Sir Roger Moore has died

bondmooreThe news that Sir Roger Moore, famous for playing James Bond, has died, at the grand age of 89, is sad indeed (especially on what has been a pretty grim news day here in the UK anyway). While Moore is not my favourite Bond, the appeal of his humorous, tongue-in-cheek spy is undeniable, particularly now, with Daniel Craig’s gritty, darker Bond inevitably reflecting these darker days we live in. There is a wonderful escapism, a sense of returning to simpler, more innocent times with many of Roger Moore’s Bond films. Which is not to suggest they were simpler films for simpler times. Of course, the real world was pretty rough even then, but those Bond films seem (with hindsight) to have been a reaction to rather than a reflection of, those times, in just the same way perhaps as Star Wars appealed with its own escape from reality. Bond fans were taken all over the world and Bond faced many a peril, but always with an arched eyebrow and sardonic one-liner. Yes, I’m thinking of John Brosnan again- its as if Moore was often winking at the audience and reminding them ‘it’s only a movie’.

Ironically, my own favourite Roger Moore Bond movie has always been For Your Eyes Only, which itself was a reaction to the excesses of the preceding Bond film, Moonraker. It was a more realistic Bond film which had less of the humour and crazy gadgets. But I’m also rather partial to The Spy Who Loved Me, which seems the definitive Roger Moore Bond film. Yes it is daft hokum, but its always charming, in no small way due to Roger Moore. If I had the opportunity (and I have not, unfortunately, as alas real-life rears its ugly head- apologies for sporadic postings of late), I would probably pop The Spy Who Loved Me on tonight. I’m sure many of us could do with an escape into the simpler pleasures of a Roger Moore Bond film these days.

 

Never Say Never Again (1983)

never1.png2016.16: Never Say Never Again (Network Airing, HD)

It never feels like a ‘proper’ Bond film. For one thing, there’s no pre-credit gun barrel shot, and there’s no elaborate credit sequence with a Bond song… well, there’s a song, but it’s hardly a Bond song -although to be fair, that could also be said of many Bond songs since (whilst on the subject of the music, the score by Michel Legrand is an awful misjudgement throughout the film). But anyway, from the start it all just ‘feels’ wrong, that insipid song playing over the uninspired credits whilst we see Bond at work on what turns out to be a training exercise (although I pity the poor guys ‘dispatched’ by Bond, as I think the old codger forgets its playtime and goes at them for real). From that faltering start (remember those great pre-title action sequences Bond films have? Well, this one doesn’t) the film stumbles on.

Anyway, here we are folks, I’ve finally gotten around to this, the one Bond film I hadn’t yet seen. I almost wish I hadn’t bothered really as it pretty much equalled my (very low) expectations.

About the only thing interesting about Never Say Never Again is Connery returning to the character (having previously quit, twice) for his seventh and final Bond film. Beyond that, well, there’s little at all. I guess it is commendable that the subject of Connery’s age, and by inference that of Bond (Connery was 52 at time of filming), is at least alluded to, with Bond failing the training exercise (impaled by a woman, how ironic) and being put into a health spa at the start of the film. The idea of Bond being too old and possibly being put out to pasture would be expanded to better effect in Skyfall many years later, but I guess this film got there first.

Recently there has been something of a critical backlash against Spectre, the latest Bond entry. Clearly Spectre has its problems, but comments suggesting its one of the worst Bond entries are rather wide of the mark, and anyone making such comments should really take a look at Never Say Never Again.  Any Bond film that has a major ‘dramatic conflict’ sequence in which Bond and the villain play a videogame (oh, so ‘eighties!) has to be seen to be believed (on the subject of seeing is believing, I was amazed when I saw on the credits that the film was directed by Irvin Kershner , who had directed The Empire Strikes Back a few years earlier. Part of me still can’t believe it).

To be fair, it was a bad time for Bond films in general. That same year Roger Moore’s Bond was depicted disarming a nuclear bomb whilst dressed as a clown in Octopussy, a definitive series lowpoint if ever there was one. I have a suspicion that Never Say Never Again may be more sophisticated than I am giving it credit for, and that some of the in-jokes/humor is quite deliberate. I have the impression that there is a distinct element of camp in the film- having seen Lorenzo Semple’s name on the credits I wasn’t surprised to see more than just a whiff of the 60s Batman and the 1980 Flash Gordon in there, as if Semple was deliberately poking fun at it all. I suspect that if watched as a parody the film probably works better. Certainly some of the casting works this way, even unintentionally, like the casting of Mr Bean as Bond’s contact in the Bahamas. Humour in Bond films always treads close to the line but in this it really slips over it, as if it is deconstructing the Bond films and their tropes. The villains murderous right-hand woman, the sadomasochistic Fatima Blush, is first seen in nurses uniform beating a patient in the health spa. Later, when she has eventually cornered Bond, rather than kill him she demands that he sign a note in writing to affirm that she was his “number one” sexual partner-  Bond uses his Q-Branch fountain pen to shoot her with an explosive dart and she literally explodes. How I laughed. Bond then goes for a bike ride in his string vest and underpants (no, really).

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Incredibly, at the time Never Say Never Again was held in some regard, with some reviews stating it was one of the best Bond films up to that time, and financially it was something of a hit and made a tidy profit. I guess this is the trouble with me watching it so many years later- out of the context of the time it was made/released it just looks terrible to me now, but maybe back then… I don’t know. I just can’t see it. It’s either a terrible Bond movie or a fantastic parody, I’m just not sure which.

A View to a Kill (1985)

bond50So we finally come to A View to a Kill as I work my way through the Bond 50 boxset. I would like to say it was a neglected entry in the Bond series, a flawed film with surprising redeeming features. But that wouldn’t really be true. The only thing I can really say about it is that it means I can finally say adieu to the Roger Moore incarnation [1] and at long last now see Timothy Dalton’s Bond for the first time, something I have looked forward to since buying this set last year. There really isn’t much positive that can be said of A View to a Kill though.  You know you are in for a rough ride as soon as the Beach Boys boom out of the speakers during the familiar pre-credit snow-boarding sequence.

Moore himself is clearly just too old for the part, and was honest enough to say so, announcing his retirement from the film series having being talked into doing two too many. His Bond was always rather fun and self-deprecating, but his age here (he was 57 I believe) is damaging to the film. Christopher Walken’s psychotic Zorin (clearly evil, clearly a threat in every scene)  is a good Bond villain, but alas he is utterly wasted in a rather vapid plot about horse-doping (in a Bond movie?!). There is a missed opportunity sub-plot regards genetic manipulation/experimentation of super-humans that should have really been brought to the fore.  Instead the main plot, involving Zorn’s plan  to create an earthquake that destroys Silicon Valley ensuring the global domination of his own chip-manufacturing company  seems more a scheme of Superman‘s Lex Luthor than a Bond villain. But that’s not the film’s weakest link. Nor is the rather typically odd performance of the slightly crazy-looking Grace Jones (does she ever act?) as Zorn’s madcap henchwoman Mayday.

No, the proverbial nail in the coffin for A View to a Kill, that likely confirms its title of worst Bond movie ever, is Tanya Roberts woeful turn as Bond girl Stacy Sutton, clearly the worst Bond girl to ever ‘grace’ the screen (and that’s taking into account Denise Richard’s infamous nuclear scientist Christmas Jones years later). “James, don’t leave me!” she cries in the burning elevator shaft as Bond clearly searches for an exit for them. “Oh James!” she wails in further jeopardies. She is utterly irritating and without any redeeming features. Clearly just a one-dimensional damsel-in-distress, it’s true she isn’t helped by the vapid character written for her but dear oh dear, her performance is truly awful. I sniggered as she escaped the inferno without even a mark on her white dress or on her pretty face, even still wearing her high heel shoes, and soon ended up driving a fire truck through San Francisco’s streets whilst pursued by cops, still in those damn high heels.  It was just so bizarre. The whole film is  like a compendium of the Worst Bond Girl Moments.

Still, this film, like Octopussy before it, is clearly the best reason for the Bond 50 boxset. I cannot fathom why anybody would wish to buy this film individually or even own up to owning it except as a necessary part of a packaged set.  But still, it’s done, and I can at last move on…

1) In truth, Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond actually surprised me, as before I always felt his was the weakest of them, and yet I have quite enjoyed his take on Bond- as a whole I feel the films are possibly equal to those of Sean Connery. Individual films featuring Connery are no doubt superior- but on the whole, just as Connery’s films slipped in quality and Connery’s ego and contempt of the character increasingly filtered through into the films, Moore’s work-ethic and sincerity for the part and the films themselves, weak as some of them are, is clearly evident. Daft as they are, they somehow feel more honest.