The James Bond Challenge – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

OHMSS posterIn which James Bond falls in love with the alluring Contessa Tracy yet still finds time to plot to overthrow Blofeld at his secret Swiss hideaway, where he is organising a mass hypnotism of twelve girls to go out into the world and arrange for its destruction. Blofeld is trying to lay claim to the title ‘Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp’, so, pretending to be the genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, Bond infiltrates his lair, but his cover is quickly blown. Blofeld’s Headquarters are stormed and he is severely injured in a bobsled fight against Bond, but will he, nevertheless, achieve his aim of implanting infertility in a range of species of flora and fauna? And, above all, will Bond and Tracy live happily ever after?

Tracy in the CasinoOriginally Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had planned to film The Man with the Golden Gun as the follow-up to You Only Live Twice, with Roger Moore lined up to play Bond; but political instability in Cambodia made it impossible to film there, and Moore signed up for a further series of the TV series The Saint, so they went back to the often-shelved Plan B to film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Again there was an interval of two years since the previous Bond film, and its budget of $7 million was a considerable drop on YOLT’s $10.3 million, largely as a result of the decision to replace regular production designer Ken Adam with Syd Cain, whose vision for the film required smaller sets; another financial help was the fact that George Lazenby’s fee of $100,000 was way less than Connery’s $800,000. Its box office take of $82 million – whilst still a tremendous amount – was the lowest profit for an Eon Productions Bond film since 1963’s From Russia with Love. Usual screenwriter Richard Maibaum, who had missed out on writing You Only Live Twice as he was working on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, was re-engaged, and would keep the job till 1989. Writer Simon Raven, who had reviewed a number of Fleming’s novels for The Listener magazine, but who was better known as a novelist, and later for the TV series The Pallisers and Edward and Mrs Simpson, was hired to write additional material, specifically for those conversations between Blofeld and Tracy, and with Sir Hilary, which they wanted to be snappier and more intellectual.

Mountain filmingPeter Hunt, who had worked with tremendous success as Editor or Second Unit Director on all the previous Eon Bond films, was promoted to director for OHMSS; and indeed, he is the first person to be seen at the beginning of the film, it’s his reflection in the brass plate on the street behind which M and Q are meeting. Hunt’s ambition for the film was to make if different from all the others; less reliant on gadgets and gimmicks, closer to the original book than its predecessors, and, above all, glamorous. This would be the last Bond film on which he worked, although his editing/directorial career would continue until the early 90s. For his editor, he chose John Glen, and as cinematographer, Michael Reed, with both of whom he had worked on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Glen would go on to be a successful Bond director in the 80s. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan, who had to have a leg amputated after an accident during the filming of You Only Live Twice, developed a special helicopter harness for filming the amazing aerial shots of the mountain slopes and action sequences in OHMSS, hanging eighteen feet below the helicopter from a large round metal support apparatus. However, his daredevil approach to work would literally be the death of him, as, in his next job, he died while filming Catch-22 in 1969 over the Gulf of Mexico when another plane passed close by. He was sucked out of the open doorway and fell 2,000 feet, always having refused to wear a safety harness.

OHMSS bookOn Her Majesty’s Secret Service was published in 1963 and was the tenth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. It’s the second of the so-called Blofeld Trilogy, coming between Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, which explains why so much of the screenplay for that last book had to deviate from its original – the events of OHMSS (including Bond’s briefest of marriages, and the fact that Blofeld isn’t dead yet) not having yet been translated onto the screen. It was the first Bond book to be written after the film series had started, Fleming writing most of it at his Jamaica home whilst Dr No was being filmed around the corner. Fleming’s working title was The Belles of Hell, but Fleming’s friend Nicholas Henderson, who would go on to be the UK’s Ambassador to the USA, spotted the title On Her Majesty’s Secret Service on an old sailing book in Portobello Market, and the rest is history.

Odeon AylesburyThis was the first “proper” Bond movie that I saw at the cinema – I had seen the spoof Casino Royale, but that was just pure comedy. I would have been 9 years old when I saw it; I recall there was a lot of peer group pressure from schoolfriends to see it and then give playground reviews afterwards. I remember watching it with my mother at the Odeon in Aylesbury and really enjoying it – until the last scene, and then I bawled my eyes out all the way home. I may have omitted that fact in my playground review.

BlofeldTrue to Peter Hunt’s vision, the book and the film tread very much the same storyline – probably a closer adaptation than any of the previous films. There are only a few very minor deviations from the original plot. The book received largely very good reviews. The Guardian said it was: “not only up to Mr. Fleming’s usual level, but perhaps even a bit above it”, whilst the Observer reckoned: “O.H.M.S.S. is certainly the best Bond for several books. It is better plotted and retains its insane grip until the end”. The Houston Chronicle described it as: “Fleming at his urbanely murderous best”, and the Washington Post wrote that Bond was: “still irresistible to women, still handsome in a menacing way, still charming. He has nerves of steel and thews of whipcord […] Fleming’s new book will not disappoint his millions of fans”. Among the few nay-sayers, the New York Times declared: “this is a silly and tedious novel.”

George LazenbyThe majority of the contemporary film reviews concentrated on comparing the performance of George Lazenby in the role with that of Sean Connery – and by far the majority finding him lacking. For example, the Daily Mirror said he “looks uncomfortably in the part like a size four foot in a size ten gumboot.” But the film itself also received criticism, the Observer reviewer noting “I fervently trust it will be the last of the James Bond films. All the pleasing oddities and eccentricities and gadgets of the earlier films have somehow been lost, leaving a routine trail through which the new James Bond strides without noticeable signs of animation.” Today, however, the film receives a much improved response, perhaps encapsulated in filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s assessment: “For me there’s no question that cinematically On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best Bond film and the only one worth watching repeatedly for reasons other than pure entertainment … Shot to shot, this movie is beautiful in a way none of the other Bond films are.” And, for my own part, I have to agree with that. This does have a very different feel from the other films to date, which really makes it stand out, and that cinematography truly has the wow factor.

Opening CreditsThe opening credits begin, as usual, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. This time, though, Bond has changed, and it’s our first glimpse of George Lazenby in the role. Unlike previous Bonds, he gets down on one knee to shoot; and for the first time, the blood fills up the entire screen. Appropriately, to ring the changes, the music has been re-recorded again, with a brand new arrangement; slower, the notes being picked out on an organ keyboard that was so popular in the Easy Listening world of the late 60s. As a result, it’s possibly a little less impactful than the one we’re used to.

Tracy on the beachWe’re in London, where M, Q and Moneypenny have no idea where James Bond is. Then the scene changes to Portugal, and the opening car chase where Tracy overtakes Bond and they both drive to the beach. She runs down into the sea with the intent of taking her own life, but Bond runs after her and rescues her from the water. No sooner has he said “Good morning! My name is Bond, James Bond” then he has someone’s gun pointed at him and a big fight between the two of them takes place in the breaking waves on the beach. Tracy runs to escape, takes Bond’s car to the road, leaps into her car and runs off. Bond turns to the audience and quips “this never happened to the other fellow”.

Music creditsAnd then we’re into the credits; and the point where traditionally we’d hear a title theme; but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as a word phrase, doesn’t have lyrical flexibility. Maybe it would fit in with a marching theme or a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche, but Peter Hunt wasn’t keen on that. John Barry agreed, and instead wrote an instrumental track for the opening. There’s no question in my mind that the opening music is very dull by Bond standards and doesn’t grab your attention. Visually, however, the opening credits are very intriguing, as they show flashbacks from the previous Bond movies, again to soften the audience in preparation for a new actor as Bond – and it’s a device that works very well. Using an hourglass motif in the titles also suggests the passing of time. Very clever.

BullfightAnd the locations? The majority of the film was shot in Switzerland, with the revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, on top of the Schillthorn mountain being the site of Blofeld’s headquarters. Other Alpine scenes were filmed in Bern, Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen and Saas-Fee. Gumbold’s offices were filmed in Bern, and, as luck would have it, there was a building site opposite the building where they were filming which was a perfect fit for the script. The filming switched to Portugal for the coast and beach scenes; the hotel in the first scene was the hotel that the crew stayed at in Cascais, so the pool, the interiors and so on, are all real. The bullfight scene was filmed at Vinhas estate in Zambujal, with Bond and Tracy reuniting in Lisbon and the final scene being shot on a mountain road near Setubal. The indoor scenes were all filmed at Pinewood Studios, and M’s grand country house, Quarterdeck, was filmed in Marlow.

Lazenby as BondBond, James Bond. Fittingly, those are (almost) the first words from George Lazenby He was born in Goulburn, Australia, in 1939; he served in the Australian army, then worked as a car salesman and mechanic, before moving to London in 1963. Still a car salesman, he was spotted by a talent scout who suggested he became a model – and in 1966 he was voted Top Model of the Year, following a hugely lucrative contract in a Fry’s Chocolate commercial.

George LFamously he won the role by excelling in a stunt fight scene screentest, where his combatant was the Russian wrestler Yuri Borienko; by all accounts Borienko was literally floored. Peter Hunt had a job on his hands to make us warm to the new Bond as quickly as possible. And he achieved that by deliberately not making a big thing of it, but just by showing us, in the opening credits, Bond’s cigarettes, his glasses, and other close-ups but not of his complete face. We don’t see his face in full until he introduces himself to the prostrate Tracy. By the time he gets to say his funny line at the end of the scene, we already had accepted him, and didn’t miss Connery for a second.

Bond and TracyBut it doesn’t sound like Lazenby and Bond were meant for each other. Stories abounded that he was difficult to work with, not very professional, and too big for his boots. On the other hand, he always said that he was treated like an outcast, almost sent to Coventry on set, and not given the help he felt he needed as the “new boy”. You choose who to believe. It seems certain that he and co-star Diana Rigg did not get on, with stories about her deliberately eating garlic before their intimate scenes, and her calling him self-obsessed and “bloody impossible”; although Peter Hunt was delighted at the way the two worked together. Despite all advice against the move, Lazenby decided, whilst still making the movie, that he wouldn’t play Bond again; much to his agent’s dismay. And it’s true, his career never reached the dizzying heights of such a role again, although he still appeared on film and TV.

George Lazenby AutographI have his autograph – look, here it is! My cousin Gill worked for him for a few months around the time of the film’s premiere, as what they used to call in those days his “Girl Friday”. I remember seeing a photospread of the two of them in a newspaper around the time of the film. So, for a brief time, we all thought of George as one of the family.

Bond and QueenAs mentioned earlier, most of the contemporary reviewers didn’t think he was a good fit for the role. He may have had the looks, but he lacked the gravitas and the acting ability. However, and all due credit to him, he did at least some of his own stunts (which must have worried the film accountant). It’s also been said that Lazenby’s characterisation of Bond is probably closest to Fleming’s original, getting the right level of arrogance, yet with his vulnerability. Not having read the books, I can’t comment. However, this is the first time that we’ve seen Bond take matters into his own hands, specifically working against M’s instructions. He’s informed that Operation Bedlam is dead, but does that stop him from going back to Switzerland to save Tracy? After all, she saved him. I believe this is true to the book.

Scary bearBoo-boos. Not as many as in previous films – maybe this is a testament to Peter Hunt’s abilities as a director. I only noticed two; there’s a moment where Bond confronts Tracy about the henchman who was waiting for him in Tracy’s hotel room. “Who was he?” he demands of her; except his mouth doesn’t move. When acid is thrown at the glass doors during the siege of Piz Gloria, it burns a huge hole in the panel, but the next minute, it’s disappeared.

Tracy on horsebackThe Bond Girl. Unusually, there’s never any doubt as to who gets the honour of being the Bond Girl in the film – there’s really only one candidate, the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, whom Bond saves from suicide in the opening scenes, then becomes assertively headstrong and bossily obnoxious, before overwhelmingly suddenly melting into Bond’s heart.

Bond and Tracy in the casinoAlso unusually, she has very little to do with the case in hand. Normally the Bond Girl will accompany Bond and another local representative deep into the enemy’s lair and help overthrow them. Not this time. Countess Tracy is outside the action right up until she comes to Bond’s rescue, turning up on the ice rink – although how she knew he was there heaven only knows – and even allowing herself to be wooed by the villain.

Final sceneAnd, of course, with the intention of being the Bond Girl for ever more, they marry at the end of the film and drive off for the life together. Apparently, had Lazenby agreed to make the next film – which would have been The Spy who Loved Me, again directed by Peter Hunt, OHMSS would have ended with them happily driving off; and the next film would have started with Blofeld and Bunt’s retaliation. However, as he made it clear that wasn’t going to happen, the decision was made to kill off poor Tracy then and there. And The Spy who Loved Me wasn’t made until 1977.

Bedroom balconyIn the book, Tracy is a blonde, and Peter Hunt’s first choice for the role was Brigitte Bardot. However, she was unavailable, so Tracy was played by the one and only Dame Diana Rigg. When the film came out she had acted with the Royal Shakespeare Company for a couple of seasons and was already an established TV star because of her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers. However, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was her first major film role. Although she has continued to make films, she is more known for her TV and stage work, and, at the age of 80, she is without question a National Treasure. The fact that it was the wonderful Diana Rigg made it perhaps even more unacceptable to see her die at the end of the film. It was like extinguishing the source of decades of talent. Absolutely shocking.

HelicopterWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first four films, our list of attributes common to the Bond Girls was: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary and vengeful. Kissy from You Only Live Twice is a role apart because of her Japanese heritage. Does Tracy conform to the role, and add any extra traits? I’d say she does all of the above, plus additional bossiness. And she quotes poetry!

Blofeld in the snowThe Villain. It’s a welcome (if that’s the right word) back to Blofeld, this time played by Telly Savalas. Whilst still being mean and vindictive, Savalas’ interpretation is less of a pantomime baddie and more like a real live, believable person; less scarred, more urbane, and with a very ostentatious and effete manner of smoking a cigarette. Whilst he still likes to pay attention to his pussy, his feline accomplice plays a lesser role in this film. As is often the case with the Bond villain, he doesn’t make his appearance for some time: 52 minutes into the action. Telly Savalas, of course, was best known as TV’s Kojak, but had a very long career in films and television, as well as recording his No 1 top selling single of If in 1975. Whilst on set he met and fell in love with Dani Sheridan, who played the American Girl. She was the daughter of actress Dinah Sheridan, and they lived together for ten years, and had a son, Nicholas. Telly Savalas died in 1994 at the age of 72.

Gabriele FerzettiOther memorable characters? Tracy’s father Marc-Ange Draco, a distinguished and elegant gentleman (and crook) if ever there was one, was played by Gabriele Ferzetti, a very successful Italian actor who had appeared in well over a hundred films and TV programmes, predominantly in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in 2015 at the age of 90. He was, by all accounts, as charming in real life as his screen persona, and a joy to work with. His Italian accent was too strong for the role, so his voice was dubbed by actor David de Keyser, who has, in fact, dubbed many films throughout a long career.

George BakerSir Hilary Bray – not in the film for very long as himself, but it’s a nice little character part by George Baker, a very posh chap who is looking forward to losing himself amongst the Brass Rubbings of Britanny, whilst Bond pretends to be him. Ian Fleming thought Baker would be a superb Bond back in the early days – but Broccoli and Saltzman said no. However, when George Lazenby was impersonating Bray in Switzerland, they didn’t think he got his voice quite right, so George Baker was asked to dub him – so, eventually, he did get to play Bond in his own way. This was not his only appearance in a Bond movie; he also appears in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me. He was a very successful actor with a long career, including several years as TV’s Inspector Wexford. He died in 2011 at the age of 80.

Ilse SteppatIrma Bunt – one of those grim-faced Germanic women who populate the James Bond stories, Irma Bunt may seem decent and polite at first, but remember she’s Blofeld’s No 2 and definitely not to be trusted – as we see in the final seconds of the film. She was played by Ilse Steppat, whose first role was Joan of Arc at the age of 15, and who had a successful film career in Germany, particularly in the German adaptations of the works of Edgar Wallace. Sadly she did not live to see international success, as she died of a heart attack only four days after the premiere at the age of only 52.

GirlsThe twelve girls – some are given full identities, like Ruby Bartlett, who’s keenest on getting Bray/Bond into bed, others are just “the English Girl” or “the Scandinavian girl”, and so on. They’re all wide-eyed and innocent – on the surface – giving a humorous aspect to their role, which is, basically, to supply some eye candy as a bevy of beauties. Angela Scoular played Ruby; she appeared in a number of comedy films of the 70s and was married to the actor Leslie Phillips. Joanna Lumley is instantly recognisable as the English girl, Julie Ege, a former Miss Norway, was the Scandinavian girl, and the Irish girl was played by Jenny Hanley, whom I mainly remember in my childhood appearing on ITV’s answer to Blue Peter, Magpie.

Crying at WeddingsBernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. In his attempt to make the film as glamorous as possible, Moneypenny has sharper, more elegant clothes, a stunning hairdo – and a fabulous hat for Bond and Tracy’s wedding. As well as occupying the London office, we see M at his country residence, pursuing his relaxation hobby of lepidoptery. Who knew?

OopsAnd what about the music? The film starts, as usual, with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s all John Barry, until the big fight scene at the end, when the Norman theme returns. Whilst researching this film, I read that many people think this is the best Bond score of all. I must disagree. The arrangement of the opening theme is a drab and lacklustre affair. However, we hear We Have All the Time in the World (which are the last words of both the novel and the film) many times in the first half hour of the film, as a softly performed background romantic theme. It also accompanies Tracy’s arrival at the bullfight, performed with a luscious string arrangement, and that’s a particularly stunning moment. Earlier Bond themes are brought back in a tongue-in-cheek moment; and there’s a great theme to accompany the ski chases.

louis armstrongThe full vocal performance of We Have all the Time in the World, recorded by Louis Armstrong when he himself, poignantly, had not long to live, is an absolute classic; it was Armstrong’s final recording and John Barry’s favourite Bond song. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the romantic scenes of Bond and Tracy falling in love. It’s also nice to hear Do you know how Christmas Trees are Grown, sung by Nina, who had international success in the 60s as part of Nina and Frederick. And, in the same way that the opening credits gave us a visual reminder of the previous Bond films, we hear musical reminders of the earlier themes when Bond, having tendered his resignation, starts to pack up his things; we even hear a little of the Mango Tree song from Dr No sung by Diana Coupland. There’s one other theme, called, fittingly, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which is repeated many times throughout the film, just with slight changes of arrangement; for the most part, it’s quite haunting. And the final arrangement of We Have All the Time in the World is desperately poignant in that last, horrendous, scene.

BobsledCar chases. The film starts with a moderately exciting and brief car chase between Bond and Tracy, driving her red Mercury Cougar XR-7 convertible. The producers wanted Bond to have a Rolls Royce Convertible – but that wasn’t an easy request in those days, so it was scrapped. Later, Tracy drives Bond with three heavies and Irma Bunt in hot pursuit behind her and it merges into a Stock Car Racing event, with our heroes and villains having to dodge the other drivers on the course, which is great fun. But where this film really impresses is with the ski action; all the ski chases, and that amazing bobsled race and fight, where Bond and Blofeld pursue each other at breakneck speed, lobbing grenades, hanging on to the back of the sled for dear life, whilst Blofeld tries to ram Bond’s head against the ice wall.

St BernardCocktails and Casinos. There’s an early casino scene, in the hotel in Cascais, which very nicely helps us judge up the two characters of Bond and Tracy. Draco knows that Bond takes his Martini, shaken not stirred, Bond places an order for a Dom Perignon ’57 (one of his favourites) and will also consider a brandy from the rescuing St. Bernard, provided it’s a 5 Star Hennessey.

PlayboyGadgets. For the second film in a row, Bond uses a cute little safe-breaker to steal documents; this time it also copies them for him, which is very handy. The initial conversation between M and Q reveals that their current range of gadgets is obsolete, and that miniaturisation is all the rage – and Q gets out some radioactive lint. But Peter Hunt didn’t want Bond to rely on gadgets in this film – so that’s all there is!

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; Thunderball hit a peak of around 50 people; and You Only Live Twice was going really well until a mass murder spree towards the end took about 40 lives. And now On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tracy can enjoy a few minutes of wedded bliss:

1) Campbell, an agent working alongside 007 who was hanged on the mountainside by Blofeld’s henchmen

2) Ski workman

3) Skier – ended up in a tree

4) Skier who plummets to his death

5) Skier garrotted by his own ski (by Bond) and then thrown down the mountain

6) Skier, chopped up by the snow plough

7) At least two skiers in the avalanche

8) Grunther murdered by Tracy

9) At least 10 shot during the taking of Piz Gloria

10) Tracy

That’s maybe something in the region of 20 people? That’s possibly the lowest death count in a Bond movie so far. What is the most unusual about this list of deaths in comparison to the previous films is the length of time we wait until someone dies – No 1 pegs it 1 hour and 19 minutes into the film.

Lots of gutsHumour to off-set the death count. Following Bond’s classic asides whenever someone dies in the previous movies, some of his funny lines in this film apply to people who aren’t necessarily dead – maybe that’s because there are fewer deceased than usual. Anyway, here is some more evidence of his gallows humour:

To the henchman, who lost the fight in room 423 when he was thrown through a balustrade: “Gatecrasher… I’ll leave you to tidy up”

“Looks like we’ve hit the rush hour”, says Bond as Tracy careers all around the Stock Car circuit, hotly pursued by Bunt and her boys.

“He had lots of guts” is Bond’s epitaph to the skier caught in the snow plough.

“Maybe you should have been gift wrapped”, he says to the guard tied up in the Werkstatt office.

“He’s branched off”, says Bond as a fallen tree catches Blofeld’s head in its branches – the joke makes us assume that Blofeld is dead.

Also – “just as slight stiffness coming on”, says Bond, as Ruby writes her room number on Bray/Bond’s thigh in lipstick; followed by “it’s true!” when he confirms the old conundrum about what’s worn under the kilt.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic elements, and nothing came across as overtly racist.

However, as usual, there is some sexism, the majority of it turned against Tracy by her father. Whilst Bond thinks she needs a psychiatrist, Draco says that Tracy needs a man to dominate her. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” says Draco, as he knocks Tracy out with a wallop of a smack across the face. The Belles of Hell up in Blofeld’s lair are partly just sexist fodder, very much out of the Austin Powers camp; although it’s a little more complicated than that. Whilst they are obviously being manipulated overall by Blofeld and Bunt, they are nevertheless using their naïve charms for their own ends. Part of Blofeld’s plan to hypnotise the girls into doing what he wants involves attracting them with a pretty thing like a powder compact. In a sense, he’s using the compacts as a weapon against women, but which are attracted to women. Very cynical.

Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Too many nipplesIn South Africa they censored the final caption of the opening credits, where Peter Hunt’s name is given, because there were too many silhouette nipples on show. So in South Africa, it looked as though no one had directed it!

Peter Hunt wanted the character of Tracy to be associated with flowers. Flowers at the wedding, flowers on the bed….. and it’s true, you can follow Tracy’s floral motif through all her scenes.

FlowersThe picture of Tracy’s mother, that holds pride of place on Draco’s side table, is actually a genuine photograph of Diana Rigg’s mother. There’s verisimilitude for you.

When Bond is packing his case following his resignation, he packs Honey Rider’s belt and knife, Red Grant’s watch in From Russia With Love, and the re-breather from Thunderball. All very nostalgic!

Bond finds a Playboy magazine in with the newspapers in Gumbold’s office; a nice nod to the fact that the original novel was first serialised in Playboy in the April, May and June issues in 1963.

The fight in the bell room was written in because Peter Hunt discovered the barn filled with cowbells when they were location hunting and it was far too good an opportunity to pass up.

The scene with the Saint Bernard dog was completely improvised by Lazenby as the dog didn’t do what was expected of him.

At the time it was the longest Bond film, at 142 minutes, a record it kept until Casino Royale; but it doesn’t feel it to me.

“Royal Beluga. North of the Caspian” is a brilliant throwaway line, when Bond carelessly smears a bit of caviar on some toast and walks on.

“You’re hurting me,” says Tracy to Bond, as he prises the gun out of her hand. “I thought that was the idea tonight” he replies, and he slaps her around a bit more. Just what kind of sex night did he have planned??

Steve PlytasHe’s uncredited, but you might recognise the actor Steve Plytas to Bond’s right at the casino table. He was best known as the somewhat unstable chef Kurt, who had a crush on Manuel, hired by Basil Fawlty in the Gourmet Night episode of Fawlty Towers. I met him at the stage door of the Ambassadors Theatre in 1971 where he was playing Mr Paravicini in The Mousetrap. Nice man!

Sensational cinematography – that avalanche! The Swiss Army had planned to create a controlled avalanche, but by the time they were ready to shoot it, all the snow had gone. Snow sceneSo what we see is a combination of library material and clever set work with fake snow.

On the walls of Piz Gloria you often see a crest with the words Arae et foci – the Bleuchamp family motto, which means hearth and home. Orbis non sufficit – The World is not Enough – is the Bond family motto according to the Heraldry of Arms – and would of course be the name of a movie later in the series.

Hippy“Cassette No 7” says Blofeld from his hi-tech console, feeding mind-blowing pre-recorded vibes to the girls; it just seems so quaint that something so sci-fi forward looking would run on old C90s. Ruby’s allergy to chickens, on the face of it being cured by hypnosis, is all very 1960s trendy. But, of course, that’s not what Blofeld’s hypnosis is achieving….

In September 2012 it was announced that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service had topped a poll of Bond fans run by 007 Magazine to determine the greatest ever Bond film.

BAFTA_awardAwards: George Lazenby was nominated in the New Star of the Year – Actor category at the 1970 Golden Globe Award ceremony, but he lost out to Jon Voight for Midnight Cowboy.

Diamonds are ForeverTo sum up. This is an absolute classic; certainly the most exciting of the Bond films to date, with an edgy performance by George Lazenby that works very well in retrospect. Lots of humour and comedic asides, but with a “real feel”; no wonder many 007 fans call this their favourite. Next up is a return to Sean Connery with Diamonds Are Forever; I saw this film when I was about 14 and enjoyed it very much so I am looking forward to seeing how it stands the test of time.

My rating: 5 Sparkles

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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – You Only Live Twice (1967)

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterIn which SPECTRE mastermind a plot to kidnap both American and Soviet astronauts in space, in the hope that Cold War enmity would spark off a war between the two superpowers – thus enabling a new world power to emerge and take control. Even though everyone thinks that James Bond died in a gun attack in a Hong Kong bedroom, his death was faked and M has sent Bond to Tokyo to follow a trail that takes him into Blofeld’s lair – but will he and his pals prevent a world war? Yeah, of course!

Roald_DahlIt had been two years since the previous James Bond film, Thunderball, (if we ignore the spoof Casino Royale), and its budget of $10.3 million was perhaps only a modest increase in comparison with Thunderball’s $9 million; and its box office take of $111.6 million was almost $30 million down on the previous movie. Still, it’s not a bad profit. The budget to create SPECTRE’s volcano lair was almost the same as the entire budget for Dr No! Originally, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was due to be the next in the series, but the need to find mountainous and snowy locations to shoot, coupled with the Bond films’ enormous box office success in Japan, meant that the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to go with the mainly-Tokyo based You Only Live Twice instead. Usual screenwriter Richard Maibaum was working on the producers’ non-Bond movie of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so the producers offered the job to Harold Jack Bloom. They liked his story work, but not his script; so the writing credits went to Roald Dahl, who was a close friend of Ian Fleming. This was Dahl’s first attempt at writing a screenplay, and Harold Jack Bloom was credited as providing additional story material.

lewis gilbertWith previous director Terence Young now working in Europe and Guy Hamilton still needing a break from Bond, the directors approached Lewis Gilbert, who had recently directed the hugely successful Alfie with Michael Caine. Cinematography was by Freddie Young, of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago fame, editing by James Bond stalwart Peter Hunt, and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. During the filming, Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan was leaning out of a helicopter to get a better shot, when another helicopter was caught in a gust of wind and was blown closer. The rotor blade cut his leg which had to be amputated.

YOLT novelYou Only Live Twice was published in 1964 and was the twelfth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. Its title comes from a haiku that Bond wrote in the style of the famous Japanese poet, Basho: “You only live twice/Once when you are born/And once when you look death in the face”. It was the last book to be published in Fleming’s lifetime. Because there is a high travelogue content to the book, and it’s a more introvert story as we see Bond coping (or otherwise) with the death of his wife in the previous book, there isn’t a lot of content that could be adapted easily for an action adventure movie. Writer Roald Dahl therefore had to use a lot of imagination and collaboration with Lewis Gilbert to come up with a workable screenplay.

VladivostokIn the book, a tired, drunk and wasted Bond is given one last chance to turn his spy career around – convincing the Japanese secret service to share information they have about the Soviet Union. The Japanese ask Bond to kill Blofeld and Irma Bunt, who were responsible for the death of Bond’s wife – so he is happy to oblige. Bond is trained as a Japanese coal miner and meets former film star Kissy Suzuki as he infiltrates Blofeld’s garden of death. Bond kills Blofeld, gets Kissy pregnant – and then leaves for Vladivostok. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll realise there are a very few overlapping points between book and film; for example, the whole space-race and spaceship hijack elements were written purely for the film.

Odeon AylesburyI’m pretty sure I saw You Only Live Twice in a double-bill at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John in the mid-1970s; probably with Goldfinger. I am also certain this would have been one of those occasions when the cinema manager had to come in and stop us from chatting and giggling all the way through. To those denizens of 1970s Aylesbury, I can only humbly apologise. John made me do it.

Japan bookAlthough pre-sales for the book were very high, it received only mixed reviews. The Times wrote: “as a moderate to middling travelogue what follows will just about do … the plot with its concomitant sadism does not really get going until more than half way through”; The Listener noted: “if interest flags, as it may do, the book can be treated as a tourist guide to some of the more interesting parts of Japan”; and the Guardian complained: “of the 260 pages of You Only Live Twice … only 60 are concerned with the actual business of a thriller”. The film fared better, with Entertainment Weekly saying it “pushes the series to the outer edge of coolness”, Filmcritic calling it one of James Bond’s most memorable adventures, but finding the plot “protracting and quite confusing”, and Rotten Tomatoes concluding that: “with exotic locales, impressive special effects, and a worthy central villain, You Only Live Twice overcomes a messy and implausible story to deliver another memorable early Bond flick.” My own opinion is that this was possibly the most entertaining of the Bond movies at the time; I found the combination of action, villainy and humour just about right.

Connery as BondThe opening credits begin, as usual, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. As in Thunderball, Bond is now clearly Sean Connery – in the first three films it was stunt man Bob Simmons. However, the music – if my ears do not deceive me – has been re-recorded; it’s a slightly different arrangement, more “stereo” sounding and maybe just a hint slower.

Astronaut cut offWe’re in outer space. NASA spacecraft Jupiter 16 is calmly and successfully achieving its mission. As one of the astronauts – Chris – emerges from the craft for a spacewalk exercise, a security control in Hawaii reports an unidentified object closing fast on Jupiter 16. As it gets closer, its head opens up as though it were some hungry shark with gaping teeth – and it swallows up the NASA craft. And, as it closes its pincers, it cuts off the cable that’s been linking Astronaut Chris to the main body of the craft – and he’s left to float around in space for eternity. Gruesome!

Bond in Hong KongBack on earth, a summit conference is held where the Americans accuse the Russians of having stolen their spacecraft – a fact which the Russians deny, affirming that they are a peaceful nation. Another American spaceship will be launched in twenty days’ time, and the Americans confirm that any interference by the Russians will be looked on as an act of war. The British attempt to intercede, querying why the Russians would wish to capture an American spaceship. As British intelligence indicates that the spaceship came down in the Sea of Japan area, Her Majesty’s Government intends to investigate this event in and around Japan. “In fact,” says the security adviser, “our man in Hong Kong is working on it now” – a cue for the camera to cut to James Bond, in flagrante delicto with Ling, a Chinese lady. They have a rather saucy conversation – “darling, I give you very best duck” – and then she presses a button which makes the fold-down bed fold back up into the wall, with Bond trapped inside. She opens the door to her room and a couple of heavies with machine guns open fire on the wall, with Bond just behind the surface. When the police arrive, and draw back the bed, a lifeless Bond is still trapped between the blood-soaked sheets. “We’re too late,” says one policeman to his colleague. “Well, at least he died on the job” comes the knowing reply; “he’d have wanted it this way” says the other.

Opening CreditsAnd then we’re into the credits, and the superb title theme, sung by Nancy Sinatra. Apparently, it was originally offered to father Frank, but he turned it down in favour of his daughter. She was the first non-British performer to sing a James Bond movie theme. Surprisingly, for an artist of her abilities, she was so nervous about recording the song that it took twenty-five different takes to complete it. As she said in an interview, she was intimidated by the fact that this was strong, serious singing as opposed to the funny and light-hearted recordings for which she had become famous. In the end, the final song version used in the film was made up of the best parts from each of those twenty-five recordings – a true patchwork. The song reached No 11 in the UK charts, but only 44 in the US. I’d contend that it’s one of the best three Bond themes ever – but you might not agree!

Opening CreditsVisually, the opening credits are very appealing and intriguing. An abstract Japanese chrysanthemum design is used to suggest not only the traditions of Japan, but also the iris of an eye, or a parasol; interspersed with these images are the faces and bodies of sultry Japanese girls and the hot fiery spurting lava of a volcano. You can read whatever symbolism you like into all of this.

Welcome to TokyoAnd the locations? This is an unusual Bond film in that it almost entirely takes place in one country – Japan. Only the opening sequence, of Bond’s faked death, takes place in Hong Kong. The majority of the filming took place in Japan too. The exceptions to this were the outside view of the summit conference being filmed in Alaska, Bond’s burial at sea on board the HMS Tenby was shot off Gibraltar, while his rescue from the sea bed was filmed in the Bahamas; and a few internal scenes were shot at Pinewood. The Osato Chemicals building was in fact the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo, and SPECTRE’s volcano lair was Mount Shinmoedake.

Ninja CastleWhile scouting locations in Japan, the chief production team narrowly escaped death. On March 5, 1966, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Lewis Gilbert, Freddie Young, and Ken Adam were booked to leave Japan on BOAC flight 911 departing Tokyo for Hong Kong and London. Two hours before their Boeing 707 flight departed, the team were invited to an unexpected ninja demonstration, and so missed their plane. Their flight took off as scheduled, but twenty-five minutes after take-off, the plane disintegrated over Mt. Fuji, killing everyone on board. The title You Only Live Twice must never have seemed so sinister.

007Bond, James Bond. Again Connery doesn’t get to utter that iconic sentence in this film. In fact, on a personal level, this was a very unhappy film. Connery had been lured back to play the role again despite being tired of Bond and fearing being typecast. So, in addition to earning $800,000 as a fee, he also received 25% of the net merchandise royalty, which must have been one helluva lotta wonga. By all accounts he was his usual professional and generous performer on set. But he disliked all the media attention in Japan, where the films were more important to people than even their own families, and where he was constantly being papped. He was even photographed in a toilet, which displeased him significantly. He was also displeased by the marketing phrase “Sean Connery IS James Bond”, and offended the locals by stating in an interview that Japanese women weren’t attractive. During filming, Connery announced that this would be his last ever Bond film; however, Broccoli and Saltzman had other ideas. Nevertheless, it is said that the relationship between star and producers had broken down so badly that he refused to act if they were on the set.

Helicopter landingBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always – let’s have a look at some of them! When Bond’s apparently dead body is brought on board the submarine, from the depths of the ocean, the packaging that encloses it is surprisingly dry! When Osato and Brandt land on the helicopter landing pad to meet Bond (masquerading as Mr. Fischer), the helicopter lands across the top of the “H” on the pad, near the edge of the circle, and it is facing slightly to the left of the camera. However, in the next scene it has moved further inside the circle, facing in a different direction, alongside the H. Clever stuff! When Bond undertakes his transformation to become Japanese, he has his chest hair all shaved off. But when he and Kissy are in the life raft at the end of the movie, magically it has all returned. He’s not 007 for nothing!

Bond and Hans fightWhen Bond is fighting Blofeld’s henchman Hans, Bond gets knocked over near the fireplace, and you can hear the sound of glass breaking. However, there are no glass objects anywhere him! When Aki is driving Bond to see Henderson, she’s sitting on the right side. As they approach Henderson’s residence, she’s on the left, but when the camera cuts to a close-up, she is back on the right again. Before Bond (disguised as a SPECTRE astronaut) is brought before Blofeld in the command room, the ‘Blofeld’ sitting in his chair has hair which can be seen briefly from the rear of the chair. However, when he introduces himself to Bond a moment later he is clearly bald – an error caused by using film of both actors playing Blofeld.

Marrying KissyThe Bond Girl. It’s become something of a familiar challenge that it’s not obvious from the start who exactly is The Bond Girl in any of the films. The Bond Girl in Thunderball is the fourth girl with whom he has some kind of encounter; and it’s the same here. James Bond’s lucky number sure is four!

LingFirst we see him with Ling, with whom he starts to say that “We’ve had some interesting times together Ling, I’ll be sorry to go” before she pushes the button and uprights the bed into the wall, with him in it. It’s impossible to say whilst you’re watching the film whether she’s an agent working against him (almost getting him murdered) or working with him (enabling the faking of his death) – the latter is in fact true. Whatever, their time together is all too short and sweet. Ling was played by Chinese born Tsai Chin, whose career spanned many decades and appearances as wide range as in The World of Suzie Wong, Flower Drum Song, The Virgin Soldiers, and a wide range of other television appearances. It is said that her popularity was such in the 60s that she had a leopard at London Zoo named after her! She was already friends with director Lewis Gilbert and his wife before the film was shot – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, it’s who you know. She would return to the world of James Bond in the 2006 production of Casino Royale, where she played Madame Wu, a poker player. She’s been based in Hollywood for many years and is still working at the age of 85.

HelgaNext contender for the title of Bond Girl is Helga Brandt – ostensibly Osato’s secretary but really Number 11 in SPECTRE, so as she’s working for the other side, she could never be a Bond Girl, could she? She’s a ruthless mass of raw sexuality, with her strong auburn hair, dominatrix expression and sultry fashion sense. The things I do for England, says Bond, as he snips the straps on her evening dress with a surgeon’s knife. But she’s not quite mistress of her game, and Blofeld only accepts perfection, so she’s fiendishly eliminated, and the hungry piranhas are grateful. She was played by Karin Dor, who appeared in dozens of films, mainly in German, and lived partly in Munich and partly in the United States. She died in 2017 at the age of 79.

AkiThen there’s Aki. Aki really should have been the Bond Girl because she’s gutsy but so sweet. She’s there at the Sumo, ready to introduce Bond to Henderson. She’s there to rescue Bond when he has to flee the Osato Building. She’s there to help him get advice from Tanaka and drive him to the Kobe docks. And she’s there in his bed whenever he wants. She even – albeit accidentally – provides him the ultimate service by ingesting the poison that was meant for him. Who could do more? Aki was played by Akiko Wakabayashi, who specifically asked if the character’s name could be changed to Aki (in other words, her own name) rather than Suki, as originally intended. She appeared in a number of Japanese films in the late 50s and early 60s, but only one more after You Only Live Twice, when she retired to have a family. She’s now 77 and still living in Japan.

Kissy and BondBut I guess the accolade of Bond Girl in this film must go to Kissy Suzuki, played by Mie Hama. Kissy is a Ninja Agent, working for Bond’s Japanese colleague Tanaka; she marries Bond in order to create for him a convincing Japanese cover. But when it comes to honeymoon night, she confirms that the relationship is strictly business and he has to sleep in a corner. However, she dutifully assists Bond in his attack on SPECTRE’s lair, and, of course, it’s she who is rescued with him in a life-raft in what appears to be the same closing scene of almost every Bond movie. Mie Hama was working as a bus conductor when she was discovered by film producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, most famous for having created Godzilla. She had already appeared in about sixty Japanese movies by the time she worked on You Only Live Twice. Originally she was hired to play Aki (or, rather, Suki) but she had difficulty with the English words and so the two actresses swapped roles – as Kissy had fewer lines than Aki. Mie Hama retired from films in 1989 and since has had a varied career as a writer, TV and radio host, and art connoisseur. She’s 75 now and still going strong.

KissyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first four films, our list of attributes common to the Bond Girls was: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary and vengeful. Kissy doesn’t really comply with many of these attributes; the Japanese tradition makes her a more demure, graceful and moral person. Mie Hama, however, was perhaps less demure when she appeared in Playboy in a 1967 nude pictorial “007’s Oriental Eyefuls” as the first Asian woman to appear in the magazine.

BlofeldThe Villain. You Only Live Twice is our first opportunity finally to meet the one and only Blofeld. Disfigured and measured of speech, he disarmingly strokes his pussy whilst ordering the death both of his enemies and those working for him who have let him down. Blofeld survives at the end of the film – he’s the first Bond villain to do so – and he will go on to make five more appearances in subsequent Bond films. But this is the only film in which he is played by Donald Pleasence. Originally, he was to have been played by Czech actor Jan Werich, who does appear in the film with his back to the audience – his tufts of hair appearing to the camera, whilst Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is totally bald. But Werich’s characterisation of Blofeld was considered insufficiently menacing. Pleasence was said to have found the make-up for Blofeld incredibly uncomfortable, but, then, you have to suffer for your art. He was one of our finest film actors, having made more than a hundred movies, and he died in 1995 at the age of 75.

HendersonOther memorable characters
? Australian Intelligence agent Dikko Henderson – played by Charles Gray – is not exactly a memorable character, because he doesn’t hang around long enough for us to get interested in him. He does, however, have a very memorable death; stabbed in the back whilst standing in front of one of those Japanese paper-thin screen walls. Charles Gray would go on to play Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, as well as many other notable film and TV roles.

Kill himTeru Shimada gives an excellent, understated, performance as Osato, the industrialist who’s secretly a SPECTRE agent; suitably inscrutable, on the surface dignified and urbane, whilst underneath, happy to be an assassin. Osato’s simple instruction “kill him” as Bond is leaving his offices is amusingly terse! Teru Shimada was a Japanese-American actor who first appeared in films in the early 1930s and carried on working until 1975. He died in Los Angeles in 1988, aged 82.

TanakaTiger Tanaka is the head of the Japanese Secret Service, living secretly underground in Tokyo, with his own train network, his own team of ninjas, and he plays a very active part in assisting Bond in the attack on the SPECTRE volcano lair. He is supremely authoritative – and you’d say was one of the most powerful people in the country. He was played by Tetsuro Tamba, who appeared in around a hundred films between 1952 and his death in 2006 at the age of 84. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietti, who had also dubbed Adolfo Celi’s voice as Emilio Largo in Thunderball.

M & MoneypennyNo Felix Leiter this time – he’ll return in Diamonds are Forever – but Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. This time, M and Moneypenny aren’t in their London office but on board one of Her Majesty’s submarines; but M is his usual, no-nonsense self, and Moneypenny is only too happy to prevent Bond’s lingering romance with Kissy from taking hold. The relationship between Q and Bond continues to be fractious, although Q’s latest gadgets for use on the autogyro certainly save Bond’s life.

nancy-sinatra-you-only-live-twice-reprise-4And what about the music? The film starts, as usual, with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s all John Barry, although the lyrics to the title song, You Only Live Twice are by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a cracker of a song, and its legacy lives on in such examples as Robbie Williams’ Millennium. An earlier version was sung by Julie Rogers, who expected it to be used in the film, but the producers said it was just a demo – much to Ms Rogers’ disappointment, no doubt.

Marriage sceneParts of the soundtrack that I particularly enjoyed included the classic, percussion-heavy theme that always accompanies a car chase; this time we also hear it when Little Nellie goes up. There’s an excellent, fast, brassy version of You Only Live Twice whilst they’re capering around Kobe Docks. Early in the film when Bond arrives in Tokyo, there’s a charming variation on the You Only Live Twice theme, softly played with some gently twanging guitars in the background. And there’s the gentle, romantic accompaniment to the wedding scene.

On the roadCar chases. There’s just the one car chase; when Aki rescues Bond from being shot by Osato’s henchmen, driving her Toyota 2000GT and they are chased by the wannabe killers. Unusually, Bond doesn’t drive a car in this film. Amusingly, nor does Aki; Akiko Wakabayashi hadn’t learned how to drive, so six stuntmen created the illusion of her driving, by attaching a cable, and pulling it from outside of the frame. Stuntmen also substituted for her in long camera shots by wearing black wigs.

Henderson mixing drinksCocktails and Casinos. Henderson says to Bond when offering a drink “Stirred, not shaken. That was right, wasn’t it?” Bond then replies: “Perfect”, and you can just hear a tinge of disappointment in his voice. Of course, Bond usually drinks his Vodka Martinis shaken, not stirred, so this was an error. But Lewis Gilbert decided to keep it in; and it shows Bond’s generosity of spirit when someone he meets for the first time gets it wrong, but he wants to be on good terms with him. Apart from that, Bond grimaces at the taste of Siamese vodka, delights at sake if it’s served at 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit and allows himself to be won over by the offer of a Dom Perignon ’59. Casinos don’t feature in this Bond movie.

Little NellieGadgets. Bond uses a cute little safe-breaker when he’s stealing the papers from the Osato offices; apart from that Tanaka is proud to show him the cigarette gun, which is a nifty little wheeze, and Q reveals the additional extras that have been fitted on to Little Nellie, the autogyro; two machine guns, rocket launchers and heat seeking air to air missiles, two flame guns and smoke ejectors, aerial mines and a cine camera in the helmet. I think that sums it up! Other than that, there are perhaps somewhat fewer gadgets in this film than we’ve been spoilt with on previous occasions? Does Q need to go back to college?

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; and Thunderball offers up around 50 people – plus a shark. How about You Only Live Twice? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Kissy can get nudged into safety by the surprise appearance of a submarine:

1) Dikko Henderson – stabbed, like Polonius, through the arras

2) Henderson’s killer, knifed by Bond

3) Henchman who drove Bond to the Osato office – brained by an ancient Japanese sculpture in a fight with Bond

4) Guard in the Osato carpark, shot by Bond

5) The woman who took the photo of the Ning-Po ship (even though we never met her, RIP)

6) 4 henchmen in a car that gets lifted off the road surface by a helicopter with a huge magnet and then gets dropped into the sea – presumably all four drown

7) Somewhere between 3 and 6 men attacked at Kobe Docks

8) 4 helicopter pilots, individually killed by Bond in the autogyro, using the various gadgets that Q had supplied.

9) Helga – dipped into the piranha pool by Blofeld.

10) The poisoner who kills Aki – shot by Bond

11) Aki – killed by the poisoner.

12) The ninja who tries to bayonet Bond – bayonetted by Bond.

13) The girl in the boat that Kissy sees before and after death (again RIP in absentia)

14) The man in red working in SPECTRE’s lair.

15) Everyone else who dies in the crater.

16) Osato

17) One last henchman.

That’s maybe something in the region of 40 people.

Piranha timeHumour to off-set the death count
. Following Bond’s classic asides whenever someone dies in the previous movies, here are some more gems to accompany those bereft of life to the great yonder:

After the four car-bound henchmen are drowned at sea, Bond quips “A drop in the ocean.”

Of the four helicopter pilots who try to gun down Bond and Little Nellie, he says: “Four big shots made improper advances towards her but she defended her honour with great success.”

When henchman Hans gets piranha’d he adds “Bon appetit.”

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic elements, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Bond changing his appearance to look Japanese. If that had happened on Broadway or the West End today we would call it “yellowface”. However, in those days, I don’t think the same sensibilities applied, and it’s not as though Bond is doing it in any way to make fun of or discriminate against his Japanese colleagues – it’s purely to make it easier to infiltrate the volcano lair.

However, as usual, when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s check that definition of sexism again, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Bond’s first line in the film is “why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” which caused a big intake of breath in our household when we watched it again recently. I can’t quite put my finger on why this line made us feel so uneasy, but it did. Another line, that is distinctly sexist, is Tanaka’s decree that “in Japan, men always come first; women come second”. He and Bond then use four girls for massage and whatever else they might like, without the girls having any say in the matter. They are purely a commodity; and they spend the entire time sitting around in – not even bikinis – but bra and panties.

As does poor Kissy Suzuki, who has to clamber up and down a volcano edge in just her underwear. It’s purely for titillation, purely to show which gender calls all the shots and which gender abides by those rules. No wonder things have changed nowadays. However, Japan in the 1960s was not a liberated environment for women, and, although today this treatment of women feels very uncomfortable, for the time this was a fairly accurate assessment of women’s role in Japanese society.

When Osato criticises Bond for smoking, saying it is unhealthy for the chest, Helga passes him the drink with the line “Mr Osato believes in a healthy chest” – to which Bond simply replies, “really?”

Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Dr EvilAlthough Thunderball’s plot is satirised in Austin Powers, Donald Pleasence is definitely the inspiration for Dr. Evil.

This is the first Bond film where I have really noticed the beautiful cinematography. There are some amazing sunsets, and the overwhelming sense of natural Japanese tranquillity comes through strongly in many scenes. There’s also the wonderful aerial shot of Bond on the roof of the docks building, punching his way through a number of pursuing henchmen. It’s a very arresting shot.

With all that CCTV going on, how come Blofeld and the gang don’t realise that Bond, Tanaka and Kissy are clambering about on their roof?

Inevitably, I guess, much of the content of this film is very much in the spirit of the time. Space travel was so cool in those days, so exciting; everyone was a mini-expert on spaceships; many TV series were based in space or had the possibility of “other life” as a subject. This was before any moon landings had actually taken place, so the competition between America and the Soviet Union to be the first was red hot. When the Americans say they’ve got another spacecraft going up in twenty days’ time, you realise that, in those days, spaceships were almost like buses. Miss one, another will be along shortly.

Look how terrified the poor cat is, whilst bombs are going off all round! Apparently, it went missing for two days and would never go on a film set again. Verging on animal cruelty, I’d say.

Awards: Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British Art Direction (Colour), but the award went to John Box for his work on A Man for All Seasons.

OHMSS posterTo sum up. Perhaps surprisingly, this was the first time that the box office takings for a Bond movie were less than for the previous film – so from that perspective, you might consider it failed, albeit slightly. However, in my humble opinion, this is the most entertaining James Bond film so far in the canon. The evilest villain, all kinds of Bond Girls, some witty one-liners, and a lot of engrossing (rather than tedious) action. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of You Only Live Twice – and whether you agree with me! Next up is the first Bond film that I saw at the cinema, when I was a nipper – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and a change of Bond, as George Lazenby takes the stage.

My rating: 5 Sparkles

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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Casino Royale (1967)

Casino RoyaleIn which Sir James Bond is coaxed out of retirement after M has been assassinated (by himself) and Agent Mimi has taken the place of M’s widow and fallen in love with Bond’s robust strength and physical magnificence. In order to defeat SMERSH, all British agents take on the name James Bond, but the real Bond finally meets his love child from his relationship with superspy Mata Hari (Mata Bond), and, with assistance from more Bond girls than you can shake a stick at, overthrows the evil plans of Dr Noah, before each and every one of them dies in a massive conflagration. And to think that some of the actors involved in this film actually thought it was going to be serious.

Charles K FeldmanBut no. This is the spoof Casino Royale, and not to be confused with the Eon Casino Royale that hit the screens in 2006. Back in 1955, Ian Fleming sold the film rights to producer Gregory Ratoff, but Ratoff failed to secure the funding before he died in 1960. Charles K Feldman then obtained the rights from Ratoff’s widow. Cubby Broccoli offered to buy the rights from him, but Feldman refused, as he had plans to make the film, with Howard Hawks directing and starring Cary Grant as Bond. But with the great success of Dr No, Feldman realised he couldn’t compete with the Eon/Connery/Broccoli/Saltzman team and had to think again. In 1964 further negotiations were underway with Eon Productions to make the film but personal disagreements between the producers made things difficult and, anyway, Connery was looking for a million dollars to make the film – which was outside Feldman’s budget. Eventually Feldman offered it to Columbia, and, as the Bond movies had made the whole idea of spy films popular, decided to make it as a satirical, comedy spoof.

Ben HechtThe screenplay was to be written by Ben Hecht, of Scarface and The Front Page fame. However, he died two days before his final version was ready to be presented to Feldman. It was subsequently re-written by Billy Wilder, and then re-worked by the credited writers, Wolf Mankowitz, John Law and Michael Sayers. In addition, and for reasons that will become clear, it is said that Peter Sellers commissioned Terry Southern (with whom he had worked on Dr Strangelove) to re-write all the scenes in which Sellers appeared. So, clearly, the script went through several hands before achieving its final version. If that wasn’t confusing enough, the film eventually benefited (if that’s the word) from having no fewer than six directors. Val Guest directed the scenes with Woody Allen and David Niven, and was in charge of stitching the whole thing together at the end. Kenneth Hughes directed the Berlin scenes, John Huston directed the early scenes at Bond’s mansion and the Scottish castle, Joseph McGrath directed the scenes with Peter Sellers, Orson Welles and Ursula Andress, Robert Parrish directed other scenes with Sellers and Welles, and finally, Richard Talmadge, with his speciality in stunt work, directed the final scenes at the casino. Too many cooks? If you watch the film and think it’s unconnected, episodic, bitty and completely out of control, that’s why.

Val GuestIt doesn’t stop there though. Peter Sellers and Orson Welles had a huge on-set falling-out, primarily because Princess Margaret (a friend of Sellers) visited the set and Sellers expected to bathe in her glamour and attention; however, by all accounts she cut Sellers and spent the whole time fangirling Welles. Not for the first time, nor the last, Sellers stomped off the set. That’s why he engaged Terry Southern to write his lines, in order to get the better of Welles and make himself look more important. Sellers refused to be in Welles’ presence, so their baccarat game scenes were filmed separately, with a double standing in for Sellers. There are two versions of the following tale; one is that, eventually, Sellers walked off the set, never to return; the other is that he was fired by Val Guest before the end of filming for being so unreasonable. Either way, it left a whole number of unresolved plot lines hanging, requiring some imaginative deep thinking from the directors as to what to do. No wonder the end of the film just feels like a mindless mish-mash of ideas and lines.

Woody AllenCasino Royale’s original budget was a relatively modest $6 million, but after the rewrites, the stormings-out and all the other tensions and costs, the eventual cost to make it more than doubled to over $12 million. That made it unquestionably the most expensive Bond movie at the time. Its box office take of $41.7 million was nothing like as much as the regular Eon Production films – but at least it was still a profit. Apparently, there was a lot of wastage. Woody Allen spoke of being brought over from America way ahead of when he was required on set, spending weeks in luxury hotels totally needlessly; although, whilst he was waiting, it did give him the time to write the screenplay for Take the Money and Run. And, despite his leaving the production in the lurch a few times, Peter Sellers had negotiated a resounding 3% of gross profits. That’s quite some fee.

Casino Royale bookThe book of Casino Royale was published in 1953 and was the first in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. There’s very little crossover between the content of the book and this film. In the book, Bond plays baccarat with SMERSH agent Le Chiffre in order to deprive the enemy of funds. Eventually, with a little help from Felix Leiter, he wins, and Le Chiffre is murdered by one of his own agents. Bond and his Soviet assistant Vesper Lynd become lovers; but she takes her own life when it’s revealed she’s a Russian double agent. In the film, of course, it’s Evelyn Tremble who plays baccarat with Le Chiffre, and it’s Tremble with whom Vesper becomes enamoured. Leiter doesn’t appear in the film – and all the other film characters don’t appear in the book!

Milk vanDespite its very obvious failings, I have a very soft spot for this film. It was one of the first times that I was taken to the cinema as a child – I would have been seven or eight – and of course most of it would have gone completely over my head. However, I do remember laughing at some of the slapstick elements – particularly the out of control milk van. And I absolutely loved the score – more of which later.

stupid endingMost of the critics at the time weren’t impressed. The Chicago Sun-Times said “this is possibly the most indulgent film ever made”; Variety said it was “a conglomeration of frenzied situations, ‘in’ gags and special effects, lacking discipline and cohesion”, and the New York Times called the ending “reckless, disconnected nonsense”. With the benefit of hindsight, some of today’s commentators have been a little kinder. Cinema historian Robert von Dassanowsky said “like Casablanca, Casino Royale is a film of momentary vision, collaboration, adaption, pastiche, and accident. It is the anti-auteur work of all time, a film shaped by the very zeitgeist it took on.” AllMovie called it “the original ultimate spy spoof”, and “a satire to the highest degree”. My own personal opinion is that it is crammed with excess, a delightful sense of parody, some extremely funny scenes and lines, and it’s 60s Retro of the highest order. Sadly, nothing can cover up its immensely manic, tedious and stupid ending, but you can’t have everything.

Parisian pissoirAs this is nothing to do with the Eon Production films, don’t expect the opening credits to begin with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen. This is pure parody, so we start with a saucy visual joke. Bond – as played by Peter Sellers – meets Mathis of the Special Police in a Parisian pissoir. We can only see them from the chest up. “These are my credentials”, says Mathis, as Bond gazes down towards his nether regions. “They appear to be in order” replies Bond. And it’s straight into the opening titles and the magnificent Casino Royale theme, written by Burt Bacharach and performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

titlesThe titles feature the names of the lead performers with an embellished (and animated) capital letter at the beginning of their first name – rather like one might see in a lavish old book. However, the animation that we can see inside the letter shows many of the characters strumming on a heavenly lyre – so we know, before it starts, that they die! Peter Sellers, of course, gets top billing, followed by Ursula Andress and David Niven; so, interestingly, James Bond is given third billing in this film. The anarchic animation of the opening credits is pure swinging sixties.

Mereworth CastleAnd the locations? Unlike the other Bond films so far, this is a very British-based story. The scenes depicting Trafalgar Square and 10 Downing Street were indeed shot at those esteemed locations. Sir James Bond’s stately pile was filmed at Mereworth Castle in Kent, M’s Scottish castle was filmed at Killeen Castle in Co Meath, in Ireland; other scenes were shot in Killin in Perthshire and Windsor in Berkshire. In the book, the Casino Royale itself is located in the fictional French town of Royale-les-Eaux. However, I can only presume that the casino in the film was on the set of Pinewood, Shepperton or Twickenham Studios, where the majority of the film was shot.

David NivenBond, James Bond. David Niven has a damn good stab at creating what James Bond might have become in retirement (tongue firmly in cheek, of course). Prudish, dedicated to Debussy, and with a disconcerting stammer, all that womanising is way behind him now, and he loves to live a comfortable but reclusive life, with lions on his front drive and a black rose in his garden. Once he’s back in the saddle as head of MI6, he’s self-assured, debonair and really quite mischievous. I haven’t really seen David Niven in many films, but I think he’s terrific in this. He was, of course, a much lauded and experienced actor, having appeared in almost one hundred films between 1932 and his death in 1983. His two volumes of autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon, and Bring on the Empty Horses were massively successful, and he was something of a war hero too, joining the army on the day the Second World War started, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

steel barBoo-boos. Continuity errors and mistakes don’t feel quite so important in an anarchic comedy like this, but there are a few moments worth noting. In the scene where Le Chiffre, who is obsessed with magic, levitates a woman over the baccarat table, you can actually see the steel bar that’s holding her up; and when M’s widow enters Bond’s bedroom, you can see the reflection of the cameraman in a mirror on the wall. When the remotely operated milk van is chugging its merry way around the roads of Berkshire, in one scene it swerves and loses half its milk crates into the street; seconds later, it’s fully laden again. Maybe Le Chiffre was working his magic.

Deborah KerrThe Bond Girl. If it’s a Bond film, it’s got to have a Bond girl, right? This one, as befits its excessive status, has at least four. Agent Mimi is first up – she’s a SMERSH agent pretending to be M’s widow, the Lady Fiona McTarry. She’s desperate to seduce and discredit the very upright Bond – and encourages all M’s “daughters” (eleven of them, aged between 16 and 19 – we are on very shaky ground here) to do the same. But when she sees how successfully Bond “pays the piper” by handling those cannonballs, she can’t hide her genuine love for the man. Superbe! Formidable! Splendide! Bravo! Magnifique!!!! she moans. Agent Mimi was played by Deborah Kerr, a fine, experienced actress, best known for her appearances in The King and I, and on stage in many plays.

Joanna PettetThen there’s Mata Bond, his estranged daughter following an intimate liaison with the famous spy Mata Hari. She’s full of spirit but a bit annoyed with him for being an absentee father. But she’s up for a fine piece of espionage as she’s driven to Berlin to infiltrate International Mothers’ Help, an au pair service that is a cover for a SMERSH training centre. Later, she’s captured in a giant flying saucer – it happens; and it’s while on their mission to rescue her that the Bonds all get trapped in the Casino Royale. Mata was played by Joanna Pettet, whose film career started promisingly with a number of good roles in the 1960s, and then she migrated to small roles in dozens of TV series.

Barbara BouchetAnother Bond Girl that Bond really oughtn’t to be attracted by is Miss Moneypenny – in fact, she’s Miss Moneypenny’s daughter, and we probably oughtn’t to ask who her father is. Unlike the traditional Moneypenny, this one’s more prepared to get her hands dirty out in the field. Her finest hour is when she samples all the contenders for a new Bond to be trained to resist the attractions of women; as I say, getting dirty in the field. Moneypenny was played by Barbara Bouchet, who has appeared in dozens of films, mainly in Italy, and who branched out into fitness books and videos and still has a successful fitness studio in Rome.

Daliah LaviCertainly not to go unmentioned is The Detainer; the British spy who tricks Dr Noah into taking his own atomic pill. She’s not really a Bond Girl though – because she hardly has anything to do with Bond. She was played by Daliah Lavi, an Israeli actress, singer and model, who appeared in a few films and also found fame as a Schlager singer in Germany. She died in 2017 at the age of 74. Also not to go unmentioned, and also not a Bond Girl, is Miss Goodthighs. She’s a SMERSH agent who attempts to kill Evelyn Tremble at the Casino; so as she’s not working with Bond, but working against him, she’s a baddie. She was played by Jacqueline Bisset, whose film career hasn’t stopped since she appeared in her first movie in 1965.

Ursula AndressBut we definitely have to include Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd. Ms Andress, of course, played Honey Ryder in Dr No, and so was already a Bond Girl before Casino Royale came along. Vesper Lynd has been tempted back into espionage in return for writing off her tax arrears. She approaches Evelyn Tremble to get him to play baccarat against Le Chiffre (almost a part of the original novel emerging there!) Whilst she and Tremble have a definite dalliance, at the end she betrays him because she is a double agent after all. But, anyway, everyone dies, so what’s the difference?

Dr NoahThe Villain. Dr Noah – no real clue necessary to guess where his name came from – has a plan to use biological warfare to make all women beautiful and kill all men over 4 foot 6 inches tall. Much to everyone’s dismay, Dr Noah turns out to be little Jimmy Bond, James’ nephew, who cannot speak in his presence because he’s so overawed. But he is hoist by his own petard when he’s tricked into swallowing his own atomic pill – which causes the grand explosion at Casino Royale and the subsequent death of all and sundry. He was played by Woody Allen, who needs no introduction in the world of cinema. It is said, though, that he was so aghast at the awful management of this film – the on-set arguments, the wasted time, the six directors, and so on – that he vowed never to let anyone else direct a film that he was involved in. So it did contribute something significant to the world of cinema!

Orson WellesOther memorable characters? Casino Royale is so full of tiny roles played by significant actors, that, to be honest, I don’t know where to begin? I suppose first up must be Orson Welles’ Le Chiffre, the SMERSH agent who loves his baccarat not quite as much as his magic. Orson Welles, of course, had an extraordinary career in all the arts – and I believe the feelings between him and Peter Sellers were mutual.

Peter SellersAh yes, Peter Sellers, who played Evelyn Tremble. A man of amazing talent, and some (obviously) difficult problems. He punched director Joseph McGrath who said he would never work with him again. Some of the frustration in making the film must have come from the fact that Sellers thought this was going to be a relatively straight film, and that he would take a relatively straight and serious role. This was never going to happen.

Jean-Paul BelmondoI doubt if I’ll name all the significant performers in this film. Peter O’Toole, Jean-Paul Belmondo (at the time, Ursula Andress’ other half) and George Raft all make brief cameo appearances with a couple of lines at the most. Racing Driver Stirling Moss doesn’t say a word, nor does M’s driver, John le Mesurier. Flavour of the month at the time, Anna Quayle is a terrifying Frau Hoffner, accompanied by the battery-driven, sex-mad Polo played by Ronnie Corbett. John Huston directed himself playing M; Charles Boyer and William Holden are the other two Intelligence Men in the opening scene. Bernard Cribbins drives a taxi all the way to Berlin; Derek Nimmo is Bond’s new office assistant, Hadley; Geoffrey Bayldon (aka Catweazle) is Q, with John Wells as his simpering assistant, Fordyce. Alexandra Bastedo, she of The Champions, features as M’s “daughter” Meg. Richard Wattis is the British Army officer present at the auction that was to be chaired by Vladek Sheybal (Kronsteen in From Russia with Love). The list goes on, but I’ll stop there.

Dusty Springfield Look of LoveAnd what about the music? Now we’re talking. Burt Bacharach’s soundtrack is a sheer joy throughout – and the CD has long been one of my favourite Easy Listening collections. Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass’ rendition of the main theme was a smash hit single, reaching No 1 in the United States, although only No 27 in the UK. Dusty Springfield’s exquisite performance of The Look of Love, whilst never a single success by itself, remains one of her finest recordings and it’s impossible to hear it without all your extremities tingling with joy. The remainder of the incidental music is full of hilarious motifs, sexy arrangements, period pastiches and sheer musical madness. Although they’re not on the soundtrack album, it’s also fun to hear the musical salutes in the film – a brief snatch of Born Free (written by regular Bond composer John Barry) when M is driving past Bond’s lions; a moment from the theme to Moulin Rouge when Peter Sellers’ Evelyn Tremble is pretending to be Toulouse-Lautrec; even the echo of What’s New Pussycat emerging from a manhole cover, a 1965 film which had previously united the talents of Sellers, Allen, O’Toole, Andress, Bacharach and producer Charles Feldman.

GrouseThere are plenty of opportunities for comedy from the complicated and unlikely gadgets in use – the scene with Q and his assistant is a perfect parody of all those genuine Bond scenes, where army types are trying out the new gadgets, some with greater success than others. And as Sir James points out, early in the film, as he’s discrediting his guests with their feeble spy accoutrements: “You, Ransome, with your trick carnation that spits cyanide. You ought to be ashamed. And you, Smernov, with an armoury concealed in your grotesque boots. Listen to them tinkle. And you, Le Grand, with a different deadly poison in each of your fly buttons. And you, M, with your flame-throwing fountain pens. You’re joke-shop spies, gentlemen.” However, I do like the magnetic buttons that attract the artificial grouse with their built-in machine guns. Very clever.

Vesper's OutfitThere’s no point examining the death count on this film as it’s all pure pantomime, everyone dies and, in a sense, no one dies, as we see them in Heaven. However, I do want to share with you some of my favourite lines from the film.

“I present you with the levitation of the Princess Ayisha, an illusion taught to me by an ancient vegetarian in the mountain fastnesses of Tibet.”

“It’s the first john I’ve ever gone around with.”

“Which side do you dress, sir?” “I usually dress away from the window”.

“Listen. You can’t shoot me. I have a very low threshold of death. My doctor says I can’t have bullets enter my body at any time. What if I said I was pregnant?”

“I’m the new secret weapon. I’ve just been perfected.” “Yes, haven’t you?” “They’ve kept me under wraps.” “Lucky them.” “What do you do that’s so secret?” “I don’t do anything. But unless you’re one of them, you do […] You’re really learning to put up quite a resistance.” “It goes against my nature.” “I sense that too. What are you doing after the exercise?” “Getting my head examined.”

“Call me Coop.” “Like something for keeping birds.” “That’s me.”

“What a charming outfit that is. Do you often wear that in the office?” “If I wore it in the street, people might stare.”

“Just how personal is a toupee?” “It can only be regarded as a “hairloom”.

In the BathIffy Material: There’s no doubt that there’s quite a lot of material that has dated badly in a post-Operation Yewtree world. A man of David Niven’s age getting into the bath with a girl of (allegedly) 17 years makes one feel a little squeamish today. And consider this conversation between Agent Mimi masquerading as Lady Fiona and James Bond, describing a portrait hanging on the wall: “To your right, Sir James – Lady Mary, daughter of Lord Douglas McTarry, raped by the Campbells in 1662, in retaliation of which, Lord Douglas sent his only son Hamish out to rape twa Campbell lassies.” “At the same time?” “Eldest first, of course. As prescribed by scripture.” It has an Ortonesque naughtiness to it, but it’s really not acceptable in this day and age.

BAFTA_awardAwards: The Look of Love was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, losing to Talk to the Animals from Doctor Dolittle. Burt Bacharach’s score also earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Show. Julie Harris was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Costume Design.

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterTo sum up:
In so many ways, this film is a complete oddity; one of those star-strangled indulgences that no doubt looked great on paper but had a lot of difficulty reaching the screen. For me it has some serious highlights but also a lot of longueurs; but it’s part of my childhood and I love it for that. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Casino Royale – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next, we’re going to be returning to the classic Bond films and You Only Live Twice, released just two months after Casino Royale. I’m sure the diehard fans couldn’t wait!

My rating: 4 Sparkles

4 Sparkles4 Sparkles4 Sparkles4 Sparkles

 

 

 

All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Thunderball (1965)

Thunderball PosterIn which SPECTRE plan to extort £100 million in diamonds (that’s £1.35 billion in today’s money, so it’s a lot of cash) or else two atomic bombs will be dropped on either a major US or English city – later revealed to be Miami. M and his team can’t allow that to happen, so Bond is sent to the Bahamas, where he eventually finds the hidden bombs, kills a lot of SPECTRE’s henchmen underwater and the world is saved. Good man, Bond!

SPECTRE's lairAs the films got grander and longer, so did the budgets continue to increase. The budget for Thunderball was $9 million – three times that of Goldfinger – but with an overall box office take of an estimated $141 million, this was a wise investment. In the original plan, Thunderball was meant to be the first film in the series, but an extended legal wrangle made this impossible; a compromise was eventually reached that credited Kevin McClory (who had always claimed he had co-written the story of Thunderball with Jack Whittingham) as Producer of the movie, with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman named as Executive Producers. Along with the return of Richard Maibaum as screenwriter, alongside John Hopkins, this makes for quite convoluted opening credits!

Bond and La PorteGuy Hamilton, who had directed Goldfinger, was asked back, but he was too “Bonded Out” to feel the necessary creativity, so he next went on to direct Oliver Reed in The Party’s Over. As a result, Terence Young returned to the job, having already directed Dr No and From Russia With Love. This would be his final Bond film. Once again, the cinematography was by Ted Moore, with Peter Hunt as supervising film editor (film editing credited to Ernest Hosler), and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. Bob Simmons was the stunt choreographer and puts in an amazing performance as Mme Bouvar (not) getting thwacked to a pulp by Bond in the pre-titles scene.

Bob Simmons as Mme BouvarThunderball was published in 1961 and was the ninth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. As outlined earlier, it was written as a collaboration between Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo, as a novelisation of an earlier, unused film screenplay. As a result, it’s unsurprising that the film and the book tell very much the same story, with only a few minor changes. As an aside, this wasn’t the only film to be made from the Thunderball novel – 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which was Sean Connery’s Bond swansong, also follows the plot of this book. But that’s a matter for another time!

thunderball novelIn the novel, it is explained that M has sent Bond off to the health farm, Shrublands, because he was getting unfit through drinking and smoking too much; but the film just places Bond in the health farm without explanation. The character of Fiona doesn’t appear in the novel, and Emilio Largo is described as SPECTRE’s No 1, because the identity of No 1 kept changing for security reasons. In the film he is No 2, only Blofeld could hold that honour. Fleming liked to borrow his real-life experiences and use the names of people he knew, or knew of, throughout his stories; Blofeld is named after Tom Blofeld who was a contemporary of Fleming’s at Eton and whose son is Henry Blofeld of cricketing fame.

Odeon AylesburyThinking back, and remembering how I saw From Russia with Love, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice in double-bills at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John, I am pretty sure that I hadn’t seen Thunderball before. It’s amazing how such a well-known film can completely escape one’s attention. Still, better late than never.

underwaterBoth book and novel received generally favourable reviews. Of the novel, the Guardian wrote: “it is a good, tough, straightforward thriller on perfectly conventional lines”; and the Financial Times called it: “an exciting story skilfully told”, with “a romantic sub-plot […] and the denouement involves great events.” Of the film, the Financial Times regretted the fact that there was much less attempt made at establishing Bond as a “connoisseur playboy”. I find myself agreeing with American film critic Danny Peary, when he said “it takes forever to get started and has too many long underwater sequences during which it’s impossible to tell what’s going on”. My own reaction to the film is that it’s as though they went and bought some underwater cameras and were going to absolutely get their money’s worth.

funeralThe opening credits appear unchanged, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. However, because this movie was filmed in widescreen Panavision, it had to be re-shot; so this is the first time that the actor playing Bond appears in the opening credits – stunt man Bob Simmons had featured in these credits in the first three films. As usual, we are taken straight into the opening scene. We witness Bond at the funeral of one Colonel Jacques Bouvar, SPECTRE’s No 6, where his widow is mourning in the grand tradition of black veils and garments. Bond, however, isn’t satisfied, and when she gets back to her grand house, she locks herself into a sumptuous room only to discover Bond is there waiting for her. She turns out to be a he; Bouvar himself has faked his death, and there follows a thoroughly extravagant fight scene between the two – Bond, cool calm and collected, Bouvar in high heels and stockings.

Aston Martin getawayEventually Bouvar is overpowered and slung into the fireplace to die, a contemptuous bunch of tulips being chucked over his head by Bond as an afterthought. Bond flees to the rooftops to make his escape, but he is followed by SPECTRE henchmen, and just when you think he’s going to get caught – up he flies into the air wearing a jetpack, safely landing beside his Aston Martin DB5 and colleague from the French service, Madame La Porte. The bullet shield emerges from the back of the Aston, and emits a water cannon to keep the henchmen at bay.

opening creditsOnce again our first sight of Bond shows him doing all those things he does best. Looking cool, fighting and killing ruthlessly, being up to date with all the best gadgets. We instantly move into the rest of the title sequence. Getting a little more daring year by year, these credits feature naked bodies for the first time, which Maurice Binder filmed, originally, in black and white. As they swim, silhouetted, Binder created a vibrant colour backdrop of reds, blues, greens and purples, and it’s a very attractive and arresting sequence. This is also our opportunity to hear the title song, Thunderball, sung by Tom Jones. In comparison to its two predecessors, this is, imho, quite an underpowered and forgettable song, which certainly made no impact on me as I was watching it. I note the single only made No 35 in the UK chart. Allegedly, Tom Jones fainted in an attempt to maintain the last big note of the song. Not sure it was worth it.

PalmyraAnd the locations? The film takes us from Paris, back to the UK, and eventually on the Bahamas. Bond’s opening-scene fight with Bouvar was filmed at the Château d’Anet, near Dreux, in North-West France; I recognised a pub in Beaconsfield as the site of the hotel where Derval was killed by Angelo. Shrublands Health Spa scenes were shot at Chalfont Park House, near Chalfont St Peter. The car chase between Bond, Lippe and Fiona was filmed at Silverstone Racing Circuit in Northamptonshire; Largo’s grand estate, Palmyra, was filmed at the exclusive Rock Point home of a Philadelphia millionaire family, the Sullivans, who liked to watch the filming and used to have friends over for drinks who mixed with the cast and crew when not working. Other elegant locations included the Café Martinique and the Coral Harbour Hotel in Nassau. The climactic underwater battle was shot at Clifton Pier, Nassau, and was choreographed by Ricou Browning, famous for his underwater stunt work – he also created the cheeky dolphin, Flipper. He also staged the cave sequence and the battle scenes beneath the Disco Volante and called in his specialist team of divers who were essentially underwater stunt extras during the underwater fights.

BondBond, James Bond. Sadly we don’t get to hear Sean Connery utter those magnificent words this time round. Connery earned a tidy $800,000 for making this film, but he became very impatient with the heavy media attention in Nassau, which may have been partly due to his marital troubles with his wife at the time, Diane Cilento. He was also very nearly eaten by a shark, when filming in the pool at Largo’s property; the Plexiglas divider that was meant to hold the sharks back from where Connery was in the pool wasn’t – to coin a phrase – watertight, and a shark snuck in to where Connery was swimming. Apparently no one has ever jumped out of a pool faster.

Home SecretaryBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always, but the only one I noticed at the time of actually watching the movie was right at the beginning, where you hear Bond say “As I said, later” to Madame la Porte, his mouth is clearly saying something different! When Bond arrives at M’s office, there’s a modern white light switch by the door. When he leaves, it’s a bronze double switch; curious. Roland Culver’s character is referred to as the Home Secretary, but in the final credits he’s listed as the Foreign Secretary – now, which is it? And Leiter is sometimes in long trousers and sometimes in shorts whilst he’s piloting the helicopter – that’s an impressive quick change. Bond constantly checks his Breitling Geiger Counter watch to see if he’s near the atom bombs; on one occasion, however, it’s a Rolex – smart, but no cigar. This is not an exhaustive list – there’s plenty more for you to read about on the Internet!

PatriciaThe Bond Girl. As in Goldfinger, it takes the audience a while to work out who exactly is The Bond Girl in this film. It’s no surprise that there are a number of women who take his fancy as the film progresses. In one of his first conversations with Madame La Porte, she asks if there is anything else the French station can do for him. His reply, “later, perhaps”, accompanied by a slightly naughty grin implies he is attracted to her – but this goes no further, maybe because she’s a married Madame. Bond’s first interest is with the attractive physiotherapist at the spa, Patricia Fearing. Their banter is direct and their shower scene even more so – it almost won the film an X certificate, which would have been a box office disaster. Patricia is a nice dalliance for Bond until he leaves the spa, then she’s history. Such a cad. She was played by Molly Peters – although her voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford – who appeared in a few films in the 60s but whose career was short-lived mainly due to legal wrangles.

PaulaThen we meet Paula Caplan, working for the CIA in Nassau, she shows a lot of early potential as a Bond girl but when she is captured by SPECTRE henchmen Vargas and Janni, she chooses suicide by cyanide capsule rather than be tortured to reveal any secrets of Operation Thunderball. Now that’s what I call a spy. She was played by Martine Beswick, who had previously appeared in From Russia with Love, as the fiery fighting gypsy girl, Zora. She had a long and varied career in TV and films, and is now semi-retired.

DominoHowever, the real Bond Girl in this film is Domino, played by Claudine Auger. She’s Largo’s mistress, and Bond convinces her to help him when he reveals that Largo killed her brother. From then on, she’s a mole in his camp. When he realises that she is working against him, he captures her with intent to torture her; luckily Largo’s nuclear physicist Kutze also decided to jump ship and frees her, just in time for her shoot her harpoon gun through Largo’s heart and save Bond. Hurrah! Claudine Auger was on holiday in Nassau when Kevin McClory spotted her and asked her to audition. Originally, the role of Domino was written as an Italian girl, but Ms Auger impressed them so much they recruited her and changed the role to a French one. Previously, she had been Miss France and was runner-up to Miss World in 1958; and she had a long and varied film career.

DominoWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first three films, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional and scary. Domino doesn’t throw many more attributes into the mix, apart from one: a desire for revenge.

LargoThe Villain. Of course the ultimate Villain is SPECTRE No 1, Blofeld, seen occasionally stroking his pussycat. But the “active” villain in Thunderball is No 2, Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi. Largo is a rich, powerful, ruthless psychopath with a penchant for sharks and a black eye patch for no apparent reason. For me, personally, I didn’t find him as scary or intimidating as any of the previous villains we’d encountered; not that he wasn’t villainous, and he certainly looks the part, but I think by now I’m made of sterner stuff when it comes to Bond villains. Adolfo Celi was a Sicilian actor and singer, with notable performances in Von Ryan’s Express and the TV series The Borgias. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietty who had a prolific career in the US, UK and Italy.

FionaOther memorable characters? Surprisingly few. At one stage you might even have thought that Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona might have ended up Bond Girl – and she very nearly did. Ms Paluzzi was originally considered for the role of Domino, but missed out – and was cast as Fiona instead, which she ended up enjoying more because there was more pizzazz in the role. Strictly one of the Baddies, she’s a SPECTRE agent who becomes François Derval’s mistress and assists Largo in Nassau. Bond can be persuasive with the ladies, but not that persuasive. She too gets her come-uppance when she’s shot in the back at a dance. Luciana Paluzzi appeared in a number of films in the 60s and 70s, and in 1980 married American media mogul Michael Jay Solomon, a former president of Warner Brothers International Television. They now live in New York and Rome.

LeiterRik Van Nutter brings a livelier, more proactive characterisation to the role of Felix Leiter than we have seen in the previous films by Jack Lord (Dr No) or Cec Linder (Goldfinger), although he’s still a relatively minor figure in the story. Rik Van Nutter was married to Anita Ekberg at the time and was invited to play the role without an audition.

Moneypenny and the Old ManAs usual, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their familiar roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. Once again M catches Moneypenny talking unguardedly in her reception area – I’m surprised she hasn’t learned by now. Q is even more contemptuous of Bond’s disregard for his amazing gadgets as they meet in Pinder’s shop, “out in the field”.

tom_jones_thunderballAnd what about the music? As usual, we start with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, as part of the title sequence, and that’s the last you hear of that. The rest of the film soundtrack is pure John Barry; apart from the title song, Thunderball, whose lyrics are by Don Black. Originally the title song was to have been Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, sung by Dionne Warwick, but timing issues, legal issues and the fact that it wasn’t called Thunderball meant it was withdrawn fairly late in the day, so John Barry had to write a new theme double quick. In style, it’s very similar to Goldfinger, although it’s not as impressive or memorable as either the Goldfinger theme or Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

helicopterThe soundtrack is generally pleasant, but not much more; there’s one recurring theme that hits the dramatic spot nicely. It’s the track entitled simply 007, and you hear it when Bond escapes into the Junkanoo, when he leaves the helicopter to join the underwater battle to the death, and when he clambers aboard the Disco Volante to sort Largo out once and for all. It had been written for From Russia with Love, but this time with a much more arresting arrangement. The theme entitled Switching the Body also has a very ethereal vibe and adds to the suspense. King Errisson, and his combo, who play the Kiss Kiss Club, has had a long and successful career, supporting various luminaries such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, the Jackson Five, and many others; he has also toured with Neil Diamond’s band since 1978.

car on fireCar chases. There’s one car chase; it’s short, brisk and full of surprises! It’s when Bond leaves the Spa in his Lincoln Continental and is pursued by Count Lippe in his Ford Fairlane Skyliner. As the Count gets closer, Bond is more than surprised to see him blown up to smithereens by the wicked Fiona, using a rocket launcher on her motorbike. And although it’s not a chase as such, there’s also Fiona’s suspenseful 100 mph plus drive to Nassau that has Bond looking more nervous than I’ve ever seen him.

BaccaratCocktails and Casinos. Whilst staying at Palmyra, Bond and Largo indulge in some Rum Collins – that’s a Tom Collins made with rum rather than gin. No need for him to ask for it to be shaken and not stirred. At the casino Bond rather extravagantly orders some Dom Perignon 55 to go with the Beluga caviar – nice. Bond’s first meeting with Largo is at a casino table, playing Baccarat I believe. His henchman Vargas is playing opposite him, so presumably Largo wins either way. Bond replaces Vargas at the table and wipes the floor with him; Domino confides that Largo “is going to be impossible tonight if his luck doesn’t change”, which I understand to be a subtle hint of some domestic abuse there.

Q and BondGadgets. It’s gadget overload right from the start! The jetpack that thrusts Bond away to safety, and the bullet shield and water cannon on the Aston Martin already take your breath away, and that’s before the opening credits! Q’s magic bundle for Bond includes a Breitling watch that acts as a Geiger counter, an underwater camera (two a penny nowadays, of course), a pill that acts as a Sat Nav device (same observation applies) and an underwater flare that is jolly useful as both a distress signal and for when you get lost and need a little light trying to find submerged atomic bombs. The cassette recorder hidden inside an old book looks rather tame by comparison – useful though it may be. The breathing mouthpiece comes into its own as Bond tries to outsmart the sharks; and there’s also the skyhook that rescues Bond and Domino at the end of the film.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox. Where does Thunderball stand on this count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Domino can go up, up and away in their beautiful skyhook:

1) Whoever is in the coffin that appears to be that of Jacques Bouvar.

2) No 6 – Colonel Jacques Bouvar.

3) No 9 (electrocuted by Blofeld and his body submerged underground.

4) Derval, killed by Angelo, looking like Derval.

5) Would-be assassin by the window at the spa.

6) 5 pilots gassed on board the Vulcan Bomber.

7) Angelo, his air supply cut underwater by Largo.

8) Lippe, chasing Bond, ambushed by Fiona.

9) Quist, eaten by a shark at Palmyra.

10) Underwater henchman (under the Disco Volante) with air supply cut.

11) Paula.

12) Henchman stabbed by Bond in the shark pool.

13) Fiona, shot accidentally at the Kiss Kiss Club by a henchman.

14) A shark. (They have feelings too, you know.)

15) Vargas.

16) At least 26 people harpooned underwater during the battle between the henchmen and the NATO forces.

17) Whoever dies when the back half of the Disco Volante blows up.

18) Largo.

19) And whoever was left in the front of the Disco Volante when it bursts into flames on the rocks.

That’s probably somewhere in the ballpark of 50 people (and a shark.)

flowers Humour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in the previous movies, here are some more throwaway lines to send some poor souls on to heaven:

After the fire during the car chase, Bond is late for the important meeting of all the “00s”. Apologising, Bond explains “Some people on the roads really burn you up these days.”

When Bond dumps the freshly shot body of Fiona at a drinks table, he apologises to the others there with: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.”

After he harpoons Vargas, Bond says “I think he got the point.”

Plus there’s Bond’s rather dismissive chucking of the flowers all over the dead Bouvar.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Kiss Kiss ClubBy now we’re used to the fact that there’ll be female bodies on display during the opening credits. This time they’re actually naked, although impossible to see due to the stylistic editing. As the images are more artistic and abstract, I don’t feel this is as sexist as in previous films. The scene that really concerns me is early on when Bond literally forces himself upon Patricia the physiotherapist. She says no, but still he persists. As this is Bond-world, naturally she was only teasing to make him even more randy. But, after he has nearly been killed by Lippe on the spine-stretching machine, and Patricia takes the responsibility for the machine having gone wrong when he knows full well it wasn’t her fault at all, when he says that his silence on the matter “could have its price” – i.e. so that they can have sex in the shower room – this really feels uncomfortable nowadays. Bond’s response to Fiona’s request when she’s in the bath for him to get her something to put on – and he brings her a pair of shoes – is probably more witty than sexist. The camera’s lingering on the performing dancer at the Kiss Kiss Club is, however, definitely suspect.

austin-powersBizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Basically this is the plot that’s satirised in Austin Powers!

I know that clambering over a roof is difficult at the best of times, but surely it’s unlike Bond to drop a gun?

Whilst it starts off really pacey, the film suffers, retrospectively speaking, from all those underwater scenes. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and your mind wanders.

The scene where the pilots in the Vulcan Bomber are gassed and Lippe takes over; this was before any commercial airline had ever been hijacked.

Lovely to see Leonard Sachs as the Group Captain, we all remember him as the host to TV’s The Good Old Days. How wonderful it would have been if he had stood up and proclaimed “Once again, good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” and thumped his gavel on M’s head.

How did Bond know how that he would meet up with Domino when he goes snorkelling? Convenient! We never find out.

Bond’s double, swimming underwater in the shark pool, doesn’t look anything like Connery.

The script between Fiona and Bond once the heavies have arrived addresses all the criticisms (almost verbatim) that had been made of the previous films. A very rewarding way of getting your own back!

Am I the only person never to have heard of a Junkanoo? Largo describes it as “our local Mardi Gras”; apparently, it’s a street parade held in the Bahamas on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Odd that no one has any Christmas decorations up in that case.

The fifteen-minute underwater fight scene at the end was only one page of script. A lot of it wasn’t scripted – they just went with the flow of what all these paramedics and diver experts got up to.

Kutze’s change of heart, when he goes against Largo’s order and helps Domino to escape, seemed highly improbable to me.

“Codename Thunderball”, says M, introducing all the secret agents to the task of preventing the potential atomic disaster of SPECTRE’s grisly plans. But what is a thunderball anyway? What relevance does it bear to the story? I looked it up and this is what I discovered: Thunderball was a military term used by U.S. soldiers to describe the mushroom cloud seen during the testing of atomic bombs. It’s relevant because if SPECTRE’s threat to detonate the two atomic bombs, there’d be two of them. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to call it Thunderballs.

When Patricia asks Bond when she’ll see him again, he replies, Another Time Another Place, which just happened to be the name of the first film in which Sean Connery had a major role.

Whether or not he received expert health advice at his time at Shrublands, this is the first 007 where Bond doesn’t smoke.

How does Lippe escape from that steam bath?

OscarAwards: John Stears won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; and Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best Production Design, but I don’t suppose he minded losing as he won it for his work on The Ipcress File instead.

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterTo sum up. From a box office perspective, Thunderball continued Broccoli and Saltzman’s winning streak and was more successful a Bond film than any before. Whilst there are some memorable scenes and, there’s no doubt, the underwater photography was enormously advanced for its time, and probably held a huge wow factor for its contemporary audience, I don’t think it has aged well. Where I criticised Goldfinger for its remarkable silliness, at least it wasn’t boring – and I’m afraid I was bored by Thunderball at times. I realise that I would sooner have silliness by the bucketload rather than yet another scene of men being harpooned underwater. I ended up downgrading my score by 1 sparkle, simply because I think the sin of boredom is the worst thing you can impose on an audience. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Thunderball – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up, the film the world had to wait two years for – the first time that Bond skipped a year – and You Only Live Twice!

My rating: 2 Sparkles

4 Sparkles4 Sparkles

 

 

 

 

All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger posterIn which James Bond’s mission is to find out all he can about bullion dealer and international gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger. He captures Bond but is fooled into thinking that Bond knows more than he does about Operation Grand Slam. Just how does he intend to make his money, and will Bond be able to foil him in the final reel? To find out, you’ll have to watch the film, and remember, careful what you read here, there will be spoilers!

Auric EnterprisesInspired by the successes of Dr No and From Russia With Love, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman increased the budget yet again, this time to $3 million – apparently it made all its money back within two weeks of release, was the fastest grossing picture in film history when it was released, and is said to have made $125 million overall. Given the two previous successes, director Terence Young wanted a profit-share to direct Goldfinger, but Broccoli and Saltzman refused his offer. He therefore went off and directed The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders instead, and Guy Hamilton was approached in his place. Hamilton’s vision for the film included more humour, more gadgets and more impressive sets, and you can really see the difference between this and the first two films as a result. Once again the screenplay was by Richard Maibaum, with Paul Dehn on re-writes; cinematography was by Ted Moore and editing by Peter Hunt, as in both Dr No and From Russia With Love. Ken Adam resumed his position as production designer – he’d worked on Dr No – the title designer was once again Robert Brownjohn, stunt co-ordinator was Bob Simmons, as he had been for Dr No, and John Barry was credited as soundtrack composer.

Mr GoldfingerGoldfinger was published in 1959 and was the seventh in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels, immediately following the novel of Dr No, which had been filmed first. Fleming liked to use the names of people he knew, or knew of, throughout his books, and there really was a Mr Goldfinger – British architect Ernő Goldfinger. Upon learning of the use of his name, Goldfinger threatened to sue Fleming over the use of the name, before the matter was settled out of court. I haven’t read the book, but I believe the film follows it reasonably faithfully.

Pussy's aircraft girlsIn the book, M suspects Goldfinger of being connected to SMERSH and financing their western networks with his gold; in the film, unusually, there’s no mention made of SMERSH at all. Also in the book, Jill and Tilly Masterton have a much more important role to play, whereas in the film, not only does their surname become Masterson, they also have much less to do and die earlier in the story. The plot of the film was also changed from stealing the gold at Fort Knox to irradiating the gold vault with a dirty bomb. In the book, Pussy Galore is the leader of a team of burglars, whereas in the film she leads a team of aircraft pilots; also Pussy, the burglars and Tilly are all lesbians in the book – but any lesbianism implied by Pussy at the start of the film certainly doesn’t last for long. Goldfinger attempts to kill Bond by using a circular saw; however, between the book (1959) and the film (1964), lasers were invented, and so Guy Hamilton thought it would be much more fun to show Bond in peril with a laser cutting up between his legs. Nasty.

Odeon AylesburyI mentioned in my blog post on From Russia with Love that I had seen it before as a teenager at the Odeon Aylesbury as part of a double-bill with Diamonds are Forever, with my schoolfriend John. I’m pretty sure we also saw a double-bill of Goldfinger with You Only Live Twice. It was a great way to catch up on your Bond back catalogue in those days; shame they don’t do that kind of thing any more.

Goldfinger novelBoth book and novel received extremely good reviews, even if they are of the “guilty pleasure” type, more than out-and-out classic. Considering the book first, Maurice Richardson in the Observer described Ian Fleming as “maniacally readable” whereas, writing in The Manchester Guardian, Roy Perrott observed that “Goldfinger…will not let [Bond’s] close admirers down”, summarising the book by saying that it was “hard to put down; but some of us wish we had the good taste just to try.” The Evening Standard looked at why Bond was a success and put it down to “the sex, the sadism, the vulgarity of money for its own sake, the cult of power, the lack of standards”. The Manchester Evening News thought that “only Fleming could have got away with it…outrageously improbable, wickedly funny, wildly exciting”.

OddjobOf the film, the Sunday Times said it was “superbly engineered. It is fast, it is most entertainingly preposterous, and it is exciting.” The Guardian said that Goldfinger was “two hours of unmissable fantasy”, also saying that the film was “the most exciting, the most extravagant of the Bond films: garbage from the gods” – again, a guilty pleasure. Plenty of praise for the performances too: The Times said “there is some excellent bit-part playing by Mr. Bernard Lee and Mr. Harold Sakata; Mr. Gert Fröbe is astonishingly well cast in the difficult part of Goldfinger”. The New York Times said “Connery plays the hero with an insultingly cool, commanding air” and that “Gert Fröbe is aptly fat and feral as the villainous financier, and Honor Blackman is forbiddingly frigid and flashy as the latter’s aeronautical accomplice.” Interestingly, of all the James Bond films, this has the highest appreciation score on the Rotten Tomatoes website – 97%. Sadly, Ian Fleming never got to see this film; he visited the set in April 1964, and died a few months later in August 1964, a month before it was released.

Decoy BondThe opening credits start just as they did in Dr No and From Russia with Love, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Then, before any opening titles, as was becoming the practice in these films, we then go into the first scene. A dark, suspicious waterside location at night, sees Bond emerge from beneath the water, with a decoy seagull strapped to his head (would that fool anyone? – it’s not even a duck!), gain access to this secret location by assaulting a guard, and cause some handily placed barrels of nitro-glycerine to explode by attaching a timer. He then rips off his deep-sea diving outfit to reveal an immaculate white dinner jacket (with red carnation) in time to get to a cavern bar where a buxom dancing lady (Bonita) is entertaining the gentlemen with her act. Bond lights his cigarette, checks the time, the nitro explodes, everyone runs in panic, apart from a chap sitting at the bar who congratulates Bond on his success, and they observe that a certain Mr Romarez won’t be able to finance a revolution from the proceeds of his heroin laboratory that’s just been blown up.

In Your EyesBond is offered a flight to Miami, which he says he will take, after he has attended to some unfinished business – by which he means chasing up Bonita in her bath. But whilst he is giving her a big sucker on the lips, a guy who has been hiding behind her wardrobe (always check behind the wardrobe, Bond!) comes out and is about to cosh our hero – but he spots him in time and a fight ensues. Bond sends him flying across the room and he lands in the bathwater (the lady is no longer in there) but from there he can still reach Bond’s gun in its holster on the wall… so there’s only one thing to be done, and Bond flings the portable electric heater into the bath and his hapless opponent is zapped to death.

Opening titlesThat’s all totally irrelevant to the plot of Goldfinger, but I guess it shows what a cool guy/rogue/heart-throb/masterspy/ruthless killer Bond is. Now the rest of the title sequence kicks in. In From Russia with Love, Robert Brownjohn’s titles projected names of the cast and creative team onto the scantily-clad body of an exotic dancer. That idea went down well, so this time he went one better, with moving images of the actors appearing on the gold body of a sexy female – in fact, Margaret Nolan, who plays Dink, the Miami Beach masseuse, a little later in the movie. I actually met Margaret Nolan when I was ten, and probably a little too young to fully appreciate her; buy me a drink and I’ll tell you all about it! Not only actors were projected onto her gold body; also scenes from the film, and from the previous films. And of course, over this title sequence we hear Shirley Bassey belting out the title song Goldfinger, more of which later. This was the first time that the title sequences used the film’s title song – a winning practice that was to continue forever after.

FontainebleauAnd the locations? The film takes us from Latin America to Miami Beach, on to London, on to a golf course, Geneva and then Goldfinger’s Kentucky stables (the Auric Stud) and then – allegedly – Fort Knox. That opening scene, with huge oil tanks, was filmed at the Esso refinery at Stanwell, near Heathrow Airport. Interestingly, none of the principal actors were actually in Miami Beach apart from Cec Linder, who played Felix Leiter. Everyone else was on a soundstage at Pinewood Studios – and it’s very obvious, watching those Miami Beach scenes, that they’re all standing in front of a projection. The grand hotel, that dominates the aerial photography, is the Fontainebleau Miami Beach; you think you’re looking at a swanky, trendy, impressive building, and indeed you are. The golf course was Stoke Park, at Stoke Poges, near Pinewood; the scene of the car chase in the Aston Martin was at Black Park, near Slough. The American airports scenes were shot at RAF Northolt, and the scene where Bond flies to Geneva was shot at Southend Airport.

Fort Knox is right hereFilming moved to Switzerland, with the car chase being filmed at the small curved roads near Realp, near the Italian border, the exterior of the Pilatus Aircraft factory in Stans serving as Goldfinger’s factory, and Tilly Masterson’s attempt to snipe Goldfinger being shot in the Furka Pass. Of course, they weren’t given access to film at Fort Knox. That would simply have been too much of a security risk! So the interiors of Fort Knox were purely the imagination of production designer Ken Adam – who was later complimented by the Comptroller at Fort Knox for his vision.

Suave ConneryBond, James Bond. Yes, Sean Connery does get to utter this immortal phrase in this film, even though he’d been denied it in From Russia with Love. Connery enjoyed another pay increase, this time taking a cool $500,000 – a lot of money for 1964. Connery received a lot of praise for his performance too, and I would imagine, at that time, that they never had any idea that anyone else would ever play the part! Although in 1964 he also appeared in Hitchcock’s Marnie – in fact that was the reason he wasn’t in Miami Beach – and he was slowly beginning to tire of being just known as James Bond. I expect the cash helped make up for it.

Red CardsBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always, but perhaps not as many as in Dr No or From Russia with Love. When one of Pussy’s pilots is counting down the numbers from five to zero during the course of Operation Rockabye Baby, she says “5, 4, 3, 2, Zero,” but skips 1 – presumably not considered worthy of a re-take. After the game of golf, Goldfinger sits in the back seat of his car and makes out a cheque to Bond. He gives the cheque to Bond, and Bond gives the golf ball to Oddjob, in the driver’s seat. But when Oddjob drives away, magically Goldfinger is no longer in the car. Talking of which, when Oddjob leaves the car containing Solo’s body on the back seat at the wrecker’s yard, it’s very clear there’s no one in the back when the car gets scrunched up. When Goldfinger and Simmons are playing cards, the blue-backed pack of cards changes to a red-backed pack. When Goldfinger is explaining to Mr Ling about the process of melting down the gold from the car, his lips don’t move. And is James Bond a hairy chap or not? When he’s receiving his rubdown from Dink, his back is perfectly shaved; but when he wakes up the next morning with Jill, his back hair has all grown back!

JillThe Bond Girl. Bond’s rather spoilt for choice in this movie. Apart from liaisons with the Latin American dancer Bonita in the first scene, and Dink the masseuse, at first we have a lot of hope for Jill Masterson, played by Shirley Eaton, a much-favoured young actress at the time, who retired from acting five years later. Sadly, Goldfinger arranges for her to die from the rather glamorous fate of “skin suffocation” after being painted head to toe in gold. Odd how she didn’t struggle when she was only halfway though the paint job, but there you are, film editor Peter Hunt always said it was vital to keep everything moving as quickly as possible so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse the plot.

TillyThen we meet her sister Tilly, full of vengeance for Jill’s death, who tries to assassinate Goldfinger, and very nearly takes Bond out in the process. However, their time together isn’t long – and is mainly spent in a car chase trying to escape from Goldfinger’s henchmen. Bond gets captured and Tilly gets garrotted by Oddjob’s lethal bowler hat. Tilly was played by Tania Mallett, a successful model who made this one venture into the movies and didn’t like it – she earned much more as a model anyway.

PussyBut the title of Bond Girl for this film can really only go to the wondrously named Pussy Galore played by Honor Blackman. That name certainly caused a few problems, and was a particular concern to the American censors, who wouldn’t allow it to appear on any promotional material. The producers thought of renaming her Kitty, but decided that if you had a dirty mind, then so be it. This gives rise to her and Bond’s classic opening exchange: “Who are you?“ “My name is Pussy Galore.” “I must be dreaming.” As with Dr No’s Honey Rider, it’s a goodly time before Pussy makes an appearance; 52 minutes to be precise. Pussy leads her group of pilots – her Flying Circus – who I’m sure were the inspiration for Captain Scarlet’s Angels. Honor Blackman was chosen for the role due to her success as Cathy Gale in the TV series The Avengers – and the script was altered so that she could show off her judo skills. The New York Times described her performance as “forbiddingly frigid”, which is not what you expect from a Bond Girl. One of her first lines to Bond is “you can turn off the charm, I’m immune”, which ought to rule out any future hanky-panky. However, a few instructions from Goldfinger and she softens up towards him – see paragraph on sexism further on!

Scary PussyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first two films, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, and sometimes tragic. With Pussy Galore we can add professional and scary.

GFThe Villain. This is a perfect villain plus henchmen set-up. Auric Goldfinger (I won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out the appropriateness of his first name) has what I think is probably the best line in the whole gamut of Bond films – “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” – and a genuinely creative plan to rule the world, much more interesting than all the usual mass murder kinda stuff. Gert Fröbe gives a brilliantly underplayed performance, making him much less of a pantomime baddie but more a real threat. I’d forgotten that he played the Baron in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, making him a double Fleming alumnus! Fröbe’s heavy German accent required that his voice was dubbed by actor Michael Collins. There is just one scene where you hear his own voice – when Bond is listening from the cellar underneath the big control centre where Fröbe talks to all his gangland associates.

Bond and GoldfingerHe had serious reservations about Goldfinger using nerve gas to get rid of his witnesses. Fröbe felt that with him being a German, this scene would have Nazi concentration camp implications. Indeed, the film was banned in Israel for many years after he revealed he had been a member of the Nazi Party. The ban was lifted after a Jewish family came forward to praise Fröbe for protecting them from persecution during World War II. He left the party in 1937, which was presumably quite a brave thing to do. Apparently, he got married five times; so not quite Henry VIII standard, but not far off.

Varley ThomasOther memorable characters? Jill Masterson – as mentioned earlier – is an attractive character, and her betrayal of Goldfinger is enjoyable to watch; pity she had to pay such a high price for it. There’s also a wonderful scene where a little old lady played by Varley Thomas unexpectedly lets rip with a machine gun in an attempt to stop Bond.

More OddjobBut there’s really only one contender for Memorable Other Character – the magnificently terrifying Oddjob, played by Harold Sakata. Oddjob is the definition of the phrase “silent but deadly”, with his lethal bowler spin (nothing to do with cricket) and his lips kept tightly shut. He was described in the Daily Telegraph as “a wordless role, but one of cinema’s great villains.”

Oddjob AgainSakata was born in Hawaii, of Japanese descent, and was a professional wrestler as well as actor, and also represented the United States in Weightlifting in the 1948 Olympics. He was badly burned when filming his death scene, in which Oddjob was electrocuted by Bond. Sakata, however, kept holding onto his electrified hat with determination, despite his pain, until the director called “Cut!” Guy Hamilton described him as an “absolutely charming man”. Oddjob reappeared in later years as a guest on chat shows, or in adverts, which gave Sakata a nice continued income. He died in 1982, aged 62.

Q and 007As last time, we can just briefly pop in to M’s office; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles. Q starts what I believe will be a series of banter-filled conversations with Bond, beseeching him not to wreck all the equipment. I don’t think he pays heed.

Shirley BasseyAnd what about the music? We start with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, as part of the title sequence, but that never returns for the rest of the film. Shirley Bassey sings Goldfinger during the main title sequence, and you often hear echoes of it on and off throughout the film, until it finally returns properly for the closing titles. John Barry said this was the first film where he felt he had complete control of the music content. Much of the incidental music throughout the rest of the film, which frequently returns to the Goldfinger theme, is notable for its high brass instruments content – reflecting the film’s Gold motif. Fascinating piece of trivia – playing rhythm guitar on the title track was session player Jimmy Page, later of Led Zeppelin.

Bricusse and NewleyHarry Saltzman had to be convinced that Goldfinger (the song) was the right choice for the film, calling it too old fashioned for 1960s youth culture, but Cubby Broccoli convinced him. Though the music was by Barry, the lyrics were by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, both known more for their work in musical theatre. The Daily Express called the lyrics “puerile”, but it was Shirley Bassey’s belting performance that meant that criticism was almost irrelevant. The soundtrack album reached No 1 on the Billboard chart and the single of Goldfinger reached 21 in the UK charts, but No 2 in Italy, No 5 in the Netherlands and No 8 in the US top 100.

Car ChaseCar chases. There are two, and they’re hardly classics, both involving Tilly Masterson. The first one is where she is trying to overtake Bond in his Aston Martin DB5 and she ends up receiving the best that Q can design as he causes her tyres to burst. The second is later, when they’re both in Bond’s car, being pursued by Goldfinger’s Swiss henchmen.

Brandy momentCocktails and Casinos. No casinos in this film, but we do have some interesting drink situations. We see Bond becoming a self-confessed brandy snob – he describes the offering at the Bank of England as a “30 year old fine indifferently blended, with an overdose of bon bois”; Goldfinger offers him a mint julep in Kentucky, and Bond’s requirements are that it is made with sour mash and not too sweet; and there is also the request for the classic Martini – shaken, not stirred, at 35,000 sq ft above Newfoundland.

Poisonous meterGadgets. Guy Hamilton said he liked gadgets, so gadgets he was going to get. At Q’s laboratory, we briefly see a parking meter that emits poisonous gas when you insert a coin – something that would be warmly welcomed in many cities, I suspect. Bond’s car has its bullet-proof windscreen, revolving number plate, a transmitting device, an early form of Sat Nav; and there’s the control console in the armrest of the car, which allows Bond to do lots of things: smokescreen, oil slick, rear bullet-proof screen and side machine guns. Handy! The ejector seat is pretty neat and is wisely used when needed. Whilst Aston Martin were originally unwilling to allow their car to be used in this way, sales went up 60% after the film and the Corgi toy of Bond’s Aston Martin became one of the most successful toys ever.

Laser momentBut there’s probably nothing to match Goldfinger’s sinister use of the laser beam as it slowly slices up between Bond’s legs – hitting him where it hurts the most. And of course, Goldfinger’s lair, in Kentucky, is one ginormous gadget, as buttons turn it inside out to create the most up to date of operation centres.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 + all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40. Where does Goldfinger stand on this count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond can dismiss the rescue helicopter so that he can spend more time getting acquainted with Pussy:

1) Maybe the guard at the Heroin laboratory that Bond attacks (but maybe he’s just knocked out).

2) Henchman electrified in the bath.

3) Jill Masterson, gilted to death.

4) Four henchmen who burn to death in the car that slides in the oil slick.

5) Tilly Masterson, bowler-hatted to death by Oddjob.

6) The guard outside Bond’s cell – if he dies from their fight, that is.

7) All the gangsters gassed by Kisch in Goldfinger’s Control Centre – I counted nine.

8) Mr Solo, shot by Oddjob.

9) Mr Ling, killed by Goldfinger.

10) Kisch, killed by Oddjob.

11) Dozens, possibly hundreds of Goldfinger’s “army” and the government’s security guards at Fort Knox.

12) Oddjob.

13) Goldfinger.

14) Henchman on board the plane with Goldfinger.

Apart from the massive slaughter at Fort Knox, that’s probably around 23 deaths. But when you add in all the soldiers, there’s nothing modest about this death count!

Shocking momentHumour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in Dr No and From Russia with Love, here are some more throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:

After Bond has thrown the electric heater in Bonita’s bath, thereby killing the henchman, he remarks “shocking, positively shocking.”

When Bond and Pussy arrive at the airport in Baltimore, they are greeted – if that’s the right word – by the bowler-hatted Oddjob. In a delayed reference to the murder of Tilly, Bond observes: “Manners, Oddjob. I thought you always took your hat off to a lady”.

When Oddjob returns the car to the Auric Stud, with the body of the late Mr Solo smashed to smithereens in the scrunched-up car, Bond agrees: “as you said, he had a pressing engagement”.

“Where’s your butler friend?” asks Leiter, as he rushes inside Fort Knox once the device is safe. “He blew a fuse” replies Bond.

“What happened, where’s Goldfinger?” asks Pussy, as the plane plummets to earth. “Playing his golden harp” replies Bond.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Once again I think it’s important to remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Smacking Dink's bottomOnce again we get close ups of a woman’s body during the opening credits; you can argue that it’s an artistic expression and not really sexist; although the gypsy/Spanish dancer at the beginning basically just waggles her boobs at the guys and I’d contend that wasn’t exactly a skilful show of dancing prowess. Much more ostentatious a show of sexism, and one in which Bond absolutely delights, is when Felix Leiter arrives on the scene and interrupts Bond with the lovely Dink, whom he dismisses with a considerable whack on the bottom as he and Felix have “mantalk” to get on with. That’s actually quite cringe making today. And when he takes the chambermaid’s key to Goldfinger’s hotel room, Bond smilingly and patronisingly placates her with “you’re very sweet”. So that’s alright then.

Connery and Blackman in the hayJill Masterson is a disarmingly easy conquest; perhaps, given the fact that she has spent all her time helping Goldfinger to cheat at cards, she isn’t of the highest moral rectitude as a character. But I think the most sexist point of the film is when Bond basically forces himself on Pussy Galore – who had previously warned him off with the words “skip it, I’m not interested” – yet she melts into his arms. You would have thought that Honor Blackman must have been sick in a bucket to do that, but by all accounts she said she enjoyed the experience of rolling around in the hay with Sean Connery. Still, by today’s standards, he assaults her, and this isn’t a comfortable scene. The other pilots who make up Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus are, by contrast, a paean to the sisterhood, being tough, resolute, skilled and beautiful all in one go.

British United Air FerriesBizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

“I have a slight inferiority complex”, says Bond, as Bonita complains that his gun is digging into her ribs. As if.

“Something big’s come up”, Bond says to Leiter, explaining why he won’t be there for dinner, while Jill is pawing him all over. If ever there was a euphemism, that’s the one. Although there is also Goldfinger’s description of his atomic device: “it’s small, but particularly dirty”.

Bond jokes that you need earmuffs to listen to the Beatles. Did they have some kind of falling out? Paul McCartney would write the theme to Live and Let Die a few years later, so I guess they must have patched up their differences.

Even though you can only see his arm, it’s clearly Oddjob who has broken in to Bond’s suite and who karate-chops him when he’s getting another bottle of Dom Perignon ’53 out of the fridge. When he comes to, Jill has been killed by being painted in gold. But that’s not Oddjob’s style at all! He’s a wham bam, slice your throat with my bowler rim man. Visually, it’s a very effective scene, but if you think twice about it – it doesn’t really make sense; I refer you to Film Editor Peter Hunt’s comment I mentioned earlier!

This is the first time we hear in the films about any other “00”s. M threatens to replace Bond with 008 if he can’t keep the assignment professional. And Bond tells Goldfinger, “if I fail to report, 008 replaces me…”

Do we remember British United Air Ferries? They transport Goldfinger and his car from Southend Airport to Geneva. They were founded in 1963 – so the company was quite new when this film was made – and went through a number of name and ownership changes until the company was dissolved in 2001.

I can’t help but think that Oddjob had numerous occasions on which he could have killed Bond instantly, but doesn’t. I feel that affects the film detrimentally. He also doesn’t seem remotely concerned about being trapped inside Fort Knox with Kisch and Bond and with no way out. He only seems to want to kill Bond. Which is odd.

I loved the fact that the stopwatch counts down and stops at “007”. How hokey is that!

OscarAwards: Norman Wanstall won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing, making Goldfinger the first Bond film to receive an Academy Award. John Barry was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Score for a Motion Picture, losing out to Mary Poppins (can’t complain at that) and Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British Art Direction (Colour), losing out to John Bryan for Becket.

Thunderball PosterTo sum up. Goldfinger was a very successful film with some great reviews, fascinating and entertaining characters, and memorable lines; and, unsurprisingly, it still rates very highly with film and Bond fans today. However, personally, despite its obvious attractions and highlights, I found myself disapproving of what I can only describe as its overall silliness! It is a very silly film. Maybe I need to see a few more Bond movies and that might cause me to reappraise my view. What do you think, am I wrong? In the final analysis I upgraded my score by 1 sparkle, simply because it’s such a ground-breaking film. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Goldfinger – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up, the film Broccoli and Saltzman had been wanting to make from the very start – Thunderball!

My rating: 4 Sparkles

4 Sparkles4 Sparkles4 Sparkles4 Sparkles

 

 

 

All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – From Russia With Love (1963)

From Russia With LoveIn which James Bond is summoned to Istanbul to meet Tatiana Romanova, who has allegedly fallen in love with him after seeing his photo, and who offers to defect to the West, bringing with her a Lektor cryptographic device which Bond is to take back to M. However, Tatiana is herself a pawn in a plot by SPECTRE to steal the Lektor from Bond and then kill him. Obviously, that doesn’t happen, otherwise there’d be no more Bond films! But how does he survive….? To find out, you’ll have to watch the film, and remember, careful what you read here, there will be spoilers!

Chess matchFollowing the artistic and financial success of the first Bond film, Dr No, the budget for this next film was doubled to $2 million – $150,000 of which was spent on the set for that brief scene at the beginning, where Kronsteen beats Macadams at Chess. With an eye to realism, the game that is being played out is actually a re-enactment of Boris Spassky’s victory over David Bronstein in 1960! Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman chose From Russia With Love as the next adaptation because, apparently, it was one of President John F Kennedy’s favourite books. Once again it was to be directed by Terence Young, with a screenplay by Richard Maibaum (originally it was to be Len Deighton, but he wrote too slowly!), cinematography by Ted Moore and editing by Peter Hunt – the Dr No dream team reunited. Amongst the changes in personnel, the production designer was Syd Cain (who had been art director on Dr No), the title designer was Robert Brownjohn (who would also design the titles for Goldfinger), Peter Perkins was the new stunt co-ordinator, and John Barry composed the soundtrack.

LektorFrom Russia with Love was published in 1957 and was the fifth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels; ironically, it immediately preceded the novel of Dr No, but in the films, the order was switched. There is a story – which may just be a rumour – that Fleming originally had thought this would be the last James Bond novel – he was getting bored with his creation – but its good reviews (see later) and even better sales made him think again. As with the adaptation of Dr No, the bulk of the story is reasonably faithfully portrayed in the film; but there are a few alterations. In the book, SMERSH, the Soviet counterintelligence agency, are the “baddies”, and the cryptographic device is called a Spektor; in the film, it’s SPECTRE who want to steal the device – Saltzman and Broccoli didn’t want to emphasise any Cold War aspects to the plotline – and the device is called a Lektor (because Spektor would have got confused with SPECTRE!) Neither the helicopter chase nor the boat chase are to be found in the book – they were added to the film for some extra kapow! factor; as was the SPECTRE training school, which was inspired by the Gladiator school in the film Spartacus. Both the book and the film have the “sea of rats” scene – but they come at different times in the story. The book also ends on a cliff-hanger, with Rosa Klebb having kicked Bond with her poisoned switchblade-shoe, leaving him fighting for breath and collapsed. In the film, however, Tatiana shoots her dead. I told you there would be spoilers! Interestingly, Ian Fleming had himself tried to steal the German Enigma machine during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division in the Second World War. This no doubt gave him the idea for the Spektor/Lektor device.

Odeon AylesburyI’m sure I’ve seen From Russia with Love at least once before. I believe it was at the Odeon, Aylesbury, in the 1970s, when it was on as part of a double-bill with Diamonds are Forever, and I saw it with my school friend John. The fact that we almost certainly spent the film gossiping and giggling means I had absolutely no recollection of the plot at all. This would have been one of the many occasions when the Cinema Manager would have told us to shut up or get out. Ah, the follies of youth.

FRWL NovelWidely considered to be both of one of Fleming’s best novels and one of the best films in the series, the author was delighted with his reviews. Fleming’s “tautest, most exciting and most brilliant tale” said Julian Symons in the Times Literary Supplement. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune wrote that “Mr Fleming is intensely observant, acutely literate and can turn a cliché into a silk purse with astute alchemy”. However, The New York Times described it as Fleming’s “longest and poorest book”. Of the film, Time magazine called it “fast, smart, shrewdly directed and capably performed”. Penelope Gilliatt in The Observer said the film manages “to keep up its own cracking pace, nearly all the way. The set-pieces are a stunning box of tricks”. The critic for The Times wisely noted that “the nonsense is all very amiable and tongue-in-cheek and will no doubt make a fortune for its devisers”. It would actually be the last James Bond film that Ian Fleming saw; it was released on 10th October 1963 and he died on 12th August the following year.

Is it Bond?The opening credits start precisely as they did for Dr No, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Then, before any opening titles, we then go into the first scene. Bond, dressed in his habitual dinner jacket, is walking through a grand, ornate twilit garden when he realises he is being followed. He hears a footstep on twigs and turns around in a heartbeat (the background music also sounds a stabbing, terrified note) but Bond still can’t see who or where. A little further… the music continues to quiver in the background… the sound of footsteps and owls hooting. Bond is beginning to look anxious. He turns; he shoots; he misses. We see the prowler continue to stalk Bond. Behind a fountain they walk, the violins getting more jumpy, Bond, with his pistol in his hand just ready to strike; then we see the prowler pull out a garotte cord from inside his wristwatch, and as Bond walks in front of him in the shadows, the prowler emerges from the darkness, pulls the garotte around Bond’s throat, as 007 seemingly falls to his knees and dies.

Training schoolThen the lights go up on the big house in the distance and we realise that we are at a training ground; a henchman (Morzeny) comes up and tells the prowler “exactly one minute fifty-two seconds, that’s excellent” – although his mouth never moves, curious that, the first gaffe of the film comes very early. The camera falls to the dead man on the ground, a hand reaches out to its throat and, it’s not Bond after all, but some poor sap wearing a Bond mask, sacrificed in the quest for the perfect spy mission. So who was killed in Bond’s place? (we never find out!) Apparently, the extra who originally played this fake Bond accidentally looked surprisingly like Sean Connery, so they had to re-shoot with a moustachioed man, so as not to confuse the audience! And who is the prowler? (That we definitely do find out!) And what happens next?

Opening creditsWhat happens next is a return to the rest of the title sequence. Robert Brownjohn created a semi-glamorous, semi-seedy vision of the titles being projected onto the scantily-clad body of an exotic dancer, the words floating and contorting as they reflect over the dancer’s undulating form. The dancer was actually the same one who takes part in the gypsy scene, Leila, who, apparently, danced with the Lebanese National Ballet in Iran for the Shah’s coronation! Whilst she is dancing we hear John Barry’s Latin American/Middle Eastern jazz arrangement of the From Russia with Love theme, mashed up with his James Bond Is Back theme. Musically, it’s very arresting! And as the credits come to a conclusion, the lights go up on a very familiar sight…

VeniceAnd the locations? … gondoliers on the waters of the Grand Canal in Venice. The first scene after the opening titles take place at the Venice International Grandmasters Chess Championships, where Czechoslovakian Kronsteen is taking on the Canadian Macadams. The rest of the film takes place in London, then Istanbul, and then Bond and Tatiana work their way back to Venice on the Orient Express, via Zagreb and Belgrade. However, all the railway station scenes were filmed at the Sirkeci station in Istanbul. Almost all the interior shots took place at Pinewood Studios: M’s office, SPECTRE island, the Venice hotel and even on board the Orient Express. The gypsy camp scene was originally to be shot at Topkapi in Istanbul, but funding required that it be shot in the UK, so a mock-up was created at Pinewood. Other short scenes were filmed in Argyll and Scotland, with the “rats” scene filmed in Spain.

Hat trickBond, James Bond. Although the book features that famous phrase, Sean Connery doesn’t get to utter it in this second film. However, he did get a considerable pay increase, from the $100,000 he pocketed for Dr No to $250,000 for this film; and his wages never decreased as the series continued. The success of From Russia with Love truly sealed his own personal success as an actor and he never looked back. Apart from the pay, and the success, the other thing that Connery got out of this film was the chance to wear eight Savile Row suits, each one costing approximately $2000. But then he always was something of a clothes horse.

SteamFilm editor Peter Hunt realised whilst making Dr No that it was vital to keep everything moving as quickly as possible, so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse the plot. It’s got to be here and now entertainment. And as in that previous film, as a result, there are a number of gaffes and continuity issues that remain in the film due to this keenness to move on and make it all at breakneck speed. For example, one scene was cut right at the very last minute because, at a private screening, Terence Young’s 12-year-old son pointed out that it contained a character – the Bulgarian Agent constantly pursuing Bond – who had been killed earlier on in the film. When Kronsteen plays the winning move in his championship match, the chessboard on the wall shows the movement of Queen from F4 to E4, but one moment later, after Macadams has conceded, it’s back on F4 again. When Klebb arrives at the SPECTRE training camp and meets Morzeny, they’re clearly saying the word “pool” whilst their voices say the word “lake”. No time to retake, perhaps? There’s no way that Bond could have put his shirt on that quickly when he has his first phone call with Moneypenny. The bath that he runs when he comes back after Krilenku’s death only has steam coming out of the tap even though you can distinctly hear water pouring out. The Flower truck changes from being a Ford F-350 Flatbed to a Chevrolet C30. Minor errors each one, but when you add them up, it clearly shows that pace and effect was more important than accuracy!

PuntingThe Bond Girl. We last saw Sylvia Trench attempting to get a hole in one in Bond’s bedroom just as he was being called for Dr No duty in Jamaica. Here she is again, up to her elbows in romance, snuggling up to Bond in a punt on the river Cam (I presume – the punter who goes past is punting from the Cambridge end) when, once again, he gets the call to action – no, a different kind of action. Originally there was to be a running joke throughout all the films that Sylvia and James would be just about to shake their groove thangs when M would insist on his being sent to some other part of the globe. But the powers that be decided this would be an unnecessary distraction, and I reckon they got that right. So this is the second and last appearance of Miss Trench attempting to tee something up with Bond.

TatianaInstead, meet Daniela Bianchi, at 21 years old, the youngest to perform the role of Bond Girl. In 1960 she was runner-up to Miss Universe, and it’s not hard to tell why from her extraordinary good looks. From 1958 to 1968 she appeared in a string of movies, mainly performing in her native Italian; and at the grand old age of 28 she retired from acting, to marry a Genoese shipping magnate and bring up a family. Because her accent was too strongly Italian, her lines were dubbed by Barbara Jefford, the first of three times that Ms Jefford would provide the spoken words for a character in a Bond film.

Tatiana looking sexyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From watching Dr No, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, with an exotic background, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, and sometimes tragic. I think it’s fair to say that Tatiana fulfils all those descriptions – apart, perhaps, from tragic; the end of the film suggests that they could go on to have a long and happy relationship….as if that would be likely with James Bond!

FilmingInterestingly, the scene where the SPECTRE agent is secretly filming Bond and Tatiana in bed together caused some problems with the film censors. They didn’t like what they felt was the extreme voyeurism of the arrangement; and to make it more palatable for the censors, the film doesn’t dwell on the agent doing the watching.

BlofeldThe Villain. It’s not so easy to identify just one “villain” in From Russia with Love. In one respect, the villain is the entire SPECTRE community. In another, it’s the unnamed, uncredited character Number One, who lounges in his comfy chair, stroking his pussycat. We know from subsequent films and stories that he is Blofeld; but at this stage, Bond’s cinema audience would only know him as Number One. In fact, he was played by Anthony Dawson, who played Professor Dent in Dr No; although the character was voiced by Austrian actor Eric Pohlmann.

KlebbOther memorable characters? For me the big memorable character is the icily sinister Comrade Colonel Rosa Klebb, formerly with SMERSH, now “Number Three” in SPECTRE. With a face like a ripped trainer, she socks wannabe SPECTRE agents in the stomach to check their strength, lingers dubiously long over the prettiness of Tatiana in a rather icky way, and is ready to despatch Bond to the Pearly Gates with one flick of her poisoned-bladed boots. It’s a brilliant performance by Lotte Lenya, whose first husband was Kurt Weill, responsible for the music in The Threepenny Opera and other collaborations with Berthold Brecht as well as a range of classical compositions. She had a long and wide-ranging career, and was a renowned singer as well as actress.

GrantAnd there’s also “Nash” – Bond’s associate with whom he meets up on the Orient Express, except that he isn’t really – he’s SPECTRE assassin Donald “Red” Grant, whom we meet in that first scene, successfully stealing up on the pretend Bond and garrotting him. Grant’s classic Aryan looks set the hallmark for future tough-guy henchmen. He’s a pure psychopath through and through. He was played by Robert Shaw, an English actor who appeared in a number of top roles in great films – A Man for All Seasons, Young Winston, Jaws, and so on. Sadly he had quite a tragic life, dying at the age of 51 through an alcohol-induced heart attack.

Karim BeyThere’s a lot of fun lurking within the role of Ali Karim Bey, Head of MI6 Station T in Istanbul. He likes the good life – food, drink, women, and never seems to do much in the way of work, although he proves himself a fine marksman with the revenge killing of Krilenku. This excellent performance was the last that Mexican actor Pedro Armendáriz gave, as he died from suicide during the filming, as a result of a diagnosis of terminal cancer of the hips. He was apparently in great pain whilst the film was being made – you can see him limping in many scenes – and actually only took on the job to provide additional income for his wife/widow. Curiously, like Robert Shaw, he too was only 51 when he died.

KronsteenIt’s a small role, but superbly judged: Vladek Sheybal as Kronsteen, the Czech Grandmaster who also works for SPECTRE and who suffers at first hand the displeasure of Number One. His seriously dour countenance was perfect for this humourless, arrogant character. It was actually Sean Connery who recommended him for the role, as they were already friends, and he went on to have a hugely successful career, mainly playing villains in dozens of films in the 60s – 80s. Born in Poland, he became a British citizen and was a very familiar presence on our screens.

QJust briefly to check in at M’s office; Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell reprise their usual roles, and Desmond Llewelyn appears for the first time as Q – a role he would undertake with true devotion 17 times in all. There’s a very funny scene where M cuts off Bond’s recording as he is about to share a dubious story about him with Tatiana, and which everyone around the table would have ended up hearing. Spoilsport!

John_BarryAnd what about the music? So of course we have the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, which remains as iconic and attention-grabbing as ever. The rest of the incidental music is written and arranged by John Barry, and it works extremely well. The sequences in the Russian embassy (007 Takes the Lektor), on the Venice canal and accompanying the closing credits are (IMHO) outstanding.

matt-monroBut the main song this year was “From Russia with Love”, sung by Matt Monro, and written by Lionel Bart, two men who were pretty much at the top of their respective trees. Matt Monro’s biggest hit Portrait of my Love was released in 1960 and he had a string of chart hits for six or so years that ended with his superb cover version of the Beatles’ Yesterday. In that period he represented the UK at Eurovision in 1964 (with a song that didn’t chart) although his second-most successful single, Walk Away, was a translation of that year’s Austrian entry, Warum nur warum. But perhaps his most famous track is the title song from the film Born Free. He died in 1985, but his son Matt Monro Jr is still performing his dad’s old numbers.

Lionel BartLionel Bart was most famous for writing Oliver! along with a few other musicals, plus a few odd songs like Livin’ Doll for Cliff Richard and Little White Bull for Tommy Steele. He had something of a rollercoaster career, with incredible highs and lows. Although the phrase “from Russia with love” is repeated throughout the song, there is no crossover between the lyrics and the story of the film, which John Barry perceived to be a weakness and decided shouldn’t happen again. We first hear the song on the radio when Bond and Sylvia are reclining in their punt, and then not again until the final credits.

HelicopterCar chases. Well, rather disappointingly, there aren’t any. Instead, we have a helicopter chase and a boat chase. I guess they thought it was important to take a step-up from the car chases of Dr No. The helicopter chase was inspired by a scene from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and the boat chase by a scene from The Red Berets, also directed by Terence Young. The helicopter was a model – all very clever cinematography – but the boats were real enough, and they were so highly tuned that they didn’t make a sufficiently “turbo” roar to make the scene exciting, which was a challenge for the sound editor. Although there are no car chases, we do get to see Bond with his beloved Bentley, a 1935 3.5 litre model. Perhaps even nicer, depending on your taste, is Karim Bey’s Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith.

Turkish CoffeeCocktails and Casinos. Again, I expect the producers wanted to move away from that aspect of Bond, putting him in a different environment. So there are no cocktails and no casinos in this film. We do discover, however, how Bond takes his Turkish coffee – medium sweet – although at breakfast time his only stipulation is that it is “very black.” In other alcohol-based news, the scene in the restaurant car on the Orient Express is where Bond realises that his associate Nash is not all that he seems. Red Chianti with sole? Unthinkable!

Phone bugGadgets. Another year, another set of gadgets. Bond has a pager in his punt – it would have been the envy of all hospital staff in the 80s. Q issues Bond with a terrific briefcase, which contains an Armalite AR-7 folding sniper’s rifle with infrared telescope and detachable suppressor, 50 gold sovereigns concealed in a strip, a tear gas cartridge disguised as talcum powder, set to discharge when the briefcase is opened incorrectly, and a spring-loaded throwing knife concealed within the case. Bond wouldn’t have won his fight with Grant without it! There’s a bug checker under the phone, which is useful for all those times when you need to know who’s listening in. There’s a mobile phone in his car – it looks like an ordinary receiver of the time, which is kinda cute. Bond’s charming old Box Brownie camera (which would have surely been archaic in 1963) reveals its secret as a tape recorder.

Walkie talkieBond’s not the only one to have a decent gadget – Grant’s garrotte wire within a wristwatch is a pretty neat trick. And of course, the lektor, around which the whole film revolves, could be considered the ultimate in gadgets. And have you seen the size of the walkie-talkies used Krilenku and his cronies? They’re bigger than a rifle!

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11, plus all those who perished in his lair when it explodes at the end. Can From Russia with Love do any better? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Tatiana can go off in that boat in the end scene for some nookie (just like Bond and Honey did in Dr No):

1) SPECTRE man who was killed at the beginning who we all thought was Bond.

2) Bulgarian agent trussed up in the back of the Citroen hijacked and killed by Grant.

3) Guard at the gypsy camp, murdered by Krilenku by hurling a machete in his back.

4) All those who perish in the gypsy camp skirmish. Impossible to judge really, but I counted at least 14.

5) Krilenku, shot through Anita Ekberg’s mouth in a poster for Call Me Bwana, a 1963 film which was also produced by Eon productions and had largely the same crew as Dr No. Canny!

6) Bulgarian Agent who followed Tatiana into the Saint Sophia, killed by Grant.

7) Russian embassy guard.

8) Anyone who may have died in the explosion at the embassy.

9) Karim.

10) Metz.

11) Station Y officer who should have met Bond at Zagreb, taken into the toilet at the railway station by Grant and mysteriously never seen again.

12) Grant. The fight that ends with his death is under two minutes in the film but took two days to shoot.

13) Kronsteen.

14) Two guys in the helicopter.

15) Everyone who died on the boats (approximately ten people including Morzeny)

16) Rosa Klebb.

That’s at least 40 deaths. Dr No’s death count is chicken feed in comparison with that lot!

Petrol drumsHumour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in Dr No, Bond continues that morbid sense of humour. Here are the throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:

After Bond has helped Karim Bey to shoot Krilenku dead as he climbs through the window, framed by the smiling lips of the Anita Ekberg poster, Bond helpfully observes: “She should have kept her mouth shut”.

When the helicopter that’s been chasing him, finally blows up, killing the two guys inside, Bond says “I’d say one of their aircraft is missing” – referring to the 1942 film of (nearly) the same name.

After he’s shot the petrol barrels that explode in flame killing those pursuing Bond and Tania on the boats, he says to her “there’s a saying in England, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

And after Tatiana has shot Rosa Klebb dead, Bond observes, “she’s had her kicks”.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As in Dr No, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, it’s quite another story. Once again I think it’s important to remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

LeilaSo those opening credits, where the words are projected onto the belly dancer’s body, aren’t really sexist; and the belly dancer’s entertainment sequence at the gypsy camp can in many ways be interpreted the other way – she’s revealing her skill, her ability to do something that the others can’t do, her sexiness (which is a gift) – in no way is this showing that women are inferior to men.

Fight!However, the rest of the film is not quite so straightforward. Karim Bey’s on-off girlfriend is dressed to show off her remarkable cleavage, and she does nothing else apart from pout and look sexy. But then Karim Bey would never be the kind of guy who’d want an equal for a girlfriend. The fight between the two gypsy women, Vida and Zora, to see who wins the hand of the guy they both love, is pretty degrading. True, in the old days, two gentlemen might have fought a duel to win the hand of a fair lady; but that would have been an honourable and somewhat clinical procedure. Aliza Gur’s Vida and Martine Beswick’s Zora get down and dirty, bosoms almost popping out of their colourful bras, in a scene that only lacks mud and a soft porn soundtrack, rather than John Barry’s more dramatic Girl Trouble theme. Then, to cap it all, they fawn over Bond, trying to make his stay as pleasurable as possible. Where’s their self-respect?

Tatiana's nightieTatiana shows less fighting spirit than Honey in Dr No, thereby taking on that sexually stereotyped social role that is the definition of sexism. The very idea that someone should fall in love with someone else just through seeing a photograph of them, so that they want to marry, defect, and risk their life is pretty appalling. I realise that Tatiana is forced into this position by SPECTRE – so I’m happy to accept that it’s SPECTRE who are sexist more than she is. The behaviour of Bond with “Nash” on the Orient Express is also very sexist. Bond insists that she doesn’t go to the restaurant car with the men. He slaps her on the bum. Together, they refer to Tatiana as “The Girl”. Again, she is on the receiving end of the sexism, but does nothing about it. I guess she still has her eyes on prize at the end – which is, not being killed by SPECTRE.

BondBizarre other stuff that occurred to me. Once the film gets underway and the first scenes are of Bond at play, Bond being called into M’s office, Bond being sent to a foreign destination, Bond arriving at a foreign airport, and Bond being collected in a car… I wondered if I was watching Dr No again.

I know foreign travel and tourism has grown a lot in the last 55 years, but how on earth did they manage to film inside the St Sophia in Istanbul when it was so empty? We’ve been twice, and it’s been absolutely thronging with people both times!

Uncharacteristically lax of Bond to let himself get so trapped with “Nash” on the train. Where was his training? If it hadn’t been for Q’s briefcase, he’d be a gonner.

I had no idea Bond was so attached to his hat. In the most trying of circumstances, he’s still headgeared up. It never leaves his head even when he’s on the run, being strafed by helicopters. What a fashion hero!

Those fighting fish… the one that Blofeld says is being trained to wait until its rivals are exhausted… you can see the pane of glass that separates it from the others. Of course it can’t fight, it can’t reach them!

The scar that Sylvia tenderly fingers above Bond’s left hip suddenly disappears when he gets up out of the punt. Magic!

Terence Young didn’t like Daniela Bianchi’s legs. So she had a stand-in reveal her legs in that periscope scene under the Russian embassy.

BAFTA_awardAwards: Ted Moore won the BAFTA for Best British Cinematography (Colour). It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Song (From Russia with Love), but it lost out to Circus World, from the film of the same name. Never heard of it!

Goldfinger posterTo sum up. From Russia with Love feels like a much more mature film than Dr No, and its baddies (Klebb and Grant) are so superbly created and performed that you can really wallow and revel in their misadventure. The Istanbul (and to a lesser extent Venice) settings add a real taste of intrigue and I’m not surprised to discover that this is many people’s favourite Bond film, including Sean Connery himself. Although the budget was doubled to $2 million from the first film, it returned $79 million at the box office, $20 million more than Dr No. It’s a really enjoyable, escapist film that leaves you wanting more. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of From Russia with Love – and whether or not you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up – Goldfinger!

My rating: 5 Sparkles
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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Dr No (1962)

Dr NoIn which we meet Bond (James Bond, that is) who is summoned to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of Secret Agent Strangways, and eventually locates Dr No’s secret hideaway at Crab Key – and defeats the scoundrel. In my Agatha Christie Challenge blog posts I endeavour not to give the game away as to whodunit; James Bond films are a different kettle of fish and so I recommend that if you haven’t seen the film first – well, let’s just say the blogs will be full of spoilers!

BlogAlso – apologies in advance. This is quite a long blog, gentle reader, so I wish you the best of luck in getting through it all. There’s a lot of introductory material that I thought I should grapple with, that shouldn’t be necessary as the film series continues. So, please, may I crave your indulgence just this once?

Dr No novelDr No was the first of the films to be made, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name published four years earlier. In 1961, Canadian film producer Harry Saltzman read Fleming’s Goldfinger, and loved it so much he bought the film rights to the novels. Albert R. Broccoli (Cubby, to you and me) also wanted to transfer Bond to the Silver Screen only to find that Saltzman had beaten him to it. Saltzman refused to sell but they went into partnership together and, under the title of Eon productions, they made eight Bond films together between 1962’s Dr No and 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Although Thunderball had been the original target for the first Bond movie, there was a long drawn out and ultimately acrimonious legal battle over the work between Fleming and Irish writer Kevin McClory, whom Fleming had originally brought in to write a screenplay for a Bond movie in the late 50s. Broccoli and Saltzman wisely chose Dr No instead.

Ursula Andress on the beachBefore this recent re-watch, I think I’d seen Dr No just once before – on television, probably in the 1980s. I remember enjoying it, but my only memory of it, and probably the memory I share with most people, is the vision of Ursula Andress as Honey Rider, emerging from the sea, clad in not very much at all. So it was great fun to watch it again all these years later, and to discover there’s more to the film than just that scene.

Three Blind MiceHow does it start? The opening credits blend into the first scene as we see three (apparently) blind men, all walking in tandem for safety to the tune of Three Blind Mice, crossing a road, holding out a begging tin, then walking up to the Queen’s Club where John Strangways, the MI6 Station Chief in Jamaica, is playing Bridge with geologist Professor Dent, retired military man General Potter, and Government House Chief Secretary Pleydell-Smith. As Strangways leaves to file his usual secret daily report back to London, he is assassinated by one of the (clearly not) blind men, who then take a getaway car to Strangways’ House. There they surprise and murder his assistant Mary, then steal secret files on Crab Key and Doctor No. As the transmission from Jamaica faltered and broke up, London’s suspicions are aroused. So M summons Bond to deliver him his next task: find out what has happened to Strangways. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story at this point – you’ll just have to watch the film for yourself!

Portrait of the Duke of WellingtonProduced on a low budget of just $1.1 million, there are many stories about how cheaply certain effects were achieved. Dr No’s aquarium, for example, was represented by some stock footage of goldfish magnified many times over. M’s office features cardboard paintings and the expensive looking upholstered door to his office was made of plastic. Dr No had clearly stolen Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery, as you can see it in one scene in his lair. It’s true; the painting had genuinely been stolen in 1961 and was missing for four years. In reality, Doctor No wasn’t the thief; over the course of a weekend, production designer Ken Adam painted up a copy using a slide from the National Gallery as his source. The UK arm of United Artists put up an extra $100,000 specifically to film the scene where Dr No’s hideaway is blown to smithereens – that’s an extra 10% of the entire budget spent on that one brief scene. However, they needn’t have worried about the financial risk; the film went on to be a huge success, taking $59.5 million at the box office.

Terence YoungTo direct the film, the producers eventually decided on Terence Young, after it had been declined by Guy Green, Guy Hamilton (who went on to direct four later Bond movies), Hammer movie expert Val Guest and Ken Hughes (most famous for directing Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Guest and Hughes would also be two of the six credited directors (which tells its own story) of the spoof film Casino Royale. Terence Young ended up directing three of the first four Bond movies, and is credited with moulding the character of Bond from Fleming’s original characterisation into someone more sophisticated, tasteful and with an eye to humour as well as to women.

Ian FlemingI haven’t read any Ian Fleming books, but the synopses are readily available on the Internet, so I can (hopefully) make a reasonable estimate of how faithful each adaptation was. But first a word or two about Ian Fleming himself. Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, he was the naval intelligence Commander in charge of Operation Goldeneye (recognise the name?) which was a plan to monitor and sabotage Spain’s activity during the Second World War if the country had been invaded by the Nazis or indeed had offered their support to Hitler. It was vital that British communication with Gibraltar was unhindered during that sensitive period. As it was, there was never any need to put the plan into full operation; and in later years, Fleming used the name for his home in Jamaica. Of course, it would also become the name of the 19th film in the series.

Bond and SylviaIn real life Fleming was no stranger to the more enjoyable things in life; a serial womaniser from his time at Eton onwards – he left Sandhurst with no commission but with gonorrhoea – and a heavy addiction to cigarettes which no doubt brought about his early death at the age of 56. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bond has these attributes too. Fleming clearly brought his experience with military intelligence into his prize creation!

Tarantula sceneDr No was published in 1958 and was the sixth in his series of James Bond novels. Many elements of the story are reasonably faithfully portrayed in the film; although there are a few major alterations. In the book, Dr No runs a guano mine; in the film, it’s a bauxite mine, but with a nuclear pool reactor. In the book No dies through being buried alive in guano; in the film, Bond submerges him in the pool so that No boils to death – neither is a nice way to go. In the book No subjects Bond to the ordeals of electric shocks, burns, an encounter with large poisonous spiders and a fight with a giant squid. In the film, Bond is assaulted by guards and has to crawl through a ventilation shaft that fills with water. The book features a scene where Bond’s life is threatened by a deadly centipede, whereas in the film it’s a giant tarantula. In the film, No is working for SPECTRE, that‘s the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion; in the book he’s operating solo. Much of the rest of the story is true to the book. No’s plans to interrupt the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral; the characters of Honey Rider and Quarrel; the local fear of “dragons” (which turn out to be flame-throwing swamp buggies); even M’s insistence on Bond changing guns, are all to be found in Fleming’s book.

Shoot to killThis was the first of his written works to receive some harsh words from the critics. Famously, Paul Johnson of the New Statesman, under the title, “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism”, wrote: “I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read […] by the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away [..] three basic ingredients in Dr. No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult”.

James BondMany of the film reviews were equally grudging. Time Magazine called Bond a “blithering bounder” and “a great big hairy marshmallow” who “almost always manages to seem slightly silly”. The New Republic said that the film “never decides whether it is suspense or suspense-spoof” – but I personally think that’s one of the film’s strengths. The Vatican described it as “a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex”, whilst the Kremlin said that Bond was the personification of capitalist evil; well, they would, wouldn’t they. However, on a positive note, The Daily Express said that “Dr No is fun all the way, and even the sex is harmless”, The Observer said it was “full of submerged self-parody”, and The Guardian‘s critic called Dr. No “crisp and well-tailored” and “a neat and gripping thriller.” Just goes to show that you can’t please all the people all the time.

Iconic title imageThe opening credits always set the scene and the vibe for any film. With the expectation that Dr No would be the first of many movie adaptations of Bond stories, it was important for them to get it right first time round. And that they surely did. We can thank Maurice Binder, an American film title designer, for the idea of having Bond walk across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Simple, but incredibly effective. For this first film, a stuntman by the name of Bob Simmons played 007 in this sequence (it was also Simmons over whom the tarantula crawls – not Sean Connery).

Opening creditsThe rest of the title sequence consists of coloured flashing discs and squares against a black background with white lettering, representing nightlife signs, traffic lights, casino chips, computer on/off lights – it could be any or all of these; it’s however you want to interpret them, really. This then breaks and becomes a sequence of coloured silhouettes of intertwining people dancing to Latin American rhythms, before another break, revealing the black silhouettes of the Three Blind Mice assassins, hobbling along to a calypso version of the famous nursery rhyme tune.

Le CercleAnd the locations? The action of the story takes place in London and Jamaica, and those are the two locations where the film was shot. Pinewood Studios was used for M’s office, Dr No’s lair and the ventilation duct that Bond has to crawl through. Le Cercle club, where we first meet Bond, was based on Les Ambassadeurs Club in Mayfair, but was another indoor set created by Ken Adam. The external views of MI6 were shot at Queensborough House in London. In Jamaica, the Queens Club scene was shot at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel in Kingston, and Strangways’ House actually belonged to Dolores Keator, the actress who played Strangway’s assistant Mary. Most of the other locations used in Jamaica were very close to Ian Fleming’s home and he frequently popped round whilst they were shooting.

Young Sean ConneryBond, James Bond. Apart from George Lazenby’s one-off portrayal of 007, Sean Connery was the only Bond I’d seen until I saw Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are mere names to me at the moment (until I get around to seeing their films), so, for me, Connery is the one and only truly original. Prior to landing this role, he’d had a few parts, both major and minor, in some obscure films. He’d earned a reputation of being something of a hard man as, on a couple of occasions, he’d shown how handy he was with his fists, both on and off set; and it was director Terence Young who introduced him to the fashionable London scene, with glamorous women and decadent casinos, that knocked some of his rough edges off. But they wanted an actor who had strong, masculine charisma, and he truly fitted the part. Producer Cubby Broccoli had been slightly less than complimentary about some of the names in the frame for the role before they chose Connery.

Bond's first appearanceHe was 32 years old when the film was released; in the books Bond is meant to be in his mid-thirties, so that was a perfect match. Our first impression of him, seated at the casino table, gaining from Sylvia Trench’s losing streak, is of a suave, immaculately dressed, arrogant and maybe dangerous gentleman. He’s introduced to us gradually in that first scene; Sylvia Trench is centre stage, gambling extensively against her invisible opponent. At first, we just see his hands with the cards; then, on side profile, his face is masked by one of the others at the card table; then we see him from behind. We don’t see that iconic first look until he says the magic words “Bond, James Bond”. But it’s not only his words that express his thoughts. His eyes are firmly rooted on Miss Trench, and flirt outrageously with her when he observes, with something of a double meaning, “it looks like you’re out to get me”. When he gets up to attend to business, once again his eyes are more eloquent than any of his words; see you upstairs later, they say, rather than just goodbye. And indeed, by the end of the scene, he has already sorted out a golfing date with her the next afternoon with the prospect of dinner afterwards too. In the words of Sade, no need to ask, he’s a smooth operator.

Fixing a dateFilm editor Peter Hunt realised that the key to success in this film was to keep everything moving as quickly as possible, so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse it. As a result, this vital, iconic opening scene contains a terrible continuity gaffe. On uttering the immortal “Bond, James Bond” line, his cigarette is posed decadently between his lips. As Sylvia speaks her next line, “Mr Bond, I suppose you wouldn’t care to raise the limit”, he removes the cigarette from his mouth and we see it, from behind, held between the fingers of his left hand. However, when the camera pans back up to his face for his next line “I have no objections”, the cigarette is already, magically, back up there in his mouth. Pan back for Sylvia’s next line and the cigarette is back in his hand. There’s a lot of this kind of thing in Dr No. By all accounts, Peter Hunt’s very idiosyncratic style frequently sacrificed continuity for pace and impact. The film is riddled with continuity and factual errors and inconsistencies; no wonder Peter Hunt didn’t want to give the audience time to think. I particularly like the way Bernard Lee as M accidentally says he works for MI7 rather than MI6 – they kept it in, but dubbed “6” over “7”. Watch it back and you realise his mouth is all over the place.

Sylvia TrenchThe Bond Girl. Whilst Sylvia Trench is the first “girl” we meet in connection with Bond, and with whom there is definitely a romantic connection – that’s quite a warm kiss whilst she’s practising golf in his hotel room; and whilst Miss Taro is the first girl with whom he (almost certainly) has some kind of sexual congress, I wouldn’t classify either of them as the first Bond Girl. That accolade surely has to go to Honey Rider, played by the 26-year-old Ursula Andress. Apparently, at first the role was to be given to Julie Christie, but the producers didn’t think she was sufficiently voluptuous.

Miss TaroMs Andress had arrived in Hollywood in the mid-50s but made no films because she couldn’t learn English lines. For Honey Rider, her Swiss-Germanic accent had to be dubbed, in speech by Monika van der Zyl, and in singing by Diana Coupland (Bond theme composer Monty Norman’s wife). But it was definitely the breakthrough moment in her career – she said later that “she owed her career to that white bikini” which was sold at auction in 2001 for £41,125.