Friday, January 27, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 12: For Your Eyes Only

I don't remember what year it was - possibly 1982 or very early 1983 - my family got our first VCR. Among the very first VHS tapes my dad rented was this Bond film (even though he's a Sean Connery man through and through). It was the first Bond movie I ever saw (that I remember, anyway), and, possibly because of that feeling of nostalgia, For Your Eyes Only remains my favorite of all the Roger Moore Bond films, and it's one of the top ones of the whole series for me. While it still meets with mixed reviews, I think it's a solid movie.

After the excess of Moonraker, the producers made a conscious decision to get "back to basics" and do a grittier, more low-key Bond adventure. They thought about jettisoning Roger Moore at this point, and auditioned the likes of Lewis Collins, Michael Jayston, Michael Billington (the poor bastard who auditioned, unsuccessfully, FIVE TIMES to be Bond), and Timothy Dalton. They'd offered Dalton the role of Bond way back before Roger Moore took over from Connery, and he'd turned it down because he was too young. This time, he supposedly turned it down again because he thought The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker were "not the kind of Bond films I wanted to make." As it turns out, Dalton's grittier, meaner, more down-to-earth Bond would have been perfect for this movie. But Moore would do this one, and two more, before hanging up his Walther PPK.

Synopsis: Making a break from "end of the world" scenarios posited by the previous few films, For Your Eyes Only takes a step back. Bond is sent to track down a missing ATAC missile command system, which sinks along with a British Navy ship in the Aegean Sea, and along the way gets caught up in a Greek woman's mission of vengeance against the people who killed her parents, including a Greek villain who is tied up in the opium smuggling business doing the KGB's dirty work in recovering the ATAC. Now that is one long sentence.

The Villain: A very suave and sophisticated villain, Aristotle Kristatos, is a smuggler (mostly of drugs) who wants to make his fortune by selling the ATAC, which he has recovered, to the KGB. That's pretty much his entire evil plot - to make some money. In this, he's more low-key than some other Bond villains. Actor Julian Glover does a nice job with Kristatos, playing him as quite likable at first and devolving into a real asshole by the end of the movie. Glover was considered to play Bond himself, back before Live and Let Die was made. He is known to Star Wars fans as General Veers, ground commander of the Invasion of Hoth, and he's also the Nazi sympathizer bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The Henchman: Technically it's Erich Kriegler, an Olympic athlete who for some reason kills people for Kristatos. He's also Kristatos' direct contact with the KGB. He has a good chase scene with Bond on a ski slope. Far more compelling as a bad guy is Emile Locque, played by Michael Gothard (the witch hunter from Ken Russel's The Devils) who hires a Cuban assassin to kill the Bond girl's parents at the beginning of the film. Locque is later killed when Bond (in, what for Roger Moore films, is a pretty cold piece of business) pushes him off a cliff. For some reason Locque was particularly chilling to me as a child...something about his full lips and octagonal rimmed glasses was really scary. He also didn't speak or smile at all. In an interesting scene toward the beginning of the movie, Bond and Q use an early form of face-recognition software to determine Locque's identity.

The Bond Girl: Carole Bouquet, the French actress, plays the half-Greek girl Melina Havelock. Her father, Sir Timothy, is a marine biologist. When the British ship the St. Georges sinks (due to a mine loosed by Kristatos) the British ask Sir Timothy to secretly look for the wreck to recover the ATAC system. But he is killed by a Cuban assassin, along with his Greek wife, before he can do so. This happens just as their daughter Melina is coming back for a visit. She vows revenge on the people who killed her parents. This quest for revenge brings her into contact with Bond. Bouquet auditioned, unsuccessfully, for the role of Dr. Holly Goodhead in Moonraker. She ended up with the better part in the long run. Melina gets to shoot crossbows, go scuba-diving, and generally hold her own. She also goes skinny-dipping with Bond at the end of the movie. And though she's not the main Bond girl, we can't forget Bibi, a cute little bit of jail bait who is a figure skater being "sponsored" by Kristatos. She later hints that he's interested in her for creepier purposes. Not that being molested would much surprise her; she throws herself at the much-older Bond, who, in a rare show of restraint, rejects her advances. Played by real-life figure skater Lynn-Holly Johnson, she is very cute and somewhat annoying in this movie. Johnson played in a Disney film that scared the crap out of me when I was little: The Watcher in the Woods. I might have had a bit of a crush on her when I was about 10 or 11. Just for fun, here's a shot of her in some weird Japanese roller skate fetish magazine.

The Sidekick: I said Jaws was the Best Henchman of All Time, and I say that pistachio-munching Columbo is the Best Bond Sidekick of All Time. Why? Because he's a cool, dashing rogue of a smuggler, but also because he's played by the incomparable Topol of Fiddler on the Roof fame (I have had the pleasure of seeing him in this role live in person at Starlight, believe it or not). He also plays Dr. Hans Zarkov in the Flash Gordon movie. Columbo serves a vital role in the movie. Not only does he team up with Bond (after an initial period of mistrust) to raid Kristatos' mountaintop hideout, he kills Kristatos with a thrown knife after Bond prevents Melina from doing so.

Gadgets: Almost none worthy of note, though there is the ATAC itself (a missile command system the size of a briefcase), a radio watch, and some pretty cool diving suits. Even Bond's car gets blown up early on. This is part of a conscious decision on the part of director John Glen to have Bond rely on his wits, not gadgets.

Music: The song that shares the film's title was a modest hit for Sheena Easton. She actually appears on the opening credits, which was a first for a Bond film. This was the age of the dawn of MTV, after all, and it is said title designer Maurice Binder simply "liked her appearance." Easton somehow managed to trump Blondie, who was supposed to the song. Their version was not chosen, and instead appears on their album The Hunter. Bill Conti composed the soundtrack, and while he kept a bunch of John Barry's distinctive "Big Bond Brass," he also added some disco and "adult-contemporary" type of stuff that, to my ear, sorely dates what is otherwise a pretty timeless film. One uncharitable reviewer called Conti's soundtrack "a constant source of annoyance," and he's only wrong about the "constant" part.

The Director: John Glen had served as an editor on previous Bond films and got a promotion with this one. As it turned out, he directed every single Bond film released in the 1980s, and in fact has directed more Bond films than any other director. He specifically wanted Bond to be more down-to-earth, less reliant on technology, and a little bit meaner (it is said Roger Moore was not happy at all with Glen insisting that Moore actually act like a badass on occasion). Glen wanted the movies to be more character driven, and he wanted to return them to Bond's roots. This is why he injects several hints at earlier, Connery era Bond movies in this one (see below).

Fun Facts: An interesting aspect of this movie is the pre-title action sequence, which features, seemingly, the death of Blofeld. Blofeld, so strongly associated with being a Bond villain, never appeared again after Diamonds Are Forever. This is mainly because of legal disputes surrounding the character of Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which we've talked about before. In the pre-title sequence, Bond is seen placing flowers on the grave of his wife (whose death is shown in the movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service). She'd been killed by a Blofeld hench(wo)man. Bond then gets on a helicopter that ends up being remote-controlled by a bald guy in a Nehru-style jacket and a white cat. They can't call him Blofeld for legal reasons but it's clearly him. Bond eventually gets the better of him, takes control of the copter, scoops "Blofeld" (or Feauxfeld?) up in his wheelchair with a helicopter skid, and drops him down a factory smokestack. The scene was put in there because director Glen wanted to tie the film in with the older movies, and producer Broccoli supposedly wanted to show that Bond no longer needed the Blofeld character.

Favorite Lines: Oddly, because this is my favorite Moore/Bond film, there aren't many that leap out. I do like one quip. Underwater, as Bond and Melina are diving looking for the ATAC, a shark swims by. Bond says, "I hope he was dining alone." Another funny exchange is when, at the end, Margaret Thatcher herself calls to congratulate Bond, but instead ends up talking to a parrot. Being clueless, she thinks it's him. And it's not ha-ha funny, but when Bond kicks a precariously balanced car off a cliff, sending Locque to his death, Bond shrugs, "He had no head for heights."

Other Stuff: An interesting bit of trivia is that Cassandra Harris, who has a minor role as a countess who is spying for Columbo, who Bond beds and Locque kills, was married to a younger man, a part-time laborer and struggling actor named Pierce Brosnan. She had lunch with the producer and brought hubby along - Broccoli's first glance at a guy who would later play Bond pretty effectively for four films.

Next up: We're nearing the end of the Moore era; stay tuned for Octopussy.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 11: Moonraker

I hate to make such a strong statement, but I, like a lot of other folks, think this is the worst James Bond movie. That being said, it's certainly an entertaining piece of grade B entertainment, especially if you're in the mood for something light you don't have to pay all that much attention to. Moonraker may not be the best but it does have its moments. Let's get right down to business, and I'll see if I can't actually keep my promise (made for the last three posts) to be more brief.

Synopsis: Bond investigates the theft of a space shuttle, which leads him to the shuttle's builder, Hugo Drax. Drax has a dastardly scheme to take a bunch of beautiful people into space, poison the world and kill everyone in it, and then return to create a Utopian society with the descendants of his Master Race. Guess what? Bond foils him.

The Villain: Hugo Drax. He's got a good name. Otherwise, French actor Michael Lonsdale sort of sleep-walks his way through this. Perhaps he's just being subtle. But if he is, he's doing it in the wrong movie, one full of over-the-top gags. Drax is a big thinker, though (see Synopsis). The toxin he uses is culled from a rare orchid native to the Amazon, so he has his secret base there. Presumably, it's also a good place to launch a full-scale space program superior to most nations. Drax is refined and cultured as far as villains go (actually pretty normal for Bond movies), and I enjoy a scene where he is bird-hunting and lets loose his dogs to kill one of his minions (his personal pilot) who'd helped Bond.

The Henchman: It starts off as Chang, a fairly typical ninja-type assassin who does Drax's dirty work. But Bond defeats Chang fairly early in the film, killing him. This means Drax has to get a replacement. There's a great scene with Drax on the phone, talking about needing a replacement for Chang. After pausing to hear what the person on the other end has to say, Drax replies, "Oh, well if you can get him..." Turns out "Him" is our favorite henchman Jaws, from The Spy Who Loved Me (the previous Bond film). Actor Richard Kiel made the Jaws character so popular that fan mail prompted his return in Moonraker. Even more fan mail, according to legend, came from little kids asking why Jaws couldn't be a good guy. In Moonraker, the producers deliver. Jaws - who discovers a girlfriend after a tiny woman named Dolly rescues him from the ruins of a fallen cable car - is perhaps softened by love. Toward the climax of the movie, Bond tricks Drax into admitting that anyone who doesn't fit his idea of physical perfection will be killed, and not part of the new world order he's plotting. Once Jaws realizes this means him and his diminutive girlfriend, he attacks Drax's guards, giving Bond the chance he needs to save the day. Later, Jaws and Dolly are mentioned as having been rescued from Drax's space station. Presumably, they live happily ever after. Dolly, played by French actress Blanche Ravalec, is portrayed as nerdy and unattractive, but in actuality she is pretty hot. This is the last we see of Jaws in the franchise, so let's hope he retired somewhere to marry Dolly and have lots of large children.

The Bond Girl: OK, are you ready for the most ridiculous name of any Bond girl? Holly Goodhead. Dr. Holly Goodhead, no less. Played by Lois Chiles, who had gained some attention from her part in The Way We Were, got the part after sitting next to one of the producers on an airplane ride. But the Bond folks were already familiar with her - they offered her the part of Agent Triple X in The Spy Who Loved Me, but she turned it down. Dr. Goodhead is seen at first working for Drax, but it turns out she's a CIA agent working the same case Bond is. Inevitably, they decide to join forces, but Goodhead plays it cool, resisting Bond's charms for a long time (for a Bond girl, that is). Holly also acts as the Sidekick for most of the movie, and goes with Bond to Drax's space station and helps save the day at the end. Perhaps inevitably, she succumbs to Bond's animal magnetism and the movie ends with a zero-G sexual dalliance. This is, of course, noticed by Bond's superiors, prompting Q to quip, "I think he's attempting re-entry!"

The Sidekick: Again, it's mostly Holly Goodhead. But Drax's pilot Corinne (played by actress Corinne Clery, of The Story of O and Yor: Hunter of the Future) helps Bond investigate Drax and ends up getting eaten by dogs for it. Google her name and you will find about eight billion nude photos of her.

Gadgets: The silliest one is a miniature camera. That wouldn't be so silly if it didn't have a "007" logo right on the front of it. Subtle! Holly Goodhead has a pen that extrudes a poison dart (Bond later uses this to kill a giant snake). Bond also has a watch that has some high explosives hidden in it. Bond uses this to good effect when he blows out a wall of a flame-pit that is about to be filled with rocket exhaust.

Music: Moonraker is the third theme song for a Bond movie to be performed by Shirley Bassey (and the last...she also did Goldfinger, one of my favorite themes, and Diamonds Are Forever). Johnny Mathis was supposed to record it, but dropped out very late in the game. Wikipedia says such diverse artists as Kate Bush and Frank Sinatra were considered. John Barry wrote it. It's actually not a bad song at all, and sounds to me like nothing so much as a big Broadway musical number. But I kinda prefer the disco version they played over the closing credits. The movie also features snippets of some well-known movie music. The distinctive five-note sequence from Close Encounters of the Third Kind is used for a key-code on a door; Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey) is played on a hunting horn while Drax is hunting birds, and when Bond shows up to MI6 headquarters in Brazil with a poncho and hat ala Clint Eastwood in the spaghetti westerns, the theme from The Magnificent Seven is heard.

The Director: Lewis Gilbert, who was reluctantly persuaded to direct You Only Live Twice, and who returned for The Spy Who Loved Me, finished off his Bond career with this one. After this, he went back to the dramas he was best known for.

Fun Facts: Melinda Maxwell, the 22-year-old daughter of Lois Maxwell, who played Moneypenny, was one of Drax's "master race" girls. The space station set still holds the world record of having the most "zero-G" guide wires of any movie. It's also interesting to note that this movie cost more than any Bond film to produce so far - but, oddly, it held the record of being the highest-grossing Bond film until GoldenEye was released.

Favorite Lines: There's the line Q spouts at the end of the movie (see The Bond Girl, above); Drax has a good one when, seeing Bond pop up again after several attempts to kill him, says "James Bond...you appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season." I liked that one. Also, after the first encounter with Jaws, Holly Goodhead asks Bond "Do you know him?" and Bond replies, "Not socially." It's not ha-ha funny but it cracked me up.

Other Stuff: Bond films had a tradition of, during the closing credits, saying what the next movie would be. In the previous film, The Spy Who Loved Me, it was announced that the next movie would be For Your Eyes Only. But, after the global phenomenon of Star Wars, the producers decided they needed to cash in on the space craze. So we got Moonraker.

Next up, the Bond films get "back to Earth," with a relatively low-key outing, For Your Eyes Only...my favorite of the Roger Moore films and the very first Bond movie I knowingly watched.