The Road To Spectre: The Early Connery Years (1962-1964)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'Connery's first performance as Bond is consummately excellent, striking the pleasing tone between lethal secret agent and male chauvinist dinosaur'.

Revisiting the early Bond films now that the series has passed its half century is an experience that proves largely pleasurably, if somewhat eye-opening as to quite how much has both changed and remained exactly the same. Originally released during the first half of the 1960s one year after another (imagine that happening now for any major film series), had the opening three cinematic adventures of MI6 agent 007 James Bond (Sean Connery) for any reason ended up as a trilogy, then they would surely have been considered a solid if somewhat disparate collection of espionage films.

Whilst far more understated than the Bond franchise was set to become, Dr. No introduces early doors a great many of the series' tropes that survive to this day. Connery's first performance as Bond is consummately excellent, striking the pleasing tone between lethal secret agent and male chauvinist dinosaur from his introduction at a casino baccarat table onwards. The plot, centred around 007's investigation of the death of a British Intelligence worker in Jamaica, is fairly straightforward in many respects but builds pleasingly thanks to a slow burning thriller narrative through to the final act.

From his mannerisms to his unnervingly hospitable treatment of prisoners, and complete with elaborate underground HQ, Joseph Wiseman creates the archetypal Bond villain in the eponymous doctor through a performance still influential in this franchise and others alike. Whilst Dr. No's climax feels somewhat underwhelming, with No himself a little too easy for Bond to defeat, director Terence Young's film stands up remarkably well as the series opener.

With Young returning once again to direct, From Russia With Love in several respects picks things up where the first film left off. Whilst only mentioned briefly in the previous film (Dr. No cites himself as a member), criminal organisation SPECTRE is considerably fleshed out during the opening scenes, complete with shady numbered members and a secret training facility on its very own island. This development perhaps underpins From Russia With Love's change of tack from its predecessor: the understatement of Dr. No is lost somewhat, but is ultimately replaced with satisfyingly heightened tension and excitement.

This is especially true during the film's gripping second half, with a superb taut middle act on board the Orient Express followed by memorable climactic action sequences involving both a SPECTRE helicopter and an explosive speedboat chase. The balance feels less assured than before - the first hour takes its time to get going in comparison to the second - but with Connery improving further in the central role and some strong supporting turns from allies and villains alike, From Russia With Love continues the franchise superbly.

Guy Hamilton takes over the series from Young to direct the third instalment, but whilst still widely upheld as the quintessential entry of the whole series, in hindsight Goldfinger is a more problematic film than the first two Bond films. The unforgettable elements are certainly present: the smoothly-executed pre-titles sequence; the first appearance of the souped-up Aston Martin; 007's close call with a metal-cutting laser; and arguably the series' first truly iconic henchman in Oddjob (Harold Sakata). Gert Fröbe cuts a distinctly different nemesis to what the series has thus far led us to expect, with Auric Goldfinger set up as far more human, and arguably more vindictive, than the likes of SPECTRE's villains.

Look beyond these memorable features however, and Goldfinger also contains flaws too prominent to ignore. Whilst Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) provides one of the most memorable deaths of the series that in turn fuels Bond's personal vendetta against Goldfinger early on, her sister Tilly (Tania Mallet) is entirely redundant as a character and contributes to the frustratingly muddled nature of the middle act. Goldfinger's entire speech about his dastardly plan exists only to be overheard by Bond and to dump a huge amount of exposition on the audience; there are also several elements later on which simply rely too heavily on chance to feel credible. Having been undeniably present since the first film, Bond's misogyny also reaches uncomfortable new levels in Goldfinger, the secret agent literally forcing himself upon feisty pilot Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) in a scene in a barn that is likely to be especially uneasy watching for modern viewers.

Objectively speaking, Goldfinger is the weakest of Connery's first three outings as Bond. It's likely that, for many, the film's iconic elements will be enough to make up for its shortcomings, and despite its flaws Goldfinger is undeniably enjoyable for much of its running time. Connery's opening triptych therefore stands up satisfyingly well, putting the series in a strong position to move forwards throughout the remainder of the 1960s and beyond.


Dr. No

From Russia With Love

Goldfinger


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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