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45 years ago, villains chased James Bond along the St. Lucie River

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This news may leave some critics of Port St. Lucie shocked and upset: James Bond was here.

Not only was he here, but the laid-back superspy also battled one of his greatest movie foes, a metal-toothed giant named Jaws, in a body of water known more for its fishing camps than its firebombings.

The scene took place on the North Fork of the St. Lucie River. Viewed on screen, it only lasted about four minutes.

In that short time, the producers managed to incorporate most of the elements essential to a Bond film. There was a boat chase in which Bond was pursued by several villains, including the aforementioned great white shark. There were explosions. Spectacular jumps and crashes. Gunshots. A wealth of gadgetry that Bond, then played by Roger Moore, used to even the odds.

The only Bond film hallmark missing from the scene is a scantily clad woman planning to betray the hero or confess her eternal love to him.

James Bond was in Port St. Lucie, believe it or not

That's right – all of this happened in Port St. Lucie, the supposedly quiet center of the Treasure Coast. You know, the place where nothing interesting ever happens?

Well, it actually happened. Port St. Lucie is inextricably linked to one of the most famous and long-running franchises in the American film industry.

The filming of “Moonraker” caused a great stir in PSL

It was “Moonraker,” the twelfth adaptation of author Ian Fleming's steadfast and indestructible British secret agent. The film, which was released on June 29, 1979, is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.

The plot centers on Bond's investigation into the theft of a space shuttle during its journey, which ultimately leads him to the Amazon.

Only it's not really the Amazon. It's the St. Lucie. The mangrove-lined banks of the Treasure Coast River offer a rough approximation of the Brazilian jungle, with a little help from the magic of film.

No spoilers for anyone who might see the film or want to see it again. However, the ending of the scene definitely required the help of Hollywood. Local viewers will say, “Well, The Part was definitely not filmed on the St. Lucie River.”

According to reports from the St. Lucie News Tribune, the production crew for the scenes shot on location consisted of 65 to 75 people. Crew members stayed at the Jupiter Hilton during filming.

The film was escapist fun, not high art

Most of the filming took place near the North Fork Marina, not far from Prima Vista Boulevard. According to the News Tribune, production costs were about $185,000 per day, with filming lasting several weeks.

The General Development Corp. received an unspecified amount of money for providing access to the filming locations.

Strelsa Schreiber, who wrote a column for the News Tribune called “Port St. Lucie Potpourri,” viewed the filming as a significant event in the city's history.

“After the Moonraker filming company leaves our shores, I am convinced that at least some of Port St. Lucie and its residents will never be quite the same again,” Schreiber wrote in a Feb. 7, 1979, column. “And if the wildlife on the banks of the St. Lucie River could talk, I'm sure one would murmur over and over again, 'What fools these mortals are!'”

So was Moonraker a great movie? By most standards, probably not.

Some Bond fans consider Moore's films to be too silly or cheesy compared to the more serious films before and after them.

After its release, the News Tribune published a short review of “Moonraker” on August 12, 1979:

“This is the most illogical, ridiculous and pointless Bond film of all – but it's still great fun, stylish, witty and full of extraordinary gimmicks and special effects. Ignore the plot, just sit back and have fun.”

Apparently, many did. “Moonraker” grossed over $200 million at the box office worldwide.

The film is gone, but not forgotten

Despite Schreiber's prediction, life in Port St. Lucie returned to normal over time.

Yet, nearly half a century after the film's release, there are still many people in the community who have memories of the filming.

When the Port St. Lucie City Council posted a Facebook post about the film in late May, several residents shared memories of watching the filming or coming across leftover props that were left behind after filming wrapped.

Some reported encounters with cast and crew. Others said they were involved in the production in one way or another.

For example, David Palm said his father's shop, Big Daddy Welders in Fort Pierce, was asked to make the boat ramps needed for the jumps in the scene.

“One of Roger Moore's assistants came into the shop and asked if I could build a floating ramp that would allow a boat traveling at about 40 mph to jump the ramp,” Palm wrote in response to a Facebook comment. “We used the sketch they provided us, but the props manager underestimated the strength of the material and used a 1-inch thick sheet of plywood for the ramp surface. The boat hit the ramp at about 35 mph and shattered the 1-inch thick plywood surface. We recommend using two pieces of 1-inch plywood and the result was very successful.”

Some commenters on the city's Facebook post noted that a section of the river is still referred to as “Moonraker Bay.” Eddie Hamrick, owner of River Lilly Cruises, mentions the filming as one of the points of interest on his company's river tours. Hamrick said there is a group of Bond fans who take a trip along the river every year to visit the filming location.

This year, the city did not hold a special event to mark the anniversary of the film's release, but it's not too early to start planning for the 50th anniversary.

A chance for the PSL leadership to introduce the river

By then, the city’s harbor district should be fully developed and ready as a venue.

Imagine the possibilities: A James Bond lookalike contest. A Jaws lookalike contest. A boat parade along the stretch of river used for filming.

Moore and Richard Kiel, the actor who played Jaws, have passed away, but perhaps one or more of the surviving cast members would be willing to return as special guests. Surviving members of the production crew could give talks about how the work was done on location. Perhaps someone will build a replica of Bond's ingeniously equipped ship.

Not every community can claim to be part of the James Bond legacy, but Port St. Lucie shouldn't miss out on this opportunity, like a certain famous spy who narrowly escaped once again.

This column reflects the opinions of Blake Fontenay. Contact him via email at [email protected] or at 772-232-5424.