Back to contents - Before Moore - Decline and Fall


The 1970s saw the Bond films re-invented as a gloriously post-modern parody of their earlier selves. Effectively, the films now acknowledge how ridiculous they are, and Bond himself shares the joke with the audience. The elements of the Bond formula that had slowly developed through the sixties to reach their culmination in You Only Live Twice - spectacular science fiction adventures, set in exotic locations and featuring massive set-piece stunt work - are the staple ingredients of the seventies films. Roger Moore was the perfect choice to play the reinvented title character. For a start, he plays Bond with more charm, elegance and class than any of the other actors to assay the role. His wry humour emphasizes the comic potential of the Bond series like no one else - the formula effectively renders any situation, no matter how tense or dramatic, as nothing more than a feed-line for a raised eyebrow and a humorous quip.

The first Roger Moore film was Diamonds are Forever - it's a pity then that the film stars Sean Connery as Bond, lured back to the part by a ludicrous salary increase. He's as sleazy as ever, and though he goes along with the humour of the piece, his very presence sits uneasily in this new style of Bond film. What it needs is Roger Moore! Though the film seems quite mundane on the surface, being set in and around Las Vegas - hardly an exotic, unusual Bond location - it's to the director's credit that he plays up the tackiness and sleaziness of Vegas, with its continual background of muzak, to make it as strange and alien as any foreign location Bond has ever visited. The plot itself is pure Bond - Blofeld is using a diamond smuggling operation to accumulate enough of the precious stones to build a laser satellite with which he can hold the world to ransom - SDI before its time. Throw in Bond stealing a moon buggy from a secret lab (in which quite clearly a Moon landing is being faked in a tv studio) - a billionaire who conducts his business on the toilet - and even Blofeld in drag - and you have quite simply the most surreal and insane film in the entire Bond series. And yet for all that, it has that sense of the exotic, the outrageous and the downright spectacular that's missing from most Bond films after the 1970s.

It's also incredibly funny. All the sad pedants who accuse the seventies films of turning Fleming's Bond into a cartoon character miss the point that these five films are the most consistently entertaining of the entire series. To pioneer this new direction, the directors of the best sixties films are brought back - Goldfinger's Guy Hamilton shoots Diamonds and its successors Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. On all three he is joined by the screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, who truly understood the humour inherent in the Bond series, and how to capitalize on it. With the arrival of Roger Moore, all the elements were finally in place. Interestingly, considering many fans view Connery as the ideal and Moore as a lightweight substitute, Roger Moore seems closer to Fleming's original conception - suave, elegant and upper-middle class. And yet, a lot of Moore's performance is a veneer - beneath it, he retains a tough and callous edge - as well as a lot of Bond's caddishness. (Look at his treatment of Rosie Carver, his rigged seduction of Solitaire, or his shutting Mary Goodnight in the wardrobe when Andrea comes to his hotel room.) Now, I don't find this behaviour any more appealing from Moore than I did from Connery, but his charm and humour count for a lot.

Live and Let Die is, on the surface, quite an ordinary crime story about drug dealers. Certainly, the voodoo cult subplot is a lot more interesting than the main narrative. Dr Kananga is a bland villain, but fortunately he has a great henchman, Tee Hee. The film also contains some great action set-pieces (all shot through with trademark Mankiewicz humour), Roger Moore's performance, and some great comedy, including the wonderful Sheriff Pepper. All this helps it overcome its essentially un-Bond storyline.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a vast improvement. All the good elements of the previous film are reprised (even Sheriff Pepper is brought back!) - but this time we get a really exotic far East backdrop, and one of the very best Bond villains, Christopher Lee's Scaramanga, the world's best hitman who sees himself as Bond's equal.

There's a change of creative team for the next two films. Lewis Gilbert, the director of You Only Live Twice, is brought back, and teamed with a new writer, Christopher Wood. These two films demonstrate the absolute pinnacle of the Bond formula. Like Mankiewicz, Wood is a very funny writer who clearly understands Bond - and Gilbert follows the pattern of his earlier success to make these the biggest and most spectacular films in the entire series. The Spy Who Loved Me is plainly the best Bond film of all. It's got everything: the best pre-credit sequence (Bond skis off a cliff and escapes by parachute); a villain out to destroy all life on earth; the best henchman (Jaws); the best Bond girl - Major Anya Amasova, Russia's top spy and Bond's equal; the best car - a Lotus Esprit that turns into a submarine. And Roger Moore's finest on screen moment - the look he gives the beach-goers as he drives out of the sea and drops a fish out of the car's window. And yet - it falls just short of being absolute perfection because the villain, Stromberg, is boring and uninteresting. Curt Jurgens plays the part on auto-pilot, a kind of Bond villain by numbers.
There is really no such thing as a perfect Bond film - even in the best of the series, there's always one little thing that brings it down. Moonraker betters its predecessor by having perhaps the best villain in the series, Hugo Drax. It brings back Jaws. And Bond goes into space! The film has been criticized for being a cheap sci-fi flick, designed to cash in on Star Wars - but this is denying the fact that Bond has always been science fiction. At this point in the series, Moonraker is merely a logical development of the Bond formula and the producers' desire to go bigger and better every time. The real flaw in this film is an occasional lapse into juvenile humour, notably the scenes involving Jaws and his girlfriend. With a bit of judicious editing, this one would have been the ultimate Bond film.

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