Thank you

•December 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Hello readers!

It’s the holiday season, so I just wanted to chare a quick thank you to those who took the time to visit this blog in the great sea of James Bond blogs out there (and there are plenty which are of the highest quality, just check the links to the right side of the home page). I know productivity has dropped slightly over the course of the past month. I wanted to post a little bit more before Christmas time, but as it stands I’ve only written a review for the Live and Let Die novel this month. Don’t worry, I’ll be cooking up reviews for Moonraker and Diamonds are Forever before January 1st.

Again, thank you very much for visiting (and reading, I hope). Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

Live and Let Die (1954, Ian Fleming)

•December 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Live and Let Die (1954, Ian Fleming)

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A brief year following the publication of Casino Royale in 1953, Ian Fleming sees his second James Bond adventure released to readers. This is in fact a trend that would continue until the publication of the final 007 novel, as Fleming would take a few months ‘off’ every year and retreat to his private estate Goldeneye in Jamaica and concentrate on writing a new 280-330 page novel on each occasion. While the initial novel’s story transpired in a small fictional French town, Live and Let Die begins in a city that surely is a stranger to no one even if one has never been there, New York. It is a cold winter day as Bond leaves arrives in the Big Apple to begin a peculiar investigate into the world of…wait for it, the negro criminal underworld. Yes, a 1950s thriller written by a Caucasian Englishman in which the villains are all black. Better still, they are African American (Fleming loved the Americans overall but often inserted little snobbish complaints about their mannerisms and culture in the novels whenever 007’s adventures had American connections).That sounds like a book with a most promising level of potential.

Without delving too deeply into the details, of which there are plenty in the actual novel, Bond has received orders from M, head of MI6 back in London, to look into the sudden appearance of 17th century British gold coins within the African American community. A strange but unquestionably powerful man named Mr. Big is suspected of not only being the culprit of this scheme, but also of being SMERSH operative. Thus, the purpose of selling off of these valuable coins must certainly be to fund SMERSH operations within the United States. Mr. Big is considered to be a voodoo master, whose intimidation techniques and powers find their source in a traditional voodoo doll of Baron Samedi. Fear wealth, and might and fear are his preferred tools to carry influence over the African American communities in Harlem and Florida. Bond is soon greeted by his CIA contact Felix Leiter (introduced in Casino Royale) who shows the British agent around the Harlem joints where Mr. Big holds significant influence. Equipped with a well oiled spying machine of his own, Mr. Big has the two protagonists followed as they hop from bar to bar and eventually kidnapped. And so very early in this second adventure, 007 already stared potential death in the face…

Live and Let Die functions as an action and spy adventure story. I wouldn’t say there is any significant character development in the book (that would wait for the next adventure), but Fleming takes the opportunity to create a vibrant but incredible deadly world for the hero. While Casino Royale made it clear that the world of Bond is populated with nefarious, unforgiving characters, places where danger lurks around every corner as well as disturbing fates for those unfortunate enough to fall prey to that danger, Live and Let Die ups the ante. This story is probably one of the more violent Fleming has written, and that’s saying quite a bit giving the amount of people who get jacked throughout the novels. Bond has one of his fingers broken by being pulled back beyond its extension point, Felix Leiter is mauled by a shark, a heavy gets tossed down a flight of stairs, there are two bomb attempts on Bond’s life, and Mr. Big’s own fate is without question of the most gruesome in the series. The deaths are aplenty and few people go out in classy fashion. Fleming has the writing capability and imagination to make a death sound as unpleasant as imaginable as possible. The character of Bond may not be given any more layers of humanity than he was in the previous book, but the world he lives in offers an unmistakable sense of excitement and thrills.

The return of Felix Leiter is welcomed. He’s a character I enjoy having around in the Bond adventures. Bond doesn’t mind the Americans too much although he does question some of their customs and habits, but he admits to thinking that the best Americans are from Texas, the state from which this lively CIA man hails. The two men enjoy working with one another very much and its small wonder why. Leiter, much like Bond, is efficient, intelligent and professional, but also enjoys living large whenever he can (probably in the same manner as Bond does: while on missions with the funds from his secret service). He is familiar with the best restaurants in New York and offers Bond a guided tour of the Harlem hot spots. There is an understanding and unshakable trust between one another that propels them forward and encourages them to look out for each other’s back. The reader gets a sense that these two never see each other unless they are on assignment together, but their time on assignment has been more than enough to forge a strong friendship. Fleming solidifies the bond melded between 007 and Leiter when they make their way to Florida, a quick stop before finally infiltrating Mr. Big’s base of operations in Jamaica. Their foe’s powerful and elusive tentacles strike yet again when Solitaire is abducted for Mr. Big’s own purposes, but Leiter is fed to the sharks, literally. Thankfully, Leiter’s injuries, while severe, not take his life. For Bond however, an act of such ruthlessness cannot stand. Before setting off for Jamaica, Bond spends the night exacting cold revenge on the thugs who, under orders from the top, carried out the terrifying deed. It’s an act of vengeance, plain and simple, with nothing sugar coated about the affair.  It is a moment in which Bond channels his fury towards a single mission of revenge. Brutal, yes, but a conscious reaction the source of which can be found in a partnership and friendship Bond is unwilling to see destroyed at the bidding of a criminal. It does display a certain humane side to the character, albeit under particularly dark circumstances. This was touched upon in the previous story, Casino Royale, when Bond and the ill-fated Vesper Lynd developed a relationship. But while Bond has yet to accomplish his full counter attack on SMERSH just yet, there is greater expediency in avenging Leiter. These events are further proof about the unforgiving world of 007, where building relationships can prove to be a hidden poison and, worst of all, how the greatest signs of affection are demonstrated via dark means.

Live and Let Die is decorated with a cast of rather unique characters, at least given the era during which the novel was written. In addition to all the supposed voodoo talk surrounding Mr. Big, there is the matter of his prized possession, a young woman in her 20s named Solitaire, who is seemingly blessed with the gift of second sight and can read through peoples lies with the help of cards. When Mr. Big discovered performing a telepathy act in Haiti and has held her captive ever since, and even expects to make her his wife in the future. Unsurprisingly, she is uniquely useful during Mr. Big’s interrogation sessions, which is when she and Bond first see one another. Upon fleeing Mr. Big’s clutches and joining Bond, Solitaire provides a little bit of knowledge into her abilities, but nothing terribly insightful. She admits to having second sight ‘or something very like it’ and that’s pretty much the extent of what the reader is privy too. To what extent do her abilities reach? It’s never made clear, nor why she has them in the first place. I don’t think Fleming fleshes out her character sufficiently. Having spent so much time under the umbrella of Mr. Big’s operation, she is innocent in many ways of the world, including love. This makes her somewhat of a blank slate who is simply relieved to be swept off her feet by Bond, her unexpected (despite her foresight powers) saviour. She is an innocent concept, make no mistake about it, but I hesitate before calling her a great Bond girl. She ends up feeling more like a prize for Bond to earn once he succeeds in smashing Mr. Big’s operation rather than a fleshed out character who might actually assist 007.

The coup de grace of the novel is unquestionably Mr. Big. Fleming plays his cards wisely in providing the character very limited time in terms of physical presence, but when the reader is in fact in the same room as the master puppeteer, he comes off as a remarkable adversary for Bond. For one thing, he is a beast of a man just in terms of size. Bond surmises that little of that body might be fat. To dare fight Mr. Big in hand to hand combat may very well prove to be an ill advised choice. What strikes Bond in particular is the intensity of the man’s stare. As Fleming describes it, there is something undeniably animalistic about that glare. For someone who claims to be the zombie Baron Samedi, he certainly fits the bill as someone one wouldn’t want to rub the wrong way. He is cunning and intelligent, a maestro for his criminal operations, and quite the sophisticated man in his own cruel way. His minions are dispersed throughout the Caribbean and United States, and there is always the comfort of SMERSH’s backing. Considering that this is a story that was written and published in 1954, the fact that Mr. Big is a black was surely on the controversial side. Times have changed in the United States and race relations are far removed today from what they were in the early 1950s in that country, so the benefit of hindsight when reading Live and Let Die lends the character of Mr. Big a special quality. It’s interesting to note that few of the black characters in the novel come off as terribly sophisticated, except for Mr. Big. Mr. Big however, is not from a small poor neighbourhood in the United States (he is from Haiti) and, more importantly, he spent time in Russia in training as he rose through the ranks of SMERSH operatives. Fleming throws in all these intriguing ingredients and what emerges is a character that is hard to decipher. He’s black, which depending where you were in the 1950s couldn’t have been much of a bonus, and he ‘s a criminal. How typical. On the other hand, despite some of his worst qualities, of which there are many (he’s the head bad guy after all), he comes off as sophisticated and a marvellous planner. His high position within the ranks of SMERSH, a Russian organization, is also unique. Of all the foes author Fleming created for Bond to face, Mr. Big is one the more memorable. As I mentioned earlier, the character is not allocated much time in the presence of Bond, but with such an effective counter-espionage apparatus, his presence his felt at all times, his shadow spreads over everyone and everything that he crosses.

Live and Let Die also provides some of Fleming’s best writing, and not merely with regards to the action. There are two passages that struck me as particularly well thought and executed. The first is when Bond’ plane, when travelling from Florida to Jamaica, enters some turbulence. At that moment 007 begins to think about the structure of the plane, the fragility of this piece of moving metal when faced with the natural fury of mother nature, are the thought of plunging to his doom. Fleming exercises his prowess as an author shortly after when Bond performs an underwater swim to infiltrate Mr. Big’s operation. He traverses the Jamaica waters at night with a light to guide him and the underwater world Fleming describes is at times beautiful and terrifying. Of all the passages the author wrote throughout the series, this is one that never ceases to captivate me each time I read it. I’ve had the privilege of swimming with a goggle piece in some natural regions during my travels, but I was welcomed into the underworld world with the light of day. I can only imagine what it must be like under the cover night.

Final thoughts: Violent, brisk, entertaining for the most part. Solitaire is a bit of an unfinished product and some of the passages when Fleming attempts to write Harlem speech phonetically some off as forced.

Casino Royale (1953): The birth of a style

•November 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Continued from The Birth of a Hero discussed here.

 

So with a better understanding of the James Bond literary character as found in the first novel, let us take a brief overview of the storytelling style adopted for the book and series at large, notwithstanding a few exceptions.

 

Ian Fleming, as described by friends and biographers, put a lot of himself in the 007 adventures. Many authors follow this same pattern. They discover inspiration in what they know, what they like and dislike and find interesting, and Fleming was no exception. He was born into a rather well off family, was educated at fine academic institutions, was healthy and quite athletic during his youth, was director of the Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, and took advantage of the great many little pleasures in life whether they were healthy or not. Needless to say that many of these personal details were lent to the character of Bond in some fashion or another in the books. There are some other crucial facts about Fleming and his life that determined how the stories were written, namely his profession, his privilege of having travelling a lot and finally his nationality.

 

Being a journalist by trade, Fleming had a brilliant knowledge of the English language and a fine eye for detail. His style is always very colourful, his descriptions are detailed and precise, but never mundane. He consistently succeeds in finding clever, humorous, fresh and apt words in order to bring his characters and locations to life. If you can’t picture in your head the look, shape and aura of a character or place after reading one of his descriptions, you probably just need to brush up on your English. What should be glamorous comes off as such, what should be drab comes off as such, and those who should come off as nefarious and hideous most certainly come off as such. Like many Bond fans today, I had seen all the of films multiple times before even thinking of adventuring myself into the books. I essentially did so to learn about the source material without, but I admittedly did not expect very much in terms of quality writing. I’m not sure why that was exactly, although I assume that disappointing film entries like Diamonds are Forever, The Man With the Golden Gun and Moonraker were partly to blame. After all, how good can the source material for rubbish like that be? Imagine my surprise upon discovering not only Ian Fleming’s imaginative stories, but also a rich, vivid and textured vocabulary that adds so much quality and respect to the books. If a reader truly feels that the stories themselves to be boring, there is little one can do to convince otherwise. I think, however, that one would be hard pressed to thrash the flare, wit and inventiveness with which the author presents his stories.

Cayeux-Sur-Mer, France. The real Royale-Les-Eaux?

 

Fleming also travelled very much in his lifetime, whether as a student, as an agent of Naval Intelligence, as a journalist or while on holiday. Russia, France, Austria, Canada, Jamaica, the United States, Ian Fleming, while always maintaining his Englishness, was quite the man of the world. He did take pleasure in discovering and learning about different places and their cultures. Obviously, England and its way of life came first and at times the books demonstrate some layers of snobbishness and even slight racism (not copious amount mind you. In fact, one of the characters in Live and Let Die even corrects Bond when the secret agent says the word ‘nigger’), but he recognized in many ways the beauty, history and value of the many regions of the globe. This clearly carries over into his writing and is immediately discernable in the very first novel, Casino Royale. None of the action transpires in London, save for one pseudo-flashback scene in which M reads MI6’s file on Le Chiffre, le SMERSH agent Bond is tasked with cleaning out at the baccarat table. Everything occurs in and around a small coastal town in Southern France (fictional), Royale-Les-Eaux. Fleming devotes time from the story to provide the history and culture of this town, which apparently earned its fame and fortune through the carbonated water business. Casino Royale is but the first the of many novels in which Fleming sends his secret agent to very specific (non-fictional) and lively parts of the world. The stories therefore function like a travelogue of all the countries Fleming visited in his lifetime, whether before having created the character of Bond or in order to specifically perform some research for the novels.

 

Finally, there is Fleming’s English identity. England, like all the great or once great world powers, has its share of historical enemies and contemporary rivals. Wartime efforts often lead into obvious attempts at propaganda, conjuring up intentionally vicious, exaggerated and one-sided descriptions and accusations about the opposing side. In the early to mid fifties, England dealt with one definite enemy, communism in the shape of the Soviet Union, and was still haunted by the recently defeated Third Reich and Nazism. They were also dealing with numerous colonial losses, although that hurt English pride more than it did make enemies out of their former colonies. This chapter of the 20th century may not have witnessed active combat between the British and the Soviets, but their many unfortunate countries that stood in the middle of this ideological wrestling match were victims of proxy warfare, not to mention that the British and Soviet government certainly did not trust one another. Given that James Bond is a loyal servant of Her Majesty, this element of rivalry becomes a crucial element in what kind of picture of the enemy Fleming chooses to paint. In fact, it works a lot like the propaganda factor I mentioned briefly earlier. There isn’t anything subtle about the elaborate resumes and descriptions Fleming concocts for his protagonist’s enemies. The more sinister, the uglier, the stranger, and the more socially inept they are, the better. Some of them are cursed with physical traits which make them appear strange and hideous, or even animalistic at times. In this black and white world, there is a never ending battle between good and evil, with Bond at the forefront of the side for good, foiling the nefarious plots conjured up by England’s enemies. None of the SMERSH operatives encountered in the early are blessed with redeeming qualities, save one: their intelligence in constructing such sophisticated and complex plans. Many of Bond’s foes are brilliant madmen, vastly more educated and possessing overwhelmingly greater cognitive skills than most common people. And yet, their talents are used for evil deeds, be it smuggling, terrorism or even gambling in the case of Le Chiffre. One could argue that Fleming is throwing a proverbial bone to England’s enemies. ‘You’re smart and force us to remain alert, but we shall defeat you anyways.’ Given the nature of the stories and the time when they were written, it is unsurprising that Bond almost never comes across foes who are English, or even from the United Kingdom at large. Heaven forbid.

It probably goes without saying that there were other factors at play which dictated why Fleming wrote these novels the way he did. I believe that is background as a journalist, his travels to disparate countries around the world and his nationality, as well as his nation’s place in the world at the time, are some of the more influential elements. They shaped not only the nature of the stories but equally his prose. Just like many other authors, Fleming used what he knew and believed in, only his version was always shaken, not merely stirred.

Video Games: Everything or Nothing

•November 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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Everything or Nothing (2004, Electronics Arts)

The Bond film franchise took a four year hiatus from 2002 to 2006. Die Another Day had been a commercial success (it was in fact the highest grossing Brosnan movie), but many fans were left disappointed. While the producers and writers brainstormed for ideas that would eventually result in Casino Royale, Electronics Arts, the video game company which owned the gaming licence to 007 at the time filled the gap for dies hard Bond fans  and gamers alike. The result of their efforts, Everything or Nothing, clearly found inspiration in the Roger Moore and more fantastical Brosnan films than in some of the more hard edged adventures. It’s more Die Another Day than Casino Royale if you will. Nonetheless, it would not only end up being a solid and popular game, but EA’s crowning achievement  in the 007 genre.

The first and most obvious characteristic gamers will notice is the effort EA put into producing a high quality movie-like gaming experience. In addition to writing an original storyline, EA wanted to make sure gamers intimately familiar with the Bond universe felt right at home. Wow, did they ever succeed. All the regular cast members from the films at the time lent their voices and likeness to their 3D video game incarnations. That’s right, James Bond looks and sounds like Pierce Brosnan, as do M and Q sound like dame Judi Dench and John Cleese respectively.  EA didn’t stop there however. The Bond girl du jour is played by Shannon Elizabeth, the villainess henchwoman is Heidi Klum, and the evil mastermind Nikolai Diavolo is played by non other than one of my favourite working actors today, Willem Dafoe (who really should play a villain in a Bond film one of these years). To get die hards salivating, Richard Kiel returns as the infamous Jaws. The plot is rather silly and involves Diavolo gathering some nanotechnology to create some good old fashioned weapons of mass destruction in order to dominate the world. During one of Bond’s early missions,  the secret agent is tasked with ‘rescuing’ a scientist in the field of nanobots (Heidi Klum) who has been kidnapped and retrieve some ‘stolen’ nanobot technology. The mission is a success (obviously, since you’re playing Bond), but unbeknownst to MI6, the scientist is in fact in league with Diavolo, meaning she has now delivered him this revolutionary creation. Together they will conquer the world, for Diavolo wants Everything or Nothing! Bond, with the help of geologist Serena St. Germaine (Shannon Elizabeth), must stop them before it is too late.

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So the game looks, sounds and clicks along like a blockbuster Bond movie, but does the gameplay hold any value? The answer is absolutely. The controls are accessible and varied, without being overwhelming, which is crucial for someone such as myself who is definitely is not an avid gamer. What Everything or Nothing succeeds at most in terms of playability is in allowing players to really become James Bond 007, a man who seems to have no shortage of skill sets. Missions propel players into situations that require them to shoot, take cover, drive cars or motorcycles, pilot a helicopter, use grappling hooks to climb up and down building walls, make use of stealth while snooping under the enemy’s nose (which is brilliant because you get to take out almost half the enemies in a mansion Solid Snake style), and of course take advantage of an arsenal of gadgetry supplied by Q branch. Suffice to say that 007 aficionados who take their chances on Everything or Nothing will be rewarded with the full Bond experience. The game’s difficulty level is challenging enough to keep casual gamers occupied for a while without ever becoming frustrating because some level are ‘impossible’ to complete. I only played on the medium difficulty level and it took me a good 4 weeks to complete the story mode (of course, I didn’t quite play every day either).

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I enjoy the game tremendously whenever I play it, this despite the fact that I tend to frown on the films that are more cartoonish and extraordinary in tone, and the plot and missions of this game certainly fit that bill. I suspect the answer to that mystery simply lies in the interactive nature of the product. Watching Bond perform ridiculous feat after ridiculous feat can grow redundant and squash any tension and believability I like to expect in an action movie. Playing through such amazing stunts and battles is completely different because if the player fails, then Bond fails, and no one wants to see Bond fail. It reminds me of how fans tend to shun movie adaptations of their favourite games, only this time it works the other way around. The more implausible side of the 007 film universe is given a video game translation, thus providing fans like myself with the thrill of stepping into the shoes of the famous secret agent. Truth be told, some of my favourite moments in the game are in fact when the player must help Bond perform the craziest and nonsensical stunts. Near the end of an early mission while Bond is in Egypt, the player must catch up with a speeding train while driving the famous (or infamous) Aston Martin Vanish while staving off hoards of enemy vehicles. The train must be caught before the tracks cross over a deep canyon, otherwise Bond plunges to his doom. Another quick mission requires the player to launch off a cliff and save Serena St. Germaine who has been thrown out of an enemy helicopter. As Bond, you must avoid outstretched bits of the mountain, wooden platforms and enemies, all the while playing catch up with pool Mrs. St. Germaine. If you succeed before it is too late, Bond will grab hold of Serena and fire his grappling gun at the last possible second, thus avoiding a terribly messy death below. My personal favourite mission however involves a highway speed chase between Bond and Jaws, the latter whom is driving far ahead on the traffic-heavy road. Once again, you have to catch up with your objective, but this time Bond rides a super powered motorcycle equipped with missiles and machine guns. Avoid traffic and blow the shit of any henchmen who get in your way. I’ve only just noticed it now, but many of my favourite missions involve chases of some kind. Interesting. Well, there is this one level that brings Bond to some ancient ruins in Peru where you get to access some high ground to snipe away at tons of baddies. I always do enjoy a good sniper rifle level.

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I could go on indefinitely about the balls to the wall fun I had with this game. Varied gameplay, attractive graphics, a reasonable level of difficulty and length to provide the player a challenge, and an immersive Bond gaming experience compel me to give Everything or Nothing top marks. Obviously, the quality of the gameplay and the graphics matter, but it’s the little touches by EA which take advantage of the franchise licence that really give me a huge grin. Participation of the film cast plus other heavy hitters in the industry, the banter between Bond and Q, the quintessential Bond moments for which players are actually rewarded for achieving, the fact that the game begins with the gun barrel sequence which introduces us to a pre-title credits tutorial mission, subsequently followed by the eventual credits accompanied by a very Bond-esque music video and an original song performed by Mya (who makes a brief appearance in the game as a CIA agent), etc. I didn’t buy the game immediately upon its release, but had read and heard positive buzz, which eventually prompted me to make the purchase on the PS2 without even trying it out first. I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. While the game Goldeneye has a special place in my heart for its robust and glorious multiplayer capabilities (discussed here) Everything or Northing offers what I consider to be the best single player story mode of all the Bond games I’ve played, which is a decent amount. Electronic Arts’ overall record as James Bond video game producers may have been a bit spotty, but they undoubtedly hit the bull’s eye on this occasion.

From Russia With Love: When bigger is in fact better

•October 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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From Russia With Love (1963, Terence Young)

 

The second James Bond cinematic adventure represents, in many respects, the best of what the franchise has to offer and the best of what it should be (and often fails to). Many of the staples that first made an appearance in Dr. No return, while are featured for the first time. More importantly, it is the story of From Russia With Love that elevates it above so many of the other 21 film adventures.

 

This time, Spectre has a very specific objective in mind: deliver a ruthless counter punch to the British Secret Service for its victory in ousting their fallen comrade, Dr. No. They plan to lure MI6’s most respected soldier, James Bond 007 (Sean Connery) into a trap that will not only take our protagonist’s life, but downright embarrass the British. The nefarious organization has penetrated the ranks of SMERSH in Istanbul, with their inside agent being the infamous Rosa Klebb. The latter has ordered a simple but beautiful cipher expert named Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi) to contact their opposites in Britain and claim that she is willing to defect to the West and bring a lector decoding machine along with her. Excellent news! There is but one condition she requires before performing her escape: the British must send their agent 007 to make the trip with her, for she has fallen ‘in love’ with the man upon discovering his photograph in a Russian file.

 

M: Of course, girls do fall in love with pictures of film stars.

 

007: But not a Russian cipher expert with a file photo of a British agent! Unless she’s mental… No, it’s some sort of trap.

 

M: Well, obviously it’s a trap! And the bait is a cipher machine. A brand new Lektor.

 

007: A Lektor no less. The CIA’s been after one for years.

 

M: Yes, so have we.

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And with that Bond is sent to stunning Istanbul to make contact with its head of section, Ali Kerim Bey (Pedro Armendariz) as they wait for Tanya to make her move.  Neither knows exactly what to expect from the Russians (who aren’t even the true enemies in this case!), SPECTRE has launched their own agent of destruction into the mix however. The cunning and mighty Red Grant (a chilling Robert Shaw) follows Bond around Istanbul and beyond, ready to strike at the precise moment to vanquish 007, Tanya, whom at that point will be nothing but a useless pawn, and retrieve the Lektor for SPECTRE. Photographic evidence of Bond and Tanya’s ‘courtship’ will be made public as will a false suicide note. Only defeat and a massive public embarrassment await MI6 now.

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Before continuing, I must admit to something. From Russia With Love is my all time favourite Bond adventure. Of all the stories told by the filmmakers, Ian Fleming and the authors that picked up the pen afterwards, the cinematic From Russia With Love encapsulates my ideal James Bond universe. It is one of the few films whose faults (of which there are none, of course, wink wink) I unabashedly overlook as I gush over the 007 goodness of the film. Hence, I ask the readers to forgive me if I come off as bit hyperbolic at times.

 

 

New and old staples, but only greater heights

 

 

Dr. No gave the viewers a taste of the world of James Bond with an exotic location in Jamaica, a villainous mastermind, an exciting Bond girl, curiously original set designs and some kick ass action near the end. That film also opened with the iconic gun barrel sequence, which has been featured in all 22 films, in some fashion or another.

 

How do filmmakers proceed when pressed to deliver the goods yet again with a sequel? Make it bigger and better of course! Filmed on location in Istanbul for the most part with the exception of some grand interior scenes, the film has a very classy look to it. How could it not, the story takes place in freaking Istanbul for crying out loud. Thematically, the location of Istanbul is an intelligent one. During the Cold War, the city sat at the doorsteps of both the West and the East, and, in a way, still does today even though the Cold War is long over. It also features a stunning mixture of cultures which make it a difficult city to pigeon hole. Is it more of a European city or more of a Middle Eastern city? Interestingly enough, although Turkey is not officially a member of the European Union, the city of Istanbul hosted the 2005 Champions League final, a game in which the two best European football (soccer) clubs go head to head. It therefore made for a smart location for a Cold War Bond film where spies for both the West and the East rub shoulders on a daily basis and where uneasy truces are held. What better location for the non-aligned SPECTRE to spring a trap.

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For this sequel, a totally different Bond girl takes center stage. Tanya is certainly no Honey Rider. She is but a competent and humble cipher expert, an office employee. While she may lack a certain sense of thrills and wild physicality that her predecessor was blessed with, she more than makes up for it with not only her looks, but also her willingness to go along for this dangerous mission and her seduction performance to snare Bond into the palm of SPECTRE. Of course, things go array once Tanya does begin to genuinely feel for her supposed enemy. Overall, Tanya is unquestionably one of the tamer Bond girls, but sometimes the tamer ones display qualities with the smaller details of their actions and behaviours. Her role is to provide the love angle a lift. It is a devastating case of an enemy agent falling for the very person she is supposed to mistrust and thrust towards defeat. Her predicament lends the film a more complex angle than many of the other Bond girls who would follow in her footsteps ever did. There is also the added factor that all the while this crazy adventure is unravelling, she still believes that mother Russia is pulling the strings, which the audience knows isn’t the case at all. SPECTRE, via Rosa Klebb, has hired poor, unknowing Tanya as a pawn in their war against the British Secret Service. If the organization’s plan flows accordingly, Tanya will be laid to waste just like Bond. The audience can therefore sympathize with her character more than if she was merely a love interest, although the latter angle works as well.

 

Bond himself is back obviously. He behaves much as he did in the previous instalment, although this time he seems a bit more sophisticated and sharper, both in terms of wit and cunning. While in M’s office for his briefing, he correctly deduces that there probably is a trap waiting for him in Istanbul, although he incorrectly assumes from whom. His first seduction scene with Tanya is a juggling act of sexual tension and office work, if one can imagine such a thing. ‘Where is the Lektor?’ he asks Tanya as he feels and kisses her softly. All the while travelling with her towards the West he walks the tightrope of emotions and spying that is, at that point, essentially fuelling his mission. He does keep his cool for the most part however. Much of the credit for Bond’s confident presence in this film (that’s not to say he wasn’t like that in Dr. No, only that he just seems a bit cooler this time around) must go to Sean Connery, who was clearly growing into the role after having played it once before. The smirks are there when they should be. The charm is there when it should be. The sense of imminent danger in his eyes is also there when it should be.

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Bond’s ‘main event’ of the film is undoubtedly his eventual face à face with Red Grant on the Orient Express. Much like the filmmakers did in providing a different kind of Bond girl, they equally supplied Bond with a completely different central adversary. Grant may not be the brains behind the operation, but he essentially functions as Bond’s opposite with the ranks of SPECTRE, and the worst possible enemy Bond would have to face is of course an evil version himself. The muscle combat between the two foes is as intense as any other hand to hand combat Bond engages in throughout the series, but the icing on the cake is actually what happens right before. With Bond on his knees in a small cabin and a seemingly huge Red Grant overlooking him (brilliant camera work), pistol in hand, with an evil smirk of satisfaction on his face, it actually feels as though Bond is completely screwed this time. Grant doesn’t even do most of the talking. Instead, he allows 007 to deduce every single little mistake he committed which brought him and Tanya to this point where they will most likely be murdered in cold blood.

 

 

Grant (speaking of the bullets in his pistol): The first won’t kill you. Nor the second. Not even the third. Not till you crawl over here and kiss my foot!

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There are several memorable adversaries that stalked and tried to vanquish 007 throughout the franchise. Speaking from personal preference, I cannot think of one I’d rather not face more than Red Grant. He’s sneaky, determined, intelligent, and a machine whose primary objective is to kill without question. He also fits into the real world, physically at least, like Bond would, whereas other villains, whether by their physical appearance or their fighting styles, were clearly exaggerations and caricatures, such as Jaws and Oddjob. He was the first of the many so called ‘heavies’ to do battle with the famous 007.

 

There is something strangely Hitchcockian about the Bond-Grant game in From Russia With Love. Hitchcock was always such a gifted filmmaker at injecting his films with suspense in a great variety of ways, one of which was by having the audience know trouble is about without the protagonist being privy to that same bit knowledge. While Bond suspects the enemy is waiting for him around the corner, he isn’t completely sure, and he certainly does not know who exactly is hidden behind that dark corner. The audience does however. Despite witnessing SPECTRE’s high ranking decision makers discuss their intentions of destroying Bond and hitting MI6 hard at the beginning of the film, the viewer doesn’t know when exactly the final blow will take place, although they are given glimpses of Grant here and there. When Grant, pretending to be Bond’s contact, finally greets our hero as they embark on the Orient Express, we know perfectly well that the proverbial shit will hit the fan soon enough. Whether Bond instinctively recognizes this immediately or not upon meeting Grant is not revealed, so we assume Bond is falling deeper and deeper into SPECTRE’s trap. Brilliant stuff.

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The pacing of the film, while similar to that of Dr. No, offers more for the viewer to enjoy and soak in. For much of the first 2/3, Bond and Kerim Bey are snooping around, waiting for Tanya to finally engage them with the Lektor. There is a shootout at a Gipsey camp at around the midpoint of the film, but for the most part, there’s just some good old fashioned spying taking place. That is precisely what I enjoy so much about the film. Coded phrases, underground caverns to eavesdrop on the enemy, studying the blueprints of embassies, a taste of some Turkish culture, all stuff that should be in a good day’s work of a spy. Bond is doing what he is basically hired to do, be a spy, something he seems to do less and less as the series moves forward with future instalments. However, the moment Bond and Red Grant engage in their furious battle on the train, From Russia With Love sets itself into a very high octane gear, with action sequence after action sequence to occupy the final half hour of the film. Hand to hand combat, a boat chase (with explosions), a helicopter attack (with explosions), and finally an oddly tense encounter with Rosa Klebb and her poisonous shoes (no explosions, sadly). Bigger and better indeed.

 

Improvements are not only made to the pacing, action and characters involved, but also to the music. Monty Norman, who composed the score for the previous film, did not return. Rather, the filmmakers hired John Barry instead, and what a lasting impression on the franchise he had. From Russia With Love’s score is sweeping, romantic, exotic, more bombastic and action packed all at once. It is small wonder therefore that he went on to compose the music for so many other of the films: Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Man With the Golden Gun, Moonraker, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, and finally ending his James Bond musical odyssey with The Living Daylights. No offense to Monty Norman, who did provide Bond with his theme after all, but the FRWL score blows the DN score out of the water by leaps and bounds.

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The film also gives birth to the first true pre-title sequence, which feature Grant in a SPECTRE training facility at night, hunting down who the first time viewer believes to be James Bond in a garden maze (sort of à la Shining). ‘Bond’ is caught by Grant, who chokes the former with his wristwatch string. The lights are turned on, SPECTRE evaluators appear and congratulate Grant on his marvellous performance. The poor fellow who fell to Grant’s sneakiness and brute strength has his James Bond mask removed. Fade to black and cut to: a musical title sequence with an original song written specifically for the film (From Russia With Love, sung by Matt Monro), yet another first that would go on to appear in all subsequent Bond movies.

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Of course, arguably one of the most memorable ‘firsts’ to appear in this movie is that of the character Q, played by the late Desmond Lewellyn, and his briefcase of nasty tricks. Ah yes, the old brief case, what with its hidden blade, hidden gold sovereigns, hidden smoke canister, hidden bullets and hidden compartment for a mini sniper riffle. A truly evil little toy provided to Bond that, like so many other gadgets would, save his dear life during the mission. Q and his crack team of inventors are to be credited for keeping Bond’s life being in relatively safe hands during the secret agent’s illustrious career, although he probably would never admit to it.

 

From Russia With Love took what was successful in Dr. No and did what most sequels do: it upped the ante. Unlike with most sequels however, the film was superior to its predecessor in almost every respect.

 

 

vlcsnap-318305‘And for my next miracle…’

Casino Royale (1953): The birth of a hero and the birth of a style

•October 30, 2009 • Leave a Comment

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The Hero

The first novel wastes no time in introducing James Bond to the readers. We meet the secret agent at a roulette table in the casino at Royal-les-Eaux, a small but reasonably wealthy coastal town in France. It is the wee hours of the morning and the fatigue is winning over Bond’s senses. He is not however enjoying any sort of lovely holiday. On the contrary, 007 is operating on the company’s time, observing the object of his mission: a cold and sinister looking man named Le Chiffre. This personality is an enemy agent for the East, although he is currently in a heap of trouble.  After having lost a significant amount of funds due to failed investments in brothels, Le Chiffre has traveled to the casino at Royal-les-Eaux to win back the money before SMERSH (a special arm of the Soviet espionage forces which hunts down failed agents and traitors) can get to him. 007’s objective is clear but far from easy. Being the best player in the Secret Service, he has been ordered by M, his immediate superior in the hierarchy at MI6, to clean Le Chiffre out at the baccarat table, thus sending an embarrassing blow to SMERSH.

Ian Fleming is very deliberate in his presentation of James Bond regarding what to reveal and what not to. The protagonist’s past is seemingly off limits and left to the imagination of the reader. The man’s political views are never discussed either, although being a British secret agent, one can make some decent assumptions on where he stands on certain issues regarding Queen and country. Physically, Bond is Caucasian, very fit, with black hair, grey eyes and cruel handsome looks, and that’s the extension of the character’s physicality that is shared. What matters most to Fleming and what attracted readers, is who Bond is as the story of Casino Royale evolves. The character’s arc and personal idiosyncrasies are what bring him to life on the page. For starters, he is a consummate professional who has been around in the business of espionage for at least a few years already. He’s no slouch and knows what he’s doing. He is quite analytical and often evaluates his various options and possible outcomes when faced with a challenge, but can also act as a quick thinker with his intuition if necessary. Rarely distracted by anything save for one critical weakness, Bond’s focus and determination are always channelled towards his objective. Physically, he is capable of carrying more than his own weight, thanks in part to his rigorous training in self defence and, without question, his obsession with keeping in shape and active whenever possible. After all, in Bond’s line of duty, a lack of physical and mental fitness can prove to be fatal. His experience in this dangerous business has not merely toughened his resolve but his personality as well. Unmarried and owning few friends, Fleming’s Bond is somewhat of a hard ass. Roger Moore the Fleming Bond is not. He is also very much a loner, but there are signs that he appreciates the company of colleagues, provided that they are as dedicated and effective as him of course. Early in the book, 007 encounters both his French (Deuxième Bureau) and American (CIA) counterparts, René Mathis and Felix Leiter respectively. They get along rather well and share some decent banter amongst each other. Bond can have a sense of humour and relax despite being serious for the better part of the story. The gist of it is that the man is simply a darn good soldier.

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As sharp as he may be in the line of duty, 007 is no robot. To counterbalance the intensity and stress put on his profession, Bond finds comfort in 2 things mostly: food and women. Bond makes it very clear that he takes ‘ridiculous pleasure’ in ordering his dishes. He eats like a king for the great majority of the book (and the series), taking in large portions of what sound like succulent dishes and drinks. Bond has very specific likes and dislikes regarding food, and few can argue that he doesn’t know how to eat, unless you’re a vegetarian I imagine. The fact that during the late 40s and early 50s Great Britain was experiencing a period of rationing must of made Bond’s luxurious and plentiful dinners seem ever more tantalizing (the rationing would finally come to an end a year following Casino Royale’s publication, in 1954). The secret agent also finds great satisfaction in the pursuit of women. As readers are privy to most of Bond’s thoughts throughout the novel (the story features a 3rd person narrative but it is pretty much told from 007’s perspective), they are keenly aware of Bond’s very macho attitude towards women, and Vesper Lynd in particular, who acts as his British contact for the mission. He does not hide how he would like to sleep with Vesper once the high stakes baccarat game is over and done with. He sees her as more as an object rather than a meaningful pursuit for the better part of the book. She is the prize that he would like to have once he is victorious. This macho attitude is not restricted to what Bond wants out of Vesper during the mission, but is prevalent earlier in the story when Bond learns from Mathis that she will be a member of their team. Suffice to say that 007 is not the least bit thrilled by this bit of news. Sadly, his bitter reaction has little to do with the fear that she may not be a capable agent, but rather that she probably isn’t capable precisely because she is a woman. How charming of you, Mr. Bond. That being said, a newcomer to the series should be aware that this novel was written in the early 1950s by a skirt chasing, ‘old boys club’ type Englishmen who wanted to give readers a ‘strong’, male, British hero who could assert some English pride and strength during a time when British pride and dominance on the international stage was somewhat on a slide. The notion of ‘equality of the sexes’ that we cherish and defend today was not as prevalent a sentiment back in the day. To be a man’s man in the early 1950s, and the things expected from women in the 1950s, simply don’t jive with how most of us think today.

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The protagonist whom the reader is given is somewhat of a mishmash of many characteristics, some that seem contradictory, but nonetheless many of which the readers, male or female, could fantasize as their own. A fine physical specimen, cunning intuition, brave in the face of danger and obstacles, a quick thinker, capable of handling himself when under physical assault, attractive to women with those cruel good looks, excels at working alone or with colleagues, respected in his field, and eats like royalty without having to worry about the bill. Honestly, is there one element listed above that you, readers of my humble blog, would refuse to adopt provided you were give the opportunity to have it (and you can substitute ‘attractive to women’ for ‘attractive to men’ if so please)? Let’s not kid ourselves here. We may be blessed with some of these qualities and they may even define us, but few of us have all of them to the extent that Bond does. In fact, it’s virtually impossible to be like 007. How can a man eat and drink as much as he does (the size of his meals seem to grow as the series evolves, starting with Live and Let Die) and, worse of all, smoke as many cigarettes as he and yet remain in ‘tip top’ shape as the saying goes? His liver and lungs should have expired long ago it seems. While not broken, plausibility is being stretched with regarding the protagonist’s physical capabilities. Later in the novel, once Bond has vanquished Le Chiffre at the baccarat table, the latter kidnaps our hero and forces him to endure considerable torture by slapping his testicles repeatedly with a carpet beater. This procedure lasts an hour until SMERSH agents finally discover the location and liquidate Le Chiffre and is thugs. Is there any damage done to Bond’s thunderballs? A little bit, but he should be fine after a few days of pain, perhaps a bit longer. I didn’t make that up mind you. That is the doctor’s diagnosis in the book. Obviously this man has some very special qualities, qualities I’m not so certain other people are privileged with. The torture endured by Bond and his subsequent recovery may be viewed in metaphorical light. As mentioned earlier in this analysis, Fleming gave birth to his creation at a time when Great Britain’s dominance and might (politics often being described using highly masculine terms) in the world was diminishing. Bond’s own manhood (his might, if you will) is under threat from Le Chiffre’s torture method. While at the time of the book’s publication Brits were unsure where the decades to come would take them, for Fleming it was important for Bond to recover quickly, which is exactly what happens in the book. So while the novel presents some character elements that appear as implausible, they work splendidly as qualities that a nation’s representative within the spy genre needs to possess in order to thrill and capture the imagination of the readers.

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On a more basic narrative level, Bond’s story arc also assists in lending him some humanity. After fate saves him from the clutches of Le Chiffre, Bond’s conscious begins to change his attitude towards his profession. Suddenly, risking his life to retrieve intelligence and stop ‘bad guys’ (his concept of good and bad shifts as well) doesn’t seem as important anymore. His feelings towards Vesper, who was kidnapped by Le Chiffre as well, have evolved considerably since their first encounter at the Casino Royale. Vesper decides to stay with Bond as he recovers from his injuries in France and the latter begins to fall in love. Just as the protagonist’s life is experiencing a pleasant change, he sits on the receiving end of a double blow, both of which have sufficient emotional and psychological gravity to completely reverse Bond’s situation. The more immediate and dramatic blow is that he loses Vesper to suicide. Upon reading the letter she wrote to him just prior to taking her life, 007 learns that she had in fact been pressured into working for SMERSH since her boyfriend was being held captive by the organization. Distraught at this news, the second blow comes into effect: he cannot quit his job.  There are indeed nasty people in the world who must be stopped, the worst ones work for SMERSH, who force people to do the worst things. Not only have Bond’s emotions been torn apart, but this effect compels him…no, draws him inexorably back to the very awful business he had begun to question mere weeks ago.

He isn’t perfect by any means, but Bond represents much of what we dream secret agents to be like. His smoking and drinking habits are a bit much, and he isn’t necessarily the classiest person towards women at times, but many other qualities about the character make up for those short comings. He is not an upper class person by nature, but his position as an employee of Her Majesty’s Secret Service provides him with many of the luxuries most of us can only hope for. His story arc demonstrates that while he does not give in to emotions easily, there is a complexity to the man that the readers are privy to. The question at the end of Casino Royale is, of course, where does Bond go from here?

Next: The birth of a style

The political and apolitical villains in the early Bond universe

•October 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The novels

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Ian Fleming’s creation, the famous James Bond 007, was born during the Cold War in the early 1950s. The novels, starting with Casino Royale (1953), make it very clear that the predominant ‘enemy’ in the eyes of the British Secret Service are the communist forces working around the world, with of course the Soviet Union leading the charge. Readers soon learn in the initial novel that the principal communist adversary Bond himself will face throughout his adventures is a branch of the Soviet spy hierarchy named SMERSH, an abbreviation for a Russian term meaning ‘death to spies’. Their goal? To eliminate whatever traitors, and potential traitors, that attempt to abandon their side and aid the West. In other instances, as is the precisely the case in Casino Royale, they are sent to execute agents that fail to advance the communist cause. In this case, the fearful SMERSH is obligated to be rid of Le Chiffre after the latter uses a significant amount of funds to jump start some brothels in France. Fate would have it that the French government passes laws which hinder the man’s chances at earning any profit. In fact, as a result of the new legislation, this business venture fails spectacularly. In the early novels, Bond is therefore not only a champion symbol of Great Britain, but one for the West in general. He is, as so many commentators have already written, a ‘product of the Cold War’.  By the end of Casino Royale, when 007 learns of Vesper’s betrayal and the reasons behind, the former vows to attack SMERSH at every opportunity. Not only are the communists the enemy from an ideological standpoint, but a special branch of their espionage apparatus has made the war personal.  Although the name of Vesper Lynd is never mentioned again until, ironically enough, the novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond continuously relishes each opportunity to hit SMERSH where it hurts. This solidifies the appreciation the reader has for Bond’s quests since the enemy is a known evil taken from the real world geopolitical context of the 1950s. The sequel, Live and Let Die (1954), continues this trend in an even more particular fashion, with Fleming creating an enemy who is not only a SMERSH agent operating in the United States and in Jamaica, but also a black man (Mr. Big).

With the third novel, Moonraker, the background of the enemy is slightly altered, but one that is nonetheless easily identifiable and one that readers, whether back in the 1950s or today in 2009, have no trouble hating. Hugo Drax, the multi billionaire scientist with a mysterious past (he returned from WWII with amnesia supposedly) living some miles outside of London, has called on help to shed light on a murder that has taken place in his compound where his crack team of engineers and scientists are working on the creation of a nuclear missile. While I won’t get into the details as to why an employee of the foreign intelligence agency is working on home soil, the point is that Bond’s investigations into the case leads him to the discovery that Drax is in fact a former Nazi (an still a true Nazi at heart), who has dedicated his efforts to destroy London with the same nuclear rocket he is currently building. The launch to be hosted in the coming days is being sold as a publicity stunt that will install fear into the hearts of enemies of Great Britain and its Western allies. All this is an elaborate mission for a spectacular and bloodthirsty lust for revenge on the British for their victory during the last war. Moonraker therefore does not directly feature the communist forces such as SMERSH (although the nuclear warhead attached to the Moonraker is Soviet based, so there is communist support on the side of the antagonist), the villains are well represented by a familiar if somewhat nebulous face: Nazism. Even though Drax is not any sort of high commander within the Nazi organization, he nonetheless represents a force of pure evil recognized and hated the world over. The British themselves fought against the Nazis forces during the Second World War. Of course, Fleming’s juicy descriptions of Drax’s physical appearance and behavioural habits are sufficient for a certain amount of dislike for the character to germinate in the reader’s mind, but the revelation of his affiliation to the Nazi ideology is the icing on the cake, the ribbon hugging the pretty gift wrap: ‘Oh, he isn’t just odd and curiously unpleasant…he’s a Nazi!’.  Again, we witness Fleming make use of a well known (and detested) force for the role of the antagonists in a novel. It’s not as though Bond is being sent to hunt down former allies and corrupt agents within the British Secret Service itself. The familiar ‘other’ is always the enemy.

The Films

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The philosophy adopted by the producers for the first few films differs somewhat. While Bond is still a beacon for Western, and more specifically British values and interests, the enemies he engages are less political in nature than in the early novels. They are apolitical in fact. Consider the first official film in the EON cannon, Dr. No (1962), featuring the nefarious title character as the chief villain. Despite his Chinese background, he is not an agent sent by the Peoples Republic of China to wreak havoc in the West. Rather, his allegiance is towards SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion), a massive international terrorist organization not directly affiliated with any governments nor aligned with either with of the two dominant ideological currents of the early 60s, an organization which only appears very late in the Fleming novel series (and not at all in the book Dr. No). They work strictly for their own agenda, infiltrating the systems of governments and non governmental institutions to advance their cause (obtaining tons of power and money), while other times holding said governments, and by extension the entire nations they govern, hostage for ransom (Thunderball, 1965). There is even a moment late in the film, once Bond is held captive deep within Julius No’s lair that our hero comments on how the West could have used a genius such as him. Dr. No coldly replies that both the East and the West are as stupid as the other. Clearly, in this early cinematic 007 adventure, there is a much greater threat to Great Britain than Soviet spies and conspiracies. Rather than posing communist China as a threat even though the producers had a Chinese villain on their hands, they opt to use a supranational terrorist organization.

From Russia With Love (1963), the followup to Dr. No, without question solidifies the notion that the filmmakers tried to shy away from any political biases and implications in the early goings of their film series. The novel, published in 1957, was all about SMERSH (read=the Soviets) laying a trap to finally do away with their sworn British nemesis, the infamous James Bond. It is the most Cold War themed of the Fleming novels since this time the communist forces aren’t hiding behind mysterious figures such as Le Chiffre or Mr. Big, but are directly attacking 007 with their own Soviet agents. The plan has a senior official within SMERSH, Rosa Klebb, use a cipher expert, Tatiana Romanova, as a pawn to seduce (using herself and a decoding machine, much coveted by the British Secret Service) and entrap Bond in a game of death with a seemingly unstoppable killing machine, Donald Grant. It is a direct head on collision between the Soviets and the British.

The film adheres to much of the antagonists plot. Rosa Klebb does make use of a Russian cipher expert named Tania Romanova to seduce Bond with a lector decoding machine all the while pretending to defect to the West. She and Bond will be closely followed at all times by the brutal and cunning Red Grant, whose purpose is to deliver the final blow to 007 when the time is right. The one change, and it is a major one, is that instead of this being a Soviet plot, it is one devised by the masterminds at SPECTRE, who are hoping to destabilize the British espionage apparatus and play both sides, the East and the West, off against each other in order to gain further control over the world. It is also mentioned, albeit briefly, that the plan is a golden opportunity to avenge the death of their colleague, the late Dr. No, at the hands of the much hated 007. This is undoubtedly a deliberate move on behalf of the filmmakers to distance themselves from taking advantage of East West rivalries to create the cinematic world of James Bond. Despite the perfect Cold war plot found in the novel, the film remains mostly apolitical. The first sign of any communist involvement in the scheme of a Bond villain comes in the third instalment of the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), in which Auric Goldfinger’s operation to infiltrate Fort Knox and contaminate its gold bullion reserve features some Chinese support. Even then, the Chinese are clearly not the principal antagonist in the film, Goldfinger himself is.

Were these attempts at avoiding controversy? Perhaps. Were the changes absolutely necessary in order to produce quality spy thrillers? Not at all. Having said that, the verdict has been out for decades already: none of the changes we have discussed above hurt the critical or fan based reception of the early Bond films. Moviegoers embraced these wild and imaginative adventures Bond embarks on in his battle against the tentacle-like SPECTRE organization during the early cinematic instalments of the 007 franchise just as the readers enjoyed their hero’s quest to smash SMERSH in the novels during the 1950s. This was but an early testament supporting the notion that, however specific Bond is, the character and his fictional world are malleable enough to produce a wide variety of adventures.