Flying High with The Rocketeer (and Loving Timothy Dalton as a Villain)

This is my contribution to You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon, hosted by Pale Writer and Reelweegiemidget Reviews. Check out their blogs for lots more pieces on films starring James Bond actors that aren’t James Bond films!

The summer of 1991 in cinematic terms was arguably dominated by two titans of popular culture – Robin Hood and The T-101 (or T-800). The latter, as seen in James Cameron’s awesome Terminator 2: Judgement Day, obliterated the action spectacle competition with its state of the art special effects, exhilarating action and compelling elaboration of the original’s universe. It’s still regarded as one of the greatest sequels of all time. Kevin Reynolds and Kevin Costner’s mammoth Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves might have played fast and loose with English geography, accents and historical accuracy, but its crowd-pleasing theatrics, fabulous villainy (Alan Rickman, managing to add another classic baddie to his roster after his already-phenomenal achievement in Die Hard) and a Bryan Adams song so ubiquitous it stayed at the top of the UK charts for SIXTEEN weeks all added up to a damned good time at the movies. I was too young to watch Arnold Schwarzenegger get tangled amongst all that liquid metal madness, but I did get to watch Robin Hood, as the BBFC had cut enough of it to secure a PG rating (nevertheless, it was still heavily complained about at the time by concerned parents), and I was enthralled by it. It’s imperfect when I watch it today, but at the time it left me feeling ecstatic. Yet there was another slice of irresistible escapism that summer that I was similarly knocked out by, even if it didn’t conquer cinemas in the same way – its domestic box office was approximately $46 million to Robin‘s $165 million – I’m talking about Joe Johnston’s tremendously entertaining The Rocketeer. Thanks to a magnificent but sadly unsuccessful marketing campaign that emphasised the 1940s art deco leanings of the time over its stars, which included new kid on the block Bill Campbell, knockout starlet Jennifer Connelly and the main focus of this piece – Timothy Dalton – The Rocketeer struggled to find an audience, which is a shame, as it was and still is a great, affectionate and exciting comic book adventure. And Timothy Dalton’s in it. Did I mention that?

Based on Dave Stevens’ 1982 comic strip, The Rocketeer is an affectionate throwback to Hollywood’s golden age of movie serial adventures; set in Los Angeles in 1938, and with the threat of a new world war looming, both the US government and the Nazis are hell bent on obtaining a remarkable invention that could change the face of aerial combat forever. Not that its creator – Howard Hughes himself – ever wanted his state-of-the-art jetpack to be used as a weapon. The one and only prototype was in the hands of mobsters, but after a hair-raising pursuit and a hasty decision to hide it in the garage of a nearby airfield, it ends up discovered by young pilot Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell) and his mechanic buddy Peevy (Alan Arkin), who have no idea how important this thing is and start testing it to see what its capable of, and maybe get a career out of its spectacular capabilities, if only for a while until they can afford to replace their beloved plane that was recently destroyed.

The plot’s wild card is Neville Sinclair, a Hollywood star who also wants the rocket for reasons unknown. He wants it real bad though; he’s even willing to double his original reward to the mob for obtaining it, and then not refusing when they demand it be tripled. Sinclair, as played by Mr. Timothy Dalton himself, is the archetypal matinee idol of that era, complete with his perfect moustache and dashing, handsome good looks. He’s the star of swashbuckling epics such as The Laughing Bandit, featuring the kind of hero who he remains a mystery to all the other characters until he removes his sackcloth mask (the kind Zorro wears) and suddenly everyone’s amazed that it was none other than Sir Reginald all along. Once he discovers that Cliff has the rocket, and that Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) is an extra on the set of his film, he uses his wily, persuasive charms on her over dinner (she’s currently heartbroken over Cliff’s insensitive attitude to towards her thespian ambitions) at the city’s most glamourous nightspot to try and find out where it is…

Sinclair’s true motives remain a mystery for the most part, although there’s a rather sinister moment when the actor playing The Laughing Bandit’s nemesis is revealed to have been stabbed during the filming of the climactic action scene. As a child, I always wondered – did Sinclair do this on purpose, or was it an accident? If it was intended, maybe it was because he thought the other actor was, to quote the injured performer, ‘stealing the scene’? This bit is never referred to again, but it does make one even more suspicious as to how nefarious this extremely popular movie star really is. And of course, he really is a bad one. Like, real bad. Yep, he’s a Nazi.

We don’t find out this until the final half hour, but it’s the perfect revelation for a character who is built upon lie upon lie upon lie, although, as Sinclair himself would have it, ‘it wasn’t lies…it was acting’. Dalton playing an actor who is also a Nazi pretending to be a matinee idol – although he genuinely is one thanks to his success (the number 3 draw in Hollywood, lest we forget) – and this makes him a deliciously, dastardly villain. It’s true, the mob could pull out the thumb screws to get all the info they need out of Jenny to obtain the rocket, but Sinclair prefers the more insidious, pleasurable option of seduction. He pulls out all the stops at the South Seas nightclub, laying on the charm with Jenny during a dance (they’re the first ones on the floor and soon the whole place is full of couples) and as a concerned listener when she talks about her problems with Cliff. Just watching this total rat smile with phoney warmth as she talks about Cliff being ‘the sweetest guy in the world’ or taking in all the seemingly innocuous information she’s unwittingly providing him with the eyes and ears of a spy and saboteur, and being very annoyed when this is being interrupted by Cliff posing undercover as a waiter, is fabulously enjoyable stuff. Of course, seeing Dalton play someone trained in deception is not new – after all, we’ve already see him play James Bond in two films, and Bond’s use of manipulation in both The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill are essential driving forces to the plot.

In The Living Daylights, Bond pretends to be a close friend of one of the film’s villains – phoney defector Georgi Koskov – in order to win the trust of Koskov’s girlfriend Kara (Maryam D’Abo). Their relationship is based on lies on Bond’s part, although there is a genuine warmth between the two. Plus, it helps that Koskov himself turns out be an even more wicked liar to Kara, having set her-up to be killed – by Bond – near the start. It’s only Bond’s reluctance to kill what he recognises as an unprofessional that stops him from doing so. So yeah, Bond is a liar, but he has a code. The lesser of two evils for Kara in this case. In Licence to Kill, the lies start off in typical Bond style – pretending to be someone interested in acquiring a shark in order to gain access to a deputy bad guy’s aquarium hideout, for instance – but around the halfway mark they become spectacularly complex. Seeking out chief villain Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) to avenge the brutal injuries enacted upon his friend Felix and the murder (as well as implied rape) of Felix’s bride Della, Bond pretends to be a potential new recruit for Sanchez’s loyalty-based inner sanctum of mercenaries and business partners, declaring himself to be a ‘problem eliminator’ who can be utterly trusted. This is all an elaborate means to scan the surrounding area so that he can work out the best way to anonymously kill him from across the street in an abandoned building. The eventual assassination goes badly wrong, but in the fallout of the bungled murder attempt, Bond finds himself entrusted even further within Sanchez’s world, and it’s here that he starts sowing the seeds of doubt within his enemy’s paranoid mind that leads to the successful killing of a (in this case innocent) deputy, access to the all-important villain’s lair and eventually, putting an end to Sanchez’s reign of violence in a final, brutal act of fiery vengeance. I hadn’t seen either Bond film before watching The Rocketeer, but watching both of Dalton’s 007 entries afterwards I was already comfortable with the actor’s ability to play liars. Interestingly, The Rocketeer was released during that limbo period where Dalton was still officially James Bond, but wouldn’t end up playing the role again – at the time this was have been a fascinating detour for the actor in-between his (or so we hoped) appearances as 007. After this, Dalton would also deliver a superb performance as a morally ambivalent criminal in the television adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s Framed for ITV, which only added more weight to the thought that – as superb as he was as Bond, he could have been just as brilliant playing a Bond villain too. Yet that’s why he’s so good as Bond – the dark side that comes out fully in his bad guy roles is always there when playing the hero, simmering under the surface, which is why he was so believable as a truly dangerous 007.

Back to the film in question; after having kidnapped her, Sinclair says to Jenny he is an unwilling part of this scheme, he’s being blackmailed by the mob and that he is a ‘victim’ too, but these are more lies. Shortly after he tries to convince Jenny of his love for her, but she exposes his bullshit when she recognises his words as the exact same things he said to Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard in his own movies. The guy just can’t be genuine if he tried. And yet, it’s a testament to how well Dalton plays Sinclair that he’s one of those villains we just love to hate – he’s so devilishly funny in his timing (love the way he says ‘desperately…’ when Jenny offers to try on one of the dresses he has in his home) and so winningly pompous throughout. When we discover the fascist truth about Sinclair, it becomes even easier to cheer on his inevitable demise, which takes place aboard a good-old fashioned zeppelin. This is where Dalton has nothing left to hide, so we can just enjoy him revel in pure, unadulterated villainy, complete with him barking orders in German, proudly claiming that ‘he does his own stunts’ when fighting Cliff (a nice reference to Dalton doing plenty of his own stunts when playing Bond), leaving the heroes to die in flames (what a rotter) and taking violent objection to being called a mere ‘actor’ by a fellow Nazi…he’s just amazing.

Taking its cues from the first and third Indiana Jones movies, the Nazi threat here is at once appropriately comic-book but also, as encapsulated in the pastiche of animated Third Reich propaganda that’s smuggled out of Germany, pretty damned chilling. Sinclair being a Nazi also plays heavily into the unfounded rumours that Errol Flynn was a Fascist sympathiser – those rumours only came about in 1980 thanks to Charles Higham’s controversial Flynn biography, and the waves of those accusations were still clearly being felt around the time of The Rocketeer‘s release. Was The Rocketeer rather cruelly adding more fuel to the fire by clearly referencing these rumours? Maybe, but like it or not, it definitely adds a fascinating frisson to the plot. That Sinclair’s true identity is never revealed to the public is interesting, as you can imagine that the real story could end up being a conspiracy theory of its own in the film’s own universe decades later. Sinclair’s demise may not be as spectacular as being turned to liquid goo or aging hundreds of years in the space of seconds like in Indiana Jones, but he nevertheless gets a classic send-off – blown to bits as he flies off to intended freedom with the rocket on his back, unaware that it’s leaking fuel everywhere, fuel that become an inferno after the pack’s been turned on. At least he gets a fantastic demented bout of cackling followed by screaming in his last moments, which is what all the best bad guys should have. Cheerio Dalton, you played a proper shit bag, and you were magnificent. And it’s not like Sinclair didn’t have a shred of humanity – he clearly loved his Rondo Hatton-inspired henchman Lothar, didn’t he?

The Rocketeer is fantastic entertainment; it looks very stylish, filmed in warm colours, and the action is very handsomely staged. The special effects were at once totally fine for their time but when compared to Terminator 2‘s unparalleled spectacle, it was already looking like a relic of the past. Which is appropriate I suppose, given that it’s a film set in the past. In fact, the FX are just right for the retro-leanings of the story, the atmosphere and the PG-friendly hard-boiled dialogue; this is the kind of film where the profanity does get any higher than ‘lousy feds’, and the threats are on the level of ‘you’ll be eating soft food for a month!’, that sort of thing. I love it. Campbell and Connelly are very attractive leads – Campbell has the boyish, floppy haired and bright young charm down well, although you could see why some critics thought he was somewhat bland. I think that’s missing the point though – his earnest, everyday, boy next door demeanour is precisely right. The breathtaking Connelly meanwhile, first seen putting on her stockings in a loving tracking shot and after that a constant, total sight to behold with her immaculate hair and unsmudgeable lipstick (inspired by Bettie Page to the point where that was her character’s name in the comics) is a paragon of innocence and sweet sexiness – as a ten year old watching this at the cinema, she was one of my first cine-crushes. Alan Arkin leads a mighty fine supporting cast of familiar faces, there’s James Horner’s triumphant, stirring score and that loving period detail that felt truly escapist to a young boy living in early 90s Greater London. It has great heroes, great heroines, and of course, a great, great villain. What more could I want?

PS: There’s an amusing link to Licence to Kill during the finale in that both Sanchez and Sinclair have to put up with increasingly complaining deputy villains who end up being too mouthy for their own good, with both stressed accountant Truman Lodge in LTK and that Goebbels look-a-like here getting shot for their troubles. Both main villains also get in a good one-liner too, with Sinclair’s ‘For the Fatherland!’ – in reference to the failing Zeppelin’s need to lose weight and gain altitude having just been solved – an absolute zinger.

Great Title Sequences in Horror: Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)

40 years old tonight, the title sequence to one of the all-time great slasher sequels proves that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Although I guess you can embellish it a bit, though; that’s okay.

Of course, it’s the compositional splendour of the title sequence to John Carpenter’s original 1978 masterpiece Halloween that absolutely everyone rightly remembers; that lit pumpkin with its eerie grin on the left side of the screen that we slowly crawl towards until all we see of it is one of its illuminated, hollowed-out eyes and its nose, with the orange-on-black credits on the right side of the picture, backed by one of the greatest main themes ever to haunt the horror genre…it sets the scene with chilling, elegant, striking simplicity. For Halloween II, released three years after the original but set directly after it, Carpenter might have left the director’s chair (although he would direct some scenes uncredited in an attempt to spice up a film he regarded ‘as scary as an episode of Quincy‘) but he and Debra Hill would remain on board as producers and writers, while actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance, Charles Cyphers and Nancy Stephens came back to reprise their roles (even Nancy Kyes/Loomis would return to play the corpse of poor Annie), and Dean Cundey also returned to deliver more of that incredible widescreen cinematography.

It may not be as good as its predecessor, (very few people would argue that, I imagine) but Halloween II sure does feel like it’s cut from the same cloth, exuding that irresistibly frightening, quintessential Halloween atmosphere, albeit with a nastier, grimmer tone in keeping with the wave of bloodier, meaner slasher movies that came out in the wake of Carpenter’s original. Having its credit sequence play out in the same vein as before also kept that old vibe going – following a slightly altered repeat showing of the first film’s ending and a new bit where Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis runs off in search of the still-alive Myers, we cut to black and those immediately recognisable orange credits start up, with the main Halloween theme once more accompanying the visuals, with another pumpkin staring back at us from the left side of the frame. However, it’s obvious that things are different; the music sounds….well, sickly. Diseased. Evil. Much of this has to do with the fact that, whereas the original performance of the theme was a seamless blending of acoustic piano and waves of synth, this time it’s nothing but synths, all bleeding into each other until it approximates the ghastly, queasy hangover to what was at one time a deceptively simple melody. The sepulchral, gothic, church organ ambience truly emphasises the more ghoulish, apocalyptic and overtly supernatural approach of this sequel – the first film had plenty of scenes set during the day, but until the epilogue which arrives with the rising sun of November 1st, Halloween II is set entirely at night, and with that comes a more claustrophobic, inescapable sense of doom. The almost hellish overtones – grislier, more sadistic deaths, much more gore, the further emphasis that Michael Myers is pure evil incarnate (although he is simultaneously made more mundane with the film’s controversial family revelation halfway through) all add up to a much more oppressive atmosphere than before, and this is all perfectly encapsulated with this title sequence. It also lasts a minute longer than before (there’s a lot more main cast members to credit this time), which really extends that ominous vibe. As before, we move closer and closer towards the pumpkin, but unlike last time, the pumpkin now starts to split at the centre to reveal a ghastly skull etched inside – the music has by this point increased in intensity to the point where it sounds totally atonal for a brief second, the synth going off-key to horrendous effect.

Then we pare down the music to its core, repetitive main riff, with amazingly creepy washes of synth warning us that what’s to come will not be pretty. Set predominantly in a curiously understaffed and underpopulated hospital, with plenty of innocent victims laid to waste in horrendously cruel fashion by a near-indestructible Myers (whose visage has never looked so scary thanks to the original mask having perished and warped in appearance in the three years since Halloween), all set to reworkings of the original film’s musical themes that overall don’t have the same exquisite creepiness of their old takes but are still awesomely effective, Halloween II is a stylish, very handsomely shot follow-up that I would love to see on the big screen, where I imagine its creepy ambience would be maximised to amazing effect. I mean, this title sequence must look and sound utterly amazing in a cinema. Is it a better title sequence than the first one’s? No, but I can say with certainty that it’s the perfect title sequence for this film, that’s for sure. Happy Halloween, peeps.

Pulp’s “David’s Last Summer”

It’s the last day of August.

Now I know summer in terms of its weather and whatnot isn’t going to change overnight, but as far as I’m concerned autumn starts tomorrow. I love the month of September nowadays, but when I was a child, it meant going back to school; it meant the end of six weeks of freedom, it meant starting all over again. I hated it. I’d enjoy autumn more as it progressed, when the nights drew in and the likes of Halloween, Fireworks Night and of course Christmas grew nearer. I remember staring outside the living room window to watch the skies turn dark blue and the lamppost lights outside turning red before they settled into their more familiar yellow. By then, my memories of summer would have faded away to a blur, but by the time it came around again the next year and the peaks of July and August would once more drift away as quickly as they arrived, that painful tingle of knowing my favourite extended time of year was slipping from my sights hit me once more. I was born in August, so that month in particular has always felt extra special to me, with my own special day somewhere in the middle of it, usually celebrated around the time with a trip to the seaside. School seemed so very far away at this time – it was the closest I felt to feeling totally free from the things that would bring me down. Did I mention I hated school? Well I did. Fucking HATED it.

Anyway, those days are long gone, but the pain of summer ending is still rooted in me, as it is for many people, even though late July and August are no longer synonymous with freedom and are now just another month and a bit spent at work, when the grown-up realities and awareness of inconsistent British weather makes me realise that my memories of nothing but endless sunny days where it always shone beautifully on my birthday in particular (how could it not; it was my day!) were more likely than not my nostalgia playing with my head. Many a song has been written about the last days of summer, songs that were happy but also sad, wracked with the awareness that nothing lasts forever. Take The Beach Boys’ beautiful ‘All Summer Long’, which played out over the ending of American Graffiti (following that gut-punch of learning what happened to its teenage characters once they’d grown up), or the closing credits of The Simpsons‘ ‘Summer of 4ft 2’, where Homer beckons his kids to ‘get a last look at the beautiful ocean scenery’ before they drive off back home. It’s a song full of the happiness and warmth of the surf-and-cars period of that band, but the ‘won’t be long before summertime is through’ refrain never fails to bring impending shade over the perfect present moment. ‘Summer’s Gone’ by Placebo, from their great 1998 album Without You I’m Nothing, may not specifically reference summer in its lyric, but it nevertheless has the windswept ambience of a beach town already shut down for the rest of the year. It’s a sad song, but utterly beautiful and musically romantic with it.

Then there’s Pulp’s ‘David’s Last Summer’, the magnificent closing song from their 1994 masterpiece His ‘n’ Hers. That album has always been my favourite of theirs; the follow-up, 1995’s Different Class, had the bigger, more monumental singles, but my heart will always belong to the one before it, where the band were on the cusp of success, where for the first time (they’d formed in 1978 and had been releasing albums and singles since 1983) they’d made a consistently amazing LP that finally played to all of writer/singer Jarvis Cocker’s strengths, with eleven songs full of love, heartbreak, sex, social awkwardness, harsh realities and wry humour, all to the sound of colourful, bright, catchy and sleek pop melodies, and boasting the fantastic line-up of Cocker, Russell Senior, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey and Nick Banks. This was the album with tremendous singles like ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’, ‘Babies’ and ‘Lipgloss’, as well as weapons-grade heartbreakers like ‘Have You Seen Her Lately?’, ‘Happy Endings’ and ‘Someone Like the Moon’. The first ten songs on the album are all great-to-amazing, but ‘David’s Last Summer’ is a mini-masterpiece all of its own, a spoken-word tale concerning the last moments and memories of a particular summer, with initially upbeat fun giving way to chilly, chilling, thunderous darkness. The way it moves through moods, moments and tones is remarkable and utterly seamless – by the end you can’t quite believe it’s the same song you started listening to seven minutes earlier.

Cocker sings the words in the first-person (at least to begin and end with), so he might be the ‘David’ of the song’s title – the ‘last summer’ has an air of sinister forebodingness to it – whether it means the last one until the next one or the last one full stop isn’t elaborated on. By the end it sounds and feels like the hurricane of music that takes over everything has come to sweep our narrator off into oblivion forever. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; at first, this all starts off as amusing and innocuous as the lightest Pulp songs, with the music cute, jaunty and happy, full of shuffling synths and dreamy violins swaying in the summer haze; Cocker/David and his girlfriend are walking down alongside the local stream in the heat of summer; ‘drunk on the sun’, tempted by the shade of the trees, cider cooling in the river, and eventually ‘walking to parties whilst it’s still light outside’ – there’s that sense here of the daytime stretching way past 9pm, which for me was and is that watershed moment, when as a child I’d have to go to bed, when TV programming got away with being more adult… essentially, grown-up time. And here in the summer, the night and the dark are still yet to come – there’s that tangible excitement of summer evenings being a time where as children we could stay up a little later than we would before or after, where we were permitted to play out even after we’d had our dinner. As a teen or an adult, going to these parties whilst it was still light outside is like a continuation of that same buzz one would have as a child, of a blissful, suspended moment in time, and where it could still stay as hot as the daytime once the sun had gone down.

Once we arrive at the party, we get the brief social observation of some guy there called Peter who’s managed to get over his initial bad mood and is now ‘talking to somebody Polish’ – Peter is never seen or heard of again in the song, by the way. No idea who he is. It’s a cute touch. Later, Cocker/David suggests putting up a tent for he and his girlfriend to spend the night in, where they can ‘pretend we’re somewhere foreign’ – there’s a sense of reliving the days of play-acting, of sleepovers, of using your imagination like you did as a child, of indulging in pretend-escape. But as we’re told, there’s always the reassurance of knowing that there’s a fridge nearby ‘if we get hungry…or too hot’ – escape with creature comforts, with the playful tease of sex added to the mix. It’s a cosy, joyous feeling. The bliss of this moment is perfectly encapsulated in the following lines, backed by the loveliest music:

“This is where you want to be
There’s nothing else but you and her
And how you use your time”

Weirdly, Cocker now starts to direct the lyrics at us, singing in the second-person as if we the listener are now David. It’s a great touch, as it brings us closer into the intimacy of the present moment, and we can all relate to words like that if we’ve ever been in love and been loved, sharing the excitement, the right there-right now immediacy of exciting romance. After a little interlude where Cocker goes back to the first person (‘we went driving’) and a sprightly, almost goofy instrumental section, after a repeat of the ‘this is where you want to be’ lyric, we take flight with a blissful, motorised stretch of pulsing music that glides down the road, up the path, over desire lines and past rivers, before slowing down and focusing the lyric back to the second-person with a beautiful set of lines that conjure up sights, sounds and smells such as suntan lotion on skin, the ambient hum of children playing nearby and the magical banality of specks of dust floating in the window light, the speed of which mirror that suspended sense of time when you share intimate moments with a loved one, and where all sense of reality gets lost in the sweet silence between you and your lover. By now the music has shifted gears to a blurred, late-evening slow-walk – quieter, less busy, gentler, fluttering like the spokes on a bicycle or the breeze blowing through the leaves on trees, the synths humming with the glow of nearby streetlites. Speaking of trees; they form part of a supremely evocative refrain that we only hear once but I always feel like it’s spoken more when I think back on the song, so effective and almost chant-like in its execution.

“Summer leaves fall from summer trees
Summer grazes fade on summer knees
Summer nights are slowly getting long
Summer’s going, hurry or it’ll soon be gone”

Another instrumental section follows; the breeze now blows a little colder, the mood chills a tad, and the sense of something drawing in difficult to deny – darkness. Indeed, we appear to be living out the last night of summer, acknowledged here with one last trip to the local park. The vocals are more hushed now than they were before, as though Cocker/David and his girlfriend are sneaking their way around, wary of being caught – abandoned glasshouses and the bandstand are rushed past on the way to the boating lake, where one last swim ‘for what seemed like hours’ occurs, tempered with the realisation that this could be the couple’s last dalliance together – indeed, after they emerge from the lake, both parties feel a shiver from ‘a certain movement in the air’, and almost like in a horror movie, the season starts to change before their very eyes and ears, with the leaves ‘curling and turning brown on the trees’ and the birds ‘deciding where to go for the winter’ – the music has shifted from quietly sensual and intimate to something scary and deeply unsettling. The bass and drums creep incessantly, the guitars circle over our heads like birds of prey, the synths conjure visions of darkened skies, the kind brought about from apocalyptic spells. Before they know it, our couple are on their way home, having put their clothes back on and with the environment around them offering up the ‘sound of summer packing its bags…and preparing to leave town’.

After this, the music unleashes a whirlwind of frightening, miasmic guitar, full of doom and terror, with Cocker/David screaming into the night, pleading with summer to stay, if only for a while. Or maybe it’s his girlfriend he’s singing to – maybe this relationship was only destined to last those summer months. But it’s no use – the music overwhelms him, there’s an intense, hypnotic crescendo, building and building more and more with inescapable intensity before crashing into an aftermath of summer debris, fallen leaves and dying memories. That the song closes the album itself only compounds this feeling – there’s no way ‘David’s Last Summer’ could have been anything but a final track. After this there’s nothing but silence, but also a kind of relief, of maybe having just woken up from a nightmare. The song leaves me breathless, every time – Cocker is a master of the extended narrative in pop-song format – ‘Wickerman’ from We Love Life is an absolutely incredible example of this – his way with a lyric, an allusion, an image, is unparalleled, and given that he’s blessed here with an extraordinary musical rush to complement some of the best words he’s ever written, ‘David’s Last Summer’ is, hands down, my favourite Pulp song.

40 Years of For Your Eyes Only

We had gone as far as we could into space. We needed a change of some sort, back to the grass roots of Bond. We wanted to make the new film more of a thriller than a romp, without losing sight of what made Bond famous – its humour” John Glen

For Your Eyes Only was the last of the Roger Moore Bond films that I got round to seeing, which is appropriate as it’s always been a somewhat overlooked entry in the series. I remember when Empire magazine, in the middle of an article about what might have been the greatest films ever, or maybe even the worst films ever, ran a tiny list of the most ‘good’ or ‘average’ films ever. There was a professionally shot, uninvolving concert film of one of The Cure’s gigs in there, and there was also For Your Eyes Only. They were essentially saying that it was the Bond film that nobody remembers. Harsh, but there is some truth to that statement. Given that Roger Moore’s tenure as 007 was for the most part about flair, humour, camp, excess (he DID go into outer space, after all), a higher ratio of insane baddies than was norm for the series and fun, fun, fun, For Your Eyes Only feels strangely low-key at times. Not ALL times, mind – we’ll observe those moments in due course – but the relatively straightforward plot, the totally normal, incognito villain, the heroine who for the most part has a chaste, professional relationship with Bond, the lack of gadgets, the absence of OTT henchmen, an explosion-free ending…even the theme song, despite being an Oscar-winner, has a kind of bombast-free smoothness to it. Okay, so did Shirley Bassey’s ‘Moonraker’, but that was an exception in a film that, as I have already said, SENT JAMES BOND INTO OUTER SPACE.

The reasons for me watching FYEO last are pretty mundane – it seemed like most of the other Moore-Bond films were on the telly all the time, except for this one. And The Man with the Golden Gun, strangely. Okay, I’m sure that all of these movies were shown with equal regularity, but I didn’t get the memo. In fact, so desperate was I to see both of these movies that I had to resort to buying them, at a nice price, from a record shop that also sold films on VHS somewhere in the glumly lit, stony Brutalist interiors of Edmonton Green Shopping Centre. At this point I had a copy of Raymond Benson’s superb The James Bond Bedside Companion, a great tome that delved into all things 007 up until The Living Daylights. Benson didn’t have a great deal of positive things to say about TMWTGG, whereas he praised FYEO to the skies. So why the hell did I opt for the former on VHS before FYEO? I think it was because it just looked more reassuringly Bond? The title was such a tantalising prospect too. And Christopher Lee was the villain. And I really, really loved that Lulu song! I don’t regret my choice, as I loved the film at the time (and still find much to love about it now, even though it’s clearly one of the weaker entries in the series), and besides it was only a few months later that I was able to persuade my mum to treat me to FYEO on VHS.

And that’s where any references to being overlooked re: FYEO end, because GODDAMN I loved this one right from the off – nearly all the Bond films from what I call the vintage era (1962-1989) are cosy to me, but there’s always been something extra comfortable and engrossing about this one. I think it’s something to do with how smaller this one felt – the stakes just felt narrower and less global in scale. The locations are lovely. There’s something about Bond films that have major chunks set at sea that just give it that old, Cold War, espionage, Bank Holiday Monday feel. And there’s also that cosy sensation that comes about when Bond and snow is combined. This would have only been the second time Roger Moore would have got his feet cold, following the pre-credits of The Spy Who Loved Me. Saying that, did Connery ever see any snow as Bond? I think it’s ol’ George we need to thank for bringing that tradition to the series. Anyway….back to the cosiness of FYEO – the photography has an occasionally, curiously soft feel to it – all I can say is that this film looks just like how Sheena Easton’s title song sounds.

And yet for all of that softness, FYEO definitely brought back something to the series that hadn’t been around for a while – edge. The violence has a tougher, more realistic feel than in any other Moore film – if we forget the insane pre-credits scene, we have cold-blooded (and bloody) shootings, knifings and one really mean hit-and-run. Even the more exotic likes of the crossbow as weapon is deployed in no-nonsense, brutal fashion. There’s also Moore’s unforgettable killing of the film’s most loathsome henchman. Mo(o)re on that later. First of all, let’s deal with the weirdly incongruous bookending scenes of the film. All I’ll say about the final scene was that I’m sure it brought the house down at the time. Now let’s move on. As for the pre-credits scene, well most of it is as white-knuckle and tense as anything else in the movie. It also starts with a surprisingly sombre moment – after the more-urgent-than-usual gunbarrel theme (courtesy of Bill Conti, and with some added disco licks that will become more prominent later), we open at a cemetery, where Bond is seen laying flowers at the grave of his wife Tracy (well, Teresa) – aside from a quick, effectively curtailed nod to her death in TSWLM, this is the first time the films really acknowledged the tragic ending to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – even the vengeful pre-credits to Diamonds are Forever didn’t bother to explain just why Bond was on such a mission to get Blofeld. If the mission statement of FYEO was to bring us back down to Earth after the antics of Moonraker, then this opening more than gets the job done. It’s a really effective start to the film – Conti’s downbeat (but still kinda funky – it’s all about that wah-wah) music is great, the grey afternoon ambience spot-on, and there’s even a sense of Bond feeling particularly weary and resigned to his job (‘it usually is’ is his response to there being an ’emergency’ from HQ).

Then Blofeld appears. Well, I say Blofeld. Officially he isn’t Blofeld, but it’s obviously Blofeld. Look, there’s Blofeld’s cat! Anyway, ‘Blofeld’ has managed to commandeer the controls to the helicopter Bond’s in, sending the thing flying wildly dangerously. Pretty wild stuff, but still – we’re not in outer space. But then there’s ‘Blofeld’ and his maniacal cackling – it’s almost a parody of what a Bond villain is meant to be like. Whatever the intention, I find this guy far funnier than Dr. Evil. After some hair-raising stuntwork where Bond breaks out of the passenger side and works his way to the front of the helicopter, he gains control of the transportation and, er….scoops up ‘Blofeld’ and his wheelchair, takes him round the block a few times just to shit him up and then drops him down a smoke stack. All of a sudden, whatever moroseness the film started with has now erupted into a hilariously silly, cavalier bit of comedy where Bond, having finally caught up with his nemesis, is doing things like patting his bald head and saying ‘keep your hair on!’, all backed to Conti’s outrageous disco-funk. There’s bizarre references to ‘delicatessens in stainless steel’, and a highly amusing bit when ‘Blofeld’, upon realising his remote controls no longer work, bashes down on them with both fists, which is something nobody in real life has ever done. In one sense, this is the Bond series saying ‘we don’t need Blofeld anymore, so you can keep him’, but crikey, talk about doing it in an insane way! Still, I’ve loved this pre-credits scene – always have, always will. It’s just that it does feel somewhat remote from the rest of the film, and not just in a literal way (it has nothing do with the film’s plot) – after the credits, we are on much more serious ground, with the all-important ATAC device (used to communicate with the Royal Navy’s submarine fleet, including ordering weapon strikes) left to rest on the bed of the ocean floor after a spy ship accidentally strikes a mine. It’s a grim scene, with lots of death and screaming and a desperate reach for a self-destruct switch that I still, even after 375 watches, hope the guy can operate in time. Although if he did, there’d be no film.

Bond’s mission is simply to get to the ATAC before the KGB can – no world-conquering plots to defoil, just a simple race against time. It works splendidly, although this is all only simple, pared-down and free of bombast in comparison to its most recent instalments. In regards to action, it’s as spectacular and exhilarating as before – the big difference is the decision to hold back on the gadgets and the fancy cars (indeed, Bond’s vehicle of choice is blown to bits before he gets to do anything with it) and to emphasise the stunts and a more grounded sense of daring. There are two chase scenes in this film that are just wonderful – the first given more of a comic edge because of the car selected (the decidedly unglamorous Citroen 2CV), the almost parodic, decidedly groovy choice of music and the often chaotic carnage that ensues. Oh, and this – the best of all Bond double-takes, my favourite moment of Moore comic timing and the greatest GIF of all time.

The other big chase is the film’s most thrilling highlight – Bond is in Cortina, having joined forces with Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet), whose parents were hired by the British to find the ATAC but were swiftly assassinated by mercenaries hired by the KGB. Having established an alliance with fellow spy Ferrara and the well-connected Greek businessman Kristatos (Julian Glover), Bond has found himself escorting the latter’s ice skating protégé Bibi (Lynn-Holly Johnson) to the local biathlon – Bibi has to make a move elsewhere (after already trying to make a move in Bond’s hotel room, but he suggests buying her ice cream instead – maaaaasive age difference, you see), so Bond is left at the mercy of KGB baddies and other mercenaries, including silent but deadly killer Locque and biathlete/assassin Kriegler (a great day for him, he gets to take part in the contest and try to kill Bond) – Kriegler attempts to shoot Bond in the woods but misses, so the next attempt is made when Bond tries to escape by mingling with the crowds, leading him to a big ol’ ski-jump – he can’t go back down to the entrance because Locque and Charles Dance will kill him, he can’t go forward because…well, fuck it – why not? He does the jump (almost getting bumped off by rival baddie skiers) and then is pursued for five or so glorious minutes by Kriegler and his motorcycle goons – this is Bond action at its absolute best. The scenery is gorgeous, the music is total heaven (Conti’s super-exciting ‘Runaway’ is deliriously enjoyable) and the stunts are totally amazing – the best bit is when Bond is chased down a goddamn bobsled course – yes the shots of Moore are obviously back-projection stuff, but the rest isn’t, and it looks as dangerous as the series’ last detour into bobsleigh action in OHMSS. Bond of course escapes, but not before Kriegler tries to kill him with a motorcycle, which was never going to work given that he was picking it up and throwing it at him to do so. Honestly, I used to watch, rewind and watch this scene over and over as a kid, which meant that regular viewings of For Your Eyes Only lasted around three hours instead of the usual two.

There are other great, smaller pieces of action – Bond saving Melina from hitmen at a town square, the toughest round of ice hockey in town, and a shootout at a drug den in Albania – but it isn’t until the last stretch of the movie that things really get going action-wise again. There’s a tense fight between Bond and a goon in a JIM suit (used for deep, deep, deep diving or something like that) that takes place in the wreck of the ship where the ATAC is and even better, – in fact, as good as Bond films get – a superb scene where Bond and Melina are ‘keel-hauled’ through the waves of the sea – essentially they’re tied with a long coil of rope attached to the end of a boat, which then sails ahead at top speed, dragging them through the water and at the mercy of the predatory sea life. This scene was originally in the novel of Live and Let Die, but it was removed for the film. Here it’s just magnificent – Bond has always been put in ridiculously harmful situations, but of course, you rarely fear for him – he’s Bond after all. Here, things look decidedly hairy – Melina’s definitely freaked, but a quietly calm ‘we’re not dead yet’ from Bond gives us some reassurance. Then there’s the final showdown, which is just totally bang-on. Instead of massive shootouts (we’ve already covered that territory earlier on in the film) we get a quietly, but unbearably thrilling ascent to the top of a mountain where the villains, plus the ATAC, lie in waiting at a monastery. Bond makes good progress, only for him to be surprised by a goon at the top, who kicks him in the face and leaves us gasping at the extremely dangerous stunt where Bond/stuntman Rick Sylvester is left to fall before being held back by the rope tied around him. Honestly, Sylvester could have broken his fucking back during that bit – it’s really scary.

So far it’s all been about the action in this piece, but what For Your Eyes Only brings to the table is a gripping thriller that’s full of excellent little touches, dramatic moments and notable diversions from the Bond formula. The big one is obviously Moore as Bond – so far his tenure had taken in a cavalier sense of disregard for good manners and morals (he’s a bit of a shameless rogue in Live and Let Die), a surprisingly brutal touch (smacking Maud Adams in The Man with the Golden Gun, for instance) and of course, shag-em-then-leave-them-at-the-mercy-of-the-villain carelessness. For Your Eyes Only sees Moore come across as thoughtful, caring and sensible at times – there’s more of a guardian relationship going on with the vengeful Melina than anything sexual or romantic. He’s definitely more concerned for her well-being than he has been with any woman in his films before this – of course, they do end up having sex at the end, for some Bond traditions weren’t ready to be abandoned entirely. There’s also the matter, and this is played far more for laughs, of Bibi, who I guess is supposed to be in her mid-teens and – thank GOD – is wisely rejected by a freaked-out Bond when she tries to seduce him. Again, we have a Bond who’s less keen to jump into bed than he was before. He does have time for some romance with the Countess Lisl von Schlaf (Cassandra Harris), but that’s it until the end. Moore seems more concentrated and on-the-job as Bond here – he has his witticisms and his funny moments, but he looks like he means business. He also gets to make friends too – Milos Columbo (Topol) is one of the few Moore-era sidekicks that ends up being genuinely matey with 007. For the first time, Bond actually suggests not killing the main villain, knowing all too well the hollowness of revenge, although he seems to have forgotten what a giggle he was having during the pre-credits scene, not to mention the bit everybody raves about when it comes to discussing this movie – the killing of Locque.

Now Locque is an irredeemably awful villain – well played by Michael Gothard, he just oozes no-nonsense malevolence and even a touch of sadism. That grin of his before he runs over the Countess on the beach is chillingly evil. Now Bond has where he wants him – teetering over the edge of a cliff in a car that’s definitely going over if the guy makes just one move. Bond stands over the car, wherein Locque – for the first time – looks genuinely worried. Bond shows Locque the ‘Dove’ emblem, a red herring that Kristatos had spread rumours around to pin the film’s villainy on Columbo, and which was left on the body of poor murdered Ferrara earlier on – a little ‘you left this with Ferrara here’, an increasingly unstable cliff edge rumble there, and with no witticisms to send him on his way (although there is a post-mortem one), Bond kicks the car off the edge and it falls down to the bottom, with a dead Locque having come out of the window in the meantime. It’s a totally thrilling moment for many ways – yes, it’s great to see that bastard Locque get what he deserved, but the fact that it’s our Rog doing the killing makes it feel extra special. Moore wasn’t keen on doing the scene at the time, but it’s moments like that that give FYEO an extra edge. Besides, Locque had no head for heights.

Elsewhere, Bouquet is a fine, headstrong heroine – she has an agenda, she’s part of the action, she’s given a real dramatic backstory and she fires a crossbow with class. Yet she’s also kinda forgotten in more casual Bond circles – it’s easy to see why. She’s not got a silly character name, she’s not a sexpot (although Bouquet is very, very beautiful, I must add) and she’s mostly only in peril when Bond is as well, making her an equal in regards to the stakes. She also gets one of the absolute best visual moments of any Bond film when, after seeing that her parents have been murdered, stares into the distance, and into the camera as we move in closer and closer until we just see her eyes which are full of hurt, pain and yet….there’s a desire for revenge there too. It’s an incredibly dramatic moment, given awesome strength by Conti’s score. Recently, ITV have fucked the impact of this scene badly by cutting to the ad breaks at the end of this shot, which has the unfortunate effect of rudely silencing Conti’s score, which originally goes on into the next scene. Sacrilege.

Topol’s Columbo is another very welcome element – the former Fiddler on the Roof gives this charming pistachio nut smuggler a real warmth, sly humour and heroic friendliness. He even gets to kill the villain. He reminds me of Kerim Bey from From Russia with Love a fair bit, although thankfully we are spared his death this time. Johnson is spirited and very funny as Bibi – her delivery of ‘I could eat you ALIVE’ to Bond is quite splendid. Glover is by far the most down-to-earth and low-key of all of Roger Moore’s nemeses – given that we’re not made clear of his real intentions for the first half of the movie, it’s understandable that Kristatos isn’t overtly evil for that stretch of the movie, though he gets to have lots of fun during the keel-hauling scene, be it grinning with joy over the thought of ramming a boat into Bond and Melina’s faces, or a textbook example of ‘fuck it’ when he sees that one of his own men is being eaten by a shark. He’s a good, solid villain. Not the best. Not the worst. Just fine for this kind of Bond film. Without Bernard Lee around to reappear as M (he was too ill to continue the role, and would pass away before For Your Eyes Only’s release date), we only have the Minister of Defence and Chief of Staff to send Bond on this particular mission, although Desmond Llewellyn does get to have fun in Q Branch with the film’s only real gadget, the Identigraph, which is used to identify Locque with frightening accuracy, but not before he turns his nose into a banana. The henchmen – Locque, Kriegler and (if only briefly) hitman Gonzalez – are free of the defining elements that the last few years of goons had – no voodoo, no dwarfism, no metal teeth – these are just bad guys. I guess that makes them potentially less interesting than the more spectacular goons of yore, but again – that’s what this particular film’s all about. We’d return to the likes of identical twin villains and towering, dice-crushing henchmen for the next one.

As referred to earlier, the music is very notable – Bill Conti, still flying high from the huge success of his Rocky score, was a much more contemporary choice of composer as the always-wonderful John Barry. The thing is with Bond films from the vintage era – Barry was and always will be the best, so you’d think that he’d be sorely missed whenever he’s not used. But the composers they did get to fill in for him – George Martin, Marvin Hamlisch, Michael Kamen – work so, so well in their respective films that I feel they just wouldn’t work with Barry. These guys definitely stamped their own identity. Conti’s score is pretty maximised – the disco beats, thunderous strings and ear-catching electronics are most definitely of their time, and this is not a bad thing. Just because something is dated doesn’t mean it’s dated. I love the almost ABBA ambience of some of this stuff, or the funky-as-hell, slap-bass loaded rhythms or the great suspense cues. It’s terrific stuff, and explosively enjoyable on headphones too. Plus there’s the afore-mentioned ‘Runaway’, which is to this film what Hamlisch’s awesome ‘Bond 77’ was to TSWLM. Just pure joy. Then there’s Sheena Easton’s title song – again, like some of the supporting elements in this film – it’s quite restrained, even during its big chorus. There are no operatics or crescendos, just a bloody damned good Bond theme that fits the mood of the film very nicely.

When I ranked the Bond films last year, For Your Eyes Only came in at #6- it just gives me a great feeling, every time. It’s a cracking thriller, a breathless action adventure, it’s funny, dramatic, suspenseful and it’s still spectacular, because essentially, special effects might date but stunts won’t – this stuff still looks dangerous. It was the first of five Bond films to be directed by John Glen, who had previously worked as an editor and second-unit director on earlier 007 instalments. Glen’s tenure (or GLENURE) marks the era of Bond films that I will always have the most affection for – they are 1980s Bond, and this is the period that was the newest and most contemporary for me as a child discovering this series, they were fresh, fantastic and eventually, daring and vividly violent. For Your Eyes Only is where this classic era began, and I still love it. Plus, it has some of THE best cat-acting in the movies.

Also, three cheers for the return of this guy:

31 Days of Horror in 2020

Ah, ‘tis the season! Yes, I’m talking October, I’m talking Halloween, and I’m talking A horror-movie-a-day. I’ve been aware that this sort of month-long marathon has been going on for years thanks to following like-minded horror fans on Twitter, but it wasn’t until this year that I felt the desire to really commit to it. One reason may be that in these pandemic times, my work pattern has altered to the level that I’m free every evening to actually watch a film when I get home. A lot of participants in the challenge have worked to a fun pattern, which assigns certain sub-genres or themes or character-type to a particular day (slashers, witches, animation, etc), but I decided to just simply go with what I fancied watching right there and then. Also, it was a great opportunity to finally sit down and watch some of the many films I own but still haven’t watched, or maybe not revisited in a long time…I logged my progress on Twitter, and it’s the screengrabs of those original tweets that I’ve collected and shared below. Enjoy!

As watched on the delightful Talking Pictures channel.
A surprisingly swift television screening for a film only made last year – this was screened on the Horror Channel. Thought I’d test myself after the more comforting animal terrors of the night before. I love cats. I’m scared of spiders.
A very welcome re-watch – hadn’t seen this one in a long time. As seen on the Eureka Blu-ray.
Watched on DVD. Heard about this one for a long time, but only just got round to watching it!
Another DVD watch, and another film I’ve been meaning to watch for the first time for a long time!
Director Michele Soavi is a Dario Argento protégé, and this is meant to be his most insane film, so I was very keen to see this. Watched on Amazon Prime.
Lost count of how many times I’ve seen this one. Never gets old. Watched on DVD.
Another first-time watch, this was seen on the Masters of Cinema Blu-ray range.
First-time watch. Arrow Blu-ray.
Watched at the Rio Cinema. First cinema visit since Tenet a few months back!
First-time watch. Arrow Blu-ray.
Viewed as part of the Watch Carpenter tweet-a-long party on Twitter on the deluxe Arrow Blu-ray set.
First-time watch, recorded from the telly, a BBC2 screening.
Watched on Blu-ray from 88 Films, borrowed from a friend!
First-time watch. Constantly referenced in the excellent Filmageddon film quiz, so I thought I’d better get my act together and watch it! Arrow Blu-ray. Blimey, I do have a lot of discs from this distributor!
Hadn’t seen this in a long time. Used to be a late-night television mainstay, then it became very obscure and unavailable. Now thankfully available on BFI Blu-ray.
The biggest let-down on the month, so much that I gave away my Blu-ray copy!
101 Films Blu-ray. Borrowed from a friend, but I’ll definitely be getting my own copy!
Indicator Blu-ray, watched as part of the Watch Carpenter season.
Wonderful to revisit this, this time on 88 Films’ Blu-ray edition.
First-time watch, long overdue. DVD version.
Optimum DVD version. Delayed watching this for far too long!
Another very overdue first-time watch. DVD version.
Streamed via YouTube. The only documentary in this marathon!
Ever since I was freaked out by the above poster when I saw it on the London Underground back when I was 9 years old, I’ve been aware of this film, and I finally got to thanks to YouTube!
Watched as part of the Watch Carpenter season, streamed via YouTube.
Just read John Updike’s novel, so it was a perfect time to revisit the film. Watched it on DVD, I really need to get the Blu-ray so that the film’s spectacular look can be best appreciated.
Fire it up! Always worth a rewatch, this. Watched on DVD.
Recently restored for a Blu-ray release by Network – before that this was a tough find, having only been screened on TV twice (I think?) and with hard-to-find home video versions. The only made-for-television feature on this list.
Here’s the link to the referred review (https://fletchtalks.wordpress.com/2018/01/13/suspiria-1977/) Watched this on Synapse’s incredible Blu-ray, which is the best edition I’ve ever seen of this film. Looked incredible, sounded terrifying, felt amazing.
35th anniversary Anchor Bay Blu-ray. Probably my 20th or so viewing of this film! Still the best!

So there you have it! 31 days of horror, with some old favourites revisited, some new favourites discovered and only one real disappointment to speak of. I watch horror films all year round of course, but this was a wonderful opportunity to really get to grips with the tiniest fraction of the genre. It’s been a fantastic ride!