Monday, October 29, 2012

Countdown to Skyfall; 50 Years of 007 Part 5

Roger Moore

The fact that Roger Moore is at the low end of my personal rankings of actors who have played James Bond, should not be held against him. He has always been a gentleman, he has always done his work and he has always entertained. Moore, who was originally considered for the role before Sean Connery, played Bond staring in the 1970s, when the part was written to emphasize spectacle over drama, and action over tension. The James Bonds of Roger Moore's career, were for the most part lighthearted, with a good dose of humor. Two of his films would easily make my top ten list of James Bond adventures. Unfortunately three of his versions of Bond would be in the bottom five as well. Two of the Roger Moore Bond films actually do try to play it relatively straight, and they fall into the middle of the pack of his portrayals for me.

The above clip is on youtube and has some nice clips and there is a pretty good commentary to go with it.

The Least of the Roger Moore Bonds #7

At the bottom of the barrel of Roger Moore Bond films, is Moonraker. A film that was moved up because it's title and theme ultimately let Bond cash in on the Star Wars craze. It was the last of the over the top, repetitive, super rich, villain seeking to start a war and destroy the planet scenarios.

So much of the film is played for laughs that it might actually rival "Airplane" for jokes per minute. Unlike the flying comedy from ZAZ a year later, the jokes here rarely hit. It is unfortunate that the movie doesn't work better because there are some pretty good sequences. The opening parachute escape, the theft of the Moonraker Shuttle, and the fight on the tram gondolas in Rio were all solid Bond moments. These are overshadowed by the somewhat silly hydrofoil gondola in Venice, with the corny music punctuating the jokes, and the ridiculous space battle on board an otherwise well designed space station set. For a moore (sic) elaborate look at my opinions on Moonraker you can click on the poster to the left.

Just One Up from the Bottom

Also scraping the bottom of the barrel is Roger Moore's last appearance as 007. It is hard to believe that a film featuring Christopher Walken as the villain, a guest appearance by Patrick McNee, and a location shoot in beautiful San Francisco and Northern California, could go so wrong. To begin with, the horse racing action scene in the first part of the film is one of the most embarrassing sequences in a Bond film. Tanya Roberts is a pretty woman who is miscast as a wronged geologist. The idea of another chase in San Francisco, after "Bullet", "Dirty Harry" and a dozen others is not really enhanced by doing it with a firetruck and doing it at night where it will look like a processed shot, even if it was done on location. The belligerent local cop did not work in prior Bond films, so why is it here as comic relief?

A couple of things work, Bond chasing Mayday (Grace Jones) up the Eiffel Tower and then her escape by parachute is solid, the car chase at the end of the sequence though is turned into a punchline and it loses it's value. Walken sells crazy a couple of times, but his character is so underwritten that he is not very consistent and his performance is also inconsistent. The Duran, Duran song was great in 1985. It sounds a little dated because it was so much of it's time rather than classic Bond, but I did remember being excited to hear the music and see the video on MTV. A missed opportunity and a fairly lazy end to Moore's career as James Bond.

Once the Bottom But Moving Up Slightly

At one point, "The Man with the Golden Gun" was my least favorite Bond film. Sgt. Peppers (oh yeah, I know it is Sheriff Pepper, but this is part of the joke) makes a return. Bond is focused on the energy crisis, (another topical reference) and the henchman is played by the actor who who go on to fame as Tattoo on "Fantasy Island." The Bond girl is just about the stupidest spy in the world, and with the exception of Denise Richards, the worst actress in the whole series.  The target range for Scaramanga is a good idea, that is executed poorly and the outcome is telegraphed from the very beginning of the movie.

The martial arts theme is another one of those topical ripoffs that so characterized the films of Roger Moore in the 1970s. The villain's hideout is an elaborate resort, training ground, science center and energy plant, all manned by three people, one of whom is so stupid he gets bested by the stupidest character in all 23 007 films. There are a couple of things to recommend it still and some of the reason that it crawled up from the bottom of my list include these. The boat chase in Bangkok is solid (despite the presence of Peppers) .There is an amazing car stunt that was not CGI, although it is undermined by a terrible sound effect that drains it of any plot point. the locations feel fresh and they are spectacular at times. Scaramanga is a great idea for a character, but he is wasted here and Christopher Lee who is perfectly cast is performing the role indifferently. One more thing, while it is not a gadget that Bond gets to play with, I love the "Golden Gun" assembled out of pocket contents and containing one golden bullet. It is truly a cool piece and deserved it's own poster.

So now we have looked at the three worst films of Roger Moore as James Bond, let's turn to some more successful efforts.

Finally Some Films I'm Not Embarrassed to Recommend

"Octopussy" is the name of a James Bond adventure, not the title of a would be reality star here in Southern California with 14 kids. Maud Adams returns to the Bond films as a new character, with a better role and a name eight times as provocative as Honor Blackman's character. Louis Jordan plays the villain, an Indian Prince with an unpleasant  personality and not much charisma. The film is set in India and West Berlin, when there still was a West Berlin. There is a topical theme, but one related to political controversy not just the colorful background. A plot to explode a nuclear device, framing the American Military in Western Europe, in order to create a military advantage for a rogue Soviet General's plans for invasion. The U.S. was indeed deploying advanced theater nuclear weapons in Europe as a defense against the conventional superiority of the Soviets along the Iron Curtain. It was big political news and the "peace" groups that were protesting certainly would have pushed for the outcome of an American withdrawal. All of this makes "Octopussy" one of the rare Bond films that exploits the real dangers of the Cold war instead of the plans of a criminal organization or a mad billionaire.

Still, no one goes to see Bond for a primer on Soviet-American relations. There are a few goofy scenes here that move it a little lower on the list for me. The crocodile one man submersible is a funny joke but a misplaced idea. The hunt for Bond by Kamel Khan through the jungle is mostly silly and it features a joke of Bond using the firm voice of Barbara Woodhouse, a TV celebrity that no one from today would recognize. The best action scene is the top of the train fight with some of the circus performers and the chase of the train by the Russians.

The Third Best Roger Moore Bond

I like this Bond film a lot for some very basic reasons. It brings Bond back to the world of reality, it has some beautiful Mediterranean locales and the girl in the story is Tilly Masterson with a better aim and a lot more sex appeal.  There is a revenge story that drives the plot, the Havelocks who are killed at the beginning are friends of M, and he wants to know what happened. Their daughter shows up and she is a proficient archer with a cross-bow. There are two mortal enemies that eye each other in the world of espionage that 007 drops into in Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia, and the suspicion and shifting loyalties play a little havoc with our nerves.

There are a couple of humorous elements but they don't overshadow the story and they are not outright ridiculous the way so many stunts and action scenes had been played before. The ski chase is thrilling, the car chase was turned upside down by the explosion of Bonds car alarm, and the fight on the mountain is solid. Roger Moore's best moment as a real cold-hearted spy exists in this movie. As an assassin is trapped in an automobile, tangling on a cliff, Bond coolly reminds him of the lives he has taken and then kicks the car so it tumbles down and kills the henchman he has been pursuing. That is a spy with a bad attitude and a sense of justice. Topal plays one of the local spies who turns out to be a better ally to Bond then he has had in fifteen years. It also features a pop song that is very much of it's time but also clearly in the long vein of James Bond themes. My buddy Dan over at hates this film, but it is catnip to me.

The Second Best of Roger Moore (Amanda's Favorite)

This Bond film has a lot going for it but I know with many Bond fans it also has some baggage. Let me start with the good stuff, Paul McCartney and Wings do the theme song and it is killer. The Opening crescendos and then we get s string of great guitar riffs and banging piano notes. It slows down for some violin and then crashes again with drums and guitar. Except for Goldfinger, it is the greatest Bond theme song of all time.

The voodoo motif and the tarot cards give the film a distinctive visual style. Let's face it, 70s fashions were not always long lasting, so having a visual sense that is still timeless helps keep this movie somewhat fresh. The boat chase is one of the best action sequences from the 1970s Bond films and it still holds up well. There was humor in the film, but it had not descended to the juvenile level of Moonraker yet. The two best laugh out loud spots are also part of the story, not simply throw away bits. When Bond runs across the backs of the alligators to escape the gator farm, it is funny but also clever and it works (in case you did not know it, those were real gators and the stunt was done live).  Also, when Kananga gets his comeuppance, it looks wild, funny and disgusting at the same time. It is a delightful exit for the loathsome Mr. Big. This movie also has the privilege of being my daughters favorite Roger Moore Bond, she reviewed it for my site as a guest reviewer a couple of years ago.  

Some object to the racism they see in the movie. It was made during a period when blaxploitation films were all the rage and it is an example of how the series tended to piggyback on trends in the 1970s episodes. Bond and his allies never said anything that I thought was racist.  There is an unfortunate comic relief character that comes off as a small time southern bigot, but he seems to be the butt of the jokes. Bond has his first black romantic Bond girl in the film. If your appreciation of movies cannot allow the tone of the times to be present in a movie, there will be a lot of films you should skip. Overriding all of this however is Jane Seymour, the most beautiful Bond girl of the Roger Moore era and the second most beautiful in the whole series.

The Greatest Roger Moore Bond and a Top Five on any Bond List

For a Deeper Look Click here
The Spy Who Loved Me, is the title of Ian Fleming's worst Bond novel but Roger Moores best film. The settings of this film include the romantic Italian Mediterranean islands, Egypt, the snow capped peaks of Austria, and the biggest sound stage in the world which eventually was referred to by everyone as the 007 stage. There are gadgets, and double crosses and kidnapped nuclear submarines. An iconic henchman to finally rival Odd Job, appears and is almost indestructible. The Bond girl is not a random girl but a Soviet spy, equal to Bond in fame and talent. This is cold war paranoia being exploited by a rich nutjob, the first but unfortunately not the last.

The start of the movie is one of the most iconic James Bond moments ever. If for some reason you have not seen it, I don't want to spoil it. Just be aware that it is a real stunt performed by a real daredevil. While it might not make great sense, it has a great sense of style. All Englishmen would certainly applaud the payoff. The title song is a lovely piece of pop perfection that is entertaining and it was a big hit. I just don't think it has the Bond style that I want. While Roger Moore is usually seen as the comic Bond, he got in some good licks in the series and one of them is here. A bad guy is clinging to 007's tie as he leans precipitously over the edge of a high balcony.   Once Bond gets the information from him as to the location of his boss, he swats the tie and straightens it as the henchman falls to his doom. A piece of nonchalance brutality that Roger carries off quite well. I always recommend this film to neophytes because it has so many of the characteristics of a Bond story: A visit with the evil enemy, a reluctant sexy heroine, an outlandish plot that threatens the world, some good chase scenes, a couple of sly jokes (and some bad ones) and a big battle that pits a crew of allies against the army of evil that somehow the bad guys always manage to assemble. They try to top the Astin Martin from Goldfinger, and they have some fun with it, but it does seem a bit too over the limit.

Countdown to Skyfall Part 1
Countdown to Skyfall Part 2
Countdown to Skyfall Part 3
Countdown to Skyfall Part4


Nick said...

Love the write-up but I'm just not that familiar with Bond to really decide on my favorite Moore flick. I kept wanting to do my own Bond marathon but there's just so many to watch. I'll definitely add The Spy Who Loved me to the top of the eventual list though.

Richard Kirkham said...

Thanks for coming by, you can't really go wrong with The Spy Who Loved Me, I think it is everyone's favorite Moore Bond (except my own kid)

ruth said...

Hmmm, I think it's a tossup between Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only. The latter is more of a guilty pleasure but I love it and it's got one of my fave Bond girl Melina Havelock!

Richard Kirkham said...

Melina is one of the good ones, she has something to do with the story and who can resist a girl with a crossbow.

Unknown said...

It's funny, but I would flip flop a View to a Kill and Moonraker. Theyre both bad, but View to a Kill is terrible!

I too raised my estimation of Man with the Golden Gun. I watched it recently, and though it still trails on the bottom of the list, its above some of the others now, and it used to be rock bottom.

Personally, I hate For Your Eyes Only. Its not good enough to be a straight, good film, and yet it lacks that color and character to make it a fun cheesy movie. Bores me, and thats the cardinal sin for a Bond movie.

Meanwhile, you couldnt have phrased this any better, " The Greatest Roger Moore Bond and a Top Five on any Bond List " LOL

Agreed. Not quite sure it makes my top five Bond films, but its easily top ten, and definitely Moore's best.

Richard Kirkham said...

Glad Sir Roger gets some credit. Once upon a time, people who first saw Bond with Moore as the character, tended to prefer him. As time went on, the fickle immigrated over to Pierce Brosnan and I think Roger became something of a lost figure. With moore(sic) time, I think his films will be respected for the time and place that they represent. I'm not sure why FYEO bores you, maybe it is the weakness of the villain or the absence of the end of the world hanging on a ticking clock. I'll go back and look at your original post and try to explain why you are wrong. Thanks for visiting.

Unknown said...

LOL. It bores me because its boring. :D