Yaphet Kotto – RIP
Yaphet Kotto just died. He had a deep gravitas, and his turns as the cynical working-class stiff (be it in Blue Collar, Brubaker or doomed on the ship in Alien) were always spot on. His best work, however, was probably on TV in his 122 episode run as Captain Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Streets, where he played the rock solid center in the world of Baltimore’s murder police.
Kotto’s first big role, however, was as the diabolical, charming Bond villain in Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s first in the series and his best (just a hair better than The Spy Who Love Me). Here, Moore is physical, and even has a hint of menace, as he gets to the bottom of an international drug conspiracy engineered by Kotto. Sharks, alligators, snakes, spooky voodoo rituals emceed by the old Seven Up pitchman Jeffrey Holder (“ahahahahahahahahahaha”), high-speed boat chases . . . it’s all rip roaring fun (and ahead of its time – it’s 1973, and Bond couples with an African American fellow agent, Rosie Carver). It also features the best Bond song (which is one of the few decent songs by Wings).
But Kotto was a blast (figuratively, and at the end, indulging in a cheezy Bond quip, literally). Funny, from debonair to frightening in an instant, and playful. One of the best and more accessible Bond villains.
Because during COVID, I have some extra time on my hands, here is my list of Bond films, best to worst.
1) Casino Royale (Craig)
2) Goldfinger (Connery)
3) From Russia with Love (Connery)
4) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Lazenby)
5) Skyfall (Craig)
6) Live and Let Die (Moore)
7) Quantum of Solace (Craig)
8) Thunderball (Connery)
9) The Spy Who Loved Me (Moore)
10) Dr. No (Connery)
11) The Living Daylights (Dalton)
12) You Only Live Twice (Connery)
13) Never Say Never Again (Connery)
14) Moonraker (Moore)
15) Licence to Kill (Dalton)
16) For Your Eyes Only (Moore)
17) Tomorrow Never Dies (Brosnan)
18) The Man With the Golden Gun (Moore)
19) Goldeneye (Brosnan)
20) The World is Not Enough (Brosnan)
21) Die Another Day (Brosnan)
22) Octopussy (Moore)
23) Diamonds are Forever (Connery)
24) Specter (Craig)
25) A View to a Kill (Moore)
Don’t forget Kotto’s turn as FBI agent Mosely in Midnight Run, who DeNiro impersonates to hilarious effect after pinching his FBI badge.
You’re very kind to list Skyfall and Quantum of Solace as high as you do. The Daniel Craig era of James Bond, which showed so much promise with his first Bond film Casino Royale, which I agree is the best Bond film of the lot, just never really panned out, in my opinion. It was the modest things – the witty repartee with Eva Green; the gritty, realistic fight scenes so reminiscent of the Bourne films; the poker game; the ironic play on the James Bond mythology (“Shaken or stirred?” “Do I look like I give a damn?”) – which made that first film so refreshing and fun.
The filmmaker dropped all those modest things in the later Craig films, reverting back to the Bond norm by making them nothing more than big fireworks’ extravaganzas in exotic locations with increasingly silly villains. What was even worse, as Craig continued in the role, the scripts started to become a meditation on aging. Can Bond pass his fitness test and become an agent again? Can we ever go home?
I forgot Agent Mosely!
I can give you Skyfall, though it is a top ten on the back of Bardem and the inspired action set pieces alone, and exploring Bond getting older is better than tongue-and-cheeking it (Never Say never Again) or actually watching him drink Metamucil over a martini (the last 4 Moore pictures).
You undervalue Quantum of Solace, which was really about getting Bond back in the fold after he loses Vesper (who, after Jill St. John, is my favorite Bond gal). And the villain in that film is nowhere near silly; he’s actually just a guy in the larger SPECTER world (they off him in the end, along with the motor oil) and his designs are both modest and 21st century.
I can’t fault anything you say about QoS. You’re accurate in your description of both the villain and his aims. (And I do like when Hollywood bad guys use environmentalism to shield their true evil motivations.)
But the film still seems like a steep drop from Casino Royale. Vesper is gone. The witty ironic play on Bondian themes is missing, other than a dark oily twist on the girl fatally sprayed with gold from Goldfinger. And the fight scenes seem less meaty and realistic.