The James Bond Challenge – You Only Live Twice (1967)

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterIn which SPECTRE mastermind a plot to kidnap both American and Soviet astronauts in space, in the hope that Cold War enmity would spark off a war between the two superpowers – thus enabling a new world power to emerge and take control. Even though everyone thinks that James Bond died in a gun attack in a Hong Kong bedroom, his death was faked and M has sent Bond to Tokyo to follow a trail that takes him into Blofeld’s lair – but will he and his pals prevent a world war? Yeah, of course!

Roald_DahlIt had been two years since the previous James Bond film, Thunderball, (if we ignore the spoof Casino Royale), and its budget of $10.3 million was perhaps only a modest increase in comparison with Thunderball’s $9 million; and its box office take of $111.6 million was almost $30 million down on the previous movie. Still, it’s not a bad profit. The budget to create SPECTRE’s volcano lair was almost the same as the entire budget for Dr No! Originally, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was due to be the next in the series, but the need to find mountainous and snowy locations to shoot, coupled with the Bond films’ enormous box office success in Japan, meant that the producers, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, decided to go with the mainly-Tokyo based You Only Live Twice instead. Usual screenwriter Richard Maibaum was working on the producers’ non-Bond movie of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so the producers offered the job to Harold Jack Bloom. They liked his story work, but not his script; so the writing credits went to Roald Dahl, who was a close friend of Ian Fleming. This was Dahl’s first attempt at writing a screenplay, and Harold Jack Bloom was credited as providing additional story material.

lewis gilbertWith previous director Terence Young now working in Europe and Guy Hamilton still needing a break from Bond, the directors approached Lewis Gilbert, who had recently directed the hugely successful Alfie with Michael Caine. Cinematography was by Freddie Young, of Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago fame, editing by James Bond stalwart Peter Hunt, and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. During the filming, Aerial Unit Cameraman John Jordan was leaning out of a helicopter to get a better shot, when another helicopter was caught in a gust of wind and was blown closer. The rotor blade cut his leg which had to be amputated.

YOLT novelYou Only Live Twice was published in 1964 and was the twelfth book in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. Its title comes from a haiku that Bond wrote in the style of the famous Japanese poet, Basho: “You only live twice/Once when you are born/And once when you look death in the face”. It was the last book to be published in Fleming’s lifetime. Because there is a high travelogue content to the book, and it’s a more introvert story as we see Bond coping (or otherwise) with the death of his wife in the previous book, there isn’t a lot of content that could be adapted easily for an action adventure movie. Writer Roald Dahl therefore had to use a lot of imagination and collaboration with Lewis Gilbert to come up with a workable screenplay.

VladivostokIn the book, a tired, drunk and wasted Bond is given one last chance to turn his spy career around – convincing the Japanese secret service to share information they have about the Soviet Union. The Japanese ask Bond to kill Blofeld and Irma Bunt, who were responsible for the death of Bond’s wife – so he is happy to oblige. Bond is trained as a Japanese coal miner and meets former film star Kissy Suzuki as he infiltrates Blofeld’s garden of death. Bond kills Blofeld, gets Kissy pregnant – and then leaves for Vladivostok. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll realise there are a very few overlapping points between book and film; for example, the whole space-race and spaceship hijack elements were written purely for the film.

Odeon AylesburyI’m pretty sure I saw You Only Live Twice in a double-bill at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John in the mid-1970s; probably with Goldfinger. I am also certain this would have been one of those occasions when the cinema manager had to come in and stop us from chatting and giggling all the way through. To those denizens of 1970s Aylesbury, I can only humbly apologise. John made me do it.

Japan bookAlthough pre-sales for the book were very high, it received only mixed reviews. The Times wrote: “as a moderate to middling travelogue what follows will just about do … the plot with its concomitant sadism does not really get going until more than half way through”; The Listener noted: “if interest flags, as it may do, the book can be treated as a tourist guide to some of the more interesting parts of Japan”; and the Guardian complained: “of the 260 pages of You Only Live Twice … only 60 are concerned with the actual business of a thriller”. The film fared better, with Entertainment Weekly saying it “pushes the series to the outer edge of coolness”, Filmcritic calling it one of James Bond’s most memorable adventures, but finding the plot “protracting and quite confusing”, and Rotten Tomatoes concluding that: “with exotic locales, impressive special effects, and a worthy central villain, You Only Live Twice overcomes a messy and implausible story to deliver another memorable early Bond flick.” My own opinion is that this was possibly the most entertaining of the Bond movies at the time; I found the combination of action, villainy and humour just about right.

Connery as BondThe opening credits begin, as usual, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. As in Thunderball, Bond is now clearly Sean Connery – in the first three films it was stunt man Bob Simmons. However, the music – if my ears do not deceive me – has been re-recorded; it’s a slightly different arrangement, more “stereo” sounding and maybe just a hint slower.

Astronaut cut offWe’re in outer space. NASA spacecraft Jupiter 16 is calmly and successfully achieving its mission. As one of the astronauts – Chris – emerges from the craft for a spacewalk exercise, a security control in Hawaii reports an unidentified object closing fast on Jupiter 16. As it gets closer, its head opens up as though it were some hungry shark with gaping teeth – and it swallows up the NASA craft. And, as it closes its pincers, it cuts off the cable that’s been linking Astronaut Chris to the main body of the craft – and he’s left to float around in space for eternity. Gruesome!

Bond in Hong KongBack on earth, a summit conference is held where the Americans accuse the Russians of having stolen their spacecraft – a fact which the Russians deny, affirming that they are a peaceful nation. Another American spaceship will be launched in twenty days’ time, and the Americans confirm that any interference by the Russians will be looked on as an act of war. The British attempt to intercede, querying why the Russians would wish to capture an American spaceship. As British intelligence indicates that the spaceship came down in the Sea of Japan area, Her Majesty’s Government intends to investigate this event in and around Japan. “In fact,” says the security adviser, “our man in Hong Kong is working on it now” – a cue for the camera to cut to James Bond, in flagrante delicto with Ling, a Chinese lady. They have a rather saucy conversation – “darling, I give you very best duck” – and then she presses a button which makes the fold-down bed fold back up into the wall, with Bond trapped inside. She opens the door to her room and a couple of heavies with machine guns open fire on the wall, with Bond just behind the surface. When the police arrive, and draw back the bed, a lifeless Bond is still trapped between the blood-soaked sheets. “We’re too late,” says one policeman to his colleague. “Well, at least he died on the job” comes the knowing reply; “he’d have wanted it this way” says the other.

Opening CreditsAnd then we’re into the credits, and the superb title theme, sung by Nancy Sinatra. Apparently, it was originally offered to father Frank, but he turned it down in favour of his daughter. She was the first non-British performer to sing a James Bond movie theme. Surprisingly, for an artist of her abilities, she was so nervous about recording the song that it took twenty-five different takes to complete it. As she said in an interview, she was intimidated by the fact that this was strong, serious singing as opposed to the funny and light-hearted recordings for which she had become famous. In the end, the final song version used in the film was made up of the best parts from each of those twenty-five recordings – a true patchwork. The song reached No 11 in the UK charts, but only 44 in the US. I’d contend that it’s one of the best three Bond themes ever – but you might not agree!

Opening CreditsVisually, the opening credits are very appealing and intriguing. An abstract Japanese chrysanthemum design is used to suggest not only the traditions of Japan, but also the iris of an eye, or a parasol; interspersed with these images are the faces and bodies of sultry Japanese girls and the hot fiery spurting lava of a volcano. You can read whatever symbolism you like into all of this.

Welcome to TokyoAnd the locations? This is an unusual Bond film in that it almost entirely takes place in one country – Japan. Only the opening sequence, of Bond’s faked death, takes place in Hong Kong. The majority of the filming took place in Japan too. The exceptions to this were the outside view of the summit conference being filmed in Alaska, Bond’s burial at sea on board the HMS Tenby was shot off Gibraltar, while his rescue from the sea bed was filmed in the Bahamas; and a few internal scenes were shot at Pinewood. The Osato Chemicals building was in fact the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo, and SPECTRE’s volcano lair was Mount Shinmoedake.

Ninja CastleWhile scouting locations in Japan, the chief production team narrowly escaped death. On March 5, 1966, Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman, Lewis Gilbert, Freddie Young, and Ken Adam were booked to leave Japan on BOAC flight 911 departing Tokyo for Hong Kong and London. Two hours before their Boeing 707 flight departed, the team were invited to an unexpected ninja demonstration, and so missed their plane. Their flight took off as scheduled, but twenty-five minutes after take-off, the plane disintegrated over Mt. Fuji, killing everyone on board. The title You Only Live Twice must never have seemed so sinister.

007Bond, James Bond. Again Connery doesn’t get to utter that iconic sentence in this film. In fact, on a personal level, this was a very unhappy film. Connery had been lured back to play the role again despite being tired of Bond and fearing being typecast. So, in addition to earning $800,000 as a fee, he also received 25% of the net merchandise royalty, which must have been one helluva lotta wonga. By all accounts he was his usual professional and generous performer on set. But he disliked all the media attention in Japan, where the films were more important to people than even their own families, and where he was constantly being papped. He was even photographed in a toilet, which displeased him significantly. He was also displeased by the marketing phrase “Sean Connery IS James Bond”, and offended the locals by stating in an interview that Japanese women weren’t attractive. During filming, Connery announced that this would be his last ever Bond film; however, Broccoli and Saltzman had other ideas. Nevertheless, it is said that the relationship between star and producers had broken down so badly that he refused to act if they were on the set.

Helicopter landingBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always – let’s have a look at some of them! When Bond’s apparently dead body is brought on board the submarine, from the depths of the ocean, the packaging that encloses it is surprisingly dry! When Osato and Brandt land on the helicopter landing pad to meet Bond (masquerading as Mr. Fischer), the helicopter lands across the top of the “H” on the pad, near the edge of the circle, and it is facing slightly to the left of the camera. However, in the next scene it has moved further inside the circle, facing in a different direction, alongside the H. Clever stuff! When Bond undertakes his transformation to become Japanese, he has his chest hair all shaved off. But when he and Kissy are in the life raft at the end of the movie, magically it has all returned. He’s not 007 for nothing!

Bond and Hans fightWhen Bond is fighting Blofeld’s henchman Hans, Bond gets knocked over near the fireplace, and you can hear the sound of glass breaking. However, there are no glass objects anywhere him! When Aki is driving Bond to see Henderson, she’s sitting on the right side. As they approach Henderson’s residence, she’s on the left, but when the camera cuts to a close-up, she is back on the right again. Before Bond (disguised as a SPECTRE astronaut) is brought before Blofeld in the command room, the ‘Blofeld’ sitting in his chair has hair which can be seen briefly from the rear of the chair. However, when he introduces himself to Bond a moment later he is clearly bald – an error caused by using film of both actors playing Blofeld.

Marrying KissyThe Bond Girl. It’s become something of a familiar challenge that it’s not obvious from the start who exactly is The Bond Girl in any of the films. The Bond Girl in Thunderball is the fourth girl with whom he has some kind of encounter; and it’s the same here. James Bond’s lucky number sure is four!

LingFirst we see him with Ling, with whom he starts to say that “We’ve had some interesting times together Ling, I’ll be sorry to go” before she pushes the button and uprights the bed into the wall, with him in it. It’s impossible to say whilst you’re watching the film whether she’s an agent working against him (almost getting him murdered) or working with him (enabling the faking of his death) – the latter is in fact true. Whatever, their time together is all too short and sweet. Ling was played by Chinese born Tsai Chin, whose career spanned many decades and appearances as wide range as in The World of Suzie Wong, Flower Drum Song, The Virgin Soldiers, and a wide range of other television appearances. It is said that her popularity was such in the 60s that she had a leopard at London Zoo named after her! She was already friends with director Lewis Gilbert and his wife before the film was shot – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, it’s who you know. She would return to the world of James Bond in the 2006 production of Casino Royale, where she played Madame Wu, a poker player. She’s been based in Hollywood for many years and is still working at the age of 85.

HelgaNext contender for the title of Bond Girl is Helga Brandt – ostensibly Osato’s secretary but really Number 11 in SPECTRE, so as she’s working for the other side, she could never be a Bond Girl, could she? She’s a ruthless mass of raw sexuality, with her strong auburn hair, dominatrix expression and sultry fashion sense. The things I do for England, says Bond, as he snips the straps on her evening dress with a surgeon’s knife. But she’s not quite mistress of her game, and Blofeld only accepts perfection, so she’s fiendishly eliminated, and the hungry piranhas are grateful. She was played by Karin Dor, who appeared in dozens of films, mainly in German, and lived partly in Munich and partly in the United States. She died in 2017 at the age of 79.

AkiThen there’s Aki. Aki really should have been the Bond Girl because she’s gutsy but so sweet. She’s there at the Sumo, ready to introduce Bond to Henderson. She’s there to rescue Bond when he has to flee the Osato Building. She’s there to help him get advice from Tanaka and drive him to the Kobe docks. And she’s there in his bed whenever he wants. She even – albeit accidentally – provides him the ultimate service by ingesting the poison that was meant for him. Who could do more? Aki was played by Akiko Wakabayashi, who specifically asked if the character’s name could be changed to Aki (in other words, her own name) rather than Suki, as originally intended. She appeared in a number of Japanese films in the late 50s and early 60s, but only one more after You Only Live Twice, when she retired to have a family. She’s now 77 and still living in Japan.

Kissy and BondBut I guess the accolade of Bond Girl in this film must go to Kissy Suzuki, played by Mie Hama. Kissy is a Ninja Agent, working for Bond’s Japanese colleague Tanaka; she marries Bond in order to create for him a convincing Japanese cover. But when it comes to honeymoon night, she confirms that the relationship is strictly business and he has to sleep in a corner. However, she dutifully assists Bond in his attack on SPECTRE’s lair, and, of course, it’s she who is rescued with him in a life-raft in what appears to be the same closing scene of almost every Bond movie. Mie Hama was working as a bus conductor when she was discovered by film producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, most famous for having created Godzilla. She had already appeared in about sixty Japanese movies by the time she worked on You Only Live Twice. Originally she was hired to play Aki (or, rather, Suki) but she had difficulty with the English words and so the two actresses swapped roles – as Kissy had fewer lines than Aki. Mie Hama retired from films in 1989 and since has had a varied career as a writer, TV and radio host, and art connoisseur. She’s 75 now and still going strong.

KissyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first four films, our list of attributes common to the Bond Girls was: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional, scary and vengeful. Kissy doesn’t really comply with many of these attributes; the Japanese tradition makes her a more demure, graceful and moral person. Mie Hama, however, was perhaps less demure when she appeared in Playboy in a 1967 nude pictorial “007’s Oriental Eyefuls” as the first Asian woman to appear in the magazine.

BlofeldThe Villain. You Only Live Twice is our first opportunity finally to meet the one and only Blofeld. Disfigured and measured of speech, he disarmingly strokes his pussy whilst ordering the death both of his enemies and those working for him who have let him down. Blofeld survives at the end of the film – he’s the first Bond villain to do so – and he will go on to make five more appearances in subsequent Bond films. But this is the only film in which he is played by Donald Pleasence. Originally, he was to have been played by Czech actor Jan Werich, who does appear in the film with his back to the audience – his tufts of hair appearing to the camera, whilst Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld is totally bald. But Werich’s characterisation of Blofeld was considered insufficiently menacing. Pleasence was said to have found the make-up for Blofeld incredibly uncomfortable, but, then, you have to suffer for your art. He was one of our finest film actors, having made more than a hundred movies, and he died in 1995 at the age of 75.

HendersonOther memorable characters
? Australian Intelligence agent Dikko Henderson – played by Charles Gray – is not exactly a memorable character, because he doesn’t hang around long enough for us to get interested in him. He does, however, have a very memorable death; stabbed in the back whilst standing in front of one of those Japanese paper-thin screen walls. Charles Gray would go on to play Blofeld in Diamonds are Forever, as well as many other notable film and TV roles.

Kill himTeru Shimada gives an excellent, understated, performance as Osato, the industrialist who’s secretly a SPECTRE agent; suitably inscrutable, on the surface dignified and urbane, whilst underneath, happy to be an assassin. Osato’s simple instruction “kill him” as Bond is leaving his offices is amusingly terse! Teru Shimada was a Japanese-American actor who first appeared in films in the early 1930s and carried on working until 1975. He died in Los Angeles in 1988, aged 82.

TanakaTiger Tanaka is the head of the Japanese Secret Service, living secretly underground in Tokyo, with his own train network, his own team of ninjas, and he plays a very active part in assisting Bond in the attack on the SPECTRE volcano lair. He is supremely authoritative – and you’d say was one of the most powerful people in the country. He was played by Tetsuro Tamba, who appeared in around a hundred films between 1952 and his death in 2006 at the age of 84. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietti, who had also dubbed Adolfo Celi’s voice as Emilio Largo in Thunderball.

M & MoneypennyNo Felix Leiter this time – he’ll return in Diamonds are Forever – but Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. This time, M and Moneypenny aren’t in their London office but on board one of Her Majesty’s submarines; but M is his usual, no-nonsense self, and Moneypenny is only too happy to prevent Bond’s lingering romance with Kissy from taking hold. The relationship between Q and Bond continues to be fractious, although Q’s latest gadgets for use on the autogyro certainly save Bond’s life.

nancy-sinatra-you-only-live-twice-reprise-4And what about the music? The film starts, as usual, with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman; after that, it’s all John Barry, although the lyrics to the title song, You Only Live Twice are by John Barry and Leslie Bricusse. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a cracker of a song, and its legacy lives on in such examples as Robbie Williams’ Millennium. An earlier version was sung by Julie Rogers, who expected it to be used in the film, but the producers said it was just a demo – much to Ms Rogers’ disappointment, no doubt.

Marriage sceneParts of the soundtrack that I particularly enjoyed included the classic, percussion-heavy theme that always accompanies a car chase; this time we also hear it when Little Nellie goes up. There’s an excellent, fast, brassy version of You Only Live Twice whilst they’re capering around Kobe Docks. Early in the film when Bond arrives in Tokyo, there’s a charming variation on the You Only Live Twice theme, softly played with some gently twanging guitars in the background. And there’s the gentle, romantic accompaniment to the wedding scene.

On the roadCar chases. There’s just the one car chase; when Aki rescues Bond from being shot by Osato’s henchmen, driving her Toyota 2000GT and they are chased by the wannabe killers. Unusually, Bond doesn’t drive a car in this film. Amusingly, nor does Aki; Akiko Wakabayashi hadn’t learned how to drive, so six stuntmen created the illusion of her driving, by attaching a cable, and pulling it from outside of the frame. Stuntmen also substituted for her in long camera shots by wearing black wigs.

Henderson mixing drinksCocktails and Casinos. Henderson says to Bond when offering a drink “Stirred, not shaken. That was right, wasn’t it?” Bond then replies: “Perfect”, and you can just hear a tinge of disappointment in his voice. Of course, Bond usually drinks his Vodka Martinis shaken, not stirred, so this was an error. But Lewis Gilbert decided to keep it in; and it shows Bond’s generosity of spirit when someone he meets for the first time gets it wrong, but he wants to be on good terms with him. Apart from that, Bond grimaces at the taste of Siamese vodka, delights at sake if it’s served at 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit and allows himself to be won over by the offer of a Dom Perignon ’59. Casinos don’t feature in this Bond movie.

Little NellieGadgets. Bond uses a cute little safe-breaker when he’s stealing the papers from the Osato offices; apart from that Tanaka is proud to show him the cigarette gun, which is a nifty little wheeze, and Q reveals the additional extras that have been fitted on to Little Nellie, the autogyro; two machine guns, rocket launchers and heat seeking air to air missiles, two flame guns and smoke ejectors, aerial mines and a cine camera in the helmet. I think that sums it up! Other than that, there are perhaps somewhat fewer gadgets in this film than we’ve been spoilt with on previous occasions? Does Q need to go back to college?

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox; and Thunderball offers up around 50 people – plus a shark. How about You Only Live Twice? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Kissy can get nudged into safety by the surprise appearance of a submarine:

1) Dikko Henderson – stabbed, like Polonius, through the arras

2) Henderson’s killer, knifed by Bond

3) Henchman who drove Bond to the Osato office – brained by an ancient Japanese sculpture in a fight with Bond

4) Guard in the Osato carpark, shot by Bond

5) The woman who took the photo of the Ning-Po ship (even though we never met her, RIP)

6) 4 henchmen in a car that gets lifted off the road surface by a helicopter with a huge magnet and then gets dropped into the sea – presumably all four drown

7) Somewhere between 3 and 6 men attacked at Kobe Docks

8) 4 helicopter pilots, individually killed by Bond in the autogyro, using the various gadgets that Q had supplied.

9) Helga – dipped into the piranha pool by Blofeld.

10) The poisoner who kills Aki – shot by Bond

11) Aki – killed by the poisoner.

12) The ninja who tries to bayonet Bond – bayonetted by Bond.

13) The girl in the boat that Kissy sees before and after death (again RIP in absentia)

14) The man in red working in SPECTRE’s lair.

15) Everyone else who dies in the crater.

16) Osato

17) One last henchman.

That’s maybe something in the region of 40 people.

Piranha timeHumour to off-set the death count
. Following Bond’s classic asides whenever someone dies in the previous movies, here are some more gems to accompany those bereft of life to the great yonder:

After the four car-bound henchmen are drowned at sea, Bond quips “A drop in the ocean.”

Of the four helicopter pilots who try to gun down Bond and Little Nellie, he says: “Four big shots made improper advances towards her but she defended her honour with great success.”

When henchman Hans gets piranha’d he adds “Bon appetit.”

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic elements, but I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Bond changing his appearance to look Japanese. If that had happened on Broadway or the West End today we would call it “yellowface”. However, in those days, I don’t think the same sensibilities applied, and it’s not as though Bond is doing it in any way to make fun of or discriminate against his Japanese colleagues – it’s purely to make it easier to infiltrate the volcano lair.

However, as usual, when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s check that definition of sexism again, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Bond’s first line in the film is “why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?” which caused a big intake of breath in our household when we watched it again recently. I can’t quite put my finger on why this line made us feel so uneasy, but it did. Another line, that is distinctly sexist, is Tanaka’s decree that “in Japan, men always come first; women come second”. He and Bond then use four girls for massage and whatever else they might like, without the girls having any say in the matter. They are purely a commodity; and they spend the entire time sitting around in – not even bikinis – but bra and panties.

As does poor Kissy Suzuki, who has to clamber up and down a volcano edge in just her underwear. It’s purely for titillation, purely to show which gender calls all the shots and which gender abides by those rules. No wonder things have changed nowadays. However, Japan in the 1960s was not a liberated environment for women, and, although today this treatment of women feels very uncomfortable, for the time this was a fairly accurate assessment of women’s role in Japanese society.

When Osato criticises Bond for smoking, saying it is unhealthy for the chest, Helga passes him the drink with the line “Mr Osato believes in a healthy chest” – to which Bond simply replies, “really?”

Bizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Dr EvilAlthough Thunderball’s plot is satirised in Austin Powers, Donald Pleasence is definitely the inspiration for Dr. Evil.

This is the first Bond film where I have really noticed the beautiful cinematography. There are some amazing sunsets, and the overwhelming sense of natural Japanese tranquillity comes through strongly in many scenes. There’s also the wonderful aerial shot of Bond on the roof of the docks building, punching his way through a number of pursuing henchmen. It’s a very arresting shot.

With all that CCTV going on, how come Blofeld and the gang don’t realise that Bond, Tanaka and Kissy are clambering about on their roof?

Inevitably, I guess, much of the content of this film is very much in the spirit of the time. Space travel was so cool in those days, so exciting; everyone was a mini-expert on spaceships; many TV series were based in space or had the possibility of “other life” as a subject. This was before any moon landings had actually taken place, so the competition between America and the Soviet Union to be the first was red hot. When the Americans say they’ve got another spacecraft going up in twenty days’ time, you realise that, in those days, spaceships were almost like buses. Miss one, another will be along shortly.

Look how terrified the poor cat is, whilst bombs are going off all round! Apparently, it went missing for two days and would never go on a film set again. Verging on animal cruelty, I’d say.

Awards: Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British Art Direction (Colour), but the award went to John Box for his work on A Man for All Seasons.

OHMSS posterTo sum up. Perhaps surprisingly, this was the first time that the box office takings for a Bond movie were less than for the previous film – so from that perspective, you might consider it failed, albeit slightly. However, in my humble opinion, this is the most entertaining James Bond film so far in the canon. The evilest villain, all kinds of Bond Girls, some witty one-liners, and a lot of engrossing (rather than tedious) action. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of You Only Live Twice – and whether you agree with me! Next up is the first Bond film that I saw at the cinema, when I was a nipper – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service; and a change of Bond, as George Lazenby takes the stage.

My rating: 5 Sparkles

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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Thunderball (1965)

Thunderball PosterIn which SPECTRE plan to extort £100 million in diamonds (that’s £1.35 billion in today’s money, so it’s a lot of cash) or else two atomic bombs will be dropped on either a major US or English city – later revealed to be Miami. M and his team can’t allow that to happen, so Bond is sent to the Bahamas, where he eventually finds the hidden bombs, kills a lot of SPECTRE’s henchmen underwater and the world is saved. Good man, Bond!

SPECTRE's lairAs the films got grander and longer, so did the budgets continue to increase. The budget for Thunderball was $9 million – three times that of Goldfinger – but with an overall box office take of an estimated $141 million, this was a wise investment. In the original plan, Thunderball was meant to be the first film in the series, but an extended legal wrangle made this impossible; a compromise was eventually reached that credited Kevin McClory (who had always claimed he had co-written the story of Thunderball with Jack Whittingham) as Producer of the movie, with Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman named as Executive Producers. Along with the return of Richard Maibaum as screenwriter, alongside John Hopkins, this makes for quite convoluted opening credits!

Bond and La PorteGuy Hamilton, who had directed Goldfinger, was asked back, but he was too “Bonded Out” to feel the necessary creativity, so he next went on to direct Oliver Reed in The Party’s Over. As a result, Terence Young returned to the job, having already directed Dr No and From Russia With Love. This would be his final Bond film. Once again, the cinematography was by Ted Moore, with Peter Hunt as supervising film editor (film editing credited to Ernest Hosler), and production design by Ken Adam. John Barry was, of course, again responsible for the music, all apart from Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme. Bob Simmons was the stunt choreographer and puts in an amazing performance as Mme Bouvar (not) getting thwacked to a pulp by Bond in the pre-titles scene.

Bob Simmons as Mme BouvarThunderball was published in 1961 and was the ninth in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels. As outlined earlier, it was written as a collaboration between Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo, as a novelisation of an earlier, unused film screenplay. As a result, it’s unsurprising that the film and the book tell very much the same story, with only a few minor changes. As an aside, this wasn’t the only film to be made from the Thunderball novel – 1983’s Never Say Never Again, which was Sean Connery’s Bond swansong, also follows the plot of this book. But that’s a matter for another time!

thunderball novelIn the novel, it is explained that M has sent Bond off to the health farm, Shrublands, because he was getting unfit through drinking and smoking too much; but the film just places Bond in the health farm without explanation. The character of Fiona doesn’t appear in the novel, and Emilio Largo is described as SPECTRE’s No 1, because the identity of No 1 kept changing for security reasons. In the film he is No 2, only Blofeld could hold that honour. Fleming liked to borrow his real-life experiences and use the names of people he knew, or knew of, throughout his stories; Blofeld is named after Tom Blofeld who was a contemporary of Fleming’s at Eton and whose son is Henry Blofeld of cricketing fame.

Odeon AylesburyThinking back, and remembering how I saw From Russia with Love, Diamonds are Forever, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice in double-bills at the Odeon Aylesbury with my schoolfriend John, I am pretty sure that I hadn’t seen Thunderball before. It’s amazing how such a well-known film can completely escape one’s attention. Still, better late than never.

underwaterBoth book and novel received generally favourable reviews. Of the novel, the Guardian wrote: “it is a good, tough, straightforward thriller on perfectly conventional lines”; and the Financial Times called it: “an exciting story skilfully told”, with “a romantic sub-plot […] and the denouement involves great events.” Of the film, the Financial Times regretted the fact that there was much less attempt made at establishing Bond as a “connoisseur playboy”. I find myself agreeing with American film critic Danny Peary, when he said “it takes forever to get started and has too many long underwater sequences during which it’s impossible to tell what’s going on”. My own reaction to the film is that it’s as though they went and bought some underwater cameras and were going to absolutely get their money’s worth.

funeralThe opening credits appear unchanged, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. However, because this movie was filmed in widescreen Panavision, it had to be re-shot; so this is the first time that the actor playing Bond appears in the opening credits – stunt man Bob Simmons had featured in these credits in the first three films. As usual, we are taken straight into the opening scene. We witness Bond at the funeral of one Colonel Jacques Bouvar, SPECTRE’s No 6, where his widow is mourning in the grand tradition of black veils and garments. Bond, however, isn’t satisfied, and when she gets back to her grand house, she locks herself into a sumptuous room only to discover Bond is there waiting for her. She turns out to be a he; Bouvar himself has faked his death, and there follows a thoroughly extravagant fight scene between the two – Bond, cool calm and collected, Bouvar in high heels and stockings.

Aston Martin getawayEventually Bouvar is overpowered and slung into the fireplace to die, a contemptuous bunch of tulips being chucked over his head by Bond as an afterthought. Bond flees to the rooftops to make his escape, but he is followed by SPECTRE henchmen, and just when you think he’s going to get caught – up he flies into the air wearing a jetpack, safely landing beside his Aston Martin DB5 and colleague from the French service, Madame La Porte. The bullet shield emerges from the back of the Aston, and emits a water cannon to keep the henchmen at bay.

opening creditsOnce again our first sight of Bond shows him doing all those things he does best. Looking cool, fighting and killing ruthlessly, being up to date with all the best gadgets. We instantly move into the rest of the title sequence. Getting a little more daring year by year, these credits feature naked bodies for the first time, which Maurice Binder filmed, originally, in black and white. As they swim, silhouetted, Binder created a vibrant colour backdrop of reds, blues, greens and purples, and it’s a very attractive and arresting sequence. This is also our opportunity to hear the title song, Thunderball, sung by Tom Jones. In comparison to its two predecessors, this is, imho, quite an underpowered and forgettable song, which certainly made no impact on me as I was watching it. I note the single only made No 35 in the UK chart. Allegedly, Tom Jones fainted in an attempt to maintain the last big note of the song. Not sure it was worth it.

PalmyraAnd the locations? The film takes us from Paris, back to the UK, and eventually on the Bahamas. Bond’s opening-scene fight with Bouvar was filmed at the Château d’Anet, near Dreux, in North-West France; I recognised a pub in Beaconsfield as the site of the hotel where Derval was killed by Angelo. Shrublands Health Spa scenes were shot at Chalfont Park House, near Chalfont St Peter. The car chase between Bond, Lippe and Fiona was filmed at Silverstone Racing Circuit in Northamptonshire; Largo’s grand estate, Palmyra, was filmed at the exclusive Rock Point home of a Philadelphia millionaire family, the Sullivans, who liked to watch the filming and used to have friends over for drinks who mixed with the cast and crew when not working. Other elegant locations included the Café Martinique and the Coral Harbour Hotel in Nassau. The climactic underwater battle was shot at Clifton Pier, Nassau, and was choreographed by Ricou Browning, famous for his underwater stunt work – he also created the cheeky dolphin, Flipper. He also staged the cave sequence and the battle scenes beneath the Disco Volante and called in his specialist team of divers who were essentially underwater stunt extras during the underwater fights.

BondBond, James Bond. Sadly we don’t get to hear Sean Connery utter those magnificent words this time round. Connery earned a tidy $800,000 for making this film, but he became very impatient with the heavy media attention in Nassau, which may have been partly due to his marital troubles with his wife at the time, Diane Cilento. He was also very nearly eaten by a shark, when filming in the pool at Largo’s property; the Plexiglas divider that was meant to hold the sharks back from where Connery was in the pool wasn’t – to coin a phrase – watertight, and a shark snuck in to where Connery was swimming. Apparently no one has ever jumped out of a pool faster.

Home SecretaryBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always, but the only one I noticed at the time of actually watching the movie was right at the beginning, where you hear Bond say “As I said, later” to Madame la Porte, his mouth is clearly saying something different! When Bond arrives at M’s office, there’s a modern white light switch by the door. When he leaves, it’s a bronze double switch; curious. Roland Culver’s character is referred to as the Home Secretary, but in the final credits he’s listed as the Foreign Secretary – now, which is it? And Leiter is sometimes in long trousers and sometimes in shorts whilst he’s piloting the helicopter – that’s an impressive quick change. Bond constantly checks his Breitling Geiger Counter watch to see if he’s near the atom bombs; on one occasion, however, it’s a Rolex – smart, but no cigar. This is not an exhaustive list – there’s plenty more for you to read about on the Internet!

PatriciaThe Bond Girl. As in Goldfinger, it takes the audience a while to work out who exactly is The Bond Girl in this film. It’s no surprise that there are a number of women who take his fancy as the film progresses. In one of his first conversations with Madame La Porte, she asks if there is anything else the French station can do for him. His reply, “later, perhaps”, accompanied by a slightly naughty grin implies he is attracted to her – but this goes no further, maybe because she’s a married Madame. Bond’s first interest is with the attractive physiotherapist at the spa, Patricia Fearing. Their banter is direct and their shower scene even more so – it almost won the film an X certificate, which would have been a box office disaster. Patricia is a nice dalliance for Bond until he leaves the spa, then she’s history. Such a cad. She was played by Molly Peters – although her voice was dubbed by Barbara Jefford – who appeared in a few films in the 60s but whose career was short-lived mainly due to legal wrangles.

PaulaThen we meet Paula Caplan, working for the CIA in Nassau, she shows a lot of early potential as a Bond girl but when she is captured by SPECTRE henchmen Vargas and Janni, she chooses suicide by cyanide capsule rather than be tortured to reveal any secrets of Operation Thunderball. Now that’s what I call a spy. She was played by Martine Beswick, who had previously appeared in From Russia with Love, as the fiery fighting gypsy girl, Zora. She had a long and varied career in TV and films, and is now semi-retired.

DominoHowever, the real Bond Girl in this film is Domino, played by Claudine Auger. She’s Largo’s mistress, and Bond convinces her to help him when he reveals that Largo killed her brother. From then on, she’s a mole in his camp. When he realises that she is working against him, he captures her with intent to torture her; luckily Largo’s nuclear physicist Kutze also decided to jump ship and frees her, just in time for her shoot her harpoon gun through Largo’s heart and save Bond. Hurrah! Claudine Auger was on holiday in Nassau when Kevin McClory spotted her and asked her to audition. Originally, the role of Domino was written as an Italian girl, but Ms Auger impressed them so much they recruited her and changed the role to a French one. Previously, she had been Miss France and was runner-up to Miss World in 1958; and she had a long and varied film career.

DominoWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first three films, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, sometimes tragic, professional and scary. Domino doesn’t throw many more attributes into the mix, apart from one: a desire for revenge.

LargoThe Villain. Of course the ultimate Villain is SPECTRE No 1, Blofeld, seen occasionally stroking his pussycat. But the “active” villain in Thunderball is No 2, Emilio Largo, played by Adolfo Celi. Largo is a rich, powerful, ruthless psychopath with a penchant for sharks and a black eye patch for no apparent reason. For me, personally, I didn’t find him as scary or intimidating as any of the previous villains we’d encountered; not that he wasn’t villainous, and he certainly looks the part, but I think by now I’m made of sterner stuff when it comes to Bond villains. Adolfo Celi was a Sicilian actor and singer, with notable performances in Von Ryan’s Express and the TV series The Borgias. His voice was dubbed by Robert Rietty who had a prolific career in the US, UK and Italy.

FionaOther memorable characters? Surprisingly few. At one stage you might even have thought that Luciana Paluzzi’s Fiona might have ended up Bond Girl – and she very nearly did. Ms Paluzzi was originally considered for the role of Domino, but missed out – and was cast as Fiona instead, which she ended up enjoying more because there was more pizzazz in the role. Strictly one of the Baddies, she’s a SPECTRE agent who becomes François Derval’s mistress and assists Largo in Nassau. Bond can be persuasive with the ladies, but not that persuasive. She too gets her come-uppance when she’s shot in the back at a dance. Luciana Paluzzi appeared in a number of films in the 60s and 70s, and in 1980 married American media mogul Michael Jay Solomon, a former president of Warner Brothers International Television. They now live in New York and Rome.

LeiterRik Van Nutter brings a livelier, more proactive characterisation to the role of Felix Leiter than we have seen in the previous films by Jack Lord (Dr No) or Cec Linder (Goldfinger), although he’s still a relatively minor figure in the story. Rik Van Nutter was married to Anita Ekberg at the time and was invited to play the role without an audition.

Moneypenny and the Old ManAs usual, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their familiar roles as M, Moneypenny and Q. Once again M catches Moneypenny talking unguardedly in her reception area – I’m surprised she hasn’t learned by now. Q is even more contemptuous of Bond’s disregard for his amazing gadgets as they meet in Pinder’s shop, “out in the field”.

tom_jones_thunderballAnd what about the music? As usual, we start with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, as part of the title sequence, and that’s the last you hear of that. The rest of the film soundtrack is pure John Barry; apart from the title song, Thunderball, whose lyrics are by Don Black. Originally the title song was to have been Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, sung by Dionne Warwick, but timing issues, legal issues and the fact that it wasn’t called Thunderball meant it was withdrawn fairly late in the day, so John Barry had to write a new theme double quick. In style, it’s very similar to Goldfinger, although it’s not as impressive or memorable as either the Goldfinger theme or Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

helicopterThe soundtrack is generally pleasant, but not much more; there’s one recurring theme that hits the dramatic spot nicely. It’s the track entitled simply 007, and you hear it when Bond escapes into the Junkanoo, when he leaves the helicopter to join the underwater battle to the death, and when he clambers aboard the Disco Volante to sort Largo out once and for all. It had been written for From Russia with Love, but this time with a much more arresting arrangement. The theme entitled Switching the Body also has a very ethereal vibe and adds to the suspense. King Errisson, and his combo, who play the Kiss Kiss Club, has had a long and successful career, supporting various luminaries such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Michael Jackson, the Jackson Five, and many others; he has also toured with Neil Diamond’s band since 1978.

car on fireCar chases. There’s one car chase; it’s short, brisk and full of surprises! It’s when Bond leaves the Spa in his Lincoln Continental and is pursued by Count Lippe in his Ford Fairlane Skyliner. As the Count gets closer, Bond is more than surprised to see him blown up to smithereens by the wicked Fiona, using a rocket launcher on her motorbike. And although it’s not a chase as such, there’s also Fiona’s suspenseful 100 mph plus drive to Nassau that has Bond looking more nervous than I’ve ever seen him.

BaccaratCocktails and Casinos. Whilst staying at Palmyra, Bond and Largo indulge in some Rum Collins – that’s a Tom Collins made with rum rather than gin. No need for him to ask for it to be shaken and not stirred. At the casino Bond rather extravagantly orders some Dom Perignon 55 to go with the Beluga caviar – nice. Bond’s first meeting with Largo is at a casino table, playing Baccarat I believe. His henchman Vargas is playing opposite him, so presumably Largo wins either way. Bond replaces Vargas at the table and wipes the floor with him; Domino confides that Largo “is going to be impossible tonight if his luck doesn’t change”, which I understand to be a subtle hint of some domestic abuse there.

Q and BondGadgets. It’s gadget overload right from the start! The jetpack that thrusts Bond away to safety, and the bullet shield and water cannon on the Aston Martin already take your breath away, and that’s before the opening credits! Q’s magic bundle for Bond includes a Breitling watch that acts as a Geiger counter, an underwater camera (two a penny nowadays, of course), a pill that acts as a Sat Nav device (same observation applies) and an underwater flare that is jolly useful as both a distress signal and for when you get lost and need a little light trying to find submerged atomic bombs. The cassette recorder hidden inside an old book looks rather tame by comparison – useful though it may be. The breathing mouthpiece comes into its own as Bond tries to outsmart the sharks; and there’s also the skyhook that rescues Bond and Domino at the end of the film.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 as well as all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40; Goldfinger came in at a more modest 23-ish, plus everyone who died at Fort Knox. Where does Thunderball stand on this count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Domino can go up, up and away in their beautiful skyhook:

1) Whoever is in the coffin that appears to be that of Jacques Bouvar.

2) No 6 – Colonel Jacques Bouvar.

3) No 9 (electrocuted by Blofeld and his body submerged underground.

4) Derval, killed by Angelo, looking like Derval.

5) Would-be assassin by the window at the spa.

6) 5 pilots gassed on board the Vulcan Bomber.

7) Angelo, his air supply cut underwater by Largo.

8) Lippe, chasing Bond, ambushed by Fiona.

9) Quist, eaten by a shark at Palmyra.

10) Underwater henchman (under the Disco Volante) with air supply cut.

11) Paula.

12) Henchman stabbed by Bond in the shark pool.

13) Fiona, shot accidentally at the Kiss Kiss Club by a henchman.

14) A shark. (They have feelings too, you know.)

15) Vargas.

16) At least 26 people harpooned underwater during the battle between the henchmen and the NATO forces.

17) Whoever dies when the back half of the Disco Volante blows up.

18) Largo.

19) And whoever was left in the front of the Disco Volante when it bursts into flames on the rocks.

That’s probably somewhere in the ballpark of 50 people (and a shark.)

flowers Humour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in the previous movies, here are some more throwaway lines to send some poor souls on to heaven:

After the fire during the car chase, Bond is late for the important meeting of all the “00s”. Apologising, Bond explains “Some people on the roads really burn you up these days.”

When Bond dumps the freshly shot body of Fiona at a drinks table, he apologises to the others there with: “Do you mind if my friend sits this one out? She’s just dead.”

After he harpoons Vargas, Bond says “I think he got the point.”

Plus there’s Bond’s rather dismissive chucking of the flowers all over the dead Bouvar.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Let’s remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Kiss Kiss ClubBy now we’re used to the fact that there’ll be female bodies on display during the opening credits. This time they’re actually naked, although impossible to see due to the stylistic editing. As the images are more artistic and abstract, I don’t feel this is as sexist as in previous films. The scene that really concerns me is early on when Bond literally forces himself upon Patricia the physiotherapist. She says no, but still he persists. As this is Bond-world, naturally she was only teasing to make him even more randy. But, after he has nearly been killed by Lippe on the spine-stretching machine, and Patricia takes the responsibility for the machine having gone wrong when he knows full well it wasn’t her fault at all, when he says that his silence on the matter “could have its price” – i.e. so that they can have sex in the shower room – this really feels uncomfortable nowadays. Bond’s response to Fiona’s request when she’s in the bath for him to get her something to put on – and he brings her a pair of shoes – is probably more witty than sexist. The camera’s lingering on the performing dancer at the Kiss Kiss Club is, however, definitely suspect.

austin-powersBizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

Basically this is the plot that’s satirised in Austin Powers!

I know that clambering over a roof is difficult at the best of times, but surely it’s unlike Bond to drop a gun?

Whilst it starts off really pacey, the film suffers, retrospectively speaking, from all those underwater scenes. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and your mind wanders.

The scene where the pilots in the Vulcan Bomber are gassed and Lippe takes over; this was before any commercial airline had ever been hijacked.

Lovely to see Leonard Sachs as the Group Captain, we all remember him as the host to TV’s The Good Old Days. How wonderful it would have been if he had stood up and proclaimed “Once again, good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” and thumped his gavel on M’s head.

How did Bond know how that he would meet up with Domino when he goes snorkelling? Convenient! We never find out.

Bond’s double, swimming underwater in the shark pool, doesn’t look anything like Connery.

The script between Fiona and Bond once the heavies have arrived addresses all the criticisms (almost verbatim) that had been made of the previous films. A very rewarding way of getting your own back!

Am I the only person never to have heard of a Junkanoo? Largo describes it as “our local Mardi Gras”; apparently, it’s a street parade held in the Bahamas on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. Odd that no one has any Christmas decorations up in that case.

The fifteen-minute underwater fight scene at the end was only one page of script. A lot of it wasn’t scripted – they just went with the flow of what all these paramedics and diver experts got up to.

Kutze’s change of heart, when he goes against Largo’s order and helps Domino to escape, seemed highly improbable to me.

“Codename Thunderball”, says M, introducing all the secret agents to the task of preventing the potential atomic disaster of SPECTRE’s grisly plans. But what is a thunderball anyway? What relevance does it bear to the story? I looked it up and this is what I discovered: Thunderball was a military term used by U.S. soldiers to describe the mushroom cloud seen during the testing of atomic bombs. It’s relevant because if SPECTRE’s threat to detonate the two atomic bombs, there’d be two of them. Perhaps it would have been more accurate to call it Thunderballs.

When Patricia asks Bond when she’ll see him again, he replies, Another Time Another Place, which just happened to be the name of the first film in which Sean Connery had a major role.

Whether or not he received expert health advice at his time at Shrublands, this is the first 007 where Bond doesn’t smoke.

How does Lippe escape from that steam bath?

OscarAwards: John Stears won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects; and Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best Production Design, but I don’t suppose he minded losing as he won it for his work on The Ipcress File instead.

you_only_live_twice_-_uk_cinema_posterTo sum up. From a box office perspective, Thunderball continued Broccoli and Saltzman’s winning streak and was more successful a Bond film than any before. Whilst there are some memorable scenes and, there’s no doubt, the underwater photography was enormously advanced for its time, and probably held a huge wow factor for its contemporary audience, I don’t think it has aged well. Where I criticised Goldfinger for its remarkable silliness, at least it wasn’t boring – and I’m afraid I was bored by Thunderball at times. I realise that I would sooner have silliness by the bucketload rather than yet another scene of men being harpooned underwater. I ended up downgrading my score by 1 sparkle, simply because I think the sin of boredom is the worst thing you can impose on an audience. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Thunderball – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up, the film the world had to wait two years for – the first time that Bond skipped a year – and You Only Live Twice!

My rating: 2 Sparkles

4 Sparkles4 Sparkles

 

 

 

 

All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Goldfinger (1964)

Goldfinger posterIn which James Bond’s mission is to find out all he can about bullion dealer and international gold smuggler Auric Goldfinger. He captures Bond but is fooled into thinking that Bond knows more than he does about Operation Grand Slam. Just how does he intend to make his money, and will Bond be able to foil him in the final reel? To find out, you’ll have to watch the film, and remember, careful what you read here, there will be spoilers!

Auric EnterprisesInspired by the successes of Dr No and From Russia With Love, producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman increased the budget yet again, this time to $3 million – apparently it made all its money back within two weeks of release, was the fastest grossing picture in film history when it was released, and is said to have made $125 million overall. Given the two previous successes, director Terence Young wanted a profit-share to direct Goldfinger, but Broccoli and Saltzman refused his offer. He therefore went off and directed The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders instead, and Guy Hamilton was approached in his place. Hamilton’s vision for the film included more humour, more gadgets and more impressive sets, and you can really see the difference between this and the first two films as a result. Once again the screenplay was by Richard Maibaum, with Paul Dehn on re-writes; cinematography was by Ted Moore and editing by Peter Hunt, as in both Dr No and From Russia With Love. Ken Adam resumed his position as production designer – he’d worked on Dr No – the title designer was once again Robert Brownjohn, stunt co-ordinator was Bob Simmons, as he had been for Dr No, and John Barry was credited as soundtrack composer.

Mr GoldfingerGoldfinger was published in 1959 and was the seventh in Ian Fleming’s series of James Bond novels, immediately following the novel of Dr No, which had been filmed first. Fleming liked to use the names of people he knew, or knew of, throughout his books, and there really was a Mr Goldfinger – British architect Ernő Goldfinger. Upon learning of the use of his name, Goldfinger threatened to sue Fleming over the use of the name, before the matter was settled out of court. I haven’t read the book, but I believe the film follows it reasonably faithfully.

Pussy's aircraft girlsIn the book, M suspects Goldfinger of being connected to SMERSH and financing their western networks with his gold; in the film, unusually, there’s no mention made of SMERSH at all. Also in the book, Jill and Tilly Masterton have a much more important role to play, whereas in the film, not only does their surname become Masterson, they also have much less to do and die earlier in the story. The plot of the film was also changed from stealing the gold at Fort Knox to irradiating the gold vault with a dirty bomb. In the book, Pussy Galore is the leader of a team of burglars, whereas in the film she leads a team of aircraft pilots; also Pussy, the burglars and Tilly are all lesbians in the book – but any lesbianism implied by Pussy at the start of the film certainly doesn’t last for long. Goldfinger attempts to kill Bond by using a circular saw; however, between the book (1959) and the film (1964), lasers were invented, and so Guy Hamilton thought it would be much more fun to show Bond in peril with a laser cutting up between his legs. Nasty.

Odeon AylesburyI mentioned in my blog post on From Russia with Love that I had seen it before as a teenager at the Odeon Aylesbury as part of a double-bill with Diamonds are Forever, with my schoolfriend John. I’m pretty sure we also saw a double-bill of Goldfinger with You Only Live Twice. It was a great way to catch up on your Bond back catalogue in those days; shame they don’t do that kind of thing any more.

Goldfinger novelBoth book and novel received extremely good reviews, even if they are of the “guilty pleasure” type, more than out-and-out classic. Considering the book first, Maurice Richardson in the Observer described Ian Fleming as “maniacally readable” whereas, writing in The Manchester Guardian, Roy Perrott observed that “Goldfinger…will not let [Bond’s] close admirers down”, summarising the book by saying that it was “hard to put down; but some of us wish we had the good taste just to try.” The Evening Standard looked at why Bond was a success and put it down to “the sex, the sadism, the vulgarity of money for its own sake, the cult of power, the lack of standards”. The Manchester Evening News thought that “only Fleming could have got away with it…outrageously improbable, wickedly funny, wildly exciting”.

OddjobOf the film, the Sunday Times said it was “superbly engineered. It is fast, it is most entertainingly preposterous, and it is exciting.” The Guardian said that Goldfinger was “two hours of unmissable fantasy”, also saying that the film was “the most exciting, the most extravagant of the Bond films: garbage from the gods” – again, a guilty pleasure. Plenty of praise for the performances too: The Times said “there is some excellent bit-part playing by Mr. Bernard Lee and Mr. Harold Sakata; Mr. Gert Fröbe is astonishingly well cast in the difficult part of Goldfinger”. The New York Times said “Connery plays the hero with an insultingly cool, commanding air” and that “Gert Fröbe is aptly fat and feral as the villainous financier, and Honor Blackman is forbiddingly frigid and flashy as the latter’s aeronautical accomplice.” Interestingly, of all the James Bond films, this has the highest appreciation score on the Rotten Tomatoes website – 97%. Sadly, Ian Fleming never got to see this film; he visited the set in April 1964, and died a few months later in August 1964, a month before it was released.

Decoy BondThe opening credits start just as they did in Dr No and From Russia with Love, with Maurice Binder’s iconic glimpse of Bond walking across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Then, before any opening titles, as was becoming the practice in these films, we then go into the first scene. A dark, suspicious waterside location at night, sees Bond emerge from beneath the water, with a decoy seagull strapped to his head (would that fool anyone? – it’s not even a duck!), gain access to this secret location by assaulting a guard, and cause some handily placed barrels of nitro-glycerine to explode by attaching a timer. He then rips off his deep-sea diving outfit to reveal an immaculate white dinner jacket (with red carnation) in time to get to a cavern bar where a buxom dancing lady (Bonita) is entertaining the gentlemen with her act. Bond lights his cigarette, checks the time, the nitro explodes, everyone runs in panic, apart from a chap sitting at the bar who congratulates Bond on his success, and they observe that a certain Mr Romarez won’t be able to finance a revolution from the proceeds of his heroin laboratory that’s just been blown up.

In Your EyesBond is offered a flight to Miami, which he says he will take, after he has attended to some unfinished business – by which he means chasing up Bonita in her bath. But whilst he is giving her a big sucker on the lips, a guy who has been hiding behind her wardrobe (always check behind the wardrobe, Bond!) comes out and is about to cosh our hero – but he spots him in time and a fight ensues. Bond sends him flying across the room and he lands in the bathwater (the lady is no longer in there) but from there he can still reach Bond’s gun in its holster on the wall… so there’s only one thing to be done, and Bond flings the portable electric heater into the bath and his hapless opponent is zapped to death.

Opening titlesThat’s all totally irrelevant to the plot of Goldfinger, but I guess it shows what a cool guy/rogue/heart-throb/masterspy/ruthless killer Bond is. Now the rest of the title sequence kicks in. In From Russia with Love, Robert Brownjohn’s titles projected names of the cast and creative team onto the scantily-clad body of an exotic dancer. That idea went down well, so this time he went one better, with moving images of the actors appearing on the gold body of a sexy female – in fact, Margaret Nolan, who plays Dink, the Miami Beach masseuse, a little later in the movie. I actually met Margaret Nolan when I was ten, and probably a little too young to fully appreciate her; buy me a drink and I’ll tell you all about it! Not only actors were projected onto her gold body; also scenes from the film, and from the previous films. And of course, over this title sequence we hear Shirley Bassey belting out the title song Goldfinger, more of which later. This was the first time that the title sequences used the film’s title song – a winning practice that was to continue forever after.

FontainebleauAnd the locations? The film takes us from Latin America to Miami Beach, on to London, on to a golf course, Geneva and then Goldfinger’s Kentucky stables (the Auric Stud) and then – allegedly – Fort Knox. That opening scene, with huge oil tanks, was filmed at the Esso refinery at Stanwell, near Heathrow Airport. Interestingly, none of the principal actors were actually in Miami Beach apart from Cec Linder, who played Felix Leiter. Everyone else was on a soundstage at Pinewood Studios – and it’s very obvious, watching those Miami Beach scenes, that they’re all standing in front of a projection. The grand hotel, that dominates the aerial photography, is the Fontainebleau Miami Beach; you think you’re looking at a swanky, trendy, impressive building, and indeed you are. The golf course was Stoke Park, at Stoke Poges, near Pinewood; the scene of the car chase in the Aston Martin was at Black Park, near Slough. The American airports scenes were shot at RAF Northolt, and the scene where Bond flies to Geneva was shot at Southend Airport.

Fort Knox is right hereFilming moved to Switzerland, with the car chase being filmed at the small curved roads near Realp, near the Italian border, the exterior of the Pilatus Aircraft factory in Stans serving as Goldfinger’s factory, and Tilly Masterson’s attempt to snipe Goldfinger being shot in the Furka Pass. Of course, they weren’t given access to film at Fort Knox. That would simply have been too much of a security risk! So the interiors of Fort Knox were purely the imagination of production designer Ken Adam – who was later complimented by the Comptroller at Fort Knox for his vision.

Suave ConneryBond, James Bond. Yes, Sean Connery does get to utter this immortal phrase in this film, even though he’d been denied it in From Russia with Love. Connery enjoyed another pay increase, this time taking a cool $500,000 – a lot of money for 1964. Connery received a lot of praise for his performance too, and I would imagine, at that time, that they never had any idea that anyone else would ever play the part! Although in 1964 he also appeared in Hitchcock’s Marnie – in fact that was the reason he wasn’t in Miami Beach – and he was slowly beginning to tire of being just known as James Bond. I expect the cash helped make up for it.

Red CardsBoo-boos. There are some continuity errors and mistakes as always, but perhaps not as many as in Dr No or From Russia with Love. When one of Pussy’s pilots is counting down the numbers from five to zero during the course of Operation Rockabye Baby, she says “5, 4, 3, 2, Zero,” but skips 1 – presumably not considered worthy of a re-take. After the game of golf, Goldfinger sits in the back seat of his car and makes out a cheque to Bond. He gives the cheque to Bond, and Bond gives the golf ball to Oddjob, in the driver’s seat. But when Oddjob drives away, magically Goldfinger is no longer in the car. Talking of which, when Oddjob leaves the car containing Solo’s body on the back seat at the wrecker’s yard, it’s very clear there’s no one in the back when the car gets scrunched up. When Goldfinger and Simmons are playing cards, the blue-backed pack of cards changes to a red-backed pack. When Goldfinger is explaining to Mr Ling about the process of melting down the gold from the car, his lips don’t move. And is James Bond a hairy chap or not? When he’s receiving his rubdown from Dink, his back is perfectly shaved; but when he wakes up the next morning with Jill, his back hair has all grown back!

JillThe Bond Girl. Bond’s rather spoilt for choice in this movie. Apart from liaisons with the Latin American dancer Bonita in the first scene, and Dink the masseuse, at first we have a lot of hope for Jill Masterson, played by Shirley Eaton, a much-favoured young actress at the time, who retired from acting five years later. Sadly, Goldfinger arranges for her to die from the rather glamorous fate of “skin suffocation” after being painted head to toe in gold. Odd how she didn’t struggle when she was only halfway though the paint job, but there you are, film editor Peter Hunt always said it was vital to keep everything moving as quickly as possible so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse the plot.

TillyThen we meet her sister Tilly, full of vengeance for Jill’s death, who tries to assassinate Goldfinger, and very nearly takes Bond out in the process. However, their time together isn’t long – and is mainly spent in a car chase trying to escape from Goldfinger’s henchmen. Bond gets captured and Tilly gets garrotted by Oddjob’s lethal bowler hat. Tilly was played by Tania Mallett, a successful model who made this one venture into the movies and didn’t like it – she earned much more as a model anyway.

PussyBut the title of Bond Girl for this film can really only go to the wondrously named Pussy Galore played by Honor Blackman. That name certainly caused a few problems, and was a particular concern to the American censors, who wouldn’t allow it to appear on any promotional material. The producers thought of renaming her Kitty, but decided that if you had a dirty mind, then so be it. This gives rise to her and Bond’s classic opening exchange: “Who are you?“ “My name is Pussy Galore.” “I must be dreaming.” As with Dr No’s Honey Rider, it’s a goodly time before Pussy makes an appearance; 52 minutes to be precise. Pussy leads her group of pilots – her Flying Circus – who I’m sure were the inspiration for Captain Scarlet’s Angels. Honor Blackman was chosen for the role due to her success as Cathy Gale in the TV series The Avengers – and the script was altered so that she could show off her judo skills. The New York Times described her performance as “forbiddingly frigid”, which is not what you expect from a Bond Girl. One of her first lines to Bond is “you can turn off the charm, I’m immune”, which ought to rule out any future hanky-panky. However, a few instructions from Goldfinger and she softens up towards him – see paragraph on sexism further on!

Scary PussyWhat Bond Girls Are Like. From the first two films, we came to the conclusion that Bond Girls are: sexy, exotic, unpredictable, as equally likely to attack Bond as to support him, strong and self-reliant up to a point, and sometimes tragic. With Pussy Galore we can add professional and scary.

GFThe Villain. This is a perfect villain plus henchmen set-up. Auric Goldfinger (I won’t insult your intelligence by pointing out the appropriateness of his first name) has what I think is probably the best line in the whole gamut of Bond films – “Do you expect me to talk?” “No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die!” – and a genuinely creative plan to rule the world, much more interesting than all the usual mass murder kinda stuff. Gert Fröbe gives a brilliantly underplayed performance, making him much less of a pantomime baddie but more a real threat. I’d forgotten that he played the Baron in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, making him a double Fleming alumnus! Fröbe’s heavy German accent required that his voice was dubbed by actor Michael Collins. There is just one scene where you hear his own voice – when Bond is listening from the cellar underneath the big control centre where Fröbe talks to all his gangland associates.

Bond and GoldfingerHe had serious reservations about Goldfinger using nerve gas to get rid of his witnesses. Fröbe felt that with him being a German, this scene would have Nazi concentration camp implications. Indeed, the film was banned in Israel for many years after he revealed he had been a member of the Nazi Party. The ban was lifted after a Jewish family came forward to praise Fröbe for protecting them from persecution during World War II. He left the party in 1937, which was presumably quite a brave thing to do. Apparently, he got married five times; so not quite Henry VIII standard, but not far off.

Varley ThomasOther memorable characters? Jill Masterson – as mentioned earlier – is an attractive character, and her betrayal of Goldfinger is enjoyable to watch; pity she had to pay such a high price for it. There’s also a wonderful scene where a little old lady played by Varley Thomas unexpectedly lets rip with a machine gun in an attempt to stop Bond.

More OddjobBut there’s really only one contender for Memorable Other Character – the magnificently terrifying Oddjob, played by Harold Sakata. Oddjob is the definition of the phrase “silent but deadly”, with his lethal bowler spin (nothing to do with cricket) and his lips kept tightly shut. He was described in the Daily Telegraph as “a wordless role, but one of cinema’s great villains.”

Oddjob AgainSakata was born in Hawaii, of Japanese descent, and was a professional wrestler as well as actor, and also represented the United States in Weightlifting in the 1948 Olympics. He was badly burned when filming his death scene, in which Oddjob was electrocuted by Bond. Sakata, however, kept holding onto his electrified hat with determination, despite his pain, until the director called “Cut!” Guy Hamilton described him as an “absolutely charming man”. Oddjob reappeared in later years as a guest on chat shows, or in adverts, which gave Sakata a nice continued income. He died in 1982, aged 62.

Q and 007As last time, we can just briefly pop in to M’s office; Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell and Desmond Llewelyn reprise their usual roles. Q starts what I believe will be a series of banter-filled conversations with Bond, beseeching him not to wreck all the equipment. I don’t think he pays heed.

Shirley BasseyAnd what about the music? We start with the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman, as part of the title sequence, but that never returns for the rest of the film. Shirley Bassey sings Goldfinger during the main title sequence, and you often hear echoes of it on and off throughout the film, until it finally returns properly for the closing titles. John Barry said this was the first film where he felt he had complete control of the music content. Much of the incidental music throughout the rest of the film, which frequently returns to the Goldfinger theme, is notable for its high brass instruments content – reflecting the film’s Gold motif. Fascinating piece of trivia – playing rhythm guitar on the title track was session player Jimmy Page, later of Led Zeppelin.

Bricusse and NewleyHarry Saltzman had to be convinced that Goldfinger (the song) was the right choice for the film, calling it too old fashioned for 1960s youth culture, but Cubby Broccoli convinced him. Though the music was by Barry, the lyrics were by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, both known more for their work in musical theatre. The Daily Express called the lyrics “puerile”, but it was Shirley Bassey’s belting performance that meant that criticism was almost irrelevant. The soundtrack album reached No 1 on the Billboard chart and the single of Goldfinger reached 21 in the UK charts, but No 2 in Italy, No 5 in the Netherlands and No 8 in the US top 100.

Car ChaseCar chases. There are two, and they’re hardly classics, both involving Tilly Masterson. The first one is where she is trying to overtake Bond in his Aston Martin DB5 and she ends up receiving the best that Q can design as he causes her tyres to burst. The second is later, when they’re both in Bond’s car, being pursued by Goldfinger’s Swiss henchmen.

Brandy momentCocktails and Casinos. No casinos in this film, but we do have some interesting drink situations. We see Bond becoming a self-confessed brandy snob – he describes the offering at the Bank of England as a “30 year old fine indifferently blended, with an overdose of bon bois”; Goldfinger offers him a mint julep in Kentucky, and Bond’s requirements are that it is made with sour mash and not too sweet; and there is also the request for the classic Martini – shaken, not stirred, at 35,000 sq ft above Newfoundland.

Poisonous meterGadgets. Guy Hamilton said he liked gadgets, so gadgets he was going to get. At Q’s laboratory, we briefly see a parking meter that emits poisonous gas when you insert a coin – something that would be warmly welcomed in many cities, I suspect. Bond’s car has its bullet-proof windscreen, revolving number plate, a transmitting device, an early form of Sat Nav; and there’s the control console in the armrest of the car, which allows Bond to do lots of things: smokescreen, oil slick, rear bullet-proof screen and side machine guns. Handy! The ejector seat is pretty neat and is wisely used when needed. Whilst Aston Martin were originally unwilling to allow their car to be used in this way, sales went up 60% after the film and the Corgi toy of Bond’s Aston Martin became one of the most successful toys ever.

Laser momentBut there’s probably nothing to match Goldfinger’s sinister use of the laser beam as it slowly slices up between Bond’s legs – hitting him where it hurts the most. And of course, Goldfinger’s lair, in Kentucky, is one ginormous gadget, as buttons turn it inside out to create the most up to date of operation centres.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. Dr No had a death count of approximately 11 + all those who go up in smoke in his lair at the end; From Russia with Love notched up at least 40. Where does Goldfinger stand on this count? Let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond can dismiss the rescue helicopter so that he can spend more time getting acquainted with Pussy:

1) Maybe the guard at the Heroin laboratory that Bond attacks (but maybe he’s just knocked out).

2) Henchman electrified in the bath.

3) Jill Masterson, gilted to death.

4) Four henchmen who burn to death in the car that slides in the oil slick.

5) Tilly Masterson, bowler-hatted to death by Oddjob.

6) The guard outside Bond’s cell – if he dies from their fight, that is.

7) All the gangsters gassed by Kisch in Goldfinger’s Control Centre – I counted nine.

8) Mr Solo, shot by Oddjob.

9) Mr Ling, killed by Goldfinger.

10) Kisch, killed by Oddjob.

11) Dozens, possibly hundreds of Goldfinger’s “army” and the government’s security guards at Fort Knox.

12) Oddjob.

13) Goldfinger.

14) Henchman on board the plane with Goldfinger.

Apart from the massive slaughter at Fort Knox, that’s probably around 23 deaths. But when you add in all the soldiers, there’s nothing modest about this death count!

Shocking momentHumour to off-set the death count. Following his jokey remarks whenever someone died in Dr No and From Russia with Love, here are some more throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:

After Bond has thrown the electric heater in Bonita’s bath, thereby killing the henchman, he remarks “shocking, positively shocking.”

When Bond and Pussy arrive at the airport in Baltimore, they are greeted – if that’s the right word – by the bowler-hatted Oddjob. In a delayed reference to the murder of Tilly, Bond observes: “Manners, Oddjob. I thought you always took your hat off to a lady”.

When Oddjob returns the car to the Auric Stud, with the body of the late Mr Solo smashed to smithereens in the scrunched-up car, Bond agrees: “as you said, he had a pressing engagement”.

“Where’s your butler friend?” asks Leiter, as he rushes inside Fort Knox once the device is safe. “He blew a fuse” replies Bond.

“What happened, where’s Goldfinger?” asks Pussy, as the plane plummets to earth. “Playing his golden harp” replies Bond.

sexismAny less frothy elements? So once again it’s time to consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. As usual, I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, but when it comes to sexism, where do you start? Once again I think it’s important to remember that definition of sexism, so that we know where we’re at. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

Smacking Dink's bottomOnce again we get close ups of a woman’s body during the opening credits; you can argue that it’s an artistic expression and not really sexist; although the gypsy/Spanish dancer at the beginning basically just waggles her boobs at the guys and I’d contend that wasn’t exactly a skilful show of dancing prowess. Much more ostentatious a show of sexism, and one in which Bond absolutely delights, is when Felix Leiter arrives on the scene and interrupts Bond with the lovely Dink, whom he dismisses with a considerable whack on the bottom as he and Felix have “mantalk” to get on with. That’s actually quite cringe making today. And when he takes the chambermaid’s key to Goldfinger’s hotel room, Bond smilingly and patronisingly placates her with “you’re very sweet”. So that’s alright then.

Connery and Blackman in the hayJill Masterson is a disarmingly easy conquest; perhaps, given the fact that she has spent all her time helping Goldfinger to cheat at cards, she isn’t of the highest moral rectitude as a character. But I think the most sexist point of the film is when Bond basically forces himself on Pussy Galore – who had previously warned him off with the words “skip it, I’m not interested” – yet she melts into his arms. You would have thought that Honor Blackman must have been sick in a bucket to do that, but by all accounts she said she enjoyed the experience of rolling around in the hay with Sean Connery. Still, by today’s standards, he assaults her, and this isn’t a comfortable scene. The other pilots who make up Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus are, by contrast, a paean to the sisterhood, being tough, resolute, skilled and beautiful all in one go.

British United Air FerriesBizarre other stuff that occurred to me and a few observations.

“I have a slight inferiority complex”, says Bond, as Bonita complains that his gun is digging into her ribs. As if.

“Something big’s come up”, Bond says to Leiter, explaining why he won’t be there for dinner, while Jill is pawing him all over. If ever there was a euphemism, that’s the one. Although there is also Goldfinger’s description of his atomic device: “it’s small, but particularly dirty”.

Bond jokes that you need earmuffs to listen to the Beatles. Did they have some kind of falling out? Paul McCartney would write the theme to Live and Let Die a few years later, so I guess they must have patched up their differences.

Even though you can only see his arm, it’s clearly Oddjob who has broken in to Bond’s suite and who karate-chops him when he’s getting another bottle of Dom Perignon ’53 out of the fridge. When he comes to, Jill has been killed by being painted in gold. But that’s not Oddjob’s style at all! He’s a wham bam, slice your throat with my bowler rim man. Visually, it’s a very effective scene, but if you think twice about it – it doesn’t really make sense; I refer you to Film Editor Peter Hunt’s comment I mentioned earlier!

This is the first time we hear in the films about any other “00”s. M threatens to replace Bond with 008 if he can’t keep the assignment professional. And Bond tells Goldfinger, “if I fail to report, 008 replaces me…”

Do we remember British United Air Ferries? They transport Goldfinger and his car from Southend Airport to Geneva. They were founded in 1963 – so the company was quite new when this film was made – and went through a number of name and ownership changes until the company was dissolved in 2001.

I can’t help but think that Oddjob had numerous occasions on which he could have killed Bond instantly, but doesn’t. I feel that affects the film detrimentally. He also doesn’t seem remotely concerned about being trapped inside Fort Knox with Kisch and Bond and with no way out. He only seems to want to kill Bond. Which is odd.

I loved the fact that the stopwatch counts down and stops at “007”. How hokey is that!

OscarAwards: Norman Wanstall won the Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing, making Goldfinger the first Bond film to receive an Academy Award. John Barry was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Score for a Motion Picture, losing out to Mary Poppins (can’t complain at that) and Ken Adam was nominated for the BAFTA for Best British Art Direction (Colour), losing out to John Bryan for Becket.

Thunderball PosterTo sum up. Goldfinger was a very successful film with some great reviews, fascinating and entertaining characters, and memorable lines; and, unsurprisingly, it still rates very highly with film and Bond fans today. However, personally, despite its obvious attractions and highlights, I found myself disapproving of what I can only describe as its overall silliness! It is a very silly film. Maybe I need to see a few more Bond movies and that might cause me to reappraise my view. What do you think, am I wrong? In the final analysis I upgraded my score by 1 sparkle, simply because it’s such a ground-breaking film. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Goldfinger – and whether you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up, the film Broccoli and Saltzman had been wanting to make from the very start – Thunderball!

My rating: 4 Sparkles

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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.

The James Bond Challenge – Dr No (1962)

Dr NoIn which we meet Bond (James Bond, that is) who is summoned to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of Secret Agent Strangways, and eventually locates Dr No’s secret hideaway at Crab Key – and defeats the scoundrel. In my Agatha Christie Challenge blog posts I endeavour not to give the game away as to whodunit; James Bond films are a different kettle of fish and so I recommend that if you haven’t seen the film first – well, let’s just say the blogs will be full of spoilers!

BlogAlso – apologies in advance. This is quite a long blog, gentle reader, so I wish you the best of luck in getting through it all. There’s a lot of introductory material that I thought I should grapple with, that shouldn’t be necessary as the film series continues. So, please, may I crave your indulgence just this once?

Dr No novelDr No was the first of the films to be made, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s novel of the same name published four years earlier. In 1961, Canadian film producer Harry Saltzman read Fleming’s Goldfinger, and loved it so much he bought the film rights to the novels. Albert R. Broccoli (Cubby, to you and me) also wanted to transfer Bond to the Silver Screen only to find that Saltzman had beaten him to it. Saltzman refused to sell but they went into partnership together and, under the title of Eon productions, they made eight Bond films together between 1962’s Dr No and 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Although Thunderball had been the original target for the first Bond movie, there was a long drawn out and ultimately acrimonious legal battle over the work between Fleming and Irish writer Kevin McClory, whom Fleming had originally brought in to write a screenplay for a Bond movie in the late 50s. Broccoli and Saltzman wisely chose Dr No instead.

Ursula Andress on the beachBefore this recent re-watch, I think I’d seen Dr No just once before – on television, probably in the 1980s. I remember enjoying it, but my only memory of it, and probably the memory I share with most people, is the vision of Ursula Andress as Honey Rider, emerging from the sea, clad in not very much at all. So it was great fun to watch it again all these years later, and to discover there’s more to the film than just that scene.

Three Blind MiceHow does it start? The opening credits blend into the first scene as we see three (apparently) blind men, all walking in tandem for safety to the tune of Three Blind Mice, crossing a road, holding out a begging tin, then walking up to the Queen’s Club where John Strangways, the MI6 Station Chief in Jamaica, is playing Bridge with geologist Professor Dent, retired military man General Potter, and Government House Chief Secretary Pleydell-Smith. As Strangways leaves to file his usual secret daily report back to London, he is assassinated by one of the (clearly not) blind men, who then take a getaway car to Strangways’ House. There they surprise and murder his assistant Mary, then steal secret files on Crab Key and Doctor No. As the transmission from Jamaica faltered and broke up, London’s suspicions are aroused. So M summons Bond to deliver him his next task: find out what has happened to Strangways. I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story at this point – you’ll just have to watch the film for yourself!

Portrait of the Duke of WellingtonProduced on a low budget of just $1.1 million, there are many stories about how cheaply certain effects were achieved. Dr No’s aquarium, for example, was represented by some stock footage of goldfish magnified many times over. M’s office features cardboard paintings and the expensive looking upholstered door to his office was made of plastic. Dr No had clearly stolen Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery, as you can see it in one scene in his lair. It’s true; the painting had genuinely been stolen in 1961 and was missing for four years. In reality, Doctor No wasn’t the thief; over the course of a weekend, production designer Ken Adam painted up a copy using a slide from the National Gallery as his source. The UK arm of United Artists put up an extra $100,000 specifically to film the scene where Dr No’s hideaway is blown to smithereens – that’s an extra 10% of the entire budget spent on that one brief scene. However, they needn’t have worried about the financial risk; the film went on to be a huge success, taking $59.5 million at the box office.

Terence YoungTo direct the film, the producers eventually decided on Terence Young, after it had been declined by Guy Green, Guy Hamilton (who went on to direct four later Bond movies), Hammer movie expert Val Guest and Ken Hughes (most famous for directing Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). Guest and Hughes would also be two of the six credited directors (which tells its own story) of the spoof film Casino Royale. Terence Young ended up directing three of the first four Bond movies, and is credited with moulding the character of Bond from Fleming’s original characterisation into someone more sophisticated, tasteful and with an eye to humour as well as to women.

Ian FlemingI haven’t read any Ian Fleming books, but the synopses are readily available on the Internet, so I can (hopefully) make a reasonable estimate of how faithful each adaptation was. But first a word or two about Ian Fleming himself. Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, he was the naval intelligence Commander in charge of Operation Goldeneye (recognise the name?) which was a plan to monitor and sabotage Spain’s activity during the Second World War if the country had been invaded by the Nazis or indeed had offered their support to Hitler. It was vital that British communication with Gibraltar was unhindered during that sensitive period. As it was, there was never any need to put the plan into full operation; and in later years, Fleming used the name for his home in Jamaica. Of course, it would also become the name of the 19th film in the series.

Bond and SylviaIn real life Fleming was no stranger to the more enjoyable things in life; a serial womaniser from his time at Eton onwards – he left Sandhurst with no commission but with gonorrhoea – and a heavy addiction to cigarettes which no doubt brought about his early death at the age of 56. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Bond has these attributes too. Fleming clearly brought his experience with military intelligence into his prize creation!

Tarantula sceneDr No was published in 1958 and was the sixth in his series of James Bond novels. Many elements of the story are reasonably faithfully portrayed in the film; although there are a few major alterations. In the book, Dr No runs a guano mine; in the film, it’s a bauxite mine, but with a nuclear pool reactor. In the book No dies through being buried alive in guano; in the film, Bond submerges him in the pool so that No boils to death – neither is a nice way to go. In the book No subjects Bond to the ordeals of electric shocks, burns, an encounter with large poisonous spiders and a fight with a giant squid. In the film, Bond is assaulted by guards and has to crawl through a ventilation shaft that fills with water. The book features a scene where Bond’s life is threatened by a deadly centipede, whereas in the film it’s a giant tarantula. In the film, No is working for SPECTRE, that‘s the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion; in the book he’s operating solo. Much of the rest of the story is true to the book. No’s plans to interrupt the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral; the characters of Honey Rider and Quarrel; the local fear of “dragons” (which turn out to be flame-throwing swamp buggies); even M’s insistence on Bond changing guns, are all to be found in Fleming’s book.

Shoot to killThis was the first of his written works to receive some harsh words from the critics. Famously, Paul Johnson of the New Statesman, under the title, “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism”, wrote: “I have just finished what is, without doubt, the nastiest book I have ever read […] by the time I was a third of the way through, I had to suppress a strong impulse to throw the thing away [..] three basic ingredients in Dr. No, all unhealthy, all thoroughly English: the sadism of a schoolboy bully, the mechanical, two-dimensional sex-longings of a frustrated adolescent, and the crude, snob-cravings of a suburban adult”.

James BondMany of the film reviews were equally grudging. Time Magazine called Bond a “blithering bounder” and “a great big hairy marshmallow” who “almost always manages to seem slightly silly”. The New Republic said that the film “never decides whether it is suspense or suspense-spoof” – but I personally think that’s one of the film’s strengths. The Vatican described it as “a dangerous mixture of violence, vulgarity, sadism and sex”, whilst the Kremlin said that Bond was the personification of capitalist evil; well, they would, wouldn’t they. However, on a positive note, The Daily Express said that “Dr No is fun all the way, and even the sex is harmless”, The Observer said it was “full of submerged self-parody”, and The Guardian‘s critic called Dr. No “crisp and well-tailored” and “a neat and gripping thriller.” Just goes to show that you can’t please all the people all the time.

Iconic title imageThe opening credits always set the scene and the vibe for any film. With the expectation that Dr No would be the first of many movie adaptations of Bond stories, it was important for them to get it right first time round. And that they surely did. We can thank Maurice Binder, an American film title designer, for the idea of having Bond walk across the screen whilst being captured by the barrel of a gun, only for him to turn around, see us, and shoot; and then for the blood to start filling up the screen. Simple, but incredibly effective. For this first film, a stuntman by the name of Bob Simmons played 007 in this sequence (it was also Simmons over whom the tarantula crawls – not Sean Connery).

Opening creditsThe rest of the title sequence consists of coloured flashing discs and squares against a black background with white lettering, representing nightlife signs, traffic lights, casino chips, computer on/off lights – it could be any or all of these; it’s however you want to interpret them, really. This then breaks and becomes a sequence of coloured silhouettes of intertwining people dancing to Latin American rhythms, before another break, revealing the black silhouettes of the Three Blind Mice assassins, hobbling along to a calypso version of the famous nursery rhyme tune.

Le CercleAnd the locations? The action of the story takes place in London and Jamaica, and those are the two locations where the film was shot. Pinewood Studios was used for M’s office, Dr No’s lair and the ventilation duct that Bond has to crawl through. Le Cercle club, where we first meet Bond, was based on Les Ambassadeurs Club in Mayfair, but was another indoor set created by Ken Adam. The external views of MI6 were shot at Queensborough House in London. In Jamaica, the Queens Club scene was shot at the Courtleigh Manor Hotel in Kingston, and Strangways’ House actually belonged to Dolores Keator, the actress who played Strangway’s assistant Mary. Most of the other locations used in Jamaica were very close to Ian Fleming’s home and he frequently popped round whilst they were shooting.

Young Sean ConneryBond, James Bond. Apart from George Lazenby’s one-off portrayal of 007, Sean Connery was the only Bond I’d seen until I saw Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan are mere names to me at the moment (until I get around to seeing their films), so, for me, Connery is the one and only truly original. Prior to landing this role, he’d had a few parts, both major and minor, in some obscure films. He’d earned a reputation of being something of a hard man as, on a couple of occasions, he’d shown how handy he was with his fists, both on and off set; and it was director Terence Young who introduced him to the fashionable London scene, with glamorous women and decadent casinos, that knocked some of his rough edges off. But they wanted an actor who had strong, masculine charisma, and he truly fitted the part. Producer Cubby Broccoli had been slightly less than complimentary about some of the names in the frame for the role before they chose Connery.

Bond's first appearanceHe was 32 years old when the film was released; in the books Bond is meant to be in his mid-thirties, so that was a perfect match. Our first impression of him, seated at the casino table, gaining from Sylvia Trench’s losing streak, is of a suave, immaculately dressed, arrogant and maybe dangerous gentleman. He’s introduced to us gradually in that first scene; Sylvia Trench is centre stage, gambling extensively against her invisible opponent. At first, we just see his hands with the cards; then, on side profile, his face is masked by one of the others at the card table; then we see him from behind. We don’t see that iconic first look until he says the magic words “Bond, James Bond”. But it’s not only his words that express his thoughts. His eyes are firmly rooted on Miss Trench, and flirt outrageously with her when he observes, with something of a double meaning, “it looks like you’re out to get me”. When he gets up to attend to business, once again his eyes are more eloquent than any of his words; see you upstairs later, they say, rather than just goodbye. And indeed, by the end of the scene, he has already sorted out a golfing date with her the next afternoon with the prospect of dinner afterwards too. In the words of Sade, no need to ask, he’s a smooth operator.

Fixing a dateFilm editor Peter Hunt realised that the key to success in this film was to keep everything moving as quickly as possible, so that the audience doesn’t start to analyse it. As a result, this vital, iconic opening scene contains a terrible continuity gaffe. On uttering the immortal “Bond, James Bond” line, his cigarette is posed decadently between his lips. As Sylvia speaks her next line, “Mr Bond, I suppose you wouldn’t care to raise the limit”, he removes the cigarette from his mouth and we see it, from behind, held between the fingers of his left hand. However, when the camera pans back up to his face for his next line “I have no objections”, the cigarette is already, magically, back up there in his mouth. Pan back for Sylvia’s next line and the cigarette is back in his hand. There’s a lot of this kind of thing in Dr No. By all accounts, Peter Hunt’s very idiosyncratic style frequently sacrificed continuity for pace and impact. The film is riddled with continuity and factual errors and inconsistencies; no wonder Peter Hunt didn’t want to give the audience time to think. I particularly like the way Bernard Lee as M accidentally says he works for MI7 rather than MI6 – they kept it in, but dubbed “6” over “7”. Watch it back and you realise his mouth is all over the place.

Sylvia TrenchThe Bond Girl. Whilst Sylvia Trench is the first “girl” we meet in connection with Bond, and with whom there is definitely a romantic connection – that’s quite a warm kiss whilst she’s practising golf in his hotel room; and whilst Miss Taro is the first girl with whom he (almost certainly) has some kind of sexual congress, I wouldn’t classify either of them as the first Bond Girl. That accolade surely has to go to Honey Rider, played by the 26-year-old Ursula Andress. Apparently, at first the role was to be given to Julie Christie, but the producers didn’t think she was sufficiently voluptuous.

Miss TaroMs Andress had arrived in Hollywood in the mid-50s but made no films because she couldn’t learn English lines. For Honey Rider, her Swiss-Germanic accent had to be dubbed, in speech by Monika van der Zyl, and in singing by Diana Coupland (Bond theme composer Monty Norman’s wife). But it was definitely the breakthrough moment in her career – she said later that “she owed her career to that white bikini” which was sold at auction in 2001 for £41,125.

Honey and shellsOver the years the “Bond Girl” has developed into its own phenomenon, and of course the books, which by 1962 were extremely popular, substantially feature these glamorous female sidekicks. But it was with this first film that the idea of the Bond Girl really took off; and Ursula Andress’ performance obviously set the tone for future portrayals. Let’s take her performance as Honey Rider as a starting point for What Bond Girls Are Like. Sexy, obviously. With an exotic background? Unpredictable. As equally likely to attack Bond as to support him. Strong and self-reliant up to the point when they just have to collapse into his arms and allow him to rescue them. Tragic? Sometimes. Honey Rider tells Bond how a local landowner took advantage of her against her will; and how she got her revenge by putting a female black widow spider inside his mosquito net – he took a week to die.

Honey getting decontaminatedJust as Sylvia Trench had introduced herself as Trench, Sylvia Trench, and Bond was of course, Bond, James Bond, it’s strangely satisfying that Honey also introduces herself to Bond as Rider, Honey Rider, subtly suggesting a level of equality between the two. This continues with the way that they face their foe together, throughout the majority of the movie.

Bond, Honey and somethingAnother cinematographical anomaly; whilst Bond and Honey are talking seashells on the beach at their first meeting you can distinctly see a grey figure bobbing up and down at the foot of the screen, which disappears when you see them at a greater distance. It must be some kind of film equipment, or even a person trying (and failing) to keep out of shot. Click on the picture to take a closer look!

Dressing for dinnerIt’s a full hour before Honey Rider appears in the film. Well they say good things come to him who waits. Mind you, we don’t get sight of Doctor No himself until there’s just 21 minutes left to go.

Dr No himselfThe Villain. For every Bond Girl, there’s also a Bond Villain. In this case, it’s the eponymous Dr Julius No, a fiendish creation that Fleming based on the evil scientist made famous in the works of Sax Rohmer, Dr Fu Manchu. More recently, he is unquestionably the inspiration for Austin Powers’ Dr Evil. Dr No is half Chinese, half German; he has hands made of metal, which can crush with a vice-like pincer grip; but are also useless for delicate work, for obvious reasons, and are the reason why he cannot escape his fate from the boiling nuclear reactor pool. Displeased at the many failed attempts by his henchmen to kill Bond before his arrival at No’s lair, No even considers welcoming Bond into working for SPECTRE, which of course the latter refuses, although No changes his mind anyway believing Bond is too stupid. However, I can’t help but think that No is remarkably unobservant that things are going wrong in his reactor room, and that Bond has escaped and is slowly but surely punching all his assistants up the throat to sabotage No’s ambitions. I suppose that’s the typical conceit of the arch-evil enemy. Synchronise radio beam for toppling is a great masterplan. I’d have loved to recreate that in the playground. Too young, sigh.

Joseph WisemanDr No was played by the Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman, who was mainly known for his extensive stage work on Broadway. It was his appearance in the 1951 film Detective Story that convinced Harry Saltzman that he was the right man to play No. Apparently, in later years, Wiseman treated the film with disdain and preferred to be remembered for his theatre career. He died in 2009, aged 91.

Sylvia's handicapOther memorable characters? I felt rather sorry for Sylvia Trench, who loses loads of money at the Baccarat table just to get Bond’s attention, only to have him stand her up for their golf date with a difference and she never reappears throughout the rest of the film. She will, however, be back for the next film, From Russia With Love. She’s played by Eunice Gayson – again with her voice dubbed by Monika van der Zyl – who was originally due to play Miss Moneypenny, and Lois Maxwell was to play Sylvia; but Ms Maxwell didn’t like the part of Sylvia, so their roles were swapped. Originally Sylvia was expected to be in the first six films – yes, they were thinking that far ahead – but it wasn’t to be.

No such things as dragonsI also feel sorry for Quarrel, the Cayman Islander, who worked for Strangways and then accompanied Bond on his trip to Crab Key, and who dies at the hands (or should that be breath?) of the dragon that he and Honey insisted roamed the island. The dragon was of course a flame-throwing swamp buggy that wipes out Quarrel with one roar. Bond and Honey, with no room for sentimentality towards others, simply never mention him again. He was played by John Kitzmiller, who had appeared in dozens of European (mainly Italian) films in the 1950s, and who died in 1965 at the age of just 51.

Miss Taro againMiss Taro, who is ostensibly Mr Pleydell-Smith’s secretary at Government House, but in reality a spy working for No, is a very engaging character. Ruthless in her desire to kill, she is expert at using her womanly wiles to entrap any unsuspecting man into her clutches. Bond can see through her like a window pane, but he’s perfectly happy to fill his boots up before ensuring her arrest, even if he has to suffer the indignation of being spat at as a result. She was played by Zena Marshall, who appeared in dozens of films from 1945 on but retired from the film industry in 1967 – she died in 2009, aged 83.

Jack Lord as LeiterJack Lord – of Hawaii 5-0 fame – plays Felix Leiter, the CIA man with whom Bond has to work whilst he’s in Jamaica, and, in all honesty, it’s quite a dull role. He appears a few times, mainly to give factual support and advice, and he’s head of the Royal Navy launch to rescue Bond and Honey; but there’s nothing particularly memorable about him. Interestingly, the character, though frequently recurring throughout the books and films, doesn’t appear in the novel version of Dr No, and was, I guess, written in simply to provide a useful reference for future films. Leiter would be played by many different actors throughout the series, with a particularly uncompromising lack of continuity.

Bernard Lee as MThe other interesting characters are the regular favourites M, Miss Moneypenny, and Major Boothroyd, otherwise known as Q. They only have a brief appearance in Dr No, but they would come back again and again in future films. Bernard Lee played M, as he would on ten other occasions, Moonraker being his last appearance. Major Boothroyd was played by Peter Burton, a jobbing actor who appeared in minor roles in endless films and TV programmes up till his death in 1989. He would return to the world of Bond in Thunderball, although not as Q. For devotion to duty, Lois Maxwell outshines them all, appearing as Miss Moneypenny in all the films (bar the parody Casino Royale) from Dr No till 1985’s A View To A Kill. She discussed with director Terence Young what Moneypenny and Bond’s backstory might have been; and they concluded that the two had probably spent an idyllic dirty weekend away when they were very junior officers but they realised that if they carried on together, she’d have her heart broken and he’d never make a spy. So they just settled for various levels of flirtation. She’s also the first person to call him 007, as she announces his arrival to M on the phone. A security necessity no doubt, but you get the feeling she thinks of it as a rather affectionate nickname. M confirms it’s real significance: if you carry a 00 number it means you’re licensed to kill.

Byron Lee and the DragonairesAnd what about the music? Over the years we’ve got used to associating the James Bond films with some remarkable theme songs – as well as the main James Bond Theme, written by Monty Norman. Whilst there is plenty of incidental music, Dr No doesn’t have any big song; just the arresting original theme, arranged by John Barry, who would later go on to compose the music for eleven Bond films. The incidental music features a few numbers performed by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, the Jamaican calypso and ska band. The only other recurring song is Under the Mango Tree, also written by Monty Norman.

Monty NormanFew pieces of music so compellingly and arrestingly attract your attention as Norman’s Main Bond theme. You cannot hear it without associating it with 007. It’s as iconic a sound as the opening titles are visually, and another great example of the production team getting it right the first time.

First car chaseCar chases. I don’t know about you, but one of the things I always associate with a James Bond film is a good car chase. So I thought I’d take a look at all the car chases in all the films and see how satisfying each of them is. Dr No benefits from two such chases. The first – of moderate interest – is after he has been met at Kingston Airport by “Mr Jones”, allegedly a chauffeur sent by Government House, but in fact he’s in the pay of the nasty Dr No. Bond gets in the car, a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air 2434, knowing full well that Jones is not a bona fide chauffeur, but nevertheless Bond instructs him to “take him for a ride” as he’s in no hurry to get to Government House. Playing into the hands of the enemy, one might think? But he is pursued by Felix Leiter and Quarrel in a 1959 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider 101-03. As it becomes clear to Mr Jones that they are being followed, Bond suggests he tries to lose the pursuers. Bond tells him to swerve off the main road and, careering through the dust, they come to a panicky halt, whilst Leiter sails past. Jones is just collecting his thoughts when he feels a gun in the small of his back, and Bond interrogates him as to who he is working for. Despite Jones’ insistence he was hired by Government House Bond forces him out of the car, and some fisticuffs ensue. Jones knows he is no match for Bond so says he will talk, but first he wants a cigarette. Just as you think he’s going to spill the beans, he bites into the cigarette which proves to be laced with cyanide. Result: one dead chauffeur, and Bond has to do his own driving. By the way, I know nothing about vintage cars; I’ve gleaned the information about the vehicle models from someone on the Internet whom I hope knows what he’s talking about.

Second car chaseThe second – and more exciting – car chase follows Miss Taro’s invitation to Bond to join her at her house on Magenta Drive. He follows her instructions – now driving a 1961 Sunbeam Alpine Series II – and at first it’s an enjoyable, relaxing, sporty drive down some hairpin roads. But then he’s suddenly pursued by a 1939 LaSalle Funeral Coach Miller Combination Series 50 hearse. It’s all hammy studio stuff, you can virtually see the joins, but nevertheless the thrill starts to kick in. Bond, despite an initial sense of alarm, is clearly loving the chase, trying to outwit his opponents and force them off the road. Suddenly Bond sees the road is blocked by a crane with its boom down but there is a gap underneath that he can just squeeze through. Unfortunately the gap is too small for the hearse, which also can’t stop in time, so swerves left and plummets down a cliff subsequently bursting into flames. Some bright spark has observed that the hearse that gets destroyed is a different vehicle from the one in the chase – a 1949 Humber Super Snipe Mk II Hearse, apparently. I expect it was less valuable than the LaSalle. Budgets mattered enormously.

BaccaratCocktails and Casinos. One always thinks of Bond in the glamorous environment of a casino, discreetly pocketing thousands of pounds worth of gambling wins, whilst always stipulating to an obsessive degree how his cocktail should be prepared. So I thought I’d take a regular look at his gambling habits and alcoholic beverage choices throughout the series. We’ve already taken a look at the casino scene that introduces Bond to the world. He’s playing the Chemin-de-Fer variant of Baccarat, neither of which mean a thing to me, and he’s fleecing poor Miss Trench. I hope she gets a chance to win some back in the next film.

Vodka MartiniAs far as drinks are concerned, he starts off with a medium dry vodka martini – mixed not stirred, prepared by a waiter as he is getting ready to meet Pleydell-Smith, Dent and Potter at the club; later in the hotel room he just drinks neat vodka, from the bottle in his case, not the one that’s been left out, which I presume he suspects may have been poisoned. He pours out two glasses of neat vodka for Miss Taro and himself from a very fine looking Imperial Vodka bottle, even though she’s already been arrested and taken away – it’s a ploy to convince Dent that he and Taro are in bed together. Later, in Dr No’s lair, he’s served another medium dry vodka martini, with lemon peel; this time specified as shaken not stirred – whilst Honey appears to have a red wine.

Geiger CounterGadgets. This is another area of Bondlife with a high reputation – Bond always had the best and most up-to-date gadgets, issued by Q. Well, it looks like it was a soft launch for gadgetry in Dr No, as there isn’t very much to take our attention. A Geiger counter arrives from London; and for day to day assistance, Bond wears a Rolex Submariner watch; perfect for underwater use, as the name suggests, and a stylish addition to his wardrobe. The only other extra offered by M in this film is a self-destructor bag for the case notes, which Bond has to study during the flight.

In MemoriamIn Memoriam. I assumed before I started watching Dr No – and all the subsequent films – that there would be a not inconsiderable death count. So let’s briefly remember those who gave their lives so that Bond and Honey can go off in that boat in the final scene for some nookie:

1) Strangways. Shot by the Three Blind Men.

2) Mary, his assistant. Ditto.

3) Mr Jones, the bogus chauffeur, who chomps on a cyanide cigarette rather than tell Bond who he’s working for.

4) Whoever was driving the hearse when it hurtled down the ravine. I think received wisdom suggests it’s the Three Blind Men again.

5) Professor Dent. Clinically despatched by Bond with deft expertise (and a pistol) – a scene that the censor didn’t like because it was unsporting; he took a lot of convincing by Terence Young to get it passed.

6) The guard on Crab Key who wades through the water, who gets his knifed in the back in one swift movement by Bond, much to Honey’s horror.

7) Quarrel; incinerated by the dragon.

8) The guard whose clothes Bond nicks so that he can steal inside the Big Reactor Room – neck broken from behind, or possibly knifed – hard to tell behind the screen.

9) Doctor No; whilst at first he has the upper hand in his final fight with Bond, balance, gravity and slippery hands are not his friend as he is not so gently poached in a vat of boiling nuclear reactor liquid.

10) There are two guards/scientists treated to a couple of Bond’s sucker punches which up-end them over a barrier landing heavily on a hard floor. So they may have died, or they may just be feeling pretty ropey. However, it’s all rather irrelevant as the death count continues with:

11) Everyone else left in Doctor No’s lair when the whole place erupts.

One dead chauffeurHumour to off-set the death count. It became something of a tradition (or maybe it didn’t! We will see!) for Bond to make some kind of jokey remark whenever someone died. Here are the throwaway lines that marked some of the deaths in this film:

As Bond delivers the dead body of Jones back to Government House, he tells the Sergeant on duty outside “Make sure he doesn’t get away”.

When the operator of the truck that blocked the route to Magenta Drive asks about the hearse the plummeted down the ravine, Bond quips “they were on their way to a funeral.”

Dent creeps into Taro’s bedroom and delivers six bullets into what he believes is the outline of Bond’s body in bed – whereas it’s just some pillows he’d cleverly arranged in advance. Just before Bond shoots Dent, he says “it was a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six”. A good card player always counts the tricks that have already been won.

Oxford-DictionaryAny less frothy elements? Before wrapping up this look back at Dr No, let’s just consider if there are any outstanding themes or elements that don’t sit well with today’s audience. I couldn’t perceive any obvious homophobic or racist elements, which in itself is quite interesting, given the racial mix of people in the Jamaica half of the story. But what about sexism? I think this might be a recurring issue in Bond films, so let’s first of all consult my OED and get a definitive definition, if that’s not a tautological tautology. Sexism is: “(Behaviour, language, etc, reflecting) the assumption that one sex, esp. the female, is inferior to the other; prejudice or discrimination, esp. against women, on the grounds of sex; insistence on (esp. a woman’s) conformity to a sexually stereotyped social role.”

MoneypennyI interpret that as revealing that the sexism in Dr No stems from all the women having subordinate roles – Moneypenny, Mary (Strangways’ assistant), Miss Taro (Pleydell-Smith’s secretary), various hotel receptionists, airline cabin crew, and so on. 15-love. Merely playing up the sexually attractive nature of the women, like Honey in her bikini, or Miss Taro lying on the bed sensuously waving her foot in the air, is not sexist in itself, unless you view it as conforming to the sexually stereotyped social role of looking great for guys to ogle. Even so, Honey wasn’t expecting company and Miss Taro was on her own when she was on the bed, so I think in those moments they’re doing it for themselves and not for others. 15-all.

Bond getting decontaminatedThere is the scene where Honey is taking a decontamination shower (every home should have one), which clearly has sexual connotations. But then Bond is also lathering up, so there’s no assumption that the female is inferior to the male; the decontamination shower treats everyone equally. 15-30.

Rescuing HoneyHowever, the whole notion of the Bond Girl is surely steeped in sexism. The Bond Girl is, by her very nature, an add-on to Bond; a sidekick, an assistant, someone to look up to him heroically, someone to be fluffy in comparison to his hard man image. It’s clear that a woman like that is seen as inferior to Bond, and therefore would come under the definition of sexist. Indeed, a purely vacuous Bond Girl would be both bland and sexist at the same time. But if you imagine or interpret the Bond Girl as Bond’s equal; if they work together in partnership, each bringing different skills to the table; then, perhaps, not. There are a couple of times when Honey fights back at the armed guards who capture her and Bond in Crab Key. However, his instruction to Honey before they dine with No is “leave all the talking to me” – so that’s not equality in the face of the enemy. In Dr No, I think it’s fair to say that Honey needs a lot of rescuing; she’s more eye-candy than partner in crime-fighting. 30-all.

Dismissing HoneyAnd there’s a vital moment, in Doctor No’s lair, over their posh dinner, when Bond insists that any argument he has with No, has nothing to do with “the girl”, and he wants her safely removed from harm’s way. Despite Honey’s protestations that she wants to be involved, she is taken from the dining table and – as far as Bond is concerned – is out of the picture (literally). Gentlemanly or sexist? A mixture of both, of course. But overall, at 40-30, I’m going to call this a relatively sexist film, but with the rider (no pun intended) that it could be a lot worse than it is.

MaoDr No’s joint Chinese and German heritage is significant from a political point of view; at the time, China was a closed country, led by Mao Tse Tung, of whom the West was extremely suspicious. West Germany, whilst having reinvented itself after the war under Adenauer, was still an emotional hurdle for many who had sustained personal loss during the Second World War. And of course there was also Walter Ulbricht’s East Germany to fear.

Get TopplingDr No’s stated aim, to interfere with the rocket launches from Cape Canaveral, sets him firmly in an anti-American, but he claims to be working neither for the East nor the West; SPECTRE are a class apart. Nevertheless, it’s pure Cold War material, which one guesses will continue simply from the title of the next film, From Russia with Love. Whilst Bond is clearly working for the British Government, it’s a given that the American and British security policies are broadly the same, and that Britain will therefore work to support America. Plus ça change…

A pressing needBizarre other stuff that occurred to me. I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or not, but the radio operator who reports that the Jamaica link has broken has the most appallingly un-ironed shirt. That could be a way of showing how long and hard they all worked; or it could be that the wardrobe department had an off day.

Dolores KeatorDolores Keator, who played Strangway’s assistant Mary, was apparently married to Sandford Ziff, who founded Sunglass Hut.

PhotographerMargaret LeWars, who played the unnamed photographer who constantly tries to take snaps of Bond, was the reigning Miss Jamaica at the time. The story goes that she was employed at Kingston Airport, which is where the production crew discovered her, and offered her the job there and then, on the spot.

A singing BondWhen James Bond sings Under the Mango Tree back to Honey, when she first walks in from the sea – apparently that’s the one and only time Bond sings in a film. I’ll make a mental note to Golden Globe Statuecheck that’s correct!

Awards and Nominations: Just the one – the Golden Globe for most promising newcomer – female went to Ursula Andress.

RIchard MaibaumTo sum up. Considering this was the film that launched a hugely successful series – the 25th Bond film is expected to start filming later this year – you would think that Dr No would have had high impact and be considered largely successful; and so it was, and still is. Richard Maibaum (who would go on to write 13 of the Bond films), Johanna Harwood (script editor) and Berkely Mather’s screenplay is tight and compact, witty, with no unnecessary dialogue, smart, but not too smart. It treads a delicate, and I think successful, line between being a genuine spy thriller and a slightly tongue-in-cheek affair, which raises its entertainment status without having a detrimental effect on the suspense. Strong characterisation, a memorable theme tune, and some iconic acting make it extremely watchable. My only criticism would be that the story gets a little bogged down between the time that Bond, Honey and Quarrel are hiding in the Crab Key waters and finally getting to challenge Dr No in person. However, that’s just my small quibble. I’d be fascinated to hear your opinions of Dr No – and whether or not you agree with me! Please leave a comment below. Next up – From Russia with Love!

My rating: 4 Sparkles

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All photos from the film of course belong to their various copyright holders.