Book Review – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957) by Ian Fleming

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 356pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1957
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1957
Introduction by Tom Rob Smith (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57689-1

Blurb: A beautiful Soviet spy. A brand-new Spektor cipher machine. SMERSH has set an irresistible trap that threatens the entire Secret Service. In Fleming’s fifth 007 novel Bond finds himself enmeshed in a deadly game of cross and double cross.

Comment: This fifth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series sees the author flexing his literary muscles and experiment with structure. The result is his most satisfying book to this point. The story is split into two sections. The first deals with the development of SMERSH’s plot to discredit the British secret service through James Bond. It introduces the characters of Rosa Klebb, SMERSH’s head of operations, who is a loathsome manipulator; Red Grant, SMERSH’s assassin; Kronsteen, master chess player and key strategist; and Tatiana Romanova, the instrument of the Russian plot. This section takes up the first third of the book and painstakingly fleshes out each of the characters and their motivations. The second section deals with the execution of the Russian plot. Bond meets Darko Kerim, allied head of operations in Istanbul, and Kerim is the strongest and most likeable character in the book. The book really picks up from here, with the girl fight and shootout in the gypsy camp scene a highlight. Bond and Tania’s escape on the Orient Express builds in tension as the Russians and Grant close in. Then the final showdown between Bond and Klebb ends the book on a cliffhanger. There were rumours that Fleming had tired of his creation and was looking for a way out, fortunately that was not the case and Bond returned in DR. NO. The book was reported as one of President John F. Kennedy’s top 10, which kicked off the series’ popularity in the US. The 1963 film adaptation added elements, but stuck to Fleming’s core plot and characters and resulted in one of the strongest films in the series.

Book Review – DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956) by Ian Fleming

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956) ***½
by Ian Fleming
Diamonds Are Forever - Ian FlemingThis paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 309pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1956
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1956
Introduction by Giles Foden (13pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57688-4

Blurb: The Spangled Mob are no ordinary American gangsters. They prey on the addictions of the wealthy and treat the poor as collateral. Their ruthless desire for power and fierce brotherly loyalty make them deadly and invincible. James Bond must go deep undercover in his urgent new assignment: to destroy their millionaire masterminds, Jack and Seraffimo Spang. But the Spangs’ cruel influence is everywhere, from dusty African diamond mines to the frenzied gambling dens of Las Vegas. Can Bond find his men before his cover is blown?

Comment: This fourth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series is better than I remember. Whilst the plot is fairly basic in Bond’s assignment to link the pipeline of diamond smuggling from its source to distribution, it moves at a good pace and is never dull. The villains. the Spangled Mob, are merely violent gangsters controlling the gambling casinos in Las Vegas as well as the diamond operation. Their methods are basic. We learn a bit more about Bond through his interaction with Tiffany Case – a sympathetic character with a dark history. We also learn why Bond has never married and get confirmation of his loyalty to his service. The action set pieces are good – although this time the torture of Bond by Spang’s henchmen takes place “off-screen”. There is a good locomotive chase and the first finale on board the Queen Elizabeth liner is exciting. Whilst not in the series’ top drawer it is on a par with Live and Let Die as a fast-moving action thriller.

Book Review – MOONRAKER (1955) by Ian Fleming

MOONRAKER  (1955) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 325pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1955
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1955
Introduction by Susan Hill (20pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57687-7
Moonraker      Blurb: He’s a self-made millionaire, head of the Moonraker rocket programme and loved by the press. So why is Sir Hugo Drax cheating at cards? Bond has just five days to uncover the sinister truth behind a national hero, in Ian Fleming’s third 007 adventure.
      Comment: Anyone familiar with the 1979 film adaptation – the low point of Roger Moore’s tenure as James Bond – should lay any preconceptions at the door. This is one of the very best James Bond novels. Unlike the first two in the series, Fleming’s third 007 adventure gives his lead character room to breathe and as a result, he becomes a more human hero. The first part of the book is the set-up and is almost routine in its playout – showing Bond’s life between missions. The introduction of Sir Hugo Drax, who is suspected of cheating at cards at M’s private club, sets the foundation for the remainder of the story. Drax is something of a celebrity figure and is respected for his development of an atomic deterrent in the ever-escalating cold war environment. The death of Drax’a security chief raises suspicions and Bond replaces him. Slowly he infiltrates Drax’s operation, run by a team of German technicians and supported by Drax’s personal assistant Gala Brand, who is, in fact, an undercover special branch officer. As Bond and Gala slowly unravel the reality around Drax’s test flight for his Moonraker rocket – echoes of WWII resentment and Russian coercion come into play. The final section of the book is taut, suspenseful and one of the best passages of writing in Fleming’s bibliography. Drax is one of Fleming’s best villains and Krebs a sinister henchman. Gala is an appealing heroine, who is brave and resourceful. The lonely life of a spy is described in Bond’s routine work and the ironic coda and his relationship with his boss, M, is explored to some degree. This set the template for more fantastical plots and charismatic villains and as such is highly recommended as a great example of what the series offered.

Book Review – LIVE AND LET DIE (1954)

LIVE AND LET DIE  (1954) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2019, 303pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1954
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1954
ISBN: 978-0-099-57686-0
      Blurb: Mr Big is brutal, brilliant and feared worldwide. Protected by Voodoo forces and the psychic powers of his prisoner Solitaire, he is an invincible SMERSH operative at the head of a ruthless smuggling ring. James Bond’s new assignment will take him to the heart of the occult: to infiltrate this secret world and destroy Mr Big’s global network. From Harlem’s throbbing jazz joints to the shark-infested waters of Jamaica, enemy eyes watch Bond’s every move. He must tread carefully to avoid a nightmarish fate.
      Comment: Ian Fleming’s follow-up to his debut James Bond novel Casino Royale is a fast-paced and entertaining read. It is also a relic of its time and the text, although softened in this version, should be taken in that context in the way it deals with its largely black cast of characters. Bond is up against Mr. Big, who is smuggling sunken pirate treasure to help fund the Russian spy network SMERSH. Bolstered by its action set-pieces – notably as Bond and Felix Leiter penetrate Mr Big’s empire resulting in Leiter “disagreeing with something that ate him” and the tense finale where Bond and Solitaire are hauled over a corral reef. The book has three settings – New York, the Florida keys and Jamaica and is the first of the books to introduce a globe-hopping element. Bond is presented as a tough and single-minded agent with little time for sentiment. Mr. Big is an impressive, if two-dimensional, villain. Themes of voodoo permeate throughout the plot, but are not fully explored. Solitaire is a little bland and her supposed powers to see into the future are underplayed as a potentially interesting character dissolves into the typical captive woman yearning for Bond to free her. Fleming was still honing his craft at this stage and better stories and plots would follow, but it remains a good example of why the series became so popular.

Book Review – CASINO ROYALE (1953) by Ian Fleming

CASINO ROYALE (1953) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2018, 256pp (229pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1953
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1953
Introduction by Anthony Horowitz
ISBN: 978-0-099-57597-9
Casino Royale      Blurb: Le Chiffre is a businessman with expensive tastes – and SMERSH’s chief operative in France. As his dissolute lifestyle threatens to ruin him, his only hope of survival is to risk his paymasters’ money at the baccarat table. Across from him sits James Bond, the finest gambler in the British secret service. Bond’s mission: to outplay Le Chiffre and shatter his Soviet cell. midst the opulence of the Royale-les-Eaux casino, the two men face each other in a game with the highest stakes of all.
      Comment: The book that started a phenomenon. Ian Flemings’ Casino Royale introduces us to Britsh spy James Bond – 007. The story is a relatively low key beginning for Bond, bearing in mind what was to follow, but that is part of the books’ charm. By pitting Bond against an enemy agent in a card game we get to delve into Bond’s character and philosophy. His attitudes, particularly to women, may seem anachronistic today but were indicative of the time the book was written. Published only a few years after the end of World War II it demonstrated how many men found it difficult to share their emotions – their sensitivities hardened by their experience by their wartime experience. The plot is fanciful in its set-up of the card game being a vehicle by which Le Chiffre urgently seeks to recover lost funds in order to redeem his benefactors. Once we have accepted the notion then we are treated to a tense battle of wills. The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the game and includes a torture scene that has become infamous over the years and is certainly extremely sadistic – even by today’s standards. Bond’s falling for his fellow agent, Vesper Lynd, plays out alongside this and leads to a shocking finale which goes a long way to explaining Bond’s approach with women in the books that followed. Fleming’s writing is also at its tightest here and he describes the card game with a depth of knowledge. The short chapters keep the reader turning the pages by either ending on a key plot progression or mid-scene. This debut work is Fleming at his most efficient and Casino Royale remains one of the best of the series.

The James Bond novels of Ian Fleming:
Casino Royale (1953) ****
Live and Let Die (1954) ***½
Moonraker (1955) ****½
Diamonds Are Forever (1956) ***
From Russia with Love (1957) ****
Doctor No (1958) ****
Goldfinger (1959) ***½
For Your Eyes Only (1960) (short stories) ***
Thunderball (1961) ****
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) **
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963) *****
You Only Live Twice (1964) ****
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965) ***
Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966) (short stories) ***

Film Review – THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Related imageTHE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (UK, 1974) ***
      Distributor: United Artists Corporation; Production Company: Eon Productions; Release Date: 19 December 1974; Filming Dates: 18 April 1974 – 23 August 1974; Running Time: 125m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Mono | 3 Channel Stereo (London premiere print); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1; BBFC Cert: PG – Contains moderate violence.
      Director: Guy Hamilton; Writer: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz (based on the novel by Ian Fleming); Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman; Associate Producer: Charles Orme; Director of Photography: Ted Moore, Oswald Morris; Music Composer: John Barry; Film Editor: Raymond Poulton, John Shirley; Casting Director: Weston Drury Jr., Maude Spector; Production Designer: Peter Murton; Art Director: John Graysmark, Peter Lamont; Costumes: Elsa Fennell; Make-up: Paul Engelen; Sound: Gordon Everett; Special Effects: John Stears; Visual Effects: Roy Field (uncredited).
      Cast: Roger Moore (James Bond), Christopher Lee (Scaramanga), Britt Ekland (Goodnight), Maud Adams (Andrea Anders), Hervé Villechaize (Nick Nack), Clifton James (J.W. Pepper), Richard Loo (Hai Fat), Soon-Tek Oh (Hip), Marc Lawrence (Rodney), Bernard Lee (‘M’), Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny), Marne Maitland (Lazar), Desmond Llewelyn (‘Q’), James Cossins (Colthorpe), Yao Lin Chen (Chula), Carmen Du Sautoy (Saida), Gerald James (Frazier), Michael Osborne (Naval Lieutenant), Michael Fleming (Communications Officer).
      Synopsis: Bond is led to believe that he is targeted by the world’s most expensive assassin and must hunt him down to stop him.
      Comment: Moore’s second outing as 007 starts well, with little reliance on gadgets, but later descends into increasingly outlandish set-pieces – Lee’s flying car being a particular low point. Lee actually makes for a strong villain and Villechaize a memorable henchman, but the plot is lacking in any wider threat than that to Bond himself – the climate crisis theme of the subplot maybe even more topical today but is treated here in a tokenistic way. Again, cashing in on cinematic trends of the day the film shifts locale from that in  Fleming’s novel (Jamaica) to the Far East – introducing elements of martial arts to cash in on the then-recent glut of movies inspired by Bruce Lee. The fun-house scenes that bookend the film are well shot and tense and it’s nice to see Barry return to score the films – even if the theme song is one of the series’ poorest. There are elements of the vintage Bond classics here but too often they are undermined by an increasing desire to be cute – witness the impressive car jump stunt which is totally weakened by a supposedly humorous sound effect – worse was to follow in later entries. Followed by THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977).

Film Review – SKYFALL (2012)

Skyfall (2012; UK/USA; Colour; 143m) ∗∗∗∗½  d. Sam Mendes; w. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan; ph. Roger Deakins; m. Thomas Newman.  Cast: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Bérénice Marlohe, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Ola Rapace, Helen McCrory, Nicholas Woodeson, Bill Buckhurst, Elize du Toit.  James Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. Engrossing and emotive, this is one of the best of the series with Craig delivering his strongest performance to date as Bond and Dench having a much greater involvement as M. Whishaw debuts as a geeky young Q. Bardem stays the right side of caricature in a delicious turn as the villain of the piece. Thrilling, explosive finale at Bond’s ancestral home in the Scottish Highlands. Production credits are all top notch and Deakins’ cinematography is sumptuous. Oscar winner for Best Song (“Skyfall” by Adele and Paul Epworth) and Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers). Based on characters created by Ian Fleming. [12]

Film Review – CASINO ROYALE (2006)

Casino Royale (2006; USA/UK/Germany/ Czech Republic; Colour; 144m) ∗∗∗∗∗ d. Martin Campbell; w. Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis; ph. Phil Meheux; m. David Arnold.  Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian, Isaach De Bankolé, Jesper Christensen, Ivana Milicevic, Tobias Menzies, Claudio Santamaria, Sebastien Foucan, Malcolm Sinclair. In his first mission, James Bond must stop Le Chiffre, a banker to the world’s terrorist organizations, from winning a high-stakes poker tournament at Casino Royale in Montenegro. Craig makes an excellent debut as 007 in arguably the best Bond movie. The action is fast and furious in the opening and closing sequences whilst the engrossing plot carries us through the centre of the film. All the elements are there but this is a tough, rugged entry in a series that has rebooted itself in some considerable style. Based on the novel by Ian Fleming. [12]

Film Review – A VIEW TO A KILL (1985)

View to a Kill, A (1985; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 131m) ∗∗½  d. John Glen; w. Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Alan Hume; m. John Barry.  Cast: Roger Moore, Christopher Walken, Tanya Roberts, Grace Jones, Patrick Macnee, Patrick Bauchau, David Yip, Fiona Fullerton, Manning Redwood, Alison Doody, Willoughby Gray, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell, Walter Gotell, Geoffrey Keen. An investigation of a horse-racing scam leads 007 to a mad industrialist who plans to create a worldwide microchip monopoly by destroying California’s Silicon Valley. Moore’s last outing has an end-of-term feel about it. The plot recycles GOLDFINGER, but the creative energy that made that film so enjoyable is sadly missing here. All the boxes are ticked but without the enthusiasm or originality that made the earlier films so special. Based on the short story “From a View to a Kill” by Ian Fleming. [PG]

Film Review – OCTOPUSSY (1983)

Octopussy (1983; UK/USA; Technicolor; 131m) ∗∗∗  d. John Glen; w. George MacDonald, Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson; ph. Alan Hume; m. John Barry.  Cast: Roger Moore, Maud Adams, Louis Jourdan, Kristina Wayborn, Kabir Bedi, Steven Berkoff, David Meyer, Tony Meyer, Desmond Llewelyn, Robert Brown, Lois Maxwell, Michaela Clavell, Walter Gotell, Vijay Amritraj, Albert Moses. A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncovering an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces. A mixed bag with some excellent action sequences again deflated by occasional lapses into childish humour. Jourdan makes for a strong villain, but by now Moore is too old to play 007 and is going through the motions. The whole production also feels more than a little bloated with one climax too many. Based on a short story by Ian Fleming. [PG]