Our Man in Havana’s (sort of) 007 in-joke

Our Man in Havana

We’re still catching up with TCM’s marathon of spy films from Jan. 25. Anyway, in the Carol Reed-directed Our Man in Havana, there’s a sort-of in-joke to James Bond films.

Considering the movie was released in late 1959, before the 007 film series debuted with Dr. No in 1962, that’s a mean trick.

Here’s the explanation. Our Man in Havana’s crew included Syd Cain, who was the movie’s assistant art director. Cain, of course, worked on a number of Bond films, including as art director of Dr. No and From Russia With Love and production designer of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Our Man in Havana involves Jim Wormold (Alec Guiness), a seller of vacuum clearners who’s recruited to be the British Secret Service’s man in pre-revolution Havana. Wormold, after unsuccessfully trying to recruit a spy network, begins making stuff up — and London is buying (literally) every bit of it.

Wormold is now considered so important that British Intelligence is assigning him support personnel, including a secretary (Maureen O’Hara). One of Wormold’s fictional agents supposedly flew over a secret Cuban installation and saw a secret weapon (really a drawing of a vacuum cleaner). Now, there’s pressure from London to get photographs of it.

Wormold, in trying to decide his next step, happens to see a comic strip in a newspaper. It’s called Rock Kent and is supposed to be by Syd Cain. (It’s on the top of the page, just above Blondie.)

This particular strip depicts Rock crashing into the side of a mountain. “We shall hear no more of Captain Rock Kent!” reads the caption accompanying the drawing of the plane crashing.

This gives Wormold an idea how to solve his problem. Of course, things get more complicated.

Regardless, it’s an amusing moment for viewers familiar with the early 007 movies.

The Ballad of James and Madeleine

SPECTRE promotional art

SPECTRE promotional art

By Nicolás Suszczyk, Guest Writer

“As the daughter of an assassin, she can understand Bond in a way others cannot.”

This is how the official SPECTRE synopsis describes Madeleine Swann, the female lead character of the 24th James Bond adventure, about to hit the stores in DVD and Blu Ray home video formats.

Played by French actress Léa Seydoux, known for movies like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the acclaimed Blue is the Warmest Color, her character was built by scribes Jez Butterworth, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan to –- apparently –- give Daniel Craig’s James Bond the first and only happy ending he’s ever had in the series.

The first encounter 007 has with Madeleine Swann is at the Hoffler Klinik in Austria. Posing as a patient, Bond visits her and suspects that Swann, a doctor in psychiatry graduated in the Sorbonne who worked with Medicine Sans Frontiers, is hiding from someone in the clinic. Of course, the secret agent was led there by her disgraced father, none other than his previous Quantum nemesis Mr. White, who took his life right after Bond promised to protect her of the tentacles of SPECTRE.

She first resists to Bond, but ultimately she sees he’s the only one who can keep her alive after her hideout clinic is discovered by SPECTRE agent Mr. Hinx.

Much in the way of previous Bond girls Natalya Simonova (from GoldenEye) and Octopussy, she dislikes 007’s violent life, seeing him as a man who is the same kind as her father: determined to leave him right after he returns for a final assignment to stop Denbigh, the mole placed at the British Intelligence by the organization leader Franz Oberhauser, aka Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

There is, in contrast to the previous affairs of Craig’s Bond, a happy ending this time as 007 opts to leave the wounded Blofeld alive instead of shooting him. As the Special Forces arrest the SPECTRE leader, the happy couple walk together -– holding hands — across the Westminster Bridge.

Madeleine Swann is no match for Vesper Lynd, Tracy Di Vicenzo or even Paris Carver when it comes to exploring Bond’s human side. Yet, the idea of Madeleine’s persona was originally very good and sadly more of her connection with 007 would have been explored a lot better.

“Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows, hunting, being hunted, always looking behind you? Always alone?” the doctor asks a white tuxedo-clad Bond as they have a soft-light dinner travelling in the Oriental Desert Express trough Morocco.

In one of the first drafts of the (leaked) script, the couple had a conversation that included Vesper, Eva Green’s ill-fated character from Casino Royale, the film that opened the arc that SPECTRE has apparently closed.

“You’re not like my father at all. He was cold, but you’re wounded,” the doctor said. As she asks him if he has ever been in love, he replies “Once. She died.” Quickly, he tells her he “dealt with it.”

The Bond-Swann relationship would have had a bigger emotional impact if more deep dialogue was added as the first draft shows. If Vesper Lynd and her death were the main subjects of the first two films of Craig era, the girl who makes him move on should have deep-delved into his emotions.

Show the audiences how Vesper was important then and why Madeleine is important now. A contrast between the two characters and how Bond slowly recovers what he lost during that black day in Venice nine years before. In the same way the connection between SPECTRE and the previous villains isn’t fully explained, the importance of Madeleine can’t overshadow the image of Vesper in an emotional context.

The barn scene between Bond and Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, or the Pierce Brosnan-Izabella Scorupco scene at the Cuban beach in GoldenEye, or Bond’s love declaration to Vesper at the Lake DiGarda in Casino Royale, just to name a few scenes. These are wonderful examples on how to explore Bond’s feelings.

SPECTRE is a celebration of all things Bond in terms of excitement, perhaps the closest one to “a classic one” so far. Daniel Craig is a wonderful actor and the role now fits him as a tailored Tom Ford tuxedo. Léa Seydoux also has great acting talents as she proved in movies such as The Lobster, Blue is The Warmest Color and La Belle Personne.

The James Bond and Madeleine Swann relationship is not wasted at all. But, surely, should have been better exploited and contextualized.

About that whole ‘Blofeld Trilogy’ thing…

SPECTRE teaser image

SPECTRE teaser image

This blog’s recent post about suggestions for Bond 25 included the idea that it may be time to let the “Blofeld Trilogy” idea pass. But many don’t want to let go. So here’s a closer look.

What is it? The phrase was popularized by Raymond Benson in his 1984 book The James Bond Bedside Companion, referring to Ian Fleming’s novels, Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.

The term “Blofeld Trilogy” isn’t mentioned in the index. On page 123, the author introduces his analysis of Thunderball thusly:

The ninth James Bond novel, Thunderball, is a terrific book. It is the beginning of what could be called the Blofeld Trilogy, which also includes On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice. Thunderball also marks the change from the earlier novels to the later, more mature books.

Anything wrong with that? Not wrong, but perhaps more complex.

How so? First, Fleming almost certainly didn’t plan a trilogy. The Thunderball novel was Fleming’s way of recouping time spent on the unsuccessful film project spearheaded by Kevin McClory. McClory sued after the novel came out. In the resulting settlement, future editions of the novel indicated it was based on a screen treatment by McClory, screenwriter Jack Whittingham and Fleming.

Second, Fleming wrote four novels during this period. He also penned The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962, written from the perspective of a woman who encounters Bond in the last third of the novel. Bond is on the trail of SPECTRE but this only is mentioned in passing. Again, a sign this wasn’t a planned thing.

An important part of the Blofeld Trilogy: At the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond’s new bride, Tracy, is dead. Early in the You Only Live Twice novel, we’re told how Bond has fallen apart and is about to get his walking papers. He’s given a last chance to salvage his career. The unlikely mission leads to Blofeld and a final confrontation.

Yeah, so? The 007 film series adapted the novels out of order (as hard-core fans know all too well), so the Blofeld Trilogy, per se, wasn’t done. However, Eon Productions already has clearly cherry picked from the Blofeld Trilogy.

Example: In Skyfall, Bond has fallen apart after being shot by Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). He’s a shell of former self when he finds out MI6 has been attacked. Even then, it takes quite a bit of screen time before Bond is back to his former self.

I repeat, yeah, so? Some fans would like Bond 25 to adapt the setup of the Blofeld Trilogy, have Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) killed and have 007 have a proper “revenge” story.

Initially, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. During the scripting process, there was a henchwoman named Irma Bunt and the last line of the movie was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world.” Both were deleted from the final film.

A couple of things, regarding Bond 25:

1) Do we really want Bond to fall apart for the second time in three movies? Remember, it’s not the Blofeld Trilogy if he doesn’t fall apart.

2) We’ve had either revenge story lines or elements of them in Licence to Kill, GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace. Does the film series really cry out for another revenge story?

Nobody is going to change their mind based on this post. Just something to think about.

Our modest proposals for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Since the British tabloids are stirring the pot, what better time for this blog to weigh in with some Bond 25 ideas? So here goes.

Consider adapting one of the better continuation novels: For years, Eon Productions has resisted this path. Michael G. Wilson, Eon’s co-boss, has bad mouthed the John Gardner novels.

However, Eon itself opened the door with SPECTRE. The 24th James Bond film includes a torture scene based on the one in 1968’s Colonel Sun novel. So much so, there’s a “special thanks” credit for “The Estate of Kingsley Amis” in the end credits.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to use a novel as a starting point. The movie You Only Live Twice didn’t have much in common with its namesake novel, but characters, names, situations, etc. did figure into the movie. Given the soap opera of SPECTRE’s scripting process, any step to simplify the process would be a help.

At this point, there are plenty of continuation novels to choose from.

Worry about the script first, actor second: Various “making of” documentaries about 007 films discuss how scripts are tailored to their lead actor.

How about this? Write a James Bond story first, tweak it later after your actor has been cast. James Bond is the star. The series has seen six different actors play Bond. Some day, there will be a seventh.

Albert R. Broccoli, co-founder of Eon, always felt 007 was the star, the rest came later. Words to live by.

Or, put another way: story, story, story.

If you have a good story but it conflicts with continuity, go with the story: Let’s be honest. Continuity isn’t a strong point for the Bond film series. Michael G. Wilson said Quantum of Solace took place “literally an hour” after Casino Royale.

Yet, Quantum couldn’t be bothered with the slightest effort to tie together with Casino. Casino took place in 2006. Quantum in 2008. Did it really take Bond *two years* to track down Mr. White? Only if Bond and Mr. White are idiots.

Continuity isn’t in Eon’s wheelhouse. If you have a great Bond story but it doesn’t match up with earlier films? Go with the story. If fans exit the theater thinking, “That was one of the best Bond movies I’ve ever seen,” nobody will really care about the continuity.

Have a great Bond 25 idea that doesn’t immediately tie in with SPECTRE? Go with the great idea. You can always bring Blofeld back later, even if he’s not played by Christoph Waltz.

But what about the “Blofeld Trilogy”?: That ship has sailed. It was a lost opportunity. Meanwhile, you might find the part of the You Only Live Twice novel that Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman and their cohorts didn’t use might make for difficult filming. Don’t twist yourself into a pretzel trying to recapture the past.

Put yet another way: How many people leaving the theater after seeing SPECTRE really thought Daniel Craig’s Bond loved Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine as much as George Lazenby’s Bond loved Diana Rigg’s Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? This blog’s guess: Not many.

Some early fan suggestions for Bond 25

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

Image for the official James Bond feed on Twitter

As SPECTRE winds down its run in theaters, there have been some fan suggestions for what should come next.

The James Bond Dossier, IN ITS SURVEY of 007 bloggers and website editors included prescriptions from participants for Bond 25.

Here are some excerpts:

Anders Frejdh (From Sweden With Love): Fingers crossed for a continuation of the Blofeld saga with a twist. And an older woman as his sidekick.

Marcos Kontze (James Bond Brasil): My bet: Irma Bunt will be back as Blofeld’s allie, they will kill Madeleine in the PTS at some beach location, and then Blofeld you’ll be hidden in the Amazon Jungle in Brazil, and we’ll be seeing the Garden of Death from YOLT’s novel. Yes, BOND 25 is Shatterhand 😀

Some background: At one point in the scripting process, SPECTRE was a bit of a remake of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  The script even specified that the main titles have images from the earlier Daniel Craig films.

As late as Dec. 1, 2014, the last line in the script was Bond saying, “We have all the time in the world,” before he and Madeleine Swann drive off. Also, in earlier drafts, there was an Irma Bunt henchwoman. Both ideas weren’t in the final film.

Some fans are looking for Bond 25 to be a de facto adaptation of the You Only Live Twice novel (the 1967 movie had characters from the 1964 novel but dumped the plot). After Tracy’s death in the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service novel, Bond went to pieces but unexpectedly gets another shot at Blofeld in Japan.

Jeffrey Westhoff, author of the novel “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” suggested a different path IN AN ESSAY HE WROTE on his Culture Spy page.

Here’s an excerpt, where he argued against having Swann killed at the start of Bond 25:

Murdering her also would undercut Bond’s decision to not kill Blofeld on the bridge. The moment was supposed to point out Bond’s sense of morality. So what point would it prove if Bond’s sense of morality gets his girlfriend killed?
(snip)

Finally, I go back to wish No. 1 on my list (for Bond 25). I don’t want to see any more James Bond revenge stories. They have become tired. I read fans saying that Bond 25 finally could be what Diamonds Are Forever should have been, or the movies finally might bring the themes of Fleming’s You Only Live Twice to the screen. I say it’s too bad Diamonds Are Forever turned into a cartoon and that You Only Live Twice was filmed out of order. They were blown opportunities, but the time to correct them is long past.

To read more, CLICK HERE for The James Bond Dossier post. (This blog was a participant, but didn’t provide a plot idea for Bond 25). CLICK HERE for Jeffrey Westhoff’s essay titled, “My Seven Wishes for the Next James Bond Movie.” It covers quite bit of territory and is worth a look.

007 book auction: cashing in collections can be tricky

First edition copy of 1953's Casino Royale sold at auction

First edition copy of 1953’s Casino Royale sold at auction


The first rule of collecting is a collectible is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay for it.

This week, 007 collector Gary J. Firuta’s collection of first-edition James Bond novels, page proofs and other items was sold by Heritage Auctions. The auction showed how prices for collectibles can vary widely.

For example, A U.K. first edition of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale novel sold for $21,250. (The auction company takes a cut so the seller doesn’t receive the full price.) Heritage has auctioned a number of other first-edition copies of Ian Fleming’s first 007 novel and the Firuta sale is in the middle of a wide range.

In 2010, a first edition copy of Casino Royale was sold by Heritage for $11,950. In 2014, another copy was sold for $32,500. Then, there was a special case. In 2009, a first edition copy of the book, which included a Fleming inscription (“to M”) sold for $50,787.50.

The condition of the book can be a factor. The book sold in 2009 was described by Heritage as a “stunning example of the first Bond novel in fine condition.” The book sold in 2010 was described as a “very good copy of the first Bond novel.” And the copy sold in 2014 was described as “a fine copy of a very rare title in dust jacket and much better than usually seen.”

Meanwhile, with the Firuta sale, the first edition Casino Royale did not generate the highest price. Instead, an uncorrected proof of From Russia With Love sold for $40,000.

Here’s part of the description from Heritage:

London: Jonathan Cape, [1957]. Uncorrected Proof. One of 75 copies printed, though few have survived. Octavo. 249, [7, blank] pages. Publisher’s printed wrappers (with “Uncorrected Proof” at the bottom of the front wrapper.) Some toning and wear to edges of wrappers, front wrapper with crease at lower corner and faint ink notes with erasure marks, spine slightly sunned, some rubbing to spine, hinges starting, title-page a bit loose, page 249 with small hole (very little loss to text). With a Jonathan Cape advertisement for From Russia With Love (“Spring List 1957”) affixed to the inner front wrapper. A very good copy of an extremely rare item.

With a textual change to page 94, in the final paragraph, changing from “In all respects. She is very beautiful. Naïve but obedient.” to “The woman said grudgingly ‘She is very beautiful. She will serve our purpose.'” This was done by Fleming to tone down the lesbian overtones of the passage. Moreover, the published novel features a significant expansion to the novel’s closing paragraphs. (emphasis in original)

What follows are some other highlights of the sale.

–A Moonraker first edition that included a letter by Fleming to G. Wren Howard, a co-founder of publisher Jonathan Cape. The letter concerned a would-be title for the novel, The Infernal Machine. Price: $15,000.

–A first edition of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that was No. 205 of a set of 250 signed by Fleming. Price: $10,312.50. However, another regular first edition of the novel went unsold.

–A first edition of Live And Let Die, price: $10,000.

–Three first edition copies of Fleming’s final Bond novel, The Man With the Golden Gun. Price: $8,750. Here’s a description:

One copy is the rare first edition, first issue, first state (trial binding) with the gilt-stamped gun on the front board; the other two copies are first editions, second state bindings, one with the first issue green endpapers, the other with the second issue plain white endpapers. Spines lettered in gilt, dust jackets.

Firuta’s collection of posters and related items will be auctioned later this month by Heritage.

Chronicles of SPECTRE Part V: OHMSS

OHMSS poster

OHMSS poster

By Nicolas Suszczyk, Guest Writer

The new James Bond film SPECTRE has given the fans many nods to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service throughout the promotions, either by the bars of John Barry’s instrumental theme on the trailer and by the snow scenes. Some people even suggested that the 2015 film could be a remake of the 1969 Bond adventure.

One of the most faithful adaptations of an Ian Fleming novel, the sixth 007 film made by Eon Productions is distinctive in many ways: it was the first film to feature a new Bond actor, George Lazenby, and it establishes some kind of continuity with the previous adventures, by having the secret agent looking up at some personal effects from his old missions on one scene.

It also showed, for the first time, a more emotional Bond. “This one is different. This one has heart”, the trailer narration claimed.

Just like in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, the enemy is once again SPECTRE and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

After his reveal in the 1967 film, the organization per se is overshadowed by its Number One figure. Previously played by Anthony Dawson and Donald Pleasance, Blofeld is now portrayed by the charismatic Telly Savalas, who would be later known as TV’s popular detective Kojak.

Unlike the 1963 novel by Fleming, where Bond considers resigning from the Service tired of following Blofeld’s lead, in this 1969 adaptation 007 is completely obsessed to find his nemesis and to kill any trace of SPECTRE, even resigning (he finally doesn’t, thanks to Moneypenny) when M relieves him from the mentioned assignment.

SPECTRE’s Number One, this time, is calling himself Balthazar, Count de Beauchamp. His intentions seem quite less lethal in comparison to his previous demands: to get his title validated by the College of Arms and amnesty for his crimes.

Blofeld turned himself from a criminal mastermind to a snobbist blue-blooded aristocrat. Yet, nobody should be fooled by his image: if his demands are not met, he’ll unleash the virus omega providing total infertility to the world’s livestock. How? By hypnotizing the (young, female) patients of his clinic atop Piz Gloria in Switzerland and, once on their homes via radio transmission, order them to unleash the virus, as “part of the cure.”

Blofeld is certainly not less lethal this time, as he can fistfight 007 himself towards the film’s climax and engage on a shootout with him. He also has a taste for beautiful women, as he tries to seduce the imprisoned Tracy, Bond’s girlfriend and future wife.

In a way, he is more of an equal to Bond and not an authority figure. It could be assumed that, from From Russia with Love to You Only Live Twice, Blofeld was M’s M’s evil counterpart: seated on his throne and giving orders. In OHMSS, Number One has turned into Bond’s counterpart.

As for the SPECTRE organization per se, not much of it remains. Blofeld still has a bunch of troops capable of firing machine guns while skiing at high speed as well as a female agent Irma Bunt.

This time, tough, she’s not a young sexy lady in the scale of Fiona or Helga, but an old and authoritarian woman in the style of Rosa Klebb. Even when in the novels we learn Bunt has married Blofeld, not even a glance of a romantic interaction between the two is given in the 1969 film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has Blofeld as the main villain, his leadership overshadowing the SPECTRE organization. His character will always be remembered for one thing: he had James Bond’s wife, Tracy (Diana Rigg), killed minutes after the wedding, leaving the secret agent for the tears.

Many years before Casino Royale showed us Daniel Craig’s Bond crying over the female lead’s dead body, it was George Lazenby in his short time as 007 who brought drama to the very last second of the film, bringing up a Bond who hasn’t fully triumphed this time.

Next up, in 1971, James Bond takes revenge on Ernst Stavro Blofeld: a different Blofeld, in terms of personality, looks and ambitions.

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