A group of terrorists, led by Lou Kramer (Anthony Perkins, at his bitchiest) and Harold Schulman (Michael Parks), have hijacked Esther, a supply ship that services two North Sea oil rigs, Ruth and Jennifer. Kramer demands that the British government pay him 25 millions pounds. If he’s not paid, he’ll blow up the two oil rigs, destroying the British economy and causing a catastrophic environmental disaster. Kramer has also rigged the Esther with explosives. If anyone tries to board the boat, he will blow both the ship and himself up, taking the crew with him.
The British Prime Minister (Faith Brook, playing Margaret Thatcher) could pay the ransom or she could call in counter terrorism expert, Rufus Excalibur ffolkes (Roger Moore).
(Though the name undoubtedly looked odd to American audiences, ffolkes is a common Welsh surname and is often spelled with both fs lowercase.)
Made in between The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, ffolkes was Roger Moore’s attempt to defy the typecasting that had defined his career. Other than his loyalty to Queen and country, ffolkes has very little in common with James Bond. James Bond was a suave smoker who bedded several women per film, lived in a hip London flat, drank Martinis, and was always ready with a quip. ffolkes is humorless, drinks Scotch, hates cigarette smoke, and lives in an isolated castle. The biggest difference between Bond and ffolkes? Embittered by one bad marriage, ffolkes has no interest in women and refuses to work with them. Instead, ffolkes loves cats.
ffolkes had always been overshadowed by Moore’s work as James Bond but it holds up well as a good, old-fashioned adventure film. In many ways, Anthony Perkins’s Kramer feels like a predecessor to Die Hard‘s Hans Gruber and, if ffolkes had been released ten years later, it probably would have been referred to as being “Die Hard at sea.” If you can get used to him playing someone other than James Bond, Roger Moore does a good job as the eccentric ffolkes and James Mason provides welcome support as ffolkes’s only friend.
Though ffolkes was a box office disappointment, it retains a cult following and it used to show up regularly on British television. (I saw it at least once every summer that I went to the UK.) When it was originally released in the U.K., it was called North Sea Hijack. When it was released in the U.S., presumably under the assumption that American audiences wouldn’t be able to find the North Sea on a map, the title was changed to ffolkes, which probably left audiences more confused than the North Sea ever would have. When the movie was first broadcast on American television, the title was changed yet again, this time to Assault Force.
To quote Roger Moore: “The film has so many title changes that I’ve lost count. But everyone seems to like the character I played.”
For tomorrow’s movie a day, it’s another film where Roger Moore did not play James Bond, The Cannonball Run.