196-200: Dr.No, From Russia, Goldfinger, Thunderball, Live Twice

James Bond has never been my so-called thing, but I remember really liking some of these movies as a kid. So with the release of Skyfall, which I did not very much like, I decided to watch all the James Bond movies in chronological order, because also there still are some blank spots in the world’s most favorite secret agent. By now I have watched the first five installments. Here’s in a nutshell what I thought about them.

196: Dr. No

dr-noI had never really finished watching Dr. No. I just didn’t find it all that interesting. And that sentiment didn’t exactly change when I watched it this time. I found it all to be incredibly silly with James Bond being more misogynist than I remembered from earlier viewings. The whole concept of Dr. No sitting on this “cursed” island waiting to exact his punishment on the American space program, all the while being protected by an armored tank disguised as a fire spewing dragon was a little bit too much for me. I have never read any of the Fleming books and I expect them to be just as silly.

197: From Russia with Love

from-russia-with-loveThis is where the real spy series takes off in my opinion. As a direct sequel to Dr. No it handles with the aftermath of everything that transpired in that far off island in the Caribbean. This time the Russians are brought into the mix with some honest to God spying going on. Plus we get trained assassins, great fights and nice gadgets. And we see Bond’s womanizing ways being used against him for the first time. I found From Russia with Love to be a much more mature movie than Dr. No with less silliness and more spy fun.

198: Goldfinger

goldfingerWith Goldfinger the series departs the SPECTRE storyline for a while (because Thunderball was still mired in legal troubles) to pursue Auric Goldfinger and his outlandish henchman Oddjob. Bond has to prevent Goldfinger from robbing Fort Knox in a strange but exhilarating raid on the highly defended facility in Kentucky. There is a lot about Goldfinger that is just as implausible as anything seen in Dr. No, but it bothered me a lot less here. For example, why would Goldfinger keep his most annoying adversary so close while planning the largest robbery in history? Well, probably to be able to utter the iconic line “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” I had not seen Goldfinger before (except for some of the iconic imagery) and I must say I enjoyed it quite a bit.

199: Thunderball

thunderballWith the success of the first installments it is clear that with Thunderball the production got a little bit out of hand. It starts with Bond’s use of a jetpack to escape a castle to drive off in his trusted Aston Martin. Than a surgically altered pilot hijacks a British airplane with two nuclear bombs on board, crashes it into the ocean where divers remove the bombs and camouflage the airplane. After a run-in with the beautiful Domino Bond is captured and he escapes again. He finds the downed airplane and he discovers a plan to destroys Miami Beach. A huge underwater battle ensues, Bond kills the bad guy and escapes with the girl. Sounds pretty conventional for a Bond movie, right? Yes, if only it didn’t take to looooooooong to get where it is going. I believe the director Terence Young had something to prove after not having directed Goldfinger. The result is a movie that is surely about thirty minutes too long. Also Sean Connery is noticeably getting tired of playing this popular character, which is understandable because he had been churning one of these movie out every year at this point. I found Thunderball anything but a pleasure to watch.

200: You Only Live Twice

you-only-live-twiceWhen I was about ten years old I remember going to a friend’s birthday party where they had rented You Only Live Twice for us to watch. I was hooked from the first frame to the last frame. Rewatching this fifth installment I can certainly see why my ten-year-old self would fall in love with this movie. Space battles, vicious ninja, a volcano lair, a faked death, huge rockets and Little Nellie. What’s not to love? Well, as an adult I didn’t exactly take to You Only Live Twice as I once did. The production is still lavish and inviting, but the story is so full of holes and (even by Bond’s standards) stupidity that it sucked the fun out of it for me. Add to that the ridiculous transformation Bond goes through to become “Japanese” and I was done with You Only Live Twice. I’m sure my kid will live it eventually.

086: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of those movies that could only be seen in underground theaters where a seedy usher takes your ticket and shows you a seat where God knows what has happened in the last few decades. But an endorsement from none other than Quentin Tarantino does wonders and now you can watch Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! in the privacy of your own living room. That certainly beats contracting some vague disease from those filthy theater seats.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a product from the stable of Russ Meyer, the infamous director of low budget (s)exploitation movies during the ’60s and ’70s. It was after watching Virgin Witch for Battleship Pretension that I decided it was time to delve into this type of movie. I had heard of these Russ Meyer movies and their notoriety, but never had the time or the inclination to actually watch them. It was with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! that I thought I would start, because this was supposed to be one of the more accessible entries in Meyer’s body of work.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! sure is something else and surprisingly beautiful to behold. Shot in glorious black and white with nice desert vistas. You get the sense that Meyer really saw this as the movie that would be his legacy, his most important piece of work so to speak, a movie that John Waters has called “The Best Movie Ever Made.” I wouldn’t go that far, but entertaining it sure is.

Meyer empowers his women in the same way Hollywood tends to empower men. They are sexual giants who, with the help of some elaborate camera angles tower over their lovers and victims. They are the masters of their universe and sexual appeal is their weapon. At the center we find Varla (Tura Satana), an amazonian woman dress all in black with a serious hairdo and a stern face (Satana actually owns the look). She uses every bit of her being to get what she wants. Together with two of her friends she learns of a man who has a lot of money stashed away. They manage to find their way to the shack and concoct a story about why they are there. Everything goes from bad to worse after that with a showdown that will make every owner of a Porsche wince.

Meyer has the reputation of making movies that are violent and sexy, but there is actually a surprising lack of that in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. The movie is certainly violent, but never point blank on the screen and it is not as sexually explicit as one might expect. In fact, there is not a single naked women in the whole movie. It is all implied.

The tone of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! may be bleak, but the dialogue certainly isn’t. There are some brilliant lines that have gone on to be classics. A gas station attendant says to Satana, while staring at her cleavage, “Now that’s what I believe in, seeing America first!” To which she answers, “You won’t find it down there, Columbus!” Or the remarks of the old man they are trying to rob, “Women! They let ‘em vote, smoke and drive – even put ‘em in pants! And what happens? A Democrat for president!” The movie is chock full of these gems and that alone is an endorsement to watch it.

I will certainly revisit Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, because there is so much outrageous material here. Even try to seek out other movies in Meyer’s oeuvre. I can see why people can get lost in a movie like this. It is like watching a commercial for pop culture. The poster up top shows Satana kicking ass with one of her friends in the background dancing and some beautiful cars to complete the picture. Images that have become engrained in the fabric of pop culture. That is why people tend to return to these movies. They are that iconic. I liked it a lot.

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