If it were your job to watch movies — and it’s my job so I think about these kinds of things — it would take you a full 40-hour work week plus some overtime to catch up on all 22 of the James Bond movies. That includes the sort-of-unauthorized “Never Say Never Again,” 1967’s one-off spoof “Casino Royale” and this week’s updated taking-it-seriously version of that same title.
In that work week you would hear cruddy Sheryl Crow, Rita Coolidge and A-Ha songs posing as Bond themes, you would see Madonna pop up as a fencing instructor, and Roger Moore with a prosthetic third nipple (I’ll get to that later). You’d also see some of the greatest bad guys ever.
They’re the greatest bad guys ever because they only get to terrorize the world (aka James Bond) for a little bit before he vanquishes them completely. They are not slippery Osama Bin Laden types who disappear and frustrate. They come in, show off for the camera, then James Bond takes care of business. This is a template for how the world should actually work.
But like all film franchises, some Bond adventures are more equal than others and some Bond bad guys are just badder. There’s a reason they brought Blofeld back again and again. Sometimes your bad is so good everyone wants another taste.
A kitty cat’s best friend
Slideshow: Bond through the ages So yeah, Blofeld. His character shows up in “From Russia With Love” (as a disembodied voice stroking the soon-to-be-iconic fluffy white kitty), “Diamonds Are Forever” (where he’s played by Charles Grey), in “You Only Live Twice” (Donald Pleasance), and then, finally, in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (a pre-“Kojak” Telly Savalas).
He changes little by little in each movie, always evading death and eventually morphing into Dr. Evil of the “Austin Powers” movies. He’s got awesome sidekicks in Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya), a woman with poison-tipped shoes, deranged killer Donald Grant (Robert Shaw), and, in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” he has an entire harem of foxy ladies (blink and you’ll miss “Absolutely Fabulous” star Joanna Lumley) that he mind-controls and empowers to commit evil with specially-designed world-domination make-up kits.
‘I expect you to die’
A guy named Gert Frobe plays Auric Goldfinger in “Goldfinger.” He likes to eat and gold-spray-paint women to death when he isn’t tinkering with destructo laser-beams. When he gets lazy he has Oddjob (Harold Sakata) to do his bidding with a metal-rimmed bowler hat and, for a time at least, has the greatest Bond Girl ever, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) on his side.
After he fails to make good on his desire to kill Bond — he’s the one who says, “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die,” and if you win a radio trivia contest with that one, I want the extra Ozzfest ticket you score — Miss Galore shines him on to go be with Connery. You would too, really.
Nebbish as world conqueror?
Most people don’t count the original “Casino Royale” as a Bond movie. Those are people with no sense of fun. Everything doesn’t have to be non-stop grim testosterone poisoning all the time, does it?
We’re all grown-ups here and we can handle a wacky send-up with Woody Allen as the villainous “Dr. Noah,” can’t we? I mean, yes, it’s a crap movie and it had five directors who were all seemingly on set at once giving the cast contradictory directions. But it’s freaked out in the best 1967 way it can be and there’s a score by Burt Bacharach and performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. I dare you to be grouchy about it. As the bad guy, Woody Allen is just… very Woody Allen-ish.
Nasty ends for pesky enemies
Adolpho Celi as Emilio Largo in “Thunderball” is probably the meanest of the Bond nemeses. His plan is to detonate nuclear weapons in England and America and, failing that, he plans to feed as many people to sharks as he can. And he does. Even better, he wears an eyepatch and his yacht is called the “Disco Volante.” That’s a good life. Until you get shot in the back. Which is what happens to him. Bummer.
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Yaphet Kotto is Kananga/Mr. Big in “Live and Let Die.” He’s a drug grower and supplier, two baddies in one, the kingpin to end them all, but even that’s not enough for him. He needs pet alligators to eat people who get in his way and a stereotypical voodoo priest (Geoffrey Holder, doing that “AH-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA…” laugh that he should have had trademarked) to take out the others. Eventually he gets his when Bond shoots him with a compressed air pellet. That’s right, he blows up like Violet Beauregard, only worse.
When I was a kid, “The Man With the Golden Gun” was the first Bond movie I was allowed to go see. I had no idea that this Bond guy had so much pull with the ladies, that the criminals could be so perverse, or that anyone on the planet, male or female, walked around with three nipples. But as Scaramanga, Christopher Lee does. Three. And then when Roger Moore pretends to be Scaramanga and takes off his shirt and reveals that he even has three nipples, I became a very freaked out 8 year-old.
Aside from the physical anomaly, he’s kind of the most boring of the supervillains because his whole aim is take all the solar power he can. This is not very frightening a doomsday scenario. Like at all. No one is going to believe you if you say, “Look, I’m just going to take control of the sun.” Because you’re just not.
But that nipple? Still very weird, even post-Mark Wahlberg.
Nobody does it better than ... Walken
And then come the ’80s and ’90s and ’00s and, aside from the dastardly Robert Davi in 1989’s “License to Kill,” the bad guys get less interesting. They’re technologically advanced but they’re less flamboyant and, therefore, not as cool.
And, honestly, Davi isn’t much of a bad guy. But he has the bad-guy face down cold, the same one he’d use to masterful effect as the strip-club owner in “Showgirls.”
But Christopher Walken can’t be bad in a movie, and he injects a jolt of his intrinsic strange-itude into Max Zorin, the villain of “A View to A Kill.” He tries to control all the computers — again, kind of like trying to harness the sun to do your bidding from a 2006 standpoint — so his aim is less than terrifying, but he’s bugged-out nuts so he remains entertaining from start to finish. Also, he’s got the best villainess since Rosa Klebb: Grace Jones as a skydiving she-monster named May Day.
Since I haven’t seen it yet, I don’t know the magnitude of the bad guy element that Daniel Craig’s going to battle in the new “Casino Royale,” but I can almost guarantee you they won’t be as fun a couple as Jones and Walken were. With the new emphasis on a thuggish, tough-guy bond, the days of the over-the-top, wacky Bond villain may be over for good. So I’ll miss that. But at least Madonna’s not going to be in it.
Dave White is the author of “Exile in Guyville” and the film critic for Movies.com. Find more of him at http://www.imdavewhite.com/.
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