Skip to content
Advertisements

007/50: The Bondathon reviews (1980s #1)

September 30, 2012

.

Ah, the 1980s… in the world of the cinematic Bond that means the era of John Glen, when action set-pieces, a maturing Roger Moore 007, innuendos aplenty and an ‘MI6 family’ including a new M (Robert Brown) and strangely an acceptably avuncular KGB chief (Walter Gotell) were the order of the day. But the ’80s brought more than that to the big-screen Bond – yup, it also shockingly brought back Sean Connery to the British Secret Service fold. Who’da thunk it?

Well, folks, you yourselves verily will, if you check out the below post – the latest of this blog’s celebration of Blighty’s finest reaching his silver screen big 50 (and, in particular, the latest post of my ‘Bondathon’ – James Bond film-watching marathon – see the first three here: 1, 2 and 3). This one features then reviews of the early ’80s 007 efforts that are For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and, yes, Never Say Never Again

.

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.

.

.

.

Directed by: John Glen; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum and Michael G Wilson – containing elements from the Ian Fleming short stories For Your Eyes Only and Risico, both from For Your Eyes Only (1960); Starring: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Julian Glover, Cassandra Harris, Michael Gothard, John Wyman, Jill Bennett, John Moreno, Jack Hedley, Desmond Llewelyn, James Villiers, Walter Gotell, Geoffrey Keen and Lois Maxwell; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 127 minutes; Colour; Released: June 24 1981; Worldwide box-office: $195.3m (inflation adjusted: $486.5m ~ 15/24*)

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

.

.

One of the most obvious instances when the Eon film series returns to terra firma – pun entirely intended – after the OTT highs of an immediate preceding entry (1979’s Moonraker), For Your Eyes Only features a relatively ‘real’ espionage plot. When a UK vessel containing a device that can launch submarines’ ballistic missiles goes down at sea, MI6 enlists marine biologist Sir Timothy Havelock to locate the boat’s resting place, but the latter’s killed by a hitman. Bond’s tasked with locating the device so first travels to Spain to find out who hired the assassin, yet just before the latter’s paid-off he too is offed – by Havelock’s avenging daughter Melina. Having identified the hitman’s employer as another killer, Emile Locque, Bond visits Alpine resort Cortina for intel on him from informant Aris Kristatos, whom tells Bond that Locque was hired by KGB-friendly smuggler Milos ‘The Dove’ Columbo, to whose Corfu casino he next travels. Columbo, though, eventually convinces our hero it’s actually Kristatos who’s the guilty guy in league with the KGB. Having been won over by him then, 007 calls on his aid (after our man’s recovered the ATAC with Melina’s help, only for it to be stolen by Kristatos) to snatch the ATAC back from Kristatos’s base atop a Greek mountain before he hands it over to the KGB. Twisty-turny, Fleming-faithful and quite conceivable, Eyes Only‘s plotting is good stuff, indeed.

By this stage in his, er, Bondage, Roger Moore is so comfortable in the role (thus fitting it like a glove), he could play it blindfolded and the audience would still know when he’s lifting that eyebrow of his. The filmmakers then make a definite mis-step this flick by, instead of just allowing him to play Bond, writing and encouraging him to play up to his age – Moore is now 54 and, it has to be said, his looks are starting to catch up with his years. That’s not to say Sir Rog doesn’t invest the character with the same wit, naughtiness and fun that he had before, but him so obviously rebuffing a teenager’s advances (“Now put your clothes back on and I’ll buy you an ice-cream”), not romancing young main squeeze Melina until the end and hanging out so much with similarly middle-aged blokes (Kristatos, Columbo, Q and ally Ferrara) robs 007 of some of his vitality, urgency and definitely a lot of his cool. And that should never happen to our man Bond.

.

.

In many ways, Eyes Only‘s girls are an odd bunch. Chief among them is Carole Bouquet’s heroine Melina; easily one of the ’80s’ best Bond Girls. Beautiful, brave, ballsy, yet vulnerable and a little rash, she’s a fine avenging angel with her trick-shot crossbow skills, ability to pilot a two-man sub and seething but stunning eyes and lovely grin when the script lets her flash it. Eyes Only‘s second girl is the stuff of Bond lore, being the one our hero rejects in favour of offering to buy her an ice-cream. Variously pig-tailed and naked under 007’s bed sheets, Lynn-Holly Johnson’s ice-skating Bibi is an incorrigible teenager-going-on-flowering-young-woman far better suited to spring break than the sponsorship of ‘Uncle’ Aris. Indeed, aside from providing comical eye candy and ending up an eventual ‘reward’ for Topol’s Columbo, one rather wonders what she’s really doing here. The flick’s ‘sacrificial lamb’ is ‘Countess’ Lisl, Columbo’s girlfriend who’s offed after spending the night with Bond. She’s most notable for being portrayed by the tragically late Cassandra Harris, at the time wife of one Pierce Brosnan, whose casting in this role set up The Brozzer’s first meeting with Cubby Broccoli – and the rest, as they say, would be history…

The main narrative hook of Eyes Only concerns its villains, but doesn’t come off as well as it probably should. Why? Maybe because the chap who’s supposed to be the flick’s main baddie but isn’t is a top character, while the chap who’s not supposed to be the main baddie but is, well, isn’t. I speak, of course, of Columbo and Kristatos. Technically an ally then not a villain, Topol’s Columbo is a charismatic rogue who relishes a bottle of ouzo, a pretty girl and a bag of pistachio nuts as much he does destroying dodgy rival smugglers’ hide-outs. Conversely, Julian Glover’s manipulative, morally bankrupt Kristatos (Columbo’s old Greek resistance buddy employed by the KGB while posing as a British informant) isn’t a ‘champagne villain’. He may sport a nicely clipped goatee beard, but he’s neither particularly menacing nor very flashy (preferring ’80s leisure wear to stylish threads). Eyes Only also features several minions, most notably Emile Locque – a real world-ish, eerie villain with his hexagonal glasses – and John Wyman’s biathlon-competing Soviet heavy Erich Kriegler, but both are rather forgettable.

.

.

Its action is surely Eyes Only‘s best attribute. So action-packed is it, it might be a precursor of many ’90s Bond efforts (its dramatic scenes are almost brief interludes between each action set-piece, which actually may not be a good thing). Anyway, there’s underwater shenanigans (submarine encounters and face-to-face diver fisticuffs – more engaging than in Thunderball); big baddie saloon cars chasing Bond and Melina in a Citroën 2CV (played for laughs, but amusing and clever); a long snow-based pursuit (Bond on skis followed by motorbikes with handlebar-mounted-guns, Kriegler the biathlete, a charlie down a ski-jump and even a bobsleigh run); a raid on Kristatos’s warehouse and, best of all, the excellently vicious keelhaul sequence and the big climax that sees 007 and co. scale a mountain to reach Kristatos’s hideout. The latter’s tension-filled stuff (look, Bond’s fallen from a great height…! And again…! And again!), if a little silly (why, after 007’s climbed for ages, does it take mere seconds for the basket containing his accomplices to travel the same height?). Overall, maybe all of Eyes Only‘s action suffers a little from over-editing with everything happening in a flash, but that may because so much is crammed in.

By now, the saucy Bond film finale pay-off was in full rein. And the filmmakers pull out all the stops here, for the superior whom catches Bond’s pants down is British PM Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown). Or at least she would if she weren’t duped into getting chatted up by a parrot (by way of Bond’s two-way radio-toting watch). This amusing if daft moment is a fine example of Eyes Only‘s humour. Indeed, earlier on Q, disguised as a priest, meets Bond in a church confessional, cue the lines: “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned”/ “That’s putting it mildly, 007!”. There’s also, of course, Bibi’s Bond-crush and the ‘cameo’ by Blofeld – Broccoli couldn’t actually bring back this classic villain (the rights to him were owned by rival producer Kevin McClory), so as a pre-title wheeze a character that looks just like Uncle Ernst is dumped down a chimney stack by Bond while begging for his life with the inexplicable claim: “I’ll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!”. Mind you, thoroughly satisfying in the comedic stakes is Topol’s excellent ally Columbo, a charm-heavy wrong-‘un-doing-good; the movie perks up whenever he’s on-screen.

.

.

Four years after Marvin Hamlisch delivered a score peppered with disco for The Spy Who Loved Me, what does John Barry’s replacement this time around dish up? Er, that’s right, more disco. To be fair, though, Rocky (1976) composer Bill Conti’s music for Eyes Only doesn’t rely solely on a pop chart sound that was already on the way out. Yes, disco certainly is there to be heard during the several-minutes-long snow chase with the (not bad at all) Runaway theme, but with both this and other themes, cues and flourishes to moments of tension and action, Conti actually takes something of a studio-developed leaf out of Barry’s book,  using synthesised pianos and brass to good, dramatic effect. What really elevates Eyes Only‘s music, though, is obviously the Sheena Easton-sung title track (an Oscar nominee and actually performed by Easton in the opening credits). Far less notable, mind, is the flugelhorn saturated Take Me Home, which is basically elevator music, while so-bad-it’s-good ’80s pop/ rock rears its ugly head in the shape of Rage’s song Make It Last All Night (click above image to hear it); although being damn catchy and its lyrics incredibly suggestive, it’s actually sort of so-bad-it’s-very-good.

Let’s face it, when it comes to movie locations, you can’t go wrong with Greece. Just as The Guns Of Navarone (1961) and Escape To Athena (1979) made hay from Hellenic locales, Eyes Only does too. Its chief exterior is the idyllic sun-kissed island of Corfu, where all the on-land Melina-related Greek scenes were filmed, as was the early Gonzales sequence (standing in for countryside just outside Madrid). And the stark and stunning mountain that stars – so impressive is it, it arguaby is a co-star – in the climax is to be found in Meteora in mid-mainland Greece. However, perhaps the flick’s most beautiful, definitely its most aspirational, location is Cortina d’Ampezzo, the Italian Alpine tourist town used for its snow sport-littered segment, while the brilliant blue of the waters off the Bahamas feature too in the diving and keelhauling scenes.

.

.

One of Eyes Only‘s aspects most affected by it’s more down-to-earth approach to delivering the big -screen Bond goods is definitely its gadgets. Its two most promient Q-supplied devices are Bond’s latest Seiko digital watch, with its two-way radio and an LED update on the spooled tape message from Spy‘s watch, and the Identigraph. The latter is actually located in Q-Department and using very ’80s computer technology (even its screen is black with green graphics), it can nattily match a recalled face with photos from international police records. Really, though, the emphasis this time out is, like in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), on Bond using his wits rather than a gadget to get out of a scrape. For instance, when scaling a mountain he uses regular mountaineering tools and even a shoelace from his boot, while he communicates with an Italian contact via codewords and by steaming up a mirror on which has been left a finger-written time and meeting place. And, I guess, many might say after the bordering on ludicrous high-technology of Moonraker, that’s quite refreshing.

To my mind, glamour and aspiration are as much as anything what the cinematic Bond should be all about, but they’re not exactly high on the agenda in Eyes Only. That may be down to the fact the film’s a more ‘real-world’ effort than its most recent Eon forebears, but methinks the fact it dates from the early ’80s has more to do with it. This is a movie made by a British crew in a Britain hardly boyant and at ease with itself. The strikes of the ’70s may have largely passed and Mrs T may be in Number 10, but her ‘economic miracle’ was some way off yet, ensuring unemployment was very high, racially-concerned riots were the order of the day and seemingly the only thing the mass populace could smile about was Charles and Di getting married. And this is the Britain that Eyes Only seems to reflect: greys, browns and dull greens abound in its design (especially costumes), characters stay in motels rather than expensive hotels (and one or two still seem to be walking around in flares), while the goodies attack the baddies’ HQ by going rock-climbing (yes, I know it’s a decent action sequence, but it’s hardly one of the series’ sexiest or most spectacular). Mention this movie to a non-Bond (or non-film) fan and you’ll probably draw a blank – and that’d probably most be because of its bland style.

.

Adjuster: +2

If there’s a Bond movie fit for rainy Sunday afteroons then it’s surely For Your Eyes Only. It has earnest, admirable aspirations to be a strong, credible thriller – hence its ‘+2’ adjuster score here – and its moments (many of them, in fact, and mostly the fine action sequences), but with its action-versus-dramatic-scenes-imbalance, a Bond only too aware of his advancing years and early ’80s humdum atmos, it’s probably the most forgettable 007 effort for the mass public.

.

.

Best bit: Bond goes rock-climbing

Best line: “I love a drive in the country – don’t you?”

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Directed by: John Glen; Produced by: Albert R Broccoli; Screenplay by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G Wilson and George MacDonald Fraser – containing elements from the Ian Fleming short stories Octopussy and The Property Of A Lady, both from Octopussy And The Living Daylights (1966); Starring: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Kabir Bedi, Steven Berkoff, Vijay Amritraj, David and Anthony Meyer, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Walter Gotell, Geoffrey Keen, Douglas Wilmer, Lois Maxwell and Michaela Clavell; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 131 minutes; Colour; Released: June 6 1983; Worldwide box-office: $187.5m (inflation adjusted: $426.2m ~ 19/24*)

.

.

The crux of post-WWII espionage, the Cold War had only featured on the fringes of Bond films until Eyes Only, but the East-versus-West nuclear deterrent game and its danger of annihilation if its participants got it wrong is the thrust of Octopussy‘s plot. MI6’s 009 turns up dead in East Berlin dressed as a circus clown and clutching a jewel-encrusted Fabergé egg from the Kremlin’s horde of priceless objets d’arts. Except the egg is actually a fake. M wants answers and sends Bond to observe the real thing’s sale at Sotheby’s auction house, where (after ill-advisedly switching it with the fake) he espies its buyer: Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince. Assuming he’ll be a tad angry he’s bought a fake, Bond follows him to Udaipur in India, where he learns he’s in league with both a circus and all-women jewel-thief gang chief named Octopussy and, more seriously, an unhinged Soviet general named Orlov. Having dallied with Octopussy, 007 tails her to West Germany where he finds (unknown to her) Khan and Orlov are using her circus as a cover to explode a Soviet atomic bomb that’s indistinguishable from a US version, so its setting off will be assumed an accident, thus lead to Western nuclear disarmament and allow Mother Russia to roll her tanks into the West. Arguably overcooked, Octopussy‘s story’s a bit muddled, while the disparate jewel-thieving and Cold War narratives don’t really mesh together very well.

Understated and actively showing his age in Eyes Only, 007 in Octopussy is the full Roger Moore Bond all right. Back is the scatter-gun womanising, cheeky nudge-nudge-wink-wink quips and looks, and teenage innuendos and misbehaviour (including zooming in on the abundant decolletage of Q’s assistant through a video camera). But, as this flick, in Eyes Only-style, fancies itself as a ‘serious’ Bond film in its second half, this 007 also gets the opportunity to do the hard-headed agent stuff (facing off with and lambasting Orlov for his mass murderous plans). And yet it’s a big pity he has to perform his climactic world-saving act this time dressed – à la 009 at the film’s start – as a circus clown. Yes, the Bond films are full of moments of eerie oddness (its an important part of their rich flavour and appeal), but this just feels a step too far into the bizarre.

.

.

As Octopussy‘s title character is, er, Octopussy, you’d expect her to be a strong presence. And she is; yet, aside from her exquisite, billowing pale blue robes, she’s not that memorable. It’s the script’s fault, not returning actress Maud Adams’ – previously Andrea Anders in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) – whom lends her glamour, gutsiness, conceivability and sadness (Bond formerly granted her father suicide in place of facing court martial for Intelligence indiscretions). She helps drive the plot in the flick’s Indian first half (but enough?), then is rather left on the shelf in the German second half; a bit of a crime for potentially this good a character. The secondary girl is Magda, Kristina Wayborn’s sexy blonde, enigmatically both Kamal Khan’s mistress and an on-off member of Octopussy’s circus-cum-acrobatic-thief team (allowing her to wear a ring master-esque leotard and top hat, mmm). Oddly, she’s perfect ‘sacrificial lamb’ material, but survives to the last reel; a little forgotten then like Octopussy is earlier. On the girls front too is the rest of Octopussy’s gang, attractive and nimble to a scarlet catsuit all of them (not least Midge, played by Pans People‘s Cherry Gillespie), Tina Hudson’s pre-titles Cuban contact Bonita and Michaela Clavell’s Moneypenny assistant, the marvellously monikered Penelope Smallbone.

None of Octopussy‘s villains deliver quite the punch they should. The top baddie honours are shared by Louis Jourdan’s Kamal Khan and Steven Berkoff’s General Orlov. Khan is a suave, sophisticated noble who doesn’t batter an eyelid at killing thousands of innocent Germans in Orlov’s harebrained scheme if it helps fund his lavish lifestyle. In a way, Jourdan’s line in smooth – and the script – ensure few of Khan’s layers are peeled back, which is a shame; he really should be asked to do more to satisfy the audience than say ‘Oc-to-pussssy’ over and again. On paper, Orlov’s a fine nightmarish Ruskkie madman, but Berkoff chews scenery every time he’s on-screen, so too often the character’s irritating rather than menacing. There’s also Kabir Bedi’s turban-wearing heavy Gobinda, who should be better than the one-note baddie with a steely stare he is, while David and Anthony Meyer’s twin knife throwers-cum-assassins Mishka and Grishka are eerie, intriguing presences, but boast far from abundant screen-time.

.

.

Action sequences have always been greatly relished ingredients of Bond films, but it was arguably in the ’80s – when former second unit director John Glen landed the full director gig – that action truly took centre stage. Indeed, just as it was in Eyes Only, Octopussy‘s action is its best attribute. The most involved is the foot-cum-car-chase that revolves around (and on top of) Octopussy’s circus train. It’s here that Bond’s pursued by Orlov as he himself follows the atomic bomb-carrying train in the latter’s Mercedes that’s, yes, riding rail tracks (only for 007 to have to leap from the car before it’s flung from the rails by an oncoming train) and, best of all, is chased atop the train’s carriages by a kirpan sword-toting Gobinda and knife-wielding Grishka. There’s also the climactic raid on Kamal’s palace by Octopussy, her girls and Bond, which leads to him clinging to the villain’s mid-air-bound plane to save his kidnapped paramour, but these sequences are less imaginative and less impressive, while the daft humour that overtakes an earlier tuk-tuk chase through Udaipur almost sinks it. Much better, though, is the pre-title Acrostar jet set-piece that very memorably sees Bond escape villainous clutches in Cuba via a Little Nellie-esque mini-jet aeroplane. Shame it has to come right at the start of the film then really.

While, as noted, Sir Rog is back on full bawdy form this time (a charlie climbs a mechanically-rising rope in Q’s Indian workshop that bends in half: “Having problems keeping it up, Q?”; mockingly offering the indurate Gobinda a euphemistic ‘night-cap’ after Magda turns him down), too much of the rest of Octopussy‘s humour might be its achilles’ heel. Often the comedy on offer is utterly puerile – and rather uncomfortable too in the India-set first half when racial stereotyping comes to the fore (Bond handing an Indian MI6 employee wads of rupees: “That should keep you in curry”; when he throws a minion of Kamal’s on to a fakir’s bed of nails the latter cries: “Get off my bed!”). I mean, this is 1983 now; Ghandi cleaned up at the Oscars earlier in the year, for goodness sake. But perhaps most sadly recalled of all are the instances when, during the jungle Bond-hunt, 007 orders a tiger to ‘sit!’ and a Tarzan yell is dubbed over his vine-to-vine swinging escape. Thank goodness for Rog otherwise being back to his bawdy best then.

.

.

Free once more to score a Bond film (this would be only his third out of the last six), John Barry delivers the goods yet again in the music department. His last 007 effort, 1979’s Moonraker, showcased an almost maturing of his ‘Bond sound’ with lush orchestral themes joining the party of his classic brassy, jerky cues and bass guitar-driven motifs. And it’s in this direction he continues here. It’s a smart move that fits a, well, ever maturing Sir Rog as Bond – mixing dignity with the innuendos, if you will. Indeed, although the Rita Coolidge-performed, MOR-tastic title song All Time High is far from the series’ best, its instrumental version (That’s My Little Octopussy) is a slow, melancholic, flutey delight, while much faster paced but just as successful are the equally flutey, high tempo Yo Yo Fight and the outstanding The Chase Bomb Theme (click on above image to hear it), on which clarinets, deep brass and martial, snarey drums build up tension acutely well as, on-screen, Bond witnesses the baddies’ arming and setting the timing of the atomic bomb that threatens to blow Octopussy’s big top sky high, er, so to speak.

Octopussy owes a great deal to its locations – more than perhaps any other Bond film, they play a crucial role in influencing the tone and pacing of the parts of the film in which they appear. Obviously, the headline locale is Udaipur in the north-eastern Rajasthan state of India. A totally new and, thus, unique place to send Bond (given it’s neither in Europe, North America or South East Asia), the filmmakers make the absolute most of it. Cinematographer Alan Hume’s shots utterly ooze exoticism and local flavour, as the opulence of the Monsoon Palace (Kamal’s abode) and the Taj Lake Palace (Octopussy’s island hideaway) vie for the audience’s attention with earthy and gritty down-town Udaipur, in which ‘poor’ extras bustle and look-on. The film’s second half shifts gear dramatically as we move to, comparatively speaking, the down-to-earth and almost dour Berlin (complete with the now no longer standing Checkpoint Charlie) and the Cambridgeshire countryside in which lies the Nene Valley Railway (very successfully doubling as the German railway on which Octopussy’s train hurtles along). Must admit, for me these latter locales, while effective, are rather a comedown after the bombardment of Indian flavour. The nicely named Hurricane in Utah, USA, doubles as Cuba for the pre-titles jet sequence too.

.

.

Despite it’s second half’s hard-arse thriller aspirations, Octopussy has no problem ensuring Bond’s flushed with gadgets. Most feature in the movie’s light first half, mind. The most ingenious are Bond’s latest Seiko digital watch and the homer it picks up, the latter being placed in the Fabergé egg by Q. This proves fine foresight on the his part when the egg’s stolen back by Kamal and its proximity to the latter and Orlov as they discuss their plans allows Bond to listen in on a speaker located in a fountain pen – the nib of which secretes an acid that burns through metal (especially the metal bars on the window of a cell in which 007’s incarcerated). And another watch carries a liquid-crystal TV relay. Mind you, it’s assassins working for Khan that boast the coolest devices with their razor-sharp steel yo-yo saws, yet the most memorable gadget is definitely the, well, silliest – the crocodile skin in which Bond travels to and from Octopussy’s remote island hideaway, the way in and out of which is its motorised opening jaws. Naturally.

To say Octopussy‘s style‘s inconsistent is an understatement as big as Sir Rog’s whipped back hair. The Indian first half feels like a movie from another age, as if ’50s Hollywood is sending Allan Quartermain to the jewel in Blighty’s imperial crown (the semi-racist undertones certainly contribute). Although, Bond and Octopussy’s scenes (and one also with Kamal) have an early ’80s soapy gloss to them, think Dynasty in India, while 007 and Khan’s dinner scene is very Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984), except the delicacy here’s sheep’s head rather than chilled monkey brains. Octopussy‘s second half jarringly drops the heavily George MacDonald ‘Flashman‘ Fraser-influenced ‘colonial’ travelogue for dowdily dressed ’80s ‘real world’ extras, Ruskkie soldiers carrying AK-47s, Mercedes saloon cars, humdrum train lines and Checkpoint Charlies – in fact, it’s far more like The Fourth Protocol (1987) than previous Bond fare, let alone the first hour. Then, of course, there’s the circus-set finale, which throws another curve-ball – knife throwers, acrobats and human cannonballs are the order of the day, while Sir Rog’s safari suit is replaced by a clown costume. Featuring an elongated circus section like this in a Bond film almost offers a ‘show within a show’ quality, but it comes off less arty, more distractedly weird.

.

Adjuster: -5

A real Jekyll-and-Hyde of a Bond film, Octopussy suffers from its two halves’ quite disparate and opposing aspirations and tones, while the plot has trouble combining its  jewel-thieving capering and this-is-serious-now Cold War-meltdown prevention. It’s a 007 effort that feels like it’s almost trying to be two different kinds of Bond movie at the same time – and while, at times, the action hits new highs, the whole certainly doesn’t hit an (ahem) all-time high.

.

.

Best bit: The Acrostar jet sequence

Best line: “I don’t suppose you’d like a night-cap? … No”

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Directed by: Irvin Kershner; Produced by: Jack Schwartzman; Screenplay by: Lorenzo Semple Jr, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais – adapted from the Ian Fleming novel Thunderball (1959), itself based on a screen treatment by Fleming, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham; Starring: Sean Connery, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Max von Sydow, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Bernie Casey, Rowan Atkinson, Edward Fox, Alec McCowen, Pamela Salem, Prunella Gee and Valerie Leon; Certificate: PG; Country: UK/ USA; Running time: 134 minutes; Colour; Released: October 14 1983; Worldwide box-office: $160m (inflation adjusted: $363.7m ~ 21/24*)

.

.

The product of ‘rogue’ Bond producer Kevin McClory finally getting 007 back in cinemas outside of Eon’s control, Never Say Never Again is, in plot-terms, a retread of Thunderball (1965) – the only Bond story that McClory could re-film on his own. Global crime gang SPECTRE hires NATO officer Jack Petachi to substitute (via fake eye-recognition) two harmless missiles for nuclear warheads on a test flight, so the the terrorists can half-inch them and hold them for ransom. They’re retrieved off the Bahamas coast by baddie Max Largo, whose mistress is Petachi’s sister Domino – the only lead MI6 has. So that’s where M sends Bond. There 007 learns Largo has moved on to the French Riviera, where he makes contact with the tycoon and ‘works on’ Domino, revealing to her Largo’s plot and her brother’s involvement. Both Bond and Domino are captured and held in North Africa, yet on their escape our hero realises one of the warheads’ location (where its detonation would destroy swathes of Western oil fields) is suggested by the necklace Largo recently gave Domino, ‘The Tears of Allah’, that’s in reality a nearby cove, to which he rushes to prevent NATO having to pay up or Largo using the warhead – or both. It’s a decent Bond film narrative, of course, but only bothers to differ from Thunderball in two respects – Domino’s nifty necklace macguffin and the fact her brother’s actually culpable this time around.

Twelve years after his supposed final flourish, Connery’s back as Bond. Not only have the years been kind to him, but also he and the filmmakers have this version of 007 down pat. Like in Eyes Only, Connery plays up to his age (he’s a veteran agent who, one suspects, is on the verge of retirement, given he’s been stuck training subordinates by Edward Fox’s new, younger M). Yet unlike in Eyes Only, it totally works. Connery’s sardonic wit is deployed well to suggest this is a middle-aged yet enormously capable operative (he’s still the boldest, hardest and smartest guy in the room) who’s pleased to be back in the field (providing some ‘gratuitous sex and violence’), but like old colleague Q (or Algernon) resents the modern ‘lunatics’ who’ve taken over the MI6 ‘asylum’. Maybe we’re supposed to assume the Roger Moore years never happened and, following Diamonds Are Forever (1971), eventually this is where the Big Tam’s Bond ended up…?

.

.

It rarely gets claimed (mostly because most Bond fans ignore this flick), but Never actually features probably the best Bond Girl since XXX in Spy. Barbara Carrera’s Fatima Blush is a fine creation for a lighter-than-many Bond flick. Cartoonish in her OTT-ness, but gloriously so at times (even Bond Girl alumnus Grace Jones might balk at her outrageous early ’80s threads), she’s a femme fatale who’s not just unhinged, but genuinely dangerous and – let’s not, er, beat around the bush – very sexy. All right, Fiona Volpe she may not be, but a proto-Xenia Onatopp of GoldenEye (1995) she might just be. The main girl this movie is, of course, Domino, though. If anything, to contrast her with Thunderball‘s heroine, Kim Basinger’s blonde disco-dancing good-time girl is a mite more believable than Claudine Auger’s mid-’60s Euro-glamour puss; she’s more natural. Yet she’s not allowed to be as emotionally rocked by her brother’s fate – and she’s just as much a damsel in distress. The talent quotient’s filled out nicely by Prunella Gee’s comely nurse Pat Fearing at Shrublands (not as memorable as Molly Peters’, mind) and, six years on from Spy, Valerie Leon doing a ‘Maud Adams’ and returning to Bond Girl duties as Caribbean bait for Connery – she may be visibly older here, but frankly looks just as tasty.

On the surface, German actor Klaus Maria Brandauer’s Maximilian ‘Max’ Largo doesn’t look much, but as the movie progresses one comes to realise his is a nicely delivered villain performance. Seemingly a Kristatos-esque downbeat baddie at first (a geeky little genius who’s made a mint and joined SPECTRE because he has a very big chip on his shoulder?), this Largo slowly starts to display neurotic little tics that suggest, aside from his ruthlessness in wealth and power, he’s not entirely all there – and, maybe wrongly, this sort of thing is rarely part of a Bond baddie’s repertoire. As this is ‘Thunderball Rebooted’ (sort of), Blofeld’s back too. And, having taken the decision to portray him as a dignified aristocrat (albeit with his trademark Eon white pussycat), the filmmakers call on the perfect thesp for the part: the legend that is Max von Sydow. Blofeld features little, to be fair (in just three brief scenes), but von Sydow’s such a great screen presence in, well, everything you care mention, he’s almost as memorable as Largo.

.

.

Although Octopussy owned 1983’s Bond action highs, its rival 007 flick that year didn’t do badly in the action stakes either. The movie’s tone is set by Connery reintroducing himself by rescuing a damsel from a hideout via zip-wires, blow-darts and swinging through windows – only ultimately to be stabbed by her. Turns out this was a training exercise and Bond’s fallen foul to his ultimate weakness – women. The biggest action high is the chase involving his jet black Yamaha XJ 650 Turbo motorbike (which he rather coolly rides in his jet black tux). It’s a visceral, exciting sequence through Nice’s streets culminating in Fatima Blush’s demise. There’s also the ‘Tears of Allah’ (a stone statue-laden cave) climax that uniquely sees Bond team up with Felix Leiter for a finale, even if it ends in an underwhelming underwater chase – but, unlike Thunderball, Never wisely limits the underwater action. The most amusing and, in its way, satisfying action sequence, though, is the Shrublands scrap between Bond and Pat ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet‘ Roach’s Lippe. Basically, their fisticuffs break up the joint – until our hero bests his foe by throwing into his face the toxic contents of a beaker labelled: ‘James Bond – urine sample’.

What makes Never tick is its humour; it distinguishes it from the Eon efforts – as much as borrowing the Broccoli Bonds’ tropes (007’s introductory line, vodka Martinis and black tux et al), it subtly spoofs them. Perhaps thanks to TV sitcom writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ uncredited rewrites, Never lies somewhere between Eon’s 007 and Austin Powers – and successfully so too. It winks at the audience all the time (Connery even does so in the closing shot), going further here than the Eon genuine articles can. For instance, until Largo reveals to Bond and Domino he’s finally captured them, for the entire second third of the flick he and 007 have been playing a light-hearted, figurative poker game (with the ‘Domination’ computer game within the game at one point – “Can we play one more time for the rest of the world?”/ “You know what that could mean?”). Further fun comes with the mocking of Brit governance in the guise of Edward Fox’s M and Rowan Atkinson’s Bahamas jobsworth Nigel Small-Fawcett, as well as many a witty line throughout (see for example the flick’s best line at the review’s bottom).

.

.

As this isn’t a Broccoli production, its composer was never going to be John Barry, so instead Michel Legrand, scorer for The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg (1964) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), holds the baton. And he turns to jazz for this flick’s one-off ‘Bond sound’ (click image above to hear an excerpt from it). It’s a choice that on the whole works, it’s only fair to say (the smooth rhythms are a good fit for the Bahamian and French Riviera locales and Connery’s middle-aged 007), but inevitably the peerless cool and bombastic excitement of Barry’s bursts of brass and martial-esque drive are lacking. Like with Bill Conti’s efforts for Eyes Only, Legrand’s score also falls foul of that early ’80s mis-step of using elevator music at times (having said that, for a few brief seconds Barry’s otherwise fine work on Octopussy mis-steps there too). Although, the most well recalled element of Never‘s music is, of course, its title theme sung by the now little known Lani Hall. It’s a good example of the sort of jazz-influenced, MOR-friendly combo that’s the rest of the score. Yes, it’s far from the best Bond tune, but it has a redeeming feature for sure – it boasts a rather fine trumpet solo from none other than Herb Alpert.

There’s something of a confidence in sending Bond back to The Bahamas for Never, given that this was the primary locale in Thunderball – surely if you wanted to distinguish this flick from the one it’s ‘remaking’, an obvious option would be to go somewhere completely different? But one can’t deny Nassau and the rest of The Bahamas, with their sun-kissed, louche cool, fit Bond like a glove, especially this mature, relaxed Connery incarnation. However, the most prominent of Never’s locations is, in fact, the French Riviera, in particular Nice, Roquebrune Cap Martin, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco’s world famous casino (for the casino interiors, naturally). Offering a slightly more real-world, but just as bright, breezy and prostrate feel as The Bahamas, they’re certainly attractive and aspirational. Yet they’re hardly very different from them either – frankly, if you weren’t paying attention, you’d probably fail to notice Bond’s actually left The Caribbean, which isn’t ideal if your movie’s deliberately globe-hopping. The North Africa-set finale was mostly filmed in Southern France too and the underwater work in Bahamian waters.

.

.

There aren’t a hell of gadgets on show here, but by and large they ain’t bad. And they also carry an air of mockery of the Eon Bond. Chief among them is the Union Jack-decorated fountain pen that fires rocket projectiles (it’s by this means that 007 dispatches Fatima Blush, with amusingly just her heeled shoes remaining after she’s exploded). The other major device with which 007’s issued is a wristwatch whose strap features a metal-cutting laser (worth noting here is the fact that later ‘official’ series entry GoldenEye includes a watch boasting almost exactly the same feature). There’s also Bond’s Q-supplied Yamaha motorbike, whose speedy attributes are aided by a turbo boost, and 007’s armed with not a Walther PPK, but a Walther P5 pistol – apparently included in this film because, as a new model, Walther wanted to promote it, even though the Octopussy Bond also uses it at one point.

Like with all Bond films, its style plays an important part in defining Never. Contrasts are easily made with Thunderball – for instance, the Shrublands clinic and warhead-stealing scenes are played more modern; there’s no suggestion Pat Fearing’s dallying with Bond is scandalous as was the case in the former film, while the more state-of-the-art technology of the warhead scenes shortens and arguably improves them (eye-recognition devices and the warheads fly with their own wings like mini jets). Elsewhere, mind, Never does feel a bit early ’80s naff – but always tongue-in-cheek: Bond walks around in Nassau in a fisherman’s blue denim dungarees, Domino sports a full tiger-print swimsuit and the glamorous bubble of a casino is deliberately burst by a room full of arcade games. But the oncoming storm of information technology is also embraced in the shape of the ‘Domination’ video game – a smartly realised, very effective ’80s updating of the classic opening duel between Bond and the villain. It dates the movie considerably, of course, but for a retro enthusiast like me certainly in a good way. The final word, though, should go to the director. Helmer of the awesome The Empire Strikes Back (1980), arty-leaning Irvin Kershner does a good job, not just delivering humour throughout, but also injecting proceedings with unusual, interesting camera angles and shots. A John Glen Bond film then, this ain’t.

.

Adjuster: 0

Named by Connery’s wife (in witty answer to his oft-repeated claim he’d never make another Bond film), Never Say Never Again is far from the car crash such a non-Eon effort could have been. In fact, playing as almost an alternative to the ‘official’ series since Connery left, with the sardonic level turned up to 11, it’s more entertaining than some of the Broccoli-backed ones.

.

.

Best bit: Bond and Largo face off over the ‘Domination’ game

Best line: “Oh, how reckless of me – I made you all wet”/ “Yes, but my Martini’s still dry”

.

Read the troubled and twisted tale behind the making of Never Say Never Again here

.

.

.

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. For Your Eyes Only (1981) ~ 69

11. Never Say Never Again (1983)* ~ 68

12. Diamonds Are Forever (1971) ~ 66

13. Octopussy (1983) ~ 64

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

15. Casino Royale (1967)* ~ 48

.

The James Bond reviews will return… 

.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: