I need to declare an interest. This was the first Bond film I owned on VHS. It was an ex-rental copy with a photocopied sleeve bought from the local video shop in Ormskirk (I think the trailers were for Pale Rider and Spies Like Us). So I watched it A LOT as a kid. I know it has a bad reputation among some, and in the cold light of day I can see it’s not perfect, but I absolutely love it. And it’s not *just* the nostalgia factor – I do think it’s a lot of fun as a Bond movie. Its motifs of steroids, microchips, big business, environmental worries and Duran Duran mean it positively reeks of the 1980s (in a good way). The action’s very good and the comedy’s (mostly) kept in check. The music is superb, And, like all good Bonds, it has an underlying nasty streak. (The way the clumsy title is shoehorned into the dialogue is rather silly, though!) Eight Zorin airships out of 10.
Bond: This is the oldest any James Bond has been: Roger Moore was 57. I’ve really enjoyed rewatching his seven movies, and I’m very, very fond of three of them, but it was time for a change…
Villains: Max Zorin, a blonde, bonkers businessman with a Nazi-experiment past, is played by Christopher Walken – psychotic, unpredictable and terrifying, it’s the best performance of a Bond villain who’s completely off his rocker. His right-hand woman is the outrageous, arch and camp May Day (Grace Jones). She has fantastic, severe flashes of make-up across her face; she single-handedly restrains a bolting horse; and she forcefully climbs on top of Bond when they have a mid-film bunk-up. Other lackeys include Patrick Bauchau as slimy toad Scarpine and Willoughby Gray as monocled Nazi-doctor-on-the-run Carl Mortner.
Girls: In the pre-titles Arctic sequence, Bond has a sexy assistant piloting his getaway boat (“Call me James,” he says, unzipping her cold-weather gear. “It’s five days to Alaska.”) At Zorin’s French chateaux, we meet two lovely women who work for May Day: Jenny Flex played by Alison Doody and Pan Ho played by Papillon Soo Soo. Doody was – and remains, I think – the youngest ever ‘Bond girl’ (18) and later had a good role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Although I’ve never spotted her, Maud Adams from The Man With The Golden Gun and Octopussy is reportedly an extra in the scene filmed at San Francisco’s fish market. “Bond girl Fiona Fullerton”, as last year’s Strictly Come Dancing insisted on calling her, appears as KGB agent Pola Ivanova. The female lead is Stacey Sutton, played by former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts like she’s in a daytime soap. Despite being a poor performance, and the fact she’s introduced into the film by a screech of sexy saxophone, this was actually an admirable attempt at a believable woman with an everyday life and a history.
Regulars: Moneypenny, M and Q all get to tart up and have a day at the races with Bond in order to scope out Max Zorin. Sir Fredrick Gray is still the Minister of Defence. (That’s eight years now he’s held the post. In reality, there’d been four Ministers since 1977: Frederick Mulley, Francis Pym, John Nott and Michael Heseltine.) General Gogol appears again – one of his bodyguards is played by Grace Jones’s then boyfriend: He-Man himself, Dolph Lundgren. David Yip plays Chuck Lee, a CIA agent who’s Felix Leiter in all but name.
Action: The opening Arctic sequence features a helicopter, skiing, ski-dos, one-legged skiing, impromptu snowboarding, cut-in shots of Roger filmed back in the studio, and a submarine disguised as an iceberg. Bond pursues May Day up the Eiffel Tower. When she jumps off and parachutes to the ground, he races to the ground on top of a lift then steals a taxi to carry on the chase (the car gets ruined). Bond and his ally Tippett have a fight with two goons, one of whom is Big Ron from EastEnders. There’s a dramatic fight/chase on horseback. Bond and Stacey are attacked in her house – Bond has only a shotgun loaded with rock salt. The sequence with San Francisco City Hall on fire and the subsequent fire-truck chase are excellently staged. The stuff in Zorin’s mines is likewise great (the studio sets are as massive as they are convincing) – although, Bond and May Day’s dialogue gets very on-the-nose at times. We end with an airship crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge.
Comedy: A cover version of the Beach Boys’ California Girls is used when Bond surfs across the Arctic Sea: very silly. Seeing the regular cast at the horseracing is great fun, especially the punchline that Bond had been smart enough to bet on Zorin’s nag. Sir Godfrey Tippett (Patrick Macnee) poses as Bond’s chauffeur and the double act is played for as much droll humour as possible. The quips throughout the movie are mostly more successful – dryer, sharper – than in the facetious Octopussy. One especially made me chuckle. Pola Ivanova’s in a jacuzzi, and says “The bubbles tickle my… [hears the music Bond’s put on] Tchaikovsky!”
Music: First rank. The score from John Barry is just tremendous. Brassy, with wild electric guitars, it conveys tension and action equally well. Duran Duran’s title song is likewise sensational – one of the very best Bond songs, it combines mood, melody and urgency into one of the best pop tracks of the 1980s.