2012 marks the 50th anniversary of James Bond on the big screen. To celebrate, SFX’s Nick Setchfield revisits each and every 007 adventure in a week by week countdown to Skyfall…
MISSION 14: A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)
A VIEW TO AN END Roger Moore made the decision to renounce his double-oh status as production drew to a close on his seventh Bond caper. He was 58. “I was only about 400 years too old for the part,” he later recalled, deploying the kind of glittering self-deprecation he always used as a pre-emptive strike against critics. Technically, Moore was always just a tad too old for Bond duty – he had been 44 on release of Live And Let Die, 12 years older than Connery’s debut in Dr No and just one year shy of the mandatory retirement age for double-oh agents established by Ian Fleming in the pages of Moonraker. While Moore’s affable charm-bomb appeal remained unassailable, A View To A Kill is wounded by a creeping credibility gap between star and role. By now audience and filmmakers are complicit in a kind of winking fantasy, a shared, unspoken joke that lets them reconcile long-shots of Bond performing Olympian-level skiing feats with close-ups of a waxy Moore in rear projection hell. Elsewhere some shockingly careless editing openly betrays his stunt-double in the Paris car chase sequence. Increasingly it’s as if two entirely distinct universes are being cross-cut onscreen. The leading man’s age begins to warp Bond in other ways, too; hearing him tell the equally autumnal Lois Maxwell “I’ll fill you in later, Moneypenny,” has all the cringe value of stumbling upon your parents trading saucy banter in the kitchen. Moore’s decision to leave his days as a weaponised lounge lizard behind him had lasting consequences for his career. Unlike Connery he had never quite managed to parlay his status as Bond into true box office starpower, and A View To A Kill marks the last blockbuster on his long resume.
MAD MAX Look closely and you’ll see the ghost of David Bowie in genetically-modified madman Max Zorin. The clashing-eyed rock god’s cultural stock was never higher than in the mid-80s – shedding his earlier, edgier incarnations, the dancefloor-friendly beats of Let’s Dance had seen him win a new mainstream audience and he’d earned critical acclaim for his performance in arthouse POW drama Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Eon wanted his alien glamour for the Bond franchise but Bowie wasn’t biting. “Absolutely out of the question,” he told NME’s Charles Shaar Murray. “I think for an actor it’s probably an interesting thing to do, but I think that for somebody from rock it’s more of a clown performance – and I didn’t want to spend five months watching my double fall off mountains.” Brought to the screen with tripwire charisma by Christopher Walken, Max is an aryan technocrat whose peroxide quiff and slick suits steal the media-conquering image Bowie created for his Serious Moonlight tour. Zorin is a quintessentially ‘80s villain, an unholy creation of Nazi superscience operating in the rapacious realm of big business. He demands “an exclusive marketing agreement” with his criminal collaborators and gleefully machine-guns his own workers – the ultimate filthy capitalist.
COMRADES IN CHARM Yes, the notion that a 58 year old Roger Moore and a 63 year old Patrick Macnee may be Britain’s first line of defence seems distinctly whimsical – 1985 is, after all, the year that Stallone unleashed the vicious, steroidal Rambo: First Blood Part Two on the big screen, a movie that would reshape and adrenalise the Hollywood action flick. But for all its lingering hint of Last Of The Summer Spies there’s a real frisson in this pairing of near-pensionable agents. Macnee won television immortality as the suave yet steely John Steed and the sight of him fighting alongside Bond feels like a genuine uniting of icons. It was Barbara Broccoli who suggested Macnee for the role of equestrian-inclined MI6 operative Sir Godfrey Tibbett – he and Moore were old friends, spending the 1960s on adjoining Elstree soundstages as they conjured the competing escapist worlds of The Avengers and The Saint (Moore felt so comfortable in their friendship that he improvised extra jibes at Macnee’s expense during filming). The veteran espionage star brings his dependable brand of barrel-aged charm to A View To A Kill, ensuring that Sir Godfrey’s death feels like a personal loss for Bond and audience alike.
DANCE INTO THE FIRE Duran Duran’s title song arrives like a gunshot-jolt of pure 1985. Now reborn as pastel-suited hedonists, the former New Romantics were a shrewd marketing choice on the part of the Bondmakers, a calculated grab for the screamy Smash Hits demographic. All Time High, Rita Coolidge’s theme to Octopussy, had reached an ignominious number 75 on the British charts, the lowest ranking Bond song ever. A View To A Kill scored number one in the States and a creditable number two in the UK. The band entered Bond’s orbit after bassist John Taylor tipsily cornered Cubby Broccoli at a party and demanded “When are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” They were on the verge of splintering into rival projects but just about contained their imminent implosion to deliver one of the last truly great Bond songs, an urgent, percussive pop-strike that even elevates Simon Le Bon’s usual parade of stream-of-consciousness MTV poetry into something elegant and lovely (“A chance to find the phoenix for the flame…”). Ironically, Duran Duran’s image as model-chasing international playboys felt closer to the classic Bond dream than Roger Moore’s leathery roue. As keyboardist Nick Rhodes recalled, “You had five people in the band who pretty much thought they were James Bond…”
STATE OF GRACE Grace Jones occupies a unique place in 007 history – and not only for the memorably insurrectionary moment she rolls on top of Bond in bed, seizing the dominant role in a striking reversal of the franchise’s traditional sexual gameplay. As the lethal, skyscraping May Day she’s a perfect genetic splice between Bond girl and Bond henchperson, part Pussy Galore, part Jaws. She proved to be the key visual in the movie’s marketing: “Has James Bond finally met his match?” demanded the poster campaign, placing Jones’ half-naked Amazonian frame back to back with a hopelessly eclipsed Roger Moore. The Jamaican-born singer, actress and model had earned notoriety for slapping chat show king Russell Harty in an unforgettable display of black-gloved divadom and she brings a little of that livewire sense of threat to Bond. There’s something feral in the way she bites at Zorin before they kiss; you suspect her tumble in the sack with 007 must have been as demanding as any heart-stopping stunt sequence.
“SO, ANYONE ELSE WANT TO DROP OUT?”A View To A Kill is the most vampiric of Bond movies. It feeds on youth, pitting its hero against a conspicuously younger generation of villains, injecting a jolt of rock ‘n’ roll culture with Grace Jones and the Bowiesque Max Zorin and enlisting Duran Duran for a direct assault on the teenage heart. But all its flash, contemporary trappings cannot hide the fact that this once bulletproof franchise is feeling decidedly tired. The sight of Bond on skis in the pre-titles is a clapped-out trope now, undermined still further by a lousy cover of California Girls surely lifted from one of those cut-price Beach Boys soundalike LPs you find infesting motorway service stations. Former Charlie’s Angels star Tanya Roberts makes for an interminably dull Bond girl, there’s a deeply perfunctory fight in a crate-filled warehouse, endless pottering around Zorin’s stunt farm and a chase with American cop cars that feels crushingly ordinary. And for all that Bond impresses Stacey by baking her a quiche he’s still cracking jokes about women’s lib. Even Roger Moore knew that this was a film too far. Twenty three years after Dr No the Bond franchise craved a shot of new blood like never before. It was time to find the phoenix for the flame.
TRIV AND LET DIE:
The end credits of Octopussy announced “James Bond will return in From A View To A Kill”, the original title of Fleming’s short story.
After David Bowie turned down the role of Max Zorin the filmmakers attempted to woo Sting.
May Day’s 960 ft leap from the Eiffel Tower was performed by BJ Worth. He had three seconds to clear the girders and used the sound of the wind in his ears as an altimeter. Producer Michael G Wilson worked out the practicalities of the jump using calculus.
Full-size pieces of the Golden Gate bridge were replicated on the backlot at Pinewood.
An early version of the plot had Zorin attempting to alter the course of Halley’s Comet.
Grace Jones’ screams in the flooded mine are genuine. When the sparks went off she thought she was surrounded by live voltage.
The 007 Stage burnt down during the filming of Ridley Scott’s Legend. It was reopened on January 7th 1985 as the Albert R Broccoli 007 Stage.
Look for Dolph Lundgren as a KGB man. He was Grace Jones’ boyfriend at the time.
Roger Moore was dismayed to discover he was older than his leading lady’s mother.