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.

Film Review – HALLOWEEN (1978)

Halloween' 1978: The Times Finally Reviews a Horror Classic - The New York  TimesHALLOWEEN (1978, USA) ****½
Horror, Thriller
dist. Compass International Pictures (USA), Miracle Films (UK); pr co. Falcon International Productions; d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Debra Hill; exec pr. Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad (uncredited); pr. Debra Hill, John Carpenter (uncredited); ass pr. Kool Marder (as Kool Lusby); ph. Dean Cundey (Metrocolor. 35mm. Digital Intermediate (4K) (2018 remaster), Panavision (anamorphic). 2.35:1); m. John Carpenter; ed. Charles Bornstein, Tommy Lee Wallace; pd. Tommy Lee Wallace; set d. Craig Stearns; cos. Beth Rodgers; m/up. Erica Ueland; sd. William L. Stevenson (Mono | Dolby Surround 7.1); sfx. Conrad Rothmann (uncredited); st. James Winburn; rel. 25 October 1978 (USA), 25 January 1979 (UK); cert: 18; r/t. 91m.

cast: Donald Pleasence (Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie), Nancy Kyes (Annie (as Nancy Loomis)), P.J. Soles (Lynda), Charles Cyphers (Brackett), Kyle Richards (Lindsey), Brian Andrews (Tommy), John Michael Graham (Bob), Nancy Stephens (Marion), Arthur Malet (Graveyard Keeper), Mickey Yablans (Richie), Brent Le Page (Lonnie), Adam Hollander (Keith), Robert Phalen (Dr. Wynn), Tony Moran (Michael Myers (age 23)), Will Sandin (Michael Myers (age 6)), Sandy Johnson (Judith Myers), David Kyle (Boyfriend), Peter Griffith (Laurie’s father), Nick Castle (The Shape).

Halloween 1963, 15-year-old Judith Myers has been stabbed to death, by her 6-year-old brother, Michael. After being institutionalized for 15 years, Myers breaks out on the night before Halloween. No one knows, nor wants to find out, what will happen on October 31st, 1978 besides Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis (Pleasence). He knows Michael is coming back to Haddonfield, but by the time the town realizes it, it will be too late for many people. Carpenter’s landmark slasher movie spawned many sequels and imitations, but none has bettered this masterclass in building tension through visuals, tight editing and innovative camera work. The use of steadycam hand-held camera to create the illusion of a first-person point of view was a new technique at the time. Carpenter expertly builds the tension through the performances of his young cast and crew. Curtis is excellent as the square student heroine. Pleasence has fun as the psychiatrist who believes Myers is beyond redemption. Carpenter also contributed the eerie synthesised soundtrack, which has become a classic example of marrying music and image to create atmosphere and tension. It is also notable that there is very little blood, despite the carnage, as Carpenter relies more on lighting, editing and music to create the shocks. Curtis’ first feature film. The extended TV version runs 101m featuring footage shot during the filming of its sequel HALLOWEEN II in 1981. Remade by Rob Zombie in 2007.

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.

Film Review – THE DEEP (1977)

THE DEEP (1977, USA) ***
Adventure, Mystery, Thriller
dist. Columbia Pictures (USA), Columbia-Warner Distributors (UK); pr co. Columbia Pictures / EMI Films / Casablanca Filmworks; d. Peter Yates; w. Peter Benchley, Tracy Keenan Wynn (based on the novel by Peter Benchley); pr. Peter Guber; ass pr. George Justin; ph. Christopher Challis; underwater ph. Al Giddings, Stan Waterman (Metrocolor. 35mm. Panavision (anamorphic). 2.39:1); m. John Barry; s. “Down Deep Inside” m/l. John Barry, Donna Summer (performed by Donna Summer); ed. David Berlatsky; pd. Anthony Masters; ad. Jack Maxsted; set d. Vernon Dixon; cos. Ron Talsky; m/up. Edouard F. Henriques, Pat McDermott; sd. Robin Gregory (4-Track Stereo | Mono); sfx. Ira Anderson Jr.; st. Howard Curtis, Bob Minor, Jimmy Nickerson, Richard Washington; rel. 17 June 1977 (USA), 23 September 1977 (UK); cert: PG; r/t. 123m.

cast: Jacqueline Bisset (Gail Berke), Nick Nolte (David Sanders), Dick Anthony Williams (Slake), Robert Shaw (Romer Treece), Earl Maynard (Ronald), Bob Minor (Wiley), Louis Gossett Jr. (Henri Cloche), Eli Wallach (Adam Coffin), Teddy Tucker (The Harbor Master), Robert Tessier (Kevin), Lee McClain (Johnson).

Nolte and Bisset are a vacationing couple who are exploring shipwrecks for treasure off the coast of Bermuda. When they find an uncharted wreck of a WWII ship containing thousands of vials of morphine they enlist the help of local salvage expert Shaw then run into trouble with local gangster Gossett. Riding on the coat-tails of JAWS (1975), this underwater adventure lacks the sustained thrills and tight editing of its inspiration but is not without its moments of excitement. The positives include the sumptuous location and underwater photography and Barry’s lush score. Shaw is also at his abrasive best, whilst Nolte and Bisset look good for the camera. Wallach is on hand too, playing a war veteran looking to fill his own pockets. The stunt work is excellent and the sporadic action scenes are well shot. The version aired in the original ABC network telecast contained 53m of extra footage. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound.

Book Review – WRONG LIGHT (2018) by Matt Coyle

WRONG LIGHT (2018) ***½
by Matt Coyle
This paperback edition published by Oceanview Publishing, 2018, 338pp
© Matt Coyle, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-60809-329-8

Blurb: Naomi Hendrix’s sexy voice hovering over the radio waves isn’t the only thing haunting the Southern California nights. A demented soul is stalking Naomi, hiding in the shadows of the night, waiting for the right moment to snatch her and fulfill a twisted fantasy. When Naomi’s radio station hires PI Rick Cahill to protect Naomi and track down the stalker, he discovers that Naomi is hiding secrets about her past that could help unmask the man. However, before Rick can extract the truth from Naomi, he is thrust into a missing person’s case–an abduction he may have unwittingly caused. The investigating detective questions Rick’s motives for getting involved and pressures him to stop meddling. While Rick pursues Naomi’s stalker and battles the police, evil ricochets from his own past and embroils Rick in a race to find the truth about an old nemesis. Is settling the score worth losing everything?

Comment:  This is the fifth book in Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill series, but it is the first that I have read. It is a dark noir-ish novel which gives Private detective Cahill two unconnected cases to juggle – an unusual, but not unique, approach in a first-person PI novel. Coyle actually juggles the two stories pretty well, blending the action and key characters without confusing the reader. The primary case, concerning a female DJ being stalked is the more traditional, whilst the secondary case – involving the Russian Mafia and a hold they have over Cahill – refers back to events from previous books and readers would perhaps benefit in approaching this series from the beginning. That said, there is enough background provided to ensure you can also approach the book as a standalone. Cahill is a flawed hero and his manipulation of the few friends he has leaves him as something of a loner. The novel moves at a cracking pace and remains engaging throughout with many twists and turns – some that can be foreseen others that shock. As such the book challenges the reader at every turn. This can be both a positive and a negative in that it feels at times that Coyle is trying to be too clever and by doing so the reader can occasionally anticipate his next twist because they know not to take things at face value. The two plots run at different paces. The stalker plot line is almost text book mystery right up until its shocking conclusion. The Russian Mafia subsidiary plot line mixes the mystery element of the nature of the Russian Mob’s operation, in which they embroil Cahill, with action thriller elements of many a big screen crime thriller. Taken separately both would make for a very readable book. Blended together they at times make for an overly frenetic narrative that stretches credulity – not in the nature of the situations but in the way in which the police and FBI deal with them and Cahill seemingly can operate for days without much sleep. All said and done, I really enjoyed the book despite its over-ambition and look forward to seeing where Coyle takes Cahill next.

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.

Film Review – THE MAN FROM HONG KONG (1975)

THE MAN FROM HONG KONG British Quad poster George LazenbyTHE MAN FROM HONG KONG (Australia/Hong Kong, 1975) **½
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox (USA) / Rank Film Distributors (UK); Production Company: Golden Harvest Company / The Movie Company Pty. Ltd.; Release Date: 31 July 1975 (Hong Kong), August 1975 (USA), October 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: began October 1974; Running Time: 111m; Colour: Eastmancolor; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18.
      Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith; Writer: Brian Trenchard-Smith; Executive Producer: David Hannay, Andre Morgan; Producer: Raymond Chow, John Fraser; Associate Producer: Michael Falloon; Director of Photography: Russell Boyd; Music Composer: Noel Quinlan; Film Editor: Peter Cheung, Ron Williams; Production Designer: David Copping; Art Director: David Copping, Chin Sam; Costumes: Sheng-Hsi Chu, Bruce Finlayson; Make-up: Rina Hofmanis, Yung-Hui Tu; Sound: Shao-Lung Chou, Julian Ellingworth, Peter Fenton, Tomash Pokorry; Special Effects: Dan Tyler, Gary Walker, Li Wing; Visual Effects: Roger Cowland; Stunt Co-ordinator: Peter Armstrong; Martial Arts Choreographer: Sammo Kam-Bo Hung.
      Cast: Jimmy Wang Yu (Inspector Fang Sing Leng), George Lazenby (Jack Wilton), Hugh Keays-Byrne (Morrie Grosse), Roger Ward (Bob Taylor), Rosalind Speirs (Caroline Thorne), Grant Page (Assassin), Rebecca Gilling (Angelica), Frank Thring (Willard), Sammo Kam-Bo Hung (Win Chan (as Hung Kam Po)), Deryck Barnes (Veterinarian), Bill Hunter (Peterson), Ian Jamieson (The Drug Courier), Elaine Wong (Chinese Girl), John Orcsik (Charles), Geoffrey Brown (Thug (as Geoff Brown)), Kevin Broadribb (Thug), Brian Trenchard-Smith (Thug), Peter Armstrong (Bodyguard), Rangi Nikora (Bodyguard), Bob Hicks (Bodyguard).
      Synopsis: Hong Kong cop and martial artist Wang Yu travels to Sydney to extradite a drug dealer, but when the hood is assassinated on his way to court, everyone suspects Lazenby, an untouchable crime lord.
      Comment: In this martial arts action thriller, Wang Yu is a Hong Kong inspector working with the Australian police to bring down local drug lord Lazenby. Plenty of neatly choreographed cartoon-like kung fu action with fantastic stunts and some interesting camerawork liven up the this otherwise thinly plotted and poorly acted tale. Good use of Hong Kong, Ayres Rock and Sydney locations. Theme song “Sky High” became a hit for Jigsaw. Wang Yu was dubbed by Roy Chiao. Originally intended as a vehicle for Bruce Lee. US title: THE DRAGON FLIES.

TV Review – THE DEEP (2010)

THE DEEP (UK, 2010) ***
      Distributor: British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC); Production Company: Tiger Aspect Productions; Release Date: 3-31 August 2010; Running Time: 289m (5 episodes); Filming Dates: December 2009-March 2010; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Jim O’Hanlon, Colm McCarthy; Writer: Simon Donald, Paul Rutman; Executive Producer: Greg Brenman, Eleanor Moran; Producer: Will Gould; Director of Photography: Adam Suschitzky, Damian Bromley; Music Composer: Samuel Sim; Film Editor: Chris Wyatt, Helen Chapman; Casting Director: Jill Trevellick; Production Designer: Simon Bowles; Art Director: Andy Thomson; Costumes: Trisha Biggar; Make-up: Gilly Popham, Linda A. Morton; Sound: Simon Gershon; Special Effects: Chris Reynolds; Visual Effects: Thomas M. Horton, Shanaullah Umerji,  Simon Carr, Becky Roberts.
      Cast: James Nesbitt (Clem Donnelly), Minnie Driver (Frances Kelly), Goran Visnjic (Samson), Orla Brady (Catherine Donnelly), Sinéad Cusack (Meg Sinclair), Sacha Dhawan (Vincent), Vera Graziadei (Svetlana), Tobias Menzies (Raymond), Tom Wlaschiha (Arkady), Antonia Thomas (Maddy), Dan Li (Hatsuto), Nigel Whitmey (Lowe), Molly Jones (Scarlet), Amit Patil (Cg generalist), Nick Nevern (Stas), Richard Brake (McIndoe), Goran Kostic (Zubov), Ron Donachie (Sturridge), Nicholas Pinnock (Charlie Goodison), Shonagh Price (Sandra), Simon Donald (Dr. Christianson).
      Synopsis: A research submarine beneath the Arctic stumbles upon a terrifying secret with Earth-shattering consequences.
      Comment: Whilst the story gets more and more preposterous and the dialogue is often risible, this underwater thriller still manages to hook you in for the most part through its makers’ sheer enthusiasm for the material. Nesbitt is part of a submarine crew captained by Driver to return to the site beneath the Arctic ice where a previous research team (including Nesbitt’s wife, Brady) and their vessel disappeared. On arrival, they find they are not alone and have stumbled across a covert Russian drilling operation in UN waters. The story moves along at a nice clip, slowing occasionally for cliched moments of character development. Moments of tension and suspense are built at regular intervals as the crew begin to find themselves out of their depth. The acting is generally good with the cast often overcoming the limitations in the material. The technical attributes and visuals are excellent for the most part, with great production design of the hi-tech submarine – notwithstanding the occasionally obvious CGI moment. After managing to hold our attention through the first four hour-long segments, the story goes off the rails in the last episode with lazy writing that fails to tie up the character arcs and the plot satisfactorily as it lays on the emotional trauma. The result is a generally entertaining but flawed story that may satisfy undemanding genre fans.

Book Review – THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) by Mickey Spillane

THE GIRL HUNTERS (1962) ***½
by Mickey Spillane
This paperback edition published in The Mike Hammer Collection: Volume 3 by Obsidian, 2010, 171pp (524pp) with The Snake (1964) and The Twisted Thing (1966)
Introduction by Max Allan Collins
First published in hardcover by E.P. Dutton, 1962
ISBN: 978-0-451-23124-6
      Blurb: Seven years of hitting the hard stuff have taken it out of PI Mike Hammer. That’s how long it’s been since he gave his beloved secretary the job from which she never returned. Now he’s back with a vengeance. Velda is alive, if only he can reach her in time. But New York’s toughest investigator still has friends in the right places. And his long-neglected .45 is definitely one of those. Piecing together the puzzling deaths of a senator, a newsagent and an FBI man, Hammer finds the missing link in a murderous network of international spies. One that turns out to be Spillane’s kind of beauty – and who knows a good deal more than she should.
      Comment: There was a 10-year gap between Mickey Spillane’s sixth and seventh Mike Hammer novels (Kiss Me Deadly and The Girl Hunters).  During this period Spillane semi-retired from writing and had become a Jehovah’s Witness. The Girl Hunters addresses the absence of Mike Hammer novels during this period by introducing a plot element that has Hammer’s secretary Velda missing in action for the last seven years. Hammer believing her dead has turned to drink, lost his PI licence and his friendship with NYPD captain Pat Chambers. But when a dying man gives Hammer hope Velda is still alive, he sobers up and resolves to find her. The mystery elements are blended well as the dying man is linked to the murder of a US senator and these events, in turn, are linked to the case Hammer and Velda were working on before her disappearance. Meanwhile, Hammer has become involved with Laura, the senator’s widow. The plot may be fanciful with its mix of espionage and hit-men, but Spillane manages to keep the reader from dwelling on the absurdities and emboils us in Hammer’s search for Velda. Whilst the early passages are slow as we become re-acquainted with Hammer and learn of the nature of Velda’s disappearance, once this set-up has been explained the pace quickens and the action is tough, sexy and intriguing. The finale is pure Spillane and will satisfy his loyal fan base. Written with tough-guy dialogue and in a spare first-person narrative prose, Spillane hits his stride once more and would enter a second prolific phase of writing, which could have been written ten years earlier.  A year later the book was adapted into a movie, in which Spillane played his own creation.