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007/50: The Bondathon reviews (1970s)

September 21, 2012

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Blogs tend to be rather indulgent entities and, it must be said, none more so than this one (tsk, tsk!). So, living up to its reputation – if it were actually lucky enough to have a reputation, that is – here’s a pretty darn indulgent post on this blog; in fact, maybe the most indulgent that’s ever featured on it (again tsk, tsk!).

Yes, folks, it’s the latest quintet of film reviews derived from me reaching the midway point of my ‘Bondathon’ (chronologically arranged Bond movie marathon) timed to conicide with the cinematic icon‘s 50th anniversary and release of its 23rd official adventure on the silver screen, Skyfall. Before you dip in then, a word of warning: making up quite the indulgent post, the following five reviews are longer than I intended them to be, but I promise they’re worth reading – especially if you’re an avid or casual fan of Eon’s Bond and like indulgent blog posts. Er, yes.

Anyhoo, here we go – it’s time to check in with the 007 of the  ’70s, namely the big screen escapades that are Diamonds Are Forever, Live And Let Die, The Man With The Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me and, oh yes, Moonraker

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How it works:

  1. The ‘Bondathon’ takes in all 24 cinematically released Bond films, from Dr No (1962) right through to Quantum Of Solace (2008) – including the ‘unofficial’ efforts Casino Royale (1967) and Never Say Never Again (1983)
  2. The reviews consist of 10 categories, the inclusion of which tend to define a Bond film as a Bond film (‘Plot‘, ‘Bond‘, ‘Girls‘, ‘Villains‘, ‘Action‘, ‘Humour‘, ‘Music‘, ‘Locations‘, ‘Gadgets‘ and ‘Style‘), each of which are rated out of 10, thus giving the film in question a rating out of 100 – which ensures all 24 films can be properly ranked
  3. There’s also an ‘Adjuster‘ for each film’s rating (up to plus or minus five points) to give as fair as possible a score according to its overall quality as a film.

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Directed by: Guy Hamilton; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz – loosely adapted from the Ian Fleming  novel (1956); Starring: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Joseph Furst, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Bruce Cabot, Joe Robinson, Lola Larson, Trina Parks, Leonard Barr, David Bauer and Ed Bishop; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 120 minutes; Colour; Released: December 14 1971; Worldwide box-office: $116m (inflation adjusted: $618.5m ~ 8/24*)

* denotes worldwide box-office ranking out of all 24 Bond films (inflation adjusted), according to 007james.com

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Deciding their return to Fleming-basics in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) hadn’t quite paid off, Bond producers Broccoli and Saltzman turned to what they felt sure would work for Diamonds Are Forever – out-and-out fantasy. Mind you, it’s only in the film’s final third its plot becomes ridiculous; for the first two-thirds it’s actually rather smart. Discovering swathes of British-mined diamonds are going missing at source, wonderfully monikered government charlie Sir Donald Munger turns to MI6 and, just returned from offing super-villain Blofeld (in revenge for killing his wife in OHMSS), Bond is assigned to pose as the next chain in the latest smuggling ‘pipeline’ that’s now reached Amsterdam. There he meets contact Tiffany Case, with whom he travels to Las Vegas to deliver the diamonds to the stockpilers – whom turn out to be space programme minions of  tycoon recluse Willard Whyte. On visiting Whyte, though, 007 finds evil Uncle Ernst in his place, whom with the aid of several duplicates of himself has avoided Bond’s assassination attempt and is planning to hold the world’s nuclear powers to ransom via a light-refraction-powered (thanks to the diamonds), giant laser-toting satellite. As you do.

A return to fantasy isn’t the only ‘sure bet’ the filmmakers took on Diamonds; after the gamble of casting the raw George Lazenby as Bond in Majesty’s, they did the inevitable and got Sean Connery back as 007. And maybe surprisingly, given how cheesed off he’d previously become in the role, Connery’s (re-)casting works. Admittedly neither the eager beaver of Dr No (1962) and From Russia With Love (1963) nor oozing the charm of Goldfinger (1964), as well as middle-aged by now (even his hairpiece is greying), Connery’s 007 here is a mature agent who seems tired of chasing megalomaniacs around the globe, but doesn’t know what else to do with his life (actually, Fleming’s Bond had the same problem in the end). And because of that, this Bond portrayal’s full of humour; the Big Tam’s clearly enjoying writer Tom Mankiewicz’s dialogue and Las Vegas’s distractions. He cruises through the film offering oodles of charisma in every scene, knowing that gets the job done nicely with so much crazy sh*t going on around him. This would be Connery’s last hurrah as Eon’s Bond, but he hadn’t properly said sayonara to the role yet…

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The historic template for the ’70s Bond Girls is set in Diamonds – namely bikini-clad near bimbos. Having said that, look closer and there’s more than meets the eye with the flick’s two main female characters – Jill St. John’s larceny-dedicated redhead Tiffany Case and Lana Wood’s bodaciously bosomed good-time girl Plenty O’Toole – as both boast their fare share of sass. Especially Tiffany. In the hands of the very capable St. John, she’s a woman whom, at least in the verbal department, is every bit the equal of Connery’s sardonic Bond, certainly as cynical and sharp-tongued as he is (at one point he even refers to her as ‘dragon lady’). It’s a shame then that as soon as she discovers his real identity and there’s no danger she’ll be thrown in the slammer, the script abandons her and she turns into a wet, rather useless accessory – she even messes up Bond’s mission in the climax and has a ludicrous accident with a machine gun. Worth mentioning too in this section are Bambi and Thumper (Lola Larson and Trina Parks), Willard Whyte’s acrobatic guards, whom Bond has to best in order to free him. A rare instance of the female sex posing a physical threat to 007 (at least before the ’90s), they’re good value indeed.

This flick sees the final proper bow of Blofeld, the biggest of all Bond villains. But he doesn’t go out with a bang. There’s nothing inherently wrong with Charles Gray’s interpretation, his fey, verbose, upper class British gent gone very rotten is generally engaging (we’ll ignore the bizarre drag act for now), yet after the menacing, less comic Blofelds of the last two movies, his just doesn’t really sit right, however many duplicates he has. And his demise, sitting in his bath-o-sub (why’s it called that? Is there actually a bath in there?) with which Bond destroy’s his oil hig HQ’s control room, is a big let-down as the exit for 007’s chief nemesis. Still, at least there’s also Leonard Barr’s crap Vegas comedian Shady Tree, David Bauer’s oily funeral director Morton Slumber, Marc Lawrence’s family of hoods and Ed Bishop’s friendly lab coat-clad jobsworth Klaus Hergesheimer, all of whom are rather surreally part of Blofeld’s operation – and some of whom are offed by the very un-PC, but wickedly witty gay assassin lovers Mr Wint and Mr Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith), perhaps the two most unexpected supporting characters in Bondom.

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If you like chases, Diamonds may be right up your alley – not least because it contains that notorious moment when, driven by Bond, Tiffany’s red Mustang switches from its right-hand two wheels when it enters an alley to exit on its left-hand pair because of an original continuity gaffe. That bit comes in a night-time car chase when the Mustang’s pursued by a plethora of police cars through the neon-lit streets of Las Vegas. It’s one of the series’ best car chases, but tops-off car-chase overkill – that same car’s already trailed a van to the space programme’s desert centre and, in between, Bond, yes, in a moon buggy’s been chased across the dunes by security charlies on balloon-wheeled trikes; a sequence that aims for amusement but isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. Diamondsaction also includes Bond’s claustrophobic elevator-bound scrap with the smuggler he poses as in Amsterdam, a particular highlight, but the film’s climax is rubbish. Oil rigs may have been exotic in ’71, but when your production designer’s Ken Adam why set the action finale on a platform in the sea instead of in a brilliant looking set? Dr No was made nearly a decade before (and for a fraction of the budget) and its conclusion is more explosive than this.

More a comedy than an action-adventure (although the 007 flicks only truly became the latter from 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me onwards), Diamonds zings with easily the most one-liners, wise-cracks and innuendos of any Bond movie. Some are clever (“I give up; I know the diamonds are in the body, but where?”/ “Alimentary, Dr Leiter”), others saucy (“I tend to notice little things like that, whether a girl’s a blonde or a brunette”/ “And which do you prefer?”/ “Providing the collars and cuffs match…”) and others still are just, well, marvellous (Bond stepping on to Blofeld’s oil rig HQ in the finale: “Good morning, gentlemen: ACME pollution inspection. We’re cleaning up the world, we thought this was a suitable starting point”). A lot of humour‘s also offered by the homicidal homosexuals Wint and Kidd. Some may suggest their presence in this flick strikes a bit of a homophobic line. For me, that’s going a little far; Diamonds is a movie from a very different era. What they definitely sum up is the film’s very black, often successful humour.

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Easily Diamonds‘ most satisfying aspect, its music sees John Barry at very nearly his very best. The tone’s set by the all-time classic Shirley Bassey-performed title song, a dazzling and assertive but rather acidic (listen to its lyrics) anthemic show tune – it may just be the best of La Bassey’s trio of Bond tracks. Taking the Las Vegas-informed, slightly seedy showbiz theme further, other pieces in the score soundtrack scenes as if they’re lounge music playing in the background (Diamonds Are Forever – Source Instrumental; Q’s Trick); there’s something almost satiric about this form of scoring from Barry, perfectly fitting the film’s tone. As a whole, the score’s overtly brassy and overly dramatic (maybe the most of any Bond score – and that’s saying something) and very memorable. Days after watching the flick you’re bound still to have Wint and Kidd’s eerie but damn cool leitmotif (click above image to hear it) stuck in your bonce. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The last of Barry’s ’60s(ish) punchy Bond scores, this is one to savour.

There’s a low-rent Brits-on-a-foreign-weekend-away feel to sending Bond to Amsterdam in the flick’s first half (he even travels on P&O’s ‘cool’ new hydrofoil to get there). Amsterdam’s pretty, but hardly exotic – it’s just not different enough from the UK for that. The (ahem) money shot among Diamondslocations, though, is The ‘Vegas. But this isn’t the faux sophisticated Vegas of Ocean’s Eleven (2001), it’s a Vegas that was in the transition from a Mafia-owned, sparse but cool, Rat Pack-populated entertainment haven to the corporate-backed, gaudy, Times Square-like night-for-day fantasy world it would eventually become. In which case, rather like Diamonds itself, it kind of feels neither one thing nor another; slot machine-packed and crime-filled, but aspirational and glamorous at the same time. It’s the perfect bizarro world in which a perverse Blofeld interpretation should set up camp, I suppose (with the emphasis on camp, obviously).

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There’s some nifty gadgets this time out. The cleverest is either the imitation fingerprints Bond wears for his cover as smuggler Peter Franks – and is able simply to peel off his digits – or the phone-friendly voice alteration device that Blofeld uses to pose as Willard Whyte to underlings. Q sets up an equivalent that Bond uses later to gain intel from his enemy; the latter claiming he ‘made one last Christmas for the kids’. Nice. But the coolest devices 007 uses are the piton gun with which he scales the outside of the Whyte House en route to facing Blofeld in the hotel’s top-floor penthouse and the air balloon thing that floats on water and in which, after dropped from a plane via parachute, he literally walks on water to reach the climax’s oil rig. Also, in his Vegas downtime Q makes the most of one of his own gadgets, an electro-magnetic RPM controller (think 1995’s GoldenEye) that doubles as a ring on one’s finger, with which he’s able to win a fortune on the slots and could have used as a gambit to chat up Tiffany had she not espied Blofeld escaping the casino in drag – that bloody moment’s got so much to answer for…

If there’s one word that sums up Diamondsstyle then it’s ‘sleazy’. With Mankiewicz’s borderline smutty lines (“Tiffany, we’re showing a little more cheek than usual… pity, such lovely cheeks too”) and set-ups (an only-panties-clad Plenty chucked out of a hotel window and into a pool several storeys below: “Hey, what the hell is this, a pervert’s convention?”) and Las Vegas as chief location (‘Circus, Circus’ features, with its mixture of a traditional circus and floor-space filled by slot machines and teens mouthing off when they don’t win prizes on fairground games: “Who’s she, your mother?”/ “Blow up you pants!”), the film was never going to be anything but. This is hardly usual Bond territory, but the series has now entered the ’70s and that decade’s going to be very different to the ’60s; harder-edged, franker and more cynical. Thanks to the Vegas setting and all the US characters, it’s also the first of the ‘American Bond films’ and, again, it’s a very ’70s America – almost the nostalgically naff ’70s of The Towering Inferno (1974) and TV’s Quincy, M.E. (1976-83). Like it or not, the times have changed and Bond’s changed with them.

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Adjuster: -4

Diamonds Are Forever is an odd beast – on the one hand the sleazy, neon-lit alley cat of the Eon series; on the other arguably as witty and sardonic a cool cat as you’ll see among the Bond films. It has its moments, but perhaps not enough to make up for its loose plot, underwhelming climax and overall lack of quality and substance. And, too often, that vision of Blofeld in drag tends to command attention immediately the movie springs to mind. And that’s hardly a glittering legacy.

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Best bit: Bond scales the outside of The Whyte House

Best line: “Right idea, Mr Bond”/ “But wrong pussy”

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Directed by: Guy Hamilton; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Tom Mankiewicz – loosely adapted from the Ian Fleming novel (1954); Starring: Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour, Clifton James, David Hedison, Gloria Hendry, Julius W Harris, Geoffrey Holder, Roy Stewart, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Lon Satton, Arnold Williams, Tommy Lane, Earl Jolly Brown and Madeline Smith; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 121 minutes; Colour; Released: June 27 1973; Worldwide box-office: $161.8m (inflation adjusted: $825.1m ~ 3/24*)

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In some ways, Live And Let Die is a very formulaic Bond film; in others, it’s very unusual – and that’s certainly true of its plot. MI6 agents are mysteriously dropping like flies, so 007 visits New York to observe UN HQ-attending Dr Kananga, leader of fictitious Caribbean island San Monique, who may link together the spies’ murders. Our man, though, makes a bee-line for Harlem (having followed a car driven by a would-be assailant), where he’s caught by crime chief Mr Big. Escaping, Bond follows Kananga to San Monique, where a duplicitous CIA contact confesses to the latter’s whereabouts, ensuring 007 drops in and there seduces and ‘kidnaps’ tarot card reader Solitaire. The pair escape to New Orleans and here encounter Mr Big, who steals back the girl and reveals to Bond that he and Kananga are the same man, plus his scheme: to flood the US with free San Moniquian heroin in order to turn swathes of Americans into addicts and monopolise the market. Die‘s copious captures-by- and escapes-from-baddies are familiar Bond fare, of course, but the presence of the Caribbean voodoo cult throughout (whose authenticity is never disproved) lends it a supernatural underscore possessed by no other 007 adventure.

Like Sean Connery’s in Dr No, Roger Moore’s debut as Bond here is confident and solid, but unlike the latter’s it sees a subtle, nuanced evolution of the character through the movie that smartly and smoothly establishes Sir Rog as the new 007. And it’s the film’s unique featuring of voodoo – in particular that cult’s tarot cards – that’s the clever conduit for this. At first, Moore’s Bond is revealed by Solitaire as ‘The Fool’, being easily captured by Mr Big’s goons and looking like a charming British gent out of his depth among the scum of Harlem’s black underworld. By mid-film, however, he’s progressed to become one of ‘The Lovers’, along with Solitaire herself, whom he’s underhandedly but necessarily seduced (and, let’s be honest, she’s not complaining). And if there were a tarot card for ‘The Hero’, then having written-off speedboats, aeroplanes and police cars, jumped across crocodiles, smashed Kananga’s heroin ring and rescued Solitaire for good, that’d be Bond’s calling card come the final reel. Moore plays this development of 007 pitch-perfectly throughout, moving from one stage to the next like he’s been doing it for years.

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Female characters in early to mid-’70s Bond films were hardly big-screen beacons for the burgeoning women’s lib movement and The ‘Die‘s girls definitely contribute to that trend. Having said that, though, the chief Bond Girl here is one of the all-time best. Not only is Solitaire flamboyant when it comes to her get-up (she’s surely the only character in all Bondom who possesses a costume into which one must sit rather than put on and she wears so much eye-shadow she could keep Clarins going all by herself), she also offers the supernatural dynamic of being able to predict the future, which is nicely used as a narrative driver not a gimmick. Admittedly, when she loses this unique tenet through shagging Bond it rather robs her of an identity, turning her into a damsel in distress, but, hey, them’s the breaks, I guess. Best of all, though, is the fact she’s played by Jane Seymour. Easily one of the most beautiful women to have graced a 007 movie, her plummy tones combine perfectly with her line in innocence then sexual awakening. Die‘s other girls, mind, are either disappointing or predictable (or both): Gloria Hendry’s inept – and treacherous – CIA agent Rosie Carver is annoying (she even gets on Rog’s nerves) and Madeline Smith’s über-buxom Agent Caruso a post-titles titillation, but good fun.

The ‘Die scores big when it comes to villains, but that’s not because of Mr Big. In fact, a cartoonish presence thanks to all the latex make-up, he’s its least impressive. Far better is his ‘real life’ alter ego Dr Kananga, also played by Yaphet Kotto. An often mannered and articulate politico-cum-drug lord, he also shows flashes of sadistic violence (his slapping about Solitaire is particularly distasteful). Pleasingly, Kananga’s double-villain persona ensures that, like Blofeld in Diamonds, he possesses a posse of diverse underlings. Most memorable are Julius W Harris’s Tee Hee, whose hook and claw for an arm and hand secures his place in the pantheon of classic Bond henchmen, and Geoffrey Holder’s ambiguous Baron Samedi, the symbolic demi-god that heads the voodoo cult behind which Kananga hides his opium empire (is he really undead or just a warped performer fit for Covent Garden?). There’s also Arnold Williams’ loquacious taxi driver and Earl Jolly Brown’s gentle giant Whisper. As to the murmurs that all the villains being black amounts to casual racism, for me when characters are drawn this well that amounts to bunkum.

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Action-wise, The ‘Die does the business with bells on. The tone’s set with the moment Roger Moore officially arrives as James Bond… holding on to an NYC building’s fire-escape ladder, he swings towards a goon and incredibly coolly kicks him, crashing his feet into his chest. While wearing an awesome three-quarter-length black coat and gloves. Oh yes. Like that moment, almost all the action in the movie is damn cool. Take the speedboat chase, a 15-minute action-film-within-an-action film that, with its own cast of characters and narrative, could stand on its own outside the movie. Er, maybe. It’s clear that after filming the sequence for weeks, director Guy Hamilton and his editors realised they had such good stuff they decided to include as much as the audience would feasibly take of it. There’s also the crocodile jump, of course; arguably the coolest moment in the movie – and one of the most memorable of all Bondom – and performed by fearless crocodile farm owner Ross Kananga (to whom the filmmakers were so grateful they named the villain after him). Plus, there’s the split climax too, featuring Bond besting Kananga in his lair, Tee Hee on the train afterwards and Samedi at the sacrifice ceremony ( – or does he…?).

For the most part, the humour in Die is a great success. However, there’s one exception. Clifton James’ incompetent redneck Sheriff Pepper would be an odd addition in any Bond film (just watch 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun), but given his appearance here is during the Louisiana Bayou-set speedboat chase, it does make sense. The problem comes in his cacophony of casually racist remarks. Bandying about phrases like ‘black Russians’ and ‘boy’ at black baddies like they’re going out of fashion (sadly I doubt they were in ’73), he makes for an awkward watch today. The redemption of his inclusion, though, is the fact the joke’s always on him. Elsewhere, however, The ‘Die certainly hits the comic spot – and most of it inevitably involves new Bond Moore. Whether he’s over-complicating  the making of a coffee for M (“Is that all it does?”), undoing a dolly bird’s dress with his magnetic watch (“Sheer magnetism, darling”) or, best of all, admitting to Solitaire he more or less seduced her (“The deck was slightly stacked in my favour”), he’s a triumph. As is the featuring of the is-he-or-isn’t-he-dead? Baron Samedi on the front of 007 and Solitaire’s train in the flick’s final shot – one of the series’ best winks at the audience that.

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Musically, The ‘Die is unique on two counts – it’s the first Bond film in a decade not to be scored by John Barry and the only one whose score embraces funk. Taking Barry’s place, Beatles producer George Martin savvily doesn’t try to emulate him, but riskily ‘updates’ the Bond sound, unashamedly bolting it to early ’70s urban Americana by, yup, turning to funk. A canny musical experimenter, though, Martin does a bang-up job. Take this flick’s version of The James Bond Theme (click above image to hear it); it’s transformed from Barry’s eerie, tight arrangement into a swaggering show-boater, just as cool as before but now fitting for James Brown to add customary ‘huh!’s throughout. Just as impressive – and arguably more important – is the title theme, Paul McCartney And Wings’ utterly bombastic effort that very nearly topped the US charts, received an Oscar nom and is still a mainstay of Macca’s concerts today. The first rock track to grace a Bond film, its bass riff is utterly irresistible and features prominently throughout the score too.

With all of its locations to be found in North and Central America, Die is unquestionably the second of the series’ four ‘American Bond films’. But this is no bad thing. How could it be when New York’s Manhattan is – surprisingly? – more like that of The French Connection (1971) than, say, Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961), eschewing any real or faux Bondian glamour for a more down-at-heel early ’70s milieu? Similarly, San Monique (or Jamaica as it actually is on-screen) is arguably more poppy fields, voodoo-afflicted graveyards and backwaters featuring clapped-out and roof-losing London buses than the bopping and beautiful island encountered by Bond in Dr No. By contrast, though, New Orleans is shown as the relaxed party town its reputation purports, with the colour and break-out celebration of jazz funerals filling in for Mardi Gras. The only non-American locale is actually a set, Bond’s Chelsea flat. Yet its wood-pannelled elegance sort of shattered by its bed seemingly the centre of attention and Sir Rog’s Bond walking around in a cream dressing gown with the ego-massaging ‘JB’ initials emblazoned on the breast pocket are together the height of interior and sartorial design for this particular Bond fan. So shoot me.

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That classic Bond film trope, watches as scrape-escaping gadgets, starts here. Bond’s Rolex Submariner has two awesome functions, in addition to telling the time, of course. First, it becomes an incredibly powerful electro-magnet, supposedly capable of deflecting fired bullets and demonstrably capable of opening ladies’ zipped-up dresses. And, second, its face becomes a buzz-saw, helpful if one gets tied up to a winch above a shark-infested pool in a villain’s lair. Bond also packs a pocket-sized bug detector and a Morse code transmitter doubling as a hairbrush. The villains too get their fair share of cool gadgets: the office chair with its flip-up wrist-holds to keep Bond captive, Samedi’s flute-cum-communicator and the San Moniquian scarecrows with their video-camera eyes and bullet-firing mouths. Plus, lest we forget, there’s also that compressed air pellet from Bond’s shark gun that finishes off Kananga – ridiculous but brilliant.

As is rightly claimed so often, The ‘Die takes a cue from US cinema’s early ’70s ‘blaxpoitation’ phenomenon. Its first third’s landscape of unapologetically assertive black characters on both sides (don’t forget Lon Satton’s CIA agent Strutter) of New York’s urban crime divide is very Shaft. Indeed, black faces are everywhere throughout (so much so that Roger Moore and Jane Seymour’s very white mugs often make for a stark contrast – “It’s like following a cue-ball!”). Without a paradisical European or Asian locale, it’s Die‘s ‘blackness’ that provides its exoticism; Maurice Binder’s titles are chock-full of beautiful black lovelies, Kananga and his goons are unavoidable and the garishly exuberant song-and-dance funerals of New Orleans demand attention. Also, in keeping with the death theme prompted by the flick’s punning title and the voodoo cult, the blood and danger colour that is red features strongly, what with Binder’s titles awash with it (and fiery flames) and interiors of the Fillet Of Soul restaurants and Mr Big’s HQ and the suits of Big himself and Tee Hee all featuring bold red tints. Even the dial of Bond’s watch turns red when it becomes operationally magnetic. This 007 outing may feature none of the refined ’60s style of earlier efforts, but hits a funky, bouncy, very ’70s yet timeless beat all of its own.

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Adjuster: -2

Thanks to one or two narrative and character mis-steps, Sir Rog’s 007 debut isn’t a perfect film, but it’s surely one of the best recalled Bond films. That speedboat chase; that crocodile jump; those tarot cards; all those villains; Macca’s pumping title tune; Baron Samedi; Jane Seymour and, of course, Roger Moore and his buzz-saw-cum-electro-magnet timepiece. Very few Eon efforts offer this much Bondian iconography – and thus this much entertainment. To paraphrase Mr Big, names may be for tombstones, er, baby, but Live And Let Die is forever.

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Best Bit: the speedboat chase

Best line: “Is there time before we leave for lesson number three?”/ “Absolutely. There’s no sense in going off half-cocked”

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Read why Live And Let Die is one of the ultimate movies of the 1970s here

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Directed by: Guy Hamilton; Produced by: Harry Saltzman and Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz – loosely adapted from the Ian Fleming novel (1965); Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Hervé Villechaize, Clifton James, Richard Loo, Soon-Taik Oh, Marc Lawrence, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Marne Maitland and Carmen du Sautoy; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 125 minutes; Colour; Released: December 19 1974; Worldwide box-office: $97.6m (inflation adjusted: $448.2m ~ 17/24*)

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Looking to capitalise on The ‘Die‘s serious box-office success, Broccoli and Saltzman rushed The Man With The Golden Gun into production; but it didn’t pay off, not least in terms of its plot. A golden bullet engraved with ‘007’ has been sent to MI6. In the belief it may be a warning/ boast that he’s the target of an unknown hitman, Bond’s relieved of his duties (pursuing a scientist who’s invented the Solex, a device that’ll prevent an impending energy crisis) to track down his would-be killer. He learns the bullet was made by a bespoke weapons expert, whom leads our hero to his client’s mistress Andrea Anders. Confronting her in Hong Kong, 007 learns her keeper is assassin Francisco Scaramanga – and she sent Bond the bullet so he’d find and free her. With the aid of local MI6 agent Mary Goodnight, 007 discovers his potential foe and big shot Thai businessman Hai Fat have stolen the energy device. Eventually, Scaramanga kills both Hai Fat and Andrea and kidnaps Goodnight, forcing Bond to fly to his island hideaway for a climactic showdown and to retrieve Goodnight and the Solex. Hampered by a ’70s depressing ‘energy crisis’ sub-plot, this intriguing if slight Western-style gunman-versus-gunman narrative just isn’t gilt-edged.

Their second Bond film is all about consolidation for a 007 actor and Roger Moore achieves this consolidation – with a caveat. The seeds of the Moore Bond were sown in The ‘Die and they begin to blossom here: the playfulness that characterises his ability as Britain’s best secret agent, his unbridled appeal to the opposite sex, his ludicrously wide knowledge and quick mind and, perhaps because of all that, his arrogance. Yet there’s also big signs that this 007 is still in its genesis, for both he and the filmmakers are experimenting. Take the scene in which Bond threatens and semi-tortures a just-out-of-the-shower Andrea Anders to get close to Scaramanga. Sure, at this point, 007 may be desperate to find his potential murderer before he finds him, but the sight of Sir Rog slapping about an innocent woman just doesn’t sit right; Connery may have got away with it – now and again – but Moore really is ‘too nice’ for it to work. Tellingly, this Bond would only use women again after a consensually enjoyed bonk and a charming wink.

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On the one hand, Golden Gun‘s girls are firecrackers; on the other, they’re like lighters going out in the wind. Their biggest plus is the fact they’re gorgeous. Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight is a sunshine blonde with a slightly wonky Brit (really Swedish) accent and Maud Adams’ Andrea Anders is a beautiful brunette with more than a wing down. However, they’re both poorly drawn. Although Andrea’s melancholic ‘sacrifical lamb’ is finely played and more than a little engaging, the script invests little in her character; it’s moving when she’s killed, but shouldn’t we care about her more? Worse, Goodnight is surely the wettest, most incompetent Bond Girl in the series thus far (if not of all-time). Her uselessness is supposed to be a gag, of course, and Ekland’s very game, but it’s a gag that gets tired very quickly. Plus, doesn’t Bond need someone not just attractive but witty, spunky and at least interesting to bounce off – instead of a girl whose ultimate aim is to bounce with him under the sheets? There’s also Carmen du Sautoy’s Beirut belly dancer Saida and Françoise Therry’s in-the-nuddy (and thus pretty sexist) Chew Mee – both are window dressing.

Golden Gun‘s villains are easily its best aspect. Together, Christopher Lee’s assassin Francisco Scaramanga and Hervé Villechaize’s henchman Nick Nack shouldn’t work, but this improbable, bizarre duo (by happy accident or genius filmmaking) totally works. Scaramanga is everything a Bond villain should be. Tall, dignifed, sadistic and genuinely menacing, he ensures the film’s always better when he’s on-screen. Cleverly too, he’s presented (especially by himself) as the absolute negative of 007; a sort of Bond gone very wrong. And Lee’s such a dab-hand at making screen villains quality villains, he leaves you in no doubt of the character’s motives, vanity, weaknesses and evil. Nick Nack too is a fine little invention. A manservant as much as he is a henchman (unlikely as it may be he’s also a cordon bleu chef), this vertically challenged baddie is so deliciously, impishly naughty it’s only right he’s caged up rather than bumped off at the end – it’d be too cruel to send him to his maker. Marc Lawrence’s pre-titles gangster and Richard Loo’s Hai Fat round out the villains, but neither come close to the main two; the latter because he’s a bit rubbish and the former because, well, he’s apparently called Rodney. Yes, really.

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Tonally, Golden Gun has problems. And this is certainly the case with its action. Too many of these sequences are played for laughs and, falling between two stools, end up neither as adrenalin-inducing or as funny as they should. The chief offender is the Bangkok-set car chase between Bond’s AMC Hornet and Scaramanga’s Datsun. Although decent action-wise, it’s hampered by Louisiana’s loutish cop JW Pepper, returning from The ‘Die. Humour-free (more on that below), Pepper’s sidekick role to Bond here is ill-advised, yet the ‘funnies’ continue as the money-shot stunt that’s the ‘Astro Spiral’ jump over the broken bridge performed by the Hornet (truly extraordinary for its day) is pretty much ruined by a slide-whistle as it twists through the air. In a similar vein is Bond’s encounter with two sumos at Hai Fat’s house, one of whom he bests by twisting his mawashi (and presumably crushing the poor chap’s privates) and, even worse, when it all goes kung-fu mid-film and 007 has to be aided in beating up crap martial artists by local ally Lieutenant Hip’s karate-savvy teenage nieces. That has to be one of Bondom’s biggest lows, right there. Things are salvaged, though, by Bond and Scaramanga’s High Noon-like showdown at the end. Genuinely tense and cannily crafted, it’s easily the flick’s best sequence.

For the reasons mentioned above – and others – Golden Gun‘s humour is not a great success. The biggest mis-step is definitely the (let’s be honest) unwelcome return of Pepper. If you find him just about tolerable in The ‘Die, then you’ll be sorely tested here; there’s only so many shouts at ‘poonyheads’ in ‘pu-jamas’ anyone can take surely – and Pepper getting dumped in a river by an elephant surely isn’t punishment enough for his infecting vacation of Thailand. On a brighter note, this flick does boast Sir Rog on decent form, of course (“I am now aiming directly at your groin, so speak or forever hold your piece”) and the diminutive but definitely amusing Nick Nack. Ultimately, though, Golden Gun‘s comic credentials just don’t cut the mustard enough.

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Despite his reliance on slide-whistles and tacky saxophones to sign-post ‘sexy’ moments, John Barry (back after a one-film sabbatical) does a decent job with Golden Gun‘s music. Mind you, it’s far from his best of the series; being several notches down in terms of imagination from his effort for Diamonds – there’s nowhere near the same number of memorable themes and cues. But that does fit with the lack of imagination on-screen, so if Barry was less enthused to do the business here given what he was actually scoring, then it’s understandable. All the same, though, replacing the punchy brass with luscious strings when repeating Lulu’s raunchy title theme throughout the film (Goodnight Goodnight – click on above image to hear it) adds an almost melancholic grandeur to some scenes and both Hip’s Trip and the finale-accompanying Return To Scaramanga’s Fun House are fine examples of flavoursome, tension-building scoring.

Seven years after You Only Live Twice, Bond’s back in the Far East. But this time the exoticism of South East Asia lacks something. Contrasted with the cool modernity of ’60s Tokyo and the beauty of Japan’s volcanic islands, as featured in Twice, the locations that are Hong Kong (briefly visited in the latter movie anyway) and Thailand’s Bangkok feel rather low-rent. Perhaps it’s because of Bangkok’s seedy reputation and/ or because of this flick’s sleazy script and drop in artistry? Whatever the reason, Thailand’s a locale the producers hope would look exotic and beautiful, but oddly ends up looking drab and predictable. Despite that, though, its use is redeemed somewhat by the climax taking place on an island near Phuket (now known in real life as ‘James Bond Island’ – bloody tourists!). Genuinely a place of great beauty, it’s unforgettable thanks to its iconic mushroom-shaped rock – an ideal setting then for a Bond film finale.

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The less satisfying 007 flicks are often helped out by their physical accoutrements (be they their vehicles, sets or gadgets), but on the gadget front, at least, Golden Gun is left wanting as much as it is in other areas. Yes, the movie’s major gadget, the golden gun itself, is an absolute doozy. Swiftly assembled from ‘everyday’ solid gold items (a fountain pen, a cigarette case, a cigarette lighter and cufflinks), this pistol is a very cool if ludicrous piece of kit that’s more memorable than much of the rest of its film’s content. However, it’s a gadget used by the villain, not Bond himself (readers of my ’60s Bond film reviews may recall that, gadget-wise, Eon efforts whose best nifty items are handed out to their villains not Bond are a bit of a bête noire for me). So what does our hero get supplied with then? A fake triple nipple to con Hai Fat into thinking he’s the villain of the piece. In the words of Bond: kinky, but also crap. Oh, and there’s the movie’s sort-of macguffin, the pocket-sized Solex Agitator thing (which harnesses solar energy to power nuclear reactors that generate electricity), but it’s so dull it’s pretty much instantly forgettable.

If Diamonds‘ style is that of sleazy early ’70s Americana, then Golden Gun‘s is that of sleazy early ’70s Britain – even though it’s pretty much entirely set in South East Asia (mind, Hong Kong was very much still a UK territory). Its production values probably weren’t, but they feel cheap and rather tacky, its humour is at best bawdy, at worse smutty and the general atmos, look and tone is more akin to that of the Carry On movies made around then than to many of the previous Bonds. There’s a depressed feel to Golden Gun. The ’70s Britain represented here is one reminiscent of strikes, decay and disappointment – there’s an energy crisis looming, everybody’s angry with each other (especially within MI6), attractive women are dolly birds and browns and bronzes abound everywhere (from the interiors of half-sunk boats serving as MI6’s on-the-fly HQs to one too many offerings from the costume department). And while that sprightly vanguard of ’70s pop culture, kung-fu, turns up, it’s played for laughs and wasted. Phuyuck, indeed.

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I’ve read somewhere that The Man With The Golden Gun is the ‘artistic nadir’ of the Bond film series – let’s be honest, it’s certainly up (or, rather, down) there. The result of a rushed pre-production, a relationship between Broccoli and Saltzman that was becoming increasingly fractious and perhaps the 007 movie locomotive running out of steam just before it hit double figures, this effort, unlike Scaramanga’s ridiculous car-plane, just never really gets off the ground.

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Best bit: Bond and Scaramanga’s showdown

Best line: “I like a girl in a bikini – no concealed weapons”

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Directed by: Lewis Gilbert; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Christopher Wood – title taken from the Ian Fleming novel (1962); Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curt Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Walter Gotell, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Geoffrey Keen, Lois Maxwell, Shane Rimmer, Valerie Leon, Michael Billington, Olga Bisera, Edward de Souza, Vernon Dobtcheff, Nadim Sawalha and Bryan Marshall; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 125 minutes; Colour; Released: July 7 1977; Worldwide box-office: $185.4m (inflation adjusted: $692.7m ~ 5/24*)

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The big-screen Bond took a three-year sabbatical after Golden Gun‘s arguable debacle. When it was finally back with The Spy Who Loved Me, thanks to the now flying-solo Broccoli it was bigger than ever before – not least the flick’s plot. A pair of British and Russian nuclear submarines have gone missing, so both MI6 and the KGB assign their top agents – 007 for Blighty and XXX (Major Anya Amasova) for the Ruskkies – to recover a microfilm of a missile-tracking system’s plans. Separately, the agents trace the macguffin to Egypt, where inevitably their paths cross. Having recovered it, together they’re ordered to pursue a lead from its otherwise useless contents – marine biologist Karl Stromberg. Now lovers, they meet the reclusive tycoon in Sardinia and find he’s built an enormous super-tanker that looks capable of containing concealed submarines. Boarding an American sub just before the vessel’s swallowed by the super-tanker, 007 and XXX (now at loggerheads as the latter’s discovered the former killed her previous lover) learn of Stromberg’s scheme: destroy the decadent modern world with the subs’ nuclear arsenal and replace it with a utopia beneath the waves. Admirably ambitious fantasy fare, this plot also boasts a refreshing and engaging East-falls-in-and-out-of-love-with-West element.

No question, it’s here that Roger Moore comes of age as Bond. He makes the role his own, stamping the Sir Rog brand all over it. What’s so good about Moore’s performance is it fits the film around it perfectly. Helmer Lewis Gilbert has said he directed his star as a romantic adventure lead, with more than a knack for light comedy, like Cary Grant. Canny? Not much. Like before, Rog is charismatic, charming and light on his feet with the witticisms and action; only even more so.  There’s a palpable increased confidence in his essaying the role; he’s more relaxed, smoother and funnier. Thanks too to a scene in which his dramatic acting is given an impressive work-out (where 007 admits to killing XXX’s paramour in the name of duty), audiences as they exited cinemas come the movie’s end may well have been asking themselves: ‘Sean who…?’

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Poor old Mrs Ringo Starr. From some Bond fans she gets it in the neck for her Ruskkie spy Anya Amasova – and it’s such a lovely neck too. Yet, as Bond Girls go, Barbara Bach’s XXX isn’t among the worst; there’s much about her that’s very good. A renowned secret agent, Anya’s cool and calculated, resourceful and resilient, sure-footed and self-reliant (sure, eventually she becomes a damsel-in-distress, but she is a ’70s Bond Girl and none of her ilk have ever been – nor probably ever should be – Bond’s match, apart from perhaps the unique Tracy of Majesty’s). She’s also, of course, stunning to look at, which doesn’t hurt, portrayed as she is by the ravishing former model Ms Bach, whose look – highly defined cheekbones and all – and demeanour make up for her slightly blunt line delivery. Spy also boasts femme fatale Naomi, a hottie who’s a helicopter pilot-cum-killer played by classic Brit crumpet Caroline Munro. Another UK totty favourite Valerie Leon appears as an über-flirtatious Sardinian hotel receptionist, while further eye-candy features in pre-title ski lodges and Egyptian bedouin tents. Just like in real life then.

To be fair, Spy‘s chief baddie isn’t its greatest strength. Stromberg’s a sedentary give-orders-and-push-buttons sort of guy, not surprising given his portrayer Curt Jurgens is carrying quite the paunch. And yet, Jurgens does lend him a disconcerting other-worldliness that surely an ocean-obsessed nutter like Strommers would possess. Much more memorable is Jaws, his titan of a silent assassin with the razor-sharp steel molars, played by gentle giant Richard Kiel. Seven feet and four inches of henchman goodness (or rather badness), Jaws is an all-time icon of Bond. Mostly a light-hearted presence, admittedly (his scenes alongside 007 and XXX at Karnak and in the shark pen are marvellous), he nonetheless offers genuine menace, owing to his physical presence, his penchant for killing victims by biting their jugulars and the fact he appears to be indestructible. There’s also his baldy protégé Sandor (Milton Reid), the Liparus’s put-upon captain (Sydney Tafler) and Anya’s Bond-offed spy lover Sergei Barsov (one-time possible 007 Michael Billington), but frankly, in Spy all the other villains play second fiddle to Jaws.

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Its action is one of Spy‘s many aspects where it’s bigger than any previous Eon effort. Most impressive is the explosive ending. Like he had for Twice, Lewis Gilbert concludes things with a big brilliant battle featuring a Bond-led army versus the villain’s private army. 007 commands the combined UK, US and USSR sub crews trying to wrestle control of the Liparus from Stromberg’s red boiler-suited minions. Sub-machine gunfire is traded, grenades thrown, mini mokes crashed and nuclear warheads dangerously plundered for their explosive charges. It’s a cracking WWII movie climax unexpectedly transposed to the world of Bond. Although much of Spy‘s other action is humour-filled, it’s all top stuff: hand-to-hand scrapes (on a rooftop against Sandor and on a train against Jaws) and vehicular chases (both on-road and underwater in the Lotus Esprit, where it’s pursued by a helicopter, a three-man submersible and, best of all, a motorcycle with a missile for a sidecar). The flick’s best chase, however, is the pre-title ski-bound one. All right, it’s really all about its ending: that dive off the edge of the cliff before Bond’s double, the insanely brave mountaineer Rick Sylvester, opens his parachute emblazoned with a Union Jack to drift down to safety below. Undoubtedly applause-worthy to this day.

As noted, Spy‘s action is peppered with humour. Yet, unlike in Golden Gun, this humour complements the action. That’s not to suggest much of the film’s comedy isn’t bawdy (hey, this is a Sir Rog movie), but it’s not the near-smut of Golden Gun. It’s also witty (girl and Bond, pre-coital: “Oh James, I cannot find the words”/ “Well, let me try and enlarge your vocabulary”; Bond and girl discovered post-coital: “Bond, what do you think you’re doing?!”/ “Keeping the British end up, sir”). Jaws’s presence too turns several scenes comic, yet the slapstick never goes OTT and is always funny (Jaws is encouraged by Bond to get his steel teeth stuck to an electro-magnet: “How does that grab you?”). But perhaps why Spy‘s humour works so well – on top of the amusing script and knowing direction – is Moore himself; his comfort in the role ensures the comedy washes over us, plus he even made contributions himself (he ad-libbed both the ‘Egyptian builders’ line and holding the fish out the Lotus’s window as it emerges from the sea). Pure class.

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Setting a miss-every-other-Bond-film pattern (which began with The ‘Die and would carry on until the early ’80s), John Barry sat out Spy, allowing white-hot American composer Marvin Hamlisch to step in. Coming off triple-Oscar success for The Sting and The Way We Were (both 1973), Hamlisch succeeded in courting the Academy – and the mass public – again with Spy‘s music, most specifically his title theme Nobody Does It Better (lyrics written by Carole Bayer-Sager). Rightly a pop standard and one of the most popular tunes of the Bond canon, the Carly Simon-sung tune was then a bit of a departure for 007, its smooth, melodic femininity far from what Barry would have delivered, but it’s awesome and works a treat. Barry too would surely have scoffed at Hamlisch’s approach to other of the movie’s music – yes, we’re talking disco, folks. At worse dating the movie a little, at best adding it a unique charm, it ensures Spy‘s score is unmistakably a ’70s piece. Most obvious is Bond ’77, Hamlisch’s take on the Bond Theme with its driving disco rhythm, and the ebullient Ride To Atlantis (click on image above to hear it). Yet much of the rest of the score is more orchestral and Barry-esque, such as Jaws Attacks (featured in the Karnak sequence) and the Liparus-set finale’s bombastic themes and cues. It also goes all ethnic in the marvellous Mojave Club to be heard, yes, in Cairo’s Mojave Club.

Locations-wise, Spy‘s a bit of a departure. Yes, there’s the exoticism and the sun-kissed beaches of former Eon efforts, but this time the former’s offered by North African ancient sites and the latter by a small island off the coast of Italy. Yet Egypt’s Giza pyramids, Karnak/ Luxor ruins and boat-ride up the Nile, and Sardinia’s family-friendly but rather exclusive seeming sands work a treat. Of the two, Egypt is Spy‘s most boast-worthy locale and the filmmakers make sure we see some of the urbanity of Cairo too – all dusty narrow streets, minarets and dinky, overly cushioned flats – lending the film’s first third a conceivable, almost down-at-heel espionage atmos. Uniquely, the last third of the flick all takes place at sea; supposedly the Atlantic, but mostly filmed off the coast of the Bahamas. Plus, lest we forget, there’s the snowy climes of the pre-titles, which isn’t Austria but actually Switzerland’s Graubünden and Canada’s Mount Asgard.

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Even without the Lotus Esprit, Spy would score decently in the gadgets department. There’s the wetbike that marks the world’s first glimpse of that semi-seafaring vehicle, the firing ski-pole with which 007 dispatches Barsov, the fag case and lighter combo that allows him to examine the microfilm’s contents, Anya’s sleeping drug-spreading cigarette and, best of all, Bond’s Seiko watch that spools a ticker-tape message from Moneypenny (strange, my ’80s digital watches never came with that accompaniment – could have allowed Mum to inform me when to race home on my BMX for dinner). Ultimately, though, the highest plaudits go to the Lotus. Sleek, white and angular ’70s car design at its best, the vehicle’s transformation into a submersible is a flight – or rather dive – of fantasy, but works because it looks sort of credible. With fins instead of wheels, harpoon guns rising from the bonnet, a paint/ oil slick from behind the back number plate, a periscope and an air-to-air missile, it’s ideal transport for a superspy doing underwater reconnaissance – if only it didn’t develop leaks that let in little fish. Ah well, what can you do?

Spy is a very ’70s Bond film: disco additions to the ‘Bond sound’, trouser legs with flare-points so sharpened they’ll have your eye out, Sir Rog’s very smart apparel effectively featuring a ‘safari suit’ jacket and his look-it’s-me-James-Bond! banana-yellow skiing togs. Yet, this flick’s style isn’t foremost remembered as a display of dubious sartorial design and pop stylings. It’s more rightly recalled for high production values. For surely it’s set designer Ken Adam who aids Broccoli most in realising his ‘bigger than ever before’ maxim thanks to building an enormous water-filled stage at Pinewood Studios (the ‘Albert R Broccoli 007 Stage’ as it’s now known). It houses the Liparus set, the movie’s tour de force that’s literally every inch as impressive as Adam’s volcano set for Twice. Overall, Sir Ken’s big design work is full of silver metallic surfaces, aiding to translate Spy‘s aim to present a dynamic Britain ably punching above its weight once more with not just the awesomeness of 007, but also a rather awesome navy. Even Maurice Binder’s titles get in on the act, flourishing Union Jacks and reds, whites and blues as the dads in the audience eye up naked acrobats swinging on pistol barrels. Inspirational stuff, all round then.

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Yes, The Spy Who Loved Me is a greatest hits package of a Bond film, but when the hits are this great, who cares? Its fantasy may get a tad silly, but it’s entertainment’s very hard to top. Like this year, 1977 was one of big British celebration (the Sex Pistols aside) and, don’t doubt it, alongside Her Maj’s silver jubilee, Spy was a golden Eon offering to Blighty – and the world.

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Best bit: The Union Jack parachute jump

Best line: “But James, I need you!”/ “So does England!”

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Directed by: Lewis Gilbert; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Christopher Wood – title and other elements taken from the Ian Fleming novel (1955); Starring: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Clery, Toshiro Suga, Bernard Lee, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Blanche Ravalec, Emily Bolton, Walter Gotell, Michael Marshall, Anne Lonberg and Irka Bochenko; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA/ France; Running time: 126 minutes; Colour; Released: June 26 1979; ; Worldwide box-office: $210.3m (inflation adjusted: $655.9m ~ 7/24*)

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Moonraker takes Bond further than ever before – in terms of plot and everything else. After a ‘Moonraker’ space shuttle is hijacked while on loan from the US space programme to the UK, 007 visits its California-based billionaire manufacturer Hugo Drax. As soon as he meets him, though, he suspects a rat (the eerie tycoon himself) and is shown around Drax’s complex by a female trained astronaut, Dr Holly Goodhead. He then follows a lead to a Venetian glassworks where he discovers the creation of a gas lethal to humans, but harmless to all other living things. Yet Drax clears out this operation before Bond’s superiors arrive. Given the cold shoulder then, 007 travels to Rio on a hunch where he again encounters Dr Goodhead, after having learnt in Venice she’s a CIA agent ordered to monitor Drax. Goodhead is soon kidnapped, so 007 follows his only remaining lead: the source of the gas (a sample of which he purloined in Venice), an orchid from the Tapirapé river in Brazil. In an Incan pyramid there he finds Drax holding Goodhead, but also launching shuttles to an Earth-orbiting space station from which he’ll repopulate the globe with ‘perfect’ human specimens after wiping out the rest of its decadent population with his gas. With no alternative, Bond and Goodhead steal one of the shuttles and follow Drax into space… Pure nonsense from start to finish, Moonraker’s narrative is really a space-themed retread of Spy‘s.

Roger Moore claims his favourite Eon effort is Spy, but it’s this flick in which he appears to be having the most fun. So cannily does he play Bond here, he almost glides above the sometimes ridiculous action going on, as if he’s some sort of eyebrow raising, innuendo-dropping, happily shagging dandy angel sent down to earth – and to Drax’s stud-farm in space – to save all the silly humans incapable of saving themselves. With irresistible knowing, he’s our guide through the wonderfully glamorous, OTT world of Moonraker, never taking any situation too seriously nor holding a grudge for any attempt on his life from ‘old friend’ Jaws so long as he can deliver a wisecrack afterwards. A few years earlier, Roy Wood sang he wish it could be Christmas everyday; I wish I could be Sir Rog’s 007 in Moonraker everyday. Quite frankly, who doesn’t?

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Looks-wise, many would claim Thunderball‘s the Bond movie with the best girls, but I’d argue it’s Moonraker. Mind you, The ‘Raker‘s female lead may be the overall best of the ’70s cinematic 007. Lois Chiles’ Dr Holly Goodhead (despite her innuneduous name) is the first proper instance of feminism finding Eon’s Bond. A CIA operative and trained astronaut, she matches Bond’s smarts and wit. Plus, although 007 technically rescues her, without her ability to fly a space shuttle he wouldn’t get to and from Drax’s space station. She looks damn good too, naturally. Even better looking is Corinne Clery’s ‘sacrificial lamb’ Corrine Dufour, whom may lack brains, but out of a sense of morality, not just Bond’s charms, she helps out our hero. And don’t forget Blanche Ravalec’s Dolly, Jaws’s dinky but lovely love-interest, and Emily Bolton’s Rio MI6 hottie Manuela. But what propels Moonraker into the Bond totty stratosphere (in addition to the other four) is the presence of the Eves with whom Drax aims to mate his Adams to repopulate Earth. Who are they? Irka Bochenko, Françoise Gayat, Christina Hui, Chichinou Kaeppler, Beatrice Libert, Nicaise Jean Louis, Anne Lonnberg and Catherine Serre. Their names’ll mean little to you no doubt, but if you’re a heterosexual male, their appearances’ll surely mean a great deal.

You make think that with its chief baddie’s bananas scheme and a return of the buffoonery of Spy‘s Jaws (that really can’t end well, right?), Moonraker would be embarrassing when it comes to villains, but it’s anything but. Hugo Drax is cut from that same cultured, witty, deluded cloth as Dr No and Blofeld (quite literally too when it comes to the nehru jackets), French actor Michael Lonsdale investing him with an impressively eerie je ne sais quois. His first henchman is also eerie and handy with a kendo sword, being portayed by Toshiro Suga (whom won his role as he was executive producer Michael G Wilson’s judo instructor). And then, of course, there’s Jaws. A bone of contention in Moonraker mostly for his cable car crash and subsequent instant romance with Dolly, the ‘loveable’ lofty’s something of a most with me. His switch from killer to hero is a twist you genuinely don’t see coming – at least if you were eight when you first saw this flick – and somehow after all these years it still works for me. Plus, although ludicrous, his champagne moment with Dolly tugs at the heartstrings. But hey, I love The Muppets too, so, well, you know…

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Weirdly (or perhaps fittingly?) Moonraker’s action shows it at both its best and worse. In the credit column are the utterly done-for-real pre-title’s skydiving scrap and leaping about on the Rio cable car (to be seen in long shots). Ironically, though, in the debit column are the sequences in which these death-defying stunts feature. The trouble is they’re played for laughs, so much so they seem to aim for an audience of twelve-year-olds; a real shame given the staggering stuntwork involved. Less contentiously successful, though, are 007 and Chang’s fisticuffs in the Venetian glassworks and the Tapirapé river battle between Bond’s gadget-laden Glastron and Drax’s minions’ boats (at least before the former turns into a hand glider and one of the latter, complete with Jaws, goes over a waterfall). More ridiculous is the chase through Venice’s canals involving the ‘Bondola’ (the gondola-cum-speedboat), especially when the it mounts St. Mark’s Square as a hovercraft, plus the laser-fest finale as astronauts and Drax-onauts duke it out for control of the universe… or something. Mind you, the flight into space by the shuttles and the ‘That’s-no-moon’-esque  revealing of the space station are truly something else. As is arguably the flick’s only tension-filled bits: Bond being tortured/ nearly killed in the G-Force simulator and he and Holly hunting down Drax’s gas-carrying globes come the finish.

Like Diamonds, Moonraker is very much a comedy of a Bond film, but like Golden Gun its humour definitely lets it down. Despite some good comic moments (most of Bond and Holly’s by-play; Jaws passing through airport security and 007 inspecting his enormous Rio hotel room: “Don’t bother showing me the rest, if I get lost I’ll catch a cab”), the movie’s best bits don’t involve any humour. And most of its worse do – Jaws’s skydiving and crashing his cable car, and the Bondola in St. Mark’s Square (cue the double-taking pigeon) foremost among them. At times, it’s as if Cubby and co. forget they’re making a Bond film and go the whole Carry On hog. Having said that, though, one of Moonraker‘s daftest moments is surely its most fondly recalled (and for good reason), namely 007 and Goodhead’s zero-gravity bonk – “My God, what’s Bond doing?”/ (altogether now:) “I think he’s attempting re-entry”. Comedy gold.

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It sounds unlikely, but it’s true – if the Shirley Bassey title track were better, Moonraker‘s score may have got a 10/10. A slow, mellow, melancholic tune, La Bassey’s final Bond offering is far from the series’ usual fare, nor its most memorable song. Indeed, the movie’s music as a whole is a departure for composer John Barry. Like Eon’s Bond himself, Barry is older and more experimental; his Bond sound here morphing into what it would be throughout the ’80s – smoother, more orchestral but no less impressive and effective. Take Miss Goodhead Meets Bond, a beautiful, full orchestral rendering of the title theme, or Bond Lured To Pyramid, a flutey, harp-heavy, angelic choral-accompanied whispy piece that’s pure fantasy cinema scoring, or Bond Arrives In Rio And Boat Chase, a samba-style take on the title tune that flows into a markedly smooth take on Barry’s classic 007 theme. But the jewels in the crown are Corinne Put Down and Flight Into Space. Two of the best pieces in Barry’s entire Bond oeuvre, the former sees plucked strings turn to a driving rhythm and the latter is this score’s tour de force, an epic 2001: A Space Odyssey-style march with oh-so noble brass and strings (click on the above image to hear it). Maybe the final word, though, should go to the disco-ified end titles version of Bassey’s tune – a real so-camp-it’s-good experience (especially in this video).

Is there a more impressive Bond film when it comes to locations than The ‘Raker? I’m hard pressed to think of one. Try this on for size: Venice, Rio de Janeiro (complete with its world famous carnival), Brazil’s Amazonian rainforest, Argentina’s Iguaçu waterfalls (doubling for the rainforest), Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte just outside Paris (doubling for Drax’s estate) and, of course, outer space. It’s one hell of a cast list of locales and, like in many Bond films that boast fine location-filming, together they form one of the very best characters of the entire flick. Captured with – at times – breathtaking beauty by cinematographer Jean Tournier, they’re an irresistible on-screen combo that leaves the viewer not just delightedly and vicariously travelling around the world from one exceedingly impressive place to the next, but also dizzy at 007’s seemingly never-ending jet-setter globe-hopping.

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Stuffed full of gadgets, Moonraker may feature one or two very daft devices, but they’re made up for by several other fine Boothroyd-derived items. For every ‘007’ miniature camera (with, yes, ‘007’ embossed across it) and dart-loaded ‘deadly diary’ (one of Goodhead’s CIA-issued items), there’s a safe-cracker doubling as a cigarette case (that cleverly shows x-ray-style the safe’s cogs as its door’s unlocked), a poison-tipped pen (again courtesy of Holly’s collection, which Bond uses to free him of his anaconda ‘crush’) and an exploding digital watch that prevents both 007 and Holly from being fried beneath a launching space shuttle (“Bang on time!”). There’s also the aforementioned gondola-cum-speedboat-cum-hovercraft that’s the ‘Bondola’ (ridiculous, yes, but terrifically realised) and Bond’s hand glider-hiding, floating mines- and torpedo-toting speedboat. But the best of the bunch is his wrist-dart gun, with which he saves himself in the G-Force simulator and despatches Drax. It’s daft as hell (why doesn’t it go off every time he moves his right wrist?), but utterly brilliant.

This Bond effort’s derided for its ridiculousness and puerile humour, yet what arguably makes it a satisfying watch is its styleMoonraker looks – and often sounds – glorious. As mentioned, its clutch of classic locations are gorgeously filmed and, combined with the luscious score, make for a rich feast, indeed – of all the  universes presented in the separate Bond movies, Moonraker‘s is definitely the one I’d want most of all to step into and walk around in; it would surely make one feel like a million dollars. And let’s not forget Ken Adam’s sets. The legendary designer seems to have been handed the equivalent of Lichtenstein’s GDP this time, creating a space shuttle-launch HQ shaped like a cathedral and filled with wall-to-wall video screens, a sleek metallic-silver meeting room opening up to become a shuttle bay and Drax’s space station interior itself, all silver steel and glass, tubular corridors and transparent egg chairs. It may be populated by minions (and Bond and Holly) in tastelessly camp yellow fatigues, but it looks awesome, as do master model-maker Derek Meddings’ to-scale space station exterior and shuttles. No question, together these efforts ensure Bond enters space with true bravura.

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Adjuster: -5

Less James-Bond-meets-Star-Wars than The Spy Who Loved Me taken to the ‘nth’ degree, Moonraker pushes the cinematic 007 as far as it surely can go (although 2002’s Die Another Day runs it close). Granted, it has big faults and is undeniably daft, but if you can overlook these there’s much to savour in its highly impressive production values (luscious score and cinematography and awesome sets). It was the biggest Bond film at the worldwide box-office for more than 15 years (inflation unadjusted) – and there’s clearly a decent reason why…

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Best bit: Bond and Holly hunt down Drax’s globes in the finale

Best line: “Standard CIA equipment – and they placed you with Drax, correct?”/ “Very astute of you”/ ” Not really, I have friends in low places”

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Rankings

(All scores out of 100/ new entries in blue/ * denotes a non-Eon Bond film)

1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ~ 90

2. From Russia With Love (1963) ~ 88

3. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) ~ 87

4. Goldfinger (1964) ~ 85

5. You Only Live Twice (1967) ~ 84

6. Live And Let Die (1973) ~ 82

7. Dr No (1962) ~ 74

8. Moonraker (1979) ~ 73

9. Thunderball (1965) ~ 70

10. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) ~ 66

11. The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) ~ 62

12. Casino Royale (1967)* ~ 48

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The James Bond reviews will return… 

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