Saturday, May 06, 2006
That doesn't mean there isn't much to makes fun of in Doctor No. We're in Jamaica again! Let the funny and perceptive darkie comments begin. As soon as I read the first chapter, set in Jamaica, I breathlessly awaited Fleming's passages on those funny Negroes and their antics. I expected to see something like this within a few pages:
The pilot announced that the plane would be landing in an hour. Bond smiled at the thought of being in Jamaica again. It had been five years. He had missed making fun of the darkies and their funny antics. He wished Felix Leiter could be with him to talk about how sensitive the niggers were.
But Bond had a natural affinity for the Negroes, and they seemed to know it.
Or something like this would be very amusing:
Bond had a natural affinity for these inferior people. He especially found it amusing that they ate watermelon, fried chicken and something called soul food. The darkies appreciated his amusement and understood his cracker ass. When they saw him coming, they acted and spoke as stupidly as possible, knowing it would please him and knowing they existed solely for his entertainment.
"You think that's funny, whitey!" shouted one of the darkies, bringing Bond back to reality.
Bond and Felix laughed at the silly Negro and his friends as they gathered around like Zulu tribesmen.
"Me and the boys are going to kick your smug, white ass, limey," said the leader of the Negroes.
And they did. Bond was picking watermelon seeds out of his ass for weeks. Felix said he'd rather go another round with the shark that ate him in a previous novel.
Those funny darkies!
Fortunately, Bond and Leiter both had a natural affinity for the Negroes, so they bore their assailants no malice. They were Negroes and didn't know any better.
OK. I'll fess up. That's not what happened. Doctor No is not entirely free of racist remarks and comments, but Fleming seems to have realized that his blatantly racist James Bond might be a less sympathetic figure to many potential fans. He has toned it down quite a bit (which wouldn't be hard to do after the numerous offensive passages in Live and Let Die). But don't think that Fleming has let us down entirely!
Breifly, the plot is this: An important British intelligence officer in Jamaica (still a British colony in 1958) has disappeared along with his secretary. Their office was burnt to the ground as well. Did they run off together? Or were they disposed of for some mysterious reason?
James Bond, just recovered from the fatal dose of poison administered by Rosa Klebb at the end of From Russia With Love travels to Jamaica to find out what is going on.
It seems there are too many Chinese in the Caribbean. One tries to take his picture at the airport. Another one works as a secretary for the Colonial Office … and she may be a spy … or something. And then there's the Chigroes, half-black, half Chinese. (They MUST be up to something!)
Most suspicious of all is Dr. No, Dr. Julius No, half-Chinese, half-German (DEFINITELY up to something!) who owns Crab Key, a large island between Jamaica and Cuba, where he runs a bird-poop mine. (I'm not making this up.)
Do we need any more clues? Bond doesn't. Dr. No is half-German and half-Chinese! His name is Dr. No! He owns an island! He's the only suspect! It couldn't be any more obvious unless he was played by Bela Lugosi!
Well, there's also the four mysterious deaths (in addition to the disappearance of the British intelligence agent and his secretary) related to a bird sanctuary (for roseate spoonbills) at one end of Crab Key.
So Bond goes to Jamaica and starts investimigatin'. He meets with Quarrel, the black fellow who helped him out in Live and Let Die. Quarrel knows where his bread is buttered and craftily puts on the comic darkie act for Bond. He says "hoctopus" instead of "octopus," which Bond finds amusing. (Quarrel is a very capable comic darkie, helping Bond get into shape, making all the arrangements for Bond's schemes, abusing Chinese girls when necessary, providing mounds of useful information, helping Bond paddle out to Crab Key in the middle of the night, and various other duties that entail doing most of the work while Bond sits around in his hotel room, meets with various British officials, and drinks a lot. A LOT!
Come to think of it, Quarrel reminds me a little bit of Rochester, Jack Benny's valet or servant or driver or whatever he was. James Bond has the same initials as Jack Benny. Coincidence? Don't be so naïve.
(Quarrel dies a little later in the book, burnt to death by a mechanical dragon that shoots fire, a contraption devised to scare people away from the island and to disrupt the roseate spoonbills who are causing such a ruckus at one end of his island. Bond feels bad about it, because he failed to protect Quarrel like a good patriarchal white man should. Bad James Bond, bad!)
So they go to Crab Key and meet a naked girl. The naked girl's name is Honeychile Rider.
"People call me 'Honey'."
I bet they do, Honey. I bet they do.
Doctor No is a pretty good novel, but I've often wondered why it was chosen as the first novel to be filmed. At least eight novels had been published when filming began on the first Bond film, and both From Russia With Love and Goldfinger are as good as (or better than) Doctor No. I will probably come across this bit of trivia (the official version of why Doctor No was filmed first) when I watch the film version of Doctor No and watch the documentary of how the film was made. (All the DVDs of the early Bond films have these documentaries and they are very interesting.)
But I think I have found the real selling point of Doctor No: the introduction of Honeychile Rider.
It was a naked girl, with her back to him. She was not quite naked. She wore a broad leather belt round her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip. The belt made her nakedness extraordinarily erotic. She stood not more than five yards away on the tideline looking down at something in her hand. She stood in the classical relaxed pose of the nude, all the weight on the right leg and the left knee bent and turning slightly inwards, the head to one side as she examined the things in her hand.
It was a beautiful back. The skin was a very light uniform café au lait with a sheen of dull satin. The gentle curve of the backbone was deeply indented, suggesting more powerful muscles than is usual in a woman, and the behind was almost as firm and rounded as a boy's. The legs were straight and beautiful and no pinkness showed under the slightly lifted left heel. She was not a coloured girl.
(You can depend on Ian to make this distinction.)
Her hair was ash blonde. It was cut to the shoulders and hung there and along the side of her bent cheek in thick wet strands. A green diving mask was pushed back above her forehead, and the green rubber-thong bound her hair at the back.
The whole scene, the empty beach, the green and blue sea, the naked girl with the strands of fair hair, reminded Bond of something. He searched his mind. Yes, she was Botticelli's Venus, seen from behind.
Eventually, Bond reveals himself, and she turns around, a little startled:
… the girl whirled around. She didn't cover her body with the two classical gestures. One hand flew downwards, but the other, instead of hiding her breasts, went up to her face, covering it below the eyes, now wide with fear.
The girl dropped her hand down from her face. It went to the knife at her belt. Bond watched the fingers curl round the hilt. He looked up at her face. Now he realized why her hand had instinctively gone to it. It was a beautiful face, with wide-apart deep blue eyes under lashes paled by the sun. The mouth was wide and when she stopped pursing the lips with tension they would be full. It was a serious face and the jawline was determined – the face of a girl who fends for herself. And once, reflected Bond, she had failed to fend. For the nose was badly broken, smashed crooked like a boxer's. Bond stiffened with revolt at what had happened to this supremely beautiful girl. No wonder this was her shame and not the beautiful firm breasts that now jutted towards him without concealment.
The eyes examined him fiercely. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" There was a slight lilt of a Jamaican accent. The voice was sharp and accustomed to being obeyed.
"I'm an Englishman. I'm interested in birds."
The producers, the directors, SOMEBODY really wanted to film this scene. Aside from the name of Honeychile Rider and Fleming's unnecessary obsession with pointing out that she isnt "a coloured girl," it is a perfect scene, erotic, tantalizing, suspenseful, mysterious.
(Of course, Fleming HAS to ruin it by calling her "Honeychile" for another gratuitous poke at black mannerisms. What kind of people were her parents to call her Honeychile? If they just liked the sound of it, why didn't they call her "Honeychild"? But her parents apparently spelled it phonetically, and I can't see any other reason for that except to make fun of the way the Negroes talk. Ian, Ian, Ian. You sick bastard.)
Honey Rider is a great character, a real standout from the early Bond girls. She's on Crab Key collecting rare shells. She is one of many of the elements that make Doctor No such a great novel. And her introduction is, so far in my reading, the best passage from the Bond novels. Her backstory is fascinating, and she becomes entwined in the action that defines the last half of the book as they flee Dr. No's minions, hiding in the jungle, finding the desolated former refuge of the roseate spoonbills, facing Dr. No's mechanical dragon, being captured and learning Dr. No's story, and so on and so on to the exciting conclusion.
As I recall the film, it followed the novel very closely. (In the book, Dr. No is an independent entity who is working closely with the Russians. In the movie, Dr. No is working with SPECTRE. But in the books, SPECTRE doesn't appear until Thunderball, which had been published not long before work started on the film.) A great read, I could hardly put it down. When Bond and Honey were separated for several chapters, I read it almost too fast to figure out what was happening because I HAD TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED TO HONEY. Dr. No had threatened to strip her naked and stake her out flat on the ground in the path of the migration route of MAN-EATING CRABS! EEK!
(I won't tell you what happened. You'll have to read it for yourself.)
Doctor No - the book - is highly recommended by this writer. It's easy to see, for a lot of reasons, why it was chosen to be the first film.
NEXT: Doctor No - The Movie.
Friday, May 05, 2006
(I don't remember exactly what I thought was silly. I haven't seen Goldfinger for a really long time. I will probably watch it again in a few weeks, after I've read the novel, and we will see what I think of it after so many years. I have a feeling I'm not going to be able to figure out what I thought was so silly, especially in comparison with some of the more recent Bond films. (Die Another Day, don't try to act all innocent, you know I'm talking about you.))
After I became kind of disillusioned with Goldfinger, I saw From Russia From With Love for the first time, and I was knocked over. It's really good. It's great.
It follows the novel very closely. (One major change: SMERSH is not behind the plot to discredit Bond. SPECTRE is behind it, but they are using former SMERSH operatives to make the Western intelligence organizations think it is SMERSH.) Rosa Klebb, Donovan Grant, Tatiana Romanova and Kerim Bey are all here, as well as Istanbul, the gypsy camp, the Orient Express and the exciting finale where Rosa Klebb tries to stick Bond with her knife-tipped shoes.
They add some stuff to the scene where Bond and Tatiana escape from the Orient Express, with Bond playing North By Northwest with a helicopter, followed a boat chase where Bond blows up a whole fleet of small pursuit boats with a match and some lighter fluid. (Sean Connery IS James Bond.) But From Russia With Love is probably the Bond film that most closely resembles the book. (I'll have to read all the books before I can say that with any real credibility, huh?)
Since that period of my life, I am more likely to name You Only live Twice as my favorite Bond film. But I also really like Thunderball (even if I don't remember it that well). And it hasn't been that long since I saw the last half of Dr. No and thought, "This is a pretty good movie." (And Dr. No should be in the running because of Ursula Andress anyway.)
So I don't know which one is REALLY my favorite. But it definitely has to be one of those first five James Bond films.
And I'm starting to obsess about it a little bit. NOTHING is more important than this question! Which Bond film is the best? I have to know! I have to settle this question for my own peace of mind ... and for the peace of mind of millions of MMC's loyal fans.
So there will be a contest, lasting several months. I am currently reading the novels and then watching the corresponding film as I finish each book. So after I have read You Only Live Twice, I will have seen the five competing films (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice). At this point, the festival will begin, as I watch all the movies over several days and see which emerges as the GREATEST James Bond film of all!
(And of course, I am excluding the 1967 version of Casino Royale from the competition because that is such a totally awesome movie that it wouldn't be fair. (You think I'm being sarcastic, don't you?))
Right now, i'm kind of partial to From Russia With Love or You Only Live Twice. But let the best Bond win!
(Note: I apologizing for not saying more about the actual movie From Russia With Love. I like it a lot. I really can't make fun of it because it's just too awesome. But if you want to find out more about the book and film version of From Russia With Love, check out the Wikipedia entry and the imdb entry.)
NEXT: I have nearly finished Dr. No - the book - and it's another good one. However, I have been taking notes and finding lots of things to make fun of, so I will probably be writing that up within a day or two, and it will be a lot more entertaining than my boring, laudatory comments on From Russia With Love.
Sometimes, even in his best writing, Ian Fleming can be depended on for some unintentionally funny shit.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Great villains, original (and almost plausible) plot, plenty of action, polished writing, a book you can't put down, a book that you wish would never end.
Briefly, SMERSH, the Soviet anti-spy organization from the first two novels, seeks to embarrass the West by embroiling a British spy in a sex scandal. They single out James Bond. Though he is unknown to the world at large, Bond is famous in spy circles, and his downfall would demoralize the Western intelligence organizations.
And so the labyrinthine plot develops. Freaky lesbian Russkie Rosa Klebb, SMERSH operative, recruits an ex-patriate British psychotic, Donovan Grant, and a beautiful Russian agent, Tatiana Romanova (who looks a little like Greta Garbo), and plans are made.
Soon, Bond is in Istanbul, hanging out with the magical Turkish agent, Kerim Bey, running with rats, killing Bulgarians, fighting alongside gypsies, and waiting for the plot to unfold.
The last part of the novel is a cat-and-mouse game, with Bond and Tatiana fleeing to the West on the Orient Express and matching wits with Donovan Grant and other SMERSH operatives.
And, at the end, Bond dies.
(He gets better, just like Felix Leiter when he was eaten by the shark in Live and Let Die.)
The book was written in 1957 and sold very well. In 1961, a magazine published a list of President John F. Kennedy's favorite books. The only fiction on the list, coming in at Number Nine, was From Russia With Love. (Some sources say that John and brother Bobby liked the Bond novels but From Russia With Love was not on Kennedy's original list. It was added by a staffer to make Kennedy look less like a nerd.) As the story goes, Kennedy's "endorsement" ignited a Bond craze and even greater popularity for Ian Fleming's creation.
There had been talk of a James Bond movie for several years, but it hadn't materialized yet. However, the new popularity made a James Bond film inevitable.
(I don't know why Dr. No was chosen as the first Bond film instead of From Russia With Love. Perhaps I will find out and we will discuss it in a future essay.)
So, From Russia With Love may be the novel that is most directly responsible for jump-starting the film series. I urge James Bond fans to read it, for fun, for posterity, for history.
Next: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE - THE MOVIE
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
The guy is German or Dutch or something. He works as a dentist at the nearby British-owned diamond mines, and he is very near to the front end of a diamond smuggling operation. The helicopter arrives, the guy exchanges diamonds for money, heads back to his dentist job, and all the characters in the first chapter disappear until the last chapter.
Thus begins Diamonds Are Forever, the fourth James Bond novel. Bond travels to such exotic locales as a race track in upstate New York and various casinos in Las Vegas, posing as a diamond courier and trying to break up the diamond-smuggling ring. He gets mixed up with a bunch of gangsters, meets up with a girl named Tiffany Case who hates men because of a tragic childhood, and breaks up the smuggling ring in a way that I can't really explain because it didn't really make a whole lot of sense.
Diamonds Are Forever is not very good. The bit with the scorpion is probably Fleming being poetic or something. Fleming's observations about America are not particularly objective or clever, and there is not enough action to cover over a few glaringly unlikely incidents.
Felix Leiter is back. You may recall that he was eaten by a shark in Live and Let Die. But the shark didn't damage anything vital, like his racism gland. Bond reminisces about his fun-loving racist Texan friend when he is about to get a mudbath and a massage, enabling Fleming to dazzle us with such witticisms as this:
"Be right with you," said the Negro casually, his big feet slapping against the wet floor as he sauntered off about his business. Bond watched the huge rubbery man, and his skin cringed at the thought of putting his body into the dangling pudgy hands with their lined pink palms.
Bond had a natural affection for coloured people, but he reflected how lucky England was compared with America where you had to live with the colour problem from your schooldays up. He smiled as he remembered something Felix Leiter had said to him on their last assignment together in America. Bond had referred to Mr. Big, the famous Harlem criminal, as "that damned nigger." Leiter had picked him up. "Careful now, James," he had said. "People are so damn sensitive about colour around here that you can’t even ask a barman for a jigger of rum. You have to ask for a jegro."
The memory of Leiter's wisecrack cheered Bond up.
Well, it looks like Mr. Fleming forgot to include one of his favorite jokes in Live and Let Die, so he just inserted it rather gratuitously into Diamonds Are Forever. Thank you, Mr. Fleming.
There are a few good scenes. Later in the novel, Bond is taken to the Mob's ghost-town hideout, in the middle of the desert. The big boss has used his ill-gotten gains to build a railroad track between the ghost town and another community a hundred miles away. At one point, Bond escapes on a handcar with the vintage locomotive in pursuit, and the way he takes care of the bad guys is pretty neat and very flashy. Perfect for the movies. But this scene was never used in any of the films.
Also interesting in the book is a scene on a cruise ship. Bond and Tiffany think they are safe, but the homosexual torpedoes, Wint and Kidd, have followed them on the ship to wreak vengeance in the name of the mob. This scene is used in the movie. Both versions are pretty interesting.
Overall, I much prefer the movie version of Diamonds Are Forever. The book just didn't do a whole lot for me. I read Moonraker in two days. Diamonds Are Forever took me over a week. I just wasn't that engaged.
Next: From Russia With Love (Book)
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Moonraker is not a good movie. It's not particularly bad, as bad movies go. It just doesn't make any sense. Now, sense is often a precious commodity in a James Bond film, but the viewer shouldn't care, distracted by explosions, gadgets, broads, improbable schemes, exotic locales and villains who seem like rejects from the Bush Administration.
But Moonraker is not only dumb (which is forgiveable (see review of Die Another Day)), it is also kinda dull. And if you don't notice how dull it is in the first or second hour, you will certainly have noticed by the fifth or sixth hour (unless you have fallen asleep or eaten your own eyeballs).
The plot is this:
Somebody steals a space shuttle that is part of the Moonraker project. Bond investigates by going to California to the Drax Corporation. It is run by Hugo Drax, who has a goatee and a sinister demeanor AND a generic European accent, so you know he is probably the villain. bond gets stuck in a doohickey that goes REALLY FAST. he gets all his clues from labels on packing crates. He meets beautiful women with suggestive names, one of whom is eaten by dogs. He goes to Venice and Rio de Janeiro and then to a Mayan-themed private resort that seems to be adjacent to Argentina. Then he goes into space and blows up the villain's space station as well as also blowing up the globes full of poisonous gas that have been fired toward the Earth where they will explode and kill all the people. (I swear to God this is what happens! The Austin Powers parody of this type of thing made more sense.)
Drax's plan was to have a space colony pf perfect physical specimens who would go back to Earth in a few generations. And all the commoners on Earth would have been killed by the poisonous gas. (I suspect the leaders of the Republican Party have a similar plan. It would explain a lot.)
They never really explain why Drax has gone to such lengths, which is just as well because the movie is way too long as it is. My brother and I had fun trying to make sense of it all. We were rationalizing like a couple of conservative talk-show hosts.
This is the second movie with Jaws, the really, really big guy with the metal teeth. He falls out of an airplane without a parachute at the beginning of the movie. Then he rides a cable car into the side of a mountain. Then he goes over a waterfall. Jaws meets his dream girl during the film. She looks like Pippi Longstocking all grown up. At the end of the film, Jaws helps Bond escape. But they don't really show how Jaws escapes the deteriorating space station in the vacuum of space. I'm not sure that Jaws didn't just wrap his girlfriend in his shirt. Then he would have jumped out the space station and floated back to Earth on the solar winds or something. it would have made as much sense as anything else in this movie.
Jaws has not appeared since Moonraker.
Thank you, God!
The conventional wisdom among Bond fans is not very nice to Moonraker. It is a definite low point for the series. I am tempted to say it is officially the worst James Bond film, but I haven't seen them all. I still haven't seen The Spy Who Loved Me, License to Kill, Tomorrow is Not Enough or The World Never Dies.
It's a shame that Moonraker is such a dud of a film. I liked the book so much. Several people suggested that I skip the movie and I kind of wish I had heeded their device.
NEXT: Diamonds Are Forever was the fourth James Bond novel. I read it and … it has its moments.
Monday, May 01, 2006
I reviewed the book version of Casino Royale because I had already reviewed Casino Royale twice (two movie reviews), and the book had some sections that interested me and seemed worthy of comment. Parts of Live and Let Die read much like a Bond film, and I also had to comment on the book’s, shall we say, racial insensitivity, as well as Fleming’s obsessive distaste for old people and retirement villages.
Moonraker, on the other hand, was just a darn good read! It is much like Casino Royale in that it has few action sequences. The best scene is a card game - bridge, no less. The villain, Hugo Drax, is subtly villainous, his scheme is diabolically clever, and his motives are completely believable.
I was completely hooked from the end of the second chapter and I read the whole book in two days. I think it would be wrong of me to deprive interested readers of the same joy by giving away too much. I will say no more about Moonraker – the book.
But I am really curious about the movie now. Moonraker – the movie – is one of the few Bond films I haven't seen. And when I mention that I read the book and really liked it, my friends all say something like, "It must be better than the movie. The movie sucked!!" or other colorful descriptions, all negative.
How could the filmmakers have messed it up THAT bad? This is what I ask myself when I consider how much I liked the book. Well, as I haven't seen it, I shouldn't say too much against it. I might like it. Like Die Another Day.
So that's probably next, a few words on Moonraker – the movie.
And after that, the next book is Diamonds Are Forever, which they made into a really good film. This will be the first book where I know the movie pretty well, so maybe I can talk a little bit about exactly what happens when Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels get thrown up on the screen.