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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The James Bond films of Sir Roger Moore





The death of Sir Roger Moore, yesterday, gives me a reason to look briefly at his Bond films.

The first Bond film I went to at the cinema was the Sean Connery You Only Live Twice (1967), at the age of seven.  I was probably far too young for it but was interested to go as I remember seeing the exterior of the volcano set when we drove past Pinewood Studios one day, on the way back from a trip to Whipsnade Zoo. 

The Roger Moore Bond films were the films of my teenage years and I was familiar with him, of course, from The Saint, which I watched occasionally (my parents didn't really approve of ITV) and, above all The Persuaders with it's expensive South of France locations (unlike The Saint, which constantly redressed the Home Counties).  Moore's Bond was, of course much lighter than Connery's and tends to split people of my generation between Connery and Moore.  I enjoyed several of Moore's Bond films and will examine some of the key aspects for me: Bond girls and soundtracks. 


Live and Let Die (1973)


The Film

Although I saw this at the cinema, I think I have only seen it a couple of times since and it is one of my least favourite Bonds.  Bond shouldn't be fighting tedious American criminals, I thought at the time.  A great poster, though, by Robert McGinnis, including tarot cards and speedboats from the rather ludicrous boat chase (which had been done better in Puppet on a Chain (1971)).  Moore still looked young, although he was twice the age of leading lady Jane Seymour.


The Bond Girls



After the abundant charms of Lana Wood and Jill St. John in Diamonds are Forever (1971) I found the main Bond Girls disappointing and totally lacking in the requisite sex-appeal (as we used to say back in 1973).  However, the outstanding Madeleine Smith, appearing briefly at the beginning of the film, saved it on the Bond girl front (!).


The Soundtrack



Composer for all the previous Bonds (with Monty Norman for Dr No, (discuss)) John Barry had given up on Bond following big arguments with the producers on Diamonds are Forever (1971),  Having had an Oscar nominated score (for Mary Queen of Scots (1971), he was focussing on writing musicals, so the producers called in Beatles producer George Martin. Although Paul McCartney's Live and Let Die was a big hit I am afraid I got really annoyed by the diabolical grammar in the line "in which we live in".  I didn't bother to get George Martin's soundtrack score until a few years ago.  It sounds more like a particularly funky Henry Mancini rather than than a John Barry effort and was the first in a series of  attempts to modernise the James Bond sound, which all now sound hopelessly out of date. Other than the title track, the only other piece I was familiar with was Bond meets Solitaire, as it was on a Bond compilation set I had, so wins best track by reason of familiarity.


The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)



The Film

The bandwagon jumping Kung-Fu, energy crisis one saw Moore pushing The Persuaders style comedy while at least having a worthy opponent in Christopher Lee as Scaramanga.  The oriental locations looked good too and the angled office for M on board the hulk of the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong harbour was brilliant.  Another poster by Robert McGinnis, who certainly packed it with phallic symbols.


The Bond Girls



Swedish actresses Britt Ekland and Maud Adams were, at least, in their thirties, so met the general Hollywood standard of having leading ladies ten to fifteen years younger than the leading man.  Ekland couldn't act but Adams was pretty good and, uniquely for a lead, was brought back into the series in Octopussy.


The Soundtrack




John Barry was back in action for this one, although he seemed to be dealing with a smaller orchestra (especially in the brass section) than his style demands, resulting in a lot of cues sounding like nineteen seventies TV music (The Persuaders, in fact).  Already busy on other work he was called in at the last minute by the producers who knew he could deliver a soundtrack really quickly. Lots of Hong Kong Phooey orchestration in this. Twang!  Lulu was a friend of Barry's lyricist Don Black (Their musical Billy had become a big hit in the West End) but struggled to copy the Bassey power in an almost hilariously innuendo filled song. . Best track of a poor selection is Goodnight Goodnight.


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)




The Film

Despite the plot being a complete rip off of You Only Live Twice this is my favourite Moore Bond film, before they fell into (even more) self parody.   Moore has completely mastered his insouciant version of the role here.  The Egyptian locations look fabulous, there is an appearance by Thunderbirds Shane (Scott Tracy) Rimmer and the opening ski jump stunt remains one of the greatest ever put on celluloid.  Unfortunately, Curt Jürgens performs villain Stromberg as if he was wearing someone else's teeth and appears to be on the point of dozing off for much of the film.  This time the poster was by Bob Peak, one of the greatest film poster artists of all time, who got his big break with West Side Story (1961) and also did posters for Apocalypse, Now (1979) the first Five Star Trek Films, Superman (1978), Excalibur (1981), Rollerball (1975) and many more.   The first Bond film I went to with a girl.


The Bond Girls



The general view of my school friends was that Barbara Bach was rather deficient in two key characteristics,  Bach was twenty years younger than Moore but, at fifty, he was still looking pretty good.  Caroline Munro as a helicopter pilot was a bonus.  This was the first film where the publicity stills really featured the incidental Bond girls.  In this case, the harem tent girls (Dawn Rodrigues, Felicity York, Anna Pavel and Jill Goodall).  Appearances by former Miss World Eva Rueber-Staier and Valerie Leon make this very strong as regards Bond Girls.


The Soundtrack



John Barru had fled the UK for tax reasons and so was unable to record the score for this, as it had to be done in Britain. Given I didn't really like George Martin's soundtrack for Live and Let Die I really shouldn't have liked Marvin Hamlisch's disco beat (Hamlisch actually wrote to the Bee Gees agents and apologised for lifting one of their rhythm tracks) version of the James Bond theme (it was nominated for a Grammy) but I did.  This may be because it was the first Bond soundtrack I actually bought. although at well under half an hour, it wasn't very good value. My favourite track is the weird Arab/jazz/orchestral mash up Eastern Lights (actually composed by one of title song lyricist Carole Bayer-Sager's producers) and I have played it while sitting on the balcony of the Inter-Continental in Cairo, watching the sun go down over the Pyramids, while drinking Lebanese wine with my particular friend Sophie.


Moonraker (1979)



Moonraker had the producers jumping on another bandwagon, started by the success of Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (at one point Moonraker even references the key CE3K theme as a joke), so got Moore's Bond into space.  Sadly, the comedy elements (such as the gondola hovercraft) were getting more and more ludicrous.  Moore, who was starting to look his age, demonstrated some actual acting in this, particularly following the centrifuge sequence. Michael Lonsdale as villain Hugo Drax showed how to be menacing without histrionics but we could have done without the return of Richard Kiel's jaws. The poster was by top Hollywood storyboard artist Dan Goozee, who featured some of the ancilliary Bond Girls for the first time.  The last Bond film with sets by Ken Adam.


Bond Girls



Lois Chiles, in her early thirties, was a bad misfire and never really left the launching pad for Agent Triple P,  However, there was the compensation of a brief turn from the star of saucy French film The Story of O (1975), Corinne Cléry.  Much was made of the incidental Bond Girls this time, including a cornucopia of French actresses; Chichinou Kaeppler, Françoise Gayat,  Nicaise Jean-Louis, Catherine Serre  and Béatrice Libert.  Délicieuses!


The Soundtrack



Marvin Hamlisch was rather mystified that he was not asked back to do the next Bond soundtrac,k given The Spy Who Loved Me had been an Oscar nominated smash.  However, because the film was being shot in France, for tax reasons, John Barry was able to come back on board and initially planned an eight movement, seventy-five minute orchestral suite.  Although this was, eventually, much truncated the score is a precursor of his later big symphonic scores such as Out of Africa (1985).  Barry was back on form for this and had am 80 piece orchestra at his disposal.  I liked the Shirley Bassey theme song (it was nearly recorded by Frank Sinatra and was even offered to Kate Bush) and there was some excellent orchestration, especially in my favourite track, Bond Lured to Pyramid.


For Your Eyes Only (1981)




After the SF excesses of Moonraker, there was a conscious attempt to go back to basics by dropping gadgets, sports cars (Bond's Lotus was symbolically blown up early in the film, requiring him to drive a 2CV), over the top villains and Ken Adam's sets.  Critic Derek Malcom said that Moore played Bond as if in a "nicely lubricated daze" while Philip French said that Bond was "impersonated by Moore".  Having the big villain played by an AT-AT commander with a wayward accent didn't help either,  A different approach to the poster, featuring Morgan Kane's photograph of Joyce Bartle's legs, didn't go down too well with parts of puritan America, which cut the image of the girl at the knees or even added shorts.  The poster was, in reality, as dull as the film and director John Glem. almost killed the franchise off with this and subsequent Bond films by really not understanding Bond other than stunts, stunts and more stunts..


Bond Girls



Sleepy-eyed ("I have sluggish kidneys," she claimed) Carole Bouquet was thirty years younger than Roger Moore and becoming a proper actress in art films.  She did not appear that enthusiastic about the whole thing,  Eva Reuber-Staier returned in a brief part and the number of decorative Bond girls (around one of the minor villain's pool in the film) had increased but also included, unknown to the producers, a transsexual called Tula who was born Barry Cossey (far left in this photo).  Unknown to Playboy too who featured many of the girls (including Tula) posing naked in their June 1981 issue.  Several, such as  Lalla Dean, were Page Three or glamour models and Alison Worth was a well known mainstream fashion model.  The less said about skater Lynn Holly Johnson (the Jar-Jar Binks of the Bond films) the better. 


Soundtrack



John Barry still couldn't visit the UK and was tied up with the soundtrack of Body Heat (1981) so recommended Bill Conti, who had had a big success with Rocky (1976).  I didn't buy this funky guitar heavy score until last year and only because I am a completist. Apart from the rather good title track by Sheena Easton it is singularly lacking in memorable moments.


Octopussy (1983)



The Film

Moore is actually quite good in this, although there were more and more stupid gags (mainly involving Vijay Amritraj) which clashed with what could have been a more serious effort,  Moore had wanted to retire from Bond after For Your Eyes Only but the prospect of the Sean Connery competing Never Say Never Again got the producers to bring Moore back again.  Louis Jourdan was silky smooth as Kamal Khan but Steven Berkoff gives the worst performance of any Bond villain.  The Indian locations were splendid and Dan Goozee returned to do the poster.  Maud Adams with eight arms? What a thought!


Bond Girls



Thirty-eight year old Maud Adams returned to Bond although the producers originally wanted authentically Indian Persis (Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)) Khambatta. Adams was paired with another Swedish actress, Kristina Wayborn, whose big fight scene was a precursor of all subsequent martial arts heroines in Western action films.  Lots of action too from the circus and acrobatic girls supervised by former British Olympic gymnast Suzanne Dando,  Bucket loads of Bond Girls in this one including Alison Worth (again), Page 3 and Penthouse model Joni Flynn. Miss World 1977 Mary Stavin and Page 3 model and Penthouse Pet of the Month for March 1982 Janine Andrews.  Certainly the finest ensemble group to date.


The Soundtrack



John Barry (who had turned down scoring Never Say Never Again out of loyalty to the producers) had settled his outstanding tax bill with the Inland Revenue so was free to return to Britain to do the soundtrack.  The title song, sung by Rita Coolidge (originally offered to Triple P favourite, Laura Branigan), was not bad and did well in the charts, accompanied, in a novel way at the time, by a pop video.  The soundtrack, which had much of the style of Diamond are Forever about it, referenced the James Bond theme much more than previous ones, no doubt to emphasise that this was the 'real' Bond.  Favourite track is the slinky Bond meets Octopussy.


A View to a Kill (1985)



Moore was fifty seven  in this, his final Bond film and it showed. Even Moore admitted it was his least favourite film.  The Legatus quite likes it, though. and, despite his age, Moore looks in better shape than in Octopussy.   It is saved by great sidekick performance by Patrick Macnee and some wonderful location cinematography.  The poster was the final one by Dan Goozee.


Bond Girls



Tanya Roberts looks nice in a big haired 1980s way but can't act her way out of a paper bag (she received a worst actress nomination at the Golden Raspberry awards for this).  Moore bemoaned the fact that Roberts'  mother was younger than he was. Both Alison Doody and Fiona Fullerton have never looked better and Grace Jones looks like a monster, as usual. The background girls, featured at a party given by villain Max Zorin (an enjoyably over the top Christopher Walken), included Page 3 favourites Sian Adey-Jones and Nike Clark.

The Soundtrack



Duran Duran (who had approached Cubby Broccoli about doing the song at a party) produced the first (and very successful; it was the first Bond theme to get to number one in the US) really modern pop song for the franchise, working closely with John Barry.  Barry used Nic Raine to orchestrate the score which was somewhat dialled in. Best track is Airship to Silicon valley.  It would be Barry's second to last Bond soundtrack.

So thanks. Sir Roger, for all those happy memories.  I am going to watch them all again now! 

1 comment:

  1. What a great tribute. Thank you so much! Moore's was my favorite Bond growing up. 2016 and 2017 has seen many of my childhood idols passing on. TQ for the memories!

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