R0BTRAIN's Badass Cinema: Total Bond-age, Part 5: Back For Moore

In 1974 the Bond franchise looked much different than it had when Dr. No first hit movie screens in 1962. After eight films and three different 007’s, the series would have to keep evolving to stay afloat. The Bond of the 1960’s Spymania would not be relevant to 1970’s disco era. The 70’s saw a more pessimistic look at operatives and assassins, after real life catastrophes like Watergate and Black September. To be able to survive, Bond would have to totally turn its back on serious issues and focus on giving audiences as much fun as possible. To really drive this home, the comedy quotient was boosted as were the action spectaculars. The survival of Bond was firmly placed on the shoulders of Roger Moore to carry Bond into the 70’s.

Bond fit like a glove for Moore after Live and Let Die. Audiences immediately accepted Moore as 007 and producers never looked back. Moore was simply able to carry himself as he thought Bond would, but not necessarily how Sean Connery would. In fact film makers would carefully try to separate the two portrayals of Bond as much as possible. Perhaps the downfall of George Lazenby was that film makers tried to give audiences a feeling that Connery had never left the role. Lazenby was dashing, but came off as a carbon copy of the original 007. Film makers attempted to distance Moore and Connery. Live and Let Die did not feature and martinis “Shaken, Not Stirred”, but instead had Bond drinking bourbons. In addition, Bond never dons a tuxedo, nor does gadget man Q ever make an appearance in this film to quip with the agent. All the efforts of Bond producers proved successful, as Moore picked up right where Connery left Bond; on top. Now Moore would have to take Bond further so 007 would continue with sweet success.

The Man with the Golden Gun Starring Roger Moore and Christopher Lee. Directed by Guy Hamilton

Bond’s next adventure begins with a demonstration of the skill of its title character, Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga. After being ambushed by a paid assassin, Scaramanga retreats into his “fun house”/training room. On an even playing field, the hitman is no match for Scaramanga’s Golden Gun. The sequence ends with a wax statue of 007 being blown to bits. Following the opening credits, Bond walks in to MI6 to learn he has received a death threat. It appears that someone has Bond’s number when a golden bullet is delivered to his superior with 007 inscribed on its side.

Bond goes to Hong Kong to confront Scaramanga. While there, Bond survives a host of Asian assassins from sumo wrestlers to Tai Chi masters and finally learns of Scaramanga’s plot. The deadly killer has stolen a device called the Solar Agitator, which is a key element in harnessing solar power. Scaramanga will use the device to corner the market on solar energy and sell the technology to the highest bidder. Bond must recover the device, survive the mano a mano duel with the Man with the Golden Gun, and make it look as good as possible.

The Man with the Golden Gun is not a tremendous entry in the series. Due to a tightening of the budget by studio executives, the film simply did not have the lavish look of Goldfinger and Thunderball. The film does feature an amazing stunt as a car does a complete 360 degree ramp, but otherwise the action in the film is rather tepid compared to many other entries. The theme song for the film is also the worst of the series. Trying to imitate the brassy bravado of Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger, the film’s theme just comes off as an afterthought.

In addition, The film’s “Bond Girls” are weak in the movie. Played by Maud Adams as Andrea Anders, and Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight, both the women come off as helpless females in peril. Both pale in comparison to Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore and Diana Rigg’s Tracey. Most importantly, while the humor was increased for the picture, there was still a sense that Moore was not completely comfortable in the 007’s shoes. There is one scene where Bond is interrogating a female, he threatens to break her arm if she does not talk, but brutality is not Moore’s strong suit. All this resulted in lackluster box-office. On the other hand, the film does have several bright spots.

Just as Live and Let Die had blended genres with blaxploitation films, martial arts cinema was a strong influence on Golden Gun. Featuring Soon-Taik Oh as British Secret Service agent Lt. Hip, many Kung Fu sequences were incorporated consisting of Hip and Bond dueling with martial arts killers. The Bond motif blended well with the martial arts, just as Enter The Dragon borrowed many elements from Bond.

Furthermore, while not remembered for greatness, Herve’ Villechaize is a memorable henchman as the menacing midget Nick Nack. While the role could simply have come off as silly, Nick Nack comes off as a man of style and an actual threat. The biggest success the film had was Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga. Undoubtedly one of the best villains in the Bond cannon, Lee turned Scaramanga from the thug he was in Ian Fleming’s novel, into the cultured super assassin he is in the film. It was Lee’s idea to mold the character into the dark side of Bond himself. Scaramanga allows himself the same pleasures that Bond affords himself, like women, good food and fast cars. The difference comes in the fact that Bond puts his life on the line for Queen and country, while Lee’s character kills for million dollar bounties. At the time a real life super assassin named Carlos “The Jackal” was in the news.

It was as if Bond were taking on his own version of “the Jackal” for the whole world to see. While this film was not the follow-up that film makers were hoping for, Bond producers would have to take the positives from Golden Gun and build on them for the next film. What they were able to do, was not only give Bond a proper follow-up to Live and Let Die, but bring back Bond to the heights of popularity reached only by Goldfinger and Thunderball.

The Spy Who Loved Me Starring Roger Moore and Barbara Bach. Directed by Lewis Gilbert

The Spy Who Loved Me begins with a huge special effects sequence as a British submarine is being swallowed whole by some sort of giant supertanker. Bond is immediately called out, but then attacked by a group of Soviet agents in an amazing pre-credits ski chase. The sequence ends with a jaw dropping ski jump off of a huge cliff and then a parachute drop the rest of the way. 007 eventually travels to Cairo in hopes of finding out who is responsible for the disappearance of nuclear submarines vanishing around the world. While deciphering the clues of the case, Bond is joined by Russian agent xXx, played by Barbara Bach. The Soviets have also lost submarines and the two decide to join forces to find the culprit. Pursuing the agents is Jaws, a steel toothed mammoth of a man that uses his deformed mandibles to kill his victims.

Employing the giant murderer is Karl Stromberg played by Curt Jurgens. Stromberg aims to steal enough nuclear devices to destroy the surface of the Earth and rule an underwater kingdom of his own design. The film ends as Bond frees the soldiers being held in Stromberg’s supertanker and then assaults Stromberg’s underwater fortress single handedly to save xXx. Once again Bond must stop the villain, save the girl, and look better than he ever has before.

The Spy Who Loved Me is my absolute favorite of the Bond series. The film was an astounding achievement for the franchise stylistically and financially. Putting faith in the 007 series, United Artists pumped twice the budget into this entry than The Man with the Golden Gun, and every single bit of it can be seen on screen.

Producer Cubby Broccoli made a concerted effort to gear the film back to the flights of fancy last seen in Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, but make it even bigger. To help with this, Production Designer Ken Adam, built sets that outshone any of his previous achievements in You Only Live Twice and Dr. Strangelove. Stromberg’s undersea headquarters, Atlantis, is a marvel for the eye. Also, Adam supervised the building of the $3million 007 stage to accommodate the construction of the interior of the Stromberg supertanker where most of the film’s climactic sequence takes place. In one of the largest interior sets ever built, Bond and his allied forces do battle with Stromberg’s minions in a flurry of machine guns and grenades. For his efforts, Adam was rewarded with an Academy Award for art direction. Gadgets are also back in a big way in The Spy Who Loved Me.

The biggest was the Lotus Esprit, which had rear cement sprayer, turned into a submarine, and featured torpedoes and surface to air missiles. Bond also has a cigarette case that converts into a microfilm viewer. The action in the film also finally comes back to the standard not seen since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The opening ski chase features several Russian agents trying to hunt down Bond as he fights back with rocket firing ski poles. The aforementioned ski jump that ends the sequence is perhaps, the greatest stunt ever put on film. Bond also has several rough and tumble fights with Jaws and other henchmen. So the outward appearance of the film was a success, but the movies performances would have to be up to the task.

As a villain, Curt Jurgens’ Stromberg is an adequate match for Bond. While Stromberg’s plan is over the top, Jurgens’ performance does not have the flamboyance of a Goldfinger or Scaramanga. The real villainy of the picture comes in the form of Richard Kiel’s Jaws. In the pantheon of Bond henchmen, Jaws stands as the scariest villain ever in a 007 movie. Jaws is a wonderful addition to Oddjob, and Red Grant, and brings a real sense of dread when he pounces on one of his unsuspecting victims. One of the film’s highlights is the “Jaws Vs. Jaws” showdown with Richard Kiel and a shark going toe to toe.

In the area of “Bond Girls”, the film is much improved over the The Man with the Golden Gun and Live and Let Die. Caroline Munro’s villainess Naomi virtually spends the length of the picture in a bikini, but still gives the sense that she is a female that is both sexy and strong. Naomi’s helicopter chase with the Lotus Esprit is one of the premiere action set pieces in the film. In addition, Barbara Bach’s agent xXx finds a nice balance between strong female and helpless vixen. While xXx is certainly not as strong as Pussy Galore or Tracey, she is one of the most alluring women in the history of the franchise and still is able to outsmart 007 on several occasions.

Lastly, much of the credit for the film’s success lies with Roger Moore himself. In his third adventure as 007, Moore finally makes Bond his own. Knowing that the brutality of Connery was not his strong suit, Moore made his Bond less ruffian and more upper crust. Moore holds his own in the action sequences, but the comedy aspects of the film are able to shine because of Moore’s comic timing. Moore looks comfortable and finally is able to make everything look effortless. Moore’s Bond also brought out a dimension of humanity as his concern for xXx’s life after she has been captured seems genuine.

Simply put, the film is one of the most over the top and fun filled adventures in the Bond cannon. The film made Bond a cultural event again and helped set the bar higher for other adventures. Box office receipts were the highest in franchise history and film makers knew where to finally take Bond in future entries. Bond was back and bigger than ever. What Bond producers didn’t know was that two film makers named George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were about to have a huge impact on cinema and 007 would have to go the one place he had never gone. Bond would have to go into space.