A View to a Kill (John Glen, 1985)

A View to a Kill

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.

Never Say Never Again (Irvin Kershner, 1983)

Never Say Never Again

Never Say Never Again was a rival production to the ongoing Eon series and, for tedious legal reasons to do with writer/producer Kevin McClory’s claim on its authorship, was a second adaptation of the novel Thunderball. So, while not part of the ‘canon’, it is an authorised James Bond movie… Nevertheless, it’s like a photocopy: recognisable and more or less adequate, but you do wish you had the original instead. It was directed by Irvin Kershner, who three years earlier had made The Empire Strikes Back – but this seriously lacks that film’s blockbuster sheen. Compared to the main series, NSNA just comes off a cheap and gloomy. Whereas Cubby Broccoli gave us glamour and quality, McClory can only provide overcast skies and stock footage. There are some pretty hefty coincidences and plot contrivances too – not least that the whole story is based on the notion that, as long as the US President looks into a retinal scanner, he or anyone close to him can then do whatever they like with the American nuclear arsenal. Having said all that, the film does have a knockabout charm, Sean Connery is great fun, the Bond girl’s not bad looking, and the two main baddies are quite entertaining. Six Tears of Allah out of 10.

Bond: Sean’s back – 12 years since he quit the official series for a second time, but a few years before his Untouchables/Last Crusade/Hunt for Red October renaissance.

Villains: Fatima Blush is a vampy and increasingly deranged SPECTRE agent who, early on, poses as a nurse, beats her patient up, then teases him with a flash of stocking. After he’s done some espionage for her, she kills him by throwing a snake into his car as he drives along. She’s my favourite thing about the whole film. Max Von Sydow plays Blofeld; there’s no attempt to hide his face. The chief bad guy is Maximillian Largo, played with Euro-charm twinkle and flashes of real menace by Klaus Maria Brandauer. He has a fascination with computer games, solely so he and Bond can play a tense one-to-one arcade game that gives its loser an electric shock.

Girls: The opening scene has a woman tied to a bed; when Bond frees her, she stabs him (it’s part of a Secret Service training op). As in Thunderball, the health farm has a physiotherapist who is easily seduced by 007. Valerie Leon plays a fisherwoman Bond picks up in Nassau. In France, he has a dull female helper and visits a health spa – there’s a doe-eyed receptionist, then James pretends to be a masseur in order to get close to Domino (and sneak a peek at her naked body). Domino is the movie’s female lead. When we first see her, she’s dancing in a leotard and leggings – Largo is perving at her through a two-way mirror (as, by extension, are we). She’s played by Kim Basinger, a bit insipidly but very pleasing-on-the-eye-ily.

Regulars: Aside from Bond, it’s a new cast, of course. Edward – or is it James? – Fox plays M. There are pointed references to his ‘illustrious predecessor’, surely a nod towards the main series. Pamela Salem appears as a dippy Miss Moneypenny. Blofeld, as mentioned, and his cat show up. This film’s Q, named Algernon for some reason, is much more working-class than Desmond Llewellyn’s take. And Sean gets his fifth different Felix Leiter: Bernie Casey, the first black actor to play the role.

Action: The opening scene sees Bond single-handedly storm a compound. He has a long brawl in a gymnasium with Pat Roach, who played tough guys in all the 1980s Indiana Jones movies. It spills out into the corridor and a crowd of people don’t notice because they’re watching boxing on a TV. The scene ends in a lab – Bond throws some liquid in Pat’s face and it turns out to be his own urine sample. There’s also Jack’s snake-related car crash, a motorbike chase through narrow Riviera streets, and the climactic battle in Largo’s base. On horseback, Bond rescues Domino from a slave auction, then somehow persuades the horse to jump off a 50-foot-high battlement into the sea. Like Thunderball, there’s lots of dull underwater stuff. The best ‘action’ scene in the film is Bond and Domino’s dramatic, choreographed dance routine at the casino.

Comedy: Good humour is mined from Bond’s advancing age. M advises against too much red meat, white bread and dry martinis. “Then I shall cut out the white bread, sir,” he says. The famous “From here?” gag about giving a urine sample is repeated from an episode of Porridge (its writers worked on the shooting script). “I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence,” says Q during his one scene. Rowan Atkinson appears as a buffoonish embassy official. Bond tricks a doorman into holding a ‘bomb’ absolutely still, otherwise it’ll go off – it’s actually his cigar case. In the final shot of the movie, Sean winks at the camera.

Music: Michel Legrand wrote the not-very-Bondian score. At one point, it goes all rapidly plucked double-bass and scat-scat jazz trumpet. The terrible theme song, performed by Lani Hall, plays over the opening scene (rather than an abstract title sequence).

Octopussy (John Glen, 1983)

Octopussy

There’s certainly not much wrong with Octopussy. But then again, there’s not a huge amount about it that especially excites me either. Perhaps because there’s no ‘ticking clock’ for the first half of the film – Bond is investigating some smugglers because of nebulous rumours they might be raising money for the Soviets – there’s no real motor driving the story. We’re also, sadly, back to a very quip-heavy and flippant script – co-written by Flashman novelist George MacDonald Fraser. No situation or bad guy’s death can pass without some tiresome pun. Mitchell and Webb could easily have has this movie in mind for their Moneypenny’s friend sketch.

As we’re in India for a large clunk, we get cliché after cliché: snake-charmers, curry, a bed of nails, hot coals to be walked across, sahris, elephants… And, although it does all make sense, I found trying to keep track of which Fabergé egg was which distracting. It’s not a disaster, by any means, and at times very enjoyable. But it is one of the series’s weakest entries, I think. Six Miss Penelope Smallbones out of 10.

Bond: Bless him, Roger’s starting to look a bit long in the tooth now. (From 1979 to 1985, James Bond 007 was in his fifties. Before and since, he’s always been younger.) Before production, out-of-contract Moore said he didn’t want to do another one – so American actor James Brolin was courted and screen-tested. Brolin talks warmly of the experience on Octopussy’s DVD extras. But Rog then changed his mind and played Bond for a sixth time.

Villains: General Orlov is the main threat: a total fruitloop of a Russian agitator played, um, rather theatrically by Steven Berkoff. His ally is Afghan smuggler Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan, who was Dracula in my favourite adaptation of the novel). He has four main lieutenants: turban-headed Gobinda, who crushes some dice to powder when Bond out-cheats Khan at backgammon; nameless twins who know a lot of circus tricks; and sexy Magda, who flirts with and beds Bond with super-model elegance. Octopussy herself is played soft-spokenly and with sympathy by the striking Maud Adams (who was also in The Man With the Golden Gun).

Girls: Bond’s Hispanic helper in the not-related-to-the-main-story opening sequence flashes side-boob and legs to distract a goon. Moneypenny has been given a one-film assistant, a Slone Ranger called Penelope Smallbone – shame she has no personality. There’s also the cute girl in India who shows Bond to his hotel room. In Q’s lab, James childishly plays with a video camera, zooming in and out of a conveniently nearby cleavage. And, of course, there’s Octopussy’s all-female army.

Regulars: As mentioned, Moneypenny has a secretary herself now. The Minister of Defence appears again. General Gogol has a vital role in the story; his secretary returns too. Q’s lab is on tour again – this time, they’ve decamped to India (do all double-O agents get this back-up?) – while his assistant Smithers is back from the previous film. Most notably, we have a new M (actor Bernard Lee had died in 1981). There’s no acknowledgement on screen that this is a replacement so it could be simply a recasting of the same man – but he is now played by Robert Brown, who appeared as a navy bigwig in The Spy Who Loved Me (the kind of position from which an M could be promoted). He comes out to Berlin to brief Bond – would the real head of MI6 in 1983 escort one of his secret agents to within 20 yards of Checkpoint Charlie? Isn’t that asking to be rumbled?

Action: Bond uses a cool, fold-up mini-plane in the pre-titles. The resulting action includes some excellent model work. There’s a well-staged chase through downtown Dehli with Bond and the bad guys both in three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis. Bond is the prey in an Indian hunting sequence – he must tackle elephant, a tiger and a snake as well as blokes with rifles. Bond and Octopussy are attacked in her palace and one of the heavies ends up with an octopus attached to his face. Bond escapes some Russians in a car; the tyres are all shot off, so he drives onto a train track, chases after their train and jumps onto the last carriage. A good sequence follows in which 007’s on top of, hanging off the side of, and underneath a speeding train. During the climactic battle, Bond slides down a bannister, legs akimbo and firing a machine gun. Then he climbs on top of a plane as it takes off and hangs on for dear life.

Comedy: Lots. Too much, frankly, though some of it works well. Bond pulls into a petrol station in his mini-plane. “Fill her up please,” he smiles. There’s a nice moment in the auction scene when James bids on the Fabergé egg just to piss off Khan. MI6’s man in India (tennis star Vijay Amritraj) plays The James Bond Theme on his snake-chamer’s whistle to get 007’s attention. (As my friend Robert Dick points out, what’s odder: that he plays it, or that Bond recognises it?) During their post-coital scene, Magda says to Bond, “I need refilling.” He pauses and she holds up her empty glass. He has a similar reaction when he says of her tattoo, “Oh, that’s my little octopussy.” As mentioned, I think the surfeit of corny one-liners and silly gags gets quite tedious – see Bond telling a tiger to “Sit!” He later hides from some baddies by putting on a gorilla suit (him checking his watch when the bad guy specifies the time the bomb would go off made me laugh). Bond having to hitch-hike and then steal a car in order to get to the bomb in time is well mined for humour (and tension and frantic driving). There’s something pleasingly oddball about James Bond dressing up as a clown so he can sneak into a circus to tell people they’re in mortal danger. (Although, when you analyse it, he paused his mad-cap dash to the ticking time bomb in order to apply some pretty damn detailed clown make-up…)

Music: Rita Coolidge (no, me neither) sings the cheesy theme tune. It’s called All Time High: they baulked at a title song. Pulp’s 1997 cover version is much better. John Barry’s back on incidental-music duty.

People I’ve met: One of the Hooray Henrys who slow down as if to give hitch-hiking Bond a lift then drive off laughing before he can get in the car is played by my friend and former boss Gary Russell. We shared an office for four years and, every single day, I miss him.

For Your Eyes Only (John Glen, 1981)

For Your Eyes Only

Welcome to the 1980s. We have a new writing team, a new director, and a new sense of ambition. This was the first Bond movie to take its title from an Ian Fleming short story – they’d used up all the novels they had the rights to at the time. Ironic, then, that this has a sophistication of plotting and pacing we haven’t seen for a long while. There are agendas, double-crosses and secrets… It’s a film about characters pretending to be people they’re not… It’s a drama, a thriller, not a loosely connected series of set-pieces… In short, it’s my cup of tea. The whole thing is crisply directed by John Glen: no-nonsense but not po-faced, detailed and with momentum. I love it. (Having said all that, the film is topped and tailed by two of the silliest moments imaginable…) Nine Citroën 2CVs out of 10.

Bond: Bond puts flowers on Tracy’s grave – a nice reminder that this man has a past. We later get ski scenes, bobsleigh action and cable cars: all reminders of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. James’s short fling with Countess Lisl von Schlaf deliberately echoes Tracy as well, in its meet-cute, their costuming and the dramatic beach scene. A defining moment for the character is his vindictive murder of bad guy Locque, kicking his teetering car off a cliff.

Villains: Emile Locque is a mute Belgian gangster with octagonal glasses. His employer, Aristotle Kristatos, is played with menace by the great Julian Glover (Doctor Who, The Empire Strikes Back, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). His main henchman is thick-necked East German biathlon Erick. Milos Columbo (the always likeable Topol) is smartly set up by the script as a red-herring bad guy, but soon becomes Bond’s ally.

Girls: The female lead is Melina Havelock, played by Carole Bouquet. She has a proper, active role in the story – a purpose, a drive – rather than being some totty that gets dragged along by 007. In an unshowy, understated way she’s one of the series’s best characters. She and Bond feel like a genuine team, equals in their quest. Bond infiltrates a Spanish villa full of pool-partying babes. A 22-year-old ice skater, Bibi Dahl (say it out loud), throws herself at 53-year-old Bond – at least he has the grace to resist. And, as mentioned, there’s Countess Lisl (Cassandra Harris, who was married to Pierce Brosnan). She plays a short but vital and effective role in the story.

Regulars: Blofeld (although not named as such) and his cat feature in the *bonkers* opening section. Quite what his cry of “I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!” is meant to mean seems to be have been forgotten by even the production team. The whole sequence appears to be some elaborate private joke. “M’s on leave,” we’re told, because Bernard Lee had died between movies and they didn’t want to recast the part so quickly. Stuffy chief of staff Tanner takes his place in the narrative. Q’s back in a Whitehall lab, and now has an assistant, Smithers. The wine-drinking extra who looks astounded by some Bondian action completes his hat-trick of movies. There are also return appearances from Sir Fredrick Gray, General Gogol, Gogol’s secretary and Moneypenny.

Action: There’s the opening helicopter sequence above Beckton Gas Works. Bond and Melina get chased through some woods, and then have the witty and fun Citroën 2CV scene. The skiing stuff is very good, especially when Bond is being hounded by heavies on motorbikes. He also gets attacked by ice-hockey players. The On Her Majesty’s-quoting scene on the beach is well staged. Columbo’s men storm one of Kristatos’s ships. We get the series’s best underwater stuff yet – shot beautifully, and directed, edited and scored for maximum tension. Bond and Melina being dragged through the sea, a scene taken from the book Live and Let Die, is brilliantly vicious. Bond’s climb up a huge rock face is nail-bitingly tense. After the cartoon excess of the last couple of films, the whole climax is admirably restrained, low-key and focused – though, the vital moment with General Gogol is rather inelegantly rushed.

Comedy: Bond’s reaction when he sees the Citroën is nicely played. There’s also Q’s over-enthusiast use of the identigraph machine (giving Locque a huge nose!). Generally, the humour is much better integrated into the story than the previous few movies: there’s wit rather than just ‘gags’. I love this character-based joke: “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned,” says Bond getting into a confessional booth. “That’s putting it mildly, 007,” answers Q, disguised as a priest. The film’s final moments are bewilderingly, flabbergastingly, sigh-inducingly risible: Janet Brown and John Wells appear as Margaret and Dennis Thatcher, in a scene that comes from an entirely different headspace from everything else.

Music: The incidental music by Bill Conti (Rocky, The Karate Kid) is just wonderful – flash, hip and energetic, it makes great use of punchy horns, rock guitar, mournful sax and slap bass. My favourite score since, aptly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The theme song is an excellent power ballad sung by Sheena Easton.

People I’ve met: No one I’ve met, but about a year ago I did see Charles Dance (minor henchman Claus) having a cuppa outside the Royal Academy in Piccadilly.

Moonraker (Lewis Gilbert, 1979)

Moonraker

This is famously thought of by many as one of the weakest Bond movies – and I agree. It’s Bond as jet-set travelogue – we get to visit California, a French chateaux posing as California, Venice, Rio and the Amazon – but the script has no tension, little intrigue. There’s a general sense of going through the motions. The plethora of slight gags and illogical comedy is all rather grating too. And there’s some laughably obvious product placement. On the plus side, the sets are again fantastic, while all the scenes set in space are a triumph of staging and special effects. Five Marlboro billboards out of 10.

Bond: Four films in and Roger has smoothed the part out – he’s now a debonair playboy who’s irresistible to virtually every woman he meets. The arrogant bastard of the novels has all but gone. In Rio, his collars are so big you fear he’ll take off if he runs too quickly.

Villains: The bad guy is droll, piano-playing industrialist Hugo Drax (“Look after Mr Bond. See that some harm comes to him…”) – he’s strangely absent for massive stretches of the film. He has an Asian henchman called Chang, who tries to kill Bond a few times, and Jaws is back from the previous film – though why he now works for Drax is not specified. (By the film’s end, he’s switched sides and is Bond’s ally.)

Girls: There’s the now traditional pre-titles squeeze: an air stewardess who pulls a gun on Bond. Hot helicopter pilot Corinne Dufour is all inviting cleavage and 1970s flicky hair. Her death scene – chased by vicious dogs through misty woods – is effectively nasty. Drax has two dialogue-less pairs of totty hanging around his home. There’s also a Venetian receptionist; Manuela, Bond’s contact from Station VH; and lots of Rio-based bikini babes and Amazonian totty. Jaws gets a girlfriend, Dolly, who has glasses, pigtails and tits, but no dialogue. The female lead, however, is Dr Holly Goodhead. Smutty name aside, she’s an attempt at a higher class of Bond girl – she’s frosty to begin with, then becomes sassy when we learn she’s CIA.

Regulars: M and Sir Fredrick Gray go out to Venice to brief Bond (slow day at the office, Minister?). M also goes to Brazil with Moneypenny, who again has nothing substantial to do. Q is often at M’s side – we’re in a run of films where he acts as a de facto analyst rather than just a gadget master (though we do get another one of his temporary labs). As mentioned, Jaws returns and repeatedly survives ‘fatal’ situations. The wino double-take guy is back from The Spy Who Loved Me. General Gogol appears briefly.

Action: Bond gets pushed out of a plane without a parachute, catches up with a bad guy and steals his. He has a go on a centrifuge trainer, which doesn’t go well. The gadget-laden gondolier in Venice is just plain stupid and makes me angry. There’s a good fight in a museum with lots of breaking glass and one on top of a cable car, a speedboat chase up the Amazon, Bond fighting a huge and unconvincing snake, and the chaotic climax on the space station.

Comedy: “Is 007 back from that African job?” asks M. “He’s on his last leg, sir,” replies Moneypenny. Cut to Bond fondling a lovely’s thigh. In the aforementioned parachute scene, Jaws’s chute fails – so he flaps his arms like a bird. Give me strength. There are far too many groaners to mention – the most famous is Q’s “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir.”

Music: A third go round for Shirley Bassey on title-song duty. The track swims around pleasantly enough, but there’s no focus or hook. (It was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, apparently, but John Barry disliked it.) The score quotes the Magnificent Seven at one point. It’s nice to hear the melody of Barry’s 007 Theme again.

Personal connection: This was the first Bond movie released in my lifetime.

The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert, 1977)

The Spy Who Loved Me

Well, it’s starting to get a bit silly now. Lewis Gilbert is back as director, and in fact this film shares many plot elements with his previous Bond (You Only Live Twice). But like that movie, the sense of size and scale blows you away – what were presumably written as simple offices are cavernous, detailed spaces, while the interior of the baddie’s super-ship is something else. Amazingly, given the era these films were made in, this is only the second Soviet-tinged story in 10 films. It’s enjoyable enough for the most part, though runs out of steam with a ‘climax’ coming about 30 minutes too early, and it’s fun to spot lots of familiar faces in small roles: George Baker, Shane Rimmer, The Sandbaggers’ Bob Sherman, UFO’s Michael Billington, Nadim Sawalha, Cyril Shaps, Jeremy Bulloch… Seven Union Jack parachutes out of 10.

Bond: He wears his naval uniform for the second time (another similarity with You Only Live Twice). It’s good to see Bond’s occasional cruel streak: a bad guy is hanging off a roof, holding onto 007’s tie, so Bond flicks his hand clear and lets him fall. We get the first post-Lazenby reference to Tracy’s death.

Villains: Stromberg is an arch-villain in the mode of Goldfinger or Largo, with seemingly inexhaustible funds and a love of killing people in melodramatic ways. His chief henchman in 7’2”, metal-teethed, mute Jaws.

Girls: The female lead is Soviet agent Anya Amasova (whose codename – Agent XXX – is like something out of Confessions of a Russian Spy). She’s played, poorly, by Barbara Bach. Anya’s a spy with an agenda, who double-crosses Bond and outsmarts him in a joint briefing session – nominally a meaty role. Yet Bach seems bored most of the time, and there’s no sparkle in the performance. The subplot of Bond having killed her lover in an earlier mission should carry massive emotional weight, but sadly doesn’t really go anywhere. Elsewhere, Bond has a pre-titles blonde bunk-up; 70s strumpet Valerie Leon plays a saucy receptionist; Stromberg has a dinner date who he then feeds to a shark; and Bond visits as Egyptian harem (“When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures…”). The highlight of the movie – of the series, of the genre, of *cinema* – is Caroline Munro, who plays minxy helicopter pilot Naomi. A more palpable display of sexiness is difficult to imagine – she sashays through her few scenes with a come-hither look in her eye and a body that the bikini was invented for. Phwoar.

Regulars: M, Moneypenny and Q all go out into the field – and are inexplicably based in an excavated pharaoh’s tomb. Q also brings Bond’s new super car to Sardinia, where Anya calls him Major Boothroyd. Actor Robert Brown appears as a British admiral – he later took over the role of M, and I’m choosing to believe this naval dude was promoted to M’s position. We meet for the first time some characters who will crop up a lot over the next few films: British Minister of Defense Sir Fredrick Gray, KGB bigwig General Gogol, and Gogol’s secretary. There’s also a wine-drinking guy on the beach who does a double take when Bond does something outrageous – the same extra will be back doing the same thing in the next two movies.

Action: There’s some truly excellent model work of submarines and ships. A great ski chase is capped by the famous jump off a cliff. Bond and Anya have a barney with Jaws – a building collapses on the latter and he’s fine (the first in a series of times he survives illogically). Jaws then starts to rip apart the van they’re in. We get the series’s third train-carriage brawl. A good chase through the Sardinian hills involves cars, bikes, trucks, gadgets, and Caroline Munro winking from behind the controls of her helicopter – and ends with the outrageous moment when Bond drives his Lotus into the sea and it turns into a mini-sub. There’s also a massive battle with dozens of extras in Stromberg’s supership, and Bond’s final punch-up with Jaws (the latter falls into the shark pool: the shark loses).

Comedy: We get a lot of groansome puns or quips, with little of the bite or attitude of the early 70s’ movies. Although credited to two writers, the script was apparently worked on by a dozen or so people at various points – including Tom Mankiewicz, John Landis and Anthony Burgess. Mankiewizc claimed to have rewritten the shooting script, uncredited for a backhander; if true, it’s his weakest work on the series. Especially sigh-inducing moments include Bond dangling a fish out of his car window as he drives out of the sea, and the double-take drunkard. The last gag of the film is when James’s bosses catch him bedding Agent XXX. “Bond, what do you think you’re doing?” “Keeping the British end up, sir.” Humour-wise, nothing in the film beats Alan Partridge’s summary of the first few minutes.

Music: The title song, sung by Carly Simon, is first class. Disco beats pepper Marvin Hamlish’s score to great effect, while the incidental music also goes all Carry On when Bond and Anya break down in the desert, then later quotes Lawrence of Arabia.

People I’ve met: In 2003, I interviewed Caroline Munro. The following year, I worked with Edward de Souza, who plays Bond’s Egypt-based contact Hosein.

 

The Man With The Golden Gun (Guy Hamilton, 1974)

The Man With The Golden Gun

This is one of the Bond films I know least well. It’s very much a join-the-dots plot, Bond following clue to lead to informer, and exposition is poorly handled. There’s a big info-dump 40 minutes in that gives us the context of a struggle over a new energy source, then further inelegant scenes after 60 and 90 minutes where Scaramanga spells out his plan. Not that this is unique in a Bond movie, but it all feels a bit mechanical. There’s fun to be had with Scaramanga, though: Christopher Lee plays up his suave charm, highlighting that he and Bond are two sides of the same coin. It’s entertaining enough stuff, but on the whole, the sparkle of the previous few films is missing. The best thing about the whole movie may be the tremendous studio sets of the half-sunken RMS Queen Elizabeth – all the walls and floors on a slant. Seven superfluous papillae out of 10.

Bond: He’s so Roger Moore. I can’t think of anyone who’s more Roger Moore-ish, frankly. (Having said that, there’s a terrifically cruel Connery-esque scene when he twists a girl’s arm to get information.) His habit of smoking big fat cigars continues.

Villains: Scaramanga keeps the film afloat. He has a third nipple, he treats Bond like his best mate, he potters around his secluded hideaway in a tracksuit, he strokes his phallic golden gun all over Maud Adams… Christopher Lee has some CV: Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Fu Manchu, Rasputin, Lord Summerisle, Count Dooku, Saruman, Police Academy: Mission to Moscow’s Commandant Alexandrei Nikolaivich Rakov, and an entertaining Bond villain. Not bad going. Scaramanga’s bodyguard is the 3’11” Nick Nack, who Bond defeats in the closing moments of the film by locking him in a suitcase.

Girls: The most interesting woman in the film is Andrea Anders, Scaramanga’s mistress, played by icy cool Scandi-strumpet Maud Adams. There’s also Saida, a Beirut belly dancer with a spent golden bullet in her belly button; Chew Mee (geddit?!), a cute girl swimming naked in a villain’s swimming pool; and the two martial-art-savvy schoolgirl nieces of Lieutenant Hip. The main Bond girl is Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland). Apparently an MI6 operative, she’s essentially the film’s comic relief. Inexperienced and inept, she’s there to get into trouble and show off her figure. It’s a refreshing change when – over drinks and with John Barry’s score swelling – she knocks back Bond’s presumptive advances. However, in the very next scene, she turns up in his bedroom with a wide-on.

Regulars: M, Q (back after one film off) and Moneypenny go out to the Far East to brief Bond. M has a Chief of Staff – though unnamed, he’s presumably meant to be book character Tanner, who will be in later movies. Sheriff Pepper returns from Live and Let Die. He’s on holiday with his wife and gets caught up in the action: a back-by-public-demand cameo, one assumes.

Action: Bond has a brawl in the belly dancer’s dressing room, which knocks a mirror and reveals the camera crew! In short order, 007 has a fight with two sumo wrestlers, is tended to by geisha girls, has to take part in a scene from Enter the Dragon, and gets helped in a mass punch-up by two schoolgirl-uniformed ass-kicking karate experts. (They weren’t worried about cliché in 1974, were they?) There’s a good car chase – both Bond and Scaramanga in AMCs for product-placement reasons – which ends with a famous and fantastic 360-degree car twist.

Comedy: Lots of quips, mostly successful. “Who’d pay $1 million to have me killed?” asks Bond. “Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, humiliated tailors…” suggests M. Scaramanga’s melodramatic story about his favourite elephant is a hoot. And we get another classic ‘Bond shows up M’ scene. I’ll quote it in full:

M: “What do you know about a man called Scaramanga, 007?”

Bond: “Scaramanga? Oh, yes! The man with the golden gun. Born in a circus. Father, the ringmaster, possibly Cuban. Mother, English, a snake charmer. He was a spectacular trick-shot artist by the time he was 10 and a local Rio gunman at 15. The KGB recruited him there and trained him in Europe, where he became an overworked, underpaid assassin. He went independent in the late 50s. Current price: $1 million a hit. No photograph on file. But he does have one distinguishing feature, however. A superfluous papilla.”

M: “A what?”

Bond: “A mammary gland. A third nipple, sir. He always uses a golden bullet, hence ‘’man with the golden gun’. Present domicile unknown. l think that’s all. Why, sir?”

Music: The title song – a bouncy, poppy, boring effort from Lulu – is quoted comically in the score during the pre-titles scene. The incidental music itself is classic John Barry.

Live and Let Die (Guy Hamilton, 1973)

Live and Let Die

Another great one. There’s more lively, confident dialogue from Tom Mankiewicz, while this was Guy Hamilton’s third Bond as director (all at least partly set in the US, incidentally). Together, these two men have taken a laughably racist novel and turned it into a hip, Blaxploitation-tinged, thoroughly entertaining action thriller. But there’s also a menace below the quips and stunts: the iconography of voodoo, the occult and death – coffins, funeral, skulls, gravestones – runs through the movie. It’s very visually striking generally, in fact: costumes, sets and lighting are always interesting and conveying story information. Nine tarot cards out of 10.

Bond: He’s now played by Roger Moore, who if you believe the contemporary hype was wanted by the producers for both Dr No and On Her Majesty’s (Moore denies this, I think). When we first see him, he’s in bed with a buxom beauty, and he later cons a naive virgin into sleeping with him. But this is a different take on the character from before – smoother, more arch, less brutal. If Connery represented the 1960s, provincial, working-class man-done-good, Roger Moore is all 1970s, old-money, soft-focus glamour – I bet he flew on Concorde a lot, drank Campari and soda, and smelt of Old Spice.

Villains: Yaphet Kotto appears as both villain Dr Kanaga and his New York gangster alter ego, Mr Big (“Names is for tombstones, baby!”). Is it seriously meant to be a plot twist that they’re the same person? His henchmen include Tee Hee and his mechanical arm, the bonkers Baron Samedi (who seemingly returns from the dead), and the almost inaudible giant Whisper.

Girls: Bond’s opening-scene squeeze, Miss Caruso, is a cute Italian agent who hides in his wardrobe then has her dress unzipped by a magnet. The main Bond girl is played by Jane Seymour, who gives a very plain performance as Solitaire – the blandest female lead since Honey Ryder. However, she can lay claim to the first to (inadvertently) show her breast. I honestly can’t believe I’d never spotted this before this viewing: http://vimeo.com/63517813 For the middle section of the movie, Bond teams up with Rosie Carver, seemingly a sweetly inept CIA agent who’s actually working for Kanaga.

Regulars: Oddly, Q is absent. He is mentioned, though, and the gadget quota is very high: we get Bond’s magnetic watch, a car phone hidden in a cigarette lighter, a bug detector and a Morse-code machine disguised as a coat brush. M comes to Bond’s flat, as does Moneypenny, at 5.48am to brief him for his mission. It’s a great scene, full of withering looks from M and farce-like diversions as Bond tries to hide the Italian totty he’s had over for the night. For the fifth time in five films, we have a new Felix Leiter – and finally they get it right. David Hedison has an easy-going likeability in a thankless role. We also meet Sheriff JW Pepper, an over-the-top, larger-than-life, tobacco-chewing cartoon character who’ll be in the next movie too.

Action: Bond’s driver gets shot while on the freeway, leading to a short burst of carnage. Bond goes hang gliding. Fleeing Kanaga’s men in a battered old double-decker bus, he drives under a low bridge with iconic results. To escape a croc-infested island, Bond runs across the backs of three crocodiles – this stunt is the start of a 13-minute action run that features fire, explosions, speedboats, cars, bayous, jumps, crashes, cops, and boats crossing lawns, landing in swimming pools and cutting through weddings. The film’s final scene has the series’s second train-carriage punch-up (Bond besting Tee Hee).

Comedy: The bad guys like companies with punning names (Fillet of Soul, Oh Cult Voodoo Shop). In a Harlem bar, Bond specifies no ice in his drink. “That’s extra, man,” he’s told. A sequence where Bond commandeers a small aircraft that contains a learner pilot, then drives it round the airport being chased by bad guys and getting its wings knocked off, is rather silly. (“Holy shit,” the trainee says: our first proper swearing.) An even bigger harbinger of where the series is heading is JW Pepper.

Music: A New Orleans jazz funeral is featured a couple of times. The theme song by Paul and Linda McCartney is rightly thought by many to be one of the series’s very best (and even gets a diegetic performance in a bar). Paul’s old pal George Martin wrote the incidental music (John Barry took a film off because of tax reasons, I think). It’s funky and spiky and great fun, but is strangely short – there are huge chunks of action that go unscored.

Diamonds Are Forever (Guy Hamilton, 1971)

Diamonds Are Forever

There’s immediately a lighter tone to this. The dialogue throughout is snappy and witty, and the storytelling is economical and enjoyable. New writer Tom Mankiewicz gives us a script that pops and fizzes along, while director Guy Hamilton brings back the comic style he used so successfully in Goldfinger. And early example is the scene of Bond being briefed about his mission – it’s crosscut with shots of the jewel smugglers at work, and is very deftly handled. The whole film has a swagger, a confidence, and the two hours pass by very entertainingly. This is breezy, escapist Bond at its best. Nine moonbuggies out of 10.

Bond: Sean Connery was tempted back for a one-off appearance (his fee was $1.2 million, an astronomical figure, which he donated to a trust) and is perfectly at ease with the comic script. Some critics have said he seems bored in this film. Not a bit of it. Before Connery agreed to do the film, another actor – American John Gavin – was signed to play James Bond and had to be paid off.

Villains: For the third movie running, Blofeld is the main bad guy. He’s been recast yet again: this time he’s Charles Gray (who was in You Only Live Twice, of course). He’s great fun, playing it arch and a bit camp (at one point, he drags up to sneak out of a hotel). At the start of the film, Bond is hunting down Blofeld – but whether this is for revenge for Tracy’s death or a continuation of Connery’s last appearance isn’t made clear (James doesn’t seem especially widower-y, so maybe the idea was that we should discount On Her Majesty’s). Willard Whyte, a spoof of Howard Hughes, is set up a red-herring bad guy, while there are also two villainous double acts. Cheerfully sadistic couple Mr Kidd and Mr Wint crop up throughout the movie, bumping people off and smiling at each other (the former is played by Putter Smith, a jazz bassist who played on You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling). And Bond meets acrobatic pair Bambi and Thumper, who seem to sit around in leotards on the off-chance someone comes round for a fight.

Girls: The pre-titles sequence features Bond whipping a bra off of girl by a swimming pool, and we get a flash of boob (the series’s first, I think). The movie’s female lead is Tiffany Case, a fantastic, sassy American played with charm and humour by Jill St John. In her first scene, she leaves the room to switch her blonde wig to a brunette one. “And which do you prefer?” she asks Bond. “Oh, providing the collars and cuffs match…” he says. She is a breath of fresh air, giving the film a believable human in amongst the spies, scientists and psychos. She also looks terrific in a bikini. During the casino section, we also meet Plenty O’Toole (“Named after your father perhaps…”) played by Lana Wood (pictured). She gets thrown out of a very high window and lands in the hotel swimming pool. “Exceptionally fine shot,” says Bond. The lead thrower deadpans, “I didn’t know there was a pool down there.”

Regulars: Blofeld’s back, of course. His cat wears a diamond necklace. Moneypenny poses as a customs official. Q comes out to Las Vegas and uses a gadget to cheat at the one-armed bandits. Felix has been recast again and is played here by Norman Burton – again, an actor makes little impression with this part. M gets a retread of the Goldfinger scene where Bond out-snobs him in front of an expert. Asked what he knows about diamonds, Bond nonchalantly says, “Well, hardest substance found in nature. They cut glass, suggest marriage. I suppose they’ve replaced a dog as a girl’s best friend, and that’s about it.”

Action: It’s often tongue-in-cheek. There’s a claustrophic punch-up in a lift. Bond escapes Blofeld’s research facility on a moonbuggy. (Why? Best not to question it.) Bond and Tiffany get chased by the cops through Vegas – and the scene involves the famous car-tilts-onto-two-wheels stunt with its silly insert shot to explain why the Ford Mustang goes into an alley on its right wheels and exits on its left. There’s also Bond’s scrap with Bambi and Thumper, and the assault on the oil rig (which is oddly devoid of music at times).

Comedy: Lots. Tiffany’s “You just killed James Bond!” is a joy. When Felix says of a corpse, “I know you put the diamonds in the body, but where?”, Bond replies, “Alimentary, Dr Leiter.” Sammy Davies Jnr is in a deleted scene available on the DVD. Tiffany jokingly refers to Bond as Superman – Tom Mankiewicz went on to write the first two Superman movies. The best sight gag in the film is during the battle at the end: Tiffany nervously fires a machine gun, and the recoil tips her backwards.

Music: The theme song is famously seductive (Shirley Bassey returns – another link to Goldfinger) and the score has a laidback, 1970s cocktail-bar charm.

People I’ve met: Ed Bishop appears again, and gets a scene with James Bond.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969)

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

It’s not just James Bond who’s different in this one. This is more of a character story or a genuine romance than any of the previous films. Bond investigates Tracy off his own back because she fascinates him; tracks down Blofeld through personal motivation. He’s not, at least to begin with, on a mission. “This never happened to the other fella,” Bond says to camera early on – it might be a knowing joke about the recasting, but he’s not wrong. This has a depth of feeling that the Connerys didn’t attempt. Gone are hollowed-out volcanoes and plans to break into Fort Knox – as we’ll see, this switch to character stories and plausibility was a regular calibration when the series got too sci-fi or silly (cf For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale). Not that Blofeld’s plan isn’t outrageous, but OHMSS keeps things pleasingly down-to-earth. The film is sensationally directed – stylish, but full of substance and great, clear storytelling. It’s long (136 minutes), but easily holds its length. It has one of the best Bond girls. It has the best Blofeld. It has the best music. It does, famously, have a flaw – George Lazenby is no Sean Connery – but I honestly don’t think that significantly damages the overall effect. Wonderful, just wonderful. 10 copies of Playboy out of 10.

Bond: Connery out, Lazenby in. He’s clearly not a great actor – he had virtually no experience – but the idea that he’s inept or that his performance scuttles the movie is a myth. He’s fine, to be honest; ordinary, yes, but not embarrassing. He lacks Connery’s authority and sparkle, but handles the menacing stuff well and has believable chemistry with Diana Rigg. His final scene is genuinely heartbreaking. (George isn’t the only actor to play Bond in this movie. For the lengthy section when James is pretending to be Sir Hilary Bray of the London College of Arms, George Baker – who played Sir Hilly – dubbed all of Lazenby’s dialogue. Coincidentally, last Sunday’s episode of classy ITV detective show Endeavour had a lovely in-joke reference to Sir Hilary.) Also, we see Bond’s Whitehall office for the first time.

Villains: The movie begins as a character story. But the subplot of Bond trying to track down Blofeld snakes around it, then takes centre stage. We first meet scary henchwoman Irma Bunt, then a recast Blofeld – he’s now played by Telly Savalas with a cold charisma. The clips from Connery movies in the title sequence and the scene of Bond finding mementoes of old missions reinforce that this is a continuation not a reboot – however, why Blofeld doesn’t instantly recognise Bond from the previous adventure is not addressed.

Girls: Tracy di Vicenzo is the best character we’ve had so far in the series, played magnificently by Diana Rigg (the most talented actress to be a Bond girl, surely). In her first scene, she’s trying to kill herself – and this subliminal threat of death hangs above her for the whole movie. The next time we see her, she leans over a card table in a low-cut top then coyly admits she can’t cover her lost bet. Sex, I’m telling you. Pure sex. Like Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, this is a *woman* – a confident yet vulnerable, capable yet flawed woman. Her romance with Bond is believable and touching, and she even has some great faux-flirty scenes with Blofeld. She kicks ass during the climactic battle, doffing up two goons. And Tracy reentering the story after a long absence, skating up to a desperate Bond when he’s trying to hide from Blofeld’s soldiers, is a moment of unutterable beauty. She wins James Bond’s heart – and mine. At one point, Bond smirks while holding up a Playboy centerfold. Blofeld’s research institute houses a gaggle of international women, all very attractive: one is played by Joanna Lumley, another by Catherine Schell. Bond beds the ‘northern’ one, Ruby, then goes back to his room to find another wanting a service too.

Regulars: Q, M and Moneypenny all appear briefly. Q’s only gadget is some deliberately naff radioactive lint, while we see M’s country house (butler and all). Moneypenny has a moving moment, getting teary at Bond’s wedding. As well as Blofeld, his cat also returns.

Action: There’s a great fight early on, Bond and a henchman splashing about in the waves. All the punch-ups are edited with violent jump cuts. The skiing scenes are great when shot for real, but are let down by too many close-ups done in front of jarring rear-projection screens. There’s a fantastic chase through the town, which includes a barney in a room full of bells. Tracy drives her car into the middle of an ice-track stock-car derby. Draco’s men storm the institute at the end; Bond slides along the ice on his stomach while firing a machine gun. The final action sequence is a great bobsleigh chase.

Comedy: As well as they “other fella” line, a janitor whistles the Goldfinger theme tune. One of the institute lovelies reaches under Bond’s kilt to write her room number on his thigh. When Irma Bunt asks him why he looks surprised, he says, “Just a slight stiffness coming on…”

Music: John Barry’s best work on the series. A sensational, dramatic and beautiful score features synths to great effect. My favourite cue is during the breathtakingly tense sequence when Bond’s breaking into a Swiss lawyer’s office; the music raises your heartbeat. The title music is an instrumental with a killer tune, while the featured song is Louis Armstrong’s We Have All The Time in the World – very possibly the best track recorded for any Bond movie – which plays during Bond and Tracy’s romantic montage.

People I’ve met: Two people from this film. In 2003, I interviewed Bernard Horsfall, who plays Bond’s doomed ally Shaun Campbell. He told me a story of the film’s stunt coordinator having to be physically restrained from attacking Lazenby when George was so rude he made a barmaid cry. Also, last year Joanna Lumley visited the office I work in – although she wasn’t there to meet our team, she smiled at us and said hello like we were all old friends.