Live and Let Die
Moore began his tenure as Bond with one of his best outings. The series had just tipped into campy excess with Diamonds Are Forever, and thus, as is often the case when a new Bond takes the reigns, the series revamped itself with a different tone and a narrative that in this instance was simultaneously more grounded and more peculiar. Out with the Blofelds of the franchise, and in with a Louisianian drug lord surrounded by voodoo and the macabre. That said, there is still plenty of lunacy on display– Bond using alligators as stepping stones to cross water, boat chases with idiotic Louisianan cops, the aforementioned voodoo, tarot cards etc. The film also tipped its hat towards the blaxploitation genre films popular at the time, signalling a further departure from standard Bond fare. Mr. Big/ Dr. Kananga fails to leave any real impression as the film’s villain, certainly paling to his megalomaniac counterparts from earlier installments, whilst Jane Seymour as Solitaire is solid and fittingly beautiful as the first Bond girl of the Roger Moore era. Moore himself doesn’t struggle to leave an impression, championing a raised eyebrow and cooler wit than his more urban predecessors. One of the gnarlier Bond songs too from Paul McCartney.
The Man with the Golden Gun
The most memorable quality of the rather flat 9th Bond film is its titular character. Christopher Lee is one of the rare villains that can match Bond in combat, their climactic duel for me one the saga’s stronger mono e mono showdowns. Lee is one of those performers born to play a Bond villain, with his baritone voice and fusion of elegance and danger, he cuts an imposing figure as Scaramanga. Everything else, unfortunately, despite flashes of effective humour and some fun action, is pedestrian. The girl is little more than a ditz, Scaramanga’s midget henchman is entertaining but hardly the physical foe to be toppled as seen in the Connery films, whilst the choice to this time allude to the ever popular Kung Fu movies of the time (much like the previous film did with blaxploitation cinema) is utterly contrived. Unlike its villain, The Man with the Golden Gun misses its mark.
The Spy Who Loved Me
The best of Moore’s films, The Spy Who Loved Me, like Goldfinger before it, both encapsulates and capitalizes upon all that is unique to the Bond franchise. A ludicrous villain, an evil henchman rivaled only by Oddjob in Richard Kiel’s Jaws, an underwater car, an obscene plot hatched by a rich old guy to destroy the world and create an aquatic society, a Bond girl bearing not only a lude name (it’s no Pussy Galore however Agent XXX is fairly on the nose) but who is also capable and strong in her own right, an opening ski chase in which Bond turns one of his poles into a gun, and for my money the finest of all Bond songs in Carly Simon’s now additionally poignant Nobody Does it Better, The Spy Who Loved Me is distinctly, unabashedly Bond. It does things that would only ever make sense in a James Bond film, and it plays it all with a miraculously delicate balance between wry and straight that allows it to be in on its own joke without undermining the sense of danger that accompanies its action sequences. The film’s final scene is a snapshot of all that is great about Bond and Moore’s portrayal of him– some may say the greatest final line in movie history is Gable’s “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, or Bogart’s “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”, but they would be wrong. The actual greatest final line in movie history is delivered by Roger Moore as M, his Russian counterpart and the British Minister of Defence intrude on 007 as he’s being romantic with his KGB agent love interest: “Bond, what do you think you’re doing?” asks the minister. “Keeping the British end up” says Bond. What other franchise could get away with such a thing?
If Live and Let Die aimed to evoke the blaxploitation movies of the 70s, and The Man with the Golden Gun tipped its hat towards Kung Fu cinema with it action sequences, Moonraker is an unabashed attempt to cash in on the science fiction craze sparked by Star Wars. Shoehorning Bond into space in between The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only was a smart move financially- Moonraker was the highest grossing in the series up until that point. The film itself is middling if not audacious. For some, this is the one that finally stretched veracity too far, and that’s difficult to argue. There is a certain unhinged glee to be found in Moonraker‘s temerity however. Michael Londsdale is appropriately dastardly and menacing as he attempts to create a master race, Richard Kiel is once again an entertaining foe for Bond (their exchanges grow increasingly wild), and Desmond Llewelyn’s double entendre “I think he’s attempting re-entry”, said in relation to Bond and his female counterpart Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) as they romantically orbit Earth, is one of the series’ very best.
For Your Eyes Only
For Your Eyes Only sees the series return to Earth, both literally and figuratively. The twelfth Bond film is the closest Moore’s outings ever came to that of Connery’s, with a grittier, more plausible narrative detailing the retrieval of a naval device rather than the foiling of a plot for global destruction. The underlying theme of revenge only further grounds the film’s feet. I think the break from lunacy profits the series. It mightn’t have the absurd, rambunctious appeal of Moore’s previous entries, but For Your Eyes Only still bears a distinct comic swagger and the more blue-collar Bond on offer allows for an added toughness and refreshing sobriety in the saga. Some fun side characters in Topol’s smuggler turned good guy Columbo, and Carole Bouquet’s able Bond girl who has a greater function in the story than to merely be an eventual prize for 007, further broaden the film’s appeal.
Sterling title aside, Octopussy is one of the most innocuous of all Bond films, and for better or worse, a James Bond film should never be innocuous. There are many faults- a needlessly convoluted plot, unmemorable villains, the undermining of 007’s coolness by having him dress as a clown and do Tarzan impressions- but the cardinal sin of Octopussy is its banality. The humour isn’t totally without merit, and there is an air of adventurousness to be found in the film’s circus related storyline and Bond’s bouncing between Germany and India, but it remains Octopussy is uncharacteristically dry. Octopussy‘s struggle for definition is augmented by its being caught in the no man’s land of having a more grounded plot (regarding the Soviet’s quest for greater power in Europe), but still playing for the slapstick, tongue-in-cheek tone from Moore’s earlier entries. It’s the least memorable of Moore’s films.
A View to a Kill
There is a lot to like about a A View to a Kill. Christopher Walken as the genetically engineered rogue KGB agent Max Zorin is a fusion of the best Bond villains- 007’s physical equal and perhaps even superior much like Oddjob and Scaramanga before him, combined with the megalomaniac desire to have more money than God, a la Goldfinger. Combine this with Walken’s penchant for playing unhinged characters as well as anyone in cinema, and Zorin is one of the strongest Bond foes of all. Duran Duran’s theme song, although it does nothing for me personally, was undoubtedly a hit. And there is tremendous spectacle value to the film’s action sequences, namely in its final set piece taking place atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately the film’s slapstick comedy overwhelms many of the other action sequences (a car chase in which said car is divided into 2 is particularly nonsensical) and the film’s peculiar attention to violence doesn’t jive with Bond’s typical breeziness. Roger Moore was 57 at the time of A View to a Kill‘s release, by his own admission “400 years” too old for the role, and this was to be his final performance as MI6’s top agent. The film itself is over-criticised. There is some out-and-out Bondy goodness in A View to a Kill– fun characters, bustling energy. It’s greatest quality is that it regains that larger than life personality lost in Octopussy.
Ranking Moore’s Films
1. The Spy Who Loved Me
2. For Your Eyes Only
3. Live and Let Die
5. A View to a Kill
6. The Man with the Golden Gun