Friday, August 22, 2014

Doctor No (1962) | Music

Music is important in every movie, but especially with the James Bond films. That starts with the James Bond theme itself. Monty Norman composed the score for Dr No, but Saltzman and Broccoli weren't into what he came up with for the main theme. They hired jazz musician John Barry to quickly come up with something short and sweet that they could fit into the title track, but he didn't even have time to watch the movie, so he just modified some of his own stuff. The result was the crazy popular, now classic theme.

As the Bond series went on, the Bond theme got used more and more sparingly, but it's everywhere in Dr No. It's playing when he first introduces himself and then keeps showing up: when he leaves the casino, when he arrives at the airport in Jamaica, when he's walking across the hotel lobby, and when he's driving to Miss Taro's. Dr No cements the association between the character of James Bond and this music, even when he's not doing anything especially exciting. But it's used in a couple of cool, dangerous moments too. It's playing when he surprises Miss Taro by showing up at her door; then a brass variation on it plays when he murders the follow up guard in the river on Crab Key. That kind of thing is what the theme eventually becomes known for, so I'm looking forward to tracking that as we go through the series.

Back to the credits though, what's interesting about them - and sort of jarring - is that the Bond theme is only one of three pieces that play over the opening credits, the other two being a section of just tropical drumming and then "Three Blind Mice," which leads right into the first scene. It's not even a very well arranged medley; each piece just fades and dissolves into the next one without anything to bridge them. But it does introduce the tone and setting for the movie: the Bond theme is dangerous and exciting, then the other two create images of the Caribbean where the movie takes place. One of the other things I'll be looking at in this project is how well the opening titles and music suggest the movies' themes and settings. As clunky as the transitions are, the Dr No titles and music do that very well.

The credits themselves were designed by Maurice Binder. He'd been designing titles for a few years by that time on films like IndiscreetThe Road to Hong Kong, and The Grass is Greener. The Dr No titles are fun, but not especially unique. That kind of animated sequence was super popular in the late '50s and early '60s, with Saul Bass being one of its most successful users. It wasn't until an accident during the production of From Russia with Love that Binder [oops, it was Robert Brownjohn] found the style that would define the rest of the Bond series. For Dr No though, he begins with a lot of meaningless, but exciting flashing dots and squares, then transitions to silhouettes of island dancers during the drumming and the "three blind mice" themselves during that song. It's all fun imagery and makes the music changes less awkward.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. Dr No
2. TBD
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. TBD
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Doctor No (1962) | Villains

Dr No tones down its main villain from Fleming's version in understandable, but somewhat disappointing ways. It leaves the character Chinese, which is great (No was inspired by Fu Manchu, but isn't himself a true example of Yellow Peril fears in action), but loses the pulpier details. The literary No glides when he walks. With his bald head, he reminds Bond of a giant worm with claws for arms. The movie No replaces the claws with metal hands that are still odd, but - for better or for worse - not as visually striking. The result is an unusual, but believable villain. It's unfortunate that they cast a white actor instead of a Chinese one (as they also did with Miss Taro), but race aside, Joseph Wiseman does an excellent job creating a creepy, memorable antagonist for Bond's first film.

No's tactics are also de-pulped somewhat from the book, but less successfully. Book No has created a labyrinthine obstacle course for the express purpose of testing enemies like Bond. That's too silly for Movie No (and would require an expensive squid battle at the end), so the film loses the obstacle course angle and just has Bond navigate a weird series of air ducts to escape his cell. Stripped of their original purpose, the ducts make no sense with their hot sections and being randomly used to transport water for some reason. (No's plan for Honey is also modified from the novel, but at least it's rational.)

Another change from the novel is No's political allegiance. In the book, he's dabbling in rocket toppling with an eye on offering his services to the Soviets. That's almost an afterthought though and No's real motivation is simply to be left alone with his illusion of sovereignty. In the film, toppling is the focus of his operations and he's working for SPECTRE. It's how Movie Bond learns about that group and one of the things I love most about the Connery (and Lazenby) movies is how they form a saga of Bond's uncovering and fighting that organization. In Dr No, SPECTRE is nothing but a name and that's very cool.

Another thing I like about Dr No is its creation of Professor Dent. He's a lousy liar and a worse assassin, but as ineffectual as he may be, he's wonderful in his slimy patheticness and he's a memorable henchman.

Dent also represents one final thing I want to point out about Doctor No. I'm stealing this idea from the James Bonding podcast, but even though they came up with it, they rarely carry it out so I feel it's fair game. In just about every Bond movie, there's a moment when the villain could easily get rid of Bond and win the day. So as we go through the series, I'm going to point that out and talk about how the bad guy might have succeeded in his plans.

Doctor No tries to kill Bond a few times long distance on Jamaica, but his assassins are mostly ridiculous. A gang of hitmen try to shoot Bond once and are so frightened by some passing headlights that they never try again. Then there's No's own plan to murder Bond with a poisonous spider, which has the benefit of looking like a natural death, but is super unpredictable. At least No is trying though and he almost succeeds a couple of times first by trying to run Bond over a cliff and then by sending Dent to murder Bond in person. Bond gets out of those by his own wits and skill, which is awesome.

Where No fails is on Crab Key. He's already seen that Bond is talented and resourceful, so he offers Bond a place in SPECTRE and when Bond refuses... he locks Bond up? In a cell with giant air ducts. And then totally ignores him. Doctor No gets great marks in style and creepiness, but loses points for being ineffective and kind of dumb. As a henchman, Professor Dent has the same issues as his master.

Top Ten Villains

1. Doctor No
2. TBD
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Miss Taro
2. Professor Dent
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Doctor No (1962) | Women

I'm a little uncertain about how I want to approach this aspect of the Bond films, so I may make some changes as we go through the series. I know I want to talk about a couple of things pertaining to the main female character in each film, but I'm not sure how much focus to give to other women in the movies. I'll keep talking about Moneypenny in the Story and Bond sections, but I'm less interested in characters like Sylvia Trench and Miss Taro.

For example, Trench was created merely to be a running gag through the series, but was dropped the first time actor Eunice Gayson's friend Terrence Young wasn't the director. The humor in Bond's trying to maintain a regular girlfriend in London is extremely limited, so it's no loss that that plotline fell by the wayside. As an alternative, the film series could have done some dramatically interesting things with that relationship, but that was never the intention and would have clashed with the overall tone of the series.

As for Miss Taro, she's little more than a plot device. She's a bit character in the novel who was expanded in the film to add some color and detail to No's operation in Jamaica. She doesn't have much personality and her "romance" with Bond is forced and unbelievable, but even though she's just there to pad out the film I kind of like her. It's fun to watch her and Bond try to manipulate each other, even though I know she's never going to get the best of him.

You know who I really like though? The photographer who tries unsuccessfully a couple of times to get Bond's picture and ends up in an uncomfortable meeting with Bond, Quarrel, and Felix. She's got no bigger role in the film than she does in the book, but Margaret Le Wars sells it with the perfect combination of hatred and fear. I want to know more about her, which is the highest compliment I can pay to an actress of a bit character like that.

Then we come to Honey Rider. Out of all the women in the Fleming novels I've read so far, she's my favorite (keeping in mind that I just started On Her Majesty's Secret Service). It was always going to be tough to create a film version of Honey that lived up to the character from the novel. And sure enough, they didn't. Ursula Andress is drop dead beautiful and conveys Honey's innocence pretty well, but she doesn't get at the character's competence and self-sufficiency.

That's largely a script problem. Movie Honey doesn't get to save herself from Dr No, much less Bond, but also her back story has been revised from Book Honey's so that she hasn't been living on her own as long. Instead of losing her parents in a tragic fire as a young teenager, Movie Honey lived with her scientist father until he was killed (she suspects) by Dr No. The timeline isn't specific, but including Dr No makes it seem like it only happened in the last couple of years or so. She simply hasn't had as much time as Book Honey to become tough.

Adding to the issue is Andress' looking way more mature than Honey is described in the book. In the novel, Honey's innocence is all about her youth and lack of social training. Andress was only 25 or 26 when Dr No was shot, so it's not that she was too old to play Honey. The problem is that she's a bombshell and when she acts childlike, she comes across more simple than innocent. And unfortunately, I think she comes across that way whether you've read the book or not.

My Favorite Bond Women

I'll finish this section each time with a running list of my Top Ten favorite female characters from the Bond movies. As new favorites get added with each film, less favorite characters will drop off. (I'll do the same for gadgets and opening stingers once the movies start having those too. And for bad guys and music, but that's tomorrow and Friday.)

1. Honey Rider
2. The Photographer from Dr No
3. Miss Taro
4. Sylvia Trench
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Doctor No (1962) | Bond

Actors and Allies

As I mentioned yesterday, Dr No goes for a deliberately lighter tone than the novels. That leads to lots of quipping by James Bond, but there's also a gleam in his eye that just doesn't exist for the literary version. Sean Connery was a perfect choice to play this version. He's able to switch effortlessly from bemused to deadly and then back again.

That has a lot to do with sheer confidence. Every time Connery's Bond enters a room, he owns it. Whether it's a hotel lobby, a government office, or the villain's lair, he looks completely at ease and in control. In contrast, the literary Bond is filled with self doubt that ramps up the tension, but he always overcomes it. That would be impossible to put on screen without making Bond a weak character, so Dr No swings the pendulum way to the other side. Viewers know that Bond's in trouble, but he rarely seems to.

Because I don't have a better place to put it, I'm also going to use this section for each film to also talk about Bond's allies and how they're cast and portrayed. I mentioned the Armorer and Moneypenny a little yesterday and don't have much to add about the Armorer except that he's admirably played by Peter Burton (A Clockwork Orange) as professional and humorously disparaging of Bond's preference in firearms.

As for Moneypenny, Lois Maxwell does a great job making her flirtatious, but not completely over the moon about Bond. When he asks her, "What gives?" and she replies, "Me, given an ounce of encouragement," she delivers the line with a melodramatic flourish that reads like kidding to me rather than a true, hopeless crush. Maybe I'm choosing to read it that way, but I prefer to think of Moneypenny and Bond as knowing that any kind of romantic relationship is inappropriate and impossible, but finding each other attractive enough to pretend about it anyway. That may become harder to do as the movies roll on, but let's see how long I can hang onto that interpretation.

The other big ally that needs mentioning is Felix. Jack Lord is possibly my favorite Felix ever, but he's not much like the literary version. Fleming's Felix was a lighter version of Bond and part of his role was to balance out Bond's dark side. Connery's Bond doesn't have a dark side, so Felix kind of struggles to find a new purpose in Dr No. He ends up being mostly just a plot device and a way to comment on Bond's womanizing, but Lord has a great look and tons of charisma, so I love the character anyway.

Finally, I just want to call out Louis Blaazer as Pleydell-Smith, mostly because the character is one of my favorites in the novel. Dr No is Blaazer's only movie credit, so I don't know his story, but he does a fine job making Pleydell-Smith a pleasant ally even if the script doesn't give him as much to do as the novel did.

Best Quip

I don't know if you count this as a quip or not, but thanks to Connery's delivery of it, it's the line that consistently gets a legitimate laugh from me every time I hear it. It's when Pleydell-Smith tells Bond that a package has arrived for him and Bond picks it up. His grin and voice are a childish mixture of excitement and embarrassment as he explains, "Present from home." It's an unexpected reaction and that's what always gets me.

Worst Quip

"I think they were on their way to a funeral."

Oh, James, you're not even trying.

The Gadgets

Though gadgets had become a thing in the novels (Bond's heel-knife was standard enough equipment by this time that Fleming didn't even need to explain it whenever it showed up), Dr No doesn't really have any. The closest is the geiger counter, his "present from home," but that's really just equipment.

Bond’s Best Outfit

I know nothing about fashion, but I know what I like and what I don't, so for each movie I'll pick a favorite outfit and one that makes me groan. My favorite for Dr No is this lightweight suit that's perfect for looking great while walking around a tropical island.

Bond’s Worst Outfit

One of the few rules I do know about fashion is that you don't match the color of your shirt exactly to the color of your pants. Faux pas, James.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Doctor No (1962) | Story

So Fleming got his wish and James Bond finally made it onto the big screen. I'm not going to talk much about behind-the-scenes stuff with the movies except where it directly influences the finished product, but Fleming spent such a long time trying to get a Bond series made - either on television or film - that it's worth mentioning that Dr. No's producers were equally passionate about it. Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli had both tried separately, but unsuccessfully to get Bond films made, but it was only together that they were able to make it happen. There are plenty of books and online resources to get the whole story, so I won't repeat it here, but I especially recommend the documentary Everything or Nothing, which chronicles the whole film series up to Skyfall.

I'm taking a much different approach to the films than I am with the novels. For the literary Bond, I've been curious to track Bond's growth as a person, but that's foolishness with the movies. The films sometimes care about building their own continuity, but they're mostly uninterested in character development. I'll certainly point it out when they do build on previous films, but I can't make that the focus as I write about them.

Instead, I'm going to take the movies on their own terms, while also acknowledging the debts they owe to Fleming's books. To make it easier, I'll divide each film up into five sections: Story, Bond, Women, Villains, and Music with subcategories under each one. Today is all about Dr. No's overall story, then tomorrow we'll look at how it presents James Bond, and so on through the rest of the week. Cool? Cool.


Ian Fleming's Dr. No
Ian Fleming's From Russia with Love (reference to previous mission where Bond was almost killed)
Ian Fleming's Casino Royale (Bond uses a couple of spy tricks from that novel in his hotel room)
Contemporary issues with US rockets' going astray

Plot Summary

Same as the novel. Bond investigates the disappearance of a couple of British agents and follows up on their final investigation, which leads him to Crab Key and Dr. No.

How Is the Book Different?

To make all the sex and violence palatable to censors and audiences, Saltzman and Broccoli made sure their adaptation had a lot of humor. We'll get into that more tomorrow when we talk specifically about Dr. No's depiction of James Bond, but while the film doesn't go so far as to wink at its audience, there's certainly a twinkle in its eye.

Plotwise, the film makes a much bigger deal out of missile toppling than the novel did. In the book, rocket interference is something that Dr. No seems to be just getting into. The villain is mostly interested in defending his autonomy and sovereignty, but Fleming seemed to realize that that didn't make him threatening enough and sort of tacked on the toppling as an easy way to raise the stakes.

In the film, that's the whole deal. The Jamaica assignment is never the cake assignment that it's supposed to be in the book. M knows from the start that Strangways was investigating stray missiles; he just doesn't know what Strangways' investigation has uncovered. No one believes Strangways ran off with his assistant and there's an ominous feeling around the mystery right from the beginning.

Incidentally, it was Dr. No's missile toppling aspect that made the filmmakers pick it as the source for the first film. They originally had their eye on Thunderball, but the legal dispute around that made them back away. Since there was a real problem in the news at the time with US missiles going astray, the movie Dr. No would have the benefit of tapping into popular interests. That's something that the rest of the series would also be known for.

Making Dr. No the first in the series created some challenges though. For one thing, the novel builds off of Live and Let Die and From Russia with Love in major ways. Strangways and Quarrel were both introduced in Live and Let Die, but the film has to work around that. Bond's never met Strangways as far as we can tell; his loyalty to the dead man is simply as a fellow agent. And Bond has to meet Quarrel for the first time, which is actually pretty great since screenwriters Richard Maibaum, Joanna Harwood, and Berkely Mather give Quarrel reason to distrust Bond at first. That also goes for Felix Leiter, whom Bond too has to meet for the first time.

Finally, there are some other roles that the Dr. No movie either expanded from the novel or completely created, but we can talk about those through the rest of the week.

Moment That’s Most Like Fleming

This is hard to pick, because Dr. No is so faithful to its source material. There are whole scenes right out of the novel. For that reason, I started looking for scenes that didn't directly adapt something Fleming wrote, but managed to capture something important in Fleming's version. There are a couple, but what I settled on was the moment when Bond and Quarrel are setting out to visit Crab Key. Quarrel's nervous, but Bond says, "For me Crab Key's going to be a gentle relaxation."

"From what?" Felix asks. "Dames?" (Felix is kind of grumpy from waiting two hours for Bond to show up.)

"No," says Bond. "From being a clay pigeon."

That's Blunt Instrument talk right there and we see it still in action later when Bond goads Dr. No with insults all through dinner. He's had it with the investigation and just wants to force a confrontation and get this over with.

Moment That’s Least Like Fleming

If you'd asked me before I re-read Fleming what the most Fleming-like moment in Dr. No is, I would've said it's when Bond kills Professor Dent in cold blood. That would have been me reacting against the soft, fluffy Bond that sometimes pops up in Roger Moore movies. I love the cold, hard, "You've had your six" Bond.

But making Bond ruthless doesn't automatically make him faithful to Fleming. Fleming went to great lengths to show that his Bond is uneasy with killing in cold blood. Fleming's Bond has a dark side; it just doesn't include murdering unarmed people. That's not to say that I prefer Fleming's to what we see in Dr. No. I actually don't. But it does mean I'll quit holding up that moment as an example of what the "real" Bond should be like.

The Stinger

Starting with From Russia with Love, I'll use the Story section to talk about and grade the pre-credits stingers on each film. There's not one in Dr. No though.

Movie Series Continuity

I mentioned above that the movie builds on elements of the novel From Russia with Love as well as Live and Let Die. It does that in the briefing scene when M mentions that Bond was just laid up for six months after his Beretta failed him. That's right out of the novel Dr. No and is a reference to From Russia with Love which immediately preceded Dr. No in the book series. In the movie series we'll never learn more about that mission, but the effect is the same and Bond gets a Walther PPK. Because of that, the Walther is Bond's signature gun from the very beginning of the film series.

We also meet Q for the first time, though he's not called that. He's simply the Armorer, which leads some to believe that he's a different character, especially since he's played by a different actor from the most famous Q. But M calls him "Boothroyd" (right from the novel), which - according to the film version of The Spy Who Loved Me - is also Q's name. From that as well as Q's official introduction in From Russia with Love, I think it's clear that the series intends the Armorer and Q to be the same person.

Just before the briefing, Bond enters Moneypenny's office and tosses his hat onto the coat rack from across the room. That becomes a thing through most of the early movies. And speaking of Moneypenny, there's some mild flirtation between her and Bond that before the novel Thunderball I would have said is borrowed from the literary Bond and his secretary Lil. But Thunderball sadly introduces to the books that Moneypenny has a crush on Bond, so this - like "Bond, James Bond" and "shaken not stirred" are right out of Fleming.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Quote of the Day | Kelly Sedinger on Goldfinger

I'm of the view that you can't really talk about Bond today without coming to some kind of grips with the sexism of the series – particularly that of the first bunch of films, and maybe even all of them – but it was still frustrating to hear Goldfinger discussed pretty much only in those terms, because, well, there's an awful lot wrong with Goldfinger apart from the sexism.
--Writer and online pal Kelly Sedinger responds to the James Bonding podcast and describes my exact feelings about the movie Goldfinger.

I'll go into more detail when we get there, which also goes for the other Bond films Kelly mentions, but I did share a couple of my thoughts about the James Bonding show in the comments. Kelly's written an awesome, thorough post and you should go read it. If you like Bond, there's plenty to respond to even if you haven't listened to James Bonding.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dobutsu Takarajima, aka Animal Treasure Island (1971)

Who's In It: Nobody you know, but one of the animators is Hayao Miyazaki in pre-Ghibli days.

What's It About: A boy and his best friend, a mouse, team up with the granddaughter of Captain Flint to find the dead pirate's treasure before the anthropomorphic pig Silver and his gang of bumbling animal pirates do.

How Is It: Frankly, I wasn't expecting much, but sometimes I like watching old, crappy animated versions of classic stories and if I can't hack it, I just turn it off. But even though Miyazaki was only one of the many animators who worked on it, Dobutsu Takarajima has a lot to appeal to fans of the legendary director.

It's a very loose adaptation of Stevenson's book. It takes Jim (no last name in this version) and gets him the map in much the same way as he does in the novel, but then has him strike off on his treasure hunt alone except for his friend Gran and his stowaway baby brother. There's no Dr. Livesy, no Squire Trelawney, no Captain Smollet or Mr. Arrow. Jim and Company run into Silver at sea, get taken to Pirate Island where they're enslaved with Kathy, the granddaughter of Captain Flint, and the race is on to see who can control the map and find the treasure first.

Most of the animal designs are simple and not terribly inventive, but the three humans (Jim, Kathy, and Jim's brother) are strong. And whatever the movie lacks in character design, it makes up in backgrounds and sheer animation. There's a lot of imagination in the look of the world.

The jokes are all over the place from ridiculously slapsticky to legitimately inspired, but I chuckled a lot and my 12-year-old son couldn't stop laughing. Dobutsu Takarajima isn't classic animation, but it's much more than the cheap kids cartoon I anticipated and very recommended for Miyazaki fans.

Rating: Three out of five piratical pigs.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming once explained the oddity of The Spy Who Loved Me as his response to young readers' seeing Bond as a hero. Fleming had a different opinion of Bond, so instead of letting readers into the agent's head as usual, The Spy Who Loved Me presents him completely through the eyes of other people.

Mostly that's the first person narrator of the novel, Vivienne Michel, who's left as the sole occupant/caretaker of an isolated motor lodge in the Adirondacks. The novel takes place over the course of an evening. Vivienne spends the first part of it alone, reminiscing over her life and especially her experiences with a couple of men. Then in the middle of the novel, a couple of gangsters show up, sent to burn down the motel for the insurance money, murder Vivienne, and frame her for the "accident." In the last third of the story, Bond shows up and becomes a deadly fly in the gangsters' ointment.

When I first read The Spy Who Loved Me as a teenager, I was impatient with it. It's so different from the other Bond novels not just in structure, but in tone. The first third reads sort of like a romance novel, then the second part becomes a horror story with Bond finally bringing things home at the end. As an adult though, I found a lot to like in the shifting genres. Vivienne is a great character on her own and I enjoyed spending time with her. Fleming's attitudes about women still creep in, but he's written a beautifully complicated person whom I was able to relate to and feel for.

My fondness for Vivienne led me to feeling discouraged though when the novel was wrapping up. She'd been emotionally devastated by a couple of men in her life, so it's kind of heart-breaking to see her fall so hard for Bond who's completely incapable of having a healthy relationship with a woman. (I still don't know what happened with Domino, dang it.) She claims to understand that Bond isn't for keeping, but I despaired a little that her worship of him - because that's what it amounts to - is going to affect her ability to find happiness in future relationships.

She thinks at one point, while watching him sleep after they've had sex, "I would stay away from him and leave him to go his own road where there would be other women, countless other women, who would probably give him as much physical pleasure as he had had with me. I wouldn't care, or at least I told myself that I wouldn't care, because none of them would ever own him - own any larger piece of him than I now did. And for all my life I would be grateful to him, for everything. And I would remember him for ever as my image of a man."

Holding Bond as her image of a man is understandable after the weasels Vivienne had previously known, but it's still sad. He was kind and charming to her and they had great sex, but that's still a pretty low bar to get over. And knowing why Fleming wrote the novel, I believe that's exactly his point. He was concerned that some of his readers were like Vivienne, idolizing Bond and turning him into their image of a man.

So after Bond takes off the next morning, leaving Vivienne asleep, but with a very nice note, Fleming lets the story continue as Vivienne interacts with the police whom Bond has sent to wrap up the affair. She has a long conversation with a middle-aged captain who sees her as a daughter figure and is worried about her. He intuits that she's infatuated with Bond and warns her against romanticizing the experience. Bond, he claims, is no different from the gangsters who threatened Vivienne's life the night before. He operates on the side of the angels, but he's just as cold and just as ruthless as the people he fights.

It's impossible not to hear Fleming's voice in this speech. It's the same message he introduced back in Casino Royale when Bond was recovering from Le Chiffre's torture and struggling to differentiate himself from the villains. But all the lecturing about Bond's being "a different species" and not fit for normal human interaction is undercut by the way Bond actually acts in the novel. No, he's not going to commit to a long, meaningful relationship with Vivienne, but he's also not the same man we met in Casino Royale.

We've been tracking his growth all through the series and The Spy Who Loved Me is an important check point in that development. On the surface, Bond is bad news. The police captain believes it and even Vivienne feels it in those thoughts above. Right after she declares Bond as her image of a man, she realizes the silliness of that and adds, "He was trained to fire guns, to kill people. What was so wonderful about that? Brave, strong, ruthless with women - these were the qualities that went with his calling - what he was paid to be. He was only some kind of a spy, a spy who had loved me. Not even loved, slept with. Why should I make him my hero, swear never to forget him? I suddenly had an impulse to wake him up and ask him: 'Can you be nice? Can you be kind?'"

And yet, we've seen Bond be nice and kind. He's done it with Vivienne, but also with Honey and with Domino and with M and with Felix. Over the course of the series, he's become more human. Earlier, when Bond explains his job to Vivienne and how he just completed a mission to protect a double agent, he talks about the spy business in negative terms. He describes it as a foolish, complicated game that no one will stop playing. Vivienne concurs and says that her generation finds ideas like nationalism and power struggles to be idiotic. To which Bond replies, "As a matter of fact I agree, but don't spread your ideas too widely or I'll find myself out of a job."

There's another part where Vivienne asks Bond why he didn't kill the two gangsters when they were sitting ducks. His response is that he's never been able to kill in cold blood. I've pointed out before how that's clearly false, but it is something that Bond's been claiming for a while and he's obviously uncomfortable with killing outside the heat of battle.

The answer to Vivienne's question then is that yes, Bond can be nice and he can be kind. He's not a shining hero and he should be nobody's "image of a man," but he's getting better and The Spy Who Loves Me bears that out even as it warns us that he's not quite there yet. In that way, it's a perfect leap off spot for the next novel, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Thunderball": The Comic Strip

When Fleming published "The Living Daylights" in the Sunday Times, the newspaper he worked for, rather than in the Daily Express, which had been the home of most of Bond's other newspaper adventures, it created a rift between Fleming and the Express. In fact, the feelings were so bad that the Express abruptly cancelled the James Bond comic strip less than halfway into its adaptation of Thunderball.

The "Thunderball" strip begins well and looks like it would have maintained the quality of the adaptations that immediately preceded it. Gammidge and McLusky's version is funny, but not as hilarious as Fleming's. On the other hand, they also don't make too much out of Moneypenny's sudden, but retroactive crush on Bond. There's some minor flirting, but it's much less an abrupt change than what Fleming suggests in the novel.

Gammidge continues his recent trend of including as much of the plot as possible, which is either awesome or tedious, depending on the scene. I enjoyed all the shenanigans at Shrublands, for instance, but the SPECTRE meeting went on longer than I wanted it to. Like I've said before though, I'm glad the longer version is in there for me to either read or skim, depending on how I feel at the time.

Though Fleming and the Express made up later, "Thunderball" was never properly finished. Six extra strips were added to complete the story for syndication to other papers, but they only sketch out the last two thirds of the novel in the loosest possible way. McLusky's art looks as good as always, but the story is jarring in its speed to wrap up. The legitimate adaptation ends with Giaseppe Petacchi's hijacking the plane carrying the atomic bombs, but not having landed it in the ocean yet. The very next strip has Bond and Leiter discovering the location of the plane. There's no mention of how they found it or why they're even in the Caribbean in the first place. Domino is completely missing from the story and though Largo is mentioned, he's never seen.

"Thunderball" ends up being a lousy adaptation, but it's an interesting look at the people behind it (the creators, but also the newspaper they work for) trying to make the best of a bad situation. I say that without excusing the cancellation of the strip. I don't know the thought process the Express went through before making that decision, so maybe they had a valid gripe or maybe they were just greedy and petulant. But moral judgments about how they got there aside, they found themselves in a creative dilemma with a cancelled strip and syndication obligations to fulfill. I'm not even saying that they made the right creative choices in "finishing" the story, but from a process standpoint, it's fascinating to watch them try.

(By the way, this is my 4000th post on this blog. Yikes.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "007 in New York"

Though James Bond had a long relationship with the Daily Express, Ian Fleming had an even longer one with rival newspaper the Sunday Times. I've already mentioned how "The Living Daylights" was first published in the Times and how that affected the Express' Bond comic strip, but Fleming went back with the Sunday Times a long way. After Fleming left military intelligence in 1945, he became the Foreign Manager of the group that owned the Times, overseeing their global network of correspondents. He quit his full time gig with the paper in '59, but continued writing articles for them. That's where "007 in New York" has its origins.

It was also in '59 that the Times' features editor offered Fleming a five-week, all-expenses-paid trip around the world as fodder for a series of travel articles. Fleming didn't think he'd be good at it and was resistant at first, but changed his mind when he realized he could use the experience as material for Bond. The series ran in the first months of 1960 and was then collected into a book called Thrilling Cities.

Sadly, Fleming had become tired and cranky towards the end of the tour and that was reflected in the tone of his article on New York City (though he's very up front in the essay about that being the case). When Thrilling Cities was looked at for publication in the US, publishers there asked Fleming if he could rework the article to be less scathing, but he refused. In order to balance out his negative article though, he included in the US edition a piece that he'd had published in the New York Herald Tribune the year before. The original title of the article was "Agent 007 in New York," but that was shortened for Thrilling Cities to just "007 in New York".

About the story's inclusion, Fleming wrote, "By way of a postscript I might say I am well aware these grim feelings I’ve expressed for New York may shock or depress some of my readers. In fact, I would be disappointed if this were not the case. In deference to these readers, I here submit the record of another visitor to the city, a friend of mine with the dull name of James Bond, whose tastes and responses are not always my own and whose recent minor adventure in New York (his profession is a rather odd one) may prove more cheerful in the reading."

In keeping with the travelogue tone of the other essays, "007 in New York" is mostly just Bond's musing on the city as he's being driven to his hotel from the airport. Fleming mentions a mission having to do with Bond's telling a former Secret Service agent (who also happens to be a past lover) that her new boyfriend works for the KGB. We get none of that conversation except for a couple of final, unexpectedly funny sentences at the end, because it's not the purpose of the piece. The article is simply to entertain and to tell readers how to make awesome scrambled eggs. It does those both very well.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "The Property of a Lady"

In 1963, English auction house Sotheby's commissioned Fleming to write a short story for their annual journal, The Ivory Hammer. The result was "The Property of a Lady," with Bond attending a Sotheby's auction for a Fabergé egg. The egg was sent by the Soviets as payment to a known double agent in MI6, so Bond suspects that the woman's KGB contact in London will be present at the auction to help drive up the price. Bond's job is identify this contact so that he can later be deported, throwing a kink in the Soviets' activities in Britain.

It's no surprise that a writer who makes card games and golf sound exciting can do the same thing for a jewelry auction, so there's nothing wrong with the build up and tension in the story. But "The Property of a Lady" doesn't hold together logically super well. Why exactly is the KGB contact risking exposure when the egg will fetch a very nice price without his interference? It seems unnecessarily greedy, especially on behalf of a double agent who's conceivably doing her job out of patriotism. Fleming kind of fumbles the ending too. All the drama is in the auction scene, but once Bond identifies his target, there's nothing else to keep me interested and it feels like Fleming knows it. He agreed that "The Property of a Lady" wasn't great work and reportedly refused payment for it. A couple of decades later though, the major elements of the story found their way into the movie Octopussy, which did a better job of building a compelling story around the idea.

There's not any character development for Bond in the story, but a couple of important characters do show up. Ronald Vallance of Scotland Yard reappears after his introduction in Moonraker and also contributing to Bond's work in Diamonds Are Forever and "Risico." He's mentioned as Sir Ronald Vallance in this story, which I think is new, so congratulations to him on that.

The other major character is Mary Goodnight. This isn't her true introduction to the series, but since I'm reading stories in the order of Bond's experience and not in the order that Fleming wrote them, it's the first time she's showing up for me. She's the new secretary in the Double-O section, replacing Lil, and it's tough to get a handle on her from just this story. Presumably she gets a better introduction in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, her true first appearance. In "The Property of a Lady" though, I missed Lil and it feels like Bond does too, though he doesn't mention her. He seems to think Goodnight is hot, but he doesn't flirt with her and doesn't even seem to respect or like her. Fleming does specifically mention that Bond's already in a bad mood about something else though, so maybe I shouldn't read much into that. Look forward to getting to know her better in OHMSS, because she becomes a major player in Bond's life in the last Fleming novels.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "The Living Daylights"

"The Living Daylights" was first published in 1962 as part of a color supplement for The Sunday Times. The Times was a rival to the Daily Express, which had been serializing and adapting Bond stories for about six years by that point, so the Express was naturally upset. In fact, "The Living Daylights" created a big rift between Fleming and the Express to the point that the Bond strip was abruptly ended part way through the adaptation of Thunderball. More about that on Thursday, though. "The Living Daylights" was also published in the United States a few months later in Argosy magazine.

I have a lot of praise to gush on the movie The Living Daylights, which I'll do at the proper time, but one of the things I love about it as that it adapts its short story pretty faithfully, but with a twist that propels the rest of the movie. In the short story, Bond is called to Berlin to assassinate the person who has in turn been assigned to assassinate someone escaping to the West. In the short story, the escapee is a returning double agent instead of a defector, but Bond is still supervised by a tiresome liaison and still changes his shot when he discovers that his target is a woman. And not just any woman, but a cellist he's been watching and fantasizing about as she's come and go from a nearby building over a few days.

One of my favorite lines in the movie version is when Bond lashes back at his annoying supervisor by exclaiming that the worst that can happen is that M will fire Bond, but that Bond would "thank him for it." I've always associated that with Bond's attitude at the end of Casino Royale, but re-reading "The Living Daylights" reminds me that it's yet another element right out of the short story. Bond is uncharacteristically sulky in this story and grumbles a couple of times about not minding if he gets kicked out of the Double-O section.

The best explanation that I have for that is that Bond is changing as a person. He's become less and less selfish since Dr No and has apparently become a happier person for it. Certainly his sense of humor has improved in Goldfinger and Thunderball. There's even a bit in "The Living Daylights" where he acknowledges to someone that the Bentley is a "selfish car." That kind of awareness is remarkable and important. It shows that while Bond still loves his car, he's also a little embarrassed about what it says about his past self. He sees that past selfishness and is able to comment on it, which I don't think he would've been able to do in the early books.

As Bond continues to change, it makes sense that he's becoming less patient with the uglier aspects of his job. His current mission is outright, cold-blooded assassination. He's never been super fond of that (as we saw in From Russia with Love), but it seems to be really getting at him now. The only time he's seemed okay with it was in "For Your Eyes Only," but that was more about his compassion for M than about willingly taking another person's life. My theory about Bond's attitude in "The Living Daylights" is that the assignment has got him especially down and is creating a bad attitude about his job and life in general. If it pops up again over the next few assignments, I'll adjust that theory, but it works for now.

One last thing that bothers me (not about Fleming's writing, but about Bond's mindset) is that Domino doesn't come up at all. From a storytelling perspective, I don't actually expect her to, but from a fannish, continuity-exploring perspective, I wish that there was more fallout from that relationship than just Bond's fantasizing about a pretty cellist. I fantasized myself about Bond and Domino's forming a mature relationship, so it hurts a little that she's just disappeared over the last couple of stories. There may be good, extratextual reasons for that (McClory?), but again, I'm just talking about continuity. Something apparently happened between Bond and Domino to sour things and I want some closure. I don't expect Fleming's next full novel, The Spy Who Loved Me to explain it, but I wish it would. And if not, I'm perfectly willing to come up with something on my own.

[Argosy cover found at Galactic Central]

Friday, August 08, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "Octopussy"

The short story “Octopussy” was written late in 1962, but wasn’t published until 1965, after Fleming’s death. It was serialized in the Daily Express, which had also published “From a View to a Kill,” “Risico,” the James Bond comic strip, and had serialized both Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia with Love.

Fans of the movie Octopussy will remember that Maude Adams’ character is friendly towards Bond because he had once allowed her proud, but criminal father the choice of suicide instead of the humiliation of a public trial. The short story is the account of that confrontation and choice.

“Octopussy” sometimes gets compared to “Quantum of Solace” in that Bond’s participation in the story is basically a bookend to the actual tale. But unlike “Quantum of Solace,” where Bond is simply being told the story as a way to pass time, he’s the catalyst for “Octopussy.” His investigation of a decade-old murder has led him to Dexter Smythe and Bond already has all the evidence he needs to put the old man away. As the movie Octopussy says, Bond does offer Smythe a week to get his affairs in order before he’s arrested, which Smythe believes is an opportunity to kill himself. I won’t spoil the ending, but let’s just say that it’s not as clean and simple as the way Maud Adams tells it.

Whatever Smythe’s final fate, it is pretty clear that Bond intends to let Smythe commit suicide as an alternative to spending his final days in prison. Which is an enormous kindness on Bond’s part considering Bond’s personal investment in the case. The reason Bond requested the investigation when it happened across his desk is that he had a personal relationship with Smythe’s victim. Bond reveals that the dead man was not only the person who taught Bond to ski as a teenager, but was also a surrogate father at a time when Bond really needed one. He offers no more detail than that, but it’s a major clue in the mystery of Bond’s childhood.

I’m reading the short stories in the order that they take place in Bond’s career, not in the order that Fleming wrote them, so it’s possible that Fleming confirms Bond’s being an orphan in one of the last novels. But chronologically, “Octopussy” is the first indication that Bond may have lost his parents and it seems to indicate that he was a teenager when it happened.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

"For Your Eyes Only": The Comic Strip

Like the other short story adaptations, the "For Your Eyes Only" strip leaves very little out. But what it does trim down actually improves the story.

When I wrote about Fleming's version, I pointed out that Bond seems a little nervous about pronouncing a death sentence on someone. That's usually M's job, but M is too close to the case, so Bond helpfully and compassionately takes that responsibility from his boss. That's very explicit in the short story, but in the comic strip, the conversation is abridged so that Bond isn't quite so on the hook. He endorses the mission, but he's not forced to make the call about whether the mission will even exist.

That takes out my favorite moment in Fleming's version, but it also allows a different reading of the entire story; a reading that fixes my least favorite part of Fleming's version. Since this is just another mission for Bond (albeit one with a personal angle for M), it offers some insight on Bond's attitude about assassination assignments. We'll talk more about this when we get to Fleming's "The Living Daylights," a story all about Bond's attitude towards assassination, but there are several moments in the "For Your Eyes Only" strip that reveal Bond's distaste for these kinds of jobs.

In Fleming's version of "For Your Eyes Only," Bond keeps telling Judy Havelock that assassination is "man's work" and it kills me that she accepts that by the end. But I let my distaste for Fleming's gender politics take over my reading and the comic strip version allows a different take. Bond expresses himself in a sexist way, but what lies beneath that is that he's protecting Judy from an action that he himself finds repellant. It's his job to sometimes assassinate people in cold blood, but he's growing less and less tolerant of that part of his duties. Again, we'll see this very clearly in "The Living Daylights."

So when Judy breaks down at the end of "For Your Eyes Only," she's not admitting that Bond was right about her being fragile because she's a woman. She's simply admitting that he was right about how horrible murder is. I'm curious to reread the end of Fleming's version and see if that reading makes sense there, but I suspect that it does. I'm betting that it's just buried more deeply, so I'm grateful to the strip for uncovering it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

"From a View to a Kill": The Comic Strip

"From a View to a Kill" is another example of Fleming's short stories being well-suited for adaptation as comic strips. Henry Gammidge and John McLusky leave nothing out except for some of Bond's interior monologues. Because of that, Bond's introduction to Mary Ann Russell isn't nearly as sexy in the strip as Fleming writes it, but otherwise it's a fine adaptation of a rather mediocre story.

In fact, the way McLusky draws Bond's camouflage mask like the Unknown Soldier and his depiction of the entrance to the bad guys' lair are actually improvements on what I imagined while reading Fleming's version.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

"Risico": The Comic Strip

Starting with the "From Russia with Love" strip, there's an upturn in the quality of the Bond comics and the series excels even more at adapting Fleming's short stories. The length of the "Risico" strip isn't much shorter proportionally than those adapting full length novels, so Henry Gammidge is able to take his time and build scenes instead of rushing through them. Reading the comic strip "Risico" is a lot like reading the prose "Risico," only with pictures.

And the pictures are pretty great. John McLusky has really found his stride and the art looks totally relaxed and confident. His Kristatos has a laid back, slimy quality that makes me smile and Bond looks a lot tougher and more serious than the smirking character in some of the earlier adaptations. Lisl Baum feels like a real person as opposed to some of the pinups McLusky was using for previous women.

"Risico" is so good that it represents a strip I'd look forward to reading even if it wasn't about one of my favorite literary characters. It's not only an excellent adaptation; it has enough great qualities to stand as its own thing. It has a mature feel to it, like it's not dumbing down the story, and that even extends to some of the language. Gammidge lets Bond say "hell" quite a bit, which isn't indicative of quality, but does seem like he and/or his editors are willing for this not to be seen as a kids strip.

Monday, August 04, 2014

"Goldfinger": The Comic Strip

Henry Gammidge is back writing the James Bond strip with the "Goldfinger" adaptation, but he's in superior form. Like Peter O'Donnell in "Dr No," Gammidge has dropped the first person narration and it helps the strip a lot. He also takes his time with the story and it never feels rushed. Some scenes are shortened (the golf game, for example), but the cuts are usually good ones. In fact, there are some scenes (like Goldfinger's explaining the Fort Knox job to the gangsters) that could have been shortened even more, but I'd rather have them longer and be able to skim than to have the strip zoom through them too quickly.

There are some interesting cuts made for content, some of which I understand, but not all. I get why there's no mention of Tilly or Pussy's sexual orientation; that might be a conversation that parents in the '50s didn't want to have with their kids over the morning paper. I also understand why Goldfinger simply tells Oddjob to "remove" an offensive cat instead of offering it to the henchman as a meal. But I'm not clear why there's no mention at all of how Jill Masterton died.

Maybe it's because it would be difficult to suggest gold paint in a black-and-white strip, but a simple caption of text could have made that clear. I know the moment is iconic in part because of the film that didn't exist yet, so I want to cut the strip some slack. But it's difficult to read the adaptation and not feel that the loss of gold-covered Jill has left a huge hole in the story.

Those are all minor complaints next to most of Gammidge's other adaptations though. And though Gammidge isn't able to give the same amount of humor to Bond and Goldfinger's verbal war that Fleming does, that seems like an unreasonable expectation in the first place. All considered, "Goldfinger" is one of the best adaptations in the series so far.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Thunderball by Ian Fleming

The creation of Thunderball is notoriously complicated. If most of For Your Eyes Only was the result of Fleming’s trying to bring Bond back to television, Thunderball was the result of his trying to get a film made. In late 1958, he teamed up with a few people including Irish writer/director Kevin McClory, hoping to create a Bond movie. Fleming and McClory weren’t the only people involved, but they were the two who ended up in court, so I’ll focus on them. Not that I’m going to spend much time on that drama, but it’s important to see how the book developed.

According to Wikipedia, Fleming’s confidence in the potential movie fluctuated throughout its development, in part because one of McClory’s other movies bombed at the box office around that same time. So Fleming was more involved at some times and less at others, but between him and the other writers, close to a dozen different treatments, outlines, and scripts were created with lots of different titles. It’s impossible to verify who created what exactly, especially when it comes to the story’s most famous contributions to Bond lore: Ernst Stavro Blofeld and SPECTRE. Though the courts gave those elements to McClory for years, there’s a strong case to be made for Fleming’s contributing to them, especially since Diamonds Are Forever and From Russia with Love clearly show that he had a fondness for the word “spectre.”

Regardless of who contributed how much and which parts, Fleming was certainly on ethically shaky ground when he turned the collaboration into a novel with just his name on it. Once McClory got wind of that, he petitioned the courts to stop publication. That was denied, but the courts left the door open for McClory to pursue later action, starting a long, bitter feud between him and Fleming (as well as future caretakers of Bond’s adventures).


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