The Online Magazine
of Motion Picture
and Television
Music Appreciation
Film Score Monthly Subscribe Now!
film score daily 

BOND BACK IN ACTION AGAIN

PART TWO: GROWING UP WITH BOND (AND EVEN MORE YOU ALREADY KNEW ABOUT 007)

By Scott Bettencourt

LIVE AND LET DIE was the first James Bond film I actually saw in its original run (though by the time I caught up with it, it had gained a second feature -- Michael Winner's Scorpio, which I didn't stay around to watch). Live and Let Die was a transitional Bond in many ways -- the most obvious was the casting of Roger Moore to replace Sean Connery, who had of course said "Never again" yet again. The film was made at a deliberately smaller scale than the later Connery Bonds, and was the first since Goldfinger to be shot in the standard 1x1.85 aspect ratio instead of anamorphic widescreen. The story bore only a small resemblance to Fleming's original novel, the second book in the series (the gruesome plight of Felix Leiter was dropped entirely, but eventually filmed as a pivotal plotline in Licence to Kill), but though the blaxploitation elements were a trendy choice (Shaft had been released two years earlier), the smaller scale and grittier setting of the Harlem sequences gave the film a more Fleming-like quality. Moore was a competent but unexciting Bond -- anyone would suffer in comparison with Connery (Lazenby certainly did), and despite the film's gritty trappings his casting helped take the series in a blander direction. Syd Cain provided a nice Ken Adam-ish design for the villain's underground lair, Maurice Binder's title sequence (featuring African-American women and blazing skulls) was one of his best, and the film was full of impressive stunts, though the action scenes resembled more the stunt-oriented spectacle of Diamonds Are Forever than the intensity of OHMSS's thrilling setpieces. Jane Seymour was one of the most appealing of Bond girls (and one of the most talented actresses in the series), and Yaphet Kotto underplayed entertainingly as Kananga (the only central villain in the series played by a black actor) while managing to make the scene where he realizes Seymour's betrayal genuinely tense (he's practically the only heartbroken villain in the Bond films).

Live and Let Die was the first Bond film in which John Barry had no involvement whatsoever, and though George Martin's score is one of the least Barry-ish of the non-Barry Bonds, it is also arguably the most satisfying. Martin's score is very much of its era, but that funky sound of early '70s movies has aged surprisingly well. The famous Paul & Linda McCartney theme song is a deserved classic, and overall the score, while lacking the subtle menace of Barry's work, gives the film a lot of energy and excitement. The original soundtrack LP was a lot of fun, but the expanded CD added some vital pieces, including the Barry-ish lead-in to the pre-credits sequence and a peppy theme first heard as a voodoo shop source cue and later used as an action theme.


THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is one of the most frequently derided films in the series, and I think a bit unfairly. It does continue the trend towards goofiness that surfaced in Diamonds and LALD, with a ditsy female lead (Britt Ekland as bumbling agent Mary Goodnight) and an unwelcome reappearance by LALD's cartoonish Southern sheriff, J.W. Pepper (reliable character Clifton James), but the film has an effectively low-key mood, with some gorgeous Far East locations, fine cinematography (Bond perennial Ted Moore shared the DP credit with Oswald Morris, whose resume includes Lolita, Sleuth, Equus, and an Oscar for Fiddler on the Roof), terrific production design by former Ken Adam associate Peter Murton (including a striking tilted ocean liner/headquarters set), and some truly dazzling car stunts. Christopher Lee was starting to break into A-list international cinema (The Three Musketeers was released the same year) and made an appealingly understated and relaxed Scaramanga.

Like the film itself, John Barry's score is underrated, especially its memorable title song. Lulu may not be Shirley Bassey (and she was reportedly under the weather when recording the number), but she gives it her all, and the combination of her spirited rendition, Barry's strong melody, and the energetic orchestrations make it one of the liveliest of all James Bond songs. Barry makes excellent use of his main theme in the score, managing to exploit it as rousing action scoring and also as lush, slow tempo accompaniment for the final act's gorgeous location sequences. "Hip's Trip" is a typically atmospheric stand-alone cue, while Barry's playful theme for the henchman Nick Nack (Herve Villechaize) is, unfortunately, completely missing from the film's soundtrack LP/CD, as is the nerve jangling scoring for the film's most suspenseful scene, where Bond is nearly given a new orifice by Scaramanga's solar powered ray.


Golden Gun proved to be the last Bond film on which Harry Saltzman served as a producer (among his non-Bond credits are the terrific Harry Palmer trilogy), with Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli becoming the sole producer. Golden Gun's weak reputation inspired Broccoli to make a concerted effort to upgrade the Bond series, and it was a full two and a half years between the release of Golden Gun and THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (previously there was usually only a year-to-18-months between Bonds). Spy was the first Bond film that was in no way based on its source novel (which was itself much more of a romantic thriller than a spy novel), though it would be hard to call Spy's scenario "original," since it mostly takes the big-spaceship-devouring-little-spaceships plot from You Only Live Twice and changes it to big-boat-devours-submarines (long before the film came out, I saw Roger Moore announce the plotline on a talk show as if it was the height of originality, and I thought "Is he kidding?"). The film was one of the biggest hits of the summer (this was the summer of Star Wars, so it's no surprise that it wasn't the biggest hit), earned three Oscar nominations (for Art Direction, Song, and Score) and earned largely excellent reviews. And even to this day, it's commonly regarded as one of the best Bonds.

Except by me. Spy has long been one of my least favorite Bond films -- I much prefer the maligned Moore Bonds like Golden Gun and View to a Kill. One of the few pans I read of the film -- possibly in Cinefantastique -- described Spy as seeming like as a Bond film made by people who'd never actually seen a Bond film but had one described to them by a very excited moviegoer. Spy has always felt wrong to me -- certainly it's lavish and well made, and follows the Bond formula closely (the only thing lacking is the so-called "sacrificial lamb" -- the sympathetic character, often the villain's girlfriend, who helps Bond and gets killed for his/her trouble), but for me, Spy is one of the least "cool" of the Bonds -- "cool" in the sense of balancing wit and tension. Connery could make a Bond film cool with just his presence; Moore, though charming and competent, was pretty much never cool. He came across a little bit cooler in LALD and Golden Gun, perhaps because the smaller scale of the stories gave the films a more Fleming-like feeling. But Spy is the first Bond film based entirely on other Bond movies, and unsurprisingly feels like second generation Bond. Curt Jurgens makes a singularly dull villain; Richard Kiel's Jaws has his moments, both in the horror-film style menace of his murder scenes and in his droll recovery from various defeats, but naming a villain after a movie from two summers earlier is a cheesy choice which instantly dates the film. Maurice Binder's titles, though slick, disappointingly favored goofiness over eroticism (with Moore himself featured prominently in the sequence). The film's one true saving grace is Ken Adam's extraordinary production design. In interviews, Adam has admitted to having a creative crisis of faith after his experience working with Kubrick on Barry Lyndon (the film which ultimately earned Adam his much deserved first Oscar), and said that Spy was the project where he truly felt confident and inspired again, and his sets are consistently dazzling and imaginative. (George Lucas reportedly found them superior to John Barry's work on the first Star Wars, and recommended Adam to director Phil Kaufman for the unmade first Star Trek film; some of Adam's Trek sketches have since been published.)

Bizarrely, Marvin Hamlisch's score for Spy is the only Bond score to receive an Oscar nomination (though there's always the slight chance that David Arnold's Casino Royale will change that), as it is one of the least inspired scores in the entire series. Hamlisch has demonstrated his genuine scoring talent in more serious films like The Swimmer and Sophie's Choice, but in Spy he seems to be just going through the motions. His main title song, "Nobody Does it Better," was one of the biggest hits of the series and an Oscar nominee, but despite its popularity it's a singularly bland song. His main piece of action music, "Bond 77," is largely just the James Bond theme with a disco beat, the pivotal cue "The Tanker" is itself mostly a reworking of the Bond theme, and for one suspense set piece he merely reorchestrates Barry's stalking music from From Russia with Love. The score is adequate but stylistically all over the place, and only adds to the overall un-Bondian feeling of the film. The soundtrack LP didn't help, favoring source cues, variations of the love theme and even material not heard in the film over actual score cues, and unfortunately has never been expanded for CD (which would only improve it).


All of the early Bond films ended with the title "JAMES BOND WILL RETURN INÓ followed by the title of the next film, and Spy ended with a promise that the next film would be For Your Eyes Only, but the success of Star Wars was likely the factor in inspiring Broccoli to change the order of Bond films and make MOONRAKER next (though the fact that Moonraker was the only unfilmed Bond novel -- For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy, From a View to a Kill and The Living Daylights are all short stories -- may also have been a factor). Moonraker was the most expensive Bond yet and also the highest grossing, but at the time and ever since it's been one of the most maligned, and it suffers from many of the same problems as Spy. Despite first-rate performances in everything from The Day of the Jackal to Munich, Michel Lonsdale proved an exceptionally dull Bond villain, and the return of Jaws was most unwelcome, especially as he becomes a good guy (complete with pig-tailed love interest) by the end of the film. The film is even goofier and broader than Spy (and features a really disconcerting amount of product placement, as well as a notorious shot of a winking pigeon during the Venice chase), but at least the storyline is quasi-original, and taking Bond into outer space seemed an inevitable (if extremely un-Fleming-ish) step.

John Barry returned to the series and overall the music is a big improvement over Hamlisch's Spy score, though the title song (despite a Shirley Bassey performance) is one of Barry's weakest in the series. Barry's tempi were slower than usual (including an unusually relaxed version of the 007 theme) but his suspense cues (such as the opening shuttle hijacking and "Bond Smells a Rat") were as effective as ever, and his distinctive outer space music, while not as cool as his space cues for Twice and Diamonds, took the series musically in a new direction (it never fails to amaze me how Barry managed to write eleven distinctly different scores for one series). The soundtrack LP/CD featured a well chosen selection, though cues like the pre-credits hijacking and the flight to Drax's estate are still missed.


A recurring trend in the Bond series is for the filmmakers to follow an over-the-top Bond with an attempt to get the series back to its smaller scale, Fleming roots. You Only Live Twice was followed by On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Die Another Day was followed by Casino Royale, and Moonraker begat FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, whose espionage-centered plotline was actually based on Fleming short stories, including the title story and "Risico." John Glen followed in the footsteps of Peter Hunt as a Bond-editor-turned-director and did a workmanlike job, and while the film lacked the first-time director gimmicky of OHMSS it also lacked OHMSS's emotional force (after all, you can't have Bond get married in every film). The action scenes were expertly staged (though the pre-credits sequence is marred by perhaps the worst line in the entire Bond series -- as Bond is about to dispose of the unnamed-but-clearly-Blofeld-villain, the nemesis yells "I'll do you a deal...I'll buy you a delicatessen in stainless steel!," a line which makes just as little sense 25 years later). Carole Bouquet was a suitably gorgeous Bond girl (while sacrificial lamb Cassandra Harris was the then-wife of future Bond Pierce Brosnan, before dying of cancer in 1991), Topol was a charming Kerim Bey-figure, and Charles Dance made a fleeting appearance as a henchman.

Through the seventies and early eighties, Barry somehow ended up scoring only every second Bond film, and Bill Conti was reportedly hired for FYEO at Barry's suggestion. The highlight of Conti's contribution was the title song, performed onscreen by Sheena Easton in what may be the finest of Maurice Binder's Bond title sequences, and though the song may lack the Bondian edge of Barry's best songs, it's a first rate pop ballad and far superior to the dull innuendo of "Nobody Does It Better." Conti's score is uneven -- like Hamlisch's Spy, it's an awkward mix of styles -- and though his suspense music is decent, his action cues haven't aged well. That's not quite accurate -- they may actually sound better today than they did then, due to the effect of '80s nostalgia, but they distinctly lack the coolness and genuine excitement of the best Barry set pieces. The original soundtrack LP received a welcome augmentation when Ryko released it on CD, adding the bulk of the previously unreleased cues in a supplemental section, and though it's still far from a great Bond score, it's nice to have it all.


OCTOPUSSY followed in the footsteps of For Your Eyes Only by being based on elements of Fleming stories (and taking its much-mocked title from a Fleming/Bond collection), though it took a more conventionally big-scaled approach to Bond than did FYEO. A major new participant was co-writer George MacDonald Fraser, best known for his Flashman novels and his wonderful scripts for Richard Lester's Musketeers films, and he may have contributed some of the story's more colorful elements. Like most of the Moore Bonds, the film is a mixed bag, with excellent production value and terrific action scenes, but with a disappointingly bland heroine (Maud Adams, who had been seen to better effect as the sacrificial lamb in Golden Gun) and villain (Louis Jourdan, charming and relaxed but no threat whatsoever). The film took the dangerous step of actually putting Bond in clown makeup-and-costume for one scene but, shockingly, this sequence was actually clever and suspenseful (but still doesn't make up for the dispiriting image from earlier in the film of Bond swinging through the jungle accompanied by a Tarzan yell).

Octopussy featured the first Barry/Bond score since Moonraker in 1979 and it was a welcome return to the series for the composer. Though the main title song, "All Time High," was a disappointment, overall his music was elegant and effective, with a pleasingly exotic flavor befitting the India setting (this was one of the few later Bonds which featured a strong central setting rather than jetting gratuitously around the globe). The music never succumbed to the occasional goofiness of the film, and Barry's "Chase Bomb" theme was a welcome cousin to his classic safecracking music from OHMSS. The score was the first of the Bonds to receive a simultaneous (though poorly distributed) CD release, and the album was an excellent selection of major cues which has never been expanded.


1983 was the first year since 1967 to see the release of two James Bond films. The rights to the Thunderball source material were not in Broccoli's hands, and Broccoli thus essentially lost custody of Blofeld (explaining the disposal of a Blofeld lookalike in the opening of For Your Eyes Only), but apparently the only way the Thunderball rights holders could make their own Bond film would be to do a faithful remake of Thunderball, so it was particularly odd to see Sean Connery making his welcome return to his most popular characxter, after a 12-year gap, in a remake of a Bond story he'd already filmed. Connery's wife supplied the pleasingly Fleming-esque title NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, but the title was one of the few satisfying elements of the project.

Admmittedly, the film was extremely well mounted, with lush cinematography by Douglas Slocombe (bookended in his career by the first and second Indy films) and an absurdly impressive cast -- Kim Basinger (as lovely as any Broccoli Bond girl) as Domino, Klaus Maria Brandeuer (charming and quirky, but given nothing memorable to do) as Largo, Barbara Carrera (entertainingly over-the-top, by far the liveliest thing in the film) as Fatima Blush (a reworked version of Lucianna Paluzzi's Fiona), Bernie Casey (in a foreshadowing of Casino Royale) as a black Felix Leiter, Max Von Sydow (!) as Blofeld, Edward Fox as M, Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling agent, and the great Alec McCowen, ridiculously overqualified as the film's Q character, "Algy the Armorer." Connery is Connery, and looks great but it's another one of his coasting Bond performances, as if he'd already regretted cashing the check by the time filming started. But despite all the talent involved, the film in no way improves on Thunderball and is in fact far less memorable. Worst of all, it's dull, with the finale proving the dullest part of all. It's strange to think that director Irvin Kershner would follow the best Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, with the worst Bond and the worst RoboCop (RoboCop 2).

Michel Legrand was an intriguing choice to score the film, like Barry an eclectic composer with a jazz background, but while his title song is a cheesy guilty pleasure, the rest of the score is a disappointment. Legrand works in his own style and doesn't try to copy Barry's, and while he strives for sophistication, the music adds little tension or excitement to the film. Unlike every other Bond film, there was no U.S. soundtrack at the time of the film's release, though a Japanese import LP did appear, followed years later by an expanded score CD from Silva.


The end of Octopussy advertised the next Bond as From a View to a Kill, in keeping with the title of Fleming's story (of which virtually nothing was retained for the film), but by the time it was released it dropped the "From" and became simply A VIEW TO A KILL. The resulting film, Moore's final Bond, is one of the most derided of the Bonds (right up there with Moonraker), and though it suffers from Moore-era goofiness (especially in the San Francisco fire truck chase) and Tanya Roberts' dull Bond girl, the film has many genuine pleasures, including outstanding stunt sequences (especially the opening ski chase, marred but not ruined by the use of "California Girls" on the soundtrack, and a Paris car chase), a plot which transposes Goldfinger's scheme to Silicon Valley, and a pair of genuinely colorful (no pun intended) villains in Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, who, unlike Curt Jurgens, Michel Lonsdale and Louis Jourdan, demonstrate colorful personalities and even seem as if they could be actually challenging physical opponents for Bond. The climactic fight involving a blimp and the Golden Gate Bridge is appealingly over-the-top, and a particular treat for me as a child of the San Francisco Bay Area.

For the first time since 1971, John Barry was available to write consecutive Bond scores, and A View to a Kill, while not one of his most memorable scores, was still a real treat, with a lively title song performed and co-written by early MTV-heartthrobs Duran Duran (who felt they deserved the sole writing credit on the song) and an action theme that pays homage to the classic OHMSS theme (though the rock guitar is a little disconcerting). The score lacks the exotic flavor of Octopussy (how do you musically characterize San Francisco, short of interpolating the classic Bronislau Kaper song?) but is full of the elegant Barry Sound, with some especially well scored scenes involving Walken and his blimp. The soundtrack LP/CD was a satisfying selection from the score, yet to be expanded.


With View, Moore had played Bond seven times, putting him even with Connery, and he wisely left the series (he was starting to seem distractingly middle aged, especially when paired with Lynn-Holly Johnson in For Your Eyes Only; avuncular is the pretty much last thing Bond should be, right up there with cuddly). Timothy Dalton was a promising choice for the role -- he had the right look and an impressive reputation as a serious actor (much more so than any of his predecessors), including major roles in The Lion in Winter and Mary, Queen of Scots. THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS was another attempt to return to the grittier, relatively smaller scale of the Fleming stories, and some of its plotting was taken from the short story of the same name. Dalton was an acceptable Bond and probably could have been a lot better if given the kind of careful grooming that Terence Young gave Connery in the first two Bonds (but then again, there's only one Sean Connery). Living Daylights was highly uneven, with three first-rate action sequences (the Gibraltar pre-credits setpiece, the kitchen fight, and the mid-air fight) and a terrific, Fleming-derived opening act. Unfortunately, the film has one of the worst villains in the series -- a miscast Joe Don Baker (who delivers some of his lines in a cadence worthy of an Ed Wood film) -- and what makes it even worse is that supporting actor Jeroen Krabbe (as a defecting Russian officer) would make a superb Bond villain. The villain's plot (involving arms sales) is dull and hard to follow, and the pacing bogs down severely when the action moves to Afghanistan, but the film had enough good points that it could easily have become the first of a long-running series of Dalton Bonds.

Living Daylights was the eleventh and final Bond film scored by John Barry (since he seems to be in retirement from film scoring, I doubt he'll return for the 22nd Bond film in 2008), and for the first time he composed three original songs for a Bond -- the lively main title "The Living Daylights" (co-composed and performed by MTV prettyboys A-ha, giving it a View to a Kill 2.0 quality), which is also used as action music; the source song "Where Has Everybody Gone," used as an action motif for the assassin Necros (who has a poolside swimsuit scene which portends Daniel Craig's much remarked on beach attire in Casino Royale); and the end title ballad "If There Was a Man," used as the film's love theme (the latter two songs were both performed by Chrissie Hynde). The most distinctive element of Barry's Daylights score is the use of '80s pop-rock elements, which are much better integrated into the score than View to a Kill's electric guitar, and which help give the score some welcome energy to balance out the typically effective Barry suspense packages. Though not one of the most memorable of Barry Bond scores, it was a hugely enjoyable effort and ended his contribution to the series on a satisfying note. The soundtrack LP/CD was later expanded by Ryko in what was the first quasi-complete Bond soundtrack album; the score was also one of the last Barry composed before his late '80s health crisis.


The next Bond, LICENCE TO KILL, was the first Bond film whose title wasn't taken from a Fleming novel or story (though the phrase clearly comes from Fleming -- the original title was Licence Revoked, but it was worried that audiences might be confused by both parts of the title), and like Daylights was an attempt to capture something of the Fleming grittiness, even incorporating the shark-mutilation-of-Felix-Leiter subplot which was omitted from the film version of Live and Let Die, as well as elements of the story "The Hildebrandt Rarity." The film followed on the footsteps of producer Joel Silver's hits Lethal Weapon and Die Hard which were helping to revitalize the action genre,and even included participants from Silver's films including actors Robert Davi (as the drug dealing villain) and Grand Bush. The film was considered one of the most brutally violent in the series, and the set-up was appealingly gritty (Bond's license to kill is revoked as he goes on a revenge mission against the drug lord who killed Leiter's bride and fed Leiter to a shark), but the pacing dragged and the film had some inappropriate goofiness (including Wayne Newton as the Rev. Jim Bakker figure "Joe Butcher"). It was one of the least successful of Bonds in the U.S. (and today may be better remembered for providing an early role for a young, skinny, almost teen heartthrob-ish Benicio Del Toro), and it would be six and a half years until Bond would return to the screen.

As befitting Licence's unofficial status as the Joel Silver Bond movie, the producers hired Lethal Weapon/Die Hard composer Michael Kamen to write the score. Kamen was a natural choice, not only because of coming off of those two action smashes but also because his musical sound showed a strong influence of Barry. Licence to Kill began an unfortunate trend of Bond films featuring songs not written by their score composers (and with the song melodies not incorporated into the scores), which was a little ironic since Kamen ultimately earned two Oscar nominations for his songs for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Don Juan de Marco. The Gladys Knight-performed title song, featuring homages to Goldfinger, was enjoyable enough but a fairly generic Bond song, while the Kamen score, effective in context, was largely forgettable, a blend of typical Kamen action-suspense with some nice cues dominated by solo guitar. The MCA score CD was a disappointment, featuring an adequate but not overwhelming amount of score cues plus too many source pieces.

Though a lesser Bond, Licence to Kill has particular resonance in my life. During the late '80s and early '90s, I was one of Joel Silver's stable of screenwriters, and my first produced screenplay, Action Jackson, owed a large structural debt to my beloved Bonds, from the pre-credits setpiece to the post-main-title scene of the hero receiving his mission from the M figure (police chief Bill Duke) to the sacrificial lamb (Sharon Stone no less, wife of villain Craig T. Nelson) to the assault-on-the-villains-HQ finale (admittedly, at a fraction of the scale of a Bond movie). I worked with Licence villain Robert Davi and composer Kamen on Jackson, and it was a real kick to see them both work on my favorite franchise -- and years later in Tomorrow Never Dies, when Teri Hatcher's plotline bore eerie (but almost certainly coincidental) similarities to Sharon Stone's subplot in Jackson, I had the fleeting, pleasurable thought that I might somehow have influenced the Bond series.


NEXT TIME: The Bond series is rejuvenated! Twice!


Part One of this series can be accessed on the website.

MailBag@filmscoremonthly.com


Past Film Score Daily Articles

Film Score Monthly Home Page
© 1997-2014 Lukas Kendall. All rights reserved.