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Tuesday April 16th 2024

Moonraker | 1979

Moonraker location: Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
Moonraker location: Drax’s ‘California’ estate: Vaux-le-Vicomte, France | Wikimedia / Jebulon

After the terrifically vertiginous opening sequence, Moonraker turns out to be just about the klutziest of the Bond movies (the Jaws romance, the shameless product placement, and that double-taking pigeon...) Nevertheless, it was, until GoldenEye, the most profitable of the series.

Apart from the obvious globetrotting of the plot (California, Venice, Rio...) the film does, though, weave together a dizzying collage of locations – and not always as simple as they seem.

For instance: the sky-dive itself was filmed above California’s Napa Valley, but the circus tent into which the preposterously indestructible Jaws (Richard Kiel) plummets is a model at the British studio in Pinewood, while the circus itself (the remnants of a much longer sequence) was filmed in Paris at the huge racetrack, Hippodrome de Longchamp, Route des Tribunes in the Bois de Boulogne.

Paris was home to the production, where the extensive production took over Studios d’Epinay and Boulogne-Billancourt, with the usual Bond home, Pinewood, relegated to providing little more than model shots.

Bond (Roger Moore in his fourth outing) arrives at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), to investigate the disappearance of the space shuttle, and takes a helicopter ride over the city to visit the estate of suave villain Drax (Michael Lonsdale). Drax’s lavish ‘Californian’ mansion was “brought stone by stone from France”. Not quite.

It is a French chateau, but it remained firmly on the European side of the Atlantic. Visual effects superimpose the palace onto an aerial shot of California’s Mojave Desert (notice how those mountains disappear as soon as the ’copter lands).

The 17th century Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, twenty miles southeast of Paris, was built for Nicolas Fouquet, the finance minister of Louis IV, but its grandeur provoked a fit of envy in the King. With the cruel petulance of a Bond villain, Louis had Fouquet thrown into prison and began planning the even more sumptuous Versailles. The chateau has also seen screen time in Milos Forman’s Valmont, Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule , 1998’s The Man In The Iron Mask – with Leonardo DiCaprio – and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.

Even this set-up, though, is slightly more complicated. The interior of the chateau, where the urbane Drax presses Bond to a cucumber sandwich, is Château de Guermantes in Lagny-sur-Marne, east of Paris. This chateau (which is not generally open to the public, though it's now used as a conference centre) was also seen in Andrzej Wajda’s Danton, with Gérard Depardieu as the revolutionary leader, and in Steven Frears’ 1988Dangerous Liaisons(adapted from the same novel as Valmont).

Moonraker location: Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Moonraker location: Drax’s hi-tech office complex: Centre Pompidou, Paris | Photograph: iStockphoto / dave 101

The adjoining hi-tech glass-and metal Drax offices, where Bond meets Dr Holly Goodhead (Lois Chiles), are part of the Centre Pompidou, on the place Georges Pompidou in Paris. Opened in 1977, and designed by superstar architects Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Gianfranco Franchini, the centre’s bright, pop-art appearance is defined by colour-coded exterior ducts – blue for air; green for fluids; yellow for electricity cables; and red for movement and flow (elevators, that is). It’s open to the public and houses the museum of modern art and an extensive public library.

Not open to the public is the Rockwell International aircraft plant at Palmdale in Antelope Valley, California, which stood in for exteriors of the ‘Moonraker’ complex.

But you can see the gigantic hangar, which is the monumental Vehicle Assemble Building, if you tour the Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida. Or sit back and see more of in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.

Moonraker location: Venini, Piazzetta dei Leoni, Venice
Moonraker location: Drax’s glass works: Venini, Piazzetta dei Leoni, Venice

Bond follows the trail of mysterious glassware to Venice, where Drax’s glassworks and museum are just off Piazza San Marco. The entrance to the glassworks is Venini, 314 Piazzetta dei Leoni, northeast of the piazza.

It is a glass store but, of course, they don’t actually make the glass on the premises. The glassworks interior is on the island (or, more correctly, islands) of Murano, about a mile north of Venice. The centre for the production of decorative glass since the 13th century (though today, there’s a fair amount of kitsch), Murano was once the only place you could get glass mirrors. Take a vaporetto to the island, visit the factories and watch the glassblowers at work.

To see the best of the finished products, visit the Museum of Glass, in the Palazzo Giustinian, Fondamenta Giustinian 8, near to the Museo waterbus stop. Despite getting trashed during the fight scene in Moonraker (yes, was a set built in the studio) the museum is still intact.

Complicated? It only gets worse. Apparently in the same building, Drax’s sinister laboratory (with the Close Encounters entry tone) was created in the studio, but on Bond’s return, after those sinister cads have whisked away the equipment, the palatial interior is Ca' Rezzonico, Fondamenta Rezzonico 3136, across the Canal Grande from San Marco in the bohemian Dorsoduro district. You can take a peek inside – the grand palazzo is now the Museum of 18th Century Venice.

Moonraker location: Piazza San Marco, Venice
Moonraker location: the motorised gondola comes ashore: Piazza San Marco, Venice

Being Venice, there has to be a canal chase (featuring a motorised gondola which morphs, for no discernible reason, into a hovercraft), climaxing with Bond cruising across Piazza San Marco itself, accompanied by not only Johann Strauss’s Trisch Trasch Polka but some of the cheesiest reaction shots in movie history (including that pigeon).

Moonraker location: Hotel Danieli, Riva Degli Schiavoni, Venice
Moonraker location: Holly Goodhead’s luxury hotel: Hotel Danieli, Riva Degli Schiavoni, Venice

This is convenient for Holly Goodhead, who stays at the Hotel Danieli, Castello 4196, Riva Degli Schiavoni, just a few steps from the Piazza, occupying three beautiful palazzi on the Canal Grande. Featuring (naturally) Murano glass chandeliers, pink marble columns, precious antique carpets and elegant gilt ceilings, this is not a budget stop-over. The hotel has also featured on-screen in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's 2010 thriller The Tourist, with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, the 1994 romantic fantasy Only You, with Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr and Joseph Losey’s dour 1962 drama Eva.

Moonraker location: Torre dell'Orologio, Piazza San Marco, Venice
Moonraker location: the fight in the clock tower: Torre dell'Orologio, Piazza San Marco, Venice | Photograph: iStockphoto / Lillis Photography

On the north side of Piazza San Marco stands the clock behind which Bond slugs it out with Drax’s henchman, Chang. It’s the face of the Torre dell’Orologio, on show once again after being hidden behind scaffolding for several years during restoration. Of course, the interior is a studio set, but if you want to check out what the clock’s innards really look like, there are guided tours.

Moonraker location: Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
Moonraker location: the fight in the cable car: Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro | Photograph: iStockphoto / Joseph Luoman

It’s on to Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, where the atmosphere shots of the real Rio carnival were filmed a year before the film itself was shot. Bond confronts Jaws on the cable car lift to Sugarloaf Mountain – or Pão de Açúcar, above Baía de Guanabara (Guanabara Bay). The cars, coincidentally known as Bondinho,can carry up to 75 passengers every 20 minutes between the peaks of Pão de Açúcar itself and Cara de Cão. Originally built in 1912, the current system, Bondinho Pão de Açúacar – which consists of two stages – dates from 1973. The first car ascends over 700 feet up Urca Hill, where there’s a change to a second car for the final 1300 feet climb to the top. The round trip takes around four hours.

If this is beginning to seem a bit straightforward, it’s briefly back to Italy for the ‘Brazilian’ training camp, where MI6 has yet another of its exotic field offices. Beneath the ‘South American’ trappings is San Nicolo al Lido, Riviera San Nicolo, a monastery on the northwest coast of the Lido in Venice.

Moonraker location: Iguacu Falls, Brazil
Moonraker location: Bond paraglides over the falls: Iguazu Falls, Brazil | Photograph: iStockphoto / cotesebastien

The ‘Amazon’ boat chase was filmed on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River at Jupiter, north of Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast, but ends at the spectacular Iguazu Falls, located on the border of the Brazilian state of Paraná, the Argentine province of Misiones and Paraguay. Designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the falls are shared by the Iguazú National Park (Argentina) and Iguazu National Park (Brazil). They can be reached from the two main towns on either side of the falls: Foz do Iguaçu in Paraná, and Puerto Iguazú in Misiones, as well as from Ciudad del Este – in Paraguay.

You might be familiar with the falls from Roland Joffé’s The Mission and Michael Mann’s big-screen version of Miami Vice.

Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay... now Guatemala. The pyramids of Drax’s jungle hideout can be found at the complex of temples at Tikal, famous on-screen from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

The largest excavated site in the American continent, these spectacular Mayan ruins, 2,500 years old and set in the 222-square-mile rainforest of the Tikal National Park, are in northern Guatemala, about 40 miles from Flores (there’s a two-lane road, or you can travel by air from nearby Mundo Maya International Airport) and can be visited from the Tikal Visitor Centre.

And though the interior is, of course, a set, back in Paris, the fight with the snake in the pool was filmed at Silver Springs in Florida, a frequently-used underwater location (scenes for Thunderball were shot here, as well as many of the Tarzan movies and Fifties monster classic The Creature From The Black Lagoon). Silver Springs, one of the largest artesian springs ever discovered, is now a state park, just east of Ocala, Route 40, central Florida.

Finally, Drax’s spectacular underground caverns – which are unfortunately not open to the public. They’re colossal gypsum quarries beneath the streets of Paris. You can, however, see a small part of this subterranean complex, the Catacombs, 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, used as a repository for the remains of the dead after the city’s cemeteries became full to overflowing.

Among the overwhelming number of anonymous bones stacked up in macabre geometric patterns are the last remains of bawdy satirical writer François Rabelais, fairytale author Charles Perrault, composer Jean Baptiste Lully, revolutionaries Danton and Robespierre and the playwright Molière.