James Bond in the ’70s: Moonraker

Following last week’s article on The Spy Who Loved Me, Jim Brymer returns with a look at another James Bond film from the 1970s that co-starred Richard Kiel as Jaws, the far-out adventure Moonraker:

Moonraker was the first Bond movie I actually had the opportunity to see in a theater, and started a tradition that would continue for the next 20+ years, in which I would eagerly go to the next installment in the franchise’s run.

In the movie’s opening sequence, a U.S. space shuttle is hijacked while being transported under loan to the United Kingdom.  England is very distraught, as is the United States, and M calls Bond back from his current mission. He narrowly escapes free fall without a parachute, disposing of one bad guy and sending Jaws to a new career as a circus clown.

The Bond movie theme was sung by Shirley Bassey (her third try at the job).  Although the song is not all that bad itself, I didn’t particularly like it.  I probably would have rated it in the high teens or low 20’s on my list.  However, in a saving grace for the tune, the end credits feature a disco-themed version of the song.  This jacked the theme up a few notches to it’s ranking stated above.  (What can I say, I liked disco and still do…)

Moonraker tried to cash in on the then current space wave started by the release of Star Wars. Of course, there isn’t any futuristic spaceships or light sabers or unfathomable Force here.  But there are a few laser guns, and of course, there is a major scene on a space station (launched by villain Drax), and we are introduced into what was then pretty cutting edge technology with some space shuttles.

Bond is sent as an emissary to Drax’s headquarters to find out why there was no wreckage of the stolen space shuttle among the wreckage of the plane.  This particular movie is one of the few in which Bond does not go undercover as someone else, only to later be discovered to be “James Bond”.  Bond is not necessarily overt in his secret agent guise, but he does represent himself by his real name to Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) from the outset.  He also is introduced to a female doctor, Dr. Goodhead (who comes up with these slightly or even overtly prurient names?)  This being 1979  at the time, and Bond not being quite as cosmopolitan in his view of women in general, it comes as a surprise that the doctor is not male.

Of course, Drax, for his part, doesn’t have to wait until the dramatic mid-point discovery that Bond is a secret agent either.  He sends his #1 henchman, Chang (Toshiro Suga), to see that some unfortunate accident befalls Bond.  This one involving a G-force machine which Chang manipulates so it will kill Bond.  (Of course, Chang is unsuccessful, but at least he has another chance later in the movie).   Bond leaves from there on his own two feet and, with the assistance of one of the secondary Bond women in this outing, Corinne (Corinne Clery), finds blueprints in Drax’s safe for glass vials which leads him to Rio De Janeiro.

In Rio several things happen.  One:  Bond finds a secret lab where he quite by accident discovers the scientists are working on a potion that becomes a gas, but it only kills humans (the scientists are the victims in this accident, not Bond).  It does not, however, kill the mice or the plants in the room, so it is being designed for nefarious purposes (but you already knew that, didn’t you?)  Second, Chang makes a second attempt on Bond, but is dispatched himself instead.  When Drax gets the bad news, he has to hire a new assassin.  (Guess who?)

In the process of Jaws’ attempts to dispatch Bond, he is involved in a crash of a cable car into a mountain (which musses up Jaws’ clothes) and goes over a waterfall in a speedboat (which gets his clothes wet).  This continues the legend of indestructibility of Bond’s nemesis.  But in the process Jaws meets a short, buck-toothed, glasses wearing, pig-tailed blonde and it’s love at first sight.

Bond and Dr. Goodhead are reunited, but not for long, if Drax has his way.  He puts them in a chamber below a launching space shuttle.  But Bond and Goodhead are not really in the mood for barbeque , so they escape.  They manage to find their way into piloting one of the remaining space shuttles.  And Drax’s real plan becomes clear. :He is taking a selected bunch of superior physical and mental young humans and plans to launch his deadly gas.

BTW, in case you were wondering about Jaws and his girlfriend, when he hears about Drax’s plans to eliminate undesirables from his heavenly cadre, Jaws revolts to Bond’s side.  Left on the space station after helping Bond, the section he and his girlfriend are in breaks off and they go hurtling through space.  Spoiler Alert!: Now you didn’t REALLY think something like free fall through the Earth’s atmosphere would really destroy Jaws, now did you?  You can hear a mention they found a piece of the wreckage with two survivors at the end of the movie.

I’m not sure I’d rank Michael Lonsdale’s portrayal of Hugo Drax as being very high if I were ranking Bond villains.  He just doesn’t have the personality.  He doesn’t even deliver the best Bond Villain line with much more menace than a snapping turtle in a drug-induced coma.  Without even saying anything for most of two movies, Kiel’s Jaws has more charisma.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.