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Bond Directors at their Best

August 8, 2014

There’s a lot of online debate as to who was the best actor to play James Bond. There’s a lot less, I suspect, as to who was the best director the Bond series ever had. I don’t intend to try and answer that question here, but I do want to draw attention to the directors who worked on some of the early and middle films. Dating back to the time when Pierce Brosnan revived the series as Bond, the convention has been to use a different director from film to film. The exceptions would be Martin Campbell, who directed two films, and Sam Mendes, who is currently directing his second. When the Bond series began, most of the directors helmed several films each, and thus set a fairly consistent tone for the series. Terence Young directed three films, Guy Hamilton four, Lewis Gilbert three and John Glen holds the record with five. Below I’ve embedded a clip and brief description of some of the best work of Young, Hamilton, Gilbert and Glen. I’ve tried to find scenes which exemplify the romanticism and fantasy of the series, some of which I think has been lost with recent emphasis on torture and Daniel Craig’s moody, introspective Bond.

Thunderball (1965) – Terence Young

As Fiona Volpe, Luciana Paluzzi played the greatest villainess the series has ever seen and her demise, a dance of death with Sean Connery’s Bond only a few hours after they sleep together with ‘the gun […] under the pillow the whole time’, is a wonderfully playful and wicked scene. Paluzzi retired from acting in the 1970s after never quite making the front rank, another example of the Bond girl curse. Such a shame. She was certainly one of the most compelling and sexiest actresses to have appeared in the series.

You Only Live Twice (1967) – Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert directed three of the most spectacular films in the Bond series: You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). There were times when the spectacle swamped the creativity, such as in the Amazon boat chase in Moonraker when Bond is simply pushing the buttons on his gadgets to take out the bad guys. At his best though, Gilbert could perfectly convey the escapist fantasy of the series, such as in this scene from You Only Live Twice when Bond visits the Kobe docks with the Japanese agent Aki and ends up being pitted against a seemingly endless series of henchmen. I love the moment when the fight moves to the rooftop and the camera pans away to capture the full breadth of the scene. Magic.

Live and Let Die (1973) – Guy Hamilton

Guy Hamilton directed two Sean Connery Bond films– Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds are Forever (1971)– and two starring Roger Moore, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Perhaps the greatest moment from his four films comes in Live and Let Die: when Bond finds himself surrounded by crocodiles, he has to employ an inventive method of escape. Even the unflappable Roger Moore looks scared near these things and bear in mind no stuntman would ever be asked to do this today. It wouldn’t be quite as impressive with CGI crocodiles that’s for sure:

Licence to Kill (1989) – John Glen

Ok, ok, Licence to Kill was the film that ushered in much of the sadistic violence of the later films. Still, it was Glen’s fifth consecutive Bond film and the last film he directed in the series. It’s a film that still possesses some of that old movie magic. I can just imagine how the screenwriters came up with this scene: ‘We start with Bond shooting a guy on a boat, then he jumps underwater while the bad guys are shooting at him, has a fight with some scuba divers and escapes by water skiing behind a plane. Then the plane takes off with him holding onto the wings, he climbs inside throws out the bad guys and is on his way. Got that?’

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2014 7:20 pm

    Love Bond. I read the books even before I saw the films. Fleming was certainly a big influence too. I thought it rather churlish when James Ellroy recently dismissed Fleming as a racist. I never saw that myself, but re reading with modern eyes certain parts of the Bond books are certainly “of their time.”

    • August 13, 2014 7:27 pm

      Thanks Tony,

      I didn’t know about Ellroy’s comments on Fleming until you drew my attention to them. I think Ellroy was rather unfair on that point. Many WWII veterans carried some strong feelings about other races into civvy life. They were of their time and it’s wrong to judge too harshly by today’s standards.

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