Book Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) by Ian Fleming

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) *****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 368pp (339pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1963
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1963
Introduction by Stella Rimington (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57697-6
Blurb: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, is holed up in his Alpine base, conducting research into a terrifying biological weapon. 007’s mission is to gain access to Blofeld’s icy retreat and gather information vital to guaranteeing world safety. A new alliance with the troubled daughter of the head of the French mafia offers 007 the chance to bring down his nemesis once and for all – but will Bond be prepared to pay the ultimate price for victory?
Comment: Fleming’s eleventh Bond novel was a landmark for the series. It was the first novel Fleming had published after the release of the first Bond film Dr. No (1962) – indeed the novel has a sly reference when actress Ursula Andress is spotted at Piz Gloria; it made reference to Bond’s childhood and his Scottish/Swiss parentage and gives us much more insight into his character; and it sees Bond find the love of his life in Tracy. It also has the most exciting action sequences in the series with Bond’s escape on skis from Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s alpine base, and the final assault and bob sleigh chase breathlessly conveyed. The opening chapters also have a great deal of introspection on Bond’s part, he even considers resigning from the service, as he becomes knight-errant for the suicidal Tracy. The plot deftly mixes Bond’s relationship with Tracy and her father Marc-Ange Draco, who is head of a crime syndicate, with the tracking down of Blofeld and the uncovering, undercover, of his latest plot involving bacterial terrorism delivered through the hypnosis treatment of ten young female allergy victims. Fleming is at the top of his game as he skilfully weaves the story elements together into a satisfying whole, with its shattering conclusion.

Film Review – BREAKOUT (1975)

BREAKOUT (1975, USA) **
Action, Adventure, Drama
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / Persky-Bright-Vista; d. Tom Gries; w. Howard B. Kreitsek, Marc Norman, Elliott Baker (suggested by a book by Warren Hinckle & William Turner and Eliot Asinof); pr. Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler; ph. Lucien Ballard (Eastmancolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. Jerry Goldsmith; ed. Bud S. Isaacs; ad. Alfred Sweeney; rel. 7 March 1975 (West Germany), 1 May 1975 (UK), 22 May 1975 (USA); BBFC cert: 15; r/t. 96m.
cast: Charles Bronson (Nick Colton), Robert Duvall (Jay Wagner), Jill Ireland (Ann Wagner), John Huston (Harris Wagner), Randy Quaid (Hawkins), Sheree North (Myrna), Jorge Moreno (Sosa), Emilio Fernández (J.V.), Paul Mantee (Cable), Alan Vint (Harve), Alejandro Rey (Sanchez), William B. White (2nd Officer), Roy Jenson (Spencer), Sidney Clute (Henderson), Chalo González (Border Guard), Antonio Tarruella (1st Prison Guard), Don Norgano Frill (2nd Prison Guard).
Vehicle for Bronson in which he plays a bush pilot hired by Ireland for fifty thousand dollars to go to Mexico to free her husband (Duvall), an innocent prisoner. Saddled with a weak script, Gries fails to find a consistent tone as the film veers uneasily between action drama and comedy. This is not helped by using Bronson in a character more suited to the likes of Burt Reynolds. The story is confusing, and the characters’ motives are never fully explored or explained leaving the audience with little to invest in them. The performances are mixed – Duvall has little to do, and his talent is wasted. There are better performances from Quaid and North, who manage to capture the tonal balance best. Huston has a couple of brief scenes as Duvall’s grandfather determined to keep him behind bars. Technical accomplishments are varied, the editing is often clunky, but there are some genuinely hairy stunts performed. Dan Frazer appears uncredited as a US Customs agent. Apparently the film was inspired by the real 1971 helicopter rescue and breakout of Joel David Kaplan from a Mexican prison.

Film Review – NOMADLAND (2020)

NOMADLAND (2020, USA/Germany) ****
Drama
dist. Searchlight Pictures / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (USA), Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (UK); pr co. Cor Cordium Productions / Hear-Say Productions / Highwayman Films; d. Chloé Zhao; w. Chloé Zhao (based on the book by Jessica Bruder); pr. Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Chloé Zhao; ph. Joshua James Richards (Colour. D-Cinema. Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), ProRes 4444 (3.2K) (source format). 2.39:1, 1.90:1 (IMAX version)); m. Ludovico Einaudi; ed. Chloé Zhao; pd. Joshua James Richards; ad. Elizabeth Godar, Tom Obed; rel. 11 September 2020 (USA), 16 October 2020 (UK); BBFC cert: 12; r/t. 107m.
cast: Frances McDormand (Fern), Gay DeForest (Gay), Patricia Grier (Patty), Linda May (Linda), Angela Reyes (Angela), Carl R. Hughes (Carl), Douglas G. Soul (Doug), Ryan Aquino (Ryan), Teresa Buchanan (Teresa), Karie Lynn McDermott Wilder (Karie), Brandy Wilber (Brandy), Makenzie Etcheverry (Makenzie), Bob Wells (Bob), Annette Webb (Annette), Rachel Bannon (Rachel), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Sherita Deni Coker (Deni), Merle Redwing (Merle), Forrest Bault (Forrest), Suanne Carlson (Suanne), Donnie Miller (Donnie), Roxanne Bay (Roxy), Matt Sfaelos (Noodle), Ronald O. Zimmerman (Ron), Derek Endres (Derek), Paige Dean (Paige), Paul Winer (Paul), Derrick Janis (Victor), Greg Barber (Greg), Carol Anne Hodge (Carol), Matthew Stinson (Nurse Matt), Terry Phillip (Terry), Bradford Lee Riza (Brad), Tay Strathairn (James), Cat Clifford (Cat), James R. Taylor Jr. (James), Jeremy Greenman (Jeremy), Ken Greenman (Ken), Melissa Smith (Dolly), Warren Keith (George), Jeff Andrews (Jeff), Paul Cunningham (Paul), Emily Jade Foley (Emily), Mike Sells (Mike), Peter Spears (Peter), Cheryl Davis (Cheri).
In this well-judged drama McDormand plays a woman in her sixties, who after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad. The story is a slow-moving mosaic that manages to embody the frustrations of middle-America as recession hits and the victims are left without support or hope. Zhao’s film captures the beauty of the landscape and contrasts it against the harshness of economic decline and corporate mechanics as ghost towns spring up from the rugged landscape. McDormand gives a wonderfully naturalistic performance as the embodiment of the unsustainable ideals of modern America. The result is an ironic reversion to the pioneer mentality that formed the USA in the first place. The slow-pace and introspection will not be for everyone – and certainly may alienate the modern generation – but for those with longer memories and experiences it proves to be a rewarding and chastening experience.
AA: Best Motion Picture of the Year; Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role (Frances McDormand); Best Achievement in Directing (Chloé Zhao)
AAN: Best Adapted Screenplay (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Chloé Zhao); Best Achievement in Cinematography (Joshua James Richards)

Book Review – THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) by Ian Fleming

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) ***
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 237pp (212pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1962
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1962
Introduction by Douglas Kennedy (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57696-9
Blurb: ‘You take a wrong step, play the wrong card in Fate’s game, and you’re lost in a world you had never imagined, against which you have no weapons. No compass.’ Vivienne Michel is running away – from pain, from rejection, from humiliation. When she stumbles into a criminal plot, her life seems over…until a chance encounter with James Bond turns her world upside down.
Comment: Fleming’s tenth James Bond novel is a bold experiment in that it tells its story entirely from the point of view of a female character. The book is written in the first-person allowing Fleming to relate the experiences of Vivienne Michel and how her life is changed by her meeting James Bond. Split into three parts: the first exploring Viv’s life in England leading up to her job at the remote Dreamy Pines motel in the north eastern corner of the USA; the second introduces the two gangsters who would terrorise Viv as she is left in sole charge of the motel pending an end-of-season handover to the owner; the third part introduces James Bond as her saviour and the man who influences her life pathway choices going forward. Whilst the first part is necessary to let us understand Viv’s character, it feels a tad overlong, but the story picks up considerably with the arrival of Sluggsy and Horror at the motel. Then seeing Bond through another pair of eyes is an  interesting diversion, but adds little to Bond as a character that we don’t already know. As such the novel feels more of a diversion – a short story expanded into a novel. The insurance scam plot is simple and slight and only Viv as a character gets any colour due to the nature of the approach. Sluggsy and Horror are given dialogue that could have come out of any 1930s gangster movie. As a diversion it is and interesting, but flawed, experiment that is an entertaining read. Fleming returned to his more traditional writing format for the rest of the series.

Film Review – THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946)

THE BLUE DAHLIA (1946, USA) ***½
Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Paramount Pictures; pr co. Paramount Pictures; d. George Marshall; w. Raymond Chandler; pr. John Houseman ; ph. Lionel Lindon (B&W. 35mm. Spherical. 1.37:1); m. Victor Young; ed. Arthur P. Schmidt; ad. Hans Dreier, Walter H. Tyler; rel. 16 April 1946 (USA), 1 June 1946 (UK); BBFC cert: PG; r/t. 96m.
cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard Da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland), Howard Freeman (Corelli), Don Costello (Leo), Will Wright (‘Dad’ Newell), Frank Faylen (Man Recommending a Motel), Walter Sande (Heath).
Ladd stars as a returning vet from WWII with Beaumont and brain-injured Bendix. When Ladd tries to reunite with his wife, Dowling, he discovers her promiscuity and walks out. When Dowling ends up murdered, Ladd is the chief suspect and runs into Lake whilst trying to evade capture and clear his name. A largely effective film noir that has more than its share of melodrama and a resolution that feels overly manufactured. Chandler’s script is a little over-reliant on cliched dialogue and often lacks his verbal spark, whilst the ending was changed against his wishes. There are, though, many wonderful individual scenes and Lake’s confident performance coupled with Ladd’s toughness elevates the material.
AAN: Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Raymond Chandler)