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BOND BACK IN ACTION AGAIN

PART ONE: MY CHILDHOOD WITH BOND (OR: EVERYTHING YOU ALREADY KNEW ABOUT 007)

By Scott Bettencourt

I was ten years old when I saw my first James Bond movie -- three of them in one day, back in the days when double and even triple features were common, and popular films were re-released year after year in theaters, rather than popping up in home video within months (I don't think any of the Bonds even appeared on TV until 1973 or so). My older brother took me to see Dr. No, Goldfinger and From Russia with Love (that was the order in which they were screened that day), and it's hard to remember what I thought of the films at the time.  My tastes have changed so much over the years -- when I was 11 my favorite film was Pete 'n' Tillie, and a year later my favorite was Herbie Rides Again, but whatever I thought at the time, the Bonds stayed with me.  My memories of that first screening are vague -- I remember we came in after the opening murder scene in Dr. No, and I think I liked Goldfinger the most and From Russia with Love the least. In the years since, I have probably seen each of these movies at least a dozen times (especially Goldfinger and Russia), read the books two or three times, and listened to the soundtracks countless times, first on LP then on CD.


Looking at DR. NO today, 44 years after its original release, it's fascinating to see the precedents it set for the series, and yet how dramatically the tone and scale of the series changed. The film is one of the most faithful of the Bond adaptations, possibly because the novel featured one of the biggest scale stories of the novels(though small scale compared to the later movies), but more importantly, it introduced five people to the series whose creative contribution would define the style of Bond -- composer John Barry (who arranged Monty Norman's Bond theme), production designer Ken Adam (though Dr. No's lab is the most noted set from the film, the earlier scene with Professor Dent and an unseen Dr. No features a wonderfully simple yet evocative and distinctly Adam set, dominated by a tilted ceiling and oval skylight), editor Peter Hunt, title designer Maurice Binder (whose silhouettes of dancing girls proved to be the defining element of Bond titles through the decades), and, most importantly, Sean Connery as Bond.  The importance of Connery to the Bond series can't be overestimated. Though the actor still showed some rough edges in Dr. No and even From Russia with Love, by the time of Goldfinger the effortless charisma and sexual danger of his screen presence had been perfected -- he was virtually the Cary Grant of action movies -- and when he makes his entrance in Hitchcock's Marnie, released the same year as Goldfinger, it's as if Bond stopped off in Maryland on his way back from Fort Knox (Hitchcock and Herrmann and Connery...oh, why couldn't Marnie be a classic?).

Though Dr. No introduced Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme," which has gone on to become one of the most instantly recognizable of all movie themes, musically the rest of the film was sorely lacking. Despite the film's continued popularity, Norman's score is most remembered for its negative qualities -- the classic, unintentionally funny "Mickey-mousing" for the spider-killing scene, and the melodramatic cues which one of the filmmakers described as "mining disaster music." The reputation of Norman's score hasn't been helped by the soundtrack album, which features barely any dramatic score music and mostly consists of calypso songs, nor by the belief commonly held among film music fans that John Barry is ultimately more responsible for the James Bond theme than is Norman, who has always received the official credit and who even went to court to defend it. In one of the many documentaries on the Bond DVDs, Norman hums a motif from the Bond theme (the "dee dee-dee-dee dee" part) which he says (if I remember correctly) that he took from a musical he'd written, but there are many other parts to the theme (like the opening four-note motif) which may easily have been contributed by Barry in his "arrangement" of the theme.


FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was my least favorite of the first three Bonds when I saw it at age ten, but now it's one of my absolute favorites in the series. It's an unusual Bond film, in that it's not only extremely faithful to Fleming's book but also an honest-to-God spy film -- at times, it even suggests a Hitchcock thriller. Though Ken Adam and Maurice Binder were absent (Syd Cain's sets were fine -- the film had no need for Adam's distinctive, larger-than-life vision, welcome as it always is, though Adam was certainly able to provide more low-key, realistic designs for The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin, two films I love as much as I love the best Bonds; Robert Brownjohn's titles, with images from the film projected on women's bodies, were in the spirit of Binder and may have been an influence on Binder's later Bond work), Peter Hunt was cutting as deftly as ever (including some odd tricks -- notice how the shot of Rosa Klebb moving to the fish tank on Blofeld's yacht is actually a shot from later in the scene, run backwards), and most importantly, Connery was growing impressively into the role, and his Bond was strengthened by being faced with one of the all-time best Bond villains, played by one of the most memorable actors (and a particular favorite of mine) to join the series. Robert Shaw's Donald Grant (changed from the book's Donovan "Red" Grant) is one of the few Bond villains who seems like a genuine threat -- when he tells Bond to crawl across the train compartment floor and kiss his foot, you feel something of the chill you get in the new Casino Royale when Bond gets stripped and tied to that seat-less chair, that feeling that even Bond can't quip and gadget his way out of this one (though in this film, he does indeed gadget his way out of danger). The filmmakers use Shaw superbly -- he has no dialogue until he first meets Bond, silently tracking 007 in a series of cleverly staged scenes, and eventually using a deliberately irritating English accent when pretending to be Bond's contact

FRWL was the first Bond with a pre-credits sequence -- an illogical teaser with Grant stalking a man wearing a Bond mask (as if the point of Grant's training was to learn to kill people who look like Sean Connery), which at least puts Connery in the film up at the front, since Bond himself doesn't appear until about a reel in (in the novel, a huge chunk of the story passes before Bond appears). It was also the first to feature Desmond Llewellyn as Q (Peter Burton plays "Major Boothroyd" in Dr. No), the first to feature a post-finale setpiece with Bond menaced one final time (a gimmick repeated in Goldfinger, OHMSS, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) and, most importantly, the first Bond to feature a John Barry score.

FRWL was one of two Bond films (Live and Let Die being the other) in which the score composer didn't write the theme song yet incorporated the song into his score (in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies and Die Another Day, the title song is completely independent of the score), but Barry incorporates Lionel Bart's ballad so deftly into his score, both in its full version and using isolated motifs, that it's easy to forget Barry didn't compose it himself. Perhaps due to being denied any composing credit for the James Bond theme, Barry supplied a new Bond theme for FRWL called "007," an exciting piece of action music which he used in several other Bond scores (and which was the only Barry theme to be heard from score to score). Exciting as "007" is, Barry's low-key suspense music, especially for the scenes of Grant stalking Bond, is one of FRWL's strongest elements, adding to the sinister, Hitchcockian mood.  Norman's Bond theme makes notable appearances, though in one scene, when Bond explores his Istanbul hotel room, the music is almost comically over-the-top, and Norman's "mining disaster" music is awkwardly tracked in during the two climactic action scenes. The original soundtrack LP for the film (never expanded in its CD incarnation) is a very well selected group of cues, and also includes a melodic stand-alone piece, "The Golden Horn," featured nowhere in the film.


From Russia with Love was followed in rapid succession by GOLDFINGER, which is considered by many to be the ultimate, the prototypical, even the finest James Bond film. The screenplay by Bond regular Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn (the underrated scripter of Murder on the Orient Express and the final four Planet of the Apes films, and the longtime companion of composer James Bernard) greatly improved on Fleming's original (changing an improbable heist to a clever nuclear contamination plot), and Guy Hamilton's direction, slicker than Terence Young's skilled work on the first two, nicely blended humor and tension. Despite being (expertly) dubbed by another actor, Gert Frobe managed to deliver the classic Bond villain performance -- affable yet menacing, a comic book character yet still distinctly human, and Harold Sakata's Oddjob was the best of the gimmick villains. Much more so than in Dr. No, Ken Adam's sets are an inextricable part of the film's impact, and Ted Moore's lighting of the famous Fort Knox vault set makes it feel like a real location and not just a Pinewood soundstage (the action finale in the vault is especially well plotted, simple yet clever and logical).

Goldfinger was also the film where John Barry really came into his own as the Bond composer, and featured the first Barry-Bond song -- arguably the most recognizable and popular Bond song in the series (though the non-Barry, Oscar-nominated trio -- "Live and Let Die," "Nobody Does it Better," and "For Your Eyes Only" -- could each potentially lay claim to that honor). The title song gets the movie off to a rousing start, followed by "Into Miami," a burst of Stan Kenton-ish jazz which sets the brassy tone for the rest of the score, though Barry also provides terrific suspense music and a wonderfully simple "ding ding ding" motif for Oddjob and his murderous handiwork. The current soundtrack release, including the extra cues from the original British LP, is an excellent representation of the score.


A few months after I saw the triple feature of the first Bond movies, I saw a double feature of the next two, and for a while THUNDERBALL was my all-time favorite movie (though at the age of 11, there wasn't a big list of films to choose from), but now it's one of my least favorite of the Connery-era Bonds (I probably enjoy it more than Dr. No, mostly for the Barry music and the production value). Even the part I loved the most as a child, the epic underwater battle between SPECTRE agents and Bond and his allies, now seems protracted and silly, with Bond zooming around with an underwater jet pack, tearing off enemies' face masks and behaving in an almost prankish manner (though seeing From Russia with Love again recently, I noticed he behaves similarly in the big gypsy camp battle, just without a jet pack). Adolfo Celi makes a fun villain, Maurice Binder's title sequence of swimming maidens and underwater explosions helped refine the pattern for his work for the rest of the series, and though Ken Adam didn't have any big villain hideouts to create, his designs for the various submersibles helped keep the endless underwater sequences visually striking.

John Barry's score is one of my least favorites of his works for the series, though there's nothing really wrong with it. It's perfectly effective -- unfortunately, all those underwater scenes don't allow him a huge amount of dramatic variety (surprisingly, he found much more musical variety in the much duller underwater scenes of Raise the Titanic, 15 years later).  The score has much to recommend it, including a wonderfully over-the-top title song sung by Tom Jones, an unused alternate song, "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang," whose melody shows up frequently in the score, and an exciting expansion of Barry's "007" theme, used only in this movie. The original Thunderball LP featured largely music from the first half of the film (and no expanded "007") because of scheduling problems, but the score has since been significantly expanded on CD, first in a two-disc Bond compilation album and most recently in an expanded Thunderball CD.


YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE took the series in an even broader direction (Thunderball was pretty faithful to its source novel, which itself was based on an original Bond screenplay Fleming had co-written, leading to the legal squabbles which ended up allowing the 1983 remake, Never Say Never Again, to be made by other producers), its story owing little to the strange, dark Fleming novel except the Japanese setting and the presence of Blofeld, whose face was seen for the first time on screen in the form of Donald Pleasence, nicely underplaying with a distinctive eye scar (evoked by Le Chiffre in the new Casino Royale). Maurice Binder's title sequence, one of his finest, elegantly mixed the inevitable scantily clad lovelies with images of volcanoes and ornamental fans; Freddie Young's scope cinematography was impressively lush, much more aggressively scenic than Ted Moore's work on the previous four Bonds; and Ken Adam's designs, from the sleek offices of the villainous Osato to the deservedly famous hollowed-out volcano lair, are among the greatest of the series (the lack of recognition for Adam's early Bond designs by the Academy's Art Direction branch is an especially shameful footnote in Oscar history. You Only Live Twice didn't even make the 1967 Art Direction shortlist -- though In Like Flint did -- and in 1964 neither Goldfinger nor Dr. Strangelove made the lists; it's hard to think of two more memorably designed films from that year, and both films were nominees and/or winners in other categories). Connery was starting to show his boredom with the series, but even a bored Connery is a more compelling presence than most of his fellow Bonds, and despite the outlandish production value the film has some charming intimacy, with Bond's relationships with the two female leads seeming (as Pauline Kael remarked long ago) like actual romances as opposed to just the usual pre-sex banter.

John Barry's score was one of the best in the series -- my two favorite periods of Barry music are 67-71 (encompassing three Bond scores as well as The Lion in Winter and The Last Valley) and 80-81 (including Raise the Titanic, Somewhere in Time, and the masterpiece Body Heat) -- with a genuinely romantic title song and a lush yet rousing score with charming faux-Japanese elements. The original soundtrack LP featured a nice selection of cues from the score (including an unused piece titled "Tanaka's World," introducing a striking theme also featured in "A Drop in the Ocean") while the recent expanded CD introduced more wonderful material, especially the elegant music for Bond's post-funeral underwater rescue.


1967 also saw the release of the first James Bond film outside the official Broccoli-Saltzman Bond series, a lavish spoof based (extremely loosely) on the very first Bond novel, CASINO ROYALE. The all-star, five-director romp has earned a bad reputation over the years (and was reportedly a box-office disaster) especially with Bond devotees, and is one of those mega-budget comedies where barely anyone seemed to have anything resembling a comic vision (except Woody Allen in an early, funny role) -- besides the concept that more stars plus more money equals more laughs. Probably because expectations have become so low, Casino Royale has aged surprisingly well. It's not a good film, nor a coherent film, nor even a particularly funny film (except for Woody's scenes and a few Peter Sellers highlights), but there is so much going on from a production standpoint and so many major performers in roles both large (David Niven, Sellers) and small (William Holden, Peter O'Toole, Jean-Paul Belmondo, even co-director John Huston as "M") that it proves surprisingly entertaining. Burt Bacharach's score is a highlight of '60s pop film music, with a fairly classic love theme (the Oscar-nominated "The Look of Love," given a memorable rendition by Dusty Springfield) and a charming title song. The soundtrack LP, released twice on CD by Varese Sarabande, features many of the best cues but strangely lacks the sung version of the title theme, and is also missing some fun, quasi-sinister music from the final act.


I first saw the next two Bond movies as a double feature in 1973, with Diamonds Are Forever playing before On Her Majesty's Secret Service. For some reason, at the age of 11 I developed an extreme squeamishness as a moviegoer -- the scene with the corpses in the fire-ravaged kitchen in The Poseidon Adventure had sent me practically running from the theater, and I had a similar reaction to the burning Mr. Kidd in the epilogue of Diamonds Are Forever, so severe that I could only sit through OHMSS that first time by ducking out to the lobby during the big finale (which of course has no disturbing burning bodies, but I was a panicky 11-year old, so what can you do?). Ironically enough, these two would prove to be two of my favorites in the series.

As the series progressed, Sean Connery didn't keep his waning interest in the role a secret, and he finally bailed on the series (though not for the final time) after You Only Live Twice. For ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, the producers went with a first-time director -- Peter Hunt, the editor who had made such a strong impact on the style of the series -- and after the lavish spectacle of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, decided to produce a smaller-scaled, more faithful Fleming adaptation -- especially surprising since OHMSS was the novel in which (SPOILER) Bond falls in love, gets married, and loses his wife to Blofeld's bullets in the exceedingly downbeat epilogue.

Though it was one of the least successful films in the series at the box-office (and the longest), OHMSS has deservedly become one of the most acclaimed. Lazenby is an underrated Bond -- he may be no Connery, but he's handsome, charming and moves well, and with the right directorial grooming he could have become an acceptable successor to the beloved Scot. Michael Reed's cinematography is lovely, Telly Savalas makes a relaxed, almost charming Blofeld, and the casting of Diana Rigg as Bond's love interest is fairly brilliant. As written, the character of Teresa is a bit of a pill -- the spoiled, moody, self-destructive daughter of a crime lord -- but Rigg's identification as The Avengers' Emma Peel, combined with her own talent and smashing good looks, make her an ideal Mrs. Bond, and the scene where she unexpectedly appears on skates before an exhausted, pursued Bond is probably the most romantic in the entire Bond series. Peter Hunt's work at times suffers from first-time-director-syndrome -- too many attempts to cinematically reinvent the wheel -- but he does a great job of pulling all the elements together, and the action sequences, especially the climactic toboggan chase, are arguably the finest in the series.

John Barry's score was the first since Dr. No not to feature a title song, and his opening credits theme is one of the musical highlights of the series, also functioning as action music during setpieces such as the epic ski chase. The love ballad, "We Have All the Time in the World," is perhaps the most heartfelt in the series (admittedly, the Bond songs aren't noted for their sincerity), and the score is full of terrific cues, from the exciting opening, "This Never Happened to the Other Fella," to the deftly minimalist suspense of the safecracking sequence. The original LP featured many of the best cues, but it wasn't until the recent expanded CD that we were treated to the original recording of the safecracking piece and the wry cues for Blofeld's girls.


The next film in the series is in some ways the most problematic of all Bonds. Of all the Connery Bonds, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is as close as the series came to producing a Matt Helm film, with its American setting, campy elements (Blofeld in drag, surgically altered doubles, gay assassins, Jimmy Dean as a Howard Hughes figure), crasser quips ("Right idea"/"Wrong pussy") and borderline cartoonishness (Bond running through a lunar landscape simulation, racing through the desert in a moon buggy). But somehow the movie still works, probably because all the major players (except Peter Hunt) are in place. As with You Only Live Twice, even a coasting Connery is one of the great stars of his time, while Ken Adam and Maurice Binder supplied their typically stylish contribution.

But the glue that really holds the film together is Barry's score. A lesser composer, faced with the prospect of scoring scenes for a pair of flamingly gay assassins, might have played up the camp value, but Barry's "Wint & Kidd" theme is one of his finest, playful yet elegant and sinister. The Shirley Bassey-sung theme song is one of the most memorable and dynamic in the series, and throughout the film Barry scores the frequently silly proceedings as if it were classic Bond. The original soundtrack LP was a disappointing selection, emphasizing source cues and variations on the main theme while missing many musical highlights. The recent expanded CD features every wonderful cue, from the opening hunting-Blofeld montage to the recurring fight motif to the clever use of the Wint & Kidd theme in the fiery epilogue that traumatized me as a child. Despite being a lesser Bond film, it's one that I can hardly stop watching every time I come across it on TV, and with all its flaws, it gives me more pleasure than pretty much any of the Roger Moore Bonds.


IN PART TWO: I get older, Bond gets cheesier, Barry still rocks.

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