So, Octopussy.


Octo. Pussy.


The name says enough about it that there seems to be little point elaborating on it. But, I knew this day would come when I started on the project, so better to take my punishment and live with it. On the plus side, things can only get better from here on in.

The thirteenth Bond film, then. John Gruber of the Talk Show podcast reminds me of a salient point that, if not excuses Octopussy, goes some way to explain it. The thirteenth Bond film. Consider that for a moment. The thirteenth entry in a series. How many franchises have we seen that run out of ideas and quality halfway through the second entry? The answer, of course, being “most of them”. Thirteenth. Thirteen films.

It’s unprecedented and impressive. I suppose after having to make twelve Bond adventures, it’s natural to get a little sick of him, which I can only assume to be the reason to put the man known for his suave sophistication and put him in a clown outfit.

I suppose after finding twelve at worst competent actors to play Bond villains, you’d have to get to Steven Berkoff eventually. I’m sure no-one was looking forward to it, or wanted it, or thought he’d be anything better than the dreadful screeching annoyance that he is. There just wasn’t anywhere else to go.

After twelve plots, even by the variable standards to which Bond films are judged, you’d have to cobble together some loosely connected bullshit with jewellery smuggling and a corrupt Soviet general attempting to arrange a nuclear ‘accident’ at a U.S. Air Force base using a Trojan circus. I’m sure no-one thought it was a good idea. There just wasn’t anything else for Bond to do.

I’m sure after filming a scene where Bond swings from vine to vine, no-one wanted to overdub Tarzan yelling on to it. Nobody would want that. There just wasn’t any other option.

I sure after twelve films, there just wasn’t any other option than to replace the series’ trademarked car chases with a motorised rickshaw chase.

I’m sure there wasn’t any other way to make this thirteenth Bond film without the god-awful, more stop than start stop-start pacing, and ham-fisted action scenes, and structuring it to go on for another half hour after the obvious dramatic conclusion, and to bafflingly turn Q into a field operative.

There just couldn’t have been another way to do this film. Surely. The alternative is patently ridiculous. The alternative is that someone thought that all of the above was fine, and that Octopussy would make for a good Bond film.

I’m not prepared to believe so unbelievable a scenario. I’d find it more believable to find out that this had been planted by David Icke’s reptile people to prepare us for their unveiling, as told in the holy text V. I’d find it more believable that the script had been sabotaged by the makers of Never Say Never Again to give them an advantage in the War of the Bonds.

In fact, I think I shall reject this reality where Octopussy exists, because logically something like it cannot exist, so I must be delusional.

Yes, that’s it.

This isn’t a worse film than On Her Majesties’ Secret Service, because this film doesn’t exist.

Yes, that’s it.


For Your Eyes Only

I have been caught slacking on the Bond front for a couple of weeks. I shall try to rectify this as best as possible before the looming duelling responsibilities of a holiday and covering the Edinburgh International Film Festival get the better of me.

However, I’m going to be put at an immediate disadvantage by For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth Bond outing, having apparently been so forgettable it has already faded in my memories. Over the course of this ill-advised experiment I’ve made reference to all of the Moore era Bonds merging together in my mind. I’d assumed this was just a function of the time since I’d last seen them, but it appears that the root cause is simply that few of them are memorable.

So, Wikipedia assures me that the main through line of this piece is the need for the British government to recover a missile command system from an accidentally destroyed spy vessel. This is also exactly the sort of thing the Russians would like to get their hands on, so the race is on to retrieve the dohickey. This leads, after what’s close enough to an investigation, to Bond being placed in the middle of duelling Greek crime bosses, one still sympathetic to British interests from wartime resistance efforts, the other having made a career of betraying his compatriots.

I guess the first thing you’ll note from the above potted recap is that no portion of it requires Space Marines, or a plot to kill everyone in the world, or suchlike. Why, if you squint a little, it’s almost plausible! It’s said that ex-Bond editor John “not an astronaut” Glen’s directorial stint for this and the next four “official” Bond films was part of a move back to reality from the fanciful plots and pitched battles of prior films. It’s partially successful, with a relatively sensible plot and characters that, from some angles, approach at least 2.5D rather than the cardboard cut out characterisation we’ve been treated to over the past few films. Some of these guys even seem to have motive for their actions! Wild concept for a Bond film, I know.

For Your Eyes Only‘s problem in this regard is that for every step forward it takes, it walks into a lamp-post, staggers back, falls over, hits it head and soils itself. It’s not starting from a position of strength either, with hands-down the dumbest and least explicable pre-credits mission yet, as Bond foils another attempt by a wheelchair bound Blofeld to kill him in a remote control helicopter, turning the tables and dropping him down a chimney (!) while Blofeld bargains for his life by offering to buy Bond a delicatessen in stainless steel (!!).

If you were looking for your take on the series to have a patina of believability, why on earth go to the bother of resurrecting a happily dead villain to kill him in such a daffy way? Perhaps it’s an attempt to symbolically bury the excesses of the SPECTRE-esque grand designs on the world, but if so it’s undercut by the both the rest of the film and the means of dispatching Blofeld. Walking up to him and shooting him, point blank, would send a message that there’s a new Sheriff in Bondsville. Picking up his wheelchair from a helicopter and dropping him down a chimney – that’s sort of business as usual, but much worse than usual.

Of course, we can’t be sure he’s Blofeld and not just some other cat-stroking psychopath with a grudge, thanks to the ongoing legal wranglings over film rights that resulted in Never Say Never Again, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.

The rest of the film is a curious mix that’s not altogether unpleasant to watch, although all of the memorable elements in the film are memorable for entirely the wrong reasons. Why is this massively annoying, largely superfluous teenage skater given any screentime? Why are there ice-hockey playing assassins? Why must we have the a supposed KGB spy/assassin break cover by leaving during a cross-country skiing race to take a shot at Bond? Did we really need that bobbins bobsleigh bit, especially considering the human cost? Why film cliff climbing scenes with an actor who’s afraid of heights, and have to fake “underwater” scenes because the actress can’t go in the water? Assassins in beach buggies?

Now, while perhaps it’s damning it with faint praise, this is my second favourite Moore era Bond thus far, after The Spy Who Loved Me. Despite the uneven mix of striving for sensibility at the same time as embracing the ridiculous, For Your Eyes Only is an enjoyable watch. Just don’t expect to remember any of the reasons you found it enjoyable a few weeks down the line.


When our civilisation is called to account for itself by some deity or other, or perhaps a sufficiently advanced alien civilisation, somewhere on the list we will eventually get around to Moonraker, the fourth outing for Roger Moore’s iteration of Bond. It will, of course, be fairly low on the list of crimes Humankind has committed, but there’s at least one definite chargeable offence committed here. Sure, Diamonds Are Forever had its excesses, but at least it could say that it stopped short of having a HoverGondola.

Bafflingly, that’s not even the silliest element of this film. It’s the reactions to the HoverGondola. I’ll accept the bemused denizens of Venice taking a double take at this breathtakingly stupid mode of transport. I have a somewhat lower tolerance for the very obvious looping a short section of film to suggest that a pigeon is also giving a double take.

It’s a minor thing to get hung up on, I suppose, although it does seem to be the point at which any hope of returning to anything approaching an espionage drama was extinguished forever. How, exactly, am I going to taking anything that happens to this ludicrous clown of a spy seriously in any future endeavour? Is this now a comedy franchise?

So, we’ve mentioned before the tendency of Bond to unashamedly lift any elements of popular culture that are kicking around at the time, such as Live and Let Die‘s Blaxploitationisms. There wasn’t much more popular a slice of culture at the time of Moonraker’s creation than Star Wars, which unexpectedly took the world by storm and prompted a slew of me-too cash-ins, and it seems that Bond wasn’t above attempting to hitch a ride on the gravy train. Eagle eyed viewers of the credits of The Spy Who Loved Me will have perhaps been expecting the scheduled For Your Eyes Only, which was swiftly sidelined in favour of this… thing.

I claim no insider knowledge of the genesis of Moonraker, but if this wasn’t hastily assembled from the scripting equivalent of scraps and leftovers I’ll eat my hat. Essentially, this lifts the plot almost wholesale from The Spy Who Loved Me, itself an expedition in mining Bond films past, and swaps out Stromberg’s undersea utopia for Hugo Drax’s spacestation utopia. So much so, I’m not altogether sure what to say about this film, other than it manages to avoid lifting any of the worthwhile elements from its predecessor, and mixes it with copious buckets o’stupid.

Called in to investigate a hijacked space shuttle, Bond quickly tracks it back to the multi-billionaire Hugo Drax, builder of said shuttle under sub-contract to NASA. He’s also secretly built a few for himself, along with a space station, and a toxin designed to wipe out humanity. You might have thought some of these activities, like, say, shuttle launches or constructing an orbital death platform would have come to the attention of someone before now, but apparently not. Jimmy’s poking around is the first anyone’s heard of it. I think the CIA and MI6 ought to hire a few forensic accountants.

Also returning from The Spy Who Loved Me is Jaws, for whatever reason, which I suppose is understandable from a certain point of view. Returning, recurrent villains, even if they are henchmen rather than the Big Bad, aren’t a bad idea. In a film that wasn’t so identically structured, this would be a plus point, but here it feels even more like someone reprinted the previous script, scratching out “Stromberg” and “ocean” for “Drax” and “space”.

Hugo Drax himself is rather too understated and forgettable, especially for a supposed megalomaniac trying to reshape humanity in his own image. He seems more like David Brent from The Office rather than a proper nutter. If I’m going to have someone attempt to wipe out mankind, there ought to be a little more emotion and snarling, otherwise I feel like I’m getting my annual performance review rather than watching a drama-laden Bond film. In common with Stromberg, I’d have appreciated even the vaguest, handwaving-laden explanation as to why Drax has embarked on this course of planetary genocide, but none is given. This might matter more, were it in a film that had any hope whatsoever of being enjoyable.

In theory, this ought to be a reasonable enough film, if massively familiar. After all, I did rather enjoy The Spy Who Loved Me. Sadly, Moonraker has dated abominably. The effects, even for the time, are massively shonky and look embarrassing in hindsight, in a way that’s not afflicted the other Moore Bonds. The story, admittedly rarely the strong suite of any Bond film, is a thinly veiled rehash of the last film which feels at best lazy, and at worst downright insulting.

I’m going to give this a pass on the science or lack thereof, as it’s pretty much the least of this film’s problems, but suffice to say that accuracy is not a friend to this script. There’s no chemistry between any of the characters, with performances that are perfunctory even by the franchise’s occasionally lax standards. There’s very little in here that would pass muster back in ’79, and nothing that does in Space Year 2011. Skipping this entry in the series is recommended for all but the most masochistic of fans.

That pigeon. Christ.

The Spy Who Loved Me

I am perhaps going to do The Spy Who Loved Me a disservice, especially because it is one of the rarest of beasts, one which I perhaps thought was mythical – a Roger Moore Bond film that I like, without any caveats. However, I am quite ruinously exhausted for a variety of reasons not sufficiently interesting to examine, so this may perhaps sound a little more perfunctory and less enthusiastic than it deserves. My apologies.

The British and Russian secret services must swing into action when each country has a nuclear submarine go missing, no doubt related to the sudden black market auction of a system that tracks the movement of said subs. Bond (Moore) is initially in a mildly antagonistic relationship with his opposite number Major Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), codenamed Triple X long before the ill-advised Vin Diesel attempt at establishing a modernised Bond franchise, but before long they’re on the same page trying to figure out who’s behind this plot. Perhaps someone who has seen You Only Live Twice, from which the plot borrows heavily.

The main force working against our AngloSov Alliance come in the hulking, brutish shape of Jaws (Richard Kiel), the metallically-beteethed monster who can rip cars apart with his bare hands, and for whom the movie of the same name was more of a serving suggestion than a tense, terrifying thriller. He certainly provides a memorable and iconic wall of muscle for Bond to bounce off of, although he’s not going to be stunning you with his rapier wit. He’s more of the very strong, very silent type.

Throwing in an essentially invulnerable, at least as far as this film presents him, villain to square off against the essentially invulnerable Bond is an interesting idea, although in practise it just means that in the situations that would have dispatched lesser henchmen for good merely causes Jaws some slight inconvenience, and requiring the dusting off of his horrendous power blue sports jacket.

This, to my mind, is the first of the Mooreian Bonds that has its own character, rather than desperately trying to co-opt others. The franchise has never been above borrowing elements from contemporary popular culture, but the prior blaxploitation and kung-fu fever influences of Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun felt like desperate, needy attempts at relevance. By focussing on something more akin to the Great Game of From Russia With Love, combined with the more bombastic supervillain schemes, we get something close to the best of both worlds in The Spy Who Loved Me.

There’s not much I like about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but The Spy Who Loved Me at least pinches the most remarkable element by introducing a Bond Girl that’s portrayed as being as competent as Jimmy himself, although it can’t resist falling back to last act damsel-in-distress-isms which tarnishes its feminist credibility somewhat.

My only problem with The Spy Who Loved Me is the ultimate villain of the piece, Curd Jürgens’s Stromberg. Certainly, he’s thinking big. Destroying civilisation and restarting under the sea is a fittingly over-the-top scheme, although I would perhaps have had more invested in the character if I was given any inkling as to why ol’ Stromberg’s so peeved with the world that he wants to blow it up. Blofeld might have only been looking for money, but as The Way Of The Gun teaches us, at least money represents motive with a universal adapter. Regardless of genre, it’s always less satisfying when we know whodunnit without knowing whytheydunnit.

I shouldn’t dwell on the only real negative, as there’s a number of nice touches and details throughout the film, to the extent of even caring about some of the disposable redshirts assaulting Stromberg’s control rooms. The (very) junior officer of the British sub, having just been informed of the death of his captain, volunteers to take on a head-on assault that looks exactly like the suicide mission it turns out to be, but for perhaps the first time in the franchise I felt sorry for the cannon fodder pseudo-sidekicks rather than finding some amusement in the act.

The scripting appears to finally have got to grips with Moore’s take on Bond, and plays to the strengths of his incarnation. The locations used are suitably exotic, and give a globe-trotting feel that’s been a little lacking over the previous few flicks. While by today’s standards the compositing effects are a shade shonky, I’m probably seeing some worse effects work in cinemas today. What this may lack in execution it at least makes up for in scope, and in that sense at least compares favourably with more recent, shinier, completely soulless exercises in pixel-pushing. I refer you to, well, any of the godawful retrofitted 3D brigade we’ve seen of late.

Perhaps the odd thing about The Spy Who Loves me is that when coldly analysing the constituent elements of the film, it reads like a wholly derivative mix of elements of prior art. That’s not the way the film comes across at all, and would do it a grand disservice. It’s a wholly enjoyable movie, and while it’s not close to reaching the giddy heights of ‘Best Bond Ever’, it’s certainly in the uppermost basecamp. Well worth a look.

The Man With The Golden Gun

We should start at the start of The Man With The Golden Gun, or at the very least close to the start of it, with a few words about the theme tune that the poor, unsuspecting Lulu was lured into singing. If there’s a worse theme tune, or one with more asinine lyrics, I have yet to experience it. It sounds something like an alien might imagine a Bond theme would sound like, were you only able to communicate the concept of music through a series of rudimentary clicks and whistles, but the lyrics are more akin to a plot recap for the hard of thinking. It’s only very marginally better written than “There’s a man with a gun, and it’s golden, and he kills people, lala la lala”. Now, Bond themes might not traditionally be the deepest, soul-rending explorations of the human condition, but they often have a little more mystery and soul than just describing, in broad terms, that this is a film about a man who shoots people.

Or indeed two people who shoot people. Roger Moore’s Bond may be officially licensed by Her Majesties’ Government to go about busting caps in evil’s collective ass, but this film is concerned with the world’s most prestigious and expensive assassin, “San” Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee). In retrospect the only surprise about perennial villain Lee appearing in the Bond series is that it took so long. It is brought to the attention of HMSS that a contract is out on Bond, a not-so-subtle warning being sent in the form of a golden bullet with 007 engraved on it. Pulling Bond off his current mission, tracking down a missing solar power expert and his revolutionary efficiency enhancing McGuffin, M gives Bond tacit permission to go off and get shot of Scaramanga before Scaramanga shoots him.

It’s funny how intelligence gathering works. Although, as M says, nobody knows where Scaramanga is, or what he looks like, but somehow we do know he has a third, superfluous nipple. Although one could argue that all the nipples on a man are superfluous. The point being that there’s no solid leads on how to get hold of Scaramanga, which must make hiring him difficult, let alone killing him. However, Bond has a solid lead on the maker of the hand crafted custom ammo that Scaramanga uses, and from there on it’s just a matter of shaking the right trees until Scaramanga’s island base drops out. Not literally, obviously. In accordance with Chekhov’s gun, Scaramanga is tied up with a firm of Thai engineers who are, I suppose, evil, although in no particularly well described fashion, other than trying to get their mitts on that there solar power gizmo.

I had remembered The Man With The Golden Gun quite fondly, which rather goes to show how tricky this whole memory thing can be. This really isn’t a good film, although as I believe some people do with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, if you cherry pick the more successful and interesting elements from the movie and fill in the remainder with something a shade less ridiculous you can imagine a very good film. Sadly, in the boring old conventional reality my doctors tell me I’m supposed to be dealing with, this film kinda sucks.

Generally, a Bond film is only as good as the bad guy Bond’s facing. You could argue that The Man With The Golden Gun has as good a chance as any to be one of the best Bonds. The idea of Scaramanga, mysterious hitman, and Bond’s nominal equal sounds like a far surer recipe for success than, say, a jive-talkin’ voodoo-backed island President. Taken in isolation, Scaramanga has all the hallmarks of a great Bond character and Lee delivers his role convincingly, with the self-assurance of someone who knows he’s at the top of his game.

The problem is, we’ve only really got his word for it. Scaramanga says he’s the best. Everyone agrees that he’s the best. We are continually told that Scaramanga is a very credible threat. However, we’re never at any point shown why he’s the best hitman around. We’ve only got one straight shot from across a deserted road, some ridiculous tomfoolery in Scaramanga’s private house of mirrors and an expensive taste in munitions to back it up, none of which really passes muster. Show, don’t tell, is as old a canard as you could care to bust out, but it’s no less appropriate in this instance.

Moore looks comfortable in his second outing as Bond. It seems I don’t loathe Moore’s interpretation of Bond as much as my addled memory would have had me believe at the start of this endeavour, I just find him remarkably bland. Still, at least this storyline plays more to the smooth, sophisticated side of this new Bond, which works reasonably well. While I don’t find Moore as convincing as Connery in action sequences, We should all be thankful he’s not flailing around like Lazenby’s drunken marionette impersonation.

So, it’s not that there aren’t some good elements in The Man With The Golden Gun. Sadly, they are weighed down by some dreadful decisions to arbitrarily play for laughs, which undermines any dramatic tension it could be building. This should be a tense cat and mouse game with a legendary assassin, not a borderline sexist double act with Britt Ekland’s bumbling, incompetent secret agent whose only plot function appears to be enabling a damsel in distress act for the last half hour, and indeed giving an excuse for the last half hour to exist at all. Had she displayed even a borderline level of competency, Bond would back in the hotel with tea and crumpets just after first meeting Scaramanga.

There’s just too much stupid on display to take the film seriously. Scaramanga ought to be an imposing figure by sheer dint of his reputation, but it’s difficult to take him all that seriously when he’s carting around a comedy dwarf manservant called Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize). There’s a few chases that ought to be exciting, but thanks to the entirely unwelcome, inexplicably coincidental return of Clifton James as walking Deep South U.S.A. stereotype Sheriff J.W. Pepper, they instead become teeth-grindingly irritating.

Still, if The Man With The Golden Gun has taught me anything, it’s that the most time effective way to become CEO of a large multi-national company is to shoot the previous chairman. I assumed there would be more paperwork to fill in, perhaps some Board approval or regulatory oversight. No, here at least, promotion is by dead man’s boots.

I’ve seen it mentioned somewhere that Scaramanga is the best Bond villain stuck in the worst Bond movie. That’s wrong on both counts, but I can see where they’re coming from. I still can’t bring myself to outright dislike The Man With The Golden Gun, but there’s certainly a number of things to hate in there. Idiotic sidekicks, idiotic returning characters and the single most idiotic sound effect in Bond car stunt history as they execute the otherwise impressive corkscrew river jump.

There’s certainly far worse movies that The Man With The Golden Gun, and there’s certainly far worse Bond movies than The Man With The Golden Gun. In the cold light of day, it’s just such a frustrating film to watch. There’s very nearly something great hiding underneath the layers of obfusticated idiocy. Ultimately, it’s not a entry in the franchise I can recommend as anything other than homework for those who like constructing a better film in their heads than is actually played on screen.

Live and Let Die

Live and Let Die proved quite the surprise for me. By which I don’t mean that it’s a far better film than I recall, or that, actually, the newly installed Roger Moore was a better Bond than Sean Connery. The surprise for me is that it doesn’t start with that ludicrous sequence of Moore picking up a wheelchair-bound ‘Blofeld’ in a helicopter and dropping him down a chimney like some evil, dead Santa.

That happens about eight years later in For Your Eyes Only. My addled memory had put that scene as Moore’s first actions as Bond for the obvious reason that it makes a hell of a lot more sense, providing at once a continuity with the prior films in the series as well as break, and a new beginning with a new actor and, inevitably, a new actor’s take on Bond.

Choosing Moore as Bond seems, retrospectively, almost inexplicable. I can’t have been the only one to think that by the time Diamonds Are Forever rolled round, Connery was looking a little too long in the tooth for this spy caper. Casting someone older than Connery to replace him must have, fittingly enough, raised a few eyebrows.

I’m not the biggest fan of Moore’s interpretation of Bond. While the character as a whole has deviated considerably from the colder, more calculating persona of Fleming’s novels, regardless of how daffy the scripting of the films became Connery often managed to present the idea that his charm and swagger was a front for not really caring about anyone other than himself. This is a sensible self-preservation mechanism given the turnover of Bond girls in his life.

Starting here, that side completely vanishes. I don’t want to give the impression that it’s been particularly prevalent over the end of the Connery era either, but losing all hint of it makes the character measurably less interesting. By making Bond easier to like, and by playing up comedic elements in the scripts to degrees that are often laughable in entirely the wrong way, it becomes far less compelling.

That said, perhaps there’s the least of the playing for laughs in Live and Let Die, which is odd, because it’s probably the most ridiculous of the scenarios that Moore finds himself in. Not so much in the sense of the overarching plot, concerning a Caribbean tinpot dictator cum crime boss Dr. Kanaga (Yaphet Kotto) attempting to flood the United States with cheap heroin, driving his competitors out of business, increasing the number of junkies then creaming money from the monopoly he’s created.

This is quaintly small scale, in comparison to SMERSH’s hi-jinks. Why, this doesn’t even require a rocket launch pad! It’s surprising Bond even bothers to get out of bed for it. No, the plot is believable enough. It’s the ancillary nonsense that surrounds the central story that’s bizarre, almost to the point of outright racism.

Appearing at the height of the Blaxplotiation era, this makes no bones about hitching on to that bandwagon. Almost from the outset, Bond’s being chased by what’s described as a pimpmobile, and from there on in there seems to be approximately one black person around who isn’t in some way connected to Kanaga and by extension, evil. Which is, I imagine, to be expected in the investigation of a crime syndicate run entirely by black folks, and shouldn’t feel any more racist than a plot centred on the Mafia being full of Italians or Italian-Americans. Except somehow it does.

In isolation, I doubt I’d have a problem with the portrayal of Big Mister Doctor Kanaga’s restaurant fronted heroin distribution scheme, if it wasn’t for the assorted nonsense that Kananga ties himself up with. Despite seeming sane and rational, he places an inordinate amount of trust and faith in the guidance of his personal fortune teller, Solitaire (Jane Seymour). He’s involved with a bunch of loincloth-attired lunatics who are tying people to stakes and waving rubber snakes at them, although come to think of it they were perhaps supposed to be real snakes. One of his henchmen, if the ending of the film is to be believed, is actually an immortal voodoo spirit, or at the very least a chap who is surprisingly resilient to snake venom.

Frankly, Live and Let Die seems to be about one step away from shouting “ooga-booga” at you and starting tirades with, “I’m not racist, but…”. Maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be an undercurrent suggesting that we should all fear black people that I found off-putting, if not outright offensive. Perhaps it’s just a child of its time, although that’s something of a lame excuse even if it is.

I shall perhaps hold major judgement on Moore’s Bond for a few more films. It only seems fair to give the man a little time to get his feet under the metaphorical desk, but I’m certainly not alone in finding his initial outing lacklustre. He displays such a casual, off-hand attitude to everything up to the prospect of being eaten by an alligator that it removes almost any of the impact the events shown should have.

Mechanically, it’s competently made film, and I suppose the march of time has made the effects work far more effective. There’s no real comparison between, say, the car chases of Goldfinger and the car and boat chases of Live and Let Die. It’s no longer a film than the other Bond movies, but there does seem to be a little more deadweight to be carried here that perhaps ought to have been excised.

I’m thinking mainly of a seemingly interminable sequence of Solitaire and Bond tooling around on San Monique before finding Kananga’s heroin poppy crop, and the closing chase sequence’s continual interuptions to introduce us to hick Lousiana Sherrif J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who I’m guessing was supposed to provide comic relief rather than the massive, massive irritation that he actually induces.

While Paul McCartney’s post Beatles work (and to be honest, a lot of his during-Beatles work) aren’t exactly my cup of tea, for reasons I would struggle to adequately explain (unfortunate, given the nature of this increasingly unweildily parenthesised paragraph) the Live and Let Die theme is one of my favourites. I think it’s because it sounds like three seperate songs crudely glued together with some sort of rudimentary musical adhesive.

I realise now, as I draw this monologue to a thankful close, that I’m almost giving the wrong impression of this film. There’s not really any single element, music aside, that I could say that I particularly enjoyed. It certainly wouldn’t be the Bond film that I recommend to anyone looking to get into the series, and I have issues with most of the subject matter. Yet still, there’s enough polish and structure to the movie that I, if not exactly enjoyed it, didn’t mind passing the time with it too much,

“Inoffensive” might not exactly be glowing praise for the movie, but given some of the horrors we’ll be subjected to over the coming weeks as we delve into Moore’s stint as Bond, I’ll take what I can get.

Diamonds Are Forever

I believe I made my opinions regarding On Her Majesty’s Secret Service reasonably clear in my last scrivvenings, but it should be noted that at the time of its release it wasn’t exactly regarded as the colossal disaster that I think that it is. Sure, it didn’t make quite as much money as the previous Connery outing, but there didn’t seem to be a pressing economic need for Diamonds Are Forever to run away screaming back to the comforting formulas that OHMSS deviated from.

That said, naturally I am positively overjoyed that they did. George Lazenby apparently feared becoming typecast and departed the franchise, to the disappointment of nobody, and the Broccolis backed up a lorry load of hundred dollar bills into Sean Connery’s garage to convince him to return for one last stint. Well, last apart from another controversial side note that I’ll suppose get to in due course.

It seems Bond’s still upset about his short-lived marriage, tracking down and killing Blofeld before the credits even roll. Well, that was easy, although you think he might have passed comment that he’s yet again morphed between films, now looking much less Telly Savalas-y and a lot more like Henderson from You Only Live Twice. Charles Gray’s introduction to the role at least has the courtesy to mention plastic surgery as a get-out clause, and I trust I’m not introducing any major spoilers or surprises in saying that this is not the last we’ll see of him in this film.

With the series’ recurring bogeyman apparently dealt with, Bond is told to return to far more mundane matters. He’s sent on the trail of a diamond smuggling operation that’s worrying the government, in the main because the gems are not appearing on the market. Someone’s hoarding them, and nefariosity is assumed. Despite Bond thinking all this is a little beneath him, a routine jaunt to Amsterdam turns into a mission to Las Vegas, with the seeming involvement of reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. Sorry, Willard Whyte, played by country singer Jimmy Dean.

Of course, as I’ve already helpfully ruined in advance, it’s actually Blofeld who’s behind everything, kidnapping Whyte and using his business empire as a front for his evil scheming. This time round he’s brought his very own mad professor, creating a stupendously powerful orbital diamond focused laser satellite do-hickey. He’s using it to destroy the nuclear capacities of the major powers, apart, naturally from the one who gives him the most money.

Blofeld, and by extension SMERSH, have provided a continual source of puzzlement to me throughout their endeavours. It’s always been about collecting money from governments, which is understandable to a degree. After all, money is useful, so more money would logically be more useful. However, the means by which they choose to extort money, well, don’t seem cost effective. I’m not saying that I’m not impressed by their scope or vision, but I’m unsure as to what cost-benefit analysis allows for launching a diamond encrusted satellite into space in order to extort a few million dollars.

Perhaps SMERSH would have been better hiring an accountant rather than a scientist. I’m all for speculating to accumulate, but the return on investment for this project hardly seems worth it. If you’ve got the means to do something like this, perhaps you’ve already got enough money and could instead retire somewhere nice, and maybe take up gardening. Or at the very least, go balls-out power-mad and shoot for world domination. Just asking for cash seems petty and vulgar, somehow.

Diamonds Are Forever certainly cannot be described with a straight face as being the best Bond film in the franchise. I think I could make a decent case, however, for it being the most fun Bond film in the franchise. It’s the only film in the series (at least that I recall – the Moore Era tends to mulch together in my mind) that has some level of awareness of what the institution has become, and how after Goldfinger it’s only ever just been on the sensible side of a self-parody.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, I’m reliably informed. This seems to have been the rationale for the script to go bananas. It’s not as if the plot, investigations or characters of Diamonds Are Forever are any less believable than in, say, Thunderball. While Connery doesn’t exactly wink at the camera in this film, the whole film feels like it is somehow winking continually. What other reason would there be for the inclusion of a scene to show us an elephant winning on the slot machines?

As a film, Diamond Are Forever could so easily have fallen flat on its face. I’m sure there are people who think that it has, and I’m not altogether dismissive of their opinions. Certainly, if you wanted a stone cold spy classic, this is too silly for you, although arguably everything since Goldfinger was also. If you’ve been tricked by Shirley Bassey’s belting out of another iconic Bond theme song into thinking that this fits comfortably into the Bond film formula (and why wouldn’t you?), Diamonds Are Forever is unlikely to meet your expectations, at least from the moment after Bond gets to Vegas.

While the initial investigations into the ‘mere’ diamond smuggling is, I’d argue, as good as any serious piece of Bond sleuthing in the series, he’s hardly landed Stateside before he’s barging past people in spacesuits inexplicably moving in slow motion to hijack a moon buggy, escaping from a shower of goons on trikes.

There will be people who do not think that escaping from a shower of goons on trikes in a hijacked moon buggy is not a purely awesome work of surrealist genius for the World’s Best Secret Agent to be doing. I understand their point, and reject it fully. If you think that a moon buggy is any less ridiculous a mode of transport than an Aston Martin with ejector seats, rocket launchers and buzzsaws then you’re deluding yourself.

Well, okay, it is pretty ridiculous. But it’s a lot of fun.

Which applies to damn near the whole film. The uber-camp ‘top assassins’, Mr. Kidd and Mr. Wint, are extraordinarily ridiculous, stealing Bond’s gimmick of one-liner kiss-off lines and hammering it into the ground with ruthless abandon. They near-immediately go from mildly creepy to wildly silly, and hardly present a credible, dramatic threat.

Which, again, applies to the film as a whole. Until Austin Powers arrived decades later, this was as close to a decent Bond parody as existed. Incidentally, the 1966 version of Casino Royale certainly does not count as a decent Bond parody. Even Blofeld is more playful, stealing most of the film’s best lines, and Jimmy Dean’s likeable Willard Whyte is an over the top presence that comes close to overshadowing Connery.

Whether this is Connery’s weakest performance as Bond or merely the one in which he is given the least to do is up for debate, but I’d perhaps go with the latter. Despite starting to look a shade too old for this sort of thing, Connery provides some memorable moments, from the close quarters elevator fight sequence to his casual pose riding on top of an external hotel elevator, even to accusing a rat of smelling like a tart’s handkerchief. There’s plenty of moments to like, but I suspect because they are part of a film that only barely ‘feels’ like it fits into the Bond franchise they’re easy to ignore and focus on the more left-field and, to some, risible, elements of the film.

Admittedly, were I in the market for watching a classic Bond film, this is going to be above only Thunderball in the Connery era. This is just a little too out-there for it’s own good, but damned if I don’t find it massively enjoyable. It’s certainly far more interesting a watch than the badly-aged Thunderball, and I’d choose it over, I believe, all of Moore’s stint as Bond, which I see in the corner of my eye, ready to pounce. Prepare yourself accordingly.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

There’s a very simple test to see if someone has gone off the deep end to a mental state from which there is no return. Ask them what their favourite Bond film is, and it the reply comes back, “Why, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, of course!” they are no longer perceiving the same reality that the rest of us are, and should be taken away to a safe place without sharp edges for their own protection.

Plotwise, this time around Bond has spent the past three years trying and failing to track down Blofeld. In accordance with Thunderball‘s precedent, he picks up the trail by going off-duty. When taking a brief break, he stumbles across the strong-willed Tracy Di Vicenzo, in which Bond may have met his match. Falling in love with her brings into play her father, mob boss Draco who happens to have a lead on Blofeld’s lawyer. From there it’s a short investigation to Blofeld’s new base of operation in the Alps where he’s putting the finishing touches on another evil plan for our old buddy Bond to stop.

Well, I say our old buddy Bond, but of course the most radical and obvious difference between this and all that have gone before it is that Sean Connery has left the Bond building, and George Lazenby has picked up the tuxedo and Walther PPK.

Now, there really is an awful lot wrong with OHMSS. Quite a staggering amount, honestly. I almost don’t know where to start, but I suppose the biggest failing, and the most critical is the insane casting of Lazenby. I suppose I can see the idea behind casting an unknown for the role, someone that carried no baggage or audience pre-conceptions into the franchise. Seems reasonable, but is this really the best that space year 1969 could offer us?

From the first scenes, this guy manages to be the exact opposite of Connery’s portrayal. Perhaps that’s intentional, but if so it’s boneheaded. Connery prowled through his tenure, always seeming a moment away from jumping on his target, be that villain or woman. This guy flounces. Connery’s physicality meant it was normally quite believable that he could punch people’s faces in. This guy… not so much, flailing around with wild haymakers that double as windmill impersonations. Connery developed a laid back charm combined with the odd believable moments of anger at stress points. This guy’s actually in danger of making Roger Moore look like a great actor by comparison.

This guy sucks. Really badly. George Lazenby simply isn’t Bond, in any believable way. Every other actor has brought something interesting to the role, which might not have been successful but at least something was attempted. This guy’s only brought his absence of talent.

There doesn’t seem to be much point writing anything else. A Bond film with a stiff, unlikable, unconvincing lead actor has already had the legs cut from under it, but in the interests of hitting my word quota let’s crash on.

The other risk, of sorts, the movie takes is to stick closely to Fleming’s original novel, after the radical departures of the previous few films. This isn’t automatically a bad thing. Many would welcome it. However they are sticking so closely to the novel that it’s caused baffling plot holes that make everyone seem like they have some kind of brain damage.

This is supposed to happen, in what would pass for chronological continuity for the franchise, before the events of You Only Live Twice. However, given that we are never told this during the film, we can only assume that everyone has suffered short term memory loss. Blofeld and Bond meet and have pleasant chats without recognising each other, despite last year’s volcano based spot of bother in YOLT.

Oh, and while we’re mentioning it, Blofeld’s being played by a different actor too, with Terry Savalas’s shiny head replacing Donald Pleaseance’s shiny head. And of course, he’s playing the character in a completely different way, because continuity is for chumps. This version is more than happy to strap on a set of skis to give chase to an escaping Bond, despite establishing him quite effectively over, well, all the prior films in the series as a man behind the curtains, pulling strings in the shadows rather than a front line warrior.

His plot turns out to revolve around a threat to sterillse the world’s food supply, unless his demands are met. Why? Doesn’t Blofeld need food, or has he become a more literal SPECTRE? What happens if his bluff is called? Kill the world? Brilliant! Great plan, you bald twat.

It takes us well over half the film to get even a sniff of Blofeld. While an investigation heavy front end didn’t do too badly by Dr. No, here it’s a curious mix of investigation and fawning over Diana Rigg’s Tracy, a relationship with all the fireworks, drama and interest of a damp Thursday afternoon in Stafford. The next half”s not much better either, reducing to an hour of dreadfully back projected skiing shots that did not once come close to being interesting.

The defence of OHMSS most often comes in the form of an appeal to dramatic sensibilities. I could conceivably see that the less fantastic plot along with the only semblance of character development since the first film, and if you’ll excuse the spoiler, (if you can have spoilers for a film over forty years old) sudden death of the first woman Bond has been goodly enough to treat as someone with more utility than a sweatsock should add up to something that’s substantially deeper and more affecting than you’ve become used to in the series.

The problem with this scenario is that it only occurs in an alternate dimension where every single element of the film is much, much better than the one that you can witness using your human eyes and ears. Sure, if the films had been shot in the order they’re supposed to be in, it’d have fewer baffling, inexplicable character interactions. If Lazenby had as much more charisma, as much as, say, a small pepper pot, there might have been some interest in his life and emotions. If there was anything remotely interesting going on, I’m sure we’d be interested in it.

But this is a fantasy version of the film, cast by unicorns and shot on rainbows. The one that you can buy on DVD is a wretched, mis-shapen lump of a film, shuffling around dragging its haunches across the floor, whining pathetically, begging for a bullet to be put into its damaged brain. I’d happily oblige it.

So, I don’t rate this film very highly. And I haven’t even mentioned breaking the fourth wall! Let’s just say that those cinematic bricklayers spent a very long time building up that wall, and it serves us in good stead to leave it up, because when you start knocking walls down, the roof tends to cave in.

You Only Live Twice

So, You Only Live Twice. Or, so they say. But what do they know? Who are you going to trust, me or Nancy Sinatra?

Having saved the world from nuclear based extortion in Thunderball, there must have been some head-scratching going into how the sequel could raise the stakes. It appears that they went for a rather literal approach, raising the opening action literally into orbit as the forces of SPECTRE plot to start a new World War, raising Cold War tensions by space-napping both astro and cosmonauts, leaving the Yanks and the Sovs blaming each other. A very Hot War looms. Oh noes!

The only people not fooled by this, apparently, are the jolly old stiff upper lipped British, who are convinced the craft are landing near Japan. Not believing the Japanese government to be behind the scheme, it’s left to James Bond to poke around, see what’s going on and put a stop to it. As mentioned, the track leads, through a Japanese manufacturing concern, to those naughty chaps at SPECTRE, the plot this time being headed by the previously incognito Number One, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence).

This pretty much rounds out the Bond trope checklist. Of course, Blofeld’s been knocking around for the past few films, partially glimpsed in his oft-parodied pussy-stroking, but this is the first time he’s front and centre. Special mention must be made of Pleasence’s performance, as despite it being the most imitated villainous performance from anything outside of the Star Wars franchise it remains creepily effective and chilling.

If you want to look at how much the Bond franchise has changed in a relatively short space of time, you don’t need to look much further than the use of Monty Norman’s Bond theme. In From Russia With Love, unless my memory has failed me entirely, it’s heard as Jimmy checks into his hotel room and turns the place over for surveillance devices. In You Only Live Twice, he’s buzzing around in a flat-pack helicopter over a secret volcano lair, destroying enemy choppers with flamethrowers, somehow.

This has very firmly crossed over to balls-out action territory, with only the very vaguest hint of actual spycraft to be seen. Well, I say actual spycraft. Actual spycraft going by the movie definitions of it, I mean. I expect actual spying these days involves a lot of sitting at computer terminals and spreadsheets.

Regardless, You Only Live Twice does action as well as anything of the era, and better than most films now. The pacing is exemplary, the screenplay from Roald Dahl (now, there’s a tale from the unexpected) rarely lingering and always having the distinct feeling of forward motion. There’s a new director to the franchise, with Guy Hamilton making way for Alfie director Lewis Gilbert. There’s certainly a very different feel and energy to the piece in comparison with its direct precursor, although a good chunk of that may well come from this being the first of the series to essentially lift only the title from Fleming’s novel, and inventing the rest. First, but by no means the last.

If there’s a bone to pick with You Only Live Twice it’s going to be mainly location based. Yes, everything’s completely over the top, from the action to SPECTRE’s plan, but the movie does at times appear to be jumping up and down saying “I AM BASED IN JAPAN! LOOK AT ALL THIS JAPANESE STUFF THAT I AM SHOWING TO YOU! HAVE I MENTIONED I AM IN JAPAN!”. Understandable, and suitably exotic and intriguing to Western audiences, however by the time Tiger Tanaka has revealed his secret ninja training ground it can feel a little strange and over-egged.

There’s further oddness, and admittedly it’s perhaps not quite as strange as Doc. No’s make-up job, but You Only Live Twice does seem to imply that it’s easy to take a Caucasian and turn them into a perfectly disguised Japanese fella by applying a Tommy Sheridan-esque level of fake tan and dodgy haircut. I’m not altogether sure if this is racist, or merely very stupid. At least we’ve restrained ourselves from having Bond run around talking about making a delicious runch of flied rice at tooth hurty.

These are niggling points. You Only Live Twice stands up to time’s challenges far more robustly than Thunderball does, and makes for a far more thrilling watch. It represents the finalisation of the Bond movie formula that it will rely on for decades to come, with a few notable exceptions. In particular, the next in the series, but we’ll deal with that when we come to it.


Another day, another Bond escapade.

This time around SPECTRE has cooked up an audacious plan, upping the ante from Doc No’s mere fiddling with guidance systems to outright stealing of a couple of thermonuclear bombs. With one of their operatives undertaking extensive plastic surgery to infiltrate a NATO training flight, making off with a Vulcan bomber and swiping what would, given the timeframe, probably be a “Blue Steel” nuclear bomb. This is a weapon only matched in potency by Derek Zoolander’s Blue Steel “look”.

With the boomy-type things now in the hands of SPECTRE No. 2 Emilo Largo, a demand is issued to, well, NATO, I assume, but this takes a particularly Brit-centric look at the issue, for One Hundred Million Pounds Sterling. Which isn’t far off the eventual worldwide take of the film, according to IMDB, so in a way the plan pays for itself. Actually, given that the bomber has to be landed on a retractable, submersible landing strip, in addition to the expensive plastic surgery, I suspect that most of the blackmail money would go straight back towards paying for the equipment used in the endeavour.

With everyone on the hunt for the bombs, but with no clue as to where they are, it’s indeed fortunate that James just happens to have been relaxing off-duty at the same spa as the SPECTRE agents preparing for their mission. Massively, ridiculously, unbelievably fortunate. At any rate, this leads Bond to the Bahamas on the trail of Largo, as he attempts to sniff out the location of the stolen Vulcan and its deadly payload.

Sean Connery has, as it turns out erroneously, had Thunderball ascribed as his favourite Bond, but that nothwithstanding I’m sure he has fond memories of filming it. I’m sure the Bahamas isn’t a bad place to go on location. By this point he’s clearly massively comfortable in his role and for the time, it had some innovative (and SFX Oscar winning) action set-pieces.

The problem in Space Year 2011 is that “for the time” statement. There can’t have been an awful lot of underwater filming, well, without any disclaimers, really, but certainly not in the arena of mainstream action movies. On a technical and novelty level, you can see why the film doubles down on it.

However, just as with the current infatuation with 3D filming, the gimmick frequently gets in the way of the story rather than supporting it. Putting your main characters in situations where they can’t talk, due to the breathing apparatus, falls somewhere between brave and foolhardy. Putting entire action sequences underwater is boneheaded. As anyone who has been in water at some point in their life will attest to, fast and fluid motion isn’t the medium’s forte. Hence the climactic action sequences that want desperately to be pitched underwater battles become, essentially, wetsuit clad men hugging each other with the occasional harpoon dart penetrating them. Ooh-er, missus.

I don’t have much issue with the rest of the film, but so much of this film’s impact is gambled on the underwater action that it undermines the otherwise solid framework of the film.

Connery is effortlessly portraying Bond by this point, and is a joy to watch in the role. I’m not so fond of Adolfo Celi’s Largo, who appears to have mistaken ‘characterisation’ for ‘wearing an eyepatch’. He’s as hampered by the underwater nature of a lot of the film as Bond is, and only in one scene does he ever get a chance to exude menace, far towards the end of the film by which point the damage has already been done.

While the plot has increased the stakes to nuclear threats against cities rather than government gold facilities, there’s it doesn’t translate into any extra dramatic tension. While it’s far from the most disappointing Bond film in the series, it’s certainly the first one we’ve spoken about in this ill-advised experiment.

Still, bonus points for featuring Bond girl Domino getting a tow from a turtle, an act which is substantially less perverted than it sounds.