Tag Archives: Bernard Lee

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) Review

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On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Time: 133 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
George Lazenby as James Bond
Diana Rigg as Countess Tracy di Vicenzo
Telly Savalas as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Ilse Steppat as Irma Bunt
Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
George Baker as Sir Hilary Bray
Bernard Lee as M
Director: Peter R. Hunt

James Bond sets out a mission to defeat Blofeld, who hypnotizes beautiful women to fulfil his evil motives. Meanwhile, he also falls in love with a crime lord’s daughter.

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Out of all the James Bond movies I was rewatching, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was one of the films I was most looking forward to. From its reputation, I had heard that it was very different for a Bond movie (even beyond it being the only George Lazenby Bond movie). Not only that, but the latest instalment No Time to Die apparently took a lot from this film, so I was curious to see the similarities. Having watched it, I can confirm that it is now one of my favourites in the series.

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The plot is engaging and suspenseful, and one of the best plots in the franchise; it really is one of the only instances in a Bond movie where the story is really the main focus and importance of the film. It does seem to shy away from some of the silliness and tropes of the previous Bond movies, especially considering that it is after one of the most outlandish instalments in You Only Live Twice. OHMSS feels more grounded at times, while having some of the over the top nature of the past movies. It still follows the formula and is in line with the past movies, yet is handled with a mature sensibility and with some interesting changes. There is a greater sense of emotional weight here, and it adds a surprising amount of depth to Bond. The writing does have its issues, there is a long section with Bond infiltrating Blofeld’s clinic which goes on for a bit too long. The film is paced steadily over the course of the film and while it won’t work for everyone, I liked it generally. That said, it does slow down at times, the Blofeld clinic section being an example. It is a long movie at 2 hours and 20 minutes and outside of a few moments like the aforementioned section, I do generally think it works. For all its starts and stops, the final hour of the movie is so great and satisfying. There’s also the ending which I won’t elaborate on for those who don’t know about it, but it is certainly one of the most unexpected endings for a Bond movie and is surprisingly impactful.

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In 1967, Sean Connery quit the role of James Bond, leading George Lazenby to be the next Bond. Being the next actor to play Bond following Connery is not easy by any means. It doesn’t help that this is Lazenby’s first acting role, and this is his first and only time playing Bond. A lot of people’s biggest issue with OHMSS is George Lazenby as Bond, with many finding him to be wooden. I can certainly see that, and there are definitely some issues with his performance. He’s not quite as charismatic as Connery, and while he’s great in some scenes, there’s definitely others where he comes across as rather stiff. That said, I still think Lazenby is good overall. At the very least he doesn’t try to do an impression of Connery, his take on the character is more relatable and sympathetic in comparison He does very well at the drama; he’s convincingly vulnerable and empathetic, yet suave. That’s not to say that Connery couldn’t pull off the more vulnerable scenes, but it is admittedly hard to imagine his Bond playing the more emotional scene, or indeed genuinely falling in love like Lazenby’s Bond does here. Additionally, I think he is even better than Connery with the action and fight scenes on a physical level. I’d probably place him as the worst actor who played Bond, but he’s not bad by any means. A great aspect of this movie is its Bond girl Tracy, as played by Diana Rigg. She’s not only one of the best Bond girls especially with how she’s written and her involvement in the plot, Rigg’s performance is great and really adds a lot to the character and movie. The romance between her and Bond is very believable and is a highlight. Another notable aspect of the movie is Blofeld, with Donald Pleasence not reprising his role after playing him in You Only Live Twice, instead casting Telly Savalas in the part. It does make sense however since Blofeld is very physical and hands on in this movie, so it required a more physically capable actor. While I might be in the minority on this, I think this is the best version of Blofeld. It is a little weird when you consider the general portrayal of the character, here Blofeld even repurposed himself as a count. However, he is formidable and threatening despite his absurd plan, and I thought he was great.

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Peter R. Hunt directs OHMSS and his work here is strong, the style is very different to the other movies in the franchise in a great way. It is one of the best-looking Bond films, at the very least it is the absolute best looking up to this point in the series. The action sequences are exciting, featuring some of the best fight scenes in the series up to that point. The ski chase scenes have a sense of scale and a lot of energy. The stunts are great, and the climax is very satisfying. As usual, John Barry’s score is excellent. The main theme is particularly great, which plays over the opening credits. Also the use of Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time In The World” was incredibly effective.

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On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has its issues for sure. The middle act can be a little slow and while I think George Lazenby made for a good James Bond, there definitely was some room for improvement regarding his performance. Otherwise, I think it’s definitely one of the best James Bond movies, best Bond movie at that point in the series at the very least. The more personal and emotional take with the story and characters, the direction and action all comes together to form a very satisfying and unique Bond film.

You Only Live Twice (1967) Review

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You Only Live Twice

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] 
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Akiko Wakabayashi as Aki
Mie Hama as Kissy Suzuki
Tetsurō Tamba as Tiger Tanaka
Teru Shimada as Mr. Osato
Karin Dor as Helga Brandt/No. 11
Donald Pleasence as Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Bernard Lee as M
Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny
Desmond Llewelyn as Q
Director: Lewis Gilbert

An American space capsule supposedly gets abducted by a Russian spaceship. However, as James Bond discovers that SPECTRE is responsible for it, he embarks on a mission to unearth the motive behind it.

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I didn’t know how they would hold up today, but I found myself pleasantly surprised with the Sean Connery era. However with the fourth movie Thunderball, I was rather disappointed and found it okay at best. I wasn’t sure about how the next movie You Only Live Twice would fare. Having seen it, I would not call it a good movie; it is really silly and I would not place it as the better half of James Bond, but I got a lot of enjoyment out of it.

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This script (co-written by Roald Dahl of all people) is undeniably silly. Goldfinger and Thunderball leaned into the silliness and camp, but YOLT takes it steps further. It is one of the goofier James Bond movies for sure, and was by far the goofiest at that point in the series. You can definitely tell the early signs of the series moving towards the Roger Moore era. YOLT is less of a political spy thriller and more of a silly action adventure; While this won’t work for everyone and might get too crazy for some in the second half, I found it entertaining in the wackiness and absurdity, even if it borders on self-parody. It helped that You Only Live Twice is self aware, it doesn’t play it straight faced by any means. The tone feels lighter, rather than having a serious spy plot with out of place humour. It also benefits from tight pacing and a lot of creative and ambitious moments within. Out of the Bond movies, the Austin Powers movies definitely took the most from You Only Live Twice, and it kind of makes sense when watching it.

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Although I thoroughly enjoyed You Only Live Twice, it is far from being problem free. Despite its enjoyable silliness, the story really is lacking, especially when compared to some of the previous Bond movies. There are certainly sequences and parts that are memorable, but I can’t say that the movie is memorable on the whole. Finally getting to it, You Only Live Twice is very problematic, in fact it’s probably one of the most problematic of the Bond movies and that’s saying something. There are some very weird undercurrents with its racial and gender policies. Despite being considerably less rapey here compared to Bond’s appearance in Thunderball, there really is an air of misogyny and sexism throughout that is prevalent. Then there’s the very weird racial politics. It’s pretty clear that the producers were fascinated with Japanese culture in this instalment, and wanted to make the most out of the setting, and with that came with all the stereotypes including ninjas, sumo wrestling, and Japanese-face. There’s no nice way of putting it, Bond does yellowface, which strangely makes him look more like a Vulcan than actually Asian. It is by far one of the most embarrassing moments of James Bond, and again that’s saying something.

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While Sean Connery is enjoyable to watch as James Bond as usual, compared to many of the previous films his work isn’t all that special here. He seemed a little bored and worn down, and it makes total sense that another actor played Bond after this movie. Still, he has his moments. Some of the returning Bond actors are good, like Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn as Q, and Bernard Lee as M, and some of the other main supporting actors in the film are decent too. However the highlight for me is Ernst Stravo Blofeld, the main villain and the recurring antagonist for Bond as the head of SPECTRE. From his first appearance in From Russia with Love, the leader of the criminal organisation has had his face obscured, now we finally get to see the man, and the payoff was strong. Now I wouldn’t call Blofeld one of the all-time best villains by any means, I wouldn’t even say he’s the best Bond villain, however I do really like him. Part of it has to do with Donald Pleasence’s wonderful performance, who is riding a fine line. He is perfectly over the top and cartoonish (fitting for a character who has an evil lair in a volcano with a piranha pool death trap), yet still menacing. He is a memorable character, and you can definitely see why tat Dr Evil from Austin Powers was based specifically off this version of Blofeld. In some ways he is underutilised in the movie, you only see him in the final act. But I don’t think he would’ve been as effective otherwise.

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Lewis Gilbert directs You Only Live Twice, it is the first of three Bond movies he would make. It definitely loses the grounded aspects from the past movies to focus more on the action, and considering the absurd plot, it was worth it. The action set pieces are pretty good, there are some large scale sequences, including a mini helicopter chase and an elaborate set piece at Blofeld’s rocket base. The setting of Japan was a good change for a James Bond movie, on a visual level at least. There are some great locations and environments, and the film definitely takes advantage of them. It’s quite visually impressive, helped by the amazing set design. The look of the volcano lair in particular is immaculate and impressive, ranking among the best production designs for the Bond movies. The visual effects can be very uneven, but then again, it’s a 60s Bond movie, so that’s to be expected. Finally, John Barry’s musical score is typically great.

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You Only Live Twice is not exactly one of the most beloved of the James Bond movies. The plot isn’t the best, it’s a bit too silly for its own good at points, and it is undeniably problematic with its racial and gender politics. However, I still found it to be very entertaining. I enjoyed it more than Thunderball at least, especially with how over the top and absurd it is, and there are some enjoyable set pieces. I would probably place it as being mid-tier Bond, but nonetheless fun to watch.

From Russia with Love (1963) Review

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From Russia with Love

Time: 115 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Pedro Armendáriz as Ali Kerim Bey
Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb
Robert Shaw as Donald “Red” Grant
Bernard Lee as M
Daniela Bianchi as Tatiana Romanova
Director: Terence Young

James Bond searches for a Lektor cryptographic device that has the potential to wreak havoc in the world and stops SPECTRE, a secret crime organisation, from acquiring it.

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In my rewatches of the James Bond movies, I was looking forward to From Russia with Love, that’s because of the official Bond movies, that’s the only one I never watched. I did hear some people declare it as one of the Best Bond movies, especially of the Connery era. I finally watched it and liked it, at the very least it is definitely a level above the previous movie Dr No.

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Dr No was a very lowkey Bond movie compared to many of the later movies in the series, with heavy emphasis on the spy aspect. From Russia with Love is similar in that regard, but is better in every way. The plot is a Cold War mission, focussing more on espionage and spycraft than world ending schemes. There aren’t many Bond-esque gadgets, but James Bond does have a suitcase with many tricks, which proves to be useful. From Russia with Love isn’t quite like the Bond movies that you would expect yet, but it is definitely steps closer to the formula in the series. Plotwise, it can be a bit convoluted, but it made for a good movie and was well constructed. Also, whereas parts of Dr No’s story can be shaky, FRWL feels a lot more confident, they upped the scope and scale here. I found the plot to be interesting, mysterious and intriguing. It is a slow burn, it’s quite Hitchcockian in parts with some tense sequences, especially with a particular section on a train. The tone is serious and the film is fairly grounded, but also has some good moments of humour. It definitely has outdated aspects in the writing, but it mostly works.

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Sean Connery returns of the role of James Bond and once again is great, he’s even better here than in the last movie. It’s a more confident performance, he’s charismatic, convincingly deadly, and has plenty of witty one liners. His interpretation of the character definitely has limitations given the writing, but for what it is, he’s good. There is a better cast of characters compared to the last movie, it even has the first appearance of Q as played by Desmond Llewelyn. Daniela Bianchi is the Bond girl this time, playing Tatiana Romonova. While her story arc doesn’t have much to it (especially considering that this is an early 60s Bond movie), she’s integral to the plot, endearing and felt like a real person, along with sharing good chemistry with Connery. There’s not much depth to the villains but they are better than in the last movie. In the last movie, the antagonist Dr No mentions he’s a part of SPECTRE and that criminal organisation gets more presence here. The secretive leader Blofeld is barely seen but still has a strong presence in his scenes. The main two villains are memorable in their parts; Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb as a higher up of SPECTRE, and Robert Shaw as the first Bond henchman Red Grant, who hunts him down over the course of the movie. The latter particularly shines when he finally meets with Bond.

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Dr No director Terence Young returns to direct, and his work is definitely a step up from the last movie. You can tell that he has a much higher budget here. The action set pieces are grander and feel more fleshed out. There’s particularly a fight on a train that feels very real and is likely one of the best fights in the series. The editing and cinematography are also improved here. Some technical aspects are flawed like the ADR and some continuity errors, but that’s mostly to do with it being a movie from the 60s, you can expect little things like those.

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From Russia with Love is an improvement over the first movie in every respect, with the writing, characters, performances and the directing. It’s an effective espionage spy thriller with some great sequences. It’s a really good movie and definitely on the better side of the Bond movies.

Dr. No (1962) Review

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Dr. No

Time: 109 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains low level violence
Cast:
Sean Connery as James Bond
Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder
Joseph Wiseman as Dr. Julius No
Jack Lord as Felix Leiter
Bernard Lee as M
John Kitzmiller as Quarrel
Anthony Dawson as Professor R.J. Dent
Zena Marshall as Miss Taro
Eunice Gayson as Sylvia Trench
Director: Terence Young

Agent 007 decides to battle against an eccentric scientist, Dr No, who is determined to ruin the US space programme. For this purpose, he journeys to Jamaica to nip in the bud this megalomaniac peril.

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After No Time to Die I decided to rewatch the pre-Craig James Bond movies in the most illogical order, going backwards from Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan all the way back to Sean Connery and George Lazenby. Going to the Sean Connery movies was interesting, especially with seeing how the franchise started. The first film, Dr. No, is definitely very dated and I wouldn’t call it among the best Bond movies by any means. However it is pretty good and held up better than I expected.

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Having watched the post Connery Bond movies, it was interesting seeing how the Bond trademarks began on film. The James Bond movies are known for being over the top but Dr. No is not that overly campy. In fact, it is surprising how low key and simple its beginning is, Bond’s first movie is more of a proper espionage spy thriller more intrigue than large explosions. Many of the Bond trademarks aren’t here, no Q, no gadgets (outside of a gun), and no globetrotting (it takes place largely in Jamaica). As such, it was very interesting to watch. It also has a 60s old school charm to it which made it endearing to watch, even if it is outdated in many ways. I will admit that I wasn’t fully invested in the story. The pacing is all over the place, the plot can meander quite often, and the middle part of the movie is generally boring. Also, I found the conclusion to the movie to be rather disappointing.

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Sean Connery makes his debut as James Bond, he was the first actor to play him. He makes a strong impression; he is suave and delivers the witty lines excellently. At the same time, he is very believable as a dark character and cold blooded killer, being particularly realistic in the action scenes with his physicality. Connery also benefits from being front and centre in this movie. Generally, the rest of the cast are pretty good if underutilised. Ironically the weakest link is Dr. No himself, as played by Joseph Wiseman. Problematic casting and yellowface aside, the main villain shows up with 30 minutes left of the runtime. While those types of villains can work, Dr. No doesn’t leave much of an impression outside of having metal hands and apparently being really smart. Even some of the side villains like the assassins pretending to be blind are fairly weak as antagonists go.

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Terence Young directs Dr. No, and his work is pretty good. They definitely had a lower budget here compared to the later Bond movies, but they still pulled off a fair amount. Some of the technical elements still hold up well surprisingly. The green screen is definitely dated but otherwise it has good production designs and makes use of the locations in Jamacia. There are also some impressive set pieces with good action scenes. This movie also introduces the iconic James Bond theme by John Barry. The one problem is that the theme is used a bit too much throughout the movie, almost to the point of parody.

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I wouldn’t call Dr. No by any means one of the best Bond movies. It is definitely dated from a technical and writing perspective, and it can be pretty slow and boring at times, especially in the second act. However, it is definitely one of the most unique entries of James Bond considering its before it became a large and successful franchise. It’s interesting seeing it as a relatively gritty spy thriller with a focus on espionage. Additionally, it was directed well, and Sean Connery is great as James Bond.