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.