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.

 

You Only Live Twice (Lewis Gilbert, 1967)

You Only Live Twice

Everything about this film says big, expansive, ambitious and epic; its sense of scale is astonishing. The pre-titles teaser takes place in outer space, while the bulk of the story is our first foray outside Europe or North America. And more than any of the previous films, this sets the template for a bonkers villain in a ridiculously overdramatic secret base with jumpsuited henchmen, Tannoy announcements and monorails. The sets, it has to be said, are extraordinary: M’s detailed wood-panelled office on board a naval destroyer, the strange golf-ball interior where the US, UK and Soviet bigwigs meet, Osato’s sleek offices, and of course the cavernous secret base inside a volcano (a 45-metre-tall, $1 million set built for real). Meanwhile, filming in real locations has been a genuine boon to this series – can you imagine if they’d done foreign countries on a back lot or in the studio?! – and here Japan is mined for every cliché going. We get bright, neon, commercialised Tokyo, a sumo match with thousands of extras, and even a ninja training camp. Admittedly, none of the guest characters is especially interesting and the story grinds to a standstill about an hour in, but this is still an enjoyable and likeable film. The screenplay is by Roald Dahl, one of the heroes of my childhood. Six hollow volcanoes out of 10.

Bond: For the first time in the series, we see Commander Bond in his naval uniform, while later in the movie he gets a dodgy Japanese makeover (they brush his hair forward and make his face look a bit Asian). “The things I do for England,” he says at one point – I wonder if Sean Connery liked that line.

Villains: Businessman Osato is initially presented as the Big Bad, but we soon learn he works for Blofeld. Posing at Osato’s confidential secretary is Miss Brandt, a Germanic redheaded ballbreaker who looks just fine in some aviation goggles.

Girls: “Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” Bond asks his pre-titles squeeze, Ling. Once the story’s underway, we meet Aki. She begins by coolly flirting with Bond and darting around Tokyo in a Toyota 2000GT. Later, Bond and Japanese secret service boss Tiger Tanaka get bathed and massaged by four sexy girls in bikinis (“In Japan, men always come first. Women come second,” says Tanaka. “I might just retire here,” quips Bond). Then Aki quietly replaces one of the masseuses and – despite only minor hints of attraction earlier on – offers herself to Bond on a plate. And they say these films are meant as wish fulfillment! After Aki dies, she’s replaced in the story by Kissy, who Bond has to pretend to marry for not very plausible reasons.

Regulars: Both Moneypenny and M are out in the South China Sea, on board a ship and wearing their naval dress. Bond calls her Penny, which happens in the books a fair bit but I think this is a film first. For the second movie running, Q goes into the field to deliver his gadgets (specifically one-man ’copter Little Nellie). And, as mentioned, Blofeld and his cat are back for a third movie – although, it’s over an hour before we’re told he’s behind it all. At first, the convention of hiding his face is maintained, but when Bond meets him so do we: and he’s a suitably deranged, scar-faced Donald Pleasance.

Action: During a fight with a heavy, Bond hits him with a sofa. There’s a novel conclusion to a car chase: one of them gets picked up by a giant magnet suspended from a helicopter and dropped into the sea. The Little Nellie sequence is very good. All hell breaks loose when dozens of ninjas attack Blofeld’s base.

Comedy: We get the best Bond/Moneypenny flirting scene yet (“How was the Chinese girl we set up for you?” “A few more minutes and I’d have found out…”). Charles Gray appears as Henderson, MI6’s man in Japan, and plays the scene with his usual fruity twinkle (“I get the vodka from the doorman at the Russian Embassy… [To himself] That’s not all I get…”).

Music: The incidental music is stunning. Sumptuous. Beautiful. Atmosphere and action are conveyed brilliantly, tension too in the splendid spaceship-jacking scene. After two strident and powerful title songs in a row, Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice is gentle, soothing and generally lovely.

People I’ve met: The first actor of the series I’ve met is the great, sadly late Ed Bishop – star of Captain Scarlet and UFO, who appears here briefly as flight controller. I interviewed him in 2003.