The moniker would be an apt tribute to the actor who gave style and substance to the spy based on Ian Fleming’s novels. ‘The name is Bond. James Bond’! is a classic introduction line used by the hero is all Bond films but the franchise journey from the heydays of ‘Dr. No’ and ‘From Russia With Love’ owes a lot to the first actor to essay the role.
Recently while watching a re-run of ‘Dr. No’ I could see that the Bond formula had not quite been fleshed out – it really came into its own in the 3rd edition of Goldfinger. Yet the traces of its trademark style could easily be seen – Connery with his smirk and suave appeals a raw and gritty agent who doesn’t mind the mess that is part and parcel of his job on a daily basis. His dry wit and a preference for Martinis, shaken and not stirred start to make their presence felt. We are still to find Q’s dream factory of gadgets and gimmicks but Connery is already marking up his relations with ‘M’ and Ms. Moneypenny.
If ‘Dr. No’ was a promising start, ‘From Russia With Love’ capitalized on it further and the Golden hour arrived in the 3rd installment with Goldfinger’s audacious plans to target the US Gold reserves kept at Fort Knox.
My favourite Sean Connery ‘Bond’ movies include –
In the tradition of ‘Dr. No’ it was named after the Villain and justified it unlike a late edition, ‘Octopussy’. In the initial sequence Goldfinger appears to be thuggish and crooked but not quite a megalomaniac he turns out to be. How is one to take it seriously if the villain is busy conning a card opponent with underhand tricks. He brutally murders his underling – Jill Masterson – gilding her with Gold paint. The sequence caught the imagination of the public although her’s was a minor role in the introductory sequence.
Aided by his henchman – Oddjob (armed with his lethal Bowler hat) helps Goldfinger spar with Bond with incidental casualties in terms of death of Jill’s sister and wrecking of Q’s labour of love – Aston Martin car with gadgetry. It is quite a routine till now as the ambitious plans of Goldfinger to assault Fort Knox are not known yet.
Goldfinger really has Bond in the spot with his laser aimed at incinerating him – he instead falls for the old vice of becoming the ‘talking villain’ and Bond is able to wrangle out a temporary reprieve. Even the sequences later Goldfinger reveals more than is required and Bond is able plot his downfall.
The independent Bond girl – Pussy Galore – with her squadron of lady pilots is an interesting character. She is not the villains woman and is ready to match her wits against Bond instead of falling for him. She is mostly confrontational with Bond except a stereotyped sequence in the barn and her switching allegiance to Bond subsequently is a bit half-baked. Still we are in the 60s and Bond was the quintessential ladies’ man.
From Russia With Love
The prevalent cold war gave the edge to the subject. The purpose of the defection of a Russian girl with an important gizmo and a romantic love for James Bond was not quite extraordinary. What made it interesting was SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) wanted to play the Brits against the Russians and nearly got away with it.
The action scene is Istanbul where the escapade is planned. Bond is to be assisted by the man-on-the-scene, ‘Kerim Bey’. And Kerim comes off as a great and real character something that didn’t happen with Bond’s allies even the CIA Agent – Leiter in most movies. He ensures that the action sequences are credible though there is the blemish of the episode involving the fight at the Gypsy camp.
The Bond girl – Tatiana – easily fits into the scheme of things since she is besotted by him. But she gets to do more than that when she realizes the lay of the land. She then aids Bond and helps him survive the attack launched by SPECTRE Agent, Rosa Klebb. The fisticuffs fight and playing the game using a booby-trapped briefcase on the Orient Express as it moves across the Iron Curtain is vintage action that only Connery could pull off best.
The movie remains grounded in realism and the standard James Bond tropes are not yet quite in action though elements like ‘Bond Girl’, Q’s ‘gadgetry and gimmicks’, Bond’s sexual promiscuity are steadily coalescing into a magic recipe that would sustain the franchise. In light of this the movie becomes an instant classic and usually included in the list of ‘Top Bond Movies’.
It has Sean Connery living the ‘Bond’ formula in stupendous fashion – SPECTRE, sharks, nuclear submarines, a plethora of Bond girls, the scenic Bahamas and majestic sets and shoots backed by a big budget production.
The Bond Girls are in plenty and most memorable as a group. It starts off at the health clinic where Bond’s advances are surely crossing limits but as usual he gets away with it. In interesting contrast is the Villain’s ‘henchwoman’, Fiona Volpe, who comes across as a true femme fatale. She finds Bond interesting but is quite capable of having her fun and then killing him. The lead girl, Domino, the Villain’s mistress who yearns to escape him and finds Bond suitable for the purpose. So their liaison is not quite romantic as is the usual case – it is just that they tried to use each other to achieve their goals.
The underwater scenes initially appeal but quickly sense of boredom sets in. The fights are difficult to follow except that we know that Bond will come out Trumps. After a few repeats we have had our fill and would gladly move out of the waters to have fun. So in fact the climax sequence and the dream escape to the skies is not as impactful as the sequence in other Bond films.
Sean Connery finished with Eon production of official Bond films with the forgettable ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. He had a bit of rogue redemption when he essayed the role again in the unofficial Bond movie – ‘Never Say Never Again’. That moment provided us all an occasion to celebrate the original Bond and his contributions to making it a fantastic franchise.