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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

James Bond At A Nadir

The Man With The Golden Gun (1974) Is Uh-Oh Seven For Series Fans

The James Bond that many called "cheap," that a relative term in view of money poured over the series to then. Maybe "tired" was a better word. The Bonds so far with Roger Moore had pandered to current fads in exploitation: first black-aimed actioners with Live and Let Die, a milieu where 007 had no business, and now karate/kung-fu which was as uneasy a fit. Ill-advised too was hix-stix outreach via "J.W. Pepper," annoying times two for his appearances in Live and Let Die and Golden Gun encore. Not a few fans were ready to give up. I had, in fact, sworn off Bond after Live and Let Die, Moore seeming ineffective, almost effete, beside ruggedness that was Sean Connery. There were unattractive aspects that needed ironing out, specifically RM roughing up women, a brutish hic-cup to an otherwise jokey approach. It still startles when he slaps and strong-arms Maud Adams. Moore was getting bad direction here, and would admit as much later.

Golden Gun's real attraction was Christopher Lee as principal villain, even that dissipated by muddy water of high-ups he must dispatch in order to go one-on-one against Bond. Lee plays an assassin who hires out for a million and uses golden bullets, this too small an ambition for 007 heavies previously set upon world domination. The Saltzman/Broccoli series had  painted itself into corners; too many rules to obey, too few detours from formula. The action this time was tame, snake-bit by comparison with tricks done bigger/better by earlier Bonds, that being quicksand for eleven years of a series now competing with itself. Rentals were down, probably no surprise for the ordinary entry this was, and not a few wondered if Bond was played out. It was a gamble and vote of renewed confidence when the team took a three season break to better prepare The Spy Who Loved Me, a 70's equivalent to reboots we're seeing so much of in today's marketplace.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

I still don't understand what is the big deal about the James Bond films. They all follow the same formula which was lifted following older, and better, films. These films, at least in Argentina, never played on television until at least 1988 and after watching a few of them, everything is always repetitive, obvious and routine. In fact, despite they are still being churned out today, they feel far more like cable TV fillers than things worth revisiting.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Still, we got to see Christopher Lee in something better than the usual horror fare he was so ill paid to be in. Being a Bond villain raised his star status considerably for which he was grateful.

I liked Roger Moore's Bond. Not as much as I had liked Connery's to be sure. But then Connery did not have the memory of THE SAINT to carry. Those were great to watch and still are.

1:49 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

I never gave up on Bond. Still eagerly await each new installment. Still do. It's become almost a sort of holiday tradition for me, trekking out to the theater to see what 007 is up to this time.

For a time, I thought MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was the absolute bottom of the Bond barrel. But, after rewatching all the films a couple of times, I now give that (dis)honor to MOONRAKER. At any rate, three of the four worst Bonds, in my eyes, were Roger Moore entries. Yet, somehow, I still like his Bond. Go figure.

The silliest aspect of GOLDEN GUN is the final, dramatic showdown. They're on Scaramanga's island, in his home surroundings, he boasts that he needs only one bullet to do the job. Bond stumbles around the unfamiliar territory, literally knocking things over, making all sorts of giveaway noises...but the master assassin, Scaramanga, is the one who seems uncertain, befuddled.

We knew all along -- of course, of course-- that Bond would win. But after stacking all the cards against him, after repeatedly telling us what a genius killer the villain's just no contest at all. It would be laughable if it wasn't so pitiful.

2:43 PM  
Blogger stinky fitzwizzle said...

I tuned out after Goldfinger, and I feel as if I haven't missed a thing.

5:08 PM  
Blogger bufffilmbuff said...

I never could understand how Roger Moore got to be Bond. I almost prefer George Lazenby. His entries were mostly pretty weak in my opinion. Connery was essentially an impossible act to follow. I did like both Brosnan and Craig, Dalton though a fine actor just did not not a light touch. As for MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN---one of the worst Bond theme songs, even as much as I do love Lulu.

6:59 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Until Star Wars, James Bond seemed to be the last brand-name franchise character. Old series stalwarts like Tarzan and Sherlock might crop up in one-off features, and there were certainly stars who'd play almost the same character over and over, but James Bond was continuous and under the same management.

You counted on each new Bond to fulfill certain expectations, just like an old-school Disney comedy, Harryhausen fantasy or Bob Hope vehicle. Part of the deal was topping itself each time: bigger stunts, more lavish settings, more outrageous villains and gimmicks, and sexier girls.

The first three ran the series into self-parody. A skier flying off a cliff with a Union Jack parachute is stunning enough to pull us out of the movie. Secret Control Rooms were scaled beyond the power of parody. And Jaws ... not just comically unkillable the first time; but brought back to be redeemed by goofy romance.

The girls, packaged as increasingly quaint Playboy fantasies, were rarely "real" stars (with few exceptions, the known ones became so for post-Bond work). At the same time, they weren't allowed to be as realistically sexual as R-rated heroines. For all the innuendo and violence, Bonds clung to M and PG ratings (remember those toy lines).

Moore wasn't the problem. He was the perfect Bond for what the formula had become. Connery had to play "Diamonds are Forever" for the comedy it was; Lazenby's script bounced between a serious romance and bedding all the nubile patients of a private hospital. "Octopussy" almost rescued the formula with wittier laughs and a high-stakes plot that was scarily viable. Then "View to a Kill" regressed to form.

While Dalton was darker and more dangerous, he was still surrounded by Moore-era set pieces in "Living Daylights" (the last one I saw in its entirety). The reality of AIDS forced the series to give up endless consequence-free nookie with living Barbie dolls, so at least some of the 60s rust was scrubbed off. "License to Kill" took some heat for playing catch-up with more realistic violence; at lest some of the old Bond audience preferred the harmless version.

One could argue that Star Wars saved James Bond. The idea of A-movie franchises was suddenly hot; comics and paperback racks were raided for characters and / or genres. Bond, the proven old brand, was worth rebooting with an adjusted formula (including Judi Dench as M and other nods to the modernity). I think it was here they officially admitted Brosnan was not meant to be the same guy who met Ursula Andress on a beach in Jamaica.

Okay. Got that out of my system.

2:15 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

EVERYBODY was Kung Fu fighting.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Comparing Moore to Connery is as silly as comparing Oland to Toler. All four did a fine job during their reigns. The stories changed because the times changed.

I always thought DIAMONDS was the bottom of Sean's barrel, and GOLDEN GUN was Roger's. I played TMWTGG as an exhibitor, and when I saw it, I thought the Bonds had moved to Monogram.

But I liked Moore's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY and OCTOPUSSY then (and still do).

I loved Dalton as Bond but realize I'm in the minority.

Nothing stays the same. Even Weissmuller was replaced as Tarzan.

10:52 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

I found Rick's observations about Bond's ineptitude in GOLDEN GUN interesting and amusing, because in the book he is a total screw-up, Clouseau without the laughs. Maybe that's what's reflected in the movie.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

I've enjoyed them all over the years, even the stinkers (and GOLDEN GUN is, yes, pretty damn low on the list.) Specific thoughts? ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE proved you could have a pretty darn good James Bond movie without having a pretty darn good James Bond. And I must say, just as I have rolled the two Daltons into one indistinguishable ball in my mind, I never could never keep the Brosnans straight. Except the last one. That had the invisible car. I think.

Moore and Brosnan are both charmers, and that's the appeal and, presumably, the weakness in their respective portrayals. As you suggest, John, their truly sadistic and/or misogynistic moments seem jarring. On the other hand Connery and Craig both played Bond as kind of a dick, which seems way more natural to those actors and, ultimately, the character. Pretty sure that's how Fleming would have liked him.

My only problem with the Daniel Craig set is that the first and third (CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL) are so freakishly superior to the other two, they almost seem to be from another series. Which, now that I think about it, is sorta what people have been saying about the overall canon for over fifty years.

12:58 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I`ve always liked Moore as Bond. If it weren`t for scheduling problems, he would have starred in ON HER MAJESTY`S SECRET SERVICE. Which, to me, would have been perfect.

7:29 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon looks back on James Bond in the person of Roger Moore (Part One):

Hi John,

Enjoyed your usual voice of reason directed at "The Man With the Golden Gun". To demonstrate the degree to which I sympathize with your take on the Roger Moore era of James Bonds, I can simply say I have never seen one, to this day! BUT! Then, I have to cop a plea. I DID buy one of the earliest-offered Blu-ray boxes, when Blu-ray was young and bewitching, containing only Connery Bond films...and, unfortunately, one extra: "For Your Eyes Only". That's the one MAD magazine memorably parodied as, "For Your Eyebags, Oldy". Which I must say when I read it I literally "laughed out loud"! Fact of the matter is, it's pretty good. Ouch, I know---traitor! But, it features a lot of thrilling stunt work done in snowy portions of Europe, and I bow to those who are more interested in the rites of the beautiful people to supply the actual locales. It ends with an assault on a real-life place that is more amazing than most things thought up by fictioneers, a kind of abbey perched on an enormous spire somewhere in Europe, which I have often seen pictured in National Geographic photo collections. Again, due to a lifetime of being more interested in movies than in real life, I am woefully ignorant of its name. I don't know how the Danjaq gang got permission to fly helicopters near it and rig portions of it for heart-pounding stunts, but they did. Also, I think "For Your Eyes Only" is the one which starts with 'that stunt', which was briefly the talk of the moviegoing public, where Mr. Bond is skiing and being pursued by the usual malefactors, and he simply skies right off a terrifying precipice! BUT, then, after literally falling hundreds and hundreds of feet---pop! Out comes a parachute. This is one of those which actually would have read less-impressively than actually seeing it happen, and it was actually executed by some remarkable stunt guy who was clearly adroit at skiing, knew how to operate a parachute, and was born without the normal complement of nerves and natural anxiety I was, anyway.

But, otherwise? I don't think it's fair nor accurate toward the real life Roger Moore, and I daresay neither do you, but yes, he does seem relatively effete, his good looks eternally too pretty. The late, great Tyrone Power used to sometimes draw that kind of fire, but I think he looked a lot more manly than Roger M. And then, yes, the GIMMICKS! The guy named 'Jaws' with the clumsily obvious reference to the hit Spielberg film, being the most ridiculous and memorable---not in a good way---to me.

5:28 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

But, here's one! One of those life memories that are interesting only within one's own experience. I went to London in 1973 hoping to meet up with a small handful of people I greatly admired, from the movies of course, who resided there then. Three our of the four were American born: Bernard Herrmann, Ray Harryhausen, Charles H. Schneer. The fourth was about as English as can be: Stuart Freeborn. Stuart was a brilliant, innovative makeup artist, then unknown to most movie fans, but very well known to my friend and mentor Dick Smith. In fact, knowing I was going over there, Dick sent me a bottle of a particular specialty surgical adhesive he knew Stuart wanted, but couldn't obtain in the U.K., which I carried over in my luggage, in those more innocent days. Stuart had already done amazing things in movies. He was the man who turned Alec Guinness into Fagin for David Lean's film of "Oliver Twist". He later turned Peter Sellers into three distinct personalities, visually---with Sellers handling everything else just as brilliantly and subtly---in Stanley Kubrick's "Dr. Strangelove--Etc." And, Stuart created the amazing-for-the-time, self-contained animated masks of the hominids we see at the outset of Kubrick's "2001". He also created the still-impressive successive age makeups on Kier Dullea for the ending, and most remarkable of all, he did them all in much less than a week, due to a last-minute 'inspiration' of the director's which came freighted with that kind of a deadline, i.e, nearly impossible in every respect. He did it. AND, I got to meet this remarkable, hospitable little man, about three years before he did a movie that eventually turned him into a subsidiary household name: "Star Wars". But, that's not my anecdote! While I was in London for two weeks, two other things happened. Rick Baker, also now world-famous as a makeup master, came through London on his way home from Iraq, where he'd assisted Dick Smith in applying the old age makeup that many people never even realized he was wearing to Max Von Sydow for the opening of "The Exorcist", which would be released the next year to sensational reaction around the world. Rick rang me up, and we got together for dinner. We first reconnoitered In Leicester Square. And that is where I saw the second thing that had happened while I was there. The Odeon Cinema fronting on a small urban park where we sat chatting on a bench was showing "Live and Let Die". This was the first major film for which Rick had done some astonishingly-good work, on the recommendation of Dick Smith! So, it was a kind of unofficial 'Rick Baker Day'. I had my dad's movie camera with me (8mm), and I got off a few seconds of film showing Rick perched on his end of the bench, and panned over to take in the marquee of the Odeon displaying the title of the latest Bond film. It actually wasn't 'till years later that I saw an extended clip of the ending of the film and realized that at least one of the great things Rick did for the film, a grotesquely inflated sort of caricature of the head of the bad guy, played by Yaphet Kotto, had been all but thrown away if it was used at all---seconds, if not fewer, on film. (He'd also done a dead-on---pun intended!---replica of the head of actor Geoffrey Holder, with a big jigsaw piece of skull able to be removed, or perhaps 'blown off', but I don't know to this day if that was used; I do however know that Rick labored to make it look extremely and convincingly lifelike, but then the English crew decided or was obliged to cover his beautiful paint work with a replica of a kind of 'voodoo' makeup job which so obscured the artificial head that it could almost have been a dress store mannequin. Such, as I found out myself when I got more and more involved in the field, is the typical lot of the poor 'special effects makeup artist', often as not.

5:29 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Three from Craig Reardon:

London has apparently changed quite a bit since 1973, as comes as no real surprise to me in concept, though I'm sure seeing it myself would be a shock. When I was there, Covent Garden was still right next to the Covent Garden Opera House, at the foot of Bow Street, where I first stayed. This of course is the very locale of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion", better known today in its transformation by Alan Jay Lerner as "My Fair Lady", which its brilliant score by Frederick Loewe. Covent Garden Market was captured in its last year or so on film by Alfred Hitchcock in "Frenzy", which had been released just the year before I was actually there, in 1972. Bow Street is the actual location of one of the major police stations (on the corner) in London, and is actually referred to in Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal Sherlock Holmes stories. In fact, I think it's described as being the place where the famous Conan Doyle character Inspector Lestrade works. The other significant thing in my memory is that the city was spending a fortune to erect scaffolding all over town to enable crews to scour away the grime of centuries from coal burning, which had literally blackened buildings whose stone facades were actually a soft tan or beige in color. The scaffolds were draped in protective tarps so the water and fine sand used in the sandblasting operations wouldn't shower down on the populace! I have since seen one of the noted travel authors Rick Steve's fine high definition video series on London which suggested to me the transformation that ultimately took place, with even the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey's thousand-year-old face receiving a new lease on life, via this enormous project.


5:30 PM  
Blogger Barry Rivadue said...

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) had the parachute stunt. I think the real nadir of the Moore Bonds was his last, A VIEW TO A KILL (1987). Even Moore knew he was too old at that point (57), but another Bond wasn't available!

8:15 PM  

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