Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Ranking the James Bond Films

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

As promised/threatened, I am presenting my ranking of the James Bond films below.

But first I must remind you that the TARGET LANCER book tour is just beginning; check the places, times and dates above. The BAM! Davenport date has been postponed due to lack of books, and a new date will be posted soon.

Speaking of TARGET LANCER, nice notices continue to roll in, like this terrific one from Jeff Pierce at the Rap Sheet.

Check out also this Mystery People write-up, and another from Book Reporter.

This piece on the ROAD TO PERDITION graphic novel appears at Team Hellions.

Before I present my ranking of the Bonds, let me warn you that this is the definitive listing. No other list is necessary, or in any way official. What makes me the final word on James Bond? Well, I thought you’d never ask.

I began reading the Fleming Bond novels in junior high, when I ran out of Mickey Spillane books. In fact, that’s how James Bond was marketed by NAL, Spillane’s own publisher – Fleming as the British Spillane, Bond as the British Hammer. In such early novels as Casino Royale and Live and Let Die, the influence is undeniable.

When the film DR. NO came out, I convinced my parents (on a school night) to drive me thirty miles to the nearest screening. I wanted to see it opening day. None of my classmates had any idea who Bond was. That would change. I consider the moment when Connery first uttered, “Bond, James Bond” as the most memorable one of my long and storied moviegoing experience.

I went on to read the new books as they came out (starting with ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE – in hardcover). By high school, Bond was a craze, and some young males even wore 007 after shave. You would have to tie me in a chair and beat me about the genitals to reveal whether I was one. I will admit freely that I, like most of my friends, carried a briefcase to school, because of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Several of us carried starter pistols in our briefcases. Today we’d go to reform school for that. Do they still have reform school?

The years passed, and I married my own Bond girl, Barbara Mull (not Bach – though Ringo and I are both lucky guys). In those pre-VCR days, Barb and I would sit through any new Bond film twice (starting, fittingly, with YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE). The Bond films were frequently recirculated as double features. I saw them again and again in movie theaters.

Barb, who as you may have noticed is very smart, has a slightly different view than mine regarding the individual Bond actors. She feels each was right for his decade, and that none of them (save for Connery) was likely to have worked in any other decade. That’s a theory worth considering, even discussing.

However…any of you with lesser credentials than mine as listed above need not criticize or argue with my listings. Keep in mind that you might be secretly sitting on an ejector seat right now.


1. GOLDFINGER – the gold standard. Great villain and hatchet man, strong women, wonderful score featuring Shirley Bassey’s dizzying rendition of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Briccuse/John Barry title song. Best lines in any Bond film, particularly: “Do you want me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond – I want you to die!” Heaven.

2. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE – faithful Fleming, with a Hitchcock feel. Best romance and best fight (with Robert Shaw in a train compartment). Lotte Lenya the greatest “henchman,” and an effective introduction of uber-villain Blofeld (who was better before we actually saw him).

3. DR. NO – defining moment. Connery immediately inhabits the Bond role so thoroughly, fifty years later it’s still his. Everything flows from the colorful template established here, and Bond’s Mike Hammer-like ruthlessness changed action movies. “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”

4. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE – overblown fun. Roald Dahl – in for Richard Maibum (who scripted or co-scripted 13 Bonds!) – seems to be putting Bond through the paces somewhat mechanically, but the setting and set-pieces (particularly the attack on the villan’s lair) are stunning, the size of it all staggering. Most of AUSTIN POWERS flows from here.

5. THUNDERBALL – the series at its popular, Beatlemania-esque peak, but self-parody (jet pack anyone?) is creeping in, and the underwater sequences are interminable. So-so villain in a dubbed Aldolfo Celi as Largo, but the women are fine (particularly cheerfully evil Luciana Paluzzi), and Connery’s cool as Bond is at its pinnacle. Wonderfully over-the-top Tom Jones title song.

6. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS – return to Fleming-style Bond. No one seems to like Timothy Dalton but me, but of course I’m correct in considering him the second-best Bond. The film is very much a FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE-style spy film, with a convincing romance and incredible stunts. Dalton was able to return to Connery’s ruthlessness while bringing a more human quality to the character. A pity there weren’t a half dozen Dalton Bonds.

7. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE – placeholder masterpiece. Lazenby might have grown in the role if the producers and directors had worked with him; instead, their contempt for the departing Connery was visited upon his replacement, who balked. Nonetheless, OHMSS rivals FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in its Fleming faithfulness, and is a stunt-heavy, lavish production with some genuine emotional impact. Telly Savalas as Blofeld is hurt by his latterday Kojak fame, but Diana Rigg offers a timeless, tender Tracy.

8. LICENSE TO KILL – more nasty Fleming-style Bond. In part an adaptation of Fleming’s novel Live and Let Die (the alligator attack on Felix Leiter), LICENSE is a gritty crime/espionage caper with more great stunts and another strong Dalton performance. A genuinely menacing villain in Robert Davi, who bonds with Bond.

9. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER – real Bond if not quite glittering. Connery is back, seeming a little out of place in the ‘70s, but still the genuine article; a fine John Barry score includes a Shirley Bassey title-song vocal. The film is occasionally Cubic Zurconia, however, leaning rather too hard on the Vegas setting, subjecting us to Jimmy Dean as a Howard Hughes type, with a shipboard villain’s lair attack sequence that is among the most boring. Good Blofeld in ROCKY HORROR’s Charles Gray, whose gay henchmen (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith) are memorable, and die “flaming.”

10. CASINO ROYALE – gritty, satisfying reboot. Craig’s self-confident, rather brutish arrogance overcomes what initially seems like miscasting in a surprisingly faithful updating of the first Fleming novel. A strong romance helps make this a “real” story, and mind-boggling stunts take the series up a notch. Craig is easily the best Bond after Connery and Dalton.

11. NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN – the real Bond in a strong remake. Probably more entertaining than the film it reworks (THUNDERBALL), NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN presents a slightly tongue-in-cheek Connery having a better time than in his previous several Bond appearances. Wonderful Bond women (not girls) in Barbara Carrera and Kim Bassinger, and a better Largo in Klaus Maria Brandeur. HALL OF SHAME: lackluster Michel Legrand score. With a John Barry score (and the James Bond theme), this would be much more popular among fans.

12. THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH – Brosnan’s best. A tricky plot reveals that Brosnan, like Dalton, has the capacity for both ruthlessness and genuine emotion. The film, which features an I, THE JURY-esque showdown between Bond and a femme fatale, is usually dismissed because Denise Richards plays a nuclear scientist. Right – Bond films frequently have female roles and female casting choices that make a lot of sense….

13. GOLDENEYE – Brosnan makes a strong debut, splitting the Connery/Moore difference, a killer who can quip. A big, stunt-flung production, GOLDENEYE has several memorable performances, including Sean Bean (prefiguring the rogue double-o agent in the current SKYFALL), Judi Dench as M, Famke Jannsen as a femme fatale/henchman, and Alan Cumming as an irritating computer programmer, whose death is extremely satisfying.

14. TOMORROW NEVER DIES – Brosnan hitting his stride. Again, stunts take centerstage, in part because of the Hong Kong action influence represented by Michelle Yeoh, who is one of Bond’s strongest female counterparts. The media mogul villain seems well cast in Jonathan Pryce but the result is surprisingly flat, as is an attempt at emotion by way of old flame, Teri Hatcher. This marks the first of David Arnold’s wonderful Barry-esque scores.

15. SKYFALL – Daniel Craig hitting his stride. While it doesn’t entirely cohere, director Sam Mendes’ Bond film is visually stunning and always compelling, walking a fine line between nodding/winking at the 50th anniversary of Bond and dragging the franchise screaming and kicking into the 21st century. But Bond fails at everything he sets out to do in this one, which ultimately is odd.

16. QUANTUM OF SOLACE – underrated ROYALE sequel. The opening car chase is a mess, and a lot of the action sequences suffer from frenetic editing. But mostly this one gets an undeserved bad rap, though admittedly it works much better when watched a day or so after CASINO ROYALE, as the Part Two it intends to be. Despite rumors that a writer’s strike left the screenplay unfinished, the vengeance theme is well explored, probably better than the similar FOR YOUR EYES ONLY. Craig is working out just fine.

17. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME – the best Roger Moore, hands down. Surprisingly, Moore is mostly not at fault for the campy, smirky nature of some of these films – he usually plays it straight, while the producers lay on the dumb humor. Here, in a return to bombastic YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE lavish production values, with a strong romance by way of rival Russian agent Barbara Bach, Moore acquits himself respectably, as does the film, with a decent Dr. No clone of a villain in Curd Jurgens, and a superior villain’s-liar attack sequence.

18. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY – the second-best Moore. The opening, in which an unnamed Blofeld is killed off, is offensively jokey, particularly considering that it begins with a reference to Bond’s late wife, Tracy. But the rest of this vengeance-driven tale finds Moore playing straight with the plot actually mattering. And for once, the underwater stuff is effective, not snooze-worthy.

19. DIE ANOTHER DAY – Brosnan left stranded on the ice. And it’s a pity, because the film begins well, with an outlandish action sequence that leads to Bond’s imprisonment and a rogue-agent set-up that promises to be the best of the Brosnans. Not the case – the horrendous third act includes an invisible car and a poorly executed ice-surfing sequence (at least the producers didn’t dub a Beach Boys song over it), and a villain who is about as threatening as a hall monitor. HALL OF SHAME: participation of Madonna, whose title song is almost as bad as her stiff cameo as an improbable fencing mistress.

20. LIVE AND LET DIE – terrific Saint movie. Too bad Roger Moore is supposed to be playing James Bond. Blaxploitation aspects have dated the film, but remain a part of its unique appeal. Jane Seymour is an appealing Bond girl, the voodoo stuff is fun, and McCartney’s title song is no-contest the best non-John Barry music in the series.

21. THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN – good villains, weak everything else. Christopher Lee as hitman Scaramanga and his little henchman Herve Villechaize are memorable to say the least, but the rest of the enterprise represents a tired retread of Moore’s debut film. Brit Ekland makes a surprisingly irritating, ineffective Bond girl, and the chop-socky stuff isn’t nearly as well-integrated as the similar material in TOMORROW NEVER DIES. HALL OF SHAME: return of hick Southern Sheriff J.W. Pepper (taking nothing away from Clifton James’ classic portrayal of corrupt Lt. Quint on CITY OF ANGELS). An example of how the Bond producers pander to audiences.

22. A VIEW TO A KILL – slightly underrated if over-long Moore finale. Christopher Walken makes a nicely menacing, psychotic villain, and his “henchman” Grace Jones is similarly memorable. Tanya Roberts (one of numerous Bond girls who are also Mike Hammer dolls) is fine in a role she’s often criticized over – you were expecting maybe Meryl Streep? The film is surprisingly violent (Moore dislikes it for that reason). HALL OF SHAME: a Beach Boys song, “California Girls,” plays over an otherwise straight ski chase…not even the real song, but a sound-alike cover version.

23. MOONRAKER – outer space nonsense, as the Bond producers keep pandering. A really wretched film, in which the previous entry’s memorable evil henchman (Jaws) is turned into a good-hearted comic relief character, and the villain is a buffoon with a ridiculous goal absurd even for a Moore film. Blatant product licensing. The pits. Well, almost the pits….

24. OCTOPUSSY – Bond as a literal clown. Worst villain in a puffy-looking, bored Louis Jourdan. Stiff acting from Maud Adams as the title character. The producers dub the “Tarzan” yell over an otherwise straight action sequence. The vault copy of this one should be cut up into guitar picks. This was released the same year as NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (the movies essentially tied at the box office) and demonstrated, as if anyone needed any further evidence, that Connery was Bond and Moore was the Saint. Or maybe Beau Maverick.


Target Lancer Out Today

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Today (Nov. 27 2012) marks the official publication date of the new Nate Heller novel, TARGET LANCER, although it’s been spotted (snagged) in bookstores here and there for several weeks.

As is often the case, I didn’t receive my copies till just a few days ago (day before Thanksgiving). It’s a handsome book, and features a raised, foil title that is very attractive, and a nice surprise. I hope the book attracts some attention, both for Nate Heller and for the relatively unknown information about the JFK assassination that it reveals.

I am preparing to go out on a two-week book tour for TARGET LANCER, and I face a problem lots of writers do: my mind is filled with the novel I just completed, ASK NOT, the follow-up to LANCER, and I have to shift gears to discuss what to me is an “old” book.

I am happy and frankly relieved to have finished The JFK Trilogy (which began with BYE BYE, BABY). Funny thing – I have lately started to get “name-dropping” criticisms where Heller himself is concerned, and this goes back to the people who don’t grasp the concept of the saga…namely, that we are accessing and experiencing famous crimes/mysteries/events through the eyes of a traditional Chandleresque private detective. And that it is therefore necessary for past cases, however famous, to be mentioned and occasionally dealt with. I believe Heller and I do that with humor – nobody has to remind Heller that he’s been bodyguard to a shocking number of famous murder victims. To me it’s curious that nobody questions Perry Mason having hundreds of murder trials (factoring in the TV show – but even just the books it’s around 100) or Poirot and Nero Wolfe having seventy-some murder cases each, and so on. Readers seem to get the “suspension of disbelief” aspect of the genre in those cases. But some get tripped up by the famous nature of Heller’s cases and clients.

The fact is, Heller almost always fills the role (or roles) of somebody in history – often a real-life private eye. That lays a far more believable groundwork than any strictly fictional case could ever provide. And it occurred to me the other day that I had completed a JFK Trilogy in which JFK himself appears only once, in a not terribly flattering scene (in BYE BYE, BABY).

The reviews so far for TARGET LANCER have been stellar, but I anticipate getting the “name-dropping” dig again. One critic, who liked the book a lot, complained about Heller breaking the fourth wall and talking to the reader. That’s not going to stop, either.

If you still need a nudge, check out the sample chapter (the first) available at the fine Criminal Element web site. [Note from Nate: Leave a comment at that link before November 30 to enter a drawing for a free copy!]

Here’s a spiffy TARGET LANCER review you might want to check out.

And here’s a cool if short mention of LANCER.

Part one of a three-part in-depth look at my Nolan and Jon series has been posted at the Violent World of Parker (that’s Westlake’s Parker, not Spenser’s Parker). It’s very interesting and well-done, focusing on the first three novels (MOURN THE LIVING, BAIT MONEY, BLOOD MONEY), and not always loving them. That’s okay. I realize I was a precocious kid and talented but not really good yet. My God, MOURN was written, what? 44 years ago! As you might guess, I made a couple of comments that are posted there as well, which you may find worthwhile.

For those keeping track, I have just completed a screenplay called HOUSE OF BLOOD that I hope will be my next indie movie. It’s a back-door pilot for a Fangoria’s Dreadtime Stories TV series (based on producer Carl Amari’s radio show that I’ve written about half of the scripts for). It may be a Kickstarter project, so stay tuned for lots more info.

Next up is a thriller called WHAT DOESN’T KILL YA. Matt Clemens is on board for this one, and we’re meeting today for him to deliver story and research materials he’s been working on. I start the book tomorrow, but it will be complicated by the two-week book tour.

You may have noticed I am going directly from one project into another (the screenplay, based on a radio script of mine, was started the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and completed the Sunday after), which is not ideal. But things got piled up on me this year. ASK NOT was a punishing project, particularly the research.

And I have also been very busy helping prepare fourteen back-list titles of mine for Thomas & Mercer to reprint – that’s fourteen covers, cover copy, galley proofs, etc., that had to be dealt with. These novels appear next month (that’s right, December 2012), as both trade paperbacks and e-books, and I’ll have more info for you soon.

Even with me working intermittently on the HOUSE OF BLOOD script, we managed to have a great Thanksgiving with Nate and his bride Abby and their demented dog Toaster. Barb cooked a fantastic traditional meal that calls into extreme doubt her insistence that she’s not a good cook. We saw an excellent 3-D movie, LIFE OF PI, which I highly recommend, and I spent so much on blu-rays on Cyber deals that I will probably have to keep this work pace up for another couple years. I even had a band job Saturday night at Ducky’s Lagoon in Andualusia, Illinois. So, yes, it was a busy weekend.

Next week, if I get ambitious, I may take a swing at rating the 24 James Bond films in order of excellence (and lack thereof) with my comments. Barb and I have been plowing through the 22-blu-ray boxed set. For the record, I don’t count the spoof movie of CASINO ROYALE (or the early TV show), but I do count NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN. It has Sean Connery playing James Bond. That makes it more official than any movie with anybody else playing James Bond.

That doesn’t mean that some of the non-Connery movies aren’t better than a few of the lesser Connerys. But let me explain this – Sean Connery is James Bond the way John, Paul, Ringo and George are the Beatles. Everything else, however well played, is Beatlemania.


Ask Not About Politics

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

ASK NOT has been completed and delivered. Last week, between finishing the book with a day out of working for the Obama campaign, Barb and I are pretty well wrung out. That’s my excuse for the brevity of this update.

I do apologize for getting into politics here. I obviously seriously alienated at least one reader. My politics, intellectually, are one thing, and my politics emotionally are another, which is why you can’t necessarily sense anything about those politics in the writing of my novels. Also, since I frequently write first-person, I am immersed in the point of view of the character at hand. I doubt either Quarry or Mike Hammer vote at all. Heller is an FDR Democrat, albeit an extremely cynical one. Wyatt Earp is a Republican, and so is Eliot Ness. When you order a meal at a good restaurant, what’s the difference what the politics of the chef are?

The first of several indulgences for Barb and me following the conclusion of ASK NOT was seeing SKYFALL at an IMAX. It’s a fine Bond film, one of the few that rival the real Bond films (definition of a “real Bond film”: it has Sean Connery in it…and I included NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). Barb and I are going through the Bond 50th anniversary Blu-Ray set – we just finished VIEW TO A KILL – and I may report on the experience on the other side. So far the big surprise is how straight Moore plays it most of the time – the silliness of some of those movies (particularly MOONRAKER and OCTOPUSSY, two horrid entries) appears the fault of the producers majorly and the screenwriters minorly. By the way, if you liked SKYFALL, you’re welcome – I “introduced” Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig by writing ROAD TO PERDITION, you know.

Be sure to check out this fantastic Bookgasm review of TARGET LANCER.