“Space shuttles don’t just disappear–” Or do they?

Absolutely. “On loan from the Americans,” a Moonraker is hijacked in mid-air while being transported on the back of a 747. When the wreckage includes the aircraft and no Moonraker, the embarrassed Brits call in the best: agent James Bond, (a still-suave and elegantly charming Roger Moore) to quietly investigate. First stop: L.A., to visit Hugo Drax (a chillingly superb Michael Lonsdale) — billionaire businessman, successful shuttle builder and megalomaniac, for whom “the conquest of space represents the future of the entire human race.” And when he says entire, he’s being literal. For while out to annihilate all but a “race of perfect specimens,” the dastardly Drax has rounded up a variety of perfect pairs to reproduce in space, then return to earth once everyone else has been eliminated.

Yes, it was 70’s. When Bond first sees the astronaut overseeing the Drax training facilities, he appears genuinely stunned. His initial remark: “A woman?” Holly Goodhead, (a beguiling Lois Chiles, who combines just the right blend of beauty and brains), is the straight-arrow, brilliant American, equipped with what 007 quickly recognizes as standard-issue “CIA toys.”

After a chilly reception at Drax Industries, Bond follows his only lead — blueprints for a glass vial– to Venice, where a Drax laboratory is developing a deadly toxic nerve serum that will kill humans within seconds, yet do no harm to flora and fauna. This lab also marks the Bond films’ official foray into robotics –which, if now standard in any manufacturing facility, here must’ve seemed tremendously futuristic.

The fantastic scenic chases allow our skilled Secret Service officer to pilot both a gondola and a gondola lift: the first, along the famed Venetian waterways. After the serum he stole is analyzed and he’s told of its rare Brazilian orchid origins, Bond travels deep into the Amazon in search of Drax’s other research site. For the second chase, the nimble and natty superspy must balance on top of the gondola car, then hang by the cable, high above the splendid Sugarloaf cliffs.

Overpowered by the gargantuan, super-strength Jaws (an encore from Richard Kiel), Bond is again captured, and brought to an enormous, high-tech operation where he is reunited with Holly, and they witness the launching of multiple Moonrakers. Posing as crew, they are soon suited up, and off to a secret space station—heretofore undetected thanks to sophisticated radar jamming. But not for long. Once signaled, U.S. Marines are deployed and a semi-believable laser battle ensues.

Realizing that Drax intends to send globes full of the “highly toxic nerve gas” to earth, Bond and Dr. Goodhead strap into one of the remaining shuttles and scramble to blow up the poisonous spheres already launched. Afterward, the happy couple take full advantage of zero-gravity and “attempting re-entry.”

Given we are about to witness the final space shuttle mission, the now-bittersweet ‘Moonraker’ provides a wonderful bookend to this period in America’s scientific exploration: a fantasy escape, complete with sleek rockets, outstanding female scientists, lovers in every port, and most unsettling: a peek at the power of science—as well as science gone awry.

by Caren Ostrow

See other vintage shows at The Colony.


Next up in the ‘James Bond Originals’ series: “For Your Eyes Only.”

Roger Moore James Bond
Lois Chiles Dr. Holly Goodhead
Michael Lonsdale Hugo Drax
Richard Kiel Jaws / Zbigniew Krycsiwiki

Directed by Lewis Gilbert