Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Octopussy (1983)

Posted: February 10, 2020 in James Bond
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You’ll know by now that I’m a big fan of Roger Moore. In many ways he can do no wrong as 007, or at least he couldn’t. As we reach 1983—the year let us not forget that saw Sean Connery and Roger Moore in direct, Bondian competition as Never Say Never came out—Rog is in his mid-fifties and it’s starting to show. I mean maybe, it was showing before, but his boyish enthusiasm always kept it at bay. For a while there’d been a fine line between charm and smarm, and 1983 is the year that line was crossed. Not that we can wholly blame Moore for this.

It’s evident from the pre-title sequence how things have changed. Just check out his leer when he’s trying to distract those two guards. And talking of them, who the hell wears a parachute as a matter of course? Not even paratroopers. Makes it handy for 007 to escape that’s all. It’s an oddly hollow pre-title sequence. Yes the little Aerojet is cool but it doesn’t do a lot, and where is he? Argentina? Could be, there’s the polo, and this was around the time of the Falklands War. Except he’s suddenly in a southern American state asking some old geezer to fill her up. Cuba? Unlikely given the polo/wealth on show. Mexico? Maybe its best to imagine it’s some imaginary country. The Republic of Isthmus perhaps? The best bit is probably Moore’s judo chop!

After the titles the film settles down a little and goes Cold War on us. First off there’s 009, dressed as a clown, being pursued to the British embassy by knife wielding goons. He makes it, but soon succumbs to his wounds, dropping a Faberge egg on the floor.

Back in London 007 arrives to find Moneypenny has a new assistant, Miss Penelope Smallbone, who’s sexually harassed by Bond right from the off, though clearly it’s mutual given her longing sigh. I mean Roger Moore is cool and all but he’s old enough to be her grandad. And the side-lining of Moneypenny isn’t great.

The auction scene is fun, though maybe surrounding Rog with antiques isn’t a great idea….

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“I’m sorry Steven, could you just ratchet it up a little more?”

We meet our first villain of the piece now. The always understated Steven Berkoff as General Orlov. Gotta love that Politburo war room set though.

Having switched the eggs at the auction Bond is off to India and things go even more off the rails. I mean this is probably as close to becoming a Carry On style parody as the franchise gets (unless A View to a Kill is somehow worse than I remember). Say what you like about Moonraker, it’s not as ridiculous as this.

Where to start? How about Bond recognising his own theme tune courtesy of former tennis star Vijay Amritraj disguised as a snake charmer (damn I missed him off my Bond/Trek list! He’s in Star Trek IV). Somehow having a camera with 007 on it doesn’t seem so bad.

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“It’s all in the wrist.” Are you sure you’re talking about backgammon Roger?

Next villain, the wonderfully suave Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan. The backgammon game is presumably a nod to Goldfinger, complete with Bond showing off the egg the way Connery showed off the gold bar, and having Gobinda, Khan’s bodyguard, crush the dice the way Oddjob crushed a golf ball. Yet again Bond walks away with a bundle of cash, and unfortunately advises his Indian colleagues that it’ll keep them in curry for a few weeks. Oh 007…

The auto rikshaw chase should be fun, but turns out to just be an excuse to stick as many Indian stereotypes in one sequence as possible. Sword swallowers, fire jugglers and fire walkers and of course fakirs sleeping on beds of nails.

Then we’re into Q’s lab where the misogyny goes into overdrive. Q offloads Bond’s jacket to a woman to sew up, before Bond focuses a camera on a young woman’s cleavage to ‘hilarious’ comic effect. I’ll defend the franchise a lot, but this is a really poor show. He’s James Bond not Sid James!

Bond gets a shag next, and I suppose the best thing one can say is that Magda is only doing it to get the egg. Her escape from Bond’s room is fun, but why go to all that trouble when Gobinda is going to clock Bond anyway?

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“I was Dracula you know.”

Cue dinner at Kamal’s palace, complete with stuffed sheep’s eyes. Really, I’m surprised they didn’t get chilled money brains from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Despite his hospitality Khan is going to kill Bond so he makes his escape.

And what an escape. First he pretends to be a ghost (which did make me laugh against my better judgement) then he impersonates Barbara Woodhouse with a gag I imagine less than 1% of viewers these days will get. He tells a snake to hiss off and then throws in a Tarzan cry for good measure. I mean, Jim Dale might as well be 007 by this point.

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“Are you sure we haven’t met before? You look oddly familiar.”

Finally Bond heads for Octopussy’s island in a crocodile submarine (I mean why not right) and meets up with a familiar face as Maud Adam returns for her second outing as a Bond girl. Not the first woman to return as a different character, but the others were fairly minor, she’s the only woman to play two different top tier Bond girls as it were. On the plus side she’s only just young enough to be Roger’s daughter. On the downside she isn’t the greatest actress (I think she’s better as Andrea Anders) and the scene with Bond as they discuss her father should be great, given as it’s lifted from Fleming, yet feels dull.

Poor old Vijay is killed and Bond narrowly escapes being buzz-sawed in Octopussy’s bed.

The film them scoots off to Germany and oddly goes all spy thrillery as it becomes apparent that Orlov is using Octopussy’s circus to smuggle a nuclear bomb onto an American airbase where he plans to detonate it, blame the Americans and encourage nuclear disarmament across Europe, thus leaving the continent vulnerable to Soviet takeover. It’s a neat plan, one that probably deserves to be in a better film. In fact it’s so similar to The Fourth Protocol that I wonder if the Bond producers ever thought of suing Frederick Forsyth?

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After some hijinks aboard a train Bond breaks into the USAF airbase (ridiculously easily it must be said) and disguises himself as a clown (the jokes write themselves by this point) before trying to warn the Americans about the bomb. Surprisingly they think he’s joking but luckily Octopussy believes Bond and reveals the nuke, which James defuses while still dressed as a clown. To be honest I think the clown thing gets a lot of bad press, it actually works quite well and given he was disguised as a gorilla about ten minutes earlier, is it really that bad?

Cue a ridiculous circus inspired attack on Kamal Khan’s palace by Octopussy’s all girl circus, with Bond dropping in via a Union Jack hot air balloon piloted by Q…I mean by this point you have to wonder what the writers were smoking.

There’s time for a final confrontation atop Khan’s plane between Bond and Gobinda, worth it if only for the Sikh’s “Out there?” when Khan tells him to clamber outside the plane to kill Bond. Like much of the film it’s a set piece I remember liking a lot more when I was younger.

It isn’t a completely terrible film, almost but not quite. Most of the train scenes are good and I do genuinely like Bond defusing the bomb. Roger sliding down a bannister with an AK47 is really cool as well, but this feels tired and it feels tawdry. In many respects I wish For Your Eyes Only had been Roger’s final film (not that this is his final film but we’re into a law of diminishing returns now.)

Jourdan and Berkoff make for decent villains. Gobinda is a nice spin on the tough henchman, and while Adams isn’t great, Octopussy does have a bit of agency, and you have to like that they added several ideas from Fleming into the book (Major Dexter-Smythe, Property of a Lady etc) but overall this is a poor Bond film, and in fact might well be my least favourite so far. That it was still probably the best Bond film of 1983 is damning with faint praise. Still, it’s almost time for Tim, but first we have a View…to a kill!

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“What have I done?”

 

For Your Eyes Only (1981)

Posted: January 17, 2020 in James Bond
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And so we follow Roger Moore’s most ludicrous film with perhaps his most grounded. No world threatening supervillains with diabolical schemes here, instead we get a gritty cold war thriller. It’s amazing to think Moonraker and For Your Eyes Only are part of the same series, but then that’s part of the franchise’s charm in my opinion.

There was a time, maybe not even that long ago, when if asked FYEO would have sat in my worst Bond list. It doesn’t anymore. To be honest the reappraisal was prompted by a holiday in Corfu which made me watch it again. And I realised there’s a lot to like about it. I don’t mind the ridiculous, but it’s nice that Roger got something akin to From Russia with Love—it’s nowhere near as good obviously but after Moonraker they had to dial down the ridiculousness, and they’ll do this again of course, with Casino Royale following Die Another Day. And again, to be clear FYEO isn’t as good as Casino Royale.

The changes are obvious from the beginning. The pre-title sequence is somewhat lowkey, but I like it. The reference to Tracy is welcome, and Moore gets to look mournful and weary in a way he’s rarely allowed. His little comment of “It usually is” when told there’s an emergency feels almost Dalton’esque. Of course, while it’s clear Blofeld is the CEO of remote-control airways, he’s never credited as such due to copyright issues with Kevin McClory that would plague Eon for years. We all know it’s Ernst Stavro though, and 007 finally gets revenge for Tracy by dropping him down a chimney.

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Cue titles and Sheena Easton (still the only time the singer’s been seen in the titles) before we get to the meat of the plot. After an accident (or is it?) sinks a British spy ship, the Royal navy’s ATAC device (used to communicate with and coordinate Polaris submarines) is at risk. The British hire Sir Timothy Havelock, a marine archaeologist, to find it but he’s murdered before he can by Hector Gonzales, a Cuban hitman. Bond is despatched to Spain to spy on Gonzales but gets caught, luckily before he can be killed Gonzales is killed by Havelock’s daughter Melina and the two make their escape, though after Bond’s Lotus self-destructs (worst anti-theft device ever, Q!) they have to use Melina’s 2CV.

This leads to a great little car chase, which could have been played strictly for laughs but is genuinely exciting, one of many top-notch set pieces in this film.

Bond’s off to Cortina in Italy next, to meet Julian Glover’s Kristatos, who promises to help Bond find out who hired Gonzales but suggests it’s probably his former friend turned nemesis, the dastardly Columbo, who given he’s played by Topol is of course really a good guy, while the man who’s played smooth talking villains in everything from Doctor Who to Game of Thrones by way of Star Wars is, of course, the bad guy.

Cortina features some more good set pieces. Bond’s encounter with a couple of motorbikes when Melina shows up, and his ice hockey fight aren’t great, but between them is a stunning sequence where Bond is hunted by the villains, and proceeds to elude/fight them using a variety of winter sports, from biathlon to ski jumping to the franchise’s second bobsleigh outing. It’s a wonderful sequence and you do halfway believe Roger Moore is doing all those stunts…well, maybe a quarter way.

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Then it’s off to Corfu, and a night at the casino (filmed at the luscious Achilleion Palace—been there!) before Bond seduces Columbo’s girlfriend, the accent slipping Countess (Cassandra Harris, the first wife of Pierce Brosnan who sadly died in 1991) When they’re menaced on the beach the countess is killed, and Bond is about to die when rescued by…shock! Columbo’s men.

There’s a lovely scene between Bond and Columbo, and Topol easily fits into the retinue of larger than life allies alongside Kerim Bey and Tiger Tanaka. Columbo lets Bond in on a raid of Kristatos’s operation in Albania (actually filmed below the old venetian fortress in Corfu Town—been there!) which is another great set piece.

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Bond and Melina reconnect and locate the St Georges. They find the ATAC but are attacked, first by a man in a metal diving suit, then by another henchmen in a minisub. They defeat both but back on the surface Kristatos is waiting and he takes the ATAC and attempts to keelhaul Bond and Melina. This is a great scene, lifted from Fleming, and their escape is even realistic, at least realistic for Bond.

Then we’re off to our finale, an assault on the mountaintop monastery of St Cyril’s. Yes Bond’s mountain climbing goes on a bit, but it’s still a great end to the film;  Kristatos is foiled and when General Gogol arrives 007 deprives him of his prize by tossing the ATAC off the cliff. “That’s detente comrade. I don’t have it. You don’t have it.”

Wonderful.

What a shame the end of the film is ruined by the ridiculous Janet Brown/Margaret Thatcher moment. Seriously, what were they thinking?

maxresdefaultMoore is great here, and yes he is starting to look a bit older but at least he’s portrayed as slightly less sleazy than he has been elsewhere. His relationship with Melina takes time to grow, and while he hops into bed with the countess he is technically “on the job” and Harris is at least only young enough to be his daughter rather than his granddaughter! And then there’s Bibi, who Bond fends off.

Fun fact, though obviously playing younger than her years, Lynn Holly Johnson is actually only a year younger than Carole Bouquet, but then this film’s got some mixed up ideas about age. Bibi tells  Kristatos he’s too old for her, but Glover is almost eight years younger than Roger Moore who Bibi is desperate to shag!

Back to Roger, he gets to be brutal and be a proper spy, and yes by all accounts he wasn’t too happy kicking that guy off the cliff, but like a trouper he did it and it’s a great scene. You almost wish this had been his send off.

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Carole Bouquet’s Melina is a great Bond girl. I mean, she has actual agency. Yes she falls for Bond, well duh, and yes she does seem to give up a little easily in Cortina, and yes Bond does divesplain to a woman who’s probably done more diving than he has…but, she’s engaged in the story, makes her own decisions and saves 007’s life, she also kicks butt with that crossbow. In a way I’m sorry she isn’t the one to kill Kristatos but you can’t have everything. Her comparisons with Elektra are also good. Definitely one of the better Bond girls.

Talking of Kristatis, Glover is wonderful in the role, charming and dangerous in equal measure, especially once his cover’s blown and we know he’s the bad guy. Topol is similarly engaging as Columbo, another one of those characters you kinda wish had come back. Perhaps a shame that we have a French woman, and English and Israeli men playing Greeks but they all play their parts well at least.

The henchmen are less memorable. Gonzales isn’t around long enough to get much of a personality, Locque’s defining trait is his glasses, and Erich Kriegler is just another generic monosyllabic Aryan blonde (see also Stamper, Hans, Necros etc etc) Interesting to note Charles Dance in one of his earliest roles.

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While Moneypenny is on hand to flirt, and Q aids Bond with the ludicrous indentigraph, there’s no M as sadly Bernard Lee died before he could film his scenes. As a mark of respect the role wasn’t recast and Bond is briefed by others.

Never been a huge fan of Easton’s title track, but the wacka wacka soundtrack is very cool.

I can see why people don’t like it because it’s the atypical Moore Bond film, but it grows on me with each viewing, a taut little cold war thriller with some great set pieces and an underrated gem methinks, though that Thatcher scene belongs in the same bin they should put the penny whistle from The Man With the Golden Gun in.

Have no fear fans of the silly, I’m sure Roger will be clowning around again soon…

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Moonraker (1979)

Posted: November 28, 2019 in James Bond
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Bond is back, but curiously not in For Your Eyes Only, instead, following on from the phenomenal success of Star Wars, the producers decide that a Bond film with more of a space flavour might be more successful, and since they have a book titled Moonraker that’s all about rockets, why not use that?

Of course, the novel of Moonraker bears little resemblance to the film. A former Nazi wanting to nuke London is chickenfeed compared to a lunatic who wants to wipe out humanity so he can repopulate the Earth.

Moonraker is a film that divides opinion. For some it’s the nadir of the series, the film that went too far, preposterous and terrible, for others it’s their favourite Bond film, fun and epic and exciting.

Of course, what you quickly realise about Moonraker is that it can be both these things simultaneously. Terrible and wonderful in equal measure. I mean it really is poor, yet it’s so much fun. If there’s one Bond film that’s a guilty pleasure, it’s surely this one.

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Riffing on The Spy Who Loved Me, the film opens with a large bit of high-tech kit being nabbed, in this case a Moonraker shuttle. You could ask why the shuttle has fuel in its tanks, but I guess Drax could have planned that…

Once again 007 is seducing a woman who wants to kill him, seriously this happens around 50% of the time by now. James Mason appears to menace Bond, but only ends up donating his parachute. Not that Bond’s out of the woods yet as Jaws is also in the air. I mean, where was he hiding? Why was he hiding? Just in case James Mason couldn’t finish the job? Anyway, some dubious lookalikes and Jaws’ comedy arm flapping aside it’s a good pre title sequence.

M despatches Bond to California, but not before Q gives him a wrist activated dart gun, which in fairness 007 does manage to use several times, and as far as we can tell brings it back in one piece as well.

Anyway, California…or rather France, I mean that’s just ridiculous, you can see miles of forest all around Drax’s house.

This has to be one of the earliest meetings between Bond and the villain, and it seems odd that Drax should order his death, I mean that isn’t likely to throw MI6 off the scent is it? Still it’s hard to harbour any kind of grudge against the wonderful Michael Lonsdale who’s everything Stromberg wasn’t, and his delivery of lines like “Take care of Mr Bond, see that some harm comes to him,” or “You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season” are just wonderful. He really deserved to be the villain in a much better film.

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Anyway, Bond’s off to meet Dr Goodhead (seriously?) who, SHOCK, turns out to be a woman. I mean in the last film 007 met a female spy who was his equal, should he really be so surprised that a woman could be an astronaut? Lois Chiles isn’t a terrible Bond girl, but for a while she’s kinda rubbish, her worst moment being trying and failing to help Bond fight Jaws on the cable car. Odd that by the time we hit the space station she can kick ass, take names and fly a space shuttle, it’s almost the reverse trajectory of XXX.  She does at least have the decency to be offended by Bond’s casual sexism.

So Roger Moore than take 12 Gs, apparently Connery could only take 10… have to love how shaken (but not stirred) Roger is afterwards

Its bad enough that Bond’s reputation precedes him everywhere now, but his equipment having 007 written all over it really is taking the piss.

Bond’s shooting scene with Drax is interesting, but again why try and kill him, you’re only going to make M suspicious, Drax!

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And here we hit an odd moment, one of a few in the film, that’s completely at odds with the general tone. Corinne’s death, chased down through the forest by dogs, is genuinely horrifying. For a generally family friendly film it’s like something out of the fucking Omen (and again probably deserved to be in a better film).

The tone soon goes off the deep end again when Bond travels to Venice and has to utilise a gondola that turns into a speed boat and then a hovercraft, but then he is menaced by a man with a coffin’o’knives. Cue that drunk guy from The Spy Who Loved Me and a double taking pigeon. One sympathises…

Bond infiltrates a lab, inadvertently gets some scientists killed (but they were evil so we don’t care) before battling Chang with a vial of toxin in his shirt pocket. The fight’s all right, but Bond’s “Play it again San” isn’t a good look.

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The Moore with no name?

Drax’s clean-up operation must be a world record, but why didn’t 007 give M the vial of toxin before they raided the lab? Anyway it’s off to Rio now, courtesy of Concorde, where we get the second horror movie moment as Jaws, dressed as a carnival clown, preys on poor Manuela who’s already had to fend off Roger Moore all afternoon. Again, it’s an unsettling scene at odds with the rest of the film as he lumbers down the alley towards her. You have to love Jaws’ initial annoyance at being dragged away from killing Bond morphing into ‘what the hell’ acceptance as he decides to party. But then this is a film that takes an unstoppable killing machine and turns him into an unstoppable killing machine, with a heart of gold. Love tames the beast, well love and self interest because even Jaws isn’t stupid enough to imagine he and his petite girlfriend have any future in Drax’s new Eden. Kiel is always good value, and I can see why they brought him back, but whilst it isn’t the debacle JW Pepper’s return was, you do have to wonder why they bothered? You also have to wonder why poor old Baron Samedi didn’t warrant a second appearance given how awesome he is.

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Slight aside, if you’ve heard of the Mandela Effect (a shared false memory phenomenon) here’s a question, does Jaws’ girlfriend Dolly wear braces on her teeth?

You do have to love Jaws’ facial expressions, especially in the cable car and on the boat as it goes over the waterfall.

Bond infiltrates Drax’s jungle lair, and whilst his fight with a huge snake is ridiculous (Roger stop wrestling with the draught excluder!) we get another unsettling moment. The way Drax’s coterie of women stand around relishing Bond’s imminent death is a trifle disturbing.

Anyway, next stop space, and crikey whatever you think of the film you have to admire the miniature effects work of Derek Meddings and his team, the design work of Ken Adam and the music of John Barry for providing some stunning outer space footage. Who needs CGI!

The final battle in orbit is nuts, but is suitably epic, and Bond’s showdown with Drax is nicely handled. It isn’t over just yet however, and Holly and Bond’s pursuit of the nerve gas spheres is quite tense.

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Pew! Pew! Pew!

We end with the now obligatory double entendre, after keeping the British end up last time, now 007 is attempting re-entry (Holly’s “Take me round the world one more time” line is far better.) You really would think M would know better by now. Sadly worse is to come, but we’ll get to that next time.

I’ve always been fairly relaxed when it comes to Bond, and I enjoy the grounded and the ridiculous films in equal measure even so Moonraker hits heights of ludicrousness that thankfully won’t be seen again until an invisible car turns up.

Yes it’s ridiculous, and no it isn’t a classic, but Moonraker is fun and diverting, and you know what else? It rattles along at a cracking pace and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. I wish I could say the same about some of the more recent entries.

Next up the pendulum swings in the opposite direction, and following on from Roger Moore’s most ludicrous film, comes possibly his most grounded. See you in Corfu!

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The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Posted: November 12, 2019 in James Bond
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Bond is back, after the (then) longest gap between Bond films, three years which seems kinda trivial since we’ll have almost five years between Spectre and No Time to Die. There’s another big change, as this is the first Bond film post Harry Saltzman selling up his stake in the franchise.

There’s something at once very familiar about this film, yet also something different. The plot is, on many levels, a reprise of You Only Live Twice, yet this is a very different beast. An epic, occasionally ludicrous film this is perhaps the first Bond film where Roger Moore gets to stamp his own mark on the franchise, a film that’s entered folklore, not least of which thanks to Alan Partridge’s ridiculous homage.

The pre-title sequence lays a lot of groundwork. Whilst Roger is actually present in the pre-title sequence this time, he still takes third billing. First off we get the attack on the British submarine, which thankfully chooses not to reveal what happens to the intrepid sub. Then we switch to a people’s rest of recuperation centre in the Soviet Union. General Gogol is summoning XXX, The USSR’s top agent. Presumably it’ll be that handsome chap in bed with the beautiful woman and…no way, XXX is the woman! Didn’t see that coming. I do wonder if this was actually shocking to audiences in 1977? Interesting point of note that XXX’s lover is played by Michael Billington, famous for UFO and the Onedin Line and a man who apparently screen tested to play Bond more than any other actor.

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We’ll soon see Billington again of course, as he’s in charge of the group trying to eliminate Bond in Austria. And it’s here where the pre-title sequence really takes off—quite literally—Bond being summoned in the middle of seduction via tickertape coming out of his digital watch, his suggestion that he’ll enlarge his lover’s vocabulary, his preposterous yellow jumpsuit and union jack parachute, not to mention the obvious rear projection as Roger pretends to ski downhill. Yet it works, helping to create sequence that’s funny and thrilling, with just a hint of foreshadowing when we see 007 ice Major Amasova’s lover. There are multiple reasons why I cited it as the best pre-title sequence.

There are more joys to come after the titles (and the title track from Carley Simon is perfect). Roger Moore’s Bond in navel uniform, always good to see, and sadly so far something we’ve only seen with Connery, Moore and Brosnan. Despatched to Egypt Bond makes contact with an old university chum, and here comes the only bit of the film that grates. Bond as a player is one thing, Bond effectively taking a woman offered to him as a gift is a rare low note in this film. Of course, made up for perhaps by Bond on a camel…

In Egypt Bond first crosses paths with both Amasova and Jaws.

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As Jaws Kiel is wonderful, he says nothing, yet he’s incredibly malevolent, and wonderfully indestructible. You can see why they’ll bring him back, and also see why the producers tried to pull the same trick with Dave Bautista’s Mr Hinx (casting as a mute assassin a man who has great comic timing and delivery is miscasting that’s  on par with hiring Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool the first time!) Jaws has been told to kill everyone who comes into contact with the microfilm, and he takes his job very seriously.

As Anya Amasova Barbara Bach is a joy, utterly competent and very much portrayed as Bond’s equal, at least to begin with. She has Bond’s number and gets the drop on him several times, and the fact that she stole the plans to the submersible Lotus is a lovely touch (though it does make you wonder why she seemed so scared when they drove into the sea?). Bach and Moore have great chemistry, both before and after she finds out Bond killed her lover. It’s just a shame it all goes off the rails somewhat in the final third, where she’s relegated to damsel in distress. How cool would it have been to see her with a submachinegun fighting alongside Bond in the tanker? Still, she’s one of the best Bond girls of the franchise, and certainly sits with Tracy and Fiona in the top three of the franchise so far.

And never tell me Roger Moore can’t act, just watch his face when Anya brings up Tracy.

Special mention on the casting front to Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracy) who finally gets credited in a Bond film after appearing in You Only Live Twice, Diamonds are Forever and (possibly) as a voice in Live and Let Die. Here his US sub captain makes for a great ally to Bond.

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On the casting front the only damp squib (sorry) is Curt Jurgens as Stromberg. A good actor, here he’s wasted with a wafer-thin characterisation and without even much in the way of affectations to rise him above being one of the most generic Bond villains. Even the fact he has webbed fingers isn’t really made anything of.

There are the obligatory M, Moneypenny and Q bits, and we get Robert Brown pre becoming M after Bernard Lee dies, and the first sighting of General Gogol, and the scene where Bond enters MI6’s base to find Gogol behind M’s desk is wonderfully surreal.

And yes that is Charles Gray’s voice over the pyramids.

The cinematography is wonderful, both above and below the waves, and in particular Egypt adds a grandeur to the franchise. The sets are great all round, in particular the tanker set—built in the new 007 set at Pinewood—is fantastic.

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Set piece wise there are a lot of highlights. For starters the Lotus car chase, complete with Caroline Munro as the world’s sexiest killer chopper pilot (and you have to love her and Roger flirting even as she’s trying to kill him) and an unexpected underwater dénouement. Then there’s the huge gun battle inside the tanker, which manages to be even more exciting than the similar volcano scene in YOLT. I miss these climactic battles.

And of course, let’s not forget that ski jump in the pre-title sequence, it still makes me hold my breath, and the parachute still takes an age to deploy.

The Spy Who Loved Me really is Roger Moore’s finest hour as Bond, pretty much flawless, in my opinion obviously, it manages to stay just the right side of ludicrous yet is still a whole lot of fun. It has a great Bond girl and an iconic henchman, if not an iconic villain, and with the ski jump, the submersible car and the action-packed finale it contains some of the franchises most iconic aspects, and features a groovily great score from Marvin Hamlisch.

It’s fair to say nobody does it better, and Roger certainly keeps the British end up.

But how to top this? I mean they can’t, they’d have to, I don’t know, go into space or something…

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The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)

Posted: September 29, 2019 in James Bond
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For the first time since 1967 the same actor plays Bond for two consecutive films, Roger Moore is back and this time it’s not about Blaxploitation. Oh no, this time it’s about Kung Fu! Oh, and it’s about Bond vs Dracula too.

The Man with the Golden Gun tends to get a rough ride from fans and critics. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s not as good as Live and Let Die obviously, but for me it’s a fun Bond romp featuring an iconic villain. Not top five material sure, but hardly bottom of the pile either. Maybe it was put together too quickly, and it’s probably quite telling that this was the last time a Bond film would be churned out within a year of the last one. From here on it’s a two-year gap minimum between films, sometimes longer (yes, I am looking at you, Daniel!).

For the second time in the row Bond is absent from the pre-title sequence, well ok not entirely absent, and for the second film in a row we get to see the villain before we see Bond. Whilst this didn’t really work in Live and Let Die, here I think it’s a good narrative choice. Right from the off we get to see how dangerous Scaramanga is, even when he’s caught on the hop. In fact it’s a great bit of movie making in general, showing not telling for the most part. Scaramanga is cold eyed and deadly, Nick Nack is mischievous and duplicitous (albeit it seems with his boss’ approval) and Andrea Anders is an unhappy woman trapped in an abusive relationship. Yes, the maze isn’t really that tricky, and just why do the saloon and gangster dioramas come complete with period versions of the title song (even before we’ve heard it!)? Frankly I don’t care, I love it.

Knowing who Scaramanga is helps generate some tension when M hands 007 a golden bullet with his number on it, and Moore does allow a moment of unease to penetrate that cool exterior, not sure M’s explanation for why someone would pay a million to off Bond is entirely good man management, but his giving Bond leave to get to Scaramanga first is. Shame Bond’s going to have to put on hold his search for Gibson and the Solex Agitator…

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After the usual pleasantries with Moneypenny it’s off to Beirut for an encounter with a saucy belly dancer who has one of Scaramanga’s bullets. I think I’d always thought this scene somewhat silly (no doubt thanks to the laxative implied punchline) but watching it again the fight in Saida’s dressing room is really good. It’s brutal and Roger more than holds his own, demonstrating his physicality.

Heading back to London Q and Colthorpe (who seems a pointless inclusion) point Bond towards the Far East. From here on the film flits between Macau, Hong Kong and Thailand. His hunt for Scaramanga will see him intersect Nick Nack, Andrea Anders, an MI6 agent named Goodnight and Gibson.

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Having Scaramanga kill Gibson, and Nick Nack nick the Solex Agitattor, might seem contrived, but it actually comes together nicely, thanks to the presence of Anders. On the surface she’s a victim, a helpless woman doomed to die, but think about it, this is a woman so terrified of her lover that she concocts a really clever plan to kill him, and it works—that it works a little too later for her shouldn’t detract from the fact that far from a helpless damsel she does have some agency. Adams (in her first Bond role) does well in the part. Roger slapping her around works less well, perhaps a holdover from Connery.

goodnightAs the other, in fact main, Bond girl, Britt Ekland’s Mary Goodnight gets a lot of stick, and usually winds up bottom of most Bond girl lists. Again this is a trifle unfair. Is Ekland the best actor in the world? Hardly, but let’s be honest a large proportion of Bond girls are equally wooden. Yes you can argue she’s a bit klutzy, but damn at least she tries. Getting dumped into Scaramanga’s car is stupid, but trying to bug it is hardly a bad idea, and how’s she to know knocking a guy into liquid helium will blow up the island? Instead of focusing on that, let’s consider this is a woman taking matters into her own hands to take out a creepy guy who has clearly unsavoury designs on her. Yes she’s something of an idiot at the solex controls and she does seem a trifle too obsessed with shagging Bond (but maybe this is a field agent bucket list thing, and she does seem to treat it as more of a notch on the bedpost than anything romantic) but for some reason she’s grown on me, Ekland is gorgeous, but more than this I found myself amused by her increasingly flouncy indignation at failing to shag 007!

The film perhaps loses its way in the middle section, some of the Thailand scenes are a trifle offensive, though in fairness the most racist character in the film is the returning JW Pepper, and he is portrayed as a blustering idiot so who has the last laugh (that elephant really). I liked Clifton James in Live and Let Die, but he has no reason to be in this film, and even less to somehow end up in a car chase with Bond (although you have to love that “You’re that English secret agent…from England!”) and the film really would have been better off without him. He is of course involved in one of the films missteps, though it’s not really his fault. The car jump across the river, designed by computer, is stunning, but completely undercut by that stupid slide whistle. I’m really not a fan of films being messed with after the fact, but I’m still amazed this has never been removed.

The karate bits of somewhat silly as well. Moore handles himself better than I remembered, but he still looks more the part brawling with thugs in Beirut than he does going toe to toe with trained martial artists. The high kicking schoolgirls are fun, but again it seems somewhat ridiculous they could take out that many.

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Luckily many flaws are covered over by our villains. Christopher Lee is great, and Scaramanga is very different to Dracula, much more playful, albeit a very cold playfulness. Still not sure having a one shot pistol is the greatest idea, but Lee always manages to seem in control, and he and Moore have some great scenes together. It’s clear Scaramanga admires Bond, yet also feels he’s his inferior. Pretty sure Bond wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave a real PPK in a wax dummy’s hand, however.

Lee also has some great scenes with Hervé Villechaize as Nick Nack, who’s a wonderful counterpoint to Scaramanga, and the two make for an amusing, yet dangerous double act. Whatever you think of this film you can’t help but like the pair of them, and Nick Nack’s another rare example of a henchman surviving, even if Goodnight thinks Bond’s tossed him overboard. Nick Nack does seem quite angry at the end, is this because he loved Scaramanga really, or just because Bond and Goodnight blew up the lavish home he was about to inherit!

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Roger is great, although this might be one of the last times he’s quite so brutal, and while for the most part he stays the right side of charm/smarm, on occasion he shows glimmers of where he’ll eventually end up. Telling Goodnight her turn will come soon being the prime example. Damn the man was so wonderful I can pretty much forgive him most things though.

As is so often the case, the set design is wonderful. From Scaramanga’s off kilter maze, to MI6’s similarly canted secret base aboard the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. Scaramanga’s gun is a wonderful bit of design as well.

As for the title track, Lulu gets as much stick as the film, but you know what? I really like the song. It’s trashy and obvious, but incredibly catchy.

It sags a bit in places, and a few of the set pieces are a bit ropy, the thrill-less boat chase for example, but this is still a really fun film for me.

Next up, Russia’s top agent, XXX, who I can only presume is a bloke…

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Live and Let Die (1973)

Posted: August 11, 2019 in horror, James Bond
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Bond is back, but Connery has disappeared again, leaving 007 behind to make highbrow fair like, er, Zardoz. After dallying briefly with the idea of Burt Reynolds or Adam West, the producers insisted on a British actor, and in the end the man taking up the 00 licence was the Saint himself, Roger Moore.

It’s easy to make fun of Moore, easy to deride him as an actor and a Bond, but he made several of the most enjoyable Bond films, including this one.

Is it From Russia with Love or OHMSS? Not remotely! Is it better than many of the films that preceded it? Indubitably. Live and Let Die follows in the footsteps of Diamonds as a lighter Bond film, it also, in line with several Bond films, takes inspiration from other genres. Some might decry Bond becoming a follower rather than a leader but, for the most part it’s what’s kept the franchise going for as long as it has, it’s ability to reinvent itself.

Here the influence is Blaxploitation, and while some of the attendant lingo might be more than a little wince inducing now (honky, spade, pimpmobile) taken in the context of its time you could argue this is quite radical. Yes the majority of the black actors are the villains, but there are a decent number of them, and some are the franchise’s most iconic villains. Obviously I’m coming at this from the angle of a white middle class male so feel free to disagree.

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After hiding an Italian agent in his wardrove when M and Moneypenny come around, Bond’s off to New York to investigate the deaths of three British agents. He quickly becomes the target for gangsters led by Mr Big, who seems to be in cahoots with Dr Kananga, the dictator of San Monique (what can be the shocking connection between the two men???). He also comes across a woman named Solitaire who has an almost supernatural ability to predict the future.

I’m a fan of Roger Moore, but even I’d concede he should have quit the franchise long before he did. Here though he’s a joy to watch, effortless and charming, with a hint of danger and, for a guy who’s actually born before Connery, someone who looks in better shape than Sean did in Diamonds.

Roger was in on the joke but, unlike Connery, he plays it straight and leans into the ridiculousness of Bond. He doesn’t have the predatory physique of Connery, but similarly the vulnerability of Lazenby is nowhere to be seen. Moore’s Bond is brimming with self-belief, an assured confidence that sees him stare death in the face with a smile, most of the time. That isn’t to say he doesn’t face his mortality. When he’s on the verge of losing a finger to Tee-Hee, or on that island surrounded by crocs he does have the decency to look slightly worried.

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He’s not a nice guy though, from his assertion to Rosie that he wouldn’t have killed her before they made love, to telling Solitaire she’s safe now even though he’s planning to use her as bait. And on the subject of Solitaire, loading the deck with lovers cards is pretty far from 007’s finest hour. The only (slight) get out is that he’d already picked a genuine Lovers card from the deck, as did Solitaire, so you could argue it was always destined to be, or maybe the cards were picking up on Bond’s future deception? Time paradoxes aren’t usual for Bond, but then again this isn’t a usual Bond film. (but I’ll get to that).

Does Moore always convince in a fist fight? Maybe not, but he looks the part, and how iconic does he look in dressed in black touting a big fuck off .44 magnum at the end?

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As Mr Big/Kananga (sorry!) Yaphet Kotto is excellent. Urbane and intelligent, yet capable of flashes of anger and more than happy to do his own dirty work as required. Yes, the Mr Big prosthetics are a trifle silly, as is the fact 007 doesn’t cotton on, but he’s a top draw villain for me, shame about how he dies though. “Names is for tombstones, baby” is a wonderful line though.

As Tee Hee Julius Harris is clearly having fun. He’s a neat henchman with his pincer for an arm (and nice to see a villain’s oddity get a backstory!) to his affable nature, he genuinely always looks pleased to see Bond even though he’s about to try and kill him.

Neither of these men are the best villain however, which is kinda insane given how good they are, but they’re not the late Geoffrey Holder, they’re no Baron Samedi. I mean he isn’t in it that much, but he dominates the screen, he’s a giant of a man yet walks with the grace of a dancer (hardly surprising given Holder was a dancer and choreographer) and his deep baritone voice is a joy to behold (and by all accounts he was a lovely man in real life). All this is before he’s done up in his Baron Samedi get up, and this just propels him to another level. His fight with Bond is short but memorable, especially his demise in a coffin full of snakes.

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Best of all he’s a henchman like few others. A henchman who isn’t killed. Or is he? Were the snakes in that coffin non-venomous? Was he immune? Or is he really Baron Samedi, the man who cannot die? I mean he’s clearly still alive at the end, sitting on the front of the train uttering a wonderfully malevolent laugh, which doesn’t strike me as something a regular person would do.

And this is the thing about LALD. It’s the closest Bond’s ever got to an out and out horror film. I mean, either Solitaire is incredibly lucky, or she really can predict the future, which implies the supernatural is real, and if Samedi really did come back from the dead…

Whichever way you look at it this is a film with a unique and iconic production design, and certainly the most skulls we’ve ever seen in a Bond movie (and clearly was an influence on Spectre’s pre-title sequence).

2012_CSK_04431_0008_001(live_and_let_die).jpgAs Solitaire it has to be said that Jane Seymour is gorgeous, but yet again she doesn’t get a whole lot to do. She’s mysterious, but in terms of agency she really has none. She’s a slave to the cards, until she becomes a slave to love (or at least lust!). It’s also somewhat problematic that we have the virginal white woman held in the power of malevolent black men. Maybe it would have been better, as was originally considered, if Solitaire had been black as well (though she is white in the book).

Of course does get a black love interest in Gloria Hendry’s Rosie Carver, sadly she’s not one of the better Bond girls. As Bond’s allies we get Lon Satton as the poor unfortunate Agent Strutter, and Roy Stewart as Quarrel Jr. A nice call-back to Dr No. Thankfully Quarrel Jr. survives! Hurrah.

David Hedison is Felix, and it’s kinda ironic him giving Bond shark advice given what’ll happen to him in Licence to Kill! Still, he’s always been one of my favourite Felixs, and other than Jeffrey Wright the only Felix to be in more than one film.

Finally there is Clifton James as Sherriff J.W. Pepper as well. Again a divisive character, but for me he’s a lot of fun, and utters some memorable lines (“What are you, some kind of doomsday machine?”) He probably shouldn’t have shown up in The Man with the Golden Gun though.

After some substandard action fare in Diamonds, there’s some great set pieces here. The bus chase is fun, and the crocodile leap is inspired. The Louisiana speedboat chase is nicely shot, and comes to a neat conclusion. Bond hand gliding to Solitaire’s mansion is great, and Bond infiltrating the voodoo ceremony is just fantastic. Bond’s final fight with Tee Hee is good too.

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It’s not perfect, the Bond-less pre-title sequence is a bit of a chore (but have we ever met the villain and the girl before Bond before?) but I guess they didn’t want to ape the intro of George. The plane chase with Mrs Bell is a trifle silly, and Bond’s method of killing Kananga does a disservice to that character (and is surprisingly bloodless).

Also, just who is it that tips Bond off that Rosie is a wrong-un by slipping him the Queen of Cups? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

A final word on the music. Paul McCartney and Wings’ title track is easily one of the top five in the franchise, and much as I adore John Barry, George Martin’s score here is wonderful and perfect for this film.

One of my favourite films in the franchise and probably tied for Roger’s best Bond flick all round (I’ll let you know if a couple of films time)

Anyway, James Bond will return, with an extra nipple…

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Diamonds are Forever (1971)

Posted: July 23, 2019 in James Bond
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Connery is back!

And to celebrate he beats up some stereotypical foreigners and throttles a woman in the pre title sequence.

Bond hits the 70s, and the producers move heaven and earth to bring back Connery, which proves something of a mistake. They don’t quite seem to know what to do with him, and Sean can’t be bothered to try and inject any kind of menace into the performance. This Bond is barely recognisable as the man who fought Red Grant. It doesn’t help that Connery is older and, with the best will in the world, slightly less lean than he once was. Less a caged tiger, 007 has become a toothless old circus lion fooling around with clowns.

Which isn’t to say Connery, or the film, don’t have their moments, but they’re few and far between and sandwiched between some incredibly dull set pieces.

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The pre-title sequence is clearly supposed to show Bond getting revenge for the death of Tracy, but it falls flat, in part because this is a different Bond and a different Blofeld, and in part because there’s no sense of threat. Connery’s camp hand gestures don’t help, and while Grey is wonderfully effete later on, here it’s just very obvious that this isn’t the hard-edged git who killed Tracy (well, technically the getaway driver of course).

Once we get into the film proper, those warning signs from the first section grow louder. I happen to like Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, they’re amusingly lethal (except when it comes to 007 who they go to Dr Evil lengths to avoid killing at one point) but they’re also exceedingly camp. Watching them murder their way through the diamond route is surprisingly good fun though (fun fact, Bruce Glover is Crispin Glover’s dad, which technically makes Mr Wint Marty McFly’s granddad, kinda)

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Bond really is a smug git, and Lee has some lovely facial expressions here, you almost imagine M might be quite happy if someone offed his most insufferable agent.

There’s a nice Moneypenny scene—in uniform again, and apparently she and Connery filmed their bits separately—as Bond takes the place of diamond smuggler Peter Franks. I liked this bit, it’s always good to see 007 go undercover and do some actual spying, and he’s back to being a policeman again it seems.

In Amsterdam he meets Tiffany Case who, for some reason keeps changing her hair. Bond is of course a perfect gentleman (not) and the collars and cuffs line is a trifle cringeworthy.

All’s going well until Peter Franks escapes and makes it to Holland. Cue a decent fight in a lift, after we’ve seen Connery snogging himself outside, and after a rare example of Sean doing an accent. “Who is your floor?”

Sadly the fight’s undercut somewhat by Bond slipping his wallet into Franks’ pocket for Tiffany to find. Not only do we discover Bond has his own Playboy card, but it seems Tiffany has heard of Bond, in fact she makes it sound like everyone’s heard of Bond—though clearly nobody’s seen him! It’s a terrible moment for a spy, and marks the beginning of the “Your reputation precedes you, Mr Bond” era.

Then it’s off to Vegas and the camp goes through the roof. There’s an argument that Bond always feels slightly out of place in the States, and never more so than in Vegas. I love Vegas, but it’s brash and colourful and obvious, everything 007 shouldn’t be, and the gangsters here seem like a throwback to the fifties and sixties. Gotta love an undertaker named Slumber though.

After a brief dalliance with Plenty O’Toole, Bond finally seduces Tiffany; or is it the other way around? After Plenty is mistaken for Tiffany and killed (in a scene that doesn’t make any sense without the deleted scene where she nabs Tiffany’s address) Ms Case decides to nominally join the side of the angels.

Fun fact, the clown balloon game Tiffany plays in Circus Circus? I’ve done that!

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“Who’s he, your mother?”

Bond finally discovers the diamonds are being used by Dr Metz to build a satellite at a remote research facility owned by mysterious billionaire Willard Whyte. And then we get two of the dullest car chases in the franchise. I’m not sure why they’re faking a moon landing there, nor am I sure why the astronauts stay in character and move in slow motion even as 007 nicks their moon buggy, but the resultant chase is yawn inducing, and soon afterwards we get a bland car chase through Vegas, which even the two wheel stunt or a proto JW Pepper can’t save.

maxresdefaultThankfully Bond’s infiltration of Whyte’s penthouse is wonderfully done, cool, nerve-wracking and very James Bond, and his confrontation with two Blofelds is nicely done too, and whilst his plan doesn’t pay off, his trick to try and ID the real Blofeld is smart thinking.

Why the hell don’t Wint and Kidd just kill him when they get the chance though?

Bond rescues the real Willard Whyte, after first reinforcing the patriarchy by nearly drowning Bambie and Thumper, but he’s too late to stop Blofeld launching a rocket, and before you can say “One million dollars” Blofeld has a laser armed satellite in orbit that he’s planning to sell to the highest bidder, though to paraphrase Number 2 in Austin Powers, why didn’t he just content himself with Whyte’s billions is anyone’s guess.

As diabolical lairs go, an oil rig is a trifle banal, and whilst a more exciting finale was planned, what we actually get is, well again a bit dull, and Bond’s plan to swap a marching band tape for Blofeld’s master control tape is about as half arsed as you can get.

Still at least Bond finally gets revenge for Tracy by, er, making Blofeld seasick or something.

I do quite like Bond’s final, and fatal, battle with Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, though the films ends as it began by being as camp as a row of tents.

Really this is a Moore era Bond film that just happens to feature Connery, and whilst Connery tries to lighten his performance, you can’t escape the conclusion that he’s a man who isn’t right for this film. He’s not the animalistic Bond he once was, yet isn’t charming enough to pull off a lighter Bond the way Moore will.

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As Tiffany Case, St John starts well, but it’s all down hill from there. Initially she’s a cool and sassy professional, more than happy to change sides if it’ll keep her out of jail, but by the end she’s a squealing bimbo who seems to have lost half her IQ—the scene with the submachine gun is just terrible. It’s a shame. Jill St John was gorgeous and could have been a great Bond girl.

With Grey we get our third Blofeld in a row, and is it even the same man? Forget his appearance, his entire attitude has changed, and it is mildly amusing when he exclaims that science was never his strong suit, given in the last film he was running a bioweapons laboratory. Fair dues though, he’s the only Blofeld who could pull off a dress, and probably the perfect Ernst Stavro for this film.

The soundtracks good of course, and its always nice to see Q in the field, not sure he should really be running a heist in the casino, however.

Bringing back Connery no coubt kept the franchise ticking over I guess, but this is a new era for 007, and to be successful in the 1970s you really need something…Moore…

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