007

Poster for The Living Daylights (1987)

During this extended period of quarantine, I have relied more and more on sheer entertainment value. In terms of film, nothing fills the bill quite like the James Bond films—almost irrespective of the actor that plays 007. I have just seen The Living Daylights starring Timothy Dalton as the ace British spy. It doesn’t seem to matter that the plots are highly unlikely. In compensation, there are the Bond girls, in this film, Maryam d’Abo fills the role quite appetizingly.

Ever since my freshman year in college when Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, and Joseph Wiseman starred in Doctor No, I have loved the Bond films. Not only that, during my college terms, I managed to read most of the Ian Fleming novels written to date. And since I graduated, I read all the rest of them that followed.

Timothy Dalton and Maryam d’Abo in The Living Daylights

I suspect that John LeCarré and Len Deighton wrote spy novels that were more true to life, but it really doesn’t matter. The continuing characters of M, Q, Felix Leiter, and Miss Moneypenny help provide continuity. The only James Bond film I did not like was 1967’s Casino Royale with Peter Sellers as 007, which I saw as a somewhat leaden spoof. Plus, it just doesn’t fit in with all the other Bonds, and it is in no way true to the Ian Fleming novel of the same name.

James Bond Hitches a Ride in Gibraltar

There are still about eight or nine Bond films I haven’t yet seen. It is my intention to remedy that oversight before the end of the year, if I can. In this year of ultimate unreality, the unreality of James Bond is curiously soothing.

 

Licenced to Die in Droves

Moonraker’s Hugo Drax (Michel Lonsdale) and Minions

Moonraker’s Hugo Drax (Michel Lonsdale) and Minions

I have been slogging through Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels—for the first time since my college years. (Instead of studying for my English Comprehensive Exams at Dartmouth, I was picturing myself as an ultra-suave British spy licensed to kill.)

But what about all those uniformed minions in yellow or orange that were to be found working for such supervillains as Dr. No or Hugo Drax or Auric Goldfinger or Ernst Stavro Blofeld. I wonder how they advertised for them:

“Work for destruction of earth for Bond supervillain. Must be willing to be shot dead or blown up in the last reel. Snazzy yellow (or orange) uniform and sexy short dresses for the babes. Absolute loyalty to lost causes and total lack of moral compass required. GOP registration a plus. Apply Box GX-1234.”

In the end, these minions almost always went down with the ship or secret laboratory or supervillain’s hideout. There wasn’t enough screen time to show how each and every uniformed minion met his or her violent end, but the corridors were sure to be running with blood.

 

 

The Franchise

Sean Connery as James Bond

Sean Connery as James Bond

It’s been going strong for over half a century and shows no signs of letting up. I saw my first James Bond film, Doctor No (1962), at the Nugget Theater in Hanover, New Hampshire, when I was a freshman at Dartmouth College. I saw my most recent 007 epic, Spectre (2015), at the Village Cinema in Recoleta, Buenos Aires, last month.

When I was a grad student at UCLA, I wrote a feature article for the Daily Bruin entitled “James Bond in Vietnam,” about how the technologically superior U.S. military were losing to the Viet Cong—that we were, in effect, hypnotized by the gadgets of war furnished by our military’s equivalent of Q.

What amazes me is that, during its long run, the James Bond franchise has maintained a high level of quality despite the fact that not all of the subsequent Bonds were up to the level of Sean Connery. When you go to see a Bond film, you know what you’re going to get: a high level of action and entertainment. The sophisticated British secret agent with his taste for martinis that are “shaken, not stirred” makes all of us peasants wish that we were as suave as he is.

Over the last six months, I have been reading the Ian Fleming Bond books in succession, having just finished Doctor No, the sixth in the series. The books are good, but not quite up to the level of the films.

 

James Bond and Me

James and I Go Way Back

James and I Go Way Back

I was a student at Dartmouth College when I first saw Sean Connery in Dr. No (1962). The film hit me right between the eyes, as if it had been fired at me from 007’s Beretta. Here was a guy with the ultimate cool: He was a bon vivant, handsome to women, and pitted against enemies who were the ultimate in evil. In Live and Let Die (1954), the second novel in the series after Casino Royale, Bond came up against the massive Mr. Big, a gargantuan Negro with not only pretensions to Voodoo (as Baron Samedi himself), but an operative of SMERSH, short for Смерть шпионам, “Death to Spies,” a Soviet counter-intelligence agency named by Joseph Stalin during World War Two.

The second part is dangled before us, but we don’t see any real Soviet spy business; and its role in the novel is negligible and could have omitted entirely. As with most of the Bond novels, it’s pretty easy to see what’s going to happen: The plot twists are well telegraphed. When 007 is preparing an underwater incursion on Mr. Big’s Jamaican hideaway and we are told that it would take 48 hours for the shark and barracuda repellent to arrive from the States, well we all know what is about to happen: Underwater feeding frenzy!

I must have read most of the Bond thrillers during my college years. It was candy for the mind and great adolescent wish-fulfillment. I guess that, into each life, some froth must fall.