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.