Part one is here.

Diamonds are Forever (1971)

w. Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz; d. Guy Hamilton
The one with: Wint and Kidd, Las Vegas, Charles Gray (no, the other one), theme song by Shirley Bassey (no, the other one), the moon buggy chase
Overview: Connery’s back! It’s only been four years since You Only Live Twice but they’ve taken their toll. Noticeably older, greyer and thoroughly uninterested in the whole affair, it’s easily his worst and laziest performance. The only glimpse we get of the old magic is when he steps on the roof of that elevator. On the villain’s side, after a remarkable and indelible portrayal from Donald Pleasance and pretty good effort from Telly Savalas, for the third part of the Blofeld trilogy, for Bond’s revenge for the death of Tracy, for the big showdown, we get a hopelessly miscast Charles Gray, who wanders effetely and ineffectually throughout proceedings and even gets to drag up at one point, as if his mere presence wasn’t already absurd enough. The supposed climax is an appallingly shoddy affair, lumpenly shot, with no wit or style at all. Our last glimpse of this greatest of all Bond villains is this near-incomprehensible slurry on an oil rig. Believe it or not, none of these is the worst crime of this movie. To see what’s really wrong with Diamonds are Forever, you have to look at Tiffany Case and the Las Vegas setting. Bond movies aren’t just chases and punching; they need a bit of glamour, a touch of the exotic. They need sophistication and class to offset the violence. Where Honey, Tatiana, Domino, even Pussy and especially Tracy had had class to spare, Tiffany is brash, crass and totally out of place. Likewise, the Las Vegas setting is overfamiliar, vulgar and no match for the globe-trotting of previous films. Wint and Kidd are fun, but they aren’t onscreen for long. Bambi and Thumper are just ludicrous and the pretitle sequence is cack-handedly shot and edited. I suppose we should be thankful that no major characters are revoiced, but it’s a high price to pay!
Best for: actually, it is best for something. It has the series’ best fight (hand-to-hand). The bonecrunching sequence in the lift is astonishing

Live and Let Die (1973)

w. Tom Mankiewicz; d. Guy Hamilton
The one with: all the voodoo, her out of Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman, him off of The Saint, the rigged tarot deck, the fight on the train (no the other one)
Overview: Second time around, they figure out how to deal with Connery’s absence far better. They cast an (English!) actor with his own identity and his own brand of charisma. To avoid comparisons, they avoid or vary the most iconic Bond scenes – no Q, no vodka martinis, cigars instead of cigarettes, Bond is briefed by M in his flat instead of at MI6. And then they stick the new guy into the middle of a blacksploitation movie! Far, far better than the efforts either side of it, Live and Let Die does pretty much work. Some questionable choices – the continually-broadening humour, the awkwardly dated racial attitudes, the weird acceptance of the supernatural, another trip to America – are balanced by some splendid sequences – the back-of-the-crocodiles escape, the final fight with Tee-Hee (derivative but well-staged), the amusing and exciting bus chase and one of the series’ finest title songs (and that’s saying something). Even the Harlem location is made to seem exotic in the way that Istanbul, Japan or Switzerland were (and that Las Vegas wasn’t) largely because Roger Moore’s Bond breezes through it, thoroughly and resolutely English in every move and syllable.
Best for: suave urbanity. Roger Moore would never look or sound better.

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)

w. Tom Mankiewicz, Richard Maibaum; d. Guy Hamilton
The one with: Dracula as the bad guy, mini-me, a flying car for fuck’s sake
Overview: worse even than the dreary Diamonds this is easily the most tedious, least well-constructed and most thoroughly ill-judged Bond of the seventies. Presumably figuring that since Bond-goes-blacksploitation had worked so well, the plan now apparently was to drop him into an Asian chop-socky movie. I guess that might have worked, but it would need to be much better-plotted, far more stylish, have far less Clifton James in it and a much, much shorter boat chase. Live and Let Die spent about twenty minutes zooming around the Louisiana Bayous and the presence there of a redneck sheriff at least made some sort of sense. Reprised here at twice the length and with half the wit, it brings the middle of the movie to a yawn-inducing halt. What bright spots there are are generally obscured by the errors of judgement either side. Even that spectacular corkscrew car-jump has a stupid swannee whistle sound effect over it. The final duel allows Christopher Lee a bit of room to play but the script does him no favours at all. Moore is fine, but when you add the stupidest Bond girl of the whole series (and that’s saying something) then the whole thing pretty much collapses. And did I mention the flying car?
Best for: gadget. That it (the golden gun of the title) belongs to the villain speaks to how poorly-judged all this is.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

w. Christopher Wood, Richard Maibaum; d. Lewis Gilbert.
The one with: agent XXX, Jaws (no the other one), the submarine-eating boat, the sub-aqua Lotus Esprit
Overview: All change! After three movies ranging from uneven to appalling, all with the same key creative personnel, but with producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman no longer on speaking terms – something had to be done to stop the rot. Saltzman sold his share of the Bond franchise to United Artists, leaving Broccoli in sole charge. His response to the previous film’s disappointing box office was to secure double the budget and spend three years getting this one just right. It succeeds magnificently. From the jaw-dropping ski-off-a-cliff pre-titles stunt to the final destruction of the Liparus, this successfully balances the humour and the jeopardy, gives the girl something to do, ramps the gadgetry and spectacle way up and brings that glamour and exotic sheen back to the series. When Roger Moore, looking fantastic in his tuxedo, is fighting a man with metal teeth in the middle of the Egyptian desert, you know you’re watching a Bond movie and all is right with the world. I also think that this was Moore’s first time in a tux as Bond and that seems significant somehow. The villain is a bit ho-hum, the plot is basically an underwater rehash of You Only Live Twice (and it’s got the same director), and the Broadway version of the theme song “Nobody Does It Better” over Bond’s final double-entendre is hideous, but these are minor quibbles. Spy proved that Bond in the seventies made sense, and if that wasn’t enough, for about thirty seconds during the “In our business, Anya, people get killed” scene, you can catch Roger Moore acting! The car-turning-into-a-submarine is almost as stupid an idea as the car-turning-into-a-plane in the previous film, but everyone concerned is paying attention this time and they make you believe it. And then make you laugh at it. Masterly.
Best for: stunts. Rick Sylvester, doubling for Roger Moore, skis off that cliff for queen and country.

Moonraker (1979)

w. Christopher Wood, d. Lewis Gilbert
The one with: Bond in space! But also in France, Venice and the Amazon, not to mention falling from 20,000 feet.
Overview: Often-maligned and held up as a grim example of all that went wrong with James Bond, when you actually sit down and watch it, most of it is fine, and some of it is very good indeed. The problem is that the occasional lapses of judgement are genuinely ghastly. The astonishing aerial work in the pretitles sequence is capped off by the crass gag with Jaws feebly flapping his arms; the sumptuous Venice location is defiled by the absurd hover-gondola sequence complete with infamous double-taking pigeon; and then there’s that Star Wars space battle at the end. But if you can swallow the idea of a squadron of laser-toting British troops storming a space station then you’ve got to admit that it’s wonderfully well staged. What I remember as a kid is the feeling of disappointment I got when Sean Connery was prevented from taking off in You Only Live Twice and the unbelievable excitement I felt when Roger Moore made it into orbit! But even if everything from take-off onward is a wash as far as you’re concerned, the earlier sequences have any number of classic moments – the centrifuge scene gives us Moore’s Bond genuinely hurt and scared; the pheasant-shooting scene is taught, grim and witty; the boat chase is commendably brief (and we get to hear John Barry’s 007 theme again for the first time in ages) and the cable-car fight is hugely exciting. Sure, this is the same plot as the previous film yet again, but with many of the plot holes closed, a better leading lady and a far better chief villain. On the other hand, Roger Moore’s suave savoir-faire is starting to seem off-puttingly smug and his hair, closely cropped and neatly parted in 1973, is rapidly heading towards eighties swept-back absurdity. He’s also starting to look a little long-in-the-tooth for all this running-around and punching people. Time to go?
Best for: villainy. Drax is genuinely scary and beautifully played by Michael Lonsdale. Oh! And, best double-entendre, if only for the sheer lengths the script goes to to make it work – “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir!”

Next time – the John Glen years.

Which James Bond film is best? Part One: The 1960s
Which James Bond film is best? Part Three: The 1980s