Spectre, the latest go-round with Daniel Craig’s 007, is expected to dominate the box office when it premieres this weekend. (Eat it, Trumbo!) With one more film left on his contract, Spectre provides a fine opportunity to appreciate the gravitas that Craig has brought to the James Bond role before the white plume of smoke signals that a successor has been appointed. Every actor who’s donned the tuxedo put his own spin on the iconic character, and Craig’s Bond is a serious agent doing serious work. A man of few words, Craig’s Bond is a more stoic, brutal, brooding 007, befitting the tastes of the times.
Craig makes for a fine Bond, and yet the grimness of current-day Bond is sometimes enough to make viewers nostalgic for past Bond films, where camp humor leavened the life-or-death global crises unfolding onscreen. In addition to having mastered the use of a variety of weapons, learned multiple styles of martial arts, developed proficiency with every mode of transport on God’s green Earth, and memorized which fork is specifically for salad, Bond has also honed his skills for verbal fencing. (And, as you’ll witness below in all of its Madonna-laden glory, literal fencing.) The groanworthy double entendres that Bond would use to coax willing honeys into bed were some of the most immediate pleasures of the ironic ’70s Bond pictures and of the highly questionable Brosnan era. The days of characters named Pussy Galore have long since past, but let’s revisit a time when Bond lived like the MacGyver of sex puns, turning whatever subject at hand into a roiling hotbed of barely contained eroticism.
The line: “I thought Christmas only comes once a year.”
The scene: Bond’s shacked up with the beautiful Christmas Jones (Denise Richards, not so much selling the nuclear physicist character as much as she is sweatily haggling with it) in Turkey for a romantic interlude during The World Is Not Enough. Through a gauzy curtain around their four-poster bed, we see them laying in postcoital bliss. “I was wrong about you,” Bond tells her. When she asks why, he deploys a pun that he must surely have been holding onto since five seconds after they were introduced.
Corn factor: All-time high. As pure wordplay goes, it’s technically impressive, but good Lord does Bond misread the room. He’s just shared in the most intimate human union; if he was doing his job correctly, he shouldn’t even be functioning at a full mental capacity. And yet he’s ready to whip out some Carrot Top-level punwork while they’re still basking in their after-sex glow? Bond typically has a line for every occasion, but sometimes the right thing to say is decidedly not a Borscht Belt one-liner left on Rodney Dangerfield’s cutting-room floor.
Reasonable reaction: Even after having previously stated that she can’t stand it when people make fun of her name, she simply giggles it off and holds Bond closer. In a film where a goon squad ambushes Bond while on combination snowmobiles/paragliders, this scene strains credibility more than any other. If James Bond was to pull that line on an actual human woman, she’d roll her eyes so hard the muscles would sprain and get her vision stuck in the back of her head, causing her to freak out and run screaming around the enticingly exotic hotel room in a blind panic, knocking over several clay pots and thoroughly killing what might have been left of the mood.
The line: “Providing the collars and cuffs match.”
The scene: James Bond, operating under the guise of assassin Peter Franks, makes first contact with low-level SPECTRE operative Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) in Diamonds Are Forever. As they size one another up, Bond comments, “Weren’t you a blonde when I came in? I tend to notice little things like that, whether a girl’s a blonde or a brunette.” She asks him which he prefers, and Bond goes right for the pubic-hair jugular.
Corn factor: Dangerously high. Bond’s pre-sex puns have a different tang than his post-sex puns, the anticipatory tensions lying in suggestion rather than explicit lasciviousness. Here Connery’s Bond goes too far too fast. Even bringing in pubic-hair imagery at all is a risky gambit, though it was the ‘70s, a different and more robustly hirsute era. Of course Bond still ends up shagging her, this is his movie, but it’s a decidedly inelegant opening move.
Reasonable reaction: The graceless comment does nothing to diminish the sexual tension roiling between Bond and Case, but in a more level-headed universe, this would’ve unraveled Bond’s entire scheme. Case might’ve wondered why would this hired gun would put the moves on her in such a forward manner. Perhaps she would suppose there might be some link between him and the super spy famed for his sexual insatiability, the guy who won’t stop introducing himself to women everywhere he goes. Her suspicions would grow, and Bond would be shot in the back of the head by the 30-minute mark.
The line: “I think he’s attempting re-entry.”
The scene: This one’s cheating, being that Bond doesn’t say it himself, but only sort of. The credits on Moonraker are about to roll, and Bond’s on a spacecraft with the marvelously named Holly Goodhead. After the ruckus of the climactic set piece, Bond’s HQ regains a visual of the interior of the rocket, only to find 007 and Goodhead hovering. Observing our hero’s attempts to hit the G-spot in zero-G, a tech asks what he’s doing, and his colleague recognizes an incredible opportunity.
Corn factor: Pretty high, and yet difficult to groan at. The pun is so perfect, so deliciously right, it’s almost as if Albert Broccoli came up with the line first and worked backward from there, creating an entire movie in the service of his one solid-gold joke. How often does a film afford its characters the chance to make space-travel-themed double entendres? Would it not be a more egregious crime to allow such a prime opportunity for jokes about space-boning to go by uncapitalized upon?
Reasonable reaction: After having made his pun, the technician would most likely smirk and turn to his coworker with a conspiratorial grin. But anyone who’s not prepared for a workplace-impropriety lawsuit would put the kibosh on such joking in short order. It’s not as if such regulations were in effect in 1979, but in the modern era, his colleague would respond with, “Dammit, Rick. I know you’ve been keeping that one in your pocket ever since you got hired, but we’re trying to run an office here. We send people to space, Rick. Grow the hell up.”
The line: “I have been known to keep my tip up.”
The scene: Fencing, a sport played using waggling reed-thin phallic objects, breeds more sex puns than even the ball-based sports. Early in Die Another Day, Bond’s popped in for a quick lesson with his alluring instructor Verity, who also happens to be international pop sensation Madonna. So, as James Bond and Madonna trade parries, she comments invitingly that he knows how to handle his weapon. She puts the faint scent of eroticism in the air, and Bond responds by drenching her with the odious cologne of his libido.
Corn factor: Unsettlingly high. Specificity is anathema to a good innuendo; the effective ones make the distant suggestion of sexuality, beckoning their object to make the next advance deeper into explicit territory. Bond has a wealth of options at his disposal, and still he decides the best direction to take his seduction would be tip-first. Any time a man engages a woman in any conversation that involves the words “the tip,” not only does he sound like he’s 16, he torpedoes any chance he might’ve had.
Reasonable reaction: Madonna plays experienced fencer. She knows the secret to besting an opponent is to discern his weakness and exploit it, whether that’s a slight misstep while circling counterclockwise or the fact that he can’t stop thinking about sex for eight-consecutive minutes. All Madonna would need to do is bat her triple-platinum eyelashes and Bond would undoubtedly furrow his brow while trying to concoct a one-liner about his “saber,” leaving him completely open for a defeating jab.
The line: “Just a slight stiffness coming on.”
The scene: While masquerading as an associate of Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond makes contact with henchwoman extraordinaire Irma Bunt. He joins her for a large group dinner during which an accomplice writes a message on Bond’s leg with pen. The ballpoint marks on his thigh slightly ruffle his poker face, and when Irma Bunt asks him if anything is the matter, Bond dismisses her concerns while simultaneously informing his new friend that he’s gotten an erection. Truly, the epitome of sophistication.
Corn factor: Medium-high. There’s something charmingly antiquated and distinctly English about Bond’s citing “stiffness” as a physical discomfort, but that wears thin pretty quickly when you realize the man’s talking about his boner. There’s nothing urbane, mysterious, or tactful about boners. They’re simply there, casting ugly silhouettes through pant legs and undermining Bond’s reputation for a master of tone-perfect seduction.
Reasonable reaction: The word “stiffness” invites the natural follow-up of waggling eyebrows from Bond to his flirtatious companion, who would reassure him with a halfhearted smile and then avert her gaze to focus intently on her peas. If she wasn’t especially concerned with subtlety, she’d even grimace and do that thing where you shade your eyes with one hand to prevent making eye contact with someone who’s embarrassed himself. If she really, really wasn’t concerned with subtlety, she’d fake a stroke and get carted away from dinner by EMTs.
The line: “I’m an early riser myself.”
The scene: Bond’s doing some recon at a racetrack at the outset of A View to a Kill. In walks Jenny Flex, played by Alison Doody in the rare instance of the Bond Girl actress’ name rivaling her character’s name for pure silliness. She’s been sent to gather information on Bond by Grace Jones’ villain May Day, and attacks him where he’s most vulnerable: his crotch. Of course Bond opens with, “I take it you spend a lot of time in the saddle,” and she rejoins with, “Yes, I love an early morning ride.” Bond approaches the next line like a slugger watching a baseball coming straight over the plate in slow-mo.
Corn factor: Moderate. The subtext is clear — not unlike Jay Z, 007 likes to hit it in the morning — but not discomfiting. Bond runs the risk that his innuendo will be misconstrued as a reference to premature climax, but this is where his remarks start to take on the smoothness with which Bond has become so identified. His opening line is safe, easily enough written off as horse chatter, and the “early riser” bit matches Jenny’s forwardness without exceeding it.
Reasonable reaction: These are the opening shots of a sexually sublimated volley, one of Bond’s back-and-forths so impossibly stylish that it could only have been written. Jenny’s called away a moment later, but in the event that she hadn’t been, it’s not hard to imagine a scene that incorporates further horse wordplay (such as the word “horseplay”). Between talk about riding crops, ponytails, and taking the reins, horse tracks are surprisingly fertile breeding grounds for sex puns.
The line: “Oh, I’m sure we’ll be able to lick you into shape.”
The scene: After Bond jet-sets to San Monique in the 1973 entry Live and Let Die, he connects with novice CIA agent Rosie Carver (played by the resplendent Gloria Hendry). She sees a snake in her room and shrieks, leaping into Bond’s arms for safety. Discouraged, she moans, “Oh, I never should’ve gotten into any of this! I’m going to be completely useless to you.” Bond assures her that she won’t in the most suggestive fashion at his disposal.
Corn factor: Moderate. Bond’s phrasing is stilted and unnatural; the phrase he’s looking for is “whip you into shape,” which would’ve been a fine erotic innuendo in its own right. He ignores the obvious in favor of the slightly contrived, but to what end? Bond earns bonus points for structuring his advance around the act of cunnilingus, an act seldom mentioned in the pantheon of hyper-masculine Bond seductions. What the quip makes up in vague subversion doesn’t quite compensate for the brick-heavy obviousness.
Reasonable reaction: The situation provokes ambivalence more than anything. On the one hand, suggesting cunnilingus does smack of a slightly feminist bent, appropriately reflecting the proliferation of mainstream feminism in the ‘70s. On the other, Bond says this after a woman who’s trained to be in the CIA jumps a foot in the air at the sight of a snake and moans that she’ll never be a worthy agent. The scene’s regressive enough that the dialogue doesn’t adhere to reason even before Bond busts out an aggressive double entendre, so the closest estimate of a reasonable reaction might be the classic screwball slap-and-kiss.
The line: “I’m up here at Oxford brushing up on a little Danish.”
The scene: Another one of the scant cunnilingus jokes comes in Tomorrow Never Dies, as Moneypenny scrapes the bottom of the barrel with the ol’ “cunning linguist” gag. The phone call finds Bond in bed with Professor Inga Bergstrom (Cecilie Thomsen), and before that crack, Bond begins by informing her that his lessons on world languages are going swimmingly. If a goof about “foreign tongues” hadn’t been spent in a previous film of the franchise, it sure would’ve been used here.
Corn factor: Fairly low. A central element of Bond’s persona is his worldliness, the knowledge of foreign cultures and traditions accrued from a career’s worth of globetrotting. He’s the man who knows which sake to pair with which aperitif, and so name-dropping an august institution like Oxford sounds all too natural for him. Austin Powers might’ve besmirched the title a bit, but Bond’s the original international man of mystery. He’s never more in his element than when tangoing with a foreign beauty.
Reasonable reaction: Professor Bergstrom’s a pretty good sport about being reduced to her national identity by Bond, and feigns playful indignation by teasing him, “Little?” But as pillow talk goes, it’s not bad. In all likelihood, Bergstrom’s reaction wouldn’t be too far from how the average reasonable woman would respond to the situation. Sex has a way of softening people up, chances are Professor Bergstrom wouldn’t let a bit of Eurofetishization spoil her post-coital endorphin high.
The line: “Named after your father, perhaps?”
The scene: Diamonds Are Forever compensates for its graceless “collars and cuffs” rib-tickler with a one-two punch of transcendently campy double entendres. Lana Wood (a name that could’ve inspired plenty of raunchy come-ons all on its own) plays Plenty O’Toole, a buxom bombshell who scrapes together a living by fleecing wealthy swells on the casino floor. She introduces herself to Bond as Plenty, to which he responds, eyes transfixed on her shelflike bosom, “But of course you are.” She completes her introduction as the full Plenty O’Toole, and Bond follows his right jab with a well-placed right hook.
Corn factor: Low. The curious aspect of this particular pun is that it doesn’t center on Bond’s desire to bang the woman he’s speaking to. Though he’s already established that with his first remark, all the comment at hand implies is that Ms. O’Toole’s father was spectacularly well-endowed. Why that sentiment is expected to get the woman hot is not clear, and yet Connery delivers the line so effortlessly that it’d seem ridiculous to respond to her name with anything else.
Reasonable reaction: Plenty has what the younger generation might call a distinct lack of chill. Her attempts to flirt back with Bond exit her mouth as awkward assemblages of random words, as when she observes him handling the dice and purrs, “You handle those cubes like a monkey handles coconuts.” If screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz wanted to convey that Bond’s quick-witted jokes about her father’s dong have robbed the woman of her faculties, they could’ve gone the traditional route and had her cough on the beverage she was drinking, then drool unswallowed liquor on herself when trying to smile it off. We’ve all been there at one point or another.
The line: “That depends on your definition of safe sex.”
The scene: We began with Pierce Brosnan, and it’s with Brosnan that we shall end. In GoldenEye, Bond exchanges charged words with one of the most colorfully named women in his little black book, Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen). They have an encounter during a shootout, and when Bond brandishes his sidearm at her, she assures him that “You don’t need the gun, commander.” He’s not so sure.
Corn factor: So sky-high that it breaks through right into the heavens. Lines like these perfectly encapsulate the essence of Bond’s enduring appeal. He’s an idealized figure, wish fulfillment at its most nakedly apparent, living the life men want and being the man women want. This extends to his dialogue, as well, his every line shot through with l’esprit de l’escalier gloriously acted upon in time. He says the things we wish we were quick-witted enough to say, things that can only be dreamt up with hours of planning. This impossibly perfect one-liner narrowly sidesteps self-parody and lands right in Bond’s sweet spot of suaveness.
Reasonable reaction: There’s a look on Onatopp’s face the moment after Bond drops this quip, only for a moment. It’s pure arousal, almost to the point of shock at just how taken she is with the man capable of bending the English language to his will. By adding thoughts of safety into the equation, Bond brings his element of danger, that powerful aphrodisiac, to the fore. She reacts as any mortal would, taking leave of her senses and leaping towards Bond, desperate to immerse herself in this man with the golden mouth.