The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Guy Hamilton
A few days before Prince passed away, another important architect of our contemporary pop culture died at the ripe old age of ninety-three. That man, Guy Hamilton, is a name that's probably unfamiliar to most of our readers, and to be sure his last real movie was made thirty-two years ago. In fact, perusing his twenty plus filmography, only about half-a-dozen of the titles he directed are worthy of any kind of study, with much of his other work being journeyman, director-for-hire stuff.
Yet, for a time in the mid-sixties, Guy Hamilton was considered one of the great British directors, based almost entirely on the merits of his direction of GOLDFINGER. The third James Bond film, it's also the one that put Sean Connery as 007 over as a global phenomenon. While DR. NO and FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE were popular in Europe, Hamilton's deft direction of the third film arguably played a huge part in breaching the American market, with his movie introducing the sense of humor and wonder that, for better or worse, defined the series for years.
I'm not going to argue that Hamilton was a master-director. He was not. At his best he was a master craftsman, and working with the well-oiled James Bond machine (including Sean Connery as Bond, John Barry doing the scores, Ken Adam on the sets, and Peter Hunt on the editing) he was able to make a fun, super-spy ride that proved to be wildly influential – to the point that GOLDFINGER remains the prototypical Bond film sixty-three years later.
Hamilton stretched his wings outside of Bond to varying degrees of success. His initial collaborations with 007 co-producer Harry Saltzman were mixed, with him doing the ultra serious Michael Caine/Harry Palmer spy sequel FUNERAL IN BERLIN (far removed from the Bonds) and then the massive-budget BATTLE OF BRITAIN, which was apparently a mega flop in 1969, but has since become a minor classic among WW2 buffs. Inevitably, he returned to 007 with varying degrees of success. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER was a box-office smash, while LIVE & LET DIE proved an excellent introduction to Roger Moore as Bond, even through their next movie, the Hamilton-directed THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, almost ruined the franchise.
In the eighties Hamilton mostly stuck to British Agatha Christie adaptations, but made a notable action comeback with the failed franchise-starter REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS (more on that below). Since then he was mostly inactive but could often be found in retrospective documentaries discussing his work on the Bonds or his early days as an assistant to directors like John Huston and Caroll Reed. In those interviews he seemed to be a humble man who regarded himself as a professional more than an artist, but it's a tribute to him that at least one of his movies has gone down as an all-time classic.
While not my favorite Bond movie, GOLDFINGER is without a doubt the most influential. With Connery coming into his own as a more relaxed 007 (as opposed to the tough professional of the first two films) he made the character accessible to a worldwide audience. Hamilton's larger-than-life film made good use of the James Bond team. It also established what – for a long time – was the James Bond formula. That meant an action-packed teaser, a briefing with M, a jaunt to Q's workshop, a great villain (Gert Frobe as the titular character) three gorgeous Bond-girls, including at least one who dies (a formula that still holds to this day) and a tough, main Bond girl, here the iconic Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman). It's a slick-as-hell little spy action flick and while it's a bit dated (the James Bonding Podcast proved that point in one of their installments) it's still double-oh-awesome.
While a flop upon its initial release, I can't for the life of me understand why people like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. While Christopher Lee is cool as Scaramanga (arguably cooler than Bond this time), Roger Moore is horrible misused, with Hamilton and his writers having tried to make him a harder-edged Bond a la Connery, which goes horribly awry. Moore is Moore and often well-used, but one thing he's not is a tough guy. In his bio Moore himself said he despised the scene where he's forced to rough-up Maud Adams, and I can see why. This style of Bond-behavior didn't fit Moore's gentleman spy approach. What's even worse is how the few decent moments are ruined by sophomoric humor, with things like slide-whistles and Clifton James's ill-advised return as LIVE & LET DIE's J.W Pepper. Ugh – it's a terrible movie.
REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS was an attempt to turn Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir's long-running pulp series, “The Destroyer” into a James Bond-style franchise. It makes sense that Orion, which bankrolled the film, went to Hamilton to launch the saga and while it flopped at the box-office he did a damn good job. Fred Ward is cool as the rough-and-tumble hero, and there are some really good moments – such as an amazing fight atop the statue of liberty that can go toe-to-toe with any of the best Bond action set-pieces. The score by Craig Safan is also really good. The only problem is that the movie starts to get a bit tepid in the third act, as if they ran out of money – which I believe may have actually been the case. Still, it's too bad the adventure never continued...
GOLDFINGER is chockablock with many great sequences and it's hard to pick just one. I suppose the edge goes to Harold Sakata's (as Oddjob) infamous demise where Bond uses the strongman's own steel-brimmed hat against him.
5. DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
4. BATTLE OF BRITAIN
3. REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
2. LIVE & LET DIE
Hopefully, Hamilton's work with the Bond franchise is enough to keep his name known to the action fans that owe him a whole lot, as without his light touch the James Bond series might not have gone down with the public quite as strongly. In that regard he remains a huge influence on modern action cinema, and I'm glad we here at JoBlo.com have been able to pay him an appropriate tribute.
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