Thursday, February 23, 2017

Better In Your Head?--YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

1964
Ian Fleming


"You only live twice:
Once when you are born
And once when you look death in the face"


The end of the "Blofeld Trilogy," You Only Live Twice was also the last James Bond novel published before Ian Fleming's death on August 12, 1964.

Morbidity and mortality are draped over the book like a wet towel on a shower rod. The action picks up eight months after the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, with the widower Bond sinking deeper into his own private morass, blowing assignments and resisting medical treatments. A doctor suggests to M that rather than shitcan the poor guy, MI6 should promote him. This is how 007 becomes 7777 in the "Diplomatic Section."

His new assignment: go to Japan and convince Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese Secret Service, to share radio transmissions that his spies have captured from the Soviets. Tanaka agrees--with a catch.

Dr. Guntram Shatterhand and his wife are horticulturists who arrived in Japan with an interest in opening an exotic garden. Given a ten year residence permit by the Japanese government, the Shatterhands selected the island of Kyushu, where they live in a castle and cultivate what has come to be known informally as the "Garden of Death." Full of lethal plants, fish and landscape, it has become a mecca for the sick of mind, body and soul, claiming in excess of 500 lives in merely six months of existence. It is, politically speaking, a bad look. If Bond could help take the Shatterhands down, the Japanese secret service would gladly hand over the transmissions.

Prep work includes a new identity (mute coal miner Taro Todoroki), skin dye and a hair cut. Tanaka takes Bond to his ninja training school, Bond writes a haiku and both men board a boat for the island where Bond will enter the next phase of his mission. En route, Bond pores over relevant documents, which include photos of the Doctor and his wife.

Or, more accurately, photos of Ernst Blofeld and Irma Bunt.

An invigorated Bond settles in with the Suzuki family. Daughter Kissy briefly left for Hollywood as a teenager, but returned home not for need, but for want. Now 23, she takes Taro out on fishing expeditions. Before long, he convinces her to take him to Kyushu. Once there, Bond scales a 200-foot wall, drops down into the Garden of Death and then…waits.

Moving cautiously, Bond makes his way inside the castle, but guards exist for a reason. Bond is taken to Dr. and Frau Shatterhand. The transformation is apparently quite convincing; Blofeld has no clue whom he's just captured. Irma Bunt, however, voices doubts. Off to "The Question Room," where the prisoner is forced onto a seat located above a volcanic geyser that blows every fifteen minutes. With one minute remaining, Bond confesses his true identity. Blofeld, rather than have such a nemesis offed, switches on "bloviate" mode, reminding 007 of his psychotic super-brilliance before justifying his garden as a public service.

Finally it happens, what thousands had been waiting for: a duel between Bond and Blofeld, best against worst, wooden staff versus samurai sword. Bond wins and has to make a video game style escape because the castle has begun to explode.

Bond breaks a window, grabs hold of a nearby helium balloon--I know, I know--and gradually begins floating away from the site of his greatest personal triumph. Then some flying debris knocks Bond in the noggin, sending him down into the sea, where Kissy finds him.

The blow to the brain has done a number on 007; he can't remember a damn thing. Kissy tells him he is her lover Taro, and they return to the village.

Away from the spy world, and its concomitant hazards, Bond-as-Taro begins to piece himself back together emotionally (while still experiencing some physical difficulties). Intelligence officials visit the village but Kissy has sworn its inhabitants to secrecy. Thus, the Ministry of Defence must craft an obituary for one Cmmdr. James Bond, a written farewell that proves touching and idiotic all at once.

A newspaper clipping sends Bond into a tizzy. The article mentions the Russian city Vladivostok. Bond fixates on Vladivokstok. He must travel to Vladivastok. There, only there, can he recover his memories and restore his true self. He asks Kissy--who had just been considering when, precisely, to tell him she was pregnant--for help.

Ian Fleming was clearly in the throes of ambivalence with the series that made him--a mere writer!--a household name. The exclamation points persist; Fleming feared the reader might doze off without them, I suppose. His gifts are still present, if not in abundance; his description of the Death Garden is worth the price of admission, even if he is just a little too besotted with flora.

As a spy thriller, You Only Live Twice has very little to recommend it. As a story of rebirth, of sending James Bond along the path of being Bond again, it has undeniable appeal. But prepare to be let down. As I will discuss later, Fleming fails to stick the one landing he could not afford to flub.

1967
Director-Lewis Gilbert
Writer-Roald Dahl



"They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong."
    "Yes, this is my second life."
    "You only live twice, Mister Bond."

U.S. and Soviet spacecrafts are disappearing whilst in orbit. Blofeld is to blame, wouldn't ya know. Don't drink, don't smoke, what does he do? He plots. Ceaselessly. Maniacally. SPECTRE, in aid of an unnamed Asian country, has a big ol' cannibalistic spaceship making the Americans and the Soviets play the blame game until inevitably Dub-Dub-Tre breaks out.

The Brits suspect the Japanese are actually the culprits, since one of the crafts landed in the Sea of Japan. James Bond's new assignment: fake his death and travel to Japan. Tidy! I feel like doing the same at least once a week! He meets up with Aki, assistant to Tiger Tanaka, the biggest cheese in the Japanese Secret Service wheel, who directs him to local MI6 operative Dikko Henderson. Poor guy takes a blade to the back before uttering anything too helpful, though. Bond proceeds to kill the assailant and take his place in a getaway car headed for Osato Chemicals.

Driver dispatched of, Bond sneaks into the office of Mr. Osato to filch some documents. His escape is other than smooth, and only the presence of Aki saves him. She leads him to a secluded subway station, where Bond falls down an trap door into Tiger Tanaka's office. He's very interested in what Bond pilfered from Osato, especially a picture of the cargo ship Ning-Po.

Posing as a prospective buyer named Mr. Fisher, 007 pays Mr. Osato a visit. The old guy has an X-ray screen built into this desk, which enables him to see the Walther PPK underneath Bond's suit jacket. The men part pleasantly. Osata then orders his henchwoman, Helga Brandt (the poor woman's Fiona Volpe), to take Mr. Fisher out and show him a bad time.

The assassins wait till Bond's outside before opening fire, since they'll receive more XP for kills outside the building. Unsurprisingly, Bond and Aki evade the bullets. Together, they go dock-sniffin' and discover that the Ning-Po has been delivering the elements required to make rocket fuel. Again, at least for 007, departure proves rugged. He's taken to Helga Brandt's cabin on the Ning-Po, where he bribes her for a flight to Tokyo--successfully, he thinks--but she bails on his ass, trusting that the flare she sets off on board the plane will be sufficient to bring about Bond's demise. Naturally, he lands and emerges unscathed.

Suspecting that the enemy base is near the unloading dock, Bond returns there via the "Little Nellie," a sweet gyroplane born from leather cases and loaded with all the ways to shoot all the projectiles.

Meanwhile another Soviet spacecraft has been snatched while in orbit. The mystery cannibal craft lands in a base hidden inside an inactive volcano that doubles as Blofeld's lair. Cat in the cradle, he feeds Brandt to the piranhas and orders Osato to finish what she could not.

Tanaka's spacious seaside villa features a ninja compound where Bond trains after undergoing a makeover intended to help him pass as a Japanese fisherman. He will also have to marry a student of Tanaka's named Kissy, rather than the much lovelier and formidable Aki.

A SPECTRE assassin somehow infiltrates a ninja compound and Aki winds up ingesting poison intended for Bond. Bye-bye to a good Bond Girl who coulda-shoulda been a great one.

Bond and Kissy get fake-married and for a honeymoon notice a humble funeral nearby. A young girl had died mysteriously while sailing along a cave near the shoreline. Bond and Aki decide to check out the cave, jumping ship once Bond smells poison gas.

The two decide to snoop around the volcano above the cave. They notice the mouth of the volcano is also the hatch to a rocket base. Bond attempts to board SPECTRE'S spacecraft ("Bird One") before takeoff, but a small mistake alerts Blofeld, who demands that the astronaut inside be brought to him for questioning.  

Bond at last gets a glimpse of the bastard SPECTRE boss himself, a man with a bald head, a nasty scar, and Dr. No's wardrobe.

With the USA prepared to make good on their threat to go nuclear on the Soviets, Blofeld's dream of world domination is closer than ever. He orders his guards to shoot Bond, which is super-smart, but he accedes to Bond's request for  Ninjas descend upon the base! Bond scurries into the control room and activates Bird One's self-destruct mechanism. Blofeld goes one better and activates the self-destruct mechanism of the entire base.

Spoiler alert, no one important perishes.

Sean Connery so clearly did not want to star in Bond #5. He underperforms nearly every second he's on screen. Where's the smart-assery? Where's the carnality? Where's the paycheck, more like. But I suppose even insouciance has its charms, and I'm not claiming Connery's bad here. He's just not really Bond.

As a Bond Girl, Kissy is friggin' hideous. Devoid of sensuality, lacking ingenuity, indeed, bereft of any outstanding qualities. Aki was in every way her superior, so of course Aki had to die.

If Dr. No was a pair of unblinking eyes, then From Russia With Love was a pair of clenched fists. If Goldfinger was a puffed-out chest, then Thunderball was a rigid back. You Only Live Twice? Slouching shoulders. The fight sequences provide sorely-needed absorbing action, the lair is one of the best in the whole series, and the soundtrack is criminally overlooked, but on the buffet of life, YOLT is a sad slice of pizza, rubbery and bland.

I mean...I'll still eat it, of course. It's pizza. But there's so many tastier slices out there.


BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
You Only Live Twice was the first Bond film to disregard most of the source novel's plot. Scriptwriter Roald Dahl (a friend of Fleming's, mind, not just a colleague) considered YOLT to be the worst Bond book, a plotless travelogue with little entertainment value. Dahl used his ample gifts to produce a Dr. No rehash: Cold War backdrop, Bond on an island, chicanery with spacecraft. Just the sort of flash-bash craved by the popcorn-chompers. And honestly, "Head of terrorist organization SPECTRE  aims to start the next great war, leaving the fate of humanity hanging in the balance!" is a hell of a lot more thrilling than, "Former head of terrorist organization SPECTRE is ensconced in a castle, content to reign as the world's laziest genocidal overlord!"

Both book and film are preposterous, but I don't think that word should be an instantly damning one. The "Little Nellie" is goofy as a mouse and a dog being best friends, but it's so cool! Ninjas! Volcano lair! Yeah, the movie has some moments of silliness unimaginable in the nascent days, but the stakes are the highest yet.

The book is really a revenge story, with some existential digression. One could argue that the victims of Dr. Shatterhand's botanical death-trap are not worthy of sympathy. Indeed, a solid case could be made that choosing to discontinue one's life is the most intensely personal decision a human being can make, and thus should not be interfered with, by friend foe or foreigner. (The Japanese government seems less bothered over the 500 lives lost than the subsequent bad publicity.)

There's very little debate concerning nuclear annihilation. Only the insane are in favor of it.

But, Bond isn't too interested in bringing down the garden itself; after all, those who sincerely desire to die have a wealth of options. Blofeld killed his wife. Bond must kill Blofeld. Moral dilemmas are for the reader, should they choose to indulge.

Bond vs. Blofeld is a classic allegorical fight between sworn adversaries--good vs. bad, past vs. future, life vs. death, order vs. chaos. But it left me unsatisfied. Firstly, it's a fluke; Bond had already agreed to infiltrate the castle before he knew Shatterhand's true identity. It's not as though he hunted Ernie and Irmie down and meticulously assembled the recipe for just desserts. That would have made for a maddeningly engrossing story.

The death of Blofeld should have left me cheering. I should have begun hallucinating fireworks. An Irene Cara song should have been blaring in my head, something super-inspirational with lots of synthesized strings and a rib-sticker of a chorus. Instead, a sensation of "there's that, then" settled over me like a ratty, cedar pine-stinking quilt.

The movie, for its myriad of faults, undoubtedly nails the climax. (Would have been nice to see 007 show off some of those ninja moves he apparently learned, though. In the book he scaled a 200-foot wall!) All praise to Fleming's legendary descriptive powers, seriously the guy's one of the better I've ever read in that regard, but production designer Ken Adam outdid himself.

 The decision to keep Bond's "makeover" in the film beggars belief. I understand the point of it, but the execution was never, ever going to be acceptable. The book is tolerable, since we never have to actually see Bond with skin dye and a haircut, but the movie gives us no choice. Eye makeup and an even shittier hairpiece for Connery to wear...not awkward in the slightest!

Blofeld in the book is different enough physically that a reader can envision a whole different person than appeared in any of the films, and salvage some of the character's magnificent malevolence. This is fortunate. Donald Pleasance's chrome-domed, scar-faced icon of cartoonish evil has provided material for countless gleeful parodies (Austin Powers being just the most exuberant example), retroactively robbing the entire film of a huge component--danger.

Tiger Tanaka and Dikko Henderson are both drastically different in FlemingVision: large and loquacious men, politically incorrect in the extreme, stupendous imbibers of whatever's handy. 007 has a rollicking time with each man. The movie simply cannot compare. Tiger and James engage in a sake-soaked game of "Stone, Scissors, Paper" (that the author felt required an entire explanatory paragraph) in between dick-swinging and insult-slinging. Film Tanaka spouts some stupid sexist crap but since he's rail-thin and smiling, I'm supposed to be amused?

Book Dikko? Funniest thing from Australia since the first INXS album.

Yeah, I don't think much of Kissy in the book either. She's supposed to represent Bond's salvation, but
proves no more than the docile means to an end. I've heard knock-knock jokes more substantial than Kissy Suzuki.

For raising serious moral questions and giving Bond closure, I'll rate the book higher.

MIND THE GAP
Ian Fleming was so "child, please" at this point he wrote a scene where a cow is fed beer straight from the bottle.

Over fifty years since the publication of the novel, and no Bond film has utilized the name "Guntram Shatterhand"? For shame.

I'm hard on movie Kissy, but I have to credit her for not losing 85% of her cognitive abilities once she slipped on a bikini.

Telling a woman she tastes "different" will get you killed in real life.

Returning to the haiku…when, exactly, does Bond's second life begin? When he cradled his dead wife's body? When he watched Blofeld breathe his last? When he consents to a superfluous makeover? When he loses his memory, or when he leaves Japan?

The obituary mentions that the career of James Bond inspired "a series of popular books" penned by a colleague. "It is a measure of the disdain in which these fictions are held at the Ministry that action has not yet been taken against the author and publisher." So, Bond is a celebrity of sorts. I guess this revelation might not have annoyed me so much if it hadn't been made so late in the game. A grumbling aside from M, a wry crack from Moneypenny? Not even a begrudging acknowledgment from the man himself?

"Code word is imminent." Wait--does that mean the code word is coming soon, or that "imminent" is the code word?

Anyone interested in the spawn of Bond is encouraged to seek out Raymond Benson's extended universe short story, "Blast From the Past."

March 1966. Director Lewis Gilbert, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli, cinematographer Freddie Young and production designer Ken Adam were in Tokyo scouting locations for YOLT. Two hours before their departing flight, the men received an invitation to attend a ninja demonstration. Of course they accepted.

The missed flight was worth it, in more than one way. Twenty-five minutes after lifting off the runway, the Boeing 707 disintegrated--yes, disintegrated--near Mt. Fuji. All 124 people on board were killed.

Never refuse ninjas. Be in the presence of ninjas whenever possible.


TRAPPER JENN MD WILL RETURN IN...'THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN'

Monday, February 20, 2017

Better In Your Head?--ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE

1963
Ian Fleming


"You love them dearly, dearly, dearly. You love all chickens."

The second of the so-called "Blofeld Trilogy," On Her Majesty's Secret Service was also the first Bond novel published after Dr. No hit screens (not to mention the follow-up to that ill-advised experiment The Spy Who Loved Me).

A year into "Operation Bedlam," still no sign of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. The futility leads to frustration, which leads to James Bond penning a resignation letter. Delivery must wait, since he's in northern France, headed back to the Casino Royale. En route to a hotel, a Lancia driven by a woman wrapped in a pink scarf blows by his trusty Bentley. When he sees the same car--and woman-entering the hotel, Bond finagles her name from the manager: Countess Teresa di Vincenzo.

Her recklessness on the road is matched by her recklessness at the Banco table, as she loses money she doesn't have. Bond chivalrously covers the debt. Blandly, the woman who much prefers to be called "Tracy" orders 007 to her room to collect his due reward. The morning after goes less well, with Bond "feeling, for the first time in his life, inadequate."

Feeling the need to keep an eye on Tracy, and upset that his penis doesn't hold a Bachelor's in Psychology, Bond rents a car and follows her to the beach, unaware that he himself is being followed by men who work for Tracy's father. After Bond stops her from walking into the grave, said goonies force them onto a boat headed for the temporary HQ of Marc-Ange Draco, head of the Unione Corse, Europe's premier crime syndicate. Bond gets some one-on-one time with the big cheese. He has watched his daughter go from a well-loved child to a self-immolating socialite. But, perhaps she is not so broken that the love of a good man could not fix her?

Despite a fondness for the girl (and Draco's promise of a million dollar dowry), Bond refuses to court the Countess. Still grateful for Bond's palliative presence, Draco offers his services. Find Blofeld? No problem. He's in Switzerland. Somewhere. (Hey, the guy didn't claim to be a genie.)

Station Z of MI6 works the case for two months, little headway made, until Bond receives orders to visit London's College of Arms. Recently, the COA received a letter from Zurich-based solicitors on behalf of a client seeking recognition of the "rightful" title of Comte Balthazard de Bleuville. With no birth certificate or baptism record, the going has proved rough. The man's claim that he shares a genetic trait of the de Bleuville line--no earlobes--will need to be verified in person by a COA representative.

Acting as Sir Hilary Bray (and carrying no weaponry or gadgetry), Bond is taken to Blofeld's lair in the Swiss Alps, the Piz Gloria. Before meeting the would-be Count, he meets his secretary, a German woman of Klebbian comportment named Irma Bunt. She introduces him to ten other women, far younger and more beguiling, special guests of the Count, hailing from all over the United Kingdom. One named Ruby is especially grateful to have such a smart, sexy man in the proximity.

To 007's chagrin, Blofeld's look has changed much from the widely-circulated physical description: long white hair rather than a dark crew-cut, at least 100 pounds lighter, and ah oh--the man's got himself no earlobes. Still, Bray/Bond secures a week-long stay.

The booty-call with Ruby is followed by an immensely odd post-coital soundtrack, including Blofeld speaking airily about the importance of defending the common chicken.

The next meeting between the two B's goes swimmingly. Blofeld speaks pridefully of his work at the on-site clinic, where he treats allergies. The girls are especially indebted to his efforts, seeing as they suffer "agricultural allergies" that have made their lives in the British countryside problematic. Wanting to speed up the process, Blofeld offers a bribe. A fine time for a Station Z agent to break up the conversation with his battered body. Bond maintains his cover…but just barely.

Wary of the swinging anvil, 007 decides to do the best he can with the information he has. Packing some makeshift weapons, he decides to carpe noctem and hits the slopes. His escape is narrow and harrowing, from the mountains to a skating rink packed with party people. Among them--Tracy di Vincenzo.

She is a sight for sore everything; her kindness vivifies the wearied secret agent man. Her resourcefulness saves both of their lives.

At the table of an airport restaurant. That is where James Bond proposes. Hey, when you find that one-of-one who also yearns to be your one, any place is the ideal place. Tracy is beauty and bravery, a damaged soul healing dramatically by the day, a woman who wants to give all the love she takes.

A pace-choking meeting in M's office lays out Blofeld's master plan (cripple the world's economy via biological warfare carried out by the women "treated" at his clinic). Bond looks to his future dad-in-law for help in bringing Blofeld down. The Piz Gloria is destroyed, but Blofeld escapes.

Ah well, Bond has a wedding to attend! He and Tracy join their frayed ropes at the British Consul General's drawing room, then take off in her Lancia. Before long, Bond asks her to pull over so he can de-ribbon the vehicle. Once finished, it's back on the road. No hurry at all. "We have all the time in the world," Bond reminds his wife.

The occupants of the red Maserati behind them are not so carefree; the flashy vehicle zooms towards the Lancia, then past, with Bond catching a glimpse of the two people inside before losing consciousness. He awakens, mostly unharmed, save for what will surely be a nasty bump on the head. Mrs. Bond...not so lucky.

Having to compete with picture shows, Ian Fleming gave the prose extra zip and zing, from one exclamation point to the next. (He didn't include sketches of explosions, but I wouldn't have been shocked.) The main plot is admirably unique (read: improbable), but it's Fleming's deft touch with the subplot that leaves the deepest impression.

After the Vesper Lynd affair, Bond once more handing his heart over to a woman seemed unlikely. But he did! Mein Gott! Fleming's decision to return to that well, and fill the bucket to the brim, is as commendable as his execution. He softened Bond without weakening Bond. Still, could the outcome have ever been in doubt? A married James Bond would have been a better fictional person, but a much worse fictional character. Near the end of Diamonds Are Forever, he told Tiffany Case, "Most marriages don't add two people together. They subtract one from the other." Easy to be cynical when you're surfeited with expendable pleasures. Which is, honestly, as James Bond was intended.

Knowing he would crush his readers hearts, Fleming allowed himself some cutesy moments: Bond reveals his father was a Scot; Ursula Andress is name-dropped. Nothing egregious, though, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service plays now as it did then--a welcome return to form.


1969
Director-Peter Hunt
Writer-Richard Maibaum


"I have taught you to love chickens."

When "Screw You, Pay Me" goes wrong.

Fine, there were other compelling reasons for Sean Connery to stomp away from the role that made him an international superstar: pigeonholing, boredom, being Scottish. End of it all, he left The Salty Broccoli team in need of a new James Bond. Many names were considered (including a baby-faced Timothy Dalton), but ultimately the role went to 30-year-old Aussie George Lazenby, a man with no prior acting experience outside of adverts. He looked the part, however, which is much more than half the battle. Eon offered the lucky schlub a seven-film contract, but Lazenby's agent convinced his client that the character of James Bond would soon be a relic. Lazenby then announced to the media that he was one-and-done, making his time on the movie set rather uncomfortable.

Somehow, a top five all-time Bond flick was born.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the closest adaptation of a Fleming work, by design; director Peter Hunt even carried around a copy of the novel on set. Nearly all of the incidents in the book appear in the film, and the most indelible scene is lifted wholesale. Quite the opposite approach from You Only Live Twice.

There are differences, of course, the most significant being:

--The legendary montage, set to Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time In the World," of the elegant Countess and the charismatic spy falling in love.

--The College of Arms' involvement is condensed so's to permit scenes of Bond doing actual espionage work.

--Blofeld's broads number a dozen, and have been christened "The Angels of Death." I mean, I get that they're manipulated instruments of worldwide catastrophe but you can't beat that for a crew name. Unless it's "Super Bitch Ninjas In Defense of Kim Gordon." Further, they boast international flavor: English, Irish, Australian, Scandinavian, Hungarian, Joanna Lumley.

--Blofeld's look is quite different, as is the ancestral name he claims ("Beauchamp," which translates as "fair and lovely field"). The baldy makes him seem like a reasonably-altered version of Donald Pleasance's Blofeld from You Only Live Twice, at least. Book Blofeld sounds vaguely Veela.

--Bond doesn't so much escape in the book as he attempts to sneak away. The movie puts him in a much more precarious position, necessitating a much more suspenseful escape.

--The attack on Piz Gloria is expanded, letting Tracy show her mettle. Also, she's not abducted in the book.

--Bond in a barn, with the hay below him and the "heeey" above him, pops the question. Looks better than an airport restaurant, but probably smelled worse.

--Lazenby's so good at fake fistfights, the script added two of them!

--The ending is trimmed for effect: Bond's still snatching all the showy crap from his beloved Aston Martin as Blofeld and Bunt speed by and shatter his world to sad little bits.

After such a stellar job editing the first five Bond films, Peter Hunt was promoted to the big boy chair. The romantic montage is but one example of how he shook up convention. Shot for shot, On Her Majesty's Secret Service is to this day the most visually stirring installment in the series.

But then, Hunt's direction was never what non-fans found so displeasing. George Lazenby received massive vitriol over the years from viewers turned off by his "wooden" performance, a criticism I never quite comprehended. He's…good. Above average with his mouth closed, average when he opens his mouth, below average when he opens his mouth and someone else's voice is heard. His flippancy might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it fits right in with a film defined by its "otherness." (Given reports of the contentious relationship between lead actor and director, Lazenby's performance being anything but nightmarish is a minor miracle.)

Long considered a commercial and artistic disappointment, OHMSS has nevertheless accrued a great deal of acclaim over the last two decades. Engrossing story, mesmerizing soundtrack, masterful cinematography, and the best ending in any Bond film.* Bonus, we get the best possible Bond girl in the bewitching form of Tracy.

Wait, what? Vesper Lynd? You mean the traitor? I don't wanna hear about "Oh b-but, she fell in love, such an untenable position, the guilt!" Bond could never have trusted Vesper Lynd. Tracy, on the other hand, was down to ride, quite literally. Throw a guy into ornamental wall spikes first, ask questions later.

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
I prefer Fleming's version of how Bond meets his future wife, which is actually at the Casino Royale soon after she's busted out at cards. The beach rescue occurs the very next day. However, Fleming uses flashbacks, so the novel actually begins with Bond watching Tracy on the beach. Such a technique isn't limited to the literary medium, of course, but not even Peter Hunt dared enough to eschew linear storytelling.

Further, the meeting occurs in Portugal instead of France. Doesn't affect my enjoyment of the film, but having 007 find the second great love of his life in the very same place he found the first is pretty fantastic.

Book Bond tended to avoid sartorial trend-chasing. Because Fleming might have allowed his creation to fall in love, but he would never have let him suffer the indignity of a ruffled dress shirt.

Does Bond have doubts about his decision to share his life? Sure does. Would it have been possible to show that in the movie? Imagine so, but it would have seemed an awful odd digression. Just another way books rule.

The fate of the Station Z agent is much better via Fleming. He damn near blows the whole gig, and sends Bond into a paranoia that hastens his grand exit from the Piz Gloria. The movie drags it out unnecessarily.

Well, the movie does also spare us those two dreadfully dull guys in M's office. Oh, but there's that  cutesy walk down memory lane after Bond thinks he's turned in his resignation. Raspberry, no sherbet.

While Fleming blessed readers with a chapter titled "Bloody Snow," the line from the film you're almost certainly thinking of is absent. The chase sequences on the Alps did nothing for my feelings on skiing, but I'm pretty sure my relationship with snow went from friendly to smitten the first time I saw them. To this day I will punch the air, yank my collar and exclaim in tongues, at length. Imagine a grenade detonating in the rain…'bout as thrilling as sand between yer toes.

George Lazenby's turn as James Bond, which I keep is insisting is good, suffers nonetheless from several factors which were beyond his control.

For starters, he's outshone (unsurprisingly!) by two far more experienced actors. Telly Savalas would go on to great fame in the TV cop drama Kojak, but damned if he didn't make for a verminous Ernst, so much so that I unabashedly claim him as my favorite in the role (followed by Donald Pleasance, Christoph Waltz, burning orphanage, and Charles Gray). He uses his hands for much more than just making pussy happy, you know.

Book Tracy is an enigma wrapped in a pink scarf. On the surface, she's a fundamentally decent sort at the mercy of a stubborn indecency. Truthfully, Fleming's Tracy is actually not one of his more well-developed female characters; Tiffany Case, Viv Michel, even Honeychile Rider are all more fleshed-out than Bond's one and only bride. We see her through the eyes of the men in her life, and that's sufficient, since ultimately OHMSS is a spy thriller and not a grand romance, but Diana Rigg takes her to a new level.

Her legendary turn as Emma Peel on The Avengers made Rigg the only real "name" of the cast, and also served her well as a believably kick-ass Bond Girl. Throw in gorgeous looks and a daunting dignity that's practically visible even on a broken iPad screen, and it's safe to say this movie belongs to Tracy/Diana. She is utterly irreducible, utterly irreplaceable.

This is not to downplay Bond. His trajectory over two-plus hours feels very real. Throw in the events of the books, and it becomes more so. In his life, James has become enraptured by two women whose souls he desperately wanted to save. One, he did not; one, he did. Both, he lost regardless.

The ultimate tragedy is not that a lifelong bachelor spy is spectacularly unlucky in love, but that both of those women were taken from him so cruelly. Vesper Lynd crashed under the weight of her own treachery, unwilling to face the consequences of her actions. Tracy Bond was killed--murdered, by a stomach with arms--just after finding a future she'd long given up on. The fraudulent Count triumphed over the genuine Countess. Grim.

Finally, the decision to overdub Lazenby's voice with that of another actor for the scenes where he's pretending to be Hilary Bray isn't as unfortunate as slide whistles or triple-take birds, but it's one of the few things keeping the movie from making my top 3. Georgie Boy had no time to work on a passable brogue? The actor who played the real Hilary Bray absolutely had to be the voice?

Ultimately I'm partial to the book, despite my high regard for the film. The real tipper for me just happens to be the biggest continuity issue in the entire film series. Having come face-to-face in You Only Live Twice (you know, the one just before OHMSS), why don't Bond and Blofeld recognize one another? Blofeld is easily explained--reconstructive surgery. But Bond didn't alter himself beyond affecting a Scottish accent. The original script did have Bond undergoing plastic surgery, but clearly that idea was dumb. So, again, Blofeld had to know Sir Hilary Bray was in fact James Bond, and he just strung him along.

See the perils of such faithfulness to source material?

MIND THE GAP
Blofeld taught the poor afflicted angels to love chickens, but not in the way my uncle did as a horny teen on the family farm. Or tried to, rather. Moving on! An allergy is not a feeling. An allergy is a reaction of the immune system. Hypnosis will not help treat an allergy.

Ruby was easily the least attractive of the AOD. Bitch shampooed with mud, conditioned with clay and dried with bird nest.

Bond has a new secretary! Mary Goodnight, who is not a blonde imbecile but still apparently quite the blazing booty.

I don't think it's possible to smile like a box, but Ian Fleming sure did.

The movie Marc-Ange Draco is a real cool customer. Gregarious, generous. As with Kerim Bey in From Russia With Love, the scriptwriter smoothed out the rough edges to endear the character to movie-goers.

Here's Draco, in the novel, telling Bond about meeting Tracy's mother: "She had come to Corsica to look for bandits….She explained to me later that she must have been possessed by a subconscious desire to be raped. Well…she found me in the mountains and she was raped--by me."

I am pretty sure there were/are actual rapists who never obsessed over the subject of rape as much as the creator of James Bond, a man who, by all accounts, never actually raped anyone. So glad Richard Maibaum replaced such eye-glazing dialogue with, well, what's a good example…

"What she needs is a man to dominate her!"

Yeeeep, Draco in the movie is still pretty dickish. Fleming must have felt a twinge or twenty of writerly envy watching him punch out his own daughter.

Wait, there's a character in the book whose last name is "Draco" and another one whose last name is "Basilisk"? And they're both supposed to be good guys?

Chapter 27: "All the Time In the World." Haha, piss off.

Q Branch can't hook a groom up with a bulletproof windshield?

I wonder if James ever tried to make it 3-for-3 at Casino Royale.


TRAPPER JENN MD WILL RETURN IN...'YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE'





*Despite a befuddling soundtrack choice that I can only imagine was an attempt to jolt Tracy back to life.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Better In Your Head?--THE SPY WHO LOVED ME

1962 
Ian Fleming

"Bond. James Bond."
"That's a pretty chump name."

AKA, "The One Where Bond Shows Up Two-Thirds of the Way Through."


Viv Michel is a young, middle-class woman whose Canadian is in the French fashion, and whose French is in the Canadian way. Her relative speck of a life has not been spine-tingling, nor even chin-tickling. Desperately seeking stimulus, she acquires a Vespa, cashes some traveler's checks, and heads South. A stop in the Adirondacks of upstate New York leads her to the Dreamy Pines Motor Court, where the managers are quick to offer her a hot meal and a temp job behind the receptionist desk.

With vacation season at a close, the managers leave Viv alone for a night, telling her to expect the motel's owner, one Mr. Sanguinetti, who will be by to take inventory before closing up for the winter. A raging thunderstorm prompts her to turn on the VACANCY sign in hopes of attracting some company. Before long, Viv finds herself entangled in an "orgy of remembering" all the men she's loved before: an Oxford-bound upstart and a German caricature, specifically.

When a knock on the door interrupts her drawn-out, terribly unsexy memories, the good stuff--that is to say, the bad stuff--truly begins.

Rather than one man in the form of Mr. Sanguinetti, Viv is greeted with two men in the forms of "Horror" and "Sluggsy," walking pulp fiction templates who are at the motel on his behalf. Since this is a Bond novel, however unconventional, Horror has cheap steel caps on his front teeth and Sluggsy suffers from alopecia. These gentlemen are not at all, and when Viv slaps Sluggsy, everyone pretty much realizes that there's gonna be some rape going down.

Viv rustles up some late-night breakfast for these deliberate goons, then attempts to make her escape. Which only gets her expertly shot at and beaten up. (But not raped.) Viv licks her wounds, eats her bacon and eggs, and tries to suss out why these hardened thugs have paid her an unfriendly visit. Another desperate attempt to save her ass via flying silverware comes up short, and yep here it is, assault of a sexual nature, I knew it I knew it--

BUZZZZ!

At the front door is a debonair English chap with a flat tire. Horror and Sluggsy are insistent that the limey fix up look elsewhere for lodging, but he won't hear such nonsense. A staggeringly grateful Viv accompanies her surprise savior to his car to fetch his bags, making him less oblivious with each sentence she manages to complete.

Back indoors, Viv whips out even more breakfast, while James Bond--oh aren't you surprised--regales her with the highlights of his latest adventure (probably an idea for a longer story that Fleming gave up on) as Sluggsy and Horror watch on from a distance.

After midnight, with everyone ostensibly on the planet Zed-3, the motel's cabins go up in flames. Bond rescues Viv and answers at last the question that had been driving her mad--the boys were sent to Dreamy Pines by the owner to burn the place down for the insurance money. A shoot-out between a shirtless 007 and the two witless criminals ensues, with an outcome sure to shock no one.

What do a hetero man and a hetero woman do after coming out on the happy side of a life-death situation? Damn skippy. Bond leaves Viv a very polite note instructing her on how to handle the authorities, and a cop uses her for a "practice daughter" and that is, blessedly, it.

On a superficial level, The Spy Who Loved Me is worthy of commendation. For Bond No. 9, Ian Fleming took a risk. He did not throw the formula out, merely skipped over a word or five. Perhaps he aimed to demonstrate his range as a writer. Maybe he yearned to prove naysayers wrong by not only crafting a three-dimensional female character, but making a (slight) novel solely in her voice. Whatever the ultimate goal, audiences felt betrayed, and Fleming would bemoan The Spy Who Loved Me as a failed experiment, allowing the title and only the title to be used for any future film adaptations.

A title which isn't even accurate. Bond didn't love Viv. Loved making her scream, yes; but Fleming seems to be making a point of how naive the poor girl is, prone to false equivalencies of body and soul, rather than Bond being a sex god. Perhaps there's a hopeful message underneath all the half-baked prose, the promise of a wiser woman making the journey from self-absorbed to selfless. Does that mean Viv will continue on her delayed trip, winding up in the Sunshine State and living out a carefree existence? Or will she return to Quebec and settle down with the first man who doesn't tuck tail at the first imperfection?

How you rate The Spy Who Loved Me will depend on how you rate the barely-began life of a garrulous orphan. While I place it at the bottom in terms of novels by Fleming, I hesitate to deem it an abject failure. Worthy of neither adoration nor animosity, I'd recommend it to a Bond fan with the caveat that they start at the third and final section.


1977
Director-Lewis Gilbert
Writers-Richard Maibaum & Christopher Wood (and at least ten others)

"The name's Bond. James Bond."
"What of it?"

AKA, "Thunderball done right."

Take it back, take it down...to where the fish frolic...to where big-ass ballistics submarines carry weaponry capable of starting (and finishing) a global holocaust. British and Soviet subs vanishing would be definite cause for pause and put your head 'tween your knees. 007 blasts his way past some Soviet spies in Austria and heads to Egypt, where the stolen microfilm plans for a super-sophisticated submarine tracking system are being held by nightclub owner Max Kalba. Naturally, the KGB are also interested in obtaining these plans, and have to that end dispatched their own operative, "Triple X," Mayor Anya Amasova, whose lover Sergei Barsov was the same man taken out by Bond in the pre-credits (although she does not know that).


A third party is on the hunt, the man from whom the plans were stolen--shipping tycoon/scientist Karl Stromberg, who has constructed his own city, Atlantis--seriously, it's called Atlantis--in and on the Mediterranean Sea. MI6 has 007, the KGB has XXX, and Stromberg has Jaws, a 7 foot 2 inch tall man-beast with metal teeth.

Bond and Amasova meet up at Max Kalba's club, where they show off their shoveling skills before Kalba arrives. Before any transaction can be made, he's called to a phone booth, where only Jaws awaits, ready to chomp the poor guy's throat and relieve him of the microfilm.

Jaws tries to make a tidy escape, but Bond recognizes him from a prior close call. He and Amasova hide out in Jaws' van, springing forth the next morning amid some lovely Egyptian ruins to eventually snatch the microfilm. They escape in the van and upgrade to a boat. Bond sneaks a peek at the microfilm, which winds up in the Major's hands when she renders him unconscious with the old "gas gun disguised as a cigarette" trick. All for naught, rally, as the Brits and Soviets have called a temporary truce, and the plans themselves are relatively useless, save for a hidden symbol that identifies Karl Stromberg.

Posing as a marine biologist and wife, James and Anya visit Stromberg at Atlantis. They learn about the Liparus, a supertanker he launched several months prior (and one that they will later learn never visited any port or harbor), and of his belief in an underwater city as the salvation for a rapidly-disintegrating planet. Neither spy knows to be on the lookout for Jaws, but before long he's clued in his boss as to their true identities. Bond and Asamova escape sudden death with the help of one of Bond's best gadgets, the Lotus Esprit--a car that converts into a submarine. One more time for the people in the book--a car that converts into a submarine.

While helping plan their next move, Anya learns it was 007 who killed her dude. He tries the old "it was spy business, darling, surely you of all women would understand," but she is unwilling to accept the harsh truth, vowing to end Bond's days once their mission is complete.

So when the Liparus abducted the Yankee sub they were aboard, Bond probably peed a little.

Surrounded by the two missing submarines (and their imprisoned crew members), Stromberg lays out the plan: to instigate the destruction of the surface world and make his idyllic underwater world a reality, he's programmed the two subs to take out Moscow and NYC. Right after giving the go-ahead, Stromberg takes off with Mayor Amasova and orders Bond to be placed with the incarcerated crewmen. Should've hung around to make sure his dudes could do the job, since Bond escapes, frees the others and the wholesale slaughter begins.

Overseen by Bond, the American Captain uses the tracking system to reprogram the two submarine's coordinates. Instead of two major world cities, the vessels take out each other. Next, is Atlantis. In hopes of saving Triple X, Bond hops on a "wetbike" and arrives ahead of the Liparus. Stromberg is dispatched of (a pedestrian death for a pedestrian villain, I mean dude doesn't even stand up), Jaws is dumped into a shark pool, and Anya joins James in an escape pod.

007 is ready to pop bubbly and chill, but there remains the itty-bitty matter of the Major's get-back. Just joking, no hard feelings! Well, there is one hard feeling.

The Spy Who Loved Me is Roger Moore's personal favorite of his Bond performances. I'd say if not this, then Live and Let Die. His 007 possesses sophistication in spades, yet he's unafraid of snarking mid-getaway, or smacking a man off a rooftop. Both movie and actor ooze confidence. The action is smooth, the plot is engaging, and the moments of humor are organic, with the winks just perceptible.

BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
This is a weird one, the weirdest one I'll have to do. The question of whether the film outdid the book is almost one you can't ask, since all the film took from the book was the title (and a couple other little things I'll get to soon). So it's not, did Eon Productions do Ian Fleming justice, since Ian Fleming didn't do himself justice. The question, then--which story did you prefer?

For me, the answer is simple: The Spy Who Loved Me is one of my favorite Bond movies, while also being my least favorite Bond novel. One is short and sour, the other is long and strong. Yet, I feel even the movie could have been improved. 

Karl Stromberg is dull. To be kinder, he is a phlegmatic man. A brick among clay, as electrifying as a discarded box. He is the emotional and physical opposite of Ernest Stavro Blofeld...the most infamous of all Bond baddies, and the original choice for The Spy Who Loved Me. Kevin McClory refused to sign off, resulting in a Big Bad so Not That, Eon Productions immediately remade The Spy Who Loved Me with a villain portrayed by an actor who didn't seem mere seconds away from lapsing into catatonia.

The Lotus Esprit is the vehicular personification of "ridiculous and awesome."

Jaws bit a shark. He bit a shark!

The ski jump is not only one of the best stunts in Bond history, or film history, it makes a person feel proud to be English. In other words, it's the visual antipode of Theresa May's existence.

The producers took a bit more than just the title for their flashy picture show--henchman Horror has cheap silver caps in his front teeth, and his palsy Sluggsy is fat and bald. Ladies and gentlemen, Jaws and Sandor.

Upstate New York vs. Cairo. Come on, man.

Don't misunderstand my solicitous soul, the book has moments of genuine throat-clogging dread, and the mood whiplash is well-lashed when the goons show up. The eventual reveal of their plot explains their inaction, which bugged me mightily at the time. But there's too many moments where I marveled at Fleming's greasy grasp on the fundamentals of human interaction. And lest I forget, Viv's post-coital that "(A)ll women love semi-rape."

Semi-rape. Semi...rape. That's like calling yogurt "semi-pudding." Rough sex between consenting adults is consensual sex and thus, unidentifiable as "rape."

Contrast Viv with Anya. Barbara Bach (Mrs. Richard Starkey) gave an underrated performance as the Major: she's about her business every much as Bond is, but her ability to balance professional duty with personal vulnerability distinguishes her from the lesser Bond Girls that Roger Moore was saddled with late in his run. And that accent ain't bad, give her a break.

MIND THE GAP
Woman gives up the slit--slut. Woman refuses to give up the slit--cocktease. Reason I Marched, #23.

"Those men were dynamite from Nightmare-Land." What...in the uneven hell.

Atlantis looks like something Bowser Jr. would use to battle Mario.

Has anyone ever considered that Sergei Barsov was the titular spy?

Viv and Bond had sex in one motel cabin while the others were still burning...right? I didn't imagine that?


TRAPPER JENN MD WILL RETURN IN...'ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE'

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Better In Your Head?--THUNDERBALL

1961
Ian Fleming


"Don't give me that crap about real life. There ain't no such animal."

James Bond is in a rare state of mind--shameful. He drank to excess the prior night, but that's not the cause of the embarrassment. Rather, his consumption rendered him ineffective at the bridge table, a devastating result for such a cards enthusiast. When M summons him to MI6 HQ, Bond anticipates another ego-boosting assignment to some far-off locale. He is instead derided for poor health and ordered to spend two weeks at a sanitarium to detoxify. While there he sees the man with the wrist tattoo, and the events of Thunderball are set in motion.

007 uses a payphone on the premises to call MI6, confirming the marking indicates a member of a criminal organization called the Red Lightning Tong. The same man overhears Bond's conversation and a few days later, attempts to eliminate the British spy while the latter enjoys the benefits of a "traction table." A nurse arrives in time to save 007 from a Mike Teevee fate, but no one can stop Bond from wandering into the steam bath area and having his revenge.

The man with the wrist tattoo is one Count Lippe, working for SPECTRE. He'd been entrusted to oversee a rogue Air Force pilot named Giuseppe Petacchi, who himself had been entrusted to hijack a NATO bomber with two big boys on board and direct it to the Bahamas. Petacchi did very well, leaving no witnesses and landing in the water like a boss, but he made the grave error of trying to extort more money and for that, he paid with his life. Once that dirty business had been finished, SPECTRE Supreme Commander Emilio Largo took the bombs aboard his yacht, the Disco Volante.

SPECTRE sends a message to the UK Prime Minister, announcing the hijacking and requesting 100 million pounds ransom. If the exact amount is not handed over by such-and-such a date and time, two major cities in the world (likely located within the USA and/or England) will be bombed to bits.

MI6 and the CIA join forces to undertake "Operation Thunderball." M assigns Bond to the Bahamas, believing the "major cities" will be located in America and the missing NATO plane would likely be found in nearby waters. What luck! Driving to the airport, Bond barely escapes an assassination attempt by Count Lippe when Lippe's own car is blown off the road by another SPECTRE assassin. What luck!

In Nassau, Bond meets up with Felix Leiter (at the CIA's beck and call despite Pinkerton's paychecks) and Domino Vitali, but sleeps with only one of them. (I shan't spoil.) Vitali is Emilio Largo's "kept woman" but perhaps more tragically, she is the sister of Italian Air Force pilot Giuseppe Petacchi--and has no idea of her brother's fate.

Posing as men interested in the purchase of Largo's estate, Bond and Leiter (carrying a concealed Geiger counter) pay him a visit aboard the Disco Volante, which Largo is only too happy to show off. Leiter's Geiger picks up nothing. A search for the downed aircraft is likewise fruitless. What Bond needs to do is beat Largo's brains out in the casino and get under his skin, so that is the thing he does.

That night, Bond uses an aqualung to scope out Largo's yacht from underneath. He spies an underwater door. This, along with other circumstantial evidence, might be enough to convince the minds behind "Operation Thunderball" that Largo is involved in SPECTRE's plot.

Bond and Leiter return to the air, defying the odds by one when they locate the wreckage of the bomber. Bond, who has known for some time that Domino's brother was the pilot, breaks the news to her after a roll in the hay. He then takes advantage of her grief by handing over the Geiger counter and securing a vow that she will help to bring down Largo. The plan is simple: be on board the yacht as the deadline specified by SPECTRE approaches. Bond and Leiter will be watching. If she finds evidence that the bombs are on board, Domino is to appear on the ship's deck. If she finds no such evidence, she is to stay off of the deck.

The U.S. nuclear sub Manta and a fighter squadron arrive to assist, and Bond receives word that the Disco Volante has left harbor. Domino did not come onto the deck, which leads Bond to believe the bombs might not yet be on the ship--or, that something unfortunate has happened to Ms. Vitali.

The Manta gives chase, while Bond formulates a plan of attack. He and his men take to the water and descend upon the SPECTRE frogs waiting to receive the bombs from the yacht. Bond and Largo face off in an underwater cave, and it looks like it might be toilet time for tiny town when--thwack! Spear to the bad guy's back, courtesy of one Domino Vitali.

Of all the Bond books, Thunderball has far and away the most contentious origin story. In the late 1950s, Fleming and friend Iver Bryce discussed the possibility of bringing 007 to movie theaters. Bryce then introduced Fleming to writer/director Kevin McClory. By January 1960, a screenplay written by Fleming, McClory and Jack Whittingham had been written, with Fleming promising to take it to MCA, and vouching for McClory as the producer of the future film. Before that could happen, though, Fleming decided to write his next Bond novel, based on the screenplay. McClory and Whittingham caught whiff of an advance copy and took Fleming to court. While 007 #9 hit shelves, the case continued, with all involved parties eventually settling out of court in 1963. The novel rights were awarded to Fleming, while the rights to the film went to McClory. Which is why the book version is officially "based on a screen treatment by Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham and The Author."

So what of it? "It" being the finished product, this odd duck "not quite a novelization, not quite an original novel"? In terms of construction, Thunderball is Fleming at top form. Sentences extend like bo staffs, a welcome change from his usual style (indeed, if he'd relied on his standard presentation, the whole book might have been a chore to slog through). The issues with female characters persist, but so do women, and that's all that matters. Thunderball gives us an inhuman villain in Blofeld and the most human James Bond yet, and for that it deserves praise.


1965
Director-Terence Young
Writers-Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins (screenplay); Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham & Ian Fleming (original screenplay)


You might not expect a movie featuring a real-life, honest-to-Allah jetpack to be the first disappointment of the series, in the same way I didn't expect that chocolate-banana latte from Sheetz to be any good.

Once McClory won the film rights to Thunderball, Eon Productions had a minor infarction at the very real possibility of a competing Bond film out in the marketplace. So come on board, Kev!

The story's basically the same as the book, just changed some names and nationalities here and there  (Domino Vitali is now Domino Derval and her brother is now Francois, since no one ever chooses Italy). The underwater battle is also altered, as the action goes from the sea to the ship, Largo pushing his beloved yacht onward with the Royal Navy and U.S. Coast Guard in well-heated pursuit. Bond and Largo have their showdown here, and the end result is the same as the book, right down to the vengeful sister heroics.

Guys, I don't have much of substance to say. The climactic underwater battle is like watching a sedated snail slime its way from one end of a football field to the other. Eon took a chance on "bigger" equalling "better" and got burned. (By water, no less.)

Feeling unsatisfied at the end of a two-hour Bond movie is akin to feeling unsatisfied after Thanksgiving dinner, but it's not my fault the cook forgot to make sweet potatoes. Anyway, audiences in 1965 ate Thunderball up. Which has less to do with quality than the fact it came right after Goldfinger, the movie that put the franchise permanently on the map. (Adjusted for inflation, those two movies are in fact the two biggest worldwide grossers in the series.)

Sean Connery is great--just ask him--and the character of Fiona Volpe really deserved to debut in a better movie.



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
The plot of Thunderball is not one that sauces my taco. No doubt, Blofeld's master plan is leaps and bounds ahead of making off with bars of gold in broad day, with hundreds of thousands of lives at stake. But the execution drains the drama.

Both book and movie struggle with pacing issues. The culprit is the setting. The novel was penned by a man not known for vague descriptions, and this helps immensely. The film has no such luck, and when the action goes aboard, the footage is sped up, as if to atone for the dreadfully dull fifteen minutes prior. Doesn't quite work.

Books demand imagination, which is why I'll give it to Fleming here. I promise the underwater battle will appear much better in your head, for reasons up to and including the fact that millions of people in this world are color-blind.

Largo didn't strike me as a superlative baddy two-boots in either form. In the book he's a debonair SOB with long sideburns and dark wavy hair. In the film, he's Ted Knight playing Bobby Knight playing a pirate. The latter at least provides him with two v.v. interesting henchpeople: Fiona Volpe, a flaming red Italian assassin whose very presence is probably the highest of all the movie's lights, a stunner of a gunner who blows up cars and dresses down men with enough relish for a foot-long; and Vargas, an asexual mute whose role is somewhat expanded on screen. Basically, he's known for being impaled on a tree but again, that's a far more captivating scene than any of the aquatic shenanigans.

Domino makes a decent Bond girl. Far from frail, a decent pace from docile, she's changed from blonde to brunette for the movie (boon!), which also performs the kindness of leaving her loquacious side between the covers. She makes the major kill not for the sake of feminist-inspired novelty, but because the kill was hers to make.

The film flips the action a bit, beginning with SPECTRE HQ and then switching to the clinic. Result, non-readers have no idea why Bond is at such a decidedly non-Bond joint. A small matter, I suppose, but another check in the book's column.

The pilot's death in the novel is hysterically brutal. Imagine Saturday Night Fever ending with John Travolta's character tripping and smashing face-first onto the sidewalk.

Thunderball is considered the first of the so-called "Blofeld Trilogy." The meat of the book is our introduction to Ernie. Such a diabolical bastard deserves an obscenely-long, undeniably-magnificent introduction, and he certainly receives one.

Felix Leiter certainly deserved better on-screen treatment. In the books, he's a brash Texan with a steel hook for a hand and a steel trap for a mind, a true colleague of Bond's rather than some tolerable helpmate. Shame their relationship was "de-bro'ed" for the adaptation, leading to such desultory dialogue as:

"We haven't got much time."
"You're right, James. We haven't."

I rather adore the novel's conclusion, where we witness a rare glimpse of 007's vulnerability. He is clearly touched by Domino's sacrifice, and the tenderness of their final moments hadn't been seen in Fleming's work since Casino Royale. Sean Connery could not have quite pulled such a scene off, I don't think. His Bond lacked the emotional range. Hell, the scene where he tells Domino her brother's fate is marred by abrupt delivery, awkward presentation and blatant rear projection.

The traction table scene hasn't been set to the Benny Hill theme yet, and I'm at a loss as to why.

MIND THE GAP
Seeing the double-0's seated in one grandiose room is cool, in that "neeerrrrd!" way.

Disco Volante is Italian for "flying saucer." Makers of the original Casino Royale, you're very clever. Unless you aren't.

"Thunderball" is a slang term for the mushroom cloud left by the strike of an atomic bomb.

Burl Ives as Largo? Coulda been, probably shoulda been. Look at this magnificent, malevolent kisser.

When Bond and Leiter initially meet Largo, the former uses his real name while the latter uses an alias. Um?

Yes, Bond with the nurse is a tad rape-y, and that's bad…but is it as bad as a rape-y Tad?

"Red Lightning Tong" rhymes with "dread tightening thong."

I can't describe the big-screen Thunderball as an example of "bigger and better," but it certainly managed to be "bluer and wetter." Which if nothing else is also a fine title for a Smurfs porn.

"Women are often meticulous and safe drivers, but they are seldom first-class."

That's…entirely fair and not inaccurate.

"Four women in a car, he regarded as the highest danger potential, and two were nearly as lethal."

Since, see, females not only talk incessantly, they insist on staring at the person they are talking to/with/at. Mind you, my female bestie and I, over the course of five years, made tracks in her Chevelle SS over nearly every drivable inch of our hometown, not to mention summer jaunts to the Eastern Shore and back, and not a single wreck. Not even a fender bender.

Finally, the book makes sense of what was, for me at least, one of the more inexplicable lines of dialogue in any Bond film. Over the phone, Bond threatens to spank Miss Moneypenny for her insolence. She retorts with, "On yogurt and lemon juice? I can hardly wait." I couldn't figure, was she referencing some mildly kinky sex act? Is the combination of yogurt and lemon juice an aphrodisiac? Turns out, they are part of Bond's extremely limited diet at the health clinic!

TRAPPER JENN MD WILL RETURN IN…'THE SPY WHO LOVED ME'


*Oh, and for the record…never seen Never Say Never Again, McClory's version of Thunderball with Connery reprising the 007 role at the age of 52. Yippee. I shan't be hitting up Netflix.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Better In Your Head?--GOLDFINGER


1959
Ian Fleming


"Not much future in England. Rather like the idea of Canada."

Goldfinger is a book that lives and dies by the coincidence.

A cancelled flight and a chance meeting leads to our man James in a Miami hotel, looking to catch a card cheat. Since the maybe-victim is the owner of the damn place, Bond is not only hooked up with a gorgeous room, he's also provided the pass-key to the room of the maybe-swindler, a misshapen misfit fantastically named Auric Goldfinger. Bond discovers the black-bra'ed beauty in cahoots with old Goldie and convinces her to let him assume the role. Bond works some blackmail magic, collects 10K from a grateful rich guy, and bangs Goldfinger's girl during a rail ride.

Game, set, train sex.

Sounds like a tidy short story to me, but no, Mr. Fleming had to keep going. In between fluid-smearing, Goldfinger's cohort--a quiet lovely thing named Jill Masterton--mentions that the sore loser will be in England soon, to play some holes of golf at the Royal St. Marks at Sandwich. Back at MI6, M shares his suspicion that Goldfinger is a treasurer for SMERSH, an organization that, for all its cold efficiency at killing people, has always been hindered by financial hiccups. Who better to remedy the situation than an outsider?

SMERSH? Shit just got incredibly real.

A gentlemanly game of golf (one letter away from "gold," you know) isn't really, since Auric insists on cheating while our man relies on skill. And, eventually, his caddy, who has also grown tired of the other guy's shit, and together, the good fellows take down Goldfinger by messing with his balls. Bond walks away with the match, the money and the sincere hope that Goldfinger will want to see his face again, soon. Bond gets one better; Goldfinger invites him to his house. He gets to meet the acquaintance of Oddjob, a bowler-hatted Korean with the build of a wrestler and the charm of a death certificate.

Back in England, Q Branch has some good news and some bad news. Worst first--Bond's beloved Bentley is off the table for this mission. But, his new whip is a "battleship grey"Aston Martin DB III with reinforced steel bumpers, a gun under the driver's seat, and a radio to follow a special tracking device known as "The Homer."

The last item proves very useful attached to Goldfinger's Rolls Royce, which winds up at a warehouse in Geneva, where the smuggling process reaches ridiculous levels. Bond isn't the only one with a score to settle; lying on her stomach, sniper rifle in hand, is one Tilly Masterton, grieving sister of Jill, who wound up dead after her boss ordered her painted head-to-toe gold.

All of this provides ample time for radar to spot them, and for Oddjob to come out of the house shooting silver arrows like some big fat Korean Link at Death Mountain. Bond and Tilly allow themselves to be brought before Goldfinger, where 007 leaps across the desk like a madman, literally going for the throat, a well thought-out plan which finds him lying on a metal table, hands and feet bound, a circular saw at the far end ready to ride the slit to where he's split. The old "we're more valuable to you alive than dead!" routine does little to sway a man in possession of two discernible emotions. Bond making himself pass out, though? Works every time.

Goldfinger decides to keep his prisoners on as secretaries. He needs people to keep tabs on his monumental undertaking.

At his operational HQ in NYC, Goldfinger welcomes six infamous gang leaders, including the new head of the Spangled Mob and the leader of a Harlem-based all-dyke burglary brood known as the Cement Mixers. The former's handle ain't on the quiz, but the latterly lady is the one the only the Pussy Galore (and I have named the quiz after her). Goldfinger wants them all in, all-in, on "Operation Grand Slam," a meticulously-plotted scheme to rob the gold reserves in Fort Knox, an Army post in the state of Kentucky infamous for its fortifications. In order to assure the success of "OGS," Goldfinger has borrowed some nerve poison to flavor the local water supply. Oh, and to blast the vaunted vault open, an atomic warhead.

In between notes for his boss, Secretary Bond scribbles out a message to be delivered to Felix Leiter at Pinkerton, with the promise of a handsome cash reward. He manages to put it inside the toilet on Goldfinger's plane, hoping a cleaner will find it in time.

From plane to train, the evil-hearted worst do their level-headed best to assure the success of the looniest goddamn thing any of them has ever heard. It's almost beyond comprehension, until the train finally slows in Kentucky, and a look out the window reveals the damage already done: car crashes, wailing babies in their prams, bodies prostrate on green, brown and gray. Thousands dead, or dying, all for the love of gold.

Goldfinger, Oddjob, Bond, Tilly and the six bosses all hang back and watch the action unfold. Everything seems to be going well, the players aren't missing a step…but Goldfinger didn't realize he wasn't the only one putting on a show. A plane appears, up pop tens of "unconscious" soldiers, and the shit is well and truly on. Seems Bond's message got through.

A few days pass, and though Bond is pleased to avoid international scandal, he considers the mission an ultimate failure, since Goldfinger and chums escaped the not long enough arm of the law. Apparently the feeling was mutual. Before Bond can board a BOAC flight, he's taken aside for an inoculation. He awakens on board a plane with the unpromising flight crew of Goldfinger, Oddjob and Pussy Galore. Those other gangsters? Fish food. Bond? Same, after SMERSH has words.

Using a knife that somehow was not confiscated while he was unconscious, 007 cuts through one of the plane's windows, sending Oddjob to a well-deserved demise. Goldfinger, despite outnumbering Bond 1 gun to 0, still winds up dead. Pussy Galore, despite being a lesbian, has sex with Bond, which clearly means she's really straight, since bisexuals did not exist until Elton John invented them in the 1970s.

Goldfinger is the craziest Bond novel yet, and even the author doesn't seem in full control.

"The champagne seemed to have the faintest scent of strawberries. It was ice cold. After each helping of crab, the champagne cleared the palate for the next."

Everything but the first sentence is hilariously inessential. That's the most egregious example, but lazy prose is a slight problem. The physical descriptions are, on average, one paragraph overweight. Bond's inner reacter is back, indulging in digression and conjecture at a rate unbecoming a man of his status.

When Bond becomes a glorified receptionist, the story gets cracking. Steph Curry scoring 40 points in a blow-out win, knowing full well he could have cracked 50, even 60, if he played the final quarter--that is Ian Fleming with Goldfinger.



1964
Director-Guy Hamilton
Writers-Richard Maibaum & Paul Dehn


Back on your screens for movie number three, it's James Bond! Not to be confused with either Jackie Chan or that bitch MacGyver!

007's in Miami, getting a poolside massage, when Felix Leiter shows up Hey buddy! and Bond's all Hallo chum! like his CIA buddy isn't there on business. MI6 has identified a person of interest staying at the same hotel as Bond, a bullion dealer named Auric Goldfinger. Turns out he's also a card cheat, and those types can't fool the super spy. With Jill Masterson's help, Bond embarrasses the unpopped pimple of a man first by futzing his scheme, then by frolicking with his lady friend.

All fun and games until a silhouette in a bowler hat knocks you out and paints your lover gold.

Back in England, Bond is given his objective--get to the bottom of Goldfinger's smuggling operation. He sets up another humiliation for poor Auric, this time on the green, and then sneaks into his plant. There, Bond witnesses firsthand how the donuts are made (so to speak). Further, he hears Goldfinger talking about "Operation Grand Slam."

Before Bond can pass this possibly tantalizing information to MI6, he stumbles over Jill's sister Tilly in the midst of exacting revenge. She dies in the ensuing chase, but Bond is kept alive so Goldfinger can show off his awesome bisecting laser. Possibly more frightened than he's ever been in his life, Bond feeds Goldfinger some spray-painted bull about MI6 knowing all about "Operation Grand Slam."

Aboard Goldfinger's private jet, Bond makes the acquaintance of the pilot, Pussy Galore. The pair spend just enough time together to wordlessly establish future sexy times, and also enough time to create the nagging suspicion that ehhh, Bond maybe doesn't deserve to storm that citadel.

I love when Bond does actual spy work, and eavesdropping on Goldfinger's "Gathering of the Goons" sure qualifies. Later, 007 insists no one can carry out all the gold in Fort Knox, and Goldfinger readily agrees. His intent is to detonate an atomic device inside of the vault that will render the gold useless for 58 years, thus increasing the value of his own gold.

Just as in the book, Bond manages to put the kibosh on the whole shebang, utilizing the power of pussy. Goldfinger escapes, but no matter. Bond's got a date at the White House, which means he actually gets to board a plane of his own accord instead of being dragged on. Nothing is so easy though; Goldfinger hijacks the flight and despite a valiant effort, his last shot at revenge goes out the window. He follows soon after.

With a budget the amount of Dr. No and From Russia With Love combined, Goldfinger needed to bust the blocks. Which is precisely what happened.

The end product is resolutely of the era, and that rear projection is pretty jarring, but so are pointless racial slurs and assaults on the moral fiber of gay pe--you know what? I'll save that.

Bond is a charming brute, well short of oafish, the very opposite of Goldfinger--as it should be. There are three Bond Girls, each progressively more likable and fuckable than her predecessor. The ultimate Bond car? Look no further. The Aston Martin DB V is loaded for war and what's more, it's visible.

Goldfinger embraces its improbabilities so tightly, some of them have become iconic. Even if you aren't among the fans who place it at the top of your Bond list, hell even if you dislike it, the film's enduring popularity (both as straight entertainment and parody fodder) isn't a mystery.


BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
Let's get this over and done--that Beatles remark in the movie? Wow. Double-0 L7, anyone? Top 5 Uncoolest Bond Moment, for eternity.

Book Goldfinger believes physically robbing Fort Knox is possible. That alone makes the movie version superior. (Mind you, he still kills a room of mobsters for nothing, blowing his scheme in the process.) Add in the fact that he has no connection to SMERSH, or SPECTRE, setting him apart as a lone sociopath with unseemly lusts have driven him to a singular madness.

Lasers over saws.

Reveal in silhouette, no, a book can't do that.

Maryland and Kentucky? Let's make out, movie.

Though she meets the same fate either way, Tilly lasts longer in the book. She's shown as pretty and competent until her lesbian attraction to Pussy Galore clouds her judgment, causing her to run from Bond and into Oddjob's flying bowler. There's a metaphor there. Less than, really. Metathree, perhaps.

Goldfinger, another patented Fleming grotesquerie--five feet tall, huge round head covered with a carrot-colored crew cut, "Nothing seemed to belong." (Damn, it's like I'm seeing double here! Four shadows!)

Book PG is a black-haired beauty with violet eyes, a Lesbian with a capital "l" (no, really, Fleming capitalizes the word every time). She's brassy and witty, a flusterer not a blusterer and if Bond is a curious cat, Tilly is a smitten kitten. Changing her role for the movie was a great move. It means we get to see more of her, earlier in the action, and although she's still seduced to the dark side by Bond's dong, at least she gets to flip him on his ass. And that's Honor Blackman's actual voice! And her name is HONOR BLACKMAN! Huzzah and hallelujah! Man, if I'm singing the praises of a blonde over a dark-haired gal, listen up.

The DB V isn't a step up from the Mark III. It's an entire staircase up. And one of the stairs blows up if you stand on it too long.

Turns out golf is a game better read about than watched. Better still if the voice in your head speaks in those classic hushed TV commentator tones.

Oddjob's death in the book was given to Goldfinger for the film, a wise change. While Goldfinger's end in the novel made sense, and was realistic, why should the death of the villain be anything other than outlandish?

The script is an artful re-arranging of plot elements, of characters, with a willingness to smash the gas pedal and the common sense to keep an eye on the fuel gauge. What Fleming wished to do, Eon Productions actually did: tell a fun, wry spy story where the ridiculousness adds to the appeal.

There's a rule that a director should never show the poster to a much better movie in the background of their own movie, well, authors should never reference better (or potentially better) books in the text of their own books. The past year or so, we learn, Bond's been working on a pet project, a compilation of the best writings on the subject of unarmed combat from Secret Services worldwide. His goal is to present the finished manual to M for possible acceptance as one of the select few texts considered "required reading" for MI6 agents. This part made me smile. Say what you will about 007, the man loves his work.

MIND THE GAP
Let's get this over and done--"epidermal suffocation" sounds plausible. But is it a thing? It is not.

Changing the bomb timer to seven seconds for American audiences, sure, okay, but they didn't have the time to dub a new, more accurate line reading?

"Auric Goldfinger" was born to be a gold smuggler/snuggler just as "Thanatos Dirtfoot" was born to be a gravedigger.

Bond calls Oddjob an "ape" repeatedly, even to his face. Goldfinger refers to Koreans as "the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world." That's pretty rugged. But with his seventh novel, Ian Fleming decides to give the non-white members of society a relative break and go full guns at the fairer sex, and the fairer of the stronger sex.

"Tilly Masterton was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up….He…thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality'….The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits."

"She said, not in a gangster's voice, or a Lesbian's, but in a girl's voice…."

"She did as she was told, like an obedient child."

"All you need is a course of T.L.C."
    "What's T.L.C.?"
    "Short for Tender Loving Care treatment. It's what they write on most papers when a waif gets brought into a children's clinic."


My freezer has been broken since November 2016, so let me be brief. Fuck anyone who still has these thoughts and attitudes. Back in Fleming's day, things were different. Clearly. What people didn't understand, they feared. In the 21st century, we have the resources to understand much more and ergo, fear much less. About ourselves, others and the world we all share. So as much as the above passages enrage me, they don't hamper my ability to fairly judge the total work. To read similar sentiments in a contemporary novel, however, would be enough to make me disregard the book entirely.

Final note to the writers out there: if you are not going to actually spell out the word "fuck" in your text, rewrite the relevant sentence. Avoid preciousness. No dashes, no blanks, especially if you're comfortable with throwing around racial epithets and infantilizing women in situations that don't advance a character or the story.


TRAPPER JENN MD WILL RETURN IN...'THUNDERBALL"

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Better In Your Head?--DR. NO


1958
Ian Fleming

"All the greatest men are maniacs."

Recovering from tetrodotoxin poisoning has kept James Bond from doing what he loves most: fighting the Cold War. The sudden disappearance of SIS agent John Strangways and a female companion could be related to his assignment in Jamaica, trying to get the goods on one Doctor No. Or, perhaps the lovers skipped town. M demands Bond get to the hard rock bottom of the mess. As a final reminder of who is the de facto boss, M orders 007 trade in his beloved Beretta for two firearms--a Smith & Wesson and a Walther PPK.

The ultimate destination is Crab Key, a guano island sat between Jamaica and Cuba. The discovery of the super-rare Roseate Spoonbill led to the Audubon Society leasing a corner of the island as a bird sanctuary. Their numbers swelled exponentially, and there was much rejoicing. After the war, guano prices rose, and a man named Julius No expressed interest in purchasing the island. The Audubon Society allowed the transaction, stipulating only that he not violate the sanctuary. They didn't stipulate protection for their two wardens on the island, however. Investigators couldn't prove any foul play, but they did note seeing very few Spoonbills, news that sent the Audubon folk into apoplexy. The mystery of the missing rare birds thus fell into the dignified lap of MI6.

Bond reunites with Quarrel at the airport. A Chinese girl working for some rag called "The Daily Gleaner" snaps his photo, and even calls out his name. She pops up yet again at a restaurant as Bond and Quarrel talk shop. Despite a literal arm-twisting, she refuses to reveal for whom she works, only that, "He'll get you."

007 nearly gets "got" by a poisonous tropical centipede in the middle of the night (gender unknown). With a blend of relief and dread, he joins Quarrel for a solid night's canoeing to Crab Key. The whistles of a near-nude young lady collecting shells along the beach rouse Bond from slumber. Her name is Honeychile Rider, and she is the definition of "unsuspecting third party."

The trio avoid detection and death, walking and wading for what seems like five days before finally settling in to a meal of dead man's beans and wet bread. You know what other animal enjoys beans and bread? You got it--the dragon.

Bond had heard tell of this alleged creature, this beast of Crab Key, which turns out to be a huge marsh buggy fitted with a flamethrower and dressed up for tricks or treats. Quarrel gets barbecued, the other two get captured, and it's lair time!

Bond and Honey are treated like a honeymooning couple. Their room is strikingly luxurious; must've felt a bit like waking up in Maryland after spending a week in Mississippi. Just the prospect of a hot bath has Honey fixin' to ride, but Bond is focused on the mission. He is hungry, mind, just for actual food, and he devours a breakfast that is delicious--and drugged. (If a spy cannot be wary of a meal served in the lair of a man suspected of murdering a fellow spy, what exactly can he be wary of?)

The pair regain their senses in time for dinner with their host. Of all the physically striking villains in Flemingland, No's look hits especially hard. Head like a one ball, eyes artificially darkened, face pulled taut, and he glides like an especially large worm. Also, he has mechanical hands. His ancestry is belied by his attire (kimono) and attitude (stoic yet manic), and his ego is in full flower as he fills his guests in on all the vital moments of his life to that point: orphaned, hardened gangster, thief among thieves.

The doctor covets power and privacy, so the Audubon Society's stated plan to turn build a hotel on the island in hopes of luring ornithophiles understandably upset him. Bond struggles to get one over. No is intelligent, vicious and rich. Those men tend to be troublesome to topple. Particularly when one has no plan whatsoever to combat their scheme. Bond has no offensive strategy, no defensive strategy, he's basically the Cleveland Browns of European secret agents. So he keeps talking, and No lets him on the bigger deal behind all of the guano production and homemade aquariums--No and his men have been helping out the Russians by futzing up rocket launches from Cape Canaveral via an underground facility on Crab Key.

(Always those Red bastards, even when it ain't.)

No has an elaborate means to dispose of Bond--an obstacle course in the ventilation system. 007 doesn't know how he'll avoid death, but he knows the tools he'll use. As No gabs on, the sneaky Brit finagles a knife and a lighter into his kimono. Honey's led off to provide a luscious meal for ravenous black crabs and Bond is directed to a cell with a ventilation grille made of thick wire. This marks the start of the obstacle course that No assured him earlier was unconquerable--and provides further weaponry, to boot.

This segment represents the pinnacle of the novel. The movie wishes it had a single moment so breathtaking. Each stages increases not only in difficulty, but in sheer horror. Although his creator insisted upon Bond's ordinariness, there is nothing bog-standard in his determination and ingenuity. A lesser man would have vomited out his own bloody guts halfway in.

Having conquered the maze of doom, 007 scampers to the loading docks, where the doc himself is overseeing the unimpeded flow of guano. Bond takes control of the main crane and--after some understandable difficulty--buries the hand-less madman in the stuff. So nasty. Quite by accident he runs into Honey and together they locate the "dragon."

Dr. No is, in the main, goddamn essential James Bond. An unequivocally bad-ass super sleuth joined by an enthusiastic ally and an allegedly voluptuous female. Juggling two plots of unequal gravity drained Fleming of some cleverness, and Bond's inner reactor is heard from a bit too often but those are sins far more forgivable than the decision to not end the novel with the escape from Crab Key. Everything after is filler. How's the government going to handle the aftermath? Will Honey be yet another lucky victim of acculturation? Will she and Bond ever get their "slave-time"? Check out my Sally Brown-level apathy!



1963
Director-Terence Young
Writers-Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood & Berkely Mather

"World domination. The same old dream."

Ten years after the publication of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming finally saw one of his books hit the big screen. Producers Harry Saltzmann and Albert Broccoli had been wanting to adapt a Bond for years, and through Eon Productions, their shared wish came true.

Broccoli fancied Cary Grant in the lead role, but the actor would only agree to star in one film. Seeking someone willing to go long-term, the producers selected 32-year-old Scot Sean Connery, a busy actor of some renown who would soon come to loathe the role that made him an international superstar.

Dr. No's plot is Cold War as fuck. Strangways had been helping the CIA with the case of the disrupted Cape Canaveral rockets and suddenly went MIA. Bond scoots off to Jamaica and follows the trail to Dr. Julius No, a former thug turned island owner who has been jamming the launches for the benefit of SPECTRE--SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion.

Birds? Fuck birds!

From touchdown, Bond's a popular guy. Bitches takin' pictures, ill-wishing chauffeurs. In Chez Strangways, James spots a photo of John with a boatmen named Quarrel. Bond locates the red-shirted man-child who'd been John's guide 'round Crab Key island as he gathered mineral samples. Which just so happened to be radioactive. A receipt leads Bond to Professor R. J. Dent, who proves far less amenable than Quarrel.

Such inquisitiveness gets Bond kilt, damn near. If you take a swing at the king, best not whiff. Just ask the corpse of R. J. Dent, specifically the second bullet hole.

Quarrel boats Bond onto Crab Key. Nothing spectacular happens until a bikini-clad blonde rises from the ocean waters holding shells. It's Honey Ryder, the very first Bond Girl. She helps lead the men inland, and all the bullshit these three characters had to duck and dodge in the novel followed them onto the screen. Quarrel shares the same bad luck as his counterpart, while Bond and Ryder are taken to be decontaminated (remember, the radiation?) and deposited into a room where the coffee is delicious--and drugged. (Wow, it's like Bond took the Idiot Ball and shoved it up his ass before leaving England.)

Dinner with Dr. No consists of Bond failing to coerce a facial expression out of his nemesis before being tenderized and thrown into a cell. A vent beckons, but there is no obstacle course here, just a way to grab a radiation suit and infiltrate Dr. No's control center, where another signal-jamming is about to commence. Bond overloads a nuclear reactor and knocks Dr. No into a cooling vat, where he promptly boils to death.

You know those greeting cards that play music when you open 'em? I'd love a special pressing of Casino Royale where as soon as you crack the cover, Monty Norman's iconic theme blared.

Dr. No is an extended advertisement for the New Real Man: the suave, globe-scaling lothario, a fist-swinging, gun-slinging soldier on an elusive battlefield. He is the taker of great risks, and the recipient of great rewards. If he's told you his name once, he's told you it thrice.

Face carved from stone, voice molded from marsh, Sean Connery deserves each and every hosanna ever hurled into the air for his performance. But the real star of these early Bond films is editor Peter Hunt. Every script has a beat, and he got it like a Go-Go's roadie. Still, the first 007 movie shouldn't be superior to the sixth 007 novel, and it is indeed not.

The film begins vibrantly, reveling in the fact that no one knows what the hell to expect. The book builds upon an established formula, gradually gathering currency before finally cashing in and damn near breaking the Coinstar.

The best part of any roller coaster ride is the ascent.



BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
For the plot of the first-ever Bond revolve around guano production would have been somewhat of a travesty. The decision to jettison the quirky plot and focus instead on the more serious one took, I hope, less than three seconds. Of course that means we miss out on the awesome obstacle course--which turns the book into a true THRILLER--but again, such an omission makes sense in the context of a debut film. There was no guarantee that the public would take to Bond on the large screen, so producers needed to play it safe. Thus, the protagonist cannot be suffering or struggling (at least not to the extent he was in the source material, skin burnt and blistered, joints on the verge of snapping, body bruised and bloodied, rendered inert for minutes at a time). Nor can he be seen eating beans out of his own hand. The first step must be a strong one, and if Connery projects anything consistently, it's power.

The first of many inamoratas for our boy, Honey Ryder is almost always placed among the very best/hottest Bond Girls in the entire series. She's okay in the novel--"ash blonde" hair to her shoulders, boy-butt, whistling a calypso tune that Bond can't help but mimic. She's okay in the film--blonde hair to her shoulders, girl-butt, singing a calypso tune that Bond can't help but mimic. She doesn't turn over my bowl or send my plate airborne, in fact I can sit and enjoy a meal without any interference. That's not even Ursula Andress's real voice we hear! Does that matter? Absolutely that matters. You sign for the whole package, baby. Decent face, benign body, lukewarm ass...and she's the Bond Girl? Stop it...five, maybe six out of ten.

Hearing Dr. No (well) before actually seeing him? If this part of the script were a doggie I'd never stop rubbing its belly.

When we do finally set sights on No, he's quite different compared to Fleming's vision--donning a white mandarin-collared jacket rather than a dark kimono, two inches shorter than Bond instead of six inches taller. The chilling forthrightness remains.

Movie Bond snatches a knife from the dinner table and conceals it in his clothing. Dr. No tells him some time later to put it back. Great nod to the book.

No matter the medium, James Bond just does not suspect food or beverages ever! The book makes delirium a possibility/excuse, but Movie Bond allows a rival to commit suicide through sheer negligence. Not very impressive, old man.

The old gangsters No double-crossed didn't just chop off his dick beaters, they shot him in the heart. Or so they thought. They didn't know his heart was located in the right side of his body, an actual medical condition known as "dextrocardia." Would have been right at home in a Roger Moore film, but a bit too out there in 1963.

"Suffocated by bird shit" would've been perfect for a Moore film too, come to think.

No Felix Leiter in the book, but like anybody was gonna say "nah" to Jack Lord's hair.

Bond's straight-up execution of Dent was added to hammer home to audiences that Double-0 agents have a license to kill, not injure or maim.

Just like Live and Let Die, Bond asks Quarrel to get him in shape for the strenuous journey ahead. If only training montages had been a thing then!

The noctivagant trek to Crab Key is a perfect example of a sacrifice that makes for a good movie while assuring the book will remain better.

Spiders are more cinematic than centipedes but man, Fleming wrote his ass off for that scene. I shivered more than twice.

"Eaten by black crabs" is a pretty ironic death for an avowed animal lover.

Giant. Fucking. Squid. Was the boss of the obstacle course. I'd rather get high off the effluvium of bird droppings than read about curious tentacles ever again.

MIND THE GAP
Before M speaks with Bond in the novel, he dials a well-respected neurologist who's wary of tossing Bond into the fray too quickly. M bristles at the other chap's nerve; such namby-pamby talk will be the death of masculinity yet! What the hell did they even fight a war for! The conversation proves fairly illuminating, as we learn two important things re: the conclusion of From Russia With Love. First, Bond owes his life to Rene Mathis and second, Rosa Klebb is dead. The reveal of which made me snort.

"The Jamaican is a kindly, lazy man with the virtues and vices of a child." 

Were those musical stabs during the Great Spider Smash uproariously funny in 1963 as well?

Wait, Ursula Andress with dry hair? This changes everything!

Julie Christie was considered for the Honey Ryder role, until producers deemed her insufficiently sexy. My mind reels with sarcastic replies. Have you seen a picture of Julie Christie back then? Have you seen a picture of Julie Christie now? I'd still hit it. With all the lights on.

Max von Sydow turned down the role of the villain, the worst guy. Lucky us, since we know remember the character as "Dr. No" instead of "Max von Sydow as Dr. No."

Julius No is not his given name, can you believe it. What is? Never says. The inspiration behind his new handle's pretty cool, though.

Book Bond, without fail, always shows more tenderness to the plight of his broads, however facile. He basically drags Honeychile Rider into the crap, shattering the placidity of her world, he should feel bad. Paying for the surgery to fix her busted beak is a start, mate.

The Three Blind Mice aren't in the book, but 007 does shoot three dudes in a tunnel as he makes his escape from Crab Key.

Of all SPECTRE-ites, which one says "SPECTRE" best? The No one.

"Honey, there just aren't such things as dragons in the world." Correct, and that is why the world blows.

The book gave us twenty times the tarantulas the film did. No big deal, since spinnen sind meistens harmlos. Including tarantulas. Really, Dent would have done better to smash Bond with the sheet of glass the spider was crawling across.

"Sex and machete fights," goddamnit, there's another "Potential Autobiography Title" I have to cross off the list!



TRAPPER JENN MD WILL RETURN IN...'GOLDFINGER'