An (Under) Appreciation
20th May 2015
Mark Mawston reflects on 'A View To A Kill', reclaiming some of the joy the film brought him from the mid '80s right through to today
By MI6 Staff
There's a general consensus that three films vie for the title of "Best Bond". They are, according to most sources: 1964's "Goldfinger", 1963's "From Russia With Love" and 1969's "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". All are without doubt great films and strangely all feature in my 9 year old daughter's five favourite Bond films, which impresses me no end as she hasn't read the many articles dedicated to this subject that I have over the years. Although I still consider myself a huge Bond fan - and along with MI6's Matt Field I was a Consultant on the 50 years of 007 documentary, "Everything Or Nothing" - I have to say here and now that none of these films feature in my top five; the highest ranked is Majesty's. There's no Skyfall either and I think that Casino Royale is a far better and more accomplished film. No. To 007 purists, however, this perhaps won't be as shocking as one of the films that does feature in my top five: 1985's A View To A Kill. I can picture the many Moore-esque eyebrows being raised as I type.
It's never ceased to amaze me how much bad press this film gets, mostly from podcasts and other internet journalism that write it off because of the "consensus" that it is widely seen by some as one, if not the, weakest entries in the 007 series. Because of my dissenting voice, I thought it only appropriate to help MI6 celebrate the anniversary with a passionate look back at the 1985 bonanza. I'll not fight for why you should give it another chance, but instead explain why I still hold a candle for it after all these years, after so many other more statuesque attractions followed.
First, let's address the key fact why most people find this film low-key and a little slow: Bond himself.
At the age of 57 many, including Roger Moore himself, were saying he was too old for the part. The fact is Roger Moore had never been the "action" Bond - just look at the stunt doubles used in the running scenes in the one Bond film crying out to be remake correctly: "The Man With The Golden Gun". I don't think I'm in a minority here when I say this, along with "Quantum Of Solace", are Bond films I wouldn't miss if I never saw them again. No. Roger was the smooth, subtle, erudite Bond and he exudes all these characteristics in "A View To A Kill. Let's be honest, I would be overjoyed to look like Moore at that age (although its well documented that Sir Roger had a nip and a tuck when he had his famous mole removed between this and the previous film, "Octopussy"). Jokes about Moore's age had been prevalent in the movies before this: for instance, when in 1981's "For Your Eyes Only", Moore's Bond offers to buy young ice skater Bibi Dahl an icecream, rejecting her more amorous advances. This was based on the true fact that Moore found out he was closer in age to the actresses Mother than hers. As ever, Roger was his own greatest critic, even when it wasn't needed, once telling TV host Terry Wogan that the British press were obsessed with age by giving the host a faux TV commentary of his arrival at the premier of that film later that week "Roger Moore, 53, arrives in his 7 year old Bentley...".
The key fact is that, like Dr. Who, it's the first actor you see portraying the character that becomes the one you think of as your Bond. Although I think that Connery (like the publicity for "You Only Live Twice" pronounced) IS James Bond, Moore is my favourite. It's like your favourite albums; you know that others by the same artist are better but they are not necessarily your favourite! Although my daughter has taste beyond her years, her favourite Bond is Roger, largely because "Moonraker" was the first film I let her watch, as most fans will probably do with their kids. It's the safe option. Or is it? Allow me a little aside.
Like "A View", "Moonraker" is not widely liked. Some might go as far as to say that "Moonraker" is the worst Bond offering. This is something I've always denied. In the way one should never be a music snob, one should never just agree with others that something is as bad as everyone else in the group seems to think it is. If you're in a pub and put a case forward, most will reluctantly start to see you're point - depending on how much you've drunk, obviously! The first hour of "Moonraker" (before the infamous Bondola scene) is simply wonderful, and, just like AVTAK, has many great "Bondian" or "Fleming" moments, such as one of the most beautifully shot scenes in a Bond film: the Dobermans pursuit of Corrine DuFour through the misty French forest. It also has one of the key Moore "Bond Moments", when Moore's Bond looks physically shaken when leaving the Centrifuge Trainer and instead of a flippant quip, simply shrugs off the help of Holly Goodhead. The silence says everything. This, along with Moore's kicking of Locque's car from the cliff in "For Your Eyes Only", the seriousness with which Moore carried himself dressed as a Clown in "Octopussy", and the response on learning of Tibbett's death in the '85 film show the darker, harder side of Moore's Bond.
It's well documented that "A View" is Roger Moore's least favourite Bond film. He thought the film was too violent (and he must have been horrified to see "Licence To Kill" or "Casino Royale"). He also added that he did not have the best of relationships with his leading ladies. This film was also the end to an era, with Moore's RADA classmate, Louis Maxwell's Miss Moneypenny, finally donning her best hat to go off to go to the races. This is old school Bond that, even at the time, seemed to be so. It was the last hurrah for so many of the team that had entertained us through the '70s and had kept the Bond flag flying.
Without them - specifically Roger Moore - who fitted that decade's safari suit and loafers so perfectly, the series would have faded like that decade's penchant in denim. I think "A View To A Kill" was like going to see the final concert tour of your favourite singer; there's plenty of new stuff to see and hear but all the greatest hits are present and correct, even if the running order has changed. This is how I initially felt about this film after being so disappointed by the previous official film "Octopussy" and its lesser rival that was "Never Say Never Again". These were released at the height of my Bond obsession in 1983 and although I looked for redeeming qualities in duelling "The Battle Of The Bonds", I failed to see many, bar the climax, in "Octopussy" and none at all, bar a couple of Connery lines, in "Never Say Never Again".
By contrast, "A View to A Kill" reaffirmed why I loved this series of films and I think that this is the key factor as to why I hold it so dear. Going to a Bond film was like seeing a favourite uncle, and in the case of the transition from "Octopussy" to "A View", I felt him fit and well again after a brief health scare. Even though the '80s meant you saw Bond films more infrequently than you'd like, the way they reminded you of your childhood and made you laugh and feel happy was tangible. It always felt as though no time had passed at all, just picking up where you left off. That's what makes a great relationship and, in this case, also makes for a great ongoing film series that ages as well as you care to.
Beyond my personal attachment to the film, Christopher Walken's Zorin is great, the youngest villain at that point in the series, which really showed how the world was changing, long before Ben Wishaw's Q in "Skyfall". Zorin was a villain who knew modern technologies would be more important than gold and he was just as much of a geek as he was a creep. Walken portrayed both sides wonderfully. Until "Skyfall", Walken was the only Bond villain to have been awarded an Oscar and EON wasted no time in letting this be known. Part of me however still wishes that David Bowie had accepted the role as his turn in Tony Scott's "The Hunger" had demonstrated his acting abilities with real depth and menace. Then again, if he had, we wouldn't have him as The Goblin King in "Labyrinth" and that just wouldn't do - especially in our household where the film is on constant rotation.
Despite many dismissing her for her lack of acting experience, I really like Tanya Roberts as Stacy Sutton, who's blatant promotion of her gravity defying bosom's in loose fitting dresses seems to be mirrored in the side on shots of Zorin's Air blimp in the films climax. She's very much of the time - and that's probably why I liked her so much. The scene where she walks in to the mine in a figure hugging overall and Moore quips, "couldn't you find one that fits?" sums up the fun to be had in this film. Roberts, Alison Doody as the wonderfully named Jenny Flex (put the two words together and look up the term) and Fiona Fullerton having her Tchaikovsky tickled were brilliant as far as I was concerned at the time ...and still hold up today.
Yet, neither Pola Ivanova, Jenny Flex or Stacy Sutton was the key woman in this film. That honour belonged to Grace Jones's May Day. I've always thought that she was the female Jaws, the bad apple becoming a nice pear. Sadly, Roger didn't think she did, and the bedroom scene between them looks uncomfortable to say the least.
Okay, why do I really like "A View To A Kill"? I think because it had some wonderful moments; moments that I thought were lacking from the previous film. Although, on a recent viewing, "Octopussy" appeared a much better picture than I previously thought (bar the wasteful jungle hunt scene), at the time it struck me more as a Cold War thriller than an out-and-out Bond film.
From the opening scenes, "A View To A Kill" felt like a Bond film to me. That action sequence sets the tone! Although, they should have used the real Beach Boys's "California Girls" rather than hiring Gideon Park to do a cover. Brian Wilson once told me that he'd always dreamt of doing a James Bond theme and the title of his most famous solo album, "Pet Sounds", was the instrumental he sent to the producers for "Thunderball". It was originally called "Run James, Run". That little gripe was rectified however by having Mary Stavan pilot a phallic iceberg to pick Bond up from the piste, closely followed by the fabulous title song by Duran Duran, who were the biggest band in the world at that point. Bass player John Taylor was a huge Bond fan who actually approached Cubby Broccoli himself to offer their services. It's still one of the most recognised themes and the first Bond song to reach #1 in the States (#2 in the UK).
I remember at the time that it was on my college jukebox and that once I'd played the instrumental John Barry B side ("That Fatal Kiss") the tune seemed to be on constant rotation that summer with those in my acting class constantly playing as well. That one move helped me take the girl I'd liked for ages to the film's local premier - yet another reason why I probably love that film - all the stars seemed to align to make it one of the most memorable times I my life. When I got the opportunity to meet the late John Barry I told him that Wine With Stacy was one of my favourite tracks; he responded with a very quiet, "Yes, that was a good one." I think it is the last great Barry score. I wasn't a fan of the pre-programmed synths on "The Living Daylights", and the score is a bit repetitive. I much prefer the horns and strings of "A View To A Kill".
I think that, to me, the time I saw the film was just as important as the film itself and looking back one tends to wear rose-tinted glasses. However, saying that, it's also the wonderful touches like the explanation from Zorin that the reason the stables in the Chateau De Chantilly were so beautiful was that the Count that built them thought he would be reincarnated as a horse. This little moment reminds me so much of Fleming and is one of the many key reasons why I like this film so much.
The other scene I could easily see as taken directly from a Fleming book was when Bond is trapped under water and stays alive though taking the air from the submerged Rolls Royce's tyres. That's so Bondian; and the whole film is full of such moments, from the semi dark of the impressive mine set to the fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Compared to the end of "Diamonds Are Forever", it's a masterpiece!
Another important Fleming aspect is that Bond has a key companion/agent to help him. Fleming always liked to give Bond a colourful and reliable aide to assist him on his missions, from Felix Leiter to Ali Kerim Bey and in this film, Patrick Macnee's Tibbett is one of the most likable fellow agents of all. The loss of Tibbett after such a great report between the two is filled with great pathos. The fact that to fans of the genre it's John Steed (Mcnee's famous Avengers character) and James Bond together on a mission, only adds to the enjoyment.
Above: Roger Moore petitioned the producers to allow him to act alongside his friend, Patrick Macnee.
Another thing that "A View To A Kill" was a swansong for was a great poster campaign. Collectors like myself have no doubt found more recent campaigns wanting. In fact, "A View" has one of the best of the series. The different artworks match the quality of the three used for "You Only Live Twice". The Dan Gouzee pieces, from Bond and Stacy atop the Golden Gate, through Bond and May Day on the Eiffel Tower, to the two of them standing back to back with the tag line "Has Bond Finally Met His Match" are simply stunning. The Golden Gate artwork hangs proudly on my staircase at home and the Eiffel Tower artwork in my office. I really do rate them as some of the best poster artworks of the entire series, although it's the withdrawn "White Tuxedo" artwork that's my favourite for the film. The poster was withdrawn as EON, especially Cubby, disliked it as they thought that Bond looked too effeminate.
In closing, what now strikes me most about "A View To A Kill" is how the film is allowed to breath.
The quieter moments such as Bond driving to Stacy's house as John Barry's music soars on the summer breeze and the whole party scene at Chantilly as Vivaldi adds to the opulent surroundings are the moments which strike me as perfect examples of the essence of Flemings (and Moore's) Bond and something you simply wouldn't have seen in the smash and grab that was "Quantum of Solace", bar the celebrated Tosca scene. These quieter moments were ones of playful reflection which is, in essence, what this entire film is. It's as if both Moore and the entire crew from EON are saying thanks for the ride, but this train's now reaching its destination, and in order to carry on will need to change tracks and go in a new direction. Those of us that grabbed our bags and boarded that new direction found it bumpy to say the least.
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The opinions expressed in this review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MI6-HQ.com or its owners.