Welcome to Part II of my ranking of the James Bond directors. In Part I, I discuss numbers 12 through 9. It went as follows:
12. Lee Tamahori-Die Another Day
11. Roger Spottiswoode-Tomorrow Never Dies
10. Michael Apted-The World is Not Enough
9. Irvin Kershner-Never Say Never Again
In Part II, I will discuss (with some controversy) a very specific director of this esteemed franchise.
8. John Glen
For Your Eyes Only (FYEO), Octopussy, A View To A Kill (AVTAK), The Living Daylights (TLD), License To Kill (LTK)
You wouldn’t know it by looking at his filmography, but John Glen is the most controversial directors of the this proud franchise, and by extension, in film history.
During the days when IMDB had message boards, the discussion for FYEO was mostly civilized and focused almost exclusively on the directorial methods of Glen. It was an honest and frank discussion on the large shadow he cast over the franchise both during his time as director of five consecutive films and how it ultimately influenced the Brosnan years. For better or worse, 9 films…which spanned over two decades and three Bond actors…lived in the shadow of John Glen’s direction.
The perception we have of Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and even Pierce Brosnan was largely shaped by Glen. That’s how important (and controversial) of a director this guy is.
Even before he was assigned the big chair, Glen spent many years as an editor and second-unit director. Part of the bat shit insanity that was Moonraker could be partially attributed to Glen. Known infamously as the “pigeon double-take” during the gondola scene, while Lewis Gilbert DIRECTED the film, this hideous editing trick had JOHN GLEN written all over it. So in the history of the James Bond franchise, one COULD make the argument that below Sean Connery, John Glen might be the most important person.
Even the Mission: Impossible films, notably the most recent one, attempt to capture the spirit of the Roger Moore films which were largely shaped by….you guessed it…John Glen himself.
“So shouldn’t he rank higher than 8?”, you might ask.
I suppose. But let me make this argument:
In the NFL, analysts use the term “Dalton Scale” (in reference to the long-time Cincinnati Bengals starting quarterback Andy Dalton) to assess the value of a given first-string quarterback. Any quarterback that ranks ABOVE Andy Dalton can be considered a long-term solution for a team, while any franchise that has a QB BELOW Dalton should continue to look for other options. We can think of the Bond directors in a similar fashion, with John Glen being the benchmark for which we can evaluate all other franchise directors. Any director that ranks ABOVE Glen is average to excellent, while anyone that ranks BELOW is “not very good” to horrible.
Try not to think too hard about this, okay?
But how did he earn this spot?
After Moonraker, when the series rolled over into the 1980s, the producers wanted to bring James Bond “back to earth”. John Glen, who presumably became a “yes-man” to series producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, was tasked to direct FYEO…a far more stripped down 007 film compared to its immediate predecessor. And, in my view, it mostly worked.
While it was overall a solid production, certainly Roger Moore and Glen’s finest hour, certain elements were introduced that were, shall we say…unnecessary: the “death” of Blofeld in the cold-open, the character of Bibi, the hockey scene, Margaret Thatcher, etc. The tone of the film is far more somber than others in the franchise, which Glen masterfully accomplishes, but we are violently thrown out of this mood when those (mostly comedic) elements are displayed.
And this perfectly sums up the career of John Glen: wanting to have it both ways. Indeed, in addition to Pierce Brosnan, we could sum up Roger Moore’s career in the same way. (Moore, however, was far more competent at doing this than either Brosnan or Glen.)
I get the feeling that most fans would believe that Octopussy was Glen’s best effort. To an extent, I might agree. While I certainly enjoy this film the MOST out of Glen’s filmography, as a Bond film, it poses a MAJOR problem: it’s mostly comedy.
“So what?” you might add.
“So what?” is what I tell myself while watching it. But is that what I want when watching a James Bond film? I don’t know. Watch Octopussy along with some of the early Connery flicks and you might find it hard to believe that they are of the same franchise.
Yet again, even with this film, we find that Glen wants to have it both ways. This is especially apparent during the chase across Germany in order to defuse a nuclear weapon. Sounds like tense stuff, right? And it is mostly tense, combined with a few minor laughs that doesn’t distract from the overall action combined with extraordinary set pieces. But all of that gets ruined when James Bond decides to infiltrate a military base dressed as a mother fucking CLOWN.
It was too much.
AVTAK speaks for itself. The general public might see the middle film in Glen’s series as “the shit” in the John Glen shit sandwich. But I don’t care. For many in James Bond fandom, AVTAK was the one that made us FANS when we were kids. Of course, as we became adults, we realized that it was a terrible film but it still held a special place in our hearts.
But it was clear that Roger Moore’s time was up (he was 57). Then came in a complete 180 for the role of 007: Timothy Dalton. We all have our opinions on Moore, but there is one thing that we can agree upon: Roger Moore fit John Glen’s sensibilities far better than Timothy Dalton.
Dalton stripped the character of all it’s humor. For many, this was a welcoming gesture. But Glen was still in charge. Many view TLD favorably, but Dalton’s back-to-basics interpretation of 007 appeared to fall flat in Glen’s over-the-top world of James Bond. This became especially apparent in LTK (which I discussed in my in-depth assessment of the film last year), and audiences didn’t go for it.
LTK was both Dalton and Glen’s last film.
But the 1990s rolled around and in came a NEW James Bond: Pierce Brosnan. While the Brosnan films brought a much needed facelift to the series, they didn’t quite shake one terrible habit: wanting it both ways. Audiences grew tired of this as well, and once again the series needed a reboot.
Then entered Daniel Craig and the rest is history. But the ghost of John Glen presided of over 9 films. That’s right, 9 FILMS! And his presence didn’t seemed exorcised until the appearance of Craig.
For better or worse, John Glen shaped the history of Bond. And it’s entirely possible that we wouldn’t HAVE James Bond today if it weren’t for this director.