I caught the second half of this on a cheap and cheerful freeview… MoreI caught the second half of this on a cheap and cheerful freeview movie channel and was surprised to find myself sucked into it. It's certainly silly, dated and sexist - at one point Peter Graves' police detective, investigating a series of homicides in which female motorists have been forced off the road by a maniac driving a van, suggests that the victims may be partly responsible for their own deaths because they each have a string of minor driving offences to their discredit - but it does have some tense moments, at least one nifty little sucker punch and a surprisingly potent atmosphere of dread. Notwithstanding the high quality of the stunt work for a TV movie, I'd certainly never have guessed this was directed by Hal Needham, making me almost curious enough to investigate what else this director was capable of without Burt Reynolds...
Faced with the necessity of breaking in a new 007 following the… MoreFaced with the necessity of breaking in a new 007 following the departure of Sean Connery, the producers wisely opted for a back-to-basics Bond movie, eschewing most of the ludicrous excesses evident in You Only Live Twice. Gone, at least for the time being, were production designer Ken Adam's cavernous sets, along with the increasingly silly gadgetry.
That the film failed to find much of an audience at the time of release - the reasons for which I'll come to in a moment - can only be classed as a great shame, not least for the genuine Bond fan, as Broccoli and Saltzman backslid furiously and Connery picked up where he'd left off, before passing the baton to Roger Moore, who cheapened the character by chiefly playing him for laughs. Consequently, in the 37 years separating OHMSS and Daniel Craig's revitalisation of the character in Casino Royale there were only a couple of high points in the series, and - surely not coincidentally - each corresponded with a similar back-to-basics agenda. The first of these was the curiously unloved For Your Eyes Only, which notwithstanding its risible prologue and epilogue is the purest Bond film Moore ever made; the second, Timothy Dalton's superb début in The Living Daylights.
OHMSS's failure, perhaps unsurprisingly, was due in no small part to George Lazenby, though not for the reason one might expect, namely his performance. The problem with Lazenby was a perceived cockiness and lack of humility that got up the noses of his seasoned cast and crew mates and had the film critics sharpening their knives before nary a foot of film was in the can. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I dare say much of this was a combination of youthful high spirits and naivety, however the damage was done and the finished film was roundly savaged in the press. As one would imagine, Lazenby was compared unfavourably with Connery, as ever other actor who plays the part continues to be to this day, though I, for one, couldn't disagree more with this assessment. Frankly, Connery was visibly bored with Bond, charmlessly sleepwalking his way through both Thunderball and You Only Live Twice. Furthermore, there is an aura of invincibility about Connery's Bond that precludes one's becoming overly fearful for the character's safety, even with a laser beam trained on his testicles, whereas for all his powerful physique and obvious athleticism, there's an appealing vulnerability to Lazenby's Bond that produces a couple of startling moments in which he resembles a lost little boy in need of a cuddle. Simply put: yes, he's not nearly as good an actor as Connery, but Connery could not have played this Bond this well in this film.
Not only was Diana Rigg's poor-little-rich-girl the first Bond girl of any real substance since Daniela Bianchi's Tatiana in From Russia with Love - and perhaps the last until Eva Green's Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale - she's still arguably the best of an admittedly shallow bunch, her combination of strength and vulnerability complimenting her co-star's perfectly. Without being either as creepy as Donald Pleasance's or as suavely menacing as Chales Gray's, Telly Savalas' Blofeld still manages to be definitive, not just because he plays him straight and with restraint, but because he brings to the role a brute physical presence the others lack; one senses, for once at least, here's an adversary who might give our hero a run for his money in a fistfight. Elsewhere in the casting, From Russia with Love appears to have been a definite reference point, with Ilse Steppat's Irma Bunt echoing Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb and Gabriele Ferzetti channelling Pedro Armendáriz's Kerim Bey as Draco.
All things taken into consideration, this is probably the second best movie of the entire series after From Russia with Love. Don't listen to the haters!
The best of the lot: the most perfectly realised on the screen and the… MoreThe best of the lot: the most perfectly realised on the screen and the truest to Fleming. As with Dr. No, the location photography here in the main favours the gritty over the travelogue pretty, a trend the series would regrettably begin to move away from with the very next film, Goldfinger. Terence Young's direction has a sure-footedness and confidence that was entirely lacking in his earlier effort and Robert Shaw's psychopathic SPECTRE agent is still the best henchman to have graced the Bond franchise.
Although rough around the edges, many of the hallmarks of the series… MoreAlthough rough around the edges, many of the hallmarks of the series are present and correct in the very first film. Connery's Bond has a ruthlessness about him here that he would sadly lose as the series progressed. The modesty of the budget thankfully keeps the writers' imaginations and Ken Adam's production design of villain Joseph Wiseman's lair in check, a situation which would alter as the series became a victim of its own success, culminating in a plausibility nadir of sorts with Donald Pleasance's volcanic hideout in You Only Live Twice.