Mano-a-Mano, Face to Face: Bond’s Best Brawls

What is more Bondian than a fistfight? In a good one you can feel every blow, cringing as you see them coming, and your heart pounds with adrenal action. In a bad one, you cringe for a different reason, sinking lower into your seat, embarrassed that someone is passing this off as a fight. By the way, the title is a quote from Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun, when he suggests to Bond that they have an old-fashioned duel.

Top Five
1. From Russia With Love: James Bond vs. Red Grant on the Orient Express
Simply one of the finest fights in movie history, this one has it all. At its heart are two incredibly powerful men; two actors, well-matched physically, doing most of their own stunt work. The editing, justifiably famous, adds a speed and brutality not seen before in movie fistfights. A broken window brings the sound of the train in from outside, while broken lights bathe the room in an eerie darkness, made even more macabre by the remains of teargas floating in the air. Watching this one over and over will never diminish its impact. (Click the image to watch it on YouTube.)

2. Diamonds Are Forever: James Bond vs. Peter Franks in a teensy weensy elevator
Bond’s fight with Grant was the purest form of a fight — two people facing off. But some fights add other components. Some, for example, add an outside threat, something that can intrude on the fight and kill either or both combatants. A dramatic example of an outside threat is the fight between Necros and Bond off the back of the airplane; while the fight is going on, each is also endangered by the possibility of falling.

The fight between Bond and Franks (played by Joe Robinson) has a more down-to-earth threat, but a significant one nonetheless. During the intense action, either or both could be crushed by being in the wrong spot as the elevator rises to the next floor. The fight is all about confinement and space. Two large men in an elevator not much bigger than a phone booth. Glass breaks, the entire thing is moving, and every time either one of them swings, he hits a wall. A classic!

3. Die Another Day: James Bond vs. Zao at the Los Organos Clinic
While the Blades sword fight (see below) got all the media attention and fan buzz, this gem has gone virtually unmentioned. From the moment Bond wakes Zao by squeezing his IV bag (Yow! That’s gotta hurt!), we know he is a man on the edge, and that this fight will stop at nothing. And we’re right — later in the fight, Bond will attempt to strangle Zao with the medical tubing still attached to his body.

The use of space here is fantastic, as the combatants maneuver around the crowded hospital room, using quite a range of medical equipment, and banging into and breaking it; setting a fire while they’re at it. My favorite moment is when the magnetic resonance machine first grabs both men’s weapons, and then Bond turns it off to neatly catch his gun.

Part of the pleasure is our first glimpse of the freakishly half-transformed Zao, shirtless and obviously very, very fit.

4. Goldfinger: James Bond vs. Oddjob inside Fort KnoxBond vs. Oddjob in Fort Knox
Unlike in the previous fights, the opponents here are anything but equal. Bond has already seen that Oddjob is virtually unbeatable — he is immensely strong, impervious to pain, and has no regard for human life. Add to that a killer hat, and you have a perhaps impossibly dominant foe.

This brings up a third kind of fight, one that is a distraction from a more important task. Bond must stop the atomic bomb, but Oddjob is in his way. The entire time they battle, we are aware of that ticking timer and what it means.

Bond fights Oddjob while he fights the clock, and he uses his resourcefulness, his wits, and his courage in the face of impossible odds to win the day.

5. GoldenEye: James Bond vs. Alec Trevelyan on the satellite dish
This is another great Brosnan fight scene. It is very raw, and Bond’s most human, most personal combat. Whereas most of the greatest fights exist in a confined space, the showdown between 007 and 006 ranges all over the satellite dish; across a catwalk, in a gear room, and finally dangling from the top of the transmitter.

This is a match between equals. Alec is meant to be Bond’s exact counterpart, their style and demeanor are at first nearly identical, until Alec is revealed to be a brute and a villain.

(The above is an excerpt from The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book.)

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11 Responses to “Mano-a-Mano, Face to Face: Bond’s Best Brawls”

  1. UNCLEagent Says:

    I would only add the climactic fight between Bond and NickNack on the junk in TMWTGG.

    Excellent list. The fight scene in FRWL never looks stale or staged, despite endless viewings.

    I love the eerie silence and echos within the walls of Fort Knox during the OJ and Bond fight. It’s nice to see a well staged fight scene that doesn’t have to rely on ear-piercing volume to push the action. It’s also nice to see the wheels spinning; to allow the actions to develop in the mind first, rather than just frenzied nonstop pounding.

  2. Deborah Lipp Says:

    Sound is so important.

    Peter Hunt made sure that the window broke early in the FRWL train fight so train sounds would be a part of the fight.

  3. What about Casino Royale?

  4. Deborah Lipp Says:

    Ah, good question. I wrote the book before Casino Royale was released so I didn’t include it in the countdowns. I’ve only seen the movie twice, but off the top of my head, the very brief, very brutal fight in the pre-titles is quite memorable.

  5. What about the stairwell fight or the fight at the endor the construction yard chase, if you count that ine as a fight.

  6. What about the other fights in Casino Royale, like the stairwell fight or the fight at the endor the construction yard chase, if you count that one as a fight.

  7. What about the other fights in Casino Royale, like the stairwell fight or the fight at the end or the construction yard chase, if you count that one as a fight.

  8. Butterfly Says:

    Agree on the stairwell fight. It has it all-Bond overmatched against Obammo with sword; Vesper falling down ahead of and just barely out of the action, and terrific ending where DC yells at Vesper to go get Mathis as he hides the bodies and figures out what to do next.

  9. Deborah Lipp Says:

    I’m working on the rewrite now. I didn’t include the stairwell fight, although it’s great. The construction site I’ve got as a “best chase.” The opening teaser fight with Fisher (black and white) is so brutal and startling that I had to include it. The second one I included was the fight in the truck at the airport. Holy crap, he pulls up Carlos’s leg and tries to break it! Holy CRAP! We watched it two or three times while I was compiling notes for a new edition, and I have to say, it startled me every single time.

  10. Butterfly Says:

    Interesting call..I would go for the truck fight in the airport (although before now I had viewed it as part of a chase) over the opening simply because the opening happens so quickly and also could fall under the pre title sequence category. Can’t go wrong though.

  11. Deborah Lipp Says:

    Indeed, the airport sequence is a chase, and not a favorite of mine; too overblown, too unbelievable, three or four things in fast succession that would have killed a real human person. But the fight in the truck, that one portion, that’s just about perfect.

    I guess both of my picks are based largely on shock value. They are WOW fights.

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