Tuesday, May 15, 2007

# Posted 11:23 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE OBSCURE JAMES BOND: Inspired by the stunning achievements of Casino Royale, I decided a few months ago to go back and watch all of the films that came before it. Although I'd seen most of the films growing up, I never saw either George Lazenby or Timothy Dalton in action as Bond. And nothing defines a Bond movie more than the man who plays him.

Lazenby made only one film as Bond, On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969). It was match better than I expected. Mostly, I was familiar with the caricature of Lazenby as the Bond so bad he only got to make one film. To be fair, Lazenby is no Sean Connery. At the time, he was younger, thinner and softer in his appearance. But I think Lazenby had potential.

The real star of the film was not Lazenby, however, but Diana Rigg as Bond girl Tracy di Vincenza. Although best known as Emma Peel of the Avengers, Rigg stands out in my mind as the Bond girl par excellence. She has the spirit and force of character that so many of her timid peers never establish (with the possible exception of Michelle Yeoh, who has the spirit and force but had a terrible script to work with in Tomorrow Never Dies.)

Another thing I liked quite a lot about On Her Majesty's Secret Service (OHMSS) is that it completely abandoned the obsession with implausible gadgets that did so much to ruin its predecessor, You Only Live Twice (YOLT). Instead, OHMSS included much more espionage, which I think is the essence of the great Bond films. Also, the action sequences in OHMSS foucsed on more "real world" challanges, such as car chases and skiing. Of course, Bond's skills as a driver and skier are far beyond realistic. Yet they strain the imagination much less than Bond defeating hordes of enemy pilots while flying a miniature helicopter, as in YOLT.

Interestingly, Timothy Dalton's appearance as James Bond also signaled a desire on the part of the filmmakers to get back to the basics. In The Living Daylights (1987), gadgetry takes a back seat to old-fashioned espionage. The film begins with a classic Cold War trope, the defection. Without the distraction of implausible technology, one can develop a much richer sense of the tension and violence that were part of such rituals.

As Bond, Timothy Dalton has more age and heft than George Lazenby. Physically, I don't think he is much broader, but his thicker eyebrows and more angular face give him a much more forceful presence. Yet often, I felt as if Dalton didn't really believe that he could be James Bond. He seems hesitant, rather than forceful and determined. On occasion, this sense of vulnerability is extremely valuable because it humanizes James Bond. Yet Dalton seemed unsure of himself at precisely those moments that called for force and determination. In contrast, I think Daniel Craig matched his demeanor to the script almost perfectly.

In spite of such flaws, I think Dalton had the potential to be an excellent Bond with some practice. Sadly, he was saddled with an absolutely awful script for his second film, License to Kill (1989). The entire film amounts to a bad episode of Miami Vice. In fact, it takes place in South Florida with all of the ridiculous pastels that must've seemed very cool at the time. Naturally, the plot involves a stereotypical Latin drug dealer who is one of the most boring villains Bond has ever faced. Then, somehow, Wayne Newton shows up as as a cynical cult leader who uses his religious activities to provide cover for the drug dealer's operations. Mostly, it's a pointless mishmash whose one bright spot is Dalton, who has grown much more into the role of Bond.

If you're not a Bond fan, wathcing Lazenby or Dalton probably won't make you one. But their films provide several delights that should not be missed by Bond conoisseurs.

The terrible thing about James Bond is that his legendary status lowers the bar for the filmmakers charged with perpetuating the legend. If the Lazenby or Dalton films were simply spy thrillers with an unknown protagonist, I wouldn't have watched them. Which brings me back to where this post started: Thank goodness for Daniel Craig.


(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

I watched one of Dalton's Bond movie (the Living Daylights) which was shown on TV one year ago and became a James Bond fan since. I was impressed with Dalton's acting, because until then I thought Bond movies were only for fun (with all those gadgets and women) - and didn't think there were more in it.
The Living Daylights is one of the best Bonds ever. I always like Dalton's bond character. Not sure if it's the script or him, but I thought he brought a brooding seriousness to the role. I think Brosnan had the potential to be the best Bond ever but those scripts just got worse and worse. It's a shame that goldeneye was the high water mark. Casino Royale was awesome. Instantly in the top 5 bond movies ever IMO. Craig was great.
Casino Royale wasn't that good....
Explain yourself! No one challenges the OxBlog orthodoxy on Casino Royale! ;)
In my opinion Daniel Craig and Timothy Dalton are the two worst Bonds' ever. Sean Connery was far and away the all-time best.
I'm forced to offer a qualified defense of License To Kill. I'll admit that the script needed a couple of more rewrites, and they surely needed to pick a tone for the picture and stay with it. That being said, the basic premise of the film, i.e. Bond going off reservation in a quest for personal revenge, IS fertile ground for a great Bond pic. For the first time in a long time you got the feeling from Dalton's portrayal that Bond was a dangerous S.O.B., instead of the cuddly teddy bear that Roger Moore became. Craig has an even harder edge to the character that could lend itself even better to a similar story line than Dalton's Bond.

Second, the limited nature of the story actually works to a great degree. Yes, it does make it closer to television story lines, but there is also a danger in Bond films being too formulaic in the other direction. If every films has Bond flying off to 15 different locales it becomes monotonous. A good thing about such series is you can put Bond in different types of situations and different story telling styles. If Liscense fails to keep the narrower story line taut enough (which I agree it does fail to do), that doesn't mean the TYPE of story should be ignored.

Finally, I'll add that the film was handicapped by a preoccupation with Bond's promiscuity in the "age of AIDS." For that reason a character like Talisa Soto's was underdeveloped because the writers didn't seem to know what to do if Bond wasn't able to interact with her sexually. So Soto's character was pretty to look at, but left intellectually empty. She was neither a threat or a help to Bond..she was just there. And Carey Lowell's character wasn't much better. Sure she is "plucky" but her main role is to be the object of Bond's (limited) monogamy.

Luckily, Craig's Bond doesn't have to contend with such silly restraints, and Vesper is allowed to be a complete character.

It is a shame that LTK wasn't the film it could have been, but I hope the filmmakers try to do that type fo Bond film the right way in the future.
They need to find a way to make Daniel Craig look a little bit more like the 1960s Sean Connery and a little bit less like Vladimir Putin.
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