Holiday Bond Returns
For years, television's seasonal traditions have included festivals of James Bond adventures. Again this year, Spike TV is the home of "The 007 Days of Christmas," the weeklong bounty of Bond that begins Saturday, Dec. 23.
With the most famous agent on Her Majesty's Secret Service also reborn on theater screens in the current version of novelist Ian Fleming's first Bond caper, "Casino Royale," here's a subjective rundown of the spy's 007 best movie missions.
"Goldfinger" (1964): Most Bond purists agree this is the one that has it all -- furious action, true romance and genuine wit -- and in precisely the right measure. Sean Connery completely occupied Bond's skin by this third entry in the series, from his opening destruction of a heroin plant to his climactic effort to defuse a nuclear bomb inside Fort Knox while simultaneously trying to neutralize villain Oddjob (Harold Sakata).
The plot encompasses many great scenes, from Bond's discovery of a freshly painted and suffocated "golden girl" (Shirley Eaton) to his elimination of a gun-wielding captor via Aston-Martin ejector seat, not to mention nemesis Goldfinger's (Gert Frobe) threat to halve our hero via laser beam. Still, the whole is much more than the sum of its parts, making this the best of the Bonds.
"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969): As negligible as many critics find George Lazenby's performance in his only stint as Bond, it works for this film, which smartly follows the original Fleming story closely. Diana Rigg distinguishes herself as the woman who captures 007's heart; had Connery still been on board, the strength of his persona might have smothered hers.
Telly Savalas also does smooth work as archenemy Blofeld, but the behind-the-scenes Bond regulars really shine here, from the stunt experts -- the ski chase and bobsled battle are genuinely breathtaking -- to composer John Barry, whose superb score even incorporates a Louis Armstrong love song.
"GoldenEye" (1995): Finally landing the role after being denied it earlier by an unexpected "Remington Steele" renewal, Pierce Brosnan has a smashing premiere as Bond, exuding style and confidence within a premise that hearkens back to the early Connery days. This 007 has to use brains as much as gadgets to determine who wants to hijack an orbiting satellite to disrupt the British economy.
Director Martin Campbell, who works wonders with debuting Bonds (keep reading), gives Brosnan just enough leeway to establish his presence within the boundaries of the franchise. Another great touch is the introduction of Judi Dench as the new "M," whose verbal sparring with Bond wouldn't be as good again until ... well, that's a perfect way to move on to the next choice.
"Casino Royale" (2006): Campbell and Dench both return for Bond's latest screen exploit, but it's the new 007 himself who commands and deserves the principal attention. Daniel Craig is wonderfully rugged in every way, looks and all, in the assignment that explains how Bond attained his "00" status.
Some fans are waiting for Craig's second turn to judge where he places on the list of Bond portrayers, but for now, he's both terrifically tough -- the conclusion in and around a collapsing Venetian building furnishes loads of evidence -- and tantalizingly tender, as he loses his heart to treasury agent Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) while using government money to bait terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) at the card table.
"Thunderball" (1965): Exotic locations, gorgeous women and sinister villains abound again in this sometimes-underrated example of the Bond craze at its peak. Not quite as fantastic as the preceding "Goldfinger," it lets Connery integrate his "From Russia With Love" toughness again as Bond investigates SPECTRE operative Largo (Adolfo Celi), the eyepatched fiend responsible for the theft of two nuclear warheads.
Luciana Paluzzi makes a great villainess as the ravishing but coldhearted Fiona, and many of the best underwater filmmakers of the time piled on for the beneath-the-waves battle between the forces of good and evil. The Bahamas' tourism industry sure wasn't hurt by the lush look of the picture.
"The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977): On the audio commentary in MGM Home Entertainment's new "James Bond Ultimate Edition" DVD version, Roger Moore confirms this was his favorite of the 007 movies he made, and it's little wonder.
The basic formula is applied ideally, as Bond and a lovely Russian counterpart (Barbara Bach) race to recover a submarine-tracking device, setting steel-toothed opponent Jaws (Richard Kiel) on their trail. The Carly Simon-performed theme song underscored what Bond proved again here, "Nobody Does It Better."
"Diamonds Are Forever" (1971): There's so much sheer fun in Connery's return after a one-film absence, it overrides the plot loopholes as Bond goes from Amsterdam to Las Vegas in search of stolen gems.
Jill St. John is a spunky foil as glamorous smuggler Tiffany Case; Jimmy Dean -- yes, the sausage king -- is amusing as Howard Hughes-like recluse Willard Whyte; and Bruce Glover and Putter Smith make two of the series' most enjoyable henchmen as Wint and Kidd. Plus, the downtown-Vegas car pursuit is an absolute hoot every time you watch it.