Star Wars (1977, George Lucas)

Star-Wars

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When her ship is boarded, resistance leader Princess Leia sends the stolen blueprints of an enemy space station to ally Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, a farm boy called Luke Skywalker intercepts them and decides to join the rebellion…

WHICH VERSION? Can open, worms everywhere. Star Wars films have been issued at the cinema, on TV, on VHS, on LaserDisc, on DVD and on Blu-ray in a succession of different edits. Each has brought either minor changes – a sound mix tweaked here, a shot trimmed out there – or significant overhauls of key scenes. To all intents and purposes, I watched the original 1977 edit of Star Wars. And it *is* just called Star Wars on this version. The subtitle ‘Episode IV: A New Hope’ wasn’t added until a cinematic rerelease in 1981. However, I watched it on a DVD that came out in 2006, which is a letterbox (rather than anamorphic) transfer from the 1993 LaserDisc, which itself had done some minor remixing to the 1977 cut’s soundtrack. If your head isn’t hurting enough yet, check out this page on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_changes_in_Star_Wars_re-releases#Episode_IV:_A_New_Hope

GOOD GUYS

* C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) is the first ‘person’ we see. He’s a nervous, fussy, jittery robot (or ‘droid’) who’s our point-of-view character for the film’s opening 19 minutes. An English butler of a character, he’s the story’s comic relief.

* R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) is C-3PO’s partner, a forthright, squat, little droid who is trusted with a mission by Princess Leia and doesn’t take any bullshit in his determination to carry it out. Only C-3PO can understand R2’s bleeps-and-whistles dialogue; the two of them have the vibe of a bickering married couple. At the film’s climax, R2 takes part in the assault on the Empire’s HQ, a space station called the Death Star. He always seems to know what’s going on.

* Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is a young, confident, ballsy, slightly sexy ambassador from the planet Alderaan. She’s also a high-ranking member of the Rebel Alliance, so when Imperial forces board her ship she tasks R2-D2 (who she seemingly picks at random) to deliver some important documents to an ally. When she’s captured, she’s forced to watch as her home planet is destroyed – but she’s regained her spunk by the time our heroes rescue her. She bickers with Han Solo (they clearly want each other) then coordinates the Alliance’s attack on the Death Star. Fisher was 19 years old when she made this film – doesn’t that make you feel ancient?

* Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is the hero of the story, a corn-bred farmer who lives with his auntie and uncle. He dreams of far-off places but can only look on in envy as his friends escape their dreary community. When he stumbles across Leia’s message, he helps R2 deliver it. They soon find Ben Kenobi, an old hermit who knew Luke’s dad. Kenobi is actually a Jedi in hiding – they were quasi-religious knights before the days of the fascist Empire. He gives Luke his father’s weapon and teaches him about the Force, an “energy field created by all living things”, which “surrounds us, penetrates us and binds the universe together”. After Luke’s relatives are killed, he asks to join Ben on his mission to help the rebels; he wants to train to be a Jedi too. (Cults take longer than this to recruit people.) They end up on the Death Star, where Luke and new ally Han Solo have to masquerade as soldiers and rescue Leia. Luke clearly fancies the Princess, and even gets defensive when Han suggests he might have a crack at her. Luke also gets sniffy when Han doubts the existence of the Force – something Luke only learnt about earlier that morning. (There’s nothing like the zeal of a convert, is there?) After destroying the Death Star, Luke and Han are given medals by the Rebel Alliance. Han’s mate Chewbacca is not given one – neither are the two other pilots who survived the battle. Fickle bastards.

* Uncle Owen (Phil Brown) and Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) clearly know more about Luke’s family history than they let on. Owen especially seems keen to keep Luke in the dark, while Beru enjoys drinking blue milk. The pair are killed by stormtroopers. The chilling image of their burnt skeletons haunted millions of childhoods.

* Ben ‘Obi-Wan’ Kenobi (Alec Guinness – how the fuck did they get Alec Guinness?) fulfills the wise-old-wizard role in the narrative. Ben can take care of himself – both physically and by using his Force skills. But should we really trust him? He’s in hiding from the Empire but still using the surname he had when he was a Jedi. And he doesn’t seem to recognise C-3PO and R2-D2, which is odd given what happens in the prequels. Or maybe he does know them: note how he only starts giving Luke details about the past after 3PO has switched himself off… Once aboard the Death Star, Ben gets a sneaky-monkey subplot then sacrifices his life to save Luke. He then talks to Luke from beyond the grave (Luke is totally unfazed by this surprising development). Guinness may have thought the whole project was horseshit – “New rubbish dialogue reaches me every other day,” he wrote at the time. “I just think, thankfully, of the [fee]…” – but he’s terrific in this film. He adds soul to every scene he’s in.

* Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) is a Wookie – a tall, hairy alien – who growls a lot but can only be understood by his friend and colleague Han.

* Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is a rogue, a scoundrel, a smuggler and dresses like a cowboy. He’s sarcastic, world-weary and cynical. No wonder so many of us fanboys developed man-crushes on him. Interestingly, though, a lot of us have been mispronouncing our idol’s name: he says it ‘Haan’. A man under pressure, given that he owes a chunk of money to a gangster, he’s a refreshingly ambiguous character in this otherwise black-and-white story. He’s not short of confidence (“Sometimes I amaze even myself…”) and joins the mission solely for the payday. Soon after we meet him and he takes on Luke and Ben as passengers, he’s cornered by the lackey of an unseen mobster called Jabba. Han distracts Greedo while he surreptitiously slips his gun from his holster then nonchalantly shoots him under the table. It’s a vital piece of plotting, this: we’re not mean to trust this man; he’s selfish and reckless. (When the scene was re-edited for the 1997 special edition, Han shoots only in self-defence. A million geeks cried out in terror.) Han Solo has the downright most coolest space ship in all of sci-fi: the Millennium Falcon, which can do the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs (whatever that means). It has smuggling compartments, which come in handy when the gang are captured by the bad guys. Before the climax, Han takes his reward for rescuing Leia and fucks off – but he’s clearly feeling guilty about abandoning his new mates, and returns in the nick of time to save the day. He’s given a medal, so presumably this wobble of loyalty is forgiven.

* Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) is an old mate of Luke’s. He joined the Rebel Alliance before Luke got involved, but is killed during the final battle. (Most of the character’s scenes – including stuff early in the film on Tatooine – were cut out.)

BAD GUYS

* Darth Vader (body: David Prowse, voice: James Earl Jones) makes an arch first appearance: he’s a swish of black in amongst a cloud of white smoke. We’re told that years earlier he betrayed and murdered Luke’s father (who’s not named) after being seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. (Religions, eh? Always making nice people do bad things.) He wears a full suit of all-black armour and a helmet that covers his entire head. No one dares ask if he’s human, an alien, a robot… We do know he’s violent (he strangles someone with his hands) and touchy (he throttles someone via telekinesis after they ridicule the Force). He murders Ben then zeroes in on Luke during the final battle. At the end, he’s not killed off but rather sent spinning away into space – ready for the sequel.

* There are plenty of stormtroopers (did anyone else used to think they were robots?) and Imperial officers. Don Henderson and Leslie Schofield (JOHNNY BRIGGS’S DAD!) play two of the officers.

* Lots of Jawas appear in the early stages. They’re a race of cloaked midget traders (that is, traders who are midgets: they buy or steal and then sell droids).

* The Sand People (or Tusken Raiders) are nomads on Luke’s home planet who have mammoths and cause trouble.

* Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing – how the fuck did they get Peter Cushing? Oh, yeah: because he’d do any old shit) is the commander of the Death Star. He seems to be Vader’s boss and is icy cool and cruel. His arrogance leads to his downfall.

BEST ACTION SEQUENCE: The thrilling attack on the Death Star: a sumptuous 12-minute slice of cinema gold. It showcases world-class model work, really smart editing and some monumental music cues. The tension builds and builds and builds. (The terse dialogue also contains a large amount of unintentional innuendo.)

BEST COMEDY MOMENT: Han pretending to be a stormtrooper over a radio: “Er, everything’s under control, situation normal… Er, had a slight weapons malfunction, but, er, everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine, we’re all fine… here… now… Thank you… How are you?”

MUSIC: The score is a masterpiece by John Williams. Whether dark or light, driving action or creating mood, it’s a total joy. There’s also terrific use of character-specific themes (or leitmotifs, to use the musical term). George Lucas once said he designed the Star Wars movies to be, in effect, silent films in terms of their storytelling techniques – and indeed the score conveys emotion and drama much more elegantly than the dialogue. (Ben Burtt’s sound design, meanwhile, is extraordinary.)

PERSONAL CONNECTION: I don’t really remember a time before I’d seen Star Wars. It came out two years before I was born, so I would’ve first watched it on VHS soon after we got a video recorder in about 1983.

REVIEW: The 20th Century Fox logo and fanfare… The Lucasfilm logo… The caption reading ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….’ The Star Wars logo and a triumphant burst of theme music… The crawl of scene-setting text… And then *that* shot of a monumentally enormous spacecraft flying overhead. It’s a thrilling opening, whose power hasn’t dulled after even a hundred viewings. Star Wars is all about momentum, and this beginning propels us right into the middle of the action. We’re thrown into a simple story of good versus evil. It’s a familiar tale of a pure hero to cheer for, a wise old man to offer guidance, a damsel in distress, sidekicks to chuckle with, a maniacal villain intent on evil, and little if any subtext. Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell should’ve got a screenplay credit. As well as the silent-movie vibe mentioned above, the colour scheme is almost black-and-white (with occasional browns). Cliffhanger-heavy plotting highlights the Flash Gordon/movie-serial roots. A Wilhelm Scream or two adds an old-Hollywood connection. And there’s no sex, no swearing, and only flashes of real violence. If you ignore some of the haircuts, it’s practically timeless. But that doesn’t mean it’s not inventive. It’s a totally believable fictional universe, at once both different and familiar. Even now, after so many imitators and plagiarisers, the film feels fresh and textured. The design work is breathtaking: every set, every vehicle, every costume, every robot… There’s detail and nuance and storytelling in each decision. The special effects, meanwhile, are still excellent today, and have the heft and verisimilitude that’s often absent from CGI-era blockbusters. (The use of models for the space battles is worth the entry price alone.) The dialogue is full of exotic references – to spice mines, a language called Bocce, a teen hangout called Tosche Station, the Clone Wars – that mean nothing and everything all at the same time. However, that’s not to say the writing is especially well crafted. Of the cast, Harrison Ford is probably the best at ironing out the kinks in George Lucas’s hackneyed dialogue, giving what are torturously constructed lines some life and humour. In fact, it’s generally thanks to the actors that the characters and situations are so engaging – Mark Hamill is winsome, Carrie Fisher is feisty, Alec Guinness adds gravitas, Anthony Daniels is funny, James Earl Jones is terrifying, and Harrison Ford redefines swagger. Packed full of joie de vivre, Star Wars is an extraordinarily enjoyable escapist adventure. It’s cliché from start to finish, but done so well – so joyfully, so exuberantly, with so much style and pace and panache – that it’s become definitive. It’s as close to perfect as makes no difference.

Ten wretched hives of scum and villainy out of 10

Count Dracula (BBC2, 22 December 1977, Philip Saville)

count-dracula

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Much the same as the book – Transylvania, London and Whitby. The plaque on Lucy’s coffin tells us it’s 1892.

Faithful to the novel? Astonishingly so. It’s perhaps the most sympathetic retelling of Stoker’s story. There are a few changes but they’re all sensible improvements… The story now has a prologue scene of Jonathan saying goodbye to Mina before he heads abroad. Dracula always looks the same age. Mina and Lucy are sisters rather than just friends. And Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris have been economically merged into one character: an American called Quincey P. Holmwood.

Best performance: Susan Penhaligon is fantastic as Lucy Westenra, especially once the character has been affected by Dracula – her transformation and death are horrific and unsettling.

Best bit: Jonathan Harker’s vivid, nightmarish encounter with Dracula’s Brides uses every video-editing trick under the moon. It’s a marvellous sequence, full of dislocating cuts, the sound dropping out and being mixed oddly, and the image decaying like it’s been copied dozens of times. Chilling stuff.

Review: This magnificent 150-minute TV movie was shown on BBC2 in 1977. There’s a dramatic title sequence, which sets the scene: dark, moody, Gothic and scored not by music but by the sounds of a storm. The whole film is pure horror, in fact, and the number of unnerving scenes mounts up. Dracula’s brides eat a baby. Harker finds Dracula and his brides in their coffins. Dracula seduces Lucy in the dead of night. Lucy slowly transforms into a vampire. Vampire Lucy menaces people in a graveyard. Vampire Lucy is staked in her coffin. Renfield is beaten to death. Mina goes mad after Dracula seduces her while Jonathan sleeps beside her. Mina drinks from Dracula’s open chest wound. The sense of terror is extraordinary for a BBC drama shot in a television studio. It also gets out on film, though – most notably to the real Whitby, where locations from the novel are used for the relevant scenes. If there’s a downside, the film can’t solve the problems inherent in Stoker’s novel: that the characters are cyphers and that the plot peters out with a limp climax. But a decent cast – especially Louis Jordan, who’s *mesmerising* as the Count – make up for any failings, while the stylish direction adds depth and texture to everything.

Nine hairy palms out of 10

That’s Carry On! (1977)

Thats

Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor spend some time in a projectionist’s booth, watching clips of old Carry On films…

What’s it spoofing? In 1974, to mark its 50th anniversary, MGM released That’s Entertainment!, a lavish compilation movie made up of dozens of clips from its back catalogue of musicals. A sequel followed in 1976. This is the Carry On team’s version of the concept. MGM had stars such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Fred Astaire, Debbie Reynolds and James Stewart filming new linking material. We get Kenneth Williams and Barbara Windsor making gags about needing the loo.

The Big 10:

* Kenneth Williams (25).

* Barbara Windsor (10), in her final Carry On film.

* All the other members of the Big 10 – Sid James, Joan Sims, Jim Dale, Peter Butterworth, Bernard Bresslaw, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Connor – feature in the archive clips.

Review: The excerpts begin with Don’t Lose Your Head, Follow That Camel and Carry On Doctor – a perceived mid-60s peak? – then jump back to Carry On Sergeant and (mostly) go through the series in order. The running order is fudged to keep the black-and-whites together; Carry On England is ignored; and At Your Convenience and Up the Khyber are held back to provide an ending. It’s good fun for the most part. The clips are well chosen and crisply cut together, while the linking material is *just* the right side of corny. (Having said that, Williams and Windsor seem like people doing clichéd impressions of camp Kenny and busty Babs.)

Eight film cans out of 10

ABBA: The Album (1977)

Abba-The_album

Note: I’m reviewing the albums as available in the UK on CD. Track listings sometimes vary from original Swedish releases.

Cover: Released as a tie-in to ABBA: The Movie – a concert film with some fictional material weaved in – this superb album has bonkers cover art. In amongst the colourful swashes are images of the band’s faces, an aeroplane, a kangaroo, a taxi, a marionette and other things vaguely connected to the music or movie. Next to the logo is a full-black illustration of the band as cartoon stick figures.

Best song: The opener, Eagle, is thrilling. It’s the longest track the band ever recorded (5.51) and it’s not just the running time that makes it feel enormous. From the powering-up intro, the song sounds like it’s landing from outer space. There’s extensive use of guitars, which chime, jangle, ping, sweep and soar, while the multi-tracked vocals are *beautiful*. The title seems like it’s a reference to the band the Eagles. The music is vaguely reminiscent of their 1975 song Journey of the Sorcerer, and Eagle was written soon after Benny and Björn visited a soft-rock-obsessed LA in May 1977. However, Björn denies this. He says his lyrics – a simple but highly effective metaphor for freedom and escape – were written while surrounded by ‘nature, water and space.’ Whatever the inspiration, it’s a brilliant song. A tremendous evocation of mood and feeling. *Great* bass sound too.

Honourable mentions:

* Take a Chance on Me. Björn had the idea for it while out running and a ‘tck-a-ch’ rhythm occurred to him. Adapting it to the phrase ‘take a chance’, he and Benny fashioned one of ABBA’s most appealing songs. It’s catchy, fun and extremely well put-together. The ‘cold open’ of clashing vocal parts is fantastic, while Agnetha gets some sultry spoken lines (“That’s all I ask of you, honey…”). There’s also great use of synthesisers to add sparkle to everything.

* One Man, One Woman, a power ballad, is sung beautifully by Frida. Björn was affronted by criticism of his ‘simplistic’ words so wrote this narrative-driven lyric, which acts as a flipside to Knowing Me, Knowing You’s coin.

* The absolutely sensational The Name of the Game has a very complex arrangement. There’s a deliciously laid-back bass/synth-riff opening (inspired by Stevie Wonder’s sublime I Wish); the drumming is used really well; there are lots of guitars; we get bursts of horn instruments; Agnetha and Frida share and swap the vocal lines; and the structure features a few ‘breakdowns’. It’s therefore never dull, never cliché. Björn says that Boston’s FM-radio favourite More Than a Feeling was an inspiration.

* Move On has an arch spoken-word verse sung by Björn like he’s Orson Welles introducing a ghost story, then Agnetha takes over.

* Hole in Your Soul has a fun quick/slow/urgent/relaxed structure throughout.

Worst song: Thank You For the Music, a sugary, earnest, inexplicably popular piece of musical-theatre. It’s the start of a three-song medley that closes the album – a mini-musical called The Girl With the Golden Hair, which ABBA used in their live set around this time. After Thank You For the Music, there’s the dull I Wonder (Departure) and the up-tempo I’m a Marionette. (When performed live, the sequence was narrated by Captain Scarlet himself, Francis Matthews, and there was a fourth song – Get On the Carousel – which was dropped from the album because it was too repetitive.)

Best CD extra: Amongst other treats, the bonus DVD allows us to see the band… missing their cue as they mime to Take a Chance on Me on West German TV… mime The Name of the Game for Japanese telly in front of a huge semi-circular tube full of balloons… mime to a stripped-down mix of Thank You For The Music on The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show… and chat rather timidly with Lesley Judd on Blue Peter in February 1978. But the highlight is a clip from a Swedish TV show called Gomorron Sverige, broadcast on 17 September 1977. A reporter takes a young ABBA fan called Fredrik to meet Benny and Björn in the studio as they work on their new album. Benny shows the boy how to play Fernando on the piano, then he and Björn give him a preview of the yet-to-be-released The Name of the Game.

Best video: Take a Chance On Me. The song’s vocal-gymnastics opening is represented by the screen being split into quarters: each band member singing their part. We then get a montage of bizarre and brilliant images… The band on a blank white space with the boys looking glum and the girls dancing and singing joyfully into the camera… Soft-focus close-ups, during which Agnetha and Frida wink at us… Frida listening on headphones to her home stereo system… And some sensationally sexy shots of Agnetha’s head popping up into view having been ducked out of shot… Also given the music-video treatment from this album were The Name of the Game, Eagle, Thank You For the Music and One Man, One Woman. Eagle uses lots of then-ground-breaking video effects.

Review: Sumptuous. It perhaps tails off in the second half, but the opening five tracks are very, very strong. Experimental, bold and classy.

Nine mountains and forests and seas out of 10.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Close Encounters

After he sees a number of UFOs during a blackout, family man Roy Neary becomes obsessed with finding them again…

Seen before? Yes.

Best performance: Richard Dreyfuss (Roy) is energetic, passionate and likeable (a neat trick seeing how he essentially plays a loony who abandons his family). He’s had a shave since Jaws.

Best scene/moment/sequence: Roy’s first nighttime encounter with a UFO is superb. I love the moment where what you assume are a car’s headlights slowly lift up above him.

Review: Lots of Spielberg firsts here. His trademark sense of wonder, his fascination with science fiction, and his love of kooky lower-middle-class families all get explored. It’s also his first movie to go full-throttle on the use of expressionistic lighting, colour, smoke and shadow to help tell his story. Many shots are *beautifully* composed. And while Richard Dreyfuss is going slightly mad and worrying his family, François Truffaut and Bob Balaban are trotting round the globe investigating strange goings-on in scenes set in stunning locations and featuring hundreds of well-marshalled extras (an area Spielberg has always excelled). I like this film, rather than love it. It’s very impressive but I can’t say it’s ever gripped me.

Eight mountains made from mashed potato out of 10.

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.