Tag Archives: Roger Moore

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.

Advertisements

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.