Horror Film Review: The Curse of the Werewolf (dir by Terence Fisher)


The 1961 Hammer film, The Curse of the Werewolf, is a good example of a film that could succeed on casting alone.

As you can probably guess from the title, this film is about a werewolf.  And there was never an actor more perfect for the role of a werewolf than Oliver Reed.  Set aside Reed’s legendary reputation for wild off-set behavior.  Set aside the fact that Reed specialized in playing men who often seemed to have a beast lurking deep within them, a beast that was constantly bursting out.  With his handsome but scarred face and his burly physique, Oliver Reed looked like a wolf.  If I had to sit down and paint a picture of how I visualized a man who transformed into a beast, the picture would probably end up looking like Oliver Reed.

In fact, Reed is so perfectly cast in this film that it’s easy to overlook the fact that he doesn’t even show up until the last quarter or so of the film.  Clocking in at a relatively leisurely-paced 91 minutes, The Curse of the Werewolf plays out more like an extremely grim fairy tale than a traditional horror film.

It begins in 18th century Spain, with a beggar stumbling across the wedding of a cruel nobleman.  When the beggar asks for food, he’s mocked.  He’s cruelly forced to beg and then, for his trouble, he’s thrown into jail.  Isolated from the world, the beggar’s only human contact comes from his kindly jailer and the jailer’s mute daughter.  When the nobleman tries to force himself on the daughter, he’s rejected.  As a result, he throws the jailer’s daughter into the cell with the now animalistic beggar.  When she’s eventually released, she promptly murders the nobleman but she’s now pregnant with the beggar’s child.

That child is named Leon Corledo and eventually, he’ll become Oliver Reed.  But first, we watch as he grows up, the adopted son of the kindly Don Alfredo (Clifford Evans).  Alfredo’s housekeeper considers Leon to be cursed because he was born on Christmas Day and his mother died in childbirth.  Alfredo may dismiss that as a silly superstition but, as Leon grows up, strange things do happen.  Goats are murdered and, even though a dog is blamed, we know that it has something to do with Leon.

Yes, Leon is a werewolf but interestingly enough, it’s not the full moon that transforms Leon into a beast.  Instead, it’s stress and depression.  When Leon grows up and goes to work in vineyard, he’s fine until he realizes that he’ll probably never be a rich man like his boss and he’ll never have enough money to marry Christina (Catherine Feller).  That’s when he loses control and transformed.

The Curse of the Werewolf is a dark and moody film, directed in an appropriately atmospheric fashion by Terence Fisher.  Leon is one of the more tragic Hammer monsters, having been born with an affliction that he can’t control and which no one else is capable of understanding.  Oliver Reed gives a wonderful performance, revealing the tortured soul that lurks underneath the fearful exterior.  This Hammer film may not be as well-known as the Dracula or Frankenstein films but it’s definitely one that deserves to be seen.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #26: Cleopatra (dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Cleopatra_posterWhile watching the 1963 best picture nominee, Cleopatra, I had many thoughts.  The film lasts over 4 hours so I had a lot of time to think.

For instance, I often found myself impressed by the sheer size of the production.  I marveled at the recreation of ancient Greece and Rome.  I loved looking at the ornate costumes.  I loved feeling as if I was taking a look back at what Rome may have actually looked like at the height of the Roman Empire.  Making it all the more impressive was that this film was made in the days before CGI.  When the film’s Romans walked through the streets of Rome, they weren’t just actors standing in front of a green screen.  They were walking down real streets and surrounded by real buildings.  It reminded me of the awe and wonder that I felt when I was in Italy and I was visiting the ruins of ancient Rome.

(I don’t know if any of the cast accidentally flashed everyone like I did when I visited during Pompeii on a windy day but considering how short some of the skirts on the men were, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did!)

And, as I marveled at the recreation of Rome, I also thought to myself, “How long is this freaking movie?”  Because, seriously, Cleopatra is an amazingly long movie.  It’s not just the film is over four hours long.  It’s that the film feels even longer.  Gone With The Wind, The Godfathers Part One and Part Two, Once Upon A Time In America; these are all long films but, because they’re so great, you never find yourself checking the time while watching.  Cleopatra is the opposite of that.  Cleopatra is a film that, at its slowest, will make you very much aware of how many seconds are in a minute.

I found myself marveling at the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  If anything, this is the most shocking thing about Cleopatra.  If Cleopatra is famous for anything, it’s famous for being the film where Elizabeth Taylor (cast in the role of Cleopatra) first met Richard Burton (who was playing Mark Antony).  Their affair dominated the gossip headlines.  (If TMZ and YouTube had been around back then, there would be daily videos of Richard Burton punching out paparazzi.)  Cleopatra was the first of many big-budgeted, overproduced films that Taylor and Burton co-starred in.

(Then again, they also starred in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a film that is almost the exact opposite of Cleopatra.)

In the role of Mark Antony, Burton spends most of the film looking absolutely miserable.  Elizabeth Taylor, meanwhile, seems to be having a lot more fun.  It’s almost as if she understood what Cleopatra was going to become so she went out of her way to give the type of over-the-top performance that the film deserved.  The same can also be said about Rex Harrison, who plays Julius Caesar and who, perhaps because he appears to have shared her attitude, actually does have some chemistry with Taylor.

Actually, if anyone gives a truly great performance in Cleopatra, it’s Roddy McDowall.  McDowall plays the future Emperor Augustus with a mesmerizing intensity.  Again, McDowall’s performance is not exactly subtle but Cleopatra is not a film that demands subtlety.

As the film finally neared its end, I found myself wondering how Joseph L. Mankiewicz went from directing two close to perfect films, A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve, to directing this.  Even more amazing, Mankiewicz had previously directed one of the best Roman Empire films ever, 1953’s Julius Caesar.  (When compared to Cleopatra, the low-key and thoughtful Julius Caesar appears to have been filmed on an entirely different planet.)  Well, in Mankiewicz’s defense, he was not the original director.  He was brought in to replace Rouben Mamoulian, who had previously attempted to make the film with Joan Collins, Ben-Hur‘s Stephen Boyd, and Peter Finch.  When Mankiewicz was brought in, the cast was replaced with Taylor, Burton, and Harrison.  Between the expensive stars, the troubled production, and all of the offscreen romantic melodrama, Mankiewicz probably did the best that he could.

Today, Cleopatra is mostly interesting as an example of a film from the “Only Gigantic Productions Will Save Us From Television!” era of Hollywood filmmaking.  Cleopatra started out as a $2,000,000 production and ended up costing $31,000,000.  It was the number one film at the 1963 box office and it still nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.  While the film does have some kitsch appeal, the critics hated it and it’s easy to see why.

And yes, it was nominated for best picture of the year, a tribute to the size of the production and the determination of 20th Century Fox to get something — anything — in return for their money.

Cleopatra is a bit of a chore to sit through but it can be fun if you’re in a snarky mood.  It’ll do until the inevitable Angelina Jolie remake comes along.

James Bond Review: The World Is Not Enough


But it is such a perfect place to start.

Hello everyone! As a prelude to the North American release of Skyfall, we here at The Shattered Lens have been reviewing each and every single James Bond film in the history of the franchise. Today we examine the nineteenth film in the James Bond franchise, and the third to feature Pierce Brosnan as the titular super spy, Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Its title? The unpretentious The World is Not Enough.

This time our cold open has Bond in negotiations with a Swiss banker for the return of a significant amount of money belonging to British Knight, Sir Robert King, who is a personal friend of M (Dame Judi Dench). Negotiations break down quickly, when Bond reveals that King was buying a report over which an MI6 agent was killed. The banker not only refuses to disclose information, but actually threatens Bond. Bond takes control of the situation in predictable fashion, offing the Banker’s underlings and capturing the man in question. However, before the banker can give up the name of the man who hired him, he is picked off by his own assistant – revealed to be a lovely young assassin (Maria Grazia Cucinotta), who disappears before Bond can do much in the way of response. With the police already on their way, Bond escapes out a window, and heads back to jolly old England.

When Bond returns to MI6 headquarters, Sir King takes possession of his money. However, Bond deduces seconds too late that the money has been trapped with a binary compound explosive that King inadvertently triggers, blowing up the suitcase of money, Robert King, the entire room he is present in, and a huge chunk of the wall of MI6 headquarters. Bond arrives just in time to see the same assassin outside in a speed boat, aiming a mounted gun his direction. Upon seeing Bond, she opens fire, but then quickly turns tail and flees the scene. Bond seizes a speed boat from Q and goes in pursuit. After a truly remarkable chase sequence (by sea, by land, and by air!) Bond catches up with the assassin, who commits suicide by firing into the tanks of her own hot air balloon rather than risk being taken alive. Bond falls and is heavily injured, and the assassin is killed.

Bond convalesces under the care of one Dr. Molly Warmflash (Serena Scott Thomas), but unwilling to actually wait for his wounds to heal, he “persuades” the good doctor into giving him a clean bill of health, the way only James Bond can. Medically cleared, he invites himself into a high level planning session with M where they trace the assassination of Robert King back to its likely perpetrator – a notorious Soviet terrorist, Renaud (Robert Carlyle). Recognizing the danger he represents, M sent 009 to kill Renaud. Although the agent got a shot in, and it struck Renaud in the head, the bullet miraculously failed to kill the terrorist right away. Instead, it slowly burrows through the matter of his brain, dampening and destroying his senses one by one. Dr. Warmflash speculates that while Renaud will eventually die from his wound, in the meantime he feels no pain, and is particularly dangerous as a result. Renaud had previously abducted and held hostage King’s beautiful daughter, Elektra (Sophie Marceau), for ransom. M believes that Renaud is attempting to strike against the King family again. Concerned with Elektra’s safety, she assigns 007 to personally see to her security.

Things ramble on quickly from there. Like Tomorrow Never Dies, there are no shortage of action pieces in The World is Not Enough. The film has a healthy dose of plot twists and is finely paced, never really descending into a lull. It has excellent set pieces, including a kind of cart racing down an oil pipeline, a battle in a caviar factory (which includes a notable cameo from our old friend Valentine, first introduced in Goldeneye [a fun role that is heartily embraced by actor Robbie Coltrane]), and even climactic showdown aboard a Soviet nuclear submarine Unfortunately, The World is Not Enough suffers from a couple of limitations that hold it back from being a truly great Bond film. Yes, that’s right folks, it’s time we talked about one of the more infamous Bond girls… Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards).

Now, I don’t necessarily hate Denise Richards, but she’s not what I’d call a paragon of acting ability. She doesn’t bring a ton of range to a character that is already a bit on the weak side. Dr. Jones, a short-short short-dress short-skirt clad nuclear physicist, is not short on brains. She’s also athletic, and able to keep up with 007’s crazy antics for the most part. She’s also a patently unbelievable character, a stretch even for James Bond, even for latter-day Pierce Brosnan James Bond. She doesn’t ever really fit into this film, and while the movie’s plot ultimately deals with a nuclear threat (as always, I won’t spoil the film’s more important plot details!) and it seems like Dr. Jones’ expertise might be useful… mostly, she just offers some rather obvious exposition, and serves as a sexual object for one important sequence in the film’s final third. So, hooray? Compared to ass-kicking Chinese secret agent Wai Lan, the main thing that Denise Richards’ character brings to the James Bond franchise is cup size. And more easy puns on her name than you can shake a stick at.

This film is also notable for being the tragic final appearance of Desmond Llewelyn in his long time role as “Q”. Although the film … “humourously” … introduces John Cleese as Q’s successor early in the film, there were no official plans to cut Desmond Llewelyn from future Bond films, and he had not announced plans to retire. Unfortunately, Llewelyn was killed in a traffic collision shortly after the film’s premiere. R.I.P.

That having been said, I still very much like this movie. For reasons which are not entirely clear, I think I’ve seen it a dozen times or so (maybe it’s just on BBC a lot?) and nothing about it ever makes me want to turn the film off. In fact, vibrant performances by the film’s villains and an energetic Judi Dench as M (more active in this film than in … probably any other) kind of bring this one to life for me. Of course, this film definitely telegraphed a possible dive off the cliff’s edge… something which we may or may not journey through together in tomorrow’s film, the much-maligned Die Another Day.

In the meantime, let me leave you with my all-time favourite James Bond theme, presented by Garbage:

James Bond Film Review: A View to a Kill (dir by John Glen)


In the days leading up to the American premiere of Skyfall, the Shattered Lens has been revisiting the previous films in the James Bond franchise.  Today we take a look at 1985’s A View To A Kill.

Along with bring the 14th “official” Bond film, it was also the last to star Roger Moore in the role of 007.  On a personal note, it was also released the same year that I was born.  I have to say that I hope I’ve aged better than this film has.

Much like The Spy Who Loved Me, A View To A Kill opens with a ski chase between Bond and a bunch of Russians.  And while the chase itself isn’t all that exciting, it does lead to one of the better opening credits sequences of the Bond franchise.


Say what you will about A View To A Kill, it features the perfect theme song.  I first heard Duran Duran’s title song long before I saw the actual film.  After I graduated high school, I spent the summer in Italy and I can still remember hearing this song blaring from a loud speaker in Venice.  With it combination of exuberant music and incoherent lyrics, the song is the perfect soundtrack for both an American girl abroad and a mid-80s spy flick.

A View To A Kill finds James Bond investigating the mysterious industrialist Max Zorin (Christopher Walken).  Though Zorin is one of the world’s richest men, MI6 is suspicious of him.  Microchips manufactured by Zorin Industries are turning up in Russian submarines.  Perhaps even worse, it’s become apparent that, much like Auric Goldfinger, Zorin is a cheater.  He owns a champion racehorse but it’s rumored that the horse is somehow being given steroids.  MI6 sends Bond and racehorse trainer Sir Godfrey Tibbets (played, quite wonderfully, by Patrick Macnee) to investigate.

These scenes, in which an undercover Bond sneaks around Zorin’s estate in France, are my favorites of the film.  Moore and Macnee make for a likable team and it’s fun to watch the two veteran actors play off each other.  As well, since these scenes are more about detection than action, it’s easier to ignore the fact that Moore was 58 years old when he made A View To A Kill.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t work as well and that’s unfortunate because A View To A Kill starts to get seriously weird as things progress.  It turns out that Zorin isn’t just a shady businessman.  No, he’s actually the product of Nazi genetic experimentation and, as a result, he’s both a genius and a complete sociopath.  What this means is that, opposed to previous Bond antagonists, Zorin spends a lot more time giggling and smiling as if even he can’t believe how evil he is.

Bond ends up following Zorin and his aide, May Day (Grace Jones), to San Francisco.  It’s there that Bond discovers that Zorin is planning on setting off a massive underground explosion, in hopes of causing an Earthquake that will totally destroy California.  This will allow Zorin to corner the world microchip market and make a lot of money but, for the most part, Zorin just seems to want to do it so that he’ll have something to talk about the next time he gets together with his fellow megalomaniacs.

Once everyone arrives in San Francisco, James Bond ends up teaming up with geologist Stacy Sutton (played by Tanya Roberts, better known as Donna’s mother on That 70s Show).  As for Zorin, he divides his time between holding business meetings on his blimp and laughing like a maniac while gunning down random people.

Seriously, it’s an odd film.

Whenever film critics are looking over the Bond films, A View to  A Kill seems to be the Bond film that’s destined to get the least amount of respect and admittedly, this is an uneven entry in the Bond franchise.  In Sinclair McKay’s excellent look at the oo7 films, The Man With The Golden Touch, Roger Moore is quoted as having been uncomfortable with just how violent A View To A Kill eventually turned out to be and, watching the film, he definitely had a point.  It’s odd to see Moore’s light-hearted approach coupled with scenes in which Zorin gleefully kills a thousand people in a thousand seconds.  It also didn’t help that, in this film, Roger Moore looked every bit of his 58 years.  Never have I been as aware of stuntmen then when I watched A View To A Kill.  Finally, Moore and Tanya Roberts have next to no chemistry together.

With all that in mind, A View To A Kill is something of a guilty pleasure and that’s largely because of the bad guys.

If anyone was born to play a Bond villain, it’s Christopher Walken and Max Zorin is an enjoyably over-the-top villain.  Whereas previous Bond villains were motivated primarily by greed, Zorin is the first Bond sociopath and Walken seems to be having a blast playing bad.  As opposed to the grim bad guys of the past, Zorin laughs and grins through the whole movie and Walken is a lot of fun to watch.  Regardless of whatever other flaws that the film may have, Max Zorin is rightly regarded as one of the best of the cinematic Bond villains.

As played by Grace Jones, May Day is one of the franchise’s most memorable and flamboyant villainous lackeys.   Much like Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me, Jones is such a physical presence that she dominates every scene that she’s in.  In their scenes together, Walken and Jones have the type of chemistry that’s so noticeably lacking between Moore and Roberts.

As I previously stated, A View To A Kill was Roger Moore’s final appearance as James Bond.  Before we started our look at the Bond films, I spent some time researching the history of both the franchise and the men who have played 007.  One thing that quickly became apparent was that nearly everyone agreed that Roger Moore is a nice, likable guy but that he didn’t bring much more than likability to the role of James Bond.  Having now rewatched the Bond films, I can say that Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond was and is seriously underrated.  Yes, Moore may have brought a light touch to the role but his interpretation of Bond was perfect for the films that he was starring in.  Much as it’s difficult to imagine Roger Moore in From Russia With Love, it’s just as difficult to visualize Sean Connery in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Moore’s greatest talent may have been likability but that likability kept the Bond franchise alive and Moore’s interpretation of the role deserves better than to be continually dismissed.  

With Roger Moore leaving the franchise, the role of James Bond would next be played by an actor named Timothy Dalton.  If Moore was the likable, fun Bond, Dalton was, in many ways, the complete opposite.  We’ll be taking a look at The Living Daylights tomorrow.

James Bond Review: Octopussy (dir. by John Glen)


 

We’re at the home stretch in the Roger Moore-era of Ian Fleming’s James Bond film series. During his time in the role as Britain’s super spy extraordinaire we’ve seen him put his own personal stamp on the role. It was a daunting task seeing the role had been played by Sean Connery early in the film series and had done such a great job of making the character such a cultural icon that anyone following him would forever be compared. Moore doesn’t just hold his own, but has built such a loayl following in the role that many consider his portrayal of Agent 007 as the best in the series.

His Bond when compared to Connery’s portrayal was more the witty charmer who tried to use his wits and brains to solve problematic (usually dangerous ones) situations he finds himself in. Connery’s Bond was more the physical type whose charm belied a much darker personality streak that Moore’s portrayal could never pull off no matter how the writers tried.

The Roger Moore-era also redefined the franchise as more more about action and less and less thriller with each new film. This culminates in Moore’s most action-packed film in the role with the 13th Bond film (produced by EON) in Octopussy.

The film begins with one of the more impressive opening sequences in the series as we find Bond in the middle of an undercover mission in Cuba. This intro’s stunt work with Bond piloting a mini-plane in and around Cuban airspace to escape and, at the same time, fulfill his mission remains a highlight in the series where each new film tries to raise the bar in terms of well-choreographed and very complicated action scenes.

Octopussy sees Bond traveling to India, East and West Germany to halt the nuclear and warmongering ambitions of a Soviet general who sees his country’s nuclear disarmament talks with the West as inviting defeat for the Soviet Union. We also have the theft of priceless Russian treasures like the Faberge Eggs being used to finance this general’s plan to complicate bond’s main mission. The plot for Octopussy is a reminder of the time it was filmed in. Reagan and Thatcher had a strong control of the West and their confrontational attitudes towards the Soviet Union and it’s satellite states made people believe that the world was on the brink of war. This public sentiment affected the fiction and entertainment of the time with Cold War thrillers becoming ascendant once more.

As much as the basic outline of the film’s plot looked to be impressive on the face of it the way the story unfolded was quite a hit-and-miss affair. I put some of this on the shoulders of it’s director John Glen who seemed more interested in moving the story from one action scene to the next while paying just the minimum of lip-service to the quieter scenes that occur in-between.

This being Moore’s sixth Bond film we pretty much know how his Bond operates. So, it falls to fleshing out his rivals and enemies to help create a much more interesting film beyond the extravagant action scenes. We learn about the agendas and personalities of Bond’s rivals through too much exposition info dumps. Even the title’ character of Octopussy (played by Maud Adams) we don’t get to learn much of other than a brief personal history dialogue she has with Bond the first time we meet. Of Bond’s two enemies in the film one is the warmongering General Orlov (played by Steven Berkoff) who comes off like an over-the-top caricature with a distinct speech pattern to match. The other is the exiled Afghan prince Kamal Khan who comes off a bit more fleshed out as Octopussy’s covetous partner-in-crime. Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan plays the role with a sense of panache and joie de vivre that at times he’s able to match Moore’s Bond in the charisma department whenever the two share the screen together.

What should interest people about Octopussy are the very action scenes I spoke about earlier. From the opening sequence in Cuba to a thrilling race against time that traverses from East Germany to West Germany to stop a nuclear weapon from detonating it’s no wonder some people consider Octopussy as a favorite. I enjoyed the film for these very sequences despite missteps in the overall execution of the plot and inconsistencies in the performances of the cast. Yet, the film had the DNA to be much better and after repeated viewings one could see that in the hands of a different filmmaker and changes in the cast this sixth Moore-era Bond film had the potential to be one of the best.

Octopussy would mark the start of the franchise’s decline in the face of much more violent and action-packed action films of the 80’s. The film tried to keep up with this rising trend in action filmmaking during the 80’s. It was able to succeed in a fashion in making the series much more action-packed (though quite bloodless in comparison to what was about to come out of Hollywood in the coming years), but in doing so the film’s storyline and characters suffered that the film doesn’t hold up the test of time unlike some of the early Connery and Moore films.

On a side note, the film did have one of my favorite Bond song’s with Rita Coolidge singing “All Time High” in the intro sequence. A song title that was quite ironic considering that the film definitely didn’t hit an all time high.

James Bond Film Review: Moonraker (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


For the past two weeks, here at the Shattered Lens, we’ve been reviewing the James Bond film franchise.  We’ve reviewed the good, the bad, and the ugly of James Bond and today, we’re going to take a look at James Bond at his silliest.  Today, we’re going to review the 11th official James Bond film, 1979’s Moonraker.

Moonraker starts out with a genuinely exciting pre-credits sequence.  James Bond (Roger Moore) is on an airplane when he’s suddenly attacked by the stewardess, the co-pilot, and Jaws (Richard Kiel), the henchman with the steel teeth.  All four of them end up falling out of the plane.  In mid-air, Bond wrestles the pilot’s parachute away from him and uses it to safely land on the ground.  The pilot and the stewardess presumably plunge to a very grisly death.  Jaws, meanwhile, crashes into a circus tent and walks away without a scratch.  This scene pretty much establishes the tone of Moonraker — increasingly implausible action sequences that usually end with some sort of crowd-pleasing joke.  In short, Moonraker is Bond as pure spectacle.  Those looking for another From Russia With Love should look elsewhere.

As for the rest of the film, someone’s stolen a space shuttle and James Bond and CIA agent Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles) team up to find it.  It turns out that the shuttle was stolen by Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), who plans to wipe out life on the Earth and start a new society in space.

That’s right, in space!

Moonraker was made in 1979, at the height of the cinematic science fiction boom.  In the late 70s, everyone was going into space and James Bond wasn’t going to get left behind.  Not surprisingly, it turns out that Drax has a secret HQ in a space station that’s orbiting the Earth and Bond is not only the world’s greatest secret agent but the universe’s as well!

It also turns out that Jaws is now working for Drax and his girlfriend Dolly (Blanche Ravelec) works in the space station.  I know that a lot of Bond fans hate Moonraker because of this very subplot but seriously, just take a look at the happy couple!  They’re so cute together!

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings on Moonraker.  On the one hand, it’s the most over-the-top of Roger Moore’s Bond films and it’s certainly the silliest.  Your reaction to it will depend on just how seriously you take or want to take your Bond films.  Myself, I appreciate Moonraker as a celebration of excess but, at the same time, I can also understand why so many fans of the Bond franchise consider Moonraker to be a low point for the series.

At its weakest, Moonraker feels almost like a generic Bond rip-off as opposed to an official Bond film.  It’s obvious that most of the preproduction attention was devoted to the film’s special effects.  The rest of the film feels almost like an afterthought and several of the sequences feel as if they’ve been lifted from other Bond films.  Bond’s initial meeting with Hugo Drax is reminiscent of the golf game in Goldfinger and both Drax’s evil scheme and motivation appear to have been borrowed from The Spy Who Loved Me‘s Karl Stromberg.

Especially when compared to his witty performance in The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore appears to be simply going through the motions here and he has next to no chemistry with Lois Chiles.  One gets the feeling that Bond is merely with her so that he can brag to his mates back in London that he actually hooked up with someone named Holly Goodhead.  If her name was Holly Smith, he wouldn’t have any interest in her.

On the plus side, Michael Lonsdale makes for a good villain, the film’s special effects still look good over 30 years later, and I like the way that Jaws’ storyline is resolved.  I know that a lot of people hate the fact that Jaws softens up by the end of this film but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Richard Kiel and Blanche Ravalec are so cute together that you simply can’t help but smile at their unlikely romance.

Finally, how can you not enjoy the curiosity value of having James Bond in space?  I’m not a huge sci-fi fan.  Whenever I hear people mention Dr. Who, Star Wars, or Star Trek, my eyes roll up into the back of my head and I end up zoning out for a few hours.  But there’s just something so odd and vaguely inappropriate about the idea of James Bond floating around in a space station with a laser gun.  If nothing else, Moonraker serves as a time capsule of the late 70s, a time when even James Bond could turn up in outer space.

Much like The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker has little in common with the book that inspired it.  The literary Moonraker featured a villain named Hugo Drax but the Moonraker of the title was a nuclear missile.  Nobody went into outer space and there was certainly no one named Holly Goodhead.  Instead, Bond worked (and fell for) a fellow agent named Gala Brand.  It’s a shame that no one has ever filmed a faithful adaptation of Moonraker because it’s actually one of the best of the Bond novels.  Bond and Gala have a genuinely interesting relationship and the book has a melancholy, rather introspective feel to it.  Surprisingly, the end of the book deals with why none of Bond’s relationships last that long and makes an attempt to deal realistically with the psychological consequences of being the world’s greatest secret agent.

Surprisingly enough, the spectacular, effects-heavy Moonraker would be followed by the much more realistic and low-key For Your Eyes Only.  We’ll take a look at that film tomorrow.

Until then, here’s the Moonraker theme song:

James Bond Film Review: The Spy Who Loved Me (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


For the past few days, the Shattered Lens has been taking a journey through the history of the James Bond film franchise.  Today, we continue that journey by taking a look at 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.  This was the 10th film in the “official” James Bond series and the 3rd to star Roger Moore as 007.  It was also the first of Moore’s films to be embraced by contemporary critics and it’s still considered to be one of the best films in the entire series.  It’s also one of my personal favorites.

The Spy Who Loved Me opens with one of the most of brilliant pre-credit sequences in the history of the franchise.  British and Russian submarines are mysteriously vanishing.  M (a returning Bernard Lee) summons James Bond (Roger Moore) to investigate.  Not surprisingly, Bond is with a woman at a ski resort when the summons comes.  As Bond starts to leave, the woman says, “But James, I need you.”

“So does England,” Bond replies.

Now, this was long before my time so I can’t say for sure but I always like to imagine  that line got some applause when it was first heard in theaters.  It is with that line (and, even more importantly, with his self-assured but humorous delivery of that line) that Roger Moore truly claims the role of James Bond as his own.  No, this scene seemed to be telling us, Moore would never be Sean Connery.  But he would be James Bond.

After leaving the chalet, Bond finds himself being pursued by several Russian agents.  This downhill ski chase, filmed by real people who were truly putting their lives in danger in the days before CGI, is one of the most exciting of all the chases to be found in Bond films and it builds up to a perfect climax.  After Bond manages to kill one of his pursuers, he skis right over the edge of a cliff.  Luckily, he has a parachute in his backpack and, of course, it’s a union jack parachute.  Again, I like to imagine that audiences applauded at this moment.

Bond’s escape leads to the opening credits and, even more importantly, Carly Simon singing the film’s theme song, “Nobody Does It Better.”  Seriously, I love this song.

Both MI6 and the KGB discover that the plans for a submarine tracking system are being sold on the Egyptian black market.  Suspecting that this is connected to the missing submarines, both James Bond and the Russian agent Anya Asamova (Barbara Bach) are sent to Egypt.  Bond and Anya team up to find the plans.  Along the way, they are attacked multiple times by Jaws (Richard Kiel), a hulking man with steel teeth.

Eventually, Bond and Anya discover that the man responsible for the missing submarines is Karl Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a shipping magnate who is planning on destroying the surface world so that he can start a new society underwater.  The two secret agents work together to defeat Stromberg even though Anya assures Bond that she’s going to kill him as soon as their mission is completed.  Remember the man who Bond killed during that opening ski chase?  It turns out that man was Anya’s lover and she’s only putting off getting her revenge so that she and Bond can save the world first.

With its confident mix of humor, intrigue, and spectacular action, The Spy Who Loved Me remains one of the most popular of the Bond films.  It’s certainly one of my favorites.

Along with From Russia With Love and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, this is the most romantic of the Bond films.  Roger Moore and Barbara Bach have a very real chemistry and, as a result, you actually care about whether or not Bond and Anya will still be together after the end credits.  As played by Barbara Bach, Anya is one of the strongest of the Bond girls.  For once, Bond and his lover are truly equals.  For anyone who doubts the importance of having a strong Bond girl, I invite them to compare this movie to The Man With The Golden Gun.

For those who are more into action than romance, The Spy Who Loved Me will not leave them disappointed.  This film features some of the best set pieces in the history of the Bond franchise.  Along with the ski chase at the start of the film, there’s also a genuinely exciting car chase that features Bond and Anya being pursued by a helicopter piloted by Caroline Munro.

(Speaking of cars, this film also features one of my favorite Bond gadgets — a car that doubles as a submarine.)

Karl Stromberg makes for an interesting villain.  His plan makes absolutely no sense but he may be the first Bond bad guy to motivated by perverted idealism as opposed to pure greed.  As you would expect from a Bond film, his secret underwater HQ is quite an impressive set.  However, the best thing about Stromberg is that he employs Jaws.  With his stainless steel teeth, Jaws was the best henchman since Goldfinger‘s Oddjob and he proved to be such a popular character that he actually returned in the next Bond film.

One final note: As has often been noted, The Spy Who Loved Me was the first Bond film to have absolutely nothing in common (beyond a title) with the book that it was based on.  This is largely because the literary Spy Who Loved Me wasn’t really about James Bond.  Instead, it told the life story of Vivienne Michel, a Canadian woman who just happens to meet Bond towards the end of the book.  Fleming reportedly considered this book to be a failed experiment on his part and reportedly he only sold the film rights when he was assured that only the book’s title would be used.

That said, I recently read The Spy Who Loved Me and it’s not that bad.  Vivienne Michel is a compelling character and it’s interesting to, for once, see James Bond through the eyes of a lover as opposed to the other way around.  If it is a failed experiment, it’s still an experiment that’s worth reading.

As for the cinematic James Bond, he conquered the sea in The Spy Who Loved Me so it only made sense that, in his next film, he would attempt to conquer space.  We’ll take a look at Moonraker tomorrow.

James Bond Film Review: The Man With The Golden Gun (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


Hi there!  The name’s Bowman.  Lisa Marie Bowman.  Yes, I’ve made that joke a few times over the past two weeks but so what?  Let me have my fun!  And speaking of fun, we’ve been reviewing the entire James Bond franchise here at the Shattered Lens.  Today, we’re going to take a look at 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun, the 9th “official” James Bond film and the second Bond film to feature Roger Moore in the lead role.

The Man With The Golden Gun is Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee), the world’s most feared assassin.  Living on his own private island, Scaramanga is waited on hand-and-foot by a murderous dwarf named Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) and his mistress Andrea Anders (played by Maud Adams, who, like me, is a member of the red-headed 2%).  Every few days or so, Nick Nack arranges for a different gangster or spy to come to the island and fight a duel with Scaramanga.  Much to Nick Nack’s disappointment, Scaramanga always manages to win each duel.  However, Scaramanga remains a frustrated assassin because he’s never had the chance to take on (and kill) his hero, James Bond.

Just how obsessed is Scaramanga with Bond?  Scaramanga has his own private funhouse set up on the island and the star exhibit at that funhouse is a wax figure of Bond that Scaramanga enjoys firing golden bullets at.

Meanwhile, in London, MI6 receives one of those golden bullets with “007” etched into the surface.  M (Bernard Lee), not wishing to see his best agent killed, immediately relieves Bond from his current mission.  Bond, along with a painfully dizzy British agent named Mary Goodnight (played by Britt Ekland), responds by setting off to track down Scaramanga on his own.

Bond eventually tracks Scaramanga down to Bangkok where Scaramanga is busy scheming to steal something called a Solex agitator which, depending on who is using it, can either be the key to solving the energy crisis or it can be a deadly, solar-powered weapon.  Bond also discovers that the bullet wasn’t sent by Scaramanga but was instead sent by Andrea who wants Scaramanga dead.

Not surprisingly, this all leads to what you would expect — an elaborate car chase, a Bond girl in a bikini, and a final duel between Bond and Scaramanga.

When The Man With The Golden Gun was first released way back in 1974, the film received some of the worst reviews in the Bond franchise’s history.  A typical review came from Time Magazine’s Jay Cocks who complained that Moore “lacks all Connery’s strengths and has several deep deficiencies”, whilst Lee was “an unusually unimpressive villain.”  In a complaint that would be made about the majority of the post-Connery, pre-Craig Bond films, Cocks also criticized the film’s plot for being too dependent on both Bond and Scaramanga using implausible gadgets.

While most of the Bond films were treated dismissively by critics when they were first released, the majority of them have also come to be seen in a more positive light  as the years have passed.  The Man With The Golden Gun, however, is an exception to that rule.  Nearly four decades after first being released, The Man With The Golden Gun still has a reputation for being a disappointment.  While Christopher Lee has rightly come to be recognized as one of the best Bond villains, the film itself is still regularly dismissed as one of the worst of the Bond films.

The Man With The Golden Gun‘s flaws are pretty obvious.

As played by Britt Ekland, Mary Goodnight is perhaps one of the most useless Bond girls ever and pretty much confirms every accusation of sexism that’s ever been made against the Bond films.  It’s hard not to wish that the role of Goodnight had been played by Maud Adams who, as Andrea Anders, proves to be one of the best of the Bond femme fatales.

Redneck Sheriff J. W. Pepper (Clifton James) was an acquired taste when he first showed up in Live and Let Die and those who were annoyed by his character the first time will probably not be happy when he implausibly pops up in this film, vacationing in Bangkok and somehow getting involved in yet another car chase.

Finally, while Roger Moore’s performance as James Bond has always been rather underrated, it’s hard to deny that he looks a bit ill-at-ease in this film.  As opposed to Live and Let Die (which was clearly written to match Moore’s interpretation of the role), The Man With The Golden Gun feels like it was written for Sean Connery’s more ruthless interpretation of the role.  There’s a rather ugly scene where Bond roughly slaps Andrea to get her to tell him about Scaramanga.  It’s the type of thing that you could imagine Connery doing without a second thought but Moore seems uncomfortable with it.  His Bond simply doesn’t have the sadistic streak that hid underneath the surface of Connery’s interpretation.

That said, The Man With The Golden Gun is something of a guilty pleasure of mine.  The Man With The Golden Gun is one of the Bond films that I always make a point to catch whenever it shows up on television and I certainly had a better time rewatching it than I did when I rewatched You Only Live Twice.  The film moves along quickly enough, the car chases are a lot of fun, and Scaramanga’s funhouse is one of the best of the Bond sets.  

For all of its flaws, The Man With The Golden Gun is saved by its trio of villains. Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, and especially Christopher Lee give three of the most memorably eccentric performances in the history of the Bond franchise.  They’re so much fun to watch that, if spending time with them also means spending time with Mary Goodnight and Sheriff Pepper, it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.

The strength of Christopher Lee’s performance as Scaramanga cannot be understated.  There’s something oddly touching in the contrast between Scaramanga the steely assassin with the golden gun and Scaramanga, the insecure killer who is apparently always comparing his accomplishments to the accomplishments of James Bond.  Lee’s Scaramanga is such a compelling character that you almost regret that he can’t, in some way, be allowed to achieve some sort of victory at the end of the film.

But, of course, if that happened then it would no longer be a James Bond film.

As always, regardless of what the critics may have wished, James Bond would return.  Ironically, Moore would follow-up a what many considered to be the worst James Bond adventure with a film that many consider to be one of the best.  We’ll be taking a look at The Spy Who Loved Me tomorrow.

Until then, let’s enjoy one of the most underrated theme songs in the history of the Bond franchise.

James Bond Review: Diamonds Are Forever (dir. by Guy Hamilton)


I think it’s a well-known fact that the Austin Powers series was spoofing the spy film of the 60’s and 70’s with it’s main target for laughs being the iconic James Bond character and his international adventures of action and intrigue. The James Bond films with each successive entry became more and more fantastic as the megalomania of each new villain became more and more cartoonish and over-the-top and the gadgets themselves started entering the realm of science-fiction (for that time and era, at least) and back-of-the-comic-book ingenuity. I think the tipping point for the series that took James Bond from action thriller to spoofing it’s own past was with Sean Connery’s last official film as James Bond with Diamonds Are Forever.

To say that Sean Connery was truly getting tired and bored with playing the character James Bond on the big screen would be an understatement. His previous Bond entry with You Only Live Twice showed him pretty much disinterested with the role and one would almost think he was phoning in his performance. After that film Connery had announced his retirement from playing Bond, but after George Lazenby also retired from the role after just one film Connery was soon back for one more ride on the James Bond train.

Diamonds Are Forever once again pits James Bond against his arch-nemesis, the leader of SPECTRE and feline connoisseur, Ernst Blofeld. This time around the role of Blofeld was played by the actor Charles Gray and the film does a good job in explaining why the character has been played by so many different actors in each entry he appeared in. It is in this early sequence in the film that we begin to see that this latest James Bond entry had jumped the shark when it came to trying to keep things even remotely believable. It’s the film’s biggest flaw an, at the same time, what made it such an interesting, fun ride.

Even the plot of the film owes more to the spoofs of the Blofeld character by way of the Austin Powers films as Bond must try to stop SPECTRE from using smuggled South African diamonds from being used to create  weaponized satellite with a massive “laser” that SPECTRE will use to destroy the nuclear arsenal of every superpower then auction off the rights to be the only nuclear power to the highest bidding country. It’s pretty much the the basic foundation of what would be the plot for the first Austin Powers, but with this film filmmaker Guy Hamilton still tried to treat the script as something that was of the serious Bond when it was more 60’s camp through and through.

Diamonds Are Forever may be the weakest of all the Connery Bond films, but it’s groovy sensibilities that celebrated the 60’s (despite the film having been made in 1971) psychedelic, swinging lifestyle poked fun at Bond’s predilection as a suave and charismatic womanizer that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a 60’s love-in. Even the action sequences was something that looked more humorous than thrilling whether it was Bond escaping SPECTRE henchmen on a moon buggy to the inept duo assassins Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd looked more at home in an action comedy than a series that was known for serious action.

I would be remiss to not mention that this was the only time the Bond series had a redhead as a Bond Girl in the vivacious form of Jill St. John as Tiffany Case. I would also like to think that the other Bond Girl in the film, played by Lana Wood (Natalie Wood’s younger sister), was also a redhead but I’m not entirely sure since most audiences probably didn’t pay too close attention to Plenty O’Toole’s hair color. Either way this would be the only Bond film that would cast what fellow writer Lisa Marie calls the 2%.

Diamonds Are Forever might not have been the sort of return Sean Connery envisioned for himself when he agreed to return as James Bond after taking a film off, but then again this wouldn’t be the first time he would retire from the role only to come back again. Yet, despite all it’s flaws (there were many of them) the film does entertain though probably not in the way it’s filmmakers hoped it would. I do believe that it was this film that finally brought in Roger Moore as the next Bond, but also convinced the film’s producers to tailor the Bond films using some of the humorous aspect of Diamonds Are Forever but tempered to accompany the action in the story.

James Bond will soon return in Live And Let Die….

James Bond Film Review: You Only Live Twice (dir. by Lewis Gilbert)


In the days leading up to the American release of Skyfall, the Shattered Lens has been taking a look at the previous films in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the 5th official James Bond film, 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

Released two years after the critically derided but financially succesful Thunderball, You Only Live Twice was a step in a new direction for the Bond series.  As Sinclair McKay explains in his brilliant book on the Bond films, The Man With The Golden Touch,  both the world and the movies changed a lot between 1965 and 1967 and You Only Live Twice reflected that change.  Director Lewis Gilbert and screenwriter Roald Dahl were newcomers to the Bond series and the film they created would serve as a prototype for the flamboyant, big budget espionage fantasies that would come to epitomize many of the later entries in the franchise.

You Only Live Twice begins with one the Bond franchise’s more elaborate precredit sequences.  During these first few minutes, the film rather boldly announces that You Only Live Twice is going to be a bit of a departure from the previous Bond films.  The film begins not with Bond but with two anonymous American astronauts orbiting the Earth in a small capsule.  The two astronauts are blandly chatting with mission control on Earth when, suddenly, another spacecraft approaches and literally swallows the American capsule whole.  One of the astronauts is hurled into space as a result and, as his body spins away, it’s obvious that Bond’s not going to be dealing with something bigger than just another guy looking to hold up Fort Knox.

The Americans blame the Russians while the Russians claim that they’re being framed by Americans and the entire world appears to be on the verge of war.  But as always happens in the Bond films, the British are there to keep everyone from overreacting.  A British diplomat is seen calming down the belligerent super powers and assuring them that MI6’s “best man” is already on the case.

(One of the undeniably charming things about the Connery and Roger Moore  Bond films is the way that the United Kingdom is portrayed as being the world’s unofficial third superpower.)

Cut to Hong Kong, where James Bond is lying in bed and asking his latest conquest, “Why do Chinese girls taste different?”  And, at this point, I think it’s fair to say that Bond is really lucky that he looks like a young Sean Connery.  Suddenly, gunmen storm the bedroom and open fire, apparently killing 007.

Oh no!  I guess the world is doomed, right?  We’re left to consider this sad reality as we watch the opening credits and listen to Nancy Sinatra sing the film’s excellent theme song.

Well, of course, James Bond isn’t really dead.  He faked his death so that he can safely go to Tokyo and investigate who was behind the attack on the space craft.  You Only Live Twice was filmed almost entirely on location in Japan and a good deal of the film’s first half is devoted to scenes of Bond simply observing Japanese culture.  It’s a bit like Lost In Translation with an espionage subplot.

After fighting a few random henchmen, Bond meets Tiger Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba), the head of the Japanese secret service.  Tanaka seems to spend the majority of his time getting massages from the dozen or so young women who wait on him hand-and-foot.  “In Japan,” he tells Bond, “men come first, women come second.”  “I might just retire here,” Bond replies.  Uhmmm…okay.  Thank you, 1967.

In order to continue the ruse that Bond’s dead, Tanaka arranges for Bond to take on an assumed identity.  After being trained on all aspects of Japanese culture and on how to fight like a ninja, Bond is heavily disguised to look like a Japanese fisherman.  Tanaka arranges for Bond to fake marry a local girl named Kissy (Mie Hama).  Kissy is probably one of the least interesting Bond girls in the history of the franchise.  Beyond walking around in a bikini while wearing high heels, Kissy just doesn’t have much of a personality.

Bond and Tanaka’s investigation lead them to a shady industrialist named Osato and his secretary Helga Brandt (Karin Dor).  Helga is about as close as You Only Live Twice comes to featuring a strong female character.  Not only is she an assassin who has no problem with killing a man who she’s just had sex with but she’s also a redhead, just like me!

Anyway, it’s not until very late in the film that we finally meet Helga’s boss.  If for no other reason, You Only Live Twice will always be remembered for featuring one of the great Bond villains.  After being seen in the previous Bond films as just a hand stroking a white cat, Ernest Stavros Blofeld makes his first on-screen appearance here and fortunately, he’s played by Donald Pleasence.

Looking at Pleasence’s performance today, the natural tendency is to compare his Blofeld to the iconic character that he inspired, Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil.  However, one reason that Dr. Evil became such a popular character is because Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is one of the great film bad guys.  As delivered by Pleasence in his casually off-center way, every line of Blofeld’s dialogue drips with the promise of perversion and hints of the neurosis that fuels his every action.  Blofeld spends most of the movie hiding out in a secret base that’s hidden inside a hollow volcano.  He strokes that ever-present white cat and uses a pool of piranhas to punish failure.  It is a credit to Pleasence’s performance that you never, for a second, doubt that Blofeld could very well be living in a hollow volcano.

I have to admit that You Only Live Twice is not my favorite James Bond film, though there are plenty of things that I do like about it.  Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, and Desmond Llewelyn all make welcome appearances and there is a genuinely exciting scene where Bond flies around in a toy helicopter.  Working on his first and only Bond film, Oscar-winning cinematographer Freddie Young captured some beautiful images of Japan and Blofeld’s volcano lair is one of the franchise’s best locations.

That said, You Only Live Twice often moves a bit too slowly for its own good and, with the exception of Blofeld and occasionally Helga Brandt, none of the film’s supporting characters are all that interesting.  Charles Gray, who later took over the role of Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever, has a nice cameo as a decadent retired intelligence agent but he’s killed off before he can make too much of an impression.  Perhaps worst of all, Connery spends most of this film looking like he’d rather be doing anything other than play James Bond for the fifth time.  By his own account, Connery eventually grew bored with the role and that’s certainly obvious in You Only Live Twice.

Connery’s boredom can perhaps explain why, during the shooting of You Only Live Twice, it was announced that he would not be returning to play the role in the 6th Bond film.  The Bond franchise would continue with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but it appeared that Connery would no longer be a part of it.

We’ll be taking a look at that film tomorrow.