Random Observations

Who was the best James Bond? Most people will say Sean Connery but there are a wide range of views on the subject with a number of people probably having someone they put firmly at the bottom of the pile. George Lazenby was dumped on for not being Sean Connery and mocked for years but many Bond fans now think he did a credible job and the reputation of On Her Majesty's Secret Service has grown over the decades.

"Lazenby's fight scenes are the best in the series," said this website. "This is one James Bond who really can fight his way out of trouble. In the course of this film Lazenby is tough, petulant, arrogant, vulnerable, and an expense account snob. He is James Bond. Always in the middle of the action, Lazenby looks the part and, shrewdly surrounded by good actors and tight-editing, makes for an exciting younger Bond. It is a pity that he couldn't be enticed back for Diamonds Are Forever."

Lazenby was chosen because they wanted a Connery type and Peter Hunt did a remarkable job in enticing a commendable performance out of someone who was never really an actor. We'll never know how good Lazenby could have been in the role with more experience which is a shame as he looked good and was very believable in the action and fight sequences. Many wish Connery had done On Her Majesty's Secret Service but Lazenby's one-off presence probably gives the film more cult appeal now. Could Connery, who was pretty cheesed off with Bond by the late sixties, have been as vulnerable and human as Lazenby's young agent was in that film?

When they had to replace Connery again after Diamonds Are Forever they played it safe and went for an experienced actor who was already quite well known. Roger Moore had been beating villains up for years as Simon Templar in The Saint and had been linked to Bond since the series began. He was a fairly safe choice to be a caretaker for a few films although I doubt anyone imagined at the time he would play Bond until 1985 - especially when The Man with the Golden Gun met with a collective yawn in 1974 and seemed to signal that the well had been visited too many times and had now run dry. Moore showed that it was possible for an actor other than Connery to be successful in the role and pass it on to another generation. This era has its critics but for all the sight gags and double entendres the actor is still a witty and commanding presence in the films and anyone who grew up watching Bond ski off a mountain with a Union Jack parachute or outrace a heat seeking missile in an Acrostar jet will always have a soft spot for Roger's unflappable spy.

"Roger Moore was the best Bond by far," argued a fan on this very debate. "And the best thing about it is the fact that he didn’t take the role seriously. Guys, get real. The character is a beautiful over the top charade. A representation of each man’s fantasies - luxury, lust, danger, sex, cars, guns, casinos, more beautiful women, saving the world and a license to kill. If you got it all, well, go with a smile. And Roger did it."

Timothy Dalton was a disaster according to a very general perception but is now retrospectively praised for making Bond more serious again, years before Daniel Craig tried the same thing. "For me the name is Dalton, Timothy Dalton," said a Guardian blogger. "He was dark, he was ruthless, and he managed to show precisely what Bond was all about: a merciless, calculating, professional assassin. Is it inappropriate to mention that he was also unbelievably good-looking and charismatic? Sure, Connery was the coolest and Brosnan brilliant. But following on from Moore's orange tan, Dalton was a huge step up. So why is he still treated as though he massacred the role? Timothy Dalton was a great 007."

"People did go and see The Living Daylights when it came out in 1987: it apparently earned more money than the two previous Bond films put together, and more than Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, which were released at around the same time. Fair enough, License to Kill put less bums on seats. But surely 007 should be allowed to fail an assignment once in a while (Moonraker, anyone?). Ironically, the very characteristics that got Dalton slammed are the very same things that the Bond producers are praising Daniel Craig for. On and on, they have said they want Bond to be closer to the original Ian Fleming character. They want him to be grittier, darker and less jokey. What they really want, it seems, is to have Dalton back."

Dalton was a little ahead of his time. Those who felt his tenure lacked sufficient humour were probably talking about Licence To Kill more than The Living Daylights. Daylights had detectable traces of Roger Moore era overhang in a few places. It's a great film though and possibly the last classic Bond. The John Barry score, the brutal fight between Necros (the milkman!) and that bloke in the kitchen, the transport plane sequence, the PTS on Gibraltar.

I own some old back issues of Starburst magazine and recently found one from 1987. Superman IV: The Quest For Peace was (to my amusement) previewed with much anticipation and there was a fascinating review of a new film called The Living Daylights. 10/10 is the verdict and Dalton is hailed as the best Bond yet and the only one Ian Fleming would have approved of. After Licence To Kill slumped in the blockbuster summer of 1989 though and words like Miami Vice and humourless were thrown around it was curtains for Dalton. In a 1989 issue of Starburst the late John Brosnan writes that Dalton should be replaced by his namesake Pierce. I like Licence To Kill personally and Desmond Llewelyn had no finer hour as Q. 

Having lost out to Dalton in 1987, Pierce Brosnan was the most obvious piece of casting imaginable in 1994 for GoldenEye. Brosnan got the old "best Bond since Connery" tag in most magazines (just as Dalton had originally) but the films were so-so overall. Pierce Brosnan tends to be seen as a sort of 'Greatest Hits' Bond now, someone who took on various traits of previous actors. Whether this was a good thing is down to one's personal tastes. He incurred a backlash though in the wake of Casino Royale that was unfair. Brosnan can't act his way out of a carton of yoghurt and so forth.

This esteemed website said reviewing GoldenEye. "Brosnan, looking alarmingly youthful and handsome, is still finding his feet at times in but would quickly become far better than the films and scripts that the increasingly Talbot Rothwell inspired Eon threw his way. Brosnan looks the part and is perfectly at home with a quip or action-sequence. Despite all the nonsense that has been written about him I feel Brosnan (the last actor to be approved by the late Cubby Broccoli) was a fine James Bond. There is a moment when Brosnan is onboard a yacht and notices someone racing up behind him in a reflection. In a split-second he wraps a small towel around the man's head and flips him down a flight of stairs. He admires his handiwork for a second and then calmly dabs at a bead of sweat of his forehead. The economy of effort, coolness under pressure and grace of the tall, lean Brosnan is pure cinematic James Bond."

The greatest divide between James Bond fans was triggered by the decision to cast Daniel Craig as the sixth official 007. Some Bond fans (half of whom soon threw cosmic platitudes at said actor) rolled their eyes and wondered what was going on. Daniel Craig - a reasonably respected figure in acting circles but not exactly Ronald Colman in the suave stakes. Shortish and stocky, blue-collar. The tabloids picked up on this geeky trifle and when production of Casino Royale moved into gear a headline along the lines of "Daniel Craig gets teeth knocked out by ten- year-old stuntman" invariably found its way into a newspaper or two on a weekly basis as James Bond forums began comparing Craig to everything from Nosfratu to a puppet from Captain Scarlet.

Views on the casting can be quite at odds and the advent of a reboot with a radically different type of leading man led to some very different conclusions. "Craig is a great Bond. Why? Because he feels god-damn realistic that's why. Spies aren't supposed to be heart-warming clowns (like Roger Moore) but cold-blooded killers. Brosnan was alright in GoldenEye but nothing else. The rest of his film were filled with such idiotic gadgets and dumb plots I felt embarrassed for being in the cinema. In fact, GoldenEye is the only Brosnan Bond film I can remember scenes from, it is as if my brain has deliberately blocked out my memories from those horrible films."

Others were not as convinced by the sweeping changes when Casino Royale rolled into cinemas in late 2006. "Now, Craig's Bond. Having enjoyed him in Layer Cake, I have to say he far exceeds my expectations. He's far, far worse than I ever imagined. It's like he's fallen off the ugly tree - a Redwood, no less - and hit every branch on the way down. His face isn't so much lived-in, as made squatters' residence by a horde of crack addicts. As he emerges from the sea he looks like an albino stuffed sausage. He looks freakish, obscene. He's like the sort the Soviets send to fight our hero, be it Rocky or Connery's Bond, the sort who gets outwitted because he's dulled his brain down the gym. As for his character, he just seems like a thug. Being of the same generation as Craig, he just seems like a cocky bloke who wears steel soles on his shoes to announce his presence around the office. BTW, I've got the paperback Pan books of the 50s, and Bond never looks like Daniel Craig on the cover."

There are now new fans who probably think Daniel Craig is exactly what Bond should be, which will make it interesting to see how EON approach casting the next 007 actor. Will he be more in the old traditional dark/handsome Bond mould or can James Bond now look like anyone post-Craig? While we all have our preferences it seems the polls still consistently suggest that Sean Connery will always be the best Bond for most. As this website commented reviewing Goldfinger: "Sean Connery as James Bond walks around looking constantly amused, safe in the knowledge that he is the coolest man in the world. He's just incredibly suave, handsome, witty, tall and charismatic. He makes Daniel Craig resemble a man who has just climbed out of a white van with a copy of the Daily Star tucked underneath his arm. I enjoy Connery's performance in Goldfinger because he seems to be having a lot of fun."

The "best Bond since Connery" label looks like it still has plenty of life in it yet. 
- Greg Haugen


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