Friday, 26 August 2016

007 Lazenby & Dalton: Licence to Bond

When one thinks of James Bond, they think of Sean Connery or Roger Moore, the men who played him the longest. If they are of a certain age, they might think of Pierce Brosnan. Of course, Daniel Craig may also come to mind as the most recent Bond.

Very few think of George Lazenby or Timothy Dalton.

Both took over Bond from actors who had extensive runs on the character and had defined him for a generation. Both were criticised in comparison to the actor who came before, their films were forgotten or considered missteps without the 'proper' James Bond, namely Connery or Moore.

It's a little telling that this is the third image when I did a Google search for "james bond actors".

My point is that Lazenby and Dalton are often forgotten where James Bond is concerned. To be fair, there are only three films between them, perhaps not enough to leave an impression. I know I had never seen any of Datlon's films before, although I had seen snippets of Lazenby as Bond on television. So, are their films deserving of their maligned status?

Let's begin with George Lazenby. Charged with the near insurmountable task of following Sean Connery, Lazenby is... fine. There's nothing exactly wrong with him but he's not particularly good. I heard that he was predominantly a model at the time, which makes sense since the man looks like Bond. Too bad his acting doesn't match his looks but maybe we should discuss his sole outing as 007.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an amazing Bond film. Or rather there is an amazing Bond film within On Her Majesty's Secret Service because it is a film that is begging for a re-edit. The pacing is a bit mixed and needs some trimming in places. There are some great scenes but they don't quite come together as well as they could have with more time in the editing room.

For example, the masturbation scene was great but it really did slow down the plot.

The movie is long. At an hour and 22 minutes, it's one of the longest Bond films. While it doesn't drag exactly, there are at least 20 minutes that could have been cut to tighten it up. On Her Majesy's Secret Service has some highly watchable scenes which are quite engrossing but the transition between those scenes is a bit off and not as smooth as it should be.

Similarly, on a narrative level, the focus is split unevenly between the romantic plot and the villain plot, causing both to suffer and feel a little half-baked. We start with the romantic plot which then just stops for a good forty minutes or so while Bond is investigating the big bad, Blofeld in Switzerland before it's picked up again.

Because why would we want more of this?

Which is a shame since Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, a.k.a Tracy, is wonderfully brought to life by Dianna Rigg. She does suffer from Rich White Problems, namely boredom and a desire to act out against the patriarchal paternal control of her father, but she's a capable woman and shown to be Bond's equal as a romantic partner. However, just read how Wikipedia sums up the plot,
In the film Bond faces Blofeld, who is planning to sterilise the world's food supply through a group of brainwashed "angels of death", unless his demands are met for an international amnesty for his previous crimes, recognition of his title as the Count De Bleuchamp (the French form of Blofeld), and to be allowed to retire into private life. Along the way Bond meets, falls in love with, and eventually marries Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo.
He falls in love and eventually marries her "Along the way"? Like an afterthought? Believe me, Tracy Bond is no afterthought. This is the woman who ensnares James Bond's heart. James Bond, the man who sleeps with every woman he meets, is captivated by Tracy. And watching her poise and assertive confidence, it's not hard to see why.

"I'm so captivated by your her poise and assertive confidence." - Bond, probably

It's clear that with On Her Majesty's Secret Service that they were trying to go for something a little different than the established Bond formula with Connery, although at times it feels as though they decided to rein it in instead of fully embracing the changes.

For example, the theme song is an instrumental. An amazing instrumental using Moog synthesiser bassline and a flourish of staccato strings, it is everything a great Bond theme should be. But opening with an instrumental was a break from the previous three films' opening songs and it was a different take on what a Bond theme could be.

But this originality or desire to break with Bond tradition is undercut by the opening credits sequence itself which shows clips of previous James Bond films in the background. It's almost like they were saying, "here is something new but don't be afraid, it's just the same as always". Despite that hesitation to complete embrace change, the credit sequence is one of the best.

Which could be said for the film as a whole. There are some truly great moments in On Her Majesty's Secret Service that rank with the best that Bond has to offer. While there is nothing truly bad in a cinematic sense, there are plot issues in terms of pacing and Bond's trademark sexism and racism is on display, although only really during the scenes in Blofeld's allergy-research institute.

Blofeld has gathered a number of allergy-riddled women to be his "angels of death", brainwashed sleeper agents who will unleash his deadly virus or whatever on the world's food supply. So, naturally Bond has to sleep with them for information, although his cover is supposed to be gay.

He first sleeps with one girl, after saying he isn't usually attracted to girls but she's different, gets the info he needs and then leaves to find another girl waiting in his room. Of course, he proceeds to sleep with her, after saying he isn't usually attracted to girls but she's different!

Goddammit, James! Have some class, don't repeat what you said to one girl to another. That's not only gross in a dishonest way but just lazy. You should be better than that. You're the best spy in the world, surely you could think of something else flirtatious and seductive to say.

Moving on, there is, of course, the racism.

In case you didn't watch the video, that is a dinner scene where the women suffering from food allergies are eating the food that they were allergic to. I started the video at the point where the Asian lady is eating rice, which isn't so bad on it's own since that isn't a completely terrible assumption, if a somewhat lazy stereotype. But then it is followed by the African woman eating a banana.

A banana. And that's her entire meal, a banana. I'm sorry but even including all the blaxploitation that run rampant in Live and Let Die, this might be the most blatant example of racism in a Bond film.

The sad history of people of African descent being described as ape or monkey-like in a derogatory way is too well-known for this not to be anything more than institutionalised racism. At least the moment was blink and you miss it but still, come on.

But what did I think about George Lazenby as James Bond? Like I said he was fine. An average Bond in a great Bond film. There are scenes in here that are begging for an actor with serious chops like Daniel Craig to breathe them into life. Lazenby does his best but somebody does it better.

But he did inspire Austin Power's wardrobe which was a gift few greater than we could have ever known.
Never forget.

And so we come to Timothy Dalton.

Unlike Lazenby, I had never seen anything of Dalton's James Bond, not even passing glimpses on the TV so I didn't really know what to expect. I did hear that his Bond was supposed to be quite dark but I hadn't seen him in action.

Well, I loved The Living Daylights. Seriously. I thought it was great. And coming off the heals of the glorious mess of a film that was A View to a Kill, it must have felt like a breath of fresh air. This was a Bond who was serious. Just was as dangerous as he was dashingly good looking.

I had heard criticisms that Dalton's Bond is considered a bit too dry and boring but I don't see it. Maybe it was a hangover from Moore's light-hearted take on the character at the time, which became just what everyone had come to expect from James Bond? I dunno.

However, I really liked Dalton's more downplayed, and yes dryer, take on Bond. To be fair, he still drops some great lines, but with a deadpan sigh instead of a raised eyebrow. For example, I love the deadpan reply to Kara's declaration they're free after he knocks out the guards,

Kara: "You were fantastic – we're free!"
Bond: "Kara, we're inside a Russian air base in the middle of Afghanistan."

One highly pleasing change was that Dalton's Bond was respectful to women, or at least not anywhere as sexist as his predecessors. Perhaps it was because his two late 1980s films were set in a post-AIDS crisis world but this was a monogamous James Bond.

Over the course of both The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, he sleeps with just four women. In contrast, in his first two films, Moore's Bond slept with six women. Also, the context is different. In The Living Daylights, he sleeps with a woman pre-credits but spends the rest of the film courting and wooing Kara.

Let's discuss Kara, played by the delightful Maryam d'Abo. I have a real soft spot for her, not least because she shares her name with the lead female protagonist in my online science fiction comedy serial novel. A Russian cellist who is unwittingly caught in political espionage, she's used as a pawn by both sides.

First, she is asked to pretend to be a sniper to sell the fake defection of the KGB officer General Georgi Koskov, then later by Bond himself, who pretends to be Koskov's friend to gain her trust, as a lead to find Koskov.

However over the course of the film, Bond starts to feel for her, perhaps drawn to her wholesome sweetness and buoyant optimism. She is really sweet, like a true cinnamon roll. While it's a bit condescending how she is treated as a dupe for a large chunk of the film by the final act, she's more than shown her worth.

Just look how sweet she is!

Unlike more badass Bond girls, she is not James Bond's equal. She's not a fellow spy or double agent, she's an innocent cellist wrapped up things she can't truly comprehend. She's not as smart as him and unable to spar wits like Vesper Lynd or even Tracy did. She's also too naive and trusting, not really what most people think of when they think of a 'strong' woman.

However, this is what endures her to me. Despite not being that 'strong' in the sense of being a dangerous physical fighter or tactical/intellectual genius, she is far braver than she has any right to be as a simple cellist and helps Bond as best she can. Furthermore, although she was betrayed by Koskov, she never loses that spark of sweetness which is her real strength.

When Bond is trapped on the truck with the cocaine and the bomb that is going to use to blow up the shipment, it is Kara who leads the charge on the Soviet camp, not the leader of the Afghan rebels. Grabbing a gun (which she has probably never held before) and galloping on her horse after him causing the Afghan rebel fighters to follow because "Women," amiright?

I really believe her relationship with Bond too despite the short amount of time. Even she herself comments that it's only been two days and she is starting to develop feelings for him, yet is feels believable. And he in turn seems to develop a real fondness for her that extends beyond just wanting to sleep with her and be on his merry way.

All of which was a nice change from Connery and Moore womanizing and was something hinted at previously with Lazenby, and then later picked up with with Craig's Bond and Vesper.

What can I say? This Bond was a music lover.

And what about the villains? Well, Koskov is played to comic perfection by Jeroen KrabbĂ© who just toes the line that prevents him from going over-the-top. At first I didn't know what to make of his performance but once you realised what he was trying to do, it makes sense. Especially when you find out his character is himself putting on a performance during his fake defection.

The less said about Brad Whitaker though, the better. An arms dealer with delusions of military grandeur, he's a bit of an annoying blowhard. He's also on the periphery for much of the film and the climax suffers from the confrontation scene between Bond and Whitaker since it feels superfluous.

Also, Necros is a great henchman in the grand tradition of blonde blue-eyed Aryan musclemen who pose a menacing threat, both physically and as a spy, a trend which started with From Russia With Love's Red Grant.

The plot starts off promisingly and straight-forward but gets unnecessarily convoluted, particularly in the final act where who is doing what for whom and why becomes increasingly difficult to parse out. And while Dalton's Bond was supposed to be more realistic than Moore's, this is a film where Bond's car has a laser which cuts another car in half so there's that.

However, despite those quibbles The Living Daylights is an highly enjoyable Bond film and Dalton is great in the role. But then we come to Licence to Kill.

"Did I do something wrong?"

Licence to Kill is not a good film, especially following The Living Daylights. Most of it feels like action B-movie and the plot is a complete mess. It's also really dark and almost gratuitously so for a Bond film. Before the opening credits the villain gets his henchmen to rip out the heart of man who cheats with his girlfriend and he beats her with this heavy whip rope thing. It's kinda uncomfortable.

There is also some terrible acting. I don't often comment on the acting in Bond films aside from the villains, female leads and whoever is playing Bond himself but the extras in Licence to Kill are something else. They are all sound like they're in different movies and I have no idea what they are trying to emote.

For example, Della is Felix Leiter's bride. Felix has always been James Bond's CIA counterpart and a good friend. But Della looks at Bond like she's in love with him and their interaction seems more than a dude and his friend's wife or even just friends. And I'm not sure if that was intentional or not.

Felix may have his arm around her but she only has eyes for Bond.

However, despite that the film has a lot of things going for it. This is the Bond film with the pre-credits scene which inspired the awesome plan stealing another plan in mid-air scene in The Dark Knight Rises after all.

For one thing it has Franz Sanchez, the most powerful drug lord in Latin America and one of the great Bond villains, played to menacing perfection by Robert Davi. Specialising in playing bad guys for most of his career, Davi gives Sanchez a real presence and weight. He feels ruthless. As Max Williams notes,
Yet no villain matches Sanchez for menace. If he uncovered Bond, he would kill Bond. Simple as that. Not quite ‘why don’t you just shoot him’ because Sanchez wouldn’t just shoot him. He’d exact a far nastier retribution. But exact it he would. No locking Bond in a windowed room, no escorting Bond round the pad and feeding him dinner, no leaving Bond in a perilous situation and then departing for tea. If Sanchez wanted Bond dead, Bond would be killed. Thoroughly. Such ruthlessness is refreshing and admirable on the writers’ behalf.
On an unrelated note, Davi is a classically trained opera singer with a gorgeous baritone voice and now spends his time performing versions of Frank Sinatra songs like "Summer Wind".

And while the plot is all over the place, I like that the scope is smaller, focusing on a simple revenge plot and drug trafficking rather than world domination. Oh, yeah I forgot to mention that Bond goes rogue to take Sanchez down since he fed Felix to a shark. Felix was okay though, just lost a leg and an arm. Sanchez also killed Della which might had something to do with it.

It's just too bad that the film comes across more like a B-movie than a first rate action flick since all the right elements are there and the best parts of this film can rival the best parts of any James Bond film. Oh well. I would say better luck next time but this was Dalton's last outing as Bond.

So what do I have to say about Dalton's Bond having seen his two films? I really liked him. Far more than I expected to since I heard how dour and dark his Bond was supposed to be. I suppose his Bond's reputation preceeded him but I honestly think he is a far greater Bond than he gets credit for.

And that's that. Mission over. Thanks for joining me for the second installment of James Bond month. I had a lot of fun watching these movies for the first time and seeing what Moore, Lazenby, and Dalton each brought to the character.

Time now for an hiatus to recharge but Musings From Another Star will return.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0012: On Her Majesty's Secret Service with Paul Scheer

The Living Daylights Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0023: The Living Daylights with Cole Stratton

My favourite Bond film: The Living Daylights - The Guardian

Licence to Kill Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0019: Licence to Kill with Amanda Lund and Maria Blasucci

James Bond 007: Revisiting Licence to Kill - Den of Geek

Friday, 19 August 2016

007 Roger Moore Part Three: A View to a Bond

Well, we made it. The last of Roger Moore's James Bond. It took some time but we're here. It surely was a ride with a number of ups and downs, thrilling adventure and hilarious camp, with some blatant misogyny and unfortunate racism thrown in the mix too.

I'll do a wrap up at the end but just up top, I'd like to say that I've enjoyed watching Moore's Bond but I'm glad this is done and we can move on. That said, heading seven films in a franchise is an impressive feat and kudos to him for sticking in for as long as he did.

"Why, thank you."

Alright, let's get on with it and see what Moore had to offer with his final two Bond missions. Right off the bat, 1983's Octopussy has to be one of the most awkward title Bond films (although A View to a Kill is quite ungainly grammatically but we'll get there). It's a title that can't help but make you laugh a little at. I understand that it apparently was a legit title of one of Ian Fleming's short stories but that doesn't make it any better.

The only I knew or recalled about this film was once catching it on TV during the scene where the bad guy Kamal Khan is trying to placate Octopussy and keeps repeating her name in a reassuring manner. The actor is trying his best but her name is so silly, it was completely hilarious to me.

It's no wonder Rita Coolidge's theme song is called "All Time High" and doesn't mention the word 'Octopussy' at all. Also, not many words make a perfect rhyme with Octopussy so maybe that was a consideration. While we're talking about the theme song, it's okay I guess. A pleasant slow ballad, it's just a bit forgettable and sleepy sounding.

Aside from its unfortunate title, what else can be said about Octopussy? Well, the plot makes absolutely no sense, even considering this is a Bond film. I usually stop paying attention to the plot of these movies around the half hour to 45 minute mark but I didn't even try with this one.

In short, MI6 discover a fake Fabergé egg but the bad guys need to get the real egg which they were going to sell back to the Soviet gallery they took it from so no realises it's missing, or possibly they want the fake one? It's not clear but this is all part of some jewel smuggling enterprise to finance a rogue Soviet Union general's mad plan to start an invasion into Europe by tank division.

However, he will only lead the invasion only after first causing an explosion on an American army base in Germany which will look like one of the American nuclear bombs went off accidentally, naturally leading to the disarmament of nuclear weapons across Europe because reasons.

Oh, there's also a travelling circus in there somewhere and a couple of trips to India.

"You serious with this shit?"

I never really know why Bond is ever doing anything or what his mission actually is, sometimes he's just in places randomly that happen to be where the bad guys are, but I kinda just tuned out with this one and simply enjoyed the flashing lights and terrible puns.

Because this is a fun movie. And probably the movie which is most "Roger Moore" of the Moore era of Bond films. This isn't to say this is the best Roger Moore Bond movie, personally I would go with The Spy Who Loved Me, but rather it is the film which best highlights what Moore's run on Bond was like.

The story is told straight like it should be but peppered with the occasional campy slapstick and wonderfully bad puns. There's Bond in a tuxedo, Moore doing his trademark raised eyebrow, using cool gadgets which are only useful for one contrived purpose. The main bad guy is decidedly low-key, a gentleman's villain, happy to invite Bond to dinner the night before he is going to torture him.

Speaking on the main villain, let's talk about Kamal Khan for a bit.

"I'm listening..."

Firstly, I think he's great. A real debonair Bond villain but willing to slink into the background to play different parties against each other so at one point you think he might not be the big bad but rather it is the Soviet general or Octopussy herself.

Secondly, this is such an unnecessary bit of whitewashing (in the racial sense) in the casting of a character. Louis Jourdan is fantastic in the role and I can't fault his performance at all. But Mr Jourdan is a noted French actor. Kamal Khan is supposed to be an exiled Afghan prince.

Now this isn't the worst bit of racism in a film that offers a more incorrect and stereotypical depiction of India than Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom but it sticks out to me simple because it seems so unnecessary. They were more than happy hire Indian actors for Khan's henchmen and Bond's contact in India but not an Afghan actor in a lead role?

Or an Indian actor for that matter, since apparently Octopussy was originally going to be Indian but they changed her backstory so a Swede could play her instead.

Nailed it!

Again, nothing against Maud Adam's performance itself. She is amazing in the titular role and actually made me care about a character whose name is Octopussy. That is a feat very few actors can accomplish.

What's interesting is that Maud Adams was already a Bond girl before - Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's lover in The Man with the Golden Guy. You know, the one James Bond smacks around and twists her arm for information in that really uncomfortable domestic violence?

It's a little odd seeing her in a separate role here but her performance just kills it. An international jewel-smuggler who resides on a private island populated entirely by women, at first, they set it up so you might think she is the main villain of the film. In the scene when we are first introduced to her, she's shot from behind, ordering Khan around, and you never see her face like a true Bond villain.

Then Bond meets her, we hear her sad backstory about her father, and she becomes this sympathetic character with some nuanced shades of grey. The leader of a cult but one that gives its group of runaway women a sense of purpose (international crime) and teaches valuable skills (like gymnastics and thievery). She might be a criminal but she's not evil. Octopussy is one of the best Bond girls.

And she knows it.

Just a couple of things to round up Octopussy. One, I really like Bond's contact in India, Vijay. Bond tends to have a buddy in a lot of his films, someone who provides info and helps him out in the exotic location he's in. And Vijay is great buddy, affable, informative, constantly smiling. He's just charming and matches Bond pun for pun. He even delivers one of the best lines in the film.

Bond: We've got company.
Vijay: No problem, this is a company car.

Second, the rogue Soviet general I mention a couple of times? Well, he's played by Steven Berkoff and is just great. If you want an over-the-top campy performance from your megalomaniac Bond villain, Berkoff's  General Orlov is your man. Just read GQ's description of his performance,
Berkoff doesn't so much chew the scenery as gobble it up, screaming at everyone between mouthfuls in a dodgy Rusky accent. There is something highly enjoyable at watching supposedly 'serious' actors completely lose their s*** in a Bond film. (Jonathan Pryce, Javier Bardem - the list is long.)
Lastly, I would amiss if I didn't mention that this is the Bond film in which James Bond dresses like a clown to infiltrate a circus in order to defuse a nuclear bomb.

"I really hope this works better in context." - Roger Moore, probably.
(Surprisingly, it does.)

And so we come to Moore's last outing as James Bond, A View to a Kill. There's no getting around it anymore, he was too old to play Bond. Now, I first started to really notice his age in For Your Eyes Only which came out four years earlier but I don't know what happened on those four years since he does not look good here.

He was 57 years old at this point and I think he must have had some work done since his cheeks seem a bit, um, flat? I dunno how to describe it precisely, but there is an uncanny valley thing going on. Also, I think he has contacts in or something since his eyes look different and they have obviously put some thickening stuff in his hair, which looks bleached, and it just isn't that flattering.

I really don't like saying all this since he was such a dashing fellow in prior films and his performance is as solid as always but his odd appearance is kinda distracting.

This man is supposed to be an international spy despite looking 70 years old.

Do you know what isn't distracting unless you mean in the best way possible? The theme song by Duran Duran. Easily one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Bond themes, Duran Duran's "A View to a Kill" is still the only Bond theme to hit number 1 on the US charts.

A piece of new wave/synth pop perfection, it has all the elements of a great Bond theme without actually sounding like a Bond song. The lyrics hint at danger, murder, sex, and nighttime affairs of espionage. The music is captivating with a sense of the dramatic (just listen to those opening swirling chords), with a sultry vocal from Simon Le Bon and an absolutely killer chorus.

No, seriously, the chorus to "A View to a Kill" is fantastic. It's no wonder that the song was a pop hit and one of the most popular songs of its day. Declaring to "dance into the fire" belted out in an insanely catch melody, it's just a great pop song.

In fact, it was listening to "A View to a Kill" that prompted this second edition of James Bond month. I liked the song so much I wanted to watch the movie, which then got me thinking if I was going to watch Moore's last Bond film, I might as well watch all of them.

So how does the film stack up to its fabulous theme song? Terribly. That sounds dismissive but honestly A View to a Kill is not a good movie. It's just not. So much of this film makes so little sense and has no relevance to the actual plot that you spend more time questioning its logic than paying attention to what is going on.

In the James Bonding crossover episode with How Did This Get Made?, they spend a good 20-30 minutes of the podcast discussing the butterfly show which happens in the third or fourth scene of the film. Not in relation to what effect this scene has on the rest of the story or anything like that.

"I hope my death by fake butterfly will have dramatically significant!"

No, of course not. Rather they discuss the aesthetic merit of the butterfly show itself and why anyone would go see it. This is a show in the Eiffel Tower during which a woman on stage whistles and waves her arms around while fake butterflies on wires are swung around by very visible stage-people. The illogical nature of the show completely derails the scene since it makes no sense.

Talking about making no sense, most Bond villains has nonsensical plans for world domination. They mostly can be boiled down to, steal a destructive weapon, hold world at ransom by threatening to use weapon or plan to use weapon to destroy world while remaining safe in some colony (underwater or in space) to start a new world order. Not that practical but they have a warped logic to them.

But then you get Christopher Walken's Max Zorin. I'll let the late great film critic Roger Ebert lay into the gigantic flaw in Zorin's evil plan to flood Silicon Valley in order to corner the market on microchips.

In case, you didn't watch the video, Ebert points out that Silicon Valley is where microchips are used, not where they are manufactured. So Zorin is taking out his customers, not his rivals. However, I'm sure that as a genetically enhanced Aryan with supposedly super intelligence that Zorin already thought of that and decided it wasn't a problem.

But that is this film's problem. It is complete camp with no weight to balance out the fluff. I love me some campy Roger Moore fun but this film has nothing to support that camp. Everything is illogical and played with a wink. Octopussy might have had Bond dressed as clown when he disarms a bomb but the scene was still filled with tension.

I have no idea what tone they're trying to strike with this film but whatever it was, they missed. Towards the end, Zorin is gleefully mows down his own employees with a machine gun, who are already about to drown in a collapsed mine. Even for a series that flirts with violence, the scene is unnaturally gratuitous for a Bond film.

But earlier in the film, Bond is chasing May Day, Grace Jone's wonderfully weird henchwoman to Zorin, and the roof of his car gets hit off. Okay, a little unbelievable that it would slide off so neatly but whatever. Then the back of his car gets nudged by another car and the entire back half breaks off.


At this point I don't care that the stuntman barely looks like Roger Moore.

I don't know what to say about this movie since everything I can want to say is basically pointing out something that makes no sense (of which there are many, many examples), saying that it makes no sense, asking why they would do that, and despairing at the lack of logic.

A View to a Kill is the worst of what his Bond had to offer. Camp without the knowing wink, adventure without the thrills, illogical storytelling without the suspension of disbelief. Which is a shame since on the whole I really enjoyed Moore's run as Bond and he deserved a better send off than this film. If he had called it quits after Octopussy that would have been fine.

However, we have to accept the world for what it is not what we want it to be. And what we got from Roger Moore was a Bond who was fun and enjoyable to watch. As deft with a sly wink and raised eyebrow as he was with puny one-liners, he brought a lightness and warmth to the character which I appreciated.

But he really deserved better than A View to a Kill.

Stay tuned next week as I look into the black sheep of James Bond, George Lazenby and Timothy Dalton. Do their portrayals of the character hold up against Connery, Moore, Brosnan, and Craig? We'll find out together. 


Octopussy Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0029: Octopussy with Mark McConville and James Bladon

Why Octopussy is the Best (and Possible Worst) James Bond Film - GQ Magazine

James Bond 007: revisting Octopussy - Den of Geek

A View to a Kill Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0026: A View to a Kill with How Did This Get Made?

At the Movies: A View to a Kill (2 of 3)

Friday, 12 August 2016

007 Roger Moore Part Two: The Bond Who Loved Me

Welcome to the second article in the second edition of James Bond month. This is also the second article to focus on Roger Moore's run as Bond, examining the three films he made in the late 1970s and as he took Bond into the 1980s, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only.

Since I wasn't familiar with Moore's Bond films aside from catching the occasional scene here or there when they were playing on television, I came to the films with an innocent eye and they held a number of surprises for me.

I already discussed how, although his Bond is a lot of fun, I was shocked by the misogyny in Moore's first two outings as Bond due to his reputation as a more 'lightweight' 007 to his predecessor Sean Connery, which somehow translated into my head that he would be less of a dick to women.

Equally shocking was how good Roger Moore looks in a turtle-neck.

So what shocked me about his next three films? Well firstly, The Spy Who Loved Me is fantastic. I don't mean that in a "it's-a-bad-movie-but-fun" way, it's simply a great film. Or at least, parts of it are (we'll get the parts that aren't). But it has everything I ever wanted from a Bond film. A great theme song, exotic locations, outrageous gadgets, quirky henchmen, and a good time.

Let's talk about the theme for a moment since I seem to enjoy discussing James Bond theme songs on this blog for some reason. Like Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" it's not what you expect a Bond theme to sound like. Not that it sounds anything like "Live and Let Die".

Rather, "Nobody Does It Better" is like a ragtime torch song. Delicate piano, a deliberate snail paced tempo, a beautifully simple melody, and gorgeous, restrained vocal by Carly Simon. It doesn't have swirling strings or bombastic brass, no slinking jazz feel or a diva belting out the vocal. Yet, it is one of the all-time great Bond themes.

Radiohead has covered "Nobody Does It Better" live several times and Thom Yorke called it the "sexiest song that was ever written". I might have to agree with him on that.

Somewhat surprisingly considering the trend with Moore's Bond so far, The Spy Who Love Me is significantly less overtly misogynistic than Live and Let Die or assholery that was The Man with the Golden Gun. 

I mean, it's a James Bond film so there's gonna be some misogyny but I was surprised how long it took for Bond to do/say something sexist. It was about 20 or 30 minutes before I noticed anything particularly noteworthy in terms of sexism.

Now, I did kinda gloss over this exchange right at the start,

M: Moneypenny, where's 007?
Moneypenny: He's on a mission sir. In Austria.
M: Well, tell him to pull out. Immediately.
[Cut to]

"Oh, I get it."

But to be fair, that's just good-timey pun fun and the instances of sexism aren't really as obvious or as noteworthy as in his previous two films. Well, that is aside from the scene where Bond's contact in Egypt offers him a bed for the night, an offer which Bond only accepts when he realises that it comes with a woman in it. Yikes, just yikes.

However, the only other instance which raised a flag to me was more cringe-worthy in its 'dude-bro' attitude than anything. Bond has arranged to meet a dude for some reasons plot related but he isn't at home and has left a lady behind to 'entertain' Bond while an assassin tries to kill him.

She tells Bond if he would like some refreshments or anything else, indicating her body. To which Bond gives his now standard Roger Moore raised eyebrow and says, "Well, I've had lunch but I've seemed to miss desert." *groan*

While that line is terrible, it's not blatantly offensive (although it is problematic how Bond's views women as a desert/prizes he deserves). In fact, compared to the sheer misogynistic assholery in the previous movie, The Spy Who Loved Me is only passively sexist (women are still treated as objects largely) with nothing overtly terrible. So progress?

"A woman driving? That's novel."

What hasn't progressed is the plot since it's basically 1967's You Only Live Twice but with stolen British and Soviet nuclear submarines instead of stolen American and Soviet spacecraft. The similarities are so apparent, it's even noted on The Spy Who Loved Me's Wikipedia page:
In the film, Stromberg's scheme to destroy civilisation by capturing Soviet and British nuclear submarines and have them fire intercontinental ballistic missiles at two major cities is actually a recycled plot from Gilbert's previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, which involved stealing space capsules to start a war between the Soviets and the Americans. The similarity was apparent in the climax; both films involved an assault on a heavily fortified enemy that had taken refuge behind steel shutters.
At this point in the franchise, it's clear that they had run out of story ideas. I mean they even recycled this plot again for 1979's Moonraker, something which was so abundantly obvious that it's mentioned in the very next paragraph in the same Wikipedia article:
The scheme in which the villain wishes to destroy mankind to create a new race or new civilisation was also used in Moonraker, the next film after The Spy Who Loved Me. In Moonraker, the villain Hugo Drax had an obsession with starting human civilisation over again on Earth, using specially chosen "superior human specimens" based in space.
"I was hoping you'd be so distracted by how dashing I am to notice that we recycled the plot... three times."

But recycled plot aside, I really enjoyed The Spy Who Loved Me, particularly the first two thirds (it loses steam in the final act). Firstly, the film is shot really well, there were scenes with camera angles and framing which were almost arty in their composition and lighting. For example, the scene involving the pyramid night show display or when Bond and Agent Triple X are tracking Jaws in the Egyptian ruins are just beautifully shot.

And the set are simply stunning, for instance the villain's lair. Following smaller scale villains like Kananga and Scaramangahis, this was the first Bond film to feel like it was returning to the 'essence' of Bond after a detour and so we get a megalomaniac named Karl Stromberg. And befitting a Bond villain with dreams of world domination, he has an underwater lair that emerges out of the ocean like a giant spider.

In fact, the scene where we are first introduced to this lair again made me think the film was being quite arty and Bond was no longer trying to ape the B-movie feel that permeated Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun but trying to aim for something higher. Whether it reached it is debatable but the attempt is there.

I mean, just watch this (sorry it's not in English but this is the only clip I could find on YouTube):

The villain plays a classical piece of music, the Adante movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, as his impressive underwater lair named Atlantis risings from the depths of the ocean to emerge above the surface. The pretension is strong with this one.

But the funny thing is that it works. Especially in the first half of the film. The exotic locales, wide-angle shots, expansive sets, occasional use of classical music, and lighting work really well. I was actually impressed by how the shots were framed and at points was surprised that these shots were in a Roger Moore Bond movie. Perhaps this is just because his previous two films were shot adequately but not particularly well.

In contrast, in this film there's one point where James Bond stands in a hallway silhouetted by the blue sky and a spire. It is simply a great shot and one which made me question if I was really watching a Bond film.

This is how you frame a shot.

Of course, those moments of cinematic artiness are counterbalanced by the elements of slapstick and camp which creep in the film, especially as it goes on. While the first third is played straight and relatively serious, the second act has a couple of goofy moments which change the tone, like the musical cue as their van breaks down in the desert.

In fact, the film is often let down by the score, which is equal parts brilliant and terrible. The elements of the score which work are the more classical sounding parts, the lovely string arrangements and integration of the theme song. The bits which don't work are the odd disco-tinged parts, like Bond 77 a disco version of Bond's classic theme. They stick out like a sore thumb and unnecessarily date the film.

But since I'm supposed to be reviewing three films in this post, I should really wrap The Spy Who Loved Me up. The henchman Jaws is supposed to be one of the most popular Bond villains but I just thought he was just okay. He has a nice gimmick but the whole indestructible thing gets a bit old and his metal teeth seem real impractical if you think about it for more than a second.

Imagine everything you eat tasting like steel.

I liked that they made Bond's Russian opposite Agent Triple X a woman and their dynamic is quite fun to watch even if the actress playing her is terrible. I'm sorry, I don't usually criticise an actor's performance like this but she is so bland and deadpan that it undercuts the interplay between her character and James Bond.

Although, I did like the psycho-analytic take-down of Bond she does which calls to mind similar take-downs of Bond from strong women later in the series by Judi Dench's M in Goldeneye or Eva Green's Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

At the bar in the hotel, Bond tries to rattle Agent Triple X by psycho-analysing her but she counters back and rattles him instead,

Major Anya Amasova: Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. License to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends but married only once. Wife killed...
James Bond: [interrupts her] You've made your point.
Major Anya Amasova: You're sensitive, Mr. Bond?
James Bond: About some things.

"Let's move on."

Now, I know I said before there was some debate about which Bond film is the worst in the series, I still believe it is Die Another Day, but Moonraker is often in contention for that dubious honour. Coming off the success of The Spy Who Loved Me, which was well-received by critics and fans, Moonraker was another case of the Bond franchise trying to cash in on what was popular in the moment instead of making a straightforward James Bond movie.

And what was popular in the moment? Star Wars. The first Star Wars movie was released in the same year as The Spy Who Loved Me and was such an immediate cultural phenomenon that the next Bond move had to be set in space just because space was what all the kids were into. Cue a rushed script and production leading to one of the most bizarre films in the Bond canon.

For this is the film with possibly the worst moment in the Bond franchise: the pigeon double take. But before we get to that moment of unadulterated misguided slapstick, I want to just address something that bothered me about the basic premise of the film. For a movie which is supposedly all about 'Bond... IN SPACE', James Bond only spends about the last 15-20 minutes actually in space.


For all the talk about how Moonraker was cashing in on the popularity of Star Wars, which it totally was (evident in the marketing if nothing else), the film is surprisingly Earthbound for the majority of its running time. Bond follows the trail of the missing Moonraker space-shuttle from California to Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and then Amazon rainforest before he ever leaves the atmosphere.

Once Bond is in space, it's largely the middle part of 2001: Space Odyssey with worse zero gravity effects until the laser space battle with more puu-puu sounds than you could shake a blaster from Star Wars at. Good thing they seeded that MI6 was working on a laser earlier on in the film or they would totally have stretched believably for that scene.

But this film is so weird in its choices that there are moments which actually reminded me of the cinematic masterpiece The Room by Tommy Wiseu, aka "the Citizen Kane of bad movies", since I'm just trying to puzzle out why they would write or present a scene like that.

The best example of this is when Bond finds out that Dr. Holly Goodhead (one of the laziest double entendre's in the franchise's history) is actually a CIA agent. First Bond is just waiting in the dark for the sole purpose of given her a scare when she turns on the light.

Next he picks up her diary which shoots out a dart. So she's a spy like him, right? No, Bond isn't convinced yet. So he picks up her perfume and sprays it but it's a flamethrower!

James Bond naturally quips, "A trifle overpowering, your scent."
Her response:

"Well, you know."

Of course, it should be obvious that she's a spy and since Bond knew which perfume would also double as a flame thrower by the name, he probably knows it's standard CIA equipment. But no. They extend this 'reveal' to when he picks up her handbag and an aerial pops out of it. Because he really needed to go through all her gadgets to be sure.

The whole scene is just weird. I can't tell if they're playing it straight or tongue-in-cheek. The blocking of the shot is terribly stilted and their delivery is so bland as to be nondescript that it gives it this strange unreal quality that is found all over The Room.

Normal people don't talk or behave like this. Her shrug is such a strange reaction to the discovery that her perfume is a freaking flame thrower! And it just continues since we really needed to know that her handbag was also a radio or something.

And that's why the pigeon double take is (only slightly, okay, not really) acceptable in contrast since at least the whole scene it is in is obviously supposed to be slapstick which they took too far. In that scene, not only does the pigeon do a double take at Bond's hover-gondola but so does everyone else, including a dog. It's silly but the tone is clear. Apparently, they've never seen a float before in Venice.

Seriously, it just looks like a parade float.

Also, the misogyny which seemed to lie low in the previous film rears its ugly head again. First, there's the fact that Bond is surprised to find out that Dr. Goodhead is female and has to comment that she's "a woman". Yes, James. Women can be doctors too. I know this was 1979 but come on.

There's also the scene where Bond meets Manuella, his contact in Rio, she's at the bar in his hotel room. The first thing Bond says to this woman, who he doesn't know is his contact yet? "Do you come with the room?" Ugh, I mean, really? Have some class James.

Also, the bad guy Drax (who is really dry, you guys) kills a woman who helped Bond by siccing his hunting dogs on her. Which is just unnecessarily violent. I mean, the last bad guy feed a woman to a shark but because the dog attack could conceivably happen, it feels uneasily real. And just to add to the film's sharp shifts in tone, it's shot like a horror movie set in a forest.

However, I did like the interplay between Goodhead and Bond. Again, the actress playing the leading female role delivers her lines in a remarkably bland fashion but her facial expressions are great. She really doesn't seem to like Bond at all, at least not until the end of the movie when she has to because it's the end and Bond has to "attempt re-entry" with someone.

Anyway, so that was Moonraker.

It was a thing that happened.

After the extravagance of Moonraker (and critical panning that ensued), For Your Eyes Only was a back to basics Bond film. No outlandish trips to space or lazer battles, just a fun globetrotting James Bond adventure trying to get back some secret do-thingy which has been lost.

And you know, it's fine. It's not bad nor is it great. It's just fine. If you want an enjoyable Bond film to put on in the background to catch every so often while you look up from what you're actually doing, this one will do it for you.

There are elements I like. The plots is typically over-convoluted as usual but has a couple of nice twists here and there. Roger Moore is so comfortable as Bond it's like he's always been playing the character (which by this stage, he has). I like the Greek smuggler that Bond befriends, he's just a likeable character.

Also, this film stars Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Tywin so it can't be half bad.

Grand Maester Pycelle: I was quite the stud muffin.
Lord Tywin: I've just realised how old we're going to look in Game of Thrones.

All in all I enjoyed For Your Eyes Only but it didn't really leave much of an impression. It has all the elements of what makes a good Bond film, a great theme song, exciting set pieces, gadgets, international locations, and a middle aged British dude playing at being a spy. It just doesn't have a real wow factor and feels a little long. Some trimming in the editing room was needed to tighten it up.

What was a nice touch though was having James Bond turn down a woman for a change (I say woman loosely since she was really a girl). Although, why they had to make the ice skater girl a nymphomaniac wasn't quite clear. Or for that matter why there was an ice skating subplot at all but I digress.

The other thing which was pretty novel for a Bond film was having a female protagonist that actually has agency and effect on the plot. Melina Havelock not only has her own narrative which is concurrent to the main story (her revenge plot leads to the climax of the story) but she's pretty badass killing bad guys left and right with a crossbow.

"Hello. My name is Melina Havelock. You killed my mother and father. Prepare to die."

However, Roger Moore is really starting to show his age in this film. It was there a bit in Moonraker but there moments watching For Your Eyes Only that I really thought he was too old to be a spy globetrotting exotic locations to save the world.

And he's still got two more films left? Jeez. Oh well, we'll get there when we get there I guess.

Next week we jump headfirst into James Bond in the 1980s with Moore's final two films, Octopussy and A View to a Kill.


The Spy Who Loved Me (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0024: The Spy Who Loved Me with Dana Gould

50 Years of 007 - The Spy Who Loved Me - Life Between Frames

Nobody Does It Better Wikipedia page

Moonraker (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0027: Moonraker with Doug Benson

In Defence Of... Moonraker, Roger Moore's critically-panned outer space Bond - Digital Spy

For Your Eyes Only (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0031: For Your Eyes Only with Tom Lennon

Friday, 5 August 2016

007 Roger Moore Part One: Live and Let Bond

Roger Moore was never my James Bond. His impressive run on Bond ended a half decade before I was born. Since he wasn't the original Bond so his legacy wasn't ingrained on me from pop culture and neither was he the Bond I grew up with. I never really watched any of his Bond films aside from catching a bit here or there on television occasionally.

But for a lot of people, Moore was their Bond. He was the Bond of the seventies and for a good portion of the eighties. For seven movies covering more than a decade, Roger Moore was James Bond, armed with outrageous gadgets, a dashing smile and well-prepared puntastic quips.

What a rascally tuxedoed scamp. 

I discussed in my first Bond post that James Bond is such an icon that he is more of an archetype than a real character. To elaborate further, Bond is an archetype of masculine heroism constructed by highly identifiable signs which connote a certain type of masculinity, a masculinity which is defined by physical or intellectual dominance, debonair charm with a dash of misogyny, and topped off with a calmness under pressure due to a smug sense of superiority.

Sean Connery codified these signs during his disarmingly suave and horrendously sexist original take on the character, with a voice so utterly seductive it came with its own morning after pill. As the first and possible most famous portrayal of the role, his Bond set the template for other actors to follow.

Which is what Roger Moore had to do. Following the person who originated a role is always tough, especially when the character is so iconic. Now to be fair, George Lazenby also had to follow Connery but then Connery came back for the wonderfully bad Diamonds Are Forever before calling it quits again (don't, worry, we'll get to Lazenby eventually).

The franchise was in uncertain waters at this point, if Moore's first film wasn't a success, James Bond might have ended then and there. Cue Live and Let Die.

It was an eye-opener for us all.

I had never seen Live and Let Die before, although I was familiar with the title due to the amazing theme song by Paul McCartney and Wings which is a song I have heard more times than I could possibly count. Before I get into the film itself, I want to discuss this song because it is simply perfect and it was interesting to get to hear the song within the context of the film.

Of course, it plays over the opening credits, which are great if a little racist (we'll get into the racial overtones of the movie in a bit). But what always was weird to me is that "Live and Let Die" never really sounded like a typical Bond song to me.

There's no soulful diva belting out a jazzy tune with a brass accompaniment and delicately swirling strings. Even Tom Jones' "Thunderball" fitted into this mold. Most Bond songs have a certain feel, a certain seductive quality, for lack of a better term.

"Live and Let Die" is many things but seductive, it is not. It starts with simple piano chords and a lovely pop ballad vocal from McCartney, building tension with the repeated two chords under the "live and let die' chorus. Not quite Bond but it works.

Boom it rushes ahead with a super catchy guitar riff, coming to descending strings over staccato piano doodling, before we're hit with a reggae bridge that ends with McCartney's scream, back to catchy guitar riff. Then it slows down with the original simple piano but with a plaintive violin to support McCartney's vocal. Back to catchy riff to end the song.

Despite the fact it sounds nothing like what I imagine a Bond song to sound like, it's just fantastic. It's like if McCartney sat down and threw together as many different elements he could into a two and a half minutes of pure musical bliss.

The melodic pop balladry, the clashing repeated two chord pattern, the rocking guitar riff, the uninhibited orchestral arrangement, it sounds like four or five different songs thrown into a blender to create something special. And something different for a new Bond, which is a nice touch.

What I really liked is how much the song is incorporated into the score of the film itself. The repeated two chords are used several times to indicate something dramatic or action packed is about to happen in a scene and it really ties it together instead of having the song feel detached from the rest of the film.

Talking about the film, I should probably discuss it, shouldn't I?

"I'm surprised you haven't gotten round to it yet to be honest, old chap."

Well, first things first, I liked it. It's an enjoyable movie and Moore does a fine job filling the Connery shaped hole which had been left in the franchise at that point. But holy unnecessary Afro wig, it is a product of its time. Coming out in 1973, it capitalized on the popular blaxploitation trend at the time, incorporating elements more commonly found in films like Shaft or Superfly than a standard Bond adventure.

Blaxploitation was a subgenre of film which rise to prominence in the early 1970s and superficially catered to a black audience by featuring predominantly African-American casts. They told more 'urban' stories than had been seen on Hollywood cinema previously, heightened tales of drug dealers, pimps, and life in the inner city.

This was the first time Hollywood had movies with African-American actors as the protagonists in decidedly non-white stories. However, I say these films superficially catered to a black audience since they were rife with negative stereotypes of black masculinity and the violence of urban living which often reinforced white prejudice instead of confronting it.

So James Bond, a blue-eyed white British spy, is a natural fit for a blaxploitation film, right? Surprisingly, he is in some ways. Moore plays the fish out of water role quite well, when Bond goes into Harlem, his whiteness sticks out so much he could be on another planet which adds an interesting layer to the scene.

Unfortunately, this is a James Bond film. We were never going to get a nuance exploration of racial dynamics but there are some unintentional implications from a couple of scenes which are a bit off-putting in a modern context.

"I don't think you've thought through all the implications of having a virginal white girl like myself, in a white dress no less, tied up to be sacrificed in a voodoo ceremony performed by black people..." - Solitaire probably.

This is a movie which opens with three white British MI6 agents are getting killed by black people, so you know we're off to a great start. The agents are murdered by various means, including ear dynamite? (I don't know they plug something into the audio port for his headphones and he just dies), a knife to the spleen and festive New Orleans funeral march, and a kiss from the most plastic snake that ever snaked during what I'm sure was a 100% authentic voodoo ceremony.

Although the complete lack of subtlety and sensitivity in regards to the racial dynamics in the film is problematic, to be fair, not all the black characters are simple stereotypes. For example, the main villain Kananga is a really interesting bad guy. He's imposing without being reduced to just physical dominance (or 'threatening' black masculinity), displays a calculating mind, and presents himself with cool debonair demeanor which makes his occasional outbursts more intimidating.

He's also well-dressed with a tasteful fashion sense (got to love that black suit and white ascot). Remember this was the early seventies, we could have easily got a ridiculously over the top pimp style get up which would have undercut his credibility as a threat to Bond.

Additionally, his plan isn't world domination but drug trafficking, flooding the market with free drugs to create a generation of addicts for his product, a plan which actually makes some sense. All in all he's a great Bond villain.

When a villain offers you a glass of champagne after you've foiled his plans, you know he's a class act.

And he runs a smooth operation. In what is possibly my favourite scene in the film, James Bond catches a cab to follow Kananga and his two awesome henchmen Whisper and Tee Hee as they drive from the embassy (Kananga is a diplomat from San Monique) to Harlem.

During this scene, it seems that every black person in Manhattan works from Kananga and radios in about Bond's movements. As Kylie from Fandom Following describes,
Literally, random people will stop what they’re doing on the streets and radio in to *someone* “he’s heading east,” or something of the like. Then when Bond gets out of the cab at its destination, a Fillet of Soul restaurant, the cabbie himself tells *someone* “he’s headin’ on in.” So…if the cabbie was working for the [bad guys], then why did these randos need to file a report too? Or why didn’t the cabbie just kill him?
It was so wonderfully ridiculous that I couldn't stop laughing and had to stop the movie for a second to catch my breath. I get that scene was trying to show the scope of the operation or something but it was so silly and completely unnecessary. Like Kylie said, if the cabbie works for them why did they need anyone else radioing in?

Moving past racism for the moment, let's talk about camp. Because that is what Roger Moore brought to the franchise more than anything else, a fun campy sensibility which truly fitted the often ludicrous plots and outlandish adventures Bond goes on.

Just for a framework, we'll start with a simple definition of camp from Wikipedia, "Camp is a social, cultural, and aesthetic style and sensibility based on deliberate and self-acknowledged theatricality". Something with camp value is aware of its own artifice through an exaggerated or theatrical performance an over-the-top-ness.

This over-the-top-ness can also manifest in a sense of ridiculousness or hyper-reality. For your consideration, I present this clip without comment.

The camp extends to Moore's constant sly winks, ostentatiously to himself but really to the camera, coupled with his wondrously awful puns and the increasingly farcical adventures Bond went on, where logic takes a backseat or often just left the room.

In Max Williams' review of Live and Let Die for Den of Geek, he imagines that none of the other portrayals of Bond would have been much fun at a party but Roger Moore? Well,
Roger is the life and soul! Roger instigates drinking games, performs magic tricks, starts up a conga line. Roger guffaws at all of your jokes, makes you laugh at his own slightly off-color ones and encourages you to text that girl you know you shouldn’t but really want to. Even though, deep down, you suspect he’s slightly too old to be hitting the shots, the guy is such a laugh who cares? Come the end of the evening, Roger leaves with the hottest, youngest girl on his arm and gives you a cheery wave: “absolute pleasure, old sport! Same time again?” And, clasping hands to your pounding head, you mutter, “Okay Roger. See you for brunch.”

"See you then, old chap."

Talking about girls, due to his more camp, some would even say lightweight, reputation, I assumed that Moore's Bond would be less rapey than Sean "I don't think there's anything wrong with hitting a woman" Connery's Bond but I was wrong. It's particularly bad in The Man with the Golden Gun but we'll get there.

For now, let's focus on the film where Bond uses a woman's cultural fears of the occult to sleep with her in the very same scene that she had rebuffed his advances. Maybe I should paint a word picture. Rosie is a CIA agent who meets up with Bond in San Monique. However, she is completely incompetent of course because who ever heard of a capable female spy?

While we find out she is a double agent who is working for Kananga, she is legitimately scared of the voodoo warning the bad guys leave in her room, a fear that Bond uses to have sex with her because of course he does. Later, he realises that she is a double agent and confronts her about it, but only after they've had picnic sex because he "certainly wouldn't have killed [her] before".

"You're serious with that bullshit?" - Rosie probably.

And this is our hero, ladies and gentlemen. But this isn't even the worst bit. No, that comes with Solitaire. Kananga is a believer in the occult and keeps Solitaire in servitude since she is a tarot card reader who can see future and remote events by reading the cards.

However, her mystical ability is tied to her virginity (yeeeaaah, that's not problematic in and of itself), so what does Bond do? I'll let Wikipedia break it down,
Inside Solitaire's house, Bond uses a stacked tarot deck of cards, that show only "The Lovers", to trick her into thinking that seduction is in her future, and then seduces her. Solitaire loses her ability to foretell the future when she loses her virginity to Bond, and decides to co-operate with Bond as she has feelings for him and has grown tired of being controlled by Kananga.
She tricks a woman into having sex with him by false pretenses (which is rape by the way in case you weren't sure) causing her to lose her magical ability to read the frickin' future! And she's cool with it? Like, after the deed she's depressed and even dismisses Bond revelation that he cheated to convince her to have sex with him since "The physical violation cannot be undone".

"I've lost my amazing supernatural gifts by succumbing to this man and he's asleep." - Solitaire probably.

But of course, within the same scene she's had a change of heart and is all for helping Bond defeat Kananga and find out the secret of "voodoo land" (heroin, the secret is heroin). Of course, her change of heart might have something to do with this exchange,
Solitaire: They'll kill you.
Bond: Us, darling. They will kill "us".
Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Right after this, she asks if they have enough time for another go-around (because she's totally into sex now and has gotten over "the physical violation"), to which Bond delivers one of his best puns, "Absolutely. There's no sense in going off half-cocked."

But despite all of that, I did enjoy Moore's first outing as Bond. The film has a fun energy to it that works even if the plot is nonsensical and it isn't a particularly good movie by a number of measures.

However, any movie with James Bond running over crocodiles and alligators is one worth a watch.

And so we come to 1974's The Man with the Golden Gun. In his second outing, Moore is definitely comfortable in the role but this is yet another film with a host of issues. Where Live and Let Die jumped on the then popularity of blaxploitation, The Man with the Golden Gun borrowed from the kung fu craze of the early 1970s, although in a more halfhearted manner.

The film doesn't completely take on the kung fu movie genre the way its predecessor committed to blaxploitation but it does bring in those elements. Largely Asian locations like Macau, Thailand and Hong Kong set the mood but it's probably the extended scene featuring Bond and a couple of Chinese schoolgirls taking on martial arts students that is the most obvious example of pandering to the genre.

While there is obviously some debate about the worst James Bond movie, personally I'd have to go with Die Another Day, but some consider The Man with the Golden Gun the nadir of the Bond franchise, mostly due to the wasted potential of the film's premise and some terrible artistic choices.

James Bond in a tweed jacket? What were they thinking?!

The basic premise of the film (if one could ever simplify a Bond plot) is that Bond gets a golden bullet with his agent number, 007, embedded into it, the sign he's been put as a mark for Francisco Scaramanga, the most deadly assassin in the world. Scaramanga is the 'man with the golden gun', who charges one million dollars per kill, Bond's dark opposite killing for profit instead of for country.

This sets up the film as battle between two equally matched, and impeccably dressed, foes. The world's best secret agent against the world's best hitman. As Max Williams put it in his highly negative review of the film,
Such a waste of a brilliant premise and a brilliant performance by Christopher Lee. Bond and his dark mirror-image locked in a fatal struggle for supremacy. Scaramanga – the most Bond-villain name imaginable – a hitman who requires only one shot, obsessed with the only man he sees as his equal. The seemingly invincible 007, finally outmatched…? How. Could. You. Mess. That. Up?
It's surely not because of the villain since Christopher Lee is utterly fantastic. Kananga might have been a great Bond villain but Lee's Scaramanga is on a different level. That sort of happens when you're played by Christopher "Counts Dracula & Dooku" Lee who also played a wizard in a little known films series called The Lord of the Rings.

Lee gives Scaramanga a level of badassery second to none. Partly because he was just as badass in real life as the character he was playing. Christopher Lee was once a member of Britain's Special Operations Executive, aka the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, during the Second World War. The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warefare were basically Winston Churchill's go to commando unit.

"I was attached to the SAS from time to time but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let's just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read in to that what they like." - Actual Christopher Lee quote.

No, the problem is the execution. Instead of focusing on the relationship between Bond and Scaramanga as opposite sides of the same coin leading up to a battle between giants, the film instead devotes more attention to the MacGuffin of the story, the Solex Agitator.

By definition, a MacGuffin is supposed to have no purpose either than to be the motivating element for the plot. To be fair, the Solex Agitator is used in the climax of the film so it could be considered a plot device but it's really just a bit of advanced technology everyone wants just because.

Yet, as Williams states in his review, "Golden Gun is obsessed with the Solex. It turns up again and again, passed from one character to another, lost and recaptured". There is so much attention given to a device which converts solar radiation into electricity (the film was released during Britain's energy crisis) that it sidelines the dynamic between the protagonist and the antagonist, which is just a wasted opportunity.

The whole film should have been this.

And some of the artistic choices are odd. Like there is an amazing stunt involving a car doing a 360 degree flip to cross a broken bridge. It is a great stunt, all practical effects and done in one take. Please take 15 seconds to watch it here, I'll wait.

Great stunt, right? But did you notice what ruined it? They put a slide-whistle sound effect as the car makes the jump... Why, why would they do that? It completely undercuts the the impact of the stunt and makes it seem silly instead of cool. The stunt is perfectly done and yet the film ruins it.

There's also the fact that this is probably Bond at his most misogynistic, which is a bold statement but there it is. Bond is possibly at his most rape-y in Thunderball but I don't recall as much physical violence towards women or just straight up assdickery as in this film.

There are two scenes I want to highlight here. The first is when Bond manhandles Andrea Anders, Scaramanga's lover, and literally twists her arm to get information about Scaramanga's whereabouts from her. The issue isn't that he necessarily used his superior strength to physically dominate a woman. She is on the 'bad' side and he needed information.


Look at the pain on her face. A line's been crossed here.

What is egregious and moves the scene into the realm of ugly misogyny is the sheer brute force with which he overpowers her and twists her arm, shoving her down on the bed. He also slaps her face with a heavy backhand that made me flinch a little.

During the James Bonding podcast episode on The Man with the Golden Gun, they rewatch the scene and you can hear guest Jeff Davis yell "Oh, Jesus Christ!" when Bond smacks her a second time (around the 1 hour mark in the podcast). The way the scene is shot makes it seem more like a case of domestic violence than a secret agent interrogating a suspect, making it uncomfortable to watch.

Naturally, the scene finishes with the most insensitive scene change possible following the domestic violence just a moment before:

We went from physically beating a woman to objectifying women. Nice.

To be fair, Moore is more threatening in the scene than I ever thought he could be given his Bond's reputation. He really feels like a dangerous man in the same way Daniel Craig's Bond comes across like a genuine killer. Pity that is tainted due to the sexism and all.

The other scene revolves around Mary Goodnight. Now Goodnight is supposed to be Bond's fellow agent stationed in Hong Kong to help him with his mission. I say 'supposed to be' since she is the most incompetent agent imaginable.

Britt Ekland does her best with the material she is given but when the most consequential things your character does is get captured and accidentally turns on a laser with her butt nearly killing Bond, there's not much you can do.

This is the most agency she has in the film.

Now, Goodnight has this weird attraction/disdain for Bond. She is obviously infatuated with him but also knows him well enough to realise she would just be another one of his conquests, just someone he wasted the hours with and forgotten in the morning.

She initially rejects Bond's advances when they had dinner together, which you know, good for her. She's too good for his womanizing ways. She knows it would be little more than a meaningless hookup and she wants more than that from him. Fair enough. You got to protect yourself from unnecessary harm.

But in the very next scene...


She just saunters into his hotel room and is all ready to go. Bond even asks her what changed her mind and she replies that, "I'm just weak".

Seriously? Okay then, sure whatever. However, this change of heart is completely meaningless since Andrea Anders knocks on Bond's door causing Bond to hide Goodnight under the covers. Miss Anders confesses she had sent the golden bullet so Bond could help her escape Scaramanga's grasp in exchange for the Solex and her body.

Bond naturally does the honourable thing and tell her that while he'll help for the Solex, he has another woman in the room so it wouldn't be right to sleep with her. Oh wait, sorry. I was thinking of a film where our hero actually has morals and doesn't see women as interchangeable objects.

What he does instead is hide Goodnight in the wardrobe as Miss Anders changes in the bathroom and Goodnight has to stay in there while Bond has sex with Miss Anders... let that sink in for a moment. And just so we're clear, Goodnight was making a move to exit the room but Bond directed her into the wardrobe for some reason. He wanted her to be in the wardrobe while he had sex with another woman, and he knows she likes him.

So of course, Bond and Goodnight end up together at the end of the film, this scene forgotten.

"Hello? No, I'm not busy. Don't worry, she'll forget about this in a sec." - James Bond probably.

However, I did like the film although it isn't a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. Christopher Lee steals every scene he's in and Scaramanga is one of the best Bond villains ever easy. The score is also fantastic. While Lulu's theme song is all sorts of wrong, the way the theme is incorporated into the film is great and the musical cues are wonderfully dramatic and peppy.

I also love the dumb moments in the film, like when Bond jumps through a window with no idea how high the fall is or when our dashing hero pushes a young boy off his boat after the boy helped him get the boat going. The elements for a great film are there but they're buried under all the misogyny and the lacklustre script.

So, how do I feel about Moore's James Bond having seen his first two outings as 007? I quite like him. While not as suave as Connery, as dashing Brosnan, or as brutal as Craig, Moore's Bond is definitely fun.

I like the winks, terrible puns, and sly smiles. Moore plays Bond like the caricature he is: a secret agent who is also world famous and everyone knows, who is more interested in bedding women than focusing on the mission at hand. Too bad about all the misogyny.

Stay tuned next week and see if I continue to enjoy Roger Moore's take on James Bond with The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only.


Live and Let Die (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0016: Live and Let Die with Paul F. Tompkins

Live and Let Die Recap - Fandom Following

Live and Let Die: Revisting Roger Moore's First James Bond Movie - Den of Geek

Camp (style) Wikipedia page

Blaxploitation: The Controversial 1970s - Separate Cinema

The Man with the Golden Gun (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0021: The Man with the Golden Gun with Greg Proops and Jeff Davis

James Bond 007: Revisiting The Man With The Golden Gun - Den of Geek

My favourite Bond film: The Man with the Golden Gun - The Guardian

MacGuffin - TV Tropes

11 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Total Badasses - Cracked

Sir Christopher Lee interview: 'I’m softer than people think' - The Telegraph

Why Sir Roger Moore was the greatest 007 - The Independent