petermorwood: (Default)
Last night we watched the 1963 movie of From Russia with Love on ITV-4, I read the 1957 novel only a couple of weeks ago, and the conjunction produced a bit of wishful thinking. It would be great to see the novel's plot faithfully used for a period movie.

It would need a desaturated palette and a stark mid-Cold War look, including much use of grey, brutally massive Stalinist architecture during the initial Moscow scene-setting. There would be no gadgets except for those mentioned in the book: Bond's briefcase with its concealed daggers, ammo and gold coins, and a couple of bad-guy guns disguised respectively as a book and a telephone. Most of all, there'd be no mention of the fictional organisation SPECTRE. Bond's enemy would be SMERSH.

Which, according to Fleming, was a branch of MGB, the Ministry of State Security, though if you want to be unkind, this is another of those mistakes, since the real SMERSH went out of business in 1946, and MGB had become MVD then KGB in 1953-54 (having been Cheka, GPU, OGPU, NKVD and a swarm of lettered sub-groups with varying responsibilities.) I can't blame him, though; keeping track of alphabet soup must get really dull for someone not writing history, and as for SMERSH...

How could any thriller-writer not fall in love with a department whose name (SMiERt SHpionam) means "Death to Spies"? – even though it's a remit close enough to that of the Double-O section that the Good and the Bad Guys would fit uneasily but appropriately in the same pigeon-hole.

Such a movie won't happen, of course. The Bond movie franchise just got a reboot into this century, and I can't imagine them wanting to go back 50 years into the last one. But it's an entertaining daydream. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks Vladimir Putin looks like a Bond villain. He certainly has the background for it.

You can take the man out of the KGB, but can you take the KGB out of the man? And would this man let you?
petermorwood: (Default)
I've been re-reading Ian Fleming's James Bond novels – period pieces all, with a protagonist very different from the debonair gentleman spy of the movies. Sean Connery came closest in Dr No, when he told a villain that he knew the man's gun was empty – "That's a Smith & Wesson, and you've had your six" – then shot him. Twice. The second was a carefully-placed execution round, and though Bond’s double-O license to kill certainly includes execution of traitors and double agents (as in the beginning of the recent Casino Royale, though in my view the Dr No one seems more brutal), a shooting in cold blood, however justified, always has a nastier feel than any amount of action gunplay. M in Goldeneye described Bond as a "sexist, misogynist dinosaur," but the Bond of the books is even less appealing; he's a chain-smoking, alcoholic, xenophobic, culturally illiterate snob. Unusual material for a hero and cultural icon, but there you go.

Why Fleming? It's because I recently discovered an on-line version of his essay, How to Write a Thriller, and was curious to see how his rules applied to the finished product. The essay is too frequently edited, or copied from an edited source, but this one seems complete, and I saved it at once for inclusion in my computer folder "Tools of the Trade"– but, though it wouldn't be proper to edit the original, I couldn't keep from adding footnotes, thus becoming part of a long tradition. Kingsley Amis (in The James Bond Dossier, a thoroughly entertaining lit-crit of the novels) mentioned that even then (1965) catching Fleming out in mistakes was something of an amateur sport.

The notorious business of The Wrong Holster is one of the best-known. Geoffrey Boothroyd, a firearms expert (and, obviously, fan of the books) wrote to Fleming about improving what he saw as 007's rather inadequate guns. It was Boothroyd, later Tuckerized as "Major Boothroyd, the Armourer," who famously dismissed Bond’s .25 Beretta 418 as a "lady’s gun." It really is a pipsqueak weapon, though more than enough for execution and contact-range covert killing. He suggested that Bond be given a .38 Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, a snub-nosed revolver of the type associated with screen detectives and private eyes, and that it be carried in a "Lightning" Berns-Martin Triple Draw Holster. (Steve McQueen in Bullitt wears something very similar.)

Fleming fumbled the catch a bit. He equipped Bond with this holster all right (I think he liked the sound of its elaborate name) but instead of the revolver, put the iconic Walther PPK automatic in it. This pairing would never work: the holster is purpose-designed for a revolver, held in place by a curved spring around the cylinder. Automatics don't have cylinders, and the Walther is a distinctly flat example. Worse, when used as a shoulder-holster, the "Lightning" is worn upside-down. Result: the Walther would fall out every time. Oops. (Of course there are apologists who suggest that the Armourer meant a custom-built holster for the Walther. I suggest that Fleming got it wrong.)

Oddly enough, though Boothroyd did indeed recommend the Walther, it was as a weapon for the Bad Guys! I'm surprised Fleming didn’t take him up on it, because I can't think of any instance in the Bond novels when Germans or Germany are mentioned favourably; the people and the country are always seen as a threat to England (but not, apparently, to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.) Since this tic even spills over into Fleming's non-fiction work, Thrilling Cities, giving Bond a German gun seems out of character.

Amis gives very favourable mention to another commentary I'd like to read, though I've no idea how to get hold of a copy. The Gunnery of James Bond, by Bob Glass, appeared in "Snakes Alive," the journal of the Belfast Medical School (Trinity 1963), and though I went to Queen's University I had no association with the medical side. I'll track it down some day, because Glass's writing, according to Amis, is full of "energy and obvious enjoyment," and he corrects Fleming not through malice but because he's another enthusiastic fan.
"Few men" (writes Amis of Fleming) "could be so often wrong and yet seem so thoroughly, effortlessly, copiously, multifariously, triumphantly right."
Sounds like Kingsley was a bit of a fan, too.

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