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Roger Moore

Review: Live and Let Die

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

Sean Connery knew when to get out. The new James Bond film is a poor-kid’s followup to the modest achievements of the preceding seven Fleming adaptations (I’m not counting the multi-director fiasco Casino Royale, backed by a different producer). The double-entendres fairly double over with arthritis, the girls and the bad guys are a dreary lot, and the big set-piece, a motorboat pursuit through twisty inland waterways, is a protracted steal from The Mechanic. Sex was real—i.e., had something to do with emotions—only in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (and why hasn’t Peter Hunt directed anything since?), but even the Playmate-style romps of the other Bond flicks had some verve and wit about them; here either the couplings are all but accidental or the implicit logic behind them threatens to plunge the film into a neurotic introspection that the writer, the director, and the star are unprepared to risk.

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Erasable Bond

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Watching the last three James Bond films in close succession, one constantly sees contrasts. Not so with the first two films of the series, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, which frequently play together as a double feature. They invite comparison rather than contrast, their parallels in plot and style having established a “James Bond formula” with which viewers quickly became familiar, expecting its recurrence in subsequent films. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice fulfilled the expectation.

But the juxtaposition of the next two films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever, which also have circulated as a double bill, impresses the viewer more with differences than similarities, provoking one to redefine his notion of exactly what a James Bond film is, or is supposed to be. And the most recent offering, Live and Let Die, compared with its two immediate predecessors, comes off decidedly third-best.

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Review: Gold

[Originally published in Movietone News 37, November 1974]

Gold joins On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in support of the thesis that Peter Hunt is going to make one hell of a fine picture some day. The property itself is distinguished only in its preposterous anachronism and the fact that some bestseller by Arthur Hailey or Irving Wallace hasn’t provided the impetus for bringing it to the screen in this day and age. There’s this crusty, cigar-puffing old mineowner in South Africa (Ray Milland) whose grandson-in-law, a Doctor of Economics (Bradford Dillman), is getting set to knife him in the back by creating a natural disaster that will put his and all the neighboring gold mines out of business, thereby trebling the value of the world’s remaining goldfields. In this Dillman is the agent of an international financial syndicate (headed by Sir John Gielgud) who don’t mind drowning a thousand mineworkers, or even blowing up each other, if it will have a favorable effect on the stock exchange. The general manager who’s been in on the plan gets himself killed in an accident, fercrineoutloud, and so Dillman decides he must (1) promote the greatest threat to his endeavor, the supervisor of Underground Operations (Roger Moore), to the general managership and (2) divert said greatest threat’s attention during the key phase of the plan by throwing his own scrumptious wife (Susannah York) at him.

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Review: Gold

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Gold is a big potboiler of a movie, filled with action, violence, gore, and adultery. It’s a genre piece, fraught with convention and predictability. It has no characters, only cartoon people whose actions are as unsurprising as their motivations are unlikely. And I enjoyed the hell out of it. The credit is due largely to Peter Hunt who, on the basis of only two films, may already lay claim to being one of the finest action directors around. Hunt had his apprenticeship as editor of several of the James Bond movies, and he has brought a skilled action-editor’s grasp of pace to the director’s chair. During the whole of Gold he gave me one minute out of 115 to sit back, temporarily bored, and say to myself, “This really isn’t very good.” And I’m not one to argue with 99.13 percent success.

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Review: The Spy Who Loved Me

[Originally published in Movietone News 55, September 1977]

We’d probably have to go back to the Fifties, when Hollywood first joined battle with television by offering lavish spectacles the small screen couldn’t match, to find out why commercial movies have recently become fixated on special effects and technology. The disaster films. along with Jaws and King Kong, helped set us up for Star Wars, in which the human actors are upstaged by robots. The Spy Who Loved Me, the latest James Bond film, is so overstuffed with mammoth sets and special effects, and so utterly lacking in human balance, that it falls right in with current trends. Like Star Wars, which has been called “subliminal propaganda for technology,” the new Bond makes you feel cool and powerful as you drive your car away from the theater; it may not be a space cruiser or a modified Lotus Esprit, but it will do. But do what, and how? James Bond’s present audience may have forgotten that the earlier films in the series, though already tending in this direction, also gave us a fleeting sense of our own power, not just of the power of machines. Boys watched Sean Connery as Bond, and the way he moved and talked and held himself, as if conscious of his own weight and strength, affected us almost subliminally, giving us a sense of what it meant to be a man. Connery has taken that side of the Bond films away with him—the “powerful masculine presence” (as Pauline Kael put it) which helped to humanize those well-oiled entertainment machines.

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Review: Moonraker

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

The title song to Moonraker, sung by Shirley Bassey, sets the tone for the latest James Bond film: gentle, inoffensive, almost sweet. This is not the audience-affronting, brassy Bassey of Goldfinger or Diamonds Are Forever; and of John Barry’s score, even the recycled, tried-and-true music from previous Bond films fails to please. The brash, insistent guitar of Monty Norman’s original “James Bond Theme” has been traded down for gentle violin pizzicati, the tempo tripping rather than surging, more cute than clout. Like a turtle drawing in its head, the James Bond format has become systematically less and less daring with the passing years. Not only the actors but even their characters seem progressively aware of participating in a routine: Bond (Roger Moore) isn’t surprised when Drax (Michael Lonsdale), with no provocation, immediately sets about trying to kill him; and Drax himself makes no bones about wanting Bond dead. There’s no detective work, no effort to sidetrack or deceive the investigating agent. What immediately gives Drax away—to Bond and us—as the archvillain is his lavish wealth. It’s become an accepted premise of the Bond film that those who have enough money to buy anything they want will inevitably build private fortresses, equip private armies, and spend their lucre on a quest for world domination.

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Review: The Sea Wolves

[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]

Time was when people talked (pretty foolishly) about Andrew V. McLaglen as heir to the mantle of John Ford, and the name of Howard Hawks has been known to surface as a reference point, too. The Sea Wolves, however, demonstrates an affinity with the world of British hackdom, with J. Lee Thompson and Terence Young at their ropiest. Remove from the film a dash of sex and one naughty cussword (“shit”, exclaimed twice) and you have a movie that could have been made 30 years ago. A successor to action-packed yawn-provokers such as Young’s The Red Beret (American title: Paratrooper) or Thompson’s The Guns of Navarone, it finds room for more cliches than any war film since Where Eagles Dare; but unlike that film, it lacks any sense of redeeming self-mockery. Its gall stimulates first a sort of glazed disbelief, then a kind of punch-drunk regression to the cinemagoing attitudes of one’s childhood, so that the sheer ineptitude of the film on all kinds of levels becomes almost soothing. Certainly it hands us a large number of unintended laughs, though one has to wait until the end credits for the richest, when card after card iterates desperately that what we’ve just seen was a true story, when no child over ten will believe that a single frame of it. Just to rub it in, three of the actors get their photos juxtaposed with those of the  dissimilar real-life people they portray.

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Review: ffOLKES

[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]

Eccentric heroes, and movies featuring eccentric heroes, must have the courage of that eccentricity in order to persuade audiences to accept and honor it. Roger Excalibur ffolkes is nothing if not an eccentric — so why do the wetsuits on his underwater demolition team read FFOLKES FFUSILIERS instead of (obviously!) ffOLKES ffUSILIERS? Really, my dear chap, it won’t do. Except, all right, let it go this time; for ffolkes is an engaging-enough high-adventure item in its bumptious, low-grade way. The storyline is blithely silly: A squad of piratical types masquerade as journalists in order to get aboard a supply ship that services Her Majesty’s North Sea oil derricks; they mine the ship and two of the billion-dollar rigs, then threaten to blow everything up if the Government doesn’t come across with an empire’s ransom. Can our boozing, woman-hating, cat-loving, rug-tatting hero save all the innocent souls at sea and trounce the blackguards before zero hour? Forget we asked. Keep Reading