There are an abundance of James Bond books in the world today. They cover many aspects of the series ranging from the popular films to the literary 007. However, Michael Di Leo’s book, The Spy Who Thrilled Us: A Guide To The Best Of Cinematic James Bond is different. This isn’t a book that gives an overview of the series and proceeds to give information about a variety of topics such as the films, Bond girls and more, but it’s essentially a book that reviews and ranks many aspects of the cinematic James Bond in lists. Some of these include Bond Girl Names, Villain Deaths and many more.
While this is not the typical Bond book to collect, what makes it all the more an interesting read is the very reason that it is different from many others. It sparks discussion among fans when they compare their own choices with those the author has written in this book. CBn had a chance to speak with Michael Di Leo about his book, The Spy Who Thrilled Us: A Guide To The Best Of Cinematic James Bond.
Thank you for agreeing to the interview. First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you become a Bond fan?
My parents were big movie buffs and Bond fans, so we were always going to the movies on the weekends when I was a kid. I saw Diamonds Are Forever upon its original release in 1971 (I was only 4 years old) and have been hooked on Bond ever since.
What inspired you to create the book?
Well I had always dabbled in writing and finally decided that it was time that I try my hand at writing a book. Naturally, since I’ve been obsessed with Bond since the age of four, 007 was the obvious subject for me to take on.
Why did you decide to go with ranking certain elements of the James Bond films as opposed to the approach of giving information about the films?
I just felt that books like Benson’s Bedside Companion and Rubin’s The James Bond Films had already done that (superbly), so I didn’t feel I could bring anything to the table that they hadn’t already done so well in their books. However, with 19 films in the can (at the time of writing), no one had ever done a book that ranked all of the elements of a Bond film and I though it would be alot of fun to do so.
What did the research for this book consist of? How long did it take you
to write it?
Not much research was needed at all. Just watching the films. And since I have seen each one over and over again since I was a child, I did not have to watch the films again to create my rankings. Once I chose a scene for ranking on one of the lists in the book, I would then watch that scene before writng about it. The book took me two and a half years to write—not that it should have, but in the course of writing it I got engaged, married, switched jobs, etc. There were so many things going on in my personal life at the time that kept getting in the way, but I kept plugging away until it was finished.
Did you watch the James Bond films multiple times while writing? Were there any specific Bond films you focused on more than others?
I didn’t have to watch the films multiple times, just the particular scenes I was writing about. I can run the films in my head (as I am sure many Bond fans can) like videotape, just from having seen them so many times.
Did you devise a certain system for picking the Top 5 of the elements
listed? Were there any specific “rules” you had?
Once I chose a topic, I would literally just start in my head with Dr. No and run straight through to The World Is Not Enough and jot down all of the instances that a particular “subject” (i.e. “villain deaths&edquo;) ocurred. Then I would look at that list and wittle it down, crossing out the ones that I wasn’t particularly fond of until I got the list down to the five best. Of course sometimes I might get it down to seven that I really liked, and then I would just mull it over and force myself to get it down to five. That’s why on some of my lists I have an “honorable mention“ list. Those are the ones that finished 6th or 7th on my list.
What decided which list categories would make it into the book? Were there any lists you originally had in mind, but dropped?
I think in doing a book like this, some of the categories are obvious (best villains, best henchmen, best girls, etc.). The fun for me was coming with categories that were not so obvious. So I really enjoyed categories like “Helicopter Explosions” and “Why Don’t They Just Shoot Him?” Plus I wanted the book to be somewhat lighthearted in tone, so categories like those helped me achieve that goal. Where else but the Bond series can you come with a category entitled “Helicopter Explosions”? There were not categories that were dropped. In fact when I signed my deal with my publisher, he asked me to put more categories in the book than were in my manuscript. So I actually had to rack my brain to come up with a few new ones before publication.
Were there any goals you set while writing the book?
Nothing more that finishing it and getting it published. Any sale numbers or money made was just going to be gravy for me.
What was your favorite part in writing this book, and do you have a favorite section?
Definitely chapter 1, where I rank and review each film. I know that any serious Bond fan has their favorites and their not so favorites and has probably at one point or another ranked the films from best to worst, but to do it in writing, for the world to see, well that was a challenge but it was great fun at the same time.
Which listing has proved to be the most controversial among Bond fans?
Chapter 1 again. I mean think of it, if you are a Bond fan and your favorite film is near the bottom of my list, not only are you going to be unhappy with that, but you’re probably not going to even want to read the rest of the book! I had one fan who was considerably younger than me and whose first Bond film was GoldenEye. GoldenEye is to him what Goldfinger is to older fans like me. He was quite miffed that GoldenEye was not that high on my list and that Tomorrow Never Dies (which he didn’t like) was. And for him, he couldn’t get past that and even read the rest of the book. But other Bond fans, especially ones my age (I’m 37) and older, who were around back in the Connery days, very much agreed with my rankings of the films. So I found that age certainly plays a factor in how Bond fans perceive certain films.
How did you decide which photos to use?
I had in my head the photos that I wanted for each section and category. So I made a list of what I wanted to find and then went to a store in Greenwich Village in New York (I’m a native New Yorker) called “Jerry Ohlinger’s Movie Material Store” (a place I have gone to since I was a kid to buy Bond posters and memorabilia), which has one of the largest collections of movie stills in the world, and basically spent the day there, sifting through large binders of photos (the store has a large binder of stills from each film) until I found the ones that I wanted. I tried to find pictures that we Bond fans hadn’t seen before, but that was a tough chore. It was more important that the photo matched what I was writing about.
You mention that your book covers the official 19 Bond films; but would any of the aspects of 1967’s Casino Royale or 1983’s Never Say Never Again have made it into your lists? Any idea where you would place them in your Rank the Bond Films list?
Well, being that Casino Royale was a spoof, I never considered including it, but if I did, it would rank near the bottom. I was never a big fan of Never Say Never Again. I remember being very disappointed by it when it came out in 1983, especially since I, like all Bond fans, were so ecstatic over Connery’s return. But I always felt the film was too light and comical and lacked the panache and style of an Eon film. I would probably rank it in my bottom third.
With that, what about Die Another Day? Where would you place that film in your ranking? Are there any lists in the book that it would have definitely made?
I haven’t thought about it too much. I think the Vanquish would make the “Best Car” list. Miranda Frost might make the “Femmes Fatales” list. I think the fencing match between Bond and Graves would definetely make the best “One-on-One Fights” category. I love that scene. As for the film, I liked it. I thought the weakest parts were the PTS and the finale, but I thought everything in between (minus the CGI stunt) was very good. I’m not sure what number I would rank it—it wouldn’t be near my top 5—but it would probably be in the top half of the list.
What was the most difficult part in writing the book?
Ranking the films and trying to explain in a short review why the film ranked where it did.
Has your view on the book changed over time? Have any passionate
arguments lately caused you to change your rankings?
Well, my top five films are rock solid and no amount of arguing would sway my position on those. Same with my bottom four. It’s the middle ten films (now 11) that you could sway me on, because I consider those middle 11 films to be pretty close in quality. So if I reviewed the list today I might flip-flop some of those middle films. Looking back now, I think I like Tomorrow Never Dies better than The World Is Not Enough, but in the book, The World Is Not Enough is higher. I’m sure over time, I might start to appreciate one of the films more than I did at the time of writing, but again I’m talking about the middle films. Nothing is going to dissuade me that Goldfinger isn’t the best or that A View To A Kill isn’t the worst.