Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 14: A View to a Kill

This was the seventh and last Bond film to star Roger Moore, who had been ready to retire two films prior, and is said to have "heartily disliked" this one. As Bond films go, it's not one of the best, but the mere presence of Christopher Walken as the villain knocks this one up higher on the "favorites" list that it may deserve to be.

Synopsis: Bond discovers a microchip in Siberia that is built to withstand an electromagnetic pulse. After escaping in a submarine that looks like an iceberg, he and Q figure out the microchip is from Zorin Industries, and Bond decides to meet this Zorin at a horse race. He becomes suspicious that Zorin is Up To No Good and this is confirmed when Bond's contact in Paris is murdered by Zorin's henchwoman, Mayday, but not before Bond learns Zorin has ties with the KGB. Bond goes undercover on Zorin's estate and learns that he plans to flood Silicon Valley so he can establish a monopoly in the microchip market. This plan, as we all know, is thwarted by (an aging) Bond in high style.

The Villain: He's one of the best: Max Zorin, played by everyone's favorite weirdo, Christopher Walken (who is platinum blond and very young-looking in this one). Zorin is a master of microchips and has used them to dope racehorses as well as other nefarious pursuits. He's a certified genius, and is physically fit, almost embodying the Aryan ideal of the Nazis. There's a reason for that. Bond learns that Zorin is actually the result of genetic experiment conducted by Nazi scientist, Dr. Karl Mortner, who is still part of the Zorin organization. Unfortunately, like all of Mortner's experiments, Zorin is a psychotic megalomaniac. But isn't that what you want in a Bond villain? Walken is in classic form here, keeping it cool when necessary so that his sudden outbursts and violent temper tantrums are more explosive when they do occur. Walken was about 42 when he starred in this role, and he looks more like 32. Zorin is clearly one of the youngest Bond villains, if not the youngest. Toward the end of the film, there's a scene of Zorin giggling madly while he machine-guns innocents. It's priceless, and I smile every time I see it.

The Henchman: We all know I think Jaws is the best Bond henchman, but Grace Jones gives him a run for his money and definitely earned a place for herself in Bond lore as Mayday. Jones, who had already starred in the massively crappy Conan the Destroyer, was in the midst of taking some film roles after achieving notoriety as one of Any Warhol's muses and a string of dance-related New Wave hits (she's much bigger in Europe as a singer than she is here). Mayday is a powerful, androgynous killer who, apparently, sometimes sleeps with Zorin. She also sleeps with Bond. In the end, when Zorin betrays her, she, like Jaws, joins up with Bond, sacrificing herself to move a bomb to a safe place so that it won't explode where it can flood Silicon Valley. In addition to Mayday, there's also a guy named Scarpine, played by a young Patrick Bauchau, who is a good enough actor that he makes small roles seem larger than they are.

The Bond Girl: Tonya Roberts, who was "the blond one" on the fifth and final season of Charlie's Angels, and who enthralled a generation of young geeks with her nude scene in The Beastmaster, was cast as Stacey Sutton, a geologist whose family owns an oil company Zorin is trying to buy because it will help with his Evil Plot. Bond meets her at Zorin's estate, and notices Zorin giving her a huge check (she later rips it up). He tries to seduce her but she rebuffs him. Later, they meet up again in San Fransisco, and she eventually succumbs, as all do, to Bond's charms. Roberts is not a particularly memorable Bond girl - but this was during the period when Hollywood was determined to groom her for superstar sex symbol status. That never quite happened, mainly because critics routinely panned her acting ability, suggesting that her post-Beastmaster Playboy pictorial was a better showcase for the talents she did have. She'd later play Donna's mom on That Seventies Show, but left it when her husband became ill.

The Sidekick: This guy is one of my favorite Bond sidekicks, and like most of them, he comes to an ill-deserved end. Sir Godfrey Tibbett is an English knight and ally of Bond's and expert on racehorses and other matters; he poses as Bond's driver and valet when Bond goes undercover at Zorin's estate. He ably assists Bond in some sneaking around and detective work, but is murdered and stuffed into the trunk of a car by Mayday. Of course, Tibbett is played by Patrick Macnee, who is recognizable to spy genre fans as John Steed in The Avengers TV show. And let's not forget his classic line in the movie Naked Space, when he says, "Science is my pie."

Gadgets: It's hard to get past the submarine-disguised-as-an-iceberg. There's also a "snooper" device that is essentially a camera that can go into small spaces (we see these all the time today), and the standard slew of things like Bond's ring camera, sunglasses that can see through tinted windows, bug detector shaped like an electric razor, and so forth.

Music: Duran Duran scored a Number One hit song on the pop music charts in the U.S., and number 2 in Britain, for their theme song. The story is that bassist John Taylor drunkenly approached the Bond producers at a party and demanded they get someone "decent" to do the next theme song. It's a catchy little pop song that even has some big Bond-sounding fake-horn hits in it. Most people think the name of this song is "Dance Into the Fire." It was so successful the producers tried to do it again with Duran Duran-ish band A-Ha on the next film. Didn't quite work out as well. There's also the inclusion of a horribly awkward moment when Bond is essentially snowboarding and the Beach Boys' "California Girls" is played. Yikes. Finally, John Barry does the score again but by this point openly admitted to recycling parts of the score for On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

The Director: Bond veteran John Glen is back again, and I can't think of a single thing to say about him other than, "another workmanlike job." I think he was saving himself for the next one, The Living Daylights, which is very well directed.

Fun Facts: The producers wanted a rock star to play Zorin. David Bowie was asked to do the part, and he turned it down. Then Sting was asked to play Zorin, and he turned it down. Finally, they gave up on the rock star idea and offered it to Walken. Dolph Lundgren has a small part in this as one of KGB chief General Gogol's guards. He was Grace Jones' boyfriend at the time, and was just there on set. Allison Doody, the evil blond from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, also has a small part as Zorin minion Jenny Flex.

Favorite Lines: You know, there aren't a lot of great ones in this movie. My favorite line isn't even funny, and it comes from Zorin. During the climactic fight on an airship hanging over the Golden Gate Bridge, Bond is outside the airship and Zorin coolly orders his minion "Go get him," as if it's the easiest thing in the world. Here are some other somewhat humorous sexual innuendos we've come to expect from Bond, James Bond. He says to Jenny Flex, "Well, my dear, I take it you spend quite a lot of time in the saddle." She says, "Yes, I love an early morning ride," to which Bond quips, "Well, I'm an early riser myself." Later, after Bond sleeps with Mayday, Zorin, knowing full well how Bond spent his evening, asks, "You slept well?" Bond replies, "A little restless, but I got off eventually."

Other Stuff: Farewell to Lois Maxwell, who played the loyal and eternally unsatisfied Miss Moneypenny in every single Bond movie up to this one. Her leaving the series marked the end of an era: in subsequent films, Moneypenny is made to be more politically correct by not mooning over Bond so much. I always liked Maxwell: Bonds come and go, but she'll always be Moneypenny to me.

Well, that's it for Roger Moore, who brought his own light-hearted touch and 1970s raised-eyebrow-flair to the role of 007. After this one, he was definitely done. The producers finally convinced Timothy Dalton, who'd turned down the part of Bond twice (before Live and Let Die and before For Your Eyes Only) to take on the double-o mantle, and he delivered. So did the producers, with as fine a Bond film as was ever made: the truly epic, and vastly underrated, The Living Daylights, which we'll look at next time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bondage, Pt. 13: Octopussy

Is this not the silliest name ever?

In this, the 13th installment in the Bond series, Roger Moore returned for his penultimate outing as 007. He actually wanted to get out after For Your Eyes Only, but fate intervened. Sean Connery was back as Bond that same year - 1983 - in the non-Eon Productions film Never Say Never Again, which was essentially a remake of Thunderball. The reason there was a non-Eon Bond film is due to a lawsuit between Ian Fleming and a collaborator over who really owned S.P.E.C.T.R.E., Blofeld, et al, which has been detailed in previous posts in this series. The producers were ready to find another Bond to replace Moore, who wanted out, primarily because he felt he was getting too old to be taken seriously in the role, and required stunt doubles more and more frequently. But when word came down about Never Say Never Again, the producers felt that the well-established Moore would fare better against Connery. More on this in "Other Facts," below, including a link to an odd screen test for an American Bond.

So let's just jump right in, for the 13th time.

Synopsis: Continuing on with the more low-key approach of For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy follows Bond as he investigates a stolen jewelry ring. After Agent 009 is found dead, dressed as a clown and carrying a Faberge egg, Bond is tasked with tracking down a Russian general who is stealing precious relics and jewels out of the Soviet Union. This leads Bond to an exiled Afghan prince, Kamal Khan, and his partner Octopussy, who owns a circus that helps him smuggle the stuff. Through various convolutions, Bond's investigations reveal a plot by a Russian general to force Europe to disarm, when a nuclear bomb is detonated inside a U.S. Air Base. But GUESS WHAT? Bond thwarts him and saves the world. Again.

The Villain: It appears at first that Octopussy is the villain, and Kamal Khan her underling. But as time goes by it becomes clear that Khan is the true villain of the film. Played by the French actor Louis Jourdan, he's smooth, handsome, and relatively young compared to some Bond villains. He's even sort of funny in a few places. His partner is General Orlov, played by always-creepy Steven Berkoff. Berkoff has a plan to detonate a nuclear bomb inside a U.S. Air Base; this will look like an accident, and Europe will force disarmament in the West. Then, in Orlov's view, there will be nothing to stop Russian tanks and troops from invading Western Europe. So in some ways he's just as much of a villain as Khan is. Khan is facilitating this for the good old-fashioned reason of getting even more fabulously wealthy than he already is. Interestingly, Louis Jourdan (who is much older than he looks in this movie) was a French Resistance fighter during World War II. His father was arrested by the Gestapo.

The Henchman: The first henchmen we see in the movie are twins, Mischka and Grischka, who kill 009. But Khan's main henchman is the towering, be-turbaned Gobinda, played by Indian actor Kabir Bedi. He can crush dice in his bare hands, and is pretty relentless in pursuing Bond in a great chase scene through the crowded streets of India (one of the better chase sequences in all of the Bond movies, actually). Gobinda is totally loyal and obedient to Khan, and only questions his orders when, during the climax, Khan orders him to crawl out onto the wing of a plane, where Bond is hanging on in pursuit of them. But, Gobinda does it. And this leads to my favorite thing about him: the method of his demise. Bond snaps a wire antenna on the side of the plane into Gobinda's face, and he falls to his death. That move is classic Roger Moore era Bond.

The Bond Girl: Swedish actress Maud Adams is back in this one. She appeared in The Man With the Golden Gun as Scaramanga's mistress who helps Bond and gets killed for it. Octopussy is somewhat more self-reliant than many other Bond girls. She has the circus, and a rather large organization, and is the head of a vague Octopus cult of some sort that was never totally clear to me. She is colluding with Khan and Orlov in the beginning of the movie, using her circus to help smuggle relics into the West. But as Bond investigates, she falls for him (imagine that!) and ends up as one of the Good Guys. Maud Adams was not the first choice for the role, it being first offered to large-breasted German action-film star Sybil Danning (who genre geeks will remember as the only thing about the movie Battle Beyond the Stars that is worth remembering). They also considered Faye Dunnaway, who was deemed "too expensive." They offered the role to Barbara Carrera, who, ironically, turned it down to star in Never Say Never Again with Connery. They also looked at a few Indian actresses, but there were apparently very few of them working in the West in those days. They ended up going with Adams, darkening her hair and skin to make her appear to have at least some Indian ancestry, and making up some story about her father being British (they did this again with a Caucasian actress in one of the Pierce Brosnan films). I've never cared much about Maud Adams one way or the other, but it's nice to see Roger Moore's Bond paired up with a woman who is at least within a 25-year range of his age.

The Sidekick: Vijay is a charming Indian contact of Bond's, who helps him establish initial contact with Khan and joins him in some action sequences. Unfortunately, as so often happens to Bond sidekicks, he is killed. He lives long enough to pin his murder on Khan's men, speaking to Q, who shows up for a larger-than-usual part in this movie and can be considered a sidekick, too.

Gadgets: Speaking of Q, the gadgets for this movie are subtle but effective. Q gives Bond a nice gold writing pen that actually secretes acid that can dissolve metal. Bond uses it to escape from his cell in Khan's palace later in the movie. Bond also has a raft made to look like a crocodile, which he uses to infiltrate Octopussy's "floating palace." Finally, the bad guys have a gadget of their own. Kamal Khan hires some assassins to kill Bond, and one of them has a yo-yo with saw edges on it. He misses Bond with this, but manages to kill Bond's hapless sidekick Vijay.

Music: The posters for this movie clearly reference the theme song for The Spy Who Loved Me, "Nobody Does It Better" (the poster's tag line was "Nobody does him better"). I think the reason they used this phrase, though, wasn't meant to indicate that nobody does Bond better than Octopussy, but that Roger Moore plays Bond better than Connery (remember, Never Say Never Again was out that same year). The theme song for Octopussy, "All Time High," is a song in a similar vein - that is, a woman singing about how awesome it is to make love to James Bond. It's a good song, though, written by longtime Bond composer John Barry, with lyrics by Tim Rice of Broadway fame. Rita Coolidge performs. As for the symphonic score, it's Barry, so it's good. But one gets the sense he's sort of recycling by this point.

The Director: John Glen returns for his second Bond movie as director, and continues his overall approach of having Bond be more reliant on skill than gadgets, with plots that are a little more down-to-earth. The producers obviously liked what he did: he directed more Bond films than any other director.

Fun Facts: Vijay, Bond's sidekick, was played by Vijay Amritraj, who was a professional tennis player in India. In the movie, he's a member of the same tennis club as Khan, and when Bond asks him if he's learned anything, he says "Well, my backhand has improved," which was a reference to his off-camera tennis career. Another fun fact has to do with the great chase scene through the streets of India, when there is a sword fight and a bicyclist interrupts the scene. That was not planned - there was actually a bicyclist coming through who didn't know what was going on. The actors and stunt men reacted well, so the producers left it in. See "Other Stuff" for more fun facts about Bond casting.

Favorite Lines: At one point it is suggested to Bond that he trade the Faberge egg central to the plot for his life. He quips, "Well, I heard the price of eggs was up, but isn't that a little high?" When Bond is staying at Octopussy's palace, he asks her associate, Magda, if she wants to join him for a nightcap. She refuses, and Gobinda, the henchman, continues escorting Bond to his room, at which point Bond asks Gobinda, "I don't suppose you'd care for a nightcap?" It's funnier than it sounds.

Other Stuff: It should be noted that this was actor Robert Brown's debut as M. He replaced Bernard Lee, who was very ill and died during the filming of For Your Eyes Only (the character was left out of that film in respect for Lee, who'd been on board since the beginning). In Octopussy, M returns, but it's never made clear whether he's supposed to be the same character, or another guy code-named M. Brown would play M until GoldenEye, when he was replaced with a female version (more on that when we get to the Brosnan era).

Finally, here's something kind of fun. For some reason, the producers at one point thought that James Brolin would make a good James Bond. And guess what? Those screen tests survive. It seems odd, though, in that he seems to have no British accent - or it's so subtle I'm not getting it. I'm not sure what they were thinking. Brolin is pretty cool, and may have done a good job as Bond, if he could have gotten the accent down...anyway, here's a screen test of Brolin's "American Bond" and here's another. He looks great. Doesn't sound right, though.

Next time, we look at the final Roger Moore Bond film, A View to a Kill. It's not the best, but hey, it's got Christopher Walken as the villain. That counts for a lot.