Abandon All Bond, Ye Who Enter Here

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Aston Martin DB5, thomas grayI don’t usually do movie reviews, but I when I do, I drink water. And I also usually write them immediately after seeing the film. I did that in this case. The editorial calendar, has the review coming out a month later. On the bright side, at least everyone who watched the movie will have done so by now, so I don’t have to warn you about spoilers.

For James Bond aficionados, there’s always been an obvious choice for “Worst Bond Film Ever.”

Following Sean Connery’s “retirement” after the box office smash You Only Live Twice, the film series’ producer Albert Broccoli had to look for a new Bond. It’s said he considered over 400 actors to become the next incarnation of Ian Fleming’s most famous character, including television’s Batman (Adam West), Oliver Reed (who was already too famous for the role), and future Bond portrayer Timothy Dalton (at the time too young for the role and too afraid to follow in Connery’s footsteps).

Broccoli is said to also have offered Dick Van Dyke the role, at least according to Dick Van Dyke. This isn’t as farfetched as it seems. In 1968, Van Dyke was making the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the screenplay of which was co-written by Roald Dahl (yes, the same guy who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which became Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory on the big screen). By odd coincidence, Dahl had also written the screenplay for You Only Live Twice.

But that’s not the only odd coincidence.

Albert Broccoli produced Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so he knew Dick Van Dyke’s acting chops. So he may very well have been serious about offering Van Dyke the role of MI6’s superspy.

But wait! There’s more!

Dahl’s screenplay for the 1968 movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was based on a novel published in 1964 called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: The Magical Car. Who was the author of this book? None other than Ian Fleming himself.

There’s actually another reason Dick Van Dyke might have been a plausible choice. In 1967, two months before You Only Live Twice hit the movie theaters, Charles Feldman released Casino Royale, a film adapted from Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel.

This first onscreen version of Casino Royale was a camp production starring an ensemble of leading actors and actresses, including David Niven as the now retired original James Bond, a slew of make-believe James Bonds, including Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress (yes, the same actress from Dr. No fame), as well as Woody Allen, who played “Jimmy Bond,” James Bond’s nephew.

Broccoli, who refused to purchase the rights to Casino Royale from Feldman, might have been miffed by the comedy jumping the release of You Only Live Twice. Both did well enough at the box office. Though Broccoli’s effort earned twice as much, Feldman’s movie contained the Academy Award nominated song “The Look of Love” by songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

Perhaps Broccoli briefly flirted with the idea of making his next Bond film a comedy; hence, his reaching out to Dick Van Dyke. Then again, maybe Van Dyke persuaded him that such an effort would no doubt end up being the worst Bond film ever.

Turns out Broccoli accomplished that without the need of Van Dyke’s acting talent.

For On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Broccoli convinced himself a model with no real acting experience (save for appearing in Fry’s Chocolate commercials) by the name of George Lazenby.

How’d that work out?

Think “round peg, square hole.”

It was gratingly bad, and not just because Lazenby (or “The Big Fry” as one of the critics at the time called him) looked totally out of place. The entire script was unBond-like. Here’s why.

Ian Fleming created the paragon of espionage in 1953. At the time, it was apparent to all the British Empire was no more. Fleming was a child of that era. His desire to write a spy novel reflected all he had learned.

Probably not unlike others of his generation, he looked to the past not for some nostalgic bent, but as a hope for the future.

James Bond embodied that hope. He was what every man and boy wanted to be. Cool. Suave. Sophisticated.

And impeccably attractive to all women (and, thanks to Sean Connery, he had “everyman” looks).

Despite his various peccadillos, he had only one true love: his country. It’s the same reason Captain Kirk could never fall in love. He had only one love: his ship.

That’s where On Her Majesty’s Secret Service breaks the mold, and why Lazenby’s lack of confidence only makes it worse. In that film, not only does Bond fall in love, he gets married! So much for his country. (Ironically, the best Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever” followed a similar plot – Kirk falls in love – as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but maybe it’s easier to pull off in science fiction.)

And that only touches the surface of his emotions. James Bond may get mad, but only when some evil character does something in violation of Bond’s vision of the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. That’s the extent of his emotional spectrum. And we can live with that.

For that reason, there’s almost universal agreement (disregarding some recent revisionist reviewers) that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the Worst Bond Film Ever.

Make that, “was.”

There’s a new nadir in the canon. And, as if a subconscious admission of guilt, the current producers of the latest Bond film even reprise Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All The Time In The World” both in the dialog and on the soundtrack. (The song originally appeared in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.)

No Time To Die, while OK as a stand-alone movie, is not a Bond film. Through and through, from the score to the script to the characters, this latest entry into the Bond series seems to want to be a movie, a normal movie, not a Bond movie.

But, alas, it is a Bond movie, and it must be rated on that. There’s no satisfaction. The bad guys don’t die well. There appears to be a greater effort to check all the “woke” boxes rather that check all the “character development” and “consistent plot” boxes.

Worst of all, it strips Bond of its most essential element. All the hope that was Bond is gone. And it’s like it was never there, like the entire premise of the series was a lie. Like a cold slap on the face, the British Empire never existed, neither now nor in the past. It was all a ruse.

Everything you ever lived for was wrong. There is no hope.

Between 1306 and 1321, Dante Alighieri wrote a three volume “poem” (yes, it meets the definition of a poem despite its length). In the first volume, Inferno, Dante paints the gate of Hell as bearing the inscription “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate.”

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Perhaps that phrase should be inscribed at the gates of any movie theater showing No Time To Die.

The good news is the elongated Daniel Craig experiment is over. At times he hit the mark, but too often his lack of cool, debonaire, suave lands too far off the Bond fashioned by Fleming and Broccoli. That was the Bond of hope. That was the Bond who you could count on to escape the inescapable.

That was the Bond that was.

Don’t take my word for it. This is what Dick Van Dyke said about Daniel Craig’s Bond in 2015: “For some reason, he lacks the panache to be Bond for me.”

Take heart, though, Bond fans. There remains one glimmer of optimism. You have to wait for it. You have to sit and watch all the credits. But, in the spirit of Broccoli, it does appear. Like it always has. Dependably. Faithfully. Confidently. Like the master spy himself.

It is these four words:

“James Bond Will Return.”

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