The Road To Spectre: The Central Moore Years (1977-1979)

With 007's most notorious villainous organisation set to make its return in Spectre later this year, and the James Bond franchise celebrating fifty years in cinema with its last installment Skyfall, Ben has taken the opportunity to take in every Eon Productions Bond film in order, from the series' beginnings in 1962 to the present day. Now pay attention...

'Gilbert ultimately moves back to the "Bond formula" from which Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun had strived to distance the series'.

Roger Moore's first and second outings as James Bond attempted to take the series in a new and different direction, but ultimately left the Bond franchise at its least satisfying level up to that point. Considerable changes therefore needed to be made for Moore's third film, The Spy Who Loved Me. With the likes of Steven Spielberg considered for the director's chair (he was busy making Jaws, so the story goes the producers at Eon chose to see "how the fish picture turns out" before formally approaching Spielberg and missed their chance), the film almost saw the return of Guy Hamilton before You Only Live Twice director Lewis Gilbert was confirmed to take charge.

Gilbert ultimately moves back to the "Bond formula" from which Live And Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun had strived to distance the series. It's a smart decision, with the director bringing the same level of adventure, action and excitement to much of The Spy Who Loved Me as he had achieved in You Only Live Twice, proving that the formula still works very well if used in the right way.

After a memorable pre-credits sequences involving a ski chase and a Union Jack parachute, The Spy Who Loved Me takes Bond (Moore) to his strongest point since Gilbert's previous effort five films earlier. There are pleasing nods to earlier instalments throughout: the opening ski chase harks back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service's strongest scenes, as does the first mention of Bond's late wife since that film; the mystery of the disappearing submarines feels reminiscent of You Only Live Twice's captured spacecraft; and a sequence on a train pays welcome tribute to From Russia With Love.

The story is mostly satisfying, driven by a strong Blofeld-esque villain in Stromberg (Curd J├╝rgens) and Soviet Agent Triple X Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach), who provides a welcome antidote to the ditzy female characters seen in Moore's first two films. Gilbert also delivers several enjoyable action sequences, most notably a chase involving Bond's subaquatic Lotus Esprit. There are undoubtedly a handful of times where the director drops the ball - the ending feels somewhat flimsy, as does Gilbert's failure to make anything worthwhile out of Amasova's potentially interesting revenge plot thread against Bond. But, for much of its running time, The Spy Who Loves Me proves itself to be not only Moore's best Bond outing to this point, but also one of the most enjoyable of the whole series.

Gilbert returned for a third and final time to direct Moonraker, a film that has essentially become the whipping boy of Moore's tenure as 007 - if not the entire series - since its release. Moore's fourth film is often summed up disparagingly as "Bond in space", a gross simplification not helped by the fact that the film was hurried into production in place of For Your Eyes Only due to the massive success of both Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind during the second half of the 1970s.

In truth, this interpretation of Moonraker conveniently dismisses the first three quarters of the film, which regularly deliver more perfectly enjoyable Gilbert-style Bond action. The director feels less assured in his balance between the serious and light-hearted elements, and there are definite mistakes in judgement not seen from Gilbert before, such as his choice at one point to dress 007 as a cowboy and play the theme from The Magnificent Seven for seemingly no reason. But there's still plenty that entertains, with several satisfying action sequences, another strong (if less interesting) Bond girl in Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), and a worthy villain in Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale).

Whilst sending Bond into orbit during the closing half an hour perhaps marks the greatest departure from the character's origins, it's hard to deny that the climax isn't both entertaining and well-executed in its own right. The solid action continues, with a laser gun battle between Drax's men and the US military proving particularly enjoyable. Considering Moonraker's central plot idea is undeniably reminiscent of that used in The Spy Who Loved Me (with "the sea" swapped for "outer space"), praising the earlier film whilst picking holes in the later one feels unfair. Moonraker is a less successful film than its predecessor, but not because of its sci-fi-saturated final act.

A shared feature of Gilbert's second and third Bond outings that also deserves recognition is Jaws (Richard Kiel), unquestionably the most memorable henchman to ever go up against 007. Jaws features in some brilliant action sequences across both films, with Kiel believably making the metal-mouthed heavy seem genuinely indestructible. Whilst Gilbert can't resist making Jaws notably more comical in Moonraker, Kiel thankfully ensures the character remains a truly menacing presence for as long as he can, cementing Jaws' position as one of the most iconic characters of the entire series long into the future.

In comparison to where Guy Hamilton had left the series two films earlier, the end of Gilbert's tenure as a Bond director ensured the franchise had fresh buoyancy and energy. He'd also provided a brace of films in which Moore could truly establish the role as his own, positioning the actor in a potentially solid position from which to take Bond out of the 1970s and into the franchise's third decade.


The Spy Who Loved Me

Moonraker


By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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