A View To a Kill, a reappraisal

If there ever were a James Bond movie that suffered from a split personality, it would be A View To a Kill, the 14th entry in the series produced by Eon Productions.

The 1985 007 film is not a favorite of HMSS editors. It was Roger Moore’s seventh, and final, appearance as Bond. A good many HMSS editors never liked Moore to begin with and weren’t about to cut him any slack. The actor was 56 when filming began and he’d celebrate his 57th birthday during production. But upon viewing the movie again, the future Sir Roger is the least of the movie’s problems.

How’s that? Well, Moore soldiers on despite the movie’s wildly uneven tone. Want a serious Bond? He does what the story calls for. Want a jokey Bond? The actor delivers. He gets the blame from fans for the uneven tone but that blame probably belongs elsewhere. Was he too old to play Bond? Easy to say in hindsight, but Moore didn’t hire himself. Perhaps it was a reward for 1983’s Octopussy doing better box office than the rival Never Say Never Again.

The pre-titles sequence, set in Siberia, is a microcosm of what follows. Some moments seem absolutely brilliant, with tension, drama and great stunts. Then the movie abruptly switches to slapstick, with Bond escaping Soviet soldiers, accompanied by a Beach Boys song (without the Beach Boys performing it). Then, we’re back to tense excitement as Bond gets out of his precarious situation followed by a light, if cheesy, moment.

The rest of the movie more or less follows this pattern. We get some yuks as Bond and Sir Godfrey Tibbett (Patrick Macnee) pose a vapid rich guy and his valet to infiltrate a horse auction held by villain Max Zorin (Christopher Walken). When Sir Godfrey ends up as the movie’s sacrifical lamb, Bond appears genuinely upset and PO’d with Zorin, looking like he really wants to kill the bad guy. Later, Bond and heroine Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) narrowly escape a Zorin deathtrap it’s appropriately tense (though Roberts’s screaming can be annoying). That’s followed up by a bad joke that breaks the fourth wall which also implies Stacey and a San Fancisco police captain know all about the famous James Bond. “Yeah and I’m Dick Tracy and you’re still under arrest!” the police captain says. And so on.

It’s almost as if director John Glen, with his third consecutive 007 outing, decided to, at times, channel Jules White, who helmed many of the classic short films of The Three Stooges. But at others, the movie takes on a very dark tone. One example: when Zorin and right-hand man Scarpine (Patrick Bauchau) gun down a work crew the villain has hired as part of his plot. It’s as if Glen, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson and screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Wilson couldn’t quite find the right mix of drama and humor so they opted to go extremes both ways.

Walken, as Zorin, also reflects the odd back-and-forth tone. At times, he seems like a true psychopath, at others as if he knows it’s a big joke and he’s playing along. Walken is a wonderful actor. Still, we’re also told that Zorin is French and speaks five languages without an accent. Then it’s revealed he’s the result of a genetic experiment held in a German concentration camp during World War II. Yet, we only hear Zorin speak in English with a Brooklyn accent. “MO-ah! Mo-ah POW-ah!” he proclaims after Bond has enared Zorin’s blimp at the Golden Gate Bridge in the film’s climax.

John Barry is the one member of the creative team who performs at his best. The composer, scoring consecutive 007 films for the first time since 1969 and 1971 (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever), does his best to elevate the proceedings and succeeds. Even when action sequences get too jokey at times, his music keeps things moving. If you ever hear somebody claim say that underscore in a movie doesn’t matter, A View To a Kill is Exhibit A that the opposite is true.

The movie was an end of an era. Besides Moore’s final 007 appearance, it was also the finale for Lois Maxwell as Miss Moneypenny and she’s fine. Desmond Llewelyn’s Q reports for duty. In one shot in the final scene, he goes a bit over the top with a leering expression and askew headset, but that’s what his director presumably wanted. (“Desmond, as you do this scene, I want you to look like Curly Howard seeing a naked beautiful woman for the first time!”)

Finally, there’s an in-joke for those familiar with the business side of 007. Bond, desperately holding onto a rope attached to a blimp, has his manhood imperiled by the top of the Transamerica Building in San Francisco. That structure was home to the conglomerate that formerly owned United Artists, the studio that released Bond films. Transamerica dumped UA, selling it to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after the movie Heaven’s Gate bombed at the box office.

With A View To a Kill, there are times it’s as if a classic James Bond movie is fighting to get out. There are flashes here and there, but the film never escapes its wildly inconsistent tone. Life’s that way sometimes. Mo-ah POW-ah, indeed.

The Avengers: a half century of John Steed & Co.

Better late than never, we felt we should note this was the 50th anniversary of The Avengers, in which the English gentleman agent John Steed and his various associates battled forces that threatened the U.K.

Actually, when the show began in January 1961, Patrick Macnee, who played Steed, had second billing and Steed wasn’t yet in gentleman agent mode. Receiving top billing was Ian Hendry as Dr. David Keel. The show began with Keel’s financee being murdered. The mysterious Steed pops up and two proceed to avenge the death of the financee.

For the second season, Dr. Keel was gone and Macnee was now the clear star. Eventually, he’d partner with Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman), who favored leather clothing and was skilled at judo. Blackman went off to play Pussy Galore in 1964’s Goldfinger. Below, Cathy Gale tells Steed goodbye and the dialogue provides a hint of Blackman’s upcoming 007 role:

Diana Rigg took Blackman’s place as yet another “talented amateur,” Emma Peel. At this point, the U.S. television network ABC to import the U.K. series and the Steed-Peel combo clicked with American audiences. Also, the show apparently got a bigger budget. Production switched from videotape to film, freeing up the crew to shoot sequences outdoors and not just be confined to a studio. The original John Danworkth theme was discarded and a snappier theme, composed by Laurie Johnson, was recorded.

Macnee and Rigg had an appealing chemistry, helped along by scripts from the likes of Brian Clemens and Philip Levene. David McDaniel, who penned some of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. tie-in paperback novels worked Steed and Mrs. Peel into The Rainbow Affair, though the duo aren’t named.

However, after a couple of seasons, bigger things beckoned for Rigg. She, like her predecessor, would be the female lead in a James Bond movie, 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Another replacement, Tara King (Linda Thorson) rounded out the original show.

It’s hard to keep a good agent down. Macnee’s Steed had a return engagement in the 1970s in The New Avengers, this time with two partners, Gareth Hunt’s Mike Gambit (to take over some of the rough stuff from Steed) and Joanna Lumley as Purdey. The show was overseen by Clemens and Albert Fennell, who had produced the last few seasons of the original show. Laurie Johnson returned, composing a new theme. The New Avengers was shown by CBS in the U.S. as part of The CBS Late Movie. The New Avengers only lasted two seasons, though Diana Rigg did make a cameo as Mrs. Peel.

The Avengers was also something of a farm team for Eon Productions. Besides Blackman and Rigg, various character actors from the show got cast in Bond movies, such as Philip Locke (Vargas in Thunderball), Julian Glover (Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only) and James Villiers (Bill Tanner in For Your Eyes Only). And members of The Avengers crew, such as director of photography Alan Hume and art director Harry Pottle would get hired to work on Bond movies. Thus, it was appropriate that Macnee finally be cast in a 007 film, 1985’s A View To a Kill.

Inevitably, The Avengers would be considered for a feature film. The result was the uneven 1998 namesake film with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman facing off against a villain played by Sean Connery. Macnee got a small voice-only cameo. Today, the original series remains fondly remembered while the film….well, the less said, the better.

Happy 50th, Mr. Steed. Here’s a look at the different main titles of The Avengers and The New Avengers:

Michael Gough, Batman’s Alfred and Avengers villain, dies

Character actor Michael Gough died April 17 at the age of 94. Most obituaries, LIKE THIS ONE IN THE U.K. NEWSPAPER THE GUARDIAN lead with how he played Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s trusted aide, in four movies from 1989 to 1997. But he also holds a spot in spy entertainment.

Gough played the inventor of “The Cybernauts,” one of the best episodes of The Avengers TV series, starring Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg. It was written by Philip Levene, one of the best scribes for that series, and it inspired a sequel the following season (with Peter Cushing playing the brother of Gough’s character) and an episode of the 1970s series The New Avengers.

Here’s a look at the original episode. Gough shows up just before the 5:00 mark. RIP, Mr. Gough.

UPDATE: We couldn’t resist. Here’s the conclusion. Counting Macnee and Rigg, there are at least six people in either the cast or crew who have James Bond movie credits in this particular episode:

The brains behind The Avengers awarded with the OBE

Brian Clemens, a writer and producer on The Avengers, recently received an Order of the British Empire.

According to thisTHIS STORY on the BBC’s Web site:

The main creative driving force behind The Avengers, The Professionals and many other successful television series and films has been appointed OBE.

Brian Clemens, who lives near Ampthill, Bedfordshire, has been honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for services to broadcasting and drama.

Clemens wrote 32 episodes of The Avengers and another 17 of its 1970s revival, The New Avvengers, according tohis profile on IMDB.com.

Here’s the main titles to one of the episodes of The Avengers written by Clemens (b. 1931). It’s from the first season with Diana Rigg co-starring with Patrick Macnee. During this particular season Clemens was associate producer of the show. In the first color season, he’d get promoted to producer, a post he (along with Albert Fennell) held through the rest of the series. The pair would also produce the revival series.

We also give a shoutout to Wes Britton, who alerted us to Clemens getting the OBE.

UPDATE: Digging a little further back, here’s an opening and closing from earlier when Macnee co-starred with Honor Blackman on The Avengers. This episode was also written by Clemens.

1997: a 1960s spy reunion with Culp, Vaughn,Macnee and Bain

The Dick Van Dyke series Diagnosis Murder often engaged in “stunt casting,” in which the producers would deliberately cast actors famous for certain roles in the past and put them in a story that evoked their iconic images.

In November 1997, CBS aired an episode of the series called “Discards,” which featured the stars of 1960s spy shows. Most of the screen time went to Robert Culp, who played the father of a series regular. Besides Culp (I Spy), Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Patrick Macnee (The Avengers) were on hand, playing spy types. What’s more, Barbara Bain was there actually reprising her Cinnamon Carter role from Mission: Impossible. On top of that, Phil Morris, the son of M:I’s Greg Morris appeared.

Here are some clips:

1967 Emmys: The Apex of ’60s Spy Television

The 1960s were a special time for spy television. And the era may have reached its apex with the 1967 Emmy Awards. Imagine a cocktail party where Cinammon Carter, Rollin Hand, John Steed, Emma Peel, Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 attended.

Well, the Emmys that year had such a feel. Barbara Bain of Mission: Impossible beat out Diana Rigg and Barbara Stanwyck for best dramatic actress. Bain and her then-husband Martin Landau presented the comedy writing award, which was picked up by Get Smart’s Buck Henry and Leonard B. Stern. Meanwhile, M:I creator/executive producer Bruce Geller collected one for his script to the show’s pilot, beating out a Robert Culp script for I Spy. Heck, even the Monkees show up. Take a look: