“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review

 

“MOONRAKER” (1979) Review

Well, I just watched “MOONRAKER”. Today, it is considered to be one of the worst Bond movies of all times. It has been accused by fans and critics alike of taking the Bond franchise into a realm of tasteless excess and fantasy. I will not deny there are aspects of “MOONRAKER” that turned me off – including Bond’s final confrontation with the villain aboard the latter’s space station. But after watching it . . . I cannot honestly list “MOONRAKER” as one of my least favorite Bond films, let alone as one of the worst. Trust me, I have seen a lot worst.

Despite some similarities, the movie did not heavily adapt the 1955 novel. The movie kept the same villain – Hugo Drax. And it did involve rockets and space travel. Also, the villain’s intent did involve the destruction of a place – in the novel, the villain wanted to destroy London and in the movie, the human race on Earth. But . . . there were differences. Instead of a British policewoman named Gala Brand, the movie features an American CIA agent/NASA-trained astronaut named Dr. Holly Goodhead.

There were several aspects of “MOONRAKER” that made me want to wince. Now, I did not mind the boat/gondola chase in the Venetian canals, but watching Bond’s gondola turned into a land vehicle . . . yeah, it made me want to wince. Along with a few of Roger Moore’s lines. The fact that Jaws’ villainy (last seen in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”) came across as less menacing and more comic in this movie did not help. The double-take pigeon? I had barely noticed it. But the final battle between American astronauts and Drax’s men turned me off considerably. I felt as if I was watching a second-rate version of “STAR WARS” – blasters and all.

But “MOONRAKER” had its virtues. The movie’s production quality seemed to be among the best in the franchise, thanks to director Lewis Gilbert, and cinematographer, Jean Tournier. The movie took the audience from California to Venice, Brazil and finally outer space. Aside from the latter, the film’s photograph captured these setting beautifully. I especially enjoyed John Barry’s score, along with the movie’s theme song written by both Barry and lyricist Hal David, and sung by Shirley Bassey. Aside from a few cliché lines, I found nothing wrong with Roger Moore’s performance. He seemed to be at the top of his game. I was especially impressed by his take on Bond’s reaction to being nearly killed by Drax’s Astronaut Training Centrifuge. Michel Londsdale seemed smooth and villainous as the space-obsessed billionaire Hugo Drax. However, I was a little put off by having to deal with another megalomaniac out to destroy the world in order to rule the survivors. I find such storylines rather tiresome. But the rest of the cast seemed adequate.

I do have a few complaints about four cast members. Lois Chiles was in her early 30s and already a veteran of a few movies (“THE GREAT GATSBY” and “DEATH ON THE NILE” included) by the time she did “MOONRAKER”. As Dr. Holly Goodhead, she managed to physically project the image of a memorable Bond leading lady that happens to be a competent CIA agent and astronaut. But despite her experience, she did come off as slightly wooden. Actually, I could say the same for Corinne Clery as the doomed Corinne and Emily Bolton as the Brazilian agent, Manuela. “MOONRAKER” seemed to be filled with beautiful leading ladies with limited acting skills. I also had a problem with Richard Kiel. As I had stated before, he seemed less menacing and more comic than he did in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. However, I was impressed by Kiel’s acting in one particular scene – when Bond convinces Jaws that Drax plans to exterminate him for his imperfections. Kiel had wonderfully captured Jaws’ confusion and growing realization that he might be betrayed and killed by his employer.

I had started watching “MOONRAKER” with the belief that I was about to experience one of the worst Bond movies in the franchise’s history. As it turned out, I was wrong. I think that Roger Moore had put it best when he said that “MOONRAKER” was not a bad movie . . . until it shifted to outer space and became a second-rate “STAR WARS”, which only occurred during the movie’s last half hour. This unfortunate shift of setting seemed to have influenced many of the franchise’s fans about the movie. Many seemed so focused upon the movie’s last half hour and other flaws that they seemed to have forgotten its virtues.

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“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” (1977) Review

 

“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” (1977) Review

“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” became EON Productions 10th entry in the Bond franchise in 1977. It also marked Sir Roger Moore’s third turn as British agent, James Bond, Cubby Broccoli’s as sole producer for the first time and Lewis Gilbert’s second time at bat as director of a Bond film. This is the movie that introduced the catchphrase, “Nobody does it better,” and according to many critics and fans, saved the Bond franchise back in the 1970s. Watching “THE SPY WHO LOVE ME”, I can understand why many would harbor this belief.

Many critics and fans tend to credit or blame Roger Moore for helping to usher in the era of “fantasy” Bond – in other words a Bond movie that basically feels more like a fantasy/science-fiction action movie than a spy thriller. I do not really accept this view, since I believe that 1964’s “GOLDFINGER” was responsible for this change of style in the Bond franchise. In fact, Connery did two other movies that continued this very element in the movies. Roger Moore merely continued what Connery had begun in movies like “LIVE AND LET DIE” and “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”. The latter, released in 1974, came dangerously close to ruining the Bond franchise – at least in the eyes of many fans and critics. And in a way, I do not blame them for this attitude. Frankly, I consider “TMWTGG” to be one of the worst Bond films in the franchise and Moore’s worst movie. EON Productions had to wait two to three years to release its next movie, due to the breakup of the Cubby Broccoli/Harry Saltzman partnership. Following this, “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” premiered in 1977 and became the most highly regarded Bond film in the 1970s and is considered by some to be Moore’s personal triumph. I do not know if I would consider “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” to be Moore’s ultimate triumph. I believe that honor should go to the 1981 movie, “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”. However, I do consider it to be his third best film.

At first, the plot seemed reminiscent of the one for 1967’S “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE”. But instead of American and Soviet space capsules disappearing, British and Soviet submarines vanish. Bond, just recently from a mission in Austria that led to the death of a KGB agent, is assigned to track down the missing Royal Navy submarine via a tracking system that has popped up on the market in Cairo, Egypt. His search not only leads to Soviet agent Anya Amasova (who is investigating the disappearance of a Soviet sub), but to billionaire oceanographer, Karl Stromberg. But what makes “TSWLM” so interesting is that the Egyptian sequences have a strong exotic atmosphere that lends a touch of mystery to the story; and Bond’s relationship with Amasova turns out to be more than just a case of the British agent having a female on hand for sex in the finale.

Probably the biggest contribution to the success of “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” seemed to be the movie’s lead, Roger Moore. Many fans believe that he finally grew into the role of 007 in this movie. After seeing him (as Bond) cold-bloodedly push one of Stromberg’s men of a Cairo roof and shoot Stromberg four times, I can see why. Personally, I felt that he had grown into the role at first bat in “LIVE AND LET DIE”, but had regressed in an attempt to emulate Connery in “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”. But I cannot deny that his performance in THE SPY WHO LOVE ME can not only be considered among his best, but among the best Bond performances in the entire franchise. And he was certainly helped by Barbara Bach’s presence. Although I would not describe the New York born model-turned-actress as a particularly talented actress verbally, but she could be quite versatile through facial expressions, whether expressing jealousy over Bond’s attention to Stromberg’s pilot/assassin, Naomi; amusement over some of Bond’s predicaments or developing attraction toward the handsome British agent. In fact, I can recall at least three scenes in which Moore and Bach interact with each other, beautifully:

1) Their deepening attraction for each other, expressed through smiles after M and Gogol order them to work together;
2) Their discussion regarding their status as enemies turned allies on the train to Sardina;
3) And the piece de résistance – Anya’s discovery that Bond had killed her former lover in Austria

Supporting cast members like Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewellyn ably serve the movie. Shane Rimmer, a Canadian actor who has been working in British films since the late 1950s, ably supports Moore as the somewhat sardonic commander of an American sub. Both Walter Gotell (as KGB General Gogol) and Richard Kiel (as assassin Jaws) make their debuts in the movie. Kiel personally came off as menacing in the movie, in compare to his return in “MOONRAKER”. German matinee idol, Curt Jurgens became the latest Bond villain, playing a billionaire/oceanographer whose response to the world’s growing corruption and self-destruction is use stolen nuclear submarines to blow up Washington D.C. and Moscow. Actually, Stromberg became the first Bond villain with megalomaniac ambitions to rule the world. All those before him were simply interested in profit. Jurgens is his usual competent self and also had the pleasure of uttering a few bon mots. But . . . I do not exactly find megalomaniacal villains to be interesting.

Despite some of the fantasy/science-fiction elements of “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” – the Lotus Esprit, Stromberg and his two lairs – the Liparus Tanker and his lair/lab Atlantis, the movie is an exciting adventure that features great direction by Lewis Gilbert, a first-class battle between Stromberg’s men and the American/British/Soviet naval personnel, exotic locales in Egypt, a self-assured performance by Roger Moore and great screen chemistry and drama between Moore and Barbara Bach. It is easy to see why it is considered the best Bond film from the 1970s.

Great Quotes

Stromberg: “Well gentlemen, now that the moment has come to bid you farewell, I congratulate both you, Doctor, and you, Professor, on your brilliant work in the development of the submarine tracking system. Thanks primarily to you, I am happy to say that the first phase of our operation has met with considerable success. I have instructed my assistant to be paid into your Swiss bank account the sum of ten million dollars each. And that, I think, concludes our business. Before you go however, I very much regret to inform you that a dangerous development has recently been brought to my notice. Someone has been attempting to sell the plans of our tracking project to competing world powers; someone intimately associated with the project.”

Bond: “Which bullet has my name on it? The first or the last?”
Amasova: “I have never failed on a mission, Commander!”
Bond: “Then one of us is bound to be gravely disappointed, because neither have I.”

Bond: “Oh, thanks for deserting me back there.”
Amasova: “Every woman for herself, remember?”
Bond: “Well, you did save my life. Thank you.”
Amasova: “We all make mistakes, Mr Bond.”

Q: “Now I want to to take good care of this equipment.”
Bond: “Have I ever let you down, Q”
Q: “Frequently!”

Bond: “When one is in Egypt, one should delve deeply into its treasures.”

Hotel Receptionist: “Hello”
Bond: “Hello.”
Hotel Receptionist: (Staring at Bond with lust) “I have a message for you.”
Bond: “I . . . think you’ve just delivered it.”

Bond: “Which bullet has my name on it? The first or the last?”
Anya: “I have never failed on a mission, Commander. Any mission.”
Bond: “In that case, Major, one of us is bound to end up gravely disappointed, because neither have I.”

Bond: “Oh, by the way, thanks for deserting me back there.”
Anya: “Every woman for herself, remember?”
Bond: “Still, you did save my life.”
Anya: “We all make mistakes, Mr. Bond.”

(The motorcycle henchmen flies off a cliff in a cloud of feathers)
Bond: “All those feathers and he still can’t fly!”

Anya: “Commander James Bond, recruited to the British Secret Service from the Royal Navy. License to kill and has done so on numerous occasions. Many lady friends, but married only once. Wife killed . . .”
Bond: (interrupts her) “You’ve made your point.”
Anya: “You’re sensitive Mr.Bond?”
Bond: “About some things.”

Bond: “In our business, Anya, people get killed. You know that. It was either him or me.”

Bond: (Sandor is barely holding onto Bond’s necktie while dangling over the roof of a building) “Where’s Fekkesh?”
Sandor: “Pyramids!”
(He falls to his death)
Bond: (Straightens his tie) “What a helpful chap.”

Bond: (Anya has just used a Bond car gadget to kill an enemy) “How did you know about that?”
Anya: “I stole the plans to this car two years ago.”

Captain Carter: “What’s the matter, sailor? You’ve never seen a major taking a shower, before?”

(Bond and Anya are discovered making love)
M: “007!”
General Gogol: “Triple X!”
Sir Frederick Gray, Minister of Defence: “Bond! What do you think you’re doing?”
Bond: “Keeping the British end up, sir.”

8/10