As referenced in the review for Thunderball, I am reading the stories in the alleged chronological order put forth by John Griswold in his highly-detailed book (which has a number of lazy typos, but is otherwise essential reading). This means I read the first three stories in this collection, then the beginning of Majesty’s, back to 007 in New York, The Spy Who Loved Me, and then finishing Majesty’s. Sounds confusing, but I managed to read all of these stories quite swiftly and I’m glad I did. To have ended with this short story collection, the last of Fleming’s work published (but not necessarily written), would have been something of a let down. These stories are far less even in quality than those in Fleming’s other short story collection, For Your Eyes Only. To be fair, those 5 stories were published together in Fleming’s lifetime, whereas early editions of O&TLD only included the two stories of the book’s title, with the others not being added until later (007 in New York, originally part of the New York edition of Fleming’s otherwise non-fictional Thrilling Cities, has only been included in this collection since about 2003).
I will judge the stories seperately, but as none of them but the first would stand a chance on their own when compared to any of the novels, I will rate them collectively, even though Fleming might not have desired them to have been published together (or at all in the case of Property of a Lady).
The first story in the set is also the best: Fleming at his most nihilistic in this flashback caper about Nazi gold and a man sorely in need of a comeuppance. Chilling and moody, much like Quantum of Solace, but considerably darker. Fleming’s own views of his own mortality (conscious or otherwise) come more and more into focus as he gets closer to death; the ironic and fatalistic ending is one of his most insightful. The villain is slyly hinted at in the film of the same name, but otherwise this is unlike anything in the film canon, and all the more thrilling for it. Perhaps Fleming’s best short story, and enough on which recommend the whole collection.
The Living Daylights
The second best story in the set was adapted for the screen in the film of the same name. But whereas this is a little vignette, the film uses it as its brief opening act. Shades of Goldfinger as Bond reflects on death. The narrative hinges perhaps a little too much on the twist. Granted, the film spoiled it for me, and I do think that, if I had read it totally cold back in the mid-60s, it would have been a good surprise. Not as much substance as Octopussy, but there is great atmosphere in the distinctly specific Cold War setting.
Property of a Lady
Sotheby’s commissioned this from Fleming and it shows. Much of it seems like a bizarre advertisement. The best thing to come out of this story was its interpolation into the plot of Octopussy (my favorite film of the Moore era). In contrast to The Living Daylights, in which the film dulled the impact of reading the story, Property of a Lady is made better by its association to the adaptation. Still as a work of Bond fiction, it is below commonplace, and even Fleming knew that, refusing to be paid for the work after having completed it. The film producers knew there was something great being hatched in the Faberge egg caper, but it needed context and emotional drive, which the film Octopussy brings in spades. Had Fleming started a full-length novel with this scene as a sort of Bond/Goldfinger card game moment, it would have been spectacular. The medium has upset the magic with this one.
007 in New York
No, I spoke too soon. This is the real head-scratcher. This story is really nothing to write home about. Having been born in New York (State) of course I was always excited growing up to finally read about Bond’s great adventures in my nearest metropolis. Now, years later, as a resident of New York (City) I finally get around to reading Fleming’s last piece of published Bond, and it is incredibly disappointing. Under 10 pages, nothing really happens besides a few attempts at humor, unflattering descriptions of the city, and some moments of Bond being Bond. This could have been inserted into the first act of another novel and maybe there would be something to it, but at the end of the day this is just a curio. Fleming had to replace his non-fiction on NY to appease US publishers, and, given how nasty this is, I can’t imagine how unflattering the original non-fiction piece is. I am so glad that I read the books in this order, because if this story were the last piece of Bond fiction that I read, I probably would have cried from disappointment.
On the whole, the first story is better than anything in Thunderball and is worth the price of admission alone. It’s almost a toss-up as to which of them is better, but I will have to go with Thunderball by a hair. I would rather have consistent and iconic, even though bland than the mix of success and failure in this collection. A harder decision to make is whether or not the next three novels, You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, are going to edge out Casino Royale as my favorite book. I can tell you’re super excited.
1. Casino Royale
2. From Russia With Love
3. For Your Eyes Only
5. Diamonds Are Forever
7. Doctor No
8. Live and Let Die
10. Octopussy & The Living Daylights
Next: The Spy Who Loved Me
I Might Be Fragile
Good, it’s me on TMBG’s Tumblr, that’s GOOD!
bill sent me a text that says “congratulations on securing your slave” he knows me so well
A childhood Bond fanatic grows into adulthood and revisits the James Bond films. Heading in reverse order from Quantum of Solace back through Dr. No, and then revisiting Skyfall, this series (along with reviews of the Ian Fleming Novels as I re-read them) can be found at my tag: Bond Reshaken
Diamonds Are Forever
Umpteenth viewing. This movie is a campy, frustrating mess. What should have been the ultimate revenge film, turned into the film that truly established the camp of Bond which would not be firmly shaken off until 1987. True, filming the Blofeld books out of order messed with everything anyway, but after the first six installments of the series, one could still write off You Only Live Twice as a fluke (in terms of tone, content, and believability). Unfortunately, people in 1969 were apparently Total Fucking Idiots™ and decided that they didn’t want another OHMSS, so they somehow got Connery to roll in the hay one last time (officially, that is). In order not to be furiously angry with the universe, I have to think of this film out of context. When I do, what can I handle? Very little. America never comes off well in early Bond (see the hoods’ congress scene in Goldfinger). Lana Wood, Jill St. John, et al., can’t be seen as anything but irritating. Where is the tragic and worldy Tiffany Case of the novel? Shades of her exist for the first reel or so, but she turns full-on bimbo by act II. The American locations garner some interest, with some fun views of early 70s Las Vegas. Wint & Kidd (even more unlike their book counterparts than Tiffany Case) are entertaining and endearing in their way, and get some of the few genuine laughs of the picture. Jimmy Dean gets none and should go back to making underwhelming frozen sausage. Very little of the action is good. The Franks/Bond Battle in the Amsterdam elevator is probably the best action scene (and the Vegas car chases are definitely legendary… except for the comic relief sheriff [“ain’t we wacky American POH-leese such a bunch of whipperwhackers”]), but so many of them are rubbish. The moon buggy scene, the oil rig battle: all rubbish. I’m not even going to talk about Charles’ Gray’s Blofeld. A total disgrace. So this put the series at a 5 - 2 record. That’s enough of a tipping point to seem like a pattern, and the series was never the same. Sometimes I’m in a mood where I stop worrying and love this bomb, but when I consider the quality of the rest of the series, I can never really give it credit for being anything more than schlock. The camp quality is more enjoyable than that of Die Another Day, so it only edges that one out slightly. And Scaramanga as a character is enough to slightly edge Golden Gun over this one. Grade: C
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Seventh or eighth viewing. The often poor reputation of this film is totally baffling to me. This is perhaps the most tasteful film in the franchise besides the first two, and certainly the one with the most genuine emotional wallop. After swapping around the Blofeld books and royally fucking up You Only Live Twice, they were shockingly wise enough to play this one by the book. We have to ignore You Only Live Twice, because Blofeld should already recognize Bond, but I’m happy ignoring that film anyway, at least for continuity. Naturally, the weak spot, we all can admit, is George Lazenby. He’s got some great qualities. He certainly looks the part, and there’s a real vulnerability to him that I don’t think Connery could have done (I can’t imagine Connery and this script at all). His acting is never as bad as dozens of other actors and actresses who played leading villains or heroines in the Bond series. And surrounded by Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas, the quality of this performance is really brought up. The film has beautiful location and studio photography and action. I have a hard time finding anything bad to say about the film except for the fact that Lazenby’s dialogue delivery isn’t as strong as the rest of the principal cast. The film makes me well up. It’s a shame that it’s considered part of a “trilogy” with two of the worst films in the series. The film held up even better for me than I expected, and continues to reward on each viewing. Favorite scene: Bond’s escape from Piz Gloria, genuinely tense every time I view it. The ironic underscoring of Do They Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown? and the car chase where Diana Rigg drives Bond around shows that this woman might actually be out of Bond’s league (Diana as a person is actually out of George’s league, and that makes it more believable for me). I love this film. Grade: A+
You Only Live Twice
Eighth or ninth viewing. Well, this one doesn’t hold up well at all. This film has more Austin Powers fodder than any other. This is the first truly overblown, stupid Bond movie. The overlong scenes of craters opening, ships launching, ships floating, people we’ve never see again talking. Maybe in 1967, this was breathtaking, but it is so tedious and dull and not even that important. The first of many Bond films to start with a hijacking/capsizing/etc of some military vehicle filled with people we don’t know for reasons we don’t care about. 90% of the pre-credits is given to dull space models. And we see more and more of these all movie long. Fortunately, the credits and title song are something else. This is one of my favorite John Barry scores, with some really ballsy trumpet work, too. The film’s main contrivance is quickly forgotten about, and the crimson duality of death that pervades the novel and which makes it so poignant is lost forever. Instead of being a metaphor, the title is basically taken literally (it doesn’t help that this our first time seeing Blofeld, instead of in the novels where he has already appeared, but has since had massive surgery and created a new life). The location shooting and casting of actual Japanese actors is refreshing (even if they’re all dubbed and pretty unbearable to listen to; even Tetsuro Tamba’s Tiger Tanaka… a great actor in Japanese cinema and a great character in the novel gets little justice here). The final act is a pile of garbage of unexciting, B-movie splendor. The part where Blofeld aims at Bond just to shoot Osato, then walks with Bond farther for no reason just to get on his monorail, and then aims at Bond again this time to kill him. Fortunately, Tiger has a ninja star and all is well. It’s a stupidly edited and paced 30-second attempt at tension and it makes me want to die. The two best scenes of the film are the fight at the Kobe docks its the brilliant aerial shot (accompanied by soaring trumpet), and the brilliantly written and acted scene with Henderson (Charles Gray in a GOOD performance). It’s far too short and I always hope that Henderson will survive his only scene, but alas, he always dies. You Only Live Twice is a film with some fantastic colors, ideas, and images, more so than Diamonds, but it’s very frustrating and it took me weeks to finish it. It is something of a snooze fest and there is nothing to really hold on to (neither female lead is worth following, and the femme fatale is just a less successful version of Fiona from Thunderball). A truly missed opportunity to not have adapted Fleming’s nihilistic travelogue, but after Thunderball upped the ante to a new high, it’s understandable why this film went all out with its high-budget sets and action. It’s only a shame that there’s very little thought behind any of it. I would sooner watch Diamonds, but just by a hair.. Also, Scottish Bond “becoming” Japanese. Grade: C
Fifth or sixth viewing. This will prove to be the other positive surprise of this viewing (the other being TWINE). This film bored me to tears as a child. I used to tell people the story about how I learned how to snap during a particularly boring viewing of Thunderball. The problem scenes are still problem: The dull underwater scenes are only marginally less dull than they were when I saw them as a kid, but the rest of the film really holds up. The underwater parts are also some of the weaker parts of the novel, but at least Fleming’s descriptions give you just shades of what is happening, leaving you to fill in the scope of the undersea battles. The film feels the need to show you so many little moments of battle and strife, even though they are not more interesting or tense than the next. These are hard scenes to translate to a visual medium, but they do a decent job making them look believable. If the end battle, and the recovery of the wreck in the first act could be trimmed in half, this film would be so much better-paced. Because of the way it is, the Bond briefing happens 40 minutes in, instead of the usual 10-15. Like the novel, the audience knows so much more than Bond, so there’s really no engaging caper. Fortunately, the characters are so great. Largo and Fiona are great villains and Domino is a wonderful heroine (also, the bustiness if the two women had no escaped me; most Bond women aren’t that well-endowed). Rik Van Nutter’s Felix is middle-of-the-road but whatever, Cec Linder ruined Felix forever in Goldfinger and even David Hedison can’t save him. Just gotta learn to accept it. For each bad green screen, there’s a great scene with M, or great pre-credits hand-to-hand combat scene. The best sequence is obviously the escape from Fiona and Largo’s men, climaxing in the Kiss Kiss Club (but why don’t the men try again after Fiona is killed? They are shown going, “Oh we fucked that up, let’s leave, nothing we can do,” even though Bond is in plain sight). This is perhaps the only film I enjoyed more than the novel (which I find to be the weakest novel, with far less bite and intrigue than its film). Vargas looks like my old Aural Skills professor. So that’s good. Thunderball is a film that wrote many of the rules that have stayed with the franchise until today. The good rules anyway. You Only Live Twice seemed obligated to write all of the bad rules. Grade: B+
2. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
3. Casino Royale
4. Licence to Kill
6. The World is Not Enough
7. The Spy Who Loved Me
8. For Your Eyes Only
10. Live and Let Die
11. Tomorrow Never Dies
13. The Living Daylights
14. Quantum of Solace
15. A View to a Kill
16. The Man With The Golden Gun
17. Diamonds Are Forever
18. You Only Live Twice
19. Die Another Day
Up next: GOLDFINGER through DR. NO; SKYFALL
|—||L’histoire Du Châtelain De Coucy Et De La Dame De Fayel - Jakemes|
“The hair,” corrected Bond.
“One hair would not be enough, Bondo-san. I need the whole skin.
|—||Tiger Tanaka & James Bond - You Only Live Twice, by Ian Fleming|
Now, we arrive at the first book in the series that I never finished. The first time I attempted to read the series, some 8 years ago (or more?), I ended up stopping in the middle of Thunderball. For whatever reason, it didn’t hold my attention. I never really enjoyed the film adaptation (I learned how to snap my fingers over the length of a particularly dull screening), which I found to be rather dull and one-note, with very little in the way of memorable action or plot. I’ll be revisiting this film shortly, so stay tuned for that review, but I will say that the things I find boring in Bond usually stay pretty constant. One of the things I get most bored of is nautical Bond. As Bond/Fleming was a naval officer and given Fleming’s life in Jamaica, extensive material involving diving, marine biology, and all other things aquatic appears throughout the series. Nothing is more boring than an underwater fight scene. It’s true in the films (Thunderballand For Your Eyes Only, to name two) and it’s true in novels.
But is Thunderball a novel? Books and documentaries have been made detailing the history behind the legal disputes between either Fleming or EON Productions and Kevin McClory, one of Fleming’s collaborators. The long and short of it is that Kevin was one of five writers, including Fleming, that contributed to the story of an original James Bond screen treatment. The film, pre-dating Dr. No by a couple of years, didn’t materialize, and Fleming decided to adapt this screen treatment into his next novel (McClory, Fleming, and one of the other writers receive credit for the source material on the copyright page). Legal disputes ensued and the resultant endpoints thereof include Kevin McClory’s producer credit on Thunderball (the film) and the eventual McClory-produced remake, the entirely uninteresting “unofficial Bond film, ”Never Say Never Again (1983), starring Sean Connery.
More importantly (for our purpose), the complicated history of the novel’s development leads to a book far unlike any that preceded it. At times it reads like a novelization of a film. Description is slightly more literal than stylized, and, despite the overall lack of action, it conjures up images in one’s mind of a Thunderball film with Connery, but with the budget of Dr. No. The novel shows a constraint and self-awareness, with the hint that they were considering keeping the film simultaneously high-concept and low-budget. The globe trekking is minimal, there is only one real action set-piece (or maybe, two… but they are both underwater and involve spearguns and deadly fish; both are also relatively brief). There is a lot of dialogue and character development, and a fair deal of meandering about. But I guess we’re supposed to be looking at the pretty location photography that would have been.
The opening act at Shrublands, the health clinic Bond is required to stay at, is a lot of fun. I am always a sucker for more casual Bond material that shows him at home and being rather relatable. This chunk of the book would have made for a pretty decent short story. Next comes the introduction of SPECTRE, Bond’s new adversaries. It’s remarkable, in hindsight, how understated the organization’s presentation feels. It does obviously have a lot of the over-the-top dramatics you’d expect, but they are couched in as much realism as possible. The plot is obviously the biggest in Bond so far: theft of nuclear missles with the world held for ransom. But as these things don’t actually happen, the budget can be kept down.
The book makes the Fleming mistake of putting us way ahead of Bond in knowing the plot. Fleming must not be particularly interested in the suspense of who/what/where/when/why that compels Bond to engage in his duties, but instead he builds his stories around the “how” of “How is Bond going to figure it out and beat the baddie?” Bond and Leiter (whose presence in the story is larger than ever) bumming around for the whole middle of the book, trying to find out information that we already know, doesn’t make for the most compelling read. Fortunately, Domino and Largo are colorful figures, and the scenes of villainous exposition are engaging, so that makes up for something. I will admit that the Domino’s brother connection is never fully explained, and it’s not entirely clear of how the Domino/Largo/Giuseppe triangle developed, nor who knew what and when. This element is stronger in the film, as far as I can recall.
By the way, every time Leiter appears, it’s always a surprise for the reader and for Bond, and it makes me the giddiest young man on the subway whenever it happens. He is the Gene Parmasan to my Lucille Bluth whenever I read Bond.
The novel’s lopsided structure (my usual grievance with any Fleming) can be felt by noticing the fact that act III (or is it act IV?) begins with about 10% of the book left. The book’s finale is predictable but thankful after the water treaded by Bond & Co. in the chapters leading up to it. The coda is sweet, and maybe a bit hokey, but I’m sure it would have been a hit with the cinemagoers.
This book, which I never finished a decade ago, took me the longest to finish out of any book so far in this go-round. Hopefully, the future battles with SPECTRE bring Fleming back to form. It will be a surprise I look forward to, as I haven’t read any of the remaining novels before.
In keeping with my attempt at following Griswold’s chronology for the series, I will be reading the three main stories in Octopussy & The Living Daylights next, then the first few chapters of OHMSS, then 007 in New York, followed by The Spy Who Loved Me, and finally the remainder of OHMSS. After this little tango, I will finish the series with the final two Fleming novels, back-to-back.
1. Casino Royale
2. From Russia With Love
3. For Your Eyes Only
5. Diamonds Are Forever
7. Doctor No
8. Live and Let Die
Next: The Spy Who Loved Me/Octopussy & The Living Daylights/OHMSS