Jamaica Inn [1939)

This film is even more disgusting than Psycho.  Disgust.  Fear.  Anxiety.  Moral ambiguity.

This is what made Hitchcock great.  Like Dostoyevsky, Hitchcock brought to life those personages who were between good and evil.

In the words of Henry Miller, “They were alive and they spoke to me.”

Authors.  Real authors.  Blood and guts authors.  Authors who left everything on the page.  Every shred of emotion.

Samuel Fuller would have been proud of such authors.

We must remember Fuller’s cameo from Pierrot le Fou.  His words are instructive:

“Film is like a battleground. Love. Hate. Action. Violence. Death. In one word . . . emotion.”

And though Hitchcock was perhaps the greatest film auteur to ever live, we must not neglect the source material.

Though auteur theory would argue otherwise, it was indeed Daphne du Maurier who concocted this perfect story.

And, as another affront to the politique des auteurs, we must acknowledge that this film would be far less powerful were it not for the all-world talents of actors Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara.

For those wishing a parallel to Ian Fleming’s Dr. No (set in Jamaica), this film has absolutely nothing to do with Jamaica.

Jamaica Inn is merely the name of the roadside lodging in this period piece set in 1819 Cornwall.

But like a good James Bond film, a believable villain makes all the difference in sustaining the dramatic tension.

Laughton is just that villain.

Though Jamaica Inn is not as powerful and iconic as Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is (in my opinion) a strong competitor against his film Rebecca.  And why focus on these three films exclusively?  Because they were all from du Maurier stories.

What is more, I would argue that Jamaica Inn is every bit as good as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939).  Why that comparison?  Because it featured the same duo (in the same year):  Laughton and O’Hara.

As for O’Hara, this was for all practical purposes her true film debut (in a starring role while assuming the screen name with which she would become famous).  For all of my effusive praising of Saoirse Ronan, it should be noted that Maureen O’Hara was a sort of Irish prototype for the panache Ronan would bring to the screen these many years later.

But nothing tops Laughton here.  Hitchcock was still honing his skills towards a mature style.  Laughton creates a character both laughable and hideous.  It is not the visceral aversion of the Hunchback, but rather an elite, condescending, corrupt local squire (and justice of the peace).  Laughton is the law.  He relishes his position as he savors his victuals.

Life and simulation.  In real life, Laughton fought for O’Hara…insisting she be given the lead role (and her first, as noted earlier).

It should be noted that past critics have eviscerated this film.  Let it be noted that their pretensions are largely unfounded.

-PD

Secret Agent [1936)

If this is propaganda, it is among the most artful of all time.  For it seems to emanate from the mind of an individualist and patriot.  Alfred Hitchcock.

We get our subject material from Somerset Maugham.  Ashenden.

“The wrong man!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”  Thus laughs “the General” Peter Lorre…a sort of lovable psychopath (if such a thing is possible).  Yes, the wrong man.  It is to Hitchcock’s oeuvre what prostitution is to Jean-Luc Godard’s.  But it is a grotesque moment.  The wrong man.  In this case, it went all the way:  they killed the wrong man.  Just an innocent old man with a wife and a dog.  All in a day’s work for a covert operative…Lorre’s laughter seems to tell us.

No.  Lorre is no typical agent.  He’s a hitman.  He doesn’t mind killing.  In fact, he kind-of enjoys it.  Takes pride in his craft (as it were).  Very clean, he says…strangling, a knife…no guns…too noisy.

But let’s back up to John Gielgud.  To make a spy, you kill the man.  It is quasi-Christian.  The old is gone.  Behold, the new has come.

The perfect spy has no past.  This sort of agent wakes up to read his own obituary.  Before long, he has a new identity.

Though this film predates WWII, its subject matter of WWI is certainly infused with the building tension of a second continent-wide conflagration.

And again we witness James Bond far before Ian Fleming birthed him.  The milieu is the same.  Gielgud reports to “R”…like the “M” we would all come to know and love.  And of course Lorre…himself an M of another type (see Fritz Lang).

Trouble in the Middle East.  Why can’t it be Tahiti?  Where’s Leonard Bernstein when you need him???

“The Hairless Mexican” a.k.a. “The General” Peter Lorre…kinda like the Federal Reserve:  not Federal and no reserves.  Yes, Lorre is quite hirsute.  As for his rank, it is as dubious as his other winning personality traits.

Gielgud’s not very careful…right from the start.  I suppose they should have trained the chap in the dark arts before sending him out into the field.  At least the field is Switzerland (Allen Dulles’ future stomping grounds).

Back to our Bond parallels…the gorgeous Madeleine Carroll, like Eva Green in Casino Royale, stipulates a separate-bed rule as part of her cover (Gielgud’s “wife”).  We wonder whether her character, like Hitchcock and Green’s Vesper Lynd, is of Catholic upbringing.

But for the main course…we get some rather convincing ethics from Hitchcock–a morality which we would scarcely see again in the future of film through to the 21st century.  To wit, espionage is the dirtiest of jobs.  Never mind the old trick of digging though a rubbish bin:  the whole operation is filthy and loused up with sickening concessions.  Hitchcock gets right to the point quite forthright:  murder.  Many of the darkest jobs are just that!  One can spin it anyway one wants, but it is still cold-blooded.

It’s not all fun and games, Gielgud tries to convey to Madeleine.  If you’re here for a thrill, you’d best recalibrate your perspective:  things are about to get real ugly!

It is some scary shit.  Imagine Olivier Messiaen and Giacinto Scelsi collaborating with Morton Feldman for a 45 second piece.  It’s called Sonata for Corpse and Organ.  Their contact has been murdered.  The assassin pulled out all the stops.  Just after the prelude, a fugue of struggle ensued which left a button from the killer’s garments clutched in the dead organist’s hand.  We get a rich, chromatic chord until Gielgud and Lorre realize there’s far too little harmonic rhythm to this chorale.  The bloke’s been whacked (slumped upon the keys).

This button, a single-use MacGuffin, leads them to offing the wrong man.  Poor old Percy Marmont…

At this, Gielgud is ready to quit…sickened by the thought of having innocent blood on his hands.  Credit Madeleine Carroll with a nice performance…especially when she plays the straight (horrified) woman to Lorre’s laughter.

And so, again like Casino Royale, Gielgud and Carroll (madly in love) decide to dispense with the whole mission and pack it in (complete with a resignation letter to “R” from Gielgud).

I won’t give away too much.  Lorre is fantastic:  both ridiculously awkward in his humor and deft in his acting.

Unfortunately, the artfulness of the film which Hitchcock had lovingly built up is marred by a somewhat daft, abrupt ending.

Like this.

-PD

The 39 Steps [1935)

Oh, to be a spy.  At once the dream of the adventurous and the curse of the actualized.  Why?  Why does Robert Donat let Annabella Smith come home with him from the music hall???  Perhaps it is her allure…  Her strange foreign accent.  Once you take the first step, the case collapses to become a chute…a slide.

Perhaps Richard Hannay (Robert Donat) was simply curious.  We know how the cat ended behaving thusly…

Perhaps Hannay was horny?  It was, after all, 1935…things were lightening up a bit.  No Tinder, but still…one might luck out at the music hall.

Well, Hannay has the misfortune of true cloak and dagger.  Annabella Smith…Hannay asks if she’s ever heard of persecution mania?  Yes, a good question until she comes stumbling from the kitchen with a knife in her back.

And so Hannay sees her fears materialize before his very eyes.  Sure, she could have stabbed herself in the back, but it’s not bloody likely!  And what’s this?

Her last words…cryptic…and a map of Scotland clutched in her hand.

Hanney has become a believer.  It is that moment when hypothetical (suppose she’s right?) becomes, to a certain extent, proven.

No time to split hairs quibbling…she makes it clear with her last breath:  they killed me and you’re next.

Why trust?  Perhaps the spy becomes tired.  She is, after all, a mercenary in a foreign country.  Yes, she is protecting the Kingdom, but for a price…  Her homeland is elsewhere.

And so an act of transference occurs.  Robert Donat now bears the burden of a secret…a hint of a secret…a trail.

He has a couple of choices.  The decision he makes ends up saving his life, yet it is completely counterintuitive.

He decides to get the hell out of there.  Annabella Smith is dead on the bed.  Hanney makes a deal with the milkman (1935) and creeps off towards the train station.

To Scotland.

Things begin to go very hard for Mr. Hanney.  He is pursued relentlessly.  A daring escape from a train stopped on a bridge brings him eventually to the Scottish moors and the village circled on Annabella’s map.

On the way he must overnight with a farm couple…  The man of the house is an overbearing null…the woman, an angel trapped in an unhappy provincial cage.

This is really the beginning of the James Bond idea.  In 1935, they shared but a kiss.

Now, if you have made it this far you will be spared further spoilers…because that is not the purpose of my site.  This isn’t Cliff’s Notes.

We must talk of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.  Perhaps you have noticed the news element of my homepage?  It is really not fair to criticize our CIA…it is too easy.  There can be no doubt as to the difficulty of their work.

As a citizen of the USA I have dreamed of being a secret agent…just as many people do.  It would be a treasonous dream for me to wish employment by the MI6.  I am not British.  So my thoughts have turned now and again to my own country’s external intelligence organization.

Oh, I am too old to be a covert agent…too out of shape to have a fistfight with a Daniel Craig type.

But we remember certain things from our readings.  Wall Street = CIA.  This was Michael Ruppert’s assertion in his excellent book Crossing the Rubicon.  May Mr. Ruppert rest in peace.  No doubt he tried to do the right things during his time on this earth.  It was not until recently that I learned of his death.

Perhaps I began studying business as a roundabout way to court adventure.  There is no doubt that my future is not on Wall Street.  In fact, I don’t see much future at all.

Why?  Because I am like Robert Donat’s character in this film.  I can’t leave well-enough alone.  Killing in self-defense or in the defense of others can be honorable, but stretched to its limits by tenuous connection it eventually becomes murder.  When I read about the leading intelligence agencies of the world, I get the whiff of murder.  I get the scent of those who are “just following orders”…just like those good little Nazi soldiers.

It is this thirst for justice which makes me unemployable.  I know it.

And so I soldier on.  I do my cardio.  I lift my weights.  I study my texts.  I enrich my mind.

I am just a loner with my films.  I would like to contribute, but I was born of no prestigious family.  I don’t speak Dari or Pashto.

There are two camps of which I wish to be part of neither.  Camp one holds that everything America does is just and good. Camp two holds that nothing America does is just nor good.

I do not wish for a clean slate.  It is not possible.  Those who wish for the collapse of society are fools.  They are wishing for their own death and are far too optimistic about the practicality of starting over.

Now, dear film lover…you must be asking what this has to do with The 39 Steps.

Mr. Memory.

Office of Strategic Services.

Office of the Coordinator of Information.

Robert Sherwood.  movie critic.  Vanity Fair.  Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.  Algonquin Round Table. Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent.  Hitchcock.  Yes, it is a tenuous link.

Continuing…

Admiral John Godfrey.  “M”

Centre for Spastic Children, Chelsea.

…and finally

William Stephenson (c’est-à-dire) James Bond

the Icelandic orphan

alluded to in Casino Royale (2006)

to wit

British Security Coordination

Camp X (Whitby, Ontario) [the original Farm]

Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl

Rockefeller Center (35th and 36th floors of the International Building)

under the cover of British Passport Control Office

For better or worse, CIA is MI6.  Where does one stop and the other begin?  To what extent is this a private army for the corporate members of the Council on Foreign Relations (Royal Institute of International Affairs)?

Surely we’re all playing by the Chatham House rules here, aren’t we, gents?

-PD

Casino Royale [2006)

This is the best Bond film.  As of 2006.  On my site, you will find reviews of the 20 preceding Bond movies.  The reviews were not written to lead up to this conclusion.  They were written to assess the series as a whole.  While I realize that said series has continued since 2006, I will address that extended life at a later time.  My previous reviews slowly culled the catalog down to three (and now four) films of unmatched greatness (in terms of this series):  The Man with the Golden Gun, A View to a Kill, License to Kill, and now the one which far exceeds even those three::  Casino Royale.

Why?  Because…Martin Campbell.  His effort on GoldenEye was just that…a good try.  His work here is timeless:  an auteur.

Why?  Because…the first time Bond and Vesper Lynd meet.  The best dialog in the entire history of Bond films.

Because…Eva Green is the most beautiful Bond girl in 44 years (which is to say, as of 2006, ever).

Because Bond falls in love…really.  Like no time since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

That speaks to the feminine ideal of Eva Green.

But let us delve deeper…into why “the bitch is dead”…

Yes, those are the words.

It is one of those rare times when I can refer back to the book with knowing alacrity.

By George W. Bush’s second term in office, the bitch was beginning to die.  The bitch in question?  Propaganda.

People are becoming too informed.

And so a film such as this only gains credibility by mentioning the 9/11 put options.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/9-11-attacks-criminal-foreknowledge-and-insider-trading-lead-directly-to-the-cia-s-highest-ranks/32323

Sure, there is propaganda…such as the child soldiers in Uganda, but it is tentative.  The sweeping generalizations of past Bond films had mercifully vanished.

Sure, there’s a lot of pish about terrorism, but it is at least somewhat tempered by reality.

This is all the nations of the world are asking of intelligence agencies as their first order of business:  just admit that you are a bunch of fucking scumbag assholes.

And so:  a concept even Donald Rumsfeld could probably appreciate.

A little concoction of my own:  may it live long and serve humanity as a judo virus.

To wit:  there is good evil and evil evil.

Even Dostoyevsky might get a kick out of this game.

Don’t get me wrong:  I am not playing your garden variety of “the end justifies the means”…

No, no…far from it.

With Daniel Craig’s first Bond appearance we see the most brilliant portrayal of good evil.

Evil is active.  Good is passive.

If my entire mission was to confuse you, I would do well to mention such in the course of my exegesis.

The drone strikes are extrajudicial.  Good evil is extra-Jesus.

Ah, my Venetian history crumbles into the canal.  Dear Henry VIII…

Let me pull myself from the stake…like John of Arc.

The first code is ELLIPSIS.  It is the fire in the guts of Louis-Ferdinand Céline…the splitting of the literary atom.  Professor Y.

Good evil.

Fortunately there is no sportscaster to reveal just how ludicrous the plot devolution is…a Texas hold ’em tournament in Montenegro.

No.  It had to be, Beethoven.  No one plays baccarat anymore.  We need to put asses in seats.

Sure, it becomes complex.  Mathis is tased.  Bond is dazed.  Even perfect films have bad cuts…perhaps this game is making you perspire?

I noticed you changed your shirt…

They finally got it right.  Just the right combination of Titanic (1997) and Lars von Trier.

Good enough for a blockbuster.  It would never hold water at the arthouse.

And Martin Campbell’s great contribution?  Restraint.  Knowing when to yell “cut!”///

-PD

Die Another Day [2002)

CGI, like fake boobs, does not age well.  But let us back up to all of the ridiculous indoctrination which precedes the failed geekery of late in the film.  This James Bond movie has many reeducation moments, but they emanate not from the North Korean characters but rather the film’s shadow auteurs.  Let me demonstrate.

“North Korea bad.  England good.  England also known U.K.  [ooga booga]  America friend U.K.  North Korea torture.  America and U.K. not torture.  [ooga-booga]”

Yes, dear friends…Hollywood considers you a bunch of fucking chimps.  And when it comes to films with a lot of heavy weaponry, you can bet the transnational military-industrial complex had a large role to play in the production.

North Korea hacked Sony?  Gimme a fucking break!  That was a self-inflicted publicity stunt.  The only problem is the collusion of intelligence services which are always tasked with finding the next suitable enemy.  The CIA, MI6, NSA, and every other alphabet agency in the Anglo-American “five eyes” network have become nothing more than glorified traffic cops…fulfilling their ticket quotas.

Why will the new world order fail?  Because they do not employ the best artists.  Sure, there are forgery artists on staff of these intel agencies, but not the artists needed to fool the world.  There are no Charlie Chaplins, no Orson Welles, no Pablo Picassos, no Igor Stravinskys…  And so the global elite circuitously churn out these propaganda films which age as fast as Cheez Whiz or Silly String. They count on audiences being stupid…both uneducated and willfully stupid (in combination).

Lee Tamahori actually does a worse job directing than Michael Apted did in the last half of the previous Bond film, though sadly the mise-en-scène is almost indistinguishable.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system (yay! free speech), let’s talk about what is salvageable.  Zao.  Diamond acne.  That’s pretty good.

Torture in the opening credits.  Very innovative (and true to the spirit of the first Bond novel Casino Royale).  Bond’s dereliction of duty (if it can be called that) echoes the wonderful message of License To Kill (1989), yet what follows is mostly hackneyed storytelling.

Halle Berry’s emergence from the ocean like the reincarnation of Ursula Andress circa 1962 seems to bode well, but it is simply a rare moment of excellence in a sea of shite.

Further indoctrination follows in that Berry is supposedly an NSA agent.  In all my years reading about the NSA (from James Bamford to Wayne Madsen), never have I encountered even a hint of the kind of agent she is purported to be.  This leads me to believe that the whole purpose was to make No Such Agency seem cool and acceptable knowing that the PATRIOT Act was now letting them eavesdrop the shit out of your lives.  They knew such a steamroller approach would eventually result in public backlash.  And it did.  NSA agent…  Gimme a fucking break…

And then of course there’s the nice little mention of Sierra Leone.  We’d be revisiting that country as “liberators” from a biowarfare agent called ebola before too long.

Yes, I know, dear reader:  these sound like the thoughts of a raving lunatic.  I urge you to investigate…really investigate.  Investigate to the point you are scared…and then investigate some more.  Can you afford it?  We dispossessed of the earth have nothing to lose.

I could talk about Madonna’s bad acting.  Actually, I like Madonna.  It’s just horrible fucking directing.  To the director’s credit, the scene seems pressured from above…like a goddamned product placement.

Graves ice palace looks like a cross between the Sydney Opera House and a frozen McDonald’s.  What a pathetic piece of set design.

Conversely, kudos to the thinkers behind the hypersonic wedding ring.

But these fucking car chases…it’s like Top Gear.  What a load of uncinematic crap!

It’s a pity Rosamund Pike had such a bollocks role.

This is just atrocious filmmaking.

-PD

To Have and Have Not [1944)

Was you ever stung by a dead bee?  Their sting can’t possibly be as piquant as 19-year-old Lauren Bacall in this classic.  Humphrey Bogart would agree.  It was Bacall’s first film and the beginning of a “beautiful friendship.”  Their on-screen charisma here is both impossibly cute and sweltering (the latter due to Bacall’s sultry acting).

Walter Brennan can’t stop talking about dead bees (or stop talking in general).  His performance is magnificent.  The sub-plot involving Brennan’s character Eddie and Bogart’s Capt. Morgan (rum, anyone?) is truly touching.  Bogart plays the tough-yet-compassionate friend to the old alcoholic Eddie.  It is an underdog story and we are glad to see someone looking after the unfortunate Eddie.  It is significant that the novel upon which this film is loosely based was written by Hemingway, yet Eddie seems to bear a slight resemblance to Lennie from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.  To round out the American literature lesson, William Faulkner is credited as one of the two screenwriters.

Of additional note (no pun intended) is the acting, singing, and playing of Hoagy Carmichael.  There are such fantastic musical moments herein.  One wonders whether Tom Waits was inspired by the songs from this film (and by Carmichael in general).  We must also remember that Ian Fleming envisioned 007 as looking like Carmichael.  His presence in this film adds immensely to the whole.

The direction of Howard Hawks is stunning, though deftly “invisible.”  We believe the events are actually happening.  Though it is Hollywood through and through, there might be a case made for Hawks’ own neorealism at this time when Rossellini was about to release the seminal  Roma città aperta (the epitome of cinematic veritas). 

-PD

You Only Live Twice [1967)

And here we start to drift…

Sure…we finally see the face of the man petting the cat (Donald Pleasence as the archetype for what would become Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers series), but I can’t say I was overly impressed with the directing of Lewis Gilbert.  In a series thus far dominated by the underrated Terence Young, even Guy Hamilton had turned in an admirable film with Goldfinger (1964), but You Only Live Twice might better have been allowed to only live once (or not at all).

When I saw Roald Dahl’s name in the opening credits, I was reassured.  And I am always glad to see production designer Ken Adam’s name.  But something is awry with this film.  It is a bit of a limp fish (and not, sadly, fine sushi).

From the beginning (Bond’s burial at sea) the modern viewer might be thinking of another figure supposedly buried at sea:  Osama bin Laden.  Perhaps the two deaths are equally credible.

Karin Dor might have saved this movie, but sadly she is eaten a bit prematurely by piranhas.  And while the piranhas fit with the methods of past Bond movies (sharks in Thunderball, for instance), there are some troubling details which make it clear the creators of this film might have been well-served to stick closer to Fleming’s novel than they did.

Bond flies a miniature helicopter to an island between Kobe and Shanghai:  somewhere along an 829-mile-long route.  Little Nellie (the chopper) could hardly have made it much outside of the bay before running out of fuel, but with all the gadgetry on board we might just suspend our disbelief.  Perhaps it is even Tokyo from whence Little Nellie departs:  an even greater haul.  It really isn’t made very clear (or else I missed it).  Maybe “Tiger” Tanaka had a base close to Blofeld’s island that I failed to register.

Karin Dor’s (Helga Brandt–#11 in S.P.E.C.T.R.E.) abrupt reversal from sleeping with Bond to disposing of him by parachuting from a plane in which she traps him really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Why didn’t she just go ahead and use the plastic surgery tool in the first place?  Her interrogation is weak.  For what it’s worth, her threat of torture only got half the truth:  Bond admitting to being a spy (but an industrial spy after a measly $300,000).

At least the scene in the autogyro is somewhat entertaining, but nothing compared to the underwater battle in Thunderball.  Seems the Eon franchise was running a bit thin on ideas by this point.  Mercifully, the scenery of Japan is nice (the wedding, the passing funeral, etc.).

The overall premise of the movie is good.  It is believable.  It is only the execution and the details which mar what could have otherwise been another classic in this series.  The ninjas are a bit funny, but when in Tokyo (as they say)…  Perhaps the funniest part is Connery as a Japanese man (by way of Lon Chaney methods).

Kissy Suzuki takes the prize as the best name.  Score another for the Bond girls in the “memorable name” category.  But part of the confusion is that there are three possible Bond girls:  one who dies by poison, one who is  promising (and pleasing to the eye) until stripped to the bone by omnivorous fish, and Kissy.  It’s typical of a movie which doesn’t seem to know exactly what it wants to be.  It is formulaic, but that didn’t stop the first four Eon-produced Bond movies from being generally fantastic.  The error comes in tentative experimentation, not enough experimentation, and the setting-in of creative lethargy as regards the Bond series’ “tricks.”

No doubt, for 1967 this was some ambitious filmmaking.  Ken Adam did a reasonably good job of trying to take the series to the next level with his set design, but the overall product is just not convincing.  Truth be told, Adam and the main persons responsible for this film could have all died aboard BOAC Flight 911 had they not been convinced to stay in Japan on the scouting trip a bit longer and watch some ninjas.  Perhaps having the ninjas in the film was a bit of thanks for the disaster they narrowly escaped.  All on board the flight they were scheduled to take died when it crashed 25 minutes after takeoff.

Roald Dahl (whose name I mentioned earlier) wrote the screenplay.  He had been a close friend of Ian Fleming.  Despite their friendship, Dahl considered the novel upon which the movie was based to be Fleming’s worst.  Indeed, Dahl resorted (due to apparent lack of plot in the novel) to aping Dr. No to a significant extent.  Dahl was, however, quite complimentary of director Lewis Gilbert.  Perhaps the deck was just really stacked against the auteur in question.

There’s no doubt that great effort went into making this film.  A cameraman (John Jordan) lost his foot, for God’s sake!  No, the dearth wasn’t in physical “energy,” but in mental excitement.

Editor Peter Hunt went on to direct the next Bond film (due to his successful sorting and sifting of the footage from this gargantuan blob).

At least the title song is great (thanks to Nancy Sinatra).

 

-PD

 

 

 

Goldfinger [1964)

Honor Blackman really did know judo.  I am speaking, of course, about Pussy Galore.  No, not the band Jon Spencer fronted prior to the Blues Explosion, but rather the original article.  Blackman plays Pussy (“Poosy,” as Connery says it) and gets to show off the martial arts skills she indeed has in real life.

Art imitated life as well in the directorial realm.  Guy Hamilton took the helm when disputes arose between previous Bond director Terence Young and Eon Productions.  Hamilton had known Ian Fleming and also, like Fleming, done intelligence work for the Royal Navy in WWII.

Ken Adam returned to set design after working for Kubrick on Dr. Strangelove.

Just as odd as Oddjob (the Korean with the throwable hat of death) is the fact that Goldfinger was the seventh Bond novel Fleming wrote.  As I mentioned in my article on Casino Royale (the first Bond novel), there was a bit of trouble concerning rights to these books.  Eon Productions would go on to dominate the screen versions of Bond, but Casino Royale was made as a spy spoof by Colombia Pictures in 1967 (not unlike Modesty Blaise of 1966).  Indeed, it was a court case which convinced Eon Productions to hold off on Thunderball and go ahead with Goldfinger.

Credit for the ingenious “irradiation of the gold” should be given not to Fleming, but to Richard Maibaum.  Fleming had not quite thought through the impossibility of emptying Fort Knox of its gold deposits (unless the thieves had a couple weeks time to haul it off:  not exactly conducive to a “getaway”).

Hollywood magic provided for Sean Connery to be filming Marnie with Alfred Hitchcock while a small crew actually showed up for the location shoot in Miami.  Ian Fleming himself visited the set at Pinewood Studios in the U.K., but died before the film was released.  Notably, there was actual filming done in the Fort Knox area because of a connection between producer Albert Broccoli (a real name, to be sure) and Lt. Col. Charles Russhon, but they were never (reportedly) allowed in the depository.  Ken Adam was tasked with imagining what the inside might look like.  The result of his imaginings was built at Pinewood.

The very latest Aston Martin (1964) was chosen to be Bond’s super-spy car (complete with smokescreen, oil slick, machine gun and other such technology).  The make was chosen at the behest of Ken Adam (who considered it England’s most “sophisticated” brand).  Bond would return with the same model in Thunderball (though he drives his first-issued DB5 into a brick wall).

The laser in Goldfinger morphed from a circular saw in Fleming’s book to the edge of science fiction (industrial lasers not existing in 1959 when Fleming wrote the book, nor in 1964 when the film was made).

To emphasize the human version of gold, the creators of the film took a page out of Hitchcock’s “icy blonde” book and liberally cast blondes for nearly all the female characters.

It is interesting to note that the Goldfinger soundtrack topped the Billboard 200 chart (thanks to Shirley Bassey’s brassy rendition of the title song).

One particularly novel product tie-in which emanated from Goldfinger was Bond “dress shoes.”

But lets get back to people, shall we?  It is people who make products.  The title designer Robert Brownjohn not only referenced Moholy-Nagy, but he was the New Bauhaus founder’s protégé.  Today we know it as the Institute of Design in Chicago.  Brownjohn died in 1970, but not before designing the cover to The Rolling Stones’ album Let It Bleed.

Guy Hamilton directed three more Bond films after Goldfinger, but not until after a long hiatus which stretched to 1971.  He is a French director and, perhaps to the astonishment of those who also don’t realize Godard is still alive, is 91 years old.

Of the producers, Harry Saltzman was born in Quebec and died in Paris.  The aforementioned Albert “Cubby” Broccoli was born in Queens, NY and died in Beverly Hills.

Writers Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn have both passed away.

Ian Fleming we have already noted as concerns mortality.

Sir Sean Connery is alive and well being born, like Godard, in 1930.

Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger himself), funny enough, appeared in the movie version of another novel written by Ian Fleming:  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

And Pussy Galore?  Dear, sweet Pussy Galore?  She lives on as Honor Blackman (even though she was the oldest actress to play a Bond girl).  She declined a CBE in 2002.  She is a signed supporter to replace Britain’s monarchy with a republic.  Indeed, what was it that inspired Pussy to call Washington, D.C.?  Motherly instinct?

 

-PD

 

 

 

 

 

Casino Royale [1967)

Strange that the first James Bond novel didn’t come to the big screen until several 007 films had already been made–and that it came in the form of a slapstick comedy.  This is certainly no Eon production.  In fact, it takes the piss (as the British would say) from the opening credits.  Indeed, this is a very loose adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, but it is a thoroughly entertaining film.

Any film with Peter Sellers is worth checking out, and this flick does not disappoint (with Sellers as the nervous baccarat master Evelyn Tremble).  Ursula Andress, herself the first Bond girl (Dr. No), plays Vesper Lynd:  the woman so rich that she buys the statue of Lord Nelson in Trafalgar Square and has it moved to her own residence.  This is just one of the many ridiculous details which make this a polarizing tapestry.

Joanna Pettet is quite good as the love child of Sir James Bond (David Niven) and Mata Hari.  Mata Bond (as she is known) takes up the spy trade of her progenitors in the film and, notwithstanding claims to the contrary, is quite a good dancer indeed.

But it is not just the details which make this film thoroughly puzzling.  The film credits list John Huston as director, but that is only part of the story.  Nicolas Roeg was a cinematographer on the film.  In fact, even auteur/actors such as Orson Welles and Woody Allen participate in their thespian capacities.  Surely, there was plenty of talent involved in the making of this mess-of-a-film.  But what a pleasant mess it is.

The film begins in a pissoir (reminiscent of Henry Miller’s oeuvre) and never looks back regarding the “tradition of quality” it leaves behind.  The plot (liberties taken with Fleming’s plot) is absolutely Joycean and akin to The Big Sleep.  If one is not painfully attuned, the entire first quarter of the movie makes no sense whatsoever.  Sir James Bond’s house is blown up by MI6, but somehow the head of the service (M) is killed in the explosion which he himself ordered.

Indeed, the entire episode in Scotland (near the top of the film) is confusing at best.  M’s widow has been replaced by a SMERSH (Russian conjunction meaning roughly “death to spies”) agent named Mimi…who, of course, falls for Sir James Bond (himself reluctantly returning from retirement after his house is blown up by his former employers) and thus fails to do her duty for mother Russia.  This apocryphal film in the Bond saga fails to take the same liberty as Eon Productions in that the name SMERSH (Soviet counterintelligence) is retained in the stead of SPECTRE (an Eon creation which neatly changed the “enemy” focus from being the U.S.S.R. to simply organized crime…on a grand scale).

David Niven’s portrayal of 007 bears no likeness to Connery…especially in that “Sir” James Bond is a man of utmost morals.  This couldn’t be further from the womanizing Connery-Bond we see in From Russia With Love and other Eon production classics.

Mention should be made of Barbara Bouchet’s portrayal as Miss Moneypenny.  Her overtime work (beyond the call of duty) to find a spy capable of controlling his libido is really rather hilarious and she plays this part quite well.  In a nod to Spartacus, Sir James (now the new head of MI6) orders all British agents to henceforth go by the name James Bond.  Terrence Cooper is chosen by Moneypenny (or, perhaps, vice versa) as the most capable candidate as regards warding off the temptation of “feminine charms.”

Orson Welles plays Soviet agent (a gambler trying to save his neck) Le Chiffre.  Having such an auteur on set couldn’t have but helped the knowing “direction” of this movie.  Mata Bond’s foray to East Berlin in fact is a foray back into the Expressionist cinema of Robert Wiene (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari).  The set designing in this particular section is quite remarkable and, if we are to go by the credits alone, we might credit John Huston with this deft reference.

The spoof hits higher and higher levels of satire as when Evelyn Tremble (himself also now known as James Bond…quite laughable) encounters Miss Goodthighs (a singular name, what?).  But the real pinnacle in this absurd film is Welles’ (Le Chiffre’s) torturing of Sellers (Tremble).  I have seen nothing quite like it in cinema except for the psychedelic boat ride in the original Willy Wonka movie with Gene Wilder.  Certainly, the year was 1967…but still:  this could have been an outtake from Roger Corman’s The Trip!

It becomes so that one senses the ghost of Buster Keaton in this ever more Dadaist confection.  A flying saucer lands in London.  Sir Bond’s nephew Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) is revealed to simultaneously be Dr. Noah (a hilariously Hebrew reference to the original Bond villain Dr. No).  Jimmy Bond’s plan for world domination (he has defected from MI6 over to SMERSH) bears a striking resemblance to the film The Tiger Makes Out.  Strange times…

The coup de grâce is when not only the American cavalry arrive at the casino (straight out of a John Ford film for all we know), but when amidst the equestrian chaos Jean-Paul Belmondo finally appears to say merde a few times (after each time he punches someone).  By this time all sense of taste has been trampled underfoot, but it was so fun getting there.  Indeed, Mata Bond at one point takes a taxi from London to Berlin!

So what, if any, relic is left of John Huston’s direction in this anti-masterpiece (besides the hairpiece which succeeds M…a role likewise acted by Huston at the film’s start)?  And should this vestige be given Christian burial?  In Fleming’s original novel, MI6 has no “Christian name” on file for Le Chiffre.  He is a total mystery:  Mediterranean with perhaps a dash of Prussian or Polish.  But that’s it.  He is a cipher–a number.

Vladek Sheybal (who had played Kronsteen in From Russia With Love) appears in a minor role during the East Berlin portion of the film.  In fact, we last see him (having sauntered into West Berlin) firing shots at the fleeing Mata Bond (right under the nose of an American soldier).  What is the meaning of this, one might ask?

With turns like that of John Wells (as Q’s assistant), this might very well be considered the true predecessor of the Airplane movies.  In fact, there were FIVE different directors employed in the making of this film (not including Richard Talmadge, who co-directed the final chaotic episode).  It is believed that not only Allen and Sellers contributed to the script, but also Ben Hecht, Joseph Heller, Terry Southern and even Billy Wilder.  Again (in my best British tone):  just what is the meaning of this?

It appears that John Huston only directed the beginning of the film.  Ken Hughes, in fact, pulled off the Calagari-referencing East Berlin scene.  Three other directors shot various scenes among them to bring the total to five.  Ben Hecht was initially the principal screenwriter, but his “straight” adaption eventually became so bastardized as to bear no resemblance to its original self (nor the Fleming novel).  Hecht, of course, died in 1964…well before Casino Royale made it to the big screen.

Rewrites were handled (it appears) principally by Billy Wilder.  The Spartacus idea, though, (all the James Bonds running amok) would be preserved from Hecht’s adaption.  It is interesting to note that Peter Sellers (in his well-reported competitive dealings with actor Orson Welles…as well as Woody Allen) had Terry Southern write his dialogue.  Sellers and Welles were famously at odds (no pun intended) during the shooting of this film–Welles being unimpressed with Sellers, and Sellers feeling insulted and perhaps insecure by the presence of Welles.

Whatever can be conjectured, one thing is certain:  this was the most expensive Bond film made at the time it came out.  It indeed runs like an extremely indulgent film-school joke.  Fortunately, it’s a good joke.  Welles’ magic tricks as Le Chiffre (at the baccarat table, no less) were real life annoyances to Peter Sellers (all of which–the tricks and the irritation–made it into the film).  The film really is a bloody mess (in plain Cockney).  It is interesting to see this burgeoning side of Welles (the magic) which would play such a large role in his last major film F for Fake (1973).  Indeed, there is only one film in the entire cinematic canon which outshines F for Fake and that is Histoire(s) du cinéma by Godard.

Part of the nonsensical nature of this film can be explained by the fact that Sellers was either fired or quit before filming was completed.  This posed an enormous problem for director (1 of 5) Val Guest who was tasked with patching all of this incredibly expensive footage together into a quasi-cohesive whole.  Indeed, one is rightly confused by the James Bond Training School being in the bottom level of Harrods because the scene which was to set this up was never shot.  Many other such aberrations make the narrative at times completely inexplicable and unnavigable.

“Ooch,” as Belmondo translates from his phrase book:  merde.  I can very well see why many would consider this film just that:  complete shit.  But it is not.  It’s not because David Prowse (the physical Darth Vader in Star Wars) appears in his first film role (as Frankenstein giving Niven directions by dumbly walking into a steel double-door).  Perhaps it is because the film has at least a hint of legitimacy from John Huston, Orson Welles, etc.?  All of these intellectualizations aside, it is simply an entertaining template for Austin Powers which dates all the way back to the time Mike Myers would have to recreate three decades later.

Eon would have to wait until 2006 to get its shot at Fleming’s novel Casino Royale.  And there just really is no beating a film in which “The Look of Love” (as sung by Dusty Springfield) plays such a highlighted part.  So we wish Daniel Craig and Adele well on these recent ventures, but Casino Royale of 1967 will always be in our senseless hearts.

 

-PD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Russia With Love [1963)

James Bond came back to the big screen in his second Eon Productions (Everything Or Nothing) appearance with twice the budget of 1962’s Dr. No.  A smash success, its $2 million budget was heartily recouped (and fast) with $78 million in box office receipts.  Dr. No itself had been a hugely profitable venture at $1.1 million budget and $59.5 million at the box office.  The extra budget was evident (and worth it) even if the profit percentage was less.  It was clear that Eon had a hit series on their hands (and rightly so).

The series starts to stretch out–venturing from author Ian Fleming’s adopted writing retreat of Jamaica to exotic Istanbul.  The gypsy camp scene is particularly memorable and full of the gratuitous sexual aspects which some critics found distasteful as early as the previous Eon Bond production.  Apparently those in charge weren’t listening to the critics, but rather to the theatregoers.

Geography buffs will be happy to have the setting shift to the Cold War locale of Zagreb.  And fans of thrillers and nearly-escaped imbroglios will find high entertainment in Bond’s fistfight with Grant (the SPECTRE agent tasked with killing our hero).  Terence Young does a masterful job of framing the scene with a tension befitting a Houdini stunt.  Just as it seems Bond has no chance for escape, he finagles an opportunity for survival.  Bond’s apparent martial arts skills somehow prevail in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat with Grant.  We find Bond to be a super-human super-spy:  brilliant and physically miraculous.

It is, indeed, in this second installment of the Bond series (the “official” Eon series) which we encounter an absolute whole-cloth lifting of ideas from Hitchcock.  There is no crop duster, but rather a bubble-windowed helicopter which buzzes Bond repeatedly in what might be described as a flattering imitation of (and reference to) North By Northwest.  But Terence Young had a talent of his own and that becomes evident in the boat chase which ends with the once-again-brilliant Bond using a flare gun to ignite the oil-barrel jetsam which had been punctured and leaking petrol before Bond cut them loose to float in the vicinity of SPECTRE’s pursuing attack fleet.

We find in this film many archetypes which would be taken up humorously in the Austin Powers series.  The homely Number 3 (played by Lotte Lenya), the presence of Number 1…always stroking his cat (the man’s face is never seen in the film), etc.  Desmond Llewelyn makes his debut as Q (or, more accurately, head of Q branch).  The innovations were made possible by the largesse of United Artists (working with Eon Productions…even giving Connery a personal bonus which was equal to roughly 200% of the salary he was to make).

It is interesting to note that J.F.K. himself was impressed enough with Fleming’s novel From Russia With Love (upon which the film, of course, was based) that he named it one of his ten favorite books in Life magazine.  The film was the last viewing Kennedy would do in the White House as he was murdered two days after seeing it.

Dr. No’s production designer Ken Adam went on to do production design for Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove rather than work on From Russia With Love.  1960 Miss Universe runner-up Daniela Bianchi was cast as the “Bond Girl” Tatiana.  Though Topkapi was considered a potential location for the filming of the gypsy camp, this and most other scenes were actually executed at Pinewood Studios in Britain (mainly to qualify for U.K. government funding assistance).

The many flourishes of the film include the character Kronsteen closely replicating Boris Spassky’s chess match victory in 1960 over David Bronstein.  Indeed, Kronsteen is the mastermind whose plans go awry when they encounter the unaccounted-for intangibles of the incredible James Bond.  Another nod to director Terence Young should be made for his help in choreographing the fight scene between Bond and Grant.  Young was, himself, a boxer while at Cambridge.  That single fight in the train stateroom took three weeks to film.  It really is a memorably evocative struggle.  Young’s own mettle was tested during filming when a helicopter from which he was filming crashed in 40-50 feet of water and sank.  He resumed filming the same day.  Another calamity would befall a filming vehicle when a boat filled with cameras sank in the Bosporus during the boat chase scene.

Once again, the Bond films should not be discounted as mere fluff.  Cambridge man Young managed to have opening credits (by Robert Brownjohn) reference Moholy-Nagy.  I will leave it to the reader to decide if this is as impressive as Hitchcock’s Vertigo opening with geometric shapes attributable to Jules Antoine Lissajous (by way, naturally, of Saul Bass).

J.F.K. saw this film before U.S. audiences as it was not released in the States until 1964.  Meanwhile, critics like Richard Roud continued to level accusations of immorality at the Bond movies upon its release.  At least he acknowledged it as, “fun.”  Indeed.  Several reviewers finally realized that the Bond series in fact had tongue wedged firmly in cheek.  It is cheeky.

Young was indeed doing something similar to the French New Wave in “exploding a genre from the inside-out” to paraphrase James Monaco (the genre in question being “thriller”).  And so it is that the enthusiasm for cinema (whether high art or low brow) should and does live on.  In reevaluating Terence Young and giving such directors as Wes Anderson an invitation to immortality, film history plods onwards by way of thinking…”deeper into movies,” to quote Yo La Tengo quoting Pauline Kael.

 

-PD