50 Years of James Bond

By the time of “A View to a Kill,” Roger Moore had overstayed his welcome as Bond. Even the actor was eager to move on, but that didn’t stop Broccoli from putting him through the wringer one last time, this time saddling him with a breakneck horse race and dangling him from a dirigible. One need only change the score (a cross between John Barry’s classic theme and the film’s suddenly hip Duran Duran single) to transform 007′s latest adventure into a comedy.

Of course, the theory had always boasted its share of humor, but things reach a different pitch in “A View to a Kill,” evident even before the opening credits when a tongue-in-cheek cover version of “California Girls” cuts in to accompany Bond’s snowboard escape. Both the villainous Zorin (Christopher Walken at his most stilted) and flamboyant henchwoman May Day (Grace Jones) play like parodies of the bad guys Bond has vanquished in the past, and the film’s best set piece — in which Bond chases May Day across Paris in a stolen taxi, which has its top and rear cabin sheared off — is also one of the funniest scenes in the entire series.

But this jokey tone couldn’t be more different from the relative self-seriousness of helmer John Glen’s first 007 directing effort, “For Your Eyes Only,” and frankly, I yearn for more of that class. Certainly the real-life Roger Moore had it, which was part of the reason he made such a nice fit for the character a dozen years earlier. But the sensibility we get in “A View to a Kill” feels more nouveau riche, wandering through Zorin and Bond’s upscale world like some kind of yokel gobsmacked with his surroundings.

By this point, Broccoli has thoroughly observed the Hitchcock-like strategy of making his movies seemed bigger by setting the action against the largest possible backdrops, and so we get the aging Bond scaling the Eiffel Tower and hanging from the cables of the Golden Gate Bridge. The film needs moments like these to offset the less iconic moments — doing detective work in horse stables or racing through traffic on a fire engine.

And perhaps it also needs the over-the-top, nearly camp performances by Jones and Walken (who goes berserker at one point machine-gunning a platoon of his own henchmen), lest the whole outing evaporate into thin air. It must be enormously challenging to keep these installments, which is why I’m sure no one was happier than Moore for the gauntlet to pass to Timothy Dalton.

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