Saturday, March 17, 2018
(December 1984, U.S.)
One of the biggest questions circulating Hollywood during the 1980s must have surely been, "Hmmm, let's see...how can we copy E.T. and reap the rewards?" John Carpenter may have been one of the first ones to answer and quite possibly the only one to make a decent job of it. It was a mighty stretch from the string of horror films he'd made since HALLOWEEN in 1978 and the first true sign that the man had a beautiful heart. STARMAN is also, in my opinion, Carpenter's last great film. Nothing he ever did after that caught my attention as anything worthy, despite whatever cult status BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA may have achieved since its release (I've still never seen it).
The film begins with the premise of the actual Voyager 2 space probe that was launched in 1977, carrying a welcoming message of peace to all intelligent life in the universe. As a sample of our good will, the gold phonographic record includes greetings in various languages and even a recording of "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones (hey, if the Stones don't get us a visit from other planets, then I don't know what will!). The invitation is interpreted and answered by an alien ship. Of course, leave it to our boneheaded government to panic before thinking and shoot the poor visitor down, causing it to crash somewhere in Wisconsin. Our visitor, whatever it is, starts out as a floating ball of glowing energy before it settles into the isolated home of recently widowed Jenny Hayden (played by Karen Allen). Using a lock of hair from Jenny's deceased husband Scott (played by Jeff Bridges), the alien clones himself a human body in the form of Scott while Jenny watches in horror. The alien "Starman" is also carrying several small silver spheres which provide him with energy and also perform various miraculous feats. "Starman" is not on Earth for only a few minutes before he realizes our hostility and summons his people to come and get him right away. Arranging a rendezvous with them in three days in Arizona, he gets Jenny to drive him there against her will.
Jenny starts off as frightened and hostile, but of course, eventually comes to understand and appreciate the "man" she's with. As they make their way across America against those who seek to capture "Starman", he learns to communicate and inevitably finds his way into Jenny's heart. Like E.T., he will die on our planet if he doesn't escape our government hostiles and make the rendezvous at the Arizona crater in time. Along the way, as a sign of their newfound attachment, they make love aboard a boxcar train and Jenny learns that she's now pregnant with "Starman's" child, a boy, despite the fact that she's not supposed to be able to have children. A true miracle, indeed (and one that would eventually lead to a short-lived ABC-TV series of the same name). Like E.T. also, the film's climax has its own form of excitement as Jenny and the now dying "Starman" reach the crater while Army helicopters mercilessly shoot at them. As they're finally surrounded, a large, spherical spaceship descends, magical light surrounds the couple, "Starman" is restored to perfect health and it's now time to say goodbye. His departure may not have us in tears like Spielberg managed to do to us, but it's still heartwarming, nonetheless.
I think back on STARMAN, and I think back to the end of 1984, when there was other science fiction dominating the big screen with DUNE and 2010. Carpenter's film, with Jeff Bridges' Oscar-nominated performance, stood out the most for the very reason that E.T. did two years prior; heart, humanity and love. David Lynch's film and the sequel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY were great, but hardly touched us on such an emotional level. With STARMAN, sci-fi is mixed with quirky drama and the promise of love and understanding between what is, in reality, two different species. Bridges and Allen share a very sweet chemistry and sympathy for each other's characters, and Bridges proves that a role of this sort is meaningful (on a galactic level) to make a difference in his career. Still, it was the end of John Carpenter for me, but I'm grateful, nonetheless, for the small string of back-to-back hits he gave us (or me!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Starman: "You are a strange species. Not like any other...and you'd be surprised how many there are. Intelligent, but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are worst."
(Hey, "Starman", come visit us NOW, and tell us if you still feel that way!)
Saturday, March 10, 2018
(September 1980, U.S.)
By 1980, Woody Allen had established himself as a filmmaker of successful comedies, beginning with the slapstick ones of the early 1970s. His streak of comedy was broken in 1978 with the very serious (and very depressing) INTERIORS and returned a year later with MANHATTAN. One can only imagine what his critics and audience must have been wondering when he made the very provocative STARDUST MEMORIES. Had Allen gone off the incomprehensible deep end? What was he trying to say with this one? Was he truly an artist alienated and fed up with his audience? No one understood any of it and it failed miserably at the box office and with his fans.
Time passes, though. Look harder, look deeper, and as a prerequisite, take the time to view and appreciate Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, which Allen's black and white film clearly parodies and pays homage to. In fact, I've discovered over time that it's with great affection for 8 1/2 that one can approach STARDUST MEMORIES with any clear understanding and appreciation. The film follows famous filmmaker Sandy Bates (played by Allen himself), who is constantly plagued by fans who are never shy about declaring that they prefer his "earlier, funnier movies" to his more recent artistic efforts, which is, I suppose, how many of Allen's true fans felt by now. While Sandy tries to reconcile his conflicting attraction to two different women, one of them the artistic and intellectual Daisy (played by Jessica Harper) and the other being the French woman with two small children Isobel, he's also repeatedly haunted by the memories of his neurotic, unstable and often insatiable girlfriend Dorrie (played by Charlotte Rampling). Like Fellini's alter-ego, Sandy must contend with the conflicts of his personal life while trying to make a movie the studio heads are fighting him on every step of the way. Sandy is a stagnant artist, and such art often means self-indulgence, depression and very non-Hollywood endings, something studio execs just don't understand, and don't want to when box office figures are at stake.
Not to suggest that STARDUST MEMORIES doesn't contain the Woody Allen wit, humor and insanity we've come to expect. There are great photographic moments of dreams, flashbacks, nostalgia and fantasy that are purely outrageous, particularly the moment when Sandy is chasing down his own escaped hostility (in the form of a hairy beast) that's just murdered his ex-wife. We can't help but recall Allen's fear of live lobster in ANNIE HALL when he suddenly panics with a fire extinguisher when a pigeon unexpectedly flies into his apartment. And just what are we supposed to make of that morbid and murderous image from the Vietnam War on the back wall of his dining area??
Is Allen attempting to express humor with this shot or merely call attention to just how incomprehensible his character is in a world that seems to be constantly in his face and out to get a piece of him? We're likely not meant to understand, at least not the first time we watch it. Perhaps this is what makes an art film true to its intentions. Like a great painting without any direct meaning, we're left to our own interpretations and feelings. In 1980, those feelings were very negative. Today, with a better understanding of who Woody Allen is, and with an equally good understanding of Fellini's 8 1/2, STARDUST MEMORIES, like a fine wine, greatly improves over time. It does for me, anyway.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sandy Bates: "It's funny, because in my family nobody ever committed suicide, nobody. This was just not a middle-class alternative, you know? My mother was too busy running the boiled chicken through the deflavorizing machine to think about shooting herself or anything."
Thursday, March 1, 2018
(August 1986, U.S.)
In 1986, when learned that Rob Reiner's new film STAND BY ME was based on a short story by Stephen King, I was convinced that a mistake must have been made somewhere. By then, I'd read my fair share of King's horror novels and nothing I'd seen so far even closely resembled the idea of a coming-of-age tale between young boys (I mean, not unless these young boys killed each other, or something!). Still, because I'd already enjoyed Reiner's first two features (THIS IS SPINAL TAP and THE SURE THING), I figured I had nothing to lose by giving his third one a try, especially since it was conveniently playing across the street from my college dorm in Buffalo, New York.
To my pleasant surprise, the film started out with Richard Dreyfuss. There was definitely something I loved about this guy since I was a kid. As he flashback'd his story of when he was a kid with his three best friends back in 1959, I found that getting caught up in the past of one's life on film was an easy, if not welcomed, appreciation. Because the power of the motion picture can often provoke our own memories of the past, our own childhoods can soon flash vividly before our eyes (but I'll get into that later). Dreyfuss's character of young twelve year-old Gordie (played by Wil Wheaton) is a quiet kid blessed with the gift of telling and writing entertaining stories, but cursed with the trauma of his older brother's death and the parents who have no feelings of love to give him in the wake of such a tragedy. Gordie's friends, for each of their own personal reasons, are just as messed up as he is. Chris (played by the late River Phoenix) comes from a family of local hicks who's not expected to ever get any further than the shabby little town of Castle Rock, Oregon (Maine in King's story) he lives in. Teddy (played by Corey Feldman) is a wild trouble maker who's unstable father (a World War II veteran who stormed the beach at Normandy) has been known to abuse him. Vern is, well...fat, and therefore suffers his own demons of being a kid who often feels like an outsider, despite the apparent closeness he feels with his immediate friends.
With the simple question of, "You guys wanna go see a dead body?", the journey of these boys begins; a overnight hike and camping trip to go feast their eyes on a corpse (now THAT sounds like the Stephen King I know!) and maybe even get their pictures in the local paper for reporting the discovery. Along the way, it's the traditional banter and exchange of verbal abuse that one might expect between close buddies, including plenty of profanity and the degrading of each of their mothers. However, Reiner wants to remind us that twelve year-old boys, immature though they usually are, are still people that feel, that hurt, and that ultimately want to be understood by those who know them best. Fears and weaknesses are revealed between them, and for at least the duration of twenty-four hours, they have a better knowledge of what makes each of them tick, though I can't honestly say that we end up knowing too much more about Vern at the end than when we first meet him in the gang's tree house.
By the time they're reached the dead body of Ray Brower, they not only have to fight for themselves against the older (and far more abusive) gang of high school boys (headed by a young Kiefer Sutherland), but also have to fight the dark side within themselves of why they made this journey in the first place. Twenty-four hours ago, it was about discovery and glory. Now it's about the life of a young boy who was violently struck down by a moving train, and there's no denying that these four kids are different (and even sadder) people because of this. There's something very poignant about this self discovery because it's only a matter of a single day after Labor Day weekend that the four of them will likely be separated by the new demands and friendships of junior high school. When it's over, our full grown Gordie (Dreyfuss) tells us of the inevitable drifting apart and failures of what we thought might have been life long friendships, as well as potential life successes. We also learn that Chris, the one most likely to fail in life, did succeed as a lawyer, only to die a young man when he was stabbed to death in a fast food restaurant. Such irony...and such a waste.
It occurs to me that one must truly accept STAND BY ME as autobiographical of Stephen King himself in order to fully appreciate its intent, otherwise we're likely to accept the film as nothing more than traditional narrative drama. The performances are satisfying enough from children, but again, we must go beyond the obvious here and try to understand what a man like King was when he was a boy. Small boys very likely don't have writing horror on their minds. At this age, they're simply going through the glory days of their life enjoying the pop cultures of fast cars and rock and roll radio in a small town. This was the simplicity of King as a boy and Rob Reiner clearly understands it. Perhaps this is why King called STAND BY ME "the best film ever made out of anything I've written". Whether you agree with that or not is completely up to you and your taste in King-made films. Personally, I'll still always go with Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (the one film adaptation King prefers the least!).
Now for myself and my own childhood, I had my very small group of friends at twelve years-old, but that sort of camaraderie mostly took place during the summer when my family occupied our former home in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. The days were endless as me and my buddies spent our time at the beach, swimming in the ocean, riding our bikes along the shore and playing video games at the local merchant's store. We may never have left home for an overnight's journey, but it was still our time. As Dreyfuss writes at the end of the film, "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.", I can't help but think that wasn't necessarily the case for me. There were good friends in my life at twelve, but there were others that were better when I got older. Some of them are still in my life today. I thank them for that.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ace Merrill: "Okay...okay...you've stated your position clearly. Now I'm gonna state mine. Get in the fucking car, now!"
Saturday, February 17, 2018
(July 1953, U.S.)
Billy Wilder's STALAG 17 is one of those rare classic films which I'm never quite sure how I feel about in the end. I struggle to find redeeming qualities about it as I'm watching it, and when it's over, I think I'm successful in doing so. The problem is I feel I have to patiently sit through elements of it that don't necessarily agree with me. The film is labeled as a war drama, when it's really anything but. While it attempts to push the serious side of a group of American prisoners of war inside a German World War II camp, the truth is that it's more or less a precursor to what would eventually become HOGAN'S HEROES on CBS. While it's likely not the intention of the film, it is the sad reality.
The members of Stalag 17 are a ragtag group of misfits who have come to experience life inside the prison camp as on ongoing joke. It's most "important" member is J.J. Sefton (played by William Holden) who has, through influence and bribery, come to make a very comfortable and privileged life for himself within the barracks among his fellow prison mates who seem to be suffering their own demons on a daily basis. However, even these "demons" are not meant to be taken seriously as they live a life of prison misery. One goofy man's obsession with Betty Grable back home and the fact that she's just married another man is hardly worth feeling any true sympathy for. To be perfectly honest, there's not a single character in STALAG 17 that we're ever meant to take seriously, not even the Nazi commandants (the leader in charge played by director Otto Preminger). Even Sefton, who I suppose is meant to represent a character of reason and stability, is viewed (at least by me, anyway) as a fool because the man simply doesn't know when to keep a low profile and his big mouth shut among his mates. He's perfectly comfortable flaunting the fact that he's privileged to eat an egg for breakfast (an item he obtained through bribery) while the rest of the men horrible eat potato soup, as well as his victory in claiming all of their precious cigarettes as a result of a gambling wager in which the lives of two men were lost while trying to escape. Honestly, the man ought to realize when that he's going to get his ass kicked to the curb if he doesn't learn to keep a lid on it!
So, while I speak all of this negativity and cynicism toward the film, you may very well ask why I'm bothering to write about it. The answer lies in my opening description of the redeeming qualities I'm ultimately able to find within its content, despite the ongoing silliness that surrounds it (I mean, really, how many times can you possibly listen to that guy with the high-pitched voice continuously shout, "At ease!"). At the heart of STALAG 17 is an intriguing mystery of the informant and traitor that lies within the group. All fingers point to Sefton who clearly has the goods in his foot locker to indicate that they've been awarded to him somehow, some way. The men's suspicions toward him are kept at bay through much of the film until the moment they conclude he must be the traitor and really lay into him and finally confiscate his stuff. His claim all along is that he's innocent and we somehow choose to believe him. For the life of us, we cannot imagine who the really informant is, and it's ultimately surprising to learn that it's not only a man we didn't suspect (spoiler alert - it's Peter Graves!), but that it's also a German pretending to be an American; a mole placed inside the barracks to learn their secrets and inform his superiors of all their diabolical schemes, including escape. It's actually quite interesting and ironic how the mole meets his doom in the end when the men literally throw him out into the night, only to be shot and killed by his own German comrades. It's these moments of mystery and intrigue that make STALAG 17 not only tolerable through its silliness and goofiness, but also a worthwhile black and white classic that represent a small piece of history that was World War II. It's also one of the earlier prison camp films to come along before more glorified future classics like THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (also with William Holden) and THE GREAT ESCAPE. Anyway, I suppose if you were ever a fan of HOGAN'S HEROES (I never watched it), then STALAG 17 is an important film for you to know where the original inspiration very likely came from.
Favorite line or dialogue:
J.J. Sefton (questioning Price): "When was Pearl Harbor, Price, or don't you know that?"
Price: "December 7th, '41."
Sefton: "What time?"
Price: "Six o'clock. I was having dinner."
Sefton: "Six o'clock in Berlin. They were having lunch in Cleveland. Am I boring you boys?"
Hoffy: "Go on."
Sefton: He's a Nazi, Price is! For all I know his name is Preissinger or Preishoffer! Oh, sure, he lived in Cleveland! But when the war broke out, he came back to the Fatherland like a good little Bundist! He spoke our lingo, so they sent him to spy school and fixed him up with phony dog tags!"
Saturday, February 10, 2018
(August 1987, U.S.)
I honestly don't know whatever became of director John Badham, but back in his day, the man was certainly one of the most versatile filmmakers around, from the musical sensation of SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, to the terror of DRACULA (1979), to the high speed thrills of BLUE THUNDER, to the wise-cracking comedy and crime of STAKEOUT. If nothing else, his films often possessed a smooth style of dialogue and character chemistry. At first thought, one would think the pairing of Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez would be too much like father and son to have them play a believable pair of detective partners. But surprise, surprise - the two do work well together and manage to feed off of each other very well. This is what makes the buddy comedy, whether on the road together or fighting crime, highly effective.
As detectives Chris Lecce (Dreyfuss) and Bill Reimers (Estevez), they are assigned to a night shift stakeout of Latina Maria McGuire (played by Medeleine Stowe) because her former dangerous boyfriend Richard (played by Aidan Quinn) has just broken out of prison and is very likely coming straight for her because there is a large sum of money that he hid in her house before he went away, though she has no idea. While they watch her through binoculars and camera lenses to wait and see what happens and with who, the pair are like a couple of frat house boys having fun, while playing pranks on their relief detectives, and enjoying every minute of invading Maria's privacy, unbeknownst to her. They even find reason for Chris to enter her home when she's away, only to have her return while he's still there, hiding under her bed watching her get undressed. This is actually one of the most pleasurable moments of the film because we not only get to enjoy a quick shot of Madeleine Stowe's gorgeous ass just out of the shower...
(Sorry. Again, couldn't resist!)
...but there's also a quick moment when Chris, while trying to decide whether to escape her home unnoticed or indulge in his insatiable curiosities, takes a moment to shake and move his own ass along with Miami Sound Machine's "Conga" playing on her stereo. It's one of those times when you remember that Richard Dreyfuss is funny, as well as dramatic. Of course, movie cliché dictates that not only will Chris and Bill be found out, but that Chris will inevitably fall in love with Maria and have to give her the old bullshit explanation that even though it started out as just another police assignment, it eventually turned into something personal as soon as he got to know her. Yeah, from the comedy to the action, we've likely seen it all before, but like I said, dialogue and chemistry, when done right, go a long way to offer us something new and original each time. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover had it in LETHAL WEAPON, Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines hand it in RUNNING SCARED, and now Dreyfuss and Estevez manage to continue the good streak of the 1980s, despite the big age difference between them (though their 1993 sequel with Rosie O'Donnell was easily forgettable). Hell, anything with Rosie O'Donnell is easily forgettable!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Bill Reimers: "Okay, okay, what movie? "Well, this was not a boating accident!"
Chris Lecce "I don't know."
Bill: "Oh, you're hopeless!"
(Did you catch the JAWS/Dreyfuss reference there??)
Saturday, February 3, 2018
(June 1985, U.S.)
ST. ELMO'S FIRE was released in the summer of 1985, the summer before I was due to leave for my freshman year of college at the State University of New York at Buffalo. In effect, I saw the film as a prerequisite that would prepare me for the social pleasures and anxieties I might come to expect during and after my post high school education. Because of that presumption, I love ST. ELMO'S FIRE and everything it tried to teach me. I also damn ST. ELMO'S FIRE for all of the delusions it provided me. Yes, I said delusions! For all of its insight and wisdom into the lives and loves of these post-college group of friends, it also gave me false expectations which ultimately lead to great disappointment. Let me attempt to explain - because of Joel Schumacher's perfectly-timed "Brat Pack" film, these are the fantasies that I developed in my naive, little head before going to college...
- Like Kevin and Kirby (Andrew McCarthy and Emilio Estevez) & Leslie and Jules (Alley Sheedy and Demi Moore), I thought that my college roommate and I would be best friends forever.
- Like Kirby and Dale Biberman (played by Andie MacDowell), I thought that I'd enjoy rewarding infatuations and sexual encounters with older female students (perhaps even my resident assistant, presuming she was a girl, of course).
- Like Leslie and Alec (played by Judd Nelson), I thought that I'd meet the love of my life at college and eventually marry her.
Here's what the reality of it turned out to be...
- My freshman year roommate was an absolute dick and I wished nothing more than for him to die a horrible, painful death! Things got so bad between us, that I eventually moved to another dorm after just one semester.
- I did develop a rather unnatural crush on my resident assistant who was two years older than me. Sadly, I don't think she saw me as anything more than a goofy kid in her eyes. Still, she was very nice to me and we managed to stay friends for a few years (thank you, Ingrid!).
- I didn't meet the woman who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my son for another thirteen years. So much for the power of college love! Perhaps Kevin's repeated cynicism toward love was right on ("Love sucks!")!
So what does all this say about me and who I was back then? Did I rely too much on the power of the movies to guide me through life's experiences or was I just simply an unrealistic twit who didn't have both feet on Earth's reality? Regardless of the answer, there was no doubt I'd developed some sort of meaningful connection to the group of seven young adults in ST. ELMO'S FIRE. I marveled at the possibility of close friends managing to stay close friends through all of life's pains and difficulties that followed the hell that was known as high school (so well depicted in front of my eyes on the screen in John Hughes' THE BREAKFAST CLUB just a few months before). From the moment the film opened and we watched them walk hand-in-hand in graduation cap and gown, we knew somehow that these people were the real deal. Unfortunately, being the "real deal" means that you deal with all the shit that comes with being such close friends, including confusions about love, sex, relationships, commitment and even the act of betrayal. To watch Billy Hicks and Wendy Beamish (played by Rob Lowe and Mare Winningham) is an exercise in confusion in itself, though I can't decide if my confusion lies in the fact that an otherwise popular and good looking stud of the '80s like Billy is even attracted to an otherwise bland, inexperienced virgin like Wendy or if it lies in the fact that a girl with sense and brains like Wendy continues to keep herself attached to a dope like Billy. Perhaps she says it best when she tells Leslie, "It's like smoking. I try to quit, but every once in a while, I need a hit."
But even as life as seen through the eyes of others is confusing, there's always someone like Jules. Demi Moore, whom I'd known only as a regular on ABC-TV's GENERAL HOSPITAL for a while, perfectly represented every fantasy I ever had about college girls, or rather the wild party girl you could always look forward to seeing at the local frat house who just might provide you with more than a kiss if she had enough to drink. And yet, while Jules is wild, crazy, irresponsible, and the cause of her friend's constant worrying (she's never naked, unfortunately. If you want to see Demi like that, you need to watch ABOUT LAST NIGHT and STRIPTEASE)...
(Sorry. I couldn't resist!).
...she's ultimately always the one who will come to their aid the moment she's needed, even if it's something as simple and comforting as a supportive arm around their shoulder when they've been hurt. She's the one who can stay up all night talking if you want to and the one who'll tell you the truth to your face (even when she thinks that Kevin is gay) because that's the person she is. Yet, though all of her outward strength and sheer "fabulousness", she's the one by the end of the film we discover is the most flawed and hurts the most. That may be predictable and even cliché, but there's also something irresistibly human about it, particularly when it's the film's persistent screw-up, Billy, who comes to her rescue at her most desperate and painful moment. Ultimately, the message of friendship and loyalty (no matter what) is clear throughout the film, and when it's over, we're left with a sense of calm and reassurance in the knowledge (whether fantasy or reality) that if we're lucky, we'll go through life with the kind of friends you keep close by, the friends that matter (in a THE BIG CHILL meets THE BREAKFAST CLUB sort of way), even when it's time to finally stop acting like kids at our favorite bar and finally grow up.
That in mind, I dedicate this post to my friends from college; in real life, on social media or whatever shape or form they may exist today. Thank you all for still being in my life, one way or another. It means something.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Wendy Beamish: "Jules, it sounds like you have your boss wrapped around your little finger."
Jules Van Patten: "Did I ever tell you what he like me to do with my little finger?"
(Sorry. I couldn't resist that, either!)
Sunday, January 28, 2018
(July 1977, U.S.)
1977 was it! I was going to see my first James Bond movie on the big screen, uncut and unedited. This was a major step for a ten year-old boy who’d already gotten his feet wet in the world of James Bond with bits and pieces of other movies already shown on ABC-TV. From the moment THE SPY WHO LOVED ME opened, it seemed I hadn’t drifted too far from my last screen experience of THE DEEP because it was an underwater adventure all over again that involved the disappearance of nuclear submarines. All of a sudden, though, the movie switched to the snowy ski slopes with Bond being chased by enemy spies who were trying to kill him. Then he was flying! Well, not really flying but performing a daring escape off a cliff by parachute…and this was all before the opening credits and song by Carly Simon, whom I was actually aware of because I liked one of her older hit songs, “You’re So Vain”.
Because of my limited experience and knowledge of complex plot lines such as nuclear missiles, world domination and the strained relationships and mistrust that still existed between the Soviet Union and much of the rest of the world (England included), the story behind the action went right over my little head. Still, there was incredible spy action and thrills on the screen before me that included chases, exploding helicopters, shootouts and a cool looking white car that moved underwater. As for Barbara Bach…well, she was just stunning to look at! Apparently, at age ten, I recognized the visual appeal of beautiful women in the movies (thank you, Jacqueline and thank you, Barbara!).
But let’s be honest for a moment; despite even the great action and the beautiful women, what made THE SPY WHO LOVED ME so ultra-cool to me was the character of Jaws. This man (if you could really call him that) was an incredible powerhouse of gigantic destruction. This was an enemy that seemingly could not die, and just how was the great James Bond supposed to defeat someone…something like that? He could lift huge boulders, stop moving vans and bite through anything with his own steel teeth (those same teeth could get him electrocuted, too). What really sent things over the top (in a good way) for me was when Jaws was attacked by a shark (even today, the irony of that is priceless) and he ended up biting the shark to death. This was, perhaps, suspension of disbelief, even in a James Bond movie, at its ultimate level, but my young mind hardly cared or knew any better. This was incredible fun at the movies, the most I’d had since STAR WARS (though certainly not better). It seemed the summer blockbuster season of ‘’77 was off to a fantastic start.
When THE SPY WHO LOVED ME made its television premiere on the ABC Sunday Night Movie in November 1980, the Bond movie seemed as I remembered it three years earlier on screen. Well, sort of. For this TV airing, I saw something I’d never seen before. It was a black title card with a message in white that read, “Although edited for television, some parents may consider this James Bond film unsuitable for younger family members. Viewer discretion is advised.” Seriously? What was the problem? I’d seen the movie myself three years ago and I didn’t recall anything so terrible about it. Was the network concerned about murderous violence by Jaws or perhaps just the display of excessive upper cleavage by Barbara Bach...particularly when her cleavage was soaking wet and just incredibly yummy to look at?
Well, regardless of their reason, I enjoyed this great Bond movie again and this time it had some deeper meaning of familiarity to me because I’d also seen MOONRAKER on screen just a year ago and the famous character behind Roger Moore, as well as Jaws, were like old friends. But even old friends have a way of changing over time. While THE SPY WHO LOVED ME remains one of my preferred Bond films in the legendary franchise, it has managed to move down a few notches since I was a kid. The action and drama under the direction of Lewis Gilbert, at times, falls short in some sequences. The first example is when Bond and Anya are trying to escape from Jaws in the white van in Egypt and he manages to temporarily stop them by grabbing the back end of it. What could’ve been a thrilling moment with even a touch of terror, is substituted for pure silliness, even in the accompanying soundtrack when they finally escape and the van appears to fall apart as they drive it. Perhaps my sense of humor is off, but it simply doesn’t work for me.
Speaking of the soundtrack, I’ve always believed the music of any Bond film during that period loses something significant when it’s not scored by John Barry (that’s just me). What really disappoints me, though, is the climactic destruction of Stromberg’s Atlantis and the escape of our two heroes done without the dramatic use of any soundtrack music. What should be a sequence of sheer excitement becomes bland in its delivery (do I blame Marvin Hamlisch for that bogus decision?). Still, the film offers the political excitement and tension of nuclear conflict and the twisted vision of a criminal madman seeking global domination in a world he creates by his own hand, in this case, under the sea. In fact, if you take a moment to consider the other two Bond films under Gilbert’s direction, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and MOONRAKER, these reccuring themes are present, as well. Performances do not fall short, either, as Moore gives one of his better ones, making him an Barbara one of the better Bond film couples. Still, in the end, it's Bond...and if we can't sit back and accept each new Bond film as "the biggest, the best, and beyond", then perhaps we need to find a new screen action hero.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Anya Amasova: "The man I loved. He was in Austria three weeks ago. Did you kill him?"
James Bond: "When someone's behind you on skis at forty miles per hour trying to put a bullet in your back, you don't always have time to remember a face. In our business, Anya, people get killed. We both know that. So did he. It was either him or me. The answer to the question is yes. I did kill him."
Anya: "Then, when this mission is over, I will kill you!"