Bond as strategic thinker

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

I’ve been re-reading Ian Fleming’s first novel, Casino Royale, for research. Something leapt out at me. James Bond is not the best strategic thinker.

Bond, thanks to Felix Leither providing much-needed funds from the U.S., bests a Communist operative, LeChiffe at the gaming tables. After winning, Bond drinks a lot of champagne while LeChiffre prepares a counter-attack. Bond eventually is captured.

Too late, it occurs to Bond he should have been more prepared.

He squirmed at the thought of himself washing down champagne at the Roi Gallant while the enemy was busy preparing the counterstroke. He cursed himself and cursed the hubris which had made him so sure that the battle was won and the enemy was in flight.

Chapter 16, The Crawling of the Skin

The thing is, Bond never really learns that lesson. In the novel From Russia With Love, Bond knows the situation is a trap but decides to ride the train to the end. In Dr. No (both novel and film), Bond travels to Crab Key with basically no plan, just bringing a gun with him.

Both the literary and cinema Bond doesn’t do much in the way of planning. In Quantum of Solace, Bond bounces from one situation to another. In the film Skyfall, Bond sort of, kind of, has a plan but M still gets killed.

Bond, of course, is a blunt instrument. On some occasions, he’s the dull instrument who nevertheless comes out on top. In Casino Royale (both novel and 2006 film), he’s been taken in by Vesper. In the film, he even loses all the money.

Fleming scholar on the trail of 007’s creator

F.L. Toth during a research trip to Indiana University’s Lilly Library (photo courtesy of F.L. Toth)

F.L. Toth is a librarian and a scholar about the works and life of Ian Fleming. Her Twitter feed, @3octaves, or 007intheAdirondacks, notes significant events in the life of James Bond’s creator. She lives in update New York, territory where the literary Bond was known to travel.

Toth has made research trips to study the life and works of Fleming. She also is a contributor to Artistic Licence Renewed. You can see a sample of her work by CLICKING HERE.

The blog interviewed Toth via direct messages on Twitter. A transcript follows.

THE SPY COMMAND: What spurred your interest not only in Ian Fleming’s Bond stories, but also in the life of the author?

F.L. TOTH: My high school boyfriend (eventually my husband!) introduced me to James Bond movies, and I began to borrow the books from the library. When I got to The Spy Who Loved Me, I was astonished to realize that the jet-setting, sophisticated Bond had an adventure in my little town of Glens Falls (population 15,000, and just outside the Adirondacks).

I was even more amazed to see he knew where to pick up a lady of the night, since that would not be on any tourist maps—he’d have to have been here or have spoken to a local to know. From that moment, when I was a mere 17 years old, I was fascinated by Ian Fleming.

TSC: Fleming seems like a complicated personality. He also seems to have crammed 90 years of living into a little more than 56. What’s your appraisal of Fleming?

F.L. TOTH: Oh, yes, he lived large. He seems to have been a bundle of contradictions, with a lot of people disliking him but others saying how kind he was. He contributed a great deal to his own myth of “ignoring” the warnings to stop drinking and smoking and knew fully well that he was an addict.

But what an amazing brain! He could write with passion about the most minute things, and with such clarity that a person disinterested in golf or bridge is all a -flutter reading his descriptions. And although Fleming women are often a subject of ridicule, some of the most tender monologues I’ve ever read were Fleming’s heroines.

Domino Vitale’s story of the hero in the Players cigarettes, which goes on for five pages, is heart rending.

TSC. As you researched Fleming, what was your biggest and surprise (and why)?

F.L. TOTH: I’ll never get over the shock of Fleming’s knowing where the bad part of my little town is! Other than that the biggest surprise was not at all salacious; it was how comparatively easy he had it as a writer.

Fleming had two uninterrupted months in every year to write, was not altogether dependent on his writing to survive, and had secretaries, researchers, and typists to help him make it happen. Under the circumstances, it would have been amazing if he had NOT had some success. But I think most people who approach Bond from the movies would be shocked to realize how progressive Fleming could be on social issues.

He had moments of shocking feminism, such as having a main character obtain an abortion and remain sympathetic. He had Bond express admiration for Jack Kennedy, and Fleming was an environmentalist who wrote with verve and delight to his wife about his participating in a flamingo count.

He certainly had his conservative and imperialist moments but there are times it seems the only thing that kept him from being a hippie was his love of money, which was considerable.

TSC: Where have you gone to research Fleming? A remember some time back you tweeted from the Lilly Library at Indiana University, which houses many of his manuscripts.

F.L. TOTH: Everywhere I can! Las Vegas, a Bond walking tour of London courtesy of Tom Cull of Artistic Licence Renewed, Dunn’s River Falls (seen in Dr. No) in Jamaica, multiple NYC locations, Lilly Library (not at all a Bond site but as you mentioned the home of the typescripts).

I am hoping to expand my view outside North America and Europe as soon as we are able to resume travel. Interestingly, if a person wants to see a well-preserved Bond site, the best I have seen is undoubtedly Route 9 from the Canadian border down to Lake George. There are multiple businesses under the same management (or at least the same families) as I write this as when Ian Fleming visited in the 1950s and 1960s, and construction along this route has been minimal because of the rules of the Adirondacks.

TSC: What’s your opinion of the films vs. Fleming’s originals? What films since his death do you think he’d have liked the most?

F.L. TOTH: I stopped watching the films years ago because of the sexual assault. More diplomatic people than I call the rape in Goldfinger “problematic” but this is the antithesis of Bond, who was irresistible, not predatory.

I am not entertained by sexual assault and don’t understand why anyone else is. The books have an understated but wry humor so in my opinion Fleming would have enjoyed Roger Moore (who was, according to legend, one of Fleming’s own choices for Bond).

It is important to note that Fleming was not much of a movie or theater buff even though he enjoyed the money movies brought in, and even though he had to know about theater to write his Sunday Times “Atticus” column. Fleming doesn’t write about movies with the regularity or enthusiasm of golf or fine dining.

Fleming’s sister-in-law, Celia Johnson, was a BAFTA award-winning actor and he was not known to have attended any of her performances, which gives an idea of not much interest in the performing arts.

TSC: What are some of the Fleming literary locations you’ve visited or are familiar with?

F.L. TOTH: I am intimately acquainted with the New York State locations in Diamonds Are Forever and The Spy Who Loved Me and Route 9 runs right past my house! I’d be glad to take any visitor to a bath in Saratoga or to a diner in Lake George, and when we are able to again, A day at the races would take us to the same grandstand Bond visited all those years ago.

Reminder: Cashing in on collectibles can be tricky

First edition copy of 1953’s Casino Royale sold at auction several years ago.

This week, a set of Ian Fleming U.K. first edition books with Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and short stories went on sale for the princely (kingly?) sum of 475,000 British pounds ($649,000), according to the BBC

This set of first-edition Fleming books includes inscriptions by the author on 10 of the 14 books. That has jumped up the asking price.

The sale is the latest reminder of how volatile it can be cashing in on collectibles.

Back in 2015, a Bond collector in the U.S. (a friend of mine) put up his collection of U.K. and U.S. first-edition Bond books. The payments varied greatly by title and other factors.

In the case of the 2015 sale, an uncorrected proof of From Russia With Love fetched a higher price than a first-edition Casino Royale. The collector also sold off original Bond film posters.

In general, collecting can be volatile. You can encounter ups and downs for a variety of reasons.

Meanwhile, with the new sale of Fleming books, a copy of A Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies by ornithologist James Bond (for whom Fleming named his character after) is also included, according to the BBC.

As an aside, I’ll happily entertain legitimate bids for my 1964 copy of Daredevil No. 1, autographed by Stan Lee.

Unlikely Bond streaming spinoff series

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

There has been a lot of speculation whether the streaming era will lead to new James Bond-related series for streaming.

In late 2019, Eon’s Barbara Broccoli told Total Film magazine that her company was resisting the idea of such spinoffs. “We’ve been under a lot of pressure to make spinoffs,” she told the publication. She didn’t specify where the pressure was coming from but a reasonable guess might be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bond’s home studio.

Broccoli may be able to head off such pressure. Or perhaps not. Regardless, this list of potential spinoffs is unlikely to see the light of day.

The Adventures of Bill Tanner: In Ian Fleming’s novels, Bill Tanner, chief of staff to M, was the closest thing to a friend that James Bond had in the British secret service.

In the films made by Eon, Tanner hasn’t had that much of a presence.

In GoldenEye, Tanner (Michael Kitchen) criticizes the new M (Judi Dench), unaware she’s right behind him. In For Your Eyes Only, Tanner (James Villiers) comes across as a stuffy bureaucrat and not a pal of James Bond (Roger Moore). In more recent films, Tanner (Rory Kinnear) is there, gets a few lines with Daniel Craig but not much else.

Trying to build a streaming series, even if it were only six to eight episodes, might be a bit of a challenge.

Cooking With May: May, Bond’s housekeeper, is a character from Fleming’s novels who hasn’t been included in the films.

One possibility would be to hire someone who can cook playing May as she prepares meals for Bond. Expect many of her dishes to involve scrambled eggs.

Leolia!: Leolia Ponsonby was the secretary to the 00-section in Fleming’s novels. There were three 00-agents. Others were referenced, but readers only witnessed Ponsonby interacting with Bond. The character was phased out and replaced by Mary Goodnight.

A streaming series would have the inevitable origin story. That would answer such pressing questions such as how she came to work for the British Secret Service in the first place.

Golfing With Hawker: This would be a show about how to improve your golf game. A real golfer would play Hawker, Bond’s caddy in both the novel and film Goldfinger. Viewers would learn the secrets of hitting out of sand traps, straightening out their drives and hitting around trees.

After watching Golfing With Hawker, you, too, can learn to hit out of a bunker like this one.

21 Club, a literary Bond location, to close

The 21 Club, a well-known New York City restaurant, is closing, the New York Post reported, citing a spokesman.

The restaurant was a location for the literary James Bond. In the novel Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Tiffany Case dine there after Bond has smuggled diamonds into the U.S. They meet “one of the famous Kriendler brothers, who have owned ’21’ ever since it was the best speak-easy in New York.”

The Kriendler and Berns families owned 21 from 1922 to 1985, according to the restaurant’s entry in Wikipedia.

The 21 Club also is referenced, but not shown, in the film Live And Let Die. Bond (Roger Moore) and Felix Leiter (David Hedison) are to meet there for dinner, the audience is told as Bond and Solitaire (Jane Seymour) get ready to board a train to travel to New York.

The restaurant is known for his exterior (statues of jockeys) and its clientele (the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway) over the decades.

The restaurant has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. New York state has banned indoor dining for a second time to slow the spread of the virus. 21 has been shut since March of this year. According to the Post, 21’s employees have been told they’ll lose their jobs by March 2021.

The Post said 21’s owners are exploring options for the restaurant to reopen in some form in the future.

Landis tells author he turned down directing Licence to Kill

One of the covers to The Lost Adventures of James Bond by Mark Edlitz

Writer-director John Landis says in a new book that he turned down the opportunity to direct 1989’s Licence to Kill.

“My agent got a call from Cubby (Broccoli) and I’d already made a bunch of big movies and Cubby asked if I was interested,” Landis is quoted on page 101 of The Lost Adventures of James Bond by Mark Edlitz.

“I thought the script was really lousy,” Landis told Edlitz about Licence to Kill. “I really did not like the script. It was corny and I just didn’t think it was that interesting.”

In the book, Landis primarily is interviewed about his script work for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

Landis was among many writers who either made pitches or wrote treatments and/or wrote draft screenplays for the 10th James Bond film made by Eon Productions. Christopher Wood and Richard Maibaum received the final final writing credit.

In the course of an interview for the book, Landis is quoted as saying he could have directed the movie that became Licence to Kill.

“I know that Cubby kept tight control,” Landis said in the interview. “And the director made the movie, but it was the movie Cubby wanted. And no Bond director ever got final cut…But anyway, the bottom line is that at the time I felt very strongly that Cubby was not going to give me final cut.”

Also, in the interview, Landis said Talisa Soto had already been cast in the production as one of the two female leads.

Landis told Edlitz that he would have directed the movie “if I thought the script was good. The script was not interesting. It was just dumb.”

Licence to Kill ended up being the fifth Bond film directed by John Glen, who had been promoted from second unit director.

The script for the film was credited to Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum. The latter’s participation was limited to plotting because of a 1988 Writer’s Guild strike. It would be Maibaum’s final Bond effort.

Landis, 70, has 46 directing credits, according to his IMDB.COM entry.

One of those directing efforts, a segment in 1983’s Twilight Zone movie, saw three fatalities (actor Vic Morrow and two child actors) in an accident involving a helicopter.

Author discusses James Bond Movie Encyclopedia

Cover to the new edition of The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia

Steven Jay Rubin has written about the James Bond films since the early 1980s. A new edition of the author’s The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia is out.

The encyclopedia first debuted in the 1990s and the most recent edition was published in 2003. Since that edition, the entire Daniel Craig era has unfolded.

The blog sent Rubin questions by email. Disclosure: I fielded some questions as the author was conducting research to update the encyclopedia and he referenced me in the acknowledgments.

What follows is the interview.

THE SPY COMMAND: What prompted you to update the James Bond Movie Encyclopedia?

STEVEN JAY RUBIN: The last edition had come out in 2003, so I had not covered the Daniel Craig era. Also, the publisher that brought out the 2003 edition was too cheap to re-alphabetize the book, so the latest Pierce Brosnan films were stuffed in the back.

TSC: The last edition of the book was in 2003. What are the challenges involved updating something after that long of a hiatus?

RUBIN: My biggest challenge was re-illustrating. I felt strongly that if anyone was going to buy another edition, it would have to be an almost completely new book.

Over the years, I had met a number of collectors around the world who had amassed huge still collections. I reached out to people like Anders Frejdh in Sweden, Dave Reinhardt in Canada, Michael Van Blaricum in Santa Barbara, Luc Le Clech in France and special effects maestro Brian Smithies in England.

The result was a huge trove of new pictures so that the book is 95 percent new images.

Chicago Review Press also budgeted for color images — my first in a James Bond book. This not only allowed me to use some spectacular color photos, but I had the opportunity to reach out to artists Jeff Marshall and Brian May to use their extraordinary interpretations of the films. They’re just wonderful. 

TSC: It has been almost 40 years since your first Bond book, The James Bond Films. Have your views toward Bond evolved? If so, how?

RUBIN: I must say that Daniel Craig’s era has revitalized my interest in the series.

I grew up with Connery, so, for me at least, the movies that followed never had that level of entertainment. I liked Roger Moore and his films were spectacular – but they were just too funny to be taken seriously.

Timothy Dalton is a fine actor, but The Living Daylights was just fair, and Licence to Kill played like a two-hour episode of Miami Vice. 

I was a big fan of Pierce Brosnan, but, once again, I thought his movies were just fair – my favorite being The World is Not Enough. 

So I came into the Daniel Craig era not expecting much. Casino Royale just blew me away. And although the quality of the scripts has gone up and down, Craig is always good.  Love his Bond. The grittiness, the avoidance of stupid humor, the realism.

Obviously, the series has had to compete with the Bourne films, Mission: Impossible, even the stunts of The Fast and the Furious films, and they’ve been competitive.

TSC: The new edition of The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia is your first analysis of the Daniel Craig era of Bond films. What makes it different from earlier eras?

RUBIN: Realism. We’ve actually come full circle. The very first two James Bond movies – Dr. No and From Russia with Love – were real spy adventures with a story that could have happened in the real world. 

The Craig era Bonds have that quality.  No one is trying to take over the world – many of the stories are about international terrorism and blackmail –- stories that could be in the news right now.

As screenwriter Richard Maibaum once said to me when discussing the motivation for the more realistic For Your Eyes Only, it was decided to pull in the balloon and get away from the big fantastic plots – to do a realistic spy adventure.  It worked back then.  And it continues to work today.

To view the book’s page on Amazon.com, CLICK HERE.

New book examines never-made Dalton 007 films

A question asked by James Bond fans is what would have happened if Timothy Dalton made more than two 007 films.

A new book, The Lost Adventures of James Bond, may provide answers. A press release for the book says that author Mark Edlitz “uncovers different scenarios for Timothy Dalton’s abandoned third and fourth Bond movies.”

Edlitz previously wrote the book The Many Lives of James Bond.

In 1990, a treatment for Bond 17 was written by Michael G. Wilson and Alfonse Ruggeriro that took a bigger, more science fiction take compared with Dalton’s Licence to Kill movie. The treatment included robots, including a robot that could pass for a woman.

The treatment was turned into a script by other writers and this gets examined in the new book.

A third Dalton movie ultimately was derailed when Danjaq, the parent company of Eon Productions, got into a legal fight with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Bond would not return to theater screens until 1995’s GoldenEye, with Pierce Brosnan as Bond.

The Edlitz book also looks at other Bond-related events, including the James Bond Jr. animated series and a “lost” performance by Sean Connery as Bond.

For information about ordering, CLICK HERE.

About that Bernard Lee/Robert Brown M thing

Portrait of the Bernard Lee M in The World Is Not Enough. Thanks to Ben Williams.

One of the ongoing debates in James Bond fandom is whether Bernard Lee’s M (1962-79) is the same as Robert Brown’s M (1983-89).

The answer: You can argue they are the same or they are different characters, with Brown’s M being Admiral Hargreaves from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

The available evidence is, at best, inconclusive.

Background: Bernard Lee played Sir Miles Messervy for the first 11 James Bond films.

In Ian Fleming’s novels, the character name was not revealed until Ian Fleming’s final Bond book, The Man With the Golden Gun. “Miles” was mentioned briefly by General Gogol in The Spy Who Loved Me movie.

Lee died in January 1981. He wasn’t available to participate in the production of For Your Eyes Only. In that film, it was stated that M was on leave and that the chief of staff was running operations.

Octopussy script: In the first draft by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, dated June 10, 1982, there isn’t a hint that M is another person.

M’S VOICE
(over intercom)
Stop fishing for compliments, Double-O-Seven, and get in here.

(snip)
M’S OFFICE – M MINISTER FANNING
as BOND enters. Fanning is a scholarly looking slightly pudgy man in his late thirties. SOTHEBY CATALOGUE and the FABERGE EGG lie on M’s desk

The rest of the scene is more or less what we got in the 1983 movie. Again, there was no hint that M was a different character than in the first 11 movies.

From that, you can conclude that a simple change in casting took place. Bernard Lee died. Robert Brown replaced him. But the character is the same.

Judi Dench’s M lectures Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond with the portrait of Bernard Lee’s M in the background.

However, in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough, things may have changed.

In the pre-titles sequence, there is an explosion at MI6 headquarters in London. British Intelligence is forced to regroup at another headquarters in Scotland.

The art department (Peter Lamont? One of his deputies? One of the lowest ranking blokes?) included a portrait of Bernard Lee’s M.

Was this a “retcon,” or retroactive change in continuity?

There are certainly signs that the view of Lee/M and Brown/M being separate characters has taken hold with many fans. The MI6 James Bond website conducted a vote on Twitter this weekend, with the view that they are different characters winning the day.

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Without whom, etc. (56th anniversary)