Roger Moore As Deep Sea-diving Anti-Bond

DIRECTED BY ANDREW V. McLAGLEN/1980

STREET DATE: OCTOBER 1ST, 2019/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS

Growing up in the mid-1980’s, my dad’s near-lifelong Bond enthusiasm (Dr. No [1962] had its 1963 American debut when he turned twelve) inspired our family’s complete Betamax and later VHS tapings of then-thirteen 007 adventures (fifteen if 1967’s spoof Casino Royale and 1983’s non-EON production Never Say Never Again were included) off countless Sunday primetime TV showings. Which all meant I had been exposed to at least three different actors’ interpretations of the role (and up to seven more, headed by David Niven and Peter Sellers, if the original Casino Royale was again included) by the time I was ten years old. And although I was unable to follow a single plot from any one of the entries until well into my mid-twenties, I nevertheless had my favorite among the many faces and voices who preferred their martinis shaken-not-stirred: Roger Moore.

With a wry twist and an often arched brow, Moore’s delivery of the suave superspy’s drink request keenly resonated with a preteen’s non-comprehension of globe-spanning political crises, geewhiz gadgetry, and ludicrously-scaled evil lairs. (To say nothing of a film-by-film revolving door of always accommodating female beauty.) Over rocky land and smooth highways, down snowy peaks and up through the turbulent skies, plunging to the deep seas below, Moore’s wit and panache in the role won my eternal devotion from a first viewing of a Union Jack parachute dead-opening off a vertiginous cliff-jump in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). And even though the stunt in reference was physically performed by skier Rick Sylvester, the whimsical spirit of Moore’s Bond there displayed would be completely out of character for more dour, less endearing interpretations — even by stunt-proxy — of the role.

By 1980, having already played Bond four times — he would continue through 1985’s A View to a Kill to three more Bond outings — Moore re-teamed with director Andrew V. McLaglen, with whom he had made 1978’s adventurer The Wild Geese and would go on to make 1980’s The Sea Wolves, for a divertingly distinctive actioner revolving around one Rufus Excalibur ffolkes. A Scottish laird who lives in a castle with about fifty cats, wears a full bristling beard, swills MacArthur’s scotch whiskey, and almost religiously avoids women, this master deep-sea strategist for Lloyd’s of London, whose considerable gifts with a stop-watch is equal only to his hated hobby of knitting, certainly earns the double lower-case eccentricity of his surname in a movie many other Moore-Bond enthusiasts might find similarly striking.

ffolkes opens with a demonstration of the title character’s gleefully sadistic drilling of his crack wetsuit team, hurling dynamite from a trailing skiff in order to shave a few seconds off their swimming time. Soon commissioned by the Lloyd’s of London CEO (George Baker) to investigate the possible vulnerabilities of the British government’s valued North Sea oil rig, ffolkes’s findings anticipate an actual terrorist plot, masterminded by an unknown gangleader assuming the name of Lew Kramer (Anthony Perkins), along with sinister chief henchman Shulman (a discomfortingly myopic Michael Parks), to remotely mine the mammoth oil production platform Jennifer and its drilling rig Ruth by hijacking their Norwegian supply clipper Esther.

As Kramer and his band of terrorists hold the female-named oil production trifecta for 25 million pounds of several foreign denominations-worth of airlifted ransom, ffolkes and his team are called in by the U.K.’s new Prime Minister (Faith Brook) and commander of the Royal Navy Admiral Francis Brinsden (James Mason) to defuse the bomb, covertly board Esther, and disarm the terrorists. With ffolkes posing as Brinsden’s cat portrait-knitting Flag Lieutenant, the precision timing of his maritime terrorist-ensnaring master plan quickly casts its hurling and lurching storm net over Kramer and Co.’s soon-to-be-harpooned ransom plot.

Originally released North Sea Hijack, and later re-shown as Assault Force for cable TV, comic screenwriter Jack Davies (Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines [1965], Those Daring Young Men in their Jaunty Jalopies [1969]), adapted his own novel of the same year titled Esther, Ruth and Jennifer. With no action set pieces to speak of — besides the elaborate mid-film ruse of Ruth’s off-camera faux-explosion, along with the suspenseful climactic boarding of Esther by ffolkes’s underwater team — it, in addition to the confusion of titles ffolkes was unfortunately saddled, possibly did no favors to the international release’s original box office yet nevertheless indicates the atypical attraction of this international action-adventure film. Rather, ffolkes‘ to my mind’s considerable entertainment value lies in the singular personality of its title character, who as mentioned at one tension-filled moment actually does sit down with his cat-knitting to decide what happens next.

As played by Moore, the relish with which the actor inhabits the fussy, meticulous ffolkes dictates a decidedly different action plot that actively avoids any unnecessary, wasteful expenditure of energy or resources. In drilling Admiral Brinsden (James Mason staunchly assured as always in his supporting role) on the dropping of two cigarettes with a relentlessness equal to his earlier taped disposal of a ship full of hired Kung Fu experts, or precision-purposely antagonising the unbalanced Lew Kramer (Anthony Perkins’ usual acting masterclass on an obsessive paranoiac worth watching by itself) as the deadlines approach, ffolkes relies entirely on planning and execution as opposed to the more (and “Moore”-)typically Bondian luck and improvisation. Not only distinctly un-Bond in his personality quirks — ffolkes’s registered distaste at shower-undressing an androgynously-outfitted female accomplice (Lea Brodie) and discovering she is in fact not a “boy” earns the film one of its biggest laughs — the very un-Bondness of ffolkes’s exacting methodology instead shapes and styles a tightly-constructed plot disposing of destructive villainy with a minimum of Bond-typical leaping, plunging, chasing, and parachuting fuss.

Implicit in Nathaniel Thompson, Howard S. Berger, and Steve Mitchell’s illuminating commentary — the trio of regular Kino Lorber commentators as entertaining as they are informative on lesser-known or less-appreciated movies of the post-classical era — ffolkes with its counter-Bond approach to watery actioneering may have been initially intended as preliminary to many more (and, again, “Moore”-)subsequent adventures on the high seas. Also including a discussion of overlooked director Andrew V. McLaglen and then-popular action-adventure heroics written by Alistair MacLean (Where Eagles Dare [1968; book and movie], When Eight Bells Toll [book 1966; film 1971]), Thompson, Berger, and Mitchell admirably position the context of ffolkes both as a late-1970’s/early 1980’s action-adventure film and explain where it fits within the Bond- and non-Bond-related film career of Roger Moore during this time period. Had ffolkes been a greater financial success, or received better reviews when it debuted in the United States, the cat-loving, women-hating, whiskey-belting, knitting-concentrative ffolkes may have opened very different non-Bond options for Moore; instead, these derring-do adventurers went the way of the do-do as Moore gamely continued as the impetuous, impulsive superspy up to the age of fifty-eight.

Not that I would have wanted to be denied the latter Bond adventures, fine as they are, as a younger viewer, but Moore’s obvious delight in playing a more purposeful anti-Bond in Rufus Sebastian ffolkes is hard to dispel once experienced. Popularized by numerous cable showings since the mid-80’s, KLSC gives fans a chance to see the film in widescreen and high definition to boot, the added crispness and clarity to the forty-year-old imagery resurfacing with an acceptable filmic sheen from the Universal vault.

Cliché that it may be, this thinking man’s action hero admirably if figuratively sidesteps the perils of the body through the compelling convolutions of an entertainingly eccentric mind. In the final analysis, for those Moore-enthusiasts so unusually inclined, ffolkes is a whole lotta ffun.

Images used in this review are credited to DVDBeaver. Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a Blu-ray copy.