Saturday Morning Opinions: Five Things I Learned Watching Bond

Tom Richmond's "Secret Agent Men" print

With yesterday’s review of Quantum of Solace, my year-and-a-half long Bondathon has come to an end. What I thought would be a simple string of action films was instead a fascinating look into the mainstream Western psyche in the last fifty years. Between Bond and the Beatles, I learned a lot of things about the twentieth century in 2013. (Pro-tip: start your kids on the Beatles early. The sixties make way more sense with them.) But my education wasn’t all historical context, so let’s take a look at the five things I learned in the course of twenty-three Bond films.

Cheese Plate

5. If the Bonds were cheeses…

Sean Connery would a pungent, cave-aged Scottish cheese, George Lazenby would be a cozy sharp Wisconsin cheddar, Roger Moore would be a wheel of Brie that’s been left in the sun too long, Timothy Dalton would be a resplendent Stilton, Pierce Brosnan would be a sweaty gallon of milk left on the counter, and Daniel Craig would be a challenging Asiago. Fetch the slate cheese plate, we’re having a tasting.

Suit Pattern Pieces

4. Tailoring is important.

While the Bonds are pretty homogenous (to the point that casting a white blond was a controversial decision), they vary in their proportions. Namely, I’m pretty sure Daniel Craig could snap Roger Moore in half. But they all look amazing in their suits, and that is due to one thing: tailoring. If you have the time and the money, getting one or two essential pieces tailored is not a half bad idea. But the sartorially inclined among us already know this; it’s teenage boys who need this lesson, so that I may never look at a baggy rented tuxedo every again. Saints preserve us.

Timothy Dalton

3. Timothy Dalton is the best.

Craig is actually my favorite Bond, but that’s really because Timothy Dalton’s Bond was never given a film in which he could completely shine. But sweet Lord did that man try. His Bond is a barely controlled panther who can still manage to toss off Moore-level quips in that perfect, pompous growl of a voice he’s got. Every time I shelve a copy of A Farewell to Arms, I’m reminded of the smartest joke any Bond has ever made. And when there were rumors that Dalton would play Alfred in the next Batman movie, I just wanted the movie to be a long flashback about Alfred’s war career. I need to get around to watching his turn as Rochester in a television adaptation. I can only fathom its glory.

2. The later the Bond film, the better the music.

I was actually going to go ahead and pick a favorite Bond song, but so many of them are good. I catch myself bellowing “Like heaven above me / the spy who loved me” when I’m doing my hair and I will always cry-sing to “Skyfall” when it comes on the radio. (It’s Tracy singing to Bond after her death! Oh, the feels.) But largely, as the series progresses, the music improves. Nothing against classics like “Goldfinger,” of course, but it’s only later in the franchise that the production team starts to not only recognize the Bond mythology they’ve created, but respect it. After several songs about just how cool Bond is, we begin to get songs from different and interesting perspectives in the nineties. “The World is Not Enough” is a villain song through and through, and “Another Way to Die” (which I’ve considerably warmed up to since I’ve seen Quantum of Solace) reflects the strange partnership of Bond and Camille. This isn’t a universal rule: “You Know My Name” is hilariously forgettable. To that end, I’ve highlighted k.d. lang’s “Surrender,” which closes out Tomorrow Never Dies in the sultriest way possible. I understand the nineties much better now.

Miss Moneypenny - Lois Maxwell #55 1996

1. Lois Maxwell was a national treasure.

Being introduced to Bond through Casino Royale meant that I had no idea who Moneypenny was until I embarked on the Bondathon. But Lois Maxwell’s wry, flirty, and intelligent Canadian secretary utterly captivated me, from teasing Bond without fear of reprisal to going to the races with Q to tearfully bidding Bond and Tracy good-bye at their wedding. As much as I adore Judi Dench as M, I would have love to have seen Maxwell return as M before her death in 2007. And, like Dalton, I need to explore her filmography, particularly That Hagen Girl, a Shirley Temple comedy she was in during the late forties. Trying to replace Maxwell’s brilliant Moneypenny is a challenging task; Caroline Bliss and Samantha Bond both struggled with it, but, thankfully, Naomie Harris is picking up the mantle with an equal wit and a lot more firepower. (Also, if she can come back to be M when she’s in her sixties, so much the better!)

11 thoughts on “Saturday Morning Opinions: Five Things I Learned Watching Bond

  1. Roger Moore, left in the sun. “To the point that casting a white blond was a controversial decision.” The secret Dalton magic; “sweet Lord did that man try.” ‘Tomorrow never dies – surrender!’ Lois Maxwell, ever-the-best.
    If that’s not a great assemblage of Bondian things, I don’t know what is. Cheers to you, and the completion of your Bond journey! It’s been an excellent read, each and every time – I loved getting to see the series through your perspective.

  2. I didn’t care for the Jane Eyre miniseries with Dalton, but it wasn’t his fault – I really didn’t like the actress who played Jane Eyre. But most actors who are cast as Mr. Rochester do a fine job and Dalton does as well. It’s one of the most faithful screen adaptations of the novel, which is not something I necessarily prioritize in adaptations, but others do, which is why I mention it.

  3. I totally agree with you about Dalton, but he is a fabulous actor, and well able to suggest sex and menace. I remember seeing him as the young King Philip in the film version of ‘The Lion in Winter’ (which had other acting heavyweights Katharine Hepburn, Peter O’Toole and Antony Hopkins chewing the scenery), and he was fabulous in a very minor role. That voice

  4. I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed your Bond series, and this summing-up was terrific. I’m a Dalton-Bond fan all the way, so I’m always tickled when other people reach that conclusion on their own. And the cheese metaphor is brilliant.

    • But, in a way, isn’t Bond a villain? He’s certainly not exactly heroic…🙂 But I catch your meaning. I think he applies his scenery-chewing gravitas well in any role, but it certainly plays easier in villainous roles.

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