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I'm a writer, translator and aspiring director. Occasionally, I actually do some work instead of using this blog as a displacement exercise.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

THUNDERBALL – “Vanity has its dangers.”

It may not altogether be a surprise that Goldfinger was an unstoppable global smash. Queues stretched around blocks. Cinemas were forced to run the film in a loop 24 hours a day simply to keep up with audience demand. The public’s appetite for Bond was soaring. This raised the question for the producers of where to go next. There was one name they had on their books who might prove useful.
As previously noted, Kevin McClory had won the film rights to the Thunderball project in court, and after Goldfinger went stratospheric, he decided to get his own Bond film off the ground. The first port of call was Sean Connery’s agent, because you can’t make a Bond film without Bond. Connery said no, which all but wrecked McClory’s plans before they’d even got off the ground. So when Broccoli and Salzman came to him, asking to make the Thunderball movie he wanted, you might be able to guess what his reaction may have been.
Broccoli and Salzman agreed to take a back seat as executive producers, with McClory producing the film himself. Other changes were also afoot. Terence Young would return as director, returning Bond to the more documentary style of shooting from Guy Hamilton’s more opulent flourishes on Goldfinger. The new film would also be shot in Cinemascope, for extra spectacle. A revised version of the script was produced by the regular team, and the project started filming in the winter of 1965.
Thunderball opens with a new version of the gunbarrel sequence, made necessary by the new shooting process and featuring Sean Connery for the first time. The image irises out onto a coffin bearing Bond’s initials, which is hardly the most promising start. However, the camera pans to reveal Bond and a female colleague watching from an overhead gallery. The funeral is that of Jacques Beauvoir, an enemy agent who died before Bond got to him, so now he’s keeping an eye on the man’s widow. Because of course he is. Having watched the procession climb into their cars and leave, he then catches up with the widow Beauvoir at a stately home. And immediately punches her in the face. Because of course he does.
It transpires that Beauvoir is posing as his own widow, and not just because dressing up is fun. Bond spotted that he opened his own car door, which is a definite giveaway of some sort, and a brutal fight ensues, with Beauvoir attacking Bond with a grandfather clock as almost every object in the drawing room turns into a weapon, assisted by much speed-ramping in the editing room.
Bond finally dispatches Beauvoir by throwing him head first into a fireplace, and just has time to throw some flowers onto his body before slipping out and keeping ahead of Beauvoir’s goons. No sooner is Bond out of the building, when he straps on his trusty jet pack and flies away. Assuming that he didn’t just happen across a piece of state-of-the-art ordnance just lying around, it must have been left there for him, in the full expectation that no one would steal or fiddle with it.
It is, in fact, a real jetpack that a well-shod stuntman flies to safety, landing neatly by a convenient Aston Martin with Bond’s lady friend inside. The luggage stored safely in the boot and pursuing henchmen dispatched with built-in hoses, they make a casual getaway.
Raquel Welch as Domino Duval.
"What sharp little eyes you've got."
The spray of water then segues tidily into the opening titles, with lots of underwater women swimming around. This is accompanied by a blaring theme song performed by Tom Jones, in which a figure is described who is known as ‘the winner who takes all’, who ‘strikes like Thunderball’ and ‘whose needs are more so he gives less’. It might be interesting to speculate exactly to whom this is supposed to refer, whether or not it is the distinctly amoral Bond we currently follow or his opposition? The song itself had been a last-minute replacement. Originally, the titles were to have been accompanied by Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which was unequivocally about Bond and inspired by the nickname the character had acquired in the Far East. In fact, such was the reputation and cachet that Bond had by this point achieved, that even Johnny Cash submitted a song for the film, albeit in his customary style.
The titles also credit Norman Wanstall as sound editor on the film, reprising his job from Goldfinger. He had, in fact, won the Oscar for his work on the previous film, something he was not aware of until he was given the statue in the UK several months later. He later retired from the film industry to become Britain’s only Oscar-winning plumber.
The body of the film opens with a luxurious car pulling up to a building in Paris. The driver emerges and is almost stopped by a gendarme for parking in a restricted area, but then recognises him. This is Emilio Largo, and he eats parking tickets for breakfast. Largo heads into the building, apparently some kind of charity assisting people rendered stateless, but through a last radio-controlled door in his office lies a vast conference room, which acts as a reminder of the extraordinary skill of set designer Ken Adam. Largo is a member of SPECTRE, and for the first time, we see them in full conference. Hidden behind a smoked-glass screen, Blofeld bemoans the death of Beauvoir and asks the attendees to outline their recent successes.
André Maranne plays the French delegate, and since he had recently played Inspector Clouseau’s assistant in A Shot in the Dark, the prospects for a crossover boggle the mind. The organisation has an American member who isn’t even ethnic, showing how far its monstrous grasp can reach. The electrocution of one delegate, who had attempted to embezzle from SPECTRE and clearly thought that stealing from ruthless super-criminals is a good idea, shows off the debt Austin Powers and his ilk owe to this scene, right down to Largo’s eyepatch and the victim’s chair descending through the floor and reappearing empty.
Largo then starts to outline his own scheme, which will lead to NATO paying them £100 million, a sum equivalent to £1,639,150,000 in 2012 money. That’s a lot. The first step in the plan, says Largo, is in infiltrating an ordinary health spa. Naturally we cut to SPECTRE’s inside man bumping into Bond straight away, as he recovers from his recent stresses and strains. It appears to be nothing more than coincidence that Bond happens to be having a holiday in the eye of SPECTRE’s plans, and matters get more contrived when Bond spots an odd tattoo on Count Lippe’s wrist and phones Moneypenny to get her to look into it. He also uses the opportunity to threaten to spank her, and her delight at the prospect says a lot about the creepy relationship that has developed between the two of them at this point.
Lippe’s tattoo serves no actual purpose in the story, other than Bond to suspect he’s a wrong ‘un just because it looks like the sign of a Chinese tong. The German-Chinese connection is interesting, since it corresponds with Dr. No’s parentage, but it’s all the excuse Bond needs to go snooping around Lippe’s room. Given the care with which he prepared his own quarters before going anywhere in Dr. No, it’s rather odd to see him happily leaving plenty of signs that he has been around. His blundering around, which is at least pro-active, if murky in its reasoning, is interrupted by a bandaged figure entering from the next room and whose survey of Lippe’s suite extends no further than looking through the door behind which Bond is hiding.
Bond heads off for his next check-up, where he is being prodded by nurse Patricia. Given the opportunity of a woman within easy reach, Bond forces a kiss on her. She is angry at this liberty, as she should as a human being, and decides he should spend some time on a motorised traction table, which assists with spinal problems. She leaves Bond whirring back and forth, but a few minutes later, Lippe sneaks in and puts the table on the ‘deadly’ setting, which plays Bond like an accordion until he passes out.
He is revived by Patricia a few minutes later, heavily shaken but none the worse for wear. She is horrified by what has happened, and begs Bond not to mention this accident to her employers. Bond, of course, knows exactly what price his silence has. Patricia doesn’t seem especially unwilling as her back her into a steam room, but this is the creepiest moment to date in any of the films. I wondered whether Fleming would have allowed this to go ahead. He died while production was still underway on Goldfinger, only a few months after his most famous fan, a lifetime of alcohol, tobacco and high living finally catching up with him. He was 56.
Could McClory be the one responsible for the scene? Possibly, but Bond pushing a vulnerable woman into a corner and taking what he wants from her was virtually inevitable given events in the previous films. Outside the bubble of Bond’s world, times were changing, and in retrospect this is the last time that the filmmakers would be able to feature such a scene and get away with it.
Later, Lippe is taking a Sitz Bath, which appears to be one of those steam box cabinet they used to have in cartoons where Tom’s head would poke out of the top when Jerry turned it on full blast. Bond gives Lippe the same treatment, shoving a broom handle through the door handles to make sure he gets properly steaming. This is fairly inconvenient, as Lippe has an appointment later on.
In a nearby village adjacent to an air base, French pilot François Duval is enjoying some time with his girlfriend, but checking his watch realises it’s time to go and fly a plane. He opens the door to his hotel – and is confronted by his own double who shoots him in the face with a gas pellet. The double is Angelo, the bandaged man from Lippe’s room, and he was staying at the spa for the scars from his plastic surgery to heal. Lippe and the girlfriend outfit him with Duval’s personal effects – yes, she’s in on it as well – but he tries to get more money from them, since it’s too late to get a replacement. They reluctantly agree, and start to bandage the dead Duval.
At the spa, Bond is rubbing a furry glove all over Patricia – she’s one of those people. You know the ones I mean – when he notices an ambulance arriving outside. Deciding that an ambulance arriving at a private hospital is just a bit too suspicious, he leaves her on simmer and goes to investigate. The music as Bond creeps through the dimly-lit clinic is impressively sinister and atmospheric, all the more impressive as John Barry wrote the score in a tearing hurry. He had originally based the music around the melody of Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but rapidly changed tack when the song was scrapped. So close to deadline was he that the soundtrack album only features music from the first half of the film.
Bond finds Duval’s body, swathed in bandages in a side room, and picks up a phone to call for help as Lippe, concealed in the shadows, raises a gun to fire. Then someone leaps through the window to attack Bond instead, ending up with the cord around his neck. It looks as though everyone was trying their turn to kill Bond all at once, even though Lippe doesn’t bother trying to kill Bond as he leaves the room and sets off a fire alarm.
At the air base, Angelo takes Duval’s place on a training mission, where he will be in the jump seat for a flight carrying two live nuclear warheads. Once they are well underway, Angelo plugs his respirator into his own air supply that he happens to have on his person and feeds more poison gas into the system to kill off the rest of the air crew. Flying the bomber out to sea, he makes a soft landing on the surf before sinking to the bottom. Largo and his team arrive as Angelo tries to get out, but his seatbelt is jammed. Largo waves at him to calm down and pulls out a knife – and cuts Angelo’s air hose instead.
Scramble, scramble, scramble!
This is clearly the price that he pays for attempting to change the deal he had with SPECTRE, but given that he was a loose end that would need tying off, one wonders whether Angelo was always doomed. The answer is yes. Largo’s men carefully remove the bombs from their housing on the plane. The underwater photography is impressively detailed, thanks largely to the supervision of Young and his newsreel eye, but also McClory. As a citizen of the Bahamas, he was passionate about water sports, and for him Thunderball was as much a film about scuba diving as it was about James Bond. The plane is covered with a camouflage net, and a couple of cuts later Largo’s big yacht is steaming towards Nassau.
The next morning, Bond has been summoned back to London, and Patricia is getting oddly clingy now. The less said about how her character represents women in the Bond world, the better. With only one touch from Bond, she becomes entirely submissive to him.  A horrible precedent.
Lippe follows behind Bond, and he is preparing to use the Aston Martin’s weaponry on the enemy agent when a passing motorcyclist fired a rocket at Lippe’s car, exploding it into a ball of fire. The motorcyclist, having slipped away in the conflagration, dumps the bike in a handy lake and removes her helmet to reveal Duval’s redheaded girlfriend. Shouldn’t NATO bombers pilots’ lady friends have security checks, just to be on the safe side? It could be that her presence is a possible reference to Profumo again, but more likely it’s just because Duval is French.
Bond arrives at the 00 conference room at MI6 headquarters, and we are treated to another giant set. A tape recording has arrived of SPECTRE’s ransom demands, namely that if the sum is not paid, a major NATO city will be carbonised. The 00 section has been given the authority to take any steps needed to prevent disaster, and the government plans to go as far as paying the ransom if need be. This probably has more impact in the present day, when terrorism is a continuous threat according to news media. The idea that the government would accede to the demands of terrorists – and that’s what the T in SPECTRE stands for, remember – is unthinkable, even when motives are purely financial.
Leaving through the dossier on what has been termed Operation Thunderball – catchier than Yewtree – Bond recognises a photograph of Duval, noting that he was dead at the same time as being on the bomber. Having been assigned to Canada, for reasons best known to M, Bond asks to be sent to the Bahamas. Duval’s sister is there, and with suspicion falling on him in some way, this appears to be MI6’s only real lead. At first glance, this might appear to be a coincidence, but it just about hangs together.
A jump cut later from Moneypenny’s office, where M catches her calling him ‘the old man’ behind his back, Bond is meeting Duval’s sister in the waters off Nassau. As the reach the surface, he compliments her on her stroke, telling her she swims like a man. As chat-up lines go, it’s about next to ‘you remind me of my mother’. A fast worker as always, Bond already has a girl waiting for him on his own boat, but the few lines she shares with Bond point to an interestingly equal relationship between them.
Claiming that he needs to reach the mainland for an appointment, he hitches a ride on Miss Duval’s boat, and offers to treat her to lunch the second they set foot on dry land, since the appointment wasn’t that interesting anyway. As they talk over lunch, Bond notes that they have been followed, and Domino notes that her guardian likes to know where she is. Little do all of them know that her guardian is also being followed.
Eyepatch, check. Sinister ring, check.
Where's that I-Spy book?
Later, they meet again at the casino, where Domino’s guardian is revealed to be, of course, Largo. He and Bond play a few hands of baccarat, and Bond appears to be unbeatable, so much so that he makes a comment about seeing a spectre at Largo’s shoulder. This fantastically subtle jab clearly rattles the Italian, even when Bond clarifies that he means the spectre of defeat. Bond excuses himself from the table and offers to take Domino off Largo’s hands for a while to give him time to win back his money.
Bond continues to pump her for information about her brother as they dance, and it becomes so absurdly obvious that he’s after something that even she asks him mentions that he spends all their time together asking her questions. She mentions that she loves her bother very much, and this note of tragedy again reinforces the Hitchcock of keeping the audience a step ahead of the characters, since the suspense lies in waiting for them to find out the Great Secret.
Largo emerges from the casino, looking even huffier than before, and tells Domino that they are leaving. He keeps the veneer of respectability up for long enough to invite Bond to his house on the island for lunch the following day, but as they depart, it is made plain through the body language between Largo and Domino that she is not just his mistress, but effectively his plaything.
Bond returns to his room, and checks the tape recording he has apparently left running in case of something interesting. The tape reveals, along with some clever camerawork to indicate where the noisy footsteps were coming from, that someone is hiding in the bathroom. A knock at the door distracts Bond, and he immediately punches the man outside and lets him slump in a chair before flushing out the main in the shower and sending him packing.
The man at the door was the follower from before, and is in fact Felix who has regenerated again into a blond Californian, now wandering some distance from the Texan type Fleming had envisaged. The minion from the bathroom reports to Largo, and has a further indignity piled onto him by being thrown into a pool of sharks.
Largo kisses his SPECTRE ring as the small fry gets chomped, in what may be an indication that he is of the Sicilian persuasion. Largo’s background is not delved into to any degree, but he is very much the traditional Mafia type. Perhaps that was how he was recruited – a don who had the potential to be a godfather, headhunted by SPECTRE for their own international crime syndicate. At least the old ways have yet to desert him.
Later on, local agent Pinder, effectively a local version of Quarrel from Dr. No, takes Bond to a safehouse, where they are met by Q. Bond’s exasperation at the mere sight of him is a charming shorthand for their relationship to date, although it could well be a reaction to his remarkable Hawaiian shirt, which ventures into unexplored regions of yuk.
Q outfits Bond with some field ordnance included a Geiger counter that fits into a watch – rather an improvement from the boombox-sized device used in Jamaica, an underwater camera, a rebreather that stores four minutes’ worth of air and a radium pill which may well be the subject of the series’ first bum joke when Q tells Bond which end it goes in.
Suitably armed, Bond swims out to Largo’s yacht, the Disco Volante, to investigate any connection to how the bombs might have got aboard. He is quickly discovered, fights with a guard and then escapes. The editing goes a little peculiar at this point, with a number of wipes being used between scenes, rather than straight cuts or fades. The sequence is also largely useless. If the plane was ditched in the sea, as it must have been by Bond’s logic, the question of how the bombs were moved is pretty irrelevant. However, there’s some more underwater photography, and this is the intended centre of the film anyway.
Just looking for bomb-shaped holes.
Abandoning his diving gear, Bond makes it ashore, walks to a road and hitches a lift, and who should stop but Duval’s girlfriend. Could this be a deliberate move, or it is simply a coincidence? Bond gets in and they drive off, as Bond notices that she and Largo wear the same ring. That Fiona should explicitly advertise that she’s a member of the opposition raises the question of SPECTRE’s overall competence, as does her driving faster and faster until she screeches to a halt outside her hotel, which also happens to be Bond’s. Noting that Bond made for a rather nervous passenger as she bombed along the lanes, she says that ‘some men don’t like to be driven’. Bond’s response is that ‘some men don’t like to be taken for a ride’, a clever piece of dialogue that signals his awareness of her half-arsed duplicity and his overriding masculinity.
The next day, Felix and Bond take a helicopter out to look for the ditched bomber, but also fly over Largo’s estate where he and Fiona are clay pigeon shooting. She castigates him for his hastiness in having Bond attacked underwater the previous night, noting that it would give them away, but this does not explain how picking him up wearing a ring carrying the enemy’s insignia and driving him at breakneck halfway to Miami would not count as suspicious.
Bond arrives for lunch shortly afterwards, having spied Fiona’s car in the driveway. Largo shows him the shark pool, with only a faint note of threat, before offering him a gun to shoot a few clay pigeons for himself. As in the past, Bond wastes no opportunity to insult his host, mentioning that Largo’s gun would be more fitting for a woman. Domino passes, dressed in the customary bikini, prompting Bond to ogle her luxuriously before very casually blowing away a clay pigeon, shooting from the hip and barely looking in the right direction, all the while smarming at how tricky it seems. If smugness could be only be bottled.
Largo invites Bond to accompany Domino to the Junkanoo, the Bahamanian Mardi Gras, but the timing of this is rather odd. As SPECTRE’s ransom tape has indicated, it is May, yet the Junkanoo is held either at the start of Lent or on New Year’s Day. Meanwhile, Bond’s hotel suite is raided, with Largo’s men and Fiona stealing the photos of the underneath of the Disco Volante, making Bond’s midnight swim even more irrelevant, and kidnapping Paula.
Bond manages to get back, changed and out again without realising this has happened, as it is not until Felix flags him down at the Junkanoo hours later that he is told Paula is missing in a wildly poorly-dubbed sequence. Reasoning that she could only be in one place, he arranges for the power to be cut at Palmyra at a crucial time. He breaks into the compound and plays a game of cat and mouse with the guards, only to discover that Paula had resisted interrogation and taken a hidden cyanide capsule. As with Tilly in the previous films, Bond appears genuinely upset by Paula’s death, although at least she knew what she was getting into as a member of MI6’s local staff.
To cover his escape, Bond fires off a few wild shots, and largely manages to get Largo’s less than superlative guards to shoot at each other, but one of them intercepts him and they tumble into the swimming pool. Setting the standard for tropes in the future, Largo closed the metal cover of the pool and opens the hatch to let in his sharks, prepared to assume that Bond and his minion will be eaten.  Bond swims back into the shark tank using the rebreather and escapes, meaning that the entire enterprise has been a further waste of time, with no purpose served other than to remove Paula, a character who already contributed effectively nothing.
Bond returns to her room, and finds Fiona in the bath. She feigns surprise at his appearance, and asks for something to wear as she steps from the tub. Bond cheerily hands her a pair of slippers before settling into one of those chairs they always seem to have in hotel bathrooms for when you want to watch someone washing their face.
This is merely a lead-in to Bond and Fiona going to bed, and her presence is markedly different to the women seen so far. As a physically confident woman working for the enemy and who doesn’t immediately fall for Bond’s usual line, she is cut from similar cloth to Pussy Galore, so one might expect a similar outcome for her character. This would be a mistake. As they get ready to go out to the Junkanoo, where Domino is probably wondering what’s happened to him, more goons rush in and take Bond prisoner.  Bond does not seem in the least surprised, stating that he noticed her ring straight away. Fiona says simply that she likes to wear it, but Bond quips that ‘vanity has its dangers’.
This lady is not for turning.
Immediately, and with impressed ferocity, she throws this back in his face. He’s a fine one to talk about vanity, when he seems to think that roll in the hay is all that is needed to turn a woman towards virtue. Bond denies that what they did in bed gave him any pleasure, stating that he was simply doing his duty, but even he is forced to shrug and admit that you can’t win them all. Once again, the series is undermining its own devices almost as soon as they are introduced, forcing itself to move in new directions.
Bond is driven back to Palmyra to be killed, apparently purely for the sake of neatness, but he escapes in the midst of the Junkanoo. The thugs give chase into further documentary-style footage, following the blood trail from where a wild bullet nicked Bond’s leg.  He dodges in and out of floats, manages to avoid looking right at a dog pissing in the middle of the road and even misses a large float with ‘007’ in huge numbers on, the result of islanders being asked to build their own floats for the production and some getting a bit carried away.
Eventually he makes his way to the Kiss Kiss Club, having remembered that it was named after the original theme song. The band on the club’s stage is even playing an instrumental version as Bond finds himself cornered by Largo’s men. Trying to create a distracting scene, perhaps recalling North by Northwest, he picks up a girl from a nearby table and starts dancing with her. She seems charmed by this madcap stranger, until Fiona cuts in and the girl grumbles that he didn’t say anything about his wife being there. It could have been because I didn’t remember this little moment, but that line gave me the biggest laugh of the film.
Dancing close with Bond gives Fiona greater control over the situation, but he sees a gun barrel appearing to one side of the stage. A dramatic turn at the right time puts a bullet in Fiona’s back. Bond drops her body at a nearby table, delivering his farewell quip on the run, barely even acknowledging her.
Dawn rises on the final day before the ransom is to be paid, and Felix and Bond are still looking for the bomber. Exactly what they plan to do should they find it remains unspoken. It could be that they are hoping the bombs will still be aboard, but this would be a sign of poor planning on SPECTRE’s part. Perhaps they are just praying there will be some kind of clue, and that this remains a better use of their time than monitoring Largo.
They pass the area with the same name as the variety of shark Largo mentioned keeping in his tank, tipping off Bond’s spy senses, so he takes a look underwater and finds the Vulcan under the camouflage net. Felix shoots a shark to keep the others occupied, and it looks very much like a real shark was killed. Still, they deserve it. Bond finds Duval’s watch and identity tags on Angelo’s ripening body, but notes that the bombs are not aboard, because of course not. His next plan is to use these covered items to pull more information from Domino, although given that’s all he ever does it hardly constitutes a new plan.
They encounter each other underwater again, and appear to make love with their aqualungs on, which is certainly a new version of buddy breathing. On the beach afterwards, Bond breaks the news of her brother’s death to her with surprising gentleness, simply showing her François’s things and quietly offering her an opportunity to take revenge. The scene is rather oddly shot however, cutting between studio and location footage and with Bond putting on sunglasses halfway through, seemingly because of a mismatch in footage. He gives her the underwater camera, telling her it is a Geiger counter and that it will go off if the bombs are aboard the Disco. This is despite it not being a Geiger counter. Bond also promises to kill Largo for her.
Acting on her tip regarding part of the Palmyra estate where she is not allowed to go, Bond hides out until dark and waits for Largo’s underwater squaddies to appear, getting one of them out of the way and taking his place. The group swim to the Disco, where Largo reveals that the target for the first bomb is to be Miami. This is probably the only possible target, given the difficulty and time needed to transport the bomb. Simply sailing the Disco to within a reasonable offshore distance and setting it off remotely would be easy.
The team stock up with the necessary equipment and head out to the cave where Largo has concealed the bombs. Playing along with the rest of the group, Bond assists in loading the bombs aboard a motorised sled, but Largo recognises the small visible part of his face and traps him inside the cave as they leave.
On board the Disco, Domino uses the underwater camera, which now seems to work as a Geiger counter after all, but the returning Largo catches her and decides to get what information he can from her by scientifically applying a cigar and an ice cube. His pet nuclear scientist, who has been hovering in the background for much of the film with little to do, looks very squeamish at the prospect.
Bond finds his way to the cave’s rear exit and signals to any passing aircraft with a flare, which helps Felix to home in, having already sought Bond out using the signal from the radium pill. This sets off the chain of events needed for action, with frogmen being parachuted into the sea to face off against Largo’s men in a huge and seemingly endless underwater fight using harpoon guns, which are the best kind. Bond even breaks out another jet pack, this one designed for underwater use, to join the fracas, ripping the facemask from one unfortunate and adding to more of the kind of chaos last seen in a Turkish gypsy encampment.
Chucking out time at the Atlantean Arms.
There is some notably minimal music used in the sequence, as various faceless figures are shot in the face, nibbled at by sharks or otherwise dispatched, including two pinned together with the same harpoon. The overall effect is that of a film pleading its case to have an exclamation mark added to its title. Eventually, the SPECTRE men surrender, but Largo gets back to the Disco and sets off, unaware that Bond is already aboard.
The yacht in turn is being pursued by the US Navy, so Largo presses the button hidden under its gearstick and ejects its rear half, allowing more of his men to fight a rearguard action, at least until a direct hit blows them up. Thunderball is unique in the Bond canon as being the only film in the series to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects, and sequences such as this show how richly it was deserved. Even in 1966, it would be the blockbuster that left with the award for effects, but little else.
Largo may have plans for the other bomb, but his scientist is having none of it. He helps Domino get free and asks for clemency in return, as well as mentioning that he has thrown the arming device overboard. Exactly why he should have a complete change of heart at this late stage is questionable, though it may well be as simply as self-preservation. Bond confronts Largo on the yacht’s bridge and a vicious fight ensues, during which the throttle is kicked into top gear.
Thus, we almost have a re-enactment of the traction table sequence, as the men struggle on the out-of-control Disco, somehow avoiding the many islands and reefs seen rushing past the windscreen. Finally, Largo has Bond at his mercy as he lies on the floor with his gun raised. Slowly his face changes and he topples forward – to reveal a harpoon in his back and Domino holding a spear gun, a look of satisfied rage in her eyes.
Somewhat incredulously, Bond is introduced to the scientist, into whose hands he shoves a lifebelt as all three leap from the Disco Volante, seconds before it finally strikes the rocks and explodes in a ball of crispening Mafiosi and atomic debris. Bond and Domino climb into a life raft dropped by a navy aircraft and sent up the attached balloon, which Bond has clipped to his wetsuit, before the same plane snags the balloon cable and carries the pair of them away, almost the entire scene since the explosion having contained no dialogue.
Thunderball ends with inordinate haste, as the titles roll without even a notable final line, and a wipe during the credits succeeds only in chasing them further up the screen. This is unfortunately symptomatic of the entire film. Though it is superficially entertaining and contains much that is exciting or noteworthy, it remains alarmingly slapdash. Sloppy scripting can be forgiven if the final product can gloss over it, but there are too many narrative dead ends in the story and too much of an emphasis on the underwater action. This was certainly the main selling point, but as a character notes in another John Barry-scored film, too much sun can make a desert. The sights and sounds of Thunderball leave a lasting image, however, even if only the loosest story beats connect fully.
On its release, Thunderball was a sensation, even more so that Goldfinger. The public across the world could not get enough of the glamour and excitement of Bond’s world, and it is this huge popularity that cemented it above so many other, better films in the public consciousness. Bond had conquered the world, and this means that there was only one place for him to go next...

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

GOLDFINGER – “I never joke about my work, 007.”

During his presidential election campaign, Barack Obama was asked what his favourite television programme was. His answer was that it was Entourage, the douchebags-on-parade comedy-drama about young Hollywood chancers that has already disappeared into moderate yet ironic obscurity. However, at the time this caused a slight uptick in its viewing figures, demonstrating that one of the best endorsements one can receive is from the Commander-in-Chief.

The same was true in 1963. Interviewed for Life Magazine, John F. Kennedy was asked for his 10 favourite bedtime reads, and one of them was From Russia with Love. The response was inevitable. Sales of the Bond novels skyrocketed in the US, and when the film was released later that year it proved to be a smash. The American market was clearly ripe for 007, and the next entry in the series would take full advantage.

Goldfinger begins with the same gunbarrel sequence as its predecessor, but the teaser then opens out into new surroundings. The opening shot glides across an industrial complex of some kind, over a wall and then settles on a quayside where a duck is floating limply towards the shore. Of course, this is no mere duck, but James Bond in a wetsuit and wearing an artful duck hat. He uses a grappling-hook-firing gun to scale the wall and then in one of Peter Hunt’s speed-edits tackles the sole guard.

As Bond sneaks through a hidden passageway and starts setting explosives, it is clear that this is mid-mission – the first time we have joined him in the midst of the action. Having set his timers, he sheds the wetsuit to reveal underneath an immaculate white dinner jacket. Only a few minutes into the film, we are brushing away the semi-realistic trappings of From Russia with Love in favour of more heightened fantasy. The image of Humphrey Bogart swims to mind as Bond casually lights a cigarette in a dive bar as the background explodes into a wall of fire.

Orson Welles as Auric Goldfinger.
"Choose you next witticism carefully,
Mr. Bond. It may be your last."
With his mission over, Bond has time for a little rest and relaxation before the next flight to the United States, so he joins an acquaintance for a quick one before he’s away. Inevitably, it’s a trap, and a brutal fight breaks out with a henchman after Bond catches his reflection in his conquest’s eye. Thrown into the filled bath and fumbling with Bond’s pistol, the henchman meets his end as Bond slings an electric fan in as well. Then, easy as you like, he picks up his gun, puts on his jacket, tosses off a witticism and leaves. This is how icons are forged.

This cuts straight to the opening crash of John Barry’s theme song and the matching thunderclap of Shirley Bassey’s vocal – the first title song for the series. Robert Brownjohn again uses the image of projections against women’s bodies, but this time elects to use scenes from the film rather than the captions themselves. There is also the minor detail that all the women are painted gold. Given the title, this is likely to be relevant. The overall effect is one of a perfected slickness and style, superseding Terence Young’s approach as Guy Hamilton takes over.

That final crash from the pride of Tiger Bay and the glazier’s friend opens the film onto the skyline of that thrilling city, Miami Beach. A very impressive, and surely highly expensive helicopter shot, bears down on the Hotel Bloemfontein, and finally the camera settles on a middle-aged man in an unseasonably heavy suit watching the dancers on the indoor ice rink. On the sun deck, he approaches Bond, still enjoying R&R whenever he can get it, getting a massage from a blonde in a bikini. It transpires that the man expecting snow is Felix Leiter, seemingly having aged ten years since we last saw him in Jamaica. The real reason for the change was simply that Cec Linder’s predecessor Jack Lord wanted both a big raise and joint billing with Connery, while the two actors were close enough in age to make one wonder what horrors Linder endured.

The decorative blonde is sent on her way with a slap on the bottom and an excuse that Bond and Felix are to discuss “man talk”. It’s good to know that Bond is still his usual appalling self. Leiter informs Bond that he has been assigned to keep an eye on Auric Goldfinger, a guest at the hotel and a hugely wealthy metallurgical magnate. Leiter doesn’t waste time offering a reason why Bond should do this, nor does he question why Goldfinger has a German accent when he’s apparently English. The film actually ran into trouble when released in Israel, when it emerged that Gerd Froebe, who is dubbed throughout the film due to his thick accent, was a member of the Nazi Party. However, it transpired that he had actually used his position to shelter a family of Jews from the SS, and was later honoured by the Israeli government for his bravery.

Goldfinger takes his place at his usual table with his usual opponent for a few hands of gin rummy, and Bond notes that he gets very lucky very quickly, particularly when facing into the sun, so that his skin can take on a lovely golden hue. A rapid deduction later, Bond is pinching keys from a maid’s waistband to let himself into Goldfinger’s suite. There he finds, laid out not unlike a smorgasbord, yet another semi-clothed woman, making his third in the film’s first 12 minutes. Jill Masterson introduces herself, and as Bond responds with that introductory line, his own theme music starts, because that’s what happens when he’s around.

Jill is watching her employer’s opponent’s cards and tipping him off through the unnecessary hearing aid he’s wearing, and this appears to offend Bond’s oft-demonstrated sense of fair play to  such an extent that he tells Goldfinger over the radio to start losing or he’ll get the cops onto him. With Jill now having nothing to do, Bond is clearly keen to play his ace.

Hours later, with Bond and Jill having repaired to his room, Leiter calls and suggests he and Bond meet for breakfast for a semi-formal briefing. Jill has other things in mind, so he postpones to later in the day. Bond slips out of bed for another bottle of champagne, apparently paid for by the taxpayer, and adds to the mood of superior luxury by stating that drinking it at the wrong temperature is “like listening to the Beatles without earmuffs”. If there was a single line to date the film, it’s this. At the time, the Greatest Band in History were still not much more than a rhythm and blues covers band that had attracted a noisy teen following with a few hit singles. A Hard Day’s Night was yet to come.

As Bond continues to grumble about those young people and their pop music and how it’s all thump-thump-thump and doesn’t even have a tune, not like in his day, a figures approaches him from behind and strikes him unconscious with a single blow. Never underestimate the long reach of Brian Epstein.

Imagine if she'd been wallpapered to death.
When Bond wakes up, he finds that Jill is not only dead, she has been covered in gold paint, presumably all over since part of her is hidden by some strategic furniture. Again, this is a scene, or even a shot, that is seemingly trying to batter you over the head with its aspiringly iconic nature. It is accompanied by some appropriately glittering music. John Barry returned to the series after From Russia with Love, bringing with him a bombastic, brassy style that contrasts with his more restrained previous work. In the book, Jill is not killed in so flamboyant a fashion, so like with the music, a more larger-than-life tone is being sought.

Bond returns to London for his meeting with M, and it is fairly clear that he is on thin ice after the mopping-up needed in Miami, not least because Bond was yet again on the job when he should have been on the job. M tells him to report to the Bank of England for dinner, and even grumpily instructs him to avoid the ‘customary byplay’ with Moneypenny. This may a sign, only in the third film in the series, that matters are in danger of becoming routine. That there is already an awareness is, creatively speaking, a good sign, and it also functions as symbolic that Bond is becoming known to his audience and they know what to expect from him.

Dinner at the Bank of England with M and a gentleman we must assume is the governor, and who hopefully stopped on his way to feed the birds, tuppence a bag, sees the gold standard being explained to the audience, presumably for those who don’t understand, or people in the 21st century who are scared stiff of any sum of money greater than £100. Essentially, it allows the relationship between the pound sterling and the American dollar to be determined by the volume and value of gold both hold. Bond appears to know all about this, as well as the details of the brandy they’re drinking, which M furtively sniffs as Bond describes its ancestry. This is the first, but far from the last, time that he is a world expert on a given topic.

At this point, we and Bond become aware of what is so interesting about Goldfinger to the authorities.  He is suspected of smuggling gold overseas to where the price is higher, and thus increasing its value while also damaging currencies. Bond is to encounter him socially and lure him out with a brick of Nazi gold, worth an astonishing £5,000. Almost enough to buy Swansea.

Visiting Q Branch to collect his car, Bond takes a tour of various realistic-looking test items, such as a bullet-proof vest that can repel machine-gun fire, before Q hands over his new issue. The gadgets with which Bond is issued are surprisingly mundane, from a latter-day perspective, essentially being two GPS trackers. Bond’s Bentley, last seen with its carphone, has been forcibly retired and replaced with a new car: a gleaming Aston Martin DB5, unveiled with no ceremony of any kind. The relationship between Bond and Q is almost antagonistic as he demonstrates the tracking abilities of the car, and the amount of pointing on display makes one think of an instructional film. Q almost addresses the camera when he warned Bond not to touch that little red button that fires the passenger seat into the sky.

Goldfinger arrives at the golf club for his game, but having been told that his usual partner is unavailable is introduced to another gentleman. He might not recognise his face, but Goldfinger certainly recognises his voice, and they agree to a small wager across the 18 holes. Sean Connery developed a liking for game over the course of shooting the match, which is outlined by Fleming in fastidious detail in the novel.  Accompanied by his mute Korean caddy Oddjob, Goldfinger performs well but cheats when he seems to lose a ball. Nevertheless, Bond out-cheats him, helped by his own caddy standing on Goldfinger’s ball and Bond switching the one Oddjob ‘finds’ for another that turns up in the rough. This is a smart move, since the wager has already been upped by Bond showing off the Nazi ingot and promising Goldfinger more if he wins.

Bond is altogether more pro-active and creative during these scenes than we have previously seen him. Perhaps it is the consequences of being removed from the presence of women – and where better for that than the historically all-male environment of the links?  Goldfinger takes the final hole, winning the match, but Bond notes that he has been playing with the wrong ball, and thus forfeits the hole and the game.

As Goldfinger packs to leave, Bond places one of the radio homers in his Rolls-Royce with a moderate degree of stealth. Goldfinger is clearly suppressing his anger, and remarks coolly that he knows Bond was the man in Miami and that he should hope they do not meet again. To underline his mild threat, Oddjob throws his hat at a nearby statue, neatly slicing off its stone head with the metal brim. Another iconic image to add to the pile.

Ooh, snow.
Goldfinger appears to drive immediately from the golf course to the airport, and then fly to Geneva, then drive across the mountains of sunny summertime Switzerland. Bond, taking the initiative, is close behind, following at a distance with the aid of the homing device and a form of 1960s satnav that appears to be based on microfiche. A girl in a sports car tries to overtake him, and he starts to challenge her, driving in what can only be described as a flirtatious manner, but he stops himself and lets her pass. For once he is taking the high road, keeping his mind on his work. I’m glad you’re finally taking my advice, 007. I know you’re reading this.

Goldfinger and Oddjob stop at a roadside stall to stretch their legs and get some refreshments, as Bond watches from further up the mountain. Further up from him, however, the pretty girl is watching all of them, and uses a sniper rifle to take a wild shot. Narrowly missing Bond, she whizzes off but he gives chase. Using another of those wonderful toys supplied by Q, he extends revolving blades from his own wheels to slice up hers, sending her careering off the road. Coming over as a concerned motorist, and feigning complete ignorance as to anything that might have happened, he approaches her and offers his help.

She tartly accepts his offer of a lift to the nearest garage, and Bond makes pleasant conversation on the way, noting that the monogrammed case she carries doesn’t match the name she gives him of Tilly Soames. What must be the biggest red flag to Bond is that she doesn’t show him even the slightest flicker of interest, but he drops her at the garage as instructed before heading on.

He arrives at Goldfinger’s Swiss plant and keeps watch, noting the number of Chinese guards in the area, who have kindly dressed in as stereotypical a manner as possible. Sneaking in, he sees Goldfinger’s Rolls-Royce being disassembled and melted down, as the man himself explains to Burt Kwouk in a Chairman Mao suit that the bodywork itself is smelted gold, allowing his smuggling to hide in plain sight as he drives through customs, as well as mentioning something called Operation Grand Slam.

Returning to the woods, Bond almost literally stumbles over Tilly, the barrel of whose rifle sets off an alarm. As she reveals, the M on her case didn’t stand for Soames after all, but Masterson – she is Jill’s sister, and wants Goldfinger dead for what he did to her. They flee to the DB5 as the Chinese guards pile into Mercedes-Benzes to give chase. As Bond uses the various fixtures and fittings of the car to elude his pursuers, the mood of the film changes rather sharply. This is no longer a game, no longer Bond out for a drive with a beautiful girl in the passenger seat. This is for real.

Cornered, Bond tells Tilly to run for it, but Oddjob’s hat has other ideas. Her neck broken by the impact of the milliner’s nightmare, she is dead before she hits the ground. The truly starting moment is when Bond runs to her side. There is clear anger visible at her death, adding another tally to the list of Goldfinger’s victims. Bond’s increased concern for others is a sudden change from the casual perpetrator of mayhem in the previous film. One could imagine that, having written his report over events in the Balkans, he has read it back and realised what a horror he is. Bond is rarely as cruel and callous as he is in those first two films, and though in production terms it may simply be a mellowing of the character’s presentation, within his fictional world it could well be Bond seeing that he might only be a few steps removed from Red Grant after all.

Taking a few moments to mourn Tilly’s death has cost Bond his freedom, and he is bundled back into his own car to drive down to the compound. Alfred Hitchcock, on seeing the film, found this to be his favourite sequence, where the guard on the gate is shown to be a sweet little old Alpine lady, who smiles benignly at a bemused Bond. Passing towards an uncertain fate, Bond makes use of that little red button Q warned him about and leads the guards in a merry chase around the buildings – if they are buildings given that there is clearly a roof over the connecting alleyways.

Finally, Bond finds himself heading towards another car, its headlights dazzling. Bond tries to hold his nerve, but the other car keeps coming. At the last moment, the DB5 swerves and collides with a building. Oddjob emerges from the pursing car and looks up at a mirror – the approaching car was a reflection of Bond himself – as he opens the door and an unconscious Bond tumbles out.

Describing the next scene is almost a waste of effort, such is its fame. Having already noted several points where memorable images have been crafted to lodge in the viewer’s mind, the sight of Bond strapped to a table with a large gun-like apparatus pointing down at him is clearly going to be another. Goldfinger strolls into the room, all smiles and bonhomie, casually letting Bond know that he knows all about who he is and that the reason for their previous meetings is now clear. In return, he offers him a demonstration of his latest technological toy, a laser beam, in particular its ability to slice in half lengthways the slab of gold to which Bond is tied. Goldfinger is interested only in having the debt between them settled, as well as acquiring more gold and increasing its value.

I could just stop writing here. This is all you need to know.
The situation Bond finds himself in is grim. A horrible death awaits – toned down slightly from the book, where a buzzsaw threatened the same operation – and Bond is bargaining for his life with only a few words left to say.

“Do you expect me to talk?”

“No, Mister Bond, I expect you to die.”

Such a simple exchange, but again, one that has passed into legend, summing up everything that captures the imagination of the appalling fate awaiting Bond. He now has only his wits to rely on. He’s a dead man. He tells Goldfinger that killing him will make no difference, since 008 is already fully briefed on everything he knows. Goldfinger confidently asserts that Bond knows nothing.

“Operation Grand Slam, for instance?”

Goldfinger’s face goes pale very, very quickly. The laser beam is getting very close to Bond’s equator. The seeds of doubt have been sown, but Goldfinger maintains that Bond can have no idea to what it refers. Sweat pouring off him, Bond asks if he can afford to take that chance. Three inches left. Two. One. The laser shuts off. Goldfinger has decided that Bond is worth more alive. And then a man walks over and shoots him.

Perhaps understandably, when Bond wakes up he expects to be in heaven. The sight of yet another beautiful woman smiling down at him might confirm that, or simply that it’s another day at the office. Pussy Galore introduces herself as Goldfinger’s personal pilot, explains that they are on their way to Goldfinger’s range in the US and also expertly shoots down Bond’s pick-up lines. He’s really having to make an effort this time, even as he stares at the bottom of the flight attendant. Pussy is very much presented as an equal yet opposite to Bond, but not so much an antagonist, as Red Grant was, but more a counterpart. It is almost as though Goldfinger wants Bond to see he already has one of him on his staff already.

Bond is able to excuse himself to change into more appropriate attire for his arrival. The attendant mentions that his attaché case has been ‘lost’ en route, perhaps suggesting that a couple of guards went for the sovereigns and got a faceful of stun gas. Nevertheless, Bond activates the homing device hidden in the heel of his shoe and emerges in an immaculate three-piece suit. Pussy points him the way to his seat with a revolver, but he coolly notes that shooting him would also blow a hole in the fuselage and kill everyone on board. Who said these films weren’t educational?

As the plane touches down at Goldfinger’s private airfield, MI6 picks up his signal. They know that he’s with Goldfinger and alive, so they allow him to continue with Felix supervising. Connery really comes into his own as Bond disembarks, his easy charm and smoothness concealing the coiled spring and cunning of a tiger. He even finds time for a quip at Oddjob’s expense before being loaded into the back of a waiting car.

Pussy’s own sideline arrives at this point, being a selection of perky young female pilots in long socks. The presence of so many attractive young women around Pussy is rather more bluntly presented in the novel, in which she is explicitly characterised as a lesbian. Her violet-coloured eyes are a clear indication of strange ‘otherness’, an attribute she shares, oddly enough, with Hannibal Lector. Tilly also survives until much later in the book, and her antipathy to Bond is explained by her too being one of those inscrutable man-hating creatures who count such cruel and callous examples as Sue Perkins and Ellen DeGeneres among their number.  As well as being faintly distasteful in covering a subject about which he clearly knows nothing, Fleming also manages to write himself into a corner later on.

The motorcade arrives at Goldfinger’s ranch-cum-racetrack, which very nearly has Duelling Banjos playing on the soundtrack as Bond is politely shown to his cell, all the easier to keep him under lock and key rather than risk another fully-briefed agent on the loose somewhere. Goldfinger, meanwhile, is attending a conference of crime lords in his game room. Having already managed to assemble such a selection of presumably deadly rivals in one room and found them playing pool, he explains that he already owes each of them $1 million in gold for services rendered – or he can pay them $10 million tomorrow when his bank opens. One of the hoods remarks that banks don’t open on Sundays, and this is one of the few openly dated remarks in the film, as the three customers Metro Bank has in the UK are fully aware.

Having clearly enjoyed playing with the extras in Bond’s car, Goldfinger shows off his own gadgetry, revealing the first BIG MAP of the series and using a pool cue as a pointer. Ken Adam has more than earned his keep already with the production design on the film, but creating a game room for Goldfinger that neatly converts into a carnival lecture hall complete with revolving tables is a real stamp of intent.

How did he explain all this to his decorator?
Bond manages to escape from his cell through the impressive means of hiding and then jumping on the guard when he comes into look for him. This type of gullibility is typically punished with death, so it s likely that he makes himself scarce. Bond has a look around and finds a raised area with a hole in the top from which to look out. This is the model of Fort Knox at the centre of Goldfinger’s map, and offers another opportunity for John Barry to use the three-note motif for the villain, culled from the title line of the theme song. The idea of putting the title into the main character’s motif is an old one, heard before in Hammer’s version of Dracula and later more famously in John Williams’s score for Superman. Try singing the theme with the following lyrics: “Look up the sky / There he is / Look up in the sky / Superman!” Think that happened by mistake.

Bond scrambles to make notes as Goldfinger outlined his scheme to use Pussy’s pilots to spray a nerve gas on the entire area, but one of the guests is having none of it. Bond wraps his note around the mini homer, labels it for CIA attention and pockets it for later as he’s attacked by another assailant, who is of course Pussy herself. She frogmarches him upstairs to see Goldfinger, just as Solo is having his payment loaded into the back of a car. Meanwhile, the remaining conspirators get to see firsthand what the gas is like, when it released into the game room.

This is a rather neat means of tying up loose ends, gathering all those who knew about Goldfinger’s preparations and taking care of them at a stroke, only one day before the operation to limit any degree of interference or reprisal. Goldfinger has clearly thought this “Everest of Crime” to the last detail, and there is a project manager of my acquaintance who would probably offer him a job.

The extremely light gold bars, which judging by the exertion on the face of the guard might easily be novelty bags of brown sugar, are safely stowed, as Solo is heading for a very pressing engagement. Bond manages to slip his note into Solo’s pocket before he goes, as Pussy tells Goldfinger she found him under the model. Story of his life.

Oddjob misses the turning for the airport, much to Solo’s distress, since he really likes those cheesy snacks you get in the executive lounge, while Leiter and his partner follow the homer. Oddjob neatly pulls up in a side street, shoots Solo through the heart and then drives on to a scrapyard where the car is crushed and the fresh cube is loaded onto a pick-up driven away by Oddjob. All of which is going to make Bond’s note rather tricky to read, while the signal to the homer has already been lost.

At the ranch, Goldfinger appears to make something of a play for Pussy, but she isn’t interested in him either. Honor Blackman was cast largely on the strength of her performance in TV action series The Avengers, in which she broke the mould for female characters by giving as good as she got – taking equal billing with her co-star, fighting male characters on screen – and Pussy is clearly an extension of this self-sufficient characterisation of a woman who does not need the validation of a man, but might enjoy having one around.

Goldfinger notes that the CIA will be watching, so it is a good idea if Bond is seen, so orders him brought from his cell. The security arrangements are rather different from earlier. The door is now wide open and five guards are sharing the cell with Bond. He joins Goldfinger on the terrace, where all is good cheer. Bond notes that, firstly, the nerve gas he intends to use is fatal, meaning that the game room will be off limits until the cleaners get there. Secondly, there is no way Goldfinger can steal more than a tiny fraction of Fort Knox’s gold before the armed forces arrive and ask him to put it back. Goldfinger, however, intends to leave the gold exactly where it is. With a flash of inspiration Bond puts it all together – the services rendered by the various mobsters included another of specialist items needed for the construction of a nuclear bomb. Goldfinger doesn’t want to destroy the gold, merely make it extremely inaccessible by detonating a dirty bomb – apparently the first in fiction – and seeing him own stockpile skyrocket in value, while his Chinese paymasters enjoy causing economic chaos in the Decadent West. Any interference from Bond’s allies will see the plan aborted and the bomb set off in any appropriate venue that springs to Goldfinger’s mind.

Fleming’s plans in the book are rather different. Goldfinger does try to steal the gold, with the intention of transporting it by train on behalf of the Soviet Union. He barely even leaves the station, let alone near the repository, before the army swoops in. The screenwriters’ decision to fill this hole in the story was a smart and elegant solution to an author who’d clearly got a bit bored and wanted to wrap things up in a hurry.

Oddjob arrives back with Goldfinger’s new cube, and as he starts trying to separate the shiny bits from the other shiny bits and the bits with blood on, Pussy links her arm into Bond’s and suggests they go somewhere a little more comfortable. The play for the cameras works, with Leiter having returned to watch at the ranch’s boundary and satisfied that Bond has everything in hand.  In a barn, Bond tries to get her on his side, and a good-natured fight starts where they takes turns throwing each other into piles of hay, assisted by some trick editing. Inevitably, Pussy succumbs to Bond when he effectively forces himself on her, although she seems to enjoy it after a moment, so that’s all right then.

Next morning, Pussy’s pilots set off and are accompanied by some impressive aerial photography as they spray the military facilities around Fort Knox. The sight of thousands of soldiers instantly dropping dead in the middle of drill, driving trucks or just doing some harmless jumping jacks is rather alarming and unusually dark for any film of this type or era, let alone both. Worst of all is a sight by the side of the road as Goldfinger’s gas-masked convoy approaches the repository – Felix is among the casualties.

The electrified gates are blasted open, and the door to the building itself is opened with another of those lasers Goldfinger keeps for such an occasion. This provides a neat, plot-relevant use of an item that could have easily been just a gimmick for the earlier scene. The bomb is carefully wheeled out and activated as a whistle sounds in the distance. The army, to a man, sit up and look angry. Felix lives. The entire gassing was faked.

As Goldfinger’s men engage the US Army in battle, Bond is handcuffed to the bomb and the group taken into the vault, giving Goldfinger the opportunity to say “Goodbye, Mr Bond.” There is another example of the jump editing as Goldfinger runs to a door in one shot and then is already through in the next, as Oddjob and Bond are locked inside the vault with only a few minutes until the bomb detonates.

Just to reiterate - this is a set.
The inside of Fort Knox is another triumph of Ken Adam’s design, with gold piled high behind flimsy metal bars. Not one idea behind it stands up to scrutiny, but it looks sensational. A guard thrown to his death by Oddjob give Bond access to the handcuff key, but the Korean is still between him and the door. A shot with his hat misses Bond but cuts a power cable. The men square off against each other, with the music falling away and just the sounds of the room accompanying them as Bond tries and fails to use gold bricks as any kind of weapon. Only the countdown ticks away in the background as the ingots bounce harmlessly off the Korean’s chest. Bond manages to retrieve the hat, and now Oddjob looks scared. Bond throws – and misses, embedding it in metal cagework. The cliché has been undercut before it has even been fully formed. Oddjob smiles indulgently as he swaggers over the retrieve his headgear – and Bond leaps across the room bearing the cut power cable, jamming it against the metal as Oddjob grasps the rim of his hat. Just like he said at the start of the film: positively shocking.

With only seconds remaining, Bond breaks open the casing for the bomb, revealing a massively complex mechanism. He is close to panic as his hands pass over the many and various moving parts, finally grasping a cable and preparing to tug it free-

When a hand reaches in, swats Bond out of the way, and turn the bomb off. Bond looks up to see the US Army in attendance, accompanied by Leiter and an expert in nuclear bomb switches. He looks more than a little ruffled as he asks “What kept you?” Pussy sold out Goldfinger after all, thanks in part one imagines to Bond’s special skills, and allowed the replacement of the nerve gas with something more harmless. Goldfinger’s men are being rounded up, but the man himself has vanished.

Some days later, Bond is being accorded very special treatment. With the mopping-up work almost complete, he is to be flown to the White House by special private plane for lunch with the US President. En route, however, he is joined in the cabin by a gun-toting Goldfinger. Bond barely seems surprised that he is there, and politely asks if he is having lunch at the White House as well. The inevitable ensuing fight ends when someone pulls the trigger on Goldfinger’s gun. As we know from earlier, doing so in a plane is poorly advised, blowing out a window and defenestrating Goldfinger.

In the cockpit, Pussy struggles with the controls and Bond tries to help, but ground radar shows they are dropping quickly. Suddenly, someone seems to bail out from the plane moments before it hits the ground. Later on, search and rescue are scouring the area, and Pussy is trying to attract their attention, but Bond suggests that they have a little catching up to do, and pulls the parachute on top of them both. This marks an odd change to the novel, since Tilly dies during the gun battle at Fort Knox Junction, leaving Pussy as the only female character with whom Bond can assert his manhood and cure her of her terrifying lesbianism. The only alternative option, which might have been less palatable at the time but might be challengingly edgy today would be ending the book with Bond masturbating. This might, however, be something of an anti-climax.

I ought to put my cards on the table at this point. I had been dreading watching Goldfinger again. I last saw it 10 years ago when I first bought all the Bond films on DVD and found that overfamiliarity from countless ITV repeats had dulled the film’s appeal to me. Seeing it with fresh when preparing this article, I found myself falling increasingly into its web of sin, and the laser beam sequence was the clincher. The scene is a masterpiece of tension, with one man locked in a battle of wills against another, desperate trying to talk his way down from the gallows.
The strong story and deeping of Bond’s character throughout the film show that this is the moment that the true cinematic Bond is born, stepping out from the shadow of Fleming’s background at the Special Operations Executive in World War II or the hunted wrong men of Hitchcock and into a new world where every location has a certain exoticism, every woman carries a certain promise and where every man carries a certain type of firearm. With success at the box office assured, Bond has conquered the world, so where else to go but into a man’s own fantasies?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE - "Who is Bond, compared with Kronsteen?"

It has become an accepted state of affairs that a sequel to a successful film is generally the same, but bigger. The stakes are higher, the chases faster, the running time longer and the wait for the toilets afterwards more agonising. The Bond films occupy an unusual niche, however, being adapted from a series of books which do not necessarily need to be produced in order. Casino Royale is intended as our first sight of Bond, but with a little skilful scripting and minimal rewriting, Dr. No serves equally well for the cinema.

This then raises the question of what you do next after a hit like Dr. No. Going bigger is a given, thanks to the higher budget and greater confidence from the studio. But do you shoot for the moon with some elaborate tale of world domination, or head in a different direction? In the case of From Russia with Love, you head east for Turkey, the land of honey traps and black gloves.

Tweaks to the formula laid down in the first film are visible from minute one. The Bond theme plays over a reprise of the gunbarrel graphic, while the producers’ credit is missing. The white circle of the sight then shrinks into the corner of the screen and disappears, in order to give way to the first pre-titles teaser of the series.

This is going to be a real short movie.
Bond is being stalked around a hedge maze by an imposing opponent, who draws a garrotte from his wristwatch and uses it to swiftly and near-effortlessly dispatch the British agent. Unexpected. Suddenly the entire area is lit with floodlights to reveal it as a training ground, and an unconvincing rubber mask is peeled from the corpse to reveal it as merely a disposable nobody.

The logic behind the sequence is somewhat elusive. Although the audience needs a little set-up for the assassin, creating this set-piece purely to wrong-foot viewers seems excessive. The victim wears a rubber mask for no real reason, and if anything it would hinder his ability to provide the killer with the sufficient challenge, if he is preparing to kill Bond.

The teaser also acts as the set-up for Grant, the killer, as quiet, efficient and ruthless. This does contrast oddly with the book, where the opening chapter seems to spend a long time narrating from his masseuse’s point of view the perfection of his muscly body. In fact, the set-up for the opponents’ side goes into more detail than any of the books.

As we segue into the titles, we are greeted first with the brassy music of John Barry, then the title designs of Robert Brownjohn projected onto the bodies of women. The latter is most definitely the trope codifier, despite coming from a new title designer and not Maurice Binder, with whom such iconic images will be indelibly associated.

The music is at first an instrumental piece, before it smoothly slides into a version of the title number. At the end of the titles, however, we are greeted with a full-blown orchestral version of Barry’s James Bond Theme. This sends the unmistakable message that this is Barry’s show, and that Monty Norman could suck it.

Norman, who wrote the score for Dr. No, had begun work on the film with a view to providing a score with an Eastern European flavour befitting its setting. However, it appears he was told his services would not be required, and Barry was enlisted instead. This may the source of the enmity between the two men, with the precise authorship of the James Bond Theme the subject of two court cases.

The film proper opens in Venice, with a chess match being played in opulent surroundings. This is another display of the increased financial clout, as this set appears in this scene only before one of the players, the vulpine Kronsteen, receives a message requesting his presence. He calmly composes himself, moves a single piece, and immediately accepts his opponent’s surrender.  The implication is that he’s being toying with him for some time and only breaking off the match as he has to leave. Kronsteen so thinks he’s it.

The League of Evil Foreigners holds its AGM.
Kronsteen arrives on a yacht, where he meets with the mysterious Number One and a Russian defector named Rosa Klebb. They are members of SPECTRE, the organisation for which No was working, and a new plan has been concocted to play the British and Russian sides against each other, while also gaining a valuable decoding device. The identity of Number One is not revealed until the closing credits, but for anyone with an even passing familiarity with the books it would be obvious that this is the first appearance of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Although the film rights to his first novel appearance in Thunderball were held by Kevin McClory, Blofeld appears in several of the other books as well, and it appears that this loophole is what allows the character to appear here. Putting his name in the end credits seems like a bit of a thumbed nose in McClory’s direction, however.

In the book, the plot originates from SMERSH, the counter-intelligence wing of the Soviet machine, and the aim is simply to embarrass the British intelligence services. This may have been a little too near the knuckle at the time, thanks to the Profumo affair. The scandal, which had exploded all over the British press while the film was in pre-production, was in short thus: war minster John Profumo had been discovered to have been having an affair with a call-girl named Christine Keeler, who was in turn the mistress of a Soviet naval attaché and suspected spy, Yevgeny Ivanov. The potential for a breach in national security lead to MI5 breaking up the relationship and the subject hitting the headlines when another boyfriend of Keeler’s, a drug dealer named Johnny Edgecombe, tried to shoot his way into the flat where she was staying. At the time when the script for From Russia with Love was being written, Profumo’s indiscretions were already the subject of gossip in some circles, leading one to speculate on the motives for rewriting beyond simply changing the villainous organisation’s identity.

The presence of SPECTRE also creates a neat entwining of events, with the death of Dr. No being explicitly referred to and the targeting of Bond for the scheme alluding to the R in the outfit’s name. They are after revenge, and judging by the unusual choice of camera angles, the mastermind behind the scheme is the squirming cat in Number One’s arms.

Klebb travels to SPECTRE’s special training headquarters in the non-extraditable country of your choice, in order to formally assign Grant the task of killing Bond. The man is an intimidating mountain of muscle, and now that his training appears to have come to a formal conclusion, he is enjoying a massage. His lack of reaction to the bikini-wearing lovely rubbing oil into his rippling body is a clear indication of his coldness, as is Klebb’s briefing that he is a dispassionate murderer and Dartmoor escapee. That’s the worst kind.

The overall atmosphere is one of an exclusive health spa. It appears notable, given Fleming’s fondness for high living and suspicion towards regular exercise and balanced diet, that such retreats should be a continued source of danger, with smock-wearing killers putting arsenic in the wheatgrass juice – enhancing the flavour in the process.

An interesting element arises when the SPECTRE functionary attempts to take Klebb’s elbow to direct her. The look on her face is one of barely-concealed disgust at the touch of another, but visually this is quickly overwhelmed by the sight of SPECTRE men running and jumping through the organisation’s training area. They seem to be well versed in avoiding flamethrowers and dodging sharp-shooters, useful additions to anyone’s skillset that still appear on the timetable at the posher private schools.

Katina Paxinou as Rosa Klebb.
"You are very fortunate to have been
chosen for such a simple, delightful duty.
A real... labour of love, as they say."
Klebb’s next stop is Istanbul, where she reassumes her old office of spymaster to recruit a beautiful but less than assertive cypher clerk from the Russian embassy. Tatiana Romanova, Tania to her friends, is the subject of some fascination for Klebb. Have read through her brief wearing the most over-the-top milk-bottle glasses outside the Bash Street Kids, she carries on the meeting with the creepy air of a predatory philanderer. At one point, she rests her hand on Tania’s knee, leaving the younger woman visibly uncomfortable.

Not for the first time, this raises the difficult question of the evolution of sexual politics. Whether or not it was acceptable for a man to act this intimidating a fashion in 1963 is not the true issue, although one does wonder how Tania would react if her superior was a man. Klebb starts the briefing with orders and threats, before adopting a softer tone and addressing Tania in more cooing terms. Under other circumstances, the scene might resemble a seduction performed by a seasoned pick-up artist, but the additional element of it being performed by a woman strongly implied to be a lesbian makes the scene a little queasy. Fleming had some odd views about homosexuality – which, remember, would be a crime for another four years – including the inability of gay people to whistle, and this strangely predatory portrayal fits with these opinions, despite already being significantly outdated. Remember also how frequently this film is shown in the daytime, when this scene passes without comment.

After all this set-up, which in the book accounts for the first 100 pages, we finally get to see what Bond is doing. He’s hanging out by the river with Sylvia, the girl he picked up at the casino at the start of Dr. No. In the previous article, the astonishing security risk of Bond handing out business cards with his unguarded home address was noted, and far from suspecting that Sylvia was a potential honey trap, Bond is still spending time with her. Which means he chose her over Ursula Andress. Let that sink in.

She mentions that it has been months since his trip to Jamaica, and seems just that little bit too patient for comfort, as Matt Munro’s rendition of the title song finally appears on the soundtrack on a passing punt. Bond gets a call on his carphone – which sadly is not the size of a warehouse – summoning him to the office, so he gives Sylvia the brush-off again. No doubt she then reports to her superiors that Bond’s behaviour, combined with her never having heard him whistle, makes him ideal for blackmail. She is never seen nor heard from again.

Bond arrives in his Bentley – his car in the books making its only appearance in the films – and performs the famous throwing-the-hat-onto-the-hatstand trick for the first time. M is less than impressed, and starts to brief Bond about what has come over the wire.

Apparently a Russian cypher clerk at the embassy in Istanbul has seen Bond’s photograph and fallen in love with it, and is offering to defect with the cypher machine, the Lecktor, if Bond acts as courier. M and Bond immediately think it’s a trap, and Bond in particular is suspicious. Teenagers fall in love with pictures of film stars, he says, “but not a Russian cypher clerk with a file photo of a British agent. Unless she’s mental”.

Sylva Koscina as Tatiana
"Tania" Romanova.
"I think my mouth is too big."
With this ringing in the audience’s ears, Bond’s reaction upon seeing a picture of Tania proves interesting, demonstrating that Wee Jimmy is probably in charge as Bond takes the assignment to see where it goes. Hopefully to underneath her counterpane, he thinks. M seems quite happy with the idea of pimping Bond out, almost acting out parts of the Profumo scandal with the plot.

Bond is also handed a new piece of field equipment in the form of a briefcase containing various handy items and a self-assembly sniper rifle. Although the character of the quartermaster had appeared in Dr. No, this scene marks the first appearance of Desmond Llewellyn in the part. He is brisk and businesslike, as he indicates that Bond can simply carry the rifle through customs inside the case, making the audience wonder why there were so few hijackings. Another sign of the times is the inclusion of concealed strings of gold sovereigns to act as international currency, all hidden inside Bond’s first true “gadget”.

On his way out, Bond stops again to flirt with Miss Moneypenny, and the atmosphere suddenly takes a turn for the heavy, as he is about to whisper “the secret of the world” in her ear when M rings through and effectively tells Bond to stop that and get a move on. Yes, it looks very like Bond is going to seduce Moneypenny at her desk while his boss is in the next room. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again. Bond is a serious security risk. He even pauses to write the film’s title on the picture of Tania before he hands it to Moneypenny and leaves. It looks rather like Klebb isn’t the only one who’s been reading tips for pick-up artists.

Bond’s plane lands in Istanbul, as the strains of the James Bond Theme fire up. This is used with irritating frequency during the film, and contrasts sharply with the more generic mood music scored by Barry. However, much is made of the melody from the theme song, written by Lionel Bart.

Bond identifies his driver with a call-and-response code phrase, which shows that he has smartened up since the last time he was picked up from an airport, and the drive to meet his contact sees an interesting discussion about how the Western and Eastern powers have their local assets constantly following each other. A neat metaphor for the Cold War in general, as Bulgarians and Turks engage in squabbles that pay off on the world stage.

Bond is taken to Kerim Bey, British Intelligence’s local contact. He is clearly going to be the inspiration for a many a boisterous ally in future films, with his womanising ways, army of sons and cheap cigarette holder. Bond continues to his hotel, followed again by the Bulgarians, except now it’s Grant behind the wheel and the Bulgarian in the back seat. Grant starts to put on black gloves...

Bond has a look at a bathroom, as his theme tune plays.
The theme gets another airing after all of ten minutes as Bond examines his hotel room. He hesitates before dropping his hat onto the bed, something modern non-hat-wearing viewers may not realise is an omen of bad luck. Having found some rather chunky hidden microphones, Bond requests another room. He gets the bridal suite. In more than one sense, the staff have seen him coming.

Grant helpfully drops off the car outside the Russian embassy, and the staff are a little concerned to find a garrotted body in the back seat. This, we are told, will lead them to suspect the British, although the reasons for this are uncertain. Tensions will mount in the city between the two powers, although one wonders in retrospect why this does not lead to increased security on the embassy building.

Nevertheless, reprisals are taken in the form of a bomb attack on Kerim Bey. Surprised at the heating up of the Cold War, he takes Bond on his secret underwater punt to spy on the embassy from beneath. The scenes shot in the cavernous underwater reservoir remind one of the travelogue scenes of Dr. No. The street scenes in the city sadly do not, focussed as they are on foreground action rather than background detail.

Kerim Bey has had a periscope fitted through the floor of the embassy, letting him spy on the secret intelligence meetings. You read that correctly. How a full size naval periscope isn’t noticed is left unexplained, but the slight masking of the scope’s point of view suggests that it is peeping through a mousehole. Their security may well be worse than ours. Kerim recognises one man in the meeting as an old adversary - a professional killer named Krilencu – and decides that he must be behind the bombing.

As a means of sidestepping the authorities for the night, Kerim takes Bond to a gypsy camp populated by old friends. The camp is vast – another sign of the production’s conspicuous wealth – but is clearly filmed on a backlot rather than on location. This is perhaps the first sign of a shift away from travelogue and into spectacle, as the gypsies engage in every possible cliché for the audience’s edification. There are belly dancers, everyone is carrying a musical instrument, old Romany caravans covered in laundry, little old ladies trying to sell Bond lucky heather and a couple of hold-blooded women fighting to the death over a man. Even Channel 4 would draw the line before this.

Rather than changing into more practical clothing, the women simply start stripping off before going one-on-one, and the resulting fight, though excitingly shot and performed, manages to be entirely irrelevant to the story, merely marking time until it is interrupted by gunshots.

Krilencu has somehow found his way to the camp and launches an attack with his men. The result is the first mass fight of the series, with Bulgarians vs. Gypsies providing plenty of opportunities for people to fall from high walkways or get set on fire. All of this is accompanied by the first sounding of the 007 theme, Barry’s alternative tune to accompany large scale action scenes. Bond meanwhile spends the fight ambling around, causing chaos wherever he goes - shoving people into ponds, cutting guy ropes on tents and seeming to pay no attention as to who wins.

"Why don't you two cool off? He he he, I'm hilarious."
As he tries to spot another opportunity for indiscriminate mischief, a Bulgarian takes aim at his back, only for him to be dropped to the ground by a shot from Grant. The attackers then withdraw, ending another thrillingly pointless sequence. Kerim wonders why Krilencu would want to kill him and the audience too is scratching its collective head at the plot’s logic. With the cat fight undecided, the gypsy chief says that Bond should decide the matter, so in time-honoured fashion he takes them to his tent. Logic evaporates with a whisper as the lead character’s reputation as a womaniser is bolstered.

Having been up all day and all night in more ways than one, Bond and Kerim depart the gypsy camp the following evening, with the less-than-sensitive stereotypes waving them off. The two men head back into town, with Kerim determined to assassinate Krilencu to end their feud. Exactly what this feud pertains to is never specified, but Bond simply goes along with it. Kerim mentions that many debts are settled by shooting a man in the back from a street away, and although Krilencu had spearheaded the attack the previous night, it seems odd that this detail is not expanded in any way, especially since it plays right into SPECTRE’s hands and makes the situation worse still.

Having had a busy few evenings, Bond arrives back at his hotel. Suspicious that someone has been waiting for him, he bursts into his bedroom to find Tania waiting for him. He immediately sleeps with her. I mean, immediately. There is less than 60 seconds between their first setting eyes on each other and Bond going in for the kill. Despite his having spent 18 hours entertaining two hot-blooded gypsy girls. This man isn’t a role model; he’s a walking public information film.

Meanwhile, it appears that the mirror over the bed is two-way glass, and Klebb is filming Bond and Tania. So it turns out to be a honey trap after all, exactly as everyone suspected and Bond apparently forgot as soon as he was within sniffing distance of an available woman. No one ever listens to me.

Bond and Tania later meet at a mosque to exchange information, with a gap in a pillar functioning as a dead drop. The scene gives another opportunity to see some of the sights of Istanbul, especially since the papers could have been handed over in the hotel room, assuming Bond wasn’t too exhausted and hadn’t gone blind. Another of the Bulgarians, having been observing the exchange, tries to get to the drop before Bond, but fails to content with a black-gloved chop to the neck.

Kerim and Bond examine the papers in the former’s office, and find a detailed map of the embassy and where the Lecktor is stored. As they compare Tania’s plan with the building’s blueprints to make sure they are real, they joke that maybe the whole thing could be a honey trap. By this point, it can’t be accidental that the main characters are acting in a deliberately ignorant manner. To go back to the Hitchcock connection, he once described a scene involving a bomb under the hero’s table in a restaurant. If the audience doesn’t know the bomb is there, there will be a moment’s shock when it detonates, but if they do know, that offers a degree of tension that can be extended for minutes.

Thus, the viewer is being allowed to see behind the curtain as Bond falls further and further into SPECTRE’s trap, but the mere fact that he keeps acknowledging that it seems an awful lot like a trap undermines the tension. He doesn’t even seem especially concerned on the subject. Probably because he’s exhausted.

Tania meets Bond again on a ferry across the Bosphorus, where they pretend to be a couple as he records her detailed description of the code room and the Lecktor’s design on a reel-to-reel tape recorder disguised as a camera. This allows a few more beauty shots of historic Constantinople, as we fade across to M and company listening to the tape on the largest tape deck in history. Tania’s descriptions keep wandering off the point to questions about their life together in England that make her sound like a deluded groupie, but this eggs Bond into starting an anecdote about a time he and M were in Hong Kong. The crusty old chief quickly shuts off the tape and dismisses Miss Moneypenny, but the damage is already done. It’s an interesting attempt to give a little background to the M-Bond relationship, but it seems somewhat out of character for him to have anything to want to keep quiet. Nevertheless, Moneypenny listens in outside on the intercom, in case there are any more exciting titbits.

Word gets back to Istanbul that M has given the go-ahead for the mission, leading Kerim to suggest the 13th as the day for the operation. Bond instead opts for the 14th – remember the hat on the bed? At the embassy, Bond casually drops by, somehow getting past the security at the front gate, and asks a clerk whether the clock on the wall is accurate. Assured that it is, he asks again a moment later, just as the building is rocked by a terrific explosion. There really isn’t a more effective way of announcing one’s status as a spy.

"Excuse me, I wonder if you can help me? I'm a spy."
It appears that it is in fact the 13th after all – Tania notes the change as Bond tells her that “it’s a hell of a time to be superstitious”, the patronising sod. Together they take the Lecktor and escape into the sewers, emerging across the street from the embassy before heading for the train station. When they get there, they are in the nick of time to board the Orient Express before it leaves with Kerim already aboard. However, a Russian agent named Benz is at the station and boards the train too. Less explicably, Grant is also on the train. Exactly how he knew to be there, especially since it would have been too late for him to disembark if Bond and Tania didn’t turn up, isn’t explained – once again, logic is sacrificed for the exciting image or escalation of intrigue. Or Kronsteen is a very lucky guesser. That’s probably why he’s so good at chess.

On board the train, Kerim outfits Bond and Tania with their cover documents. Bond thus takes on his first alias in the film series, that of David Somerset accompanying his wife Caroline. Tania’s enquiry as to whether they have any imaginary children prompts Kerim to remark that “my whole life has been a crusade for larger families”. It’s hard to know where to start dissecting all the ways in which that line has problems, but let’s just stick to assuming that a Turk probably wouldn’t use the word “crusade” so casually if they knew to what it referred.

Whilst preparations for the Lecktor theft were underway, Bond appears to have also bought a new wardrobe for Tania, which consists entirely of identical nightdresses in a range of colours. Sometime later, after she’s been through a few of them for Bond’s pleasure – again, there’s a whole lot world there – Bond tells her to answer a knock at the door. It’s Kerim, who quietly tells Bond that Benz is on the train and that he will keep him busy. Meanwhile, the black gloves go on... Bond seems to still not trust Tania at all, telling her to do as she’s told and giving her a little slap for her trouble, just in case she forgets that she’s only a woman.

Bad news comes from the back of the train later on, when the bodies of Kerim and Benz are found, having apparently killed each other. The shock appears to hit Bond hard. He clearly liked the rascal, as did we. It’s an impressive and memorable performance by Pedro Armedariz, all the more with the knowledge that he was dying of cancer during shooting and forced himself to continue. From Russia with Love was his last acting job; he committed suicide before the film was released.

The train passes the planned rendezvous with one of Kerim’s sons as Bond tries to rethink their plans, and a figure is visible by the side of the tracks, watching the Express rattle by. Apparently, this is none other than Fleming himself, who regualely dropped by shooting locations and chatted to those bringing his stories to life. It also continues to demonstrate the subliminal influence of Hitchcock, as the story echoes North by Northwest use of train travel and the use of the Lecktor as the “MacGuffin”, a plot element defined by Hitchcock as the item that drives the story – for example, the top secret microfilm both superpowers are after – but the inherent nature of which is not important to the story. We know what the Lecktor does, and why it’s important. That’s all we need to know.

Back on the train, Bond tells Tania that Kerim is dead and make little secret of his suspicion that she knew about it. His interrogation of her is strangely reminiscent of Klebb’s briefing of her earlier in the film. First he tries the hard approach, then he softens his tone and tries to tease the truth out of her. Again, it’s uncomfortably like a seduction, as Tania breaks down in tears and tells Bond that she really does love him and that her defection is now for real. Bond’s response? A weary sigh as he pulls down the bedclothes. I’ve met people like him when I’ve gone speed-dating. They would creep me out almost immediately.

If women didn't like getting slapped around a little, then
they'd stand up for themselves, wouldn't they Sean?
The train travels by map as far as Belgrade, where Bond is able to briefly disembark and make a call for new back-up. He mentions that Kerim and Benz killed each other, even though Kerim died from being stabbed in the back. Maybe Bond’s still tired.

Further up the track in Zagreb – that’s in Croatia now – Grant neatly intercepts the arriving MI6 man before pulling out the black gloves. Bond dawdles on the platform, and is approached by Grant, now carrying his hapless victim’s luggage. Not only does this scene reveal that Bond’s contact, Nash, carries business cards of his own, but this is the first time that we here Grant speak. Bear in mind that the film is nearly three-quarters of the way through.

Once on their way, “Nash” outlines his plan. They will jump off the train when they get to the Yugoslav-Italian border, which would not only be the first crossing of the Iron Curtain in the series, but also raise the question of exactly how porous the border is intended to be. There is a beautiful little detail in this scene, when Grant says that he knows the country around there like the back of his hand. At that line, Robert Shaw actually manages to steal a glance at the back of his hand, as though Grant is subconsciously assuring himself.

As Grant and Tania head for the dining car, Bond has a look through Nash’s case, because he’s nosy. It’s a standard issue case like his own, but such is his lack of rigour that he fails to notice that Nash hasn’t brought any spare socks. In the dining car, the dinner companions order fish, just like in Airplane!, and like in Airplane! someone soon feels ill. Grant has drugged Tania’s wine to get her off their hands for a while, as well as referring to Bond as “oh-oh-seven” – another first.

Taking a close look at a map in their compartment, Grant knocks Bond out cold. This is a key moment. This is the point where a cliché is born. Grant could have killed Bond then and there, taken the Lecktor and got away. Instead, he decides to stick around, becoming what for him must qualify as chatty as he plans to humiliate Bond before killing him.

The Ghost of James Bond Future?
As Bond recovers, Grant explains that he and Tania are both expendable, now that the Lecktor is in their hands. This does not explain why it could not be taken earlier. Once Kerim was out of the way, there was nothing to stop Grant forcing his way into the compartment, killing both of them and taking the Lecktor. That would require little more finesse than the over-complex disguise act for which they settle.

Grant reassures Bond that Tania was just as much a pawn in the scheme that he was, and that the film of them in the bridal suite in Istanbul will be found on her body, along with a forged letter implying a blackmail plot. Bond will have been judged to have killed her and then himself, destroying his credibility and delivering a shattering blow to British intelligence. It’s almost as though the entire scheme was a honey trap. If only someone had thought of this in the first place and made some sort of contingency plan.

Grant is an interesting figure. Having been established as a cold-blooded professional killer, he is only a few rungs below Bond himself in the scheme of things. He won’t be the first of the ‘dark mirror’ versions of Bond who have appeared throughout the series, since the most effective nemesis a character can have is usually a skewed reflection of themselves. Batman has the Joker, Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty, and even Harry Potter has Lord Voldemort. Think about that one, you’ll see I’m right.

Grant is the prototype of this concept in cinema, however, even going so far as to dress in similar style to Bond and having equally ruthless, hardboiled dialogue. Compare the scene in Dr. No when Bond tells Professor Dent that, “You’ve had your six”, before emptying his gun into the luckless geologist with the dialogue here. “The first won’t kill you, nor the second, not even the third...” Grant is clearly Bond gone wrong, a shadow of the man he could be, and the film’s makers are already confident enough in their characterisation to play with conventions to this extent already.

As Grant gets out the black gloves, a move that neatly shows the audience that time is running out for Bond, the latter discovers that he can still be bribed with the gold sovereigns in the case. This sudden and hitherto-unsuspected attack of greed is Grant’s undoing, as he fails to open Nash’s case correctly and the booby-trap explodes in his face. Seizing the advantage, Bond goes on the attack.

The fight sequence in the railway compartment may be another major first in almost as many minutes, prefiguring as it does the future of action movies. The set piece is shot in a close, hand-held style, using a mixture of fast cutting and the speed-up editing trick that Peter Hunt coined in Dr. No. This sequence however really lets him go to town, as he defines the forerunner of the brief fad for speed-ramping that would sully action films nearly 40 years later. This will become relevant again, trust me. The lack of music and brutal, crunching sound effects really sell the fight as two men fighting to the death, coming to an end only when Bond manages to turn Grant’s garrotte against him, wrapping it around his windpipe and snuffing him out. Then, easy as you please, he straightens his tie, buttons his jacket, pockets the film and leaves the mess for the porter to clear up.

Bond drags the semi-conscious Tania from the train as it slows for Grant’s rendezvous. This may simply be Bond taking advantage of the opportunity, but it does look as if he has managed to correctly guess the location. He catches the driver of the waiting truck and ties him up anyway, just to be on the safe side. The driver had already called out for Grant, after all, though Bond had no way of knowing that was “Nash’s” real name. In fact, since Bond never finds out “Nash”’s [trying out some punctuation variations] real name, for all he knows he’s just kidnapped an innocent man and stolen his truck.

If Bond did have any doubts on the matter, they may have been dispelled when the truck comes under attack from a helicopter. Again, the mind is cast back to North by Northwest for the sequence is which Cary Grant’s character is harassed by a malevolent crop-duster, as we as a similar set piece in The 39 Steps when Robert Donat is chased across the highlands by a biplane. These happy memories may displace the realisation that the helicopter must have been dispatched before Grant’s body was found, unless it was intended as a pick-up. This would not explain why the co-pilot starts throwing grenades as the truck winds its way through wildest Cumbria Slovenia. Bond manages to shoot the co-pilot, who drops his live grenade inside the cabin, making the helicopter go bang. “I’d say one of their aircraft is missing”, quips Bond. It’s no “They were on their way to a funeral”, is it?

He just loves pushing people into the water. I
bet he's the life of the party wherever he goes.
Probably drinks WKD when no one's looking.
Arriving at a deserted quay with a single boat tied up, which Bond assumes to be Grant’s escape route should the helicopter have accidentally crashed or something and been unable to pick him up, Bond pops on a sailor’s hat he finds their and sets off for Italian waters. As a parting gift for the Iron Curtain, he cuts the truck driver’s bonds before cheerily pushing him into the sea. What a total dick.

Meanwhile, Blofeld is livid. Kronsteen’s supposedly perfect plan has been foiled, despite Bond doing everything possible to get himself killed. The chessmaster is right to deliver the line I’ve used as a title, since he’s managed to get everyone to whistle to his tune. The weak link was Grant – who was selected for the job by Klebb. She looks like she’ll be for the chop, but a quick kick from her poisoned shoe spike means it’s curtains for Kronsteen. Vladek Sheybal’s death acting at this point is of particular note.

Blofeld has a new plan – SPECTRE will recapture the Lecktor and sell it back to the Russians. As he warns Klebb, “SPECTRE always delivers what it promises”, which certainly gives them the edge over Nick Clegg.

[NB This joke was topical when I wrote it seven months ago. By the way, I have moved house since then, settling in a converted shop on the southern fringes of Greenwich. I spent the summer in the attic room, where I would spend my time pressing my face against the window to convince passersby that it was haunted by a goblin.]

SPECTRE launches its fleet of smallish ships to catch Bond, and they open fire almost as soon as they see him. However, if they are trying to avoid hitting them, since it might damage or destroy the Lecktor, why are they shooting? Are they just overexcited? As a means of escape, Captain Bond dumps spare fuel in the water and lights it with a flare gun, setting the entire SPECTRE regatta ablaze. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire”, he says, describing things that are happening in front of him.

Later on, Bond and Tania are settling into their hotel in Venice with James on the phone making arrangements for the trip home when the maid comes in to do a little light dusting. Bond’s instincts should have been set off when the maid fails to react to Bond wearing his gun in a shoulder holster. Tania realises that it’s really a poorly-disguised Klebb. She pulls a gun on Bond, and seems to be looking forward to the prospect of shooting him. After all, she might get Tania to herself then, like the evil lesbian that she is. Tania knocks the gun out of her hand, though, leaving Klebb with her poisonous shoe as her only weapon. She and Bond struggle before a shot rings out – and Tania is holding a smoking gun. Fulfilling what appears to be a contractual obligation, Bond mutters, “She’s had her kicks.”

Before travelling back to the UK, or even doing anything at all, Bond takes Tania for a gondola ride in front of some very poorly projected footage of Venice. Bond pulls out the film, and comments that Grant was right. Exactly what it was he was right about was lost to the censor’s knife, or garden hoe if the quality of the edit is anything to go by, but it appears to have been complimentary about their “performance” in the bridal suite. Bond seems to like constructive criticism on the one subject from which he cannot take his mind. Bond and Tania hunker down in their gondola for a snog and who knows what else as James apparently forgets there’s a girl waiting for him at home who thinks he’s gay and might be a bit surprised by him bringing a beautiful Russian defector home. The title song fades up over the end credits, which reveal that Blofeld was played by a question mark and that, for the first time, James Bond Will Return.

From Russia with Love is clearly the film that creates and codifies many of the tropes most associated with the Bond films, and its status as this early example, combined with the echoes of Hitchcock’s works, its genera fidelity to Ian Fleming and its overall grounding in realistic spy fiction might explain why it remains so highly thought of, but there is already a sense of settling into routine. The dialogue is blunt and lacking in wit, there are contradictions in the characterisation and Bond himself is, by 2010s standards at least, a repulsive and patronising moron. Adding in the garbled plot that is already favouring spectacle over coherence and one gets the sense that changes need to be made to keep the series creatively on track. Perhaps something more outré, more outlandish, more appealing to Americans with their culture of gangsters and comic books would be appropriate. Yeah, how about that?