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by Bradley Gitz | December 28, 2020 at 3:00 a.m.

Sean Connery's passing took a big chunk out of my childhood. What Goldfinger, Dr. No, and Ernst Stavro Blofeld couldn't pull off, 90 years of apparently rich living finally did.

James Bond isn't supposed to die, but you know you're old when the heroes of your youth start to.

Being a bit too young to see them in theaters, my first exposure to Bond were those Sunday night movies with all the commercials squeezed in that we didn't seem too bothered by because that's the way everything was shown on TV then.

I didn't read Ian Fleming's books until a bit later, until my teenage years, after Connery had gone on to other things (including a couple of favorites, "The Man Who Would Be King" and "Robin and Marian"), which meant that even if Fleming's conception of Bond, both in appearance and mannerism, was different than what Connery projected, as I've heard was the case, whenever I read the books it was still Connery I envisioned.

This also tells us that reading is an entirely individualistic enterprise, since by definition it provokes unique depictions from our imaginations rather than a dictated sameness on the screen. (The decline of reading among young people is a cause for concern for this among many other reasons, suggesting a replacement of individual imagination by collective perceptions; when we read we tend to think differently, but when we watch we tend to think the same.)

As such, for anyone with any semblance of taste, the best Bond films are almost certainly those that Connery made. Like trying to pick your favorite Rolling Stones album, the ranking tends to fluctuate but mine would be, in order: "Goldfinger," "From Russia with Love," "Thunderball," and "Dr. No."

That his last two, "You Only Live Twice" and "Diamonds are Forever," are considered the weakest suggests that even Connery Bonds had run down a bit (although the tongue-in-cheek 1983 remake of "Thunderball," "Never Say Never Again," still has its moments).

The best non-Connery Bond might actually be "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," wherein the hapless George Lazenby became a one-off and thus an eventual answer to a Trivial Pursuit question, somewhat unfairly given his decent performance.

"The Saint" was one of my favorite TV shows, so Roger Moore seemed a more than adequate replacement for Connery, but after two respectable outings, "Live and Let Die" and "The Man with the Golden Gun," there occurred a gradual slide into cornball cartoons, with Moore sufficiently stiff as to suggest fence posts had been inserted somewhere between and below his shoulders.

Timothy Dalton did a decent Lazenby imitation for a couple of episodes and Pierce Brosnan seemed to get it close in demeanor and flair, but both ended up being pulled down by the fact that the franchise had long since run out of original Fleming material, with the nadir probably reached when Brosnan swung about in a tank in St. Petersburg in "GoldenEye," thereby violating a primary franchise rule that the only things Bond should drive are fancy sports cars (nor should he ever use a machine gun or, for that matter, any gun bigger than that which can be carried in a shoulder holster beneath his tux, as in the Walther PPK, since he is a secret agent, not a Rambo action figure).

Daniel Craig has lots of adherents among fan-boys who've never seen a movie made before they were born, and can be credited for reintroducing a bit of the brute sadism that Connery gave off, but also too often resembles a simian-like circus performer bouncing from stunt to stunt rather than a debonair secret agent capable of identifying the vintage of fine wines and taking a first in oriental languages at Cambridge.

But since the theme songs, villains, and Bond girls are such a big part of the fun, some favorites along those lines as well:

• Theme Song: "Goldfinger" (Shirley Bassey); "You Only Live Twice" (Nancy Sinatra); "Diamonds are Forever" (Shirley Bassey); "Live and Let Die" (Paul McCartney); and "Nobody Does it Better" (Carly Simon).

• Villains: Auric Goldfinger (Gert Fröbe); Donald Grant (Robert Shaw, "From Russia with Love"); Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee, from "The Man With the Golden Gun"); Oddjob (Harold Sakata, from "Goldfinger"), and the witty and gay assassin duo, Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, from "Diamonds are Forever."

• Bond Girls: Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman, from "Goldfinger," if only for the outrageous name); Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland, from "The Man with the Golden Gun"); Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach, from "The Spy Who Loved Me," and wife of Ringo Starr, perhaps the most persistently lucky man on Earth) and, especially, Tracy di Vincenzo from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," played by Diana Rigg, who also left us this past year and about whom another entire column could be written.

Then there's also Bernard Lee's persistently gruff M, the flirtatious Moneypenny, the exotic locales, the vodka martini ("shaken not stirred," as they always should be), the cool gadgets courtesy of Q, and the greatest car of all, Bond's Aston Martin.

A retrospective by Peter Tonguette reminds us that Bond was, like Cary Grant, the fellow "every man wanted to be and every woman wanted to be with."


Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.


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