Talking Movies

September 30, 2021

Top 5 Bond Girls

The pandemic is seemingly going to be book-ended by No Time to Die‘s attempted release and its actual release. Astonishing then that in 18 months Cary Fukunaga never thought to edit down his bloated 163 minute movie, which is nearly a full hour longer than Quantum of Solace. Let us take a more abbreviated run thru the Bond greatest hits.

5) Wei Lin

Michelle Yeoh’s turn as a Chinese super-spy in Tomorrow Never Dies feels underwritten, a complaint you could throw at almost anything during the Brosnan years. And yet, Yeoh’s combat skills and delightful insouciance, alongside her character’s almost incidental contacts with Bond as she pursues her own parallel adventure, elevate her to a more convincing version of Anya Amasova aka xXx in The Spy Who Loved Me as truly being Bond’s opposite number.

4) Mayday

Roald Dahl said he’d been briefed for screenwriting You Only Live Twice on having a good girl that died, a bad girl that died, and a good girl that lived. Grace Jones got to play a twist on that as physically imposing Mayday in A View to a Kill. Betrayed by Zorin, for whom she has caused much mayhem with glee, she sacrifices herself for the greater good, with a wordless exit glare.

3) Domino Derval

Claudine Auger’s Domino is very stylish in her bespoke black and white outfits, but is more than just a very pretty face. She mordantly undercuts Bond’s first attempts at seductive patter, and has her own personal reasons for falling in with his plans against her lover Largo, a character arc climaxing in some truly monumental brass from John Barry’s score when she saves Bond with the lethal use of a harpoon gun.

2) Pussy Galore

Three knockout English blondes play the Dahlian triptych of Bond girls in Goldfinger, and Honor Blackman is the one with the most substantial role, and the most absurd name. Blackman’s considerable swagger and judo skills would have been no surprise to anyone who’d seen her as Cathy Gale in The Avengers. In a film that drips great lines, she has an almost Bogart/Bacall spikiness with Connery, trading barbs while dressed elegantly.

1) Vesper Lynd

Eva Green’s woman from the Treasury set a high watermark for Bond girls that the Craig era has never managed to reach again despite its sincerest efforts. Their first meeting on the train to Montenegro is delicious. Over dinner the pair verbally dissect each other’s characters based on their first impressions of each other. Bond is cruel but Vesper hurts him back with interest, and it is this which makes Bond interested.

* It may seem odd for a fan of The Avengers not to have included Diana Rigg’s turn as Bond’s wife in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but her wit and athleticism as Emma Peel were so clinically stripped from Tracy Draco that I can only watch it with deep disappointment.

May 29, 2020

Miscellaneous Movie Musings: Part XXXIII

As the title suggests, so forth.

If not Lazenby, then who?

Almost anyone. But seriously, folks. There were any number of actors in England in 1968 who could have done a better job of picking up the keys to Sean Connery’s Aston Martin. A typically three-cornered hat discussion with Friedrich Bagel and The Engineer to the music of de Falla produced this shortlist of contenders:

Rod Taylor, Alan Bates, Albert Finney, Oliver Reed, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Terence Stamp, Anthony Hopkins

Patrick McGoohan, Malcolm McDowell, Christopher Lee, Nicol Williamson, David Warner, Edward Fox

Now, not all of these people would have been asked, and some of them would likely have refused had they been asked, (Alan Bates and Nicol Williamson spring to mind), and some of them would likely have refused contemptuously (*Dear EON, Patrick McGoohan has had quite enough of playing spies at this point, thank you very much). The EON producers would never have seriously asked a bona fide film leading man like Caine, in order to keep the budget down. They would have asked a TV star like Roger Moore, sadly tied up with The Saint, or Timothy Dalton, a supporting player in a major film. As indeed they did. But the actual shortlist of undistinguished Bond contenders from whom Lazenby won based on a screen test is the stuff of madness when you consider that all these alternatives were available. The roguishness of Oliver Reed’s 007, the undercurrent of menace of Malcolm McDowell’s Bond, the unpredictability of David Warner’s agent: these are the roads not taken. There seems to be some sort of retrospective attempt to insist they needed to cast an unknown actor, like they had with Sean Connery. But Sean Connery was not unknown when he was cast. Far from it, he had already appeared in Darby O’Gill and the Little People and his supporting role in The Longest Day would have been appreciated by British TV audiences who, between 1959 and 1961, had seen him as Count Vronsky, Hotspur, Macbeth and Alexander the Great. He was not an unknown, he was quite well known to British audiences as a leading man playing historic roles. Lazenby by contrast was quite well known to British audiences for advertising Fry’s chocolate bars.

The critical rehabilitation narrative

I’ve been thinking recently about what we might dub the critical rehabilitation narrative. Nothing seems to please some critics more than to discover neglected masterpieces, to rescue from the discard bin gems that were unappreciated at the time. The only problem is sometimes the critics are very pleased with themselves, their wider critical narrative powers along, and it’s only a minor detail that the film in question is still rubbish. That’s not to say that it is wrong to revisit films and see if they were misjudged; after all Fight Club suffered hugely from being released so soon after Columbine. But sometimes there is much to be said for reading the original reviews and getting a bracing perspective, like disinterring The Cabinet of Dr Caligari from the reverence of generations of film students and discovering in Peter Gay’s Weimar Culture that its own writers disowned the finished film for changes made to its finale which they regarded as dangerously reversing its political message, and doing so at a time that imperilled the nascent republic. Or realising that Matthew Modine saying recently that Full Metal Jacket has aged better than other Vietnam films because it’s finale of urban insurgency could be in Iraq only proves the point of the objections made by critics on release. Because of the WB indulging Kubrick’s power-tripping laziness he had departed from the novel’s jungle war conclusion to instead depict the (easily manufactured in England) ruined city of Hue, because he couldn’t be bothered leaving England. And it would be hard to easily manufacture in England a jungle war. Just as well Vietnam wasn’t noted for being a JUNGLE WAR. Revolution was reviled on release and exiled Pacino to Broadway. But Revolution is an unfocused film of baffling decisions, like shooting it entirely in England and not having Annie Lennox sing, rather than an outright atrocity. Watching its depiction of the start of the American Revolution, the mob bullying, the expropriation, the self-interested and abrasive self-righteousness is oddly reminiscent of Doctor Zhivago’s portrayal of the Bolsheviks. It’s hard not to think that this enraged American critics at the time, who sublimated that rage into attacks from other angles. And yet the final minutes of Revolution feature a truly astonishing tracking shot, a technical marvel and a triumph of production design, that I have never ever heard anyone praise or even mention. If you can’t do the hard work of salvaging the good from amidst the bad then what is the point of critical rehabilitation?

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