Archive for August, 2011

Gone with the Wind

BOF will be off the air until further notice.

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Bradley (down and) out.

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While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and tackle this whole age thing head on. (All ages approximate due to duration of shooting schedules, interims between production and release dates, et cetera.)

Connery’s age when he first played Bond: 32

Connery’s age when he quit the first time: 37

Connery’s age when he quit the second time: 41

Connery’s age when he quit the third time: 53

Lazenby’s age when he played Bond: 30

Moore’s age when he first played Bond: 46

Moore’s age when he last played Bond: 58

Dalton’s age when he first played Bond: 41

Dalton’s age when he last played Bond: 43

Brosnan’s age when he first played Bond: 42

Brosnan’s age when he last played Bond: 49

Craig’s age when he first played Bond: 38

Craig’s age when he next plays Bond: 44

What to make of all this? Age, as they say, is just a number, and what really matters is how good somebody does—or does not—look as Bond up there on the screen. In Ian Fleming’s books, 007 is eternally in his mid-to-late thirties (despite the series extending over fourteen books, published annually between 1953 and 1966). That being the case, only Connery in his initial five-film stint and Craig when he assumed the role were technically age-appropriate, although I’d say Lazenby came across as more mature than he was chronologically. Of course, Connery is hardly decrepit even now, but I think we can all agree that he’s too old for Bond. Somehow, after just four years between You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, he appeared quite the worse for wear.

Brosnan was already a year older than that when he became Bond, yet he looked great at both the beginning and end of his 007 career, making it all the sadder that he wasn’t allowed to do at least one more film before the dreaded Reboot Syndrome claimed this series, as it has so many others. Contrast that with Moore, who pulled it off in Live and Let Die due to his schoolboyish qualities, but looked positively freeze-dried by A View to a Kill, where he was two decades older than the literary Bond, which just dragged his films down even further. Although Connery was way too old for the extracurricular Never Say Never Again, its unique origins almost make the age issue irrelevant. For these and other reasons, the vintage Connery and Brosnan are my favorite Bonds.

On a serious, if strangely appropriate, note, I’ve just learned of the death at 83 of Hammer Films screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, whom we met some years ago at Fanex, where he signed a copy of his splendidly titled memoir, Do You Want It Good or Tuesday? His Hammer work included the early entries in the Frankenstein and Dracula series, their Psycho knockoffs (Paranoiac, Maniac, Hysteria), and a few less successful directorial efforts, e.g., The Horror of Frankenstein, Lust for a Vampire. Elsewhere, it ranged from British features (The Crawling Eye) to American telefilms (A Taste of Evil; Scream, Pretty Peggy) and series (Circle of Fear and The Night Stalker, both of which were initiated by Richard Matheson), making Sangster’s genre resume quite well-rounded.

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Octogenarians Rule!

So here I am with this honking big Bond post today, and it’s Madame BOF who informs ME that it’s Sean Connery’s birthday. Way to go, Word-Man! He’s 81, which makes him the same age as Clint and my Mom. Make of that what you will…but the first one to make with an “Octo-Mom” joke is gonna get a sock in the kisser.

Bradley out…of control.

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School of Hard Knox, Part II

Continuing our look at Goldfinger on page and screen.

One of Fleming’s hoods, Jack Strap, represents the Spangled Mob of Las Vegas, Bond’s foes in Diamonds Are Forever, although the reference to that fact is curiously oblique; one might expect that if Strap had indeed “inherited from the late lamented brothers Spang,” both killed by 007, he would at least recognize Bond’s name when Goldfinger introduces them. During the lecture by Smithers, Fleming writes, “In the days when Bond had been after the diamond smugglers he had had first to educate himself in the fascination, the myth of the stones.” Interestingly, when Eon tried to recreate the success story of Goldfinger with an adaptation of Diamonds, they included a lecture by Sir Donald Munger (Laurence Naismith) similar to that of Smithers (Richard Vernon).

The book notes that Bond “was always interested in anything to do with cards,” and indeed, they had already figured prominently in Casino Royale, Moonraker, and Diamonds Are Forever; the literary Goldfinger favors Canasta, while onscreen he plays gin rummy against Simmons (Austin Willis). Fleming also links Pussy’s aversion to men with an earlier rape, as with Tiffany Case in Diamonds and Honey Rider in Doctor No, although neither of them was a lesbian. Exemplifying the ways in which Maibaum et alia mined the Fleming canon, Pussy slips Bond a note on a paper coaster stuck to the bottom of his glass in the novel, the exact same means by which Kronsteen is summoned from his chess match to Blofeld’s presence in the opening of From Russia with Love.

With Maibaum and Dehn having ironed out the less felicitous eccentricities of Fleming’s novel, and a budget equal to those of the first two films combined, it remained only for their script to be brought to life by an exemplary cast and crew. Due to a salary dispute, director Terence Young declined to make Goldfinger his third 007 film, and passed the baton to Guy Hamilton, who had turned down Dr. No; one casualty of this changing of the guard was Eunice Gayson’s character of Sylvia Trench, whom Young had planned to use at the start of each entry. Goldfinger is often regarded as the template for most of the efforts to follow, yet here the humor that went overboard in subsequent films—including Hamilton’s—was well balanced with the story’s inherent drama.

Robert Brownjohn once again ably pinch-hits for Maurice Binder with an effective title sequence that resembles his work on From Russia with Love; in both the opening and closing credits, he projects shots from this and the two previous films onto a golden girl, although in this case it is Margaret Nolan, who also plays Miami masseuse Dink, and not Eaton. Over this blare the brassy notes of the definitive Bond theme song, composed by John Barry with lyrics written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and sung by Shirley Bassey. For the first time, Barry is in total control, handling every aspect of the score (which he also conducted), and as always, he is masterful at not only writing varied themes but also arranging one melody to fit different moods.

Editor Peter Hunt provides his trademark action sequences, e.g., a chase outside the factory that lets Bond deploy many of the Aston Martin’s special features, and interweaves location footage from Miami and Switzerland with scenes shot in and around Eon’s then home base of Pinewood Studios. Adam, unavailable for From Russia with Love while working on Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, makes a welcome return with such sets as Goldfinger’s rumpus room, including its scale model of Fort Knox. Making his 007 debut as Mr. Ling, the Red Chinese agent supplying the bomb to foment “economic chaos in the West,” is Burt Kwouk, who is better known as Cato in the Pink Panther movies and was later seen in 1967’s You Only Live Twice and Casino Royale.

Dubbed by Michael Collins due to a heavy German accent, Frobe—who, like Connery, appeared in The Longest Day—is clearly having a ball playing Goldfinger, and makes an interesting study in contrasts with Fleming’s other great eponymous evildoer, Dr. No. A tribute to Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu, the reserved and reptilian Dr. No is kept largely offscreen, whereas Goldfinger is a flamboyant, jovial, larger-than-life figure with a generous amount of screen time, who revels in his briefing to the assembled hoods, despite the fact that he will wipe them all out with a dose of Delta-9 minutes later. Conversely, Oddjob emits only inarticulate grunts (described simply as a mute, he had a cleft palate in the novel), and forms a prototype for the typical Bond strongman.

Jack Lord reportedly demanded an unacceptable increase in billing and salary to repeat the role of Leiter, which he’d originated in Dr. No, so he was replaced by Canadian Cec Linder, who is, well, about as far from Jack Lord as it’s possible to get, but a talented actor who had played Dr. Roney in the original BBC version of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit. In the novel, his shifting fortunes had taken him from the CIA to Pinkerton’s Detective Agency, now sporting a metal hook to replace the hand he lost in Live and Let Die, but here he is intact and still working for the government. Linder is an affable figure, whose repartee with Bond plays off the latter’s already established reputation, ordering “liquor for three” on 007’s behalf for the ill-fated flight.

Previous gadgets consisting largely of Bond’s trick briefcase in From Russia with Love, most of which came from the novel, the Aston Martin is considered a turning point for the more gadget-heavy later entries. For the first time, Desmond Llewelyn’s character is credited as Q instead of Boothroyd (so well played by Peter Burton in Dr. No), and when Bond points out that the homer would “allow a man to stop off for a quick one en route,” he gets what may be his best line in the series: “It has not been perfected out of years of patient research entirely for that purpose, 007.” As M, who sternly tells Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) to “kindly omit the customary byplay with 007—he’s dining with me, and I don’t want him to be late,” Bernard Lee is also in top form.

Of course, when it comes to being in top form, nobody can beat Connery in this film, impeccably dressed but not flashy, as Roger Moore would later be, mingling his surface charm and elegance with the barely controlled threat of violence lying beneath. He is especially good when verbally sparring with Tilly, who he obviously knows his lying, about her identity and intentions during their trip across Switzerland. Unavailable for location shooting in Miami because he was filming Marnie with Alfred Hitchcock (who later complimented Hamilton on the movie’s machine-gun-toting grandmotherly gatekeeper), Connery developed his lifelong love of golf while working on Goldfinger, which thus gave both actor and audience something for which to be forever grateful.

Addendum: Since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969, I have seen every Bond movie upon its release, and Dad also took me and my older brother Stephen to see the double-feature reissues of Dr. No/From Russia with Love and Thunderball/You Only Live Twice. I think I finally caught this on the big screen at a repertory cinema in Manhattan or Hartford, but I was almost certainly watching on September 17, 1972, when it became the first Bond film ever shown on TV. I seem to recall that I was staying over at a friend’s, although as a Sunday—ABC’s Bond tradition—that was a school night; in any case, having seen OHMSS and Diamonds Are Forever in the theater, I can’t imagine I missed it, and the post-VCR crowd has no idea what a big deal it was back then.

Go to For Your Eyes Only.

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School of Hard Knox, Part I

What I’ve Been Watching: Goldfinger (1964).

Who’s Responsible: Guy Hamilton (director), Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn (screenwriters), Sean Connery, Honor Blackman, and Gert Frobe (stars).

Why I Watched It: Research.

Seen It Before? Many times.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 10.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 1.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 10.

And? Full Disclosure Department: This has long been my favorite James Bond movie, supplanting Thunderball, but the Ian Fleming novel on which it is based does not, in fact, hang together as well as From Russia, with Love or Doctor No. To trade drafts with Energizer Bunny Maibaum, Eon Productions wisely enlisted the services of Dehn, whose credits range from two B100 entries, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Murder on the Orient Express, to all four Planet of the Apes sequels. The italics summarize the events from both page and screen, making them sound identical, but as always, the devil is in the details, so I thought a specific breakdown might be enlightening, and I hope you will forgive me if I find this more fascinating than you do.

Bond infiltrates a heroin-smuggling operation, waits at a café while the drug facility is destroyed by explosives he planted, and dispatches a Latin thug in self-defense. Book: During an enforced stopover at Miami Airport, where he has a chance encounter with a minor character from Casino Royale, Junius Du Pont, Bond recalls killing “the Mexican” with his bare hands on a shadowed street. Film: the quintessential pre-credit teaser gives us Bond’s seagull-decoy wetsuit, under which he wears an immaculate tux, and requisite quip (“Positively shocking”) when he fries the thug (stuntman Alf Joint, replacing a cat burglar inconveniently arrested the day before)—whom he’d seen reflected in the eye of dancer Bonita (Nadja Regin)—with an electric heater in the tub.

In Miami, Bond observes a card game in which wealthy Auric Goldfinger cheats (using a flunky with binoculars who broadcasts the contents of his opponent’s hand to his “hearing aid”), forces Goldfinger to lose, and leaves with the flunky, Jill Masterton, later found dead of skin suffocation, covered in gold paint. Book: Bond takes on the job just as a lark at the request of Goldfinger’s pigeon, Du Pont, and he and Jill part ways after a romantic train trip to New York. Film: shown instead of alluded to, the gilded Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) is the movie’s most iconic image; Goldfinger (Frobe) punishes her immediately, not some time later, as in the novel, where we are informed that, rather implausibly, he hypnotizes and paints a girl (albeit non-fatally) per month!

Colonel Smithers of the Bank of England explains the economic damage done by the smuggling of gold, and M orders Bond to get closer to their chief suspect via a golf game, which ends when a surreptitiously switched ball defeats Goldfinger’s own attempts to cheat. Book: M theorizes that Goldfinger is the treasurer of SMERSH, but Bond’s being assigned to go after him is a rather large coincidence, although Goldfinger himself suggests in Miami that they should have a game when they are back in England. Film: Bond was already assigned to Goldfinger, and engineers their “chance” meeting, where instead of playing for the money he took from Goldfinger in the Du Pont skirmish, 007 tempts him with higher stakes—a Nazi gold bar and the promise of more.

Goldfinger’s hulking Korean servant, Oddjob, displays his prodigious physical strength and his ability with a metal-rimmed bowler hat; after hiding a homing device inside Goldfinger’s vintage Rolls Royce, Bond follows them to Switzerland with his specially equipped Aston Martin. Book: The elaborate demonstration takes place during a bizarre interlude at Goldfinger’s house, which is certain to offend cat-lovers everywhere, while Bond’s receiver has only audio, with no maps. Film: Oddjob (Harold Sakata, aka Tosh Togo) makes his point by crushing a golf ball in his fist and knocking the head off a statue at the country club, and Bond’s car has more gadgets, e.g., the famed ejector seat (“I never joke about my work, 007”), machine guns, and bullet-proof screen.

Bond becomes aware that a woman is also following Goldfinger, so he deliberately disables her car, and then agrees to give the woman, who calls herself Tilly Soames, a ride. Book: During a lunch stop, Goldfinger “posts” a bar of gold (quickly confiscated by Bond in an effort to get him in dutch with SMERSH) underneath a bridge, confirming M’s hypothesis that he has been making deliveries on behalf of SMERSH, and 007 rams Tilly’s car in reverse. Film: Tilly (Tania Mallet) takes a lunchtime pot shot at Goldfinger, which the in-the-line-of-fire Bond—and, at that point, the audience—mistakenly believes was intended for him, and 007 wrecks her car with a special tire-shredding device that was never actually attached to the real Aston Martin used for the film.

Reconnoitering Goldfinger’s factory, Bond sees that the gold is smuggled in the bodywork of the Rolls, and encounters the rifle-toting Tilly, who wants to avenge the death of her sister, Jill; they are picked up by Goldfinger’s security system, and 007 is captured, while Oddjob breaks Tilly’s neck with his bowler. Book: Tilly dies in the same way but much later, during the climax at Fort Knox, and ironically meets her doom because what Goldfinger calls her “inclinations” make her attracted to Pussy Galore, whom she believes will look after her, rather than to Bond. Film: The quick death of the vengeful Tilly, so soon after her introduction, allows the filmmakers to expand the role of Blackman—formerly Cathy Gale on The Avengers—as the initially man-hating Pussy.

The spread-eagled Bond is threatened with bisection during an interrogation by Goldfinger, but he refuses to talk, and at the last minute, Goldfinger has 007 sedated instead, sparing him for his own nefarious purposes. Book: Goldfinger has Oddjob give Bond an excruciating “massage” as he revs up a Perils of Pauline-style circular saw and, in a rather unlikely move, presses Bond and Tilly into service…as his secretaries, who actually spend their time typing up agendas and taking notes while Goldfinger executes his dastardly scheme. Film: In one of the more memorable set-pieces, Goldfinger provides what is reputed to be the first cinematic appearance of a laser beam, inspiring a classic exchange: “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”

Goldfinger convenes a meeting at which he pitches his plan (with a gold-bar sweetener) to the representatives of the major criminal organizations, including a Mr. Solo; also on board is the lesbian Pussy Galore, who heads a female group of sometime entertainers. Book: many pages are expended in enumerating and characterizing these gangsters, with Pussy’s Cement Mixers a former team of aerialists called the Abrocats, but she and Tilly sharing the same “inclinations” is another big coincidence wisely omitted by the screenwriters. Film: Pussy serves as Goldfinger’s personal pilot—and nothing else, as she states emphatically (“I’m a damn good pilot, period”)—as well as heading the flying circus that plays an integral part in his plans, as we shall shortly see.

Bond learns the details of Operation Grand Slam, a raid on Fort Knox for which Goldfinger has obtained an atomic bomb and plans to neutralize the populace with nerve poison, and sums them up in a concealed message; the only dissenter from the plan is immediately killed. Book: Bond hides the warning to his ex-CIA pal, Felix Leiter, in an airplane lavatory, while Goldfinger plans to use the a-bomb only to effect ingress, after introducing the toxin into the water supply. Film: 007 slips his note into the pocket of the departing Solo (Martin Benson), who later lent his name to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and ends up in an auto-crusher; Goldfinger intends to increase the value of his own gold by irradiating Fort Knox, and Pussy’s pilots are to spray the Delta-9 by air.

Goldfinger & Co. arrive at Fort Knox amid the “bodies” of the military and civilian inhabitants, but before the bomb can be detonated, Leiter and the others spring to life, having perpetrated an epic charade, and a battle breaks out. Book: Goldfinger is accompanied by the minions of the surviving hoods, whom he shoots during their getaway, and actually plans to remove the gold by train. Film: Bond—who has pointed out the absurdity of such a venture, requiring twelve days for sixty men to load 200 trucks—is handcuffed to the bomb (later stopped with “007” remaining on the time counter) and, after freeing himself, fights to the death with Oddjob inside production designer Ken Adam’s magnificent Fort Knox interior, electrocuting him with his metal hat-brim.

Goldfinger and others evade the authorities, attempting to avenge their defeat by replacing the crew of Bond’s departing flight, but one of 007’s foes is sucked through the window by explosive decompression, and he and the converted Pussy survive the ensuing crash. Book: It is Oddjob, not Goldfinger, who ends up flying the unfriendly skies after Bond punctures the window with a knife hidden in the heel of his shoe, and 007 throttles Goldfinger moments later. Film: Pussy’s change of heart at least requires the legendary magic of Bond’s lovemaking skills, rather than his sheer animal magnetism, which apparently—if no less implausibly—suffices in the novel, and it is this appeal to her “maternal instincts” that leads her to replace the Delta-9 with a harmless gas.

To be continued.

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Interlude 8/20/11

If anyone’s wondering, I have neither died nor fallen off the face of the earth, and am still hoping to write a rave review of Captain America one of these days, but in the meantime I’ve been taking a breather while working on my next Bond post.  Devoted to Goldfinger, which I am not alone in considering the greatest Bond movie ever, it should be appearing early next week.  So stay tuned, and mark my words:  it’s gonna be a humdinger.

Bradley out.

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Just Say No

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll state at the outset that Ian Fleming’s Doctor No has always been my favorite James Bond book. I believe it was the first one my father gave me to read as a youth, and while I might not have known it at the time, the fact that it was also adapted into the first Bond film (its title abbreviated to Dr. No), also a lifelong favorite, didn’t hurt. Fleming was now firing on all cylinders after the impressive accomplishment of From Russia, with Love, and although that novel had a handful of splendid bad guys, he here created not only the first of two successive villains who were iconic enough to get books named after them, but also the woman who—at least as embodied by Ursula Andress onscreen—set the standard for future Bond girls.

As with its predecessor, it’s an interesting experience to revisit this book after having seen the film so many times, because once again, almost everything that’s in the novel made it onto the screen, and most of it faithfully enough that you see the movie in your head while you read. But this time, Eon Productions added a little more in the way of plot and characters, with one of the biggest retroactive surprises being the fact that Bond’s CIA pal, Felix Leiter (played by soon-to-be Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord), isn’t in the novel at all! He was reportedly a holdover from an earlier plan to kick off the series with Thunderball, but his presence is largely logical in any case, as Dr. No is threatening an imminent U.S. moon shot, the British space program being a bit thin.

True to Fleming, Bond is issued a Walther PPK in place of the Beretta that jeopardized his prior mission (“You’re licensed to kill, not get killed,” M acidly observes) and sent to Jamaica after station chief Strangways and his secretary disappear, shot before making their daily report. Bond teams up with Cayman Islander Quarrel (John Kitzmuller)—introduced, with Strangways, in Live and Let Die—to investigate Dr. No, who has agents everywhere, including a freelance photographer (Marguerite Lewars) and a snooping secretary, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall). Bond is nearly killed by a critter in his bed (a poisonous centipede in the book and a more manageable tarantula in the film) before he and Quarrel sail to Dr. No’s island, Crab Key, where trespassing is usually fatal.

On both page and screen, they encounter shell-stealing wild child Honey Ryder (Andress), and the three are pursued through the swamp by Dr. No’s soldiers, who incinerate Quarrel with the “dragon”—in reality a converted marsh buggy—that patrols the island. The captured Bond and Honey are welcomed with lavish hospitality and bizarre courtesy by Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman), a former Tong member with metal replacements for his missing hands, who is using a radio beam to “topple” American rockets and plans to eliminate the couple just as he does anybody else who gets in his way. Escaping from his cell through an apparent series of ventilation shafts, where he faces extreme heat and other hazards, Bond kills Dr. No, locates Honey, and beats a hasty retreat.

In the movie, Bond meets Quarrel and Leiter for the first time (the latter serving as a red herring when 007 arrives in Jamaica and is “taken for a ride” by a henchman who poisons himself rather than talk), and it is unclear whether he knew Strangways. In the book, Honey’s name is spelled “Rider”; she rises from the sea as naked as—and is compared with—Botticelli’s Venus, although one wonders how much more of an impact this would really have had than her white bikini, even if they could have gotten away with that in 1962, or in the ratings-conscious films that followed. The literary Dr. No has steel pincers instead of prosthetic hands, having lost his real ones as a punishment for raiding the Tong treasury to fund his endeavors, rather than in an atomic mishap.

In addition to Leiter, the screenwriters add the character of metallurgist Professor Dent (Anthony Dawson), who conceals from Bond the fact that the samples Strangways picked up on Crab Key were radioactive. Miss Taro’s role is expanded, allowing her to lure Bond into a trap; after 007 has bedded and had her arrested, Dent arrives to spring the trap and is shot by Bond, who utters the immortal line, “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.” Fleming’s Dr. No dies in a shower of guano (!), rather than the pool of his overheating reactor, and his shafts constitute a true obstacle course that includes a cage of tarantulas, prefiguring 007’s cinematic visitor, and ends in a battle with a giant squid that would have been quite beyond the filmmakers’ resources.

Sean Connery is given one of the greatest entrances in screen history, with only his back or his hands visible at first while he plays chemin de fer—which I was relieved to learn is just a form of baccarat, since I couldn’t for the life of me figure out the difference between them—with Eunice Gayson. “I admire your courage, Miss…?” he says offscreen, and she responds, “Trench, Sylvia Trench. And I admire your luck, Mister…?” Then, choreographed with impeccable precision by director Terence Young, his face appears for the first time as he suavely lights a cigarette, Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” (arranged and played by John Barry with his orchestra) is heard on the soundtrack, and Connery utters his signature line, “Bond, James Bond.” Ecstasy, ecstasy.

Fleming, who shared with 007 such traits as a naval and intelligence background, was writing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service at his Jamaica home, Goldeneye (which provided Pierce Brosnan’s Bond debut with its title), during location filming. Prior to the Eon deal, he had made numerous attempts to get Bond or a reasonable facsimile on the screen, and Doctor No was one of several books cannibalized from such efforts, in this case a television script known variously as James Gunn—Secret Agent and Commander Jamaica. Often said to resemble Bond himself, Young put his own indelible stamp on the films by taking Connery under his wing, selecting his tailor and polishing some of the rough edges—fortunately, not too many—from the Scots ex-body builder.

Half German and half Chinese, Dr. No is played with wintry menace by Wiseman, whose face is not shown for the first 87 of the film’s 110 minutes. Yet, as with Harry Lime in The Third Man (on which both Bernard Lee, who plays M, and future Bond director Guy Hamilton had worked) or Father Merrin in The Exorcist, he is a palpable presence throughout, despite his limited screen time. Other 007 regulars on board from Day One included screenwriter Richard Maibaum, here credited with Johanna Harwood and Berkely Mather; Lois Maxwell as M’s flirtatious secretary, Miss Moneypenny; cinematographer Ted Moore; editor Peter Hunt, whose fast-paced cutting techniques were innovative; production designer Ken Adam; and title designer Maurice Binder.

Many of the cast and crew came from producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli’s Warwick Films (a disagreement about the viability of a Bond series contributed to a split with partner Irving Allen, who later produced the Matt Helm films), while Harry Saltzman had been associated with Tony Richardson and John Osborne in another company, Woodfall. These sometimes uneasy partners formed Danjaq, derived from the first names of their wives, as a holding company for the Bond property and Eon to produce the films. After a deal with Warwick distributor Columbia Pictures fell through, United Artists—beloved by filmmakers for the autonomy they allowed—bankrolled Dr. No for $1 million, and its smashing success launched one of the cinema’s biggest franchises.

Addendum: Although the extras on the Dr. No DVD are commendable, there is one conspicuous error in the Inside Dr. No documentary, which asserts that Miss Taro did not appear in the novel.

Go to Goldfinger.

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Down with the Count

Here at BOF, we extend the warmest of birthday greetings to Maria Towers, who has been a good friend of this site, and to mark the occasion, Madame BOF and I welcomed the excuse for our umpteenth viewing of Count Dracula (1970). Directed by the prolific Spaniard Jesús (aka Jess) Franco, this is our favorite, at least among those we’ve seen so far, of the eight films she—as Maria Rohm—and Franco made with her then-future husband, producer Harry Alan Towers (1920-2009). The adaptation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel is credited to Harry’s Peter Welbeck pseudonym, and despite various artistic and financial compromises (e.g., Franco casting himself as Van Helsing’s servant, presumably to save a salary), it is one of the most faithful ever filmed.

Why this admittedly imperfect film doesn’t have a better reputation is beyond us, if only because it allows Christopher Lee more screen time and a more faithful interpretation of the Count—with some authentic Stoker dialogue—than his concurrent Hammer series. Herbert Lom adds one of the screen’s better Van Helsings to his roster of famous genre characters (e.g., Captain Nemo, the Phantom of the Opera), and future Dracula Klaus Kinski, although largely mute, is suitably intense as Renfield. Maria and the ill-fated Soledad Miranda are lovely as, respectively, Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra, for whom we named our shelter cats, and supporting players Paul Müller (as Dr. Seward) and Jack Taylor (as Quincey Morris) are accomplished genre veterans.

Jonathan Harker (Fred Williams) travels to Transylvania to arrange the sale of a London property to Dracula, who sees a photo of his fiancée, Mina, and her best friend, Lucy. After an encounter with Dracula’s wives, which he at first believes to be a nightmare, Harker learns he is a prisoner, until he escapes his locked room through a window and finds the Count asleep in a sarcophagus. Horrified, he plunges into the river below, but when he is fished out near Budapest and taken to Dr. Van Helsing’s clinic outside London—which, unknown to him initially, is adjacent to Count Dracula’s new home—the delirious man is considered by Van Helsing and Dr. Seward to be as loony as their fly-eating patient, Renfield…and then Van Helsing spots those bites on his neck.

Lucy accompanies Mina when she arrives to care for Harker, but soon falls victim to the Count’s attentions, and despite a transfusion from her fiancé, Quincey, she dies, only to rise again and kill a little girl. After staking and beheading Lucy, the vampire hunters finally track down Dracula’s London lair (where they are, oddly enough, menaced by stuffed animals), yet the Count—always one step ahead of them—has already put the bite on Mina, whom Van Helsing protects in a brief face-to-face confrontation, and fled to Varna aboard the Czarina Catherine. Traveling overland, Quincey and Harker reach Dracula’s castle first, and having disposed of his wives, they are ready and waiting when the gypsies arrive with the Count, who is at last destroyed in his box of earth.

Admittedly, it’s been a few years since I last read the original (which I did to compare it with the Richard Matheson version for my book), but I’ve read it several times—it’s actually my favorite novel—and I’m certain those who, like Wikipedia, say this took “huge liberties with the plot” are in error. Okay, Seward’s supposed to have his own clinic, rather than working in Van Helsing’s, but they’re friends and end up working together, so where’s the harm? Okay, Arthur Holmwood is subsumed into Quincey Morris, but we really don’t need one more vampire hunter, and I don’t think it was until Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) that all three of the characters who proposed to Lucy the same day in the novel, including John Seward, were actually depicted in the same film.

There are some oddities, like the decision to give Van Helsing a mild stroke midway through the film, which places him temporarily in a wheelchair, and to have Dracula incinerated in his coffin instead of staked, but these do not strike me as insurmountable. In exchange—and in addition to a fine score by Ennio Morricone protégé Bruno Nicolai that lingers in the mind—we get a Count who at first appears with gray hair and then grows younger as he feeds, just as in the novel, plus the rare pleasure of hearing Lee deliver his speech about the proud history of the Draculas in his commanding tones. Let us not forget that Hammer’s Horror of Dracula (1958) and Matheson’s 1974 version both turn Harker into a vampire, which most certainly did not happen in the novel.

The Dark Sky Films Special Edition DVD of Count Dracula curiously omits one scene, in which the mother of the baby whom Dracula feeds to his wives pounds on the gate to demand its return, only to have the Count summon his wolves to devour her. The sequence appears in the old VHS release from Republic, which I’ve kept for that reason, but the Dark Sky version is so superior in every other way that it is a veritable revelation after the crappy picture quality in prior television and home-video prints. We can only hope that their pristine version (which has some interesting extras but, alas, no audio commentary; Maria would certainly have been a natural to provide one) will help this much-maligned film to achieve its due as a flawed yet faithful adaptation of Stoker.

Reminds me I’ve gotta watch my Blue Underground DVD of the Franco/Towers/Rohm Blood of Fu Manchu one of these nights…

Bradley out.

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Seal of Approval

What I’ve Been Watching: The Seventh Seal (1957).

Who’s Responsible: Ingmar Bergman (writer-director), Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, and Bengt Ekerot (stars).

Why I Watched It: Remedial viewing for Madame BOF.

Seen It Before? Many times.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 10.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 1.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 10.

And? It is well beyond the scope of this post to do justice to Bergman in general and this film in particular, but I will offer a few of my trademark “cinematic musings” from when my Mom and I, both long-time Bergman fans, introduced my wife to it. Unlike with my other favorite foreign-language directors, Akira Kurosawa and François Truffaut, I don’t have a single favorite Bergman film, but if I did, this might be it. I was delighted to find that the laserdisc had an audio commentary by Peter Cowie, whose critical biography of Bergman was one of the two texts we used in the “Bergman and Hitchcock” course I took in college (along with Donald Spoto’s splendid Hitchcock bio, The Dark Side of Genius).

In addition to his five marriages, Bergman was romantically involved with many of his leading ladies (à la Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen), including Liv Ullmann, Ingrid (no relation) Bergman, Harriet Andersson, and this film’s Bibi (no relation) Andersson. Co-star Gunnel Lindblom was also a Bergman regular, as were male leads von Sydow and Björnstrand, who between them appeared in a total of two dozen of his films, six of them together. Key members of Bergman’s cinematic repertory company, they each took roles of varying sizes during the peak of his career, and in that respect, the two resembled Kurosawa’s contemporaneous mainstays, the great Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura.

If you haven’t already seen The Seventh Seal by now, you should be doing that instead of reading this, but just to recap, the film is set in the Middle Ages as knight Antonius Block (von Sydow) and his squire, Jöns (Björnstrand), return home to Sweden after ten years in the Crusades. They find it ravaged by the Black Plague and attendant religious hysteria, which manifests itself in a procession of self-flagellating penitents and the burning of an apparently harmless girl (Maud Hansson) accused of witchcraft. Raval (Bertil Anderberg), a seminarian who steals from the dead and attempts to rape a mute servant girl (Lindblom), is one of the hypocrites who serve as Bergman’s answer to his harsh religious upbringing.

But there is still hope, embodied by the family at the heart of a traveling theatrical troupe: Jof (Nils Poppe), a juggler who sees visions; his wife, Mia (Andersson); and their toddler, Mikael (Tommy Karlsson). Block and Jöns fall in with this good-natured crew, and their innocence helps to lighten Block’s world-weariness, especially during an idyllic al fresco meal of wild strawberries and milk. Speaking of which, this came smack dab in between Smiles of a Summer Night (musicalized by Stephen Sondheim as A Little Night Music and spoofed by Allen as A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy) and Wild Strawberries, both shot for Bergman—as was The Seventh Seal—by Gunnar Fischer, who died on June 11 at 100.

To say that Death stalks the land is no mere figure of speech, for when they first hit the beach, looking like nothing so much as two pieces of jetsam, the Crusaders meet up with the Reaper himself (Ekerot). Knowing Death to be an enthusiastic chess player, Block challenges him to a game, with the agreement that he will remain alive as long as their match continues. It’s hard for those of us who weren’t yet born to imagine the power that these scenes (affectionately lampooned in The Dove, where a character plays badminton with Death, and in über-Bergman-fan Allen’s Love and Death), or those of the penitents, which helped inspire Monty Python and the Holy Grail, had on the film’s original release.

Jof and Maria’s colleague, Skat (Erik Strandmark), stirs up trouble by stealing Lisa (Inga Gill), the wife of blacksmith Plog (Åke Fridell). Learning that Jof is also an actor, Raval whips up the patrons of a local tavern against him, but Jöns intervenes, rescuing Jof as he had Lindblom (who thereafter remains at his side), this time making good on his threat to brand Raval’s face. When he senses Lisa’s affections beginning to turn back toward her husband, Skat fakes suicide to escape Plog’s wrath, but the joke is on him, for as he hides in a tree, Death calmly saws it down, sending Skat to his doom; in an unscripted moment, a squirrel suddenly leaped up on the freshly-cut trunk and began nibbling at the sawdust!

A decade of crusading has understandably left Block questioning the faith that sent him there (at Raval’s behest, no less), and his anguish at God’s silence forms the template for many a Bergman film to come. As Peter Cowie writes in his liner notes, “His characters manage to overcome the fear of Death, rather than the fact of Death, and if, as the knight discovers, one can achieve even a single gesture of goodwill, then the long struggle of life will be justified.” Block’s determination to make that gesture by helping Jof and Mia escape from Death forms the moral center of The Seventh Seal, a film whose rich images, potent performances, and thought-provoking script will endure as long as cinema itself.

“And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” –Revelation 8:1

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Back in the U.S.S.R.

What I’ve Been Watching: From Russia with Love (1963).

Who’s Responsible: Terence Young (director), Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood (screenwriters), Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, and Pedro Armendariz (stars).

Why I Watched It: Research.

Seen It Before? Many times, including a theatrical re-release with Dr. No in my youth.

Likelihood of Seeing It Again (1-10): 10.

Likelihood the Guys Will Rib Me for Watching It (1-10): 1.

Totally Subjective BOF Rating (1-10): 9.

And? Following the cinematic nadir of Moonraker, it’s quite an experience to revisit Ian Fleming’s From Russia, with Love, which was adapted with such fidelity—apart from the comma—that you can see and hear the film playing out in your head while you read. The first four Bond movies were based on novels at the very center of the series; this one, Doctor No, Goldfinger, and Thunderball were published consecutively (bracketing the collection For Your Eyes Only), with four more novels on either side, and filmed in almost the same order. The first great Bond novel, this is longer than its predecessors, and Fleming keeps 007 offstage for a third to introduce bad guys Rosa Klebb, “Red” Grant, and Kronsteen.

Ironically, it looked like this would be the last Bond book, 007’s climactic confrontation with a poison-tip-shod Klebb in a Paris hotel room leaving him apparently dead or dying. Accounts vary as to whether Fleming actually meant to kill him off, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had intended to do with Sherlock Holmes at the end of the aptly named “The Final Problem,” but needless to say, the film has a happier outcome. Aside from that, though, almost every scene is an analog, compression, or variation on one from the novel, with the screenplay credited to Maibaum and the adaptation to Harwood, both veterans of Dr. No; this was Harwood’s 007 swan song, although Maibaum stayed on board until 1989.

Another woman racking up her second and final Bond credit was Eunice Gayson, whose character of Sylvia Trench (to whom 007 introduced himself in Dr. No as “Bond, James Bond,” an immortal phrase Fleming first used in From Russia, with Love) was originally intended to appear at the opening of each entry. “Famous firsts” include the pre-credit teaser, with Walter Gotell—later a series regular as General Gogol—as a SPECTRE agent, and the “James Bond will return in [fill in the blank]” closing credit. This was also the debut as “equipment officer” Major Geoffrey Boothroyd (aka Q) of Desmond Llewelyn, who died the year his last Bond picture, The World Is Not Enough (1999), was released.

The role of Kronsteen (the splendidly weaselly Vladek Sheybal, one of the series alumni later recruited for the Casino Royale spoof) is reduced, but his plan is the same. Bond is to be lured to Istanbul by the offer of shapely Russian pawn Tatiana Romanova (Bianchi) to defect with a top-secret decoding machine, and murdered as ignominiously as possible by Grant (Robert Shaw). Consistent with the retconning of villains in the early films, his primary antagonists here represent not the Soviet counter-intelligence agency SMERSH but SPECTRE, in which Klebb (Lotte Lenya)—who, unknown to Tania, has herself defected as the head of operations for SMERSH—and Kronsteen now rank third and fifth, respectively.

It’s often said that a Bond film is as good as its villains, and these are among the best, but Fleming also gave 007 an unforgettable ally in Darko Kerim, the colorful head of Station T Turkey, here renamed Kerim Bey and portrayed by Mexican actor Armendariz. One of many to develop terminal cancer after making The Conqueror near a nuclear test site, he took his own life shortly after completing his scenes; eerily, he had recently discussed his friend Ernest Hemingway’s suicide with Fleming at a party thrown for him by Young—on the day I was born. In the film, Kerim goes down swinging as he and Russian security man Benz (Peter Bayliss) kill each other during the trip aboard the famed Orient Express.

The film depicts an event only alluded to in the novel, as Kerim narrowly escapes death from a limpet mine placed on the wall of his office by Soviet-hired Bulgarian Krilencu (Fred Haggerty), who later leads an attack on the Gypsy camp where Bond and Kerim witness a fight between Vida (Aliza Gur) and Zora (Martine Beswick). Kerim eventually kills Krilencu, shooting him as he emerges from his hideout through the mouth of Anita Ekberg on a billboard for Eon’s Call Me Bwana (replacing the novel’s no-longer-timely reference to Marilyn Monroe and Niagara). Beswick later had a somewhat larger role in Thunderball, and also starred as the distaff half of Hammer’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

One of the film’s main interpolations is a sequence in which Bond plans and executes the theft of the decoder (the name of which was, not surprisingly, changed from “Spektor” to “Lektor”) by detonating a tear-gas bomb in the Russian consulate, slipping Tania and the Lektor out amid the confusion. Building on a plot point from Fleming, in which Kerim left a bomb to be detonated in the event of his death, this is actually an improvement on the novel, where she blithely carries out this vital gizmo without so much as a by-your-leave. The filmmakers also add an exciting helicopter-and-speedboat chase as Bond and Tania follow the escape route offered by Grant, impersonating slain agent Captain Nash.

Bond’s duel to the death with Grant aboard the train is justly celebrated as a high point of the series, and exemplifies why Connery—who may never have looked better as 007 than in this film—remains unsurpassed in the role. In spite of his train-bound donnybrooks in Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me, it’s impossible to imagine Roger Moore in this kind of brawl, and Shaw is one of 007’s most physically formidable foes. I’ll repeat my standard observation that while I would never name him as one of my favorite actors, Shaw did appear in four of the B100 (The Sting, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Jaws, and The Deep), plus John Frankenheimer’s Black Sunday, between 1973 and 1977.

John Barry had greater involvement in the scoring than he’d had on Dr. No, but still was not entrusted with the title tune, written by Lionel Bart (best known for the music, lyrics, and book of Oliver!). When sung by Sinatra sound-alike Matt Monro later on in the film, this is just a schmaltzy love song, but Barry had the last laugh, because the instrumental version he orchestrates for the credits is electrifying. Then—just to assure us that we’re not screwing around—he segues into a pulse-pounding arrangement of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme,” liberally applied throughout the film; Barry also left a lasting mark on the series by introducing his signature “007” theme, which recurred in several sequels.

Bernard Lee has a little more screen time than usual as M, and the repartee is delicious:  when Bond sees Tania’s photo, his twist-my-arm reaction to the mission reminds one of nothing so much as Galahad’s “Well, I could stay a bit longer” at the Castle Anthrax in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. To be fair, the screenwriters did have the benefit of rich characterizations and a solid story to work with, and rightly assumed an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it attitude. But the combined contributions of Young (making his second of three Bond films), Barry, cinematographer Ted Moore, editor Peter Hunt, art director Syd Cain, stuntman Bob Simmons, and other regulars put this among the greatest Bonds.

Go to Dr. No.

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