The Culture of James Bond: The Moore Years
James Bond might be a British agent, but he’s subject to the whims of the American public in much the same way as our other cinematic heroes. The film industry is, after all, a business, and the best way to make money is to give the people what they want. As one of the oldest and most beloved film franchises, starting with Dr. No in 1962, 007 has had to adapt to the times… for better or worse depending on the era. As a result, the influences that have shaped the Bond films have been numerous and at times (and at other times not) surprising. If you really look at the movies throughout the years, you’ll be able to find exactly what event or craze that gripped America at the time. With the tragic passing of composer John Barry, who graced us with exciting scores for eleven of the Bond films, it seemed time to honor both him and franchise.
With part two of our retrospective, we look at the reign of Roger Moore…
Live and Let Die (1973):
The Story: Bond heads to New Orleans to take down a heroin smuggling ring.
Why We Got It: The Civil Rights movement had made a great deal of headway into the early 1970’s, giving African Americans a far more accepted place in the entertainment industry. Now that African Americans were no longer (legally) segregated from public entertainment venues such as movie theaters, Hollywood had an entirely new source of income to exploit—thus beginning the age of films known as Blaxploitation. From the cast photo alone, you can tell the marketing endeavor they were trying out:
Voodoo curses, a fraternity of villains entirely comprised of African Americans (yet, notice, not really any heroes there… apparently the world wasn’t ready for that one), and the setting of New Orleans cement this film squarely in the Blaxploitation era.
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974):
The Story: Bond tracks down international assassin, Scaramanga, to Hong Kong in order to recover an experimental solar energy cell.
Why We Got It: If you haven’t seen it, there is actually a scene where James Bond inexplicably wakes up in a Karate Dojo and engages in a martial arts battle with an army of kung fu trained warriors with the help of Asian schoolgirls in uniform. The cause? Martial arts legend Bruce Lee had taken the American public by storm, prompting an era of martial arts films to grip cinemas.
As for the solar energy cell featured as the driving force in the story, it’s a strange thing. If you watch the movie, everyone keeps referring to an “energy crisis” with only a few years left on the world’s oil supply. The reason for everyone’s concern and need for a new energy source? The 1973 Oil Crisis. If you thought 4.00 a gallon gas prices were bad a few years ago, at least you didn’t have to wait in a massive line of cars at the gas station for hours on end.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977):
The Story: Bond engages in a joint British-Soviet operation with Russian agent XXX (yeah, that’s her code name) in an attempt to avert the plans of a mad man from using two stolen nuclear submarines to start World War III.
Why We Got It: Despite its outlandish story (which wouldn’t be the last of the franchise), the movie is arguably Roger Moore’s best and a rather entertaining two hours. But let’s review: the movie has an underwater car, has a villain obsessed with the ocean and wants to create a society underneath it, has scenes with a villainous trap door leading to a shark tank, and has a henchman named Jaws.
I’ll give you three guesses to think of the big movie release the year before that changed blockbusters as we know them. Yup, that’s right:
The movie that ruined it for the rest of us wannabe filmmakers. Little known fact, the Broccoli’s considered Steven Spielberg to direct a Bond movie for a hot second, but decided against it in order to “see how that fish movie turns out”. That’s almost as silly as the idea that Peter Jackson was almost hired to direct The World is Not Enough… except that’s true too. Figures.
Another, momentary reference is to Lawrence of Arabia while Bond is in Egypt. The film had already become a classic by the time The Spy Who Loved Me had been released. They even play the theme music as Bond and XXX walk across the Egyptian desert.
The Story: Bond is tasked with stopping billionaire industrialist Hugo Drax from using a nerve gas to wipe out the population of the Earth and create his own society (Freud would have a field day with these 70’s villains, I swear) on a space station.
Why We Got It: Bond goes to space, uses laser pistols, and blows up a space station. They’re not exactly hiding the Star Wars cash in here. Another influence, however, that takes a bit more of a backseat is Bond’s exploits in Brazil. There are sequences in the film where Bond is walking around in scenes that look like something out of a western. Now, why mix Star Wars with the atmosphere of a Western? Well, while the sci-fi movement was in its infancy in the wake of Star Wars, another line of movies were firmly in place: The Spaghetti Westerns, championed by Clint Eastwood.
On a side note, the Bond girl’s name in this one is Holly Goodhead. That doesn’t really have anything to do with cultural influence. Just seemed worth mentioning.
While nothing about the story or events seem to come from current events or other films (as far as I know), the return of Roger Moore is a direct reaction to an attempt by another group of producers to break into the James Bond business with Never Say Never Again (the rights were acquired through a rather nasty lawsuit, which is also the reason why Blofeld and the terrorist organization SPECTRE from the Connery films never returned after You Only Live Twice), a remake of Thunderball released the same year starring Sean Connery. While Roger Moore, at 56, was widely regarded as being too old for the role (even he thought so), the Broccoli’s were afraid a new actor wouldn’t draw in the same box office against the original 007. Therefore, Roger Moore was coxed to return despite his better judgment.
The Story: James Bond must stop computer tycoon Max Zorin from flooding Silicon Valley and taking control of the computer market.
Why We Got It: Seen as the worst Bond movie made, A View to a Kill is frankly a baffling affair to behold. Roger Moore is too old to make a convincing Bond (he sleeps with women young enough to be his granddaughter), and Tanya Roberts makes a very attractive, but also very annoying Bond girl. So, we have a movie that takes place primarily in Silicon Valley, with a villain obsessed with computers. So, what particular device had begun to invade the homes of America around the time the movie had gone into production?
So, with the first successful home computer to use a visual OS on the market, we have the genesis of the story. But that little box doesn’t excuse some of the other more… questionable creative decisions in the film. Let’s go through them and try to figure out what it could be.
Take a look at these screen caps for a moment:
I honestly don’t think a caption is needed here.
A pop star of the time, Ms. Jones found her way into a few film productions, including Conan: The Destroyer. For some reason, a casting director saw her and said, “Yup, Bond should hit that.”
Christopher Walken : Now, to be fair, Walken is most likely the best part of the movie (aside from perhaps the catchy Durran Durran song). The sheer joy on his face as he fires off one liners and matches wits with Roger Moore is infectious. The problem is, while rather fun to watch on screen, he isn’t exactly what you would call a menacing villain.
As far as the action goes, Roger Moore has had both fantastic sequences and moments of embarrassment. Suffering through badly placed sound effects and ridiculous costumes, nothing quite reached the cringe worthy heights at the start of A View to a Kill: Bond snowboarding to the beach boys.
At this point, the culprit for A View to a Kill’s quality becomes clear. Just take a look at the year and you’ll realize:
The movie proved to be a commercial and critical bomb, not to mention a disappointing last adventure for Roger Moore. It was time for a change of pace… one that would come swiftly.