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Posts Tagged ‘From Russia with Love’

A few months ago a friend who had never seen a James Bond movie asked which Bond films she should watch in preparation for Skyfall that she intended to see on its release. I immediately suggested a few of my favourites and advised her to steer clear of some of the ones I don’t like. I was going to post a list of the movies I recommended but I have kind of already covered that in my film by film guide. So here is a slightly different take on the idea. A week of Bond movies with a double feature on Sunday. Not only do the selected films represent some of the best Bond films, but they also show different elements of the character and the way he developed over time. They also feature all the actors to play Bond.

In preparation for this post I actually watched all the films last week*

Monday: From Russia with Love (1963)
Both character and actor were finding their feet in Dr. No. its also worth considering that Bond is presented as an established character at the top of his game, so viewers can step on with any one of the early movies without missing anything. That’s why I am skipping the first film and went to my all time favourite From Russia with Love. With a great story that is faithful to the book and a selection of memorable villains, it’s a great start to the week.

Tuesday: Goldfinger (1964)
While From Russia with Love established Connery in the role, Goldfinger cemented the character in mythology. Great, villain, great henchmen, two memorable Bond girls and the greatest icon of the franchise, the Aston Martin DB5. Again it is faithful to the book.

Wednesday: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Lets begin by saying this is a flawed classic. Once again it is faithful to the book, and it’s a great book but the problem lies with the casting, George Lazenby can‘t act and has no charisma, worst of all he has no chemistry with his co-star Diana Rigg. There is however enough good to forgive the problems.

Thursday: Live and Let Die (1973)
Roger Moore became Bond version 3 and did a pretty good job (sadly it was downhill from there). For a long time Bond has jumped on the coattails of other genres, this is the first overt version of this with a Blaxploitation inspired story. The last Bond film to take the majority of its story from an Ian Fleming novel.

Friday: Licence to Kill (1989)
From the last Bond film to take the majority of its story from an Ian Fleming novel to the first film that doesn’t even take its title from a novel. The film does take a lot of its ideas from unused parts of the original Fleming novels. Timothy Dalton’s Bond is the closest to the character from Fleming’s novels and the idea of a renegade Bond is ahead of his time.

Saturday: GoldenEye (1995)
After a hiatus caused by legal disputes Bond was back in the shape Pierce Brosnan. Playing off against a great villain and two opposing Bond girls (most notably a memorable Famke Janssen) Brosnan found a happy medium between Dalton and Moore. The action is good and the story is suitably updated. Sadly Brosnan didn’t manage to follow it up with each of his movies getting progressively worse.

Sunday: Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012)
Bond has been reinvented a few times but Casino Royale was the first time it was totally rebooted. Utilising the perfect source material, Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, and Jason Bourne inspired action the film hit all the right notes. If Brosnan found the balance between Dalton and Moore, Daniel Craig found a similar position between Dalton and Connery. And then we come to Skyfall, you can read my full review HERE.

*having already seen it twice in two weeks I didn’t re-watch Skyfall.

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Talking about James Bond in last weeks Radio Times, film critic Barry Norman made the statement: Ask anybody: who is your favourite James bond? I guarantee the answer will be the first one they ever saw”. I’m not sure if I am more discerning or just awkward, but it isn’t true of me. To the best of my knowledge and memory the first Bond I saw was Roger Moore in Live and Let Die. Moore is far from my favourite Bond, but I have recently come to the conclusion that I don’t know who my favourite Bond is! For years I have always claimed it is Sean Connery with the caveat that Timothy Dalton is the closest to the character from Ian Fleming’s novels.

I hold with the popular opinion that George Lazenby was the worst Bond, and this is a great shame as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best Bond films despite him. He is closely followed by Roger Moore whose comic version of Bond just doesn’t work for me. He did however make some decent movies, Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me were both really good films. The Man with the Golden Gun isn’t as good but does benefit from a fantastic performance from Christopher Lee as the villian Scaramanga.

So Back to who is my favourite Bond, Sean Connery certainly had the best stories with relatively faithful adaptations of Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball. You Only Live Twice is the point where the franchise started to get silly and even became a parody of itself, it was however still a good film in its own right. Connery’s only misstep was Diamonds Are Forever that was both silly and dull.

I have already said Timothy Dalton most closely resembles the character from the books in his portrayal, but there is another actor who probably looks most like Bond, Pierce Brosnan. This may be a bit of a stretch as there is little description of Bonds appearance beyond his short black hair and a resemblance to Hoagy Carmichael. Pierce Brosnan isn’t my favourite Bond either. He is perfect for the films he made and the time they were made, but sadly most of them weren’t actually very good. After a strong opening with GoldenEye the rest of his films got progressively worse culminating with the car crash of a movie, Die Another Day that was as bad as anything Moore did.

This leaves us with two contenders: Timothy Dalton who was hamstrung by only making two appearances both of them being good but not great films, The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill. Had he made more films he could well have been my favourite Bond but for reasons to long winded and complicated to go into today he didn’t. And finally Daniel Craig, Casino Royale is certainly one of my favourite Bond films and Quantum of Solace is underrated and will probably age well, but is he my favourite? Not yet but he may well be in future, with three more movies including Skyfall due out next month, he will certainly have a chance before handing his Aston Martin and Walther PPK to Michael Fassbender, my choice for the next James Bond.

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As I sat watching Silver Streak on TV, a movie I haven’t seen for about twenty years, I suddenly realised something I have always know in the back of my mind; there is something magical about movies set on trains. Air travel and the jet set should be more sexy, it probably is, but its far less cinematic, Planes are little more than a mode of transport, they are the way James Bond gets from one exotic local to another, but trains are the locations in themselves. True, plains have been the setting for movies live Air Force One, Flight Plan or Red Eye, but none of these movies offer anything new that we haven’t seen before in movies like The Narrow Margin (the 1952 original, although the Gene Hackman, Anne Archer remake isn’t bad either). The size of a train is what makes it so suitable for a film, particularly a thriller or murder mystery, they are big enough to provide the space need for the action to play out but small enough to create just enough claustrophobia and intimacy.

A common theme of train set movies if people finding love, romance or just sex on a journey. North by Northwest features one of the best seduction scenes ever as Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint flirt and seduce each other over dinner. The movie then ends with the most audacious ending as the train itself becomes a phallic symbol in the most overt of innuendos that only Hitchcock could get away with. In a lot of ways Silver Streak condenses all the ideas of North By Northwest down to a train based part of the movie with just enough action, comedy and absurdity to keep it the right side of parody.

Although only a small section of Some Like it Hot is set on a train, it is a fantastic part, not least as its where we are introduced to ‘Sugar’ Kane (Marilyn Monroe). James Bond has spent his fair share of time on train, most notably in From Russia with Love (1963). Encapsulating the romance and the danger as Bond (Sean Connery) woos Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) and fights ‘Red’ Grant (Robert Shaw). Bringing things more up to date Harry Potter first meets Hermione on the Hogwarts Express, it is also the place he first encounters the dementors.

As the world shrinks under the weight of ever the increasing progress of technology the magic of trains in movies evaporates, but filmmakers will always find ways to bring it back. This can involve setting movies in more exotic places like The Darjeeling Limited (2007) and Transsiberian (2008) or in the past: Water for Elephants (2011). In this age of laptop computers and MP3 players I wonder how often people actually strike up a conversation with a stranger on a train anymore? That could be a good or a bad thing depending on who you talk to: Guy Haines (Farley Granger) encounters psychotic Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker), who has a plan to help him get away with murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) (adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel of the same name with a screenplay by Raymond Chandler). On the other hand in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, American student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) has a very different experience when he meets Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman on her way home to Paris.

Next time you are watching a movie set on a train (and there a lot, I have only mentioned a few) have a think about the setting and if it would work anywhere else.

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