MARK O'CONNELL ON HIS FAVOURITE UNDERRATED BOND FILMS

Mark O'Connell is a comedy writer who has written for sketch, Fringe and development shows (including for Ronnie Corbett). He is currently developing his own sitcoms, and was chosen by London 2012 and BT to be one of the official 'storytellers' of The Olympics. Mark also makes short films - CARRYING DAD won the Lloyds Bank Channel 4 Film Challenge and SKEDADDLE won the Jerwood Film Prize. Mark has been a huge James Bond fan since an early age, and recently published 'Chasing Bullets - Memoirs of a Bond Fan' (2012), an acclaimed and highly enjoyable look at his life growing up as a fan of 007. I spoke to Mark about the Bond films he feels are the most underrated and need more attention.
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (Lewis Gilbert, 1967)
Everyone holds up the likes of GOLDFINGER (1964) and THUNDERBALL (1965) as the best of the '60s Bond films, but YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE is also a very strong Bond film from that decade. In fact, there are probably better Connery films and better Bond films period, but it's my favourite of all the Connery films. I don't think one's favourite has to necessarily be the best.

It's a film that echoes the scope and details of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997). I think it's where the series really started to embrace internationalism, beyond Europe, the US, Jamaica and Nassau. I love the 70mm intentions of the film, and Freddie Young's cinematography is so rich and playful. There's a lot of silver, metal and copper in the film and it is the first Bond film that was particular to its location (Bond's debut foray into the Far East, specifically Hong Kong and Japan). There's a versimilitude to the Japanese location - although there are some stunning shots, it makes the country look pretty but not too pretty. This isn't a travelogue version of Japan. We get fly-overs, motorways, high streets, office blocks, cars and front lobbies. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE has a reverence and respect for foreign (Japanese) culture unique to this film. It makes Japan exotic but alien. It must have been fascinating to see Japan presented in the film when it came out. Japan was a place not really seen in many films.

I also love the fact that, unlike many Bond films, Bond works as a unit (with the Japanese Secret Service), and so it makes sense that Bond has a ninja army at his disposal. There's a very Japanese theme that weaves itself through the film of the dignity of heroes, and how one holds oneself. I have to mention the music, which is just beautiful. A rolling hot lava of a John Barry score.

Connery looks cool and accomplished in the part, and isn't visibly bored as many say. He had nothing left to prove and was relaxed in the knowledge that this was his 'final' Bond film. He did of course come back for a further two films.

As great as it is, it does stretch credibility at times. Apart from a villain's headquarters inside a volcano, of course, my biggest issue is Bond's Japanese make-over (which was from the book). Wouldn't people notice how tall Bond was compared to the average Japanese man?


DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (Guy Hamilton, 1971)
This is the first film in the series that has a very wide palette of characters. Tom Mankiewicz controls his characters well, and there's a reason for everybody's place in the movie. As a comedy writer myself, I find the dialogue absolutely cracking. I particularly like Blofeld (Charles Gray)'s lines and how he's continually defending himself! Gray is my favourite Blofeld - arch, camp and baroque. He really manages to pin down Blofeld's psychosis.

The film presents Vegas as a very neon, urban and modern environment, much like how Tokyo was presented in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Like A VIEW TO A KILL, DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER gets the best out of its American locations, and takes the mickey out of the country as well, with its not-so-smart cops, obsession with cowboys, and Disney (two women who give Bond a good kicking are named Bambi and Thumper).

This is a very kinky, sadistic, nasty Bond film. It's very Andy Warhol the way it looks at America through a sadistic, Pop Art lens. There's a very dark, morbid, funereal sense of humour to the film. There are a lot of deaths of older characters for some reason. The bitterness of the aged vaudeville comedian Shady Tree (Leonard Barr) is indicative of the bitterness that must have been felt by real comics of his generation towards the rise of alternative comics like Lenny Bruce and Michael Carlin.

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER has all the usual accoutrements we expect. Connery isn't as fit, lithe or athletic as he was in the early films, but he's clearly enjoying himself. Ken Adam's design work is stunning. John Barry's score is beautiful - like a porno soundtrack but when porno soundtracks were decent and interesting! Shirley Bassey's anthem sometimes gets played twice a week in my house!

There's a panache to the film and it's quite a feminine film, eg. Connery walking around with a pink tie. It has a shady, early hours of a nightclub kind of vibe which I've always found fascinating. The Bond series survives because it doesn't always do next what people expect. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER's reputation suffers partly because it isn't the sequel to ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) that some fans want.



THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (Guy Hamilton, 1974)
This doesn't feel like Roger Moore's second Bond film. It feels more like his first Bond film. Moore is the one Bond actor who required the least bedding in. It usually takes a new Bond actor three films to fully settle in.

The film is like a checklist of all the traditional elements of a Bond film, but with some small twists such as the lead Bond girls being the first Swedish actresses of the series, and the villain's lair being a tiny island. It does feel like a rushed production (which it was), but it is one of the Bond films that has stayed in the public consciousness for some reason. The film is just a silly caper that allowed the next step in the evolution of the series to happen - the more epic THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) and MOONRAKER (1979). They exhausted all the tropes and cliches in GOLDEN GUN, and then the series had a new lease of life in the next films.

GOLDEN GUN is like a bloated chocolate box of a film, and it's a noticeably sexy and kinky film, probably influenced by the rise of soft-porn films in the early '70s. There's a crisp, clean look to the film and there's a different look to the sets because of the absence of Ken Adam. And like SKYFALL, it's a smaller, more character-oriented film. Christopher Lee's Scaramanga is a very interesting character. He wants to be Bond and even dresses like him. In line with many later Bond films it has Bond battling a Bond gone wrong, and it continues the element of class-bickering and one-upmanship that had begun with GOLDFINGER. It carries on with this idea of the etiquette of killers. I have to mention Maud Adams's death. It's really unsettling, all the more so for being in an otherwise fun and frothy film.

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is one of the easiest of the Bond films to watch, and is not an overwhelming or overblown experience as say THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is.


OCTOPUSSY (John Glen, 1983)
This film was the springboard for everything I've ever done related to Bond. It was the first Bond I ever saw in the cinema and got me hooked into the sense of adventure and the formula of the series. In fact, it got me hooked on cinema, period, and its fantasy and artistry. It was the first film that I was aware was everywhere - on TV, on posters and billboards, and on cereal boxes. It fed into all the other TV shows and films I was interested in at that time - 'Knight Rider', 'The A-Team', RETURN OF THE JEDI, SUPERMAN III.

Maud Adams makes a great Bond girl. She holds herself like a Lauren Bacall figure and has wonderful chemistry with Roger Moore. OCTOPUSSY is actually the most feminine Bond film of all, with its female title character, an island populated entirely by beautiful women and a troupe of female acrobats. It's also the most timeless of all the films, and the least '80s of all the '80s films (apart from the occasional appearance of a Seiko watch!), with its vintage cars, steam trains, hot air balloons, circusses and palaces.

OCTOPUSSY is as visually interesting as it is narratively interesting. It's a great Cold war thriller, with a depth of story. Despite the reputation of the series, there haven't actually been that many Cold War plots in Bond films. Michael G. Wilson co-wrote all the '80s Bond films, and I don't think he gets the consideration he deserves. OCTOPUSSY is very rich in its elements (the Cold War and the issue of detente and East v West/ India and its very different look and culture), and those elements shouldn't mix together well but they do. They were certainly at odds with the TV shows and other films I was interested in, but they made the film more exciting. Wilson was very good at filling two hours with intrigue that wasn't overcomplicated like the Brosnan plots were.

I'm really glad OCTOPUSSY was my first experience of watching a Bond film in the cinema. Who knows what would have happened if FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) or another film had been my first experience?



A VIEW TO A KILL (John Glen, 1985)
I have a lot of personal reasons why I love A VIEW TO A KILL. A lot of fans really dislike this film, but it was the first Bond film I anticipated and I'm not so sure my anticipation was so sated ever again. My grandfather was 'Cubby' Broccoli's chauffeur (he wore the same uniform as Patrick Macnee's character) and worked on the film. 'Cubby''s Rolls Royce, with the numberplate that reads CUB 1, can be seen in the movie. Zorin's airship would fly over my school when they were doing camera and stunt rehearsals. They filmed part of the climax at the Amberley Chalk Pits Museum in West Sussex, not far from where I lived. Much of A VIEW TO A KILL was filmed in San Francisco, which is a city that I have recently grown to love.

There's a real Aaron Spelling-style level of panache, stateliness and grandeur to the film. As with all the best Bond films, everything is slightly magnified, represented well by the poster for the film, with Roger and Grace Jones standing back to back. It's one of the most iconic movie images of the '80s and A VIEW TO A KILL was the most iconic Bond film of the decade, especially for youngsters of my generation.

John Barry's score is one of my favourites. Barry coasting in his sleep is always better than no Barry at all. It was one of the last Bond films to actually film at real locations and spend a lot of time there. There's an immediacy to San Francisco and France that recalls Tokyo in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE or Vegas in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.

I love the fact that no-one is trying to hide Roger Moore's age in the film. Indeed, most of the actors are older people, aside from Tanya Roberts and Fiona Fullerton. Fans of my generation didn't care about Roger's age. He was our Bond. I also like that no-one makes a big deal about the fact that everybody knew this would be Roger's last film as Bond. There's no farewell scene like Q had in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999) or M in SKYFALL (2012).

A VIEW TO A KILL is the most '80s Bond film in the same way LIVE AND LET DIE was the most '70s of that decade's Bond films. The plot concerning Silicon Valley and microchips really pins it to the era. All Bond films are capers that really reward your time, but this film particularly does. We have Bond, as in the previous two films, coming across as an older, wise executor of a state to a woman who is protecting or avenging her father's death or legacy. Zorin (Christopher Walken) and May Day (Grace Jones)'s relationship gets more and more fascinating and bizarre the further you think about it. And the casting of Grace Jones in a Bond film is just perfect. Even back then, Barbara Broccoli had a keen eye for casting. The film takes the 'yuppie' vibe of the era and applies it to Nazism, and Third Reich genetic experiments. It reinvents the Bond template very well and is the last successful 'world in peril' caper of the series.


TOMORROW NEVER DIES (Roger Spottiswoode, 1997)
This is easily the best of Pierce Brosnan's films. It's the tightest and slickest, and is done in that slightly arch YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE/ THE SPY WHO LOVED ME style. The plot is very contemporary with the media baron villain Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) trying to start World War III to simply improve his TV ratings.

I like GOLDENEYE (1995), but I felt that Brosnan didn't always look physically comfortable in the role. He looks his best in this film. Right now, Brosnan is getting the flak Roger Moore got when Timothy Dalton took over. Time will be kind to him. There's a brief moment in the film that to me really sums up Bond, and Brosnan's Bond. Bond is fighting some henchmen in a Hamburg sound-proofed recording studio, and he picks up a glass ashtray, bashes it on the palm of his hand to see how strong it is, and promptly smashes it over a bad guy's head. Another moment I like is Brosnan's disregarding, bemused expression when he finds porno mags and drug paraphernalia in the safe at Carver's Hamburg printing press. If Daniel Craig got the conscience down perfect, Moore the diplomacy, George Lazenby the vulnerability and Dalton the classicism, then Brosnan gets the professionalism down perfectly.

I'm not a big fan of Jonathan Pryce's performance as the villain, but Michelle Yeoh is easily the best Bond girl of the Brosnan era. Her character (Wai Lin) is one of the few Bond girls to actually live up to the hype of being a match for Bond. The film takes no prisoners in bringing her martial arts heritage into it.

TOMORROW NEVER DIES is not too glamorous or exotic, which I like. Hamburg, for example, is all car parks! David Arnold's score is one of his best for the series, partly because it's less influenced by John Barry than his later scores. Sheryl Crow's title theme doesn't fit the movie, and k.d. lang's song ('Surrender') is so much better.

One cannot see any signs of the allegedly troubled production it had. Perhaps the problems and constant re-writing improved the quality of the film. It has a nice balance of drama and action, although one can see Vic Armstrong's second unit is starting to take over the series. A lot of the Bond films lose their way in the final act, but TOMORROW NEVER DIES doesn't. It has a strong narrative, a poise and drive. Roger Spottiswoode directed the film, and he's one of the best filmmakers the series has ever had. He used to edit for Sam Peckinpah and its clear he loves editing and is brilliant at it. It has the pace the early Connerys had. It's the last 'Bond on a mission' movie we've had, and has a cause and effect to the plotting that the next two films lacked. Like the Craig films, TOMORROW NEVER DIES 'earns' its action scenes. When the films don't do this, they start to feel like empty shells. It's also the last film that is happy to be a traditional Bond film. I'd like the series to return to this.


QUANTUM OF SOLACE (Marc Forster, 2008)
This is a very underrated film. If CASINO ROYALE (2006) is a green baize ornament, then QUANTUM OF SOLACE is a slick Mustang of a film. If CASINO is a punch in the face, then QUANTUM is about how that bruise heals.

The decision to hire strong directors like Marc Forster and Sam Mendes (SKYFALL) was an excellent one. The Craig films have successfully attempted to take a side step from the series and yet deliver what people want from a Bond film. I love the changes QUANTUM OF SOLACE and the Craig films have brought to the franchise. In QUANTUM, Bond doesn't bed Camille (Olga Kurylenko). The intercutting and slow-motion of the Tosca sequence is something we've never seen in a Bond movie. CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM both have the mystery of the villain, Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen)/ Dominic Greene (Mathieu Almaric), simply being the Lee Harvey Oswald-like stepping stone to a villainous corporation that we don't know about and perhaps never will. Quantum is too good a ball for the filmmakers to drop. I hope it returns in a future film. I'd love for Quantum to be somehow linked to SPECTRE, and for SPECTRE to return to the series. I wanted SKYFALL to end with Bond spotting a white cat at the airport!

I thought not using Q and Moneypenny in the first two Craig films was a genius move because they weren't needed, and had just become institutions that had been hammered into the ground. That said, I do love how they've been brought back for SKYFALL. I like the fact that the gunbarrel was left until the end of the movie. The lack of an opening gunbarrel upset many Bond fans, particularly online. I know there's a continuity and a history, but it's only 20 seconds of a movie!

QUANTUM OF SOLACE manages to show us parts of the world we've never seen (Latin America), whereas Craig's other two films present a very baroque and recognisable view of Europe. I enjoy the location captions as they bring back the travelogue vibe of Bond that has been undermined by our easy access to international travel.

I've been in a couple of car crashes, and the opening car chase is the only one I've ever felt uneasy watching. The chase is brilliantly and thrillingly filmed, and the decision not to open with a master shot was a great one. I'm really happy the car chase is so short and not 17 minutes long like the pre-credits sequence to THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.

The editing is like a master class in how it is done. Some have complained that the film moves too fast and is confusing. There are a couple of places where the editing is over done, but on the whole it's superb. Peter Hunt's work on the early Bonds was actually sometimes jarring and confusing. I like the fact that it's only after you've finished the film that the pieces of the plot start to fall together.

There is a real economy to the film. You're left wanting more. It feels like a short film. If this was ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, we're barely at Portugal by the time QUANTUM has wrapped up, and the real action hasn't yet kicked in! The economy also applies to the writing, particularly in the final scene in Russia. Bond films always seem to work best when we come in late and leave early. In this film, something has always just happened. We don't see Miss Fields (Gemma Arterton) open her hotel room door to her killers. We don't see Greene's death at the hands of his employers.

America as the corporate vulture circling the carcass of Latin American dictatorships was very interesting. Bond preparing to shoot Camille at her request to put her out of her misery is grim but in a great way. Bond films should be about the underbelly of the side industries of espionage, and I walked out of QUANTUM OF SOLACE feeling like it had a kinship with '70s thrillers like THE PARALLAX VIEW (1974) or something by Brian de Palma.

Visually, QUANTUM OF SOLACE is like a chess game, best represented by the Tosca scene with its white corridors and black tuxedos, and Bond and his opponents unable to move against each other because they are in plain view of the public. The tactics of chess surround the film in a brilliant Flemingesque way. The film has a very contemporary edge, where CASINO ROYALE was very monochromatic and evocative of the past, and SKYFALL straddles both. I, for one, hope that the verve, panache and drive of QUANTUM OF SOLACE returns for the next James Bond film.


I spoke to Mark by telephone on 4th December 2012. I would like to thank him for his time.

Mark's website.   

Chasing Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan can be ordered here.