Archive for March, 2016

View to  a Kill (1985)

Director: John Glen

Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee

I thought it would have been impossible for Bond to sink any lower than “Octopussy.” That movie saw 007 dress up as a clown, for crying out loud! Then my long-filed away memories of “A View to a Kill” resurfaced. It is simply inexcusable for any movie featuring the character of James Bond to be THIS awful. If you find yourself squirming in your chair while watching a movie, there had better be some pretty intense imagery on the screen in front of you. Also, if you are sitting in stunned silence at the end of a movie, the producers would like to believe that’s because you’re catching your breath after the wild ride they’ve taken you through. The experience of watching “A View to a Kill” provides none of this. Instead it’s the predictable, tedious sort of action flick that causes you to check your watch every five to ten minutes.

During the prologue, James Bond has gone to Siberia to find the body of missing MI6 Agent 003, recovering the Soviet microchip which 003 had on him. This sequence includes what would be a pretty spectacular snowboarding sequence, but it’s ruined by an unwelcome and out-of-place cover of the Beach Boys’ song “California Girls.” Oh, I get it… because he’s ‘surfing’ on the snow. Ha ha. Stop it! After further analysis of the chip, it is determined to be a duplicate of one capable of holding up against even an EMP, manufactured by Zorin Industries. At a racetrack in England, Bond keeps a watchful eye on the company’s owner, Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). Zorin’s horse wins the race, but MI6 agent Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) suspects the horse has been injected with steroids. In Paris, Bond learns some stuff about an impending horse sale from a French detective just before the PI is murdered by May Day (Grace Jones), Zorin’s personal bodyguard. Bond and Tibbett then travel to the Zorin estate. There Bond uncovers a secret laboratory where he learns that Zorin’s horses are indeed receiving steroid injections, but through implants that can be triggered mid-race. Dastardly. Boring, but dastardly.

As Zorin has gotten wind of Bond’s true identity, he has Tibbett killed and believes he has set Bond up to drown in his car. He hasn’t. Instead, a very much alive Bond heads to San Francisco, California where Zorin intends to erase Silicon Valley, killing many innocents and causing his microchips to skyrocket in value. Bond learns from his contact in the CIA… surprisingly not Felix Leiter this time… that Zorin may be the product of genetic engineering as the result of steroid experimentation on pregnant women during World War II by a Nazi doctor, who just so happens to be Zorin’s current personal physician. Ah, so the horse steroid angle really DID have a point to it! …It’s still lame.

Bond barges into the house of a woman he’d seen earlier at Zorin’s estate, curious as to why Zorin would cut her a check for $5 million. Bond is able to convince Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) that he is not one of Zorin’s thugs come to pressure her into cashing the check when the real goon squad arrives. It’s Stacey’s family oil business that Zorin wants. Stacey herself is a geologist, if you can believe it. I know I sure don’t. At City Hall, Bond and Stacey run into both Zorin and May Day. Stacey’s boss is murdered with Bond’s gun, and Zorin and May Day set fire to the building with Bond and Stacey trapped in the elevator shaft. On top of that, Zorin made Stacey’s boss call the cops just before he shot him, so even after Bond and Stacey free themselves they still have to explain the situation to law enforcement. When this film’s version of inept cops refuse to by their side of the story, Bond and Stacey steal a fire truck and hightail it out of there. We’ve seen this chase in almost every Roger Moore Bond film, and it’s always mind-numbingly stupid. Moving on…

So, Bond and Stacey make their way into Zorin’s mine, where he plans to explode large quantities of dynamite that will disturb the San Andreas and Hayward faults to the point of flooding Silicon Valley. To finish the job, Zorin also has another bomb in place which will effectively destroy a so-called ‘geological lock’ that keeps both faults from moving all at once. Zorin and one of his associates then pick up machine guns and massacre the mine workers. In this moment, as I’m witnessing body after body being perforated by bullets, I’m starting to wonder if I’m still watching a James Bond movie. Becoming unrecognizable was an asset to “Moonraker,” but here it’s just another obstacle. While Bond fights with May Day, Stacey is given time to escape. Then something very odd happens. Zorin abandons May Day to die along with Bond and the mine workers. Seeing this, a scorned May Day abruptly switches sides and helps Bond get the bomb out of harms way, ultimately resulting in an unforeseen hero’s death for the same person who murdered no less than three of Bond’s informants.

Stacey, meanwhile, has been standing out in the middle of a field with a big “KIDNAP ME!” sign on her chest, and guess what? Zorin nabs her and takes her up in his airship. Bond sees this and grabs hold of the mooring rope just in time. Eventually, the action spills out onto the framework of the Golden Gate Bridge, where Zorin tries to axe murder Bond. But Zorin loses his balance and falls to his death. The Nazi doctor, still on board the airship, attempts to kill Bond and Stacey with a stick of dynamite, but when Bond cuts the airship free from the bridge, the doctor loses his grip on the dynamite and the airship explodes.

Whew! What an ordeal! As I said, “A View to a Kill” shouldn’t have been this bad. Not when you have Christopher Walken as your villain. Grace Jones, of whom I’m normally no fan, is admittedly memorable as May Day. I do love the inclusion of Patrick Macnee, thus completing a trifecta of Avengers-to-Bond actors begun by Honor Blackman and Diana Rigg. There’s a bit of miscasting in the case of Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton… my personal least favorite Bond girl… although I don’t really fault Ms. Roberts, who I know to be a good actress when given the right material. For example, she was hilarious as Donna’s mom on “That 70’s Show.” Duran Duran had a hit song with the title tune, though I was never a fan. When Duran Duran was at the peak of their popularity, I was more into acts like Prince and Dire Straits.

After this one, Roger Moore did finally retire from the role of James Bond. To this day, he still calls “A View to a Kill” his least favorite, and rightly so. Also departing the series would be Lois Maxwell, who had portrayed MI6 secretary Miss Moneypenny every since “Dr. No” in 1962. No matter what, with the next Bond there would come a genuine sense of change. There is also a certain relief in knowing that, even with any remaining slips into mediocrity that the series would experience, 007 would never drop to this low a level of quality again… thus making the dismal “A View to a Kill” that much more of a curiosity.

Octopussy (1983)

Director: John Glen

Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Kristina Wayborn, Kabir Bedi, Steven Berkoff

For no less than the second time during this particular era of Bond, we have a bit of false advertisement going on here. Both the theme song and theatrical poster for “Octopussy” make reference to an ‘all-time high,’ which is exactly the opposite of what this movie represents to the James Bond franchise. Not that anyone should have expected that the 13th entry into the series would bring good fortune, but that it so completely unravels the goodwill created by the comparatively masterful “For Your Eyes Only” does register as something of a shock to the system. Well, all aboard the clown car, because here we go…

Speaking of clowns, that’s precisely the disguise which has been chosen by Agent 009 of MI6. Chased down by twin assassins, 009 collapses dead at the East German embassy, clutching onto a fake Fabergé egg. The real one is up for auction, which is where MI6 turns its attention. M (Robert Brown, replacing the late Bernard Lee) gives James Bond the assignment… which he should have done in the first place. While there, Bond looks for whomever will show the greatest interest in the egg, and plots to engage in a bidding war with him. This turns out to be Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan), whom Bond forces to pay £500,000 for the egg, but not before Bond has swapped it out with a fake one. Following Khan to India, Bond subverts Khan’s attempt to cheat in a game of backgammon, and has a go with one of his assistants, a woman named Magda (Kristina Wayborn) who bears a distinctive octopus tattoo. Allowing Magda to make off with the real egg (fitted with a listening device), Bond gets to the heart of the matter. It seems that Khan is collaborating with General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), a particularly radical member of the Soviet military whose desire it is to see the U.S.S.R. expand its territory further westward. An ambitious and completely mental plan, but what does Khan get out of it?

It should be pointed out that the plot for this movie runs at such a slow pace that this is the halfway point of the film, and we’ve yet to meet the title character. Evading Khan’s assassins, Bond flees his palace for another one occupied by Khan’s partner in jewel smuggling: Octopussy (Maud Adams). Since childhood, Octopussy has been something of an expert jewel thief, and has grown exceptionally wealthy as a result. Octopussy is also the leader of the Octopus cult which includes Magda as a member (hence the tattoo), as well as owning her own traveling circus which is used as a front to throw authorities off the scent of her various heists. It’s at this point that I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting confused as to just who is meant to be seen as the big villain here. You’ve supposedly set up three options, any two of which could be direct subordinates of the other one, and it’s not initially clear exactly what the chain of command actually is. Octopussy herself is almost immediately ruled out after a heart-to-heart conversation with Bond, to whom she has (of course) taken a liking.

Bond also discovers from Octopussy that Orlov has been stealing Soviet gold and jewelry, replacing it all with fakes while slipping the real booty to Khan. Naturally, since the circus trains are being used to smuggle it all, Octopussy gets her own cut of the loot. It’s a pretty sweet deal, but there’s a piece to this puzzle to which even Octopussy has been left unaware. At the circus’s next stop in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany (today known as the city of Chemintz), Bond discovers the horrible truth: Not only is Octopussy being double-crossed by Khan, but Orlov has also replaced the jewels on board the circus train with a nuclear warhead. He means for it to be detonated at the site of the next show, a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. The explosion could not be blamed on the Soviets or any other nation, only appearing to be an accident inside the base itself that would provoke disarmament among neighboring European nations and allowing for the Soviets to swoop in and invade without a fight. You would think that this would automatically make Orlov the film’s main villain, but then you’d be wrong. His sudden demise comes while there’s still a half-hour left to this turkey. Instead, it’s the common jewel thief who’s the big bad. KHAAAAN!

In a race against time, Bond has to reach the circus before the bomb goes off. This means that the rules of the road cannot be observed properly, and that attracts the attention of the West German police, the latest in a long line of inept authorities which Bond has had to deal with over the course of his decorated career. Because this obstruction is something which he has no time to deal with, he’s got to figure out a way to slip into the circus without being instantly recognizable. *Sigh* What follows is one of the most universally hated moments in the long history of the James Bond series. I don’t usually include screen captures from the film I’m reviewing, but a visual aide in this case is absolutely necessary. I’ll just leave this here so it’ll sink in:

Bond Clown

Look at that. I mean, really, LOOK AT IT. Could the producers of “Octopussy” have possibly found anything to more perfectly sum up how low the series and its main character had managed to sink? It’s absolutely mystifying to me that we’re still talking about new James Bond adventures more than thirty years after this catastrophe. But I’m very, very glad that we are. Anyhow, Bond disables the bomb, and he an incensed Octopussy team up to chase after Khan. Octopussy gets herself captured, but Bond rescues her after disabling Khan’s plane, resulting in Khan’s death.

When I sat down to watch “Octopussy” the other day, I quickly realized that I had either never seen it before, or that it had been so long since the last time that I’d forgotten all about it. Either way, it’s for the best, as this is one of the most boring, needlessly complicated and (at times) downright insulting Bond films ever made. Roger Moore moves through this movie like a man who knows he stuck around longer than he should have. Most of the rest of the cast looks flat out bored. Maud Adams was miles better as the ill-fated mistress of Scaramanga in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Even the soundtrack contains the same sort of easy-listening bollocks that you put on as background noise at work. The humor is also at an all-time worst. The only person here who seems to be giving it their all is Steven Berkoff, who by all rights should have been the movie’s main villain. He’s really great at playing the slimiest of characters. But his positive simply cannot outweigh the overwhelming amount of negatives here. Watching “Octopussy” for me is like peeling off a bandage. I knew it had to be done, and it’s best to just get it over with.

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Director: John Glen

Starring: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson

With “Moonraker,” James Bond brought a whole new meaning to his family motto, ‘The world is not enough,’ when he left the confines of Earth’s gravity to take on that movie’s villain. It was as representative of the excesses of the 1970’s as anything that the previous three Roger Moore films had brought to the table. The 1980’s would prove to have its own set of quirks, but at least for a brief moment in time the arrival of a new decade saw Bond with both feet firmly planted on solid ground. “For Your Eyes Only” may have been a deviation from the formula set up by Moore’s era of Bond, but that’s only because it marked the return to a level of normalcy not seen since “From Russia With Love.”

The prologue to “For Your Eyes Only” sees James Bond (Roger Moore) visiting the grave of his beloved wife, Tracy, whose headstone bears the words ‘We have all the time in the world.’ Shortly after, Bond is attacked by a hairless, wheelchair-bound man with a maniacal laugh and a familiar-looking white cat. In an attempt to kill Bond once and for all but wishing to toy with him first, the man hijacks the controls to the helicopter that 007 has just boarded. We the audience don’t need to hear the name Blofeld (which, for legal reasons, we don’t) to recognize the visual cues that this is indeed Bond’s most hated nemesis. Nor does it rob us of sharing in Bond’s satisfaction as he coldly exacts his final vengeance upon the man responsible for the death of his one true love. Granted, being dropped down a smokestack isn’t the most dignified way for Blofeld to go out, but impractically disposing of him in this way is symbolic of the series doing away with the typical world domination/annihilation plot.

Bond’s next case involves what sounds like a simple salvage operation. A British spy vessel has gone down with all hands. MI6 and the Ministry of Defence’s main interest is the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC) on board. They want Bond to recover the device before the Soviet Union does. Another wrinkle is added by the assassination of Sir Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist whom the British were hoping could locate the wreckage of the St. Georges. Bond goes to Spain to spy on the hitman, Hector Gonzales, before running afoul of Gonzales and his man. Cornered, Bond is saved at the last minute when Gonzales is felled by a crossbow bolt by a vengeful Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), Sir Havelock’s daughter, who also lost her mother to Gonzales’ earlier attack.

Using Q’s 3-D image scanner Bond identifies another hitman from Gonzales’ villa named Emile Leopold Locque and goes looking for him in Italy. Once there, Bond consults with Greek businessman Aris Kristatos (Julian Glover). Kristatos fingers his former partner, Milos Columbo (Topol) as Locque’s employer. The movie gets distracted with the introduction of Kristatos’ protege, ice skater Bibi Dahl (Lynn-Holly Johnson), whose inclusion in the plot shockingly does have an actual point to it. Still, Bibi’s early scenes where she behaves like a James Bond groupie are as uncomfortable for us to watch as they are for 007 to experience. Not one to make a habit of turning down sex from a willing female partner, Bond feels morally obligated to make an exception in young Bibi’s case.

After several attempts on his life, Bond is saved from certain death by Columbo’s men. Columbo, a well-known smuggler, is hardly an innocent man, but he is not guilty of the crimes for which Bond has sought him out. It was in fact Kristatos who arranged the death of Sir Havelock and it is Kristatos whom Soviet Intelligence has hired to acquire the ATAC for them. Pointing out that Kristatos is also a manufacturer and distributor of opium, Columbo and his men accompany Bond to one of Kristatos’ bases in Albania, where they also discover mines like the one which took down the St. Georges. Locque is there, too, and Bond puts an end to him. Afterwards, Bond and Melina team back up and go looking for the ATAC in the wreckage of the St. Georges. Predictably finding resistance from Kristatos’ men, Bond and Melina resurface with the ATAC only to have to surrender it and avoid certain death yet again.

Bond, Melina and Columbo trace Kristatos to a mountaintop monastery meant to serve as a rendezvous point with the KGB. Bond reacquires the ATAC but prevents Melina from killing Kristatos. Not that he’s being hypocritical or anything… It doesn’t much matter because Kristatos dies anyway from a knife in the back tossed by Columbo. When the head of the KGB (making his third consecutive appearance in a Bond film) arrives, Bond tosses the ATAC down the mountainside where it shatters into dozens of unusable pieces. Since neither the British nor the Russians are in possession of the ATAC, Bond declares ‘détente.’

“For Your Eyes Only” is the most Connery-esque of Roger Moore’s Bond films. As such, it solidly ranks as his best effort in the role. The silliness, the humor and the gadgetry are all kept to a dull roar in favor of *GASP* telling a story! French actress Carole Bouquet is the best of Moore’s Bond girls, although Bouquet’s line delivery suffers from the fact that Melina’s voice (like so many Bond girls before her) is dubbed. Julian Glover, who lost out on the part of 007 to Moore in 1973, is not one of the more memorable Bond villains, though he fills his role well enough. Glover is most recently known for his role as Grand Maester Pycell in HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Not the first actor from the series to appear in a Bond film, Glover isn’t even the only one to show up in “For Your Eyes Only.” Charles Dance, also known as Tywin Lannister, appears as one of Kristatos’ many nameless henchmen and is hilariously shot in the back while in the middle of delivering his one and only line in the film.

Roger Moore should’ve quit while he was ahead. I believe I may have read a quote somewhere direct from the man himself to that effect. While not among the all-time greats in the series, “For Your Eyes Only” did its best to avoid that which served to bog down his earlier efforts. To expect lighting to strike twice may have been asking too much, and much time and frustration would doubtless have been saved had the series moved on with a new actor as the face of the franchise. Instead, the series would revert back to the campiness which dominated the 1970’s. Unlike his superior 1981 effort, Moore’s final two adventures would prove to be for die hard fans only.

Moonraker (1979)

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Richard Kiel, Michael Lonsdale, Corinne Clery

When I think of “Moonraker,” I am often reminded of the first time I ever saw “Superman III.” Jumping into it already in progress, I watched as Richard Pryor adequately performed a slapstick routine and thought, ‘This seems harmless enough.’ Then, all of a sudden, Christopher Reeve’s Superman shows up. Needless to say, I was horrified. I had a similar experience the first time I caught “Moonraker.” It was well into the final act when I clicked past it one day, thinking it to be decent enough B-movie sci-fi fare. Then I noticed Roger Moore.”Moonraker” is simultaneously the most ambitious and the most bewildering Bond film ever made. Yet, while there’s not a damn thing that could have saved “Superman III,” the best thing that could have ever happened to “Moonraker” was for it to become totally unrecognizable as a James Bond movie.

The UK, looking to make its own mark in the space race, has acquired a space shuttle from Drax Industries. Unfortunately, said shuttle is hijacked and then stolen, resulting in the destruction of the aircraft on which it was perched and the deaths of all crewmen aboard said plane. MI6 puts Bond on the assignment after his own brush with death from being pushed out of an airplane by Jaws (Richard Kiel). At Drax Industries in California, Bond meets with Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), a mustache-twirling villain if ever there was one. Sensing the true purpose for Bond’s visit, Drax quietly orders 007 to be killed. Bond also meets with aspiring female astronaut Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), who offers to demonstrate the centrifuge chamber used by astronauts in training for their outer space flights. Why no one second-guesses Drax’s shifty-looking bodyguard Chang being at the controls beats the hell out of me. Before the growing intensity of the centrifuge becomes lethal, Bond is able to terminate the procedure using one of his handy gadgets. Drax tries to kill Bond a second time at a rifle range, but Bond nails Drax’s sniper perched up in the trees.

Traveling with some useful information to Venice, Italy, Bond learns one half of Drax’s plot when he discovers a hidden laboratory in the process of developing a deadly, plant-based nerve gas. There, Bond finally kills Drax’s henchman Chang. It is while in Venice that Bond compeltely eschews any pretense of being a ‘secret agent’ when, while dodging more of Drax’s redshirts, he drives a motorized gondola up out of the water and onto the streets of Venice. Yeah, I’ll bet that doesn’t make the evening news! Bond also encounters Dr. Goodhead again, and correctly presumes her to be a CIA agent assigned to gain intel on Drax. It’s good that Bond managed to swipe a vial of the nerve gas from the lab as evidence because, when he returns with M, it’s been made to look like the lab never existed.

Because Drax still wants Bond eliminated, he hires Jaws to finish the job. The steel-toothed monster catches up to Bond and Goodhead on a cable car. Though Bond and Goodhead escape and Jaws’ car eventually crashes, the seemingly immortal giant finds love at first sight in the form of the bespectacled blonde Dolly. Aww, how nauseating! But it doesn’t stop Jaws from giving chase to Bond once again, this time by speedboat. Because we haven’t had nearly enough speedboat chases in these movies. After seeing Jaws making a fool of himself yet again by comically going over a waterfall, I had become positively bored by this point.

Surviving a close encounter with a snake, Bond is caught by Jaws (who has also captured Ms. Goodhead) and taken to Drax, who is sending his Moonraker shuttles up to his space station. He’ll be piloting the fifth shuttle. Bond and Goodhead escape certain death one more time, commandeer the sixth and final shuttle, and blast off into space to rendezvous with the space station. Drax’s plan is as evil as evil gets: He means to unleash his gas onto the population of the Earth, saving only his privileged few to repopulate the species and start things over again in his image. How very Third Reich of him. He’s also got a cloaking device preventing radar detection of the station. Bond disables this, allowing for a troop of U.S. Marines to fly up and attack, resulting in the latest massive battle between two armies in a Bond film. I sure wish someone would explain how everyone got hold of their fancy laser rifles, because the film never says a damn thing about it. It’d be one thing if just the Moonraker guys had ’em… but no! The Marines are fully equipped with the same rapid-fire futuristic weaponry. Whatever. Anyway, it looks great.

When it appears as though Drax has the upper hand, Bond has one last trick up his sleeve. He convinces the easily-manipulated Jaws to switch sides by getting Drax to admit that his “master race” would have no room for those lacking optimal physical standards. Drax’s army is totally annihilated, his space station is destroyed, and he himself is ejected out into space by Bond. But three globes containing Drax’s deadly gas are nearing Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a tense situation, especially with the third and final one, but Bond and Goodhead get the job done and save humanity, thanking Jaws and Dolly for their help.

The 11th James Bond feature was originally slated to be “For Your Eyes Only,” but the massive popularity of “Star Wars” pretty much made the concept of Bond in space inevitable. Other sci-fi is referenced, including the first few notes of the theme to “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the rifle range and the usage of the infamous five-note tune from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as the dial tone on the laboratory keypad entry code. Both of these draw an immediate “Oh, come on!” reaction out of me. Music also plays a key role in the outer space sequence, with the John Barry track “Flight Into Space” being one of the film’s highlights.

Shirley Bassey returns for the third and final time to sing the movie’s title tune, with “Moonraker” being the least of her contributions… although the disco version (played during the end credits) is pretty good. No, seriously. Also returning for the final time was “M” actor Bernard Lee, who passed away in 1981. In a role originally written for James Mason, Michael Lonsdale is a terrific Bond villain caught up in a weird-as-hell movie. I could see him as a pretty decent Blofeld had he ever been asked to handle the role of Bond’s greatest nemesis.

I can only imagine the shock that James Bond purists must have gone into after seeing this theatrically in 1979 (if the previous three Roger Moore films hadn’t already numbed their senses). I find it’s actually a very complicated one to grade. The first two-thirds, a typical paint-by-numbers Roger Moore Bond farce, are as stale as the series has ever been. The last third… a completely different movie… no longer looks, feels, or even sounds like a Bond movie. Now more akin to a cheesy late 70’s B-movie with a bigger budget, it can be enjoyable on a so-bad-it’s-good level. Moore is the only Bond actor who could’ve made this part of the movie work. Can you imagine Connery’s or Lazenby’s Bonds trying their hand at this? Well, at least you can with Connery (“Outland” is pretty lame), but not the Connery Bond. Makes my head hurt to even think about it.

Had this been a Roger Moore-headlined outer space movie independent from the Bond franchise, I could see it being pretty damn decent so long as the plot remained simplified. Perhaps something along the lines of a “Starcrash” (which starred Bond girl Caroline Munro). What can I say? I dig late 70’s/early 80’s sci-fi. Were it not for the perverse enjoyment I get out of the climax of “Moonraker,” this would easily be the worst James Bond movie of all-time. As it stands, it’s two parts total dreck, one part out of this world.

Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Director: Lewis Gilbert

Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro

‘Nobody does it better’? That’s a bit of a stretch. The charming, if somewhat cotton candy tune by Carly Simon which plays over the opening credits of “The Spy Who Loved Me” toots the horn of James Bond like no other before it. This being the tenth James Bond film, those of us that have hung around this long don’t need convincing of the character’s worth. Many needed a reason to believe in this specific version of Bond, however, especially after the poorly-received “The Man with the Golden Gun.” I’m not convinced this one got the job done. Although “The Spy Who Loved Me” turned out to be a general crowdpleaser, it’s not that much different stylistically from Roger Moore’s first two 007 films. Taking a brief hiatus from copying trendy topics, instead we find Bond plagiarizing himself. The resulting mishmash of Bond plots gone by isn’t as much a sign that the series is improving as it is an indication of how much better it used to be.

The movie’s best stunt is in the prologue, where Bond outraces Soviet agents on skis down a snowy Austrian mountainside. Much like a similar scene from “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” only this time Bond skis right off the edge of a cliff, parachuting to safety. Not a bad way to begin, and this time the prologue has a direct influence on events later on in the film. when, during the chase, Bond had to kill at least one of the pursuing Soviets. In the meantime, someone has stolen a pair of American and Soviet submarines… much like how Blofeld stole a pair of American and Soviet spacecraft in “You Only Live Twice.” This forces some co-operation between MI6 and the KGB. To investigate the matter, the two intelligence agencies decide to pair up their top agents. Working with James Bond will be Anya Amasova, a.k.a. Agent Triple X (Barbara Bach, a.k.a. Mrs. Ringo Starr). Anya does not yet know that it was Bond who killed her lover in Austria. Talk about awkward! The two have met already, in Egypt, where each was sent to recover the plans to a submarine tracking system and encountered interference from a giant-sized, steel-toothed brute named Jaws (Richard Kiel).

Once it it determined that it was Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens) who stole the submarines, Bond and Anya head for his base in Sardinia. Along the way, while traveling by train, they are once again attacked by Jaws. For the second time in three films, the Bond/Grant train fight in “From Russia With Love” is shown to have been perfect the first time we saw it. At this point, the two go from rivals to potential love interests. Sorry, but Anya is no Tracy. Not that I mean to keep comparing every Bond girl since “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” to Bond’s late wife,  but when the films themselves keep reminding us of her… well, it’s hard not to go there. Case in point: Upon their first meeting, Bond and Anya show how well they know each other’s dossier, with Anya noting that Bond had once been married but that his wife had been killed. Still too soon, as Bond demonstrates when he cuts Anya off before she can go any further. The thing is, James and Anya have very little in common apart from being in the same profession. They have no more chemistry than Bond has with any of his other throwaway flings.

A brief visit to Stromberg’s base, ominously called ‘Atlantis,’ tells Bond and Anya all they need to know. Stromberg has a vessel named the ‘Liparus’ which he has used to capture the submarines (much in the same manner that Bird One was used to capture the two spacecraft in “You Only Live Twice”). Stromberg also has a vision of a future in which humanity takes to living underwater inside ‘Atlantis.’ Since Stromberg is clearly out of his mind, Bond and Anya leave with the information they’ve gathered. However, Stromberg orders his henchmen to kill them. Fortunately for Bond, Q gave him a car that transforms into a submarine. Why not, since there was a car that became an airplane in the last movie? Anyway, Bond’s handy new toy is useful in dispatching the helicopter piloted by Naomi (Caroline Munro, wasted in a thankless and all-too brief role). Jaws, however, escapes death. Sometime after this, Anya figures out that it was Bond who killed her lover, and she vows to return the favor when the mission is over… Who wants to lay odds that she won’t hold to that promise? Yawn. Back to the action!

So, Stromberg’s master plan is to use the submarines he stole to start a nuclear war, eventually resulting in that underwater colony he’d mentioned before. Too bad for him that he and his men are too incompetent to keep Bond and a third submarine full of men from freeing the other two crews, overpowering his base and thwarting his plans just like in the final act of “You Only Live Twice.” Stromberg himself is the most ineffective Bond villain yet, going out like a chump when Bond shoots him from underneath a table just like another hero from a certain 1977 film… *cough* “Star Wars” *cough*. Only this time, no altered special effects are required to show that Stromberg actually does shoot first. Both submarines, the ‘Liparus’ and ‘Atlantis’ are all destroyed. Bond and Anya get out of harm’s way just in the nick of time… as does Jaws. Hmm, wonder if we’ll see him again…

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see how this is considered to be the best of the Roger Moore Bonds. It’s a lesser version of “You Only Live Twice” (also directed by Lewis Gilbert), and that in itself is bad when you consider that “You Only Live Twice” wasn’t that great to start with. It drags in places, particularly during the final act, and never quite allows for its supporting characters to become clearly defined. I think I learned more about the hotel desk clerk (played by Valerie Leon) than I did about Caroline Munro’s Naomi, who should have been the most interesting female henchman since Fiona Volpe from “Thunderball.” The villains are NEVER a credible threat, with only Jaws providing glimpses of physical superiority before being treated as a joke. At least Sheriff J.W. Pepper is nowhere to be found. Thank goodness for small favors. Still, “The Spy Who Loved Me” can’t escape being among the lower-ranked Bonds in my book. Too often it shows signs of desperation. It’s rather cliched, but it’s at times like this when you almost expect a series, running short on ideas, to look to outer space next.

Man with the Golden Gun (1975)

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize

The way that some film critics would tell it, this one should have been the golden bullet through the heart of the James Bond franchise. It did underperform at the box office, that’s true. But considering the fifteen additional films (and counting) which have followed, “The Man with the Golden Gun” obviously wasn’t an unmitigated, franchise-killing disaster. It’s not even the worst film in the series’ 50+ year history. Though it does suffer from some of the same problems as “Diamonds Are Forever” and “Live and Let Die” did before it, I believe there is enough positive still leftover to, if not outweigh the negatives, at least find something to latch onto and remain entertained.

A golden bullet with ‘007’ inscribed on it has been sent to the headquarters of MI6. Clearly sent as a message meant for one James Bond (Roger Moore), it is assumed the bullet comes from master assassin Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). This perceived threat against the life of one of his best agents forces M (Bernard Lee) to remove Bond from a mission involving a solar energy scientist named Gibson. If you think that’ll never come up again, you’d be wrong.

Sent to find Scaramanga, Bond traces the manufacturing and shipping of the man’s golden bullets. This leads 007 to Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders (Maud Adams), who is collecting the shiny ammunition for its eventual owner. In Hong Kong, Bond corners and interrogates Ms. Anders who tells him to check out the Bottoms Up Club. Scaramanga is there, it’s true, but outside perched on a rooftop in prime position for an assassination. Lucky for Bond that he isn’t the target (for now). Instead, Scaramanga kills the scientist whom MI6 had been trying to contact. Apparently, Mr. Gibson had with him a Solex agitator, which is in no uncertain terms the most important piece of a solar energy station. In the wrong hands, it could be made into a dreadful weapon, and the Solex was swiped by Scaramanga’s vertically-challenged henchman, Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize). Bond’s mission is now to eliminate Scaramanga and retrieve the Solex. It is also in Hong Kong that Bond runs into Mary Goodnight (Britt Ekland), a British agent and prior acquaintance of Bond’s. As such, Ms. Goodnight is the only Bond girl with whom 007 has ever been shown to have a history.

Switching the scenery to Bangkok, Thailand, Bond seeks an audience with the man suspected of ordering the hit on Gibson, a businessman named Hai Fat who is now in possession of the Solex. Bond even goes the extra mile of posing as Scaramanga, not knowing that Scaramanga is already set up as a guest there. Hai Fat arranges to have his fighters kill Bond, not anticipating that Bond would have backup in the form of Lt. Hip and his highly-trained nieces. The resulting chase produces an involuntary cringing reaction, because of the negative association with speedboats resulting from their use in that momentum-killing sequence from “Live and Let Die.” Sure enough, there’s Louisiana Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James), on vacation with his wife. *Sigh* Damn it. Not this again! The sequence is brief and so relief sets in that, finally, we’re done with the overbearing, unfunny, blithering racist buffoon once and for all… Yeah, you wish.

Scaramanga having killed Hai Fat and taken the Solex for himself, his mistress Ms. Anders approaches Bond with the promise of retrieving it for him if only he will kill Scaramanga. Anders reveals that it was she, not Scaramanga, who sent the ‘007’ gold bullet to MI6. At the rendezvous, Bond discovers that Anders is dead, shot through the chest. Before he can leave, Scaramanga sits down to have a face-to-face chat. Keeping him talking, Bond discovers the Solex on the floor at Anders’ feet. Carefully, he picks up the Solex and is able to pass it to Lt. Hip (posing as a peanut vendor), who in turn hands it to Mary Goodnight. It is at this point that Ms. Goodnight begins proving herself to be one of the most useless of all the Bond girls. In the act of putting a tracer on Scaramanga’s car, Goodnight winds up getting nabbed and tossed into the boot (or trunk, if you prefer). Bond would like to be able to chase after her, but she’s got the keys to his car. Worse still, the car Bond does eventually use has J.W. Pepper in the passenger seat. You know… it really gets under my skin when franchises I legitimately love go out of their way to do things that only serve to annoy me. When the car chase ends, so does Pepper’s part in the narrative. FINALLY!

Somehow, don’t ask me how, Scaramanga and Nick Nack turn their car into a working airplane and take off with Goodnight still trapped inside the boot. Apparently, the tracking device actually works, as Bond is able to locate Scaramanga’s position on an island somewhere in Chinese-controlled waters. When Bond arrives, Scaramanga shows off his solar-powered death ray by blowing up Bond’s plane, and subsequently challenges Bond to a duel, to which Bond consents. Bond suggests that the six bullets in his Walther PPK to Scaramanga’s one golden bullet gives him the advantage, but Scaramanga is skeptical. After the prescribed 20-count, Scaramanga disappears. Nick Nack leads Bond into his boss’s funhouse (which we saw used in the film’s prologue), where Bond ultimately outsmarts his enemy by posing as the life-size figurine of himself which Scaramanga had stupidly set up. With Scaramanga dead, there is still the second half of the mission: the retrieval of the Solex.

This is where the film really gets carried away with showing how much of a ‘dumb blonde’ Mary Goodnight is. First, she defeats an enemy by knocking him into a liquid helium tank, which would normally be great except that it means the island is about to tear itself apart. Next, her cute little derriere manages to hit just the wrong button, activating the solar beam and almost incinerating Bond as he tries to pry loose the Solex. It’s all supposed to be funny but, like with J.W. Pepper, it simply isn’t. Anyway, the job is done and the island is dead. There’s one more battle with Nick Nack… but whatever, let’s just end this thing already.

I don’t know if the term ‘mixed bag’ fits any James Bond film quite like the way it does with “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Part of that comes from the indecision on just what kind of movie the ninth Bond film wants to be. Is it a spy thriller? Is it a western? Is it a Hong Kong martial arts film? Is it a slapstick comedy? It tries to be all of the above, with varying degrees of success in each area. In the minus column you have one of the worst Bond themes, the unforgivable misuse of actress Britt Ekland, the return of J.W. Pepper, and the inclusion of Hervé Villechaize in any capacity. The pluses? At no point is “The Man with the Golden Gun” ever boring. As much as I can’t stand Hervé Villechaize, he did serve as inspiration for Mini-Me  from the “Austin Powers” trilogy. But the biggest positive of all is Christopher Lee. Always excellent at playing villains, Lee practically keeps this movie afloat all by himself.

The thing is, if I tally everything up, it leaves me with something of a neutral opinion of “The Man with the Golden Gun.” I neither love it nor do I hate it. The series could do worse… and believe me, it has. Want to watch a truly excellent movie featuring both Christopher Lee and Britt Ekland? Seek you the 1973 horror classic, “The Wicker Man” (not the 2006 Nicolas Cage version, which is unspeakable poo poo). Back on the subject at hand, if a fun two-hour cinematic romp is what you’re after, you may experience that with “The Man with the Golden Gun.” If you go in expecting a truly classic Bond adventure, however, all you’ll find is fool’s gold.

Live and Let Die (1973)

Director: Guy Hamilton

Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour

If you ask around among Bond fans, a large percentage of them will undoubtedly point to Sean Connery as the best of the actors to play the role. Among that same crowd, I doubt that any of the various 007’s have been as polarizing as Roger Moore. Although I was born during his run, I didn’t get into the Bond franchise until long after Moore had stepped down from the mantle. So my feelings on the matter will always come with a degree of hindsight, something that not everyone exposed to Moore’s entries can claim. I watch his movies with neither prejudice nor rose-tinted glasses. After all, even Connery didn’t knock it out of the park every time.

Unlike with both Sean Connery and George Lazenby, we don’t bother playfully obscuring the face of the new James Bond in “Live and Let Die.” Right away, you’ll notice a few differences in the new Bond. He now has blue eyes instead of brown, he quips more than usual, and he smokes cigars instead of cigarettes. Bond’s first post-SPECTRE mission is an investigation into the deaths of three fellow MI6 agents (New York at the United Nations HQ, New Orleans and the small Caribbean country of San Monique, respectively). The thought is Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto) is somehow involved. A reasonable assumption, since Kananga is the prime minister of San Monique and was present at the United Nations. Bond goes to the scene of the first crime, in New York, even dangerously treading through the heart of Harlem. After an attempt on Bond’s life he consults with Felix Leiter (David Hedison) who traces the assassin’s vehicle. From there, Bond visits a chain restaurant called Fillet of Souls looking for its owner, notorious gangster Mr. Big.

In a hidden room inside the restaurant, Bond meets Solitaire (Jane Seymour), Dr. Kananga’s tarot card-reading fortune teller. Solitaire appears to legitimately have “the sight,” and she has anticipated Bond’s arrival. However, she is startled when his appearance coincides with her picking up the “Lovers” card. Despite adversity from Mr. Big’s men, Bond leaves to explore San Monique. At the hotel/bungalow where he stays, Bond is surprised to hear that he already has a female partner waiting in his room, under the name of “Mrs. Bond.” The look on Bond’s face when he hears those words, although he disguises it quickly, reminds us of the personal tragedy still fresh on his mind. Although Rosie Carver explains herself as a CIA operative and is helpful to Bond initially, he rightly suspects her of (reluctantly) working for Kananga, who has her killed before she can confess. Bond meets with Solitaire again, at which time he literally stacks the deck in his favor. When she pulls the “Lovers” card once again, the two have sex. To her horror, Solitaire discovers the loss of her virginity has also brought about the loss of her powers. While she fears for her life now, it was apparently a good enough experience for Solitaire to desire another round in the sack with Bond. Good on you, 007!

Tiring of Kananga’s control, Solitaire flees with Bond to New Orleans, where they are caught by Mr. Big. After demanding to know whether Bond has carnal knowledge of Solitaire, Mr. Big reveals what we’ve suspected all along… that he and Kananga are one and the same. At this time, Kananga reveals his plans to distribute two tons worth of heroin to the customers of his restaurant chain, free samples which will guarantee him many more new customers, driving mad and ultimately bankrupting his competition in the illegal drug market. Once Kananga proves that Solitaire can no longer predict the future, he becomes angry, though it seems to be about more than just the usefulness of her gift. Kananga seems personally hurt that she has chosen Bond over him. In retaliation for her betrayal, Kananga offers up Solitaire as a sacrifice for the Baron Samedi. Bond, in the meantime, is left to be eaten by crocodiles. Of course, nobody sticks around to make sure this happens, and Bond escapes. His reckless getaway by speedboat attracts the attention of Kananga’s men as well as Louisiana State Police.

Returning to San Monique, Bond kills two birds with one stone by rescuing Solitaire and destroying Kananga’s poppy fields. Down inside Kananga’s lair, Bond and Solitaire are subdued and set to be lowered into shark-infested waters. However, Bond uses two gadgets (a watch magnet and a shark gun pellet) to free himself and Solitaire and kill Kananga in absurdly over-the-top explosive fashion. The film closes with a fight on a train between Bond and Kananga’s mechanical-armed henchman Tee Hee. This is a scene that recalls the classic tussle between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw in “From Russia With Love,” even though it can’t help but pale in comparison.

There are more than a few ways in which one can choose to look at “Live and Let Die.” I’ll cite two examples. One approach would be to make the assertion that minorities and other special interest groups seem destined to be cast in a negative light. In “Diamonds Are Forever,” the most prominent of the henchmen were a pair of homosexuals. This time, it’s African-Americans who are the heavies. Alternatively, one could make the observation that “Live and Let Die” is the Bond film where the series ceased to be a trend-setter and started going with whatever was ‘cool’ at the time. In the early 1970’s, blaxpoitation films like “Superfly,” “Shaft,” and films featuring Pam Grier were very ‘in,’ so it made sense at the time to capitalize on that.

The more light-hearted direction which the Bond series had started to take in “Diamonds Are Forever” continues on in “Live and Let Die.” The difference is that Roger Moore fits this mood by finding a comfortable median in-between the Sean Connery Bond and his own former role of Simon Templar from TV’s “The Saint.” This is a good sign, since Roger Moore was the third actor in as many films to play the role, and the series was in need of a little stability at this point. As the villainous Kananga, Yaphet Kotto is very good. Hell, he’s fun to watch in just about anything. Same goes for the exquisitely beautiful Jane Seymour, who lends a certain wide-eyed innocence that the part of Solitaire requires.

“Live and Let Die” wants so badly to be among the greatest James Bond adventures… and it almost is. After the first satisfying 88 minutes, 11 out of the final 33 are wasted during the speedboat chase when the POV changes from Bond to Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper, played by Clifton James. This bigoted nincompoop comes so far out of nowhere that you’d think someone changed the channel to a different movie. He would need to be played by Jackie Gleason to be considered funny. In any event, he completely sabotages the film’s momentum, and it never fully recovers because you can’t get out of your mind how blanking stupid that guy was. Despite this horrible misstep, I still find I have a lot of fun with “Live and Let Die.” Hard not to love a movie whose main theme song is performed by Sir Paul McCartney. Certainly, I recognize that there are Bond fans out there who disown the Moore era and cannot be convinced otherwise. In the case of his first film in the series, I say live and let live.