Sylvia Trench, an appreciation

Eunice Gayson (as Sylvia Trench), Zena Marshall (as Miss Taro), Sean Connery (as James Bond) and Ursula Andress (as Honey Rider) in a publicity still for Dr. No.

The character of Sylvia Trench, as portrayed by the late Eunice Gayson (1928-2018), has a special place in 007 film lore.

Sylvia was the only Bond woman character (aside from M’s assistant, Miss Moneypenny) to appear in more than one of the Bond films made by Eon Productions. Maud Adams appeared twice as two different characters in the Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy.

Sylvia had less than 20 minutes of screen time combined for Dr. No and From Russia With Love.

Still, Sylvia was Bond’s first film on-screen conquest. Or was Bond her conquest? In Dr. No, Sylvia is the one who takes the initiative.

Sylvia Trench wasn’t an Ian Fleming character from his 007 novels. The idea was Sylvia, devised for the films, would be a recurring character. Bond would be rushing out to go on a mission but would, eh, spend some quick time with Sylvia before doing so.

At the same time the basic notion behind Sylvia’s character likely would have gotten old had it gone beyond two films.

How would you put Sylvia into Goldfinger? Asking Bond why he was morose after Jill’s death from being pained with gold paint?

Where would you place Sylvia in Thunderball? “Sorry, Sylvia. I have to go to this health clinic. Maybe I can see you when I get back.”

In You Only Live Twice? Maybe she’s sobbing after Bond has faked his death.

What about On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? Bond (with George Lazenby replacing Sean Connery) already tosses his hat to Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell) at his wedding. It’s a small emotional moment. What would he do for an encore for Sylvia?

The Sylvia Trench character actually helps make the first two 007 films, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, special. There’s a fair amount of continuity between the two movies without getting bogged down.

What’s more, Bond’s initial encounter with Sylvia in Dr. No  helps establish a lot about the 007 character in a very tight, economical way. The character, as played by Eunice Gayson, was a key part of that.

So with the passing of Eunice Gayson, let us also remember Sylvia Trench. The character was important to getting the film 007 off the ground. At the same time,  she certainly didn’t overstay her welcome.

Sometimes, less is more. But Sylvia stayed around long enough to have an impact.

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Eunice Gayson, 1st Bond woman, dies at 90

Eunice Gayson in a publicity still.

Eunice Gayson, who played Sylvia Trench, the first Bond woman of the 007 film series, died June 8 at 90.

Gayson’s death was announced by her official Twitter feed.

The British actress played Sylvia Trench in Dr. No and From Russia With Love. The character wasn’t in Ian Fleming’s novels but created for the movies.

When first seen in Dr. No, she’s gambling at the same table as Bond. Sean Connery’s Bond initially isn’t seen to build up his introduction to audiences.

The audience witnesses Sylvia Trench losing twice to Bond. She then arranges to get more funds (“I need another thousand.”).

“I admire your courage, miss…” Bond says.

“Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, mister..”

“Bond, James Bond,” as the character’s face is finally shown. Later, Sylvia surprises Bond in his apartment only wearing a pajama top.

The casino scene “locates Bond in this exclusive environment of high-stakes gambling, but what’s also interesting is that Sylvia Trench is there as an independent woman,” James Chapman, an academic who has written extensively about Bond, said in a sidebar to a 2012 BBC story.

“She’s the one who comes on to him with a double entendre-laden dialogue,” Chapman said. “”It’s 1962 and right on the cusp of sexual revolution. The scene is saying it’s OK for this woman to be unaccompanied in a casino, picking up men.”

Trench again played Sylvia Trench in From Russia With Love but the character was retired from the series after that.

During her acting career, Gayson also appeared in episodes of Danger Man/Secret Agent and The Saint.

Here was the post on Twitter announcing her death.

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UPDATE (9:50 a.m. New York time): Eon Productions issued a statement via Twitter by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson about Gayson’s death. “Our sincere thoughts are with her family.”

007 gets drawn into U.S. politics

One-time GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s Twitter picture.

James Bond got drawn into U.S. politics this week as CIA got a new director.

The U.S. Senate voted to ratify Gina Haspel in a 54-45 vote. But not all Republican members of the Senate voted for the veteran CIA employee because at one point she ran an agency facility in Thailand performing “enhanced interrogation,” including waterboarding. Haspel wrote a letter dated May 14 (which became public the next day) saying the agency shouldn’t have utilized such techniques.

Mike Huckabee, a one-time GOP presidential candidate, criticized one GOP Senator who voted no, Jeff Flake of Arizona.

“Of course Jeff ‘Flaky Flake’ didn’t vote for Gina Haspel,” Huckabee wrote May 17. “If @realDonaldTrump nominated James Bond, he would have voted ‘no.’ That’s why Flake is ‘Dr. No.’ And I’ll be HE colluded with the Russians! ‘From Russia With Love.'”

Huckabee also is the father of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary.

Here’s what the tweet looked like:

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Meanwhile, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, whose politics are the opposite of Sanders, had this reaction:

 

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About that Bond 25 release date

“This is an old friend of mine. And it tells me…something smells!”

During the past week, there’s been a buzz that the pregnancy of Rachel Weisz, the wife of Daniel Craig, may push back the November 2019 release date of Bond 25.

As Keim Bey would say: “This is an old friend of mine. And he tells me something smells!”

This latest notion began when Weisz, 48, gave an interview to Marueen Dowd of The New York Times that went online April 20.  The actress revealed she was pregnant. From the Times story;

“I’ll be showing soon,” she says, with a radiant smile.

On April 26, The Sun weighed in with a story that Bond 25’s U.S. release date of November 2019 might be pushed back because of the pregnancy.

A film source said: “Pushing back the schedules suits all parties.

“Daniel (Craig) can concentrate on matters at home with Rachel, which are pretty life-changing, to say the least.”

Let us count the ways this smells:

–The Bond 25 release date was announced in July 2017 before a distributor was in place.

–It’s not unheard for women in their late 40s to utilize the services of fertility specialists to become pregnant. We don’t know that happened in this case. But it’s rare for women in their late 40s to suddenly become pregnant.

–Daniel Craig announced in August 2017 he would return for another James Bond film. At the very least, he and Weisz may have already been trying to have a child.

That said, there are other reasons why Bond 25’s release date could be pushed back.

–Danny Boyle became a late contender to direct Bond 25. Whether that happens depends on whether a story idea Boyle and writer John Hodge gets approved for the film.

–A non-007 spy project being made by Eon Productions, The Rhythm Section, has been delayed because of an injury to star Blake Lively.

–Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 007’s home studio, reportedly is trying to sell itself, according to an April 4 story by The Hollywood Reporter. One of MGM’s selling points, according to the report, is the studio’s film rights to 007.

Put another way, there are multiple reasons to suspect Bond 25’s release date could be pushed back.

The pregnancy angle is not the most convincing. Weisz’s due date would be before Bond 25 begins filming (end of the year is the earliest estimate).  Meanwhile, MGM hasn’t been a stable studio for decades.

It’s more likely that a Bond 25 delay would be related to MGM than Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz welcoming an addition to the family.

Uncomfortable moments in early 007 films

Close captioned image from Dr. No

Over the past few days, there have been three stories (in LAD Bible, the Daily Mail and the Express) about how millennials (people becoming adults in the early 21st century) find early James Bond films lacking.

The stories rely heavily on posts on Twitter from those who complain that Bond is a rapist or comes across as “rapey.” There are also complaints about racism as well.

But many of the tweets don’t get into specifics. With that in mind, here are some scenes that might be generating that reaction.

In selecting these three examples, they’re about Bond himself. In the stories linked above, some of the posters on Twitter objected to, for example, Sheriff J.W. Pepper (Clifton James), who appeared in Live And Let Die and The Man With the Golden Gun.

The sheriff clearly was racist, but was devised by screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz for the audience to laugh at and ridicule.

“Fetch my shoes” (Dr. No): While on Crab Key, Bond (Sean Connery) instructs Quarrel (John Kitzmiller) to, “Fetch my shoes.”

Quarrel, a Jamaican native, had been assisting MI6 operative Strangways. The latter’s disappearance spurred M to assign Bond to find out what happened to Strangways. That put him on the trail of Dr. No.

Anyway, Bond telling Quarrel to “fetch” his shoes wasn’t a major plot point. Bond, Quarrel and Honey are getting ready to hide out in Crab Key.

While Bond’s line doesn’t have good optics in the 21st century, it wasn’t so great in the 1960s, either. The U.S. civil rights movement already was well underway. The Montgomery bus boycott began in December 1955.

In 2014, a website called The Complainist  did a detailed analysis of Dr. No. Concerning “Fetch my shoes,” it said the following:

“Oh goddammit. Fetch you’re own shoes JB. Gross. Gross gross gross.”

Bond and Kerim laugh lecherously (From Russia With Love): In From Russia With Love, Connery’s Bond is talking to Pedro Armandariz’s Kerim about whether Tatiana’s offer to deliver a Soviet decoding machine is genuine.

Bond and Kerim enjoy a laugh together in From Russia With Love

Kerim is skeptical. “My friend, she has you dangling.”

“That doesn’t matter,” Bond replies. “All I want is that Lektor.”

“All? Are you sure that’s all you want?”

“Well…” Bond says. The two then laugh lecherously for about five seconds before we cut to the next scene.

The thing is, this is a big difference from Ian Fleming’s novel. Bond was afraid he might actually be falling for Tatiana. In the film, at least in this scene, there isn’t nearly as much emotion involved. It’s an example of the different worldview of the novels and films.

Bond’s roll in the hay with Pussy (Goldfinger): This is likely the source of the “rapist” and “rapey” comments.

Auric Goldfinger instructs Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) to show Bond around his horse farm to reassure CIA agents who are keeping an eye on the place.

Bond and Pussy eventually go inside a barn. They demonstrate their skills in self defense. After Bond throws Pussy to the ground, the agent says, “Now, let’s both play.”

Pussy resists for a while before embracing Bond.

Bond tries to secure Pussy’s cooperation in Goldfinger.

As depicted in the film, she appears to have been wooed over by Bond but it’s not until the very end of the scene.

It’s not just millenials who’ve commented about this sequence over the years. I’ve had discussions with first-generation 007 film fans who feel the scene gets very close to rape.

Just a year later, in Thunderball, the filmmakers allude to Goldfinger. Bond has gone to bed with SPECTRE killer Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi). But she stays loyal to SPECTRE.

“What a blow it must have been,” she says to Bond.

“Well, you can’t win them all,” Bond says.

In the 1990s, director Guy Hamilton recorded comments about the film for a Criterion laserdisc home release that got recalled.

“I think this is one of the trickiest scenes in the movie,” the director said on the commentary track. “How to go from dy** to sexpot to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission and one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”

The Spy Command marks its 9th anniversary

Today marks the ninth anniversary of The Spy Command.

The blog began with the name The HMSS Weblog. The first post on Oct. 8, 2008 concerned how three Raymond Benson James Bond continuation novels had been collected under the title The Union Trilogy. The post was penned by Paul Baack, who had the idea of the blog.

The Spy Commander, who has been running the blog for some time, didn’t weigh in with his first post until Oct. 19, 2008. That concerned A Man Called Sloane, the short-lived spy adventure with Robert Conrad and produced by QM Productions.

The blog began to hit its stride (and find its own voice) with a 2009 series of posts about the 45th anniversary of Goldfinger. It later had series of posts about the 50th anniversary of Dr. No and From Russia With Love as well as series about Dr. No’s script and behind-the-scenes financial issues of Dr. No. (CLICK HERE for part I.)

The blog formally was on its own in September 2014. The blog changed its name to The Spy Command in February 2015.

Assuming the blog is still around next year, we’ll have to do something more elaborate for the 10th anniversary.

Who did more to make 007 popular in U.S. — JFK or Hefner?

John F. Kennedy statue in Fort Worth, Texas

2017 has been an eventful year related to the growth of U.S. interest in James Bond. This was the centennial of the birth of President John F. Kennedy and it was the year Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died.

JFK, unquestionably, gave the literary Bond a huge boost in 1961. Kennedy — the first U.S. president born in the 20th century — listed Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love among his 10 favorite books.

At the time, Kennedy provided a youthful image. He was the youngest elected president at the age of 43. Theodore Roosevelt was the actual youngest president (at age 42), but he assumed office with the assassination of William McKinley.

Regardless, JFK was sworn into office after the then-oldest president, Dwight Eisenhower, departed. Kennedy brought a sense of glamour. That’s why his presidency was dubbed “Camelot.”

As a result, Kennedy’s including the Fleming novel in that 10 favorite book list was an enormous boost. It occurred just as the Eon film series was getting started. Eon founders Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman struck their deal with United Artists in 1961, with Dr. No beginning production in early 1962.

Still, you could make the case that Hefner’s interest in Bond had a longer-lasting impact.

Playboy published Fleming’s The Hildebrand Rarity short story in 1960, a year before the famous JFK book list. Playboy serialized Fleming 007 stories. And Playboy’s ties to Bond would be referenced in the Eon films On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever.

Hugh Hefner (1926-2017)

What’s more, Hefner’s Bond interest remained. Playboy published Bond-related pictorials for decades. In the 1990s, the magazine published short stories and serialized novels by 007 continuation author Raymond Benson.

As an aside, the Spy Commander once interviewed Benson about becoming the Bond continuation author. Benson mentioned, in passing, he was a friend of Hefner’s.

My memory is I asked him to go over that again. It was true. And one of the Benson 007 short stories (Midsummer Night’s Doom) was set at the Playboy mansion and Hefner showed up as a character.

The purpose of this post is to pose the question. The answer is up to the reader.