By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com November 8, 2012 at 3:03PM
It's been a long week of Bond here at The Playlist, and the release of "Skyfall" is only a few hours away. We've looked at the best villains, the best action scenes and the worst of the franchise, so what better place to end up than with the very best of the series?
As we said yesterday, the Bond franchise doesn't have the best hit rate, even if fans can find something to embrace in most entries. But there's still a few crackers out there -- most of Roger Moore's era is pretty poor, most of Connery's is decent, and Daniel Craig is 2 for 3 at this stage, putting him one better than Pierce Brosnan. We've picked out our five favorites from the last 50 years of the franchise below, but you can argue the cause of your own favorites in the comments section.
The first Bond film, "Dr. No," has its charms, but feels constrained by its budget, with the franchise still finding its feet. But consider those feet found in the second film, "From Russia With Love," which even more so than its predecessor manages to both establish and virtually perfect the formula that would serve the series so well over the years. The plot is fairly down to earth: as revenge for the death of Dr. No, SPECTRE plan to steal an Enigma machine-type cryptography device from the Soviets using the unwitting cipher clerk Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) as the means through which to obtain it. Bond is sent to Istanbul to meet with her, but swiftly discovers that he's being set up. Fairly faithful to Fleming's novel (as many of the early Bonds were), it's gritty, down-to-earth stuff decades before it was fashionable, with the plot leaning closer to John Le Carre or Len Deighton than the more out-there stuff that was to come; gripping, but not convoluted. And the bigger budget really shows, with a number of top set-pieces that remain strong today including the attack on the gypsy settlement, the train fight, and the final boat chase and its explosive climax. The use of Istanbul (returned to in "Skyfall"), the Orient Express and Venice as locations give it a real '60s glamour too, while Connery is at the peak of his depiction of the character -- charming, but legitimately scary when he has to be. For all the good Bonds that have come since, this one might remain our favorite.
Not that Eon Productions dropped the ball next time out. "Goldfinger" sees a marked difference in tone a year on, with a sly humor often absent from its predecessors and fantastical elements, including lasers, razor-tipped bowler hats and a team of aviatrixes led by a woman called Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). And despite all that, the film's a winner, establishing that 007 could be a lot of fun and appeal to a wider audience, while still maintaining a degree of integrity. The film starts with Bond in Miami, asked to observe questionable gold dealer Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe). The mission sees Bond's latest ladyfriend memorably murdered by being covered in gold paint, and 007 heads to Switzerland to investigate further, eventually ending up back in the U.S where Goldfinger intends to irradiate the gold in Fort Knox. It's the first of the three films so far to really, truly flirt with absurdity, but it just stops short of full-on camp, with Connery maintaining some grit, but having a little more fun (and no wonder he's enjoying himself; he struck a deal during filming to get 5% of the gross on the film). The villains are cracking, the girls are kick-ass, and much of the classic 007 iconography, including Ken Adams' stunning production design and the Aston Martin DB7, is here. And while it might be somewhat lacking in jaw-dropping stuntwork, the fights are pretty strong. Finally, this sees the real establishment of another tradition, the Bond song, with Shirley Bassey contributing one of the real classics of the franchise. The Roger Moore era would take some of the sillier aspects of this one and build on them, but here, they feel entirely refreshing.