James Bond Saves the World all Month Long at the Grand Illusion

goldfingerA mini-festival of James Bond movies begins at the Illusion…the Grand Illusion, tonight.

With the massive success of the latest Daniel Craig Bond opus, Skyfall, now’s as good as a time as any to reassess the James Bond canon from a real theater seat. And the Grand Illusion Cinema is presenting a copious selection of Bond films to choose from in the coming weeks.

Ian Fleming’s iconic superspy stands as such a fixture in popular culture, it’s easy to take his place in movie history for granted. Kudos to the Illusion for presenting some of the vintage Bonds on an honest-to-God big screen, where they were meant to be seen. Series passes are available, but tickets for individual screenings will be available at the door.

From Russia With Love (March 8-10): With all due respect to Daniel Craig’s solid reinterpretation of the role, Sean Connery’s turn as James Bond continues to be the gold standard for embodying the world’s most famous spy. The second Bond in the series, it sports Connery’s raffish charm, a beguiling Bond girl in the form of Italian starlet Daniela Bianchi, and arguably the first two great supporting villains to surface in a Bond movie: Stone-faced, blade-shoed SMERSH Agent Rosa Klebb (Kurt Veill muse Lotte Lenya), and coolly-sadistic assassin Grant (Robert Shaw, Captain Quint of Jaws infamy).

Goldfinger (March 10-14): Shirley Bassey belts out (probably) the greatest Bond theme song ever, while Bond takes on Teutonic crime powerhouse Auric Goldfinger. Connery’s at his most lean and menacing here, but lets some chinks appear in the 007 armor as Goldfinger’s high-powered laser imperils the, ahem, Scottish jewels. Shirley Eaton’s spray-painted figure eventually became one of the Bond oeuvre’s most indelible visual calling cards.

You Only Live Twice (March 15-17): Connery’s second-to-last tour of duty as 007 (at least under the Cubby Broccoli umbrella) marks a paradigm shift in the Bond films, as they descended into spectacle and action showpieces that dwarfed the character at the series’ ostensible center. That said, the Roald-Dahl-penned screenplay houses a few choice bon mots, and the glimpses of Japanese locales (and faces) lend a flavorful air of the exotic.

on_her_majestys_secret_serviceOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service (March 17-21): Anyone truly interested in the evolution of James Bond in popular culture needs to see this criminally-underrated entry in the franchise. It marked the first (and only) entry starring Australian model George Lazenby in the lead. While it turned as handsome a profit as previous efforts, On Her Majesty’s earned back its investment much more slowly, and the world laid that relative disappointment on the shoulders of Lazenby. To be fair, the neophyte actor comes off as wooden at first, but over the course of the movie he displays layers of vulnerability  Connery proved unwilling (or, perhaps, unable) to reveal. Rest assured, Lazenby’s Bond could still hold down a fight, but when you cut him, he felt it. It’d take another thirty-five years before audiences were comfortable with a James Bond whose jeopardy felt this palpable.

The Spy who Loved Me (March 22-24): Let’s give the much-maligned Roger Moore his due. Instead of aping Connery’s brooding secret agent, Moore made the character his own, contributing a wryly British sense of humor that (for better or for worse) synced perfectly with the feel-good 1970s. The Spy Who Loved Me proved one of Moore’s best additions to the series, with two memorable Bond Girls (future Beatle bride Barbara Bach and alluring Caroline Munro) and one of the all-time great Bond heavies, the metal-mouthed Jaws (Richard Kiel).

Moonraker (March 24-28): Undoubtedly one of the worst Bonds of the franchise, Moonraker remains entertaining as Hell despite (or maybe because of) its lousiness. Bond’s investigation of a space-shuttle hijacking provides an excuse for a cornucopia of lavishly-rendered (though pretty laughable in retrospect) special-effects scenes. The flagrant visual nods to Star Wars, the comic-defanging of the formidable Jaws, and the cringe-worthy visual puns make Moonraker one ridiculous, inexplicably enjoyable sample of old-school blockbuster mentality.