Over spring break, I started watching the James Bond films in chronological order, from the excellent early Connery films, including in my opinion the best of the early films From Russia with Love, through the series nadir with George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) and the god-awful Diamonds are Forever with Sean Connery just phoning it in. (This was prompted by listening to The Talk Show podcast, which made me feel pop-culturally inadequate for not having seen the oeuvre.)
I have just finished watching Moonraker, putting me half-way through the series. Moonraker was actually the first Bond film I saw in the theater when I was 12 or 13, and I think the first film I went to with friends and without adult supervision.
Though we saw the new Casino Royale a few years ago in London, I had not seen the old Bond films in many years, the last time was at Ken Jennings’s (gratuitous namedrop) apartment in Utah in the late 1990s, when I am pretty sure we watched Goldfinger and maybe the The Spy Who Loved Me (though I think I fell asleep during that).
From Russia With Love is so far the best because for a variety of reasons. Foremost, it is the most realistic, it requires the least suspension of disbelief. There are no giant spacecraft eating smaller spacecraft. There are no giant ships eating smaller submarines. There are no monorails. The world is not going to get thrust into a global thermo-nuclear war. No one is trying to blackmail the United Nations for One Meelllion Dollars.
What is interesting about the films though in general, if you overcome the silliness in many of the films is the fantastic cinematography, and the focus on the various places 007 travels. Istanbul is beautiful in the movie, and having seen it 32 years afterwards myself, is clearly recognizable as that place. Similarly Dr. No in Kingston, You Only Live Twice in Hong Kong, or even Diamonds are Forever in a relatively young, but already quite formed in its gaudiness Las Vegas.
Goldfinger features, like so many Bond films, female pilots. (The ratio of female pilots in Bond films outweighs their share in the general pilot population). These pilots show up at “Baltimore”, which is filmed on location at Friendship Airport (later BWI). Like the many airport through the series, it is much smaller, and somehow more glamorous, than airports today. We can see the change in aviation by viewing the airport scenes in the early years. Air travel was relatively rare, certainly expensive, and in the end an elite activity.
Goldfinger also features Bond and his sidekick Felix Leiter outside Col. Sanders restaurant somewhere outside Fort Knox. This is well before Kentucky Fried Chicken reached its ubiquity (or even before it was sold at Gino’s in Baltimore). You can see the sprawling highway landscape, some 40 years into the automobile era, but before its ultimate dominance.
The vehicles used in the Bond films tell many stories of transportation. While mostly driving cool vehicles, in Diamonds are Forever Bond uses some sort of All Terrain Vehicle, in The Man with the Golden Gun, he is driving an AMC Hornet stolen from an AMC dealership in Bangkok. (come on, was there really an AMC dealership in Bangkok?), both not cool.
In The Spy Who Loved Me, he rides an early Skidoo, made in Minnesota by Arctic Enterprises, about which the coolness factor perhaps is still in doubt.
Other vehicles, ranging from spacecraft to Triumph’s do better on the coolness scale.
The supervillains always have lairs. Within their enormous lairs (apparently undetected by authorities) there are hundreds or thousands of jump-suited workers (Recruited how? Are they graduates of Supervillain Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Henchmenry? Did Yaphet Kotto give the commencement address?) who transport themselves about on a monorail.
And it is always a monorail: You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, Live and Let Die (This list of James Bond vehicles on wikipedia list is incomplete)
My fantasy James Bond vehicle chase scene is when the villain’s henchman, in London, jumps on the London Eye to escape Bond. As always, Bond must steal the next vehicle. He therefore jumps on the next car. One hour later, they both get off and resume their chase.