A film that goes Greek on us…
James Bond 007 retrieves a missile controller from a sunken British warship, and helps a Greek woman avenge her parents’ murder while trying to go Greek on her.
In the cold open, we meet Bond (Roger Moore, 5th time) laying flowers on the grave of Teresa Bond, “Beloved Wife of James Bond. We have all the time in the world.” (Wooow! That’s some callback! From ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and the Louie Armstrong song, five films ago – with George Lazenby as Bond!)
A silly helicopter sequence exists simply to cameo Blofeld (John Hollis, whose face we never see, although we see from behind he is bald again, after Charles Gray played him with hair) and he’s in a neck brace and wheelchair! Bond dumps Blowie down an industrial funnel – with a slide whistle cue as he falls! – will these guys never learn? (The director and composer of GOLDEN GUN forever regretted their use of a slide-whistle during the corkscrew car stunt.)
Blowie never pops up again in this adventure; simply a pointless gag to set a campy tone. Or is there a more snide reason? You know how hip hop artists diss each other via songs? Well, this is how filmmakers diss each other. Producer Kevin McClory (co-producer-writer THUNDERBALL), who owned the Blofeld character, disallowed Albert Broccoli’s EON Productions to use Blofeld after DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER. So Broccoli sanctioned this ersatz Blofeld (crediting him as “Wheelchair Villain” and coyly denying it was the character we all know it was meant to be: “people can believe whatever they want”). Dumping Not-Blofeld down the funnel, in essence, killing the character definitively, was Broccoli’s middle finger to McClory: We don’t need your character. (Which also explains the churlish slide whistle.)
We slide into the elevator muzak of Sheena Easton doing For Your Eyes Only. It’s the first time the performer of a Bond song has actually appeared within the opening credits, alongside the naked lady silhouettes. Though Easton was hot on the rise at the time, with only one album to her name, this song (composed by Bill Conti and Mick Leeson – that won a Grammy for Best New Artist) sounds a little too much like walking around Macy’s. The only reason it’s nostalgic is because we heard it in the 80s! And I hate to say it, but Conti – hot off ROCKY and ROCKY II – also slathers the movie with the dullest, forgettable soundtrack you will ever hear this side of Kohl’s Department Store.
A young woman’s parents are murdered and she becomes The Bond Girl simply because the murderers are the same people Bond is pursuing. Carole Bouquet, with the face of a she-wolf and the eyes of a tiger, plays Melina like she’s slightly bored. Even when she runs to her gunned-down parents, she’s got a look on her face like she left the ice cream in the car and it melted. The last shot of her closeup eyes would have made a better shot into the opening titles. Right? Get it?
Let’s talk about the guy responsible for the weird shit that’s going down – director John Glen (NOT the astronaut, who is spelled with two ‘n’s). Glen makes his directorial debut after being editor on three Bond films. And he is an awful director. He’s what the industry would call workmanlike, a veiled insult that means you’re not exactly phoning it in, but you’re pretty close to dialing the number. His action scenes are interesting, due to filmic techniques improving (minimal rear projection required; mounted cameras on moving vehicles; unique chase scenes), but his probable attitude of “we’ll-fix-it-in-the-edit” is responsible for the inconsistency of the performances, the vapid blocking and bad looping, and the decisions to go with Stupid rather than somber. And it doesn’t help that King Stupid, Richard Maibaum, is screenwriter, adapting a collection of Bond novellas by Ian Fleming, published 1960 (“adapting” in the loosest sense of the word).
No M! Sadly, Bernard Lee (who played the head of MI6 in the previous 11 Bond films) died of cancer in January 1981. Producer Cubby Broccoli, out of respect, did not recast the role of M, but instead had two British toffs (Geoffrey Keen and James Villiers) assign Bond’s mission: retrieve the Polaris missile launcher (called ATAC, pronounced “ay-tac”) before their enemies do. Walter Gotell reprises his role as KGB Leader, who orders an unseen operative to get the launcher first. Bond throws a rose to Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) before entering M’s office. (A farewell gesture?)
In his nice white Lotus Esprit, Bond surveils a suspect – captured immediately. If it weren’t for Melina, he would have been behind the game again. The anti-theft device on the Lotus is: when someone tries to smash the window, the car explodes. Great screenwriting! Are you saying Q is so stupid that he would make Bond’s means of escape from life-threatening situations EXPLODE if something hits the window, never mind a burglar? Maibaum said he wanted to strip Bond of his technology, and this imbecilic concept is how he writes out Bond’s car? The crooks couldn’t throw a grenade at it? Thus forcing Bond to escape in Melina’s toy car, while shopping mall music plays them through the chase. She introduces herself as half-Greek. And Bond’s first thought is exactly your first thought.
Q (Desmond Llewelyn) takes up some slack for the missing M. From this movie forward, Llewelyn comes into his own as a comedic presence. Bond and Q work on the Identigraph to identify a henchie – a futuristic police sketch-artist computer program. (Today it looks as futuristic as Pac-Man.) Later, Q turns up masquerading as a priest. So Q is a field agent now? Who’s paying attention, as long as he’s chiding double-oh seven like a step-child?
Q fixes up a nice new red Esprit for Bond, to tool around Greece. Like THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, the location shooting is gorgeous (with the local color of the villages and villas inserted at various points), but nothing comes close to the majesty and awe of the Egyptian monuments from that previous film. Still, we can’t help thinking that director Glen is using the Greek backdrops to distract us while he goes Greek on us.
After a minimal bit of intrigue involving characters who are not who they say they are, Bond allies with a Greek guerilla named Columbo (played by Topol), who alerts Bond to a businessman Kristatos (Julian Glover) smuggling heroin. Kristatos’s niece Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is an ice skater training for the Olympics and—[record scratch]—Wait, what’s this got to do with that sunken British ship and the missile launcher? Nothing – but I suspect Maibaum (who is pushing 70) is simply indulging his “dirty old man,” by making the 18-year-old Bibi seduce Bond. Thankfully, Bond (with Moore pushing 53 himself) shuts down her naked advances. (I’m sure the first draft of this script is a sight for dirty old men.)
Bibi’s Nordic boyfriend is played by John Wyman, a chiseled Viking who tries to kill Bond in chase scenes, instead of just shooting him point-blank. Bibi’s trainer is Jill Bennett, whose only purpose is to look like Lindsay Crouse.
Columbo’s blonde mistress is Cassandra Harris (an Australian, married to Pierce Brosnan since 1980; she introduced Brosnan to Broccoli during this shoot); strikingly beautiful with her hair down and clothes off, but with acting so bad that when she publicly fights with Columbo in a restaurant, with Bond watching, I thought it was a ruse for her to be picked up by Bond and suck information from him. Well, Bond does pick her up on the rebound – but all she did was the other kind of sucking.
The production values are not bad, and the ski chases are all entertaining, especially the scene where a bobsled crew is racing down their tubular track and Bond on skis leaps into the track, being chased by a motorbike that also joins the chase in the track! Good practical shots and great editing – but we can’t get our teeth into the tension for the shopping mall muzak. There’s also Bond exhibiting boss cruelty in kicking a car teetering over a cliff, sending a henchie to his death remorselessly. Although the cringey “humor” in all the fight and chase scenes reminds me of Richard Lester’s pantomime idea of humor in SUPERMAN II and III; like Bond beating the hockey guys into the goal and the goal noise bleeping, or when a bike leaps through an outdoor party and a guy gets a pie in the face. For every boss move, there are ten Chad demerits.
There’s a creative technique for closeups in the underwater scenes: they film the actors in slomo and blow their hair up as if it’s “floating,” with superimposed shots of bubbles rising up – makes for a pretty good B-movie underwater effect.
Hey, there’s young Charles Dance as a henchie. No lines, just gun-pointing and Spock Chopping.
Note this is the first movie where Bond never does bed The Bond Girl. Not that he doesn’t want to, but Melina is dead set intent on squeezing off her crossbow on Kristatos, the killer of her parents, rather than squeezing her thighs around his face. Bond quotes a Chinese saying to her: “Before setting out on revenge, you first dig two graves.” Like James Bond can give us moral advice, especially when it comes to murder, from a guy with a license to kill. But I see his point: he’s a mercenary, while she is killing with clouded judgment when she should be bonking him instead. (Coincidentally, the only woman he would bed is the wife of a future Bond!)
Each action vignette is well done – what brings the production down is how these scenes fail to jigsaw into a cohesive plot. As always, because King Stupid keeps resorting to the asinine devices of Talking Not Shooting and Chasing Not Killing, thus making many sequences unnecessary from the get-go from a plothole point of view. The number of times Bond is accosted by arbitrary henchmen trying to kill him – in the stupidest of ways that guarantee he won’t die – it becomes shorthand for ‘Look over here while I Greek you.’
Bond could really use some of John Glen’s diversionary tactics on Melina…
Bond and Melina, in a tiny sub, recover the McGuffin, that looks like an old-timey cash register. Meanwhile, right above them, Kristatos in his 80-foot yacht sends a guy to wrest it from them in a deepwater diving suit that looks like Robbie the Robot. My question: Why didn’t Kristatos go get it FIRST?
Bond, always terrible at his job, gets captured yet again, and the Bond Villain (also incompetent), ties Bond to Melina in a Catholic Missionary Position (i.e. face-to-face, but legs down) and drags them in the water behind his boat. Some people mistakenly call this keelhauling, but technically, keelhauling is when you drag someone all the way under the keel and up the other side again – front to back, or under one side and up the other. The stunt folk were actually swimming with sharks during this bit – very nice. Kristatos continues to waste petrol on his 80-footer, circling back around time and again for god-knows-whatever-reason instead of just driving in a straight line and shredding their bodies on the coral; cos every time he turns the boat, Bond gets enough slack to slip his bonds…
For the finale, Bond scales a sheer cliff face to sneak up on Kristatos Castle. A tense moment when he reaches the top and a henchie with a machine gun kicks him off. Bond falls and is grappled to a stop by his rope and pitons; tension mounts as henchie starts knocking out the pitons one by one… well, henchie could have just shot Bond instead of kicking him. So – totally deserved to die.
Another unnecessary conundrum when Bond’s small team, led by Columbo, attains the top of the mountain and a henchie is wounded by Melina’s arrow. To stop him from squealing and alerting others, they shove a gag into his mouth… Hmm, all other henchies are summarily murdered by Bond’s gang, so what’s wrong with cutting this grunt’s throat? After minutes of desperately trying to quiet the henchie, Columbo eventually knocks him out. You couldn’t lead with that? See how Maibaum “creates” this false tension from situations which shouldn’t even be tenable if people were doing their jobs properly? And is this little diversion integral to the plot? No. Thank you, Richard Maibaum.
Bond ends with a midnight swim with his wolf-woman, while a Thatcher lookalike (Janet Brown) is patched through on his watch-phone, and he leaves the watch with a parrot to squawk improprieties. The gags just won’t stop. What, no sex to end a Bond movie? The final title card: “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN OCTOPUSSY.”
How ironic that in a movie where Bond never spanks The Bond Girl, the last word we see is pussy.