It’s kind of hard to properly evaluate the Roger Moore years as James Bond as a whole. For comparison, Sean Connery’s time as James Bond peaked in the middle of his run, from movies 2-4. We’ll get to Pierce Brosnan soon, but his stint started off very well, yet each successive movie was weaker than the last. Timothy Dalton’s run could be summed up with – he was great as Bond, but the writing suffered. But with Roger Moore, the quality and tone of his movies went all over the place.
Live and Let Die is a bit more down to earth in some ways, but it also includes fantasy elements – the only Bond movie to do so. It also doesn’t make much sense for a British agent to go after an American criminal organization. Man With The Golden Gun has a fantastic dynamic between Bond and Scaramanga – two very similarly skilled killers who are on the complete opposite end of the moral compass. Yet the movie also features a lot of silly humour that clashes with the more serious plot. The Spy Who Loved Me embraces the sillier tone of the Moore era while also toning it down a bit, and giving us a fantastic cold war thriller plot and a well told love story. Moonraker is an intentional self-parody that banks on the popularity of Star Wars. For Your Eyes Only brings Bond back to its roots of a straight thriller and mostly does it well, but there are times that Moore is clearly uncomfortable with the darker tone. Octopussy doesn’t know what it wants to be – a serious thriller, or a bizarre comedy.
It’s fitting that A View To A Kill continues this trend in a way, keeping the streak alive of tonal whiplash by mostly going back to a straight thriller.
Before I get into the meat of this post, there are a few noteworthy things to talk about. First, this is the final Bond movie to feature Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny, who portrayed the MI6 secretary for all of the first 14 movies in the franchise. As such, I’m going to talk about her interesting career for a moment. First and foremost, she was actually born in my hometown in Canada. During World War II, she ran away from home at the age of 15 to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, a unit formed to release men from combat duties. They acted as secretaries, vehicle drivers and mechanics – basically performing pretty much every non-combat role available. Maxwell personally performed music and dance numbers to help entertain the troops, often appearing alongside legendary Canadian comedy duo, Wane and Shuster.
When they discovered her age during a trip to London England, they discharged her to avoid repartition to Canada. She enrolled at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she became friends with Roger Moore. After graduating, she was in a number of minor rolls, from Shirley Temple’s “That Hagen Girl (1947) to a number of B films. She eventually landed the role of Moneypenny shortly after her husband suffered a heart attack, and she also acted in a number of TV shows in both Britain and Canada. Sadly, her husband never fully recovered from his heart attack, eventually dying in 1973.
Maxwell was first turned down by Dr. No director Terence Young, thinking she “looked like she smelled of soap”, but eventually offered her either the role of M’s secretary, or one of the Bond girls. Feeling uncomfortable with the idea of a revealing scene in the script, she chose the secretary role. In terms of career longevity, that might have been the better choice.
She also appeared in the 1967 spy spoof, Operation Kid Brother, along with Neil Connery (Sean’s brother) and several other actors from the early Bond movies.
During the filming of A View To Kill, producer Albert R. Broccoli pointed out that they were the only two cast and crew members from Dr. No who were still involved in the movies. Maxwell asked that Moneypenny would be killed off, but they re-casted the role instead. After seeing every one of the movies featuring Maxwell as Moneypenny, I can’t help but feel that she acted as an anchor to keep a sense of continuity alive in the series.
After retiring from the role, Maxwell returned to Canada, where she wrote a column for the Toronto Sun for years while also working in the textile industry. She returned to the UK in 1994 to live with her daughter, where she retired. After surgery for bowel cancer in 2001, she moved to Australia to live with her son’s family, where she remained until her death in 2007. Roger Moore, who considered her a friend, said “it’s rather a shock. She was always fun and she was wonderful to be with and was absolutely perfect casting … It was a great pity that, after I moved out of Bond, they didn’t take her to continue in the Timothy Dalton films. I think it was a great disappointment to her that she had not been promoted to play M. She would have been a wonderful M.”
Speaking of which, Roger Moore himself died last year (May, 2017). I’ve hinted at his career in the past, including how he was considered for the original role of Bond, so I won’t get into too much detail here. He lost weight and cut his hair for the role, something he originally didn’t enjoy. After retiring from the Bond role, he didn’t act on screen for five years, before he started appearing in minor roles in movies and on TV. Perhaps his largest movie role was in The Quest, a martial arts film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Throughout his life, he suffered often from kidney stones, which even affected his filming schedule for both Live and Let Die and Moonraker. He also dealt with chickenpox, measles, mumps, double pneumonia and jaundice as a kid, as well as an infection in his foreskin that forced him to undergo a circumcision. As a kid he also needed to remove his appendix, tonsils and adenoids. In 1993, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which was successfully dealt with at the time. In 2003 while performing live on Broadway, he collapsed from a dangerously low heart rate and got fitted with a pacemaker. In 2013, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Soon after, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. During his cancer treatment in 2017, he badly injured his collarbone from a fall. He eventually died at 89 in his Switzerland home, in the presence of his family.
Say what you will about whether you like him or not as Bond, but it’s impressive that he fought through all that and still portrayed James Bond up to the age of 57, and that he lived to be 89 years of age.
Roger Moore, who was knighted in 1999, often described his charitable work as meaning more to him than his acting career. Moore’s also got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in which Jaws actor Richard Kiel attended the ceremony. Moore also received honours from the French government, an honourable doctorate from the University of Hertfordshire, and a Pinewood Studios stage was named after him posthumously.
Anyway, it’s time to talk about A View To A Kill, co-produced by Albert R. Broccoli and his so-in-law, Michael G. Wilson. It’s very closely named after the short story, From A View To A Kill, that the plot is based on. The villain role of psychopathic industrialist Zorin was originally offered to David Bowie, but he turned down the role, not wanting to spend five months watching his stunt double falling off cliffs. They later offered the role to Sting, and finally the one and only Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken is that unique kind of actor who can make even a terrible movie watchable. This movie is no exception to that rule.
Grace Jones plays May Day, the very entertaining henchwoman who seems to possess superhuman strength. Dolph Lundgren also made his debut appearance in a minor role, partly because he was dating Grace Jones at the time. Maud Adams, who portrayed bond girls in both Man With The Golden Gun and A View To A Kill, also cameoed, making her the only Bond Girl actress to appear in three different Bond films.
Duran Duran performs the very 80’s sounding opening song, after bassist John Taylor approached Broccoli himself. Taylor was apparently a life-long Bond fan. The story says that he drunkenly asked “when are you going to get someone decent to do one of your theme songs?” I guess it worked. It happens to be the only bond theme song in history to hit #1 on the billboards.
A View To A Kill was the first Bond movie to premier outside of the UK, first opening in San Francisco. It ended up earning $152 million worldwide, despite suffering mildly negative reception. One of the common criticisms was that Moore had visibly aged, even in the 2 years since filming Octopussy. Not only did he look a bit too old to be playing a secret agent. The Washington Post critic said “Moore isn’t just long in the tooth – he’s got tusks, and what looks like an eye job has given him the pie-eyed blankness of a zombie. He’s not believable anymore in the action sequences.” Sean Connery even declared that Bond should be portrayed by actors in their 30’s. “I’m too old. Roger’s too old, too.” In a 2007 interview, Moore said “I was only about four hundred years too old for the part.”
Moore also stated at the time that A View To A Kill was his least favourite Bond film, and that he was mortified to learn he was older than his female co-star’s mother. Yet despite all of that critical thrashing over Moore’s age, including Moore himself, Maclean’s magazine declared it one of the series’ best entries. “Opening with a breathtaking ski chase in Siberia, A View to a Kill is the fastest Bond picture yet … none of the action prepares the viewer for the heart-stopping climax with Zorin’s dirigible tangled in the cables on top of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.”
As for my own thoughts, I’m kind of in the middle. I like that this movie is trying to be more of a straight thriller than most of the Moore movies. Well, except for a comedic car chase through Paris that’s poorly edited at times. Walken and Kelly are very entertaining as the villains, especially when Walken’s character gets psychotic. Although it’s unfortunate that in Moore’s advanced age, there’s no way he could convincingly fight someone with apparent super strength. So the movie didn’t even try. The plot, while a bit outlandish, is also a lot more straight forward than the confusing Octopussy. And despite Moore’s age, he still puts at least some energy into the role. In fact as much as he clearly looks older, it looks like he was in better physical shape for this movie than he was in Octopussy or even For Your Eyes Only. He gets surprisingly physical in this movie for a 57-year-old.
A View To A Kill is also the first James Bond movie to get an official video game based on it (there was a previous James Bond 007 Atari game). In fact there are two A View To Kill video games, one a collection of three very different levels, made for a variety of game systems. The other a text adventure game released for Apple and DOS. Through the rest of the 80’s and early 90’s they’d make games not only for the Timothy Dalton movies, but a couple of the older movies as well.
Now for the fun part of this blog post – the kill counter.
Bond kills – 5
Other’s kills – 57
Total kill count – 62
Sean Connery’s total kill count – 72
George Lazenby’s total kill count – 5
Roger Moore’s total kill count – 90
Timothy Dalton’s total kill count – 23
A View To A Kill isn’t Moore’s best outing by any means, but I wouldn’t call it his worst either (that title belongs to Octopussy). It’s kind of a middle of the road Bond movie overall. It’s got everything you’d expect from a Bond movie, but besides Christopher Walken’s entertaining performance and the Golden Gate Bridge fight, none of it stands out. I will say this much though – as much as I prefer Sean Connery, I think this is better than Connery’s last outing as bond. It feels like this movie would have worked much better if it was Timothy Dalton’s first outing, instead of Moore’s last.
Since I’ve already covered the Timothy Dalton movies, next up is Pierce Brosnan’s catalogue of James Bond movies, beginning with Goldeneye. After that, it’s Tomorrow Never Dies, the first Bond movie I ever saw in full. Then it’s The World Is Not Enough, followed by … that movie.