Wednesday, October 26, 2022

AN EMAIL THAT MADE MY YEAR

 

I'm sure John Grisham, Michael Connelly and James Patterson read very little of their bags and bags of fan mail. Maybe they have someone on their staff who does it for them, then sends out form responses. I don't know, and I'm sure I'll never have that problem.

 But for me, it is a treat when someone takes time after reading one of my books or the column I write for the American Bar Association, and drops me a note saying, "I liked your book," or something to that effect.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from an American lawyer living in Brussels, Belgium. He had just read my latest novel, "Last Train to Stratton."

As I read, I was flabbergasted. It left me nearly speechless, which those who know me appreciate as being a rarity. It meant that all my effort in writing the book had truly touched someone. 

After considering this for a while, I finally decided to share it.  

Dear Stephen:

I am really at a loss for words. I just finished “Last Train to Stratton.”  In fact, I could hardly finish it because I did not want it to end.  I may just have to turn around and read it again (although I have already read several of my favorite passages again, especially Emma’s continual search for the “shadow of a unicorn”).  I can see that this novel came from your heart, and I have to believe some of it was drawn from some of your own experiences or at least background.

I do not wish to become maudlin nor over-effusive, but I just loved your writing style. The characters came to life for me and I became invested in them. I could even sort of (hazily) see them in my mind’s eye (despite the fact you never really described much of their physical characteristics). And although I could basically figure out what happened to Katie, you handled that plotting so so well. The interspersing of near-past and “present” was extremely well done, as were the real news clippings from your and my youth (1974-1976), most of which I actually recalled. 

I could go on and on praising you, but all I will now say is:

1) This was literally one of the very best books I have ever read; and

2) I plan to order around 10 more copies to give out as Christmas gifts this year.

Thank you so much for giving me such pleasure.

Sincerely,  . . .


Friday, December 17, 2021

A Gift to Readers: Christmas 1949


CHRISTMAS 1949

A Christmas Short Story by Stephen Terrell

The sun set early in the holler. It wasn't even four o'clock and already long shadows cast by the copse of loblolly and slash pines on the hilltop crossed the creek, settling over the weather-worn unpainted smokehouse. It wouldn't be long before the shadows made their way across the pasture to the house. The sun would be gone for the day, lost behind Carter's Knob.

Dorthea headed toward the barn, a battered metal bucket in hand. The oldest child, now fourteen, Dorthea had been milking the family's two cows twice a day since she was ten – first thing in the morning, then again in the late afternoon. The chore of retrieving eggs now fell to younger siblings.

Dorthea hated morning milking. She would stumble to the barn, the only light provided by a rusted kerosene lantern she carried. The sun was still hours away. She craved more sleep, wanting so much to throw the bucket aside, lay down in the hay and close her eyes. But the work had to be done or the young ones wouldn’t have milk to drink.

Afternoon milking was different. Dorthea enjoyed the sweet earthy scent of the hay and the cows themselves. Even the manure wasn't an unpleasant smell. She spent time with the cows, talking to them, praising them in melodious tones, softly singing church hymns to them. The cows would nudge her gently with their heads, maybe hoping that she would pull out a small piece of stale bread. She called them Spot and Dot, names prompted by the markings on their faces. Momma said it was stupid to name animals that might end up on your dinner plate, but Dorthea persisted.

This afternoon, in the deepening shadows and cold, the animals were quiet, more than usual. Even the sound of their moving across the straw on the barn floor was muffled.  The thought ran through Dorthea‘s head that somehow the animals sensed it was Christmas Eve, that maybe they were playing their own part in the manger scene. Maybe they could feel the coming of God’s night of peace on earth. She knew it was nonsense. But still, she dwelled on the thought as she softly sang Christmas songs while she milked.

When she finished, Dorthea stood, stretched her legs and back, and gave Dot a firm slap on the rump. Dot looked back as if to acknowledge their shared task was done, then moved across in the barn to a corner where she would spend the night.

Dorthea picked up the pail and headed into the house.

The smell of beans and johnny cakes cooking on the stove struck Dorthea. It soaked through her nose and mouth and into her pores. Hunger swept over her like the Spirit at a river baptism. 

"That smells so good, Momma," she said, putting the pail on the unpolished wood floor.

"Put that milk in a pitcher," her mother said, not turning from the stove. "Then tell them kids supper's ready."

Dorthea pulled the plain glass pitcher from a metal shelf over the sink. She hoisted the bucket and poured without spilling a single drop. She placed the pail with the remaining milk outside on the porch and covered it with a square piece of wood to keep out animals. The next morning there would be a skim of ice on the cream that rose to the top, the perfect complement for a Christmas day breakfast of pancakes and sorghum syrup. Of course, she would still have to milk the cows before breakfast.

The three youngest children were already inside. Dorthea cupped her hands and yelled for the other three. The two boys, Jacob and Tommy, came running from behind the barn. Esther, who was nine and the quietest of all of them, was down the path playing along the creek. Dorthea yelled again. Esther waved and started skipping back toward the house.

Ten minutes later they were seated on unadorned hand-made wooden chairs around a rough-hewn wooden table. Grace was said, and they ate their Christmas Eve dinner of beans with a little pork fat and onions.  Crisp johnny cakes were piled high and served with fresh churned butter and sorghum syrup from a Mason jar.

"Is Daddy going to get home for Christmas morning?" six-year old Ruth Lynn asked as she poured syrup onto a single johnny cake on her plate. 

"I don't know, child," Momma said softly. "You know he's truckin' for Mr. Whitsett up in Marysville, travelin' all over the country. But I'm sure he'll get home if he kin."  

Tears formed in the corners of Ruth Lynn's eyes and her lower lip swallowed up her upper lip. "I want Daddy home," she said, her voice revealing that she was on the verge of tears. "It's Christmas."

"We all do," Momma said gently. "And Daddy wants to be here. It’s just sometimes we can't always do what we want."

The rest of the children continued to eat, seemingly oblivious to the table conversation. 

Dorthea looked at her mother and their eyes locked for a moment, then Momma lowered her head and spooned up a well-soaked piece of johnny cake she had broken into her beans.

Among all the children only Dorthea knew the truth. Daddy worked for Mr. Whitsett driving a truck, but only when he could. Much of the time when Daddy was away, Dorthea knew that he was at the V.A. Hospital in Asheville. “In the crazy bin,”  Aunt Lucy said. 

"It weren't his fault," Momma had told her. "It were what that war did to him. " 

Dorthea knew the war had done something to him. She awakened many times to her father screaming out in his sleep. Yelling about the Japs. Calling out the names of men who died on some nameless Pacific Island. Sometimes just indecipherable yelling. 

Dorthea would see him in his nightshirt in the middle of the night grabbing his rifle and running out to crouch behind a bush, then firing off shots into the darkness. She had seen him down at the creek, stripped to the waist, throwing  icy water over himself, rubbing, and rubbing, and rubbing, maybe for an hour as if he was trying to wash away demons that possessed him.

When it got bad, Momma would send for Doc Carson. He'd give Daddy some pills, and sometimes that would work. And sometimes it wouldn't. Then the Doc would go get Mr. Whitsett. 

Mr. Whitsett was about the biggest businessman in the county. He owned a general store, a sawmill, some timberland and a trucking company that hauled almost everything in and out of the county. Not many of the people in the holler between the mountains owned cars, but Mr. Whitsett owned two: a 1935 Ford sedan that he drove around the county and a big post-war Packard that he drove when he went out of town. When he and Doc Carson would take Daddy to the VA, Mr. Whitsett always drove his Packard. 

"Them boys went through so much in the war," he'd say. "Least I can do is help get him to the VA."

Sometimes Daddy would be gone a week. Other times it was longer. He was gone almost all last spring, nearly three months.  Then one day, he just came walking down the dirt road and across the creek as if nothing ever happened.

A year ago last spring, when Momma and Dorthea had been off in the woods gathering May apples, Momma told her about Daddy's trips to the hospital.  Dorthea knew there was something other than trucking trips to Daddy's absences. Maybe that was the reason Momma told her. But Dorthea thought the real reason was that Momma could no longer hold the secret to herself. She needed someone else to talk with.

Momma wouldn't dare talk to the women at Church. Christian as they might be, they were terrible gossips. In days, they would have it all over the county that Daddy was in the loony bin, and probably worse. The same was true of the relatives, but somehow Aunt Lucy found out. At least she kept it to herself. 

Dorthea had remained true to her mother's wishes. She told no one. Not even her best friend, Irene. And she had not let it slip in front of her siblings. Not once.

With Momma's eyes lowered and Ruth Lynn still on the verge of tears, Dorthea knew she had to redirect the conversation. 

"Ruth Lynn, you better not cry. You know what tonight is," Dorthea said, forcing excitement into her voice that did not exist in her heart.

"It's Christmas Eve," said Ruth Lynn, her lower lip protruding. 

"That's right. So, when we get done eating, we have to pick out our best socks, and darn them up nice, so we can hang them up."

Dorthea could see her mother looking toward her, head still down, shaking it ever so slightly. Dorthea knew what her mother intended by the head shake. The year had been hard. There was little if anything left over for Christmas. But Dorthea was determined that they would put up their stockings, even if all it meant was that Dorthea would have to fill them with cheap trinkets that boys had won for her at the county fair last summer. At least it was something.

When dinner was done, Momma pumped water to wash the dishes. The girls cleaned the table, and Esther grabbed a broom and began sweeping away the dirt tracked in during the day. The boys went out to the neatly stacked ricks of wood sitting under a lean-to behind the house. They carried in armloads of split wood and stacked it just inside the front door. 

The world was dark and deeply quiet. There were no night sounds. Crickets and katydids were long gone. Possums, coons, foxes and mountain bobcats were hidden away, hunkered against the cold. Bears were in hibernation. The only sound was a faint gurgle from the creek, water flowing over rocks polished smooth by tiny fingers of time. 

As Momma washed the dishes, Dorthea gathered her siblings. "Santa's gonna be here tonight. Go get your best sock and I'll darn it so we can hang it up." Momma looked disapprovingly over her shoulder, but said nothing. 

The girls' bedroom was set off from the living room by a red curtain. Dorthea pulled her sewing kit out of the top drawer in a small chest and sat down on the worn bed she shared with Esther. The other bed, even smaller, was for Ruth Lynn and Lizzie . Dorthea threaded a needle by the light from an oil lamp. Each child brought in a single dingy white cotton sock. All had holes and tears, but they were the best each child had.

They gathered closely around Dorthea, sitting on the bed and around on the floor, taking up all the space in the small room. They watched Dorthea work. Her fingers darted smoothly, directing the needle and thread without a single wasted motion. 

Dorthea was a storyteller, and the children loved her stories. She would tell Bible stories and fairy tales from memory. She passed along old family stories that had been handed down through generations. Sometimes she would tell the stories she heard from the old women at church. Other times she would just make something up – something about knights or gnomes or star-crossed loves. 

Tonight, as she darned stockings, she talked about Christmas. She weaved tales of elves and snowmen, ice castles, sugar plums and gingerbread, shepherds and magi, the star, and the Christ child.  Her brothers and sisters sat around, eyes wide, images spinning through their heads.

When she was done with the last stocking, Dorthea put her sewing kit back in the drawer. She gathered the socks in one hand and, with her siblings in tow, walked to the living room. Tommy retrieved a small tack hammer and a handful of tacks. With a gentle tap,  Dorthea secured the mended socks along the front door jam.

"There we are," she said smiling. "All ready for Christmas."

Dorthea walked to the shelf running across the length of the living room wall and pulled down the family Bible. She sat in the wooden rocking chair and opened the King James Bible to the Gospel of Luke. With her siblings gathered around, she read the Christmas story.

When she finished, it was silent except for the crackling of the wood burning in the stove. Even Momma stopped to listen. 

Dorthea closed the Bible and her eyes. Her voice was lithe and smooth as she spoke from memory:  "T’was the night before Christmas . . . "

She recited the poem, every word perfect. The children huddled, their eyes glimmering, their heads filled with images of  things they had never seen – drifted snow, sparkling trees, a sack filled with gifts. Dorthea‘s voice lowered to a false baritone:  "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

And it was done. Dorthea let the moment linger. Finally, she stood. "Off to bed. All of you."

*  *   *   *

Dorthea lay in the darkness. Esther's even breathing was the only sound. The coolness against her face signaled that the fire had died down. It would be only embers by morning, but still hot enough that it would rekindle with a few  pieces of dry wood. 

She breathed deeply, smiling as she replayed the evening of storytelling. She focused on the Christmas story, letting the sense of peace soak in like a warm summer rain. In the quiet, she drifted into slumber. 

*   *   *   *

Dorthea‘s eyes opened to full sunshine streaming into the house. It was morning. Christmas morning. She  overslept. There was no telling what time it was, but she knew it was hours after she was normally awake, hours after she should have been milking.

But what was that?  Her nosed twitched. Yes. It was the smell of bacon frying. Momma was already up making breakfast. And bacon at that. Maybe Momma had already milked the cows as a Christmas present to her.  

Dorthea sprung out of the bed and pulled back the curtain. Momma stood by the cook stove, her shoulders covered by a delicate pale blue shawl that Dorthea had never seen. Momma turned from her cooking to look over her shoulder at Dorthea . "Morning girl. Didn't think you were ever gonna wake up."  

Dorthea smiled back, but didn't say anything. Then she looked toward the door. The darned white socks hung where she had tacked them the night before, but now they were a different shape. They were bulging. Each sock was stuffed with candy, and fruit, and little presents. And out the top of each poked a red and white crook-stick candy cane. 

Dorthea put her hands to her mouth covering the smile that spread across her face.

There was a sound of someone outside. Then the door opened.

In stepped her father. He was wearing his worn hip-length coffee-colored hunting coat. He carried an armload of wood, as much as all the boys had carried in all their trips to the woodpile the previous night. He stood tall, his broad shoulders pulled back, not at all bent by the weight of the wood. He lowered the logs into an orderly pile by the door, then stood, clapping his gloved hands together, and turned. 

He saw Dorthea. The small wrinkles on his face pulled tight with his smile. His pale blue eyes shined. "Morning darlin'," he said in a crackling baritone voice. "I got in so late last night, I didn't want to wake you up. Merry Christmas, darling."

Dorthea bit her lower lip, her teeth clamping so hard that she expected to draw blood. But she didn't. The tears welled in her eyes. "Daddy," she said softly. Then the tears flowed freely, creating a salty stream over her cheeks, falling to the floor. "Daddy," she said, her voice a bit louder. "Merry Christmas."

He held out her arms to her and Dorthea started to run across the floor. But she couldn't. Her feet wouldn't move. She tried harder, but it felt like she was stuck ankle-deep in a bog. She struggled, but the more she pulled, the more her feet held fast. Finally, she pulled with all her might.

The blanket pulled loose from the bed and Dorthea’s feet flailed free. 

"Dorthea , you give me some blanket back."  It was Esther. She was shouting as she grabbed to pull the quilt back over her exposed legs.

Dorthea’s eyes opened into the pre-dawn dimness. "Daddy?" she said softly, and with the word knew the reality. Breakfast wasn't cooking. The sun wasn't up. Daddy wasn't there.

Esther situated herself under the covers and was immediately back to sleep. Dorthea just lay there in the dark, her eyes moist. Her heart pounded heavy in her chest, echoing through the emptiness that now consumed her. 

Moments passed, and with each moment the sense of Christmas ebbed from her. When there was no hope of finding more sleep, she sat up. With a deep breath, she got up to find her milking clothes, shoes and coat.

The bare wood floor creaked ever so quietly as Dorthea walked through the early-morning darkness. She took three small pieces of split wood from the pile near the door. Using the hem of her dress as a make-shift potholder, she turned the lever on the stove door and dropped the wood on top of the glowing coals. She shut the door with an iron-on-iron clank that shot through the stillness. But no one else in the house stirred.

Dorthea turned and noticed the sad line of darned socks hanging where she had left them. They were as empty as when she had tacked them in place. With a glum acceptance, she noted to herself that she would have to put some of her summer trinkets and baubles in the socks before the younger children woke up.

 Bucket in hand, Dorthea pulled her ankle-length coat tight around her and walked into the pink-gray coldness that comes just before dawn.  The barn was still dark. She walked past the kerosene lantern that hung near the barn door. She could find her way in the darkness, and today, this Christmas morning, she did not want the light. She wanted to be alone in the darkness.

The first squirts of milk hit the empty pale with a sound like a spoon rasping across a washboard. Dorthea jumped a bit with each sound until milk covered the bottom of the pail. She continued to squeeze milk from the udders, not bothering to wipe the tears as they rolled down her cheeks.

By the time the cows were milked, dawn had broken. Bright beams of sunlight cut across the tips of the trees on top of Carter's Knob, creating a knife-edge lines of gold. The holler was still in the shadow of the eastern mountains. It would be another hour or more before the sun emerged above the knob, but indirect sunlight began filling the valley. 

Dorthea picked up the bucket. Steam wafted gently from the warm milk. She walked up the well-worn path from the barn to the house, head down, concentrating on the smoothness of her steps so that the milk did not splash over the rim.

As she approached the front porch steps, Dorthea raised her head. She stopped. The bucket slid from her grip and hit flat-bottom on the ground. Milk sloshed out on one side, then the other, before settling.

Dorthea’s hands went to her mouth, as they had in her dream. She closed her eyes then reopened them. She stamped her feet to reassure herself that she was not dreaming.

Tacked to the unpainted clapboard siding, lined up in perfect order from small to big, were seven pristine new pairs of socks. Each sock bulged, filled with hard candy, nuts and small toys. Peeking out from each one was an orange. 

Dorthea ran up the steps. She gently touched each new sock, as if feeling the softness of new cotton for the first time. She moved up the line from the smallest to the largest. For long moments she stood, not moving. Her eyes moistened, then tears streamed down her cheeks. 

When at last she turned to go inside, she noticed a box sitting against the wall near the door. Inside the box was a smoked ham showing bright pink through a weave of butcher's twine. Piled all around it were sweet potatoes, white potatoes, bags of flour and sugar, peanuts, and Mason jars of fruit preserves.  

Dorthea stared at the box and its contents. She used the sleeve of her coat to wipe her tears.  She opened the door and ran inside.

"Get up!  Get up!" she yelled, directing her voice to the room she shared with her sisters. Then she yelled toward the upstairs loft where the boys slept. "Get up!  Santa's been here! It's Christmas!"

Dorthea was never sure where the gifts came from. She knew from her mother's reaction that Momma did not know who left the gifts for them. Dorthea thought Mr. Whitsett was the likely source, but if so, he never admitted it. It could have come from the church, but no one in the church had the money to provide such a bounty. Maybe it was one of the teachers. Whoever it was remained silent. But it was a kindness that Dorthea never forgot.

Daddy did not make it home for Christmas. Or for New Years. But one day in January, with snowflakes scattered in the air like so many fluttering butterflies, Daddy came walking down the dirt road, hobbling with his familiar limp, a remnant of the war. 

That year was the last Christmas in the holler for Dorthea and her family. Daddy left in the spring. His cousin in Cincinnati got him a job with a brewery. Over the summer, he settled in and saved some money. By the time the leaves started changing, he sent for his family. 

Daddy wasn't over his troubles. At times he would still wake up in rivers of sweat from night terrors. The damage of the war was never fully behind him. There were occasional trips to the VA but never for more than a few days. 

Shortly before his 56th birthday, he keeled over at work and was gone. He was freed of whatever demons had returned with him from that war. Momma brought him back to the holler to be buried in the family plot.

After the youngest child was grown and left home, Momma returned to the holler where she lived with Aunt Lucy until her death a decade later.

Dorthea married and raised her own family far away from the holler. No matter how difficult her own struggles, she and her family spent the week before Christmas putting together gift baskets for families where children would otherwise go without. 

Every Christmas Eve, Dorthea would gather her children, and later her grandchildren, around her. With piles of warm cookies before her and each child with a tall glass of milk, she would read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke and recite T'was the Night Before Christmas from memory. Then she would put everything aside, close her eyes and take herself back to 1949. Opening her eyes, she would draw her children even closer. She would remind the children of all their aunts and uncles and how they grew up in the holler. Then she would tell the story of her Christmas that year. When she finished, with trembling fingers she would wipe the tears from her cheeks, give each child a kiss, and send them off to bed where they would sleep with the joyous anticipation of the Christmas they were certain would come with the morning.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

James Bond Movies Ranked 1 - 25



In 2012, as James Bond celebrated his 50th Anniversary of the first Bond movie, I put together my ranking of all 22 films. Since then, three more Bond films have been released, including the recent No Time to Die, the 25th Bond film and Daniel Craig’s final appearance as Ian Fleming’s iconic 007

This caused me to look back at nearly 60 years of going to James Bond movies. Here is how I rate them.

THE FOUR ABSOLUTE BEST  


1.  Goldfinger. (1964) The third installment in the Bond series is the first Bond movie I saw, and it got everything right. It opens with the best of all the Bond theme songs belted out by Shirley Bassey over the best opening title sequence. The girls, the gadgets, the settings, the music, the one-liners, Pussy Galore, Odd Job, Goldfinger, and the plot to knock off Fort Knox.  What more could you want? 

2.  Casino Royale.  (2006) Daniel Craig's reboot of the series is spectacular. Bond is restored to his ruthless nature as a 00 agent.  Eve Green gives perhaps the best performance of any Bond female as Vesper Lynd -- "the money." Her character casts a shadow through all of the Daniel Craig movies, including No Time to Die. The gadgets are minimal, the characters believable, and the realistic plot is drawn directly from Ian Fleming's first Bond novel.  

3.  From Russia With Love. (1963) Bond really hits his stride in this second movie in the series, and Sean Connery is at his best.  All the components are there, and the plot is full of intrigue, twists and turns, but the storyline stays within reality. 

4.  No Time to Die (2021).  If he had not done so already, this fifth and final Daniel Craig Bond film puts him firmly alongside Sean Connery as defining the character. The longest of all the Bond films at 2 hours 40 minutes, it fills that time with unrelenting action and a Bond who feels the burden of his own choices in life. He is a more fully developed, multi-dimensional character -- a man in full -- which makes his final acts in the movie all the more heroic.

NEARLY GREAT BOND MOVIES

5.  Skyfall (2012).  In many ways, this movie is as much about M as it is about Bond in Judy Dench’s farewell appearance as the head of British Secret Service. A former 00 agent has gone rogue, seeking his revenge on M and MI6. Ultimately, the story goes back in Bond’s past, heading back to Bond’s ancestral home in Scotland for its climax.   

6.  Dr. No   (1962).  Many Bond fans underrate this movie. It established so many of the things that made Bond a success, from Bond’s very first words (“Bond. James Bond”). Exotic settings, a mysterious villain, fascinating characters ranging from the "three blind mice" to M and Moneypenney, and of course Honey Ryder (Ursela Andress).  But mostly, the movie established Bond as something different, a 00 agent who would make love to a beautiful enemy agent or shoot a man with an empty gun, whatever was required. Without the foundation of this movie, I doubt we would have seen the 24 that have followed.

 7.  Thunderball (1965)  The last of the really good Sean Connery Bond pics.  The opening sequence is powerful. Adolfo Celli's Emilio Largo is the best bad guy with a patch since Long John Silver.  Add in a beautiful red-haired assassin, hungry sharks, and extensive underwater battle scenes, and you have a winner.  The only shortcoming was that the intricacies of the plot were at times hard to follow. You may need to watch the movie multiple times before you understand the relationship between the events at Shrublands and the rest of the plot.

8.  Goldeneye (1995)  The first Pierce Brosnan movie was his best.  Excellent from the opening dive off a dam, to the orgasmic killer, to Bond facing a friend and former 00 agent who was now a traitor. 

9. License to Kill (1989). Perhaps the darkest of all the Bond movies was Timothy's Dalton's best. When Bond's best friend's wife is murdered, he sets out on a personal vendetta. Though he drew criticism from many fans, I thought Dalton was an excellent Bond..

10.  Live and Let Die  (1973)  Roger Moore's initial effort was kicked off with a great theme song by Paul McCartney, great locations (New Orleans, New York & Haiti), a great boat chase, quirky villains, and Jayne Seymour as Solitaire. It signaled a "lighter" version of James Bond. Success was in the cards. 

11.  SPECTRE (2015) The Daniel Craig Bond films were not filled with Spectre as the evil organization behind things – that is, until the movie Spectre when it is revealed that all the plots of the prior Craig films were organized and manipulated by Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the international crime organization Spectre. Personally, I didn’t care for this twist. Nevertheless, Christoph Waltz was by far the best actor to play Blofeld. The story of Spectre sets the stage for No Time to Die.

STILL ENTERTAINING 

12.  For Your Eyes Only (1981)  In this movie, the series moved away from outlandish over-the-top nature of Moonraker and focused on a more believable plot -- recovering an ATEC devise that can signal missiles on nuclear submarines.  Chaim Topol (yes, the same guy who sang and danced to a Best Actor Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof) is wonderful as Greek smuggler Milos Columbo.  The scene where Bond, Columbo and Columbo's gang scales a steep cliff is one of the best of the Roger Moore era.  The movie ends as Bond throws the ATEC over a cliff to keep it from the hands of the Russians.  "Detente, comrade. You don't have it; I don't have it."

13.  The Living Daylights  (1987) Timothy Dalton's first film as Bond was a throwback with less gadgets and more plot.  While some balked at Dalton's colder 007, I thought his portrayal was a throwback James Bond as Ian Fleming created him.

14.  Spy Who Loved Me   (1977)  Bond meets his near equal in Barbara Bach's Agent XXX.  The movie featured Jaws, a submarine car, a stealth boat, and a classy theme song by Carly Simon. The night scene at the Pyramids was the most frightening of the Roger Moore era.  Nobody does it better. 

15.  You Only Live Twice  (1967)  Bond finally comes face to face with his nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The Japanese location was great, as was the air battle with Little Nelly.  But even with Sean Connery in place, Blofeld's casting and makeup was a big miss, and the plot about kidnapping spaceships and returning them to a secret lair inside a volcano was just too far out to place it among the better bond movies. 

16.  On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969).  George Lazenby had the unenviable job of following Sean Connery as James Bond - sort of like following John Wooden as coach at UCLA.  Connery so defined the role that any actor would likely have fallen short.  This movie drops the gadgets that had taken over the series and moved toward the novels and the early movies. There were two really big problems. One was the casting of an Australian male model to play Bond. It just didn’t work. The other was the producers skimping on production.  The action scenes -- an avalanche, a ski chase, and the final bobsled chase - all seemed cheaply done, particularly when compared to Thunderball, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice.  

17.  Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).  A megalomaniac media mogul tries to use a secret stolen encoder to start a world war in order to increase circulation.  It's an entertaining romp with Pierce Brosnan in his second Bond film. In light of Rupert Murdock and Fox News, the plot seems not so far-fetched.  Life, imitating art, imitating life. 

18.  The World Is Not Enough (1999)  Electra King knocks off her dad, plots to explode a nuclear bomb and kidnaps M -- not bad for the only female leading villain in any Bond movie.  

19.  Diamonds Are Forever  (1971).  There are some great elements in Diamonds Are Forever.  Sean Connery is back.  Shirley Bassey belts out a great theme song. Jill St. John as Tiffany Case.  Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wendt are wonderfully unusual assassins.  The Amsterdam elevator fight is one of the best in all the Bond movies. The primary setting is in Las Vegas. It all should work.  But why didn't it?  First was the repeated "attacking the world from space plot," complete with hokey laser effects.  It didn't work the first time in You Only Live Twice. Unfortunately, this plot element did live twice.  Second, there was casting Jimmy Dean as the Howard Hughes-like tycoon Willard White.  Really?  Jimmy Dean? Sausage king maybe, but not Howard Hughes.  Finally, there was the casting of Charles Gray as Blofeld. Gray was better cast as the narrator in Rocky Horror Picture Show.  

20.   A Quantum of Solace  (2010)  Following Casino Royale, this was a big disappointment.  The plot was convoluted and just didn't keep your interest. Still, like Connery, Daniel Craig is great as Bond even when the movie isn't.

THE REST

21.  The Man With The Golden Gun  (1974).  This second Roger Moore offering has its moments. Scaramanga with his memorable third nipple (from the novel) was a fitting adversary for Bond.  But the whole shooting gallery thing and that weird little Nick Nack made it seem like an episode of Fantasy Island. It was just a little too strange for me.

22.  Die Another Day (2002) Pierce Brosnan's fourth (and last) Bond movie had lots of potential.  It starts with Bond being captured and tortured by North Korea when a mission goes awry.  Add Halle Barry as Jynx, a CIA agent, and a couple of homages - one to Ursula Andress's bikini in Dr. No and a quick glimpse of Birds of the West Indies, by orninthologist James Bond - the book from where Ian Fleming borrowed the name James Bond.  But when this movie dissolves into an ice palace and invisible cars, it throws away all those great things in the first half of the movie.  Such a waste of potential. 

23.  Octopussy (1983)   This is another movie that had potential but seem to fritter it away.  Maud Adams was outstanding. She was a near-equal of Bond, a smuggler with her private army of beautiful women.  But any movie that ends up with suave dangerous James Bond in a clown outfit with a red nose and big feet . . .   Lets just say this - we would never see Sean Connery or Daniel Craig with a red nose.

24.   View To A Kill (1985)  Roger Moore's silicon valley swansong was just awful.  Nothing symbolized how bad the movie was than the initial car chase where Bond ends up driving half a subcompact - a far cry from an Aston Martin DB5. The movie was noteworthy as the final appearance of both Moore as Bond and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny.  Candidly, both had gotten a little long in the tooth for their roles. Despite the awful plot, the movie did feature a wonderfully demented performance by Christopher Walken as Zorin and a powerful performance by Grace Jones as May Day

25.  Moonraker  (1979)  Bond in space. Ray guns. Fighting in weightlessness. And Jaws as a sympathetic, misunderstood, indeed even romantic bad guy with a heart of gold.  Whoever wrote this disaster should have never been allowed near another script.  Only saving grace - an underrated theme song from Shirley Bassey - her third and final Bond theme. 


*NOTE:  This list includes Eon Productions only. It does not include 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale or 1983 Never Say Never Again, a non-Eon Productions remake of Thunderball.





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