The Dark Side of the Moonwalker

Captain EO (1986) | Moonwalker (1988)

I missed the bus on Michael Jackson. Had I been born a bit earlier, and Thriller or Bad (his best LP, in my opinion) had been my introductory album to the “King of Pop”, rather than ’91’s Dangerous, who knows, I might’ve been one of those fellas you see with a single white glove.

Billie Jean” might be his masterpiece. “Beat It”, I can get with, perhaps because it has such prominent guitars. Although done to death by Simon Cowell’s American Pop X Factor Idol machine, “Dirty Diana” remains a tune. The definitely not occult-endorsing, John Landis-directed, zombie promo for “Thriller” surely stood the test of time, and remains one of Jackson’s most iconic moments; encapsulating music, dance, and fashion – reanimating itself every Hallowe’en to haunt us. I wanted more MJ songs like these, both as a kid, and during my recent rewatch of Moonwalker.

Although I’m yet to pay for any of Jackson’s music, I did have the Moonwalker computer game for the Sega Master System II, in which he memorably throws a coin across the room, directly into a jukebox, decked out in an elegant white suit and hat. It was such a captivating image. School friends talked about it often, and clearly bought into Jackson’s hip image. Maybe I did too – to an extent. Frankly, his strangeness always put me off.

“I’m going to search for my star until I find it. It’s hidden in the drawer of innocence, wrapped in a scarf of wonder.”

Michael Jackson

“Wacko Jacko”, they christened him in the UK tabloid press, and boy did it catch on. The sensational headlines included Mike buying the Elephant Man’s bones, his vitiligo/shifting skin tone, multiple surgeries (two nose jobs confirmed), the artificially inseminations, and other wild tales of building shrines to Liz Taylor, kipping in an oxygen tent, pissing off Paul McCartney by snapping up The Beatles’ publishing rights, and naming his third kid, “Blanket.”

The calculated Martin Bashir hit piece, Louis Theroux’s kick in the teeth follow-up circa MJ’s baby-dangling antics, plus Leigh Francis’ (Bo’ Selecta!) cruel and nonsensical (but I’m a little ashamed to say painfully hilarious in its time), abstract portrayal, and comedic dissection, which echoed playground jibes about Jackson’s nose falling off, and hammered a few more nails into his coffin.

Negative press aside, I do feel, for the most part, Jackson was given the benefit of the doubt in relation to the more disturbing hearsay. He continued to have colossal hit singles despite the lewd rumours, court cases, and in light of recent Neverland revelations, even posthumously, retains die hard supporters; some with high profiles, willing to die on the cross alongside him.

Talking of crosses, Jacko’s Christ-aping nonsense got Jarvis Cocker’s goat at the BRITS ’96, where the tweed-clad Pulp frontman, in an inspired moment of comedic heroism, decided enough was enough, and crashed the stage to do a daft hand dance, and expose Jackson’s blasphemous, power of healing, self-adoring “Earth Song” stage show for what it really was: a self-inflating booster for Michael Jackson, Inc.

Moonwalker didn’t represent MJ’s first foray into acting though, with appearances as Scarecrow in 1978’s The Wiz, and as the titular Captain EO in George Lucas’ and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1986 (first ever 4D) Disney sci-fi short, which makes a fascinating and kooky double bill with Moonwalker.

Captain EO features a rag-tag band of space truckers, struggling to bring balance to the force, sorry, freedom to the universe, using musical gifts as peaceful offerings. MJ, of course, plays the charismatic leader, capable of turning even the haggiest of ceiling-hags – the spider woman with a planet of her own, into a chilled out, benevolent goddess.

Jacko really looks at home amongst the Mos Eisley cantina rejects in his cool, light-up space jacket. When a man owns a monkey, the image of a singing, orange hamster with wings sitting on his shoulder isn’t that much of a stretch.

EO’s motley crew includes Academy Award winner (An American Werewolf in London), Rick Baker’s Fuzzball animatronic, the three-legged and two-headed Geex – Idee and Odee, the moustachioed Major Domo – a bossy, pegleg droid, largely ignored by EO à la Han Solo and Threepio, Minor Domo – a mini robot cleaner, and last but not least, the (surely) Max Rebo-inspired, Hooter (played by Bad Santa’s Joseph Anthony Cox) – a flatulent, two-stepping, Artoo-ish, honking Howard the Duck-alike, keyboardist pachyderm in a string vest, who enjoys putting waste paper bins on his head, eating star maps for a laugh, and getting the group completely lost in the process, much to the dismay of Michael, who constantly emits breathy, childlike yelps in his direction.

The extremely loose, 17-minute, Jim Henson nightmare plot revolves around the gang’s quest to transform a witchy queen with the empowering gift of music. What follows results in, without doubt, the maddest A-list movie short ever produced.

Director, Francis Coppola slums it, presumably for a sizeable paycheck. George Lucas is executive producer and wrote the screenplay from a Disney Imagineers’ concept. Anjelica Huston (The Witches) makes a compelling, if a little broad, Giger-esque, biomechanical bitch, with claws and tubes galore, suspended from wires; scowling her way through heavy 3-hour makeup. There’s lighting and photography courtesy of Oscar-winner, Vittorio Storaro (The Deer Hunter), James Horner (Aliens, Willow, Titanic) did the music, and the impressive choreography is by Jacko and Jeffrey Hornaday (Flashdance, Streets of Fire, Dick Tracy).

Captain EO was made to launch a cutting edge theatre at Disneyland, California; designed to lure the punters in with 3D, lasers, smoke and of course, Michael Jackson. It was sold as a space opera akin to Star Wars, but in reality plays like some shit Lucas had left over in a drawer. The hologram boss, Commander Bog, the Millennium Falcon-style, Death Star runs from the ship’s point of view, the Trench City miniature, and royalty ceremonially knighting EO and the crew is all reminiscent of a galaxy far far away.

It’s a well-meaning, non-violent, infectious farce, with a disobedient, rebellious MJ sticking it to the Man, as an outlaw with transformative superpowers. In terms of positives, there’s a blend of inventive stop motion musical sequences, the Seinfeldian bass-slapping dance numbers work well, and like it or not, there’s a true showman at the helm – albeit inexplicably shooting space glitter lightning out of his fingertips at every turn. Captain EO arguably justifies its own existence entirely by premiering Jackson’s first two new tracks since Thriller and “We Are the World” with “We Are Here to Change the World” and the Bad-teasing, “Another Part of Me.”

I don’t think I’ve ever written the word “bizarre” more often than in my notes to Michael Jackson’s experiMENTAL movie-musical, and video anthology piece, Moonwalker – directed by Colin Chilvers and Jerry Kramer, not that it really matters, as Mike is the pretty much the sole creative vision behind it.

I was puzzled from the outset, as I found myself wondering where the movie element I vaguely remembered was. I thought perhaps I’d made a mistake and was watching something different, but a quick Google search confirmed Moonwalker was always comprised of both documentary footage, and short and long-form narrative, video vignettes – the main segment beginning at around 37 minutes, in the form of the Smooth Criminal story.

An exploration of fandom and innocence in seven chapters; Moonwalker is a confounding, confused, mish-mash of concepts, muddled together in the form of a “Man in the Mirror” performance, an MJ retrospective docu dealing with rumours and speculation amid the media frenzy, then a Jackson 5 bit, “Badder” (a Bugsy Malone-style, all kids recreation of Martin Scorsese’s “Bad” music video, the “Speed Demon” and “Leave Me Alone” promos, a round the bend “Smooth Criminal” narrative segment, and finally, a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” Jacko once again proves to be a draw for the best of the best, with Frederick Elmes (Eraserhead, Wild at Heart) – David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch’s go-to cinematographer, photographing the “Speed Demon”, “Smooth Criminal”, and “Come Together” segments.

Fainting fans, and general MJ adulation kick off the proceedings (as they’re meant to go on). Jackson’s boogying around from the outset, shaking stardust out of his trousers with double doses of Michaelese “cha’mones!”, “heee-heeees!”, “hooo-hooos!”, and “owwwws!!” He telegraphs these quirky affectations to ludicrous extremes, and comes off, as my parents would say, as “a bit of an oddbod.” It’s a collaged sequence, cynically designed to prop up Jackson as a humanitarian figure of empathy and mercy. Here, even the reflective lyrics to “Man in the Mirror” play as narcissistic and conceited.

However, amid the greatest hits montage, and braggy collection of awards, MJ’s impact as a pop star is undeniable. When you hear these tracks back to back, it’s just a fact. As the key member of The Jackson 5, the little fella was a songbird – a naturally gifted wunderkind. Whatever came to pass, whatever may have happened to, and because of this person; there’s an underlying tragedy here.

Moonwalker contains no interviews as such; the non-fiction portion is solely montaged concert and live footage with added voiceover. In essence, Moonwalker was a promo tool for Jackson’s Bad LP, released in 1987. This strikes a disingenuous chord, as a commercial for an album perhaps shouldn’t exploit images of children and famine in Africa, and preach incoherently with shots of Desmond Tutu, JFK and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, John Lennon, and Jesus Christ. There’s a clash of interests there, surely? Are you making a statement about how we should all listen to the words of Nelson Mandela, or are you selling a record? In the era of Live Aid, these political inserts initially appear to make a peaceful statement of some kind, but actually play quite trite. A picture of Mother Teresa is not going to fix anything, dude.

A Bugsy Malone-esque take off of the visually arresting “Bad” video, in which MJ originally, implausibly, dance-defeats a rock hard Wesley Snipes and earns his respect. Yeah, right. The very natural child actor, Brandon Quintin Adams (The Mighty Ducks, The Sandlot) showcases his talent as a miniature “Baby Bad” Michael here, and also in the “Smooth Criminal” story as Zeke.

Adams shifts from child to adult in a single cut as Jackson leaves the sound stage with his entourage, and struts onto the studio back lot, where a chase akin to a scene from Dick Lester’s Beatles picture, A Hard Day’s Night kicks in. Michael encounters claymation expert, Will Vinton’s Plasticine fanatics, and later takes on their live action/clay hybrid form, much like his other famous creation, The California Raisins. “Excuse me”, Michael squeaks, in a timid, little girl’s voice, before an MJ bunny rabbit “Speed Demon” motorcycle chase ensues, with character cameos from Swamp Thing, Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner, and Pee-wee Herman.

Next, Michael attempts to shake off the media critics with the artistically adept, and visually arresting, “Leave Me Alone” video, featuring a cut-out “King of Pop” and Bubbles zooming around in a little, detached, fairground rocket ship, and climaxes with Jackson as a Gulliver-esque giant, standing up and breaking a rollercoaster.

The remainder of Moonwalker is a nutty, short-feature fiasco, and it won’t surprise anyone to discover it’s all based on a story by Michael Jackson. It was also his first independent movie project, financing, and penning the Smooth Criminal screenplay with David Newman (Bonnie and Clyde, the first three Superman movies).

Cue more adoration. It’s laid on pretty thick with three kids on a rooftop, peering down in abject terror as an attempted MJ assassination rocks the neighbourhood. Mike enjoyed playing prankster on this particular day of shooting, firing tommy gun blanks to startle everyone on set.

Plot-wise, Moonwalker depicts Michael as being constantly victimised, and always on the run, when all he wants to do is play with kids. Hmm. One eerie flashback involves MJ frolicking with youngsters in a meadow. What’s Sean Lennon doing there? How did that poor lad get dragged into all this? Hasn’t he suffered enough?

Teary children are distraught, with cries of “Oh no! Michael!”, as they weep inconsolably at the thought of Jackson leaving them; concern for his well being is littered throughout. It’s somewhat of a pity party. It plays as truly unusual, due to Jackson’s real life antics; inviting kids to the Neverland Ranch, sharing his bed, and allegedly his “Jesus juice.” Perhaps this scene, and Moonwalker to a greater degree, was a conscious attempt to normalise these social interactions, and steer away the demonising media by concocting a distracting, batshit crazy plot line about drugs, spiders, lasers and robots.

“Bugs and drugs. Bugs and drugs. Smooth operation, that’s what I got. Smooth operation.”

Mr Big, Moonwalker

If you want to see Joe Pesci as a fruitcake character named, “Mr Big” – a drug dealer to, and happy slapper of little’uns, eating peanuts in high heels, yelling incoherently into a megaphone, with a disturbingly erect ponytail, little round sunglasses, and tarantulas all around him (and why wouldn’t you?) this is your one stop shop. One pursuit sees a silhouetted MJ running (in tap shoes) from a pack of dogs, before bafflingly morphing into a hyper-fast, futuristic, bulletproof vehicle to evade him.

This villain, Frankie Lideo, is named after MJ’s manager; a mafia don-looking, cigar-chomping fatman, and real-life hawker of stuff that’s likely bad for you (you’ll recognise him as both Tuddy Cicero from Goodfellas and also Wayne’s World’s Frankie “Mr Big” (aha!) Sharp of Sharp Records, Frank DiLeo. DiLeo, Lideo, Chyeah! Right! As if we wouldn’t notice! Are they equating the peddling of narcotics to kids to flogging Michael Jackson records? Are they equally Bad for you? Is DiLeo as much of a crook in real life? What are they alluding to exactly?

Jackson’s half-unbuttoned, sweaty torso flashing and staccato “uh!” noises, meshed with his constant crotch-grabbing (at least it’s his own), fondling himself, and gyrating his gold belt buckle like he’s the the WWF Intercontinental champion of oddness, lead us into the most overtly sexual scene of Moonwalker. The “Smooth Criminal” section showcases a harrowing, blue-washed, nodding sex-scene-of-sorts, with no actual sex or nudity – just writhing, panting, and groaning on the dance floor.

Clearly sexual, yet desperate to appear wholesome, could be a review of both Moonwalker, and of Jackson in general; his career image was split. His sexuality and appearance, clothes, moves, vocals, and then this other immature persona, with the falsetto choirboy voice, childlike mannerisms, the funfair obsession, climbing trees, etc. When these two aspects of MJ collide, it’s a psychological pill many understandably can’t accept.

Michael imbibes himself with a supernatural, messianic power to save children from danger, but it’s all tinged with a try-hard implausibility, and at times, a freaky, ill-judged tone. Take Jackson’s ominous, glowing eyes, and sinister mechanical mask as he transforms into Mechajacko – a RoboGod with built-in, impenetrable force field, whose cries of, “aaaahhhh!” can decimate Mr Big’s henchmen no bother. Shooting stars (including MJ’s “lucky star”) give him level-up powers for unexplained reasons, ensuring justice is served and the invincible Jacko reigns supreme.

At a late juncture, Jackson (again, just because he can), turns into a spaceship and reverse zaps Mr Big’s weapon; cue lots of things blowing up in slow motion. The final, frankly unearned musical crescendo baffles and underwhelms in equal measure, and that’s that. Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s “The Moon is Walking” winds things down, and “Come Together” draws the curtains on the sharpish 93 minutes; one of Moonwalker‘s few virtues.

DiLeo denies Moonwalker is merely a commercial for Michael Jackson, and insists they’re selling “happiness.” If you have no issues bastardising your music to pimp Pepsi, I don’t see how plugging yourself for an hour and a half would be such an issue. The unsightly egotism and greed lands again when we learn Jackson demanded such insane amounts of cash for the American theatrical release of Moonwalker that he was eventually denied one entirely.

So, is Moonwalker fractured lunacy from the mind of an insane person? Or is it all just a bit of fun?

Moonwalker plays as a hypocritical mess. At best, it was a cynical tool, no doubt used to Jackson’s own benefit financially and commercially, and at the worst, to fuel his own sociopathic ego, and perpetuate a squeaky clean media image, enabling him to manoeuvre in some seedy circles. Another disconcerting factor is to what degree Jackson may have benefitted from this affected persona. Whether we’re watching a childishly playful, grown-man scamp, or someone more sinister and calculating, is a disturbing question to pose.

To me, it’s a unique, but crackers, ego trip to the furthest reaches of Jacko’s self conceits. Bar a few standout moments of true visual creativity (namely the “Smooth Criminal” and “Leave Me Alone” segments), Moonwalker folds under the weight of its own erratic derangement. It’s like existing inside Jackson’s head for an hour and a half; as if he dreamt it, described it to the crew in his shy little voice, and then the execs (and Mike, to be fair) just chucked bucks at it.

There’s no rhyme or reason to anything that happens, and the film itself hides behind its somewhat experimental approach. Basically, the narrative is crackers, but as expected, the dancing and tunes are mostly first-rate.

As a songwriter, musician, and performer, Michael Jackson was a phenomenon. As the key creative behind Moonwalker, he’s selling self-promotion, self-adulation, and dark wonder, and it’s hard to buy any of it.


All Hallows’ Evenings

All Hallows’ Evenings, 2018

In 2018, myself, my extremely patient girlfriend, Shinyeong, and a band of likeminded comrades in Jeonju, South Korea, embarked upon our first ever #horroctober – one horror film every night throughout the month of October. We named ours All Hallows’ Evenings.

It’s not a particularly clever or diverse curation of titles, but it’s what we ended up with, and what we actually saw through to the bloody end. Please enjoy Werewolf Wednesdays, the Dead By Dawn duo (my favourite beer and pizza double bill), a Neve Campbell ’96 pairing, The Witching Hours, a found footage coupling, a frightening Franchise Friday, and the 40th anniversary double feature, Halloween: The Nights He Came Home.


“They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don’t give a fuck how crazy they are!”

Seth Gecko, From Dusk Till Dawn

It was a mad rush to finish the accompanying drawings. I used a cool little Wacom Bamboo Slate tablet, which allowed me to draw directly onto paper with the ink pen provided, and digitally convert at the touch of a button using the Wacom app.


This playlist represents the first incarnation of a Scarious Artists project, back in 2012. It began as the throwaway title of a 2CD Hallowe’en compilation – a daft pun on Various Artists, which spiralled each year into a longer, ever-evolving catalogue of mildly macabre party-appropriate (and not so party-appropriate) tunes.

Some lucky souls even got physical copies with handmade, Universal Monster artwork. I made a few of these Hallowe’en mixes over the years, including spooky Hobbycraft felt pouches, and little USB thumbs in coffin boxes with red tissue paper interiors. You can freak out to the digital version below.

Gimme Some (Roger) Moore

Live and Let Die (1973) | The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) | The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) | Moonraker (1979) | For Your Eyes Only (1981) | Octopussy (1983) | A View to a Kill (1985)

They, whoever they are, will tell you the Bond you saw first – the Bond you were born into, is inevitably your favourite. When I was young (and my heart was an open book), Roger Moore was my James Bond, and if there’s any explanation for my side parting or short-sleeved khaki shirts as a kid, it’s either my mum, or Moore.

Picture a Boxing Day afternoon in a cosy, North Yorkshire village. The MGM lion growls a big growl at us, and gives way to the United Artists presentation title. Gun barrel rifling appears. A tuxedoed gent enters screen right and fires his pistol into the lens, and every time it’s Roger Moore as 007, I’m relieved.

In ’64, whilst playing Simon Templar on The Saint, Moore appeared briefly as Bond in an episode of the BBC’s sketch comedy programme, Mainly Millicent. Following that initial introduction, the three key stages of Moore as Bond can be defined as:

I: Directed by Guy Hamilton – Live and Let Die in ’73 and The Man with the Golden Gun in ’74. II: Directed by Lewis Gilbert – The Spy Who Loved Me in ’77 and Moonraker in ’79. III: Directed by John Glen – For Your Eyes Only in ’81, Octopussy in ’83, and A View to a Kill in ’85.

For me, Sir Roger exemplifies the charm, charisma, comedic timing, and wisecracking one-liners of 007, and balances them adeptly with the ideal amount of heroic fortitude and romantic male lead – and it appears I’m not totally alone, as Moore was awarded “Best Bond” by Academy voters in both 2004 and 2008.

Rita Coolidge said it best in Octopussy’s underrated theme song, “All Time High” – “All I wanted was a sweet distraction for an hour or two.” That’s what Bond is. There’s security in the structure, and when it’s done well, it’s escapist entertainment at its very best.

Moore is the antidote – the dividing line between Bond fans who “read” GQ (meaning they scan endless pages of adverts, rubbing sample aftershave on themselves), covet expensive watches and cars, and fancy themselves as lounge lizard Lotharios, and the more casual, discerning Bond consumers, who see through the suave artifice, and appreciate the franchise for all its magnificent absurdity.

Still, detractors (Sir Roger included) preach their Connery spiel, say he “set the style”, was “the creator”, and argue Sean’s original is the pure, unbeaten incarnation of Ian Fleming’s super spy – often accusing Moore’s playboy personification of womanising more than Walther-wielding, and telegraphing those campy eyebrow raises. With his usual self-deprecating wit, Moore once confessed his acting range included just three expressions: right eyebrow raised, left eyebrow raised, and eyebrows crossed. He later amended it: “I added another one – I don’t move them at all.”

“Say the words. Don’t bump into the furniture.”

Roger Moore, Des O’Connor Tonight ’94

He knows the leading ladies looked young enough to be his granddaughters. He’s aware his chins were multiplying. Moore dialled back the arrogance of Connery, often playing down his lack of skill as an actor, seemingly reluctant to call himself a thespian – merely an “equity card carrier.” Although his critics may agree, these humble gestures were far too modest. In reference to being the longest running Bond, playing 007 for twelve years, aged 45-57, Moore shrugs it off, saying he “worked cheap.”

The truth is, the self-effacing Moore spent three terms at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), and was an accomplished and versatile actor. I can totally buy Rog devouring figs in Greece with Melina in For Your Eyes Only, swanning about a soirée as James St. John Smythe, or as James Stock, making Stacey Sutton a lovely quiche in A View to a Kill – fall about laughing, and then get sucked right back into the action again mere moments later. Moore artfully transcends the daftness because it emanates from him intentionally.

Did Sean Connery ever trap a bottle-hoying (forgive me) “midget” in a suitcase? Can you picture George Lazenby whacking his testicles on an antenna while dangling from a zeppelin? Daniel Craig swinging through the jungle, yelling like Tarzan? Timothy Dalton makeshift snowboarding to The Beach Boys’ California Girls? Or Pierce Brosnan inflating a gangster till he popped?

I will concede some credibility is lost when a soused onlooker eyes his bottle of booze for the umpteenth time as Bond passes, typically doing something implausible and borderline idiotic. The most regrettable of these instances takes place in the often maligned, humour-heavy Moonraker, as a pigeon (yeah, a pigeon) double takes as Bond bezzes through Venice on an inflatable gondola. Octopussy is likely the second place offender with a farcical, impromptu, tennis-themed auto rickshaw pursuit.

These are perhaps the only scenes more retrospectively cringeworthy than the ones featuring Cool Hand Luke’s Clifton James as sweaty orangutan-alike, J.W. Pepper. His crackpot contributions include the completely unjustifiable cries of “little brown water hog!” and “pointy-heads” in The Man with the Golden Gun, and generally speaking, his contrived second appearance in a Bond movie makes little to no sense. He’s as superfluous as Scaramanga’s “third papilla.” At times, I wished 007 had put his license to kill into action and capped that roly-poly jackass himself.

When it comes to broad comedy and these vast tonal shifts – to quote a badly dubbed Fiona Fullerton as KGB spy, Pola Ivanova, in A View to a Kill – I suppose the bubbles either “tickle your Tchaikovsky” or they don’t. Personally, I tolerate them. Particularly in a film like Moonraker, which is not as light and breezy as it’s often made out to be. For example, that hilarious scene where Corinne Dufour is chased down and torn apart by two of Drax’s ravenous rottweilers, Bond’s gurning, g-force centrifuge nightmare, or the side-splitting dark alley encounter where a sinister, professional killer with steel teeth removes his big scary clown head and attempts to take a bite out of poor Manuela. 

“Look after Mr. Bond. See that some harm comes to him.”

Hugo Drax, Moonraker

How anyone thinks Moonraker is disproportionately comedic is beyond me. Bar a few goofy moments, it’s level pegging with the rest. For every giggle, like Jaws (memorably played by Richard Kiel) setting off the metal detector at the airport, there’s something to offset it. Take Drax’s ark: a Hitleresque plot to implement a final solution of his own, involving the execution of the entire human race, minus his flawless specimens (a perfect pretense to crowbar in the best-looking Bond girls in the series).

In my eyes only, perhaps, the ludicrous extremes of Moonraker actually make it a standout. It’s film literate – referencing Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Magnificent Seven, the space station sets impress, I enjoyed the laser battle (particularly as a boy), and the overt comedy encapsulates everything I love about Moore’s Bond.

Moonraker also brings Moore together (for the final time) with all three franchise staples – Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defence, Bernard Lee as M, and (as much as I adore John Cleese) the one and only Q in my opinion, Desmond Llewelyn.

Lois Chiles is a proactive, comparably feminist Bond girl, and Gervaisian, Jeremy Beadle-alike, Hugo Drax (Michael Lonsdale) ticks all the obligatory bad guy boxes as a world domination-crazed megalomaniac. It’s got some of my all time favourite Q-issued gadgets, including the hang glider speedboat and pulse-activated dart gun, plus Jaws gets himself a girlfriend. There’s an ornate, intricate score by John Barry, and the film hops from one set piece to another quite nicely. For some, the impatient, frequent switching of locales and the uneven tone will drag it down to a lower ranking installment.

“Stop talking about American things, and let’s watch the best film ever made.”

Alan Partridge on The Spy Who Loved Me, I’m Alan Partridge

Bond connoisseurs frequently cite Roger’s 1977 outing, The Spy Who Loved Me as being the quintessential Bond picture, and although I have more personal ties to Moore’s sophomore effort – Guy Hamilton’s The Man with the Golden Gun, I have to side with them (and with Alan Partridge). By his second collaboration with Moore, director Lewis Gilbert had perfected his take on the Bond movie archetype, and by Roger’s third of seven appearances, tailored it to fit him like a tan safari suit.

There’s the iconic, pre-title ski chase (echoed in two other Moore Bonds – For Your Eyes Only and A View to a Kill, stunning Ringo-wife, Barbara Bach, as Major Anya Amasova (Agent XXX) who, although has little to no acting skills, manages to blag her way through like a pretty zombie, Moore “delving deeply into Egypt’s treasures”, using a woman as a human shield (hello, Austin Powers), the throwaway xenophobia of “Egyptian builders”, Stromberg’s shark tank elevator chute, the first appearance of the monstrous, shark-eating man that is Jaws, some ropey slow motion, jump cuts, and back projection, and without doubt, the best theme song in the series – so good that Radiohead covered it. The Spy Who Loved Me is indelible as perhaps the toppermost of the poppermost in terms of Bond film satisfaction, and a strong foundation for newcomers to Moore. Or if you’re a fussy purist like me, you could always start at the very beginning.

The heavy-handed but flashy and immediate, blaxploitation-era Moore debut, Live and Let Die, laid the groundwork for both Roger, and Guy Hamilton’s fresh takes on 007. At 45, Moore is handsome and disarming as you like, in the best shape of his life, and at his most youthful as 007 – impeccable throughout in his black shirt and brown leather holster combo, trademark suits, and at one point, rocking baby blue trousers and jacket over a white vest as his Jamaican boating attire.

One thing that lifts Live and Let Die is Paul McCartney and Wings’ anthemic title track, and Beatle producer extraordinaire, George Martin’s compelling music throughout. Madeline Smith as the magnetic Miss Caruso is a solid, most overlooked Bond girl candidate along with Emily Bolton as Moore’s Rio squeeze, Manuela, in Moonraker, and while we’re doing undervalued, if you’re into ruthless helicopter henchwomen (who isn’t?), you’d be hard pressed to beat the smouldering Carol Munro as Naomi in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Yaphet Kotto does the trick as Kananga, his big, bald, metal-clawed, gun barrel-bending, muscleman henchman, Tee Hee, is threatening throughout, and the camp as you like, voodoo god of cemeteries and laughter addict, Baron Samedi – the man who unfortunately cannot die, adds an odd, effeminate element. Moore casually smoking a cigar in a hang glider is one of my top moments.

Amid the ’70s crash zooms, there are fun bits like the crocodile stepping stones, inflatable couch gag, and bus chase, but it was 1973 and there is unfortunately some “trouble” – namely the demonisation of Live and Let Die’s San Monique locals, and the African American characters in general. We’re firmly in voodoo land with fire-swinging, contortionists, and racial stereotypes-a-go-go. Back in NYC, you’ve got the Fillet of Soul, the Oh Cult voodoo shop, Harlem pimps and prossies, jive talkin’ taxi drivers – “Right on, brotha!”, and to counteract that, plenty of “honkies.” Perhaps it’s too little loo late, but the filmmakers did cast a variety of black actors as Bond aides and CIA agents – something which happens less and less in the coming years.

Roger Moore’s 1973-85 stint as successor to Sean, and predecessor to Dalton, was in many ways a parody of the Connery era in a similar vein to the Austin Powers series being a pisstake of Moore’s time as 007. Not as overt, perhaps, but Moore’s era did seemingly favour comedy at the cost of its credibility. In Moonraker, Drax’s munificence is boundless as he (like Dr. Evil) reveals his entire plan to Bond, and places him in an “easily escapable situation.” I find that in a world as preposterous as Bond’s, particularly with Moore in the title role, these ridiculous aspects truly belong.

Moore’s Bonds skewer the franchise from the inside. They pull no funny punches and show Bond for what it really is – a good laugh. He got it. He knew how silly it all was. A “secret” agent whose reputation preceded him – known by name, even by his tipple of choice (trivia time: Moore drank, but never personally ordered his vodka martini “shaken but not stirred”, he left that to Sean and company), and recognised immediately by the majority of his international adversaries.

It wasn’t all suave quipping, weird, elderly, fireside snogs, Bollinger ’69 sipping, and suspicious hairlines either. Contrary to popular belief, Moore held his own in the scraps, and at times you could feel a seething hatred for the villains he encountered. As fun as it all gets, Bond doesn’t like to lose. The evils Roger gives the barking mad Max Zorin after his “incompetence” dig in A View to a Kill are palpable, as is the vitriol directed at madman defector, General Orlov, in Octopussy, and the tension-filled dinner with the educated and urbane Francisco Scaramanga – The Man with the Golden Gun (played with class by Ian Fleming’s cousin, Christopher Lee), is perhaps the prime example.

The Man with the Golden Gun is sacred to me, and it stings to see it forever toward the bottom end of the Bond rankings. Saltzman and Broccoli’s last hurrah together feels like peak Bond. The fact of the matter is, I’d rather watch The Man with the Golden Gun on a Sunday afternoon than Goldfinger, regardless of whether it’s a better piece of cinema or not. It’s just more pleasurable.

It was shot partially on location in Hong Kong, where my uncle has lived and worked since he was 21, allowing us to visit several times over the years, enjoy the best holidays of my life in swimming pools, the shark-infested beaches of Repulse Bay, and follow in Moore’s footsteps at the swish Peninsula Hotel, where we never actually stayed, but once popped in, past the smart valets and trademark green Rolls-Royces for a posh high tea. Another real, dream-come-true was realised in 2010 when I travelled by longboat to Khao Phing Kan (often referred to as James Bond Island), northeast of Phuket, Thailand. It was overrun with tourists and cheap tat, but it was hallowed ground.

I always felt Moore enjoyed the company of women more than Connery. There’s Sir Sean’s troubling, well-documented views on disciplining the opposite sex, and a few ill-advised lines and gestures like Goldfinger’s “man talk” and bum slap, which depict a backward view of sexual politics. There’s a gentlemanly air separating Moore from Connery. There was a cruelty and a slight, dislikable edge to some of Connery’s behavior as Bond that’s lacking in Moore’s portrayal. His quips land relatively harmlessly and playfully, but when Connery demeans or strikes a woman, or drops a misogynistic clanger, we have to wonder where Sean ends and his Bond persona begins.

Ol’ Rog’s secret agent wasn’t exactly a gentleman when it came to handling certain female characters either. Throwaway digs like *tut* “women”, land like cringy sledgehammers. Maude Adams in The Man with the Golden Gun, receives a few swift backhands and almost gets her arm broken for her trouble (this scene, along with Bond pushing the elephant statue selling Thai boy into the river was later regretted by Moore), Live and Let Die’s ditzy double-crosser, Rosie Carver is deftly dispatched with an unfeeling air and not mourned, even for a second by Bond – he even spews out the crude line, “I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before”, in reference to her post-coital question of loyalty, and quite shockingly, the once virginal Solitaire (a twenty-year-old Jane Seymour) gets cruelly duped and bedded after Bond fiddles with her tarot cards, tricking her into the sack – her modesty and clairvoyance out the window, all to appease a sexual whim.

“Nick Nack! Tabasco!”

Francisco Scaramanga, The Man with the Golden Gun

This is where some unfortunate wrinkling occurs, not only in the crow’s feet of Moore’s later Bonds, but also in the franchise’s overall dealings with race, women, and… little people. Regrettably, each modern rewatch does sadly tarnish each of Moore’s Bonds in one way or another. Take the For Your Eyes Only baddie, Kristatos, and his blonde henchman buddy, Erich, clouting young Bibi, the arm-twisting brutalisation and interrogation of Ms Anders, and the treatment of Nick Nack (Hervé Villechaize) in The Man with the Golden Gun – which although lighthearted, and is arguably a fitting dispatch of a villainous toerag, plays as degrading and cruel. Having said that, the little chap’s coming at James with a pocket knife – what would you do? Sticking Scaramanga’s mini henchman in a lobster cage atop a junk was perhaps a let off. Most of Bond’s adversaries catch a bullet. Redneck wiseass, J.W. Pepper, spouting Southern bigot swill and chastising Asian characters for “wearing pajamas” just about takes the cake.

Sadly, 007 himself is guilty of some casual racism too, with a cheap gag in Octopussy about keeping a cheery Indian character “in curry for a few weeks” (oh dear) after chucking him a fat stack of rupees. The years have not been kind to what was once, no doubt, intended as gentle ribbing, but in retrospect plays as inappropriate and offensive. Moonraker’s generic Asian, Chang, yelling incoherently and animalistically throughout his battles doesn’t help the cause either.

The Man with the Golden Gun unfortunately peaks the series’ contempt for cultures, but I still find it “quite titillating.” It’s got “magnificent abdomens”, a rubbish Lulu track, Wei Wei Wong’s Bottoms Up Club cheekiness, the canted German expressionist sets of Scaramanga’s deadly funhouse, and Britt Ekland’s stunning but scatterbrained, Mary Goodnight, getting stuffed in the boot of a flying golden AMC Matador X Coupe, destined for a Wicker Man island reunion with Christopher Lee. It could be the best Bond film. It’s not, but it could be.

“Sean was the killer. I was the lover.”

Roger Moore

When once asked if he did any of his own stunts, Sir Roger replied, “I did a couple of the love scenes.” The name, Roger More – sorry, Moore, has its own sexual connotations akin to the Bond girls surrounding him – from The Man with the Golden Gun’s nude swimmer, Chew Mee (really) and A View to a Kill’s prowling, jodhpured equestrian, Jenny Flex, to Moonraker’s droll doll, Dr Holly Goodhead, and the alluring Octopussy herself (Maude Adams was Moore’s favourite Bond girl, which may explain why she’s the only actress to play two 007 love interests). They’re not singled out as such. They match Moore, making him an ideal companion, as the ladies’ man who focussed more on impudent, wry humour and bedroom antics than cold-blooded assassinations. He’s going with the grain, not against it.

In fact, both Moore and Christopher Walken (who played Max Zorin – an experimental, Nazi Germany, concentration camp baby with a gargantuan IQ, who was also unfortunately psychotic as a side effect) were perturbed by the direction the films were heading, and called out the violence in A View to a Kill as being disproportionate, and not in keeping with the Bond aesthetic. The trigger-happy Zorin laughing maniacally whilst gunning down his own employees was seemingly taking the franchise away from its original intentions as a classy, espionage, spy thriller with elements of fun and levity, to a darker place tonally, where we would eventually, more appropriately in their cases, get the brooding, understated Dalton, and the jacked-up mass of Craig – objected to by many at first (including me when I first saw him emerging from the sea, built like The Incredible Hulk), but took the series exactly where it needed to go in the age of dark origin stories. After Moore, Craig is my second place runner. Roger was also a Craig admirer and although he loved Casino Royale, quite rightly pointed out that Quantum of Solace lacked the geography and simplicity of his era.

Having said that, the Moore Bonds (and many other early films in the franchise) can also play a little clunky. There’s a silly musical shorthand in films like Moonraker, which lets us know the location of the current scene. Ah, flamenco guitars! We must be in Spain! There’s also many a shoddy edit to advance the story. One in particular really stands out in For Your Eyes Only, with a rope climb wedge harshly and amateurishly jump cut to sell its instability.

You’d probably expect more from the director – former Bond film editor and second unit helmer (The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker), and blatant boob (and pigeon, don’t ask) guy, John Glen. We should credit/blame Maurice Binder for all the naked lady outlines. His slease-saturated opening sequences put more silhouetted t-and-a on screen than anyone else in the business). However, Glen himself somehow managed to sneak at least two fleeting nipples into For Your Eyes Only, not including the pair over his own name in the titles.

For Your Eyes Only somehow eluded me as a child. Perhaps I saw it once, but I didn’t tape it off the telly, nor did I buy the VHS when those bargain bin, buy one, get one free, Woolworths’ video deals were on in the late ’90s. Seeing as you’re asking, I bought a couple for my dad – early Connery classics like Dr. No and From Russia with Love, and Moonraker (which, for my money, has the best pre-title opening sequence of any of the Moore Bonds) and A View to a Kill for myself.

One saving grace of For Your Eyes Only is that it single-handedly saved United Artists’ bacon from bankruptcy following Michael Cimino’s financial uber-flop, Heaven’s Gate. Bill Conti’s funky, soft rock synth during the toboggan pursuit adds a cheesy energy, but really, aside from a neat Charles Dance cameo as henchman Claus, the interesting Thatcher-era London milieu, and aerial madness finessing the franchise’s earlier practical work, For Your Eyes Only is lacking. It disposed of Bond’s sense of humour in an attempt to pull back some credibility. I put it in the category of not daft enough, and a bit dull. It’s uncomfortable in its own skin, and falls between two stools in terms of its intentions. I also felt the absence of key production designer, Ken Adam.

It’s certainly, by far, my least favourite of Moore’s. The tedious underwater shenanigans are drawn out and laborious – although the attacker in a JIM suit with pincer grip reminded me of the unnerving Mr Igoe from Innerspace. I always find myself thinking, “Get to the siege on the bad guys’ hideout!” At least the Meteora mountain monastery section has boys’ own scenarios involving binoculars, rope, vertigo-inducing rock climbs with winches, and precarious death drops from an Alpine sheer face.

Spielberg and Lucas really upped the game in ’81 with Raiders of the Lost Ark. The duo frankly put For Your Eyes Only to shame, and forced the subsequent Bonds to be of a much higher quality. Unfortunately not Moore’s back catalogue, which technically stayed a little clumsy. Dalton’s ’87-’89 films were a step up visually, and by the time Brosnan entered, they were, and now are, with Daniel Craig’s latest installments, leading the action film race in terms of both practical, CG effects, and big budget gloss.

My relationship to For Your Eyes Only is quite superficial and I honestly have little investment in the film. In my mind, there’s every other Moore outing, and then this thing in their midst. It has the pace of a relaxed stroll. I also feel like Spielberg and Lucas must have taken copious notes as they later cast Julian Glover as arch bad guy, Donovan, in ’89’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as well as nicking a few sidecar vs Nazi bike chase ideas.

It wouldn’t be the first time Steve and George pinched from 007, either. Octopussy, without doubt, laid the groundwork for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom a year later in ’84, with its Delhi-set hijinks, Kamal’s palace somewhat resembling Pancott, and stuffed sheep’s head and spider-squishing certainly equates to Temple of Doom’s chilled monkey brains and tunnels of bugs. Then there’s the sexual tension – storming out of, and back into rooms, just like the “five minutes” sequence in Temple of Doom, but honestly, it plays better in the hands of Spielberg, Ford and Capshaw. Not to forget, Indy himself was, in part, born out of Spielberg’s desire to direct a Bond picture, leading to a grey, professorial Connery being perfectly cast as Indiana’s dad in Last Crusade.

Conversely, at one point in Octopussy, a car disappears through a secret door and is rapidly covered over – a familiar sight if, like me, you’ve absorbed every frame of Raiders (two years previous). So who’s stealing from who? Again, the theft is reversed in A View to a Kill, where the mine sequences have a distinct Temple of Doom flavour.

1983’s Octopussy (please note, whenever reading the title, it’s much more fun if you say it like Louis Jordan’s Kamal Khan), released the same year as Connery’s non-canon Thunderball remake, Never Say Never Again, pulls no punches with its overtly sexual title and showcases one of the sauciest, suggestive softcore openings in the Bond oeuvre. Take Bond’s adolescent antics like zooming in on breasts, the leggy Bianca, Moneypenny’s younger model – Ms Penelope Smallbone, Magda’s suggestive lines like “I need refilling” and “That’s my little octopussy”, and Maud Adams’ naked pool exit.

Octopussy is all over the place, juggling tone clumsily at times. To illustrate, the film contains a facehugger octopus, a daft undercover crocodile boat disguise vehicle, Bond getting startled by a chimpanzee, battling shits in burgundy with leather waistcoats, hiding behind a fat bloke, double taking at a tiger head rug, the legendary AK47 banister slide, and one of my absolute favourite Moore moments – Bond in a gorilla suit, creeping around a train carriage, bonking into things, winking and nodding knowingly, having a ball. Not at our expense, but with us. The film even ends with a cheesy exclamation of “James!”

There’s a meta moment worth noting, in which the unfortunately named sidekick, BJ, whilst undercover as a snake charmer (oh dear again – there are a few of these Indian cultural shorthand issues like broken English, fire-walking, sword-swallowing, and a bed of nails), plays Monty Norman’s signature Bond tune on his flute, suggesting 007 is aware of his own theme music. Amusing, but odd.

“Operation Trove” isn’t a bad plot line. Steven Berkoff devours the scenery, overdoing it at literally every opportunity, but it’s all in good fun, General Gogol pops up and does his thing, there’s a dice-crushing henchman, Bond tells tigers to “sit”, survives snakes, blood sucking leeches and alligators, there’s a superb fight on a train (as per), Moore chucks out an “up yours” gesture at a car full of mischievous kids, it’s got a killer opening sequence and a thrilling plane escape denouement, albeit with a few shaky stunt doubles. Amid the ropy action cutting, there are some impressive aerial stunts, and the circus troupe harem get to play play double-crossed women who get a shot at revenge.

In For Your Eyes Only, Moore was edging into Humbert Humbert territory, playing opposite the figure skating teenager, Lynn-Holly Johnson (whose character was only supposed to be 16 years old, according to Moore’s autobiography), but thankfully he never crosses the line. Moore holds his own, aged fifty-odd in Octopussy, with Maude Adams inexplicably (canon-wise) returning to the franchise as the titular character, and definitely not The Man with the Golden Guns very dead, Andrea Anders, who gets a golden bullet through her heart at the hands of ace assassin, Francisco Scaramanga. By the time Moore’s frolicking with Playboy bunny, Tanya Roberts, at 57 in A View to a Kill, age does become a concern.

“You can either grow old gracefully, or begrudgingly. I choose both.”

Roger Moore

A bit long in the tooth, Moore wisely brought his Bond reign to a close after seven pictures, with A View to a Kill (formerly From a View to a Kill) when he noted, “They were running out of actors who looked old enough to be knocked down by me”, and described “getting up out of a chair” as one of his stunts.

As the groaniest of all the Bonds, Moore never failed to emit some of the strangest sounds in the series, from audible words such as “Move!” and “Swing!”, to the barely perceptible “Frayse!” or “Schwaise!” There are plenty of incoherent “Oomph”s and “Uuhoooohh”s, and more indecipherable, unspellable utterances as Moore sort of falls off the Golden Gate bridge, swallows a golden belly button charm, gets done in with hockey sticks, dangles from an unlocked fire engine ladder, is tripped by a rigged steeplechase jump, gets squeezed and bear hugged by a sumo wrestler, kicked in the shin and whacked on the bonce with a trident by an angry dwarf, grabbed by the testes and slammed into a train carriage roof by a giant oaf, and my favourite being in the final of his installments, the elderly entry, A View to A Kill, in which Moore exclaims, “Ooohhhhhhuuuoowww” as he nearly falls off the Eiffel Tower, like a senior citizen on black ice.

A View to a Kill ups the sauce as we “dance into the fire”, Duran Duran-style with some suggestive, phallic glow stick pistol gesticulations. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s Alison Doody makes a slinky impression in a mere few moments, and Grace Jones leaps off the Eiffel Tower (and the screen) as stern, Walken sidekick, Mayday. Jones is incredibly striking, but she’s a tad overpowering for most in terms of classic Bond girls. She’s more of a henchwoman who can bench press a bloke no bother (with her real life squeeze, Dolph Lundgren, looking on in knowing horror). A View to a Kill also features a second baddie “face turn” (following Jaws’ flip to the good side in Moonraker), with the major difference being that Mayday’s self-sacrifice ends with her being blown to bits after hindering Zorin’s “Operation Main Strike”, in which a catastrophic earthquake would have been triggered by flooding the San Andreas fault, sending Silicon Valley plunging into oblivion.

Moore’s complexion may not be taut, but A View to a Kill’s ominous score is, with that repetative, instantly recognisable, bending guitar note keeping things propulsive and tense. There’s a decent plot with a particularly hefty third act involving the mine and a Zorin Industries sky ship, where Walken does some insane work as the bewildered villain. It’s actually an underrated installment. If you needed further convincing, Moore hooks up with a British snow bunny agent hidden in a Union Jacked iceberg submarine, wears a slightly suspect leather jacket, Zorin’s Nazi doctor grandpa – the war criminal, has a bad fall with some dynamite, Steed from The Avengers (the ’60s TV one) gets bumped off in a car wash, and our main man Moore bows out of the franchise fittingly in a steamy shower with the beautiful Stacey.

“I never liked guns. I hate them. I always blink before they go off.”

Roger Moore

Moore appreciated what Bond did for him, spending his twilight years pottering around Monaco as a UNICEF Ambassador and an animal rights and anti-sport hunting activist, trading in Bond’s Lotus Esprit S1 for a Smart car as “There’s nowhere to park.” He embarked upon tours with Q&A sessions, and appeared before live audiences, recounting career tales and regaling crowds with stories of past 007 glories. Moore also held onto his humility, once stating he wanted to title his book, “One Lucky Bastard.”

Sir Roger George Moore KBE died in 2017, leaving a legacy of warmth as Bond, and in many other big screen roles including Gold, a law-stretching, very Bondy turn in The Cannonball Run, and Michael Winner’s Bullseye! with Michael Caine, before popping up in Spice World in 1997 as The Chief. He also left us with enduring television characters like Ivanhoe, The Saint’s Simon Templar from 1962-’69, and Lord Brett Rupert George Robert Andrew Sinclair in The Persuaders!

If you fancy spending an hour or two (or fourteen) with the mellifluous-voiced man himself, I’d urge you to hunt down the “Bond 50” Blu-rays or eBay the older “Bond Ultimate Edition” DVD series, which have superb, meandering, anecdotal Moore commentaries on each of his entries, pop the cork on that Dom Pérignon ’52 you’ve been saving, and indulge yourself. He’s a joy to listen to, and for me, will always be a joy to watch.


P.S. I put together some foolproof 007 criteria to aid you in selecting your next Roger Moore adventure. Each category was scored out of five, culminating in a final percentage and subsequent ranking.

The categories were: Pre-title Action Sequence, General Storyline and Scripting, Theme Song and Opening Title Sequence, Villains and Henchmen, Bond Girls, and Moore’s Performance as Bond.

1. The Spy Who Loved Me 90%

2. Moonraker 83%

3. Octopussy 77%

4. A View to a Kill 77%

5. The Man with the Golden Gun 73%

6. Live and Let Die 70%

7. For Your Eyes Only 57%

Dragnet Me to Hell

Dragnet (1987)

I have crystal clear memories of digging out my Dragnet VHS (taped off the telly) and watching it regularly, in a ritual of my own – sat on our living room carpet, sipping milk and nibbling Jaffa Cakes (always two for some reason).

I was aware of Dan Aykroyd from the ’80s kid mega hits, Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, as well as The Great Outdoors, and Tom Hanks from other childhood staples like Turner & Hooch (a buddy cop movie of its own), Big, Splash, and The ‘Burbs, so they were the main draw.

Dragnet was directed by Superman and ’70s Bond screenwriter (not to mention uncredited script doctor on WarGames and Gremlins), Tom Mankiewicz – who appears to have a penchant for snake attacks, as he once penned a short outline for Moonraker, which includes a scene reminiscent of the attempted virgin sacrifice in Dragnet where Drax’s pet python develops a crush on Roger Moore’s 007.

Dragnet was an odd film to watch religiously, but back then the films seemed to choose us. We got whatever was deemed decent enough to air on one of four UK terrestrial channels – usually cut to shreds by censors. The splice-happy BBFC chopped out 14 seconds of nunchucks from Dragnet’s theatrical and video versions and Michelangelo knows how much from the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, not “ninja” underlined, cartoon as the weapon was heavily restricted.

“The story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. For example, George Baker is now called Sylvia Wiss.”

Narrator, Dragnet

Dragnet’s prologue highlights the disparities between L.A. natives and immediately showcases the iconic soundtrack with Aykroyd’s eager flathead, Friday’s footsteps stomping assuredly to its dramatic rhythm. The dog in sunglasses representing “race”, Kosher Style Burritos, Best Western mosque motel and quality Donut Hole inserts confidently nail the parodistic tone of what follows – starting with the classic Los Angeles police badge opening titles, now with an added remixed theme.

The Roger Ebert-coined genre term, “Oneza” immediately springs to mind. Uptight Sgt. Joe Friday – namesake nephew of a hero cop uncle, is an anally retentive stickler. Tom Hanks’ Det. Pep Streebeck (greatest character name in cinema history) is the contrasting, hipster freebird – Friday’s lone wolf partner. What follows is buddy cop duo movie playtime. Dragnet has all the noirish, archetypal plot points and ticks every stereotypical trope box of the police procedural, albeit satirical as hell.

There’s the occult secret society gathering resembling Bohemian Grove or a swastika-plastered Nazi rally, incriminating P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness and Normalcy) calling cards left at crime scenes, the car chase joyride complete with a ball-busting interrogation, the polar opposite pairing of Friday and Streebeck going undercover, their long-suffering superior, Capt. Gannon (OG Dragnet’s Harry Morgan) doesn’t believe them of course when they crack the case and subsequently chews them out. There’s a car bomb, a strip club, ethnically stereotypical gang members, a tied-to-a-chair kidnapping, sneaking around, double-crossing, a SWAT team assault, and Friday’s inevitable suspension from the force – meaning he loses his sacred gun and badge – taking our lead protagonist down to his lowest ebb before a triumphant, tank entrance return, set to a powerhouse, Indy-esque score. The spoofy, surreal plane pullover denouement caps it with Friday rescuing the virgin (not for long), Connie Swail, played by Baywatch babe, Alexandra Paul.

Friday: Ma’am, what is the approximate dry weight of the average Madagascan fruit tree bat? Streebeck: You mean you don’t know?

Aykroyd revels in Friday’s loquacious, jargonised monologues as the deadpan, by-the-book sergeant, who vigilantly sticks to federally mandated speed limits, while Hanks practically dances through Dragnet, doing some of his best pre-Oscar noms daft-work. My favourite moments include him recognising every Bait Mate girl at the Playboy Mansion-esque house of lisping, “slut-peddler”, Jerry Caesar, the OTT undercover cover-up laughter, feeding a giant snake hallucinogenic love drugs with his phoney moustache half hanging off, rapping the Miranda rights, performing an impromptu dog puppet show with some goat leggings, and of course, the ensuing goat dance debrief. Finally, the frankly bonkers, Paula Abdul-choreographed Dragnet rap, City of Crime feat. MC Hanx and The Notorious D.A.N.’s raucous rhymes. One other standout Hanks line, which I only just got on a recent viewing was his drawling “Highway sixty-oooooone” Bob Dylan reference.

“Kill the good! Kill the good! Kill the good!”

Pagans, Dragnet

Superman II’s Jack O’Halloran is featured as the sinister, ‘tached arsonist and brilliantly named, Emil Muzz, who honestly always gave me the creeps, and to top it off, there’s M.A.M.A.’s (Moral Advance Movement of America) “mental fur-ball” – the goat-masked P.A.G.A.N. high priest, Reverend Jonathan Whirley, played bizarrely and ominously by Spacey-replacer, Christopher Plummer.

Dragnet isn’t exactly a child friendly film. There’s a partially nude striptease, adult lines like “Prepare the virgin!” and thanks to Muzz’s sweary landlady, Kathleen Freeman (another original Dragnet returnee), we’ve got “pencil dicks” and “asswipes” galore, plus gross gems like “goddamn puss-faced little pimp stick”, “useless, scum-lapping shit bag”, “slimy little jizz bucket” and “miserable little bag of puke.”

It’s certainly a rare bird, and despite being pretty funny and impressive at times – unlike Sylvia Wiss’s 43-year-old breasts, Dragnet hardly “borders on the spectacular.” It does, however, play particularly well in a double bill with another forgotten ’80s Aykroyd (and Chevy Chase) peculiarity, Spies Like Us.

Dragnet is seemingly in movie jail, with a Google search favouring the ’50s TV series and its spinoffs over the 1987 movie, but it’s eligible for parole now. So go through your “boxes of smut”, dig out that dusty VHS or DVD, track it down on a streaming service (you’ll be lucky), or grab that Shout! Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, some chewing gum and a Snickers bar, and peer back into the days of the ol’ 4:3 family telly.


Pee-wee’s Big Rewind

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985) | Big Top Pee-wee (1988)

Kooky cult comedy antics abound in this ’80s double bill oddity, starring Paul Reubens as his madcap Groundling creation, Pee-wee Herman.

Adorned in a grey suit, white high-heeled shoes (“tequila!”) and a little red bowtie, the petulant, childlike roars and idiosyncratic shenanigans of Reubens’ character were lapped up by an infantile me, endlessly looping a homemade Big Adventure tape.

What was the draw? Firstly, I found it immensely engaging and incredibly funny, but Pee-wee is about as distant from my onscreen heroes like Bond or Indy as you could possibly imagine. A skinny, effeminate, asexual manchild with a penchant for cute dogs, frequenting joke shops, and riding an ostentatious, campy red bicycle. It’s enough to make parents concerned. Whilst my masculine, manly-man quota was jam packed with Michael Knight, The A-Team, and Magnum P.I., Reubens’ alter ego was arguably a yin to their yang – anima indulgence, in the way a northern lad solely watching Rocky and Top Gun could never access.

“It’s like you’re unravelling a big cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting and knitting.”

Pee-wee Herman, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

In terms of the comedy, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (scripted by Reubens and a pre-SNL Phil Hartman, drawing on the 1948 Italian neorealist drama, Bicycle Thieves as inspiration) lays it on pretty thick. I’d estimate around 60-70% of it still sticks. Whether that’s a case of the funnies themselves aging, or the fact that Pee-wee split audiences back in the 1980s (and likely always will), I’m uncertain.

The breakfast making machine, bitter interactions with the intolerable “Francis!” (my favourite moment of his has him monstrously destroying model battleships at bathtime in his giant indoor swimming pool) and the escaped convict hitchhiker in Big Adventure all had me chuckling again, but this time around it was Pee-wee’s misunderstood recounting of a dream that really made me howl.

Simone: Do you have any dreams? Pee-wee Herman: Yeah, I’m all alone. I’m rolling a big doughnut and this snake wearing a vest…

The Pee-wee films are not without a big scoop of nostalgia for me. I remember them fondly for all their delirious exploits and the early directorial flourishes of Tim Burton, whose movies like Batman, Batman Returns (where Reubens played The Penguin’s monocled father), and Beetlejuice were also on regular VHS rotation. Upon the latest rewatch, Francis’ gothic, striped towel stood out like a Burton-shaped sore thumb, and what says Tim Burton more than a snake in a vest? This being his first live action feature film, it’s an early insight into Burton’s bizzaro outsider protagonists of choice, and it evidently paved the stripey black and white road for later incarnations of oddness ahead.

My memory of falling in love with Valeria Golino as Gina Piccolapupula in the sequel, Big Top Pee-wee is vivid, perhaps partially due to her other sultry roles at the time in Hot Shots! and Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Randal Kleiser (director of Grease, Flight of the Navigator, and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid) toes the line in terms of Reubens’ and Burton’s already established aesthetics. There’s the welcome inclusion of Vance – the chatty, anthropomorphised pig, and some further underlying absurdity, particularly noticeable in the freaky, Tod Browning-esque circus folk, featuring a human pretzel, a hermaphrodite, a tiny pixie wife, conjoined twins, a mermaid in a bath, Kevin Peter Hall as Big John, and a brief film debut by Benicio del Toro as Duke, the Dog-Faced Boy.

Big Top also boasts a hearty, dignified performance from Kris Kristofferson as circus ringmaster, Mace Montana – a befitting counterweight to Herman. He’s as close to a dad as the fatherless Pee-wee gets.

“You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

Pee-wee Herman, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure

The sexuality of Herman, although something which never dawned on me as a child, is thought provoking. There’s not a hint of it in Big Adventure. In fact, Pee-wee actively dodges a drive-in date with his admirer, Dottie (until the end) and seemingly has little interest in women, even as he’s entwined in his 007 fantasies, but by the time Big Top rolled around, so did Pee-wee, literally, on a picnic blanket with schoolteacher and reluctant girlfriend, Winnie.

Although the infamous South Trail Cinema incident looms large in Pee-wee lore, the “victimless occurrence”, as Pee-wee’s Playhouse collaborator and buddy Cyndi Lauper put it, perhaps shouldn’t, and personally doesn’t alter my view or enjoyment of the films. The movies have enough in the bank with me, but for some, it did shatter the sexual ambiguity of Pee-wee, albeit via Reubens, who notably, to indulge the illusion that Pee-wee is real, prefers to be credited as the titular character – an error in judgment in retrospect perhaps, as it never allowed a line to be drawn between Paul and his Pee-wee persona.

We don’t know Pee-wee’s age, he has no job we’re aware of, yet puzzlingly resides in a playhouse packed with gadgets “Doc” Brown would flip over. It’s all fantasy. The type that indulges the mind of a child and throws a monkey wrench into the brain of an adult. I had to put my childhood eyes back in to experience Pee-wee like before, but once I was acclimated, it took me back like time travel in a way that only a handful of films can.

Amid the madness, there is the pointed, poignant message to misfits that “it’s okay to be different.” Pee-wee exemplifies this and let’s face it, there are far worse sentiments you could impart to the kids of the world.

For me, both films are akin to looking back at photographs of simpler, happier times with a life yet to be lived. They’re tinged with a sliver of sadness. A melancholy. Perhaps it’s the image of a man completely in tune with himself but so out of whack with others. Although in these movies, Pee-wee is predominantly embraced by people and it’s his own peculiarities that alienate him.

There’s still something off-kilter about it all: the histrionic performances, quirky art direction and design, Danny Elfman’s urgent score music – yes. But also on an unintentional level. Something outside the filmmakers’ control, like Lynchian creepy crawlies lurking beneath a white picket fence. Not depravity or lewdness. Something harder to pin down.

There’s palpable discomfort when Pee-wee peers into the lens, bids us good morning and whispers, “I’m here!” It’s weird enough to disturb, saccharine enough to churn the stomach a little, and artful and intriguing enough to justify a big rewind.

“Be sure an’ tell ’em Large Marge sent ya!”