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With a new James Bond film, Spectre (2015), upon us[i]
and with Daniel Craig rumoured to be leaving the series before long,[ii]
James Bond is taking centre stage of the world’s showbiz media once again. The
Bond film franchise has seen many changes over the last fifty odd years. For
example, James Bond no longer smokes; he no longer sits in Jacuzzis with bevies
of women all young enough to be his daughter. The last seven Bond films saw
Judi Dench play a female ‘M’, Bond’s boss at MI6.[iii]
The character ‘Miss Moneypenny’ has also now been changed to the more dignified
‘Eve Moneypenny’ and is currently played by the black actress, Naomi Harris.[iv] In another departure, a gay actor named Ben Wishaw now plays a much younger and
tech-savvy version of Q than did the old stalwart Desmond Llewelyn (who
appeared in 17 Bond films between 1963 and 1999) or his successor in the role
of Q, John Cleese. This year  we even saw the black actor, Idris Elba, put
forward as a candidate to play the next James Bond.[v]
James Bond has been part of our popular
culture now for so long that we can trace back to his roots and use his
earliest narratives to ask ourselves how far we have really come as a society.
We would of course nowadays consider racism or homophobia distasteful in a
modern Bond film even if it came from the mouth of one of the villains and the
sexism in Bond films is now no worse than across the film industry as a whole.
Whatever you think of the newest Bond films, here are ten quotes from the
original James Bond novels, which were written by Ian Fleming between 1953 and his
death in 1964, that the current generation will (thankfully) never have to see
up on the silver screen. One should note when reading these quotes, by way of mitigating circumstances, that Ian Fleming was born in 1908 and the times in which he was writing (the 1950s and early 1960s) were very different to our own, where political correctness is now very much the order of the day.
1. ‘Blithering Women’ - Casino Royale (1953)
Bond is racing to rescue his companion Vesper Lynd who has been kidnapped by
the novel’s villain, Le Chiffre.
The Quote: “These
blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t
they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and
gossip and leave men’s work to the men.” (Page 97)
to fight Negroes’ - Live and Let Die (1954)
Bond has been captured in Harlem, New York and is planning an escape from his
guard, Tee Hee Johnson.
The Quote: “He
stumbled again, trying to measure exactly the Negro’s position behind him. He
remembered Leiter’s injunction: ‘Shins, groin, stomach, throat. Hit ’em
anywhere else and you’ll just break your hand.’
mouf,’ said the negro, but he pulled Bond’s hand an inch or two down his back.”
women long to be raped...in a cave’ - From Russia
with Love (1957)
The Context: Bond
has travelled to Turkey to meet a Soviet defector and is speaking to Darko
Kerim, the head of the British service’s station in Turkey.
The Quote: “My
father was the sort of man women can’t resist. All women want to be swept off
their feet. In their dreams they long to be slung over a man’s shoulder and
taken into a cave and raped. That was his way with them. My father was a great
fisherman and his fame was spread all over the Black Sea. He went after the
sword-fish. They are difficult to catch and hard to fight and he would always
outdo all others after these fish. Women like their men to be heroes.” (Page
- Dr. No (1958)
Bond has travelled to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of an MI6
employee and is speaking to Pleydell-Smith, the Colonial Secretary of the
island, over lunch.
The Quote: “’It’s
like this’. He began his antics with the pipe. ‘The Jamaican is a kindly lazy
man with the virtues and vices of a child. He lives on a very rich island but
he doesn’t get rich from it. He doesn’t know how to and he’s too lazy...” “Finally
there are the Chinese, solid, compact, discreet- the most powerful clique in
Jamaica. They’ve got the bakeries and the laundries and the best food stores.
They keep to themselves and keep their strain pure.’ Pleydell-Smith laughed.
‘Not that they don’t take the black girls when they want them. You can see the
result all over Kingston – Chigroes – Chinese Negroes and Negresses. The
Chigroes are a tough, forgotten race. They look down on the Negroes and the
Chinese look down on them. One day they may become a nuisance. They’ve got some
of the intelligence of the Chinese and most of the vices of the black man. The
police have a lot of trouble with them.’” (Page 51)
are lower than apes’ – Goldfinger (1959)
Bond has been captured by Goldfinger and his sidekick Oddjob and is plotting
The Quote: “Bond
intended to stay alive on his own terms. Those terms included putting Oddjob
and any other Korean firmly in his place, which, in Bond’s estimation, was
rather lower than apes in the mammalian hierarchy.” (Page 175)
women; insipid slaves’ - 'Quantum of
Bond is at a dinner party and is making small talk with the host.
The Quote: “’It
would be fine to have a pretty girl always tucking you up and bringing you
drinks and hot meals and asking if you had everything you wanted. And they’re
always smiling and wanting to please. If I don’t marry an air hostess, there’ll
be nothing for it but marry a Japanese. They seem to have the right ideas too.’
Bond had no intention of marrying anyone. If he did, it would certainly not be
an insipid slave.” (Page 62)
7.‘The girl who drove like a man’ - Thunderball
The Context: Bond
is in the Bahamas and is following Domino Vitali, the girlfriend of the main
villain, SPECTRE No. 1, Emilio Largo.
The Quote: “Women
are often meticulous and safe drivers, but they are very seldom first-class. In
general Bond regarded them as a mild hazard and he always gave them plenty of
road and was ready for the unpredictable. Four women in a car he regarded as
the highest danger potential, and two women as nearly as lethal. Women together
cannot keep silent in a car, and when women talk they have to look into each
other’s faces. An exchange of words is not enough. They have to see the other
person’s expression, perhaps in order to read behind the other’s words or to analyse
the reaction to their own. So two women in the front seat of a car constantly distract
each other’s attention from the road ahead and four women are more than doubly
dangerous, for the driver has to hear, and see, not only what her companion is
saying but also, for women are like that, what the two behind are talking
But this girl
drove like a man. She was entirely focused on the road ahead and on what was
going on in her driving mirror, an accessory rarely used by women except for
making up their faces. And, equally rare in a woman, she took a man’s pleasure
in the feel of her machine, in the timing of her gear changes, and the use of
her brakes.” (Page 100)
[James Bond Film Link: Compare this with,
say, the scene where Roger Moore as Bond makes a series of sexist comments on
“women drivers” to Barbara Bach’s Major Anya Amasova (Agent XXX) in the tenth Bond
film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)]
8.‘Homosexuality; the stubborn disability’ - On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
Bond is being briefed about Hypnosis as it is suspected that the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld is
using it to brainwash women in his mountain layer in Switzerland.
The Quote: “Now, there is
plenty of medical evidence of the efficacy of hypnosis. There are
well-authenticated cases of the successful treatment by these means of such
stubborn disabilities as warts, certain types of asthma, bed-wetting,
stammering and even alcoholism, drug-taking , and homosexual tendencies” (Page
Japanese; a violent people without a violent language’ - You Only live Twice (1964)
Bond has been told that there are no swear words in Japanese by the head of the
Japanese secret service, Tiger Tanaka.
The Quote: “Well I’m...
I mean, well I’m astonished. A violent people without a violent language! I
must write a learned paper on this. No wonder you have nothing left but to
commit suicide when you fail an exam, or cut your girlfriend’s head off when
she annoys you.’
‘We generally push them under trams or trains.’ (Page 77)
men can’t whistle’ - The Man With The
Golden Gun (1965)
The Context: M
is reading a file about Francisco Scaramanga, a Cuban assassin suspected of
killing MI6 agents.
The Quote: “’I
have also noted, from a “profile” of this man in Time magazine, one fact which supports my thesis that Scaramanga
may be sexually abnormal. In listing his accomplishments, Time notes, but does not comment upon, the fact that this man
cannot whistle. Now it may only be myth, and it is certainly not medical
science, but there is a popular theory that a man who cannot whistle has
homosexual tendencies. (At this point, the reader may care to experiment and,
from his self-knowledge, help to prove or disprove this item of folklore! –
C.C.)’ (M. hadn’t whistled since he was a boy. Unconsciously his mouth pursed
and a clear note was emitted. He uttered an impatient “tchah!” and continued
with his reading.)’ (Page 27)
Guest Author Pete Swan lives in
Bristol and studied War History and Propaganda at Swansea University. Pete's
interest in James Bond is an extension of his interest in popular culture and
the history of the Cold War. Most of his free time is spent in pubs and books. A big "thank you" goes out to Pete Swan for this article! - Dragonpol.
Ian Fleming’s You
Only Live Twice (1964) is certainly one of the author’s most
brilliantly bizarre and offbeat pieces of work from a James Bond oeuvre which
was by that stage already rich with originality (see the short
story 'Quantum of Solace'  and the novel The Spy Who Loved Me ). The penultimate James
Bond novel incorporates travelogue, learned references to Japanese culture,
lists of deadly flora and fauna, a revenge tale, the beginnings of serial
killer fiction (a craze of the 1990s) and fine Gothic horror as well as being
the unfolding story of a dystopia on a Huxleyesque scale. It is a Brave
New World for Fleming in terms of writing territory and although it
might seem like it at times, it is not true that (unlike Aldous Huxley) Fleming
was on mescaline at the time of writing You Only Live Twice(!). At
the time of writing You Only Live Twice Fleming was sadly
literally dying from the admirable ailment of “having lived too much” (in
reality the Fleming family trait of a bad heart or “the iron crab” as Fleming
called it, was to blame) at the time he was writing this novel and so the
fascination with the theme of death and the general air of morbidity throughout
the proceedings really rings true from a man already painfully aware of his own
mortality. Somehow, Fleming sensed he was soon about to “shuffle off this
mortal coil” as Shakespeare so eloquently put it and so he must have sat down
at his golden typewriter at his house Goldeneye in Jamaica,
and forgetting the winter sun outside, drew inspiration from his impending
death. As it turned out, he was of course right – he sadly died in the early
hours of 12 August 1964 after having just the day before been made the Captain
of the Royal St. George’s Golf Club.
You Only Live Twice (1964): UK First Edition.
represents the final part of the Blofeld/SPECTRE Trilogy of James Bond novels
there is no typical Bondian world domination plot here (cf. the film version) but instead a
private estate run by a veritable mad hatter called Dr Guntram Shatterhand who
of course turns out to be none other than Bond’s aforementioned arch-enemy and
the murderer of his bride Tracy Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963).
SPECTRE it seems has went the way of the Dodo, which is more realistic than how
the evil organisation (and its leader Blofeld) kept coming back film after film (excepting Goldfinger )
between 1962 and 1971 in the Eon Productions Bond film series. The Ernst Stavro
Blofeld of You Only Live Twice is a different animal (a mad
dog meets an Englishman; Fleming was certainly very clever in his themes!) to
what went before and here he can be seen as a veritable mad king (called King
Ernst I most likely) and a lunatic ready for the asylum. In English Criminal
Law there is in fact something called “the Henry VIII Syndrome” where the
defendant goes around lopping people’s heads off (just like Blofeld) as he
thinks he is King Henry VIII; it is therefore good grounds for a plea of
insanity with the inevitable result of hospitalisation in a mental hospital.
Henry VIII of course had two of his six wives beheaded, namely Ann Boleyn (by the sword) and Catherine Howard (by the axe). Blofeld also displays the madness that afflicted King George III for much of his reign (which lasted from 1760 to 1820). Blofeld shouts in
German much like the ranting and raving Adolf Hitler in the Führerbunker near
the end of World War II when the war was all but lost and he seems equally as
much out of touch with reality. Evidence for this comparison consists of the
fact that we are for instance told of "that lunatic Hitler scream"
from Blofeld in the Garden of Death at one point in the novel. One reads of
Nazis escaping to Argentina and Spain at the war’s end but perhaps a few
escaped to Japan too? It may be that that was what Fleming was pointing at –
that there was a diverse Nazi evil being spread throughout other third
countries as a result of such real post-war Nazi SS resettlement organisations
as Odessa or Spinne. For the very original idea of the Garden of Death it is possible that Fleming was inspired by the 1896 watercolour painting named 'The Garden of Death' by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg (1873-1917):
'The Garden of Death' (1896) by Hugo Simberg.
It is notable that Blofeld’s plan here is not to
hijack a Vulcan bomber and its deadly cargo of two nuclear bombs for a grand
ransom (Thunderball ) or to use biological weapons against
the United Kingdom (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) but merely to induce the
notoriously suicide-prone native Japanese population to kill themselves in ever
more eccentric fashion in a “garden of delights” populated by highly poisonous
flora and fauna, piranha fish, scorpions, snakes and fumaroles. This garden is the locale where Blofeld
goes utterly insane and indeed it is a veritable anti-Eden where the Fall of
Man brought about by Adam and Eve’s quest for knowledge is all too evident. It
is as if the imaginative horrors of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale or a novel by
the Marquis de Sade have somehow come to life in the early 1960s with a little
early Swinging Sixties hocus-pocus thrown in for good measure. Blofeld does his
rounds of the garden in a full suit of armour as does his companion Bunt (with
the grotesque addition of a bee-keeper’s hat) and Fleming seems to be making
the point that Blofeld is trying to be a legitimate samurai warrior with all of
the code of honour that implies though we the reader see he is woefully
inadequate in this role and that he is a mere gaijin, common
criminaland definite bounder. The madman Blofeld is nothing more
than a mere shadow warrior playing at being a samurai warrior just like
children play at being James Bond. Blofeld and Bunt even plan to eventually
sell up from Japan and then take their ghastly “death show” on the road in
other locations around the world such is their ultimate cruelty, depravity and
deeply twisted inhumanity.
You Only Live Twice (1964): The Book Club Edition.
In You Only Live Twice there is
no world domination master plan but in its stead there is just the mad king
Blofeld lopping off people's heads with a samurai sword, years before the
serial killer fiction craze of the 1990s (which has of course continued on
until the present day) that Blofeld's plan to maximise Japanese suicides in his
Garden of Death is akin to. In this sense Blofeld can be seen as a forerunner
to that other madman in a Castle of Death, the serial killer ex-actor David
Dragonpol in John Gardner’s James Bond continuation novel Never
Send Flowers (1993) who lived in the aptly-named Scholss Drache
(‘Drache’ being German for ‘Dragon’ as well as Sir Hugo Drax’s real name in
Fleming’s Moonraker ) in the Rhineland, Germany. Indeed,
there are many interesting connections between both Bond novels, though the
Fleming purist might blanch at the idea of Gardner’s off-beat
creation Dragonpol being compared to Fleming’s infamous arch-villain Blofeld!
Like Dragonpol with his assassination targets of the good and the great, Blofeld
attracts the suicidal Japanese seemingly for his own sick enjoyment and also
for the delectation of his squat and grotesque consort Fraulien Irma Bunt. Bunt
has the type of wardress face often associated with a Nazi death camp guard and
as she is German and of the right age that could well have been her occupation.
Fleming may well have drawn inspiration for Irma Bunt from some notorious
female Nazi concentration camp guards like Ilse Koch (1906-1967), who
eventually committed suicide in prison or ‘The Bitch of Buchenwald’ or
Irma Grese (1923-1945), whom the Press called ‘The Beast of Belsen’ during her
1945 ‘Belsen Trial’ for war crimes and whom the inmates also dubbed ‘The Hyena
of Auschwitz.’ Grese was found guilty at the trial and executed by hanging in 1945. In any event,
Fleming’s contemporaneous readers would have been aware of the allusion to
female Nazi wardresses Irma Bunt represented. Bunt (as described by Fleming) also looks a tad like
the convicted serial killer Rosemary West.
George Almond's painting of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in his Garden of Death in Fleming's
You Only Live Twice (1964).
Of course, Fleming’s
novel is as far away from the dire Roald Dahl-scripted 1967 film version as it
is possible to get. (Harold Jack Bloom also worked on the screenplay before Dahl was hired and he was credited with "additional story material" as Dahl used some of his ideas in his new script). As the producers Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and director Lewis Gilbert were unable to
find a castle built near the sea on their recce to Japan (it turned out that the Japanese did not build castles near the sea due to the tsunami risk) they decided to move
almost completely away from the Fleming source novel by literally throwing it in the
wastepaper bin and starting over again with a topical Cold War Space Race plot. Meanwhile, the Fleming
purist can only hope that You Only Live Twice will at some
point in the future be filmed as a new chapter in Bond villainy where evil is
seen to have had no other point than glorying in said evil itself. That seems a
good theme for a Bond film that could sit very well along with the Bond film
villains Karl Stromberg and Hugo Drax (of the films The Spy Who Loved Me  and Moonraker  respectively)
who were not interested in money or extortion but rather in creating new worlds
in their own inherently evil image, just as it could be said Blofeld did
originally with his Garden of Death in Japan. Bunt makes the point in
conversation with Blofeld that the world has never seen the like of Blofeld’s
Garden of Death before and so too would have Stromberg and Drax had they been
interviewed about it following the success of their annihilator schemes. Ian
Fleming's other villainous creation Dr Julius No was of course also an influence
on the Bond film villains Stromberg and Drax and their nefarious schemes. Blofeld has
seemingly single-handedly turned the Godly garden and the Englishman’s dwelling
place of a summer day into a dark and grotesque “Disneyland of Death”. In
opposition to this perversion of the inherent sacredness of the garden is the
fact that the English county of Kent is known as "The Garden of
England" (cf. The Garden of Eden?) and this was of course on
the side of the angels and was a haunt of Ian Fleming's and was where the majority
of his third novel Moonraker was set. Moonraker featured
a duplicitous ex-Nazi called Sir Hugo Drax who is based in Kent near the White
Cliffs of Dover with his answer to Britain's defence, the “Moonraker” nuclear
rocket. The fact was surely not lost on Fleming that he chose this very
location given the Battle of Britain and the new British saviour weapon in the
arsenal called the the Spitfire aircraft (as well as defences
from ‘Operation Sealion’) that saved dear dependable old Blighty in her ‘Hour of Need’.
Blofeld selfishly wanted his Garden of Death to be a success just as
Stromberg’s wanted his own underwater civilisation at the expense of the rest
of the world or that Drax wanted to annihilate the Earth (in a Hiterian
Holocaust) and then populate it with a new Super Race of perfect physical
specimens of all races.
You Only Live Twice (1964): US First Edition.
One can quite easily
see (in the Blofeld of the You Only Live Twice novel) the seeds of these truly
bizarre and barking-mad characters in some of the Bond villains of the Roger
Moore-era Bond films. In this sense, perhaps a bit of the You Only Live
Twice Blofeld has rubbed off on some of the cinematic Bond villains
that came in the years after Ian Fleming’s death where the screenwriters like
Roald Dahl, Tom Mankiewicz and Christopher Wood otherwise turned away from the
original Fleming Bond source material when it came to Bond villains and other
components. With all of this in mind, one also thinks of Richard Maibaum’s
original plot suggestion for The Spy Who Loved Me film to have
real-world terrorists blow up the world’s oil fields with stolen nuclear
submarines and watch the world burn just for the sheer hell of it. That would
have been as close to the Blofeld of You Only Live Twice novel
as the Bond films would likely have ever gotten. It was sad indeed that
Maibaum’s vision for something “completely different” (as the Monty
Python’s Flying Circus gang would have put it) never made it onto the
screen. The producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli ruled out going ahead with
Maibaum’s script for The Spy Who Loved Me out as being too
overtly political for the James Bond film series, although he did like the
idea. Of course sections of the recent Skyfall was based at
least in part on events near the end of You Only Live Twice where
Bond is shot in the head and loses his memory, and for the Fleming enthusiast
that was surely a great thing to behold. Indeed, the hotly anticipated
release of the twenty-fourth James Bond film Spectre in
October 2015 gives the Fleming purist renewed hope that the criminally
neglected novel You Only Live Twice, with its mad king Blofeld and
his equally mad Garden of Death will finally make the transition from the
printed page to the cinema screen. Watch this rather large garden-sized space…
In his Preface to the Coronet Books editions of the original Ian
Fleming James Bond novels first published in 1988, Anthony Burgess (1917-1993),
author of (most famously) the controversial dystopian novelA Clockwork Orange(1962), among other notable novels and
non-fiction, gives an interesting introduction to and defence of the Fleming
Bond novels entitledThe James
Bond Novels: An Introduction.Of
particular interest in this introduction is the following passage:
“It is important, I think, to stress the point that, after the
early films, whose budgets were too low to admit of too much extravagance, the
James Bond whom Fleming created has only a nominal connection with the leering
hero of the screen. This also goes for the titles: what has the filmOctopussyto do with the brilliant short story
in which Bond has a very marginal role? It is true that Fleming forbade the
film adaptation ofThe Spy Who
Loved Me, but that was no excuse for attaching the title to a very
unflemingian [sic] hotchpotch. It is time for aficionados of the films
to get back to the books and admire their qualities as literature.”(1)
Burgess is making an entirely valid point here of course, but when his
history with the film Bond is taken into account the contradiction between his
words and his actions can be seen all too clearly, making his above comments,
especially about the film ofThe
Spy Who Loved Me(1977)
appear highly ironic indeed, but perhaps that was the point. To the uninitiated there
is the strong suggestion here of some double standards on the part of Burgess here in
this preface written some ten years after the release of The Spy Who Loved Me in the cinemas and some eleven years after his
writing of a screenplay for the film. Although Burgess' screenplay was parodical in
nature with the requisite elements of comic writing and clear ridicule of the
direction the contemporary James Bond films were going in it is acknowledged
that at least one of his ideas for the 1977 film (that of the huge submarine
silo aboard Karl Stromberg's ship The Liparus near the end of the film) is recognised as having been taken from Burgess’s
otherwise knowingly daft script. Indeed, Burgess had by the time he came to
work on The Spy Who Loved Me in 1976 already
scripted the film Moses the Lawgiver
(1974) and after his involvement with Bond he would go on to script the films Jesus
of Nazareth (1977) and A.D. (1985), so he was not merely an author turning his hand to writing a Bond screenplay as a novice; he did have past
experience at the art of scripting a film.
In Steven Jay Rubin’s magisterialThe
James Bond Films(1981) he
states that, “The writing ofThe
Spy Who Loved Mewas
something of a nightmare. No less than twelve script writers had a crack at it
and there were at least fifteen different drafts of the script on Broccoli’s
desk at any one moment. It became a question of who could be the most
innovative and yet stay within the bounds of credibility.
On this new project, the writers were asked to work from scratch,
bearing in mind a guideline from Broccoli who thought that “The Spy” in
question should be a Russian agent who falls in love with Bond.”(2)
On the screenwriting ofThe
Spy Who Loved MeSteven Jay
Rubin further writes:
“[Anthony] Barwick left the [script writing] project and was
followed in order by Derek Marlowe, Sterling Silliphant, John Landis and
Anthony Burgess (the author ofA
Clockwork Orange). Burgess developed the most outrageous of all the
scripts, an undisguised parody of the world of James Bond.”(3)
Further to this, inKiss!
Kiss! Bang! Bang!: The Unofficial James Bond Film Companion(2000), by Alan Barnes and Marcus
Hearn it is confirmed that, “the huge submarine silo seen in the finished film was
reportedly Burgess’s inspiration.”(4)
Burgess’s involvement with the script ofThe Spy Who Loved Mein 1976 and his attendant send-up of the world
of the filmic James Bond greatly contradict what he would later write in his Coronet Books Bond
novels Introduction in 1987. It is most odd indeed that Burgess would mark out
a film that he wrote a draft screenplay verging on parody for and then later
criticise the finished film as being “a very unflemingian [sic] hotchpotch.” If one were only to consider his 1987 comments, one would have assumed (quite wrongly as it turns out) that Burgess would have
been the very man to put that right!
Of course, there is another side to this particular coin here, as is often the case when one digs deeper into the facts. The whole screenplay written by Burgess forThe Spy Who Loved Mecould alternatively (and probably more
accurately) be read as a “piss-take” or overt parody of the direction that the
Bond series was heading in in the late 1970s rather than as a truly serious
attempt at writing a 1970s James Bond film, with all that that entailed in
terms of style and set-pieces. In ready support of this analysis of
his outlandish screenplay forThe
Spy Who Loved Meis the fact
that Burgess had earlier written a spy novel entitledTremor of Intent: An Eschatological
Spy Novel (1966) which Burgess
conceived as both a timely (the 1960s were of course the height of the Spy Craze
in novels and films and on television) comedic reaction to the po-faced “seriousness” of the Len Deighton and John
Le Carré spy novels and the more fantasy-laden James Bond novels
of Ian Fleming and his then many imitators in print. Indeed the Ian Fleming James Bond novels have for a long time been considered as the dividing line in spy fiction between the more fantasy laden thrillers and spy spoofs/take-offs and the more gritty and realistic spy thrillers by the likes of Len Deighton and John Le Carré as well as the undisputed masters of the docu-thriller and the techno-thriller Frederick Forsyth and the late Tom Clancy respectively.
Whatever the reason for Burgess’s parody of the James Bond films
in his seemingly serious attempt to write a latter-day Bond film it is a point
well settled by this present time that the decade of the 1970s was the most
decadent in the history of the James Bond films, starting with the high-camp spoofery of a Bond film with Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and ending with the Space-Age spectacle of Moonraker (1979).
Where the earlier 1960s Bonds had focused on character and plot the 1970s Bonds
had focused on outlandish spectacle and excess at the cost of character, a move
the Fleming purist fan Burgess obviously very much disapproved of for
well-founded reasons and when his screenplay attempt is read in light of this
fact it does make much more sense as a reaction against this direction. His
outlandish parody of all that he saw the Bond films had become by the late
1970s could be easily read as a polemic against the increase in spectacle and
stunts at the expense of the corpse of the James Bond character construct. Guy Hamilton himself, the director of Goldfinger (1964) and three other Bond films, even believed that the Bond films could never really ever be taken seriously again after the inclusion of the trick Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger. It was heavily-laden with gadgetry including front-firing machine guns hidden in the lights, a rear oil slick facility and rear thick black smoke projector and of course the infamous ejector seat for those troublesome passengers! No
doubt Burgess would have been pleased (as any Fleming purist at the time no
doubt was) that the Bond films returned to a back to basic more grounded in
reality approach at the beginning of the 1980s with the release ofFor Your Eyes Only(1981) with Roger Moore arguably giving
his best (and not coincidentally the most Flemingesque) performance as Bond much more in line
with the Fleming originals as the film was closely based on two Fleming short
stories and part of a Bond novel to boot. Whatever the real reason for his
spoof Bond film screenplay for the then projectedThe
Spy Who Loved Mefilm it is
clear that an in-depth study of Burgess and the James Bond phenomenon would be
a very worthy academic and intellectual exercise for a future more in-depth
paper on the subject and the full content of Burgess’s screenplay. Until then
the case on Anthony Burgess andThe
Spy Who Loved Meis hereby
closed pending further inquiry. Therefore the case for the prosecution of Anthony Burgess for crimes against fidelity to Ian Fleming is not proved beyond reasonable doubt (the margin being 99.9%). Judgment deferred.
Endnotes (1)Anthony Burgess, ‘The James Bond Novels: An Introduction,’ Lugano, 1987 (Ian Fleming, Live and Let Die, Coronet Books, London, 1988), (no page numbers). (2) Steven Jay Rubin, The James Bond Films(Talisman Books, London, 1981), pp. 137-138. (3)Ibid, p. 139. (4) Alan Barnes and Marcus Hearn, Kiss! Kiss! Bang! Bang!: The Unofficial James Bond Film Companion(Batsford, London, 2000), p. This article is dedicated to the Memory of Greg Ferrell (SirHenryLeeChaChing on MI6 Community) (1961-2014) who sadly passed away in January 2014. Sad and sorry that I was not able to send you those new Bond blog articles you were interested in, Greg. --Dragonpol.
Hello and welcome to all of my loyal blog readers the whole world over. The Bondologist Blog has been relaunched today, Monday 22nd April 2013, with the intention in bringing the very best articles on all arcane and esoteric aspects of the literary and cinematic James Bond. Gone is the old name of the blog to be replaced by the similar but new name "The Bondologist Blog - The Safe House of David Dragonpol" as my older moniker had become played out on the James Bond online fan community of which I have been a contributing member since 10 May 2002. I still post on two James Bond online forums - namely MI6 Communityhttp://www.mi6community.com where I have posted comments and threads since 11 December 2012 as Dragonpol and on AJB007 Forums as Silhouette Man since 14 January 2003.
Dragonpol is also my name of choice on Twitter also where my profile is @Dragonpol, http://www.twitter.com/Dragonpol I would recommend MI6 Community and AJB007 as the best online forums in world Bondom - fast replies, interesting discussions and respectful members of long standing being the order of the day there, and rightly so. Accept no substitutes.
This is just a small note to explain the name change of The Bondologist Blog. Where before there was Silhouette Man (my old moniker in the James Bond fan community, from 10 May 2002) now there is David Dragonpol, a pseudonym taken from the villainous ex-actor turned serial killer in John Gardner's Never Send Flowers (1993). I hope my readers will understand the reasons for this name change - it is not merely cosmetic, but a sign of a willingness to change from the old to the new in the name of Bond, James Bond. April 2013 will witness the relaunch of The Bondologist Blog, well in time for its first birthday on 25 May 2013. There will be new material added as regularly as is possible on The Bondologist Blog, so please do join up and become a blog member today - from there you can watch this space for the blog article updates that are to come. --Dragonpol.
1. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
4. Casino Royale
5. The Living Daylights
6. Quantum of Solace
7. Licence to Kill
8. Dr. No
9. From Russia with Love
10. For Your Eyes Only
12. The World is Not Enough
13. Live and Let Die
14. The Spy Who Loved Me
16. The Man with the Golden Gun
20. A View to A Kill
21. Tomorrow Never Dies
23. You Only Live Twice
23. Diamonds Are Forever
24. Die Another Day
The late literary author and one-time (though reluctant, it has to be said) ‘Angry Young Man’ of the 1950s literary movement, Sir Kingsley Amis holds a deservedly much-esteemed position in the history of the James Bond phenomenon from the 1960s until his death in the mid-1990s and it could be argued (quite justifiably) that he is second only to James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming in terms of his contributions to the literary world of James Bond with critical works and a continuation novel to his credit. As well as being the author of such novels as Lucky Jim (1954), Take A Girl Like You (1961), The Green Man (1969), Girl, 20 (1971) and The Old Devils (1986), (the latter title being the novel for which Amis deservedly won the Man Booker Prize in 1986) he was also (rather surprisingly for a literary author) a very great fan of genre fiction, and this was especially the case with his books on the James Bond phenomenon in the second half of the twentieth century. Amis wrote only the second book on the literary James Bond phenomenon (after O.F. Snelling’s 1964 book Double O Seven: James Bond, A Report): The James Bond Dossier (1965). He also penned the fun and rather light-hearted concordance The Book of Bond or Every Man His Own 007 (1965) under the pen name of Lt.-Col. William (‘Bill’) Tanner. Amis also wrote the first commissioned James Bond continuation novel after the death of Ian Fleming in August 1964, namely that of Colonel Sun (1968) under the (Glidrose-approved) pseudonym of Robert Markham. Though the novel received mixed reviews from the critics, it sold relatively well and it remains one of the most successful post-Fleming evocations of the high old tone of the Ian Fleming originals, despite the best efforts of Messers Wood, Gardner, Benson, Faulks and Deaver in the years since then.
In Kingsley Amis’ excoriating review of John Gardner’s second James Bond continuation novel For Special Services (1982) published in the Times Literary Supplement on 17 September 1982, he makes the following very interesting point on the nature of the James Bond films when compared with their literary continuation counterparts:
“I have suggested that For Special Services has little to do with the Bond films. In one sense this is its misfortune. Those films cover up any old implausibility or inconsistency by piling one outrage on another. You start to say to yourself. ‘But he wouldn’t –’ or ‘But they couldn’t –’ and before you can finish Bond is crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit or sinking a Soviet aircraft carrier with his teeth. Hardly a page in the book would not have gone the smoother for a diversion of this sort. Why, for instance, does the New York gang boss set his hoods on Bond when all he has to do is ask them nicely? Echo answers why. The reader is offered no relief from his bafflement.
“By a kind of tradition, however, perhaps started by Buchan and Dominick Medina in The Three Hostages, the main character-interest in this type of novel attaches to the villain. Mr Big, Hugo Drax, Dr No and their like are persons of some size and power. They are made to seem to exist in their own right, to have been operating since long before Bond crossed their paths, rather than to have been run up on the spot for him to practice on. But then to do anything like that the writer must be genuinely interested in his material.”1
In his earlier review in the New Statesman of the film tie-in novelisation of the third Roger Moore James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) by the screenwriter Christopher Wood entitled James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Kingsley Amis made other interesting comments about what he saw as the inherent and intrinsic differences between the literary and the cinematic James Bond. It was a more mixed review than his polemical review of John Gardner’s For Special Services and indeed the whole contemporary James Bond continuation project as a whole. Amis wrote of the difficult task of writing a James Bond novel in the Fleming style in the vastly different conception of the character that was that of the filmic James Bond character of the late 1970s. This filmic image of James Bond had long ago overtaken the literary Bond character in the vast swathe of the public consciousness and in the public mind:
“…Mr Wood has bravely tackled his formidable main task, that of turning a typical late Bond film, which is basically facetious, into a novel after Fleming, which must be basically serious. To this end he has, by my count, left out nine silly gadgets and sixteen silly cracks that were in the script.
What nobody could have cut out is the element of second-sight contingency planning (or negligence) that gets by in a film, indeed is very much part of the style of these films, but intrudes in a book. Your enemy has an explosive motorbike sidecar ready to launch at your car in case he’s forgotten to kill you for certain and in secret a few minutes before. In case that misses, he has already aloft a helicopter fitted with jets and cannon. Your car is submersible in case you meet such a helicopter while driving on a coast road. In case you submerge your car he has a submarine waiting. In case he has you have underwater rocket-launchers.
Later, in his supertanker, [the Liparus] which is really a giant submarine-trap, your enemy has a revolving gun-emplacement and four inch armoured shutters with machine-gun slits over his control-room in case the submarine crews he’s taken prisoner and forgotten to kill break out of the ‘brig’ and start trying to take over with spare weapons they find in the magazine, where there’s also enough stuff just lying around to build a bomb that’ll blast through the armour-plate. Second-sight sportsmanship?
In his published letters, Amis revealed to his second wife Elizabeth Jane Howard that he’d “been to Pinewood Studios to be talked to about the new James Bond film, which they want me to write an article on. Don’t know that I will, but it was fun to go, meet Roger Moore etc.” This means that Amis visited the set of the then new James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me in September 1976, and although he never wrote a review of the film, he did instead go on to review the novelisation of the film by Christopher Wood by in the New Statesman just a week after a review of the film The Spy Who Loved Me by another reviewer had appeared in the official weekly Labour Party journal. It is surely no coincidence that Kingsley Amis' son Martin Amis was at this time no less than the Literary Editor of the New Statesman (a position that he held between 1977 and 1979), and therefore he had Amis senior had the literary licence in the left-wing journal to vent spleen on the modern-day conception of a James Bond film that bore little to no relation to the works of the late Ian Fleming - that of The Spy Who Loved Me.
There is much of interest (and indeed relevance) in what Kingsley Amis wrote about the nature of the contemporary James Bond films of the late 1970s in his two reviews quoted above. Indeed, all of his criticisms and observations are still true today, perhaps even more so. Amis was clearly no great fan of the James Bond films, (most especially those of the often light and dandy version of James Bond as played by Roger Moore) much preferring the original Ian Fleming James Bond novels and short stories to their outlandish cinematic counterparts. The reviews (and a letter to Philip Larkin on Gardner’s 1981 first Bond continuation novel Licence Renewed) also reveal that Amis, as the first James Bond continuation author, also heavily disapproved of the continuation novels by John Gardner; to the extent that he thought that they brought the memory of the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming into disrepute! Kingsley Amis’ words about the almost psychic villainy in the James Bond films in always anticipating Bond’s next move was an aspect especially a part of the larger scale James Bond films directed by Lewis Gilbert (You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and some of the more modern Bond films like the action-film orientated Pierce Brosnan outings Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Die Another Day (2002) and even Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace (2008). The new era ushered in by the Daniel Craig version of James Bond has put paid to most of these problems identified by Amis as being why the novels and their film counterparts are so very different from each other. The current-day Daniel Craig era is a “reboot” of the series, starting with Casino Royale (2006) and continuing with Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012) and as such, it has seen a return to the spirit of the Ian Fleming novels and a rejection of the old traditions of the popular (and sadly much more prominent, in the general public’s mind, at least) traditional James Bond of the Eon-produced films in the forty year period of the so-called “classic James Bond films” before the advent of the 2006 “reboot” of the series from 1962 to 2002.
Amis’ reference to the overly implausible, fantastic and outlandish elements of the James Bond films that had crept in over the years was especially true in the most decadent era of the James Bond films – that of the 1970s. These particular Bond films were by their very nature much more action, gadgetry, gimmickry and major logistical stunt orientated than either their Bond film predecessors in the 1960s or their successors in the 1980s. The 1970s was a more decadent era than many others, and this decadence certainly rubbed off on the James Bond films of the era, in that they were less focused on James Bond’s character, but instead much more on the action set pieces, amazing stunt work, explosions, mass gun battles and villainous lairs hidden in the most unexpected of places. Amis, in both the extracts from his book reviews quoted above was reacting against this new version of James Bond that he rightly felt had replaced that of the literary James Bond in much of the public imagination and consciousness. Amis, rather admirably, always remained a book Bond man rather than a film Bond man and this was his area of interest and indeed vast expertise. Amis contributed much to the literary side of the vast James Bond universe, including critical studies, a fun James Bond concordance, the first James Bond continuation novel, as well as general book reviews, articles, letters and interviews on the subject of the literary James Bond and his creator Ian Fleming. Amis even wrote the entry on Ian Fleming in the Dictionary of National Biography 1961-1970 and his last television interview was on a Biography Channel programme on Ian Fleming shortly before he died in October 1995. This shows the depth of Amis’ dedication to the world of the literary James Bond and his creator Ian Fleming. Amis’ contribution to the literary world of James Bond cannot be overemphasised, and, as such this article seeks to delve deeper than hitherto into Amis’ views on the James Bond films and how these tally with the original vision of Ian Fleming and the new and refreshing era of the Daniel Craig James Bond films released in the six years between 2006 and 2012.
Amis’ publicly stated dislike of the Roger Moore James Bond films has led to the rumour or suggestion that it was a combination of the fact that Amis’s Colonel Sun was accepted over Geoffrey Jenkins’ novel Per Fine Ounce (circa 1966) that Harry Saltzman refused to even countenance a film version of Colonel Sun, as he had been involved in supporting Jenkins’ bid to get Glidrose to publish his James Bond novel, the outline of which he had worked on with Ian Fleming in the early 1960s and which he indeed wrote up before Glidrose later refused to publish, as was their right under the terms of the contract drawn up to commission the novel in the first place. However, there is another interesting aspect to the story of the potential filming of Colonel Sun by EON Production, as is revealed in one of the late author’s letters to his second wife and fellow novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard:
“…Meant to tell you that while I was at Pinewood I mentioned Col. Sun to the PR chap, saying quite innocently that I’d heard long ago that Sal[t]zman had more or less specifically rejected the idea of filming it. PR chap said well, you know Sal[t]zman has left the organisation now and, er, let’s say I’ve heard people mentioning Col Sun. So there may be something in store for us there.”3
As it turned out, Amis’ Colonel Sun, like all of the numerous continuation novels by the likes of John Gardner, Raymond Benson et al remained and indeed still remain un-filmed well over forty years since its publication way back in March 1968. Another reason cited for the reluctance of EON to film Colonel Sun, one of the most authentic of the post-Fleming James Bond continuation novels (perhaps as it was the first and was written in the requisite period of the 1960s with its contemporary Cold War backdrop of the rivalry between the Soviet Union and Red China) was that the remaining producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli was put off by Amis’ publicly stated dislike of the James Bond films of Roger Moore. While Roger Moore captured the suave and sophisticated element of the James Bond character construct of the Eton drop-out of the original Ian Fleming novels, he played the character much more lightly than the likes of Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig. However, there were some elements of toughness that the lighter-touch James Bond actor Roger Moore brought to the role in his record-breaking seven James Bond films such as his fisticuffs with Saida’s minders, beating up of Scaramanga’s girlfriend, Miss Andrea Anders both of which featured in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), knocking the muscle-bound henchman Sandor off a roof in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and kicking a car containing Emile Leopold Locque off a cliff-edge to his death in For Your Eyes Only (1981). While the first two of these incidents were just plain nasty, and not having any precedent in the works of Ian Fleming, the killing of Locque is reminiscent of the Bond of the novel Live and Let Die (1954) kicking Mr Big’s henchman The Robber into a shark pit as revenge for the shark-mauling of his friend Felix Leiter. Locque’s brutal end was revenge on the part of Moore-Bond for the murder of his Italian ally Luigi Ferrara by Locque, hence this toughening up of Bond was justified. This dislike of the Bond films of the 1970s and the wrong direction that Amis felt that they were going in (away from their earlier fidelity to the works of Ian Fleming) is evidenced in his book reviews of James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me and For Special Services, the relevant extracts of which are quoted above. Evidently, this antagonism to the film version of James Bond must have alienated Cubby Broccoli and his production team. And so it came to pass that when Eon Productions ran out of original Fleming material there was always the James Bond character from which they had the rights to make new film adventures from – they did not have to resort to the sole continuation novel of Amis, or latterly those of Gardner or Benson.
Amis raises some very interesting and timelessly relevant points about the more traditional formula-driven James Bond films of yesteryear as well as pointing to the way the future direction of the action sequences and set pieces of the James Bond films should go in the future. What Amis wrote way back in 1977 and 1982 in the unexpected place of his reviews of two James Bond continuation novels is still as relevant to a reader in 2013 as it was at the time of original publication, if not even more so, given subsequent James Bond films that have been released in the years since 1977 and 1982 respectively. The Daniel Craig James Bond films have seemingly finally headed Amis’ advice on and criticism of the extravagant yet hollow, soulless and emotionally vapid James Bond films of the late 1970s (and of 1967, if one counts You Only Live Twice, where the rot rather set in, and “film Bond” began to replace “book Bond” in the public imagination, in this author’s view). There were of course such earlier films of the 1970s as Diamonds Are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), all directed by Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton, but the scale of these three Bond films all tended to be smaller and with tagged-on endings involving resurgent henchmen (Mr Wint and Mr Kidd, Tee Hee and Nick Nack) making a last ditch revenge attempt on Bond’s life after the death of the main villain that was their boss. Guy Hamilton used the same cinematic device in Goldfinger too, although there it was the main eponymous villain that made the revenge attack on Bond after he had foiled the Operation Grand Slam plan to irradiate all of the gold supply of Fort Knox. These three films had a smaller scale plot (especially true of the first two Roger Moore films, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun) and being co-scripted by new writing talent Tom Mankiewicz they had a lighter, more comedic tone more in keeping with the general mood of the early 1970s where audiences depressed by the grim reality of the energy crises and the “three day week” wanted more escapist fare from their Bond films than had their predecessors in the 1960s that had starred Sean Connery and George Lazenby respectively.
In the aftermath of the break away of Harry Saltzman from the partnership with Cubby Broccoli and his selling of his half stake in the Bond films to the studio United Artists, Broccoli had the maxim of putting every budgetary penny spent up on the screen for the audience to marvel at had the adverse effect of reducing the James Bond character to a mere cipher. From The Spy Who Loved Me onwards, it seemed that the James Bond character was merely the catalyst for wild death-defying stunts and explosive set pieces. In all of this large-scale action and spectacle the character of James Bond was reduced to that of a fantasy figure onto which impressionable audiences could project their wildest dreams in an escapist adventure that lasted a little over two hours. The James Bond films of the 1970s offered this chance of escape in an increasingly dull world of international terrorism, strikes, three-day weeks, energy crises and IRA bombing campaigns. It must have been felt by the producer, directors and screenwriters that too much character development of James Bond would have gotten in the way of the general mood of Bond films being escapist fare – too much dwelling on Bond’s inner demons being not what audiences of that grim decade that was the 1970s would not have been looking for. Cubby Broccoli seemed to have the uncanny gift of being able to deliver up to the audience what they wanted at that particular time in history, even though this meant that the actual character development of the James Bond character was mostly put on the back burner in the 1970s. Spectacle, set pieces and giant sets were the order of the day in the James Bond films of the 1970s – character development very much took a back seat. Now, in this new blessed era of Daniel Craig, the Fleming purist may rejoice loudly at the direction taken by the action sequences and plotting of these new and superior James Bond films, following on from the earlier example of Roger Moore’s finest Bond film (from a Flemingesque point of view) For Your Eyes Only (1981) and the later Timothy Dalton films of the late 1980s, where there was once again a renewed attempt to bring the unexpurgated soul of the James Bond character construct, as originally envisaged by Ian Fleming faithfully to the big screen. Amis refers to the element of the suspension of disbelief in the James Bond films of the late 1970s thus:
“Those films cover up any old implausibility or inconsistency by piling one outrage on another. You start to say to yourself. ‘But he wouldn’t –’ or ‘But they couldn’t ’ and before you can finish Bond is crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit or sinking a Soviet aircraft carrier with his teeth.”4
It is safe to say that Kingsley Amis is being rather facetious himself here (a phrase he uses to describe the contemporary James Bond films of the late 1970s) and that he is rather engaging in some hyperbole, but when one considers the fact that the two James Bond films of the late 1970s, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979) both had plots concerning the destruction of all life on Earth through nuclear weapons and poison gas respectively. It could be said that Amis’ seemingly exaggerated comments was not too far from the truth in his reviews. It was against this backdrop of the replacement of the James Bond novels with the James Bond films of the 1970s, that Amis wrote what amounted to two polemics against the Bond films. Ironically, Amis conversely felt that the continuation Bond novels themselves probably could have done with emulating them in order to be successful in the mind’s eye of the contemporary general James Bond fan of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Another very interesting and indeed salient point that Amis makes in the extracts from the reviews quoted above is the fact that the James Bond films in the decadent era of the late 1970s all have the same approach to villainy in the form of the various henchmen and henchwomen that form the forces that act against the secret agent James Bond in the film versions:
“What nobody could have cut out is the element of second-sight contingency planning (or negligence) that gets by in a film, indeed is very much part of the style of these films, but intrudes in a book. Your enemy has an explosive motorbike sidecar ready to launch at your car in case he’s forgotten to kill you for certain and in secret a few minutes before. In case that misses, he has already aloft a helicopter fitted with jets and cannon. Your car is submersible in case you meet such a helicopter while driving on a coast road. In case you submerge your car he has a submarine waiting. In case he has you have underwater rocket-launchers.
Later, in his supertanker, [the Liparus] which is really a giant submarine-trap, your enemy has a revolving gun-emplacement and four inch armoured shutters with machine-gun slits over his control-room in case the submarine crews he’s taken prisoner and forgotten to kill break out of the ‘brig’ and start trying to take over with spare weapons they find in the magazine, where there’s also enough stuff just lying around to build a bomb that’ll blast through the armour-plate. Second-sight sportsmanship?”5
This criticism of The Spy Who Loved Me concerning the battery of henchmen some of the more outlandish and megalomaniacal villains in the film series threw at James Bond could also be applied to previous James Bond films like Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Diamonds Are Forever, and Live and Let Die. What Amis cleverly calls “second-sight contingency planning” on the part of the filmic James Bond villains and their various minions is seen most clearly in the “greatest-hits package” of a James Bond film that is The Spy Who Loved Me, a Bond film by numbers (although the correct winning combination) that is essentially a remake of You Only Live Twice (significantly also directed by Lewis Gilbert) with a fair measure of Goldfinger thrown in for good measure, and just to make sure all of the classic (and provably successful) Bond film ingredients needed for box-office success were present and correct. When James Bond (played by Roger Moore) visits Karl Stromberg in Atlantis, his gigantic steel spider-like underwater research laboratory off the coast of Sardinia, he goes under the guise of Robert Sterling, a marine biologist, in order to see how Stromberg lives out his rather reclusive and eccentric existence under the sea as the wealthy owner of the Stromberg shipping line or one of “the principal capitalist exploiters of the West” in the words of the doctrinaire Communist agent Major Anya Amasova of the KGB. Stromberg asks Jaws after seeing Mr Sterling (Bond) “Were they the two on the train?” to which the mute Jaws gives an affirmative nod. “James Bond and Major Amasova, a Russian agent. Let them get ashore, and then kill them.”
As Amis readily notes in the passage quoted above, James Bond, after having been granted an audience with Karl Stromberg in Atlantis, his underwater research laboratory in Sardinia, is pursued by a veritable litany of Stromberg’s henchmen in ever-increasing and elaborate death-dealing devices along a coastal road in Sardinia. These devices include in swift succession; a motorbike and missile-launched sidecar that attempts to blow Bond and Amasova to smithereens in their Lotus Esprit, a car full of gun firing thugs (including the 7 ft 2” indestructible steel-teethed hit man Jaws), a helicopter equipped with a contemporary Vietnam War (1965-1973) style machine-gun cannon (later seen in A View to A Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies and Skyfall also) that attempts on several occasions along the selfsame coastal Sardinian road to riddle Bond’s Lotus Esprit with bullets and turn the pure white coat of the sports car to the crimson red of blood and mutilated and bloody bodies. The helicopter that was flown by Stromberg’s personal assistant and pilot Naomi forces Bond to drive his Lotus Esprit off the edge of a pier into the Sardinian sea. This heart-in-mouth sequence results in the revelation that the car has the ability to turn into a submarine submersible car, with fins and tail rudder to control its underwater course. From the sea, Bond uses the car’s controls to fire a missile upwards from the roof of the submerged car at the “uninvited guest” of the helicopter flown by Naomi, which explodes in a massive fireball above the surface of the sea. Bond had used a quick and death-defying manoeuvre to escape the sidecar-missile projectile, causing the rider to be thrown over a cliff-edge to his death when the motorbike sidecar missile hit the unintended target of a luxury Materassis Sardadream bed mattress lorry (“All those feathers and he still can’t fly” quips Moore-Bond). The car full of gun-toting thugs meets its end when Bond fires liquid cement from two jets hidden behind his car’s number plate to cover the car’s windscreen, causing it to crash headlong into a Sardinian citizen’s house. The gadgetry of the Lotus Esprit of course recalls that of Bond’s gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 in the film Goldfinger, which many Bond aficionados consider to be the very best James Bond film. Tellingly, Jaws is the only walk-away survivor of the terror car carnage. Amis, in his haste forgets to even mention this car chase sequence from the film version of The Spy Who Loved Me, but he can perhaps be forgiven for this over-sight as he makes very salient points, was not a Bond film admirer in any real sense, and probably was relying on his memories of the showing of the film in the cinema; beta-mix tapes, video cassettes and DVD/Blu-Ray copies that would allow of multiple viewing for strict accuracy, not then available to the general film-going public of 1977 (although the very first prototype video tape was created in 1956). This was a problem faced by many of the early commentators of the James Bond films, of course, from John Brosnan to Steven Jay Rubin to Raymond Benson. Amis does however remember the three underwater sledges fitted with small underwater torpedoes and missiles seen in the film when Bond’s car tries to investigate Atlantis as it exists under the ocean. There is also a Shark Hunter mini submersible that Major Amasova helps to destroy with an ink screen and two mines that blow the Shark Hunter up when the mines hit the seabed. (There is an apt little in-joke here on the reality of the incompetence of much of post-war British Intelligence (of, for instance, the Cambridge spy ring) as it then existed when Major Amasova admits that she knew about the car’s weaponry as she “stole the blueprints of this car two years ago.” (!)) Amis rather succinctly refers to this underwater scene by saying:
“Your car is submersible in case you meet such a helicopter while driving on a coast road. In case you submerge your car he has a submarine waiting. In case he has you have underwater rocket-launchers.”6
Although it is notable that Amis was certainly no expert (or indeed fan) of the James Bond films, he had evidently seen enough of them and their variations in quality from film to film and to know that they were formula films very much set apart latterly from the original works by Ian Fleming that he had earlier studied in such depth in several books in the 1960s. Amis knew (arguably better than any other commentator of the time) the flaws of the Bond films in their presentation of small-scale minor henchman villainy and in the panorama of their action set-pieces as seen most especially in The Spy Who Loved Me with thescene along the Sardinian coast. It is clear that Amis made most revealing criticisms of many of the James Bond films of the late 1960s and late 1970s – that which he knowingly labels “the element of second-sight contingency planning (or negligence) that gets by in a film, indeed is very much part of the style of these films” whereby Bond’s sworn enemy always seems to have another madman’s surprise of a death-trap waiting to spring on him just “in case he’s forgotten to kill [him] for certain and in secret a few minutes before.” This is a very astute reading of the problems with the action sequences of the most popular (amongst the plebeian masses, not the true Bond aficionados) of the James Bond films, namely, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, all, rather tellingly, directed by Lewis Gilbert (and two of which were of course written by scriptwriter and novelist Christopher Wood). These Bond films appeal to the general mass of the general public worldwide simply because they are fun, light-hearted romps that move at break-neck pace; the exotic locales, megalomaniacal villains, lush and exotic girls, preposterous potentially Earth-shattering villainous plot conspiracies, fast action and gadget-laden cars, helicopters and gondolas and as such, comprise what Joe Public considers acceptable when they hear the name “James Bond” uttered or read it in print. In his review of John Gardner’s For Special Services, Amis makes another very interesting point concerning the nature of the villainy that Gardner has on display in his second Bond continuation novel, but which could, of course be equally applied to the villains and their various henchmen in the contemporaneous Bond films of the late 1970s:
“I have suggested that For Special Services has little to do with the Bond films. In one sense this is its misfortune. Those films cover up any old implausibility or inconsistency by piling one outrage on another. You start to say to yourself. ‘But he wouldn’t –’ or ‘But they couldn’t –’ and before you can finish Bond is crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit or sinking a Soviet aircraft carrier with his teeth.
“By a kind of tradition, however, perhaps started by Buchan and Dominick Medina in The Three Hostages, the main character-interest in this type of novel attaches to the villain. Mr Big, Hugo Drax, Dr No and their like are persons of some size and power. They are made to seem to exist in their own right, to have been operating since long before Bond crossed their paths, rather than to have been run up on the spot for him to practice on. But then to do anything like that the writer must be genuinely interested in his material.”7
The same criticism could surely be attached to the highly influential (in the popular consciousness) three James Bond films directed by Lewis Gilbert between 1967 and 1979. These films were massive earners at the box-office when compared to some of the grittier or more experimental James Bond films that either followed or preceded them (thinking here of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun specifically). Lewis Gilbert was responsible (N.B. I make that sound rather like a criminal offence quite intentionally) for the three most outlandish James Bond films in the fifty years of the official Eon-produced series from 1962 to 2012 (excepting, of course Lee Tamahori’s Die Another Day, 2002) And although it is true that no Bond films have (as yet) featured Bond “crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit” [shades of Roger Moore’s much-maligned safari suit seen in The Man with the Golden Gun, Moonraker and Octopussy]”; this being an example of Amis’ exaggeration to make an otherwise salient point, the Lewis Gilbert Bond films certainly came close to this type of outlandish excess. [It is notable that, as a child, I first came across the word “outlandish” rather appropriately in a film review of Moonraker published in a newspaper – “one of the most outlandish entries in the series.”]
In Lewis Gilbert’s You Only Live Twice there were the excesses of a space rocket swallowing other space rockets, the “Little Nellie” gadget laden autogyro small helicopter, an underground volcanic lair that formed the military base of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE In The Spy Who Loved Me there is the “Wet Nellie”, the submersible Lotus Esprit gadget-laden car, Atlantis, the Liparus super tanker and submarine-swallowing storage container and a mass of spectacular stunts from skiing off a cliff and being saved by a Union Flag parachute to an escape from the sinking Atlantis marine research laboratory in an escape pod (shades of the later film version of Casino Royale, 2006, where there is a sinking piazza in Venice). In the even more excessive last Lewis Gilbert directed Bond film Moonraker (1979) there are the outlandish elements of Bond being pushed out of an aeroplane without a parachute that he then has to wrestle n mid-air from his protagonist, a spin in a centrifuge astronaut-trainer with a G-force that almost goes off the recorded scale of ordinary human endeavour, a space shuttle based programme of eugenics where the plot is to remove from the decadent Earth all of its human life and to repopulate it with a set of “perfect physical specimens” that will breed a new Master Race that will be reborn like a Phoenix arisen from the ashes of the old Earth. In order to “preserve the balance of nature”, Drax sees to it that animal life will remain unaffected by the lethal improvements made to an ancient civilisation’s orchid-sourced nerve poison. There is also a laser battle in space between the “Draxites” and the NASA-trained cavalry leader Colonel Scott’s space marines, which does look rather preposterous. Despite this, it is a climactic scene clearly influenced by similar cavalry-arrival scenes in Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me. Although the Bond films post-Moonraker were less excessive and more grounded in the gritty reality of the dirty trade that is espionage, late 2002 saw the release of Die Another Day, which critics and fans alike cited as being a return to the old-school excesses of Bond films of yesteryear such as You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. With a plot involving a laser satellite in space called Icarus (a seemingly benevolent "second sun") that was designed by the apparent English toff Sir Gustav Graves (in reality Colonel Tan-Sun Moon) to destroy the very heavily mined border area (known as the 38th Parallel) between the Communist North Korean and the democratic South Korea, leaving the way clear for an invasion by the North Korean Army some fifty years after the Korean War of 1950-1953.
Although the film had a rather gritty start with James Bond being captured and tortured over the course of some fourteen months between 2001 and 2002 (during which time 11th September 2001 occurred and the “world changed”), when the film arrived at its main Icelandic location, it is noticeable how preposterous the plot becomes all of a sudden. There is the idea of the “second sun” that is the Icarus space laser satellite (recalling both Diamonds are Forever and GoldenEye), the Aston Martin Vanquish that becomes an invisible car at the touch of a button, the fight between two (ridiculously) heavily gadget-laden cars on the ice, the Ice Palace (inspired unacknowledged by John Gardner’s 1983 Bond continuation novel Icebreaker), the climactic fight on a plane with Graves in the role of an evil science-fiction inspired superhero with a Robocop-inspired Icarus satellite control suit, the preposterous CGI-inflected scene where Bond uses an open parachute and the windscreen from Graves’; super car to surf a tidal wave caused by the Icarus satellite being used to cut off a large section of a ice cliff edge. This scene recalls Amis’ mention of “Bond…crossing the sunward side of the planet Mercury in a tropical suit”. The ice cliff scene was clearly inspired by the exploding of the limestone cliff edge with drilled-down dynamite charges in the original Moonraker novel, of which Die Another Day is a very loose updated adaptation. Sir Gustav Graves is modelled on Sir Hugo Drax, the Icarus satellite is modelled on the Moonraker rocket, Blades gentleman’s club features, the face-changing device recalls Drax’s botched plastic surgery and the character of Miranda Frost was originally going to be called Gala Brand in line with the heroine of the Moonraker novel. With the advent of Die Another Day, that piece of hyperbole on the part of Amis does not seem quite so outlandish and exaggerated a suggestion after all. Amis also made reference to how easily the submarine crews being held prisoner in the ‘brig’ of the Liparus were set free and were able to raid the ship’s armoury. This is a staple of spy and adventure films, however and is not solely unique to the film The Spy Who Loved Me. One is reminded of the "Space Seed" episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (of which the film Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan is a direct sequel) where Captain James T. Kirk (sometimes referred to as a portly James Bond) and the villainous Khan are fighting in an engineering room aboard the USS Enterprise and Kirk manages to gain the advantage by his unscrewing of an anti-matter containment control bulk head pin lock that just so happens to resemble a long wrench and Kirk uses this handy im-provised weapon to gain the advantage in his hand-to-hand battle with his opponent by repeatedly hitting Khan over the head with it until he is finally knocked unconscious.* One suspects that the same type of “second-sight sportsmanship” applies in the prisoner escape and breaching of the control room in The Spy Who Loved Me, but as Amis says this fun Bondian romp can easily be forgotten about once it has been viewed, as it is rather hollow and soulless in nature. As a film, The Spy Who Loved Me, with its "James Bond as a superman" automaton figure, is really just a light and sugary piece of pink candy floss to dissolve almost instantly on the tongue, leaving a sickly sweet aftertaste, in contrast to the Army Surplus hard-boiled sweet of the noirish Fleming original, and as Amis writes at the end of his review of Christopher Wood’s novelisation of the film, “…but forget it. You safely can.”8
However, despite these outlandish elements in certain of the James Bond films from You Only Live Twice to Die Another Day, Amis’ criticism of the Bond films in his two reviews of Bond continuation novels could be said to have rational support in the original works of Ian Fleming. An action set-piece that Fleming designed for his third James Bond novel Moonraker (1955), not of course to be confused with the outlandish 1979 film version of the same name, applies the type of counter-move to the excesses of the latter-day James Bond films that Amis was referring to in his two book reviews quoted above. A quote taken from this passage in Moonraker will easily make this salient point on the vast differences between many of the action set-pieces seen in the James Bond films and those as originally written by Fleming in his novels and short stories of the 1950s and 1960s. In the scene quoted below from Moonraker, James Bond, driving his old Bentley, is in pursuit of the villain Sir Hugo Drax’s Mercedes, with his ADC and dogsbody Willy Krebs as a passenger and WPC Gala Brand as his prisoner bundled up on the back seat. After Drax has blatantly forced a third party car called Attaboy II off the road in front of Bond’s Bentley, Bond sees this as a declaration of war from the patron of the British Moonraker nuclear deterrent rocket, Sir Hugo Drax:
“As [Bond] flashed by, noting the horrible graffiti of the black skid-marked [sic] across the tarmac, his mind recorded one final macabre touch. Somehow undamaged in the holocaust, the windhorn was still making contact and its ululations were going on up to the sky, stridently clearing imaginary roads for the passage of Attaboy II – ‘Pom-pim-pom-pam’ ‘Pom-pim-pom-pam…’
So a murder had taken place in front of his eyes. Or at any rate an attempted murder. So, whatever his motives, Sir Hugo Drax had declared war and didn’t mind Bond knowing it. This made a lot of things easier. It meant that Drax was a criminal and probably a maniac. Above all it meant certain danger for the Moonraker. That was enough for Bond. He reached under the dashboard and from its concealed holster drew out the long-barrelled .45 Colt Army Special and laid it on the seat beside him. The battle was now in the open and somehow the Mercedes must be stopped.
Using the road as if it was Donington, Bond rammed his foot down and kept it there. Gradually, with the needle twitching either side of the hundred mark he began to narrow the gap.
Drax took the left-hand fork at Charing and hissed up the long hill. Ahead, in the giant beam of his headlights, one of Bowaters’ huge eight-wheeled AEC Diesel carriers was just grinding into the first bend of the hairpin, labouring under the fourteen tons of newsprint it was taking on a night run to one of the East Kent newspapers.
Drax cursed under his breath as he saw the long carrier with the twenty gigantic rolls, each containing five miles of newsprint, roped to its platform. Right in the middle of the tricky S-bend at the top of the hill.
He looked in the driving mirror and saw the Bentley coming into the fork.
And then Drax had his idea.
“Krebs,” the word was a pistol shot. “Get out your knife.”
There was a sharp click and the stiletto was in Kreb’s hand. One didn’t dawdle when there was that note in the master’s voice.
“I am going to slow down behind this lorry. Take your shoes and socks off and climb out on the bonnet and when I come behind the lorry jump on to it. I shall be going at walking-pace. It will be safe. Cut the ropes that hold the rolls of paper. The left ones first. Then the right. I shall have pulled up level with the lorry and when you have cut the second lot jump into the car. Be careful you are not swept off with the paper. Verstanden? Also. Hals und Beinbruch!”
Drax dowsed his headlights and swept around the bend at eighty. The lorry was twenty yards ahead and Drax had to brake hard to avoid crashing hard into its tail. The Mercedes executed a dry skid until its radiator was almost underneath the platform of the carrier.
Drax changed down to second. “Now!” He held the car steady as a rock as Krebs, with bare feet, went over the windscreen and scrambled along the shining bonnet, his knife in his hand.
With a leap he was up and hacking at the left-hand ropes. Drax pulled away to the right and crawled up level with the rear wheels of the Diesel, the oily smoke from its exhaust in his eyes and nostrils.
Bond’s lights were just showing round the bend.
There was a series of huge thuds as the left-hand rolls poured off the back of the lorry into the road and went hurtling off into the darkness. And more thuds as the right-hand ropes parted. One roll burst as it landed and Drax heard a tearing rattle as the unwinding paper crashed back down the one-in-ten gradient.
Released of its load the lorry almost bounded forward and Drax had to accelerate a little to catch the flying figure of Krebs who landed half across Gala’s back and half in the front seat. Drax stamped his foot into the floor and sped off up the hill, ignoring a shout from the lorry-driver above the clatter of the Diesel pistons as he shot ahead.
As he hurtled round the next bend he saw the shaft of two headlights curve up into the sky above the tops of the trees until they were almost vertical. They wavered there for an instant and then the beams whirled away across the sky and went out.
A great barking laugh broke out of Drax as for a split second he took his eyes off the road and raised his face triumphantly towards the stars.
Krebs echoed the maniac laugh with a high giggle. “A master-stroke, mein Kapitän. You should have seen them charge off down the hill. The one that burst. Wunderschön! Like the lavatory paper of a giant. That one will have made a pretty parcel of him. He was just coming round the bend. And the second salvo was as good as the first. Did you see the driver’s face? Zum Kotzen! And the Firma Bowater! A fine paperchase they will have on their hands.”
“You did well,” said Drax briefly, his mind elsewhere.
Suddenly he pulled into the side of the road with a scream of protest from the tyres.
“Donnerwetter,” he said angrily, as he started to turn the car. “But we can’t leave the man there. We must get him.” The car was already hissing back down the road. “Gun,” ordered Drax briefly.
They passed the lorry at the top of the hill. It was stopped and there was no sign of the driver. Probably telephoning to the company, thought Drax, slowing up as they went round the first bend. There were lights on in the two or three houses and a group of people were standing round one of the rolls of newsprint that lay amongst the ruins of their front gate. There were more rolls in the hedge on the right side of the road. On the left a telegraph pole leant drunkenly, snapped in the middle. Then at the next bend was the beginning of a great confusion of paper stretching away down the long hill, festooning the bridges and the road like the sweepings of some elephantine fancy-dress ball.
The Bentley had nearly broken through the railings that fenced off the right of the bend from a steep bank. Amidst a puzzle of twisted iron stanchions it hung, nose down, with one wheel, still attached to the broken back axle, poised crookedly over its rump like a surrealist umbrella.
Drax pulled up and he and Krebs got out and stood quietly, listening.
There was no sound except the distant rumination of a car travelling fast on the Ashford road and the chirrup of a sleepless cricket.
With their guns out they walked cautiously over to the remains of the Bentley, their feet crunching the broken glass on the road. Deep furrows had been cut across the grass verge and there was a strong smell of petrol and burnt rubber in the air. The hot metal of the car ticked and cracked softly and the steam was still fountaining from the shattered radiator.
Bond was lying face downwards at the bottom of the bank twenty feet away from the car. Krebs turned him over. His face was covered with blood but he was breathing they searched him thoroughly and Drax pocketed the Beretta. Then they hauled him across the road and wedged him into the back seat of the Mercedes, half on top of Gala.
When she realised who it was she gave a cry of horror.
“Halt’s Maul,” snarled Drax. He got into the front seat and while he turned the car Krebs leant over from the front seat and busied himself with a long piece of flex. “Make a good job of it,” said Drax. “I don’t want any mistakes.” He had an afterthought. “And then go back to the wreck and get the number plates. Hurry. I will watch the road.”
Krebs pulled the rug over the two inert bodies and jumped out of the car. Using his knife as a screwdriver he was soon back with the plates, and the big car started to move just as a group of the local residents appeared walking nervously down the hill shining their torches over the scene of devastation.
Krebs grinned happily to himself at the thought of the stupid English having to clean up all this mess. He settled himself back to enjoy the part of the drive he had always liked best, the spring woods full of bluebells and celandines on the way to Chilham.”9
This excerpt from Ian Fleming’s Moonraker novel (obviously the polar opposite of the eventual film version released in 1979) shows how Fleming described in beautiful prose an action set piece in one of his early James Bond novels. The extract quoted above ends with a beautiful piece of flowery prose, at odds somewhat with the violent scene of the newsprint rolls. There is no succession of motorbike and sidecar missiles, gun-toting thugs in cars, helicopters fitted with Gatling guns, or underwater sleds and Shark Hunter mini-submarines. What there is is a resourceful Sir Hugo Drax, using his wartime Nazi Werewolf and commando training to use the innocuous looking weaponry that is part of everyday life, such as ordering his lieutenant Willy Krebs to cut the ropes holding vast rolls of newsprint onto the back of a lorry to crush James Bond and his pursuing Bentley car in one of the few action sequences that appear in the more character-driven narrative of Moonraker. The contrast with the action sequences that Amis was referring to in the Bond films of the 1970s is clear for all to see in plain black and white. The arch-villain Sir Hugo Drax (in reality embittered Nazi Graf Hugo von der Drache) is resourceful and wily in his use of the surrounding environment to stop the pursuit of the armed James Bond in his Bentley. Fleming had his villains use the seemingly innocuous surrounding environment and all it had to offer from a hazardous point of view in an unprecedented manner. Rather than the use of a premeditated litany of henchmen going after Bond in his car as is seen in the Bond films of the late 1970s, we see in the newsprint scene the villain using an unpremeditated method to bring Bond and his pursuing Bentley car to a standstill. Fleming achieved this task by having Drax order Krebs onto the back of a lorry in order to cut the ropes holding the newsprint rolls on, all without the aid of motorbikes, cars, helicopters, sleds or Shark Hunter mini-submarines. The contrast between the simpler action sequences of the original Fleming James Bond novels and the more complex and outlandish ones of the later James Bond films is stark indeed, and there for all to see.
The Bond films solely produced by Albert R. ‘Cubby’ Broccoli (after the split from his more creative co-producer partner Harry Saltzman) were instead low on new creative ideas, and from The Spy Who Loved Me onwards it is true that the rot really started to set in as far as the often very derivative action sequences in the Bond films was concerned – they are full of what Amis so aptly labelled “second-sight contingency planning” and “second-sight sportsmanship” also, when it comes to the inevitable arrival of the cavalry in the three Lewis Gilbert films, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker and in some of the other Bond films also, like Goldfinger, Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Having said all that, it would be remiss of this author not to mention the fact that in the Fleming purist direction that the Bond films (mostly) took after the excesses of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker it is possible to see the influence of the works of Ian Fleming on the action set pieces in the new decade of the 1980s until the modern-day with Skyfall in 2012. After the space-age antics of the film version of Moonraker, where the Bond producers had jumped on the whole science-fiction band wagon of films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and TV series such as UFO and Space 1999!, it was felt by the producers, director and scriptwriters that in his new filmic adventure it was high time that James Bond was seen to come back down to Earth again and also back to Flemningian basics. As Amis wrote in his review of John Gardner’s For Special Services (1982):
“By a kind of tradition, however, perhaps started by Buchan and Dominick Medina in The Three Hostages, the main character-interest in this type of novel attaches to the villain. Mr Big, Hugo Drax, Dr No and their like are persons of some size and power. They are made to seem to exist in their own right, to have been operating since long before Bond crossed their paths, rather than to have been run up on the spot for him to practice on. But then to do anything like that the writer must be genuinely interested in his material.”10
Amis here is referring to the second James Bond continuation novel by John Gardner, but he could just as well be referring to the James Bond films of the late 1970s, which was a time very close to when he wrote this particular review in the Times Literary Supplement in September 1982. As Amis notes, Ian Fleming put a great deal of interesting characterisation into his James Bond novels and short stories and this really helped to make his thrillers so intensely readable, as real well-drawn characters and the copious use of brand names often added a real sense of verisimilitude to an otherwise often outlandish (though less so than the films) villainous plot like bombing London with its own nuclear deterrent rocket, “toppling” American missiles into jungles, raiding Fort Knox to seize all of its gold, hijacking Vulcan bomber nuclear bombs to hold to ransom Britain and the United States and threatening Britain with biological warfare in order to get immunity for past crimes and the recognition of an aristocratic title. Fleming’s villains are well-drawn on the page, unlike those of some of the continuation novels that followed his untimely death at the age of just fifty-six in August 1964. Amis writes:
“They are made to seem to exist in their own right, to have been operating since long before Bond crossed their paths, rather than to have been run up on the spot for him to practice on.”11
Amis’ carefully selected and succinct series of words here about Bond villains or their various henchmen “being run up on the spot” as target practice for James Bond’s deadly aim is surely very telling when also applied to the Sardinian coastal road sequence in The Spy Who Loved Me where a veritable litany of henchmen try to kill Bond and Amasova in their Lotus Esprit both on land and underwater. They appear to have been much more of the “run up on the spot” school of Bondian villainy described by Amis than the persons of “some size and power” of the original Fleming novels and the faithful Flemingesque Bond film villains who “seem to exist in their own right” before Bond comes along to threaten their interests and their diabolical plans. After the excesses of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker the James Bond films that followed these two “epic Bonds” seemed to follow the Guy Hamilton school of lower-key Bond films and villains and were more grounded, down-to-Earth Bond films as a result. After Moonraker, there was a renewed attempt to go way back to the original Fleming novels and short stories and to return to the true grit of the original James Bond character. Many of John Glen’s films of the 1980s tried to incorporate Fleming sequences, dialogue and characters. For example, the idea of newsprint rolls being used as weapons by Krebs in Moonraker is seemingly reused in For Your Eyes Only when Bond’s Greek ally Milos Columbo shoots through two ropes to set in motion a series of what resembles newsprint rolls containing raw opium (“an old smuggler’s trick, Kristatos knows them all”, so we’re told) into the path of oncoming armed assailants with the desired effect of knocking them over. In For Your Eyes Only Glen also uses one of the few ideas for an action set piece in a Bond film that actually comes from the pen of Ian Fleming: that of a keel-hauling sequence at the end of Live and Let Die, although the ship the Secatur, owned by Mr Big is blown up by a limpet mine just before the keel-hauling of Bond and Solitare is about to begin in earnest. In the film version of For Your Eyes Only Bond and Melina Havelock are not so fortunate as they are both hauled after Aris Kristatos’ boat until he thinks that “the sharks have them”, although this is of course not the case. In the all-round high-octane action film that is Pierce Brosnan’s second James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), there is another use of rolls of newsprint as Bond ducks and dives between them as armed employees of the media mogul Elliot Carver fire at him and cause general chaos in the printing presses of the Carver Media Group Network (CMGN) owned Tomorrow newspaper (“Tomorrow’s news today”) that is published in Hamburg in Germany. Bond even gets to punch a red-jacketed assailant into the newspaper printing press machine, quipping, rather predictably, “They’ll print anything these days.” Clearly this sentiment also applies to the script for Tomorrow Never Dies itself, which had no real link back to anything Ian Fleming ever wrote, except for Paris Carver’s line “Tell me James, do you still sleep with a gun under your pillow?”
Similarly, in the new era of grittier and more realistic James Bond films starring Daniel Craig as a close likeness to Ian Fleming’s original conception of James Bond, there are more Flemingesque action set pieces for audiences to be once again thrilled about. For example, in the film version of the very last Fleming novel to be filmed, his debut Bond novel Casino Royale, finally filmed as the first Daniel Craig Bond film Casino Royale (2006) there is the brutal torture of Bond’s genitals by a rope swung by a desperate Le Chiffre who wants the casino Texas Hold ’Em Poker winnings that he feels that Bond has cheated him out of. Before this, there was the ploy of placing a tied-up Vesper Lynd in the middle of the road, to be potentially run over by Bond’s latest Aston Martin car. This action scene is inspired both by a similar scene in the original Casino Royale novel where Bond’s pursuant Bentley is brought to a standstill by a series of three-way tacks thrown onto the road before his approaching car by the villain’s car (in a very early example of a gadget-laden car in the James Bond universe. Such a tack-laying device was later seen in Bond’s BMW remote-controlled Q-car in Tomorrow Never Dies).
It could also be argued, of course, that the scene in Moonraker with the newsprint rolls crashing into Bond’s Bentley is another scene in the same class of action sequence. In fact the scene with Vesper Lynd lying in the middle of the road is also very similar to the scene in the novel version of The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) where a blown-up and life-size doll of Bond’s secretary and MI6 field agent Mary Goodnight is placed across a railway track on Scaramanga’s train in order to fool the passenger and “security guard” James Bond into thinking that she is about to be cut in two by the passage of the train over her prostrated body. The intention of the dummy is to get Bond to blow his cover and to expose himself as a British agent who had joined up with Scaramanga’s outfit in order to bring it down from the inside (shades of the later 1989 Bond film Licence to Kill here). This scene, along with the similar ones in the novels of Casino Royale and Moonraker could all be said to be inspirations on the scene in the film version of Casino Royale where Vesper Lynd is placed tied-up in the middle of the road, causing Bond to brake and swerve to miss hitting her with his car to such an extent that his car goes into a world record amount of over-spins of the car body before it stops in a nearby field. Quantum of Solace (2008) sees a return to a more action-oriented Bond film like Tomorrow Never Dies again, although in this film there is a snappy-type of fast and flashy editing of the action sequences, not really seen before in the Bond films, although there were elements of this in Die Another Day (2002), the last Pierce Brosnan film. The latest James Bond film, Skyfall (2012) has seen a return to the Flemingesque back-to-basics style of the earlier, less flashy Bond films of old. Much of the latter part of the film takes place in the countryside of Scotland – the peat and the heather and the ancestral home Skyfall Lodge where the filmmakers tell us James Bond was born and bred until the age of eleven, when he was orphaned after his parents were killed in a climbing accident abroad. Some of this detail (but not the construct of Skyfall Lodge itself) comes from the obituary of James Bond that was reprinted from The Times in Ian Fleming’s penultimate Bond novel You Only Live Twice (1964). The final showdown between James Bond, his boss M and his old family groundsman Kincaid is a veritable SAS survivalist and booby-trap course where traps are set – such as the explosives from shotgun shells being placed under lifted floorboards and shotguns and knives are used, with one in the back for the villainous Raoul Silva, the mastermind behind the hi-tech plot to try to kill M and to discredit her Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) before the world stage. In true Dr No or even Amis’ Colonel Sun novel commando style Bond and his helpers Kincaid and M kills all of Silva’s army of men, and finally gets to throw a knife in Silva’s back (recalling the earlier knife in the back delivered by Milos Columbo against his old foe Aris Kristatos in the film version of For Your Eyes Only (1981). In Skyfall, there is even a great action set piece that recalls for this author at least the newsprint roll scene from the Moonraker novel where Bond pursues Silva into a London Underground access tunnel. Silva has started to climb up a ladder when James Bond arrives on the scene and fires a few shots at him. In response, Silva (dressed in the uniform of the Metropolitan police) detonates a bomb by remote control, which opens up a great fissure in the wall of the London tube. As a result of this, rather like Willy Krebs cutting the ropes holding the newsprint, a tube train comes crashing through the gaping hole Silva has created straight at the personage of James Bond, who has to literally run for his life. Despite it having taken almost sixty years since the publication of Ian Fleming’s Moonraker in 1955, it seems that finally the filmmakers have learnt the lesson of “Drax’s Gambit” and have had a villain use the innocuous looking surroundings of the environment where Bond is pursuing them through to deliver a convincing action sequence. This adds immeasurably to the relegation of the old action sequences of Bond films like You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker to the distant past. While Bond fans should be glad that these films exist, they should be equally glad that these types of films and their action sequences will not be repeated for as long as Daniel Craig remains as the closest conception of Ian Fleming’s James Bond yet to be seen on the big screen. The success of Skyfall (2012), correctly hailed as one of the greatest James Bond films ever, has largely been down to a great script, great villain in Raoul Silva and a great radical director in Sam Mendes, who brought all of the best elements of the James Bond films together and added in a little lemon twist of his own to the martini recipe mix for success. Sam Mendes recently said in an interview with BBC film critic Mark Kermode that the James Bond films started life as thrillers and then, around about the time of Moonraker (1979) they became action adventure films, with a kind of travelogue element, as in Moonraker where Bond was the glue that bound Venice and Rio de Janeiro together as a film. Mendes said, “And Bond becomes the glue in a sense and he ceased being the story around that time and I felt one of the brilliant things that Daniel [Craig] did with Casino Royale was that he became the story again. He became the centre of the movie, by which I mean he had a journey, that was something that I was very conscious to try and do.”12
The renewed focus on the James Bond character and the stripped down, bared-back set of action sequences in Skyfall helps to show how a modern-day spy film with all of the trappings of modern life – lost pen drives full of confidential information and the hi-tech wizardry of Silva’s computer hacking plot can still be foiled in the twenty-first century by all of the true grit and determination of age-old commando-style ingenuity and resourcefulness packed into Her Majesty’s Secret Servant, Commander James Bond CMG RNVR. It is indeed amusing how things come around full circle in the world of James Bond, and that finally the Daniel Craig era has delivered the kind of Fleminesque touches and the kind of action set pieces that Kingsley Amis would have been rightly proud of. It is just a very real pity that the late great Sir Kingsley Amis or indeed Ian Fleming, the originator of it all, did not in fact live long enough to see these action sequence reforms in all of their glory up on the big screen. When substantial change and reform comes to an ongoing body of work, guided by many different creative talents and like the law of the land itself, authored by many different hands, whether the body of work is literary, cinematic, theatrical or otherwise, it often comes too late for those "dead hands" that originally initiated it. Sadly such is life, is it not?
* In "Space Seed" there are early shades of Dr. No crushing the ornament on the table in front of Bond and of Tee Hee twisting Bond's Walther PPK in Live and Let Die (1973) when Khan twists Captain Kirk's phaser with the strength of his bare hands! It is indeed interesting how influences in popular culture zip back and forth until the crack of doom!
9 Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955), (Pan Books Ltd., London, 1965), pp. 149-153.