Moonraker (1979)


(director: Lewis Gilbert; screenwriters: Christopher Wood/based on the novel by Ian Fleming; cinematographer: Jean Tournier; editor: John Glen; music: John Barry; cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Lois Chiles (Dr Holly Goodhead), Michael Lonsdale (Hugo Drax), Richard Kiel (Jaws), Corinne Clery (Corinne Dufour), Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewellyn (Q), Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny), Emily Bolton (Manuela), Geoffrey Keen (Frederick Gray), Toshiro Suga (Chang); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Albert R. Broccoli; MGM/UA Home Video; 1979-UK)
“One of the silliest and worse ones in the series.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The eleventh Bond and the fourth for Roger Moore as star is one of the silliest and worse ones in the series. The best things it has going for it are its special effects, the impressive stunt work, the imaginative big chrome high-tech interior sets designed by Ken Adam and the usual exotic locations (in this one we globe-trot from Los Angeles to Venice to Rio de Janeiro and to the upper Amazon). Otherwise it’s familiar ‘save the world’ plotline and repetitive set piece action sequences have become tiresome, the smutty double entendres have worn out their welcome, Moore makes for a lousy wisecracking Bond and the series is now firmly planted in the cartoon world. The theme song was sung by Shirley Bassey. Director Lewis Gilbert (“Alfie”/”Friends”/ “Educating Rita”) and writer Christopher Wood bring nothing fresh to the table. The producers should have paid more attention to the thin plot than in the lavish production values (it cost as much as eight prior Bond films put together).

The Moonraker, a U.S. space shuttle, is stolen in a midair abduction and disappears while the RAF plane which was transporting it over to Britain crashes in the Yukon. Agent 007 (Roger Moore) is assigned to go to Los Angeles to visit the Moonraker’s manufacturer, the urbane evil genius tycoon Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale), who lives in a castle modeled after Versailles and is obsessed with the conquest of space. Drax’s assistant Corinne (Corinne Clery) helps the suspicious Bond break into Drax’s safe in his study, where he finds blueprints for special glassware from Venini Glass in Venice. Bond also meets former NASA astronaut Dr Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), who acts cool to him. Drax shows his true villain colors immediately, but fails after a few attempts to kill Bond in his space lab and on a pheasant hunt. But Drax succeeds in killing Corinne by having his trained killer Dobermans run her down in the woods on his estate.

Bond in Venice meets Goodhead again and learns she’s CIA. The two team up to try and foil the psychopath Drax’s scheme to conquer the world when its discovered that the special glass containers ordered by him are being built to hold a nerve gas that kills humans but not animals.

It’s then onto Rio, where Bond must confront Drax’s indestructible steel-toothed giant henchman named Jaws (Richard Kiel), and learns that a rare black orchid found in the upper Amazon is used to manufacture the nerve gas. On his trip to the Amazon to confirm his suspicions, Bond follows a beautiful woman into an ancient temple, which turns out to be Drax’s headquarters. Bond learns that Drax intends to disperse the nerve gas toxins in orbit around the world to destroy the world’s human population, and then he plans to repopulate the Earth with genetically perfect creations to form a super race.

Bond is imprisoned with Goodhead in the blast chamber of Moonraker 5, but they escape and hijack Moonraker 6. When all seems lost they enlist the help of Jaws, who is angered that Drax will not find a place for him and his new girlfriend in his genetically perfect New World.

The weak space-age plot has seen its better days. Things have gotten so out of hand in the Bond series, that I don’t think Ian Fleming would now recognize his creation.

This was Lee’s last appearance as M.