Friday, January 30, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Music

In talking about the title sequence of Dr. No, I mistakenly said that Dr. No's title designer, Maurice Binder, also designed the titles in From Russia With Love. That was actually Robert Brownjohn though. Binder did most of the Bond films up to License to Kill, but he skipped two: From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

In a 1983 interview with Starlog, Binder said that he didn't come back for Russia because he was "having a bit of a... ruckus at the time with the producers." But his assistant Trevor Bond came back and worked with Brownjohn, so there was some continuity. And Binder also said in the interview that he actually printed the titles, so he was involved, but the designs are all Brownjohn's.

According to Steven Jay Rubin's The James Bond Films, the inspiration for the title sequence came when Brownjohn's wife walked in front of a slideshow he was projecting. He decided to shoot the Russia titles on the body of a belly dancer and created film history. The rest of the Bond credits sequences, even the ones by Binder when he came back, owe everything to From Russia With Love. (Incidentally, Brownjohn and Trevor Bond were also both cinematographers and couldn't resist a jab at the guy who got that job for Russia. They project Ted Moore's credit directly onto the dancer's shimmying butt.)

As part of the movie, the Russia titles nicely support the setting of the film. Most of the story takes place in Turkey, so the belly dancer teases that, and the music works well too. I'm not greatly familiar with Turkish music and certainly don't have the vocabulary to talk about it, but the instrumental version of the theme song that plays over the opening credits has a flowing, string-led sound that feels vaguely Eastern.

Monty Norman was the composer for Dr. No, but Saltzman and Broccoli weren't thrilled with his work there and brought in John Barry to punch up the main theme on that movie. In Russia, Barry is back and in control of most of the score. The main theme though was written by Lionel Bart who was super popular at the time thanks to his hit musical Oliver!, which gave us perennial songs like "Food, Glorious Food" and "Consider Yourself." Barry punches this song way up too for the opening credits, leading into it with an exciting musical stinger, laying down some Alan Haven jazz organ over the theme itself, and finally segueing into his own "James Bond Theme" from Dr. No.

Bart's version of the song, sung by Matt Monro (who would go on to record another classic movie theme in 1966 for Born Free), plays over the end credits and on the radio when James Bond and Sylvia Trench are making out. I like it more than most Bond fans seem to, but it is very subdued and loungey. It's easy to see why Barry and the producers wanted a more thrilling version to start the film. And there's also the fact that Bart's lyrics had nothing to do with the movie, but were a standard love song that simply incorporated the film's title. It's probably telling that Goldfinger, where Barry had complete creative control of the soundtrack, features a song that's about the movie and also (I don't think coincidentally) gets sung over the opening credits.

The James Bond Theme itself is still used pretty liberally in From Russia With Love like it was in Dr. No. It plays at all sorts of mundane times: when Bond enters or leaves buildings, for instance. It's function isn't to spice up action scenes, it's to build excitement. It reminds viewers that the guy checking into the hotel isn't just some guy, but a thrilling, romantic figure. That'll change over the course of the series and the Bond Theme will be used more sparingly and mostly over action sequences, but in From Russia With Love Barry created a different piece of music for that.

The Russia soundtrack album calls it "007 Theme" and it was apparently inspired by Elmer Bernstein's theme to The Magnificent Seven. In Russia, it's introduced during the battle at the Romani camp and it gets used in most of the Connery movies whenever there are big, actiony set pieces. The James Bond Theme was for cool, smaller moments. The 007 Theme was for the big stuff.

And when it came time to score the mushy stuff, Barry was able to adapt Lionel Bart's romantic tune into a soft arrangement with strings. We'll see more of that kind of thing as we go through the series, too. I always enjoy hearing how the film composers use the theme songs in their scores.

In ranking the theme songs, I'm giving a slight edge to From Russia With Love over Dr. No. Nothing beats the prominence of the James Bond Theme in the Dr. No theme, but it's diluted and confused by weird transitions into two other tunes (the third of which even has a clunky, false start when it tries to come in too early and then cuts out for a few more seconds before trying again). From Russia With Love, especially Barry's instrumental version, is not only a whole piece of music, but also works in the Bond Theme smoothly and naturally. If we're also ranking the Matt Monro version (and why not?) I'll put it just slightly beneath Dr. No because while I do love to sing along to it, it really doesn't have anything to do with the movie and Dr. No's theme does.

Top Ten Theme Songs

1. From Russia With Love (John Barry instrumental version)
2. Dr No
3. From Russia With Love (Matt Monro vocal version)
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

For the title sequences, I'm letting Dr. No keep the top spot. From Russia With Love's titles may be trend-setting for the series, but they're also uneven in how well they integrate the dancer with the words. Sometimes the words are cleverly projected onto parts of her body, but other times she's just waving her hands over them. Plus, I just love the flashing dots and dancing silhouettes in Dr. No.

Top Ten Title Sequences

1. Dr No
2. From Russia With Love
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Thursday, January 29, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Villains

It's tough to tell where the main villains end and where the henchmen begin in From Russia With Love. In the novel, it's all a SMERSH caper with Rosa Klebb as the chief organizer, but changing it to a SPECTRE op for the film means that she has to take a back seat to Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He's clearly the main villain, but does that make Klebb a henchman or just a secondary boss?

I love the slow build on Blofeld as a character through the early movies. He's not mentioned in Dr. No, just his organization. Then we meet him in From Russia With Love, but we never see his face. He's just stroking that white cat and sounding deliciously evil as he terrifies his underlings and talks about Siamese fighting fish. (I tried and failed to learn the origins of the white cat as Blofeld's pet. No idea who came up with that, but it's a lovely touch to portray the ruthless crime lord as a man who dotes on a fluffy kitty.) The actor in the chair by the way is Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent from Dr. No), but his voice was dubbed by Austrian actor Eric Pohlmann, perhaps best known for small parts in a couple of the Pink Panther movies.

So is Klebb a henchman or villain? For listing purposes below, I'm going to call her a villain even though she's clearly not calling the shots. She's simply implementing someone else's plan, but she's the primary face of SPECTRE's leadership throughout the mission, so I can't make myself just stick her down with the henchmen.

One of the things I like doing with the bad guys is figuring out where they go wrong. Doctor No and his henchmen were just generally dumb and ineffective (though points go to Bond for actually having to use some wits and skill a couple of times). Klebb's fatal flaw is not properly vetting her people. Kronsteen says that his plan went wrong when Klebb chose Grant as Bond's assassin, and he has a point. She could have investigated Grant better and possibly uncovered his fatal flaw, even though on paper he was totally the right guy.

And Klebb goes wrong again when she takes on the job of assassinating Bond herself, and then just assumes that Tania's still loyal to the Soviets. In her interview with Klebb, Tania revealed herself to be thoughtful and sensitive, not reflexively patriotic. Like Grant, Tania's service record probably looked great on paper, but the signs were all there that she could turn into a wild card and Klebb ignored them.

I'm going to call Kronsteen a villain too. Even though he doesn't have as much to do as Klebb, it's his plan that sets the plot in motion. Contrary to Klebb's claims about him, Kronsteen's fatal weakness isn't his plan. It totally should have worked, but Grant screwed it up. He's right to throw that back on those who selected Grant for the job.

Where Kronsteen goes wrong is his arrogance. When asked to defend his plan, he could with ease, but doesn't think it's necessary. Instead, he simply remarks, "Who is Bond compared with Kronsteen?" That's a bunk answer and it lets Klebb off the hook. The competition wasn't between Bond and Kronsteen, it was between Bond and Grant. Kronsteen stupidly lets Klebb change the parameters of the argument and pays for it with his life.

Grant is a henchman through and through and it's going to be tough - if not impossible - to knock him out of the Top 10. He's a strong, resilient, sly monster who wisely skulks his way through the plot until it's time to strike. He almost pulls the whole thing off.

But he's a thug. He's a great assassin, but a lousy spy and it's simple greed that lets Bond get the jump on him. Not to take anything away from Bond in that wonderfully brutal train fight. Grant makes Bond work hard for the victory and it could convincingly have gone either way. But if Grant hadn't wanted those gold coins, there wouldn't have even been a fight for him to lose. That's where SPECTRE's whole scheme falls apart.

Another clear henchman is Morzeny, the head of the SPECTRE Island training facility. He feels too high-ranking for henchman status, but as the movie plays out he really is just a hit man. He's the one who kills Kronsteen with a poisoned shoe-knife and he ends up dying when he leads a flotilla of motorboats after Bond. For years, I didn't realize that it was Morzeny on the megaphone in the lead speedboat and tried to work out my head-canon so that Morzeny eventually changed his name, removed his scar, and became the head of the KGB. But no, he's dead.

If Morzeny contributed to the failure of SPECTRE's plan, it's in recommending Grant to Klebb, but I agree with Kronsteen that she should have looked into Grant more than just seeing if he could take a punch in the abs. That was ultimately her responsibility.

But as an instrument of Blofeld's discipline, Morzeny does remind me to circle back and talk about Blofeld's fatal flaw in From Russia With Love. He kills the wrong dude. Even though Kronsteen was dumb to give up the argument because he thought it was beneath him, Blofeld should have seen what was going on. Blofeld himself must have signed off on the plan and realized its value, so he must also have realized that Grant was where it went wrong. Regardless of why Grant failed, selecting him was Klebb's job and if Blofeld just really needed to kill off a major leader in his organization, Klebb would have been the right choice. Instead, Blofeld discards a major - if annoying - asset.

Again, not to take anything away from Bond. SPECTRE's plan is a good one and except for one moment of weakness, Grant is excellent at pulling it off. It takes everything Bond has to get out alive and with the Lektor, which is one of the biggest reasons From Russia With Love is such a great film.

Top Ten Villains

1. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (From Russia With Love)
2. Doctor No (Dr. No)
3. Rosa Klebb (From Russia With Love)
4. Kronsteen (From Russia With Love)
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Top Ten Henchmen

1. Grant (From Russia With Love)
2. Miss Taro (Dr. No)
3. Professor Dent (Dr. No)
4. Morzeny (From Russia With Love)
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Women

I didn't care much for Sylvia Trench in Dr. No, but she really grows on me in From Russia With Love. I still don't think that Bond's having a recurring girlfriend in London was an indefinitely sustainable idea, even if Eunice Gayson hadn't been dropped when her pal Terence Young was replaced as director on Goldfinger.

I'm sure she could've lasted a while longer and held my interest, but it's probably for the best that she didn't. I love that there's no commitment between her and Bond and she seems perfectly okay with that. She's his equal that way, which is pretty cool. But to give her an actual story would almost certainly involve having her want more from Bond, which would only end badly and take away what I like about her. So it's good that she just suddenly disappears after Russia and I can imagine that either she ended things with Bond or that it was a mutual break-up.

The only other significant woman in From Russia With Love is Tatiana Romanova, played by Italian beauty queen Daniela Bianchi. Her voice may have been entirely dubbed for the film, but Bianchi's utterly charming in the role and has an easy rapport with Sean Connery. Except for a disturbing part where he smacks her because he thinks she's working against him, their relationship is relaxed and playful. She's smart, funny, and a vast improvement on the bland character in Fleming's novel.

It's difficult to tell at what point she falls in love with Bond and that's a good thing, because it adds some mystery to her. She professes her love for him on the train, but that's as he's getting violent with her and I like to think that's her survival instinct at work. At some point she does ally herself with him though and she's certainly turned by Venice. She saves his life there by knocking a gun out of Klebb's hand, even though the movie tries to milk just a teensy bit more suspense out of the situation by having her pick up the gun and waver her aim between Bond and Klebb. That's dumb and Bianchi isn't at all convincing at it, but it's the only thing she does that I don't like.

My Favorite Bond Women

1. Tatiana Romanova (From Russia With Love)
2. Honey Rider (Dr. No)
3. Sylvia Trench (Dr. No and From Russia With Love)
4. The Photographer (Dr No)
5. Miss Taro (Dr. No)
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

A Bike on the Moon: The Science Fiction of Mickey Spillane [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

There was one job in comics that was lower than the guy who cleaned the ink pens. That poor fool was the one who had the job of writing the two-page text feature that comics offered up until recent times. This story was included not because the editors thought comics needed text stories or because readers clamored for them. The reason these short pieces were included was strictly economic. In fact, we can thank the US Post Office for them. Back in the old days, publishers could mail out their Pulps at the 4th class rate. Publications that were not text based had to pay the severe 1st class rates. Comics, having come from the Pulps, walked the middle ground and included those little stories (usually 2 pages) to be included in the 4th class category. I can remember as a kid in the 1970s ignoring those two pages of boring text. I wanted artwork, color and... comics!

Whether you read them or ignored them, somebody had to write them. Most often they were slapped together by a junior editor, but in some cases more interesting people were hired to type away those 500-word masterpieces that nobody read. Comics that were created by Pulp chains were known to grab a veteran author from the bullpen occasionally, such as Donald Wayne Hobart or Jim Kjelgaard, but the biggest coup perhaps was when Marvel (then called Timely Comics) and Novelty Press shared for a year the work of mystery superstar, Mickey Spillane. (Mickey would start the Mike Hammer private eye series in 1947 with I, The Jury. This novel alone sold six and half million copies in the US. He was the superstar of the late noir period. His hard-boiled style would be encapsulated in the joke about the PI who beats confessions out of crooks: "Let me Spillane it to you.")

But before stardom, Spillane began in the comics. In 1940 he met Joe Gill (who would be a force at Charlton Comics) who hooked him up with his brother Ray Gill at Funnies Inc, a packager for the comics. In the early days of comic books, companies did not produce their own strips, but bought them from different outfits. Writing for these suppliers, Spillane worked on Golden Age comics such as Superman, Batman, and Captain Marvel. Unlike today, this was a low-paying, almost anonymous job. The only thing lower, was that guy writing the two page filler. After Pearl Harbor, Mickey enlisted, but continued to write the short two-pagers in 1941-42.

Most of Spillane's tales fall into two categories. The first are war stories such as "Fresh Meat For a Raider" (Sub-Mariner Comics #4, Winter 1941). An Anti-Nazi tale, it features a brave, American crew fooling a German U-Boat and destroying it. Typical of wartime comics, the Americans are always victorious, courageous, and lantern-jawed, while the enemy is cunning, but evil. These stories are the least interesting in terms of Spillane's later career, but they do serve as an historical look at a time when comics did their share to defeat Hitler.

More interesting are the mystery and suspense stories like "No Prisoners" (Target Comics V3 #4, June 1942) in which a cop, acting more like a private eye, single-handedly tracks down a gang of criminals and kills them all in a shoot-out. This is the Spillane we all expect to find in these short pieces. The style is tough, terse, and action-packed. All I could think of throughout the story was, "Why doesn't he call for back-up?" But occasionally, amongst the cops and newspaper reporters, the soldiers and tough guys, you find an odd little story like "The Man In the Moon" (All-Winners Comics #5, Summer 1942 with its cover featuring Namor and Captain America defeating a Nazi sub). Science Fiction! Mickey Spillane writing Sci-Fi!

Mickey spins the tale of Bruce Henderson, a frustrated inventor. He has created a rocketship in the Brazilian jungles because everyone laughs at his idea of going to the moon. Defying humanity, he flies off alone to see the Earth grow small, as bits of space dirt rasp along the hull. He sees a comet fly by and asteroids, before landing on the moon with a bump and then a long slide. At last, he walks on the moon, experiencing its lesser gravity. Henderson has prepared a space suit of sorts that supplies heat and air, but finds a pair of shorts handy as well for walking on the moon's sunny side. He has also brought a shovel, which he uses for weeks as he digs a mysterious trench in the lunar surface.

Finished with this project he produces a bicycle that he rides to the moon's mysterious dark side. He now wears the full spacesuit to endure the cold. In the darkness he thinks he sees an asteroid hit the surface of the moon, but it is actually another ship! He encounters another form of life, not a lunarian, but another visitor from space. This ugly alien is ten feet tall, with eight arms and large saucer-sized eyes. Bruce is armed with a rifle, but the creature dies from the impact, melting to a jelly and disappearing.

Henderson has had enough of the moon. He fires up the rocket and flies back to earth. Upon his return he tells the papers of his adventures, but is branded a liar. He isn't worried though. A new telescope in California vindicates him, for written upon the surface of the moon, dug in three long trenches, are the letters USA. Henderson has claimed the moon in the name of his country.

Spillane's science is terrible, but let's remember that this is 1942 and a visit to the moon was still considered "that silly Buck Rogers stuff" by most people. I would think that Mickey was familiar with some Pulp SF and comics, perhaps the early Astounding with its bug-eyed monsters or Fiction House's Planet Comics. The sting at the end of Spillane's tale, the man writing USA on the surface of the moon was used again by a much more respected author, Arthur C Clarke in "Watch This Space" (Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1957). In Clarke's tale, it isn't a ditch cut into the lunar surface, but a cloud of gas in space. The idea is the same though, if more plausible. Clarke, being more cynical - or perhaps less patriotic - has the gas spell out a brand name of a soft drink instead of a country.

The two-page fiction of Mickey Spillane was collected in 2003 in a book called Primal Spillane: Early Stories 1941-42 (Gryphon Press), edited by Max Allan Collins and Lynn F Myers Jr. This out-of-print book is hard to find, so I recommend you check out many of the original Spillane stories at Digital Comic Museum or Comic Book Plus.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Bond

Actors and Allies

Sean Connery is still on top of his game in From Russia With Love. Like in Dr. No, he switches easily between deadly serious and smirkily bemused. That's especially useful in this plot where he begins the mission thinking that it might be a trap, but doesn't fully sense the danger in it. He approaches it like a fun game that gradually becomes more deadly as the real story unfolds and the stakes increase.

An example of this light-hearted attitude about the case takes place in the briefing scene with M. Both men suspect something fishy, but - as SPECTRE has predicted - feel that the Lektor is worth looking into anyway. The sexual nature of the mission (ie Tania's infatuation with Bond being her claimed motivation for defecting) seems to amuse both of them. M's more subtle about it than Bond, but it's still there and Bernard Lee once again proves himself the perfect actor for that role as he balances authority with an appropriate dash of camaraderie.

Desmond Llewelyn joins the series as someone whom M introduces simply as the Equipment Officer from Q-branch. The credits have the character's name as Boothroyd though, so he's clearly playing the same part that Peter Burton played in Dr. No. If Bond holds a grudge for having his beloved Beretta taken from him by Boothroyd in the first film, he's too professional to show it. He listens politely if amusedly to Llewelyn's dry lecture on the fancy attaché case. When he's invited to operate it himself, Bond looks even more amused, but not in a demeaning way. He's a child with a new toy. It's all part of the fun for him, even though he doesn't think he'll need the case for his current assignment. Bond and Boothroyd's relationship isn't at all adversarial yet, but the groundwork has been laid thanks to their very different attitudes about the technology.

Lois Maxwell's Moneypenny is still in a mutually flirtatious and harmless relationship with Bond. Like I said with Dr. No, I've always read their scenes together as her being hopelessly in love with him and his leading her on, but so far that's really not the case. That could change, and I'll keep an eye out, but I really enjoy their mutual teasing and the shared attraction that might would go somewhere if only they didn't have the same boss who commands so much respect from them both.

The final ally I need to talk about is Kerim Bey, played by Pedro Armendáriz. This is another improvement over the book, because the movie leaves out all the rape from Kerim's backstory. Book Kerim is charming, but he's also extremely dark and it's disturbing that Bond is so fond of him. Book Bond is extremely dark as well, but he's not a rapist. Between Kerim and Marc-Ange Draco from On Her Majesty's Secret Service though, he sure is fond of them. Movie Bond and Movie Kerim on the other hand are also kindred spirits, but they're much tamer than their literary versions. They're both letches and enjoy leering at each other around beautiful women, but that's as far as that goes. For the most part, Kerim Bey is a charming, confident, hedonistic old spy and it's easy to see him being exactly what Bond wants to grow into.

Best Quip

Bond really has to work his way up through some awful gags to get to this one, but "She's had her kicks" gets a smile out of me after Klebb fails to stab Bond with her poisoned shoe-knife.

Worst Quip

There are so many awful ones in From Russia With Love from "She should have kept her mouth shut" (referring to the escape hatch in a Marilyn Monroe poster) to "I'd say one of their aircraft is missing" (after a helicopter blows up). The worst though is when Bond sets a bunch of pursuing boats ablaze and grins, "There's a saying in England: Where there's smoke, there's fire."


The best one - and the first real Bond gadget of the series - is the attaché case. It's right out of the novel and feels appropriately fantastic, yet plausible. Bond also uses a tape recorder disguised as a camera though and SMERSH outfits some of its agents with deadly gadgets. Grant uses a garrote-watch and a couple of people use the poisoned shoe-knife.

Top Ten Gadgets

1. Attaché case (From Russia With Love)
2. SPECTRE shoe-knife (From Russia With Love)
3. Camera-tape recorder; mostly because it reminds me of a camera my dad used to use (From Russia With Love)
4. Grant's garrote-watch (From Russia With Love)
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Bond's Best Outfit 

Bond's well-dressed in general in this movie, but I'm partial to gray suits, so I'll give the Best Outfit prize to this one.

Bond's Worst Outfit

Again, there's not really a horrible outfit in the whole movie, but pin-stripes don't do it for me, so this number will take the "honor" by default.

Monday, January 26, 2015

From Russia With Love (1963) | Story

Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love
Dr. No (1962)

Plot Summary

SPECTRE seeks to profit from pitting Britain and the Soviets against each other, hoping to assassinate James Bond in the process.

How Is the Book Different?

The biggest change is substituting SPECTRE for the novel's SMERSH. Producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltman wanted to keep the Bond films light-hearted, so they avoided real politics and SPECTRE was a convenient way to do that. Making SPECTRE the bad guys though also meant changing the name of the decoding machine that's the MacGuffin of the story. It's a Spektor in the novel, so for obvious reasons it becomes a Lektor in the movie.

Otherwise, the film's plot is exactly the same as the book with all the same set pieces and story beats. It makes some improvements though, including getting things moving much more quickly and adding a couple of extra action scenes towards the end. It's one of the few Bond movie's that's better than the novel it's based on.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

Like Dr. No, this is another tough one because so much of the movie is right out of Fleming. But the non-Fleming scene that most feels like Fleming is Bond's date with Sylvia Trench. I'll have more to say about Trench on Wednesday, but Bond's relationship with her in Russia is very much how Fleming describes Bond's relationships in the novels. They're not in any way committed to each other; they just enjoy hanging out and getting it on.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

When Bond starts to tell Tania - on tape - about an exploit he and M had in Tokyo. Fleming's Bond would never sell the old man out like that, even if they had shared some kind of sexual adventure as Bond implies, which is extremely doubtful. It's meant as a joke in the movie - and it's a funny one - but that whole recorded conversation makes no sense.

Cold Open

Harry Saltzman came up with the idea of the pre-credits cold open for the Bond series, starting with From Russia With Love. His original idea was to introduce one of the main villains in a powerful way by having him track Bond through a SPECTRE training area/obstacle course. Director Terence Young changed it though after seeing Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad featuring a romantic chateau with a Greek sculpture garden.

It is kind of a lovely scene with the danger juxtaposed against quietly chirping crickets and rippling fountains, but it doesn't hold up well next to the more exciting opens that came along later. For now we'll put it in first place because it's the only one on the list, but I expect it to drop off the Top Ten Cold Opens list once we reach the eleventh film that has one.

1. From Russia With Love
2. TBD
3. TBD
4. TBD
5. TBD
6. TBD
7. TBD
8. TBD
9. TBD
10. TBD

Movie Series Continuity

Bond tosses his hat onto Moneypenny's hat rack from across the room again. And Sylvia Trench is back, of course. But the biggest continuity development is around SPECTRE. They were introduced in Dr. No as a shadowy organization that the villain belonged too, but now we get to meet some of their top members.

We learn that as a result of Dr. No's death, SPECTRE not only knows who James Bond is, but they're pretty familiar with his dossier. When Tania first meets him, she verifies his identity by finding a particular scar on his back. That scar never comes up again in the series, so it's not really continuity, but they sure act like it is in this movie. The biggest development that comes from Russia though is that Bond is now famous, at least with SPECTRE. That was also the case with SMERSH in the novel, but SMERSH died out so quickly after that that it never became an issue. The movie Bond is sometimes going to have to put up with everyone's knowing who he is. Unless that's inconvenient for the plot of course, in which case he won't. Keeping too close an eye on the movie series' continuity is a fool's game.

Friday, January 23, 2015

On Her Majesty's Secret Service by Ian Fleming

It's been a while since we've visited Ian Fleming's Bond, so let's catch up real quick. The last time he appeared was in The Spy Who Loved Me, which offered a complex Bond. As I said at the time, the answer to the protagonist's question about him 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" as she put's it, but he's come a long way since Casino Royale and is becoming more human. The Spy Who Loves Me demonstrates that clearly even as it warns us that he's not quite there yet.

When I started this project, I mentioned how Casino Royale's Bond is a man whose selfishness has prevented him from ever having a meaningful relationship with a woman. I looked forward to watching him grow out of that, and knew he kind of would because I knew what would happen in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. It's been fun watching him mature and become more selfless and I was eager to see him finally meet Tracy and to learn what kind of effect - if any - she would have on him.

Fleming intentionally calls back to Casino Royale many times in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, starting with the casino itself. He reveals that Bond's made an annual trip to Royale-les-Eaux to visit Vesper's grave and it's here that he meets Teresa Draco. Tracy, as she likes to be called, is clearly supposed to be the second major woman in Bond's life and there are lots of similarities between the two of them. When Bond first meets Tracy, she's clearly under a lot of stress and is emotionally manic with him, just like Vesper. Fleming's not explicit about this, but I think it's an easy connection to make that Vesper is on Bond's mind and that Tracy reminds him of her.

Even though I believe that Vesper wasn't actually Bond's first great love, I don't doubt that Bond imagines her that way. I think he cared more honestly and selflessly for Honey Rider and perhaps also Domino, but any man who makes an annual trip to the grave of a woman who betrayed him is obviously carrying a torch. Fleming doesn't show readers a lot of chemistry between Bond and Tracy, but her similarity to Vesper - especially at this location and this time of year - explains why Bond is drawn to her. Beside her being beautiful and an awesome driver, I mean.

He totally takes advantage of her at first, which is something I found creepy. It became no less disturbing and offensive the more I thought about it, but I do at least understand where Bond's mind is when he meets her. It's still very demeaning that he lets her pay off a huge debt to him by sleeping with him, but I think some of that is revenge against Vesper. Not that that's an excuse.

It's not all revenge though, and Bond clearly cares something for Tracy and wants to protect her, however imperfectly (which is very) he goes about it. Fleming has made it very clear that Bond is no hero and that's very true in the opening chapters where Tracy is concerned. He's no good for her and at one point he realizes that "for the first time in his life" he feels totally inadequate.

Bond's flaws are made even more evident when he meets Tracy's father, the head of a criminal organization in Europe. Though Draco tells stories about raping the woman who would become Tracy's mother, Bond admires and even relates to the man. He describes himself to Draco as "ruthless," and it's true. When Draco offers to pay Bond to look after Tracy, Bond's refusal isn't because he has a sense of honor. It's because he knows he won't be any good at it and doesn't especially want to try.

As the story moves away from Tracy and onto its main plot though, she doesn't leave Bond's mind. For example, back at MI6 Fleming introduces us to Bond's new secretary, Mary Goodnight. We've already met Goodnight in "The Property of a Lady," which takes place before On Her Majesty's Secret Service, but was written after it, so this is her real first appearance. Bond seems much more fond of Goodnight in OHMSS that he did in "Property," but he was already in a bad mood in "Property" and it's possible he was just taking that out on Goodnight. At any rate, he's got a playful relationship with her here, but he doesn't pursue it because he's still thinking about Tracy.

He's not all romance though and he's also doing a lot of thinking about Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It's tough to fit "Property of a Lady" anywhere in Bond's timeline than before OHMSS, but it also doesn't fit perfectly before this book either. For that matter, neither does The Spy Who Loved Me. The second chapter of OHMSS claims that Bond has been fruitlessly searching for Blofeld non-stop since the end of Thunderball and that Bond is getting tired of it to the point that he now wants to resign. The best I can do to reconcile that is to say that Bond hasn't actually been looking for Blofeld non-stop, but only feels that he has. He's had some other cases; it's just that the hunt for Blofeld now seems pointless to Bond after so many dead ends.

That changes after Bond meets Draco though. Tracy's dad gives Bond a lead on Blofeld and gets the plot moving. Apparently, Blofeld is interested in setting up a new identity for himself that includes a noble heritage, so Bond poses as a genealogist to get close to the criminal mastermind. His preparation for that role brings out a couple of interesting facts about Bond's past, including that he's from Scotland. Since OHMSS was written after the production of the movie Dr. No, that's not a coincidence. Fleming is retconning in a Scot heritage to fit Sean Connery, just like he includes Ursula Andress as a guest at Blofeld's mountain resort.

As Bond went undercover, I couldn't help but wonder how that was going to turn out. I've talked a lot about Bond as a blunt instrument and his undercover assignments have never gone very well. He gets tired and impatient with them as in Diamonds Are Forever. Surprisingly though, Blofeld brings out the best in Bond, who's able to commit to his cover remarkably well. He makes some mistakes that raise Blofeld's suspicions, but they're understandable mistakes and his cover stories for them are plausible. It's only Blofeld's extreme paranoia that makes him distrust Bond and sends Bond looking for an escape route.

(Incidentally, Bond acknowledges during this part that Universal Export has become a weak, overused cover. I think that's cool and interesting, especially in light of how it's used in the movies and how famous Bond himself becomes in the world of the movies. We'll dig into that more deeply when we discuss those films, but I like that literary Bond recognizes a bad cover when he sees one.)

When Bond does escape, there's a thrilling ski chase down the mountain. At the end of it, Bond is physically spent, but he's also worn out emotionally and psychologically. Fleming really plays up how hard Bond had it on the mountain, but that seems weird  considering so much of the suffering he's endured on other missions. Dr No especially comes to mind, but really all of them put Bond through the ringer a lot worse than hanging out at a resort with a bunch of beautiful women and then having a ski chase. It makes a little more sense though when Bond's back in England and reflecting on how nice it is to be on the job as himself. The implication is that being undercover that long took a lot out of him. More than he - or the readers - realized as it was going on.

Shortly after escaping Blofeld's resort, Bond meets Tracy again. At Bond's suggestion, Draco sent her to get professional help for her depression and it's paid off. Sort of. She's a totally different woman, but I question whether she's improved. Actually, I shouldn't question. In the context of the story, she's clearly happier and healthier. But she's also way less independent and interesting.

I imagine that Fleming saw an inverse relationship between those things; that female happiness and health are somehow in opposition to independence and uniqueness. The Tracy that rejoins Bond at the end of the novel is immature and submissive. She sobs and trembles when he proposes to her and says things like, "I suppose I've got to get used to doing what you say." She makes scenes about the dangers of his job - even using the exact same term to describe it that Le Chiffre did in Casino Royale - which is exactly what Bond's always been afraid of in relationships. He's mused many times over the course of the series about knowing that marriage wasn't for him, because he couldn't put up with that. He hates drama and Tracy is full of the stuff. She's very different in the movie, but the literary Tracy is every bit as bad as all the whiny girls whom Bond has always said he despised. I honestly couldn't understand why he liked her.

And then it hit me. The point isn't that Tracy is some kind of remarkable, new woman that Bond has never encountered before. On the contrary, she's exactly like every woman he's ever encountered before and feared. The point is that she isn't different. He is.

The Bond of Casino Royale would have had zero time for "cured" Tracy Draco. He would have been into "damaged" Tracy, but only for the sex. By the time we get to OHMSS, he's a changed man. He wants her to get well, even if that means becoming someone he's always said he hates. But he realizes, here at the end, that he doesn't hate that at all. He understands and acknowledges that her worry is a manifestation of her love. She's not a drag on him; she's someone who cares enough about him that she wants to take care of him and protect him. And he wants to do the same for her. However imperfectly.

Fleming is either very sloppy about how he communicates this or he's a genius. I like to think it's the latter. None of what I've concluded is spelled out. It's all subtext. On the surface, Bond's relationship with Tracy makes no sense. But in the context of the previous books in the series, he's been growing toward this point all along. He's always had a sappy, sentimental side to him, even back in Casino Royale. It's just that now it's unfettered by his extreme selfishness.

Which makes the last page all the more heart-breaking.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Feud That Never Was [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I was enjoying Bob Powell's Complete Cave Girl (Dark Horse) and something in the editorials got me thinking. Why didn't Edgar Rice Burroughs sue when Sheena, Queen of the Jungle appeared for the first time in the US in 1938? For that matter, why didn't he sue any of the many jungle king and queens over the years.

Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan in 1912. ERB had the jungle king business all to himself until 1926 when "Roy Rockwood" wrote the juvenile novel, Bomba the Jungle Boy. Did Burroughs sue? Nope. 1927, Otis Adelbert Kline writes the first Pulp Tarzan clone, Call of the Savage (aka Jan of the Jungle) and Tam, Son of the Tiger in 1931. That year we also got CT Stoneman's Kaspa the Lion Man. 1932: Kwa. The flood gates are creaking opening. 1934: Sorak. 1935: Hawk of the Wilderness. 1936: Ka-Zar... and finally Sheena. And then things really explode. Everybody had to have a jungle king or queen.

And Burroughs, who was a shrewd business man, does nothing. Why? Could it have something to do with the fact that British reviewers had accused him of ripping off Rudyard Kipling (along with HR Haggard and HG Wells) in 1914? Kipling himself wrote later in Something of Myself (1937):

"And, if it be in your power, bear serenely with imitators. My Jungle Books begat Zoos of them. But the genius of all the genii was one who wrote a series called Tarzan of the Apes. I read it, but regret I never saw it on the films, where it rages most successfully. He had 'jazzed' the motif of the Jungle Books and, I imagine, had thoroughly enjoyed himself. He was reported to have said that he wanted to find out how bad a book he could write and 'get away with,' which is a legitimate ambition."

A mixed review at best. But Kipling never sued. He chose to "bear serenely with imitators" (if such a poke in the eye can be called serene). Burroughs own reply to the reviewers' accusations noted that these authors had been part of his youth and he thanked them, but he also noted that the "noble savage" idea is older than Mowgli, dating back to Romulus and Remus. Kipling said nothing for twenty-three years and ERB got on with writing more Tarzan novels. When his turn came to be imitated, he seems to have taken a page from Kipling's book.

There was a rumor circulating in later years that Edgar Rice Burroughs had not taken it all lying down. In fans circles, there was talk of the Burroughs-Kline feud. Otis Adelbert Kline certainly was one of the first and most Burroughs-like of the imitators. He published in the same Pulps as did ERB. If anyone would have been a likely target for a lawsuit it was this former associate editor of Weird Tales.

The story goes something like this. Kline was always careful to set his pseudo-Burroughs in different places than old ERB. So Jan of the Jungle lives in India, not Africa. The Planet of Peril was Venus, not Mars, as Ed had staked that territory out in his Barsoom novels. But in 1932 Burroughs started a new series, this one about a flyer named Carson Napier, for Argosy. The planet was Amtor or Venus, encroaching on Kline's franchise. In January 1933, Kline retaliates in the same magazine with The Swordsmen of Mars and later The Outlaws of Mars. What would ERB do next?

Nothing. Irwin Porges, who had the enormous task of reading decades of correspondence to write Burroughs' biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975), never found any trace of a feud. Burroughs had not written so much as a note about Kline. Kline had not flooded him with hot missives. The battle of the Jungle writers was a mere fancy of the fans. Burroughs, in his best Kipling manner, had simply ignored his imitator.

The fact that Burroughs had not pursued litigation left, right, and center may be one of the reasons why we had the Jungle Craze of the 1940s. One successful court case, let's say against Wil Eisner and his Sheena creation and the slough of jungle print-wearing beauty queens and muscle men would have stopped dead in their tracks.

But that is alternative history. It never happened that way. Johnny Weissmuller was movie magic. Sheena was a big hit in the comics and the Jungle Lord and Lady moved into the public domain of tropes. The elements of the Tarzan adventure had solidified over those twenty-five years, to the point where Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck were doing jungle yells in the cartoons. And Ed just laughed along and wrote another book.

Whether he "serenely bore" it, or his lawyers told him it wasn't worth the bother, doesn't matter. Being such an entrepreneur, he might have even thought it was good (and free) advertising. He had given the world a new icon, a new way of seeing something old. In our world of today, when companies actually own the very language we speak, this generosity is surprising. And both Ed and Rudyard have survived the One Hundred Year Test, and we will go on enjoying their gifts for decades to come.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Introducing Dragonfly Ripple, or "Hey! I'm Podcasting!"

A few week's ago, GW Thomas' guest post was about passing our passions on to our kids. I always enjoy his posts, but that one struck a special chord because it's something I've been thinking about for most of my life. For as long as I've bought comics and stuck them in boxes, I've imagined one day handing them on to my child. As GW points out, my son may decide he doesn't want them. And that's okay. Because as GW also points out, there are other things we can bond over. David may not share my love for Alpha Flight comics (or he may; we'll see), but he recently discovered Gene Luen Yang comics all on his own and we share that interest. And outside of comics, we enjoy tons of the same stuff, from Doctor Who and Star Trek to Godzilla and Arrow.

As long as I've been a parent, I've thought about how to introduce David to nerdy things. What's the right age to learn about Star Wars? Should you start with the original trilogy or the prequels? How do you get a kid into Star Trek? Into comics? Into fantasy and science fiction novels? I have thoughts. And I've made mistakes. But I've also had a lot of success.

So it's not like I'm some sort of expert, but this is something I'm hugely interested in and my friend Carlin "CT" Trammel from Nerd Lunch and Pod, James Pod is too. David and I have been wanting to start a podcast together for a while now and when I mentioned that to Carlin, I learned that he'd been thinking about the same thing with his daughter, Annaliese. So now the four of us are talking together on Dragonfly Ripple, a show about parenting and sharing nerdy interests with our kids.

In our first episode, I talk to Carlin and Annaliese about their experience of watching the 1980 Flash Gordon movie together, then Carlin interviews David and I about David's introduction to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We're still finding our sea legs, but it's a fun discussion and I hope you'll check it out and give us some feedback. What kinds of things should we talk about, both in terms of things to share with the kids as well as general topics around nerd parenting?

You can listen below or via iTunes or Stitcher. There's also an official blog for the show and a Facebook page as well as places to check us out on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Please join us!

Friday, January 16, 2015

My 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2015

I haven't done this before, but I've seen some other people do it and it's a fun idea. Here are the 10 movies I'm most looking forward to seeing in 2015. It'll be interesting to look back at the end of the year and see which were worth the wait.

I had a hard time not making this a Top 20, because there are several other films I'm looking forward to, but I'll just include them as Honorable Mentions. Black Sea and In the Heart of the Sea are both sea adventures, so I'll be wanting to see them. And I'm a big fan of the Fast and Furious movies, so Furious 7 is something I'm looking forward to, but the death of Paul Walker looms over it. That and Justin Lin's not directing it makes me uneasy about how it's going to hold together. I hope it's great, but I have enough worry around it that it didn't crack the Top 10. Mad Max: Fury Road also promises to be great, as does Match starring Patrick Stewart, Carla Gugino, and Matthew Lillard. They just got nudged out by the following:

10. Victor Frankenstein

James McAvoy plays Victor Frankenstein and Daniel Radcliffe plays Igor, through whose eyes the story is told. It's my favorite monster story with a couple of actors I really like. 20th Century Fox is distributing it, so it's not part of Universal's coming set of interconnected monster movies, but I think that makes me even more interested. I'm looking forward to the Universal flicks, but strictly as fun, B-movie fare. I'm hoping that Victor Frankenstein is able to transcend that.

9. Jupiter Ascending

I still have a lot of faith in the Wachowski Siblings. Like everyone else, I didn't enjoy how the Matrix trilogy ended, but I absolutely love Speed Racer. I haven't seen Cloud Atlas yet, but even so I admire its ambition. And I admire the ambition of starting a whole new space opera series from scratch. I'm hoping it's really awesome and am heartened that Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum are involved. I dig both of those guys.

8. Ant-Man

This wasn't going to make my Top 10 until I saw the trailer. Before that, I figured it was going to be a disposable, fringe entry in the Marvel catalog, but the trailer totally found my Marvel Kid switch and flipped it on.

7. What We Do in the Shadows

It's MTV's Real World with vampires by the folks behind Flight of the Conchords. Looks hilarious and I'll let the trailer speak for itself.

6. Crimson Peak

Guillermo del Toro and I obviously love the same stuff, so it's no surprise that he's also a fan of gothic romance. Crimson Peak is set in a crumbling castle in the mountains of northern England and features Mia Wasikowska as a 19th century author who marries a charming, but darkly mysterious man played by Tom Hiddleston. And there's Jessica Chastain. Could not be more in my wheelhouse.

5. Jurassic World

I like them Jurassic Park movies almost as much as I like Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. But I also love theme parks and I think I'm most excited about finally seeing this one open and functioning on screen.

4. Avengers: Age of Ultron

Cannot wait to see these characters back together again.





Starting next week, this blog is going to be getting a lot more Bondy and it's all leading up to this movie. I'm a little nervous that my expectations for it are too high, but it's in the right hands.

2. Tomorrowland

I recently saw The Iron Giant again and it reminded me how much I love Brad Bird. He's my favorite writer/director and he's all I need to know about this thing.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I have lots of nerves about this movie. I tend to like JJ Abrams, but he's disappointed me about as often as he's thrilled me. Some of the trailer looked really awesome, but some of it reminded me of the prequels. I'm trying very hard to avoid spoilers, so I don't expect my anxiousness to go away until I actually see the movie, but I've been waiting for the post-Jedi story to continue on screen for 32 years. It's not just my most anticipated movie of the year, it's my most anticipated movie of probably my lifetime.

But enough about me. What are you looking forward to?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

My Top 10 Movies of 2014

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

I don't know if I like it more for continuing the story of the First Class cast or for rescuing the original cast from the sourness I associated them with after Last Stand. I don't think I like DoFP as much as First Class, but it's a worthy sequel when it could have been an enormous mess. That's faint praise, I know, but I really love both generations of these characters and it was great to see them all treated well. And that Quicksilver scene alone earns it a spot in my Top 10.

9. Noah

I grew up with this story and I know it very well, so I'm extremely impressed and appreciative that Darren Aronofsky was able to make me think about it in a new way. And not just because he threw in some Ents. I wrote a full review of it, but to sum up: the movie makes powerful statements and asks deep questions about the relationship between humanity and nature, the inscrutability of God, and the perils of thinking you've got him all figured out. It has flaws, to be sure, but it moved and provoked me more than any other movie last year.

8. Begin Again

Wow, Keira Knightley had a good year. This is my favorite thing she did though. It looks and smells like a romantic comedy, but it's not. For one thing, though it's funny, it's not really a comedy. For another, though it'll try to fool you a couple of times, romance between the leads isn't the point. The point is about music: both the creation and the business of it. It's only 20% about the music industry though and 80% about what music is and what it means to us. There's a beautiful scene early on - really two different interpretations of the same scene - where Knightley performs a song live and we experience it first from her point of view as the nervous, insecure musician, and then from Mark Ruffalo's point of view as a music producer in the audience. It shows in a powerful way how the same song can give different experiences to different people. There's another moment later on that nails the feeling of putting on headphones in public and letting music change your perception of the world. With such wonderful groundwork laid about what music is, the movie's then able to comment on the way it's commercialized. And it does all this with some great and likable characters, including Knightley and Ruffalo's, but not limited to them.

7. How to Train Your Dragon 2

The first How to Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite animated movies of all time. It's funny, exciting, and emotionally stirring. I had no hope at all that the sequel would top it. And it didn't. But what it did do was go in a whole new direction: an epic fantasy that opened up the world of the first film and raised the stakes. It's a more serious, less joyful film, which means that I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one, but it's just as awe-inspiring in its own way.

6. The Lego Movie

When I was on the Nerd Lunch podcast last year talking about the 75th anniversary of Batman, one of the topics that came up was our favorite Batman movies. I'll never understand how I forgot to rank The Lego Movie just behind Mask of the Phantasm. In fact, since The Lego Movie is actually a Batman/Star Wars crossover, I may have to rethink that number 2 position.

5. Maleficent

I had to see this one twice to appreciate it as much as I do. There are some serious problems with Maleficent, starting with Sharlto Copley's unbelievable character and including some awful CG with Aurora's fairy guardians. That stuff really distracted me on first viewing, but what still stood out was Angelina Jolie's performance as a woman who has been hurt to the point of deeply wanting to hurt back, but hasn't yet lost all capacity to love. It's a powerful struggle and she shows it beautifully and movingly. Meanwhile, Elle Fanning grounds the movie perfectly as the tether that holds Maleficent to... well, "humanity" may not be the right word, but you know what I mean. Anyway, my second time watching it, those are the things I focused on and I loved it.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy

I'd want to call it the Star Wars for this generation if we weren't getting a new Star Wars movie next year. And besides, it's not really the same tone as Star Wars, is it? It's much more snarky and irreverent, but it balances that out with moments of humor, wonder, and just plain coolness. Even though it shares a basic plot structure with many of the other Marvel movies, it does so in its own, joyful way.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Speaking of plot, that's the reason Winter Soldier nudges ahead of Guardians of the Galaxy on this list. Winter Soldier takes some brave chances, not only by changing the status quo of the Marvel Universe, but also by not being about a bunch of people trying to get the same, all-powerful, cosmic object. Instead, it's a conspiracy thriller and a dang good one. I also love Anthony Mackie and that no one tried to force Cap and Black Widow into a romantic relationship. Boys and girls can be friends! Who knew?

2. Godzilla

I had this at number one for quite a while. It was easily the best time I had at a movie theater last year. A lot of that was manufactured by me and David though. We undertook a massive Godzillathon in the months leading up to May 16, filling in as many holes in our viewing as we had access to. We even made it to a local screening of the 1954 original. When it came time to watch the new one, we had a boys' night out (Diane had a previous commitment) at our favorite theater with the cushy lounge chairs, the Dolby Atmos, and the 30' x 70' screen. We were primed. And the movie didn't let us down. We loved the slow build to the final battle and the epic moments in that battle. When Ken Watanabe says, "Let them fight," we were screaming and whooping and we - and the rest of our audience - just got louder and more excited as the movie went on. The only thing that bumped it down to number two was Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I don't think he's bad in the movie, but he's certainly the only thing about it that I didn't find completely exciting. And that's a bit of a problem when he's the lead actor.

1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A perfect sequel. It continues the story of the first movie, expands on it, raises the stakes, and does all that in a way that's just as emotionally powerful if not more so. Incredibly, it met and exceeded my impossibly high hopes for it. I don't have one bad thing to say about it and that's why it's Number 1.


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