I have been a fan of James Bond for over 30 years. In middle school I bought the movies, books, records, and even a role-playing game manual. I wrote a paper in eighth grade on the history of James Bond. Once I was old enough to see the movies on my own, I have seen every Bond film from Goldeneye to Spectre, and I am going to see No Time To Die in the theater with my mask on.
2020 was a bad year for the Bond franchise. On March 8th Max Von Sydow passed. Many people don’t think of him when it comes to the Bond franchise, but he did play Ernst Stravo Blofeld in Never Say Never Again. His most famous roles, and the roles that touched me the most, deal both with good and evil, God and the Devil. He played devout Father Merrin in The Exorcist. I have never seen that movie because I am too squeamish.
I am going to discuss two of his roles almost 30 years apart. The first is Jesus in 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told. It is not my favorite movie based on Jesus Christ. I find it bloated and filled with unnecessary stunt casting. But Von Sydow, I think was the only actor to capture His glory as much as any human can. From the scene in which John The Baptist, played by Charlton Heston, baptizes Him to the Crucifixion, he characterizes Jesus with a divine beauty, frustration with humanity, sadness and hope in a way no actor has done before or since.
The role of Leland Gaunt from 1993’s Needful Things is a complete 180 from Jesus. Gaunt is a demon in the disguise of an owner of an antique store who can get someone anything they want, as long as they do a small favor for him. Usually the favor will hurt one of their neighbors. He watched as his evil work allows the small town of Castle Rock to destroy itself. The way he delivers the lines is awesome. He is both elegant and vulgar in the same sentence. Two of my favorite lines are, “You are disgusting, I like that in a person.” and “The Carpenter from Nazareth, I knew Him well. Promising young man. He died badly.” I wonder if the screenwriter put that line in because of Von Sydow having played Jesus Christ.https://youtu.be/hKCJxsO1jt8 is the trailer to Needful Things. I am going to read the book again, and I know that when I read it I will be hearing Max Von Sydow’s voice.
On April 5th Honor Blackman passed away. She had many films to her credit, but she will always be in the minds of Bond fans, the one and only Pussy Galore. She was one of the strongest Bond girls. One of her first lines, “You can turn off the charm, I am immune.”says it all. She is a strong woman who happens to be working for the enemy, Auric Goldfinger. One of the best fight scenes in any Bond film is the one in Goldfinger’s stables when Bond and Pussy have a violent roll in the hay. Pussy does come around and betrays Goldfinger but the main reason is not because of Bond’s charms but because she learns that Goldfinger was going to use deadly gas in his Fort Knox heist. I think that after Punky Brewster, Honor Blackman was my 3rd celebrity crush.
On September 10th the world lost an acting treasure and my second celebrity crush. Diana Rigg played my favorite Bond girl of all time. Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo was, like Pussy, a strong woman, who could go toe to toe with Bond. She was also the first Bond girl who left James Bond waking up in an empty bed. With Lazenby’s and Rigg’s performances you could honestly believe that Bond was falling in love and was willing to spend the rest of his life with one woman. That is what made her death all the more tragic.
She is also known for the role of Emma Peel. I watched The Avengers when I was young and I fell in love with the character. Rigg gave her class, mischievousness, and a mean right kick. My favorite episode was Epic. Emma Peel was kindnapped by a crazed film director and had to use her cunning, seductive wiles, and her fists and feet to defeat him. https://youtu.be/LVySPFWhmVE the episode Epic.
On September 21st actor Michael Lonsdale passed away. Now Moonraker is not the best Bond film. It is basically “Let’s do a James Bond in space because Star Wars was so popular.” In it the silent and strong Jaws makes a face turn and speaks. It is basically a remake of The Spy Who Loved Me but in outer space instead of in water. It is hard to work with a hackneyed script, but Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax makes him a compelling villain. I think that he is unfairly maligned because he was in one of the worst Bonds ever made
Drax: Bond, you defy all my attempts to plan an amusing death for you. You’re hardly a sportsman, so why did you break off the encounter with my pet python?
Bond: I discovered she had a crush on me.
And this one, Drax: Jaws, Mr. Bond must be cold after his swim. Place him where he can be assured of warmth.
And he also has one of the best Bond villain lines after “No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”, “Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.” He makes these lines work. Rest In Peace.
On October 5th Margaret Nolan passed. She had a small role in Goldfinger as the masseuse Dink. What I didn’t know until I was doing research for this blog was that she also modeled in the title sequence. It is one of the best title sequences of the Sean Connery era. Projecting footage from the first three films on the body of Nolan in a gold bikini was genius. I wish that she got more credit for that. The producers only wanted her to be the credit model but she wouldn’t agree unless she had a role in the film, thus creating Dink. https://www.007james.com/articles/the_making_of_the_goldfinger_title_sequence.php
And of course, on October 31st we lost Sean Connery. Few actors can be called national treasures, and even fewer international treasures. Sean Connery was one. Shining in every movie he was in, even Highlander 2 The Quickening, he set the stage for all the Bonds who would follow. The charm, the brutality, and the cultural snobbery that was James Bond started with Sean Connery. His hits included: Dr. No when Bond brutally killed Professor Dent, his fight with Red Grant in From Russia With Love, his verbal sparring with Auric Goldfinger with a laser point nearing his crotch, and the campiness of Diamonds are Forever, and many scenes in between.
Even though he did Never Say Never Again, his James Bond will forever be in the 1960s to me. He also had a storied career after he left the franchise. In the late 1980s and 90s, he had a strong revival. He won an Oscar for his performance as Jim Malone in The Untouchables. He played the Soviet submarine commander in Hunt For Red October. He was the only actor, I believe who could have played Indiana Jones’ father in The Last Crusade. His vulgar thief, John Mason, in The Rock was so fascinating. He stole the movie from Nicolas Cage and spawned a wicked parody in Saturday Night Live’s Celebrity Jeopardy sketches.
Some of his best lines are: “Absolutely stunning.”, “He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That is the Chicago way”, “In this sort of race, there’s no silver medal for finishing second.”, “Your best! Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and Fu## the prom queen.” From any other actor these lines would just be lines. But Sean Connery had the knack with his Scottish brogue to make any line pure gold. You will be missed, Sean Connery.
In my next blog, I will cover those that made me laugh that passed this year.
If you would like to share your Memories of these greats, please leave a comment. I would love to hear your memories.