James Bond Bad Guys Go Back to Basics


Guest blogger Blair Kramer writes:

I have a serious question to ask you. During the opening frames of For Your Eyes Only, weren’t you surprised to see James Bond standing over the grave of his dead wife, Tracy?

Also, weren’t you downright shocked to see a bald man holding a white cat? I know what you were thinking. I thought the same thing:

Nahhh… They’re just teasing us! It really can’t be Blofeld, can it?

He’s back? He’s the villain in this film? Great! This is gonna be good!

And then what happened? After that great build-up, was it as good as you hoped? Or was it…something else:

OK, so it was something else (can you imagine James Bond actually operating a “…delicatessen, in stainless steel”?!). But that was the pre-credits sequence. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t count. Therefore, I ignore it. Believe it or not, for me, the rest of FYEO was and IS as good as I hoped! It truly is a great 007 film.

At the very least, despite the fact that Roger Moore personally prefers The Spy Who Loved Me, it certainly features Moore’s best Bond performance. Or, am I wrong? Is my praise of Moore nothing but heresy in your mind? Are you one of those Bond fans who think Moore could do no right?

Character actor Chaim Topol plays Columbo, the supposed villain of the film. However, despite the considerable feeling of mystery surrounding the man, Columbo proves much less evil than we are led to believe. The real bad guy turns out to be a fellow known as Kristatos. As played by charming, urbane stage actor Julian Glover, Kristatos is a murderous sociopath. As a result, his extremely frightening demeanor greatly raises the level of tension and suspense throughout the film.

Mind you, I’m not trying to suggest that the film has no humor. After all, it is a “Roger Moore Bond” film. The humor is simply kept to a minimum. Consequently, other than an early lighthearted car chase, nearly every threat and bit of action keeps us on the edge of our seat. We go from a ski chase involving motorcycles fitted with machine guns, to a wild gunfight that culminates in a huge explosion. From a speeding Mercedes bearing down on Bond, to a sunken spy ship surrounded by hungry sharks! Finally, Bond very nearly falls to his death as he climbs a sheer cliff face to invade Kristatos’ hideout (oh… And he runs into our old friend Hans, the muscle bound henchman last seen reluctantly feeding a school of piranha fish in You Only Live Twice. Only God knows how he possibly survived that encounter.

(But Hans, now portrayed by John Wyman, has changed his name to Eric for some reason. Hmmm…)

In the end, when all the action and excitement is over and the theater lights return, we realize that For Your Eyes Only is truly a classic James Bond film. To say the least, it’s not to be missed.

Is Octopussy the silliest Bond movie title of all time? I dunno…you tell me! (By the way, just so we’re clear, Quantum Of Solace translates as “measure of comfort,” which isn’t silly at all. More on that in my final article.). But, believe it or not, Octopussy is actually Moore’s second best effort as Agent 007. A bit more jocular than FYEO and somewhat slower, Octopussy still contains a decent level of suspense. Two of the three main villains, Octopussy herself (Maud Adams), and Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan), don’t provide much threat (Jourdan in particular is a crashing bore!), but Steven Berkoff as Soviet General Orlov comes across as a scenery-chewing lunatic! In other words, he’s crazy enough to be truly frightening.

And even though most of the action is a bit too familiar, the scene during which 007 crawls, runs, and skulks all over a fast moving train is chock full of suspense. Also, Octopussy features three of the scariest henchmen ever to appear in a Bond film, blunderbuss-wielding Gobinda (Kabir Bedi), and knife throwing circus performers Mischka and Grischka (David and Anthony Meyer). I must say that the casting of this film was just about perfect. Don’t miss it.

Never Say Never Again, a loose remake of Thunderball, offers a good performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer as the main bad guy, as well as some decent action, but little else. For the most part the best thing about the film is the fact that it’s Sean Connery‘s final effort as James Bond. Even though the film tends to be a little silly, Connery’s welcome presence certainly makes it worth a look.

As for A View To A Kill, Roger Moore’s swan song as James Bond, even the great Christopher Walken as the evil man with the plan couldn’t save it. To put it mildly, AVTAK is very definitely the worst Bond film ever made! The fact that it actually offers the overtly androgynous Grace Jones as a Bond girl is all anyone needs to know! A bedroom “love” scene between Moore and Jones is so plainly unlikely it’s downright embarrassing to watch! To be sure, one gets the impression that Jones is actually trying to rape Moore!

My advice: Don’t waste your time on A View To A Kill.

james-bond-bad-guys-living-daylights-jeroen-krabbe-john-rhys-davies-joe-don-bakerThe Living Daylights and Licence To Kill are much better films. I tie them together because they’re quite distinct from the rest of the James Bond series, and this is entirely due to the presence of Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton as Agent 007. His nitty-gritty, hard nose, no-nonsense approach to the role was a breath of fresh air. It forced the producers to make the two films much darker and more realistic throughout. Fr’instance, Bond coldly prepares to use a high powered sniper’s rifle to assassinate an attractive young woman in TLD. He also tries to detonate a bomb in an effort to kill a South American drug lord in LTK.  Basically, the two Dalton films make it very clear that James Bond does not play games!

The suspense of both films is well provided by their villains. The Living Daylights offers Soviet Generals Koskov and Pushkin, nicely portrayed by Jeroen Krabbé and John Rhys-Davies, locked in a private game of espionage. Their antics keep the tension running at full speed. Even the slightly less than believable Joe Don Baker as a supposedly sophisticated American gun-runner named Whitaker, provides brawny menace. Certainly, the gun battle between Bond and Whitaker near the end of the film is genuinely exciting. And finally, Necros, the requisite muscle-bound henchman played by Andreas Wisniewski, is one very menacing dude! His constant threat eventually ends in a violent confrontation with Bond aboard an airborne cargo plane. As he and Bond duke it out, a time bomb ticks away within the aircraft! Need I say that the suspense of the scene is nearly unbearable?

Licence To Kill is an unsung gem. Robert Davi perfectly fills the image of Sanchez, a manipulating South American drug lord with a heart of stone. More so than any other Bond villain, Sanchez is the most real and certainly the most ruthless. The level of suspense rises dramatically every time Davi appears on screen. His frightening, knife-wielding henchman is called Dario. Characterized by a permanent sneer, Dario was one of Benicio Del Toro‘s first screen roles. Anthony Starke plays an annoying little accountant named Truman-Lodge. His end is swift and violent because he didn’t understand that he too was really just a henchman! On the other hand, Don Stroud as a fellow called Heller, meets his end precisely because he knows full well that he’s a henchman! Veteran character actor Anthony Zerbe fills the role of cowardly drug smuggler Milton Krest. When he eventually meets his end, the scene proves to be one of the most frightening ever done for any James Bond film! Finally, Wayne Newton plays the one major character plainly out of place in the film. As corrupt televangelist Joe Butcher, his comic persona just doesn’t match the mood of the film. Beyond that, you have a perfect lineup of villainy.

Before I go, I would like to mention one minor quibble with TLD that has long bothered me. In an early scene, Bond and colleague Saunders (head of section V) clearly have no use for each other until they suddenly start acting like close friends. That’s because Bond is expected to become very emotional when his colleague is violently murdered! Now, friends or not, anger I can understand. But the sudden change in attitude towards each other prior to the murder makes no sense at all. Be that as it may, other than that one scene, the bottom line on the two Timothy Dalton films is that they are among the best in the James Bond series. They’re chock full of action, intrigue, and best of all, great suspense. Moreover, TLD features one of the best scores ever created for any Bond film by the late John Barry. I cherish the two Dalton Bond films. So should you.

Next: Everything old is new again!

Blair Kramer is a widely published writer for various publications, including “Velocity: Chicago,” “A Guide to Art in Chicago,” “Comic Book Collector Magazine,” “American Metal Magazine,” and the “Jewish American Historical Society.” He also dabbles in screenplays and comic books. There are only two things in his life that he loves more than good movies. They are his wife and family.