Lights, Camera, Conversation… “A view to a reevaluation”

In which we defend the Roger Moore era of James Bond, which is where the seeds of seriousness were first sown.

Maybe it’s the release of Skyfall, maybe the excitement that the Bond-movie universe is celebrating its golden anniversary, or maybe just the fact that for some people anything is a pretext for watching movies, I’ve been revisiting the films where Roger Moore played 007. Moore, to me and my generation, is the Bond we first saw in theatres. (We were either unborn or too young when Sean Connery did the honours.) I have pleasant memories of these films, most of which fell into the “good entertainment” category, but current assessments of Moore have been cruel. He’s seen as a pun-packed place-filler, whom we put up with because Connery wouldn’t do any more Bond movies and Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig were still in school. (And it dismays me that, in these evaluations, Timothy Dalton always gets a raw deal. He really was the first “serious” Bond, long before Craig and Casino Royale.)

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But back to Moore. It’s baffling how no one seems to regard The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me, which came back-to-back, as the Bond movies where the seeds of seriousness were first sown. Of course, even earlier, we had On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, where George Lazenby’s Bond, by the end, is left cradling his wife’s lifeless form. But the best Moore movies, while steering clear of such overt displays of drama, were the first where serious moments were secreted in between all the guns and girls and gadgets. This isn’t just about the throwaway shots, like the one in the opening of For Your Eyes Only, where Bond places flowers on his wife’s grave. That’s just a ripple on the surface, a pale pointer to his troubled past. All it did was link Moore’s Bond to Lazenby’s Bond, assuring us that though the actors are different, the character is the same. (The Daniel Craig movies, however, belong to an entirely different universe, whose emotional undertow goes by the name of Vesper Lynd rather than Tracy Bond, but that’s a different discussion altogether.)

In The Spy Who Loved Me, Moore’s Bond is matched with an unprecedented Bond girl, his equal both professionally and personally. Major Anya Amasova – codenamed Triple-X (thus preserving the grand tradition of snicker-worthy Bond girl names) – is to the KGB what Bond is to MI6, but, like Bond, she’s also bereaved of a lover. Forced to work together, the initial wariness gives way, expectedly, to flirtation and sex. But when she realises that her lover was killed by Bond – in the film’s opening stretch, with a ski chase – she recoils. She asks Bond, “The man I loved. He was in Austria three weeks ago. Did you kill him?” Bond thinks back, and then replies, “When someone’s behind you on skis at 40 miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don’t always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him.” And she says, simply, “Then, when this mission is over, I will kill you.”

But after this stretch of seriousness, we’re back to the circus, with a steel-toothed henchman and a megalomaniacal villain who wants to rule the waters and sets up shop in the sea. In The Man with the Golden Gun, the circus is literal. The villain, Scaramanga, was brought up in one, and he likes his fun and games. The plot-driving solar-power device, like the list of agents in Skyfall, is just a MacGuffin – the point, really, is Scaramanga’s desire to duel with Bond, in whom he sees a kindred spirit. (Skyfall, too, was driven by a villain cut from the same cloth as Bond.) When Bond flies into Scaramanga’s island hideout, he’s shown around the lair, given all information that will help him later. Scaramanga even shows Bond how he harnesses solar power into a weapon, and just as we’re beginning to roll our eyes at all this explication, he points this weapon at Bond’s seaplane and blows it up. He wants Bond to know the extent of his plans, and he also wants Bond to know that death is near.

Christopher Lee plays Scaramanga beautifully, as a character with serious issues and not as a jaw-clenched archetype, and you wish that the fans swooning in rapture about Javier Bardem’s “real” performance in Skyfall would realise that it’s all been done before (including the tragic backstory) – and without making a fetish of the seriousness, as if this were Shakespearean drama and not a diversion. By today’s standards, The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me may seem slow, but they did a lot of the “for the first time ever” things that the Daniel Craig films are being praised for, and they did these things while also dispensing cheap and clever puns, sights of near-naked women, spectacular locations, surprising gadgetry from Q, and memorable sidekicks like the pint-sized Nick Nack. Those who think that the execrable A View to a Kill is what defines Roger Moore’s Bond should take a look at the installments that came before. They pack in just the right amount of seriousness we can take in a light entertainment.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2012 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

27 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Conversation… “A view to a reevaluation”

  1. I have a meta-question – why do the Bond movies have to be serious ? I don’t understand the need for them to be – whats wrong with near-naked, double-entendre named women, big-scary frankly fake villains, large improbable explosions and fantastic theme tunes.

    The “serious” part of the Bond movies bore me – i don’t come in expecting anything other than popcorn entertainment done well . Its like expecting the Carry-On movies to have a message and linking them to the feminist movement. Poppycock.


  2. venkatesh: I agree with you. But what I’m saying here is that the Bond movies have always had a core of seriousness — just that they didn’t make a big hoo-hah about it like the Craig movies, of which I’ve truly enjoyed only “Casino Royale.”


  3. What do you think about the increasing insignificance of bond girls?
    Esp in Skyfall I found both the Bondgirls unremarkable, mostly because they hardly had anything to do…

    I can see that with the Ursula type does not fit in with this new serious Bond movies but still I hoped to see them doing something more than just guest appearances.


  4. It doesn’t have to get serious but the point is the franchise had started fraying…it was getting a little boring with all the mindless stuff, though I agree it did make what the franchise stood for. The franchise needed a reboot, and if this is the direction they choose, so be it. I don’t mind it at all, especially given their funding challenges, where it seemed the franchise might grind to a halt. If they can continue to make hits with the new found direction, I’m okay with it. Some Bond is better than no Bond at all!!


  5. I never understood this fuss about bond movies, let alone the recent squabble about Skyfall. I did not grow up watching bond movies. I grew up rather with the Matrix movies giving me adrenaline drives all the way through my teens. I think the Bond franchise hugely thrives on the nostalgia factor, stripped of which all the glitter surrounding it shrinks to a naught(unlike franchises like the Star Wars which equally thrive on nostalgia, but are decent enough nonetheless). And if you are asking for late 80’s/early 90’s action movies in the form of light entertainment with a serious underpinning, i would say there are some really awesome flicks that fit into this category (how about Lethal Weapon for starters).

    Much of my problem is, all these issues wouldnt be as grating if the Bond flicks didnt attract such unjustified hype and praise. A bond movie is basically a giant hyper-macho dialog delivery scene, at best. But it wants to think you to think otherwise.


  6. BR : I am not sure they always had a core of seriousness , its just a specific genre, i guess i just havent been looking at them that way , certainly the Connery Bond was more misogynistic,casually brutal and rugged. I sort of think of that Bond as a direct descendant of the typical Humphrey Bogart character from noir movies of the 40’s with more money and style. He was the best. The other Bonds just seem to be pretenders to the throne.

    I actually don’t like the Craig Casino Royale specifically because of the famed opening sequence , its a direct lift from Banlieu 13 and done less well.


  7. @BR you wrote “but they did a lot of the “for the first time ever” things that the Daniel Craig films are being praised for, and they did these things while also dispensing cheap and clever puns, sights of near-naked women, spectacular locations, surprising gadgetry from Q, and memorable sidekicks like the pint-sized Nick Nack. “.

    apart from the near naked women and mind blowing sex,i didnt miss the other things in “skyfall” that much.i had a discussion with you on this before but i fail to grasp why making a serious “hoo hah” in a bond movie is such a bad thing?the makers may have just decided to take the franchise to a different direction.probably the makers realised without a rehash bond will be redundant in todays age when bourne has made such an impact..its possible u know?.whatever the reason,the fact remains daniel craig has added a whole new dimension to bond franchise under immense pressure(remember the hate campaign against him when he was selected to play the role?) and if brosnan like movies had continued, then its safe to assume bond would be a dying franchise today.

    if you are allowing a batman movie to have a serious concept and philosophical subtexts its only fair bond should be given a proper could not speak about a” dark batman” with a straight face 10 years back could you?its not the concept or our expectations that should colour a movie’s judgement but whether the director could pull it off .dont you think that should be the only criteria ?


  8. Unfair to expect a franchise to remain the same way, Bond essentially changes with who is playing Bond; like how it differed from Connery to Moore and henceforth. If this (craig) is modern Bond then why should it be seen as mock seriousness, i dont understand. I love all the Bond films as they are. When a director wishes to introduce a serious element in a story/ franchise why should it be opposed?
    It is the viewer who encourages a certain set of films to flourish, going to the theatre having expectations based on a set of rules (like the word puns and near naked girls). I was thoroughly entertained by Skyfall and Quantum.
    They probably made more money than they eyebrow raising Moore movies, which were intended for only the cash registers(that was a compliment). Crtics want everything I say.


  9. Nowadays the trend is take good money making franchises and make them really really serious. Take the superhero franchises such as Spiderman, Batman and Superman as well (with the upcoming Man of Steel) and go ahead and completely psycho-analyze the human behind the superhero…that seems to be the trend. I sorely miss the insanely unbelievable superhero type movies of the past (to which the Roger Moore Bond movies belong) where there was just about enough seriousness, but a whole lot of fun as well.


  10. Interesting, i personally found Spy Who Loved me to be the most enjoyable Moore Bond and Man with the Golden Gun the worst. Agree on the seriousness injection in Spy Who.


  11. Oh no! Really? Defending Roger Moore films?! But thankfully (or rather there isn’t much to choose from) you’ve picked the best of those – The Spy Who Loved Me and The Man With The Golden Gun to reason your thesis. From the rest, I can even take A View To A Kill, if only for the eternally pleasant Tanya Roberts. But For Your Eyes Only, Live and Let Die and Moonraker are cringe worthy. I do think the Sean Connery movies too will make a case for all the seriousness. More so because the campyness of Moore films isn’t present. And of course, if Timothy Dalton had three movies or more, that would have made a better case for this. He was closest too Ian Fleming Bond too I believe.

    What really needs a defense is the Pierce Brosnan set of films. Goldenye FTW!

    Vikram is the better version of Moonraker. No, really.


  12. Vikram is close to you only live twice, stealing rockets/satellites but yeah even Thunderball and Never Say all have stolen Agniputra themes, Vikram Best Bond outside the canon.


  13. Cant agree more. Was bored to death trying to watch one of Nolan’s Batman reboot films. Some of these franchises just deserve the boot.


  14. On this piece, I have to disagree in the sense that Spy who loved me never gave me any feeling of watching any serious stretches . Even when the characters might have mouthed threatening or serious lines the scene/treatment itself told you not to take any of it seriously unlike these current movies which are begging you to do so.


  15. aneek: “you could not speak about a” dark batman” with a straight face 10 years back could you?” — actually yes. “Batman Returns.” Tim Burton got there long before Christopher Nolan did.

    Gradwolf: You don’t like “For Your Eyes Only”? No more launch invites for you, young man :-)


  16. Oh please, give me a break. Because one parkour scene that takes place in a Parisian district is like another chase through a (presumably) African town. How are the two sequences even remotely similar?


  17. Frankly, you seem to be ignoring the fact that the MAKERS of these films might want them to be a DIFFERENT film altogether. Nolan does NOT make goofy, light films. Branagh evidently does (hence, we had a light-hearted Thor). Favreau does (hence, Iron Man). Wheedon does (hence, Avengers).

    Do you think Sam Mendes would WANT to make a Moore-like Bond film? Especially with a resume thaat includes Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, American Beauty, Jarhead etc. This film was all serious and weighty drama because Mendes WANTED it to be.


  18. Glad you brought up “Batman Returns”. I recently saw it as part of a “Bat marathon” on DVD and I’d forgotten just how dark it was, I mean the movie starts and climaxes with attempted infanticide, for Christ’s sake! Thrown in a tortured Catwoman and a creepily lecherous Penguin and you have a movie that can go toe to toe with Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in terms of it’s dark, weighty themes.

    And the Penguin’s line upon glimpsing Catwoman for the first time ” Now there’s a pussy I like” is something even Nolan wouldn’t have dared include in his curiously sterile Bat flicks, about the only thing that bothered me about them. I mean Bruce Wayne only ever has sex once in the Dark Knight trilogy, and it has all the warmth of a glacier. Which sort of links to how sex has taken a back seat in the Craig Bond movies as well. I mean, sure Bond has sex, but it’s so perfunctory. So…mechanical. Skyfall has the worst shower sex scene I’ve seen. Craig looked genuinely uncomfortable. Compare that to the end of Moore’s much derided View To A Kill, where Moore and Tanya Roberts have their own “soap time”. Moore looks like he’s having fun (you’re in the shower with a naked Tanya Roberts…what’s not to like?)

    Growing up with Roger Moore as my vision of Bond, I’ve since come to recognize that Moore never took the role seriously and played it as such, much to the annoyance of many. But I miss the eroticism of the his Bond movies. Moore’s Bond always looked like he’d rather fuck than fight while Craig’s version preferred to be anywhere but under the covers with a nubile nymph.So, dare I attribute an Oedipal subtext to the Craig movies culminating in Skyfall, that the only woman Bond wanted to be with was M?


  19. Jairam, there’s actually a little something for all tastes on the Hollywood buffet table, For every uber-serious take on the supehero mythology like Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Watchmen, there’s the breezy lightness of The Avengers or Green Lantern. The 2 cinematic abortions that Joel Fucking Scumacher inflicted on Bat fans, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin indirectly gave birth to Nolan’s weightier approach. Those 2 disasters highlighted the dangers of taking campiness too far and leaching the series of all subtext, introspection and depth.


  20. @kaykay oh i so remember that line.was it “now theres a pussy i like” or “what a pussy”?

    @BR well you got me there.”batman returns” was a real dark film.but you get the broader point i was making.Burton never meant to make a “serious” film which nolan did.after nolans batman came out ,we have a new set of standards that a super hero movie has to you noted with the roger moore bond movies,there was always a serious undertone to these movies without making a “hoo hah”.but now its they wear their seriousness on their sleeves.


  21. I’m going to go out on a limb and correct the “eroticism” notion. I don’t think the word you’re looking for is eroticism. I think the word you’re looking for is “misogyny.” You miss the misogyny and objectification in Bond. Good for you.


  22. And YOU presume a common standard for Eroticism applies to everyone. Good for YOU!

    I’ve been aware of those elements of misogyny and objectification for quite some time now. I just choose not to work myself up into a lather over it for the same reason I choose not to mine socially relevant subtext in a franchise designed as escapist fantasy from day one featuring a secret agent driving an invisible car and carrying an exploding pen not to mention one whose name is known to every bartender mixing cocktails in a casino.

    If your ideal of a Bond flick is a revisionist approach that highlights Bond’s thuggish persona as an assassin and examines his fractious relationship with women, then the current approach of the Craig movies should be right up your alley.

    Enjoy and leave me to my puerile male fantasies, please:-)


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