This is where it gets good again. After the misery of Moonraker, leave it to a guy named John Glen to rescue the series from ineptitude. Like a master astronaut compared to Lewis Gilbert, Glen’s directorial debut in the series was auspicious enough to grant him the chair for four more films.
The MacGuffin (the ATAC machine…a missile command system) bears a striking resemblance to a Boss DR-880 drum machine. When I was a boy this was a film I saw numerous times on TV. It may, in fact, be the first Bond film I ever saw.
Credit the props department or perhaps wardrobe for the iconic octagonal glasses of the transient villain Locque. While not as obviously creepy as Blofeld (seen in the intro where he meets his demise at the bottom of a smokestack), Locque’s silent presence is a unifying element for a series which had recently lacked imagination. His nickname “The Dove” is said to be, “a sick joke.” In short, he is a complex if not central character.
For once in the series, Bond turns down the affections of a beautiful young woman (ostensibly because she is too young). Bibi Dahl also perhaps makes it too easy for our Don Juan superspy.
The underwater recovery of the ATAC is the closest thing to a true hint of return to the glory of Thunderball the series had captured in a long time. It is a genuinely engaging scene and makes us realize just how far astray the franchise had gone. Even the escape from the keelhauling is convincing and ingenious. Glen distinguishes himself as a careful director in the Hitchcock tradition (attention to detail)…a far cry from his predecessor Gilbert.
The climb up the cliff face to St. Cyril’s monastery is riveting. I remember this scene palpably from my youth. The stress on the climbing tools…the rope…the hooks and hammers. Bond’s recovery (with aid from his copious shoestrings) is really a nifty trick.
Carole Bouquet is mysteriously beautiful (and deadly with a crossbow) as Melina Havelock. She is such a step up from previous Bond girl Lois Chiles. Chaim Topol (credited as merely Topol) is really a great, great supporting actor in this film. I mistook him for Alfonso Arau from Romancing the Stone (another great 80s film).
Michael Gothard was very well-cast as Locque. Walter Gotell is brilliant as always as General Gogol. We see a bit more of him in this film as the Reagan era of the Cold War was beginning its deep freeze.
The final touch of having Bond wired through to Prime Minister Thatcher is hilarious. Janet Brown does an impeccable impersonation. Bernard Lee (M) had passed on before he could film his scenes and this seems like a good time to honor the memory of a fine actor. Thank you Mr. Lee.
Further recommended viewing is That Obscure Object of Desire (directed by Luis Buñuel)…that is, if you can’t get enough Carole Bouquet.
That Bond goes from driving a Lotus to a Citroën 2CV is emblematic of a film which hits all the right buttons both high and low. Fans of The Pink Panther (1963) might recognize the location shoot of Cortina D’Ampezzo. The greatest cheese factor comes at the outset with the song by Sheena Easton. It really does get better from there. Happy viewing!