MOONRAKER (1955) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 325pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1955
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1955
Introduction by Susan Hill (20pp)
Blurb: He’s a self-made millionaire, head of the Moonraker rocket programme and loved by the press. So why is Sir Hugo Drax cheating at cards? Bond has just five days to uncover the sinister truth behind a national hero, in Ian Fleming’s third 007 adventure.
Comment: Anyone familiar with the 1979 film adaptation – the low point of Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond – should lay any preconceptions at the door. This is one of the very best James Bond novels. Unlike the first two in the series, Fleming’s third 007 adventure gives his lead character room to breathe and as a result, he becomes a more human hero. The first part of the book is the set-up and is almost routine in its playout – showing Bond’s life between missions. The introduction of Sir Hugo Drax, who is suspected of cheating at cards at M’s private club, sets the foundation for the remainder of the story. Drax is something of a celebrity figure and is respected for his development of an atomic deterrent in the ever-escalating cold war environment. The death of Drax’a security chief raises suspicions and Bond replaces him. Slowly he infiltrates Drax’s operation, run by a team of German technicians and supported by Drax’s personal assistant Gala Brand, who is, in fact, an undercover special branch officer. As Bond and Gala slowly unravel the reality around Drax’s test flight for his Moonraker rocket – echoes of WWII resentment and Russian coercion come into play. The final section of the book is taut, suspenseful and one of the best passages of writing in Fleming’s bibliography. Drax is one of Fleming’s best villains and Krebs a sinister henchman. Gala is an appealing heroine, who is brave and resourceful. The lonely life of a spy is described in Bond’s routine work and the ironic coda and his relationship with his boss, M, is explored to some degree. This set the template for more fantastical plots and charismatic villains and as such is highly recommended as a great example of what the series offered.
GOLD (UK, 1974) ***½
Distributor: Hemdale Film Distribution (UK), Allied Artists Pictures (USA); Production Company: Killarney Film Studios; Release Date: 5 September 1974 (UK), 16 October 1974 (USA); Filming Dates: October 1973; Running Time: 120m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
Director: Peter R. Hunt; Writer: Wilbur Smith, Stanley Price (based on the novel “Gold Mine” by Wilbur Smith); Producer: Michael Klinger; Director of Photography: Ousama Rawi; Music Composer: Elmer Bernstein; Film Editor: John Glen; Casting Director: Irene Lamb; Production Designer: Syd Cain, Alex Vetchinsky; Art Director: Robert W. Laing; Costumes: Marjory Cornelius; Make-up: Paul Engelen; Sound: John W. Mitchell; Special Effects: Cliff Richardson, Bill Warrington.
Cast: Roger Moore (Rod Slater), Susannah York (Terry Steyner), Ray Milland (Hurry H. ‘Pops’ Hirschfeld), Bradford Dillman (Manfred Steyner), John Gielgud (Farrell), Tony Beckley (Stephen Marais), Simon Sabela (Big King), Marc Smith (Tex Kiernan), John Hussey (Plummer), Bernard Horsfall (Dave Kowalski), Bill Brewer (Aristide), Norman Coombes (Frank Lemmer), George Jackson (Gus, Mine Doctor), Ken Hare (Jackson), Ralph Loubser (Mine Captain), Denis Smith (Radio Commentator), Paddy Norval (Daniele, Girl in Bar), Garth Tuckett (Miner), Albert Raphael (Miner), Lloyd Lilford (Miner), Alan S. Craig (Miner), John Kingley (Miner), Carl Duering (Syndicate Member), Paul Hansard (Syndicate Member), André Maranne (Syndicate Member), Nadim Sawalha (Syndicate Member), Gideon Kolb (Syndicate Member), John Bay (Syndicate Member).
Synopsis: Rod Slater is the newly appointed General Manager of the Sonderditch gold mine, but he stumbles across an ingenious plot to flood the mine, by drilling into an underground lake, so the unscrupulous owners to make a killing in the international gold market.
Comment: Whilst the basic plot may be a little far-fetched, the grippingly authentic and well-filmed mining action scenes are tremendous. Hunt directs these set-pieces with a visceral intensity, which is helped by superb stunt work and whole-hearted performances, from Moore and Sabela in particular. Glen’s slick editing helps to heighten the suspense during these scenes. Dillman makes for a suitably eccentric and cold-hearted villain and Milland enjoys himself as the grumpy rich mine owner. York plays Dillman’s bored and unfaithful wife who falls for Moore’s charms and Gielgud leads the remote investors whose plot to make a killing on the stock market is the catalyst. A rousing final act makes up for some slow spots when the action moves above ground, where tighter editing could have made for a more efficient end-product. Overall, despite the reservations concerning pacing and plot, this is an entertaining thriller that deserves a re-appraisal.
Notes: Many members of the production crew had connections to the James Bond film franchise.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (UK, 1974) ***
Distributor: United Artists Corporation; Production Company: Eon Productions; Release Date: 19 December 1974; Filming Dates: 18 April 1974 – 23 August 1974; Running Time: 125m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono | 3 Channel Stereo (London premiere print); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG – Contains moderate violence.
Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Associate Producer: Charles Orme; Director of Photography: Ted Moore, Oswald Morris; Music Composer: John Barry; Film Editor: Raymond Poulton, John Shirley; Casting Director: Weston Drury Jr., Maude Spector; Production Designer: Peter Murton; Art Director: John Graysmark, Peter Lamont; Costumes: Elsa Fennell; Make-up: Paul Engelen; Sound: Gordon Everett; Special Effects: John Stears; Visual Effects: Roy Field (uncredited).
Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Christopher Lee (Scaramanga), Britt Ekland (Goodnight), Maud Adams (Andrea Anders), Hervé Villechaize (Nick Nack), Clifton James (J.W. Pepper), Richard Loo (Hai Fat), Soon-Tek Oh (Hip), Marc Lawrence (Rodney), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Marne Maitland (Lazar), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), James Cossins (Colthorpe), Yao Lin Chen (Chula), Carmen Du Sautoy (Saida), Gerald James (Frazier), Michael Osborne (Naval Lieutenant), Michael Fleming (Communications Officer).
Synopsis: Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to stop him.
Comment: Moore’s second outing as 007 starts well, with little reliance on gadgets, but later descends into increasingly outlandish set-pieces – Lee’s flying car being a particular low point. Lee actually makes for a strong villain and Villechaize a memorable henchman, but the plot is lacking in any wider threat than that to Bond himself – the climate crisis theme of the subplot maybe even more topical today but is treated here in a tokenistic way. Again, cashing in on cinematic trends of the day the film shifts locale from that in Fleming’s novel (Jamaica) to the Far East – introducing elements of martial arts to cash in on the then-recent glut of movies inspired by Bruce Lee. The fun-house scenes that bookend the film are well shot and tense and it’s nice to see Barry return to score the films – even if the theme song is one of the series’ poorest. There are elements of the vintage Bond classics here but too often they are undermined by an increasing desire to be cute – witness the impressive car jump stunt which is totally weakened by a supposedly humorous sound effect – worse was to follow in later entries. Followed by THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977).
LIVE AND LET DIE (UK, 1973) ***
Distributor: United Artists Corporation; Production Company: Eon Productions; Release Date: 27 June 1973 (USA), 5 July 1973 (UK); Filming Dates: 13 October 1972 – 15 March 1973; Running Time: 121m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG.
Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Director of Photography: Ted Moore; Music Composer: George Martin; Film Editor: Bert Bates, Raymond Poulton, John Shirley; Casting Director: Weston Drury Jr.; Art Director: Syd Cain; Set Decorator: Simon Wakefield, Frederic C. Weiler (both uncredited); Costumes: Julie Harris; Make-up: Paul Rabiger; Sound: Ken Barker, John W. Mitchell; Special Effects: Derek Meddings; Visual Effects: Charles Staffell.
Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Yaphet Kotto (Kananga / Mr. Big), Jane Seymour (Solitaire), Clifton James (Sheriff Pepper), Julius Harris (Tee Hee), Geoffrey Holder (Baron Samedi), David Hedison (Leiter), Gloria Hendry (Rosie), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Tommy Lane (Adam), Earl Jolly Brown (Whisper), Roy Stewart (Quarrel), Lon Satton (Strutter), Arnold Williams (Cab Driver 1), Ruth Kempf (Mrs. Bell), Joie Chitwood (Charlie), Madeline Smith (Beautiful Girl), Michael Ebbin (Dambala), Kubi Chaza (Sales Girl), Brenda Arnau (Singer).
Synopsis: 007 is sent to stop a diabolically brilliant heroin magnate armed with a complex organization and a reliable psychic tarot card reader.
Comment: Moore’s debut appearance as 007 continues the series’ shift toward a tongue-in-cheek style initiated in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER with its glib, sometimes dismissive, approach. Comedic overtones begin to emerge at the expense of suspense, notably in the flying school action sequence. James’ Sheriff JW Pepper proved popular with cinemagoers, if not serious Bond fans, and would return in the next film in the series. This is also the point at which the Bond films started to follow trends rather than set them. The Blaxploitation genre had exploded by this time and the themes, locations and characters presented here capitalise on this. Kotto makes for a more down to earth and formidable villain than had been the case in those 60s Bonds, but as a result, the threat seems more subdued. The film does at least boast one of the series’ strongest theme songs (courtesy of Paul & Linda McCartney) and a well-staged, if slightly overlong, boat chase. Followed by THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1975).
North Sea Hijack (1980; USA; Technicolor; 100m) ***½ d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Jack Davies; ph. Tony Imi; m. Michael J. Lewis. Cast: Roger Moore, James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks, Faith Brook, Lea Brodie, David Hedison, Jack Watson, George Baker, Jeremy Clyde, David Wood, Philip O’Brien, Anthony Pullen Shaw, John Westbrook, Jennifer Hilary. When terrorists take over two oil rigs and threaten to explode them if their demands are not met, a unique commando unit is sent in to stop them. Entertaining boys-own nonsense with Moore revelling in an atypical role of woman-hating/cat-loving head of elite anti-terrorist unit. It is a taut, efficient thriller with elements of humour. Perkins relishes his role as chief villain. Davies adapted his own novel “Esther, Ruth and Jennifer”. Aka: FFOLKES and ASSAULT FORCE. 
Wild Geese, The (1978; UK/Switzerland; Eastmancolor; 134m) ∗∗∗ d. Andrew V. McLaglen; w. Reginald Rose; ph. Jack Hildyard; m. Roy Budd. Cast: Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Roger Moore, Hardy Kruger, Stewart Granger, Jack Watson, Frank Finlay, Jeff Corey, Winston Ntshona, John Kani, Jack Watson, Kenneth Griffith, Barry Foster, Ronald Fraser, Ian Yule. A British multinational seeks to overthrow a vicious dictator in central Africa. It hires a band of (largely aged) mercenaries in London and sends them in to save the virtuous but imprisoned opposition leader who is also critically ill and due for execution. Whilst this action thriller may be littered with cliches and weighed down by a by-the-numbers script, there is still much to enjoy. The lead performances are strong and the action sequences well directed. Some clumsy and dated handling of the racial politics aside this makes for diverting viewing. Based on the novel by Daniel Carney. Followed by WILD GEESE II (1985). 
View to a Kill, A (1985; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 131m) ∗∗½ d. John Glen; w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Alan Hume; m. John Barry. Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Bauchau, David Yip, Fiona Fullerton, Manning Redwood, Alison Doody, Willoughby Gray, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell, Walter Gotell, Geoffrey Keen. An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley. Moore’s last outing has an end-of-term feel about it. The plot recycles GOLDFINGER, but the creative energy that made that film so enjoyable is sadly missing here. All the boxes are ticked but without the enthusiasm or originality that made the earlier films so special. Based on the short story “From a View to a Kill” by Ian Fleming. [PG]
Octopussy (1983; UK/USA; Technicolor; 131m) ∗∗∗ d. John Glen; w. George MacDonald, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Alan Hume; m. John Barry. Cast: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Kabir Bedi, Steven Berkoff, David Meyer, Tony Meyer, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell, Michaela Clavell, Walter Gotell, Vijay Amritraj, Albert Moses. A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncovering an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces. A mixed bag with some excellent action sequences again deflated by occasional lapses into childish humour. Jourdan makes for a strong villain, but by now Moore is too old to play 007 and is going through the motions. The whole production also feels more than a little bloated with one climax too many. Based on a short story by Ian Fleming. [PG]
For Your Eyes Only (1981; UK; Technicolor; 127m) ∗∗∗½ d. John Glen; w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Alan Hume; m. Bill Conti. Cast: Roger Moore, Carole Bouquet, Topol, Lois Maxwell, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Julian Glover, Jill Bennett, Desmond Llewelyn, Geoffrey Keen, Walter Gotell, Cassandra Harris, Michael Gothard, John Wyman, Jack Hedley, James Villiers. Agent 007 is assigned to hunt for a lost British encryption device and prevent it from falling into enemy hands. This is the straightest Bond for quite some time – and all the better for it. There are occasional lapses in pace and despite giving one of his best perfomances as 007 Moore is beginning to look a little old for the part, but the breathless action sequences deliver plenty of thrills. Conti’s jazzy synth-laden score, however, is the weakest of the series. Based on the short stories “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico” by Ian Fleming. [PG]
Moonraker (1979; UK/France; Technicolor; 126m) ∗∗ d. Lewis Gilbert; w. Christopher Wood; ph. Jean Tournier; m. John Barry. Cast: Roger Moore, Lois Chiles, Michael Lonsdale, Richard Kiel, Corinne Cléry, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen, Desmond Llewelyn, Lois Maxwell, Toshirô Suga, Emily Bolton, Blanche Ravalec. James Bond investigates the mid-air theft of a space shuttle and discovers a plot to commit global genocide. After a promising start 007 goes OTT in this misconceived bomb that just gets more and more absurd. Too often promising set-pieces are flattened by the need to add a comedic punch-line. Kiel’s Jaws is turned into a cartoonish buffoon and Moore delivers his laziest performance to date. Lonsdale is the film’s only saving grace as a Bond villain who deserved a better film. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming. [PG]