Published on October 23rd, 2015 | by Greg Payne0
Painful Experiences In Bond-Age: The Worst 007 Moments
We James Bond fanatics are a forgiving bunch. Our popcult love for the beloved character and film series is such that we’re willing to explain away a lot of stuff in the canon, whether it’s the unsettling casual racism (“Quarrel, fetch me my shoes!” [Dr. No]) jaw-dropping sexism (“Say goodbye to Felix, Dink. Man talk.” [Goldfinger]), or more benignly, crap rear-projection or model work (take your pick). Not to mention the “paint him brown and he’ll pass as Japanese” scene in You Only Live Twice, which practically deserves an essay of its own. For a supposedly enlightened generation, this kind of thing causes its share of uncomfortable seat-shifting and “Look, it was the sixties, for Pete’s sake!” rationalization.
As part of Need to Consume’s James Bond retrospective surrounding the release of SPECTRE, each movie’s most politically inappropriate moment has already been cited in the respective film’s coverage, so for the purposes of this sidebar article I’ll consider that topic covered to death, which lightens the load a bit, but poses its own challenges. It would be easy enough to wax endlessly on the “Bye, Dink”s. Rather, here we’re going to list off an arguable Top Five of the worst head-shaking, pinch the bridge of your nose in embarrassed disgust, hearty sigh, “tell me why I’m a fan again?” dopey moments in the Bond series, the ones that show some combination of writer/director/producing team asleep at the switch or simply not caring enough to rescue a scene from terminal idiocy.
“Hello, I’m Auric Exposition!”
The Bond series may in fact be part of a longer tradition of it, but what Roger Ebert described as The Fallacy of the Talking Killer became part of our filmic vocabulary thanks to 007’s adversaries, even if it’s not quite as common as you might expect. “Now that you’re about to die, let me tell you about my plan,” is one of those cinematic tropes that’s worked its way into the zeitgeist without a ton of serious examples to back it up. Still, Goldfinger contains one of the most memorable, as it exists solely as an info-dump for the audience’s sake and makes zero sense from a plot standpoint.
To set it up, our villain Auric Goldfinger has assembled a cabal of American gangster types in his study (you can tell that’s what they are in this 1964 movie because they mostly wear pinstriped suits and fedoras, much the same way robbers always saunter into banks in black and white striped shirts), the underworld figures who have been hired to assemble the components of this caper, so that he can unleash a prop-heavy diorama/lightshow explaining his plan to break into Fort Knox using nerve gas and explosives. This is a room in which Goldfinger has had built at no doubt no small expense, a scale model of Fort Knox and its surrounding acreage, not to mention a spinning pool table that flips over into a control panel. Bond’s listening below, underneath the model centerpiece. Goldfinger leaves the room and…all ventilation is sealed and the nerve gas is pumped in, killing the gangsters. Which begs the question: why bother with the show and tell? Simple answer: because both Bond and the audience needed to be brought up to speed before the climax, and Richard Maibaum had written himself into a corner.
The Man With The Golden Gun has examples a’plenty of utter rubbish from which to choose, from the notion that the villain’s plan is to hold the world supply of solar power hostage (if I’m parsing things correctly) to the secret base that’s staffed by one single technician in a tight t-shirt and a big ‘fro (sidebar: 1974 was weeeeeeird). But what causes me personally the strongest pain every time I slog through this dreary, sweltering “attempt to knock off chop socky flicks while espousing pro-environmental messages” mess of a story is the sudden and totally unwelcome appearance of possibly the most annoying and offensive minor character in the series, brought back at the expense of all plot logic and viewer sanity. Yessireebob, I’m a’ talkin’ ‘bout one Sheriff J.W. Pepper of the Louisiana State Po-lice.
Played by Clifton James in a long bit of misguided local colour in Live and Let Die, the walking redneck stereotype stole all of his scenes, but not in a good way. His grating, shrieking drawl was meant as comic relief in a film that was already leaning hard into the more comedy-driven tone it would adopt for the seventies, but even then must have played as an impossibly broad caricature. And then one movie later, here he is again on vacation in Thailand, because xenophobic Southern bigots love to expand their horizons by traveling to the third world, at the exact moment that James “That English guy! From England!” Bond is passing through. Just as Bond needs to commandeer a car for the movie’s requisite chase sequence, guess who’s thinking about giving one a test-drive? Yup, there’s Bubba again, car shopping. On vacation in Thailand. Even for escapist entertainment, there’s a line that one crosses into contempt for the audience, and the early seventies snorted that line with gusto.
Anyway, there’s one bright spot to the J.W. Pepper scene, but you just know they couldn’t leave well enough alone…
“I know I left that sound effects record around here somewhere…”
This one’s a twofer. If TMWTGG is remembered for anything other than Christopher Lee’s third nipple and Hervé Villechaize as his butler (and you thought Goldie was stunt casting in The World is Not Enough?), it’s for a chase scene with the kind of stunt for which the series is justifiably revered. When the Hornet Hatchback piloted by Bond gets to a shattered bridge, he launches the car in a brilliant mid-air corkscrew from one side to the other, in a manoeuvre that had to utilize the Cornell University computers to calculate. One shudders at the thought of piles of punch cards and deafening whir of miles of magnetic tape. No matter, even now, it’s a terrific stunt. Or, it would be…if the producers had listened to their better angels and left off the slide whistle sound effect which reduces the automotive feat to the class of a lesser Looney Tune.
The same impulse to tinker also soiled a scene in (IMHO) Roger Moore’s most underrated outing as Bond, Octopussy (I’m really curious to read my fellow NtC writer’s take on that film). Running for his life through the Indian jungle away from Kamal Khan’s palace, in a surprisingly tense scene for this late in Moore’s ownership of the role, at one point Bond escapes his pursuers by swinging through the frame on a vine, Tarzan-style. Complete with Tarzan yell, as if the mood hadn’t already been shattered enough.
“These trousers: press a button, turn into jam. Why?”
Many viewers of the Bond series craved the exotic travel and the endless parade of consequence-free sex enjoyed by Agent 007, but for many, the real “if only…” element of the series was Q division and their amazing arsenal. Whenever Bond would saunter into the Quartermaster’s shop after getting his assignment, or Desmond Llewelyn would appear at initial mission briefing with a box, waiting his turn to speak, or his department would set up an equipment testing facility at a Brazilian monastery because that’s an effective use of MI-6’s travel budget, there was a little rush of “here comes the good stuff!” We all wanted those things: who wouldn’t crave to be behind the wheel of an Aston Martin tricked out with ejector seats, heat-seeking missiles and six beverage cup holders? On the other hand, Q had his notable failures from time to time. Take On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which Q’s two items of note are radioactive pocket lint (lets the Service track their agents while rendering them sterile, I suppose) and a safe-cracking device that’s so huge it requires a Swedish crane to transport, even though Bond had one that could fit in his pocket just one movie previously. There was License to Kill and the Polaroid camera that took x-ray pictures but simultaneously fired a glass-cracking laser beam, so you could…incinerate whatever it is you’re seeing through?
Then again, devices that betray a total lack of understanding on the part of the writers as to how physics work are great as well. Take the voice simulator from Diamonds are Forever. Now technically, we may not be able to lay the fault for this one entirely at Major Boothroyd’s feet, as he may have reverse-engineered one off of Blofeld’s model, but this is a device that alters one’s voice over the phone (plausible), and apparently also in person, as evidenced by the scenes in which Blofeld and Bond use the machine, and witnesses in the room hear them talking in the modified voice. Umm…that’s not how vocal cords work!
Make it stop make it stop make it stop….
Pretty much anything after the admittedly cool hotel scene in Hong Kong from Die Another Day, in which Bond, looking like Robinson Crusoe and dressed only in sopping wet pyjamas, saunters into the ritziest hotel in the city and is immediately set up in the Presidential Suite. The look he gives the bellhop when asked if he has a credit card is almost enough to elevate the scene above all the other headdesking moments in the franchise in which a covert, undercover, secret bleeding agent is recognized with his real name by foreign intelligence agents, journalists, diamond smugglers and bartenders across the northern hemisphere.
And then…there’s the most chemistry-free meet cute in twenty films, as Halle Berry pleads to have her Oscar taken away. There’s a clinic in Cuba doing “DNA replacement therapy” because the stupidity of previous sci-fi dabblings just hasn’t made an impression on the Purvis & Wade writing tag-team. There’s Michael Madsen, looking like he wandered onto the wrong set. There’s a gratuitous cameo by Madonna who for once couldn’t be bothered to use that horrific mid-Atlantic accent she adopted for a few years in the aughts. And then…then…. (whimpers) please don’t make me say it.
The. Invisible. Car.
The James Bonding podcast has posited that the series engages in periodic self-correction after episodes that go egregiously over the top. Hence You Only Live Twice and Moonraker were both followed by more grounded and gritty thrillers, and the excesses of Die Another Day, among other factors, led directly to a scrap-everything reboot that succeeded creatively beyond everyone’s expectations. So if there’s a silver lining to the movie in which James Bond parasails out of the path of a space laser, battles a white North Korean Iron Man at the climax and in between drives around a melting ice hotel in the —- invisible car (see how it’s nearly impossible to even say the phrase without inserting a certain epithet before it?), it’s that on some level it forced a rethink that brought us to the wondrous heights of Casino Royale and Skyfall.
Now we just wait with bated breath for Daniel Craig’s fifth outing. If he goes into outer space in 2018, I quit.
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