Book Review – GOLDFINGER (1959) by Ian Fleming

GOLDFINGER (1959) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 372pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1959
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1959
Introduction by Kate Mosse (9pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57692-1

Blurb: ‘You’re stale, tired of having to be tough. You want a change. You’ve seen too much death’. In Fleming’s seventh 007 novel, a private assignment sets Bond on the trail of an enigmatic criminal mastermind – Auric Goldfinger. But greed and power have created a deadly opponent who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Comment: Fleming’s seventh James Bond novel is his most ambitious plot to date, based around chief villain Auric Goldfinger’s plan to rob the Fort Knox gold depository, which occupies the final section of the book. The novel opens with Bond being asked by a friend to spot how Goldfinger is cheating him at cards. Bond succeeds and embarrasses Goldfinger into handing back his winnings. The pair meet again on the golf course, this time by design as Bond has been asked to investigate how Goldfinger is obtaining his massive wealth. The golf match is well described with Bond again getting the upper hand as Goldfinger fails in his attempt to win back some of his prior losses. Bond then follows Goldfinger across Europe to his factory, where he discovers how Goldfinger is smuggling his gold around the world. Having been discovered, Goldfinger, seemingly out of ego, keeps Bond onside as part of his Operation Grand Slam, the most daring robbery ever plotted. Along the way Bond meets Tilly Masterton, looking to avenge the death of her sister Jill at Goldfinger’s hands and the daringly named Pussy Galore, a lesbian gangster who is invested in Goldfinger’s operation. We also meet Oddjob, the giant Korean henchman with a deadly hat. Fleming’s writing is fluid and there is more of a cynical humour on show. The plot is frankly highly implausible and the final section of the book, whilst picking up the pace considerably, defies belief, whilst remaining wildly entertaining. However, it is hard to accept the logistics of Goldfinger’s plan and more so the way in which it is thwatrted. Goldfinger continues the trend set in Dr. No of Fleming using increasingly fantastical plots and the book feels a light year away from the honed down tension and emotion of Casino Royale.

Book Review – THE MAKING OF ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) by Charles Helfenstein

THE MAKING OF ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) *****
by Charles Helfenstein
Published by Spies LLC, 18 December 2009, 292pp
© Charles Helfenstein, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9844126-0-0

Blurb: Step back in time to the late 1960s, when Sean Connery resigned from playing James Bond, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli decided to gamble and doubled down with an untested director and an unknown star and came up with the crown jewels: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Based on years of research, hundreds of interviews, and exclusive access to the archives of author Ian Fleming, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and director Peter Hunt, this inside look features never-before-published script details, storyboards, production documents, interviews, memos, marketing material, call sheets, and hundreds of rare, behind-the-scenes photographs of the cast and crew, including sequences and entire sets not seen in the film. From novel to script to screen, this book details the incredible journey of making the most unique entry in the James Bond film series, the longest running, most successful film franchise in history. This is not the white-washed “authorized” story, but the real story.

Comment: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is unique in many ways in the James Bond movie canon. It was the first film in which the part of Bond was recast – Sean Connery having bowed out after five films with Australian model George Lazenby taking over; it would prove to be Lazenby’s one and only performance as Bond; it would be Peter Hunt’s one and only film as director; it would be the only film in which Bond has a serious relationship and gets married. Released at the very end of the 1960s, there were rumblings that Bond may no longer be in vogue as the late 60s cultural revolution pushed cinema audiences to young and hip movies like Easy Rider. These factors led to the film getting a mixed reaction from critics and audiences. Another factor was that the Connery Bonds had become bigger and bigger and more outlandish and OHMSS was a back to basics approach, eschewing the gadgets and became the closest adaptation of one of Ian Fleming’s source novels in the series (director Hunt would always have a copy of the book with him during filming). The film, as well as Lazenby’s performance, has been re-assessed over the years and is now regarded as one of the very best in the series. Charles Helfenstein’s account of the making of OHMSS is an outstanding piece of research taking us from the novel to the scripting process to pre-production to casting to production to post-production and marketing to release and critical reception. It makes for a fascinating journey and tells the story of a director with a determined vision, a new star who was something of a maverick and a production team that put itself on the line to produce the best possible output. Helfenstein has drawn on his own interviews with cast and crew as well as archived information. The book is also packed with production photographs, trade ads, posters, lobby cards and details of marketing products. There is some detailed analysis of the various screenplays developed over a period of five years, including false starts. There is also detail of initial outlines for Diamonds Are Forever, written before Lazenby decided to withdraw from future Bonds. The result is a book that is a must for Bond fans and any movie scholar.

Book Review – DR. NO (1958) by Ian Fleming

DR. NO (1958) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 329pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1958
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1958
Introduction by Sam Bourne a.k.a Jonathan Freedland (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57692-1

Blurb: Dr Julius No is a man with a mysterious past. Nobody knows what secrets are hidden on his Caribbean island, and all those who have attempted to investigate further have disappeared. When two British agents go missing in Jamaica, Bond is sent to investigate. Battling the Doctor’s twin obsessions with power and pain, he uncovers the true nature of his opponent’s covert operation – but he must undergo a deadly assault course before he can destroy the Doctor’s plans once and for all.

Comment: This sixth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series brings the spy back from a seemingly terminal finale at the end of From Russia With Love. He is chastised by M for his choice of firearm and dispatched on a routine mission to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two members of the Jamaica station staff – who it is believed have taken a romantic triste. Bond soon discovers there is more to the couple’s disappearance leading him to the island of Crab Key and the sinister Doctor Julius No. It is easy to see why this book was chosen to kick off the film series. It is the most fantastical novel in the series to date and also the most thrilling in terms of set pieces – notably the extended finale where Bond is subjected to an assault course designed to test human endurance of pain. Honey Rider is a Bond girl with a backstory that makes her fiercely independent and very interesting. It is understandable that Bond falls for her. Dr, No is the archetypal Bond villain, handicapped through the loss of his hands and having to use metal pincers, and his verbal jousts with Bond over dinner set a template for future Fleming novels and the film series. The book’s exotic setting, fluent writing and slick pace make this one of the strongest in the series, despite its outlandish plot.

Book Review – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957) by Ian Fleming

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 356pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1957
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1957
Introduction by Tom Rob Smith (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57689-1

Blurb: A beautiful Soviet spy. A brand-new Spektor cipher machine. SMERSH has set an irresistible trap that threatens the entire Secret Service. In Fleming’s fifth 007 novel Bond finds himself enmeshed in a deadly game of cross and double cross.

Comment: This fifth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series sees the author flexing his literary muscles and experiment with structure. The result is his most satisfying book to this point. The story is split into two sections. The first deals with the development of SMERSH’s plot to discredit the British secret service through James Bond. It introduces the characters of Rosa Klebb, SMERSH’s head of operations, who is a loathsome manipulator; Red Grant, SMERSH’s assassin; Kronsteen, master chess player and key strategist; and Tatiana Romanova, the instrument of the Russian plot. This section takes up the first third of the book and painstakingly fleshes out each of the characters and their motivations. The second section deals with the execution of the Russian plot. Bond meets Darko Kerim, allied head of operations in Istanbul, and Kerim is the strongest and most likeable character in the book. The book really picks up from here, with the girl fight and shootout in the gypsy camp scene a highlight. Bond and Tania’s escape on the Orient Express builds in tension as the Russians and Grant close in. Then the final showdown between Bond and Klebb ends the book on a cliffhanger. There were rumours that Fleming had tired of his creation and was looking for a way out, fortunately that was not the case and Bond returned in DR. NO. The book was reported as one of President John F. Kennedy’s top 10, which kicked off the series’ popularity in the US. The 1963 film adaptation added elements, but stuck to Fleming’s core plot and characters and resulted in one of the strongest films in the series.

Book Review – DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956) by Ian Fleming

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956) ***½
by Ian Fleming
Diamonds Are Forever - Ian FlemingThis paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 309pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1956
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1956
Introduction by Giles Foden (13pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57688-4

Blurb: The Spangled Mob are no ordinary American gangsters. They prey on the addictions of the wealthy and treat the poor as collateral. Their ruthless desire for power and fierce brotherly loyalty make them deadly and invincible. James Bond must go deep undercover in his urgent new assignment: to destroy their millionaire masterminds, Jack and Seraffimo Spang. But the Spangs’ cruel influence is everywhere, from dusty African diamond mines to the frenzied gambling dens of Las Vegas. Can Bond find his men before his cover is blown?

Comment: This fourth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series is better than I remember. Whilst the plot is fairly basic in Bond’s assignment to link the pipeline of diamond smuggling from its source to distribution, it moves at a good pace and is never dull. The villains. the Spangled Mob, are merely violent gangsters controlling the gambling casinos in Las Vegas as well as the diamond operation. Their methods are basic. We learn a bit more about Bond through his interaction with Tiffany Case – a sympathetic character with a dark history. We also learn why Bond has never married and get confirmation of his loyalty to his service. The action set pieces are good – although this time the torture of Bond by Spang’s henchmen takes place “off-screen”. There is a good locomotive chase and the first finale on board the Queen Elizabeth liner is exciting. Whilst not in the series’ top drawer it is on a par with Live and Let Die as a fast-moving action thriller.

Book Review – MOONRAKER (1955) by Ian Fleming

MOONRAKER  (1955) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 325pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1955
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1955
Introduction by Susan Hill (20pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57687-7
Moonraker      Blurb: He’s a self-made millionaire, head of the Moonraker rocket programme and loved by the press. So why is Sir Hugo Drax cheating at cards? Bond has just five days to uncover the sinister truth behind a national hero, in Ian Fleming’s third 007 adventure.
      Comment: Anyone familiar with the 1979 film adaptation – the low point of Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond – should lay any preconceptions at the door. This is one of the very best James Bond novels. Unlike the first two in the series, Fleming’s third 007 adventure gives his lead character room to breathe and as a result, he becomes a more human hero. The first part of the book is the set-up and is almost routine in its playout – showing Bond’s life between missions. The introduction of Sir Hugo Drax, who is suspected of cheating at cards at M’s private club, sets the foundation for the remainder of the story. Drax is something of a celebrity figure and is respected for his development of an atomic deterrent in the ever-escalating cold war environment. The death of Drax’a security chief raises suspicions and Bond replaces him. Slowly he infiltrates Drax’s operation, run by a team of German technicians and supported by Drax’s personal assistant Gala Brand, who is, in fact, an undercover special branch officer. As Bond and Gala slowly unravel the reality around Drax’s test flight for his Moonraker rocket – echoes of WWII resentment and Russian coercion come into play. The final section of the book is taut, suspenseful and one of the best passages of writing in Fleming’s bibliography. Drax is one of Fleming’s best villains and Krebs a sinister henchman. Gala is an appealing heroine, who is brave and resourceful. The lonely life of a spy is described in Bond’s routine work and the ironic coda and his relationship with his boss, M, is explored to some degree. This set the template for more fantastical plots and charismatic villains and as such is highly recommended as a great example of what the series offered.

Book Review – LIVE AND LET DIE (1954)

LIVE AND LET DIE  (1954) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2019, 303pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1954
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1954
ISBN: 978-0-099-57686-0
      Blurb: Mr Big is brutal, brilliant and feared worldwide. Protected by Voodoo forces and the psychic powers of his prisoner Solitaire, he is an invincible SMERSH operative at the head of a ruthless smuggling ring. James Bond’s new assignment will take him to the heart of the occult: to infiltrate this secret world and destroy Mr Big’s global network. From Harlem’s throbbing jazz joints to the shark-infested waters of Jamaica, enemy eyes watch Bond’s every move. He must tread carefully to avoid a nightmarish fate.
      Comment: Ian Fleming’s follow-up to his debut James Bond novel Casino Royale is a fast-paced and entertaining read. It is also a relic of its time and the text, although softened in this version, should be taken in that context in the way it deals with its largely black cast of characters. Bond is up against Mr. Big, who is smuggling sunken pirate treasure to help fund the Russian spy network SMERSH. Bolstered by its action set-pieces – notably as Bond and Felix Leiter penetrate Mr Big’s empire resulting in Leiter “disagreeing with something that ate him” and the tense finale where Bond and Solitaire are hauled over a corral reef. The book has three settings – New York, the Florida keys and Jamaica and is the first of the books to introduce a globe-hopping element. Bond is presented as a tough and single-minded agent with little time for sentiment. Mr. Big is an impressive, if two-dimensional, villain. Themes of voodoo permeate throughout the plot, but are not fully explored. Solitaire is a little bland and her supposed powers to see into the future are underplayed as a potentially interesting character dissolves into the typical captive woman yearning for Bond to free her. Fleming was still honing his craft at this stage and better stories and plots would follow, but it remains a good example of why the series became so popular.

Book Review – CASINO ROYALE (1953) by Ian Fleming

CASINO ROYALE (1953) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2018, 256pp (229pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1953
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1953
Introduction by Anthony Horowitz
ISBN: 978-0-099-57597-9
Casino Royale      Blurb: Le Chiffre is a businessman with expensive tastes – and SMERSH’s chief operative in France. As his dissolute lifestyle threatens to ruin him, his only hope of survival is to risk his paymasters’ money at the baccarat table. Across from him sits James Bond, the finest gambler in the British secret service. Bond’s mission: to outplay Le Chiffre and shatter his Soviet cell. midst the opulence of the Royale-les-Eaux casino, the two men face each other in a game with the highest stakes of all.
      Comment: The book that started a phenomenon. Ian Flemings’ Casino Royale introduces us to Britsh spy James Bond – 007. The story is a relatively low key beginning for Bond, bearing in mind what was to follow, but that is part of the books’ charm. By pitting Bond against an enemy agent in a card game we get to delve into Bond’s character and philosophy. His attitudes, particularly to women, may seem anachronistic today but were indicative of the time the book was written. Published only a few years after the end of World War II it demonstrated how many men found it difficult to share their emotions – their sensitivities hardened by their experience by their wartime experience. The plot is fanciful in its set-up of the card game being a vehicle by which Le Chiffre urgently seeks to recover lost funds in order to redeem his benefactors. Once we have accepted the notion then we are treated to a tense battle of wills. The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the game and includes a torture scene that has become infamous over the years and is certainly extremely sadistic – even by today’s standards. Bond’s falling for his fellow agent, Vesper Lynd, plays out alongside this and leads to a shocking finale which goes a long way to explaining Bond’s approach with women in the books that followed. Fleming’s writing is also at its tightest here and he describes the card game with a depth of knowledge. The short chapters keep the reader turning the pages by either ending on a key plot progression or mid-scene. This debut work is Fleming at his most efficient and Casino Royale remains one of the best of the series.

The James Bond novels of Ian Fleming:
Casino Royale (1953) ****
Live and Let Die (1954) ***½
Moonraker (1955) ****½
Diamonds Are Forever (1956) ***
From Russia with Love (1957) ****
Doctor No (1958) ****
Goldfinger (1959) ***½
For Your Eyes Only (1960) (short stories) ***
Thunderball (1961) ****
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) **
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) *****
You Only Live Twice (1964) ****
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) ***
Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966) (short stories) ***

Film Review – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Related imageTHE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (UK, 1974) ***
      Distributor: United Artists Corporation; Production Company: Eon Productions; Release Date: 19 December 1974; Filming Dates: 18 April 1974 – 23 August 1974; Running Time: 125m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono | 3 Channel Stereo (London premiere print); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG – Contains moderate violence.
      Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Associate Producer: Charles Orme; Director of Photography: Ted Moore, Oswald Morris; Music Composer: John Barry; Film Editor: Raymond Poulton, John Shirley; Casting Director: Weston Drury Jr., Maude Spector; Production Designer: Peter Murton; Art Director: John Graysmark, Peter Lamont; Costumes: Elsa Fennell; Make-up: Paul Engelen; Sound: Gordon Everett; Special Effects: John Stears; Visual Effects: Roy Field (uncredited).
      Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Christopher Lee (Scaramanga), Britt Ekland (Goodnight), Maud Adams (Andrea Anders), Hervé Villechaize (Nick Nack), Clifton James (J.W. Pepper), Richard Loo (Hai Fat), Soon-Tek Oh (Hip), Marc Lawrence (Rodney), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Marne Maitland (Lazar), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), James Cossins (Colthorpe), Yao Lin Chen (Chula), Carmen Du Sautoy (Saida), Gerald James (Frazier), Michael Osborne (Naval Lieutenant), Michael Fleming (Communications Officer).
      Synopsis: Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to stop him.
      Comment: Moore’s second outing as 007 starts well, with little reliance on gadgets, but later descends into increasingly outlandish set-pieces – Lee’s flying car being a particular low point. Lee actually makes for a strong villain and Villechaize a memorable henchman, but the plot is lacking in any wider threat than that to Bond himself – the climate crisis theme of the subplot maybe even more topical today but is treated here in a tokenistic way. Again, cashing in on cinematic trends of the day the film shifts locale from that in  Fleming’s novel (Jamaica) to the Far East – introducing elements of martial arts to cash in on the then-recent glut of movies inspired by Bruce Lee. The fun-house scenes that bookend the film are well shot and tense and it’s nice to see Barry return to score the films – even if the theme song is one of the series’ poorest. There are elements of the vintage Bond classics here but too often they are undermined by an increasing desire to be cute – witness the impressive car jump stunt which is totally weakened by a supposedly humorous sound effect – worse was to follow in later entries. Followed by THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977).

Film Review – SKYFALL (2012)

Skyfall (2012; UK/USA; Colour; 143m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. Sam Mendes; w. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan; ph. Roger Deakins; m. Thomas Newman.  Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory, Nicholas Woodeson, Bill Buckhurst, Elize du Toit.  James Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. Engrossing and emotive, this is one of the best of the series with Craig delivering his strongest performance to date as Bond and Dench having a much greater involvement as M. Whishaw debuts as a geeky young Q. Bardem stays the right side of caricature in a delicious turn as the villain of the piece. Thrilling, explosive finale at Bond’s ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands. Production credits are all top notch and Deakins’ cinematography is sumptuous. Oscar winner for Best Song (“Skyfall” by Adele and Paul Epworth) and Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers). Based on characters created by Ian Fleming. [12]