Guy Hamilton’s Top 5 Bond-Directing Directions

Guy Hamilton, helmer of the greatest James Bond movie ever (and one of this writer’s favorite 30 or so movies ever, period), “Goldfinger,” passed away on the same day as Prince on April 21, aged 94. Many of us here at Filmcore loved Prince too, but I for one profess my ignorance to his post-“Purple Rain” features, of which there were three. He may yet get his own Filmcore Listcore, too.

But back to Hamilton – he, Terence Young, and Martin Campbell are the most important of the Bond directors, as they all have had the biggest impact in sculpting the character in his most significant iterations. Granted, a lot of what Bond is was cultivated by produced Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (and, since 1995, it’s been Broccoli’s heirs, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli) and traditionally the Bond directors have been seen more as curators than the ultimate on-set authorities. But there’s no denying that these three are responsible for all the best James Bond movies, and surely that must mean something. After Young, who had directed the first two Bond movies, was denied a request for profit participation were he to do “Bond 3,” he turned down Broccoli and Saltzman — who promptly recruited Hamilton. Hamilton had turned them down for “Dr. No” before Young had a crack at it. Hamilton was a big name in British cinema at the time, having directed several hit thrillers, including “The Colditz Story” (one of the bigger box office successes of 1955).

5. Taking Bond To Disneyland (in “The Man With The Golden Gun,” 1974)

For his final contribution to the Bond canon, Hamilton conjured up one of the creepiest of all the Bond movie set pieces. For the titular triple-nippled assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), Hamilton and co. devised a Disneyland-esque carnival funhouse location. This would be where Scaramanga lured his victims, so that he could hunt them down in a cat-and-mouse shoot-out (but, crucially, Scaramanga always had the upper hand, as he was advised by his trusty travel-size compadre Nick Nack, sitting in front of a deck of TV monitors). The set was rather extensive, replete with a terrifying room of mirrors (employed to deadly effect by both Scaramanga and Bond); a canted, German expressionist forced perspective hallway; a Western town with a mechanized gunman (played by Moore stunt double Les Crawford); a gangster hideout (full of lifelike animatronic gangsters); and an abstract-art gun room lit by pulsating strobes that boasts an actual wax figure of Roger Moore as James Bond and stairs that morph into a cool slide.

Obviously, after its introduction in a bravura pre-credits chase sequence (featuring an ill-fated Scaramanga adversary), the carnival house had to be brought back for the movie’s pivotal final shootout. It’s one of the series’ more darkly camp moments, in that it seeks to invert audience sentiment toward a Disneyland tour by mutating it into something sinister, where the stakes are life and death. It also has elements of a haunted house ride, but I for one always see that kind of experience as harmless fun, so I’d posit that the Scaramanga funhouse here subverts that too — the faux-danger becomes real. I think Hamilton successfully taps into the intrinsic creepiness of these theme park experiences, with their robots in the dark and their surround-sound cue music. You’ll never look at the “It’s A Small World After All” ride the same way again.

4. Defining The Key To Q (in “Goldfinger,” 1964)

Granted, Q is a supporting character in the Bond universe, gentle window dressing on the “gadgets” component of 007’s guns, girls and gadgets MO. But he’s also a fan favorite, the distributor of the coolest toys in the world. And the thing that made Desmond Llewelyn’s interpretation of the MI6 Quartermaster stick as an interesting character at all (with apologies to Q’s portrayals by Peter Burton in “Dr. No,” Alec McCowen in “Never Say Never Again,” John Cleese in “The World Is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day,” and Ben Whishaw in the Sam Mendes Bond movies) was the fact that he hated James Bond.

Said Hamilton to “Goldfinger” authority Adrian Turner in 1998, “Q I sorted out in one minute. He started out by sucking up to James Bond. I said, ‘Q, have you never seen the two pictures [“Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love”]? Here’s this man who comes and borrows all this stuff; he uses it in the wrong way and never returns it. You must grit your teeth when this facetious sod comes into your world and workshop.” The Llewelyn Q never forgot this, chastising Bond for his lackadaisical treatment of Q’s gadgetry, his stupid puns, and his wandering attention span. Here’s a great exchange from the Q scene in “Goldfinger,” my second-favorite Q conversation (after the dumb-pun-filled “Goldeneye” scene):

Q: “Now this one I’m particularly keen about. You see the gear lever here? Now, if you take the top off, you will find a little red button. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.”
James Bond: “Yeah, why not?”
Q: “Because you’ll release this section of the roof, and engage and then fire the passenger ejector seat. Whish!”
James Bond: “Ejector seat? You’re joking!”
Q: “I never joke about my work, 007.”

…Needless to say, by movie’s end, Bond has made a point to touch the fuck out of that red button.

Anyway, look how irritable that Q is! So much more fun than the others. Let’s run through them (briefly), for comparison’s sake. The first Q (credited as “Major Boothroyd,” which is Q’s actual title and last name) was Burton, who gave Q absolutely no flavor, playing him as a dry bureaucrat. Happily, he couldn’t return in “From Russia With Love,” and was replaced by Llewelyn. The McCowen Q, “Algy,” sees himself as Bond’s equal, just a coworker with an affinity for ice cream, confounded by budget cuts and combatting sinus problems. John Cleese comes closest to being a decent Q, but his gadgets were so shitty that he gets severe demerits (exhibits a, b, and c). The Whishaw Q has thus far only registered as a nebbishy pushover, a vulnerable tech wunderkind without a spine. He plays the notes without any understanding of the music.

3. Keeping Bond British (in “Goldfinger,” 1964)

After combing through writer Richard Maibum’s first crack at the “Goldfinger” screenplay, Hamilton determined that he wanted a good “balance between the slam-bang and a bit of wit.” To this end, he brought in scribe Paul Dehn to punch up the M scene, the Bank of England scene, and a few others; Dehn’s biggest contribution was the opening sequence (for more of Hamilton’s thoughts on this, see #1 in this Listcore), a wholly ridiculous series of events that set the tone for all tongue-in-cheek Bond pre-credits sequences to follow.

2. Cultivating Bond’s Sense of Humor (in “Goldfinger,” 1964)

In a 2009 interview with Janice Forsyth, Hamilton puts his emphasis on humor in “Goldfinger” and beyond fairly succinctly: “I couldn’t take Bond seriously, and it seemed to me that the pre-credits sequence was absolutely vital for my way of thinking because here’s a piece of nonsense… If you take that seriously, you need your heads examined.” The Bond franchise has been lampooned since time immemorial, but its biggest attribute may have been that it was never particularly self-serious. Well, at least until his latest make-over in 2006 (Broccoli tried, half-heartedly, to tone Bond down with his two Timothy Dalton movies — but, I mean, they had a guy imploding in a pressure cooker, a shark pit and a winking sculpture, so… come on). The great thing about all the Hamilton Bond movies was that they embraced their own campiness without getting swallowed up in it, the way lesser installments did (notably “Octopussy” and “Die Another Day”). Don’t get me wrong, “Diamonds Are Forever” is pretty damn silly — but somehow, I was still worried about the fate of Tiffany Case right until the credits rolled. It’s a tough tightrope to walk, that command of tone. And it was brought to life by Hamilton after the (relatively) more straight-faced “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love.” “Goldfinger” gave us a fleet of bombshell lesbian fighter pilots in really really cool outfits, a silent henchman with a steel-tipped hat who crushed golf balls into dust with his bare hands, a tricked-out Aston Martin DB5, a one-of-a-kind main villain who was somehow hilarious and menacing, a laser gun hellbent on sterilizing the greatest playboy in modern fiction, and, finally, the #1 element on our list…

1. “The Prince And The Pussy” (in “Goldfinger,” 1964)

So my favorite thing about the making of “Goldfinger” was the filmmakers’ devotion to the moniker Pussy Galore. It took some very tactical operating courtesy of publicist Tom Carlile to ensure that Honor Blackman’s iconic character kept her name. Specifically, he sat Prince Phillip next to Honor Blackman at the premiere of “Move Over Darling” in the months leading up to “Goldfinger”‘s premiere, and had a connection at The Daily Mail take a picture of their proximity, clinching things with the header “Pussy and the Prince.” The British censors had to let it fly. Anyway, to justify its inclusion on this list, I’m going to credit this huge win — for all lovers of Pussy, really — jointly to Hamilton, Carlile, and Broccoli/Saltzman.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *