Friday, 12 August 2016

007 Roger Moore Part Two: The Bond Who Loved Me

Welcome to the second article in the second edition of James Bond month. This is also the second article to focus on Roger Moore's run as Bond, examining the three films he made in the late 1970s and as he took Bond into the 1980s, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, and For Your Eyes Only.

Since I wasn't familiar with Moore's Bond films aside from catching the occasional scene here or there when they were playing on television, I came to the films with an innocent eye and they held a number of surprises for me.

I already discussed how, although his Bond is a lot of fun, I was shocked by the misogyny in Moore's first two outings as Bond due to his reputation as a more 'lightweight' 007 to his predecessor Sean Connery, which somehow translated into my head that he would be less of a dick to women.

Equally shocking was how good Roger Moore looks in a turtle-neck.

So what shocked me about his next three films? Well firstly, The Spy Who Loved Me is fantastic. I don't mean that in a "it's-a-bad-movie-but-fun" way, it's simply a great film. Or at least, parts of it are (we'll get the parts that aren't). But it has everything I ever wanted from a Bond film. A great theme song, exotic locations, outrageous gadgets, quirky henchmen, and a good time.

Let's talk about the theme for a moment since I seem to enjoy discussing James Bond theme songs on this blog for some reason. Like Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" it's not what you expect a Bond theme to sound like. Not that it sounds anything like "Live and Let Die".

Rather, "Nobody Does It Better" is like a ragtime torch song. Delicate piano, a deliberate snail paced tempo, a beautifully simple melody, and gorgeous, restrained vocal by Carly Simon. It doesn't have swirling strings or bombastic brass, no slinking jazz feel or a diva belting out the vocal. Yet, it is one of the all-time great Bond themes.

Radiohead has covered "Nobody Does It Better" live several times and Thom Yorke called it the "sexiest song that was ever written". I might have to agree with him on that.


Somewhat surprisingly considering the trend with Moore's Bond so far, The Spy Who Love Me is significantly less overtly misogynistic than Live and Let Die or assholery that was The Man with the Golden Gun. 

I mean, it's a James Bond film so there's gonna be some misogyny but I was surprised how long it took for Bond to do/say something sexist. It was about 20 or 30 minutes before I noticed anything particularly noteworthy in terms of sexism.

Now, I did kinda gloss over this exchange right at the start,

M: Moneypenny, where's 007?
Moneypenny: He's on a mission sir. In Austria.
M: Well, tell him to pull out. Immediately.
[Cut to]

"Oh, I get it."

But to be fair, that's just good-timey pun fun and the instances of sexism aren't really as obvious or as noteworthy as in his previous two films. Well, that is aside from the scene where Bond's contact in Egypt offers him a bed for the night, an offer which Bond only accepts when he realises that it comes with a woman in it. Yikes, just yikes.

However, the only other instance which raised a flag to me was more cringe-worthy in its 'dude-bro' attitude than anything. Bond has arranged to meet a dude for some reasons plot related but he isn't at home and has left a lady behind to 'entertain' Bond while an assassin tries to kill him.

She tells Bond if he would like some refreshments or anything else, indicating her body. To which Bond gives his now standard Roger Moore raised eyebrow and says, "Well, I've had lunch but I've seemed to miss desert." *groan*

While that line is terrible, it's not blatantly offensive (although it is problematic how Bond's views women as a desert/prizes he deserves). In fact, compared to the sheer misogynistic assholery in the previous movie, The Spy Who Loved Me is only passively sexist (women are still treated as objects largely) with nothing overtly terrible. So progress?

"A woman driving? That's novel."

What hasn't progressed is the plot since it's basically 1967's You Only Live Twice but with stolen British and Soviet nuclear submarines instead of stolen American and Soviet spacecraft. The similarities are so apparent, it's even noted on The Spy Who Loved Me's Wikipedia page:
In the film, Stromberg's scheme to destroy civilisation by capturing Soviet and British nuclear submarines and have them fire intercontinental ballistic missiles at two major cities is actually a recycled plot from Gilbert's previous Bond film, You Only Live Twice, which involved stealing space capsules to start a war between the Soviets and the Americans. The similarity was apparent in the climax; both films involved an assault on a heavily fortified enemy that had taken refuge behind steel shutters.
At this point in the franchise, it's clear that they had run out of story ideas. I mean they even recycled this plot again for 1979's Moonraker, something which was so abundantly obvious that it's mentioned in the very next paragraph in the same Wikipedia article:
The scheme in which the villain wishes to destroy mankind to create a new race or new civilisation was also used in Moonraker, the next film after The Spy Who Loved Me. In Moonraker, the villain Hugo Drax had an obsession with starting human civilisation over again on Earth, using specially chosen "superior human specimens" based in space.
"I was hoping you'd be so distracted by how dashing I am to notice that we recycled the plot... three times."

But recycled plot aside, I really enjoyed The Spy Who Loved Me, particularly the first two thirds (it loses steam in the final act). Firstly, the film is shot really well, there were scenes with camera angles and framing which were almost arty in their composition and lighting. For example, the scene involving the pyramid night show display or when Bond and Agent Triple X are tracking Jaws in the Egyptian ruins are just beautifully shot.

And the set are simply stunning, for instance the villain's lair. Following smaller scale villains like Kananga and Scaramangahis, this was the first Bond film to feel like it was returning to the 'essence' of Bond after a detour and so we get a megalomaniac named Karl Stromberg. And befitting a Bond villain with dreams of world domination, he has an underwater lair that emerges out of the ocean like a giant spider.

In fact, the scene where we are first introduced to this lair again made me think the film was being quite arty and Bond was no longer trying to ape the B-movie feel that permeated Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun but trying to aim for something higher. Whether it reached it is debatable but the attempt is there.

I mean, just watch this (sorry it's not in English but this is the only clip I could find on YouTube):


The villain plays a classical piece of music, the Adante movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, as his impressive underwater lair named Atlantis risings from the depths of the ocean to emerge above the surface. The pretension is strong with this one.

But the funny thing is that it works. Especially in the first half of the film. The exotic locales, wide-angle shots, expansive sets, occasional use of classical music, and lighting work really well. I was actually impressed by how the shots were framed and at points was surprised that these shots were in a Roger Moore Bond movie. Perhaps this is just because his previous two films were shot adequately but not particularly well.

In contrast, in this film there's one point where James Bond stands in a hallway silhouetted by the blue sky and a spire. It is simply a great shot and one which made me question if I was really watching a Bond film.

This is how you frame a shot.

Of course, those moments of cinematic artiness are counterbalanced by the elements of slapstick and camp which creep in the film, especially as it goes on. While the first third is played straight and relatively serious, the second act has a couple of goofy moments which change the tone, like the musical cue as their van breaks down in the desert.

In fact, the film is often let down by the score, which is equal parts brilliant and terrible. The elements of the score which work are the more classical sounding parts, the lovely string arrangements and integration of the theme song. The bits which don't work are the odd disco-tinged parts, like Bond 77 a disco version of Bond's classic theme. They stick out like a sore thumb and unnecessarily date the film.

But since I'm supposed to be reviewing three films in this post, I should really wrap The Spy Who Loved Me up. The henchman Jaws is supposed to be one of the most popular Bond villains but I just thought he was just okay. He has a nice gimmick but the whole indestructible thing gets a bit old and his metal teeth seem real impractical if you think about it for more than a second.

Imagine everything you eat tasting like steel.

I liked that they made Bond's Russian opposite Agent Triple X a woman and their dynamic is quite fun to watch even if the actress playing her is terrible. I'm sorry, I don't usually criticise an actor's performance like this but she is so bland and deadpan that it undercuts the interplay between her character and James Bond.

Although, I did like the psycho-analytic take-down of Bond she does which calls to mind similar take-downs of Bond from strong women later in the series by Judi Dench's M in Goldeneye or Eva Green's Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

At the bar in the hotel, Bond tries to rattle Agent Triple X by psycho-analysing her but she counters back and rattles him instead,

Major Anya Amasova: 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...
James Bond: [interrupts her] You've made your point.
Major Anya Amasova: You're sensitive, Mr. Bond?
James Bond: About some things.

"Let's move on."

Now, I know I said before there was some debate about which Bond film is the worst in the series, I still believe it is Die Another Day, but Moonraker is often in contention for that dubious honour. Coming off the success of The Spy Who Loved Me, which was well-received by critics and fans, Moonraker was another case of the Bond franchise trying to cash in on what was popular in the moment instead of making a straightforward James Bond movie.

And what was popular in the moment? Star Wars. The first Star Wars movie was released in the same year as The Spy Who Loved Me and was such an immediate cultural phenomenon that the next Bond move had to be set in space just because space was what all the kids were into. Cue a rushed script and production leading to one of the most bizarre films in the Bond canon.

For this is the film with possibly the worst moment in the Bond franchise: the pigeon double take. But before we get to that moment of unadulterated misguided slapstick, I want to just address something that bothered me about the basic premise of the film. For a movie which is supposedly all about 'Bond... IN SPACE', James Bond only spends about the last 15-20 minutes actually in space.

"WHAT?!"

For all the talk about how Moonraker was cashing in on the popularity of Star Wars, which it totally was (evident in the marketing if nothing else), the film is surprisingly Earthbound for the majority of its running time. Bond follows the trail of the missing Moonraker space-shuttle from California to Venice, Rio de Janeiro, and then Amazon rainforest before he ever leaves the atmosphere.

Once Bond is in space, it's largely the middle part of 2001: Space Odyssey with worse zero gravity effects until the laser space battle with more puu-puu sounds than you could shake a blaster from Star Wars at. Good thing they seeded that MI6 was working on a laser earlier on in the film or they would totally have stretched believably for that scene.

But this film is so weird in its choices that there are moments which actually reminded me of the cinematic masterpiece The Room by Tommy Wiseu, aka "the Citizen Kane of bad movies", since I'm just trying to puzzle out why they would write or present a scene like that.

The best example of this is when Bond finds out that Dr. Holly Goodhead (one of the laziest double entendre's in the franchise's history) is actually a CIA agent. First Bond is just waiting in the dark for the sole purpose of given her a scare when she turns on the light.

Next he picks up her diary which shoots out a dart. So she's a spy like him, right? No, Bond isn't convinced yet. So he picks up her perfume and sprays it but it's a flamethrower!

James Bond naturally quips, "A trifle overpowering, your scent."
Her response:

"Well, you know."

Of course, it should be obvious that she's a spy and since Bond knew which perfume would also double as a flame thrower by the name, he probably knows it's standard CIA equipment. But no. They extend this 'reveal' to when he picks up her handbag and an aerial pops out of it. Because he really needed to go through all her gadgets to be sure.

The whole scene is just weird. I can't tell if they're playing it straight or tongue-in-cheek. The blocking of the shot is terribly stilted and their delivery is so bland as to be nondescript that it gives it this strange unreal quality that is found all over The Room.

Normal people don't talk or behave like this. Her shrug is such a strange reaction to the discovery that her perfume is a freaking flame thrower! And it just continues since we really needed to know that her handbag was also a radio or something.

And that's why the pigeon double take is (only slightly, okay, not really) acceptable in contrast since at least the whole scene it is in is obviously supposed to be slapstick which they took too far. In that scene, not only does the pigeon do a double take at Bond's hover-gondola but so does everyone else, including a dog. It's silly but the tone is clear. Apparently, they've never seen a float before in Venice.

Seriously, it just looks like a parade float.

Also, the misogyny which seemed to lie low in the previous film rears its ugly head again. First, there's the fact that Bond is surprised to find out that Dr. Goodhead is female and has to comment that she's "a woman". Yes, James. Women can be doctors too. I know this was 1979 but come on.

There's also the scene where Bond meets Manuella, his contact in Rio, she's at the bar in his hotel room. The first thing Bond says to this woman, who he doesn't know is his contact yet? "Do you come with the room?" Ugh, I mean, really? Have some class James.

Also, the bad guy Drax (who is really dry, you guys) kills a woman who helped Bond by siccing his hunting dogs on her. Which is just unnecessarily violent. I mean, the last bad guy feed a woman to a shark but because the dog attack could conceivably happen, it feels uneasily real. And just to add to the film's sharp shifts in tone, it's shot like a horror movie set in a forest.

However, I did like the interplay between Goodhead and Bond. Again, the actress playing the leading female role delivers her lines in a remarkably bland fashion but her facial expressions are great. She really doesn't seem to like Bond at all, at least not until the end of the movie when she has to because it's the end and Bond has to "attempt re-entry" with someone.

Anyway, so that was Moonraker.

It was a thing that happened.

After the extravagance of Moonraker (and critical panning that ensued), For Your Eyes Only was a back to basics Bond film. No outlandish trips to space or lazer battles, just a fun globetrotting James Bond adventure trying to get back some secret do-thingy which has been lost.

And you know, it's fine. It's not bad nor is it great. It's just fine. If you want an enjoyable Bond film to put on in the background to catch every so often while you look up from what you're actually doing, this one will do it for you.

There are elements I like. The plots is typically over-convoluted as usual but has a couple of nice twists here and there. Roger Moore is so comfortable as Bond it's like he's always been playing the character (which by this stage, he has). I like the Greek smuggler that Bond befriends, he's just a likeable character.

Also, this film stars Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Tywin so it can't be half bad.

Grand Maester Pycelle: I was quite the stud muffin.
Lord Tywin: I've just realised how old we're going to look in Game of Thrones.

All in all I enjoyed For Your Eyes Only but it didn't really leave much of an impression. It has all the elements of what makes a good Bond film, a great theme song, exciting set pieces, gadgets, international locations, and a middle aged British dude playing at being a spy. It just doesn't have a real wow factor and feels a little long. Some trimming in the editing room was needed to tighten it up.

What was a nice touch though was having James Bond turn down a woman for a change (I say woman loosely since she was really a girl). Although, why they had to make the ice skater girl a nymphomaniac wasn't quite clear. Or for that matter why there was an ice skating subplot at all but I digress.

The other thing which was pretty novel for a Bond film was having a female protagonist that actually has agency and effect on the plot. Melina Havelock not only has her own narrative which is concurrent to the main story (her revenge plot leads to the climax of the story) but she's pretty badass killing bad guys left and right with a crossbow.

"Hello. My name is Melina Havelock. You killed my mother and father. Prepare to die."

However, Roger Moore is really starting to show his age in this film. It was there a bit in Moonraker but there moments watching For Your Eyes Only that I really thought he was too old to be a spy globetrotting exotic locations to save the world.

And he's still got two more films left? Jeez. Oh well, we'll get there when we get there I guess.

Next week we jump headfirst into James Bond in the 1980s with Moore's final two films, Octopussy and A View to a Kill.


References:

The Spy Who Loved Me (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0024: The Spy Who Loved Me with Dana Gould

50 Years of 007 - The Spy Who Loved Me - Life Between Frames

Nobody Does It Better Wikipedia page

Moonraker (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0027: Moonraker with Doug Benson

In Defence Of... Moonraker, Roger Moore's critically-panned outer space Bond - Digital Spy

For Your Eyes Only (film) Wikipedia page

James Bonding #0031: For Your Eyes Only with Tom Lennon





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