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Blogalongabond – Licence to Kill: A Song to Die For

Contributor Michael Mand takes a look at the rich history of Bond music, culminating with an appreciation of his own personal favourite theme tune.

The word ‘iconic’ is often overused; however, when it comes to the James Bond film series, there are undoubtedly numerous iconic elements, from the cars to the catchphrases and the actors themselves. Perhaps the most iconic Bond feature of all, however, is the music. This includes both the original Bond theme (perhaps the most instantly recognisable piece of music in all of cinema) and the individual films’ disparate theme songs, recorded by an array of contrasting artists and always the subject of competition and debate.

The iconic James Bond theme

The James Bond Theme” sets out the blueprint for the series; teeming with drama and menace, flailing horns and grandiose production. Written in 1962 in the surf rock style popular at the time, the original, defining riff was played by guitarist Vic Flick (who received a generous one-off fee of six English pounds for his performance). The authorship of the theme has been the subject of dispute over the years. Initially credited to Monty Norman, the theme was recorded by the John Barry Seven. Barry, who would go onto become the composer most associated with Bond, claimed credit for the piece, culminating in a court case which came down on the side of Norman. Since its debut in Dr No (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) each Bond film has seen a different arrangement of the theme, often reflecting the film’s setting, star and title song.

Flick later worked with The Beatles on A Hard Day’s Night, coming under the production eye of George Martin, one of a number of producers/composers who would take the helm when Barry was unavailable. Martin teamed up with Paul McCartney for the first time post-Beatles on 1973’s Live & Let Die. The list also included Michael Kamen, Eric Serra, Marvin Hamlish & Bill Conti before David Arnold stepped into the breach full time. With directorial duties passing to Sam Mendes for the forthcoming Skyfall, Arnold has been replaced by Mendes’ long-time collaborator Thomas Newman.

Another notable musical trademark of the Bond series is the increasing tendency to use snatches of famous soundtracks from other films, as well as self-referential appearances of previous Bond themes and even the use of classical scores. One such example of the former is the appearance of Maurice Jarre’s ‘Theme from Lawrence of Arabia’ during The Spy Who Loved Me’s desert scene.

For every film an individual theme song

If the Bond series’ incidental music is familiar, then far more debate and speculation surrounds the individual theme song which usually accompanies each film’s title sequence. Matt Monroe’s version of ‘From Russia With Love’ was the first vocal track to accompany a Bond film (though it was played over the closing titles), while the following year saw Shirley Bassey make her Bond debut with Goldfinger. Bassey went on to record two further themes, and remains the only person to have had the honour of performing more than one. The use of Tom Jones and Lulu in subsequent films continued the standard pairing of mega-lunged singer with brassy, show-stopping tune.

By the 1970s and early ‘80s, this approach had given way to drippy ballads performed by female singers, including Sheena Easton’s ‘For Your Eyes Only’, Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (from The Spy Who Loved Me) and Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’ (Octopussy); the latter two rare examples of theme songs which don’t share the film’s title (this trait has recently reappeared, but then you try shoe-horning Quantum of Solace into a song lyric). There was also a conscious effort to make the songs reflect contemporary musical trends, while retaining their ‘Bond-ness’; this manifested itself in the disco feel of the pre-title music in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me and the choice of ‘80s pop titans Duran Duran & a-ha to soundtrack A View To A Kill and The Living Daylights respectively.

Increasingly, the choice of artist recording the Bond theme has become the subject of fevered speculation, competition and controversy, perhaps as much as the choice of actor to play Bond himself. While recent performers have ranged from the hopelessly naff (Madonna, Chris Cornell) to the bizarre (Jack White’s duet with Alicia Keys), it’s interesting to look at the artists who missed out, in the same way as I previously considered the actors who almost played 007.

The Pet Shop Boys submitted a version of ‘The Living Daylights’ in 1987, which was later reworked as their 1990 album track ‘This Must Be the Place I’ve Waited Years to Leave’; Alice Cooper and Blondie recorded unused versions of ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’ and ‘For Your Eyes Only’; the 1997 film Tomorrow Never Dies attracted entries from Pulp, Marc Almond, Space & The Cardigans, before the bizarre decision to opt for the dismal Sheryl Crow. Speculation is already rife about the theme to this year’s Skyfall, with Adele, Noel Gallagher, Muse & Lady Gaga among the motley crew apparently in contention. A personal preference would be for Radiohead (take a listen to ‘Down is the New Up’ from the extended In Rainbows for a taste of how this might sound) or Arctic Monkeys (recall their Glastonbury cover of ‘Diamonds Are Forever’?), while the great might-have-been is perhaps the late Amy Winehouse.

Note to Eon: Robbie Williams must NEVER be allowed near a Bond theme.

The greatest Bond theme of all time

So, to my personal favourite. As this was ostensibly to be an article about Timothy Dalton’s 1989 swansong Licence to Kill, let us turn to the film’s true star: Gladys Knight. While the film itself is a solid effort, featuring a more confident turn from Dalton than in the preceding drear-fest The Living Daylights, a plot involving personal revenge and the suspension of Bond’s 00-status (plus a surprisingly fresh-faced Benicio Del Toto as a henchman), the most memorable aspect is Knight’s magnum opus of a theme song.

The Empress of Soul (for it is she) beat a mooted collaboration between Flick and Eric Clapton to the gig and, in the absence of Barry, was paired with Narada Michael Walden (he of ‘Divine Emotions’, ‘80s fans), Jeffrey Cohen and producer Walter Afanasieff. The result was the definitive Bond theme. Borrowing liberally from Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’, it was suitably self-referential, featured trademark brass and bluster and benefitted from a soaring vocal performance from Gladys herself. Topped off by a somewhat gangsta lyric which suggested that our Glad was ready to pop a cap in the ass of anyone who might dare try it on with her man, it was even cool enough to make its debut on Radio 1’s Big Beat Show, normally the home of hip hop and R’n’B.

‘Licence to Kill’ was the last of the great Bond themes, encapsulating all of the traits that had been established in the decades before, and overshadowing the disparate shambles who have since taken up the mantle. Somehow, I just don’t see Noel Gallagher living up to a song that remains one of the great film openers, with or without The Pips.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit. Contributor Michael Mand can be followed on Twitter @grindermand.

Blogalongabond – The Living Daylights: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Bond?

I recall that the appointment of Timothy Dalton as the fourth official actor to play James Bond, following the retirement of Roger Moore, caused some confusion in my postal district. Up until that point, Dalton had been largely known as a stage actor and was only familiar to us as Prince Barin in the enjoyably barmy Flash Gordon. Dalton’s debut came in 1987’s The Living Daylights, which I will confess remains perhaps my least favourite Bond film, and makes Dalton my least favourite Bond (George Lazenby’s brief miscasting aside).

A Bond fan’s view of their favourite era tends to depend on age; my parents’ generation grew up with Sean Connery, the suave, definitive Bond (in their eyes), while I was used to Roger Moore’s irony-laden, eyebrow-raising model. Those who came of age in the ’90s will have enjoyed Pierce Brosnan’s amalgamation-Bond, and Daniel Craig has brought the franchise up-to-date, with his post-Bourne/post-9/11 action hero. The character has something in common with Doctor Who, as an icon with a dedicated fanbase, with each reinvention the subject of enormous interest and controversy.

Theatrical poster

Dalton, however, seems to have fallen through memory’s cracks, almost obscure enough to warrant a quiz question, but too recent to have been entirely forgotten. However, the story of his casting as 007 reveals a wider tale of missed chances, second chances and actors being in the right place at the right time (and vice versa). Indeed, Dalton only got the role when he did because Brosnan was unavailable due to contractual obligations with the TV show Remington Steele. In many ways, the history of those who didn’t play Bond is more interesting than that of those who did, and takes us into some surprising areas.

Bond’s creator – Ian Fleming – was keen to bring his character to the big screen and was involved in the production of an early screenplay called James Bond, Secret Agent, written with Richard Burton in mind. However, Burton rejected the role and the Bond film was shelved until Cubby Broccoli’s production company Eon obtained the rights and a film dynasty was born. Eon initially held a contest to ‘find James Bond’, which was won by an obscure model named Peter Anthony. It quickly became clear that Anthony could not act, leading Eon to begin a search for an established actor capable of filling 007’s shoes.

Many stars of the day were linked with the part – James Mason, Trevor Howard and even Cary Grant were considered – but, following the decision of first choice Rex Harrison to reject the role, Broccoli settled on a young Scottish actor named Sean Connery (incidentally, this casting choice influenced Fleming’s later portrayal of his hero in his books, as he added a previously unheard of sense of humour and Scottish heritage). Connery retired (briefly) from the role in 1968, at which point a then 22-year-old actor was approached to replace him. His name? Timothy Dalton. Dalton refused the part, believing that he was too young for the role, the first of a series of fateful decisions which would come to define the Bond series. Instead, Lazenby was cast (apparently beating One Million Years BC star John Richardson to the part), making his only appearance in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service before Connery returned.

Briefly researching the list of those linked with role of 007 is notable for the sheer number of actors considered, but even more surprising is their disparate styles; from professional Yorkshireman Sean Bean to Cold Feet posho Robert Bathurst; from tuxedo-sporting Bond wannabe Clive Owen to anti-Semitic has-been Mel Gibson; from family friendly Hollywood star Sam Neill to Brodie-from-The-Professionals Lewis Collins; and from ballet dancer Antony Hamilton to actual Frenchman Christopher Lambert.

“Actual Frenchman” Christopher Lambert

Those of you who have read Fleming’s original Bond books will recall that his creation was a rather different character to most of the portrayals which have appeared on the big screen over the fifty years since Connery first took to the screen in Dr No. Fleming’s Bond was a difficult and conflicted man, displaying many of his creator’s own prejudices (sexism & homophobia were par for the course). He is described in the novels as having been born in the early 1920’s, resembling musician Hoagy Carmichael, with a scar on his cheek, grey/blue eyes, a cruel mouth and as standing six feet tall, with a thin build. From this we can perhaps judge which Bond actor has been most faithful to the original 007; we can probably discount Moore’s ironic, elderly stint, which seemed to be based more on his earlier portrayal of The Saint than Fleming’s novels. Connery, as mentioned, became more of an influence on the Bond novels than they were on him, while Brosnan’s reinvention seemed to be an amalgamation of his favourite aspects of Connery and Moore, a smug, post-cold war heartthrob mixed with a witty, heart-in-the-right-place ironist. As good as Craig’s current incarnation may be at running up cranes and modelling swimwear, he surely bears no resemblance to the James portrayed in Fleming’s books. Perhaps then we should re-evaluate Dalton’s contribution to the canon?

The Living Daylights, based on a late short story by Fleming, sees Dalton reinvent Bond as a harder, more serious character than we had seen previously. The rather convoluted plot sees 007 deployed to oversee the defection of a KGB agent and discovering that the KGB themselves appear to have rebooted their policy of “Smert’ Spionam” (“Death to Spies”). As he crosses Europe and Afghanistan, it becomes clear that Dalton’s Bond has more in common with the character of the early novels than that of his film predecessors; gone are the painfully comic asides, the easy charm and the much parodied silliness. Instead we have an actual spy thriller, with all the complexities that involves. The problem is, that’s not what I look to Bond for; having scratched my head through last year’s inexplicably lauded Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I clearly lack the intellectual chops to deal with any spy film which doesn’t involve chasing Russians through space. Perhaps I’ve come to love the screen Bond as an entirely different character to that of the books; for me Dalton is just too damn straight.

So, where next for James Bond? A quick perusal of the internet shows that bets are already on for Craig’s successor in the iconic tuxedo, with CGI’s Sam Worthington the hot favourite, followed by Tom Hardy & Christian Bale (a potentially over-serious 007 if ever there was one). There is also the ongoing debate about whether it’s time for a black Bond, with Will Smith (rather absurdly) being mentioned; my own preference would be Adrian Lester. This appears to be a controversial subject (Bond’s a white guy, right?), but I refer you to Idris Elba’s quote in Bim Adewunmi’s excellent recent article in The Guardian: “Can a black man play a Nordic character? Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”

Bond remains Fleming’s creation, but has evolved so many times that he is essentially the property of whichever actor is playing him at the time. This makes him a character for the ages and goes some way to explaining why Dalton’s ‘true to the text’ 007 in The Living Daylights is perhaps the least fun of any film in this much loved series.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit. Contributor Michael Mand can be followed on Twitter @grindermand.

Blogalongabond – A View To A Kill: Visual & Vinyl Villains

In 1985, Roger Moore celebrated his final appearance as James Bond in the film A View To A Kill. He also celebrated his 58th birthday. Unfortunately, these two events are difficult to separate when watching Moore’s swansong; when Sean Connery (who also played Bond into his fifties) derides you as “too old”, it’s time to think about turning in your licence to kill.

Moore disliked AVTAK, later describing himself as “horrified” by the film’s violence while self-deprecatingly admitting, “I was only about four hundred years too old for the part”. This observation cannot really be denied: at times Moore resembles a condom stuffed with walnuts, while maintaining the air of a boxer who has taken on one fight too many – Ricky Hatton in a tuxedo, perhaps?

Despite this complaint – and the fact that AVTAK holds the lowest rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes of any official Bond movie – I maintain a level of affection for the film, largely based on three factors: my age, my memories of the theme tune, and the mighty Grace Jones.

AVTAK was the first Bond film I ever saw at the cinema and, despite the fact that the character on screen bore little resemblance to the 007 I had recently read about in Ian Fleming’s original novels (and my mother’s insistence that “Connery is the real Bond”), I was ready to accept the aged figure creaking his way up the Eiffel Tower as the genuine article. (Anyway, since Fleming’s Bond is a physical wreck of a man, perhaps Moore’s portrayal is more accurate than Daniel Craig’s Bourne-inspired superman thug-hunk)?

Prior to AVTAK, Bond theme songs had been largely recorded by long-established crooners, such as Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones and, despite their success, bore little relevance to the pop music of the day. This all changed, however, when Duran Duran’s Bond-loving drummer John Taylor ran into producer Cubby Broccoli and insisted that it was time to let “someone decent” have a crack. I will leave it to you, Dear Reader, to judge whether Le Bon’s yacht-dwelling fops do actually fall into the “decent” category, but it cannot be denied that, at the time, they were hot property on both sides of the Atlantic.

(At this point, I shall admit to having purchased said single, but will not dwell on this further, other than to point out that it remains the most successful Bond theme ever in chart terms, having reached number one in the US, so I was clearly riding some kind of zeitgeist. Also, I was nine.)

So, to GRACE! One of the weaknesses of the later Moore films lies with the routinely unthreatening villains – the anti-feminist pushover Octopussy and business-bore Aris Kristatos to name but two – but AVTAK provides us with a double-dose of charismatic anti-heroism, in the shape of Jones’ May Day and the abominable Max Zorin (a surprisingly fresh-faced Christopher Walken). Zorin is the super-intelligent yet psychopathic result of Nazi medical experiments, out to dominate the world’s microchip market by triggering a massive Earthquake on the San Andreas Fault which will flood and destroy Silicon Valley. His relationship with May Day is complex, falling somewhere between co-conspirator, lover and martial arts teacher/pupil.

Walken, of course, is a man able to look intimidating while tap dancing and, having seen Jones performing in person last summer, I can confirm that even at 63 years of age she still cuts the kind of figure that you might imagine eats British secret agents for breakfast. May Day is a woman of few words, leaving Jones to convey menace via a serious of turn-to-stone glowers. If not technically accomplished, it’s still a captivating performance, not least as a rare example of female empowerment in the Bond series; Jones’s sheer physical presence pre-empts Famke Janssen’s Xenia Onatopp, Goldeneye’s thigh-crushing femme fatale.

Re-watching AVTAK today, it seems overlong and unnecessarily convoluted, though there are highlights: 007 snowboards down a mountain to the sound of the Beach Boys, a sequence credited with kick-starting the sport’s popularity; a tense horse racing scene gives new meaning to the phrase “raising the bar”; we meet a female henchwoman named Jenny Flex, which may or may not be a pun on the word ‘genuflex’, a name aiming much higher than the standard Pussy Galores. Generally, however, the film’s saving grace lies with its charismatic pair of villains.

One final thought: AVTAK was the end of an era in two ways. Not only did it mark the end of Moore’s tenure as James Bond, but the original line-up of Duran Duran would not record together for another quarter of a century. Small blessings indeed…

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit.

Blogalongabond – Octopussy: An All Time Low?

Political correctness and James Bond have always been mutually exclusive. Ian Fleming’s literary 007 was an unreconstructed chauvinist, a reflection of the author’s own tastes and prejudices and an “anonymous, blunt instrument”, as Fleming himself called his creation. Russian journalist Yuri Zhukov described the world of this Bond as “nightmarish…where laws are written at the point of a gun, where coercion and rape are considered valour”, but the cinematic Bond has routinely been lent redeeming charm by the humour and suavity of the actors cast to play him.

In 1983, we were treated to not one, but two Bond films, as Sean Connery’s return in Never Say Never Again faced up to Roger Moore’s sixth outing as Connery’s successor in the official series, Octopussy. The promotional posters for Octopussy featured the tagline “nobody does him better”, a tacit acknowledgement of the competition between the two, but in truth Connery was the winner as the Broccoli camp produced one of their duffest and most troubling efforts in Octopussy.

The origins of the film lie in a posthumously published short story by Fleming, the plot of which is largely ignored in the film, used solely to provide a back story to the titular character. While the two preceding films (Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only) offered absurd science fiction and an attempt to add depth to the Bond character respectively, Octopussy is a muddled and convoluted affair, which leaves an unpleasant taste of right-wing misogyny and casual racism in the mouth.

As ever, we begin with a stand-alone pre-title sequence, in this case involving Bond’s escape from Cuban communists using a light aircraft disguised as a horse’s arse. Soon, however, we encounter a more sinister set of reds, as Soviet General Orlov (played by Stephen Berkoff, a man who never knowingly under acts) seeks to take advantage of European unilateral nuclear disarmament in order to expand his country’s borders. The message here is clear: back off peaceniks, nukes are necessary.

Confusingly, we then encounter yet more villains and Orlov is offered little subsequent screen time. Instead, Bond heads to India to investigate a fake Fabergé egg, coming up against exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), who works for a mysterious female cult leader (think Blofeld, with a preference for sea life). The India of Octopussy is a parade of clichés; dirty, taxi-strewn streets are filled with elephants, snake charmers, sword swallowers, beds of nails, hot coals and rope tricks. The natives dine on curry and sheep’s heads, while Bond’s Indian contact Vijay (played by real-life tennis professional Vijay Amritraj, a fact which is referenced more than once) resembles a satirical character from BBC sketch show Goodness Gracious Me.

Even more worrying than this rather tiresome stereotyping is the film’s attitude to its female characters. Of course, Bond’s womanising is a major element  of his character, and one which FYEO attempted to address through reference to his dead wife, but for a film made in the post-feminist era, Octopussy (from its suggestive title onwards) seems strangely misogynistic.

Bond’s usual flirting with Moneypenny is quickly undermined by his new interest in her young assistant, with Moneypenny treated like yesterday’s news. Khan’s strangely anachronistic barge is rowed by a bevy of bikini-clad, semi-slave girls. When he finally comes face-to-face with Octopussy herself, Bond ignores the standard “no means no” rule, virtually forcing himself on her (despite her protestations, she is predictably unable to resist his overpowering ‘charms’), while her island paradise is entirely populated by scantily-clad swimwear models.

Perhaps the only moment of female empowerment in the film sees said models turn ninja, aiding Bond in giving Khan’s minions an almighty kicking, a sequence that still requires little clothing and bears more resemblance to an Eric Prydz video than, say, Kill Bill. However, the novelty of a female villain is lost in Octopussy’s turning to 007’s aid, which leaves her as just another, rather underwhelming Bond girl.

On a separate note, Octopussy contains some of the weirdest dressing-up in the Bond series. Much of this is due to the bizarre inclusion of a circus as a key part of the world domination/egg-smuggling plot; indeed, 009 meets a sticky end early on having been knifed in the back while dressed as a clown (though he does get to boot a villain in the jewels with his enormous shoes). Bond himself slaps on the pancake while attempting to locate a nuclear bomb, lending a sense of levity to an otherwise fairly serious scenario. We also see 007 in a monkey outfit and fleeing would-be assassins in a safari suit, a scene during which he delivers a farcical Tarzan impression, complete with Johnny Weissmuller yodel.

The theme tune of Octopussy is Rita Coolidge’s ‘All Time High’, a song which flopped in the UK charts. Similarly, the film’s confused plot, lack of engaging action and outdated, often distasteful attitudes make Octopussy itself one of the Bond series’ all time lows.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit.

Blogalongabond – For Your Eyes Only: This Time it’s Personal

Before setting out for revenge, you first dig two graves” – Chinese proverb.

Thus speaks Roger Moore’s James Bond to the beautiful and bereaved Melina Havelock as she prepares to avenge the murder of her parents by mysterious henchmen. As with the latest instalment in the franchise Quantum of Solace, revenge is a major theme of 1981’s For Your Eyes Only, a film which consciously sets out to reject the extravagance of its predecessor (Moonraker) while providing its hero with something approaching a back story.

We begin, as ever, with a short but key pre-title sequence, in which we find 007 standing beside the grave of his late wife. This may come as something of a surprise to non-Bond aficionados, who might understandably hold an image of Bond as the ultimate bachelor boy (Cliff Richard notwithstanding). However, we were introduced to Teresa “Tracy” Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, who was murdered on the orders of arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld within hours of her nuptials. Just as the demise of Vesper Lynd at the end of 2006’s Casino Royale provided context for Bond’s driven, misogynistic coldness, this early reminder of his dark past offers an explanation for the revenge thriller to come in FYEO.

Our first taste of that which is best served cold comes immediately afterwards, as Bond is entrapped in a remote control helicopter at the mercy of the very same Blofeld (or so we assume – legal complications left the producers unable to use that character’s name and we never see his face; however, his bald head, wheelchair and clear affection for cats give the game away). Sitting atop a tall London building, which we can only assume has outstanding wheelchair access, “Blofeld” produces his usual over-egging of the assassination pudding, allowing 007 to regain control of the situation and dump the villain down a Beckton chimney stack.

John Glen, making his directorial debut, clearly realised that attempting to top the unparalleled absurdity of Moonraker (see PPH passim) would be a fool’s errand, and the plot of FYEO is infinitely more low-key, concentrating on character development and several very impressive stunt sequences, literally bringing the series back down to earth. A British spy ship is sunk, allowing a top secret system which controls the Royal Navy’s entire fleet of Polaris submarines to fall into unscrupulous hands. Bond is sent to investigate, at which point he crosses paths with Melinda (Carole Bouquet) who has already begun her campaign of revenge, taking out a suspect with a crossbow (apparently the weapon of choice for both female assassins and teenage psychopaths).

One signal of the shift in emphasis from previous films is the sheer lack of sex in FYEO. Far from bedding every skirt that moves, Bond is gently affectionate and almost fatherly towards Melina. At one point, faced with a young, naked blonde in his hotel bed, he insists she dresses and leaves the room. The blonde is sexually-terrifying Olympic ice-skating hopeful Bibi Dahl, played with perfect annoyance by real-life skater Lynn-Holly Johnson (not to be confused with the singer from Frankie Goes To Hollywood); her relationship with Bond is fairly absurd, but thankfully brief. The only woman with whom 007 actually becomes ‘intimate’ is fake-Countess Lisl von Schlaf (Casandra Harris), who amusingly transpires to hail from Liverpool. Even in this case, we are spared the gory details, though the Countess soon falls foul of the Bond curse as the victim of a beach buggy hit-and-run (Bond fact: at the time of filming, Harris was married to future 007, Pierce Brosnan).

Also mercifully missing from the film are Moonraker’s raised-eyebrow ‘humour’ and punning asides, along with that film’s globe-trotting location switches and over-reliance on gadgetry. Proof of this comes when Bond’s Lotus explodes, leaving him and Melina to flee armed pursuers in a battered 2CV – a car usually favoured by 1970s schoolteachers – during an enjoyable chase through the Spanish countryside. Indeed, the less over-the-top nature of the stunt set pieces is a strength of FYEO, with a lengthy pursuit through the Alps particularly impressive. The sequence sees Bond pack at least five Winter Olympic events into the space of ten minutes and should perhaps have seen the film re-titled The Spy Who Went Out in the Cold. Throughout the scene, 007 is pursued by lackeys on motorcycles, surely not the ideal mode of transport when going off-piste.

The major weakness of FYEO is the villains themselves who are fairly underwhelming. Bond’s main nemesis is Greek businessman Aris Kristatos, played by Julian Glover (earlier pipped by Moore for the role of Bond himself). Though a fine actor, Glover doesn’t bring the necessary maniacal oddness that we have come to expect of a super-villain, while the fact that his character is looking to make a quick buck from the cold war arms race, rather than achieve galactic domination, is another example of the film’s reigned-in ambition. This makes the arrival of the reliably larger than life Topol, as Kristatos’s pistachio-obsessed former colleague Milos Columbo, extremely welcome.

FYEO reaches its climax with another stunt sequence; having tracked Kristatos down to a mountain-top monastery, Bond and his companions proceed to scale an enormous cliff face in order to reach him. One is tempted to suggest that, with national security at stake, MI6 could have sent a fleet of SAS helicopters in to reclaim their hardware, rather than four Greeks in a basket, but that would be churlish. Perhaps we should just put it down to cuts in defence spending (though evidence suggests that this could be solved by simply sending 007 to a casino with what remains in the Treasury’s coffers)?

Despite the relatively straight tone of the film, perhaps the most bizarre scene in the entire series comes at the conclusion of FYEO, as our hero is patched through to the Prime Minister. Rather than portray a fictional character, impressionist Janet Brown is employed to impersonate Margaret Thatcher in a comic vignette involving husband Dennis, some biscuits and a talking parrot, which seems more suited to Not the Nine O’Clock News than a spy drama. Limited space prevents me from making any comments about Maggie proving the most convincing villain in the film.

Overall, this is mid-table Bond, never touching the heights of the Connery years, but avoiding the self-parody of Moonraker. The action is returned to sea and slopes and is all the better for it while Moore, despite advancing age, gives one of his better performances. The impressive stunt sequences aside, perhaps the most interesting things about For Your Eyes Only are the themes of revenge and the attempt to present Bond as a more rounded character, something which would anticipate the wounded, human secret agent that Daniel Craig has brought to our screens in recent episodes.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit.

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Blogalongabond – Moonraker: When Powers met Skywalker

Mocking a Bond film for its absurdity is like taking Picasso to task for being abstract; that’s the essence of their art. Albert R Broccoli’s spy series has provided plenty of guffaw-provoking moments down the years, however, 1979’s Moonraker remains the epitome of Bond silliness, throwing in a dash of cynicism and plenty of comic cheese to boot.

Moonraker’s predecessor, The Spy Who Loved Me, had promised us that Bond would return in For Your Eyes Only. By the time filming commenced, however, the world was in the grip of sci-fi fever in the wake of 1977’s Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the Bond camp spotted a lucrative bandwagon. In Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel, Moonraker’s villain was a Nazi with a nuclear missile trained on London, but the film dispenses with all but his name (Hugo Drax), instead cramming in space shuttles, laser guns and Wookies (not really).

The cynicism of this alteration is apparent in the somewhat incoherent plot’s occasional similarities to the aforementioned sci-fi blockbusters; at one point we witness Bond turn his spaceship’s laser gun to manual in order to hit his target (presumably using “The Force”), while a laboratory’s entry keypad actually plays the chimes from Close Encounters’ alien craft.

We open with the usual pre-title sequence in which, apropos of nothing, Bond is turned upon by a gun-toting stewardess and thrown from his private plane without a parachute, an issue which causes our hero only mild inconvenience. We also discover that a space shuttle, loaned to Britain by the US, has been stolen. Quite why Britain would wish to borrow a space shuttle is unclear; perhaps the recently elected Thatcher government had plans for galactic conquest?

Drax himself is rendered instantly villainous by way of his ostentatious wealth, beard and German accent, which make his plan to commit genocide to pave the way for a master race seem somewhat like national stereotyping (the master race themselves look worryingly like the cast of the musical Hair). He instantly launches several extravagant attempts to kill 007, as ever passing up a number of perfectly decent opportunities to simply shoot him in the head. Instead, a series of loyal henchmen are quickly mopped up by Bond, turning one’s thoughts towards the brilliant Austin Powers skit about the effect on such henchmen’s families (not the only moment in the film that summons the ghost of Powers).

Among the henchmen is Jaws (another Spielberg reference?) who turns up to work for Drax, presumably recruited from the ‘intimidating heavy’ equivalent of Office Angels. Richard Kiel’s character had previously appeared in The Spy Who Loved Me, proving so inexplicably popular with children (perhaps this film’s true target demographic) that he was recalled for Moonraker and even rewarded with a girlfriend and Road to Damascus-style conversion. His sudden switch from the dark side is particularly hard to swallow and adds to the impression that this is more kiddie flick than spy thriller.

Roger Moore in Moonraker - "eyebrow-arching irony at its zenith"

One of the major criticisms of the film is its supposedly ‘comic’ approach, with Moore’s eyebrow-arching irony at its zenith. Certainly there is fun to be had, particularly as Bond is stalked by yet more potential assassins while cruising the canals of Venice; one scene involves a knife-throwing killer rising from a floating coffin, before Bond quickly returns him from whence he came. However, this is followed by a scene in which 007 outruns a speedboat in a motorised gondola, before taking it onto dry land for a drive through the Piazza San Marco. It’s more Benny Hill than Bond, and even features a ridiculous double-taking pigeon. Similarly, the use of music from other films to soundtrack key set pieces, such as The Magnificent Seven during a bizarre scene when Bond dresses as a cowboy, simply adds to the feeling that this is self-parody of the silliest kind.

There is some respite from the barrage of cheese, with occasional throwaway lines ranging from the Wildean (“Mr Bond. You return with all the inevitability of an unloved season”) to the Kenneth Williams-ean (“I believe he’s attempting re-entry, Sir”), but Moore’s oak-stiff delivery frequently seems more suited to the world of pantomime than international espionage.

As ever, there are babes in abundance, as our hero continues to ignore widely accepted sexual health advice. However, they are unmemorable in the extreme, with the exception of Corinne Dufour, who provides the film’s only genuinely dark moment when Drax has her pursued and eaten by a pack of dogs. Meanwhile, the name of scientist/CIA agent Holly Goodhead would provide Mike Myers with several films worth of mucky puns.

In this post-Bourne world, and in the light of Daniel Craig’s emotionally damaged, action-thug Bond, Moonraker seems camp and unbelievable. Equally ludicrous moments pop up throughout the Bond series, but this film’s attempt to stitch so many together, while self-consciously playing the ‘comedy’ card, leave it feeling retrospectively Powers-lite and very much of its moment. That it remained the highest grossing Bond film until 1995’s Goldeneye only goes to show how well Myers knew his audience when he launched his cash-cow parody on the world.

Blogalongabond is the ingenious brainchild of blogger The Incredible Suit.

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