Monday, March 18, 2013

Best of Bond III, It's Roger Moore!

Bond, Part III

OK, we've made it up to the early Roger Moore years.  We're talking Bond of the 70s, when gadgets ruled the day and the series didn't take it very seriously.  In particular, we're talking Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker.

The common themes of these films, other than Roger Moore and his dry humor, include villains with absurdly large and complex secret layers, increasingly elaborate and unrealistic chase sequences, riffing off other major film trends, and Jaws.

Let's recall the criteria in this series of evaluations again:

  • Bond – who the actor is, how good he is, and what he brings to the role
  • the Villain- Mr. Big, Scaramanga, etc.  I judge the films on how compelling the villain is.
  • the Bond Women – some films have few, some have many, but I’m pretty sure all have at least one. The quality ranges from Denise Richards’s absurd nuclear physicist to, of course, Mrs. Bond herself, not to mention Pussy Galore
  • the Good Guys – M, Q, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter in his many incarnations and other sidekicks
  • the Henchmen on the other side like Jaws, Oddjob, and Nick-Nack.
  • the gadgets – not just judging how neat the gadgets are, but whether they were unwisely allowed to take over the film (as often happened with the later Roger Moore filims)
  • whatever else I happen to think of

And now we move to

Live and Let Die

The Roger Moore years start with one of the best openings in the series. The film starts with three MI6 agents meeting their dooms. First, we see a translator at the UN zapped by his headphones. Next, an agent in the Carribean meets his doom at the hands of Baron Samedi. Finally, we see an agent in New Orleans observing a funeral march, only to find out that he is to be the dearly departed.

Creepy stuff!

The main plot involves Bond trying to track down the connection behind these deaths. The chief suspects are Mr. Big in New York and Kananga in New Orleans and Haiti. Bond gets on their trail by glomming onto a tarot card reader named Solitaire, played by the young Jane Seymour in her first major role.

Let's have a watch:
You tube embed

Of course, shortly thereafter Bond seduces Solitaire and whisks her away from Kananga. Somehow, we're not supposed to notice that Kananga and Mr. Big both employ the same tarot reader and the same group of thugs until the big reveal - Mr. Big is just Kananga in a rubber mask! It's the estimable Yaphet Kotto in one of his best roles. OK, we can forgive this film this one silly twist.

After this we have more captures, escapes and recaptures, and a lot of chase scenes including the best boat chase of the series.

So, to the criteria.


  • Bond – This is a good movie for Roger Moore.  He shows that he has the confidence to play Bond in an authoritative fashion.  
  • the Villain- Yaphet Kotto is great as Kananga/Mr. Big.  He has an intimidating physical presence, a good deal  of charm, and projects anger and intelligence well.
  • the Bond Women – Jane Seymour as Solitaire is one of the best.  Certainly the best of the women I'm looking at in today's post.  
  • the Good Guys – a good film for David Heddison as one of the better Felix Leiters.  Most of the action is either in the US or the Caribbean so the CIA has a lot to do.  
  • the Henchmen on the other side: Mr. Big has a decent posse, with Julius Harris as the claw-handed Tee Hee, Earl Jolly Brown as the exquisitely named Whisper, and Geoffrey Holder as the dynamic Baron Samedi (ha ha ha ha ha).   
  • the gadgets – not a lot of gadgets in this film.  There's a dart gun which fires a cartridge that inflates things.  
  • other stuff - this film has a fantastic boat chase through the Bayou, and a neat supporting job by Clifton James as comic relief.  Also, a groovy theme song by Paul McCartney and the Wings.

On the whole, one of the better Bond films, and certainly one of Roger Moore's top efforts.  

I give Live and Let Die a 8.5.  Critics give it only a 65% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  And users give it a 6.5.

The Man with the Golden Gun

Many Bond films follow the same general formula: super villain obtains monster weapon and tries to extort millions from world powers as he hides in his hidden super fortress.  Then Bond penetrates the fortress with the aid of some smitten woman(en) and saves the day by picking a fight in the control room.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a bit different.  It's mostly about a competition between Bond and Scaramanga, the world's greatest assassin, played deliciously by Christopher Lee.  There are a number other plot twists and turns, some supporting characters, and a bizarre plot involving solar power.  But really this film is all about a duel.  So it's considerably less ambitious than most Bond films.  This makes for a nice change of pace.  But the end result is a bit less drama than we're expected to.

There is a general criticism that this film makes fun of the franchise too much.  A bit too self-mocking.

Consider the following video, which addresses a slide whistle inserted during a scene with a car jumping over a river.

That slide whistle is awful.  And yes, that's Sheriff J.W. Pepper, inexplicably in the Far East to reprise his role from Live and Let Die.

Let's go to the criteria

  • Bond – Roger Moore is decent.  Not as much to work with in his second film, but he still has enough youth and vitality to be a convincing Bond.    
  • the Villain- Christopher Lee is one of the best at playing villains in film history.  He has no problem managing the assassin Scaramanga.  (Some critics think he is better than Roger Moore and steals the film.)
  • the Bond Women – Maud Adams plays Scaramanga's woman, who (surprise, surprise) falls for Bond, too.  Apparently Albert Broccoli liked her enough to give her a second role a decade later in Octopussy.  But she doesn't have much to do here.  And then there's Britt Ekland as Miss Goodnight.  Some people think she's just too silly.  I think she does a decent job with the comedy. Of the two in this film, I prefer Ekland.  
  • the Good Guys – brief appearances by M, Q, and Moneypenny.  Aside from them, there's Goodnight and Bond's local contact, a guy named Hip whose teenaged daughters refuse to hide behind Bond when the group are drawn into a karate fight.  Broccoli decided to capitalize on the explosion of martial arts films (this was shortly after Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon) by including this in the film.  The karate ends up serving as little more than a distraction.
  • the Henchmen on the other side: Herve Villechaize as Nick Nack, Scaramanga's butler and general henchman.  A good role for Villechaize, and it led to his defining role as Tattoo on Fantasy Island.  
  • the gadgets – not much, other than the Golden Gun itself.  
  • other stuff - really not much to speak of.  
On the whole, a bit thin this film is.  I give it a 6.4.  Rotten Tomatoes gives is a lowly 46% and users give it a moderate 6.7.  Clearly, I see a much larger gap between Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun than most people do.  
Finally, here's the duel.  Don't watch if you don't want to know how the film ends.

In case you think Bond might have died in a film released in 1974, that is.

The Spy Who Loved Me

In 1962, Ian Fleming released the novel The Spy Who Loved Me.  It was largely told from the point-of-view of the heroine.  Bond doesn't appear until 2/3 of the way through the story.
This film has nothing to do with the book.  It shares only the title.  At this point in the series, the Broccolis started to diverge more and more from the Ian Fleming books.  The stories that translated easily to film had already been used.  Pretty much all of the Roger Moore films were new stories attached to old Fleming titles with plot elements that may have been borrowed from his other Bond stories.  We'll get more into that when we reach the '80s.
After the weak reception for The Man with the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me brought the franchise back into the main path that most of the films had taken.  We have another megalomaniac, this time Karl Stromberg, who hijacks some nuclear weapons (ripping off the Thunderball plot) and plots the world's demise from  his underwater mega-complex.  
There are many good things here.  This film was released in the early days of Detente, when the US and UK were trying to move beyond Cold War animosity.  Barbara Bach is good as Agent XXX, the Russian secret against assigned to work with Bond who wants to avenge her lover's death (which happens in the pre-title sequence at Bond's hands.)  But what really sets this film apart is the appearance of Richard Kiel as Jaws, one of Stromberg's assassins.  Jaws is the best evil henchman, not only in this series, but possibly in any series.  He is the epitome of an evil henchman.  (And his name continues the Broccoli trend of borrowing from other big things in popular culture, as The Spy Who Loved Me was released just two years after the groundbreaking blockbuster Jaws itself.)

Well, let's move to the list:
  • Bond – Roger Moore is still going strong.  This might be his best film for balancing comedy and seriousness.  (While I don't think it's his best film, the two I prefer are a bit more serious.)      
  • the Villain- Stromberg?  Meh.  One of the weaker megalomaniacs in the series.
  • the Bond Women – Barbara Bach is pretty good as XXX.  While she's not as strong of an actor as some of the Connery-era women (or Rigg, obviously), her character is given a bit more to do.  James Bond is entering the Women's Lib era!  And then Barbara Bach married Ringo Starr and starred in Caveman.  No accounting for taste.
  • the Good Guys – brief appearances by M, Q, and Moneypenny, as always.  Bond is acting alone for most of this film, in opposition to and with the cooperation of XXX, at various times in the film.  Should I count the Russians in this film?  Walter Gotell makes his first appearance as General Gogol, the head of the KGB.  
  • the Henchmen on the other side: Jaws
  • the gadgets – IIRC, there's a car that drives underwater at one point.  And of course, Stromberg's underwater complex, which is large enough to swallow nuclear submarines (while inexplicably being invisible to the military powers of the world...shhh)
  • other stuff - Carly Simon sings the title song, Nobody Does It Better, to a tune written by the late, great Marvin Hamlisch.  Definitely one of the catchier title themes, along with Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only, but one that works as a song beyond the realm of the Bond franchise.

I was going to give this one a 6.6, but remember Jaws and the theme song, I'm bumping it up to a 7.2.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 78% fresh rating. users rate it at 7.1.


So we were talking about megalomaniacs threatening the world from hidden megacomplex hideouts, were we?  After Stromberg's vast underwater hideout, what was next?  Well, after the sci-fi breakthrough of the late 70s with Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Broccoli took James Bond to outer space in Moonraker.  Taking Stromberg's place is the megalomaniac Hugo Drax, played by the reknowned French-English actor Michael Lonsdale.  And Jaws is back for an encore.  
Moonraker was the first Bond film I experienced on the big screen, and long held a high point in my esteem. In retrospect, it probably didn't deserve quite that much adoration.  Part of the problem is that the plot is really shabby.  It doesn't hold together particularly well, esp. the space sequences.  But there are still good things to this film, including a very good opening skydiving sequence and what I think is Bond's first trip to South America, where he experiences Carnival in Rio.  

And then there's the cable car fight, which kind of encapsulates what I loved about the film at the time, but which doesn't quite hold up well.

Our eyes have gotten more critical of special effects over the decades.  At this point it's pretty easy to differentiate between the green screen shots and the long-range shots with stunt doubles standing on top of the cable cars.  But the boat chase is still cool.  You know when Bond has three buttons to push, he's going to push each of them.  

Well, that video post didn't work.  Will try to fix later.  For now, look here:

Onto the list...
  • Bond – Roger Moore is still going strong.  Probably the last film where he can really pull off some of the more pysical stuff.
  • the Villain- Drax.  Much as I like Michael Lonsdale, he doesn't have all that much to do here.  He's pretty deadpan as Drax.  Not particularly strong.
  • the Bond Women – Lois Chiles is Dr. Goodhead.  She's got model looks but really cannot act.  
  • the Good Guys – brief appearances by M, Q, and Moneypenny, as always.  Again, Bond is mostly fighting his own fights in this one.  
  • the Henchmen on the other side: Jaws.  Just as good as he was in The Spy Who Loved Me, if not better.
  • the gadgets – the boat chase features buttons to push just like the Aston Martin in Goldfinger.  And Bond's got a wrist-activated gun that he needs when Drax tries to whirl him to death in a high-G simulator.  And there's all the space stuff.  A lot of gadgets in this one.
  • other stuff - Jaws gets a girlfriend!  
I guess my biggest complaints here are the ludicrous space action sequences and the flat acting by Lois Chiles.  But it's worth saying that Moonraker made a lot of money.   It was the highest grossing Bond film
until Goldeneye came out 16 years later.  

My verdict:  I give Moonraker a 6.7.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 62% fresh rating, and users rate it at 6.2.

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