Bond: The Connery Years (1962 – 1971)


“Bond, James Bond”. Everyone knows the name of the world’s least secret . . . . . . secret agent. He’s 007, he has a licence to kill and he first appeared in 1953 in Casino Royale, the first of many James Bond adventures written by British author Ian Fleming. I am not going to cover the complete history of the character, that would take far too much space and time and I’d probably still miss something, but I will be covering all of the films in the official Bond movie franchise (with a small diversion to view a couple of notable unofficial movies). For fans of Bond who just can’t get enough I highly recommend reading the works of Fleming and the authors who proudly carried the baton after him, including the likes of Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulks. Gamers can always find something for their favourite console and moviegoers will, of course, be able to watch and rewatch the following delights. I have included the standard credits and also the main theme tune/song for each movie and performing artist.

And although this partial overview of the Bond movies is entitled “The Connery Years” I must note here and now that I’ve included On Her Majesty’s Secret Service here. It was George Lazenby’s singular outing and occurs, blip-like, in between the last two Sean Connery outings. Without further ado, let’s move the gun barrel around and start the famous tune and cut to the very beginning of this very British cinema franchise . . . . .
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Dr No (1962)

The first in the long-running James Bond franchise has a lot of elements in place that would pretty much define the Bond template but it also has enough differences here to make it quite refreshing, despite it predating all of the subsequent cinematic adventures for our double-oh agent.

The plot sees our hero (played by Sean Connery, who would come to own the role over the next few movies) journeying to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of a colleague. He meets, and works with, Felix Leiter (played this time around by Jack Lord) and together they piece together the puzzle to reveal some meddling by the mysterious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman). All that’s needed is to get access to Dr. No’s island and to get past the dragon that all of the locals believe lives there. Oh, there may also be time for Bond to impress a lady or two before averting whatever nefarious plan is in motion.

Terence Young directed this movie and he certainly knew what Bond was all about. There may only be one beautiful location this time around but he makes the most of it and viewers are never too far away from a scene soaked in sunshine and saltwater. It helps that Connery slipped into the role like a comfortable suit, a perfect mix of charm and danger. The script, by a few people including some uncredited work from the director, does a great job of quickly establishing the character of Bond and the world he inhabits. A world of baccarat, brief liaisons with beautiful women, a flirtatious and fun relationship with Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell), the theme tune and lush score, the Walther PPK, power-hungry egomaniacs who will always make the mistake of revealing too much information and the long shadow of SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion).

We also get Zena Marshall as Miss Taro and Ursula Andress emerging from the ocean in the iconic scene that sees the introduction of her character, Honey Ryder.

Some of the action may be below par, especially when compared to some of the more famous moments that the series would produce, but this is compensated for by showing Bond actually doing a little bit of proper investigation and spy work (e.g. check out the scene with 007 setting up his room to ensure that he can later find out if anyone has been in there) as opposed to his oft-used future methods of knowing immediately who the baddies are and getting to the top of the tree as quickly as possible in order to halt the next major crime.

Like many first outings, this movie is not as assured as some of those that would follow on from it but it remains a very enjoyable, highly entertaining adventure for Britain’s superspy.

MAIN THEME SONG: The James Bond Theme that we all know and love became well-known to us here.

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

From Russia With Love (1963)

The second Bond movie in the official franchise takes many of the elements that made the character so appealing from the first movie and adds much that would remain part of the long-term appeal as the character grew into a cinematic icon.

The story concerns James Bond (again played by Sean Connery) being sent to meet up with a Russian gal, named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), who has declared her love for him and told the right people that she will help him get his hands on a precious decoding machine. Everyone thinks that it’s a trap but the machine is so valuable that the risk must be taken anway. It’s a trap. Tatiana is actually working on the orders of Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and believes that Klebb still works for SMERSH. Klebb is actually working for SPECTRE nowadays and the plan has been hatched to pit countries against each other while also, hopefully, getting rid of Bond in the process, thanks to a very direct and viable threat from trained psycho Red Grant (Robert Shaw).

Terence Young returns to direct 007 after the success of Dr. No and does a great job yet again. There’s a great pre-title sequence, some fancy titles that may pale in comparison to what would yet appear but that show the way things were going and a song titled after the movie that’s not heard during the titles but is heard quite early on. Then there’s the introduction of Bond in the company of a woman once again so a lot of the comfortably familiar is already in place.

Connery is as great as he always was in the main role, Bianchi is okay but more of an asset for her looks than her acting, Lenya is a lot of fun and Robert Shaw is superb for every moment that he’s onscreen. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell return as M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively, and this outing also sees the first appearance of the much-loved Desmond Llewelyn as Q (aka Boothroyd) and the motivational skills of Blofeld (an uncredited Eric Pohlmann).

The whole thing is, overall, a bit more exciting than the events depicted in Dr. No and it’s thanks to a mix of a fun script, great cast and some decent action beats along the way. Pedro Armendariz is wonderful as the helpful Kerim Bey and there are small roles for the likes of George Pastell and the beautiful Martine Beswick (who would go on to appear in Thunderball).

Overshadowed by the next entry in the series, Goldfinger, this remains one of the better Bond movies and deserves to keep a large fanbase for just as long as any other of the franchise entries.

MAIN THEME SONG: From Russia With Love sung by Matt Monro.

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Goldfinger (1964)

If there’s a Bond movie that more people know inside-out than this one then I don’t know what it is, Goldfinger remains the quintessential Bond flick and holds up as a rollicking good piece of entertainment.

Connery returns to the role of James Bond and this time around he’s given the task of getting close to the extremely rich, and perhaps a little demented, Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). Goldfinger is suspected of smuggling but as Bond gets close enough to find out more he discovers that there’s a much bigger endgame afoot. He’s just not sure if he can stay alive long enough to make sure that it doesn’t succeed. Goldfinger has some considerable assistance in the form of the mute brute Oddjob (Harold Sakata playing the man with the deadly bowler hat) and the attractive Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman).

The script by Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn is full of decent one-liners and wonderful quotes. Yes, THIS is the film in which we get the exchange:
“Do you expect me to talk, Goldfinger?”
“No Mr Bond, I expect you to die”.
Brilliant stuff.

Guy Hamilton directs and gets everything just right. The pacing is perfect, the action sequences are fun and thrilling and Connery already owned the central role from his very first outing.
Lois Maxwell as flirty Moneypenny, Bernard Lee as M, Desmon Llewelyn as Q – the gang’s all here. We also have Cec Linder playing Felix Leiter (a character who popped up in Dr. No and would become reappear in many other Bond movies), Burt Kwouk in a small role, Shirley Eaton as the original “golden girl”, that Aston Martin DB5 and a Fort Knox finale up there with the best of them.

There’s nothing new to be said about this movie, it’s been hailed as the best of the franchise for many years and had so much already written about it, so I will just remind people to look out for the moments that aren’t always given a lot of room in reviews. The end of that great Aston Martin chase sequence, so easy to forget and also so ignoble. The way in which Bond twirls a femme fatale around to take a blow to the head from another assailant. A character being given a change of heart through a bit of, ummmmmm, rape (let’s be honest, that’s kinda what it is). These things are all in Goldfinger, amidst the fun and the cool and the great score and that brilliant title song belted out by Shirley Bassey. Bond is a callous, cold figure and people often tend to forget that little moments onscreen would show that, even in the earlier outings.

Oft-imitated (the start of True Lies is one of the best of so many homages to this movie) but rarely bettered, Goldfinger remains the gold standard for any Bond film.

MAIN THEME SONG: Goldfinger sung by Shirley Bassey.

Film Rating: ★★★★½

Thunderball (1965)

The fourth James Bond movie is the first of the “aquatic” Bonds, films in the series that take place predominantly in watery environments. Often involving sharks.
Connery returns to the lead role in a plot that sees a SPECTRE agent using stolen nuclear weapons (and, I must say, that the way the weapons are stolen is quite an ingenious method) to extort money from panicked governments.

Let me put my hands up now and say that I’ve never liked the aquatic Bonds as much as the standard adventures. They often lose some focus and seem to run on for a little bit too long, flaws that are present here in the very first film of this kind in the franchise. I’ll come back to pick at the negatives later though, let’s start with the good stuff.

There’s a great pre-credits sequence, the titles themselves are wonderful and accompanied by a bombastic theme song, and the first half of the movie is solidly entertaining. Connery wears the James Bond persona like a second skin and all of the regulars (Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bernard Lee) are equally at ease in their roles by now. Adolfo Celi plays the baddie, Emilio Largo, and does a great job – that mix of veiled threats and fake smiles that Bond so often comes up against. And there are, of course, some lovely ladies. The beautiful Martine Beswick makes her second appearance in the series and gets a bit more screentime this time round, Luciana Paluzzi is impressively impervious to the charms of our hero (and quite vocal about it, with dialogue that displays a great mix of self-referential wit and wisdom) and Claudine Auger is the delightful Domino.

Terence Young returns to direct, after leaving Goldfinger in the more-than-capable hands of Guy Hamilton, and he knows how to handle the material just fine. The script, developed and finalised by about five people, has a few decent quips and keeps the action moving along while revealing enough details of the grand SPECTRE plan to make sure that no viewer falls behind.

Thunderball is not a bad Bond movie but, for me, it’s not one of the best. The action sequences are too few and far between and not all that exciting when they do happen and then the big finale hits that big problem that the aquatic Bonds often come up against. A lot of action occurs between various people wearing diving suits, flippers and facemasks. Which really means that you can barely tell who is fighting who and therefore lose interest in what should be a tense, gripping last reel. It’s just possible to keep up with good vs. bad but the whole thing is so impersonal that it ends up being a chore to sit through as opposed to an epic fight sequence and things only pick up again when Bond gets a chance to go man to man with the final baddie.

Interesting note to end on. The script for this was intended to be created as the first James Bond movie if all had gone according to plan but was instead put aside for a while and made into the novel “Thunderball” by Ian Fleming. Fans of the character will already know that this was the movie co-written, in an earlier format, by Kevin McClory and would be remade as Never Say Never Again in 1983 due to a legal dispute that ended with McClory being given the film rights to this movie alongside a large sum of money from Ian Fleming.

MAIN THEME SONG: Thunderball sung by Tom Jones.

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

You Only Live Twice (1967)

The fifth James Bond movie features some ingredients in the mix that, even for a Connery-era Bond flick, are a bit hard to swallow. But the whole thing is so much fun that you still manage to get swept along by it and it entertains from start to finish.

We begin the film with the death of Bond. Yikes. But those who saw the intro to From Russia With Love will surely suspect that this death won’t be the permanent kind that affects so many others. Roll a typically stylish credit sequence accompanied by a title song performed by Nancy Sinatra. All good so far. Then we go into space and this is where You Only Live Twice raises things to another level, the brilliant plot revolving around spacecraft being stolen from outer space. America blames Russia, Russia blames America and fingers are pointed (at launch buttons as well as at each other ) while SPECTRE chief, Ernst Blofeld, rubs his hands with glee in his secret lair. Who can solve this mystery and stop a war? Hopefully, James Bond can but he must remember that he’s already used up one life.

At this point it becomes redundant to mention the regulars of the series but I’ll namecheck them all the same. Connery is Bond, Bernard Lee is M, Lois Maxwell is Miss Moneypenny and Desmond Llewelyn is Q. It’s the rest of the cast that’s worth looking at in more detail. Donald Pleasence takes a turn playing Blofeld and is fantastic, Charles Gray has a very small role but is always enjoyable to watch onscreen, Akiko Wakabayashi is excellent as one of the first ever Asian Bond girls and Karin Dor is quite a beautiful henchwoman (is that a term? Oh well, it is now).

Lewis Gilbert directs and he’s lucky enough to get such great material to work with, from a screenplay by Roald Dahl. Plausibility may go out the window on many occasions but it’s all compensated for by the sheer enjoyability factor.

The space heists are cool to watch (and make for wonderful listening, thanks to the soundtrack) even if they seem completely impossible. And Sean “Big Tam” Connery becoming a Japanese villager in an attempt to do some undercover investigation? As great a movie star as he is, Connery has never been the most versatile actor in the world and he certainly doesn’t convince in his Japanese disguise. That’s before he takes some training to become a ninja.

But what does any of that matter when we get THE classic Blofeld lair, some fantastic action sequences and the moment in which “Little Nellie” is unveiled. There’s also a great finale that piles plenty of people into the action but keeps a few individuals in focus, unlike the muddled finale of Thunderball.

An excellent outing for 007 that follows the successful formula but still somehow makes everything feel a little bit fresher and more exciting.

MAIN THEME SONG: You Only Live Twice sung by Nancy Sinatra.

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

Unfairly dismissed by many, I’ve come to not only appreciate and enjoy this Bond movie over the years but also to rate it as one of the better outings.

It’s the only Bond film starring George Lazenby (who took the role that would return to Sean Connery in the next film, Diamonds Are Forever), it’s got a lot of action packed into the second half and it has THE best ending of any movie in the Bond franchise.

James Bond is after Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Telly Savalas) and so he heads out to the Swiss allergy research facility that Blofeld is currently using as his base of operations to find out just what the big baddie is up to this time. Oh, and he still finds time to woo the pretty and spirited Tracy Di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg) before things get tense, a large scheme is uncovered and a series of exciting action set-pieces occur that involve skis, stock cars and even a bobsleigh or two.

Lacking enough fun one-liners to please some (though there are a few interspersed throughout) and without the memorable gadgetry or vehicles that fans could easily associate with the movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service instead relies on telling a decent story and showing, at times, a very different side to Bond.

Lazenby doesn’t really seem all that at ease in the leading role but he certainly compensates for that when it comes to the action sequences, bringing an impressive physicality to the role. Of course, anyone following Sean Connery would find it a difficult task but it’s a shame that Lazenby doesn’t step up to tackle a role that, for once, required some depth and emotion.

Richard Maibaum wrote the screenplay and centres everything around an enjoyably grand plot to damage the civilised world. Peter Hunt directs his first feature, after his experiences working on the previous Bond movies, and his only real mistake is in the pacing that puts a lot of people off. Having said that, there’s enough going on in that first hour to keep things moving along briskly enough before that action-packed second half.

Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell are as good as ever while newcomers (to the franchise) Gabriele Ferzetti and Ilse Steppat do just fine in their respective roles. Diana Rigg makes for a believably appealing woman, one who could win over our Mr. Bond, and also gets involved in some of the action.

You may have heard a lot of disparaging things about this particular instalment, and there certainly were a number of problems that came with its release, but don’t listen to them. Watch it and make your own mind up, you may just be as impressed as I was.

MAIN THEME SONG: John Barry provides some more exceptional instrumental work here but the actual song associated with the movie is We Have All The Time In The World sung by Louis Armstrong.

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

The last appearance by Sean Connery as James Bond in the official franchise (he would return to the role in Never Say Never Again, the remake of Thunderball) is still enjoyable and entertaining enough despite the feeling of those involved all feeling a bit, well, tired of it all.

The plot revolves around some diamond smuggling and a grand plan masterminded by the nefarious Blofeld (played this time by Charles Gray, on great form) while Bond finds out just what is going on and gets up close and personal with some attractive women.

Diamonds Are Forever is a strange, strange movie. Despite some globe-trotting, the movie is predominantly focused on Las Vegas and seems to think that the glitz and bright lights of the city will make up for a lack of more exotic locales – it doesn’t. There’s a constant line of camp humour that should unsettle everything, especially when compared to the previous Connery outings – it doesn’t. Does it feel like either the last film for someone tired of the main role or a swansong for someone deserving of celebration? It doesn’t.

What we get is simply a big slice of Bond fun. Jill St. John is very easy on the eye as Tiffany Case, Lana Wood is memorable despite her limited screentime as the wonderfully-monikered Plenty O’Toole and then we have Putter Smith and Bruce Glover as an amusingly relaxed pair of hitmen. Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn and Lois Maxwell do their usual thing once more and everyone is on hand to facilitate the fun.

The screenplay, by Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, is full of decent exchanges and great one-liners while Guy Hamilton directs everything in concordance with how Bond movies should be directed.

It’s a lesser Bond movie, something even more throwaway than any of the others, but it somehow retains a charm and entertainment factor that keeps it as a worthy instalment in the official franchise.

MAIN THEME SONG: Diamonds Are Forever sung by Shirley Bassey.

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

And that’s all for now but keep your eyes peeled because James Bond 007 WILL return in Bond: The Moore Years (1973 – 1985) soon.

Artwork by Matthew Harrower.

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