I have never been a Bond fan. Sure, I knew who 007 was, had heard the famous introduction “Bond, James Bond,” and could ID Tom Collins’ and Angel’s lines in Rent as referencing the famous spy (although Pussy Galore never wore anything resembling Angel’s costume!), but since I had fallen asleep every time I tried to watch GoldenEye (three separate occasions; Disney’s White Fang also shares this dubious honor), I wasn’t putting the films on my must-watch list. Then, a few months ago, a new friend convinced me to give the classic films a try. Instead of watching just any Bond film, I needed to see some of the iconic ones that brought the franchise to life. Working with him and another friend who is a female Bond fan, we worked together to pick some of the good Connery and Moore-era films to see if my opinion could be swayed at least a little.
The films that ultimately made it to my viewing list were Dr. No, Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, Octopussy (This ended up being a bobble on the good classic Bond selection.), The Man with the Golden Gun, and For Your Eyes Only. Aside from Octopussy, which was misremembered as a different film, all are solid films, but I distinctly prefer the later installments with For Your Eyes Only at the top of my list. It’s not a commentary on Connery versus Moore as Bond; I just enjoy the slightly higher production values and more clockwork precision of the formula.
Hardcore Bond fans feel strongly about which actor portrays the spy best, but I don’t really have a strong opinion about Connery and Moore in the role. Overall, I enjoyed Moore’s movies better, although Dr. No ranks quite high on my list, but as stated above it had more to do with how the screenwriters worked with the material. As long as the plot included crazy spy hijinks, I was happy; however, whoever decided that Moore’s Bond needed to utilize puns regularly did a disservice to the suave image of the man. There is a scene in Live and Let Die where Bond is learning about his new gadgets from Q, and EVERY one of Moore’s lines was a poorly crafted play on words. Bond does not need to be funny; his job is to be super awesome, wow women, and ultimately save the day.
A lot of feminists complain about the sexism in the Bond franchise, but I take the early films as products of the time period. Simply put, there weren’t a whole lot of opportunities for women in the early 1960s, so seeing the early Bond ladies (not to be confused with Bond girls) in secretarial or window-dressing roles wasn’t a shock. The women in the cast gain more characterization and power with later films, although it’s still very much a boy’s club, and we all know that Moneypenny is the one responsible for keeping MI6 from imploding! As for Bond’s love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude toward his women throughout the various films, I must be a product of my time. I don’t take any issue with the spy indulging in one-night stands/short flings; my complaint is simply that the women seem to believe they may have something more with the debonair Mr. Bond. Admittedly, a long conversation about the nature of the liaison wouldn’t fit in the middle of an action film, but I’d love to see just one Bond girl admit that she knows Bond isn’t staying with her long term and wanting to jump him anyway.
I had a harder time stomaching the casual racism present in the earliest films. In both Dr. No and Goldfinger, minority characters were relegated to roles as minions for the evil mastermind or servant-type/menial characters. Even Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun treaded into this territory by including a racist Southern sheriff (recurring character for these two films) who added nothing to the plot. Live and Let Die also bothered me a little due to its portrayal of voodoo as a dangerous religion hinging on human sacrifice and lascivious behavior. (I’m pretty sure that the majority of voodoo rituals do not involve dry humping ceremonial poles while people are sacrificed to the loa.) Unfortunately, voodoo functioned as a catch all for frightening black magic in Hollywood for a long time, so I wasn’t shocked at how the subject matter was handled. I’m not familiar enough with blaxploitation films to make the call as to whether or not they’re fundamentally racist, but seeing a powerful black man face off with Bond was refreshing after two films of minorities as sidekicks. Besides, how else would we get to see Bond called a “honky?”
I don’t know if I’ve become a Bond fan after checking out these six films, but I can appreciate why people like them. They fulfill something in us that wants to have adventures, have nifty tools and a cool-looking gun (Walther PPK for the record), and save the girl. I may not run out to see the newest movie in theaters when Daniel Craig gives us another installment, but I think that the more modern films will be hitting my viewing list in the near future.