Sean Connery as James Bond
Dr. No (September 29/08)
Sean Connery's first appearance as James Bond, Dr. No certainly comes off as a much more laid-back and leisurely-paced endeavor than one has come to expect from the franchise - as the film, saddled with just a few action sequences (including an underwhelming car chase), ultimately possesses the feel of a light-hearted mystery set against the backdrop of an admittedly exotic locale. The storyline follows Bond as he investigates the disappearance of a colleague in Jamaica, where 007 inevitably finds himself face-to-face with a diabolical madman (Joseph Wiseman's Dr. No) bent on destroying the American space program. There's little doubt that Dr. No's strongest attribute remains Connery's almost hypnotic work as Bond, as the actor does a superb job of infusing the character with just the right blend of charisma and bravado. Connery's effortlessly engaging performance proves instrumental in holding the viewer's interest through the periodic lulls within the narrative (ie Bond's fairly tedious inquiry into his associate's vanishing act), while the climactic encounter with the title character (set, of course, within his massive underground lair) effectively ensures that the movie ends on as over-the-top a note as one might've hoped. And although it likely remains the most stripped-down entry within the Bond filmography, Dr. No stands as a fine cinematic introduction to the world's most famous secret agent.
From Russia With Love (September 30/08)
Though it more closely resembles a prototypical James Bond adventure than its immediate predecessor, From Russia With Love nevertheless suffers from the same sort of pacing issues and erratic structure that plagued Dr. No - yet there's little doubt that the film's action-packed final half hour proves instrumental in smoothing over its flaws. This time around, Bond (Sean Connery) must work with a Russian defector (Daniela Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova) in an effort to retrieve a Soviet encryption device stolen by SPECTRE. It becomes clear fairly quickly that screenwriter Richard Maibaum has suffused From Russia With Love with elements designed to pad out the running time, with a bizarre (and entirely needless) interlude set at a gypsy camp clearly the most apt example of this. The deliberately-paced build-up eventually gives way to a thoroughly enthralling final half hour, however, as Bond finds himself forced to battle his way out of one sticky situation after another (including an encounter with Robert Shaw's villainous Red aboard an Orient Express Train). The introduction of several Bond-movie staples - including SPECTRE's Persian-stroking mastermind Blofeld and Desmond Llewelyn's gadget-friendly Q - certainly cements From Russia With Love's place as a pivotal entry within the series, yet the relentlessly uneven vibe does ensure that the film can't quite live up to its reputation as one of Bond's best.
Goldfinger (October 3/08)
With its flabby midsection and overlong running time, Goldfinger isn't quite the perfect James Bond flick it's been built up to be over the years - yet there's little doubt that the film is consistently buoyed by the inclusion of sundry indelible moments and characters (ie Oddjob, the Fort Knox showdown, etc). The movie follows Sean Connery's James Bond as he's dispatched to look into a ruthless gold magnate's (Gert Frobe's Auric Goldfinger) shady business dealings, with his efforts consistently thwarted by Goldfinger's mute, bowler-hat-throwing henchman Oddjob (Harold Sakata) and loyal pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). More than Dr. No or From Russia With Love, Goldfinger generally feels like a template for the Bond-movie formula - as the film possess virtually all of the elements that one has come to associate with the franchise. It's also clear that the movie ultimately fares better than its immediate predecessor, as screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn offer up a streamlined plot that's generally free of needless elements - which is certainly a far cry from the sporadic time-wasting excess of From Russia With Love. The superb performances - in addition to Connery's expectedly charming work, Frobe and Blackman effectively step into the shoes of, respectively, an unapologetically flamboyant villain and a formidable (and rare) sexual challenge for 007 - and memorable set-pieces ensure that Goldfinger remains a cut above its Bond brethren, with its far-from-surprising overlength proving to be its only real deficiency.
You Only Live Twice (October 7/08)
There's little doubt that You Only Live Twice, to a far more pronounced extent than its four predecessors, suffers from a severe case of overlength that's virtually impossible to ignore, as screenwriter Roald Dahl consistently places the emphasis on the minutia of entirely tedious elements. The storyline - which follows Sean Connery's James Bond as he travels to Japan to uncover a diabolical plot by SPECTRE's notorious leader (Donald Pleasence's Ernst Stavro Blofeld) - subsequently finds itself adorned with several undeniably needless sequences and set-pieces, including Bond's trip to a ninja training facility and a surprisingly underwhelming dogfight involving several helicopters. Connery's expectedly affable work as the world's most famous secret agent certainly proves instrumental in securing You Only Live Twice's mild success, though it does go without saying that Pleasence's indelible work as Blofeld ("this organization does not tolerate failure") remains the most memorable aspect within the proceedings. Even the over-the-top finale - wherein Bond and a team of ninjas penetrate Blofeld's massive volcano lair - eventually manages to wear out its welcome as a result of its hopelessly padded-out modus operandi, which ultimately does ensure that the film comes off as an awfully minor entry within Connery's 007 run.
Diamonds are Forever
Never Say Never Again