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.

1 comment:

  1. all of these have been an interesting part of a series.

    ReplyDelete