at least didn't have that weight on him.  But he was the one whose movie HAD to land with audiences.  One rejection -- that of George Lazenby -- from movie-goers meant one thing; two rejections of Bonds who were not Sean Connery would have meant something else entirely.  I personally doubt that the series would have survived it.

Happily, what the world got in Live and Let Die was a man whose energy was not at all like his predecessor's.  Moore made the role his own; he was secure in the notion that the trappings of Bond -- the women, the gadgets, the intrigue, etc. -- would do half of the work of convincing people that this was James Bond.  His job was to make people believe that he could exist in that world.  His relation to them differed from Connery's, but maybe that was okay.  IF -- big if, but if -- he could get people to buy in, then most of the work was done.

Clearly, it worked.  And that being the case, there had to be a point in the movie where contemporary audiences who had loved Connery unfolded their arms, stopped squinting skeptically, and said to themselves, "Hey, this fella's alright!"

What point in the movie do you suppose that is?  Was it the magnetic-watch gag in the beginning?  Could be, especially when combined with Moore's chemistry with Lois Maxwell (playing Moneypenny) in that scene.  Was it his unflappability during his initial confrontation with Mr. Big and Tee Hee?  Could be.

MY bet is that it was that moment when Bond is above to shave and sees the snake in the mirror.  He whirls, turns his foam shave into a blowtorch, and fries that critter in its tracks.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is some James Bond-ass shit.  And it's quintessentially Moore's Bond; Connery's would have had a machete or something nearby and would have just chopped it into bits.  This was different ... and yet, the same, somehow.

That, I think, is when Roger Moore really became James Bond.

For my money, he still is.


#11 -- Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)




A couple of things jump out to me personally in terms of where this performance has ended up on my list.

First: it's a bit incongruous that this is my least favorite of Moore's Bond movies, but I'm saying it's my favorite Moore-as-Bond performance.  And yet, both of those things are true for me.

Second: this ranking (#11) means that Moore is the only Bond actor without a performance in my top ten.  I thought about juking the rankings just to correct that, but that's not the sort of honesty I want my blog to represent.  I can be wrong all day long, I can as misguided as one wishes to say; but I've GOT to be honest.

And so, Moore lands ever so slightly outside the realm of the top ten.

Seems right to me, but it also makes me a little bit sad.

His performance in this movie does not.  It is a delight.  Without it, the movie would be MUCH worse off; he meets each scene in the spirit with which it is intended (whatever that spirit may be, and it is more varied here than you might think, ranging from wry amusement to stark terror to mournful regret).  And somehow, he manages to tie it all together in coherent fashion.  You want to see an example of this done less masterfully?  Check out the middle two Brosnan films.  The sins committed by the Bond actor in those two movies are not committed here, and to be honest, I'm a little mystified as to how Moore managed it.

Beats me, but manage it he did.  THIS is what the vast majority of people think of when they think "Roger Moore as James Bond."  There's a reason for that, and while I think this movie has got 99 problems, Roger Moore ain't one.


#10 -- Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye (1995)




Oh, man.

Man, oh, man; this top ten is brutal.  Brutal.

I think the top very-small-handful of performances separate themselves from the rest, but most of these...?  Write 'em on scraps of paper, fling the scraps into the air, and rank them in terms of which ones you grab first.

Let's rely on previously-written thoughts to express why this particular performance deserves to be ranked inside the top ten:

Odds are that if you're reading this blog, you already know a bit about Pierce Brosnan's history with the Bond series.  In the event that this is not the case, here's a brief recap: he had been hired to take over the role for The Living Daylights, only to have the rug pulled out from under him when NBC unexpectedly renewed his contract for Remington Steele and rendered him unavailable for double-oh service.  Timothy Dalton got the call instead, but when Dalton's era ended, the Bond producers decided Brosnan was still their best option, and he got the gig again, this time for real.
  
It feels to me as if Brosnan has radically declined in popularity during the Daniel Craig era.  I can't claim to not be a part of that; these days, he is easily my least favorite of all of 007s.  This is not to say I dislike him; I don't.  I blame his movies for that moreso than I blame him.
Either way, I think his performance in GoldenEye is the best he gave as Bond, and we should not undervalue it.  Remember, folks: this film was crucial to the continuance of the Bond series, and that meant that Brosnan's performance was crucial.  If it had failed to click with audiences, would the series have continued?  It's impossible to say for sure, but my gut tells me that it would not have.
With that in mind, I think I would have to characterize Brosnan's performance as a rousing success.  You might or might not think it works in 2014.  It unquestionably worked in 1995.  Brosnan straddles the line between comedy and pathos like a champ, and while he arguably goes too far in either direction at times, I think it is nevertheless a very complete performance.  It works for GoldenEye, and gave most Bond fans what they wanted at that time.
  
Brosnan has numerous good scenes, but I'd like to mention a few of my favorites:
  
During the casino scene in which he meets Xenia for the first time that does not involve a car chase, Brosnan is note-perfect at playing the scene for comedy without descending into parody.  Xenia gives him her last name, which, of course, is "Onatopp."  "Onatopp?" Bond asks, trying very hard to not sound incredulous.  "Onatopp," Xenia confirms.  Brosnan lets his eyes convey the fact to the audience that he knows how ridiculous such a name is; but he does not engage in any wink-for-the-camera sort of hugger-mugger, which keeps the moment from veering into the sort of territory Austin Powers would visit so capably a couple of years later.  This is crucial.  Brosnan's Bond is inviting fans of the series to laugh with the series rather than at it; Brosnan is saying to us, "Well, this is a bit silly isn't it?  No reason not to keep right on doing it, though, is there?  Right, let's go!"
  
That approach is an implicit apology for the Timothy Dalton years, and while I'm a Dalton fan and feel that those years do not need to be apologized for, there can be no doubt that in 1995 I would have been in a minority in feeling that way.  In 1995, a return to form was needed, and moments like that "Onatopp?" one show why Brosnan was extremely well-suited to do just that.  Maybe we've forgotten it a bit in the intervening years; but in 1995, Pierce Brosnan was exactly what we wanted and needed.
  
One of the film's standout scenes is the one in M's office, when she calls him a misogynist relic of the Cold War.  Brosnan plays this scene extremely well, and permits Judi Dench's M to dominate the interaction.  And yet, Brosnan manages to not come across as being intimidated or humiliated by M; that was not the intent of the scene, and Dench does not play it that way, either.  But if Brosnan had shown a bit more weakness, it might have come across that way despite everyone's intentions.  Instead, Brosnan's Bond seems as if he already knows what M is telling him, and is sympathetic toward M for pointing them out; but that he is also unlikely to change his approach just because M has called him out on it.  The end result: Brosnan's Bond is saying, "Well, yes, perhaps that's all true; but it's who I am, and at the end of the day, you wouldn't really want me to change any more than I would ever want to change."  There's a twinkle in Dench's eye that indicates she agrees, and judging from the box-office receipts, so did the rest of the ticket-purchasing world.
  
A crucial test: can you, as James Bond, still be suave despite being stuck inside a horrible little car driven by Joe Don Baker?  Brosnan pulls this off better than perhaps any other Bond could have done, in my opinion.
  
"No more foreplay," says Bond during a steamy confrontation with Xenia.  This is a line that could easily have gone very, very wrong; but Brosnan knocks it out of the park, and creates one of Bond's most iconic moments.
  
Next up: a great reaction moment when Bond is hiding behind a column, arming an explosive device.  There's a big squib hit on the column, which simulates enemies firing on him; Brosnan merely moves his head an iota, never losing focus on the device he's arming.  Another instantly iconic moment.
  
What, then, are the negatives of Brosnan's performance?  Well . . . to be honest, there aren't very many.  I'm going to churlishly dock him a point simply because he doesn't have the deep, resonant voice of a Connery, Dalton, or (especially) Moore.
  
Apart from that...?  I suppose you could argue that he occasionally tries to go for introspection that isn't earned, or that he occasionally tries to make Bond's physical exertions (running, being in pain, etc.) look a bit more realistic than the material can bear.  Those are perhaps his weakest qualities as Bond, and if you consider them to be problems then they are problems which will only become more pronounced over the course of his next three films.
  
Here, though, they are only mildly problematic, if at all.  Honestly, there's just not much here that Brosnan doesn't do really, really well.


Yep, bottom line is, this one just plain WORKS.  Damn near flawlessly.  And it seems to be getting better with age, too.  I don't know that the same is true of most of Brosnan's other performances in the role; but THIS one puts him in the 007 hall of fame.


#9 -- George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)




It kills me to have George ranked this low; kills me!  But I think it's the correct placement.

Take it away, Past Bryant:

Let's get the negatives out of the way first.  It has to be pointed out that Lazenby, at the time, was a non-actor.  He had literally appeared only in a commercial, but based on his looks and on impressing the hell out of director Peter Hunt, he landed what must have at that time been the most coveted role in the world.  As you would expect from a non-actor, he has moments where he seems at a disadvantage.  There are several Lazenby line readings that simply fall flat: "Please stay alive ... at least for tonight!" seems entirely too eager for Bond; "Just keep my mind on your driving!" is both poorly-written and poorly-delivered; and so forth.  Many of these lines are looped, meaning that they were redubbed by Lazenby, who would certainly have been inexperienced at looping.
 
There are plenty of other line readings which work quite well, however, including two -- "This never happened to the other feller..." and "Never mind about that; go and fetch the brandy" -- that were written by Lazenby himself (the latter on the spur of the moment in response to an unexpectedly playful St. Bernard). 
More importantly, Lazenby simply carries himself as though he were James Bond.  Physically, he is perhaps not as immediately intimidating as Sean Connery, but he has a litheness and a quickness that makes his Bond seem a bit more capable in some regards.  The best moment in the film from that standpoint is perhaps the scene in which Tracy has a gun trained on him, and Bond simply grabs her wrist and disarms her.  One second he is standing dead still and the next second his arm flashes out lightning-quick and wrenches the gun to the side and out of danger; he never looks anywhere other than at her face.  It is a dynamic moment.
  
Perhaps most importantly of all, Lazenby has a terrific on-screen chemistry with virtually everyone he shares the screen with: especially Diana Rigg, but also Telly Savalas and Angela Scoular, and even the long-time series players like Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell.
  
All signs point toward Lazenby being someone who, had he continued in the role, would have quite probably gone on to do excellent work in the future.  Alas, this did not prove to be the case.  Nevertheless, I think he is one part awkward here, but four parts terrific, and 4/5ths terrific is pretty damn good in my book. 


Still, this is arguably my favorite Bond film of them all; or if not, top-three for sure.  And that's true because of Lazenby, not in spite of him.  Once upon a time, I used to wish that I could see a version of this movie that had starred Sean Connery.  No more; now, I'm insistent that this is Lazenby's film, and that without him, it wouldn't work as well.  He returns a slight air of mystery and distantness to the role; we were comfortable with Connery by this point, and knew how he would respond in any situation.  I don't know that that is true of Lazenby; we don't really know who this fellow is.  And that's good.  Something about Bond should always be a little bit mysterious; we should never truly understand him.

Lazenby gives you that, and for a movie in which we are suddenly being asked to believe that James Bond would give up his job for a life of wedded bliss, I think that unknowability is crucial.

And, of course, Lazenby clinches it during his final scene, in which a stunned Bond holds his murdered wife in his arms.  There is no moment in the entire rest of the series like this one; there are a few other such singular moments, but NONE precisely like this one.  And Lazenby knocks it out of the park.

The world of James Bond has been buzzing about it ever since, and for good reason.


#8 -- Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights (1987)




It's always mystified me that more people don't go hog-wild for Timothy Dalton as James Bond, particularly this first performance of his.

One person who does: Past Bryant.  Check out the proof:

He's been the subject of occasional ribbing over the years from people who feel his era was a sort of 007 Dark Ages, but Timothy Dalton remains one of my favorite James Bonds.  But then, all the James Bonds are on my list of favorites; there isn't a one of them who I don't love.

Dalton, however, was the first person to become James Bond during my lifetime, and because of that, he holds a place that none of the others hold.  His casting also coincided with the time in my life when I was finally discovering Ian Fleming's work.  I was thirteen when The Living Daylights came out, and it was in the media blitz surrounding the franchise's 25th anniversary that I began to feel the roots of fandom truly take hold.  I distinctly recall reading a full-page newspaper article which ranked all of the Bond films; I was fascinated by it, and I cut it out and saved it for further contemplation.  The idea of comparing the Bonds had never occurred to me, at least not in that way.  It seems strange to think now, but the thought that such a thing could be done had never entered my mind.  This was, in some ways, my introduction to the idea of quantifying what one liked about movies.
I would occasionally produce the article and quiz my father on certain aspects of it.  I believe Goldfinger was the #1 movie on the list, so I'd ask Dad if he thought Goldfinger was really the best.  He'd consider it for a moment, and say, "Well, it might be...but From Russia With Love is maybe even better."  At which point I'd sit and try to figure out which I thought was the better.
"But, you know," said Dad, fatefully, "some of the books are even better."
"Better than what?"
"Better than the movies."
I was flabbergasted by this.  I'm not sure I even knew there were books.  The one I remember Dad talking about specifically was On Her Majesty's Secret Service; he told me about how Ian Fleming had gone into detail about how Bond made his escape from Blofeld's fortress.  "It was pretty good in the movie," he allowed; "but it's awesome in the book."
From that point, I began pestering my mother to buy me the Bond books any time we were in a store that was selling one.  And since this was the 25th anniversary of the movie series, there were a lot of the books in grocery stores, drugstores, and similar places we visited frequently.  So my mom bought me a bunch of the Ian Fleming books, and a lot of the John Gardner ones, too.  And I devoured those suckers.
I'm sure that at some point during this process, I must have seen -- or read -- an interview with Timothy Dalton in which he said that it was his intent to play Bond the way Ian Fleming wrote the character.  That was certainly one of the major talking points for the movie, and I must have heard him say it, because it quickly became one of my favorite things about Dalton.  At some point, several years into the future, a schoolmate was talking about how much he hated Dalton's Bond movies.  "Well, actually," I said, almost certainly sounding like a complete snob, "Timothy Dalton's Bond is more like the Ian Fleming books than either Sean Connery or Roger Moore's."
  
That's the kind of stuff I was worried about in my adolescence.  Other guys were just trying to figure out how to put their middle fingers to their best use.  Amongst other things.  Me?  Worried about making sure other people Timothy Dalton was a purer version of Ian Fleming's Bond.  Ah, misspent youth.
Misspent adulthood, too, 'cause here I am doing it again.  But it's too late to turn back now, so full steam ahead!
  
"I only kill professionals," Bond says to Saunders near the beginning of the movie; "that girl didn't know one end of a rifle from the other.  Go ahead; tell" [M] "what you want.  If he fires me, I'll thank him for it."  This is one of the most Ian Fleming-esque moments in the entirety of the series, even to this day.  And it is utterly unimaginable to consider Roger Moore delivering the lines.  I can put them in the mouths of any of the others, but not Moore.  And when you consider that when the movie came out in 1987, Moore had been James Bond -- and a popular James Bond -- since 1973, it's easy to imagine why people would have heard this dialogue and said, "The fuck is the shit?!?  This isn't James Bond!"
But it was.  Not for a lot of people, though.  It's impossible to discount the fact that Dalton's movies were nowhere near as popular as Moore's.  Heck, he only got to make two of them, and after that it required a return visit to the well for the producers.  
It's worth pointing out that Dalton was one of three men who nearly got cast as Bond for this movie.  The other, famously, was Pierce Brosnan, who actually was cast, but only until his Remington Steele contract with NBC caused him to have to return to that series.  At that point, the producers returned to Dalton, whom they'd wanted prior to Brosnan's involvement; a scheduling conflict on his end had held that up, but a subsequent delay on the Bond side of things put him right back into contention, and he landed the gig.
But another guy got really, really close: Sam Neill.  
  
Both John Glen and Michael G. Wilson were thrilled with Neill's screen test, and wanted to give him the part.  Albert R. Broccoli got the final word, though, and his word was "no."  Wouldn't you love to visit that parallel universe and see what kind of a 007 Neill turned out to be?  I suspect he'd have been great.
But then, I think Dalton was pretty great, too. Want another example?  I love how grumpy Dalton is during the scene in which Kara demands -- successfully -- that they go to the Conservatoire for her cello.  ("Why didn't you learn the violin?")  Can you imagine Moore playing this scene?  Or even Connery?  Brosnan?  Craig would probably do it well, but really, this is one of Dalton's best Dalton-specific Bond moments.
  
Another example: "Can't we stay here" [in Vienna] "a few days?" asks Kara shortly after Saunders' death.  "No," says Dalton, coldly, brutally.  It is almost identical to the way Craig answers two decades later when M asks him if he trusts anyone.  Dalton is, in some ways, the prototype for Craig's take on 007; not as physical, perhaps, but otherwise, he's close.  When you think about it, the relative commercial failure of Dalton's take -- so widely known that it was a semi-plot-point in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- makes it that much more astonishing that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson went with Craig, and with that type of Bond movie.  Retrospectively, it seems like an enormous risk.  They deserve a huge amount of credit, and The Living Daylights makes it plain that screenwriter Wilson was obviously trying to take the series in that direction even as early as 1987 (if not in 1981 with For Your Eyes Only, which shares some of the same tone).
  
There are negatives to Dalton's performance.  They're slight, but they're worth mentioning, lest anyone accuse me of being too Dalton-fanboyish.  The best example: he doesn't always handle the script's humor well.  For example: when the Aston Martin's radio picks up the police band and Kara comments on it wonderingly, Bond says, "Must be atmospheric interference," and Dalton gives Kara a knowing double-take so that she knows he's kidding.  He does the double-take thing several times, and it's kinda lame every time.  This is probably a holdover from his most recent regeneration not having fully taken hold yet.  This is probably a holdover from the screenplay being written at a time when it was unclear who was going to be playing the role.
(At other times, Dalton handles this type of thing just fine.  "I've had a few optional extras installed," Bond says shortly before launching missiles from the Aston-Martin.  This is a line I can hear each Bond saying, though they each would say it differently.  I like Dalton's take; he's simultaneously playful and grumpy.)

There's also a weird moment in which you can clearly hear the sound (though you don't actually see it) of Bond giving Moneypenny an affectionate couple of smacks on the rump.  Not sure how I feel about that.  Connery does it to Dink in Goldfinger, but that was Connery, and that was Dink instead of Moneypenny, and that was 1964.  This is 1987, and it feels...wrong.

On the whole, though, I think Dalton is absolutely terrific here.  He's good at the action, he's good at the romance, he's good at the intrigue; he's a bit iffy with the humor, but he gets it right as frequently as he gets it wrong.

In considering what makes his take work, a thought occurred to me that had perhaps never occurred consciously before.  One of the reasons Dalton makes a great 007 is that he has a terrific voice.  This is a tradition among Bond actors: Connery and Moore had great voices, very different from one another but nonetheless great.  Craig does, too.  All their voices are relatively deep, so that they sound very manly indeed.  Brosnan, too, has a great voice, but his is in a higher register; I wonder if that's why some people could never accept him.  You could say the same of Lazenby, perhaps.  All I know is that if I were casting the next Bond, I'd end up giving the role to someone who not only looked the part and moved like Bond, but who sounds like Bond.
  
The fact is, I think this is one of THE great Bond performances.  Other people may not like Dalton, but I do, and I think my reasons for it are laced with nostalgia and personal bias...but nonetheless sensible and appropriate.


Dalton's reputation has definitely been enhanced by the Daniel Craig era.  He's now seen -- correctly -- as a before-his-time forerunner.

Better late than never!


#7 -- Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace (2008)




The consensus is in (and has been for quite some time): Quantum of Solace is a big old step down from its predecessor, Casino Royale.  And hey, so the fuck what, man?  It's still awfully dang good.

As for Daniel Craig himself, he is damn near flawless here.  That that is true but still place him at a mere #7 on this ranking should tell you something about the six performances I've ranked above it.

This Bond is hard as nails, and while I'd argue that the movie itself never quite decides whether Bond is truly just doing his job during the course of its events or whether he is indeed on a revenge-fueled series of thrill-killings, I'd also argue that Craig renders the issue moot.  Doesn't matter; look into his eyes, and it could plausibly be either, or it could just as plausibly be both.

My money is on both.  Whatever the case, it's all there in what Craig does in virtually every moment of this film.  Is he AS great as he was in Casino Royale?  Eh...probably not, because the material isn't as great.  But doesn't that arguably mean that the bar for getting to greatness is set higher, therefore making his getting there all the more impressive.

That's for finer minds than mine to figure out.  All I know is, he's awesome.


#6 -- Sean Connery in Thunderball (1965)




Weirdly, I don't have that much to actually say about Sean Connery's performance in Thunderball.  It seems downright effortless; this seems less like acting than it does like ... well, like you're just seeing JAMES BOND himself, strolling across the screen, casually preventing the destruction of up to two major world cities by atomic explosion.  You know, no big whoop; just another day at the office.

Let's see if Past Bryant did any better:

Connery is maybe a hairsbreadth less awesome here than he is in Goldfinger, so if I had to rank the performances that's how I'd rank them.  But the difference is really only academic: Connery is dynamite as Bond here, whether he is shooting clay pigeons from the hip , giving a nude woman a pair of shoes when she asks for something to wear, impaling henchmen with spearguns, fighting what seems to be an entire ship's crew all at once, biting womens' feet, or wearing thick mink gloves, Connery is magnificent in this film.  He even gets to use a jetpack!
  
Best of all, perhaps, Connery gets a few occasions to show Bond's vulnerable side.  When he is strapped into the Spine-Stretcher 2000, or whatever that device is called at Shrublands, he goes into near-panic after Count Lippe ratchets up the tension in an attempt to kill him.  Later, at the end of the big fight onboard the Disco Volante, he looks absolutely terrified when it appears that Largo is about to kill him with a speargun.
  
Sadly, this was the last great Connery performance as Bond.  It appears to be the case that in the real world, Connery was simply overwhelmed by his experiences with Beatle-like fame, and began to yearn to be free of having to live that way.  It shows in his performances, too.
So treasure this one, fans.  It was the end of an era, in many ways.


The fact is, it's just a great performance that maybe lacks some of the showy moments of Connery's other great Bond performances.  What can be said about it?

Who cares?

Don't worry about sayin' shit about it: just watch it, and revel in its glory.


#5 -- Sean Connery in From Russia With Love (1963)
   
 


Connery is like a recently-uncaged animal who has -- perhaps temporarily -- been given the gifts of sentience, patience, and purpose.  He prowls the screen, not always dispatching his prey, sometimes content for the prey merely to know that he can dispatch them when and if he chooses to do so.  Even when seemingly rendered powerless, he's anything but.

The appeal of James Bond as a character is distilled into one of its purest forms here.  Connery didn't do that all by himself; he needed people like Terence Young and Ian Fleming and John Barry to help him along the way.  But that's all they did: help.  Without him being who he is, this performance -- this character as we know him -- does not exist.  Here, James Bond is a man who never loses control, never loses sight of his objective, never surrenders to the spectres of fear and doubt.

In future installments, this quality will not always be as well-rendered.  At times, it will seem as if Bond is purely a wish-fulfillment figure for men who wish to believe that any sexual conquest they wish to make can be made, with a bare minimum of effort.  Yes, some of the later Bonds are guilty of that perceived sin, no doubt about it.

That isn't what's happening here; it's present by implication, perhaps, but the true appeal of this incarnation of James Bond is that 007 is a guy who is always able to achieve his objective, whatever that may be.  It's not always a walk in the park; but with confidence and clarity, it's always achieved.  A guy like me might put that to use in walking into a grocery store to buy a can of Pringles; but if I follow this film's model, I will buy the fuck out of that can of Pringles.  Never before will a can of Pringles have been bought in so decisive a manner.  Somebody wants me not to have it?  I will have it; it might take me a bit of effort, but it will be mine.

Connery here is sheer inspiration.  In some ways, he was never better.  I didn't rank it quite that way; but that doesn't make it any less true.


#4 -- Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964)




Once again, I dip into blog posts past for salient remarks:

This might be my favorite Connery performance as Bond.  I think the one in Thunderball edges it out; but if so, it's not by much, and any way you want to grade it, Connery is just dynamite in this movie.  This is an especially fine achievement when you consider how little Bond has to do once he is captured by Goldfinger's goons around the halfway-point of the film.
Up until that point, Connery as Bond is in absolute command of every scene.  One of the most iconic moments in the entire series comes in the pre-title sequence, when Bond, in his fine white tuxedo, glances nonchalantly at his watch to check the time against his mental calculations of when the explosion he has set should go off ... which it does immediately thereafter.  Connery is as cool as cool can be in this moment. 
Connery also excels during his first two confrontations with Goldfinger, in which he cockily behaves as a man who cannot lose.  However, there are other points in the film during which Connery allows that facade of cool cockiness to crack a bit: he is great in his grim reactions to the deaths of the two Masterson sisters, especially in the scene he has with M after Jill is killed in Bond's own hotel room.
Connery also does a fine job of playing the desperation Bond feels while trying to infiltrate Goldfinger's factory in Switzerland; he is very nearly caught right off the bat, and later -- even after his marvelous Aston Martin gets put to its full range of uses -- finds himself with absolutely nowhere to go but straight into a brick wall.  There aren't a great many points in the Bond films in which 007 is put in helpless situations like these, but here, he finds himself in several; and Connery is great at playing both the helplessness Bond feels and the resolve to find some way, any way, out of the jam he is in.
Another couple of scenes in which I think Connery is particularly good: Goldfinger's revelation to Bond of his true plans for Fort Knox, and Bond's assertion to Pussy Galore soon afterward that Goldfinger is insane.  Connery plays the scene between Bond and Goldfinger with genuine respect for the brilliance of his adversary's plot; and he plays the scene between Bond and Galore with utter, grim conviction that Pussy's employer is crazy.  One of the things I like about the movie is that you never really find out which of those reactions, if either, represents Bond's actual feelings on the matter; he is emotionally manipulating both Goldfinger and Galore, and whether he is being truthful in either instance is hard to say.  This ought to feel like a flaw in the film, but somehow, it feels like anything but.
  
Finally, I'd be remiss in my Bond-blogging duty if I didn't mention how funny Connery is at certain points in the film.  His double entendres ("Something big's come up"), his amused incredulity ("Ejector seat, you're joking!"), his harriedly British insistence on remaining as calm as possible even when he is a mere seven seconds away from extreme-close-range nuclear annihilation ("What kept you?" he coolly asks the man who deactivates the nuke) ... Connery's facility with wit in this film is great, and is matched only occasionally in all the films that have followed in the Bond series.
Top marks for Connery in this film: it really doesn't get much better.


Not much to add to that, at least for now.  I strongly suspect I am going to redo some of those initial You Only Blog Twice posts one of these days, and I might well have plenty more to say then.

But that day is not this one.  On this day, we move on to...


#3 -- Daniel Craig in Skyfall (2012)




Here's the reason I have no tolerance for (the entirely hypothetical) grousings about my disdain for Craig's performance in Spectre: two of my top three Bond performances EVER are by Daniel Craig.  You think I've got no handle on what he's doing in this role?  Incorrect.

And that's the final time that film will be mentioned in this post.

Nope, on to Skyfall, in which Craig is so good that not only ought he to have been nominated for an Oscar, he might ought to have won.  Probably not, in all honesty, but only because Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln was a juggernaut.

But so was Daniel Craig in Skyfall.  We may conceivably never see another Bond performance as great as this one.  We don't deserve it, quite frankly.

Anyways, let's turn to You Only Blog Twice of yesteryear for more:

You Only Blog Twice is of the opinion that the single best performance an actor has ever given as James Bond is the one Daniel Craig gives in Casino Royale.  He was only a hair's-breadth less good in Quantum of Solace, and I'd say Craig's Skyfall performance lands somewhere in the middle of the two.
  
A great deal of the movie revolves around the idea that Bond is not quite at his best; he's been in self-imposed exile for several months, during which time he has been presumed dead as the result of an injury sustained on a mission in Istanbul.  Bond in North Korean prison looks more dignified than he looks in that Turkish dive bar.  There are complicated reasons for this: they involve M ordering him to allow a fellow agent to die, as well as her willingness to risk Bond's own life (and, more importantly, her unwillingness to allow him to finish the job without getting his backup involved).
  
We don't talk much about Ian Fleming in these reviews.  There's a reason for that: I want to, as much as I can manage, view the films as their own entities; divorcing them from Fleming is a tactic that helps make that an easier task to manage.  Also, I plan to return to the novels and write extensive reviews of them once this initial round of film reviews has ended.  (Which will be at some point after the release of Spectre, once I've had an opportunity to review it.)  So be aware that there are reasons for the distinct lack of Fleming talk on this blog, and know also that the lack has nothing to do with being disinterested in Fleming or disdainful of his work.  Quite the opposite, in fact.
  
I mention that as a setup to mention this: Bond's malaise in Skyfall comes almost directly from Ian Fleming.  Indeed, director Sam Mendes mentions on his Blu-ray commentary track that it is specifically Fleming's final trilogy of novels that served as direct inspiration for this aspect of Skyfall.  If you want to read a bit more about this subject (Bond's "accidie," or sloth), then here is a terrific blog post somebody else wrote about it.
  
When I first read the Fleming novels, it was Bond's occasional bouts with spiritual tiredness and the desire to quit his job that made a big impression on me.  Part of that was simply that it was like nothing the movies had ever shown me; the only hint of it in the films comes in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, when Bond tries to resign in a furor.  Otherwise?  Nothing.  That changed somewhat when The Living Daylights came out; toward the beginning, Timothy Dalton indicates that if M doesn't like the way he's handled something, he can fire him.  I got very excited when I saw that movie, because it seemed like Dalton was playing the Bond that Ian Fleming had written.  I'd read the books only a short time beforehand, and it seemed a bit as if the next movie had been made with me in mind.  I love remembering that!
  
Years later, in Skyfall, we got an entire movie that dealt with this side of Bond's personality, and in some ways the character arc that Bond goes through is one of passing all the way through this accidia and emerging on the other side of it.  This is the sort of acting opportunity that has never been afforded any of the other Bond actors in their Bond films; some of them might not have even been capable of pulling it off.
  
Daniel Craig was certainly capable of it, however.  He begins the film in typical Bond fashion, as a man of action; he proceeds to a state of profound malaise; he enters a state of anger that is compounded by his being out of shape and somewhat haggard; he finds a means of forcing himself to be invested in his pursuit of Silva, whose plot against M in some ways mirrors Bond's own feelings about his commander; he embraces (at least to some degree) his past in the course of protecting M, and in so doing comes to peace with her orders in the beginning of the film; and, in the end, he is reinvigorated.  Watching Craig proceed through these phases is a joy.
  
The counter-argument is this: do we watch James Bond movies to observe 007 going through complex interior psychological development?  Is that really what we want from a Bond movie?  A decent number of people have answered "no," at least if one is to believe various messageboards and comments sections.  As for me, I will say that I wouldn't necessarily want every Bond film to be one of that nature.  But I'm thrilled that this particular one is, and I'm even more thrilled that it happened during the fiftieth anniversary of the films; the time was right for this sort of exploration.
  
And anyways, it's not like 007 isn't a badass in this movie.  Boy, is he!  Here is an abbreviated list of the badass things Daniel Craig's Bond does in Skyfall:
  • He uses a construction digger to tear into the back of a train, which then -- thanks to the fact that the car the digger is on has been uncoupled and is falling behind -- removes the entire back section.  As this is happening, Bond is running down the arm of the digger, and as the rear wall is torn away, he leaps into the train car; as he lands, he straightens his shirt's cuffs and proceeds about his business.  This is handily one of the 007iest things 007 has ever done.  (I'd planned to extensively screencap that moment, but it didn't really come off in single-image mode.)
  • He leaps from the floor onto a stanchion and then from the stanchion into the air, grabbing onto the bottom of an elevator so that he can ride it and pursue his quarry without being detected.
  • He raises his martini in a toast to the guards who he knows will soon be attacking him; he knows what they are there for, and doesn't mind in the slightest letting them know that he knows that they know.  
  • When Silva begins flirting with Bond in order to throw him off his stride, Bond plays it cool.  "Well," says Silva, "first time for everything."  Bond replies, "What makes you think this is my first time?"  He's just as seductive in this moment as he's ever been with any woman.  This dude is cool as they they come.  I'm a firm believer in the idea that James Bond is a heterosexual male, and that that should never change.  I suspect many Bond fans agree, many of them with a much more vehement stance than mine.  With that in mind, a question: would we be okay with Bond having sex with a man in the course of his mission?  I would have thought I'd answer that with "no," but this scene in Skyfall changed my mind.  Not only do I think it would work, I think it would be totally in keeping with Bond's character.  Pay attention to how totally disinterested he is in Severine's fate; she means NOTHING to him.  If the situation called for it, I have no doubt that he could do just as capable a job of seducing a man as he has done of seducing women.  I suspect we are still years away from seeing such a thing happen, but when and if it does, I'll be fine with it, especially if it is handled as well as this brief moment in Skyfall is handled.
  • In the attack on Skyfall, when his father's rifle runs out of ammunition Bond casts it aside, and uses his foot to kick a fallen enemy's assault rifle into the air and into his hands.  This happens quickly, and I can imagine some people not even noticing it.  It's about as badass a thing as Bond has ever done.
  • When he is running away from Skyfall and toward the chapel, Bond comes up from behind on one of Silva's goons.  He uses some sort of object --a boulder, perhaps, or a tree stump -- to jump off of, and he kicks the goon in the face just as he is turning to hear what the noise is.  That goon goes down like a sack of rocks.
  • When another goon -- or possibly the same one, I don't know for sure -- has an assault rifle trained on him while Silva is talking, Bond grabs the goon's weapon, causing him to fire reflexively and send the two of them through the frozen ice and into the lake.  Thus, Bond escapes from Silva, and gives himself a chance at subduing the goon.  BAD ASS.
If I can get a list of badassery like that AND an effective and meaningful character arc, then there's nothing here for me not to love.


Well, I kind of gave away what my pick for #1 was going to be in that set of previous commentaries, didn't I?

Not so fast.


#2 -- Daniel Craig in Casino Royale (2006)




I'll give you the justification for why something else is #1 below.  For now, let's just focus on why this performance is a great one, regardless of silly things like ranked lists.

And in that regard, no Bryant yet has said it better than 2015 Bryant did:

It was taken as a given for a long time -- roughly from 1962-2006 -- that not only was Sean Connery the best James Bond, but that he would remain the best James Bond until at least the sounding of Gideon's trumpet.  Maybe even longer.  From the moment Casino Royale opened in November of 2006, however, it was clear that the matter had unexpectedly been opened for discussion again.
  
I enjoy providing a bit of historical perspective at the beginnings of these posts, but it is not my aim to serve as a recap of such events.  Nevertheless, it's worth remembering that when Daniel Craig was announced as the new Bond, a lot of alleged Bond fans lost their shit.  (You will note that that is the second time this post I have used the phrase "alleged Bond fans."  This is where you'd expect me to say something like "I intend no offense," or "no judgment is implied."  Thing is, I kind of do intend offense, and I am flat-out stating a judgment.)  A lot of people simply couldn't cope with the idea that James Bond might be played by a guy with blond hair.  I shit you not, folks; if you don't remember, the phrase "James Blond" was an actual thing for a while there.  A website called danielcraigisnotbond.com was launched in protest; the fuckin' thing still exists, too, either as a self-parody or as a refuge for really sad bastards.  Take your pick.
  
Anyways.
  
Everyone else was open-minded, and reserved judgment.  Except for a relatively small informed faction of us who had seen Craig in movies like Munich and Layer Cake and knew he was going to be great.  (I will admit that even I thought he was going to have to dye his hair, though.)
  
If you sense a note of self-congratulation in all of that, guess what?  You're right!  I mention this as an example of why you should listen to me: because every once in a while, I know what the hell I'm talking about.  Not always, or even often; but occasionally.  So keep listening, and you're boudn to get an honest-to-goodness, bona fide insight every once in a while.  Why?  Because, unlike the unwashed masses, I knew Daniel Craig was going to be an awesome James Bond.
  
Even I didn't know he was going to be as awesome as he's turned out to be, though. 
From his first scene on, Craig's Bond seems like somebody who could genuinely murder somebody when and if the need arose for him to do so.  Connery had that, too; Dalton and Lazenby could sort of feign toward it, Brosnan could mime it, Moore could lampoon it.  Craig has it in abundance, and while there is a debate to be had over whether that is an integral element of the Fleming novels, there is no debate to be had over whether it is an integral element of the first four or so films in the series.  I mean, if you want to debate it, go right ahead; I'm not going to show up for it, though, because I assume I won the moment the premise was stated.  But if you want to have a debate, go right ahead; there's a whole website for you to visit that will pat you on the back in congratulation.
  
Craig's physical ability and presence is a key element in the shift in tone this second series takes in order to steer away from where the first series ended.  If you've been reading these posts as they've appeared, then you know one of my big problems with the middle Brosnan movies is that they have a serious inconsistency of tone; they wanted to be capable of probing character psychology AND cars driven from the backseat via remote control.  It didn't work; Elektra King and Christmas Jones can't be in the same movie without both failing.
  
It comes down to a simple desire: the producers wanted the Bond films to be capable of containing both comedy and tragedy.  It's a desire I can understand.  The question is, how do you actually do that?  The answer is not particularly hard to find: you do it by introducing comedy into a tragedy.  You don't do it by injecting tragedy into a comedy.  Shakespeare knew this; you didn't see him trying to make the audience cry during Much Ado About Nothing.  You did, however, find him trying -- and succeeding -- to make audiences laugh during Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, etc.  All lives are tragedies, after all; and even the saddest life contains the potential for laughter.  You might think the opposite would hold true, but I find that most comedies are best-advised to focus on being funny; rarely can a comedy actually summon pathos without becoming serious enough that it it becomes, in effect, a drama.  Examples might include Annie Hall and Dr. Strangelove, but lord knows The World Is Not Enough ain't no Annie Hall.
  
Hence, in order for the Bond films to be capable of doing everything, they had to get serious again.  The world had gotten serious again; why should the Bond films not follow suit?
  
Hence, Daniel Craig.
  
It may be, however, that one's personal idea of what a Bond movie should be can't allow for Daniel Craig.  If so, fair enough.  I can understand why somebody would enjoy Live and Let Die and Moonraker and Die Another Day but not Casino Royale or Licence to Kill, or even On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  I think it's a take on Bond that is very far from my own, but can I squint mentally and get there for a moment or two?  Sure I can.  In that light, maybe something like Casino Royale is a failure.
  
For my money, though, it's a return to form for the series; it's a throwback to the days when something like From Russia with Love or Thunderball might have been taken at least semi-seriously.  This is that, amplified somewhat; nothing more, nothing less.  It's been refocused to fit 2006, but otherwise, this is the same old Bond we've had since the novel was released in 1953.  He's newly reenergized, but otherwise unchanged; if you only tuned in for the chapters of his story in which Bond dressed as a clown and/or drove an invisible car, then you are in need of understanding that your reading has been scattershot, and that that is hardly the book's fault. 
I seem mostly to be ranting and/or rambling rather than discussing the many merits of Craig's performance.  Let's try to course-correct by talking about a few specific scenes.
  
I've already alluded to the opening scene, in which we see Bond earn his double-0 status by carrying out two sanctioned assassinations.  The scene is composed of two parts: one a tranquil talk between Bond and Dryden, the other a flashback to the first kill, which was a much more violent affair. 
Not since George Lazenby in 1969 have we seen Bond in this intense a fistfight.  It's high-impact, brutal stuff, and Craig does just as well as his stunt double in convincing us that what we're seeing is real.
  
Just as important, however, is the other part of the scene: the calm conversation with Dryden, who briefly thinks he has the drop on Bond, only to find out that he does not.  It's important for us to believe that Bond will always have the upper hand in a fight, but it's just as important for us to believe that he'll always have the upper hand in a conversation.  If there are two men in a room, and one of them is James Bond, James Bond must seem to be the better man by virtue of the way he comports himself in relation to the second man.  Occasional exceptions can be made, if the second man is friendly and has some sort of specialization; but generally speaking, the Bond card must trump all others.
  
And so it does when it's Bond vs. Dryden.  Dryden attempts to maintain the conversational upper hand by handing down wisdom to Bond.  "How did he die?" Dryden asks.  "Your contact?  Not well," replies Bond.  Dryden plays analyst for a moment and hypothesizes about the extent to which Bond's victim made him "feel" the death (i.e., made Bond regret the brutality of it and, perhaps, the need for it).  "You needn't worry," Dryden says; "the second is..."
  
One assumes he is about to say "easier," but Bond doesn't give him the chance; he pulls out a gun and shoots Dryden dead as dead can be.   
"Yes," Craig's Bond agrees with the unstated adjective; "considerably."
  
If you watch the scene, Dryden clearly believes he had a chance of talking Bond out of doing what he'd been sent there to do; if you watch the scene, you believe Dryden never had a chance.  This version of Bond was never going to do anything other than put a bullet in Dryden's brain, and watching Craig during these moments is a bit like watching a snake as it considers the mouse which has just been dropped into its cage.  There is only one scenario.
  
If you like for your James Bond to be a believable assassin, then this scene can only thrill you.
  
I have two additional things to say about this scene:
  • Are you familiar with the podcast James Bonding?  It's comedians Matt Mira and Matt Gourley talking about James Bond movies with a changing set of guests.  Very fun, albeit recently a victim of podfade.  Anyways, the Casino Royale episode's guests were Amanda Lund and Maria Blasucci, whom in my memory are the girlfriends of the hosts.  I could be misremembering that.  However, I know that both ladies love that movie, and that one of them was convinced that in the above-quoted scene, when Dryden asks Bond how his contact died, Bond answers "In a well."  She took "well" to be some sort of charming British vernacular meaning "restroom" (like "boot" means "trunk of car").  Her mind was utterly blown when she found out that Craig actually says "Not well," and much hilarity ensued.  Thing is, once I'd heard her say this, I can 100% understand why she would hear it that way!
  • If you want a fun compare-the-Bond-actors exercise, try to mentally replace Daniel Craig in this scene with the alternative Bond actor of your choice.  Fun!  (For the record, it's Timothy Dalton who makes the best replacement in the cinema in my mind.)

After the opening credits, we get a scene in which Bond chases a bomber through Madagascar.  It's a great scene; the bomber, Mollaka, runs nimbly up steel girders and bounds over fences and whatnot like he's friggin' Spider-Man or something.  Bond, meanwhile, can only plod determinedly after him; but even when confronted with a foe whose specific physical skills vastly outstrip his own, he see that Bond retains the upper hand by focusing on doing what he can do well.
  
The two best moments Bond has during this sequence are probably (1) when he runs straight through some drywall to keep the chase going and (2) this:
  
Mollaka has scaled an industrial crane, and Bond has followed him.  With (seemingly) nowhere else to go, Mollaka decides to just shoot this a-hole who's been chasing him.  Alas, Mollaka is out of bullets.  So he decides to just throw the gun at Bond, presumably in an attempt to knock him off the crane.  Bond catches the gun, and throws it right back.  His aim is better, and he beans Mollaka right in the noggin. 
As Bondian moments of badassery go, that ranks high on the list.  As does Bond running through the wall, but sadly, that moment doesn't screencap all that well, and therefore will not be visually represented here.
  
All sorts of goodness when Bond arrives in the Bahamas, including the scene in which he purposely wrecks the Germans' car after they mistake him for a valet.  Just before that happens, we have a momentary flirtation between Bond and a couple of babes passing by on their way for some tennis.  In another Bond film, this would have led to intercourse, but this, sadly for Bond, is Casino Royale
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the scene in which Bond emerges from the sea, wearing only his swim trunks.  One gathers that for those whose sexual preferences run to the masculine, this scene was nearly as big a deal as the Ursula Andress or Halle Berry scenes were for the rest of us.
  
Another highlight comes when Bond, introducing himself to Solange in the form of propositioning her, offers to take her to his nearby home for drinks.  They take the car from the valet, drive in a circle around the exit and back to the entrance of the hotel, and are greeted by the unflappable valet.  "Welcome to my home,"Bond says.
  
Do you buy this as a moment that would, in essence, charm the panties off a lady?  I suspect it is reasonably realistic.  "This guy is hot, intense, well dressed, good at poker, AND he can joke?"  Rhymes with dreamin'.  Prince knows what I'm sayin'.
  
This is one of the relatively few moments in which Craig is fishin' fishing for a laugh in the movie, but it's not the only one.  He's got a few subtly funny reaction shots (such as a look of semi-desbelief when he successfully brings the gasoline tanker to a stop in front of the airplane), for example.  And his biggest one-liner -- "That last hand nearly killed me," he quips after barely avoiding death via poison -- is quite successful.  He's also good at getting a laugh by being serious in a way that allows the audience to wink at themselves (as in the "Do I look like I give a dman?" response he gives when asks if he prefers his martini shaken or stirred).  The biggest laugh for his Bond over three movies probably comes here when Vesper resuscitates him, and he asks her if she's okay; his reactions to her reaction are pretty great.
   
I could write and write and write about scenes of Craig being great, but let's restrict ourselves to just a few more.  Starting with this: Craig is very subtle during the scene where he views Solange's corpse.  He initially looks stone-cold, but allows a momentary regret to (barely) register.  Moments like this are a good reason why cinema should be viewed on a large screen (or at least up close); such a moment is lost on a small screen. 
 
During the course of this scene, M asks, "I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached; but I don't think that's your problem, is it, Bond?"  The way Craig answers "no" is perfect.
  
Looking at himself in the mirror after the stairwell fight, Craig is getting to do the sort of scene one suspects Brosnan would have killed to be able do.  I don't think Brosnan would have been AS well-suited for it as Craig is, but I think he would have done fine.  The difference is that Casino Royale is, from top to bottom, the sort of film that permits for (even encourages) a scene like that one; not so much with Tomorrow Never Dies.  One feels even sorrier for Brosnan in retrospect.

And, of course, there's this: the much-ballyhooed torture scene is another good one to use as a mental exercise for comparing Bond actors.  I honestly can't imagine any of the others pulling this scene off.
Is this THE best performance an actor has given as Bond?  If not, it's damn close.  Daniel Craig is not Bond?  Bull SHIT.
So, with no further ado, here's my pick for the top spot:
  
  
#1 -- Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962)
  
  
   
  
A few of you might well have written me off as a Bond opinion-maker based on this decision, especially (A) given the lengthy and impassioned argument for Daniel Craig given above and (B) the impending relative lack of commentary on the specific performance Connery gives in Dr. No.
  
I feel your pain, trust me.  I initially had this one ranked a good deal lower; it was still a top-tenner, but it was lower.  Heck, when I did the Double-0 ratings many a moon ago, I only gave this performance a 006/007.  I think now that that was a point too low; but still, that was how I scored it.
  
Thing is, as I began typing the commentary on this list, I realized that I had this one ranked too low.  That's a common occurrence when I make my Worst To Best lists; I rank everything, and then as I'm typing it all up, I'll get to one entry or another and find myself thinking, "Hmm; no, that's ... just too damned low," and I will keep moving it upward.
  
I always listen to this impulse when it makes its presence known.  There's a reason my mind is pushing me in that direction, and I yield to its superior knowledge.
  
I fretted that I might have a difficult time making a case for why I was ranking this ahead of Craig's Casino Royale Bond; and indeed, that fretting continued right up until the moment I got here.
  
Here's the thing: there's no need for me to make a case.  The entire post-Dr. No history of James Bond on film makes that case in my stead.  See, none of that exists if not for what Sean Connery does in Dr. No, and the fact that the series even reached a second entry is down to the contributions of a few key players.  Director Terence Young is one of them; if I were ranking Bond directorial efforts, that'd be my #1 pick, more than likely.  Orchestrator John Barry is another; without his stupendous arrangement of Monty Norman's James Bond theme music, there might have been just enough of the magic missing to cause the public reaction to be a bit less  impassioned than it was.
  
But without Connery operating at the high level he operates at here, I don't think Young or Barry or anybody else would have mattered much.  It might still have been a good movie with somebody else in the role, or with Connery delivering merely a good performance as opposed to a great one; might have been a hit, even.  but I do not for one moment believe it would have inspired any true passion from the moviegoing public.
  
It did inspire that passion, though.  It inspired it by way of Sean Connery delivering precisely the right blend of intensity, sexual allure, levity, toughness, intelligence, power, and sheer charm; and that at precisely the right moment in popular culture -- and, indeed, Western culture overall -- for it to be persuasive.  Sure, John Barry's music put it over the edge; but that music might have meant nothing without Sean Connery to make it seem inspired.  Sure, Ursula Andress walking out of the ocean helped push an already-in-progress sexual revolution into a higher gear; but without Sean Connery to provide the matching ingredient, it might have been in service of nothing.
  
All that came after came straight from what happened here.
  
And what happened here was sheer magic.
  
Never forget it, Bond fans
  
*****
  
And that, my friends, is all I have to say about that, at least for today.
  
You Only Blog Twice will return (and conclude the first phase of its consideration of the Bond films) in ... The Worst and Best Bond-Movie Moments.

15 comments:

  1. Fair enough list I suppose. I do like Spectre a lot more than you but I see its flaws (I actually wrote a defense of it intending to post it here but wasn't able to get it to post for whatever reason). I do have a quibble with your number one pick. The question isn't what was vital to starting or maintaining the series but rather which performance was best. It's possible for the Dr. No performance to have been important, or even necessary, in vitalizing the series without it being the best overall performance. Nevertheless it is a good one. Cheers!

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    1. It was a tough call. Any of them in the top six or so could very plausibly be at the top of a list like this one, I think.

      You make good points about why my pick for #1 is flawed. I can't argue. I just think that in the end, none of any of this happens without what he does there, so in a relative sense, that's ... if not a BETTER performance than the others, a more impactful performance. That's my illogical rationale!

      Sorry to hear your defense of "Spectre" wouldn't post! It might have been too long; or sometimes Blogger just gets weird with comments.

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    2. I thought I had the Spectre defense saved but I can't find it! At the end of the day, I suspect I'm just not bothered by the issues the way others are and, perhaps, there isn't a rationale for that.

      Have you thought of making a list of top, or most ridiculous, gadgets? Might be fun and fairly easy to do! Maybe you already have?

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    3. No, but that's a good idea. I don't know that I will actually DO it (I'm trying to transition over to having this blog focus on Ian Fleming's novels for a while), but it's a great suggestion.

      "and, perhaps, there isn't a rationale for that." -- No need for one, I'd say. It's preferable to enjoy things! Who knows, maybe I'll soften toward that movie later on down the line.

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  2. I think it's reasonable to state that Connery, under the direction of Terrence Young, gave the best Bond performances. In my estimation, I would select From Russia With Love as Connery's best performance. Connery struck a balance between work and play. He realized that Bond was on a mission in these films but he takes the time to enjoy himself. In Dr.No, Connery was terrific but out in the field he didn't quite have Bond polish yet. Bond was something of a detective out of a pulp thriller in that initial film. Again, great performance but not quite what we identify as James Bond. Overall, I think your list is very good and I am glad to see Lazenby in the top 10.

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    1. No way I was leaving Lazenby out! Some people might raise a skeptical eyebrow at that, but I think he's legitimately great in most of that movie -- and in EVERY moment where it really counts. A few moments don't work all that well, and I think people have wrongly focused on that over the years. Not me!

      You make great points about Connery as directed by Terence Young. This immediately makes me wonder how I'd rank directorial-efforts among Bond films, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Young might get one or two of the top three spots.

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  3. I know what you mean about Lazenby. He sometimes had that "deer in headlights" expression when he was acting but he was impressive for a first timer. He didn't have much acting talent but he had the cockiness and an innate charisma.

    As for Young, his contribution to the series can't be overestimated. Young taught Connery the lifestyle of a gentleman playboy. Without Young's guidance, Connery would not have been able to pull off that introduction in Dr.No which ranks among the best in cinema history.

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    1. Absolutely. If not THE best!

      Whatever Lazenby lacked in acting ability, he made up for in other ways. And many of his worst moments involve dialogue replacement, which is often a nightmare for even the best actors.

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    2. Do you mean the scenes of Bond as Sir Hilary Bray ? That masquerade was taken way too far. It's as if Lazenby temporarily withdrew from the film. At the very least, Lazenby's voice should not have been dubbed over.

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    3. Actually, no, I wasn't thinking of those scenes -- though they certainly are problematic, and do occasionally have the effect you mention (almost removing Lazenby from the film). But I have grown to like most of that; the actor playing Bray did a very good job of the looping.

      No, what I mean is this: scattered moments throughout the film when you can tell the dialogue had to be redubbed for one reason or another and Lazenby's vocal performance seems off. Looping/dubbing is (as I understand it) a very precise acting skill; so a newcomer like Lazenby would have at a huge -- HUGE -- disadvantage with that to begin with. If he received poor direction from whoever was supervising the sessions, that would have also hurt. And -- as seems entirely possible -- if he was already determined to quit the role by the time this phase of post-production rolled around, he may not have put much effort into it.

      I don't have any examples ready at hand, unfortunately. I think maybe one of the casino scenes with Tracy is one of them.

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    4. Ah, I got you. I guess I didn't catch most of the dialogue replacement. I definitely remember Lazenby's "Bond, James Bond" being dubbed over. At least I think it was.

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    5. I believe so, yes. One of the worst scene for this is when Draco's goons have kidnapped Bond and are driving him to meet with the gangster. Most of the little comments he makes -- especially those weird, ineffective little "hmmmm!" reactions noises -- are dubbed in. Not particularly well, either.

      I think that people were hearing things like that for a long time and thinking Lazenby just couldn't act. But if you pay close attention to virtually any scene in the movie in which it's him and some other actor one on one, he's got great chemistry with them. This ranges from Diana Rigg to the guy playing Draco to Telly Savalas to Bernard Lee to (especially) Lois Maxwell.

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    6. Oh god, I remember that. That was the same groan from the fight that occurred in the hotel. Regarding Lazenby's chemistry with the other actors, I agree. I think the saving grace of Telly's Blofeld was how well he and Lazenby interacted. Blofeld was an effective villain but he lacked the freakish quality of superior Bond villains such as Klebb and Goldfinger.

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  4. There's a rogue "the" that should be a "to" in the 2nd bullet point about Spectre. Just thought I'd let you know.

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    1. I appreciate it! I will correct it. The degree to which I don't proofread these things is a bit shameful.

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