Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Retro Rocket

I’ll have more to say when I’m holding a contributor’s copy in my hot little hands, but in the meantime, if this news flash from Cinema Retro doesn’t send you zooming like a rocket for your wallet, checkbook, or credit card, then you are no true fan of the self-appointed multi-media legend that is Matthew R. Bradley.  There have been issues of Filmfax and Outre in which my story was featured on the cover, but I don’t remember ever seeing my name emblazoned on one before, which I think I would.  Plus I have the honor of sharing cover space with FrenzyDeliverance (which means Fred may even buy it), and Gene Hackman—and whose article did they choose to illustrate, with that wild shot of Big Don Pleasence as Blofeld?

In the immortal words of Felix Unger, “This is it—this is the big one!”

Read Full Post »

Fabergé Dregs, Part II

Concluding our look at Octopussy on page and screen.

Reprinted under the title “Berlin Escape” in Argosy (June 1962), and again in Intrigue Magazine (November 1965), “The Living Daylights” was neither the last Bond adventure Fleming penned (presumably The Man with the Golden Gun), nor the last to be published (“Octopussy”). It is in fact the earliest story in the Octopussy collection, yet due to the structure of this series of posts, it was the last I re-read, and thus I was acutely aware that it would be my literary farewell to 007. I hope that, after systematically revisiting all fourteen books since I blazed through Casino Royale in its entirety on June 25, I may be permitted to wax nostalgic for a moment, especially regarding the story’s setting, where location shooting for Octopussy also took place at Checkpoint Charlie.

At the risk of sounding like a Bond villain, I miss the fictional Cold War intrigue of which Berlin in general and Checkpoint Charlie in particular were Ground Zero, immortalized in key works by my three favorite post-Fleming espionage writers. Although John le Carré had written about his “incongruous spy” George Smiley before, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold—with its heart-wrenching climax atop the Berlin Wall—put him on the map. Its success led my friend Elleston Trevor (who had read only a review, and not the book itself) to create Quiller in The Berlin (aka Quiller) Memorandum, while Len Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin was one of three novels filmed by Bond producer Harry Saltzman, with Michael Caine as the hitherto unnamed “Harry Palmer.”

Getting back to the subject at hand, Fleming’s premise—which, if I recall correctly, bears some similarity to the second Quiller novel, The Ninth Directive—finds 007’s colleague Number 272 about to cross the frontier, bringing his valuable secrets. Due to a security breach, the KGB has dispatched a sniper, the aptly named Trigger, to take him out, so the reluctant Bond’s mission is to shoot the shooter…but, as usual, things don’t play out that simply. Watching the arrival of a woman’s orchestra that rehearses in the building from which Trigger must fire, 007 is taken with a blonde cellist, only to see when 272 makes his break that she is the sniper; at the last moment, he chooses instead to shoot the rifle out of her hands and “scare the living daylights out of her.”

Even before Octopussy, Roger Moore had expressed his desire to depart the series, and Timothy Dalton was one of those considered to replace him, but Moore was persuaded to return when Eon Productions learned it needed maximum firepower against a resurgent Sean Connery in the same year’s rival 007 production, Never Say Never Again. Moore really did call it quits after one more entry, A View to a Kill, and Dalton—who had made his film debut in The Lion in Winter—finally got his chance. The new Bond was accompanied by a new Miss Moneypenny, as Caroline Bliss replaced Lois Maxwell, the only performer seen in all fifteen prior 007 films; Brown continued as M, and Keen made his last of six appearances as Gray, introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Most of the major crew members of The Living Daylights (e.g., Glen, Maibaum, Wilson, Barry, Binder, production designer Peter Lamont) were carried over from both Octopussy and A View to a Kill, as was Llewelyn. After Duran Duran’s success with “A View to a Kill,” Barry once more teamed up with a current pop group—in this case, Norway’s a-ha—to write the title tune, and if in each instance the lyrics are at times incomprehensible in one or more senses of the word, both songs have a Bondian edge that had been lacking for years. Sadly, The Living Daylights ended Barry’s distinguished quarter-century association with 007, which had begun when he arranged and recorded Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” for Dr. No; he died in January 2011 at 77.

Until the Daniel Craig version of Casino Royale, this was the last Bond film ostensibly based on Fleming, although Maibaum and Wilson actually retain most of the story amid the obligatory set pieces of their largely invented script. “Top KGB mastermind” General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé), who plans to defect in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, is being watched by a KGB sniper, so he personally requests that his contact, Saunders (Thomas Wheatley)—an analog to Fleming’s Sender—summon Bond to protect him. To Saunders’s annoyance, 007 again opts for the non-lethal shot, but here his reasoning is clearer as he quickly concludes that the blonde cellist, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), was an amateur who “didn’t know one end of a rifle from the other.”

Bond safely smuggles Koskov into Austria inside a scouring plug sent through an oil pipeline, and during his debriefing, Koskov spins a story that makes M and Gray sit up and take notice. He claims that his superior, General Leonid Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies), who replaced Gogol when the latter was promoted, hates détente and has formed an assassination program targeting British and American agents. Knowing Pushkin, Bond is skeptical, but M produces a piece of evidence that reveals the significance of the pre-credit teaser: a tag bearing the program’s code name, smiert spionam (death to spies), that was found after a training exercise with the Double Os in Gibraltar, where 004 was killed by an unknown assassin, whom Bond eliminated in turn.

Bond’s name is on the death list, yet his suspicions mount after Koskov is “kidnapped” back by the KGB, and although ordered to kill Pushkin, he ingratiates himself with Koskov’s girlfriend, Kara, as a way of learning the truth, wooing her on the giant Ferris wheel immortalized in The Third Man. Sure enough, Koskov’s defection was as phony as his allegations against Pushkin, a “good” Soviet in the Gogol mode, and by asking Kara to make the scenario more plausible, the doubly treacherous Koskov was setting her up to be killed by 007. Bond sets up a smokescreen by faking Pushkin’s assassination, and learns that Koskov is involved with an arms dealer, Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker), in a complex scheme involving weapons, diamonds, and raw opium.

As the son of a cellist, I am perhaps overly sensitive to the silliness of the scene in which Bond and Kara cross the Austrian border sledding over the snow in her cello case, especially when the instrument is revealed to be a Stradivarius that has now acquired a bullet hole. And in retrospect, I get a somewhat queasy feeling when the third act teams Bond with Kamran Shah (Art Malik), a leader of the mujahedin resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, many of whose members later joined al-Qaeda. But then, we were backing them at the time, and the climax in which 007 battles Koskov’s henchman Necros (Andreas Wisniewski) in—and dangling from—a planeload of opium is spectacular, after which Whitaker’s death and Koskov’s capture are rather a letdown.

Although the ticket-buying public never fully embraced the dour Dalton, who sometimes seemed to overcompensate for Moore’s flippancy, The Living Daylights showed that things were starting to move in the right direction, as demonstrated by his sophomore effort. With its stronger female characters, down-to-earth villains, and action sequences that felt fresh rather than warmed over—including an eye-popping Road Warrior-style tanker-truck climax—Licence to Kill enabled Dalton to end his stint as 007 on a high note (although he was originally contracted for a third film). It was only after years of complex corporate legal battles that Pierce Brosnan and the new creative team, formed by Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, ushered in the post-Fleming era with GoldenEye.


Needless to say, I will keep you apprised of the forthcoming publication (ideally in 2012, which will mark 007’s fiftieth anniversary on the big screen) of my Cinema Retro article about Bond’s nemesis, SPECTRE head Ernst Stavro Blofled, which will fill in the blanks with the remainder of those Fleming books and their various adaptations not covered in these posts. Watch this space.

Read Full Post »

Fabergé Dregs, Part I

Ian Fleming’s last James Bond book was a collection of short stories that was published in 1966, two years after his death, and has had several incarnations. Variously titled simply Octopussy or Octopussy and the Living Daylights, it originally contained the latter two stories, which appeared first in, respectively, Playboy (March and April 1966) and The London Sunday Times (February 4, 1962). Subsequent editions added “The Property of a Lady” (written for the 1963 volume of the annual Sotheby’s publication The Ivory Hammer, and reprinted in the January 1964 issue of Playboy) and “007 in New York” (first published as “Agent 007 in New York” in The New York Herald Tribune in October 1963, and reprinted in the U.S. edition of Fleming’s Thrilling Cities).

Octopussy was the second of five consecutive Bond films directed by erstwhile editor John Glen and co-written by Richard Maibaum and producer Michael G. Wilson; like For Your Eyes Only, it melded the eponymous story with another from the same book, “The Property of a Lady.” The title character in Fleming’s “Octopussy” is an actual cephalopod to which Major Dexter Smythe, an ex-Service officer living in Jamaica on Nazi gold he stole at the end of the war, hopes to feed a deadly scorpionfish in a bizarre experiment. Informing Smythe that the body of the German mountain guide he’d murdered—a friend of Bond’s—has been discovered, 007 leaves him to his presumed suicide, but Smythe, already dying from the sting of the scorpionfish, is drowned by Octopussy.

“The Property of a Lady” is the Emerald Sphere, an “object of vertu” by Carl Fabergé, allegedly inherited by Maria Freudenstein, the KGB double agent whose demise Fleming reported in The Man with the Golden Gun (wherein her name and that of Doctor No’s Honeychile Rider appear erroneously as Freudenstadt and Wilder). Maria is a cipher operator through whom the Service feeds the Soviets disinformation, and the funds realized from the sale of the sphere at Sotheby’s are to be her reward. Bond deduces that the KGB’s Resident Director in London will be there to push up the price as an underbidder, and by attending the auction, 007 is able to identify him so that, “In the grim chess game that is secret service work, the Russians would have lost a queen.”

The film opens on an inauspicious note with a typically irrelevant teaser, as Bond wreaks havoc in an unnamed Latin country, and a generic Maurice Binder title sequence. Even the cinematic purveyors of Pussy Galore were not bold enough to give Octopussy a literal title tune, so John Barry’s theme song was “All Time High,” which—as in Moonraker—paired a perfectly lovely theme that was, perhaps, a little too romantic for a spy thriller with somewhat schmaltzy lyrics, written by Tim Rice (!) and sung by Rita Coolidge. Then begins the story proper, almost wholly invented by Maibaum and Wilson with their collaborator, George MacDonald Fraser, the author of the Flashman novels and the screenwriter of all three of Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies.

The illness and death of Bernard Lee, which made Moonraker his last Bond entry (and eleventh continuous appearance since Dr. No), resulted in a bit of a flurry atop the command structure of the cinematic Secret Service. Out of respect for Lee, the role of M—said to be “on leave”—was not immediately recast in For Your Eyes Only, where his function of assigning 007’s mission is divided among three men: Q (Desmond Llewelyn); M’s boss, Minister of Defence Sir Frederick Gray (Geoffrey Keen); and his Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner (James Villiers). Bond’s best friend in the Service in the books, Tanner had been briefly portrayed, uncredited, by Michael Goodliffe in The Man with the Golden Gun, and would return in the Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig movies.

Octopussy introduced Robert Brown as M, apparently retaining Gray’s presence for continuity, although the filmmakers stretched credulity by having him hanging around for Bond’s briefings in the next two films as well. This mission offers a rare, short-lived look at another member of the Double-O fraternity in the person of 009 (Andy Bradford), who dies bringing a Fabergé egg to the British Ambassador in West Berlin. This turns out to be a forgery, and because the Soviets are thought to be trying to raise funds by selling the original, Bond is assigned to join art expert Jim Fanning (Douglas Wilmer) at the auction, where he substitutes the fake while bidding up the price paid by exiled Afghan Prince Kamal Khan (Louis Jourdan) and Magda (Kristina Wayborn).

Following Khan home to India, Bond produces the genuine article when he out-cheats the prince in a backgammon match that rehashes Goldfinger’s golf game, right down to the henchman who crushes Khan’s crooked dice to powder in his fist. Soon Bond is a guest of Khan’s confederate, Octopussy, who heads a criminal sisterhood and is played by beautiful but under-emotive model Maud Adams, previously an ill-fated moll in Golden Gun. Instead of blaming Bond for the death of her father, Smythe (an expert on octopi who, we learn, gave her the nickname that inspired her sisterhood’s distinctive tattoos), she is grateful to 007 for allowing him an honorable alternative to prosecution, and requires only two kisses to melt into her obligatory “Oh, James” submission.

Khan and rogue Soviet General Orlov (Steven Berkoff), who has been stealing objets d’art from the Hermitage, double-cross Octopussy and plant an atomic bomb in her circus, about to perform at a U.S.A.F. base in Germany. When General Gogol (Walter Gotell) gets wind of this, Orlov—who hoped the apparent nuclear accident would lead to NATO disarmament—is shot, and after the sisterhood attacks Khan’s palace, 007 rescues the kidnapped Octopussy from his plane before it crashes. Along the way, we revisit the fauna-head camouflage (Goldfinger), assassin lurking above the bed (You Only Live Twice), car up on two wheels (Diamonds Are Forever), and nuke-disarming (The Spy Who Loved Me), and are subjected to Bond dressed as a gorilla and a clown.

Having stated earlier that Octopussy and its successor, A View to a Kill, vied with Moonraker for the admittedly subjective title of “Worst Bond Movie Ever,” I am now prepared—having studied the entire pre-Brosnan series in detail—to award that dubious distinction to Moonraker. And yet Octopussy has a lot to answer for, e.g., 007’s Indian contact, who poses as a snake charmer and identifies himself by playing “The James Bond Theme”; a double-take by a camel; and a “poison pen” gag that was acknowledged as hoary when used sixteen years earlier in Casino Royale. The usual sophomoric double entendres are matched by what Q dubs Bond’s “adolescent antics,” as he uses a mini-camera to zoom relentlessly into and out of the cleavage of one of Q’s colleagues.

To be continued.

Read Full Post »

Pistols at Dawn

What I’ve Been Watching: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

Who’s Responsible: Guy Hamilton (director), Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz (screenwriters), Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland (stars).

Why I Watched It: Research.

Seen It Before? Many times, including on its release.

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): 6.

And? When I sat down to re-read Ian Fleming’s posthumously published (and some say completed) last novel, I realized I remembered virtually nothing about it, a situation due only partially to the intervening decades. In the interim, some of my memories have been supplanted by repeated viewings of the film, which—believe it or not—actually outstrips even Moonraker in throwing Fleming’s plot out the window. Okay, both versions pit 007 (Moore) against hit man Francisco Scaramanga (Lee), who, in fact, has a golden gun, as well as a habit of getting his ashes hauled before plying his deadly trade, and both feature Bond’s colleague Mary Goodnight (Ekland) as his primary inamorata, but that’s about it.

As usual, the differences are attributable in large measure to the novels’ being filmed out of sequence, especially since this one follows directly upon the denouement of Fleming’s You Only Live Twice. There, Bond is suffering from amnesia due to wounds received in the castle of his nemesis, Blofeld, when he stumbles upon a reference to Vladivostok that begins to trigger his memories, and travels to Russia in search of his past. At the start of Golden Gun, he returns to England (having been missing and presumed dead for a year), but after he tries to assassinate his boss, M, it is revealed that he has been brainwashed by the K.G.B.; the deprogrammed 007 is then sent on a suicide mission against Scaramanga.

Fleming passes briskly over the six weeks Bond spends in electroconvulsive therapy, and another six weeks spent trailing the Havana-based Scaramanga around the Caribbean and Central America, before bringing the antagonists together in 007’s old stomping grounds of Jamaica. The novel is a marked contrast to the Grand Guignol style of You Only Live Twice, in which Blofeld, clad in 17th-century Japanese armor, presides over a “garden of death” that entices the residents of Kyushu to suicide. Yet Fleming overcompensates by setting his story at a shabby, unfinished hotel, surrounding Scaramanga (a veteran of the Spangled Mob featured in his earlier Diamonds Are Forever) with garden-variety hoods.

Golden Gun marked the third and last collaboration between Hamilton, who had directed Goldfinger a decade earlier, and Mankiewicz, credited with Maibaum on Diamonds and alone on Live and Let Die; Lewis Gilbert and Christopher Wood, respectively, succeeded the pair on The Spy Who Loved Me and (sans Maibaum) Moonraker. Gun also assembled series regulars such as composer John Barry, lyricist Don Black, ailing cinematographer Ted Moore (then replaced with Oswald Morris), title designer Maurice Binder, and actors Bernard Lee (M), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), and Desmond Llewelyn (Q). Performed by Scottish pop star Lulu, the admittedly lively title song is far from Barry’s finest hour.

Undoubtedly the film’s greatest asset is Lee, already an international icon for his long-running Dracula series for England’s Hammer Films, in addition to equally memorable roles in other horror vehicles. Fleming had originally recommended Lee, his stepcousin and sometime golf partner, to play the title role in Dr. No, yet given that villain’s limited screen time he was probably put to better use here, with the screenplay and Lee’s literally towering presence upgrading Scaramanga from Fleming’s rude thug. This casting, along with Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) and its sequel, The Four Musketeers (1974), allowed him to show his range, no less villainous but in entirely different milieux.

For a change, the primary villain pops up in the teaser as Scaramanga handily dispatches Rodney (Diamonds alum Marc Lawrence) in his funhouse-style killing ground, located on an island in Red Chinese waters, and then blows the fingers off a mannequin in 007’s image. Soon to play a similar role on Fantasy Island, Paris-born Hervé Villechaize (who starred with Jonathan Frid and Martine Beswick in Oliver Stone’s first feature, the mega-bizarre horror film Seizure, that same year) is Scaramanga’s pint-sized henchman, Nick Nack. It is he who arranges these little entertainments, and we learn that if his boss buys the farm, Nick Nack will inherit his million-dollar-a-hit employer’s considerable wealth.

Binder’s title sequence makes full use of the eponymous firearm’s phallic possibilities, as do Black’s sometimes indecipherable lyrics (e.g., the none-too-subtle double entendre on “bang”). Scaramanga throws down the gauntlet by sending Bond a golden bullet with his number etched on it, and we learn something of his circus background, which, along with his third nipple, was one of the few details retained from the novel. M orders 007 to table his current mission to find Gibson—the inventor of Maibaum’s MacGuffin, a solar cell—until Scaramanga can be dealt with; inevitably, these two plotlines converge, but needless to say, this duel of titans is stripped of all the baggage with which Fleming had loaded it.

An analysis of the dum-dum bullet that took out 002 leads Bond to Scaramanga’s Macau-based Portuguese armourer, Lazar (Hammer regular Marne Maitland), and thence to moll Andrea Anders (Maud Adams). As an actress, the Swedish Adams makes a great model, and how she got promoted to the admittedly undemanding title role in Octopussy after her stint here as Scaramanga’s obligatory have-sex-with-Bond-and-die confederate is beyond me. Following Andrea aboard the Macau-Hong Kong hydrofoil, 007 roughs her up until she informs him that Scaramanga has an appointment at the Bottoms Up Club, and when it turns out to be a hit, Bond is “arrested” at the scene by Lieutenant Hip (Soon-Taik Oh).

This turns out to be a ruse to take Bond to a meeting with M inside the wreckage of the Queen Elizabeth in Hong Kong Harbor, where he is informed that the target was Gibson, whose Solex was pocketed by Nick Nack. Bond deduces that Scaramanga was hired by Gibson’s erstwhile employer, wealthy Bangkok businessman Hai Fat (Richard Loo), and that they have never met face to face, so 007 impersonates Scaramanga, equipped with a faux nipple by Q. Inexplicably blaming Bond for Gibson’s dying after his initial contact with Hip (which 007 could scarcely have prevented) and the disappearance of the Solex, M decrees that Goodnight accompany Bond to Thailand as his “efficient liaison officer.”

The literary Goodnight was introduced in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as 007’s new secretary, replacing Loelia “Lil” Ponsonby (first mentioned in Moonraker), who had left the Service to get married. In one of Fleming’s trademark coincidences, Goodnight turns up in Jamaica, assisting Bond with his mission, and although their prior relationship was apparently platonic, 007 is determined to change that. Then divorced from Peter Sellers, her co-star in After the Fox (1966) and The Bobo (1967), fellow Swede Britt Ekland had appeared in the cult classics Get Carter (1971) and—with Lee—The Wicker Man (1973), but sadly sets Gun’s tone by portraying Goodnight as an extra-ditzy blonde Bond bimbo.

007’s imposture fails, yet in a nod to the current kung-fu craze, he escapes from Hai Fat’s martial-arts school with the help of Hip and his nieces. As with Jaws in Moonraker, Eon Productions regrettably brought back a tiresome comedy-relief character: redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who—in a coincidence worthy of Fleming—just happens to bump into Bond while vacationing half-way around the world from their initial encounter on his home ground of Louisiana in Live and Let Die. Entrusted with the Solex by Hai Fat, Scaramanga then kills both him and Andrea; having actually sent Bond the bullet herself, she agreed to give 007 the Solex if he freed her from Scaramanga, and paid with her life.

Scaramanga bundles Goodnight—now carrying the Solex—into the trunk of his car, and the ensuing chase features Bond’s “Astro-Spiral” canal jump in the Hornet he stole from a showroom with J.W. inside, but his quarry attaches wings to his Matador and takes off. Bond follows Goodnight’s homer signal to his island for their showdown, a far cry from Fleming’s anticlimax, in which Scaramanga was already wounded by 007’s friend Felix Leiter, previously seen on the printed page in Thunderball. Bond wins the mano-a-mano shootout by posing as his own mannequin, rescues Goodnight from Scaramanga’s soon-to-explode solar-energy installation, and subdues Nick Nack in the by-now de rigueur coda.

In this entry, honors for the best gadget go not to Q but to Scaramanga, whose weapon is assembled from a seemingly innocuous fountain pen, cigarette case, lighter, and cufflink, and—as Lee related in his autobiography—missed its spot on The Tonight Show when it was confiscated by customs. Q is compensated with a splendid scene in which he talks shop with another boffin, Calthorpe (James Cossins), about ballistics, yet Moneypenny, and particularly M, appear to be in an unusually bad humor throughout. Doubtless their mood was shared by producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, for The Man with the Golden Gun was among the least profitable Bond pictures, with the lowest U.S. ticket sales ever.

Conflict dogged the production, first planned to shoot with Moore in Cambodia after You Only Live Twice, until the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge forced it to be shelved. It was revived after Live and Let Die, but location scouting in Iran was abandoned when the outbreak of the 1973 Ramadan War plunged the Middle East into turmoil; the second unit was just completing photography in Bangkok as an uprising there led to martial law being declared. Finally, this film marked the end of Broccoli’s contentious partnership with the overextended Harry Saltzman, who was ultimately obliged to sell his shares in Danjaq—the company that holds the rights to the Fleming properties—to distributor United Artists.

Addendum:  I’d be remiss if I didn’t connect one final pair of dots, namely that the erstwhile Mr. Ekland, Peter Sellers, played baccarat expert Evelyn Tremble in the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale.

Go to Octopussy.

Read Full Post »

My Favorite Year

I was so busy working on You Only Live Twice on Sunday that I forgot to check out my Snapshot for 1975 on Marvel University, and for me not to swoon narcissistically over my own work is pretty serious, especially when it’s so beautifully illustrated.  A gentleman named Jack Seabrook–and you know he’s a good guy, because he’s chosen to represent himself onscreen with a photo of Tony Randall as Felix Unger–is a contributor to and enthusiastic commentator on the many fine Enfantino/Scoleri blogs.  He begins by saying, “WOW!  Now I know what my favorite Marvel year was.  I turned 12 in 1975 [as did this writer] and I guess that was the prime age for loving these comics.”

Jack segues into a rant about Frank Robbins (whose disastrously cartoony pencils blighted the pre-resurgent-Kirby Captain America and, worse, the first few years of Roy Thomas’s cherished Invaders), which is then echoed by none other than Peter Enfantino himself.  Other than to express my appreciation and agreement, and without meaning to turn this into some sort of self-referential circle-jerk, I have a reason for bringing this up.  These Snapshots represent my favorite era of Marvel Comics, but in reading them over before submitting them to M.U., I started to wonder if I could pinpoint an actual favorite year.

Certainly in terms of creators represented (e.g., Englehart, Mantlo, Wolfman, Buscema, Conway, Wein, Thomas, Andru, Claremont, Gerber, Buckler, Brown, Byrne, Cockrum, Starlin…God, what a crew) and new books introduced, I might have to agree with Jack.  Peter and John lead off with the cover of what was, in retrospect, surely the most important release of the year, Giant-Size X-Men #1, which introduced the new team whose popularity eventually dominated the whole Marvel Universe.  But 1975 also saw the advent of such BOF faves as The InvadersThe Champions, Super-Villain Team-Up, the Claremont/Byrne Iron Fist, and Starlin’s revived Warlock solo title, and the frissons I was getting from seeing some of these books illustrated certainly supported the ’75 thesis.

It should be noted, however, that many of these books were just getting off the ground by year’s end, meaning that 1976 was when they were first in full swing, and sadly, many outlived it barely or not at all (like don’t-blink-and-you’ll-miss-it ’76 newcomer Black Goliath).  Also, I’m fairly certain that ’76–at least in terms of the calendar year, if not necessarily cover dates–marked the seismic shift between my buying comics at convenience stores on a catch-as-catch-can basis and getting them religiously via subscription.  Add to that the fact that I associate 1977 with such disappointing debuts as Godzilla and The Human Fly, and I think I have to give ’76 the edge, but you can read all about that this coming Sunday at M.U.

In closing, I would also like to thank Cinema Retro for linking to my Live and Let Die post, and all of the Retro readers who were kind enough to visit this site.  I hope my series of Bond posts will whet your appetite for my Retro article about his nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, on page and screen, which–God willing–will run next year during the 50th anniversary of 007 on the big screen.  In the meantime, y’all come back, now, hear?

A grateful Bradley out.

Read Full Post »

Eyes Wide Shut, Part II

Continuing our look at For Your Eyes Only on page and screen.

“Risico” is lifted, more or less intact, as the film’s second act, with Topol, best known for his Oscar-nominated role as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, as Milos Columbo and Julian Glover, one of the candidates to replace Moore during his brinkmanship with producer Albert R. Broccoli, as Aris Kristatos. The setting is once again changed to Greece, with the Kristatos/Columbo rivalry given extra resonance by making them former comrades in the Resistance, and Lisl von Schraf (Cassandra Harris, the wife of future 007 Pierce Brosnan) is an ersatz countess from Liverpool. After a tryst with Bond, she is run down with a dune buggy by Locque, and once again it is this hireling who is killed instead, his teetering car coldly kicked off a precipice by the vengeful 007.

The material Maibaum and Wilson came up with to round out their script is the usual mixed bag, especially when they run out the clock with interminable chase sequences (recalling other, better Bond films), one of which, sadly, claimed the life of a stunt man. Most egregious is Kristatos’s protégé, wannabe Olympic skater Bibi Dahl—played by professional skater Lynn-Holly Johnson in a real stretch—who fruitlessly throws herself at 007, only accentuating the fact that he is more than twice her age. But their third act, in which Bond leads an Alistair MacLean-style ascent on Kristatos’s eyrie in a mountaintop monastery, is effective, with Columbo killing Kristatos after Bond warns Melina to forego revenge, and 007 destroying the ATAC before Gogol can obtain it.

Typifying the overdose of humor that had come to plague the series, the escape from Gonzalez’s villa near Madrid is played strictly for laughs, with Bond and Melina fleeing in her increasingly battered Citroen because his Lotus has been destroyed by the world’s dumbest anti-theft device: if tampered with, it explodes. After they do Kristatos’s work for him by salvaging and disarming the ATAC, he tries to kill the couple by towing them across a shark-infested reef in a scene taken from Fleming’s Live and Let Die. And, in yet another “cute” ending, Q sets up a congratulatory call from Margaret Thatcher (Janet Brown), only to have 007 put Havelock’s parrot, Max (which conveniently repeated Kristatos’s destination), on the line while the pair consummate their union.

Glen et alia followed For Your Eyes Only with Octopussy and A View to a Kill, both of which, in this writer’s opinion, rival Moonraker for the dubious honor of Worst Bond Movie Ever. A View to a Kill somehow lost the “From” in its presumed transition from page to screen, but in truth the truncated title and a partial Parisian setting are almost all the script took from Fleming’s story, in which Bond is pressed into service while passing through the city after a failed assignment on the Austro-Hungarian border. Acting more like a detective than a spy, Bond probes the murder of a motorcycle dispatch-rider, who has fallen victim to three apparent Russian agents with a cleverly concealed hideout in the forest, and 007 poses as another dispatch-rider to polish off the assassin.

This was the series swan song for Lois Maxwell (as Miss Moneypenny) and Moore, but standbys Llewelyn, composer John Barry—who provided his usual accomplished score and wrote the title song with rock group Duran Duran—and title designer Maurice Binder stuck around to ease the transition. Rogue KGB agent and psychotic Goldfinger-clone Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) plans to corner the microchip market by flooding Silicon Valley with earthquakes. Grace Jones is May Day, who parachutes off the Eiffel Tower after killing Bond’s local contact; ex-Avenger Patrick Macnee is his “sacrificial lamb” friend; and second-string Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts is the typically vapid ’80s Bond girl, while the climax involves a blimp atop the Golden Gate Bridge.

The remaining two stories in For Your Eyes Only had previously appeared elsewhere: “Quantum of Solace” in Cosmopolitan (May 1959) and “The Hildebrand Rarity” in Playboy (March 1960). The former—which, like “From a View to a Kill,” lent little more than its title to the recent Bond film starring Daniel Craig—is essentially the character study of a cuckolded British civil servant and his wife, told to Bond as an after-dinner anecdote by the colonial governor in Nassau. In the latter, rich but boorish American Milton Krest hosts 007 and a friend aboard his lavish yacht, the Wavekrest, and keeps his terrorized wife, Liz, in line with “the Corrector” (the yard-long barbed tail of a sting ray), only to be murdered by having the titular spined fish crammed into his mouth.

Timothy Dalton’s second and last Bond film, the first written specifically for him, Licence to Kill (previously, and better, titled Licence Revoked) has an ostensibly original screenplay, but Maibaum and Wilson pilfered various elements from the Fleming canon, including Krest. The story pits Bond against drug lord Franz Sanchez (an imposing Robert Davi), caught by the DEA—with 007 as an extremely active “observer”—and immediately sprung by a traitor on the very day Bond’s pal Felix Leiter (David Hedison, who had played the role sixteen years earlier) weds Della Churchill (Priscilla Barnes). Bond quits the Service to track Sanchez to the fictional Isthmus City after he kills Della and, in a Fleming sequence omitted from Hedison’s debut, Live and Let Die, maims Felix with a shark (“He disagreed with something that ate him”).

Krest (a suitably abrasive Anthony Zerbe) is a co-conspirator who is popped like a balloon in the Wavekrest’s decompression chamber (another Live and Let Die echo), while the Corrector is wielded by Sanchez upon his errant mistress, Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto), the “bad girl” to Carey Lowell’s CIA pilot, Pam Bouvier. Barry’s absence is keenly felt, but Gladys Knight’s elephantine theme song goes down easier over Binder’s customarily inventive title sequence, this time with a photographic motif. The up-and-coming Benicio Del Toro is brutal henchman Dario; Pedro Armendariz, the son and namesake of Sean Connery’s From Russia with Love co-star, is President Hector Lopez; and, in an offbeat piece of stunt casting, singer Wayne Newton is televangelist Professor Joe Butcher, fronting for Sanchez.

The outgoing Dalton and Glen were joined by Maibaum and Binder (both of whom died in 1991, the former after working with Wilson on the James Bond Jr. TV series), not to mention Hedison, Robert Brown and Caroline Bliss (the latter-day M and Miss Moneypenny, respectively), leaving Llewelyn as the only visible link to the Connery era. Following a six-year hiatus—the longest to date—Eon’s new broom swept in a fifth Bond (Brosnan), a female M (Judi Dench), and a fresh crop of writers and directors. Brosnan’s four vehicles (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day) lacked even a nominal derivation from Fleming’s work, which would not be visited again until Craig assumed the role in the 2006 Casino Royale.

Addendum: As with Diamonds Are Forever, which would normally have followed Moonraker, the next four books (Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice) fall under the purview of my Cinema Retro article on Blofeld, and will be covered there instead. But do join me back here in a month or so—barring further lifestyle-shredding hurricanes—when we wrap things up with the posthumously published The Man with the Golden Gun and Octopussy…and yes, I shall try to post on other subjects in the meanwhile. Bradley out.

Read Full Post »

Eyes Wide Shut, Part I

As with the aftermath of the Peter Hunt/George Lazenby interregnum, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the period following Moonraker marked another new decade-long phase in 007’s screen career. The old guard of directors (Terence Young, Guy Hamilton, and Lewis Gilbert) was gone, and John Glen—promoted, like Hunt, from editor—helmed a quintet of films spanning the end of Roger Moore’s tenure as Bond and the entirety of Timothy Dalton’s. Each was co-written by series veteran Richard Maibaum and producer Michael G. Wilson, and each, with the supply of Ian Fleming’s novels now exhausted, took its title and/or some of its plot from one or more of his short stories, alternating between the collections For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

In retrospect, Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only seems like a breather in between creating the titular villains of Doctor No and Goldfinger and introducing Bond’s arch-enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in Thunderball. The eponymous story and two of the other four, “Risico” and “From a View to a Kill,” grew out of an abortive attempt to create a CBS series following their adaptation of 007’s debut, Casino Royale, on Climax!; never one to waste material, Fleming turned his outlines into short stories. Instead of dwelling on the disquieting prospect of a weekly series (“Next week, on a very special episode of James Bond, Moneypenny faces a difficult decision…”), let us examine the first film that resulted, which welded together “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico” under the former title.

The teaser is best passed over as rapidly as possible: while visiting the grave of his wife, Tracy, Bond is ostensibly summoned to headquarters, but the pilot of the helicopter that picks him up is killed, and control assumed, by a joystick-operating figure. Patently Blofeld, but unidentified for legal reasons, the villain is in a wheelchair and neck brace, presumably from injuries suffered at the end of OHMSS, and holds his trademark white cat, although his face is not shown. Bond, of course, gets the upper hand by doing an EVA to replace the doomed pilot and pulling the plug on Blofeld’s control; 007 snags the wheelchair with a landing skid and, after offering to “do a deal” by buying him a stainless-steel delicatessen (!), Blofeld is ingloriously dumped into a smokestack.

I recuse myself from any objective critical assessment of Sheena Easton’s title tune, written by Bill Conti and Mick Leeson; the film was released the year Madame BOF and I started dating, and for obvious reasons that soon became our song, in which capacity it has never officially been supplanted after thirty years. Easton (my hometown’s namesake, no less) was the first performer shown singing a 007 theme song, but Conti’s otherwise forgettable score matches Alan Hume’s sometimes grotty photography and Glen’s perfunctory work, outside of the action sequences that made his rep as an editor and second-unit director. Yet while there are many things wrong with For Your Eyes Only, a lack of fidelity to its source material is surprisingly not one of them.

In a deliberate departure from the more lucrative excesses of Moonraker, Maibaum and Wilson not only hewed closely to Fleming’s unrelated stories, but also ingeniously linked them. In “For Your Eyes Only,” Timothy Havelock and his wife are gunned down on their Jamaican estate by a Cuban, Gonzalez; when M, who was at their wedding, sends 007 to administer “rough justice” (which, like “man’s work,” was both a phrase from the story and an early title) to von Hammerstein, Gonzalez’s ex-Gestapo employer, he coincidentally meets the Havelocks’ daughter, Judy, on the same mission. Bond lets Judy kill von Hammerstein with a bow and arrow as he is diving into a lake in Vermont, and after 007 wipes out his underlings (including Gonzalez), they flee together.

Aside from cosmetic details such as the settings (now a boat in Greece and a pool in Spain) and the heroine’s weapon and name (now the crossbow-wielding Melina, played by the aggressively wooden French actress Carole Bouquet), the primary changes are to the identity and motives of her target. In the story, von Hammerstein is the head of counterintelligence for the soon-to-fall Batista regime, and wanted to use the Havelocks’ home as a refuge, whereas in the film, Melina kills Gonzalez (Stefan Kalipha), whom she and Bond see being paid off. Using the Identigraph, a high-tech version of a gizmo Fleming depicted in Goldfinger, 007 and Q (Desmond Llewelyn) determine that the courier is psycho-killer escaped con Emil Leopold Locque (Michael Gothard).

Providing the film with its requisite MacGuffin, marine archaeologist Havelock (Jack Hedley) is killed before he can salvage the Automatic Targeting Attack Communicator (ATAC) aboard the sunken St. Georges, a clandestine British spy ship from a long line of doomed vessels at the start of 007 films. Why Gonzalez leaves Melina, whom he has just delivered in his armed seaplane, alive to identify him is anybody’s guess, but the hunt for his employer leads Bond—and the scenarists—into “Risico,” albeit indirectly. Said employer is an intermediary for our Soviet friend General Gogol (Walter Gotell), introduced in The Spy Who Loved Me, who could use the ATAC (clearly a kissing cousin of the Lektor in From Russia with Love) to attack England with its own missiles.

In “Risico,” Bond is sent to Italy to stem the tide of heroin into England (with a nod to a similar mission at the start of Goldfinger) and told to contact Kristatos, a smuggler working as a double agent for the U.S. Narcotics Bureau. Kristatos in turn fingers Enrico Colombo, “The Dove,” and says that he would like 007 to eliminate Colombo, who heads the heroin-smuggling organization. Colombo is, in fact, the padrone of the very restaurant where Bond and Kristatos are dining, and tapes their conversation with a hidden microphone; he then fakes an angry confrontation with his Austrian companion, Lisl Baum, as a way of maneuvering Bond into her company, and she lures him into a trap, whereby 007 is knocked out by Colombo’s minions and awakens aboard his ship.

But, as W.S. Gilbert would say, things are seldom what they seem, and Colombo persuades Bond that Kristatos is the real villain, also confirming the Prime Minister’s theory that the heroin is “an instrument of psychological warfare” backed by the Russians. Much of what Kristatos told Bond about Colombo actually applied to himself, with the deception giving him an opportunity both to deflect attention from his own operations and to destroy a potential competitor. Colombo proves his point by bringing Bond along during an assault on Kristatos’s own ship, from which his men are unloading a shipment of rolls of newsprint filled with raw opium, and after the battle, plus an explosion in the warehouse, Colombo prevails, while 007 shoots the fleeing Kristatos in his car.

To be continued.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »