*Guest Post* Garth Groombridge -My 40 Favourite Movies: 22 – Dr No

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22: DR. NO: 1962. Director: Terence Young. UK. Spy thriller. Sean Connery. Ursula Andress. Joseph Wiseman. Jack Lord. Bernard Lee.
Adapted from the 1958 Ian Fleming novel of the same name by Richard Maibaum (US producer, playwright and screenwriter), Joanne M. Horwood (Irish screenwriter), and Berkely Mather (John Evan Weston-Davies. UK author). Music was by Monty Norman. Screen-time was 109 minutes. The producers were Hersche ‘Harry’ Saltzman (1915-1994, Canadian theatre and movie producer) and Albert Romolo ‘Chubby’ Broccoli (1908-1986, American producer – his daughter Barbara later inherited the Bond franchise). Saltzman had been reluctant to make a movie of the Bond books, but equally disinclined to sell the rights to Broccoli – hence their agreement to a partnership. Initially the project was something of an unloved orphan. The budget was set at just $1.1million – United Artists reluctantly put up $1million, with an extra $100,000 for the climax. Again, the production design budget was a mere £14,500, plus another £6,000 raised by the producers. Sean Connery was paid just £5,000 – “hulky and cheap”. Val Guest was one of the directors who turned down the job, before it was offered to Terence Young. Wolf Mankowitz wrote an early draft, but then quit, asking his name to be removed from the credits as he feared the movie would be a disaster. Eventually, box office takings worldwide were nearly $60million. It was to become an endless money-spinner.
Author and critic John Russell Taylor, writing about the James Bond phenomenon in Movies of the Sixties (1983), was not very complimentary: “With hindsight, it is amazing that the James Bond books took so long to arrive on the screen – not was it for want of trying. The creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, began writing the books with the possibility of filming very much in mind, and at least one of them, Thunderball, published in 1961, was originally conceived as a film scenario. Fleming probably had no idea what a goldmine he had struck upon when he wrote the first one, Casino Royale, in 1953, and the film rights were disposed of for a modest sum soon after publication. It was to be followed by another James Bond book regularly as clockwork every year until Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. Little by little the books built up their sales until their success on screen was a foregone conclusion. They are all efficiently constructed thrillers: normally Bond spends about two-thirds of the story making his way into the exotic arch-villain’s clutches and the rest rather simple-mindedly fighting his way out of them, destroying his adversary in the process. James Bond, agent 007, with a licence to kill on Her Majesty’s secret service, is a 14-year-old schoolboy’s fantasy of sophistication. The ideals he embodies are to do with preserving one’s cool and knowing about food and wine, even while behaving as the perfect sportsman towards miscellaneous foreign cads and bedding a succession of indistinguishable girls resembling lush Playboy centrefolds.”
I was in my middle teens, and already with a more sophisticated taste in literature than the average 14-year-old, when I first read the James Bond books – eventually all of them, even For Your Eyes Only, his collection of short stories. The films came first, the books second. However, I never liked either Fleming as a writer, or his so-called hero. The early novels especially, Casino Royale and Moonraker, were awful; badly written, with two-dimensional characters and elements of sadism. James Bond was both a snob and a thug in a posh suit, not even especially believable or interesting – certainly not a very credible spy. I preferred Len Deighton’s more cerebral spy novels with the nameless narrator, who became ‘Harry Palmer’ in the movies The Ipcress File, Funeral in Berlin, and The Billion Dollar Brain, as played by Michael Caine. However, Deighton’s books were too complex and clever, and didn’t translate very successfully to the screen.
That said, the early Sean Connery James Bond films were entertaining, and for the most part followed the basic plot of the books. The popular consensus of many Bond movie aficionados is Goldfinger is the best, with From Russia With Love next. On the basis of the financial success of Dr No, both, of course, were big budget movies – From Russia With Love (1963), cost $2million and made $70million, and Goldfinger (1964), had a budget of $3million and box office takings of $125million. One rather silly plot feature in Russia has Bond descending from the British Consulate into the underground water cisterns to spy on the Russian (e.g. Soviet) consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. While the two consulates are near to each other, they are actually located in Pera, which is on a hill. The Ottoman water storage cisterns are across the Golden Horn, in Istanbul proper. However, my favourite James Bond movie is still Dr No, the first movie, although the sixth book. Saltzman and Broccoli had acquired rights to all the books except Casino Royale – hence why we had the awful 1967 abomination and it wasn’t until 2006 that that Daniel Craig version was made in the ‘official’ Bond franchise. At the time, 1962, there were still some legal problems with Thunderball, resulting in the happy choice of Dr No, perhaps both financially (given the reluctance of United Artists to come up with a bigger budget), and that it was set in Jamaica, Fleming’s backyard – literally, as much of the movie was shot near his estate of ‘Goldeneye’. Fleming was a frequent visitor to the film set, so perhaps – in retrospect – this was the book-to-film that really did have his seal of approval. When Thunderball was eventually made, in 1965, the budget was a colossal $9million, with a box office return of $141.9million.
Sean Connery was to became the definitive Bond for many, myself included. He brought an element of menace to the character which was completely lost during the Roger Moore years. Again, we have a time capsule of Jamaica, which itself only achieved independence in 1962. The plot still has a freshness about it, an originality – while the scriptwriters added a certain an element of black comedy – perfectly accentuated by Connery – that blunted the often brutal violence and casual sex. People are shot out of hand – the MI6 agent Strangways and his secretary (amateur, one-off, bit-part by Dolores Keator, whose house they were filming in – I hope the blooded floor rug wasn’t hers) – Bond shoots Professor Dent, various Dr No underlings, while the ‘dragon’ – a giant motorised flame-thrower – incinerates Bond’s black Jamaican assistant, Quarrel – the first of a number of quite nasty deaths in the movie series – think Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) painted gold in Goldfinger, or Corinne Dufour (Corinne Cléry) torn to bits by Hugo Drax’s dogs in Moonraker. In the books, Strangways, Quarrel and CIA agent Felix Leiter had all appeared before, in the novel Live and Let Die (1954). In the Dr No novel, Bond’s love interest Honeychile Rider was staked out, to be eaten by crabs, but when making the movie the crabs proved uncooperative and lethargic, so the director opened for Honey Ryder (as she had become, played by Ursula Andress) to be simply slowly drowned instead – not nearly as imaginative or nasty! The biggest difference between book and movie was the ending – in the book Dr No was smothered to death under guano (birds’ droppings), but in the movie we already have the template for virtually all Bond movies thereafter – the ‘big bang’ of the villain’s secret lure being spectacularly blown-up by Bond activating the nuclear reactor into meltdown. In 1962 that was comparatively original (a nod towards Kiss Me Deadly perhaps?), but eventually it became – like much of what passed for a plot in later Bond movies – samey and monotonous. Yawn. Even the last reel – Bond and girl escaping together, cue having nooky – became a cliché.
Nearly 60 years on, both Connery and Moore are no longer with us, likewise the original ‘M’ (Bernard Lee, 1908-1981), ‘Q’ (Desmond Llewelyn, 1914-1999), or Miss Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell, 1927-2007). The franchise grinds on, but I lost interest long ago, with Octopussy (1983), so even before Roger Moore’s final effort, A View to a Kill (1985). Moore never took the role seriously, and it showed. His Bond was lacklustre, smirky, lazy, repetitious. George Lazenby’s Bond (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 1969), wasn’t bad, at least again it followed the book pretty much, if only he hadn’t been arrogant son-of-a-bitch and full of himself off-screen. Connery made a one-off non-Eon Bond, a re-make of Thunderball entitled ironically Never Say Never Again. The producers were Jack Schwarkzman and Kevin McClory. It wasn’t bad. Budget was $36million and box office was $160million, so no dud financially. There was obviously still a hunger for a Connery Bond. MGM now have the film rights. Sean Connery then reappraised Bond one last time for Eon again in Diamonds Are Forever (1971), but which already now bore no resemblance to the original book. I admit to having no desire to watch any of the Timothy Dalton Bond movies (1987-89), nor Pierce Brosnan (1995-99), or Daniel Craig (2006-15). Another break, and Craig’s latest, perhaps aptly named No Time to Die, was supposed to be released in 2020, but is now scheduled for 2021. Personally, I think the franchise should have been killed off long ago, certainly by the early 1990s, or perhaps replaced with ‘Jane Bond’. Even if we are re-entering a new Cold War, times have changed. Bond would now either be a mercenary, a simple-minded gun for hire, or sitting with a lap-top, engaged in cyber warfare. The silly, mindless destruction of various locations around the world is tedious and tiresome. Where will James Bond, the most un-secret secret agent and mass-murderer, trash next? Please, put us out of our misery.
My comments from 22/10/1988:
Doctor No (1962), the first Bond film with Sean Connery, and the one film which remained fairly true to the book. Thereafter, and especially with debonair but ‘Saintly’ Roger Moore, the Bond movies bore less and less resemblance to the Fleming originals in either plot or mood until eventually only the titles were left. The books, mediocre literature as they were, had a thread of character development, a continuity from one to another, which the films completely sabotaged, partly by taking them mixed up and sequentially at random. Doctor No was several books in from the first Bond book Casino Royale. Jamaica, Strangways and Quarrel had all appeared before, in an early book. One has the impression in the film that the last hectic and rather silly 20 minutes were done in haste, or that several reels were missed. The character of Doctor No, like all the later villains, is a cardboard megalomaniac, bordering on being certifiable (although, to be fair, that was also very much Fleming’s style, having the subtly of a Cold War comic strip), but in the film his demise is strangely without much drama or tension, unexpected only in happening so quickly after the lengthy build-up. The subsequent escape of Bond and the girl is totally illogical, but the formula (used in almost all Bond movies since) of the spectacular sets being blown up, seems as if the scriptwriter got tired, or the producer did a hatchet-job in the cutting-room.
A later film with Roger Moore did a much more gripping version of virtually the same theme – as Bond simultaneously sends the nuclear reactor into critical (thus providing the obligatory fireworks), diverts the laser-beam or whatever which threatens the American spacecraft or missile (in Doctor No it was a radar beam), rescues the latest girl from death (or a fate worse than death, in the nastiest but most imaginative way) while exterminating the super-villain. As the post-Connery Bond films became so repetitious as to merge in one’s memory into a single bland canvas of caricature, I cannot even recollect which film this was! But the finale was definitely a rerun of Doctor No. [It was actually The Man With the Golden Gun.]
One other observation: Connery was without doubt the best Bond, and the truest in appearance and mood to the character of the books, although [one story is that] Fleming disliked him because he was Scottish! Compared to Moore (who appeals to Fleming’s snobbery) you are aware how in the earlier films, 007 was really just a thug in a dining-suit who takes pleasure in his job of ruthless executor of the Queen’s enemies. “Why did you do that?” wails Ursula Andress after Connery has viciously stabbed a black Doctor No henchman and thrust his body underwater in the jungle river. “Because I had to.” He answers before spreading fresh mayhem elsewhere. By comparison Moore was too immaculate, to frivolous, too urbane. Connery’s dead really were dead!

A Marston Baines Appraisal: Malcolm Saville’s Last Series

The Marston Baines series is the fourth (of eight) series of Malcolm Saville books I have now read, and the second that I have approached as a reader in his sixties. The other four series being aimed at younger readers and therefore completely unsuitable unless I suddenly acquire step-grandchildren to read to, it is where I draw the line, and sadly I draw it well below the standard of all the others, even the very weakest of the late Lone Pine Club books.
With the shining exception of my favourite Not Scarlet But Gold, Malcolm Saville’s books of the Sixties and Seventies represent a falling-off of his abilities. The changes in Society throughout the Sixties clearly upset him, undermining in both good and bad ways the principles in which he believed. For the first time, his writing does not reflect the world as it was and he’s not comfortable about that.
Furthermore, there was a demand from publishers and, I shouldn’t be surprised, a sector of his audience that wanted new stories to reflect the new times, and that was something Saville was ultimately unable to do to any effective degree. The number of times his characters proudly proclaim themselves as ‘square’ or even ‘cube’ tells us that.
But twenty years into a very successful career, Saville wanted to change. Like anyone known for a long-running series of books, he wanted to leave these behind. He wanted to be recognised for more serious fiction, fiction that occupied itself with issues of the time and enabled him to deliver warnings about what he feared. He wanted to be known and remembered for something better, and older in audience.
Sadly for him, his concerns may have been genuine, but they were anchored in fear, of the unknown, of what he couldn’t come to terms with. History very rarely turns round and goes back. And successful writers of one form of genre, steeped in its tropes and motifs, find it difficult to discard the habits of twenty years that have served them so well, and which have become ingrained.
Given its debut in 1963, it’s impossible not to see the Marston Baines series as a juvenile version of Ian Fleming’s James Bond as made world-wide success by the Sean Connery-starring films, filtered through Saville’s Christian sensibilities. As such, the series strips out everything that made the James Bond books and their multifarious copycats successful, the violence and especially the sex.
Marston Baines is himself a bachelor. Saville doesn’t use the phrase ‘confirmed bachelor’, thankfully, as that was a contemporary code for homosexual, an idea that was even further beyond the pale than the idea of sex before marriage. Saville is so sterile that the idea of sex between married couples isn’t even allowed to arise.
All the books abound in undergraduate age characters, men and women, their ages for most of the series lying between eighteen and twenty, though by the time of the penultimate book, Baines’ nephew Simon has graduated a year previously, and we must assume his friends from Oxford have all done the same, though no discernible change in their behaviour takes place. Even in 1963, real undergraduates, men and women, would have had a quite powerful interest in sex, but instead characters fall in love during books, especially Simon, only to be fancy free the next time they appear. There is precious little kissing and such as there is, as in the final Caves of Drach scene in White Fire is cut away from very rapidly.
Saville’s inability to compromise his Christian principles was the hindrance that kept Jon and Penny Warrender in the ‘Lone Pine’ books from the engagement that was their due, and here his insistence upon good clean entertainment, without the actuality of death and brutality or the physical attraction of healthy young men and women to each other ensured that the series would never achieve the popularity or respect he sought. An evil organisation that will not act with realistic violence cannot create a genuine sense of danger. A writer who constantly relegates violence to offstage cannot create a grown-up atmosphere.
The overall tone of the series is pitched on a single note. It’s rather like my long-term take on the Daily Mail‘s ethic, that someone, somewhere is enjoying themselves – and it’s got to STOP! In both cases it’s fear that is paramount. Saville is seeing the world changing. He doesn’t like it changing, it is ceasing to be understandable to him. The rigidity of British Society, with its clearly defined social strata is beginning to soften. The ground beneath his feet is no longer the rock-solid thing he has lived upon for so long. Young people are starting to think more for themselves, to turn away from being pressed-out copies of the templates their parents, their elders and betters – especially the latter – and moving towards thoughts, feelings and preoccupations of their own. They’re beginning to experiment with possibilities instead of taking for granted what they have been told.
Inevitably, they will get into ‘bad habits’.
It’s understandable, if not necessarily forgivable in a writer whose work has been directed entirely and successfully to the entertainment of children. And it’s equally understandable but only a little more forgivable in a writer whose stories have always eschewed the remotest shades of grey. Law. Order. Crime. Criminals. There’s never been any difficulty in telling one from the other.
But here Saville is addressing himself to an older audience. Not boys and girls, but young men and young women, but he cannot escape the didactic tone. What’s worse is that he cannot, not for one moment, give his young men and women any credit for thinking or themselves unless they are in total agreement with him. If they disagree, it is because they have been manipulated into doing so, because they have ben brainwashed by sinister organisations, criminal or Chinese, seeking to create anarchy in order to create fascist control, for their own selfish purposes.
No-one believes in anything, unless it’s in their undirected hatred of order and decency. No, I exaggerate slightly: the Antisemitic unreconstructed Nazi in Power of Three believes in his poisonous hatred. But no-one else does.
Saville does his cause(s) down from both directions by refusing to admit the least fraction of validity, by constantly insisting to the very audience he is trying to sell to that they are fools, dupes and idiots, and by paradoxically trivialising everything by insisting that it’s only down to criminal masterminds who can be overthrown by deus ex machina swoops with the Police.
It can’t. The issues that scared him, rightly or wrongly, were genuine changes in societal temperature that could not be wished away by attributing them to Signora Salvatore. They had to be confronted, acknowledged, and argued with. Malcolm Saville steered himself out of his depth. He may have had enough and more than enough of David and Peter, Jon and Penny and the like, trapped by a public demand on a par with that laid upon Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, but not only did the commercial impact of this series diminish with every book, but – and I hate having to say this – the longer he persevered, the more he demolished his own genuine artistic qualities.
Malcolm Saville was simply unable to write a half-decent adult-oriented book. The last six weeks have demonstrated that.
There is still one book in the series to come. Should all go well, GirlsGoneBy will republish it, and I will read it about twelve months from now. By then, the third Jillies book will have been reprinted. I am looking forward to that. I cannot say the same for Marston – Master Spy.


Next year…

The Man with the Golden Hand: RIP Yarolav Horak

I was on my way out (which was a disaster in itself) when I heard the news via John Freeman’s Down the Tubes comics news site that comics and newspaper strip artist Yaroslav Horak had died on November 24th, at his home in Sydney, Australia, aged 93. This is my first chance to salute his life.

Horak, of Czech-Russian stock, was born in China in 1927 but spent most of his life in Australia, following his family’s migration there when he was aged twelve. He had a successful post-war career there as a newspaper strip artist, under the name ‘Larry’ Horak, which he hated but was unable to shake unti trying his hand in the UK in 1962. Horak drew serials for both the Victor and the Hornet – the latter being ‘The Bent Copper’, one of the few actual stories I remembered from my childhood but which, to my shame, I failed to recognise the style when going over my Hornet DVD collection – and contributing stories to the Commando War Library.

But what secures Horak’s place in both history and my grateful memories was the ‘James Bond’ strip in the Daily Express. Horak took this over in 1966 from original artist John McLuskey, apparently on the recommendation of Peter O’Donnell,and he formed a partnership with writer Jim Lawrence that lasted until the strip’s cancellation in 1977, by which time he and Lawrence had produced no less than twenty-five original stories. Apparently, it was Horak’s art on ‘the Man with the Golden Gun that persuaded Ian Fleming’s trustees to authorise the pair to produce original work.

The thing about Golden Ages is that you very rarely realise you are living throuigh one at the time, especially if you were in your teens. The Express had by far and away the best set of action strips in Fleet Street between about 1965-75: Harry Bishop’s ‘Gun Law’ (a variation of the long-running Western TV show Gunsmoke, starring Marshall Matt Dillon), Bond by Lawrence and Horak, and holding up the block, Sydney Jordan’s Jeff Hawke, written by Willie Patterson. Imagine getting to read those three, six days a week? There is nothing to compare to it, nor has there been for decades.

Of the three, it was Horak who least impressed me then. Bishop and Jordan were clean, clear artists, with smooth lines and defined characters. Horak was not: he was angular, dynamic, almost ugly, and yes, that went for Bond too, who he drew with a look that was very familiar when Timothy Dlton took over the role. Horak’s panels were full of edges and contrasts. There was no letradots, nor cross-hatching, and a minimum of spot-blacks. Horak turned the world a bit sideways for the strip. It was a more sophisticated approach than his counterparts, and it took years of growing to understand it and learn to properly appreciate it.

Horak returned to Australia in 1975, but continued to work with Lawrence on james Bomd until the final end in 1984, on stories that ran in the Sunday Express and the Daily Star. In Australia he developed the TV shop ‘Cop Shop’ as a successful strip before ending his career in that field with his own, original,’Andea’, an SF strip. After that, Horak focussed on painting. His death comes after a decade of alzheimers.

Yaroslav Horak never got the public recognition he deserved for making the James Bond strip what it was. In an era where the films were getting steadily more comic, overblown and crass, he and Jim Lawrence produced a Bond who was much more like Fleming’s real character, and yes, Fleming’s Bond may have been a sadistic, lecherous brute but he was a damn site more real than the post-Connery fim one, and Horak was key to that, and I’ll remember him forever for it.

A touch of gold

Some Books: Ian Fleming’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’

This is an occasional series, about books I read many years ago, usually but not always from Didsbury Library, that I seek out to re-experience, to see if the things that appealed still affect me the same way, and to measure the change in myself between then and now.
Back in the days when I had first been allowed to cross into the Adult Library, I read all the James Bond books, give or take the odd short story here or there. I don’t remember much about them now. I presume I enjoyed them, then, but more importantly, I read James Bond because he was one of the keys to adulthood, almost as much as smoking, and probably just as bad for your health.
I never touched the first of these: I had already learned to dislike the atmosphere in a household in which both parents smoked but more importantly a father dying of cancer when I was in my early teens was an impenetrable barrier to starting that.
Down the years, the James Bond book that I remembered most was the odd-one-out, the penultimate novel, the experiment that nobody liked and that Fleming came to hate, demanding it neither be reprinted nor appear in paperback in his lifetime. This was The Spy Who Loved Me. I’ve just re-read it, curious to see what I think of it a lifetime later.
I didn’t remember all that much about it from long ago, but I did remember enjoying the book, and being intrigued by it as an experiment. The Spy Who Loved Me is about, and is ‘written’ by Vivienne Michel, a French-Canadian woman in her mid-twenties, escaping from a couple of failed love affairs in London, to which she was sent to Finishing School. Vivienne winds up looking after the Dreamy Pines Motel in the Adirondacks which is closing down, but it’s a scam in which she is to be killed as cover for an insurance claim, but not before she’s treated sadistically by the two hired thugs.
Fortunately for Vivienne, a stranger stops at the Motel, refusing to accept that it is closed. This is Bond, travelling between missions. He recognises the situation, intervenes to rescue Vivienne and dispose of the thugs, fucks her to a peak of ecstacy and goes on his way, leaving her behind.
That’s the story. It’s not necessarily much of a story, but I enjoyed the unusual angle of it. I thought it daring to write a series book in which the main character is a minor figure, passing through, seen from a purely external viewpoint by an unconnected stranger. Off the top of my head, the only other book I can think of which uses a similar technique is Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday, in which the newly-introduced Callums show us the Walkers and the Blacketts from outside, not necessarily to their credit.
Does the book hold up in any way? It is broken into three unequal sections, Me, Them and Him. The first section sets up Vivienne’s situation, left alone at the Motel with a storm raging, before back-tracking over her life’s history in London. This is Fleming writing as Vivienne and it doesn’t quite work.
The autobiography is, in thriller terms, complete filler. It occupies roughly half the book and the amount of action in it is minimal. There’s an opening chapter to set-up the situation and implant the notion that something fishy is going on, followed by chapters of Viv’s life-story, with the emphasis first upon her being out-of-step because she’s French-Canadian at an English Finishing School, and secondly upon her sex-life.
This comes in two phases. The first is Derek, a public school boy in a summer between finishing school and going up to Oxford. He and Viv meet at a party, they wind up snogging (or might it have still been spooning back then?), with Viv allowing him to put his hand on her breast because every time she moves it away, he puts it back, so clearly she’s in the wrong.
This leads to an end of summer cinema visit where he persuades her to let him fuck her in a private cinema box, only for them to be interrupted by the manager with a torch whilst Viv is on her back with his skirt round her waist, showing her pussy (hey, it’s Fleming who’s insisting on these details, not me), and they’re thrown out in no uncertain and public terms, but it’s alright because they nip down to a nearby riverbank where everyone does it, Derek sticks it in, Viv’s no longer a virgin, and he promptly disappears into the sunset, never to be seen again, as if we hadn’t all but Viv seen that coming from Quebec.
Two years later, working a job at which she is very competent and is earning good money, Viv ends up counselling her boss, the German Klaus about his plans for marriage and a happy sexual life, only to wind up his mistress when his fiancee marries someone else. This time it’s good, satisfying sex with Teutonic efficiency, but no love, until Viv makes the mistake of getting pregnant.
For this, she gets two things from Klaus: a Swiss abortion, and a month’s wages in lieu of notice. So Viv buys a scooter, returns to Canada and sets off on a pre-Easy Rider tour, until she winds up at the Dreamy Pines, just as someone’s knocking at the door.
There is a point to setting out these brief details of Viv’s life, and I’ll return to it.
The second phase, just three chapters, is the two new arrivals, Sol ‘Horror’ Horowitz and ‘Sluggsy’ Moran. They’re supposed to be insurance adjustors for the owner, before the Motel closes down tomorrow, except it’s going to close down in a fire caused by the hopeless receptionist. After, that is, she has been thoroughly beaten, and comprehensively raped by Sluggsy.
The beating she gets from Horror: vicious, professional, brutal, expert enough not to leave a mark, especially after Viv has caused problems, first by resisting then trying to escape. She winds up stripped naked in the shower, preserving that essential association between sadism and sex that is the mark of a James Bond novel, but as yet unraped. But not for long.
Ah, I just mentioned James Bond, and this is a James Bond book, is it not? Phase two ends with the front door buzzer going, and guess who it is? Viv signals him to come in, desperate for help and unaware she couldn’t have done better. She alerts him to what’s going on far too easily for complete plausibility, Fleming relying on Horror and Sluggsy’s ultimate confidence that they have guns and know better how to use them.
In turn, Bond briefly explains why he’s here: he’s been out west preventing a Russian defector from being killed but failing to capture SPECTRE’s chief assassin alive for questioning, so he’s taking a few days breather driving east to his debrief. He’s here because his car has blown a tyre.
There’s no reason to be more than perfunctory about the action from here. Fleming spins it out by having Bond make mistake after mistake but in the end the expected occurs. Horror and Sluggsy are shot and killed, Bond fucks Vivianne roughly half the night and is gone in the morning, sending the authorities to clean up, look after Viv and, in the case of Police Captain Stonor, an unofficial piece of very good advice, father-daughter style, not to fall in love with someone like Bond.
Of course that’s wasted breath. Viv already has, even as she knows he doesn’t, won’t and can’t love her back, that she’s already accepted she will never see him again, but she’s going to wilfully reject the idea of someone else telling her to do that, because Bond is so magnetic a man that’s she’s never going to forget, and will always love The Spy Who Loved Her.
As I’ve already said, The Spy Who Loved Me is a very thin book as far as a thriller is concerned, and it’s subject, the saving of one woman’s life is a very low-key matter for Bond. I’ve read it in a 1967 paperback, full of newspaper blurbs that praise the book, and the character of Vivienne, in extravagant terms. Yet Fleming issued instructions to supress the book during his lifetime.
Overall, The Spy Who Loved Me reminds me very much of the late Dennis Wheatley novel, The Strange Story of Linda Lee. That too is a first person novel, purporting to be in the voice of a woman considerably younger than an author who is arrogantly Conservative, writing someone of an age that they were completely out of touch with.
The idea that Fleming can successfully represent the thoughts and opinions of a twenty-five year old woman is implausible, and I put the significance of her being French-Canadian, with no national characteristics of either blood, to be an attempt to account for any incapacity to make her realistic.
The sex side is ludicrous, but not more so than when Viv gets to drop them for James. Of course he gives her her first orgasm – you don’t think a bloody Jerry is going to be allowed to do that? And given that Fleming is evidently hot for sadism, we should try to avoid being shocked when Viv proclaims that “All women love semi-rape” (at least he put the ‘semi’ in there). He takes her brutally, what is it, five hours maximum after she’s been worked over by Horror. That’s bullshit, and should be called out as such.
But the thing about this book, and what’s the real reason Fleming wanted it suppressed, is that it’s too transparent. Fleming isn’t putting on the voice of Vivienne Michel, he is playing at being her because he wants the experience of being fucked by James Bond. That’s who the spy is supposed to love, not some unworthy tart.
Though it’s not part of the brief for this series, I’m in the unique position of having another version of this novel to compare. This is the Jim Lawrence/Yaroslav ‘Larry’ Horak adaptation serialised in the Daily Express between December 1967 and October 1968.
The strip version removes the experimentalism of the novel, making Bond himself the focus of the story throughout. Vivienne’s viewpoint disappears and she doesn’t even enter the story until midway through.
Lawrence constructs a new sequence for the first half of the story. It’s essentially the brief account Bond gives Vivienne in the book to explain, adapted to a story of SPECTRE blackmailing a pilot into giving details of a new radar-invisible jetplane (a ‘stealth-bomber’ two decades early), instead of merely protecting a defector. The action part of this account is followed very faithfully in the new context.
Bond then sets off cross-country in his car and the story switches to Vivienne at the Dreamy Pines motel. From hereon, Lawrence follows the novel very faithfully, whilst eliminating Vivienne’s internal monologue.
Of course there are changes. Horror’s sadistic beating of Vivienne takes place between two strips and when she’s dumped in the shower to be revived, the thugs observe the moralities by leaving her her (completely intact) frilly bra and knickers instead of stripping her naked. After they’re both killed, the sex with Bond is implied rather than depicted (and the words ‘semi-rape’ appear nowhere in the strip).
Lastly, Lawrence cuts the coda commendably short, removing Vivienne’s emotional turmoil and intercutting Bond for one last frame, as the two drive in opposite directions.
It’s a very skilful adaptation, and a much more commercial approach than Fleming himself took. It uses a surprisingly large amount of the book, and by focussing on that, it turns it into a conventional James Bond adventure. I think I prefer that.
Fleming’s idea for The Spy who Loved Me is an interesting experiment, and I’d enjoy seeing other authors tackle it in their series, but ultimately his failings as a writer and a man make it a noble, but a failed experiment. I shalln’t retain his version of the story.