Film Review: The Adventurers (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


The 1970 film, The Adventurers, is a film that I’ve been wanting to watch for a while.

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Adventurers was a massively expensive, three-hour film that was released to terrible reviews and even worse box office.  In fact, it’s often cited as one of the worst films of all time, which is why I wanted to see it.  Well, three weeks ago, I finally got my chance to watch it and here what I discovered:

Yes, The Adventurers is technically a terrible movie and Candice Bergen really does give a performance that will amaze you with its ineptitude.  (In her big scene, she sits in a swing and, with a beatific look on her face, begs her lover to push her “Higher!  Higher!”)

Yes, The Adventures is full of sex, intrigue, and melodrama.  Director Lewis Gilbert, who did such a good job with Alfie and The Spy Who Loved Me, directs as if his paycheck is dependent upon using the zoom lens as much as possible and, like many films from the early 70s, this is the type of film where anyone who gets shot is guaranteed to fall over in slow motion, usually while going, “Arrrrrrrrrrrrgh….”  A surprisingly large amount of people get shot in The Adventurers and that adds up to a lot of slow motion tumbles and back flips.  Gilbert also includes a sex scene that ends with a shot of exploding fireworks, which actually kind of works.  If nothing else, it shows that Gilbert knew exactly what type of movie he was making and he may have actually had a sense of humor about it.  That’s what I choose to believe.

Despite the fact that The Adventurers is usually described as being a big-budget soap opera, a good deal of the film actually deals with Latin American politics.  For all the fashion shows and the decadence and the scenes of Candice Bergen swinging, the majority of The Adventures takes place in the Latin American country of Cortoguay.  If you’ve never heard of Cortoguay, that’s because it’s a fictional country.  Two hours of this three-hour film are basically devoted to people arguing and fighting over who is going to rule Cortoguay but it’s kind of impossible to really get to emotionally involved over the conflict because it’s not a real place.

Ernest Borgnine plays a Cortoguayan named — and I’m being serious here — Fat Cat.  Seriously, that’s his name.  And really, how can you not appreciate a movie featuring Ernest Borgnine as Fat Cat?

Fat Cat is the guardian of Dax Xenos (Bekim Fehmiu).  Dax’s father is a Cortoguayan diplomat but after he’s assassinated by the country’s dictator, Dax abandons his home country for America and Europe.  While he’s abroad, Dax plays polo, races cars, and has sex with everyone from Olivia de Havilland to Candice Bergen.  He also gets involved in the fashion industry, which means we get two totally 70s fashion shows, both of which are a lot of fun.  He marries the world’s richest heiress (Bergen) but he’s not a very good husband and their relationship falls apart after a pregnant Bergen flies out of a swing and loses her baby.

Throughout it all, Fat Cat is there, keeping an eye on Dax and pulling him back to not only Cortoguay but also to his first love, Amparo (Leigh Taylor-Young), who just happens to be the daugther of Cortoguay’s dictator, Rojo (Alan Badel).  In fact, when Fat Cat and Dax discover that an acquaintance is selling weapons to Rojo, they lock him inside of his own sex dungeon.  That’s how you get revenge!  And when Dax eventually does return to Cortoguay, Fat Cat is at his side and prepared to fight in the revolution.  Incidentally, the revolution is led by El Lobo (Yorgo Voyagis), who we’re told is the son of El Condor.

The Adventurers is melodramatic, overheated, overlong, overdirected, and overacted and, not surprisingly, it’s eventually a lot of fun.  I mean, the dialogue is just so bad and Lewis Gilbert’s direction is so over the top that you can’t help but suspect that the film was meant to be at least a little bit satirical.  How else do you explain that casting of the not-at-all-Spanish Bekim Fehmiu as a Latin American playboy?  Candice Bergen plays her role as if she’s given up any hope of making sense of her character or the script and the rest of the cast follows her lead.  Ernest Borgnine once said that The Adventurers was the worst experience of his career.  Take one look at Borgnine’s filmography and you’ll understand why that’s such a bold statement.

The Adventurers is three hours long but it’s rarely boring.  Each hour feels like it’s from a totally different film.  It starts out as Marxist agitprop before then becoming a glossy soap opera and then, once Fat Cat and Dax return home and get involved in the revolution, the film turns into “modern” spaghetti western.  It’s a film that tries so hard and accomplishes so little that it becomes rather fascinating.

And, if nothing else, it reminds us that even Fat Cat can be a hero….

 

Music Video of the Day: Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon (1977, designed by Maurice Binder)


Yesterday, veteran British film director Lewis Gilbert passed away.  Gilbert directed several films, in all sorts of different genres, but he’s probably best known for directing three James Bond films, including The Spy Who Loved Me.

Since The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favorite Bond films, I thought it would be appropriate to pick Carly Simon’s theme song, Nobody Does It Better, for today’s music video of the day.  However, the closest that I could find to an “official” video was the Maurice Binder-designed title sequence from The Spy Who Loved Me.

Written by Marvin Hamlisch and Carole Bayer Sager, Nobody Does It Better was Carly Simon’s longest-charted hit and it’s a song that has continued to have a long life outside of the Bond franchise.  It was the second Bond theme song to be nominated for Best Original Song.

Enjoy!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Alfie, The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, Education Rita


Rest in peace, Lewis Gilbert.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Alife (1966, dir by Lewis Gilbert)

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, dir by Lewis Gilbert)

Moonraker (1979, dir by Lewis Gilbert)

Educating Rita (1983, dir by Lewis Gilbert)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Alfie (dir by Lewis Gilbert)


alfie_original

One night, in the UK, in 1965…

In a London flat, a phone rings.  Up-and-coming actor Terrence Stamp answers.  On the other end, the producers of an up-coming film called Alfie ask Stamp if he would be interested in playing the lead role.  In many ways, Stamp seems like the obvious choice.  After all, he already starred in the stage version of Alfie.  He knows the character and everyone knows that he’s going to be a big star…

And that’s why Stamp turns down the role.  The character of Alfie is an irresponsible and self-centered womanizer who, over the course of the play, has numerous affairs, arranges for one illegal abortion, treats almost everyone terribly, and, at the end of the movie, ends up alone.  Not only will the film’s risqué subject matter provide a challenge, even if it is being made in “swinging London,” but Alfie just isn’t a heroic figure.  He has some good lines.  He makes a few good jokes and, after arranging an abortion for one of his girlfriends, he realizes just how empty his life really is.  But, as written, Alfie is hardly sympathetic.

Stamp says he’s not interested in playing Alfie on screen and then he hangs up.

Two minutes later, the phone rings again.  Stamp answers.  It’s the producers of Alfie.  They ask to speak to his roommate, a cockney actor who was born Maurice Micklewhite but who, at the start of his acting career, changed his name to Michael Caine.

And that’s how Michael Caine came to star in the 1966 film, Alfie.

Alfie not only made Michael Caine a star, it also landed him his first Oscar nomination.  It was especially a popular film in the States, where it tapped into a youth culture that was obsessed with all things British and a desire, on the part of many filmgoers, to see films that deal with “adult” topics that American films, at that time, wouldn’t dare touch.  Though Alfie may seem rather tame by today’s standards (for a film about a man obsessed with sex, there’s actually not much of it to be found in Alfie), one can still see why it would have taken American audiences by surprise in 1966.  At a time when American films still starred Doris Day and Bob Hope, here was a British film about a working class cockney who screws almost every woman he meets, both figuratively and literally.

And really, it’s fortunate that Michael Caine accepted that role.  Along with Stamp, Alfie‘s producers also tried to interest Richard Harris and Laurence Harvey in the role.  All three of them would have brought a harder edge to the character.  However, Michael Caine has just enough charm to make Alfie likable, even when his actions are not.  Since a good deal of the film is made up of Alfie breaking the fourth wall and talking straight to the audience (and, often times, not exactly saying that most charitable of words), that charm is essential to the film’s success.  Michael Caine’s Alfie is self-centered but, at the same time, you never doubt that there’s a better man lurking underneath the surface.  You forgive Alfie a lot because, thanks to Caine’s performance, you can see the man that he’s capable of being.

Alfie is pretty much Michael Caine’s show but he’s ably supported by the rest of the cast, especially Jane Asher as a poignantly insecure hitchhiker and Shelley Winters as a cheerfully promiscous American.  And then there’s Denholm Elliott, who plays an abortionist with a seedy intensity that catch you off-guard and drives home the dark reality lurking underneath Alfie‘s charm.

For a film that is often described as being very much a product of its time, Alfie holds up surprisingly well.  It was nominated for best picture but it lost to something far more sedate, A Man For All Seasons.

 

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: 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.