The James Bond Films - 1969-1979
Created | Updated Mar 26, 2009
The first part of this entry covers the story of the James Bond films from Dr No in 1962 up to the retirement of Sean Connery after You Only Live Twice in 1967.
All The Time In The World
With Connery gone, the hunt began for the man who could take over one of the most famous screen roles in history. The producers initially asked Timothy Dalton, who declared that he was flattered, but, at just 22, much too young for the part. One man determined to make the part his own was an Australian called George Lazenby, who divided his time between his modelling career and selling cars. Known to the British public from a television advertisement for 'Fry's chocolate', he set out to reinvent himself as the new Sean Connery. He visited the same tailors, purchased a Rolex watch, and had his hair cut into Connery's style. It was while having this haircut that Cubby Broccoli happened to enter the same salon. Lazenby's scheme paid off and he was invited to screen test for the part of Bond, eventually being awarded the role.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service
After the over-the-top spectacles of Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the team decided to return to Ian Fleming's source material for 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service1. Long-time Bond editor Peter Hunt was invited to direct the film, which would concentrate more on characters and situations rather than the usual stunts and gadgets.
While searching the world for SPECTRE boss Blofeld (played this time by Telly Savalas), Bond rescues Countess Tracy di Vincenzo (Diana Rigg2) from drowning - a suicide attempt to escape from her boring, unfulfilling life. Tracy's father, organized-crime boss Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), promises that he will find Blofeld for Bond, if Bond will marry and 'tame' Tracy. Bond reluctantly agrees but, in time, a genuine romance develops. Learning that Blofeld has set up his headquarters, Piz Gloria, on top of a Swiss mountain, Bond goes undercover as heraldry expert Sir Hilary Bray (with his voice dubbed by George Baker). Surrounded by beautiful women who are being treated for various allergies, Bond's traditional weakness gets the better of him, and he is discovered and unmasked while seducing one of them. Meanwhile, Blofeld has equipped each of the women with a vial of deadly virus and sent them home. At his command, their hypnosis-induced training will cause them to release the virus all over the world. In a raid on Piz Gloria, backed up by Draco's private army, Blofeld is deafeated, presumed dead, and Bond and Tracy get married. As they are setting off on their honeymoon, however, Blofeld and sidekick Irma Bunt (Ilse Steppat) drive past, spraying Bond's car with bullets. Although Bond survives unharmed, Tracy is killed, and the film ends with Bond cradling his dead wife.
Production of the film was plagued with problems. The location of Piz Gloria, a half-finished restaurant that the Bond crew completed in return for permission to film, was only accessible by cable car or helicopter. Moreover, the altitude made it difficult for cast and crew to work comfortably. At the same time, Lazenby's relationship with producers Broccoli and Salzman was far from happy. He implied that he was only doing the job for 'the broads and bread', and rumours abounded that he and Diana Rigg hated working together - while they may not have been the best of friends, there is no doubt that everything was exaggerated by the media.
At the box office, On Her Majesty's Secret Service was a success, but nothing like the previous films. Lazenby decided that he didn't need Bond and that he would make his own way in the film business, so once more the producers were left to find someone who could drink vodka Martinis in the right way and, more importantly, rescue the whole Bond franchise. American actor John Gavin (of Psycho and Spartacus fame) was initially hired, but was paid off when the producers dug deeper into their pockets, deciding that, whatever the cost, there was only really one man for the job...
They Lustre On
For a then-record fee of $1.25 million (plus a share of the profits), Sean Connery was lured back to play Bond one more time. Donating the entire fee to his recently-established charity 'The Scottish Educational Trust', Connery re-established himself in the role from which he had walked away four years earlier.
Diamonds Are Forever
M: For some time now we've had our eyes on a professional smuggler called Peter Franks. He's due to leave for Amsterdam.
Bond: Do we know who his contacts are?
M: We do function in your absence, Commander.
With their attempt to return Bond to his literary roots regarded by some as a failure, the producers returned to the gadgets and stunts formula that had worked so well before. Guy Hamilton, director of Goldfinger was brought back, and the use of 'humour' in Bond films was taken to another level, becoming almost farcical in places and setting the tone for many Bond films of the 1970s.
The films opens with Bond's obsessive world-wide search for Blofeld to take revenge for the death of his wife (a scene inspired by the opening of the novel You Only Live Twice). He eventually finds Blofeld (Charles Gray), who is in the middle of a surgical procedure designed to create a replica of himself. Bond kills Blofeld by throwing him into a pool of boiling mud, and Tracy's death is avenged. Returning to work, Bond is sent on the trail of diamond smugglers. Meeting up with smuggler Tiffany Case (Jill St John) in Amsterdam, he ends up in Las Vegas, where Blofeld is discovered to be alive (the man Bond killed being a 'copy'). Blofeld has kidnapped reclusive businessman Willard Whyte3 and, using Whyte's business empire as a cover, has constructed a diamond-based laser satellite and sent it into orbit. Needless to say, he is using it to hold the world to ransom. Bond tracks Blofeld to his base on an oil-rig and, with a helicopter assault led by Willard Whyte, destroys the control room, preventing the satellite from being fired.
The return to the standard Bond formula, with the return of Sean Connery, was an instant success. Diamonds set records for the largest seven-day box office gross in Britain, and the largest three-day gross in the USA. Even so, the film is regarded as one of the weaker Bond films. The humour is not always appropriate, and many of the characters are too over-the-top and unbelieveable, particularly the camp assassins Mr Wint (Putter Smith) and Mr Kidd (Bruce Glover), while Charles Gray's Blofeld is a charming, genial individual, far removed from the portrayals of his predecessors. By the end of the film, he and Bond seem on quite friendly terms, despite that fact that Blofeld is the murderer of Bond's wife.
Having proved that James Bond could still be a financial success, Connery once again walked away from the role. Deciding this time that the new Bond should be an established actor, the producers looked to the world of television espionage - and found Roger Moore.
The Moore Years
Fresh from playing another super-spy - Simon Templar (The Saint) - Roger willingly threw himself into the part. He was determined not to copy Connery, as George Lazenby had tried, but to establish his Bond as a different type of character. With the farcical humour of Diamonds brought ever more to the fore, Moore's films were indeed different to those of the early Connery ones.
Live and Let Die
In 1973's Live and Let Die, Bond is sent to investigate the assassinations of several British agents in the USA and the Caribbean. Suspicion falls on Dr Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), head-of-state of the Voodoo-worshipping island of San Monique. Discovering that Kananga has links to an American crime boss known only as 'Mr Big', Bond sets off for San Monique to investigate. After the death of the traitorous Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), Bond meets the psychic Solitaire (Jane Seymour) who uses Tarot cards to predict the future for Kananga. With the help of a stacked deck, Bond seduces Solitaire, depriving her of her virginity, and with it her psychic powers. After discovering Kananga's secret - fields of opium poppies - Bond and Solitaire escape to New Orleans. They are captured by Mr Big, who turns out to be Kananga in disguise. After a long boat chase, Bond is taken back to San Monique, where he destroys the poppy fields, kills Kananga and rescues Solitaire.
Live and Let Die has its high points, not least of which is the theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings. The film also features one of the series' best Felix Leiters - David Hedison - who remains the only actor to play the part twice, returning in 1989's Licence to Kill. Unfortunately, it also contains many elements that do not work, not to mention the criminal omission of Desmond Llewellyn as Q. The most obvious low point of the film is the introduction of Sheriff JW Pepper (Clifton James), a caricatured, racist Southern-US police officer who tries and fails to capture Bond during the boat race. Incredibly, the character proved so popular with 1970s audiences that he was brought back a year later for what is generally regarded as Bond's lowest ebb...
The Man With the Golden Gun
This film takes place at the height of the mid-1970s world energy crisis. Bond is sent to find the 'solex agitator', a device that converts sunlight into electricity at high efficiency. Simultaneously, it appears that Bond is being hunted by Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), an expensive assassin who uses a trademark golden gun to kill his targets. Bond is teamed up with Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), an incompetent MI6 agent, to recover the solex. It turns out that Bond is being used by Scaramanga's mistress, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), in the hope that Scaramanga will be killed. Bond eventually traces Scaramanga to his island retreat where, in a duel to the death, Bond outwits Scaramanga and escapes with the solex.
The single redeeming feature of Golden Gun is the presence of Christopher Lee who, given better material to work with, could have been Bond's greatest enemy - in his role as an expert assassin, Scaramanga considers himself Bond's 'dark side'. Other than that, there is very little else to recommend the film. As mentioned above, Sheriff JW Pepper returns in a role that is, if anything, even more over-the-top than his previous appearance.
Not surprisingly, Golden Gun was, in James Bond terms, a box-office flop, with a 40% drop in takings compared with Live and Let Die. Tension had grown in the production team, and Harry Salzman finally said goodbye, leaving the series in the hands of Cubby Broccoli. What James Bond needed now was an unqualified success. It was three years, the longest ever gap between Bond films up to that point, before Broccoli and Bond returned.
The Spy Who Loved Me
Girl: But James, I need you!
Bond: So does England.
Originally, Broccoli had wanted to bring back SPECTRE for 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me, but was prevented from doing so by a court injunction taken out by Kevin McLory, who was trying to produce a remake of Thunderball. The final script owes a lot to You Only Live Twice for its basic premise, with spaceships replaced by nuclear submarines which are mysteriously disappearing. British intelligence and the KGB agree to work together to find out why, and put their top agents onto the case. Bond is joined by Soviet agent Anya Amasova4 (Barbara Bach) and they set off on the trail of shipping magnate Karl Stromberg (Kurt Jurgens). Travelling on board a US submarine, they are captured by Stromberg's giant tanker Liparus, where they find the other missing submarines. Stromberg is planning to have the submarines fire nuclear missiles, thus triggering World War III and leaving him to establish a utopia under the seas. In an enormous battle on the Liparus Bond and the submarine crews manage to destroy the rogue submarines and Bond travels to Stromberg's undersea hideaway to rescue Anya.
On first reading the script for Spy, long-time Bond production designer Ken Adam informed Broccoli that there was no sound stage in the world big enough to film the final battle sequences. Broccoli and United Artists took a gamble, building a brand-new '007 Stage' at Pinewood Studios. The gamble paid off, as Spy is one of the best films in the series, successfully rescuing Bond after the previous two dubious adventures. The scene is set by the pre-credits sequence, which features one of the most famous and spectacular stunts in film history. Bond (stuntman Rick Sylvester), chased by Soviet agents, skis down a mountain and over a sheer cliff face. After a seemingly-endless free-fall, Bond deploys a Union flag parachute and drifts to safety.
Spy also introduced Bond's second-most famous car: the Lotus Esprit that turns into a submarine, nicknamed 'Wet Nellie' (a reference to the 'Little Nellie' helicopter in You Only Live Twice). Also making a first appearance in Spy was 'Jaws', the immensely tall psychopath with metal teeth, played by Richard Kiel. Again, audience response was so strong that he was brought back to face Bond once more. However, despite the promise made by the closing credits, Bond's next appearance would not be For Your Eyes Only - something had happened to cinema in the meantime that caused the Bond producers to change their minds. That something was Star Wars, and Bond was about to be sent into space.
Someone has stolen a space shuttle en route from the USA to Britain and Bond is dispatched to find out whom. Arriving at the headquarters of Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) - millionaire and space enthusiast - Bond survives enough assassination attempts to make him a little suspicious. He follows a trail to Venice, where Drax is manufacturing a deadly nerve gas. Teaming up with the initially suspicious CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), Bond travels to Rio de Janeiro and eventually finds Drax's shuttle launch complex in the Amazon jungle. Hitching a ride on one of the shuttles, Bond and Holly arrive at Drax's space station, secretly constructed in orbit. Drax has recruited an army of 'perfect physical specimens', with whom he hopes to repopulate the Earth after wiping out the population with his nerve gas. In a battle between Drax's men and the US 'space marines', Drax is eventually defeated, leaving Bond to attempt re-entry with Holly.
Moonraker is almost a great Bond film, containing so many typical 'Bond moments'. Unfortunately, the writers and director had a tendency to spoil a number of scenes by drawing them out too long and letting them descend into farce. The worst example is the gondola chase through Venice. Bond's gondolier is assassinated and Bond is pursued by gun-wielding heavies. This being Bond, the gondala converts into an armoured speedboat, allowing our hero to escape. So far so good. For some reason, it was decided that the gondola should then convert into a hovercraft and be driven by Bond across St Mark's Square, complete with pigeons doing double-takes and distracted waiters pouring drinks over customers. The film also features the return of Jaws, though used far more for comic effect than he had been in Spy. He falls hopelessly in love with a woman half his size, who turns out to be his redeemer - Jaws becomes something of a romantic, even helping Bond and Holly to escape the space station.
The paying public appeared to be undeterred by all the nonsense, and Moonraker became the highest grossing Bond film up to that point. Even the critics, normally dismissive of Bond films, praised the film for its spectacle and sense of fun. Real Bond fans, though, were not so impressed, and Cubby Broccoli promised that the next Bond film would be more 'down to Earth'. Before that could happen though, there was the small matter of Roger Moore's decision to leave the role.
James Bond Will Return In...
The third part of this entry, which looks at the story of the James Bond films from 1981 to 1992.
The fourth part, which follows the Bond story between 1994 and 2002.
...and the fifth part, which takes the story from 1994 up to the present day and examines some of the imitators and competitors that Bond spawned.