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Licence to thrill: The best of James Bond

Every small fixture of the Bond formula is debated by fans flung far. Except, perhaps, the latest title, Quantum of Solace — everyone agrees that it sucks. Amitava Sanyal tells more.

columns Updated: Aug 25, 2010 18:28 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Take a spy with a roving eye. Clad him in the nattiest chic ruling the day. Arm him with the deadliest weapons invented yesterday. Throw in some fast cars and faster women. And hand him the job to save (Western) civilisation. Voila! You have the longest running, highest earning and most parodied thriller formula ever conjured up for films.

Every small fixture of the Bond formula is debated by fans flung far. The cars he vrooms up, the guns he whips out, or the women he schmoozes down — not to speak of the men playing the main role — are all scanned and rated. There are furious fights over almost everything to do with 007. Except, perhaps, the latest title, Quantum of Solace — everyone agrees that it sucks.

Mind you, it’s the not the same spy that we’re prying over. Though it’s the same Broccoli family that has lorded over the franchise through 22 films, Bond and his accessories have evolved — though not quite aged — in these 46 Cold-War-thawing years.

Here’s a pick of the formula favourites — title track, villain, car chase and girl — that have marked the man over the years.

Soundgarden crop
Ever since John Barry lent his voice to Bond’s foremost wish — ‘Me honey and me make boolooloop soon’ — in Dr No, tracks have been vital style statements in Bond films. Yet, we’ve rarely rated the sounds along with the other two determinants of their success: the title visuals and the lyrics. Former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’ (Casino Royale) tops the charts on all three counts.

Scaremonger-in-chief
The best match for any Bond — in or out of bed — came from The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Christopher Lee’s bloodchilling portrayal of the dapper Fransisco Scaramanga, the ‘million-dollar hitman’ for whom ‘love is required, whenever he’s hired’, has been unmatched by Peter Lorre’s or Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre (Casino Royale, TV series in 1954, film in 2006), or anyone else who came in between.

Diving under the over
Forget the Aston Martins and the BMWs. The best Bond chase is the 6-minute thrill-a-second in The World Is Not Enough (1999), most of which happens on the murky waters of the Thames. Pierce Brosnan’s Bond leaps out of the MI6 building in inventor M’s untested supercraft on the tail of Cigar Girl. A superb take of Bond’s credo of ‘grace under pressure’ comes midway: when Brosnan fixes his tie underwater.

Honeys save none
A Bond girl is nothing without her name. And there’s plenty to vote for: Honey Ryder (Dr No, 1962) and Pussy Galore (Goldfinger, 1964) have given way to the likes of Plenty O’Toole (Diamonds Are Forever, 1971) and Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye, 1995). But watch Sophie Marceau as Elektra King turning the screws on Bond (literally) in The World Is Not Enough and you’d never want to cross the path of this seductress.