SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Friday, 12 September 2014


Actor Richard Kiel, best known as the villain with the killer steel teeth in a couple of Roger Moore James Bond movies - 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Moonraker', has died, aged 74 (just a few days away from his 75th birthday).
Of course, he wasn't only the evil henchman Jaws (a man famous for fighting British agent James Bond in the sky, on cable cars, train cabins, or even among the pyramids) and appeared in a huge number of cult movies and TV shows as well. Too many to list, even if Kiel's name is usually some way down the credits.

Take your pick anyway from Kiel's CV (not including the Bond movies) that includes (and I may mostly just be listing films or TV shows that I like to watch here!): Eegah (1962), The Twilight Zone (1962), Lassie's Greatest Adventure (1963), The Monkees (TV/ 1967), Skidoo (1968), Elvis Presley's Roustabout (uncredited, as a strongman/ 1964), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (as a Cajun monster and a thieving demon in two episodes from 1967), Land of the Lost (TV/ 1976), Force 10 from Navarone (1978), The Humanoid (uber-cult sci-fi exploitation from 1979 with a starring role for a change), Cannonball Run II (1984), Pale Rider (1985) and The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1991).


Richard Kiel, 7' 2" tall former night club bouncer, was the archetypal friendly (or unfriendly - ok, mostly unfriendly!) giant, picked for his posture and menacing angular face but equally at home playing warmth and affection. Later in his career it was family movies that became his main source of work.

It's not surprising that Kiel became a kids favourite. As a boy watching Bond, his character of Jaws was my  point of identification. I mean, he wasn't like Bond. Jaws was kind of a loser: always the henchman, he looked awkward, smiled stupidly when he did something right, had greasy hair (probably had acne too), acted stupid whenever a girl was about, had really bad teeth and was always being kicked around and ordered about by shorter megalomaniacs (teachers - just leave those kids alone). I wanted him to be more. Because I wanted to be more too. Because - at heart, and in retrospect - Jaws represented the teenager (that at the time I was fast approaching) in all his failed glory; downtrodden but still feeling gigantic and liable to topple over, like a skyscraper upon a chair leg that we were sure was never previously there. That was why he was such a hit in lonely poster-padded bedrooms up and down the country in late 70s Britain and beyond.

In The Spy Who Loved Me, he towered over Roger Moore and suddenly it was my favourite Bond alongside my new favourite villain, could it possibly get any better? (Well yes - in Moonraker it did!) When Jaws went to bite Bond's neck in The Spy Who Loved Me (I was also a Hammer Horror fan at the time, so biting necks was my fascination) I almost booed out loud when 007 shoved a lamp socket into the poor man's mouth, causing his teeth to spark like a bumper car pole at a funfair and if that wasn't enough - kicked him off a moving train (in a final ignominious moment - he went through the window).

Talking of teeth - Salem's Lot, the Stephen King TV movie starring David Soul and James Mason (the one with the vampire boy floating at the window and tapping to come in) was shown in 1979; the same year that Moonraker played cinema screens. The lead vampire in that movie is a towering monstrosity - mysterious Mr Barlow (played by the equally mysterious Reggie Nalder - mysterious of background and of burns to the face that had a number of differing explanations from the man himself). Barlow from Salem's Lot seemed like the vampire version of Jaws.

With his metal teeth and long, languid, almost sexual looming in for the bite - Kiel was clearly vamping it up as Jaws. He even had perfectly smoothed hair, like Christopher Lee had in Dracula - and given half a cape, he probably would have worn that too.

Moonraker took Bond movies to new heights - literally; up into space. It's wild and outrageous, with the best theme song of any Bond movie (thank you Dame Shirley Bassey) and a plot involving a space shuttle hijacked mid-space and 007's mission to locate it (not realising that Drax Industries has something even more spectacular than a space shuttle up its sleeve, and up in space).  Culminating with an epic space battle to rival (ok - be a bit like) Star Wars, a film that had been released a couple of years previously, and Moonraker - for me - is Bond at its biggest and best.

Of course, being so wildly over the top meant that traditional Bond fans (already smarting that furrow-browed, growly Connery had been replaced with a wise-cracking cheerful charmer) either loved it - or hated it. Just as they either loved or hated the fact that Jaws is one minute trying to push Bond off a moving cable car, the next, suddenly (on board a space station) falling in love with a diminutive (of stature, nothing else) blonde girl by the name of Dolly (a riveting Blanche Ravalec, complete with blonde pigtails). Worse, for some - Jaws then decides to help his old foe Bond out when they both find themselves in danger on the dark side of the moon and on the receiving end of Hugo Drax's megalomania. Jaws realising that if he doesn't help the one man liable to save the day now, then it will soon be less 'hello Dolly', more 'that's your lot, Dolly' for his new love.
The sudden change of heart of Jaws joining the good side - even for me as a boy fan - was a shock. It was also really weird seeing the man we all loved to hate walking around a space station hand in hand with a blonde girl in pigtails; obviously being pared up to - well - practice making babies in zero gravity. Oh my!

Still - Blanche Ravalec's Dolly was everything a young boy (let alone a grown villain) could dream of. A continental Barbara Windsor in a yellow romper suit (producers had originally wanted to cast a taller actress than Ravalec when they saw the height difference between Dolly and Jaws, but Richard Kiel insisted it was ok, pointing out that his own wife was the same height!).

I knew what Jaws was doing. Why he fell in love with Dolly. Why he helped Bond save the day. I probably would have preferred him to stay on as a villain (or hero) in every Bond movie that followed - but the fact he didn't, that he not so much jumped the shark as jumped over the moon, didn't matter. It kind of stuck two fingers up to everyone, and it was just crazy - so it was worth it.

Apparently, the idea to make Jaws a 'good guy' came about after director Lewis Gilbert read fan letters from children saying how much they all loved the character and why couldn't the bad man start helping Bond, instead of trying to eat him. You know, there's all kinds of ways to be subversive in the movies.
Richard Kiel was truly one of the good guys, in every way. And he will be missed, by many. By  loved ones, and by his fans. But even, I reckon - by Bond himself. Roger Moore and Richard Kiel - despite trying to kill each other on film - were always very good friends.

words: mark gordon palmer

MOONRAKER/ United Artists/ 1979

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