Monday, March 30, 2015

Out of Office

This week is David's spring break, so we're traveling to Arizona. Never been.

Seeing the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley have always been bucket list items for me and Diane, but we're also going to work in Meteor Crater, the Petrified Forest, and Tombstone. Been watching a lot of Westerns to get ready for it and I'm taking along some Zane Grey to read on the trip.

Don't know if we'll have internet access, so I've got a couple of short posts ready to go for later this week. I'll work on some Thunderball posts when I get back. Have a great week!

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Man With the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming

Fleming began writing The Man With the Golden Gun in the same month that principle filming began on Goldfinger. Exploring just how much the Goldfinger movie inspired the Golden Gun novel would make a fascinating research paper, but I'm not going to do it. I don't need to quantify the influence in order to know that Fleming's writing was affected by the Bond films in general. Putting aside Ursula Andress' appearance in the novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service, as soon as the movies started coming out Fleming immediately started tweaking his Bond. The literary character not only became a Scot like Sean Connery, but a notorious public figure whose life could be read about in the newspaper and speculated upon. Though Fleming died before The Man With the Golden Gun was completely polished, the novel suggests that the book series was going to continue to read more and more like the films.

That's not a good thing. I started writing about the Bond novels with the theory that Bond actually grows as a character over the course of the series. And that's been born out. It's been a great and interesting trip watching the selfish, sullen spy take more and more interest in the people around him. That comes to a head in You Only Live Twice, which would've made a perfect ending to the series if Bond had more say about his fate at the end of that book. Fleming had a wonderful opportunity to wrap up the series with Bond's making a conscious choice to either continue in the Secret Service or stay with Kissy on the island. Either decision would have made a powerful statement about Bond's character and contrasted beautifully with the Bond of Casino Royale. But instead of Kissy's encouraging and supporting Bond in determining what kind of life he wanted, Fleming had her deceive Bond, raising his curiosity and propelling him into another adventure. That's great for the continued potential financial success of the series, but not for its artistic achievement. Fleming gave up a great ending in order to keep the series going.

Not that The Man With the Golden Gun is a bad book. The first chapters resolve the cliffhanger from You Only Live Twice in a really tense and exciting way. From there, the story goes in a direction that's reminiscent of Bond's early adventures, especially Dr. No. Bond is supposed to stop an assassin named Francisco Scaramanga who's working for Cuba and helping Soviet interests in the Caribbean. Bond finds Scaramanga in Jamaica and that's where the rest of the story takes place. While there, Bond does a lot of recollecting about his previous missions there. We learn that he lost touch with Honey Rider, but that last he'd heard she was married to a doctor from Philadelphia and had a couple of kids.

Unfortunately, Scaramanga isn't a great villain. He's really just a glorified henchman. But he's still plenty dangerous and Fleming does a nice job keeping Bond in danger. Fleming's always made Bond squeamish about killing in cold blood (though Golden Gun makes it clear that that's just something Bond finds extremely distasteful as opposed to something he believes is objectively immoral). Because of that, Bond chooses not to assassinate Scaramanga when he has the chance, but decides to go undercover as Scaramanga's personal assistant. It's rooted in Bond's established character, so it sort of works, but it also smacks loudly of dragging out a very thin plot. Even so, Fleming is able to create tense moments all throughout and Golden Gun is a fun, adventurous read.

That's faint praise though, especially compared with how epic the rest of Fleming's later novels are. Instead of building on those, he just seems interested in writing a passable adventure for future adaptation into film. Bond finds Scaramanga not through serious investigation, but purely by luck. His relationship with Mary Goodnight - no longer the admin for the Double-O section and recently assigned to Jamaica - is especially flirty and Connery-esque. Bond even pokes fun at Q-Branch like Connery does and a couple of things feel lifted right out of Goldfinger in particular, starting with the title character's gold-covered revolver. Bond also uses a hollow safety razor as a hiding place for spy stuff and there's a scene where the bad guy murders a squeamish ally who wants out of the caper.

I have such mixed feeling about The Man With the Golden Gun. It's simultaneously a solid little entry in the series and a horrible disappointment. As the final book in Fleming's series, it sucks and I'd prefer if it didn't exist. But as the start of something different - a new chapter in Bond's life - I kind of dig it and wish Fleming had been given more time to convince me he was headed in a worthwhile direction.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Borderland: A B-Movie in the Making [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

"Borderland" by Arthur J Burks is a typical pulp adventure and yet somehow more interesting than many of his other tales in Gangster Stories or Weird Tales. The plot is familiar to anyone who watches old 1950s B-movies. A mad scientist creates giant lizards (though not by nuclear radiation, but with a glandular concoction), intent on extorting millions from the governments of the world. Dr. Frankenstein meets Captain Nemo. Scenes of gigantic iguanas devouring helpless villagers is not far from The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or It Came From Beneath the Sea. And yet, Burks published this story in Thrilling Adventures, December 1934. Not Thrilling Wonder Stories, but Thrilling Adventures.

Let's back up a bit. The hero of the story is Cleve, a man who captures specimens for Dr. Keller, the Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Natural History. Cleve plans to dynamite large crocodiles for the Doctor's collection when three enormous iguanas come out of the lake and attack the Haitian villagers nearby. Cleve finds an old dugout canoe and goes to Cabritos Island where he thinks the lizards came from. There he finds his employer, who shows him a secret hideout where the villains are injecting the iguanas with the super glandular mixture. Dr. Keller also reveals he is, in fact, the owner of the secret lab, as well as a giant stockpile of dynamite, enough to destroy the island if the authorities should discover the truth. Cleve must join the doctor or die. Cleve lies and says he will help him in his great plan. Cleve begins capturing more iguanas for Keller. He eventually makes a pretext of going to the other side of the island to get some bigger specimens, but retrieves his dynamite gear from the dugout and strings wires from the dynamite stockpile to the shore. In true non-science fiction adventure style, he wakes from a dream and the ending feels lame. Only after he pushes the plunger, expecting to capture his crocodiles does Capritos Island explode, actually destroying the giant iguanas and Dr. Keller.

What strikes me about this tale was, of course, that it appeared in Thrilling Adventures and not an SF pulp. (Leo Marguiles, the editor, might have felt it wasn't quite strong enough for Thrilling Wonder, requiring instead the silly, "it was a dream" business at the end for adventure readers.) But there are a few other things I wonder about and make more sense after a little research on Arthur J Burks. First off, I was impressed by his locale color at the beginning of the story. If it had been written by Hugh B Cave I would have naturally expected details about Haiti since Cave made a second career out of writing about this island nation in Colliers Weekly in the 1950s. It turns out that Burks had been a marine in World War I (and would return to active duty in WWII later) and had first hand knowledge of the jungle island which he used in several books.

Secondly, the use of the name "Dr. Keller" makes me wonder if the character was named after Dr. David H Keller, a pulp writer of SF. The two knew each other through Hugo Gernsback's early pulps, plus they also worked on the serial novel Cosmos in 1933-35. Their by-lines are often found together in the same magazines such as Weird Tales. I have no proof of any homage but it is possible Burks was having fun with an in-joke.

And finally, the title "Borderland" refers to the opening of the tale in which the narrator talks about the thin line between the real and the fantastic. "Where is the thin dividing line between waking and sleeping, knowing and dreaming?" This theme would become part of Burks' life after the pulps (during which he wrote over eight hundred stories, being one of the Fiction Factory's Million-Words-a Year men). Ryerson Johnson told Will Murray in an interview that he saw Burks later working as a psychic medium. His final phase as a writer was in occult studies with titles like En-Don: The Ageless Wisdom (1973).

So "Borderland" was not just your average pulp story. It predated the B-movie monsters, featured solid local color and detail, possibly included a tip of the hat to David H Keller, and lastly, showed Burks' growing interest in the occult. It's a fun ride even if it relies too heavily on mad scientist logic and huge piles of dynamite. It remains one of those odd little pulp gems that can still surprise us eighty years later.

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, March 23, 2015

Moon Laughs: Comedians in Space [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Comedians in the '40s and '50s had comic books. They were good publicity, plus you didn't have to do any of the work. Other people wrote and drew them, trying to capture the essence of the stars, using their wisecracks and typical jokes. What was different was that the writers quickly ran out of regular stuff to do and had to find a new gimmick for each issue. This lead to Western scenarios, Northern scenarios, Foreign Legion scenarios, jungle scenarios, etc. Eventually they got to the space stuff.

Before October 4, 1957 stories about space were considered "that Buck Rogers stuff." So it shouldn't be any surprise to see the comedians with comics using space travel for laughs. This was not cutting edge science fiction but retreads of pulps and worse, comic strip and serial science fiction. Silver underwear, beautiful alien women, that kind of thing. You can almost see the strings on the spaceship models. The writers knew Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon but hadn't even heard of Ray Bradbury or Isaac Asimov.

The first to try it was St. John's Abbott and Costello Comics #3 (July 1948), written by John Graham and drawn by Lily Renee and Eric Peters. Lou and Bud are out of money, so they sign up for a dodgy job with a mad scientist (a common trope with all these comics and films). He sends them to Mars where Queen Astra is holding off an invasion by the Jupitarians (Lou calls them "Jups" at one point, reminiscent of their wartime humor against the Japanese). The two earthmen find a Martian dinosaur who is a complete coward. Astra has invented an elixir named KF-79 that creates instant bravery. With this drink, Bud and Dino both gain incredible courage and save Mars. One of the better jokes in the story has Lou and Bud riding the dinosaur. Bud says "Allez Oop!" in reference to the caveman-dinosaur strip Alley Oop. The story has the same feel as an old serial, most likely what inspired it, with space fleets and robot armies.

Unlike some comedians to follow, Abbott and Costello actually made a film with a space setting. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars appeared in 1953. Oddly, the duo don't end up on Mars but Venus where everyone is played by a contestant from the Miss America pageant. Robert A Heinlein had written a treatment called "Abbott and Costello Move to the Moon" in 1950 and this may have inspired the script. If so, it is the only example of a real SF writer having anything to do with comedian space humor.

The next comic to try an outer space scenario was DC's The Adventures of Bob Hope #24 (January 1954), written by Cal Howard and drawn by Owen Fitzgerald. After selecting a space suit for a costume party, Bob falls in with an egg-headed scientist, Professor A Tomic Balmy, who has fourteen beautiful daughters (all with boys' names). Wanting to impress, Bob volunteers to take the scientist's rocket to the moon. The hero chickens out, jumps out of the rocket, and goes on a short rail journey before sending the professor a telegram that he has arrived on the moon. He buys a parachute and jumps into the crowd that gives him a ticker-tape parade. Sadly, Hope never actually leaves the Earth.

This was followed by DC's The Adventures of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis #34 (January 1957), again drawn by Owen Fitzgerald. Jerry, who is a member of the local boys' Junior Rocket Scouts runs into a beautiful woman professor (and her cute assistant) who is designing a flying saucer. After bailing Jerry out of jail, Dean manages to secure the job of guarding the saucer on its trip to Washington. During a test flight, Dean, Jerry, and the girls have an accident that sends them into space. After some lame jokes about the Milky Way and paper moons, the ship crashes back in DC. The professor is heart-broken, but the test is a success and the military funds her work. The story contains very little real science and few good jokes. Nine months later Sputnik would fly through the ether and America couldn't quite be as blithe about the possibilities of space flight.

The other comedic group to make a space movie was the Three Stooges with Three Stooges in Orbit (1959). This film has the trio take a room in a mansion with a mad scientist who invents a sub-tank-helicopter that can go into space. Of course they cross Martians trying to steal the plans for the machine and invade Earth. The Stooges had several different comics over the years but it was Gold Key's The Three Stooges #29 (July 1966) that finally gets into space. The art was by Sparky Moore. The plot is a little similar to The Three Stooges in Orbit, in that the three idiots deal with aliens. The Stooges find a UFO in a junk yard, which takes them to the moon. On the moon they encounter several different kinds of monsters as well as actual moon cheese but they can't get back home because their ship has been destroyed. Fortunately the UFO's owners rescue them, take them to their base for study, and find they have brains the size of peanuts. Fearing the destructive power of such stupid beings, the invaders flee the Earth, their invasion cancelled. Despite being only three years before the moon landing, this comic has no real scientific basis at all.

The 1960s would bring changes to science fiction as well as science. Star Trek would premiere on September 8, 1966. Much of the humor that followed was sarcastic parody of this classic series such as Mad Magazine, November 1966 with "Star Bleeech," and "Star Tracks" in Cracked, September 1975. On July 20, 1969, the first lunar landing would have as much impact as Sputnik had back in 1957. The old comedians and their comics belong to a time locked by the events of history. Humor about space travel would never be the same flight of fancy, but anchored in the reality of the nightly news.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dragonfly Ripple, Ep 2: "LotR Cartoons and D&D"

The new episode of Dragonfly Ripple is out! That's the show where Nerd Luncher Carlin Trammel and I talk to our kids about important parenting matters like Dungeons & Dragons and the animated Lord of the Rings movies. We also ask you for the best Star Trek episodes for kids, so give us your recommendations!

AND! Time travel and an exciting, new segment called "Jetpack Tiger" in which Carlin's 6-year-old son totally rules the podcasting universe while discussing the Lilo & Stitch movies. Hope you'll check it out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Kinsmen of the Dragon, Part 1 [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

When I write one of these blog pieces I usually begin by reading all the stories concerned. This time around I haven't. Let me explain.

Fantasy as a genre has many towering figures such as JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and Robert E Howard. Some classic authors who preceded them, such as William Morris, Lord Dunsany, and even Lewis Carroll, also stand out high above the rest. These figures are well documented thanks to editors like Lin Carter and his Ballantine Fantasy series. Carter was also good at finding little known bits of fun in fanzines, ancient tales, and the pulps. Because of this, I am truly surprised when I discover an unknown (to me) fantasy novel from the 1950s.

Nobody wrote fantasy in the 1950s (excepting the well-noted Poul Anderson with The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions, a few lesser Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales by Fritz Leiber, and of course, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings). Other than these famous exceptions, most fantasy was disguised as science fiction in Planet Stories or as Jack Vance did it in The Dying Earth.

So again, I'm not often surprised. Until I was checking out an old copy of Ray Palmer's Imagination (one of those fantasy mags that look like science fiction). The inside cover of the second issue has a full page ad for Kinsmen of the Dragon by Stanley Mullen. The ad proclaims: "Just What You Were Wishing For!" and "The Most Exciting Book Since Merritt's Moon Pool." 352 pages for only $3.50.

My jaw dropped. And dropped again when I saw, first, that other people were quite aware (and hadn't told me), and secondly, the gorgeous Hannes Bok cover art. This got me all defensive and I started to question why I hadn't even heard of it. I think the main reason is I haven't really read any Stanley Mullen. Just as important, the book never had a paperback version in the 1960-70s during the big sword and sorcery craze. It might have happened if Ballantine had continued their series. Lin Carter might have gotten around to it. He had published two novels by Hannes Bok and was a personal friend of the artist. Carter must have known about the book. And maybe didn't like it?

I read online about the reviews: Francis J McComas had written in The New York Times Review, "Practically every theme of fantasy and science fiction has been mistreated in this silly melodrama." Damon Knight wrote in In Search of Wonders, "A plot that is kept in motion solely by the fact that everyone involved is an idiot." And James Blish called it in The Issue at Hand "an incredibly bad novel from any point of view" and reprimanded other reviewers for taking it easy on a pal.

These kinder reviewers were Forrest J Ackerman ( as Weaver Wright) in Astounding August 1951:
"This novel has not appeared in any form prior to this book publication" proclaims the jacket blurb. Few other s.f. books can make that statement this season, as the rash of pulp reprints continues. But Stan Mullen, himself a magazine contributor, has come up with a first-class first novel blending astounding science with unknown wizardry. If "Kinsmen" somewhat invites comparison with the recently reprinted "Blind Spot" because of its world-beside-our-own theme, I dare the sacrilegious opinion that it surpasses the "Spot' in reader interest. In Annwyn, the invisible realm we cannot sense, psychology is different, inventions strange, architecture alien; yet to the hero this Lorelei land offers a kind of haven in the end, away from the confusion of our own here and now. A splendid escape piece. The all-around technicolor wrapper by Bok puts the artistic whipped cream on top this brandied literary plum pudding.
And an anonymous reviewer in Startling Stories who wrote in May 1952:
"If you still have a soft spot for buckety-buck adventure, this is for you. The publisher's blurb informs us that it has never appeared in magazine form or anywhere else - no doubt it's length was a factor. Briefly it is the story of the underworld of Annwyn, peopled by stock types of lizard men and dragons and human sacrificing savages - and of course beautiful girl savages. Personally we do not consider this science fiction, but some people do; in fact, some people prefer this type of fantastic adventure to anything which involves ideas. If you are looking for ideas, don't linger here. There is nothing new in KINSMEN OF THE DRAGON, nothing you haven't read before. If you are just discovering the world of fantasy it may seem new to you and you may get a belt out of it. The jacket design, by Hannes Bok, is a handsome one, and liberally sprinkled with BEMs, dragons, and something which is half-girl, half-BEM. Incidentally, has anyone noticed the Maxfield Parrish resemblance in Bok's color work?
Three quick reactions to these two reviews: The suggestion that Mullen has borrowed the "world-beside-our-own" theme from Homer Eon Flint and Austin Hall's The Blind Spot (1921) shows an unfamiliarity with fantasy on Ackerman's part (surprising!). If he had been familiar with folklore he would know that the idea of parallel fantasy realms was around before Flint. Lewis's first Narnia book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (1950) was selling in the US, though this was sold as a children's book. Or if he remembered the Jorel of Joiry stories of CL Moore or "The Sapphire Siren" by Nictzin Dyalhis or any number of Fantasies by Edmond Hamilton in Weird Tales, he would have known the idea's wider use.

The second thing that popped for me was the name Annwyn, the Celtic underworld that is the novel's setting. Most of us encounter the place either in Evangeline Walton's Mabinogion series (1936-1974) or Lloyd Alexender's Pyrdain fantasies (1964-68). Alexander used Annwyn in 1964 and Walton not until 1974, so in this way Mullen may be the first fantasist to claim the territory. Nothing new, my eye!

Maxfield Parrish
Lastly, the anonymous reviewer calls attention to Bok's similarity to earlier artist Maxfield Parrish. Bok actually studied under Max Parrish and considered himself his apostle. The resemblance is certainly intentional.

Was Kinsmen of the Dragon a terrible novel? I wish I could tell you. I haven't read it. But I think a little historical perspective might help here. This was 1951-52. Science fiction magazines, book publishing even juvenile novels and hard covers were all on the horizon. Fantasy was the poor, retarded step-cousin SF fans hid out back in the wood shed. Tolkien hadn't published The Lord of the Rings yet and even those books would need another ten years to explode and change everything. Many of the poor reviews could have been 1950s SF-hate, which carried on until the 1970s when fantasy could throw sales figures from LotR and The Sword of Shannara at the sneering critics.

Except for two things. Look who the reviewers are. Francis J McComas was one half of the team who created The Magazine of Fantasy in 1949 so that more literate and interesting fantasy could be published. The "and Science Fiction" was added as a commercial necessity. McComas was not a fantasy hater.

Damon Knight is considered one of the best editors of SF from the 1970s and on, but he also wrote many well-crafted stories and novels. One of these was actually a collection of stories from Galaxy called The World and Thorinn (1981) that borders on fantasy. He might be part of the more SF crowd, but he has written extensively on the craft of writing and knows a good plot from a bad one.

James Blish is another SF author, though his Black Easter novels are considered Fantasy. He wrote of jungle lords for the same pulp as Mullen back in the 1940s. He would not be one to throw stones. He was considered a little prickly and stand-off-ish by some, and his pointing to fellow reviewers and calling them out may have contributed to this. He may also have been right. Mullen was a member of the SF community, and a publisher as well, with his own small Gorgon Press. You never know who your next publisher is going to be...

Ultimately, I'll have to read it for myself. I may find it a charming 1950s forgotten classic like Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword. Or I may find it a contrived, imitative mish-mash of Edgar Rice Burroughs with a lovely cover. Either way, (I have the Kindle version ready to go!) I will enjoy every word of it. More to come.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Goldfinger (1964) | Music

For Goldfinger's title sequence, designer Robert Brownjohn went back to the same well he'd pulled from in From Russia With Love. He got more creative though and instead of just projecting the credits over a woman's body, he projected images from the film with the credits running alongside. That makes the credits easier to read, but also gave Brownjohn more to play with in terms of the images. Drawing inspiration from what happens to Jill Masterson in the movie, Brownjohn painted model Margaret Nolan (who also plays Dink) gold and made fun choices about what images he projected where. At one point he superimposes Oddjob's face over hers, for example. Later, he has the Aston Martin's license plate replace her mouth. It was the most fun and creative sequence so far and it ties in well with the theme of the movie, even if it does feel a bit easy and on-the-nose to just use shots right out of the film.

For the title song, composer John Barry finally had complete control. He'd created the Bond Theme in Dr. No, written the entire score in From Russia With Love, but with Goldfinger he also got to write the music for the theme song. The lyrics were by the popular songwriting team of Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse (who would go on to also write the lyrics for the theme to You Only Live Twice and the songs for Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Newley and Bricusse teased Barry about the melody for "Goldfinger" and its similarity to Henry Mancini's "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's. They're not wrong about the opening bars, but for the most part it's a decent, versatile melody. It's a bit light and airy for my taste though, even with the heavy brass in the recording.

Maybe because of Barry's involvement with the "Goldfinger" song, the Bond Theme gets a lot less play in Goldfinger than it had in the first two movies. We hear it during the teaser when Bond's infiltrating the heroin refinery, then again when he introduces himself to Jill Masterson, but the third time isn't until Felix is tailing Oddjob and Solo. And even then, the Bond Theme quickly morphs into the Goldfinger Theme. There's something meta going on there, with the hero's giving way to his much more interesting villain. As cool and suave as Bond still is, he's also becoming more goofy in this one and the real star of the show is the title character. Like I said earlier in the week, I'm cool with that in this movie, but it's too bad that it inspired so many of the later, less inventive films.

To sing the title song, Barry hired pop singer Shirley Bassey. He'd conducted her orchestra when she'd toured the year before and they were apparently a couple as well. Nepotism aside though, she's got a fantastic voice and makes the song work in spite of its simple, and (frankly) silly lyrics.

Top Ten Theme Songs

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

Top Ten Title Sequences

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

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Goldfinger (1964) | Villains

Gert Fröbe may have been dubbed for his performance as Auric Goldfinger, but he's still the best thing in the movie. Like I said the other day, his Goldfinger isn't the over-compensating blowhard that Fleming wrote. The movie Goldfinger is a calm, self-assured man. Part of that may be vocal, like the laugh in his voice when he says, "No, Mr. Bond! I expect you to die!" But just as much of it is body language: Fröbe's boredly picking a bit of sleep from his eye after Bond's made a threat, or the minimal gestures he uses to command Oddjob. Fröbe's perfect fusion of restraint and humor gives Goldfinger a sense of power that's never been equalled by another Bond villain.

Goldfinger is well-written, too. The movie fixes the novel's problem of how to move all that gold, so its Goldfinger feels smarter than Fleming's. He's in control almost the entire movie and it's tough to pick the place where his plan goes wrong. He has a good reason to keep Bond alive until it's time to incinerate him by nuclear explosion. What better way of getting rid of Bond's body and keeping a cloud of reasonable doubt around Goldfinger's involvement in the caper? If Bond hadn't have convinced Pussy to betray Goldfinger, the bad guy would have easily won.

Oddjob's iconic, but I don't love him. In the novel, he's agile and deadly, but movie Oddjob moves so slowly that it's hard to take him seriously. All Bond really has to do is avoid the flying hat and then keep out of Oddjob's way.

Top Ten Villains

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

Top Ten Henchmen

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Goldfinger (1964) | Women

Goldfinger is especially notorious for the way it treats women. Forgetting for a second about Felix's wink-wink-nudge-nudging up the joint, none of the women Bond hangs out with are great characters. That starts with Bonita (Nadja Regin), the dancer in Mexico who betrays Bond. She has an interesting role to play, but the movie says nothing about why she does what she does. Is she committed to the drug dealers' cause? Is she just being paid? Is she afraid? The movie neither knows nor cares.

Dink (Margaret Nolan), the woman Bond's hooked up with in Miami, is even worse. Or rather, Bond is worse around her with his dismissing her for "man talk" and smacking her on the butt. The one thing that makes her kind of special is when Bond tells Felix that "the girl is dead" and Felix assumes he's talking about Dink. It's a natural reaction, but somehow seems like a victory that Felix hasn't forgotten about Dink as quickly as Bond has.

Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) - or rather, Masterton, as Fleming wrote it - is my favorite of the women in the book. She's not as crucial to the plot as Pussy, but she's a better character with a realistic and healthy view of who Bond is and what she and he mean to each other. That makes what happens to her even more tragic.

The movie version spends much less time with Bond, so her death is only memorable for the spectacle of how it happens. It doesn't affect anything except to show that Goldfinger is deadly and also weird.

Jill's sister Tilly (Tania Mallet) is a better character in the movie than in the novel, but she's still a silly girl who's obviously out of her depth and ought to be leaving the Man's Work of killing Goldfinger to Bond. The movie does a nicer job with her than with Jill though and we get to know Tilly better. She loves her sister, is the kind of woman who'll take the law into her own hands, and even shows a sense of humor about some of the Aston Martin's tricks. Her death is pitiful, but at least I felt something about it.

Pussy Galore is a terrible character at first look. Honor Blackman is awesome and tough, but it's difficult to get around her apparently changing sides when Bond forces himself on her. I think there's another way of reading her transformation that's not quite as hideous, but it's still difficult.

The problem is that Bond's forcing himself on Pussy is horrible and inexcusable and makes him a really bad person. Beyond that, it's also repulsive and dangerous for the movie to depict Pussy as rejecting Bond at first, but eventually getting into it. What's even sadder about that scene though is that it isn't necessary to the plot at all. The movie doesn't need it to explain why Pussy betrays Goldfinger.

Before Bond and Pussy go into the barn and fight, they have a brief conversation outside. Bond realizes that Pussy's only helping Goldfinger for the money and he warns her against the villain. "He really is mad, you know." And there's a look that crosses Pussy's face that says that she does know, but has been ignoring it.

One of the things I'm looking at with each movie is where the main female character goes stupid. It inevitably happens that strong, independent women in Bond movies turn to butter around him. Conventional wisdom is that this happens for Pussy when Bond forces her to kiss him, but I think it actually happens a few minutes earlier when Bond appeals to her reason.

Because of that, I don't think Bond's as ineffective in Goldfinger as he's made out to be. Yes, he spends half the movie in Goldfinger's custody and doesn't do much "spying." But the literary Bond never does a lot of spying, either. It's that whole Blunt Instrument approach and he's playing it by the numbers. He may not get captured on purpose, but once he does he makes a conscious decision to stay there - making himself too dangerous to kill - and to do as much damage as he can from inside. Converting Pussy is a major part of that and as awful as he treats her in the barn, I argue that that's not the reason she switches sides. She doesn't "go stupid" at Bond's embrace, but because she's actually more human than she lets on and Bond appeals to that.

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. Pussy Galore (Goldfinger)
5. Tilly Masterson (Goldfinger)
6. Jill Masterson (Goldfinger)
7. The Photographer (Dr No)
8. Bonita (Goldfinger)
9. Miss Taro (Dr. No)
10. Dink (Goldfinger)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Goldfinger (1964) | Bond

Actors and Allies

I don't have much to say about Sean Connery as Bond here. He's still at the top of his game and seems to be enjoying himself. The success of Goldfinger will change that when he's not allowed to profit from it the way the producers do, but for now he's still turning in a great performance with plenty of charm, humor, and - when needed - gravitas.

Bernard Lee is also still excellent as M, even though the script makes him the butt of Bond's snobbery at one point. I love his impatience with that though and M never loses authority, even if he doesn't know what region the brandy's cognac came from.

Speaking of power shifts, it feels like something's changed in Bond's relationship with Moneypenny. For the most part, they're flirting like they always do and it seems harmless, but there's something in her eyes that suggests she'd be willing to pursue something with him if only he'd give her hope. It's subtle and it's nothing she couldn't back away from, but I don't like it.

I also don't care for the turn that Bond's relationship with Q has taken. In From Russia With Love, we saw that they have very different attitudes towards technology. Q is professional and even a little reverent about it, while Bond is amused and playful. In Goldfinger, Q is openly resentful of Bond's flippancy. That by itself is fun and I like watching them together. The problem is with the gadgets that Q's so serious about. They're ridiculous, which makes him ridiculous too. As the Bond series becomes farcical, Q is an early casualty.

Which brings us to Felix. Goldfinger's Felix is the worst of them all, partly because Cec Linder plays him as such a square, but also because of how he's written. In Dr. No, Jack Lord criticized Bond for his focus on women, but Linder's entire approach is to smile enviously and shake his head. While tailing someone he thinks is Bond, Felix speculates about where Bond might be going. "Ten'll get you one, it's a drink or a dame." He doesn't take Bond seriously at all, so it's tough for me too, either.

(I will say this in Bond's defense, though: He's not as ineffectual as people accuse him of being in this movie. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow, but for all the problems I have with Goldfinger, that's not one of them.)

Best Quip

If I limit "quip" to little lines that Bond says after he kills someone, the best in Goldfinger has to be, "Shocking." But a lot of times, Bond's funniest lines pop up in other places. My favorite in Goldfinger is when the villain appears in Bond's plane dressed as a general. Bond nonchalantly compliments him on his promotion and asks, "Are you having lunch at the White House, too?" It's perfect.

Worst Quip

Shortly after the above, once Goldfinger has been sucked out of the decompressed cabin. Pussy asks where he is and Bond replies, "Playing his golden harp." Ugh.


My main problem with Goldfinger is how it sets the table for so many excesses in later films. I mentioned above how some of Bond's relationships are getting cartoony and how the gadgets play a direct role in how seriously I'm able to take Q. In addition to the parking meter/smoke bomb in Q's lab, there's the seagull hat that Bond wears in the pre-credits teaser.

I'm totally okay with the Aston Martin, though. It's the craziest gadget in the film, but the car itself has such style that I can't hate it and seriously... who wouldn't want to drive that? It's easy for me to dismiss the seagull hat as ridiculous and out of place, but the car is awesome. It's only when later films try to top it that I get cranky.

Now that we're starting to see gadgets in Q's workshop, I need to make a rule about what's eligible for my Top Ten Gadgets list. I'm only going to rank things that Bond actually takes and uses in the field, but I'll be sure to honorably mention other favorites as we go.

Top Ten Gadgets

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

Bond's Best Outfit

I'm a sucker for gray suits and sharp vests. Vests are out right now, but I totally dig them. Love this suit that Bond wears for the whole middle part of the movie.

Bond's Worst Outfit

A blue terry-cloth onesie. And that's how he meets Jill Masterson. Good thing you're James Bond, buddy.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Goldfinger (1964) | Story


Ian Fleming's Goldfinger

As far as I can tell, Saltzman and Broccoli picked Goldfinger for purely mercenary reasons. The first two Bond films did extremely well in England, but United Artists still wasn't committing to heavy promotion in the US. The producers could tell from sales of Fleming's novels that Bond was catching on in the States though, so they chose Goldfinger for their third film because of the Fort Knox angle. They figured that US audiences would want to see that and they were exactly right. UA realized that too and gave the film some major marketing. The movie was a huge hit and turned Bond into a phenomenon.

Plot Summary

Bond investigates an eccentric gold smuggler and uncovers a larger, more deadly scheme involving Fort Knox.

How Is the Book Different?

Hardly at all. They're even alike in the way they shift the tone of their individual series, though the specific ways they do that are different. The novel Goldfinger introduces humor in a new way to the books, while the movie Goldfinger takes the films to a whole new level in terms of spectacle.

Both versions open with Bond in Miami after an assignment in Mexico, but in the novel Bond is introduced to Auric Goldfinger by a character he met in Casino Royale. The movie can't reference that, so Bond's steered towards his nemesis by Felix Leiter. In the novel, Bond and Goldfinger's first meeting is complete coincidence, so the movie actually improves on that by making it all part of the plan.

The movie also introduces an ulterior motive for the Fort Knox job that makes a lot more sense. And the final fates of Goldfinger and Oddjob are tweaked a bit. In addition, the movie lets us see the gold-covered Jill (she's only described by her sister in the book) and of course Tilly and Pussy's sexual orientations are either ignored or only implied.

Other changes are superficial. The book's Aston Martin DB III becomes a DB V, for example, and it's more tricked out. Literary Goldfinger is also more blustery in his arrogance than the self-assured movie version.

Moment That's Most Like Fleming

This is kind of cheating, because it's a moment that's present in the novel, but conveyed in a different way. It's when Bond's tailing Goldfinger and Tilly Masterson speeds by him. He steps on the gas to give chase, then quickly eases off. "Discipline, 007," he says. "Discipline."

In the novel, he has an internal struggle over chasing her, but the movie's "discipline" line is excellent shorthand for that. It's also something I repeat to myself a lot when I want to do something I probably shouldn't.

Moment That's Least Like Fleming

The literary Bond certainly cares about food and drink, but he isn't the obnoxious know-it-all that the film version becomes, starting with Goldfinger. He snidely quotes to Jill the correct temperature for serving Dom Perignon '53 and later shows up M by criticizing the indifferent blend and overdose of bon-bois in the brandy they're drinking. Even forgetting the showing off, the literary Bond never would have disrespected M that way.

Cold Open

Points for tying it in with the novel by showing us some of Bond's Mexico mission. And points for making it exciting and introducing the craziness of the gadgets that the films are going to become known for. It's also got one of Bond's better quips ("Shocking!"), though not my favorite. It's got a cool setting and a pretty good fight, too. Much better than the quiet, subdued opening of From Russia With Love.

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

Movie Series Continuity

When Bond and Felix meet, Bond refers to his friend's getting in trouble in Jamaica. That's an inaccurate reference to Dr. No, since Bond got in all the trouble and Felix was only there to observe and bail Bond out. The script is just trying to let us know that Cec Linder's playing the same character that Jack Lord was, but it's sloppy.

M threatens to take Bond off the mission at one point, suggesting that "008 can replace you." I think that's the first mention of another Double-O agent in the series. He comes up again when Goldfinger is about to cut Bond in half with a laser. Bond says that if he's killed, 008 will just step in. This is probably a fool's game, but I'm going to try to keep track of the other Double-Os in the movies. There are only a couple of others in the books, so I'm curious to see how expansive that department is in the films.

The trick of throwing Bond's hat onto the hatrack is repeated, but this time it's Moneypenny who does it. We don't see Bond enter the office in Goldfinger, so his hat is there when he finishes talking to M. He picks it up and flirts with Moneypenny some and at one point she takes it from him and tosses it back on the rack to indicate that he should stay.

When Bond visits Q-Branch he asks Q where his Bentley is, referring to the car we saw when he was on his date with Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love. Q's response is that it's "seen its day," which raises a question about who owns it. In the books, the Bentley is totally Bond's baby. He only requisitions the Aston Martin as part of his cover. But in the film, it sounds like both cars belong to the government and can be switched out as easily as Bond's gun was in Dr. No.

Speaking of Sylvia Trench, she's not back. Terence Young had a pay dispute with Saltzman and Broccoli, so he decided not to come back to direct the third film. The producers brought in Guy Hamilton, who had no attachment with Sylvia or the actor who played her. There's no mention of why she's not around, nor - as much as I liked that character in From Russia With Love - should there be. It wasn't that kind of relationship.

Also not back is SPECTRE. Goldfinger has SMERSH connections in the novel, but the film version is completely autonomous. He may be working with the Chinese government, but he's not working for them.

The last bit of continuity I want to mention is that Bond orders a "shaken, not stirred" martini when he wakes up on Goldfinger's plane. That's the first time he actually uses that line in the series. He received a couple of them in Dr. No, but those were both brought to him already made without our hearing him order them. The people bringing him the drinks repeated the instruction, though.

Friday, March 06, 2015

You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming

As I've been rereading the Bond series, I've had On Her Majesty's Secret Service in my head as the pinnacle of Bond's character development. My memory of You Only Live Twice and The Man With the Golden Gun was that they're both very dark books and represent a descent for Bond into the narcissistic selfishness that marked him in the early novels. That's not true though. At least not for You Only Live Twice.

The novel opens understandably with Bond completely shattered and depressed after the murder of his wife by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. He's bungled his last couple of assignments and M is at a loss for what to do with him. Even Moneypenny is openly hostile to him and has apparently forgotten the out of character crush Fleming tried to foist on her back in Thunderball. Not to be overly harsh on Bond, but good for her.

M is actually to the point of wanting to fire Bond when he has a conversation with Sir James Molony, the same neurologist who diagnosed Bond back in Dr. No. As Molony justifies Bond's shock to M, it struck me that Bond's always been prone to depression. That's especially clear in the first couple of novels and his anxiety attack in the airplane during Live and Let Die leaps to mind. Tracy's death has sent the already unstable agent spiraling.

But as often as Bond has succumbed to dark thoughts, he's always been able to fight his way through them and Molony believes that's still the case. What Bond needs is a really tough, impossible assignment. Something that will either leave no room for his current depression, or at least will put it into perspective. After giving it some thought, M comes up with the perfect mission. As he describes it to Bond, it's "totally improbable of success" and will be very different from what he's used to. "There won't be any of the strong-arm stuff," he says, "None of the gun-play you pride yourself on so much. It'll just be a question of your wits and nothing else."

The assignment gives Fleming a chance to explore a couple of things he had on his mind. One is the decline of Britain as a major world power after WWII. Bond's mission is to get information about the Soviet Union from the Japanese secret service. Japan apparently has a strong source of Soviet intelligence, but only shares it with the United States. Britain's feeling a bit left out, so Bond's job is to meet with Tiger Tanaka, the head of the Japanese service, and convince him that Britain can be good friends too.

Which leads us to Fleming's other major interest in the book: Japan itself. Fleming had briefly visited the country in 1959 on his Thrilling Cities tour, but returned for a longer stay in '62. That trip became the basis of You Only Live Twice with the other journalists he was traveling with inspiring characters in the novel. Tiger Saito became Tanaka while Richard Hughes was the inspiration for Australian spy Dikko Henderson. (Incidentally, Dikko has way more in common with Joe Don Baker's Jack Wade in the Pierce Brosnan Bond films than he does with Charles Gray's stuffy Henderson in the movie version of You Only Live Twice.)

Long sections of the novel are devoted to Bond's introduction and acclimation to Japanese culture. At first, he's judgmental and racist and I suspected he was just imitating Fleming's own feelings about the country. Bond and Fleming both seem curious about Japan without seriously considering the country on its own terms. That made me impatient with the book and for a while I felt the same way about it as I did about From Russia With Love, which seemed less interested in telling a spy story than in scratching other itches of Fleming's.

As the novel progresses though, it becomes clear that Fleming's doing more than just writing a travelogue. Bond becomes less and less snarky about Japanese life and by the end of the book he's completely relaxed and embracing it. He's self-confident and cheerful. M's scheme has worked, though the credit goes less to the mission itself and more to Japan.

Things take a dark turn though when Tanaka conditionally agrees to give Bond the information he wants. The condition is that Bond needs to do a personal favor for Tanaka and assassinate a wealthy European named Shatterhand who's causing problems for the Japanese government. Shatterhand has bought a castle in one of the southern islands and surrounded it with a garden of the most poisonous flora and venomous fauna imaginable. Visiting the garden has become a popular way to commit suicide, which is somehow so embarrassing to the Japanese government that they want Shatterhand murdered.

I never quite understood why Tanaka decided that assassination was the best solution to what seems more like a social problem than a criminal act. It's the weakest part of the book, but after that glitch things get back on track when Bond discovers that Shatterhand is actually Blofeld. However weak Tanaka's reasons are for wanting him killed, Bond's are completely understandable.

The final chapters of the book are strong for a couple of reasons. One is Bond's infiltration of the garden and castle. Both are horrifying places, made even more weird and terrible by Blofeld's striding around them in samurai armor, accompanied by his awful wife, Irma Bunt. As evocative as that is though, my favorite bits of the novel's end are Bond's time on a fishing island with Kissy Suzuki.

Bond goes to the island because it's close to Blofeld's and can be used as a base from which to strike, but once he gets there, his transformation is profound. Not his physical transformation, which reads as unconvincing as Sean Connery's looks in the movie version, but his spiritual transformation. Away from the cynical, irony-loving Tanaka and surrounded by people who just genuinely love their way of life, Bond finds peace. He never considers not killing Blofeld, but by the time he sets out to do it, the sense is that he's doing it out of duty. It's no longer about revenge for him. Those thoughts have vanished and as a reader I'm just hoping that he can survive and maybe get back to Kissy. She has a ridiculous name, but I like her more than any of Bond's romances since Domino. She's Bond's equal and brings out goodness in him.

I wish the book ended with Bond's going back to her and settling down on his own. I mean, without his having amnesia and Kissy's taking advantage of it to deceive him and keep him there. That's a crappy thing for her to do and it makes me like her less. Part of me appreciates the pulpiness of it and how it leads into a cliffhanger for the next book to resolve, but more than that I want a happy ending for Bond. Sadly for me, You Only Live Twice gives just a little taste of one before snatching it away.

Some final comments on things I've been tracking through this project. One is that Blofeld calls Bond a "blunt instrument" in the novel. I don't remember if that's the first time Fleming has used the term (M uses it in Die Another Day, which is where I first noticed it), but it's significant and it does more or less describe Bond's approach to assassination, even though he's pretty sneaky about getting into the castle.

Another thing I've been tracking is how Fleming reveals Bond's status as an orphan. You Only Live Twice is where that happens, in an obituary M writes for Bond when the agent is presumed dead. Bond's parents died in a climbing accident when he was 11 and he went to live with an aunt. That explains some of Fleming's other statements about Bond's teen years, which didn't seem to be particularly dark in From Russia With Love, though he did need a surrogate father in "Octopussy".

Finally, Fleming does something weird with Bond's obituary and turns Bond into a public figure. It's not just strange that M runs the obit in the newspaper with lots of details about Bond and his service to the government. He also mentions a series of popular novels that have been written by a friend of Bond. With his typical, self-deprecating humor, Fleming has M dismiss the books as exaggerated and not very good, but it's still an odd thing for Fleming to write himself into the series. It also means that everyone knows all about Bond and his adventures, however inaccurate the details. Fleming will deal with some of the consequences of that in The Man With the Golden Gun, which we'll talk about in a couple of weeks. It's interesting to me though that as the literary You Only Live Twice closes by thrusting Bond into the public eye, the movie version opens with an attempt to take him out of it again.


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