As with our previous 007 articles (available here and here and here), The Bits continues the series with this retrospective featuring a Q&A with an esteemed group of James Bond authorities who discuss the virtues and shortcomings of A View to a Kill and analyze whether or not the passage of time has been kind to the film. The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.
Okay, let’s (alphabetically) meet the participants…
Robert A. Caplen is the author of Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (Xlibris, 2010). An attorney based in Washington, DC, he practices antitrust and commercial litigation and has published numerous law review articles in leading academic journals. Shaken & Stirred: The Feminism of James Bond (which was quoted in Sir Roger Moore’s memoir, Bond on Bond) is his first book. He is working on a follow-up book and can be reached via Facebook (www.Facebook.com/bondgirlbook) and Twitter (@bondgirlbook).
John Cork is the author (with Bruce Scivally) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He also wrote (with Maryam d’Abo) Bond Girls Are Forever: The Women of James Bond (Abrams, 2003) and (with Collin Stutz) James Bond Encyclopedia (DK, 2007). He is the president of Cloverland, a multi-media production company, producing documentaries and supplemental material for movies on DVD and Blu-ray, including material for Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, and many of the James Bond and Pink Panther titles. Cork also wrote the screenplay to The Long Walk Home (1990), starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek. He recently wrote and directed the feature documentary You Belong to Me: Sex, Race and Murder on the Suwannee River for producers Jude Hagin and Hillary Saltzman (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry Saltzman); the film is available on iTunes, Google Play and other streaming platforms.
Bill Desowitz is the author of James Bond Unmasked (Spies, 2012; www.jamesbondunmasked.com; and updated for Kindle which includes a chapter on Skyfall and exclusive interview with Sam Mendes). He is the owner of Immersed in Movies (www.billdesowitz.com), a contributor to Thompson on Hollywood at Indiewire and contributing editor of Animation Scoop at Indiewire. He has also contributed to the Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Andrew McNess is the author of A Close Look at ‘A View to a Kill’ (Xlibris, 2011; and updated in 2015). Based in Melbourne, Australia, Andrew works for a not-for-profit organization that supports bereaved families. He has a doctorate in sociology and has published scholarly work in subject areas such as youth bereavement, peer support and health promotion. He greatly enjoys combining his writing interests with a lifelong interest in film, and continues to do so via a site of Bond-related commentary, A View on Bond: www.aviewonbond.com.
Lee Pfeiffer is the author (with Philip Lisa) of The Incredible World of 007: An Authorized Celebration of James Bond (Citadel, 1992) and The Films of Sean Connery (Citadel, 2001), and (with Dave Worrall) The Essential Bond: The Authorized Guide to the World of 007 (Boxtree, 1998/Harper Collins, 1999). He also wrote (with Michael Lewis) The Films of Harrison Ford (Citadel, 2002) and (with Dave Worrall) The Great Fox War Movies (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006). Lee was a producer on the Goldfinger and Thunderball Special Edition LaserDisc sets and is the founder (with Dave Worrall) and Editor-in-Chief of Cinema Retro magazine, which celebrates films of the 1960s and 1970s and is “the Essential Guide to Cult and Classic Movies.”
Bruce Scivally is the author (with John Cork) of James Bond: The Legacy (Abrams, 2002). He has also written Superman on Film, Television, Radio & Broadway (McFarland, 2006), Billion Dollar Batman: A History of the Caped Crusader on Film, Radio and Television from 10¢ Comic Book to Global Icon (Henry Gray, 2011), and the forthcoming Dracula FAQ, due to be published in October. As well, he has written and produced numerous documentaries and featurettes that have appeared as supplemental material on LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray Disc, including several of the Charlie Chan, James Bond, and Pink Panther releases. He is the Vice President of New Dimension Media in Chicago, Illinois.
And now that the participants have been introduced, might I suggest preparing a martini (shaken, not stirred, of course) and cueing up the soundtrack album to A View to a Kill, and then enjoy the conversation with these James Bond authorities.
Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is A View to a Kill worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?
Robert A. Caplen: A View to a Kill is certainly an interesting film. It concludes the Sir Roger Moore era, which brought the franchise to new heights while at the same time deviated significantly from the James Bond that audiences discovered through Sir Sean Connery…. The film has been characterized as the worst James Bond mission, in part due to Moore’s age at the time. Indeed, Bond seems more like a mentor to young Stacey Sutton than her suitor. But AVTAK should not be dismissed so quickly. Moore’s long tenure as James Bond provided necessary stability to the franchise after Connery’s two departures; the perceived failure of George Lazenby as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and a decade of shifting attitudes about race, gender, and Cold War politics. The franchise simply would not be healthy today if AVTAK did not exist…. East-West relations certainly remain at odds in AVTAK, but the tone is quite different from Octopussy and its 1987 successor. Microchips and horse racing seem much less dire than the detonation of a nuclear bomb in West Berlin or combat against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Perhaps AVTAK sought to distract mid-1980s audiences from real-world uncertainties presented by the “evil empire” after the deaths of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev…. In this regard, the gimmicks AVTAK employs are classic 1985. A year after the successful (but Soviet boycotted) 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the fictitious Max Zorin dreams of crippling Silicon Valley from aboard a menacing blimp (of all things) that stalks the San Francisco skies. He fuses technology with the old sport of cheating, using microchips to operate a successful horse-racing doping scheme. If only Ben Johnson had been so clever at the 1988 Olympic games! And the usual spy-related gadgetry produced by Q Branch is replaced by a remote control robot dog that is more impressive for its superfluity than anything else. 1985 was apparently the year of the cinematic robot, as Rocky IV later confirmed.
John Cork: The further we get away from A View to a Kill, the less likely it seems that it will come back from the dead and haunt us…. A View to a Kill is a tough movie to love. It contains some of the worst performances in the Bond series. It has that 1980s look that may not ever come back into fashion, liberally peppered with lots of ungainly, unmotivated zoom shots. Unlike most of the Bond films, it lacks the sense of cleverness that is so instrumental to the success of 007…. It is a film where everyone was working a bit too quickly, where the inherent tone of a Bond film was in short supply, the Bond film that feels the most like an expensive TV movie. It is the Bond film that should have gotten the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment. It is generally the least-loved Bond film of the Eon series…. Yet, Bond fans should celebrate it. As much as anything, we should celebrate those who actually do love the film. Every Bond film has fans that became aware of 007 by sitting in a cinema and being swept away. I love those who came to Bond through A View to a Kill and staunchly defend it. I have my films that everyone else hates. Everyone needs those films. And the lovers of those films like A View to a Kill, they see the blood, sweat and tears that went into making it. They are the ones who are thrilled when Achille Aubergine creepily suggests he and Bond add the butterfly performer to their “collection.” Lord only knows what they found plastered up in the walls of that guy’s basement after his death. Those AVTAK-lovers can still look at it with the eyes of a wonder-struck kid. Every film needs those fans. They make everyone else step back and say, “Hold on, let me give this another viewing.”…. When you watch the film again, you can marvel at the early snowboarding stunts, the audacity of the reveal of the 007 logo as Duran Duran’s title song kicks in, the amazing BASE jump off the Eiffel Tower, the fantastic car stunts, the great dynamic between Moore and the always-lovely Patrick Macnee. You can hear the echoes of greatness in Barry’s score, enjoy Christopher Walken chewing up the scenery as Zorin, and appreciate the vamping of Grace Jones.
Bill Desowitz: It’s the last of the Roger Moore Bonds, who’s had the longest tenure. He was 57 and starting to show his age. So it made sense for Bond to struggle a bit but still manage to demonstrate skill, luck and assistance. And they made it very ‘80s hip by surrounding him with Christopher Walken, Grace Jones and Tanya Roberts. However, it was also nice to see Bond paired with Patrick Macnee of The Avengers.
Andrew McNess: In celebrating the 30th anniversary of A View to a Kill we are acknowledging the success and the legitimacy of the Roger Moore era. More specifically, we are celebrating a film that showcases a very interesting take on the super-villain template and features some of the series’ strongest stylistic debts to Alfred Hitchcock, particularly through the creative use of famous landmarks. Within its escapist canvas, the film has a genuine dramatic heft, and it features some of the most intriguingly subtle plays with the Bondian formula. The film travelled a rocky road both critically and financially—the zeitgeist, as such, was not particularly tolerant of James Bond during the Eighties, particular with the ascension of the blue-collar hero and the tendency of commentators to negatively correlate Moore’s aged visage with the series’ vitality—and yet it offers so many details and moments of interest. We are also celebrating a film that, in its darker passages, ushered in the tone of the Timothy Dalton years—although we didn’t know that one at the time.
Lee Pfeiffer: Any Bond film is worthy of an anniversary celebration. Even the weakest entries in the series—and A View to a Kill certainly qualifies for that label—are revered by Bond fans, who debate the merits, or lack thereof, for decades to come. Additionally, even the worst Bond films have elements to them that are highly enjoyable. View has that terrific title theme by Duran Duran and a fine score by John Barry. There are also the usual glamorous sets and Peter Lamont’s impressive production design. So sub-level 007 is generally a notch above most other action movies.
Bruce Scivally: I’m not sure that it is worthy of celebration. It is a milestone film in that it is Roger Moore’s last outing as 007, but it is such a weak entry that there’s simply not much to recommend it.
Coate: What was your reaction to the first time you saw A View to a Kill?
Caplen: I first watched A View to a Kill on VHS in the early 1990s and enjoyed the film despite emerging with a feeling many critics expressed: had the Bond franchise reached its nadir? But I am a product of the 1980s, so I have nostalgia for the era and for the film, even though it does not rank among my most favorite in the series.
Cork: I was one of those who bought tickets to the World Premiere at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. I went with a platonic female friend who always said I needed to take her to a movie premiere. It was a great evening…. The audience was not filled with James Bond fans. Teenaged girls and their mothers packed the place because two of the members of Duran Duran were in attendance. A girl sitting next to us got into an ugly verbal fight with a girl behind us over something to do with the band. I never figured out what it was about, but all I could think was, “Never thought this would be how it would go down at a James Bond premiere.” The place went nuts when the Duran Duran members walked out on stage…. After that, there was applause when the title song came on and when Duran Duran’s credit came up. Beyond that, the theater was chillingly quiet for a movie premiere until the song was reprised at the end…. That night, the star was not Roger Moore or James Bond. The star was Duran Duran. I think the event was more akin to what it would have been like had they sold charity tickets to the premiere of a Twilight film. But it was a great night…. Reaction to the film: First, I had read the script in advance, so I knew the story. When the film didn’t open with the gun barrel, I was deeply disappointed. I hated seeing a legal disclaimer at the top of the movie. Like the vast majority of Bond fans, the pre-credit sequence had me hooked…until the cover version of California Girls started playing. For a second I wondered if someone had hit the wrong button in the projection booth. It was probably the single most disconcerting moment ever in a Bond film for me…. The film for me never really recovered from that moment. When a fan sees a new Bond film for the first time, you want to be swept away. As a fan, you are invested in the success. Eon and Roger Moore had beaten back Never Say Never Again, making the more successful (and in my opinion) better film with Octopussy. A View to a Kill was teed up to capitalize off of that success. The California Girls moment killed those hopes…. Trivia question for everyone: A View to a Kill’s title song hit number 1 for two weeks in the US in the summer of 1985. Although it is a sound-alike version in the film, did the Beach Boys’ California Girls out-perform or under perform on the Billboard US charts? Answer later!.... There were many highlights, but the film just never fully clicked for me. I now know so many who worked on the film, and each and every one is talented and highly skilled. There is so much great hard work that went into the film, but it never played. I really enjoy Octopussy and The Living Daylights, so this is no knock on John Glen. Sometimes it just works out that way.
Desowitz: I saw it at a press screening at the Academy in Beverly Hills. My reaction was that the franchise seemed tired and it was time for Moore to retire as 007. At the same time, Walken seemed under-utilized.
McNess: I first saw A View to a Kill at the local cinema of the Australian town I grew up in (Portland, Victoria). Not in 1985, mind you, but 1986—it took new releases an inordinately long time to reach us! I liked the film in spite of myself—Indiana Jones was the bee’s knees for me back then. But I also found A View to a Kill intriguing: it wasn’t as action-focused as many other Bonds, instead drawing its energy as much from a quiet sense of foreboding. I also felt that Christopher Walken and Grace Jones gave the film a distinct flavor. I remember the odd beauty of the airship floating over San Francisco Bay, with Zorin anticipating Bond’s demise. And I remember people muttering outside the theater afterward about how “horrible a man” Zorin was.
Pfeiffer: I first saw the film at an advanced critics screening in New York. My reaction was the same as when I saw both The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker: “The Bond series is over!” I loved the previous film, Octopussy, because I thought it had the right balance of thrills and humor. But the Moore films were highly erratic in terms of their tone. Most of the true believers in the franchise judged each of Moore’s entries by the amount of embarrassing slapstick humor the movies contained. Thus, Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy were generally regarded as not having gone “over the top,” although each of those movies do contain some cringe-inducing jokes. However, they did not overwhelm the overall experience. With A View to a Kill, however, the overall perception from fans was one of despair. The silly humor is strewn throughout the movie, culminating in that awful Keystone Cops-like fire truck chase. The film regains its mojo in the last section, but by then the damage is done. But every time I was ready to write the series off, the producers managed to rally and reinvent 007 as a relevant action hero.
Scivally: I saw A View to a Kill at the Cary Grant Theater at MGM in Culver City (now the Sony lot), at a press screening a few days, or maybe a week, before the film opened…. The first few minutes of AVTAK are great. The John Barry music is fantastic, Bond finding the dead agent in the snow is macabre, and the action that immediately follows is exciting and well-paced. And then, three and a half minutes in, we get a cover-band version of California Girls as Bond improvises a snowboard. That scene in itself isn’t so bad; try watching it with the sound off. It’s the music that kills it, instantly destroying the tension that’s built up for the sake of a cheap laugh. And that, in a nutshell, is my biggest beef with John Glen as a director. He’s a very nice man and a great raconteur, but he never understood the difference between “wit” and “vulgar humor.” Once the Beach Boys song starts, the rest of the pre-credits scene devolves into silliness, including the Union Jack on the inside of the iceberg-camouflaged submarine…. Then we’re into the title song by Duran Duran. The song’s lyrics don’t make a lick of sense, but the song itself is catchy and has the bombastic feel of a 007 theme. Maurice Binder’s title visuals, however, are among his worst. Personally, I don’t find women in garish blacklight paint pretending to ski terribly sexy or alluring…. It is fun to see Patrick Macnee in the film. For those like myself who grew up watching reruns of The Avengers on television, it was a treat to see John Steed on-screen with another 60s TV icon, The Saint. Moore and Macnee had appeared together before—Macnee was Dr. Watson to Moore’s Sherlock Holmes for the 1976 TV movie Sherlock Holmes in New York. On-screen, the two have an easy rapport, and superb comic timing, that is a joy to watch. It’s a pity that Macnee’s character, Tibbett, is killed off halfway through the film (though one has to admit he’s not much of a spy if he gets into his car without at least a glance at the tall woman hiding in the back seat)…. It has the weakest fight scene of the series, with Moore and Macnee taking on a guy who looks like Kenny Rogers and another Zorin thug in the secret lab beneath the stables. The fight is oddly choreographed and poorly edited; after Bond punches Kenny Rogers, it looks like Kenny lays himself down on the crate-banding treadmill. And the blue tracksuit Bond wears in the scene looks a size too big, unlike the nicely-tailored suit Moore wears in the previous scene…. The violence of the mine scene, with Zorin laughing gleefully as he machine-guns his men, was more barbaric than anything that had been seen in any previous Bond film. Previous 007s had traded in cartoon violence; this scene has a nastiness to it that is unsettling. In a sense, that scene marked the end of the “old Bond.” Just three films later, with GoldenEye, it would be Pierce Brosnan as 007 doing the machine-gunning of dozens at a time. I guess that’s progress.
Coate: Where do you think A View to a Kill ranks among the James Bond movie series?
Caplen: A View to a Kill should be judged within the Moore era, not against the films of any other actor portraying James Bond. It is simply impossible to give AVTAK the same weight as Goldfinger or Skyfall; the films’ objectives—and audience expectations—are completely different. As a Moore film, AVTAK is entertaining, but it ultimately lacks the excitement and urgency of The Spy Who Loved Me or Octopussy. In my view, the grand triumph of Bond’s rescue of Stacey Sutton and descent from the burning city hall building seems more climactic than Max Zorin’s defeat atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Like Zorin’s blimp, much of the film seems a bit deflated, but it remains a spy thriller complete with East-West tensions, a maniacal villain, an enigmatic henchwoman, and an innocent geologist who gets caught up in a scheme far more complex than a hostile corporate takeover of her family’s oil company. It has the classic elements of a Bond film.
Cork: Really? You are asking that about A View to a Kill? That’s cruel. Some film has to hold the distinction of sitting in last place for me. A View to a Kill holds that honor. Wow, I hate saying that.
Desowitz: I still believe it’s the weakest of the Moore Bonds, but I’ve come to appreciate his willingness to show his age more. It’s also fitting that old school chums Moore and Lois Maxwell bid goodbye to the franchise together. And for once it was nice seeing Bond sneak into a lady’s bed to surprise Jones’ May Day and mix pleasure and pain.
McNess: It is often ranked as one of the lesser Bond films, a position I simply cannot support. While I recognize the details that a number of critics and fans typically take issue with—Bond too far past the late thirties prime, Zorin too odd, a reduced action quota, henchwoman turns good, horse racing episode not sufficiently related to central conspiracy, and so on—I believe the film plays superbly. The inclination to break a genre film down to its constituent parts in order to grade it is understandable, but shouldn’t the grading relate more to how those elements interact? I rank A View to a Kill as one of the best.
Pfeiffer: I would rank A View to a Kill pretty much near the bottom of the Bond barrel. I think only The Man with the Golden Gun and Die Another Day are less rewarding experiences because they didn’t even have memorable title songs. Having said that, there are still plenty of things in any Bond movie that I like, this one included.
Scivally: A View to a Kill, to me, marks the nadir of the series. It has all the ingredients you expect of a Bond film—the gun barrel opening, John Barry score, great theme song, exciting action set pieces, exotic locations, a megalomaniacal villain, and a beautiful damsel-in-distress. Yet, unlike the quiche Bond prepares for Stacey, it’s all gooey and undercooked, using ingredients that are too far past their shelf life.
Coate: Did Roger Moore deliver a good performance in this, his final outing as Agent 007?
Caplen: Absolutely. Moore’s portrayal of Bond has been consistent throughout his tenure. Although Moore may have eclipsed himself as Bond by 1985, he remained Agent 007 until it was time for him to say never again.
Cork: I love Roger. He is a relaxed, confident actor. He can win you over with a glance. I think he did a fine job with a script that probably needed another few months of work. In A View to a Kill, Roger’s performance reminds me of that line in Elton John’s Candle in the Wind: “You had the grace to hold yourself while those around you crawled.” Roger was always a class act on screen, and his performance in A View to a Kill just confirmed his professionalism.
Desowitz: I like the way he acts like a protective father figure to Roberts. It’s lovely watching him cook quiche for dinner and fall asleep in a chair with a shotgun in his arms, watching over her like a gallant knight.
McNess: It’s not the performance that typifies his reign, but it’s a good one. One of earlier quips in the film—”There’s a fly in his soup”—is delivered by Moore at a lower pitch than we’re generally accustomed to, and it sets up the tone of his performance beautifully. The characteristic lightness of touch is, at times, discernibly strained; there are moments of grimness and fatalism threaded through his cool, collected seventh essay of the 007 character. And a quality I find especially engaging in Moore’s performances, particularly in the John Glen films, is how genuinely Moore communicates worry and concern. His Bond also seems quite repelled and unsettled by Zorin, which is an unexpected but welcome detail.
Pfeiffer: Roger Moore has the most self-deprecating sense of humor of any actor I’ve ever known. He doesn’t have a trace of ego. I was interviewing him once on stage at The Players club in New York and I asked him what his best performance was. He said, “None!” The audience lapped it up because it’s so refreshing to find someone who is a show business icon who isn’t full of self-importance. He elaborated by saying his limits are raising either one or both eyebrows to show emotion. I challenged him on that and he conceded he felt he gave one fine performance, in the little-seen 1970 thriller The Man Who Haunted Himself. Of course, that’s all nonsense. If Moore never gave a performance that cried out for an Oscar, he never gave a bad one, either. You know what you’re getting with Moore—and people like his on-screen persona. In the weakest of the Bond films, A View to a Kill included, Moore carries the show and often overrides the elements of the films that don’t work. In real life, he’s one of the funniest people you will ever meet, and that comes across on screen in all of his movies. In View, Moore seems to be having a good time, especially in scenes with his old pal Patrick Macnee. Moore is fun to watch even in a sub-par entry like this.
Scivally: I can’t really fault Roger Moore’s performance in A View to a Kill. As in all his latter Bond films, he seems to find a good balance between the light moments and the ones that require more gravitas. His appearance is another matter. Though it was made only two years after Octopussy, Moore looks a decade older. It is hard to reconcile the deep lines of his face with the athletic heroics of stunt doubles skiing off precipices, jumping atop Eifel Tower elevators, and fighting hand-to-hand atop the Golden Gate Bridge. Mind you, I say this realizing that Moore, in this film, is only four years older than I am presently, and he’s much more handsome at 57 than I am at 53, but he’s not playing Roger Moore. He’s playing James Bloody Bond, a character one usually pictures as being about 35, with the grace of a panther, not the measured moves of an elderly lion. This becomes particularly problematic in the scenes where Bond is trading sexual innuendo with Jenny Flex, making love to May Day, sharing a hot tub with Pola Ivanova, and, in the finale, showering with Stacey Sutton. Bond comes off not as a suave seducer, but as, at best, a dirty-old-man and, at worst, a sexual predator…. It was, I believe, one Bond too many for Moore; it would have been better had his last 007 film been Octopussy. Even he has admitted that by this point he was definitely too old for the role. But if I were offered $5 million plus 5% of the US profits (resulting in a final payday of $7.5 million), I wouldn’t turn the part down on principle, either.
Coate: In what way was Christopher Walken’s Max Zorin a memorable villain?
Caplen: Christopher Walken is a talented actor who imbued Zorin with the necessary maniacal and sinister mannerisms that make him a classic, deranged villain. Can another actor bring to life the personality of a botched Nazi medical experiment in the same way? Likely not…. Zorin, though, is very predictable and unremarkable. It is May Day who is the more memorable villain. We know little about her other than she serves Zorin both professionally and romantically. But is she a product of Zorin’s doping experimentation? Like other villains before her, May Day is impervious to Bond’s charm. But her epiphany occurs out of pure self-interest and self-preservation, which begs the question why she would be so devoted to Zorin in the first place. She thought he loved her. Despite her brawn, May Day is quite naïve and vulnerable.
Cork: Christopher Walken is one of the great American actors of our era. He has been in some of the best and worst films ever made, and in each one, he’s so much fun to watch. From his dark comic turn in Annie Hall, to his amazing performance in The Deer Hunter, to his great tap-dance striptease in Pennies from Heaven, to Pulp Fiction to Catch Me If You Can to Jersey Boys (a film I liked more than almost anyone else). And he’s gotta have more cowbell. Walken is always interesting. You can always see that hint of madness in his eyes…. Zorin himself is a great character, in his own way he reminds me of DuPont in Foxcatcher, a man slipping the bonds of sanity, but so rich no one will stop him. I think there was much more that could have been done with Zorin. Roger Moore hated the massacre in the mine sequence, this film’s version of Goldfinger’s gassing of the hoods, but when I see Walken play that moment, see him live out that bloodlust for the sake of bloodlust, I can see the film that might have been, I can see the shadow of the Joker from The Dark Knight.
Desowitz: The bleach blond hair was a nice throwback to Red Grant, and he was a petulant, spoiled brat. His Scarface-inspired machine gun rampage also took Bond villainy into the ‘80s.
McNess: Walken’s Zorin provides a memorable spin on the patented Bond super-villain. There’s the off-hand joviality; the world’s an amusing playground for Zorin. But he’s also dead-eyed—there’s a disconnect that is actually genuinely sinister. His plans don’t even seem informed by a set of ethics, however debased. It’s monopoly for the sheer hell of it. In terms of Bondian villains we have seen over the decades, he epitomizes the scarily entitled individualist—a prevalent beast in 1980s culture, with no signs of abating in intervening years.
Pfeiffer: Christopher Walken’s presence in the film was quite a coup for the producers. He had won the Oscar for The Deer Hunter a few years before so it gave some real credibility to the film to have an Oscar-winner on board. Of course, since then, numerous people who appeared in the series have won Oscars: Sean Connery, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench, Halle Berry. I might be missing some…oh, yes, John Barry, who technically “acts” in The Living Daylights. Back to Walken…he jumped at the chance because he grew up on Bond flicks and loves them. I thought he did a good job as Zorin. Unfortunately, the character wasn’t very memorable, but he has that wry wit and charm that all the great Bond villains must possess, and his dialogue with Moore is sharp and funny. I also love his last seconds on screen, when he’s about to plunge to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. He appreciates the irony of having been bested and smiles a bit before falling. It may be the best moment in the film.
Scivally: Christopher Walken is a fine actor, with eccentric phrasing that makes the most banal lines interesting. And his villain, Max Zorin, is not your run-of-the-mill megalomaniac. We’re told he’s the result of Nazi experiments in steroids (along with May Day, we presume) conducted by Dr. Karl Mortner (Willoughby Gray, channeling his inner Josef Mengele). But he’s also part greedy Gordon Gekko, and part Lex Luthor. Like Gene Hackman’s Luthor in 1978’s Superman, Zorin plans to set off an explosion to cause an earthquake that will alter the California landscape. We’re also told Zorin is psychotic, and Walken makes us believe that with the massacre of his own men in the mine, and the nervous giggle he gives before dropping to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge. Unlike some of the other performers, Walken makes interesting choices and strikes all the right notes as Zorin.
Coate: In what way was Stacey Sutton (Tanya Roberts) a memorable Bond Girl?
Caplen: Stacey Sutton is, in many ways, another iteration of Jane Seymour’s Solitaire: an innocent woman who finds herself the unwitting participant in the villain’s scheme. But Stacey is neither a possession nor a pushover (thought she is gullible enough to believe Bond is reporter James Stock of the London Financial Times). She has a family legacy (and business) to protect, mounts a persistent legal battle against Zorin, and pursued a degree in geology so that she could take the helm of her family’s oil company. Stacey is career-driven and resolute: she refuses Zorin’s efforts to buy her silence and obtain dismissal of her lawsuit. Unlike Melina Havelock, revenge is not her motivation. She stands for principles. Unfortunately, Stacey has very little chemistry with Bond, leaving audiences with the impression that this career woman is cold, detached, and devoid of sexuality.
Cork: The absolute best moment in the film for Tanya Roberts is, for me, an ad-libbed reaction. When they were shooting Bond and Stacey arriving at the mine, they had her pull on miner’s overalls. Well, someone decided that Stacey would naturally be wearing over-sized men’s overalls. It is a natural assumption, but this is a Bond film. Stacey finding form-fitting miner’s overalls is no more absurd than Bond wearing a bone-dry white dinner jacket and bowtie beneath his waterproof suit in the opening of Goldfinger…. So the story goes that when presented with her costume, Roberts basically said, “you gotta be kidding me. No way am I going to be dressed like a sack of potatoes for a big hunk of this film.” I’m on Tanya’s side on this. She’s a Bond woman. She should not look like a moppet playing dress up. Of course, this happens the day they are shooting. Everything comes to a halt because Tanya does not want to wear the overalls. So they tailor up overalls for Tanya right there on location. Roger is not an actor who likes to wait around. He has little patience for actors who gum up the works. So they get the overalls snug in all the right places and come to shoot the moment when Bond walks out of the office with Tanya in her overalls. Cameras roll. Roger holds the door to the mining office open for her and in his most wicked tone simply says, “Pity you couldn’t find one that fits.” Tanya Roberts walks into the shot looking smoking hot, but she throws Roger this little glance that is so real and so honestly pissed off that my heart skips a beat every time I see it. That moment is like this little window into the Bond film I wanted to see…. Stacey is a piece of work. She was born rich, well-educated, has a good job, she’s beautiful, lives in a grand house, yet she’s single and fast going broke. Hands down, she wins my vote for “Bond woman most likely to end up as a crazy cat-lady.” She even has the only “get off my lawn” moment in a Bond film…. Somehow I feel like even after Zorin’s death, Stacey will lose it all, wandering the streets of San Francisco in faded glory like Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. In films, there can be a perverse joy in seeing the pretty rich girl get screwed out of her unearned inheritance, which does not help us love Stacey…. But there is one more observation about Stacey. She has Blofeld’s cat. I was always entertained by the idea of a different version of the film where that was the tip-off that she was really the villain, that maybe Ernst Stavro was her grandfather who owned the oil company, that by acting dumb and obstinate, she had driven Zorin insane, that she was the one who wanted to destroy a city in some quest. Now, all this was just the fever dream of a Bond fan who thinks about these films way too much. I certainly never shared that thought with anyone at Eon. Then, lo and behold, we get The World Is Not Enough…about an oil heiress who, on a quest to get vengeance for something to do with her family’s oil fortune manipulates a disturbed man that is introduced as the villain into helping her attempt to destroy a city! Elektra King is the Stacey Sutton I always wanted!
Desowitz: The way she’s treated more paternally by Bond than a lover because there’s no sexual chemistry. It’s notable that they end the movie in a shower than in bed together.
McNess: With Zorin and Grace Jones’ May Day presenting such a vivid and offbeat portrayal of amorality, Stacey—in her genuineness and principled behavior—almost operates as a tonal balance. She’s obviously too timid and straightforwardly virtuous a character for some, but there is a strong element of decency and warmth in Tanya Robert’s performance that is welcome and memorable in the wider context of the film. The same goes for Patrick Macnee’s Tibbett in the film’s first half…. Stacey has often been admonished for failing to notice an airship sneaking up behind her, but this wasn’t an issue for me: deafened, dazed and confused from the previous blast, not to mention delighted and overcome by the sight of a man she thought surely dead, Stacey’s lapse certainly struck me as very reasonable! The action actually has a terrifically fun operatic quality: the lovers running towards each other while the airship steadily descends, with John Barry underscoring it all beautifully with a dramatic rendition of the romantic theme…. Interestingly, what also makes Stacey a memorable character is how Moore’s Bond responds to her. Moore is excellent; he brings a gently paternal quality to the fore (not an unwise decision given Moore’s advancing years) without ever slipping into the realm of patronizing. It’s a very fine line that Moore traverses with the greatest of ease. For instance, there’s a line where he’s lifting Stacey to safety—”Good girl, you’re nearly there”—a line that’s almost impossible to deliver without an air of condescension. But Moore never slips towards it.
Pfeiffer: I hate to be cruel, but Tanya Roberts is memorable only because she gave what is the worst performance of any Bond actress. It might have passed muster if she had been cast as an airhead, but a geologist??? I remember watching the advance screening and the audience would erupt in laughter every time she opened her mouth, especially when she’d cry out, “JAMES!” Cubby Broccoli’s usually infallible judgment in casting failed him this time. However, Tanya Roberts is a very nice person in real life. A few years after the film came out, I was on Geraldo Rivera with her and some of the other Bond girls. She was very sweet and likable.
Scivally: I really like Tanya Roberts. When we interviewed her for the Special Edition DVDs, she couldn’t have been nicer. That said, I think she gives a terrible performance in A View to a Kill. But I can’t put all the blame on her; in John Glen’s Bond films, you often have very accomplished actors giving the worst performances of their careers. Poor Tanya isn’t given much to work with. The first time we see her, she’s supposed to be despondent from selling out to Zorin. First impressions are important; it’s hard to bounce back from despondency—a note she’s still playing when we next see her—to sexiness, which is what we expect from a Bond woman. Once Bond shows up at her mansion, even he seems to realize that he’s too old, and she’s too emotionally fragile, for him to have a tryst with her. He sits up beside her bed, instead of climbing into it with her (admittedly, we have seen Bond in bed with May Day by this point, but in a lovemaking scene in which she immediately assumes the dominant position, effectively emasculating him). Stacey begins to cheer up by the film’s end, when she and Bond infiltrate Zorin’s mine, but then poor Ms. Roberts is saddled with some extraordinarily clunky exposition that there’s simply no good way to deliver, further undermining her performance. It’s an underwritten part to begin with, and with John Glen’s direction, or lack thereof, an under-acted one as well. Roberts deserved better.
McNess: The principal objective was to focus on how the film plays with the series’ formulaic elements in a range of understated yet absorbing ways. Usually the variations on the formula in any given Bond film are clear-cut and apparent; A View to a Kill, by contrast, often achieves its effects in more elusive ways. Straight up, the film is blatantly formulaic—another madman intent on controlling a market—but in its finer details, it’s something else. I couldn’t always put my finger on the various appeals of A View to a Kill. This book constitutes the subsequent investigation! Implicitly, of course, the book also celebrates the cinematic James Bond formula—and implicit with that, its literary foundations.
Coate: What is the legacy of A View to a Kill?
Caplen: A View to a Kill certainly whets audiences’ appetites for the gravitas Timothy Dalton brought to the role of James Bond. But the film is more than a bridge between Octopussy and The Living Daylights—it offers respectful closure to the Moore chapter, which, we must remember, began with no less absurdity. (Moore’s first mission as James Bond involved the taking of a tarot card reader’s virginity in voodoo land.)
Cork: I think its greatest claim to fame is as being Roger Moore’s last turn as Bond and as the Bond film with one of the most successful title songs in the series. The BASE jump off the Eiffel Tower will always be iconic, as will the fight atop the Golden Gate Bridge…. There’s an interesting legacy to the title song. It marked the end of Duran Duran. They were the biggest group going. The song went number 1 in the US on July 13th, 1985, the same day Duran Duran performed it at Live Aid. Not that anyone cared, but Simon Le Bon hit a memorably bad note during the performance that haunted him for years. That concert would mark the last time the original members of the group would perform together for over fifteen years…. Trivia question answer: Considering the iconic nature of California Girls, Bond beat the Beach Boys (or Gidea Park, the band heard in the film). In 1965, the original California Girls only hit number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart…. The film itself, mostly, I think, serves as a warning sign for the filmmakers. No one wants to make a Bond film less-loved than A View to a Kill. It is the Bond film that feels most complacent, most like no one really broke a sweat while making it. That’s completely untrue, of course. It was a very difficult film to make in many regards. Yet, I think most involved would look back on it and regard it as a project that never quite jelled. I think when anyone is working on a new Bond film and the creative juices are not flowing, the hour is late, the bones are tired, one of the reasons they keep going, pushing themselves to do better is because A View to a Kill is there to remind them that when it comes to Bond, only the extraordinary will do.
Desowitz: Again, the legacy is Moore’s final outing, full of grace if awkwardly looking out of place tangling with Walken and Jones.
McNess: It’s the ultimate Eighties rendering of the James Bond universe, what with its corporate super-villain, insanely strong henchwoman, Duran Duran song, tougher edge to the action, Cold War complexity, and so on. And yet its qualities are not trapped within the decade. Furthermore, A View to a Kill demonstrated that a foreboding, nihilistic edge could be threaded through a Bondian romp. It reinforced, also, how some especially creative casting of the villainy could supply a formula flick with an unexpectedly distinct flavor. Last but not least, the film reminds us—I think better than any other Bond film to date—that rewarding variations on the formula need not always be especially obvious.
Pfeiffer: If A View to a Kill has a legacy, it’s that it was Roger Moore’s final Bond film. By all accounts, he probably went one movie too far. I know Roger agrees with that. He felt the age difference between him and Roberts was too distracting. He had originally quit after Octopussy and negotiations between him and Broccoli, who he liked immensely, became strained. I think Roger would have preferred to have left well enough alone with Octopussy. Yet, A View to a Kill obviously has a major following even today. One of Cinema Retro’s writers, Hank Reineke, recently covered a rare big screen showing of the movie at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. He was astonished that it had sold out quickly and that the audience was so appreciative of the movie. (Click here to read coverage.) So vintage Bond flicks seem to have a great shelf life—even the weakest ones.
Scivally: Seeing what happens to Tibbett and Chuck Lee, the lesson of A View to a Kill is: always look in the back seat before getting into your damn vehicle! Seriously, what is the film’s legacy? I think it will be remembered as the last Bond film for Roger Moore, Lois Maxwell and stuntman Bob Simmons, and for the Duran Duran title song, and little else.
Coate: Thank you, everyone, for participating and for sharing your thoughts about A View to a Kill on the occasion of its 30th anniversary.
The James Bond roundtable discussion will return in Remembering “GoldenEye” on its 20th Anniversary.
John Hazelton, Vince Young.
- Michael Coate