(Third viewing, On Blu-ray, October 2018) This is probably my third viewing of Octopussy, first after seeing it as a kid when it first played broadcast TV, and then again later as a re-run as a teenager where I found it far more interesting given the film’s higher-than-usual-for-Bond sex-appeal. As a middle-aged man, I’m a bit cooler on the film, but not by much—Octopussy is a slightly better than average Bond, with a strong heroine and one of the finest sustained suspense sequences of the series. Moore can’t help but let some of his characteristic silliness contaminate the film (It would be significantly better with about ten seconds’ worth of cuts to take out the dumbest moments and sound effects) but he also manages one or two of his finest acting moments as he realizes the nature of a nuclear-driven plot to destabilize Europe. Fully playing into Cold War dynamics does lend a bit of authenticity to this instalment, even though the film seems determined to undermine this seriousness with sillier moments ranging from a chase through an Indian city where all the clichés are used in rapid succession, to a dumbfounding Tarzan yell. While I wasn’t particularly fond of Maud Adams in The Man with the Golden Gun, her character and appearance here are far more mature than most of the Bond Girls—she’s an older woman with significant power, and the film does toy with the idea of Bond finding something of an equal. Alas, Octopussy does mess it up with a seduction scene that is less than enthusiastically consensual, and then again when it transforms this capable character into a damsel in distress. It’s really too bad that a handful of sequences can significantly damage an otherwise enjoyable film. The stunts are rather good, some of the narrative twists are interesting, and then there’s that breathless chase sequence in Germany that pushes Bond to his limits and maintains the suspense for a surprisingly long time. Octopussy evens out to an OK film, with a few frustrating issues but not as bad as many of the films in the series—or even just in Moore’s run.
(Second or third viewing, On Blu-ray, October 2018) I saw For Your Eyes Only in theatres when it came out! This definitely deserves an exclamation point given how, as a kid, I never went to the movies. My parents weren’t rich enough to take us out regularly, the nearest theatre was more than twenty kilometres away (in fact, more like thirty at the time—closer ones were built some time later) and since we only spoke French in an Anglophone province, going to the movies would have been an exercise in frustration for everyone. We did watch a lot of movies on TV, though, and if I recall correctly, we happened to be visiting relatives in the greater Montréal region when everybody (including a six-year-old boy) agreed to go to the theatre to watch the latest James Bond film. In French. I distinctly recall the scary underwater sequence from the theatre—I suspect that most of the rest of my childhood memories came from watching endless reruns of the film on Radio Canada TV. Now that I’m going through the entire Bond series in order, For Your Eyes Only does take on a very different feel. Coming down from the giddy silliness of Moonraker, it’s a film that goes back to the roots of the Bond character with far more restrained stakes, clearly echoing both From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to produce the best of the Roger Moore movies. Bond calms down with the indiscriminate sleeping around: the main female character (played quite well by Carole Bouquet) is strong enough to create some real tension between the two, the secondary Bond girl has her own agenda, and there are some laughs in seeing Bond fend off the advances of an overly pushy teenager. There are other highlights beyond the more grounded approach: Plot-wise, there’s a nice twist midway through, and the film’s standout action sequences involves an underpowered Citroen 2CV. After the space adventure of the previous film, taking up a Cold War-themed thriller mostly set in Greece is a welcome change of pace. But here’s the thing: For all of the talk about a more down-to-earth Bond, For Your Eyes Only doesn’t skimp on the action sequence – there’s a new one every few minutes, and they take us from the mountains to the Mediterranean and then back up again. There’s also some variety to the action in between impressive helicopter stunts, a winding road car chase, downhill ski thrills, underwater action and tense mountain-climbing. It all wraps up in a highly satisfying Bond film that manages to find difficult balance (well, other than the pre-credit sequence) between Roger Moore’s debonair charm, Bond’s tougher roots, competent plotting and hair-raising tension. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama in the making of For Your Eyes Only (Moore being unsure if he’d take the role again, and numerous crew changes) but the result ranks as an upper-tier Bond movie.
(Second or third viewing, On Blu-ray, October 2018) It’s said that everyone’s favourite Bond is the one they grew up with, and so I discovered the Bond series during the Roger Moore era, most specifically in between the TV broadcast of Moonraker and the theatre release of For Your Eyes Only. (If memory serves, because the series was regularly broadcast on French-Canadian TV, we had just got a VCR and you can imagine the rest.) I even remember watching the movie and talking to the adults in the room about special effects (how that skydiving sequence was made!) and budgets (they were really impressed by how Bond went around the world in the movie, most notably when he rides in Guatemala). So, yeah, I imprinted on Bond at the silliest time possible, on the one movie in the series that is widely regarded as the most outlandish, perhaps even the silliest in a series of movies not always known for their seriousness. I was a science-fiction fan even back then, so that Bond was only a step removed from Star Wars (which also played on TV a lot in the early 1980s). All of which to say that even if I can reasonably agree that Moonraker is a film with glaring problems, you will never—ever—manage to talk me away from an irrational fondness for that film. Third and perhaps worst outing for Moore as Bond, Moonraker shows the extent of the Star Wars craze of the late seventies as Bond goes through the motions of the usual formula, only to spend the last act of the film in orbit, all the way to a fancy space laser battle between American Marines and evil henchmen. No Bond movies ever went that crazy nor as silly than the infamous Venice sequence in which even a pigeon does a double-take. But that was the nature of the Moore years, and it’s rather unfair to start picking at the film’s numerous logical impossibilities when the point is having Bond escape death every ten minutes and showing off a special effects budget clearly much increased over previous films. It’s a rollercoaster ride across the globe, as the action moves from one continent to another and from one set-piece to the next. It doesn’t always work: “California” looks a lot like France (hilariously acknowledged by the film itself), and the special effects work is very uneven, especially during action scenes where impressive stunt-work is intercut against rear-projection shots of the main actors. The character of Jaws is reduced to an annoying running gag, Bond’s serial conquests are exasperating (especially how it callously leads to a nightmarish death that feels jarringly out-of-place with the silliness surrounding it) and the quips are lame. Still, I really like Michael Lonsdale as the villain, Lois Chiles is not bad as an agent who’s at least supposed to be Bond’s equal (as usual, the film inevitably falters on true equality, although at least it’s better than the abysmal Connery years) and—this is the crucial part—there is a space laser battle around an orbital evil lair. I won’t argue that Moonraker is at the extreme silliness spectrum of the Bond series, nor will I renege on my outright admiration for the more serious entries such as On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Casino Royale or Skyfall. But I still like Moonraker a lot as a middle-aged adult even if I can see the flaws that completely escaped me as a kid.
(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, September 2018) Now that’s more like it. The Spy Who Loved Me, third Roger Moore outing as James Bond, finally puts all of the elements of Moore’s sub-formula together: Good action sequences, interesting plot (even if reprised from You Only Live Twice), a strong Bond Girl and, perhaps more than everything else, Moore’s debonair charm used to good purposes. His Bond here is far funnier, much less violent (although there’s one execution-by-tie that still rankles), better behaved around women (not by much, but the pairing with an almost-equal works in favour of a more balanced relationship) and unflappable in the face of crises. The globetrotting takes us to Egypt and the Mediterranean, while the gadgets include the classic submarine car, Union-jack parachute and personal Jet Ski. The film manages to hit just the right balance between a simplistic but not completely stupid plot and the silliness that we’ve come to expect from the Moore years. It’s not fancy, but it works. The villain’s lair is truly spectacular (in fact, there are two of them) and the action sequences have some kick—the car chase is particularly enjoyable. I won’t pretend that it’s a perfect film: The Bond girl is still used as a plot device to be rescued at the end, the Bond seduction shtick has worn thin, and there are more than a few instances of villain stupidity. Still, it works surprisingly well and presents a sharp return to form for the series after a lengthy fallow period—it’s probably the best Bond since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I saw the film as a boy (I was introduced to Bond between Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only) and had forgotten much of the details—it’s fascinating to see what sticks in mind and what doesn’t, and how I was sometimes able to anticipate the gist of the next thirty seconds of the film without quite knowing exactly why.
(On Blu Ray, September 2018) Roger Moore’s second outing as James Bond isn’t particularly good, clearly showing how the producers didn’t yet understand how to best use Moore’s debonair natural charm. The Man with the Golden Gun doesn’t manage to control its comedic impulses, sometimes trying to bring back the written Bond’s violence and at other times going way too far in silliness. It starts with a disappointing theme song that can’t manage to do honour to its fantastic signature riff (à la Live and Let Die) with on-the-nose silly lyrics and a weak vocal performance. The odd thing about the film is that it does have undeniable strengths: Moore is naturally likable, Scaramanga is a fantastic idea for a villain, Christopher Lee is exceptional as the antagonist and the corkscrew jump two thirds through the film is easily one of the most spectacular shots in Bond history. Alas, each one of those aspects is undermined by filmmakers who don’t quite understand how to showcase their assets: Bond is too often unnecessarily aggressive or rough, Scaramanga’s build-up isn’t matched by the third act, Christopher Lee isn’t given much to do, and the stunt is accompanied by a stupid slide whistle sound (and wrapped in dumb dialogue between Bond and one of the worst characters in the series), deflating the impact of the shot. The entire film is like that: Bond Girl Britt Ekland makes a strong first impression as a Foreign Service agent able to verbally spar with Bond, then devolves into an idiotic damsel-in-distress throughout the movie. The film’s third act sputters through an anticlimactic duel and a butt-activated solar death ray. Even the film’s attempt to cash on the early-seventies kung fu craze (after doing its best with Blaxploitation in the previous instalment) feels like an extraneous afterthought with an incredibly dumb payoff. I still have some enduring sympathy for the Moore-era Bonds because that’s when I first encountered the series (between Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only), but my patience was sorely tested with The Man with the Golden Gun—In fact, I almost snapped at the film’s iteration of the series’ frankly insulting seduction plot device. At least there’s a bit of a bedroom farce to take the edge off, but despite the winged cars, exotic trips through Southeast Asia and the great idea of using the Queen Mary wreck as a secret base, The Man with the Golden Gun is just frustrating. Fortunately, the next instalments of the series would learn how to best use Moore’s specific take on the character.
(Second viewing, On Blu-ray, September 2018) And so the Roger Moore Bond years begin in Live and Let Die, without SPECTRE, but with tarot, voodoo and tons of Blaxploitation. The globe-threatening antics of previous films are reduced to a drug trafficking movie, albeit with a considerable amount of early-seventies flair. Moore’s performance is not quite Moore’s Bond yet: His approach is still more intense than debonair, his quips are restrained and he still feels like a holdover from the Connery era. The film around him, however, is a clear relic of its time: I happen to like Blaxploitation a lot, so it’s not as if its intrusion on Bond territory is not welcome—on the other hand, this is clearly a black-focused film written by white people, so the folkloric aspects of black culture are played up and character stereotypes abound. It’s also missing a lot of what made Blaxploitation feel fun—no funk, no going up against the man on behalf of the black man. Oh well; we couldn’t really expect much from such a combination. Elsewhere in the movie, the ludicrousness abounds: there’s an uncomfortable aura of supernatural floating around the film, even when you can explain most of it rationally through dramatic plotting, impossibly clever schemes and an impressionistic final shot. It does dovetail with the increasingly silly nature of the Bond series going into the Moore years, especially when tarot and voodoo are used as exotic window-dressing for the series’ globetrotting. Speaking of which: It does feel like an overdose to go back to America in back-to-back Bond movies, even if New Orleans isn’t the same as Las Vegas. (I saw Live and Let Die as a teenager, but I had forgotten all about Bond’s detour in New York City. I did remember the tricked-out card deck, though.) I’m not particularly impressed by the film’s action showpieces, especially the boat sequence which, while containing some spectacular moments, doesn’t seem to build to something as much as it just strings stuff along until it runs out of its budget. Jane Seymour is one of the most intriguing Bond Girls as Solitaire, but I’m not sure that she actually fits in the Bond universe. Yaphet Kotto is not bad as the villain, although one wonders how busy his agenda is in-between the ruling, the trafficking and the evil plotting. Among bit players, David Hedison is great as Felix Leiter, Geoffrey Holder is terrific as Baron Samedi, Madeline Smith is cute as the Opening Bond Girl and Gloria Hendry is welcome as the Bad Bond Girl. Alas, Sheriff Pepper is intolerable, Q is missing and the plot is a bit dull, suggesting once again that the Bond series is at its silly best when it goes bigger-than-big. Speaking of which, Paul McCartney’s title song is terrific, probably my favourite of the series. Otherwise, Live and Let Die is a formula Bond movie, perhaps more interesting as a period piece and as a transition point for the series rather than by itself.