So. A couple of months, or weeks, or something, ago—my sense of time grows simultaneously more compressed and expanded as I grow older—someone on social media asked me where I ranked Bond movie X, and it reminded me that a few years back I labored somewhat mightily for my then-freelance-client, an entity called MSN Movies, on a lengthy piece in which I ranked the Bond pictures. That piece, published in annoying multi-click "gallery" form, has been purged from what is left of the MSN website, along with pretty much everything else I did for it. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I've been keeping my original submitted versions of much if not all of my work for my freelance clients backed up. So I thought, well, now that Spectre's coming out, everybody else is ranking the Bond films, why shouldn't I get some of that Secret Agent Traffic?
What I've done is reproduce my original text below, in the format in which it was submitted (in accordance with the MSN Movies style book, such as it was, I've kept titles in quotation marks, which is contrary to this blog's style book, such as it is, which does italics. The only change I've made is to include ranking numbers for both Skyfall and Spectre, which I give my rationale for in an appendix at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!
It’s the 50th anniversary…not of James Bond himself, who was invented by author Ian Fleming in 1953. But it is the 50th anniversary of the first official Bond movie, 1962’s “Dr. No,” which also marked actor Sean Connery’s debut in the role. It’s not too well known, but the first Ian Fleming Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” had already been adapted for the screen--the small, black and white TV screen--some years before. You’ll find out more about that below. With a new official Bond film (that is, a Bond film produced by Eon, the production entity founded by then-partners Harry Saltzman and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli back in the day) opening soon, and a massive DVD/Blu-ray disc box set collecting all the films in the series, it’s an opportune time to look at the action/espionage franchise that, at various points, set the bar for its genre. For this assessment, we enlisted MSN Movies’ chief film critic, Glenn Kenny, to put his license to judge on the line and actually rate the Bond pictures from worst to best. We’ve also thrown in two Bond movies that are NOT part of the official series, for reasons that will become clear. Agree? Disagree? Hopefully the ranking will leave you not shaken, but rather stirred to check out the best of the Bond movies one more time.
26) "Octopussy" (1983)
For Bond, swinging from a vine is the same as jumping the shark. Well, let’s be more detailed: swinging from a vine and having a vintage Tarzan yell emanate from the general direction of his mouth. Faced with the likes of blockbuster competition that they’d never seen before (for instance, the “Star Wars” pictures and “Jaws,” both of which inspired some bad miscalculations for “Moonraker”) the Bond producers threw a lot of lousy ideas at the wall in a bid to both “keep up” and appeal to a younger audience. With this 1983 film, however, it looks as if they just stopped caring—to call it “going through the motions” is too kind, especially considering how much money and second-unit effort was thrown at each successive Bond film. Roger Moore wanted out of the role, and nowhere was it more evident than here. Fun fact: James Brolin screen=tested for the Bond role at around this time. Other fun fact: Maud Adams, here playing the title role, was a Bond girl for the second time here: the first time was in the snoozy but entirely more dignified “The Man With The Golden Gun” in 1974.
25) "Moonraker" (1979)
The sins of this one are many, and a lot of James Bond fans boil it down to one, that is the idea of James Bond in space. That itself is not as bad as the cute stylizations added to Richard Kiel’s wannabe Odd Job, the physically formidable but conceptually goofy “Jaws” (get it?). The risible way that Bond “turns” this enforcer against his villain master Drax is a real low point too. Lois Chiles, while attractive, is rather bland for her tasteless Bond girl moniker “Holly Goodhead.” Michael Lonsdale is a fine idea for a Bond villain in theory: he’s remarkably good at effete condescension. But he’s kneecapped by goofy costuming choices. Instead of a harbinger for the apocalypse, he looks more like a guy who thinks the chicks dig fake-futuristic variants of the Nehru jacket. So when it’s not being outright silly, it’s piling on the near-misses. Decent effects for its time, though. And it features the final appearance from the great Bernard Lee as “M.”
24) "Never Say Never Again" (1983)
Bad Bond movies were not the sole provenance of producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and/or their production entity Eon. “Thunderball” co-writer Kevin McClory took advantage of a judgment that allowed him to make that scenario as a movie on his own, and he persuaded Sean Connery to revive the Bond character for it, and “Empire Strikes Back” director Irving Kershner to go behind the cameras for it. The result was…a not very good remake of “Thunderball.” Which, depending on what you think of “Thunderball” to begin with, isn’t very encouraging. The movie looks kind of cheap from the get-go: the carefully built-up Bond look was so fresh in viewers’ mind that any kind of reboot was bound to look shoddy. Among its innovations: Connery’s Bond and villain Klaus Maria Brandaur engage in video game battle. Ugh. It’s better than that year’s “official” Bond movie, “Octopussy,” but not by as much as you might expect.
23) "Casino Royale" (1967)
Longtime Hollywood player (as both producer and talent agent) Charles Feldman acquired the rights to Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, in which the fate of the world kind of hinges on a game of baccarat, after it had already been adapted for a one-hour TV movie in which Barry Nelson (later Jack Nicholson’s boss in “The Shining!”) played an Americanized Bond with a great “card sense.” When the series with Connery took off in the ‘60s, Feldman approached producers Saltzman and Broccoli about a collaboration, and they balked. Feldman himself balked at Connery’s million-dollar-asking price. And then he had an idea from which the stuff of legends is born. Since his last picture, the Woody-Allen-scripted “What’s New Pussycat,” made a ton of money spoofing the emerging sexual mores of the ‘60s, and romantic comedies themselves, why not make a spoof version of the Fleming book. The bizarre cinematic monster that emerged had no fewer than five directors, at least three “James Bond”s, and was a sprawling, semiotically incoherent mess with few genuine laughs. It’s long been said a great movie could be made of the making of this: costars Peter Sellers and Orson Welles hated each other with the heart of a thousand suns, which made shooting their climactic (sort of) baccarat face-off something of a challenge. (Welles threw in as a favor to Feldman, who produced his great “Macbeth” back in the day; Woody Allen, whom Feldman broke in as a screenwriter, was involved for similar help-a-brother-out reasons.) The various Bond girls, including “Dr. No”’s Ursula Andress, perky Joanna Pettet as a Bond daughter (long story), and early Jacqueline Bisset, are all delightful, as is the Burt Bacharach score. Any movie that features Deborah Kerr pronouncing the line “ Doodle me, Jamie” to David Niven can’t be all bad.
22) "Quantum Of Solace" (2008)
A real let down after the confident and largely successful reboot of “Casino Royale,” which introduced Daniel Craig in the Bond role. At 106 minutes, it’s the shortest of the official Bond pictures. (The great ”Goldfinger” is a ‘60s pop song longer.) That might be considered refreshing in a secret-agent action thriller series that many complained was overblown and far-removed from reality. But in point of fact, “Quantum of Solace” feels like a sketch for a James Bond picture. It’s too bad: the great French actor Mathieu Amalric gives awesome crazy-man stare as the otherwise uninspired villain, an eco-terrorist of sorts (where’s SPECTRE and SMERSH when you need them, a viewer may well ask), Jeffrey Wright sets a good precedent by being the first actor to play C.I.A. ally Felix Leiter twice in a row, and Olga Kurylenko is an apt Bond girl. But the whole thing feels simultaneously rushed and underdeveloped and the climactic battle is overwhelming. Also, the scant attempts at humor are pretty lame: if naming an agent “Strawberry Fields” is supposed to constitute some kind of apology for Bond dissing the Beatles in “Goldfinger,” well, they needn’t have bothered. Also, the title song, performed by the talented but otherwise inexplicable duo of Jack White and Alicia Keys, is kind of “huh?”
21) "Die Another Day" (2002)
Speaking of bad title songs…while Madonna’s theme tune here might be a not-bad standalone Madonna tune, Bond music it’s too cheekily individualistic. Somebody shoulda given her a little editing upon hearing the deathly dire “Paging Dr. Freud” opening lyric. In any event, this, Pierce Brosnan’s last hurrah in the Bond role, has several things to commend it, for instance, an interracial romance that’s not portrayed patronizingly or as any sort of a big deal. The opposite number for said romance is Halle Berry at her most Halle-esque, so that’s a plus too. But the movie tries to have it both ways. It ostensibly “humanizes” Bond a bit by having him held in captivity by North Korea for over a year, and looking mighty bad as a result. But by the time the convoluted plot has the movie’s action taking place among all manner of ice-structures, it might as well by “The Never Ending Story.”
20) "Diamonds Are Forever" (1971)
When a Bond film is working, it achieves a balance of humor and not-quite-gravitas that makes it a thoroughly engaging experience. Tilt the balance too far in one direction, and you’ve got problems. We see this in the second-to-last Roger Moore Bond, “Octopussy,” and it’s also the case here, in the final “official” Bond film to star Sean Connery. As “The Psychotronic Encyclopedia Of Film” so memorably put it, “It’s the worst. Everything leads to sausage kind Jimmy Dean.” Indeed. It also doesn’t help that arch-villain Blofeld is here played by Charles Gray, who played a doomed ally in “You Only Live Twice” but, more crucially, went on to play the Inspector in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Jill St. John makes for a brittle Bond girl (Lana Wood is more sympathetic, in many respects, but doesn’t get to stick around for long) and Connery acts like he’d rather be golfing throughout. The addition of possibly gay assassins Wint and Kidd was an “interesting” innovation; that Wint was played by Crispin Glover’s dad Bruce and Kidd was played by Putter Smith, a jazz bassist who’d worked with Thelonious Monk, makes it sound more interesting than the characters actually play, alas.
19) "The Man With The Golden Gun" (1974)
For genre nuts, the prospect of British horror great Christopher Lee playing a Bond villain was practically catnip. And while Lee (who was a relative and friend of Bond creator Ian Fleming) certainly sinks his teeth into the role of Scaramanga, the villain with not only a golden gun but a third nipple, the movie itself is simultaneously on the dry/boring side (the narrative is convoluted without ever building to anything spectacular) and the panicky-about-keeping-up-with-the-times side (it brings some Asian martial-arts stylings, which the kids were starting to go crazy about, into the fight scenes). Hence, Roger Moore’s second outing as Bond proves a less than satisfactory mission. Bond girls Britt Ekland and Maud Adams are easy on the eyes but kind of bland, as is, oddly enough, little Hervé Villechaize as what’s supposed to be a creepy henchman. The movie also makes the mistake of bringing back “funny” redneck sheriff J.W. Pepper from “Live And Let Die.”
18) "Live And Let Die" (1973)
After Connery decided he was done with the Bond character for good, or so he thought (hence the title of the later, non-official “Never Say Never Again”), producers Saltzman and Broccoli gave the Bond role to the far more lightweight Roger Moore. But “Live and Let Die” brought the character back with a bang, with the title song from Paul McCartney and Wings ostensibly blowing out the cobwebs from the series. (Tellingly, the prior Bond picture, “Diamonds Are Forever” had a theme sung by Shirley Bassey of “Goldfinger” fame.) The movie itself is really not bad at all, despite being dogged throughout by some embarrassing racial depictions (which are kind of generic to a lot of Hollywood product of the time). Oh, and the sexual politics, while always dicey, are here beginning to show as such: much is made of the fact that this film’s Bond girl, psychic Solitaire (Jane Seymour) begins the scenario as a virgin, and that this is central to her gift. Ugh. In any event, though, Bond traipsing through the mean streets of Manhattan and the maze of New Orleans and beyond is good globe-trotting action, and Yaphet Kotto is a highly credible villain. And while Moore’s relatively callow next to Connery, here he’s comfortable enough not to overdo the arched eyebrows and so on. The introduction of J.W. Pepper remains highly regrettable.
17) "The World Is Not Enough" (1999)
Pierce Brosnan’s third outing as Bond has two really hysterically funny elements, and they’re the female leads. Between Sophie Marceau’s “I’m mad, I tell you, mad!” oil-heiress villainess and Denise Richards getting them rolling in the aisles merely by introducing herself as a nuclear physicist, the movie seems to want you to laugh at the Bond girls’ Those two errantly ridiculous albeit attractive factors aside, this is actually a better-than-not-bad Bond, in both the plot and villain departments. The plot has the villains trying to raise oil prices by blowing a nuclear reactor (an idea that was revived in “Cloud Atlas,” of all things) and the main villain is a guy who can’t feel pain on account of a bullet in his brain wiping out his senses. As played by excellent screen crazy person Robert Carlyle, Renard is scrappier and less imperious than your average Bond villain, which is a pretty neat switcheroo. By now, the stunt-spectacle pre-credits sequence for a Bond film had become something of a sacrament; the one here, involving a motorboat chase on the Thames and ending with some hot-air balloons, is one of the best in the series.
16) "A View To A Kill" (1985)
This is the last Bond picture to star Roger Moore, so he leaves with a little more dignity than the prior “Octopussy” would have allowed him to, but still doesn’t quite go out with a bang. Making Christopher Walken into a Bond villain wasn’t bad idea on paper: making him into a Bond villain who looks as if he spends his off hours selling cocaine at the Mudd Club was a mistake though. (As it happened, David Bowie had originally been considered for Walken’s role as Zorin, an overly ambitious industrialist.) Grace Jones does intriguing duty as Zorin’s appropriately stone-faced and lethal consort. Tanya Roberts is a surprisingly forgettable Bond girl. While the Golden-Gate-bridge set climax is one of the more impressive set pieces of the Moore tenure, it only suffices to elevate this Bond picture up to a little above ordinary.
15) "The Living Daylights" (1987)
If the critical and fan consensus was that the Roger Moore Bond films took the franchise into a too-comedic direction, the casting of more stolid, younger, and more menacing Timothy Dalton as Bond was a corrective. There was also the added attraction, ostensibly, that Dalton was a Serious Thespian With Classical Training and all that. The downside to this was the “what am I doing here” look that came across Dalton’s face in certain of the more risible situations Bond would find himself in. This has less spectacle than what the Moore Bond films so unwisely chased after: its plot line is a pretty straightforward one of defectors and betrayers, one of the last Bond scenarios to take advantage of the real-world Cold War. On the other hand, it’s a little on the dry side, and while the movie clearly wants to make a genuine character instead of a sex object cartoon out of Bond girl Maryam D’Abo, it can’t find an entirely credible way to do so.. And the theme song, by A-ha, is so awful it makes the largely reviled Duran Duran title song from “View To A Kill” sound like, well, “Goldfinger.” Joe Don Baker makes a great ugly American turncoat though.
14) "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997)
The second Bond movie to star Pierce Brosnan, this is an extremely mixed bag. There are some absolutely first rate elements: Brosnan’s Bond and Hong Kong legend Michelle Yeoh’s motorcycle-pursued-by-helicopter scene is an action movie set piece for the ages. And the casting of Yeoh, an action heroine in her own right, was inspired. On the minus side, the weirdly jokey supervillain played by Jonathan Pryce is a bit of media-mogul-skewering inside baseball that’s kind of a snooze, and the weirdnesses involving the movie’s initial Bond girl, played by Teri Hatcher, and her fate at the hands of an extremely unethical physician played by Vincent Schiavelli seem to have been imported from a film by a very bad Terry Gilliam impersonator. The movie picks up substantially after her character disappears, and after Pryce himself recedes and lets his character’s machines and martial-arts fluent henchpeople do his work.
13) "License To Kill" (1989)
The second and last Timothy Dalton Bond picture was originally titled “License Revoked,” but that was rejected because too large a number of potential viewers polled did not know the meaning of the word “revoked.” Or so we hear. How depressing. In any event the original title was more accurate, as it’s what happens in the movie: after Bond’s pal Felix Leiter is maimed and his new bride killed, Bond decides to go after those villains, which displeases his bosses at MI6, who take away his license to kill. And Bond kills anyway. This picture does a little better by way of giving us a more full-bodied (in terms of personality and accomplishment, we mean; get your mind out of the gutter) Bond girl in the way of Carey Lowell. Robert Davi, bless him, still seems like too much of a conscienceless henchman type to handle the role of the full villain. But the movie offers the gratifying spectacle of a really ticked-off Bond, and while the ending is weird--the usually disapproving old equipment guru Q suddenly goes all avuncular, and the avenged Leiter is a little too cheerful for someone with no legs and a dead wife as of a week before--this is largely satisfying latter-day Bond.
12) "GoldenEye" (1995)
After a nearly six-year layoff following “License To Kill,” Bond came back in the form of very credible Irish leading man Pierce Brosnan, whose tough-guy qualities always seemed to go hand in hand with an ability to laugh at himself. The challenges for a post-Cold-War Bond were inextricably linked to the dearth of plot points the new world order yielded, so this movie smartly planted its story seeds in pre-Glasnost Soviet Russia and then made its bad guys renegades in the S.S.R. aftermath. The further shaking up of the Bond world includes a female M, Judi Dench, who has, with “Skyfall,” appeared in seven Bond pictures—still not very close to Bernard Lee’s eleven, but enough to establish a strong, familiar presence. “GoldenEye” is often a weird muddle: we still haven’t figured out why Minnie Driver shows up singing in a Russian club wearing a cowboy hat. But it is very energetic, globe-trotting, action-packed, and all that. And Famke Janssen is both sufficiently beautiful and a good enough actress to make her ridiculously named femme fatale Xenia Onatopp (because she likes to strangle dudes with her thighs while she’s on-a-top of them, get it?) almost credible.
11) "Spectre" (2015) See Appendix, below
10) "Skyfall" (2012) See Appendix, below
9) "For Your Eyes Only" (1981)
In between the disasters that were “Moonraker” and “Octopussy” it occurred to the producers of the Bond series that it might be a good idea to just go out and make a James Bond movie rather than an attempt to one-up every stupid and meretricious new-styled sci-fi or action blockbuster now competing with the franchise. This proved to be a very good idea indeed and in fact yielded the second-best Roger-Moore-starring film in the series. The storyline is good old-fashioned high-tech spy stuff involving a sunken weapons system and a race between our side and the Soviets to get it. Complicating matters is a smuggler who wants to get on the Soviets’ good side. And take some of their money. The only Bond adventure so far to feature the star of a Luis Buñuel masterpiece as Bond girl: Gorgeous Carole Bouquet had beguiled Fernando Rey in Buñuel’s bamboozling surrealist masterpiece “The Obscure Object Of Desire” four year prior. The Sheena-Easton-sung theme song is a lavishly satisfying bit of pop pap, too. Also notable for a weird subplot involving a sexually precocious young figure skater played by real-life skater Lynn-Holly Johnson.
8) "Casino Royale" (2006)
The Bond reboot-for-the-21st-Century was on a very good track in almost every particular. The casting of steely Daniel Craig was inspired, as is the new intensity he brings to the role: he’s the most intimidating Bond since Connery. Giving he character a slightly more complex emotional life also worked out well, although overdoing this in future installments may prove a problem. Doing a very straight adaptation of the long-elusive-to-filmmakers Bond debut novel by Ian Fleming, a tightly plotted and diabolically emotionally knotty piece of espionage storytelling, was also a terrific idea. Casting Eva Green as Vesper Lynd, possibly the Only Woman Bond Could Ever Really Love, magnificent. And Jeffrey Wright as C.I.A. pally Felix Leiter? Brilliant. Changing the card game from baccarat to poker, and, more specifically, to Texas Hold ‘Em? As Homer Simpson would put it… That aside, an inspired effort.
7) "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977)
Among other things, this is the picture that made it de rigueur for all future Bond movies to open with a spectacular Bond-led action sequence that would not necessarily have anything to do with the subsequent action, in this case a spectacular ski chase ending with the cheesy gag of a British flag parasail thingy. All of the movie’s humor is at about that level: mildly groan-inducing but never awful And yes, this IS the movie that introduces the gigantic villain named “Jaws,” and yes, he does bite a shark to death herein. But Jaws has his roots in an actual Ian-Fleming-created bad guy, and this movie probably melds Roger Moore’s own insouciant style to an action thriller more organically and effectively than any of the other movies he played Bond in. Barbara Bach is also very good as a Bond girl not to far removed from the one in the immortal “From Russia With Love.”
6) "You Only Live Twice" (1967)
Rumor had had it that Sean Connery, for all the worldwide fame his efforts as Bond had brought him, was getting pretty tired of the role and the pigeonholing it had earned him. But still, audiences didn’t necessarily expect to see Bond trapped in a Murphy-bed style contraption and machine-gunned to death in the first scene of the follow-up to “Thunderball.” This socko opening led into a truly great theme song sung by Nancy Sinatra. While the subsequent proceedings, in which Bond had to masquerade as a Japanese man to infiltrate a Blofeld-initiated spaceship-snatching scheme designed to start a global war, are a bit on the racially insensitive and arguably overblown side, the movie’s a triumph of both action and gigantic set design, a really impressive spectacle. The Bond girls here are equally adorable Mie Hama and Akika Wakabyashi, themselves veterans of Japanese spy movies. In fact they also starred in “Key Of Keys,” the Japanese thriller that was redubbed in English by Woody Allen for the crazy pastiche comedy “What’s Up Tiger Lily.” The movie also features a gone-native-in-Japan MI6 agent played by Charles Gray who mistakenly notes that Bond takes his martini “stirred not shaken.” We can only assume that Bond was too polite to correct him.
5) "Thunderball" (1965)
In a sense, any movie following the sublime “Goldfinger” was going to have to be something of a disappointment. But “Thunderball” has a lot going for it. Fishing for nuclear weapons is an excellent plot hook for a spy movie in a real world still reeling from the Cuban missile crisis. The diabolical scheme involving a dead pilot and a ringer turned into his double via plastic surgery is still a pretty creepy gambit. The Bahamas as a setting for intrigue and adventure both professional and recreational. Claudine Auger as Domino is not a Bond girl to sneeze at. The faults here are minimal but significant: first off, the storytelling is a little logy: where “Goldfinger” logged in at a very tight hour and fifty minutes, this dawdles a bit at 130 minutes. But the main offender is the villain, Largo, played by Adolfo Celli. Rather than convincing the viewer he’s a diabolical madman intent on world domination and being very very rich, the lumbering, white-haired Celli comes across merely as a petulant piece of Eurotrash who enjoys severely undertipping valet parking guys. Villain fail.
4) "Dr. No" (1962)
The first movie in the franchise is a lean, largely gadget-free espionage thriller (it’s most spectacular element is a so-called “dragon” with which its title villain protects his private island, which is in fact a kind of tank with a flame-thrower). Licensed-to-kill agent Bond is summoned away from the baccarat table, given a scolding on weaponry from boss M (who makes him replace his Walther PPK with a Beretta) and dispatched to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of an MI6 agent there. Among the calypso dancers and exotic seashells he discovers the world-domination bent Doctor, whom he squelches, after some shrug-offable radiation exposure. Ursula Andress is a great first Bond girl even if her acting is laughable. The locations are gorgeous, and Connery’s Bond is gratifyingly nasty (immortal line, right before he dispatches a villain minion who’s out of ammo: “You’ve had your six”), if not all that impressively competent. Of course the agent has to get into dangerous situations, but he walks into more traps and abductions here than average. Fun trivia: A junior location scout on the movie was Chris Blackwell, future music industry legend as founder of Island Records.
3) "On Her Majesty’s Secret Service" (1969)
The jokey opening, with new guy George Lazenby laughing that such things never happened to “the other guy” is the only meta touch in this movie that handed Lazenby the seemingly impossible task of filling Sean Connery’s shoes after “You Only Live Twice” marked the original actor’s exit from the series. The critical lambasting the movie and Lazenby took, and the shortfall in box office drawing power (the movie was in fact a hit, but not as much of one as the Connery pictures had been) the movie showed threw the producers into a panic, and Lazenby was quickly thrown under a bus, or an Aston-Martin, or some such vehicle. As it happens, though, he’s a pretty good Bond, and “Secret Service” is an excellent Bond picture, a solid attempt to provide Bond with emotional depth almost forty years before the Daniel-Craig-starring movies. Here Bond falls in love with poor-little-rich-girl Tracy, played by Diana Rigg, and actually marries her. A more mobile Blofeld, played here by Telly Savalas during the period when you could still take him seriously as a psychotic, has other plans for the couple that don’t allow for much in the way of domestic bliss. This still remains the best mixing of character study and action in a Bond movie. Also features Louis Armstrong singing a great John Barry song, “We Have All The Time In The World.”
2) "From Russia, With Love" (1963)
The second Bond film is the ultimate Bond Cold War movie, and its ends with a spectacular thaw centered on blackmail-intended 8mm footage of what we would nowadays call a “sex tape.” Up until the current Bond series, which has some continuity built around Bond’s “Casino Royale” lover Vesper Lynd, this was the only Bond movie to have a Bond-girl continuity, character wise; as we are introduced to the real Bond (a look-alike is killed in the opening scene by an assassin in training played by a never-to-be-in-such-great-shape-again Robert Shaw) he’s still dallying with Sylvia Trench, who he picked up at the baccarat table in “Dr. No.” But there’s not much time for that, as he has to traipse all over Europe chasing a Russian coding device, in the sights of ace, knife-in-the-boot-toe villainess Rosa Klebb (the great Lotte Lenya), witnessing Gypsy catfights with Turkish op Kerim Bey (Mexican-born Pedro Armendariz, who else?), and falling hard for Soviet maybe-defector Tatiana, my personal favorite Bond girl, played by Daniel Bianchi. Lots of action; the train battle between Shaw’s character and the real Bond is one of the greatest fist-fight blowouts in the history of the franchise, if not CINEMA ITSELF. Super awesome, even if few people can actually name the guy who sang the theme song without the help of Wikipedia (it’s Matt Monro, and in fairness to him, he was cheated; an instrumental version of the tune plays over the opening credits).
1) "Goldfinger" (1964)
As fond as we are of “From Russia With Love,” which is widely acclaimed as the best Bond, we think this beats it. While Rosa Klebb and her minions were great, they were playing second fiddle in “Russia” to an unseen number one bad guy; with Auric Goldfinger, we get a master villain who’s formidable and vulgar, more credible than the sci-fi inflected Dr. No, one who gives really good catchphrase (as in” No Mr. Bond I expect you to DIE”), and one who’s his own boss. The set design, while not as gargantuan as that in “You Only Live Twice,” shows Ken Adam at his most imaginative; who doesn’t WANT Goldfinger’s pool room? The three Bond women, played by Shirley Eaton, Tania Mallet, and Honor Blackman, are engaging and beautiful. The strongman henchman, Odd Job, is weirdly formidable. The globe trotting, from the Swiss Alps to Kentucky horse country (one shot even shows an early KFC restaurant) is awesome. And it has the best theme song of any Bond film ever. Still. Such is our case. What’s yours?
LIKE I SAID, the only change I made to the original text I submitted to MSN Movies, which, if I recollect correctly, was published in more or less the form submitted, was to include rankings of Skyfall and Spectre, I reckon that at 10 and 11 respectively, some might protest that I'm ranking them WAY too high. I understand the objection. My reasons are as follows: 1) Once one (and by "one," I mean "me," pretty much) really grows accustomed to the facts that these movies are part of an actual reboot, rather than existing within the (let's face it) poorly maintained continuity of all the prior Eon films, their logic and especially their tone become easier to process. 2) Daniel Craig does a better po-faced Bond than Timothy Dalton did. He just does. 3) The movies are superbly cast. Albert Finney is in Skyfall! Okay, Dave Bautista in Spectre struts around as if he really thinks he's the better of Robert Shaw and Richard Kiel combined, and he's not even close, but nobody's perfect. 4) The movies aren't completely humorous. Bond failing to make the car he nicked do what he wants to do in the Rome chase sequence in Spectre is pretty funny. 5) While overlong and a tad self-serious, the two movies are very well-made espionage thrillers, with Skyfall benefitting in particular from breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins. So there.