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Moonraker

The Hero: James Bond; The Bond Girl: Gala Brand; The Villain: Hugo Drax; Supporting Characters: “M”, Commander Vallance, Moneypenny, Loelia Ponsby; Locations covered: London, U.K. First Published: 1955

Moonraker is the third of the Fleming Bond novels, and one of the best. As a “Principal Officer in the Civil Service”, 007 makes £1500 a year, and lives in a “comfortable flat” off the Kings Road, London, with his devoted housekeeper May (who cooks a wicked breakfast).

In Moonraker, Bond has 8 years to go before he is automatically taken off the OO list and given a staff job at headquarters. “At least eight tough assignments. Probably sixteen. Perhaps twenty-four. Too many.”

Moonraker begins not with a mission, but a suspicion. Sir Hugo Drax is a soldier from Liverpool. He was wounded in the war – half his face was blown away, and he had almost complete amnesia. After his discharge, he cornered the market in columbite, a metal with an extraordinarily high melting point that is essential to the manufacturing of jet engines. He became a multimillionaire who gave generously to charity and spent £10 million of his own money to build an atomic rocket (the “Moonraker”) with a range that would cover nearly every capital in Europe – “the immediate answer to anyone who would try to atom-bomb London.” He is extremely popular, and, with his work on the Moonraker, a national hero. However, M has concerns about Drax who is a member of M`s club, Blades. It seems that Drax cheats at bridge. A scandal is brewing. In 1950s London, about the only crime that can smash a man of Society is card cheating.

It turns out that Bond was trained in card sharping before the war, and would be the ideal person to expose Drax. A high-stakes bridge game ensues, and Fleming goes into a detailed description of every hand (a device he would use later when describing the golf game between Bond and Auric Goldfinger). At the end of the evening, Drax is down £15,000 and advises Bond to “spend the money quickly.”

As Bond begins to delve further into Drax`s operations, more questions are raised. All of the people working on the Moonraker project are Germans, which, relatively soon after the end of the war, naturally makes the British nervous. Drax`s explanation is that the men worked on Germany`s V2 rockets, and were the best rocket scientists in the world. There are only two non-Germans on the site – a Major Tallon from the Ministry of Supply, appointed as security officer, and Gala Brand, Drax`s personal secretary. The night before, one of Drax`s men shot Tallon in a pub, then shouted “Heil!” and shot himself. Supposedly, the men were involved in a love triangle with Brand.

There are further complications. Brand is a policewoman with the Scotland Yard Special Branch, planted on the site to keep an eye on Drax. MI6 gave a security clearance to the man who shot Tallon. As a result, the operation is dumped in MI6`s (and Bond`s) lap, even though the story unfolds entirely in Britain.

Bond stays in Tallon`s room on the military base where the Moonraker is being readied for a test launch. He discovers charts kept by Tallon showing the location of something out in the water – but what? It`s clear that, whatever it was, it was something that Tallon was not supposed to see, and he wasn`t killed because he was in love with Brand.

At this point, the plot starts to move along rapidly, and it would spoil the read to go too much further. Suffice it to say that Drax does not have Britain`s best interests at heart and it`s up to Bond and Brand to stop him.

Moonraker shares many traits with the other Fleming novels. The plots tend to unfold slowly at first, with time given to understand the motivation of the villain. Meals are described in meticulous detail. Bond is capable of downing an incredible number of drinks, waking up a few hours later with no trace of a hangover. There are usually exciting car chases. Bond`s past and his talents (such as the card sharping and the fact that he is fluently bilingual in German) come out slowly, one fact at a time, over the course of the books. Happily, the women are more like the Bond girls in the recent films, rather than the earlier ones. They are strong-willed, intelligent and self reliant, and these are precisely the qualities that Bond finds attractive in them. Unhappily, the books also show that Fleming was a racist and an anti-Semite, although probably no more so than other British men of his class at the time.

Moonraker is an excellent introduction to the Fleming canon, even if it does not offer exotic locales. It is a well-paced, interesting thriller that provides Bond with more than enough challenges and the reader with more than enough excitement.

Faye dunaway and sybil danning, bond babes

Sybil Danning and Faye Dunaway were both considered for the title character in “Octopussy”. It`s doubtful that Dunaway would`ve seriously considered playing a Bond Girl at that point in her career, but B-Movie Queen Sybil Danning was ready for action. “Would she make love or war to James Bond in OCTOPUSSY?” As it turned out, neither. They both eventually lost out to Maud Adams, who screen tested James Brolin in his attempt to replace Roger Moore.

MeatLoaf should have taken a page from the book of Sybil Danning: never talk about a role you think you`re going to get until you`ve actually gotten it.

For those of you who don`t remember 1982 (yes, it was a real year) or weren`t born yet, you may be asking: “Sybil who?”. Sybil Danning was B-movie queen quietly working her way up the ranks of Hollywood. Octopussy could have become her big break. Instead, it became her big heartbreak.

Incidentally, Octopussy was not the first Bond movie she was up for. Danning was set to be cast in the role that Corrine Clery took in the 1979 film Moonraker, but because of a French cofinancing deal, that role was given to a native actress instead.

She was felt out  in 1981 and 1982 to determine her interest in playing the title role in Octopussy. Before she even had the part, she was posing for fashion photographer Firooz Zahedi in extremely suggestive Bond-like publicity stills, almost all of which involved either some sort of leather get-up or black evening gown complimented with the obligatory handgun. She graced the cover of Prevue Magazine in the summer of 1982 wearing a vulcanized black leather swimsuit with the zipper drawn all the way to the navel to display her, um, ample talents, and holding a gun with a caption that read: “SYBIL DANNING Will she make love or war to James Bond in OCTOPUSSY”?

The hype for Danning had already begun despite the fact that she hadn`t even signed a contract. But she apparently had gotten a look at the first draft.

“Most of the Bond girls are not really interesting”, said Danning. “Octopussy has to be much, much more. She must be unpredictable and dangerous; neither Bond nor the audience must ever know what she`ll do next: betray him or befriend him. That`s what their story is really about”.

“Their story” would be Richard Maibaum`s. Dick had created a treatment far darker than the Octopussy you see today. In his first draft Octopussy was a supervillainess on a quest for vengeance against Blofeld and SPECTRE; a retalation of sorts for a defeat her organization suffered at Blofeld`s hands. She recruits 007 in her revenge scheme knowing that Blofeld had killed Bond`s wife, Tracy, and would most certainly want to help bring Blofeld down (apparently being dropped 1000 feet down a chimney stack isn`t enough to kill off a supervillain these days). Bond and Octopussy were to team up to take on Blofeld and even disarm a super techno-weapon called the OCTO-PC (perhaps some sort of personal computer?). We`ll never know exactly what Maibaum had in mind because George MacDonald Fraser was brought on to steer the story in a different direction; away from Blofeld, SPECTRE, and any legal entanglements using them could bring about.

A thorough search through Maibaum`s archives may one day yield more clues to this interesting premise but it`s worth noting that yesterday’s discarded story treatments are often tomorrows plot lines. Octopussy would be made a bit softer; not quite as ruthless and certainly an admirer of James Bond. The Octopussy of Maibaum`s original draft would become, in perhaps an unconscious way, Elektra King, some 16 years later. In The World Is Not Enough, Elektra, the super villainess, recruits Bond, unknowingly, into her web to destroy her father and avenge her mother`s legacy.

Danning spoke too soon and the role was offered to Maud Adams. The rest is history, including Danning`s career. She was forever stuck in B-grade flicks and softcore erotica. The moral of the story: don`t count your chickens until they`ve hatched.

Shelly Hack

Shelly was under consideration for the role of Holly Goodhead in Moonraker. She may have even been the leading contender at the time. Hack agreed to a screen test but a chance encounter between Lois Chiles and Director Lewis Gilbert took the casting in a different direction, and Chiles won the role.

Hack went on to do a season of Charlies` Angels as well as several film and television features.

Moonraker – An Original Review

moonraker-posterWith thanks to Robert Baum, reprinted by permission

Review: Moonraker (1979)

       Having proven triumphant once again both in thwarting another fiend looking to finish off the world and regaining his footing at the box office, Roger Moore returns as James Bond yet again. Stopping the sinister stratagems of Karl Stromberg was child’s play for 007. This time, however, her majesty’s best known spy faces a far more formidable challenge.
      Not only is Bond now portrayed by an actor who is now just shy of over half a century (Sean Connery was just over forty when he made his final Bond adventure: 1971s Diamonds Are Forever) but there are a new crop of cinematic pickings prompting producer Albert Broccoli to look to the stars for 007’s latest endeavor. That mission has Bond seeking a stolen space bound shuttle: Moonraker. This effort reunites most of the key players from The Spy Who Loved Me: Broccoli, director Lewis Gilbert, screenwriter Christoper Wood, and of course Roger Moore.
      Having used his time between the last adventure to be of aid to fellow UK stars Richard Burton and Richard Harris as one of The Wild Geese, Moore returns to being a solo operative; but not before having a run-in with the metal-mouthed monster of a mountain from The Spy Who Loved Me, Jaws (Richard Kiel), in search of a new employer and wanting revenge. Following a briefing by his superiors (Bernard Lee and Geoffrey Keen) and receiving the latest state-of-the art hardware from MI6 weaponsmith Q (Desmond Llewelyn), Bond is off to California. There he meets Drax (Michael Lonsdale), a megalomaniac obsessed with venturing into the final frontier.
Bond also gets an encounter with a striking siren of a scientist with a good head on her shoulders named Holly (Lois Chiles) who gives Bond a taste of astronaut training which goes awry thanks to a jerry-rigged centrifuge, courtesy of Drax’s kendo-savvy manservant Chang (Toshiro Suga). Of course wherever Bond is, there’s a woman waiting to be swept off her feet even if in doing so, the results prove fatal; as they do for one of Drax’s employees (Corinne Clery) who goes to the dogs.
      With Gilbert at the helm for another mission, there are similar elements to the last cinematic mission for 007 which was a refashioning of another Bond adventure: 1967s You Only Live Twice which Gilbert also directed. This time the showdown is not at sea but takes advantage of the science fiction frenzy ushered in by the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. One certainly doesn’t need to guess much where the film winds up.
      Virtually no expense has been spared for Moonraker, despite it being a lightweight romp bordering on camp that is light years away from past Bond adventures; particularly From Russia With Love (1963). The effects courtesy of recent Oscar-winner Derek Meddings (Superman) and his colleagues are out of this world; and the stunts, as always are impressive. Still it is a joy to watch, though aficionados more fond of the earlier efforts might think otherwise. John Barry, missing since The Man with the Golden Gun, returns with a score that brings back the magic he has given to many a motion picture. The title tune performed by chanteuse Shirley Bassey offers aural aesthetics. Nothing against Carly Simon, or Paul McCartney, but when it comes to singing 007 theme songs, nobody does them better.